September 24, 2003 GMT
DAY 21

Woodward, Oklahoma, to Ada, Oklahoma

262 miles

5117 total miles

We neglected yesterday to tell you about our dinner on the night of Day 20. It was our great fortune to stumble onto a motel that boasts the chef who won the Woodward, Oklahoma, catfish cooking competition three years running. Bo thinks it was the best catfish he had ever tasted, with the exception of that served by Country & Western Restaurant in Camden, Tennessee. Your travelers do know how to live!

Now is also a good time for us to go over a few trip stats. Day 21 marked a couple of milestones: we've been on the road for three weeks and we've driven over 5,000 miles. While riding our bikes 20 of the previous 21 days, we have averaged 256 miles per riding day. Less than 175 miles of this trip have been on interstate highways. Prior to this legendary 21 day march through the west, we had never driven more than two 200 mile days in a row. For two newbies, we feel pretty good about our endurance. We've growing just cocky enough to be intolerable to those with real motorcycle experience.

Let's get back to Day 21.

We began the day by cleaning our bikes. Miles of dust, tar, bugs and other road stuff had turned our gleaming steeds into rather unsightly things. The night before we had raided the mega-superstore across the street in search of cleaning implements. In the aisles of Walmart we discovered a new trend in consumer product packaging: pouch-filled wipes. Once the sole province of baby's bottom, wipes are now made for cleaning practically everything. We found wipes specially made for cleaning windshields, wheels, leather and painted metal. We literally wiped our bikes clean. It was inspiring in a modern, consumer sort of way.

No Bad Dogs!

We mounted our gleaming two-wheelers and continued on our voyage. After the desolate solitude of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the drive from Woodward to Oklahoma City was a small relief. Rather than 60 miles of nothingness punctuated by an occasional town, we now enjoyed 30 miles of nothingness punctuated by an occasional town. We don't want to be unkind, but this part of the country just ain't no fun.

It must be big bug season in Oklahoma. To ease the growing boredom, we often communicated back and forth to relay the size and color of the latest monster bug to smash into our helmet shields.

We soon reached the outskirts of Oklahoma City, where our trip odometers showed that we had attained the magic 5,000 mile point. We had originally planned to visit the National Cowboy Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We know you're disappointed, but time constraints precluded a visit to the Cowboy Museum.

We did visit the Memorial and it made a powerful impression. The memorial honors the victims, survivors and rescuers of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing that took place on April 19, 1995. We spent two hours there, visiting the outside memorial and the chronological, self-guided tour inside the Memorial Center Museum. Among the the many touching things we saw was the Field of Empty Chairs. The 168 bronze, stone and glass chairs, one for each victim, were made in two sizes; large for adults and small for the children. There were 19 small chairs.

OKC Memorial

OKC Memorial

We drove out of Oklahoma City. We didn't talk much for a while.

After Oklahoma City we began our drive to Ada, Oklahoma. Fans of the Tennessean crossword puzzle will recognize Ada from the clue, "City in Oklahoma." The terrain shifted from desolate and boring to grassy, wooded, hilly and familiar. It's just like the rolling terrain of middle Tennessee. We felt at home for the first time in weeks.

We soon arrived in Ada and checked into yet another motel.

Tomorrow we head for the only mountains in Oklahoma and then into Arkansas, where we plan to attack the Ozarks.

Posted by Bill Thompson at 03:39 PM GMT | Comments (2)
September 25, 2003 GMT
DAY 22

Day 22

Ada, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas

290 miles

5407 total miles

Today's travel exposed us to something we never knew existed - the mountains of Oklahoma. Don't laugh. They're real mountains and they're quite pretty.

The Oklahoma mountains did not disappoint!

We left Ada with diminished expectations. Naturally, after the incredible mountains of Colorado, we expected to be severely underwhelmed by Oklahoma's Ouachita Mountain area, which also includes the Kiamichi, the Jack Fork and Sansbois mountains. Located in the southeastern part of the state bordering Arkansas, this area of OIklahoma turned out to be a real sleeper. The views were lovely and the roads were full of great sweepers. All in all a fine way to deal with the post-Colorado letdown.

What can you say? Found in a store next to Sardis Lake in OK

We also managed to explore two of Oklahoma's state parks. And we don't mean just old regular state parks. These parks had no gold courses, no marinas and no swimming pools. What they had was a singular focus on a specific phenomena.

Our first stop was Robber's Cave State Park, located off Highway 2 near Chili, Oklahoma. Robber's Cave State Park gave your friendly biker's an opportunity to explore the very same caves that once served as a hideout for Jesse James and his sidekick, Cole Younger. Apparently other, less infamous, outlaws used the caves on occasion to hide from the law, but without Jesse James, no one would have turned it into a state park. If there is a moral to this story, it's if you're gonna hide an outlaw, make sure it's a famous one.

Bo at the cave

8 inch centipede in the cave

Our next stop is a bit more controversial. The Heavener Runestone State Park requires the visitor to engage in what Hollywood calls a "willing suspension of disbelief."

