It seems like this time of year, everything collides, and this trip sneaks up on me quite quickly. I get a late jump on my planning, and an even later jump on packing. I hope I didn’t forget anything important.
As usual, I’m trying out some new gear on this ride. My trusty Vega helmet proved to be a leaky bucket in the rain on my last trip, so I’ve invested in a new Arai Signet-Q lid. It’s by far the most expensive helmet I’ve ever purchased at $557, but my wife Robin has convinced me that it’s a good investment. I didn’t splurge for a fancy graphics package — instead, I bought a $20 set of reflective decals from Applied Graphics , and I put them on myself. The new lid doesn’t look half-bad, I can honestly say, and the reflective graphics will add to the safety factor when I find myself on the road after dark. Cheap and cool.
I fly in to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in the late afternoon, and catch a cab to the BEST WESTERN PLUS DFW Airport Suites in Irving, Texas. I am a little overwhelmed by the heat and humidity that I encounter. In the early evening, it’s still in the upper 80s, and the humidity is up around 90%. Living in Southern California, I’ve grown accustomed to humidity levels of about 30 – 40%. I’m sweating from the minute I leave the airport in Dallas until I reach my hotel room.
I make arrangements with my cab driver to pick me up at 9:00 am in the morning for a ride over to the Harley-Davidson dealership. I always try to make arrangements with one cab or livery driver directly, rather than relying on the dispatcher at the taxi company. I’ve found that the personal connection results in more reliable service. Your results may vary, but I’ve had very good luck, and I’ve met some great cab drivers who have given me great tips on local restaurants, clubs and things to see.
As a hotel adjacent to the airport, the BEST WESTERN PLUS DFW Airport Suites doesn’t offer a lot of dining options within walking distance — especially not at 85 degrees and 90% humidity. Luckily, the front desk clerk is prepared with a wide assortment of menus from nearby restaurants that deliver, and I order up a very satisfying Italian dinner for in-room dining. I’m so bushed from my long day of travel (not to mention my late night of packing) that I retire early, and set my sights for tomorrow’s adventure.
The free hot breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS DFW Airport Suites is served in a comfortable dining room off of the lobby, and I load up on the carbs. I’ve got a long ride ahead of me today, and I need some energy. Plus, I like the carbs.
I check out of the hotel as Ted, my cab driver and new best friend, arrives at 9:00 am on the dot. We’ve got a short ride over to Bedford to pick up my partner for this ride, a 2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra.
I arrive at Adam Smith’s Texas Harley as they are opening the doors for the day. Terry Purdom, Texas Harley’s “Ambassador of Fun” (according to his business card), greets me and we get the paperwork out of the way. I used the Harley-Davidson website to book my ride, and the process couldn’t have been smoother. Now that I’m at the dealership, all I have to do is sign a few forms, load up the bike, and I’m ready to ride.
The dealership will store my luggage while I ride. I long ago developed a system for packing, loading my stuff into saddle bag liners that are designed to fit the hard bags on Harley’s touring lineup, so loading the bike just takes a few minutes. I also attach my RAM Mount to the left side of the Road Glide’s handlebars for those times when I need to use the GPS, and I snap my old fashioned compass to the right side.
Terry helps me nail down my route for the day. I’ll end up in Hot Springs, Arkansas tonight, and there are a number of different possible roads to take. Terry recommends a scenic route that will take me through Oklahoma en route to Arkansas, and I jot down the details. Terry’s a fascinating guy, in addition to being very good at his job as “Ambassador of Fun.” He’s battling Multiple Myeloma, a very aggressive form of cancer. His disease is currently in remission, and Terry has responded to the challenge by grabbing life by both horns. Last year, he completed an 85-day Odyssey on his Harley, and used the trip to help raise cancer awareness with his blog, Terry’s Big Adventure. I could easily spend all day chatting with Terry — but it’s time to ride.
Following Terry’s directions, I ride past Dallas on the President George Bush Turnpike (Highway 190), a toll road through the city’s northwest suburbs. Dallas has automated many of their toll roads. Instead of stopping to hand over cash, you just ride through designated lanes. Sophisticated cameras snap a picture of your license plate, untangle it through OCR (optical character recognition), and then send a bill to the registered owner for the toll. The GB Turnpike was the first completely electronic toll road when the system deployed in 2009. I guess Terry will get my toll bill, and we’ll settle up when I get back.
I plow north through Texas, following Route 121. The ride itself isn’t particularly fascinating, consisting mostly of four-lane divided highway. But what is fascinating is the way that the landscape changes as I get further away from Dallas. The suburbs quickly thin out, and the towns get smaller and smaller. It’s a very hot day for spring. The temperature is close to 90 degrees as I ride, and the humidity is just as high. I’m happy to be moving. I’m wearing the full compliment of gear — a Harley-Davidson FXRG Perforated Leather jacket, FXRG leather and textile overpants over Kevlar-lined jeans, FXRG boots and a pair of good leather gloves, not to mention my new Arai helmet. I have opened all of the vents on my clothing, and I’m surprisingly comfortable, despite the conditions. As long as I keep moving, that is.
