I left work a few minutes after 5:00 PM on Wednesday, April 24th. The bike was packed, full of fuel, ready to run. It had been warm and partly cloudy with a little shower earlier, but it was now getting cooler and the wind was blustering out of the northwest. As has become my wont, I took 202 from Flippin to Summit, a shortcut that avoids US 62/412 and the "congestion" of Yellville. Within minutes I was west of Yellville, heading west on 62/412. It became cooler as I ran along toward Harrison, and I started thinking maybe I should have put on some long sleeves under the jacket, and maybe the intermediate gloves instead of the summer ones. I was loath to stop, though, so I endured just a little discomfort from the cold and figured I'd ride as far as I could stand it before stopping to change things.
Getting through Harrison turned out to be easier and quicker than expected, and in no time I was north of town and on the 4-lane, headed for Alpena. The wind continued to bluster, causing Cognac the Wander Bike to lean into it every now and then. While I was still a little chilly, it wasnít terribly uncomfortable. I kept rolling.
In Alpena, when 412 split from 62, I broke southwest on 412. This is as about as straight a road as the Ozarks has to offer, consisting of lots of gradual ups and downs, big sweeping turns, and the occasional twisty bit. You can run very high speeds on 412 if you dare, but it does get some attention from the LEOs. I maintained a steady 75 mph, about 10 mph higher than I had up to that point. The temperature didnít seem to be falling, so I continued to endure a bit of chill for the sake of putting miles behind me while the sun still shone.
One concern I had was having to ride directly into the setting sun, but at this pace it appeared I might make it to Fayetteville, where I could turn straight south, before the angle got down into my eyes. And, it worked out that way.
Originally, I had planned on taking Hwy 74 out of Huntsville, and that might have been a little quicker, but as I approached the turn I reasoned that riding through Huntsville to pick up 74 would slow me down as much as riding through a piece of Fayetteville, and I also wanted to see how work on the bridge over the White River on 45 was going. Okay, so I also wanted to get a look at Old Main - canít help it, but every now and then it does me good to see that grand old building. So I continued on 412 to near Hindsville, where I broke left onto 45.
The bridge is coming along nicely, but they donít seem to have gotten as far as I would have thought. Not a big slowdown, but still a construction site, for sure.
Then I was in Fayetteville, riding the route I first travelled back in 1964 with my parents, when they drove me to college and my first experience with living away from home, at the tender age of 17. Hwy 45 intersects with College Avenue (US 71B), and I was first in line at the light, in the left turn lane. As I sat waiting for the light to change, I was looking straight ahead at the twin towers of Old Main. My mind wandered back about 40 years for the 20 seconds or so that I sat there, and it was sufficient to give me my U of A fix for the day. When the arrow went green, I peeled off to the left and headed south. A few minutes later, I was entering the on ramp for I 540 south, still not having stopped to change the gear to a warmer level.
Now, like most riders, I abhor an Interstate. But, like a few others around the country, I 540 is a pretty nice ride in spite of itself. As you leave Fayetteville, it climbs up on top the ridge of the Boston Mountains and pretty well stays up there all the way to the Arkansas River valley. Yes, it does make a few swoops down to holler level, but for the most part it is a high road. Old US 71, which was the only way down through there until just recently, spent a lot of time winding along creeks and valleys, making laborious climbs up the hills and precarious descents down the other side. Yes, it was/is a fun road to ride, but it isnít great for making time, and it used to be choked with cage traffic enough to be a real pain. I 540 eliminates all that and offers breathtaking views to boot. It tries to stay on the ridge top, settles for the upper flank of hills when it canít, and in one place just gives up and bores right through a mountain via a half-mile long tunnel. Great fun!
All the way to this point, I had gambled on it getting warmer as my route carried me southward, and now I began to reap the rewards. As soon as I jumped onto I 540, the wind was to my back instead of a bothersome, blustery, cross wind. This instantly had the effect of raising the temperature about 10 degrees. And as I continued straight south, the actual temperature did begin to rise. The last time I felt a hint of chill was right before entering the tunnel. At the other end it was noticeably warmer, and it continued to improve as I rode south.
Now, the purpose of this trip was to get back to south Texas, where I could bask in the beauty of that country and treat my soul to the great feelings I get when Iím down there. My 5 years in Texas werenít overly blessed with prosperity, but I sure did like living there. Still, as I kept Cognac at a steady 75 across the Arkansas hilltops, I couldnít help but think how really nice it is here, too. I rode along surrounded by spring bursting out all over, the trees just beginning to leaf out, the grass greening up everywhere, and acre after acre of bright red sweet clover blooming in the median and alongside the road. My instincts kept screaming at me to stop and take a picture of that eye-searing red backed by the pastel green of the trees lit by the soft golden glow of the sinking sun, but I was fully in the grasp of the traveling mode as the air warmed and the miles clicked away beneath the humming wheels of Cognac the Wander Bike. "Iíll stop and shoot a picture on the way home," I told myself. Yeah, right.