A large rock discovered by a Choctaw hunting party in the 1830's near Heavener, Oklahoma, is inscribed with runic characters that were allegedly carved by Norse visitors to Oklahoma during the period of time between 600 A.D. and 800 A.D. The latest translation of the runic characters, done in 1986, indicates that the inscription says, "Valley owned by Glome." Glome is apparently a norseman who made his way from Norway to Oklahoma. We don't believe it either, but it was all very interesting, and unique.

We continued on our way, crossing into Arkansas on the Talimena Scenic Byway, which took us through the Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The Byway ran along a mountain ridge line that offered spectacular views and great riding. No, we don't why Queen Wilhelmina has a park named after her in Arkansas. We're not even sure who she is.

Mike and Brenda who are Model T enthusiasts and were staying at our motel. We learned a bunch about the cars. 1 million left on the road today.

We ended our day in Mena, Arkansas. We had dinner at our Motel, the Limetree Inn. Their restaurant was named restaurant of the year by the Mena Star newspaper. Once again, we know how to live.

Bo's cylinder head is once again leaking a bit of oil. We plan to visit a BMW dealership in Bentonville, Arkansas tomorrow. And tomorrrow we also ride in the Ozarks.

Posted by Bill Thompson at 03:40 AM GMT | Comments (2)
September 26, 2003 GMT
DAY 23

Mena, Arkansas, to Branson, Missouri

286 miles

5693 total miles

We began our day worrying about the slow oil leak on Bo's bike. Our initial plan was to drive the bike to a BMW dealership located in Bentonville, Arkansas. We decided that before committing to this major adjustment in our route, we would get some expert advice. We called Scott, the mechanical wizard at Bloodworth BMW Motorcycles in Nashville. We described the problem and Scott put our minds at ease. His advice was simple: if it slowly leaks oil, stop periodically and add oil. He said that engine oil leaks are never as bad as they look. Since Scott knows what he's talking about said what we wanted to hear, we followed his advice to the letter.

After breakfast at the motel restaurant, we walked back through the parking lot admiring several finely restored Model T automobiles brought to town by the Tulsa Model T club. We noticed that the Motel T owners previously standing around talking about their cars were nowhere to be seen. We turned a corner and there they were, standing around discussing the two BMW motorcycles parked outside our room. They had as many questions for us as we had for them.

Model T and Bo

They were an engaging group of seniors, some in their late seventies. One of them invited us to step into his car trailer, where he had a fully-restored, red 1923 Indian motorcycle with sidecar. It was a good start to the day.

By the way, it's great being in Arkansas, back with people who don't have an accent.

We left Mena still in the Ouachita Mountains and headed north on Highway 29 on route to the Ozarks. We wound our way up to the top of Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas. In spite of being only 2500 feet above sea level, Mt. Magazine provided us a view that brought back memories of Colorado.

Inviting wildflowers on AR7 thru the Ozarks

By early afternoon the grind of 22 days on the road caught up with us. For the first time on this trip, we needed a serious mid-day break. We stopped in Russellville, Arkansas, to pick up sandwiches and soft drinks and get directions to a local park. We found the park, pulled over and had a quick lunch. Bill found some shade and took a nap and Bo read his first newspaper in 10 days. An hour later we returned to the road, rested and marginally better informed.

Now running on our second wind, we hit the Ozarks hard. We took Highway 7 between Russellville and Harrison, Arkansas. Highway 7 is known in the motorcycle world as one of the nation's better roads. It lived up to its' reputation. It offered sweepers and twisties that rivaled anything we have ridden yet.

What an invitiation for twisties hungry cyclists

We both notice that the closer we get to Tennessee, an almost magnetic effect pulls us toward home. While on the road we talk more about family, friends and work and less about the latest roadside attractions.

This is real!

This trip has been scheduled in a minimal fashion. Each morning we set a general direction and a preferred destination. But nothing is carved in stone. This has made the trip flexible and more of an adventure. We mention this because at no time have we ever planned to stop in Bransom, Missouri. We're a little suspicious of Bransom. We believe all jobs related to country music should be held by Tennesseans.

On Day 24 we plan to ride Missouri's Highway 125, perhaps our last great road of our trip.

Posted by Bill Thompson at 03:31 PM GMT | Comments (2)
September 27, 2003 GMT
Day 24

Day 24

Branson, Missouri, to Sikeston, Missouri

324 miles

6017 total miles

We approached Day 24 with a great sense of trepidation. After all, the last couple of days of any trip are days of new karma. Thoughts turn to arrival rather than the trip itself. Would Day 24 be that way? Would we no longer live in the moment as our thoughts turned to home?

No way! Not your totally self-absorbed road warriors.