I see a lot of other riders on the road today. Many Texans choose not to wear a helmet when they ride, which is their right. Texas does not require riders over the age of 20 to wear a helmet. The Harley-Davidson rental contract that I signed at Texas Harley does require me to wear a helmet, but I would wear one anyway. I get a little freaked out when I see helmetless riders. I don’t believe that laws are the answer — but I do believe that if riders had the proper education, they’d never get on a bike without a DOT approved helmet, regardless of what the law says.
I stop at the Texas/Oklahoma border. I saw a sign as I passed through Denison, Texas that said “Eisenhower Birthplace,” but I must have missed a turn. I pull in to the Texas Travel Information Center, and the guide behind the counter draws me up a map back to the site. While we’re at it, I ask him for a recommendation for a local lunch spot. He couldn’t have been more helpful — great stop.
I backtrack through Denison, make a few turns through the Historic Downtown, and come to the birthplace of Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. Maintained by the Texas Historical Commission, the Eisenhower Birthplace Historic Site is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, with a modest admission price of $4 for adults. The house is preserved in the style it would have had when Ike was born in 1890, though most of the original furniture and artifacts have been relocated to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas. Of course, I have arrived on a Monday, the only day in the week without tours, but a groundskeeper lets me ride onto the property to explore the exterior of the modest farmhouse. Looking at the house and yard, I get a real vibe for Eisenhower’s roots. He’s always been a subject of fascination for me, as his was the first Presidential Library that I ever visited, way back when I was a kid. There’s a great, heroic statue of Eisenhower in the garden beside his birthplace, arms akimbo, looking out over the neighborhood. I’m glad I stopped.
I wave farewell and give a toot of the horn to the kindly groundskeeper as I head to my lunch spot. Across town on the other side of Denison, I pull up at Jones Family Bar-B-Que. I order a brisket sandwich, coleslaw and unsweetened iced tea. The bread is fresh-baked, the brisket is fall-apart tender, and the coleslaw packs a snappy punch. Just the meal I wanted, especially since the dining room is kind of funky, decorated with antique tin signs and — thank heavens — air conditioned.
I’m full, refreshed and rehydrated, and ready to ride. Back on the bike, I cross the Red River into Oklahoma. My buddy, playwright Tracy Letts, grew up in Durant, Oklahoma, just across the river, so I feel obligated to take a quick spin through town. I’m unable to locate the “World’s Largest Peanut” statue that the town is so famous for, but it’s a charming little city, nonetheless.
I’ve been warned about the weather in Oklahoma — mostly by Texans, to be fair. But the heat and humidity persist, along with rapid changes in the sky. One minute it looks clear, then the horizon darkens, and I feel like I’m riding into a storm. Just when I’m positive that rain must come, the sky clears again, and it’s a beautiful day. I can see from the moisture on the road and from puddles beside the pavement that it has been raining on and off, but somehow I never hit more than a drizzle.
Eventually, I hit the highlight of the route that Terry drew up for me back in Bedford: The Talimena National Scenic Byway. This 54-mile long road goes across the top of the Ouachita Mountains from Talihina in eastern Oklahoma to Mena in western Arkansas. The road winds through forested hills and peaks, and has 22 scenic pull-offs along its length. All of which would have been awesome on another day. Today, thanks to the low-lying clouds and high heat and humidity, the Talimena National Scenic Byway is a 54-mile trail of fog. I ride through the thickest fog bank I have ever seen this far from the ocean. I can barely see ten feet in front of my headlights, and I’m forced to slow down to 20 miles per hour. I ride with my flashers on, praying that anyone else on the road is driving as carefully as I am. I contemplate pulling off at one of the scenic pull-offs and waiting for the fog to lift, but I suspect that will mean spending the night alone in the forest, which I’m not eager to do. After nearly three hours in the fog, the road drops down beneath the canopy and I can see again. That was a harrowing ride. I had my GoPro Helmet Hero HD camera operating for much of the ride — hope that footage comes out.
From Mena, it’s another hour or so into Hot Springs along US 270, a pleasantly twisty two-laner. It’s dark when I hit Hot Springs, but I’m able to find the BEST WESTERN Winners Circle Inn right on Central Avenue, across from the Oaklawn Racing and Gaming horse track (Winners Circle — get it?). I’m too tired to explore town tonight, especially after my foggy mountain ride. Luckily, the front desk clerk at the Winners Circle Inn recommends Rocky’s Place, a family-style Italian restaurant and sports bar, right next door to the hotel. I unload the Road Glide, which I have parked right next to the hotel office, change out of my riding gear and head over to Rocky’s Place. The little restaurant turns out to be a gem, with all bread baked on the premises, a great beer selection and a killer meatball sub. It’s just the ticket for my foggy brain.
Tomorrow’s ride won’t be nearly as long, and there’s a cherry on top: I’ll get to explore Hot Springs in the morning, and I’ll get to see a show in Branson tomorrow night. Visions of meatballs dance in my head as I fall asleep.
Miles Ridden: 387.2
NEXT: Five State Motorcycle Marathon: Day Two, Hot Springs, AR to Branson, MO