Suddenly I passed an exit marked "Rudy" and I knew I was almost to I 40. Moments later, I had to choose between I 40 East and I 40 West, and I banked right and found myself on that worn, rough, bouncy, slab of concrete with about 10,000 other vehicles, jockeying for position with big trucks and trying to avoid potholes and uneven seams. I popped over the hill above Van Buren to see the sun hovering just above the horizon and realized I had not only been fighting the urge to stop to take pictures, but also the urge to give in to personal comfort, so I took exit 5 and stopped at the combination McDonaldís/gas station/convenience store to use the restroom. I had been sipping on water all the way along, and it had finally overcome me. It's nice to have on-board water to keep you hydrated, but it sure makes for more frequent bladder-relief stops!
When I rolled out of my driveway that morning, headed for work, Cognac had 43,150 miles on the odo. As I pumped 3.88 gallons of unleaded into his tank there in Van Buren, it read 43,325. 175 miles, meaning 45 mpg. Not bad for a start, huh? I wasnít keeping track of time, but it had only taken about 2.5 hours to that point. We were doing well.
I did take a few minutes there to eat a small bag of peanuts, just to hold me over till supper. I didnít know it then, but that would turn out to be supper.
As a concession to the coming evening, I did change gloves in Van Buren, but I didn't put on any more clothing. That turned out to be okay, since the air remained warm as I rolled westward on I-40 into Oklahoma. The sun was down as I rolled out of Van Buren, and it was dark shortly after I crossed the Oklahoma line. For the first few miles, the roadway is nice and smooth, freshly paved, and an easy ride. A little later, though, it goes back to so-so - not as bad as that last stretch in Arkansas before Van Buren, but not perfect, either. Still, Cognac loped along easily, sucking in the miles at the rate of 75 an hour. It wasnít long before I reached Checotah, where I exited I-40 and continued southwestward on US 69. 69 is a road with a split personality. Part smooth, fresh, pavement, part rough, disjointed, and no fun at all. Okay for making good time, though, except for all the towns it passes through. Most of them are pretty small, though, and are quickly dispensed with. There just isnít a quicker way from upper Arkansas to Big D, that I know of.
Past the interminable Lake Eufaula, clearly visible in the dark under the nearly full moon on my right, through MacAlister, Kiowa, Atoka, Durant, and, finally, into Texas. Somewhere along in there, the road becomes 69/75, and just over the Texas line, 69 goes off to the southeast. I continued on southwest on 75. As I hit the Red River valley, the wind picked up again, and I felt the air grow cold. Seems that front had somehow gotten ahead of me... but it didn't last long. A few miles later I rode out of the chill, and was soon in Plano. Recalling the directions he had given me, and the memory of having been there once before a year ago, I rode straight to Greg's house. He came bounding out the front door and directed me around back to his garage, where we put Cognac up for the night.
This was to be the second longest leg of the trip, from Van Buren, Arkansas to Plano, Texas, 273 miles in about 5 hours, non-stop. I had left Flippin at about 5:10 PM, and it was about 12:10 AM when I rolled into Gregís garage. Seven hours flat, 448 miles, averaging 64 mph. Yep, the trip was off to a great start!
Greg and I had a short visit, then hit the hay. He had to work the next morning, and was tired from getting ready for the Waltz Across Texas that weekend. By 8:00 the next morning, Greg was enroute to work and I was in a local cafe called Chubby's, chowing down on some badly needed bacon and eggs - I hadn't actually eaten supper the night before, having had only a bag of peanuts, way back in Van Buren.
I fueled the bike at the station adjacent to the restaurant, putting in 6 gallons even. 45.5 mpg. Still doing great on the mileage, too.
By 9:00 AM I was back on the road, fighting my way through Dallas traffic on 75 south. Soon I was through the heart of town and onto 35E, then past I-20 and on westward. It was along this stretch that my hopes for some good wildflower viewing were boosted when I saw several large patches of bluebonnets and paintbrushes alongside the road. Unfortunately, they were to be almost the only ones I saw on this trip.
At Hillsboro, I veered off the Big Road and took Hwy 22 southwestward toward the best-kept highway secret in Texas: US 281. I continued rolling along on this good surfaced, mostly straight, but undulating over the toes of the Hill Country road, keeping up a steady 70 - 75 mph. On separate occasions, I caught and passed two Texas DPS (State Trooper, Highway Patrol in other states) cruising along far below the speed limit. They didn't seem at all interested in me, and didn't impede my progress at all.
Deep into the rural countryside, I glanced over to my right and saw the first irresistible stimulus to stop and take a picture.
I turned around and went back to take a picture of a big ol' tom turkey struttin' his stuff. If you look closely in this picture, you can see him. No? Well, he had dropped tail and start walking away... In my wide lens he's just a little dot in the center of this picture.
