Russell Fisher - Trans America Trail 2000 - Florida, Alabama, Arkansas
First off-road across the USA - Florida, Alabama, Arkansas
July 23, 2000 - Off the road again: trail update 1
(digital pics courtesy of the lovely Olympus Camedia C-3000)
The trouble with living all your life in a country the size of a football pitch is that you tend to think you're normal -- normal in the sense that if it takes you more than a couple of hours to get anywhere then it's a major consideration and may, indeed, not be worth the hassle at all.
Now, of course I realised that the US is somewhat larger than the UK - I paid a modicum of attention in geography class y'know - but when someone says they're loading their dirt bikes up on a trailer and popping off for a week's holiday to ride some trails, you don't expect a 24-hour, mind-numbing drive just to get there. Do you? Well I certainly don't.
Here, though, it's pretty much par for the course. And, just a week into my ass-numbing US non-road trip, I'm finally getting to grips with the concept; I now realise why the majority of the natives ride around on two-wheeled leatherette, buckle-encrusted, super-squishy armchairs - can't say I condone the habit, though...
Where, when, what? Ah, yes -- I got into Orlando (God bless cheap charter flights!) on the 13th, flaked out in a nasty motel, jumped the Greyhound up to Jacksonville and was reunited with my '93 XR650L after a mere five-minute tussle with US Customs.Actually, it was a breeze; sign here, sign there, flash the documentation and "have a nice day, y'all". It's here for 12 months max on its UK plates, no difficult questions asked. What a very nice man.
Russell on the road in Arkansas, at last
There then followed a road slog up through Georgia and another nasty motel (at $25 a night, nasty's just fine - camping in 100-degree evenings ain't my idea of a laugh). I phoned Sam Correro (Trans America Trail originator) that evening to discover he a had a press bloke coming out to meet me in a couple of days time - only I had to be in Jackson Mississippi to do it. That's Jackson Mississippi as in roughly two days' solid riding away -- my plans to ride up into the Great Smoky Mountains and pick up the eastern trailhead in Tennessee went AWOL.
Instead I met Sam at the highest point in Alabama, Mt. Cheaha, from where he trailered me down to Jackson. Phew... I'd already burned half a brand new rear Pirelli MT21 away, the same tyre that was meant to have got me all the way over to Colorado. Current plan is to complete the ride west to Colorado then head back east to finish the missed sections before shipping back home from Jacksonville - we'll see how things shape up, but I couldn't really let Sam down with the publicity effort he'd organised - he's spent ten years putting this trail together and he's justifiably proud of it.
Press thing and pics done, we loaded the bikes up and picked up the trail on the border of Mississippi and Arkansas, riding west across the Mississippi river and across the cotton and soya-bean belt with Sam on his XR600 and Ernie Phillips from Chattanooga on his '95 R100GS-PD, complete with nine-year-old son Christopher loaded up on the rear for good measure.
Ernie and Chris
Whereas the eastern portion of Arkansas is flat as a board, in the west it rises up gradually into the lush green folds of the Ozarks, the TransAm Trail sticking to the beautifully sweeping, crown-cambered and graded gravel tracks which form the network of public highways running through these hills-- amazing riding if, like me, you're buzzed by the idea of getting into the swing and rhythm of riding a rear-drive rollercoaster on a bed of pea-sized marbles. After 400 miles of this your inside foot's less inclined to twitch nervously out and you right hand more inclined to twist back; so much for sightseeing - the only sight I was looking out for was the next hillbilly-piloted pickup with forward vision somewhat impaired thanks to a dashboard littered with empty Bud cans. They sort of get in the way a bit when you're hooking those apexes. And they don't believe in insurance in Arkansas either, or so I was warned.
The last day in the state before crossing into Oklahoma was wetter than a weekend in Wales - and if anyone from the Hein Gericke shop in Bristol is reading this, no your Tuareg lightweight jackets are NOT waterproof, thanks very much. Fortunately the Ortlieb soft luggage definitely is, and what's more the Happy Trails racks they're secured to are showing absolutely no signs of weakening under the constant off-road hammering; the further west we got, the rockier the tracks became, until by just north of Alma we were into sections of 18-inch high rocks steps followed by stretches of 18-inch deep glop - when it rains here it doesn't piss around. And if anyone tries to tell you that a BMW R100GS isn't an off-road bike, tell them to look up Ernie Phillips -- I thought I was doing pretty well, but every time I looked around there he was a couple of hundred yards behind chucking "Chunky" around like it was a YZ250. Complete with a pillion passenger... respect.
Bridge crossing in Arkansas
Currently I'm holed up in Tulsa (where I had a new rear tyre fitted courtesy of Laree Peters at Honda of Tulsa) at Ernie's brother Wendell's sumptuous pad, lazing in the hot-tub contemplating the dubious pleasures of 750 miles across Oklahoma before I get anywhere near the delights of Colorado and the Rockies - the bike's fine, I'm fine (sore backside, but it's hardening up slowly) and the weather's getting back to fine. By the time I get into New Mexico it'll be back to 104 degrees in the shade according to the happy man on the weather channel.
Anyone ever fried an egg on the crankcase of an XR650 motor? I might just give it a swing...
Russell Fisher (psyd...@hotmail.com)
PS Next computer stop may be a while coming - yes, they have internet cafes in the cities, but I'm pretty far off the the beaten track most of the time, so bear with me.
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