Today, believe it or not, was one of the best days of the trip. Day 24 was, in many ways, a microcosm of the entire trip. Bill managed to find some fabulous roads. We met the most memorable person of the entire journey. We faced mechanical problems. We took a ferry trip. We reached 6,000 total miles. And we had a great lunch in a restaurant located on the court square in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

We left Branson (if you've ever been to Branson you know that's the best part) early in search of good roads. Bill, who enjoys a long visit with a detailed map, pointed us toward Missouri's Highway 125. We found it quickly and just as quickly found ourselves in heaven. If you ignore the scenery, the altitude and all the other sensory attributes of any given road, and focus solely on the road and the bike, Highway 125 was the best of the trip. It was replete with incredible twisties that throughly tested our skills as riders (which are admittedly intermediate, at best) to the fullest. We began in Sparta, Missouri, and followed the road into Protem, Missouri. It was a roller coaster on two wheels and we had a blast.

Riders in North Carolina like to brag about a section of Highway 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon. It is reputed to be probably the best motorcycle road in America. We've ridden both, and we disagree. We'll take Missouri's Highway 125 any day.

Views from Missouri's highway 125

In Protem, we took a ferry across Bull Shoals Lake. While riding on the ferry, we couldn't help but notice its name: Toad Suck. Now, if you're even a mildly curious person, you cannot let something like that slide by without an explanation. Bo talked with one of the two-person crew, William Grasis, in search of that explanation. According to William, the ferry was originally used to cross the Red River near Toad Suck, Arkansas.

Bull Shoals Lake Ferry

The Toad Suck

After our passage on the Toad Suck, we drove to Mountain Home, Arkansas, for lunch at Linda's Restaurant. Located on the court square, Diane's is a prototype of the small town meat and three diner. We feasted on BBQ, macaroni and cheese, slaw and cornbread.

After lunch, Bill found another unexpectedly fine road. We hit Highway 142 in Thayer, Missouri, and found it to be wonderful. It was a beautiful 60 mile run. Highway 142 had all the key ingredients; low traffic, smooth road surface, sweepers, twisties and hills. And it ended with another unexpected pleasure.

We stopped at a country store in Doniphan, Missouri, for a soft drink and a short break. While sitting on folding chairs on the porch of the store sipping on our classic Cokes, an elderly gentleman ambled up and asked if those were our bikes. We replied in the affirmative and he offered up, "I ran an Indian motorcycle into the ground in 1935." Our new friend, 90 year old Truman Robinson, owned an Indian motorcycle that he bought right after getting out of the U.S. Army. Warming up to his new friends, Mr. Robinson informed us that he was one of 11 children (7 girls, 4 boys), that his brother survived the Battle of the Bulge and fell in love with a German woman (neither ever married and they still correspond) and that Hall of Fame baseball player Enos Slaughter once hunted with him on his farm. He was charming and spry and only the lack of an extra helmet prevented us taking him with us. Of all the people we've met on this trip, Mr. Robinson is, without doubt, our favorite.

Mr. Robinson

From Doniphan we took Highway 160 on route to Poplar Springs, Missouri. It was another enjoyable Missouri road. While nearing poplar Springs Bill noticed that his rear tire was not behaving well. We stopped at yet another c-store to take a look. Normally inflated to 38 pounds of pressure, it was down to 12.5 pounds. The reason soon became clear: a puncture.

Bill's tire repair kit was not getting the job done and we soon generated a small crowd. Within minutes, we had Missourian Jim Fassell, one of the store employees, a Missouri Highway Patrolman, and an employee of BMW Motorcycles of Little Rock all standing by to offer advice. Dennis, a local Kawasaki rider, stopped his car to offer the name of a local mechanic who reputedly does good work. With that much help the tire was soon patched. Unfortunately though, the patch is only good for a 100 miles of so. Tires to fit a BMW are not readily available and a little concern was evident. We discovered that Cape Girardeau, Missouri, boasts a BMW Motorcycle dealer. A quick call to the dealer established that he has a tire that fits. We took off in that direction and ended the day in Sikeston, Missouri, only 30 or so miles from Cape Girardeau.

Tomorrow, we get a new tire and we drive back to Nashville.

When we planned this trip, we subtracted September 3 from September 28 and came up with 25 days. But, then we realized that September 3 and September 28 and the 24 days in between add up to 26 days and we felt foolish and barely literate. We also realized that a 25 day trip puts us back in Nashville on September 27.

And, as we mentioned yesterday, the closer we get to home, the more the magnet pulls us that way.

So, if all goes well tomorrow, we'll be back home.

The day finishes

Posted by Bill Thompson at 04:29 AM GMT
September 28, 2003 GMT
Day 25

Sikeston, Missouri, to Nashville, Tennessee

235 miles

6252 Total Miles

All good things must pass. But not without a fight.

Although Day 25 marks the end of this wonderful journey, we decided that the adventure wouldn't end until we reached Nashville.

As the day began we faced a big decision. Do we make an out-of-the-way trip to the BMW Motorcycle dealer in Cape Girardeau and buy a new tire for Bill's bike or do we take a big chance and drive on to Nashville? We drove on to Nashville. After all, this is an adventure.

Posted by Bill Thompson at 02:30 AM GMT

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