This is a second shot of the same thing. I think ol' Tom was outta sight by now.
While I was standing there, I couldn't resist taking a shot of this little drive winding out of sight over the hill. This is exactly the kind of place I'd like to live. On a nicely paved back road, over a hill, and out of sight. Some kind of discouragement to keep trespassers away, in my own private little worldÖ
22 dropped me onto 281 at Hamilton, and I blasted southward without hesitation on this wonderful four-lane road that is a pleasure to drive and still make great time - in the daytime, anyway. Not a lot of fun at night because most of the time all four lanes are up against each other without a median. But, it's a very lightly traveled road where you can let it run without fussing with a lot of traffic.
I stopped to take a break in Lampassas, consuming another bag of peanuts, then ran on to Burnet, where I officially began meandering. I veered west on 29 out of Burnet, backed the pace down from 75 and 80 to a more leisurely 60 or so, and enjoyed looking at the many craggy hills of solid pink granite that decorate this area. Itís called the "Pink Granite Capitol of the World", as I recall. Riding through there, I found a song by Pat Green playing in my head... "Everybody's gotta get away sometime..." Yeah, I was getting away, and really enjoying it!
On down the road, near Buchanan Dam, I found this little rest area and stopped to take a few pictures.
Cognac sits in front of the jumbled pile of rocks with steps laid up into them. Note the bar-b-que grill silhouetted against the sky.
Up amidst the jumble. No, no one put them there like this - there are piles of them like this all over the place around there.
Amazing what you can do with a jumble of rocks, isn't it? The picnic table was surprisingly clean.
While I was there, an ol' Texas boy drove up in a Chevy pickemup, jumped out, said, "Howdy", and quickly walked behind the rocks. He came out a couple of minutes later and explained, "Best piss stop in Texas!" Jumped back into his pickup and away he went.
This is the "pasture" across the fence behind the rest area. Unbelievably rugged and rough, yet cattle graze out there.
Below is a shot of a clump of cacti and flowers growing just across the fence.
Right across the road from the rest area was a fine patch of wildflowers. Typical of what you see down there - I rode for miles with an almost uninterrupted carpet of these on both sides of the road.
A few miles after leaving the rest area, I was in Llano and in need of fuel. I stopped just long enough to get it and to use the restroom, fill up my water bag, and head on out again, completely forgetting I was a block away from Cooperís Bar-B-Que, arguably one of the best bar-b-que places on earth! What an oversight! But, I wasnít terribly hungry right then.
265 miles, 5.95 gallons. 44.5 mpg. It was starting to get warm.
Just south of Llano, I turned again, onto Ranch Road 965, toward Enchanted Rock.
This is a mostly straight road through very unpopulated country, undulating over low hills and occasionally diving into a creek bed where it crosses by means of a low water bridge. Kept meaning to stop and take a shot of one of them, but never did. To really liven things up, every couple of miles you cross a metal cattle guard! One place I'm really kicking myself for not photographing involved signs announcing "Watch For Water On Road", "Narrow Bridge", "Cattle Guard", and a sharp curve all at once - the photo would not only have shown the signs, but the things they announced as well. Fiddle. Maybe next trip...
Then I crested a rise and there in the distance before me stood Enchanted rock! I had to pull off the road and take a picture, in spite of all the signs warning it was illegal to do so there. Here's Cognac parked off pavement for the first time during the trip:
Yeah, I knew better than to do that, but... it looked clean, and I didn't run over any cactus... I hoped!
I stepped out into the middle of the road to take this picture. No sweat - I was there at least 10 minutes, and no cars went by the whole time. Did I mention itís unpopulated out there?
I'll say it over and over again, but pictures can't do this country justice. I don't know what it is about the Hill Country and south Texas, but just being there thrills my soul. Maybe it's the openness, maybe itís the distance, I don't know. All I know is this was breathtaking when I was there, but the picture is a little lacking. Oh well. My mind can fill in the rest... hope yours can too!
A few miles later I was able to park at the foot of the big rock. Since it was a Thursday and the off season, there wasn't a big crowd there, but there were a few groups of people on the rock when I took this picture. No, you can't make them out at all. Does that help you understand the size of this thing? Probably not - you really have to be there. It is one BIG rock!
A few miles later, I rolled into Fredricksburg. I had planned on finding a cheap place to stay there - yes it is possible, but not likely if you havenít planned ahead. The place I wanted to stay has raised its rates from $35 a night to $45, and it only had one room for one night, booked solid the rest of the weekend. I decided to pass on it and go on a little deeper into the hills.
I took Hwy 16 south, crossing under I 10, into Kerrville. I looked around at several possibilities, and decided I might as well go on. Sitting at the intersection of SH 16 and 27, I knew I was looking across the Guadalupe at the first of the "real" hills. Next stop: Bandera!
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