May 24 2012 by Jason Fogelson
I wake up at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Landing View Inn & Suites still thinking about meeting Jim Stafford last night, and seeing his show. I never would have believed that riding a Harley-Davidson would lead me here, but that's part of the magic of motorcycling. You never know what might be around the next bend.
I pick up a bunch of brochures in the lobby of the hotel before loading up my plate with hot eggs, sausage and toast. While I drink my coffee, I plot a route through Branson that will take me past some more of the theaters and attractions.
I load up the Road Glide, and cruise across Main Street. Along the way, I see ads and theater marquees promoting a wide variety of acts and shows. There's are plenty of venues for Country music, including the Mickey Gilley Theatre, the Grand Country Music Hall and the Little Opry Theatre. There are venues for oldies, like the Branson Hot Hits Theatre, Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater and Branson Variety Theatre. Big names are due in town soon, like Bill Cosby coming to the Mansion Theatre in October, Chubby Checker at the Icon Theatre in November, and Andy Williams playing his own Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in September. Yakov Smirnoff has his own theater, and so does the New Shanghai Circus. Unlike Las Vegas, most shows in Branson are family friendly. There may be cheese in Branson, but there's very little sleaze.
It's time to ride out of town. I've been invited to try out the Branson Zipline Canopy Tour, which is seven miles north of Branson on US-65. The Branson Zipline looks like a very cool way to get a look at the Ozarks from a totally unique perspective -- from up in the trees. It's a one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hour tour of the Wolfe Creek Preserve, slipping along a zipline while seated in a harness. The tour is conceived as an Eco-Adventure, and looks like a thrill ride crossed with a National Geographic special. Prices start at $19.95 for a photo safari that skips the zipline in favor of a downhill hike, to $39.99 for the Blue Streak Fast Line, to $99.99 for the Ozarks Xplorer Canopy Tour. There are discounts for families and kids. Reservations are recommended, and can be made online at www.BransonZipline.com. I have to be completely honest -- I have a terrible aversion to heights, so I would probably opt for the photo safari.
Unfortunately, I ride right past the Branson Zipline on US-65 North. It's going to be another hot one, and the skies are threatening. The road is as straight as a ruler, a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. It's not the most challenging road I've ever experienced, but it does give me a chance to look around and to experience the Road Glide a bit. The Road Glide is a real sleeper in the Harley-Davidson lineup, but it has become my favorite over the past few rides. It shares a chassis, powertrain and suspension with the rest of the Touring lineup. Where it differs is in its fairing. The Electra Glide is equipped with a "batwing" fairing that is mounted to the front forks. When the front wheel turns, so does the fairing. The Road King gets a fork-mounted removable windshield. The Road Glide's fairing is a shark-nosed structure that is mounted to the frame. That means that the fairing doesn't turn with the fork -- which can cause a bit of disorientation at first. Once you get used to that (in about three turns), you notice that the Road Glide's cockpit is roomier than the Electra Glide's. The gauges and windshield are further away from your face, which adds to the sense of space. More significantly, the Road Glide is much more stable in the wind. A gust of wind that might require corrective steering on an Electra Glide leaves the Road Glide unaffected, because the mass of the frame is so much greater than the mass of the front fork. Additionally, the Road Glide has much better illumination, with dual headlamps where the Electra Glide and Road King both have a single. Once I recognized the Road Glide's superior functionality, I came to appreciate and admire its appearance. There are few touring bikes cooler than an Electra Glide, I fully admit. But the Road Glide has charmed me. When I finally buy a touring bike for my personal garage, it will be a Road Glide.
In Springfield, I jog across to Missouri-13, a slightly smaller road than US-65, but still straight as an arrow. The towns get smaller, the farms get larger. I'm seeing groups of lazy cows, keeping cool in the heat by wading into ditches and ponds. Lunchtime finds me in Clinton, Missouri. I follow my nose through the tiny town, and stumble across Brown's BBQ. The sign claims that the business was established in 1954, and the building has the right patina, along with a crowd of nicely padded customers. I park the Glide and take a booth in the air-conditioned comfort of Brown's. The cool comfort is worth the price of the meal by itself -- but the pulled-pork sandwich turns out to be delicious, and the amusement of being called "Sweetie" by the 20-something waitress adds flavor to the meal.
After drinking down a gallon of iced tea and water, I'm back on the bike, pushing ahead to the north. I leave MO-13 for Missouri's Route 7, which takes me right through Garden City, Harrisonville, Peculiar, Harrelson and Belvidere. Traffic begins to get thicker as I am now in the outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri, a city of 500,000 with a metro area of over 2 million people. I have to negotiate the spaghetti network of freeways, interstates and interchanges. I cross the bridge over the Missouri River, and I'm now in Kansas City, Kansas -- a political distinction more than anything else. Kansas City is one big metro area, really.
A few exits into Kansas on I-435, and I've arrived at the BEST WESTERN PREMIER Speedway Inn & Suites. I'm very excited -- this is my first stay at a BEST WESTERN PREMIER, and I'm eager to experience the PREMIER difference for myself. The hotel is located right at the gate to the Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile tri-oval track which is home to NASCAR races. Kansas Speedway seats over 72,000, with parking for more than 35,000 vehicles. This is a big place, and you could literally walk to the front gate after eating your free hot breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PREMIER Speedway Inn & Suites -- much more elegant than parking an RV in the infield.
Even closer to the BEST WESTERN is the LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, a brand new multi-purpose stadium that is literally across the street from the hotel. According to their website, LSP is the "first philanthropic stadium in the world... A portion of all stadium revenues at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, including ticket sales and concessions, will fund LIVESTRONG's work in the fight against cancer, and lay the groundwork for developing local services for the cancer community in Kansas City." LSP is the home of Sporting Kansas City, a Major League Soccer team. It's a state of the art facility that is also home to many other sporting events, concerts and other special events.
Also within walking distance of the hotel is an elegant outdoor shopping center, Legends Shopping Mall; the new Hollywood Casino; Cabela's; and Nebraska Furniture Mart. The Kansas City T-Bones, a minor league professional baseball team, plays at nearby CommunityAmerica Ballpark. If you can't find something fun to do near the BEST WESTERN Speedway Inn & Suites, it's your own fault.
A good buddy who lives in Kansas City comes by for dinner, and we stroll down the parkway to the newest branch of Arthur Bryant's Barbeque. The original Arthur Bryant's is on Brooklyn Avenue in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, where it has been a popular destination for barbeque fans since 1930. There are now three locations -- the original, an outlet at the Ameristar Casino in KC, MO, and this freestanding restaurant next to the Legends Shopping Mall. The new location duplicates the casual, cafeteria-style feel of the original, and uses the same ingredients, recipes and suppliers. I can't speak to any differences in quality between branches -- all I can say is that the Legends Arthur Bryant's is fantastic.
After dinner, my buddy and I still have some more talking to do, so we head over to the Yard House, a bar and restaurant with over 130 taps of beer. We belly up to the bar, order up some specialty brews and catch up on old times and bring each other up to date on our lives.
Too soon, it's time to say goodbye, and my buddy drives off to his home in Overland Park. I return to the plush surroundings of the BEST WESTERN PREMIER, feeling pampered by the luxurious trappings of my room. I'm always happy with my rooms at BEST WESTERN hotels -- but I'm really impressed with the extra boost of elegance at this PREMIER.
I've reached the midway point of my trip. After heading north for three days, I'm about to turn south again tomorrow. I've got a special treat to explore in Kansas City before I leave -- a special Harley-Davidson treat just across the river in Missouri.
Miles Ridden: 240.2
NEXT: Five State Motorcycle Marathon: Day Four, Kansas City, KS to Tulsa, OK