Day 15
May 10th

I woke up to a dismal sky filled with fog and mist, but was surrounded by like-minded adventurers. Since I had a level, safe area to work I popped the side cases off and got the bike up on the center stand so I could adjust the chain again. I busted a knuckle open loosening up a bolt, but otherwise it was uneventful. Passers by stopped to chat and Traci attempted a dead-lift with one of my ammo cases. "Yup, they're heavy." LOL

I walked down the hill towards the restaurant/bakery for breakfast and met up with a wide-eyed version of the group I'd mingled with the night before.

I think this cinnamon roll fed six of us.

I ordered my eggs scrambled, but it took almost an hour for a plate to appear before me so I just ate what was on it.

On my way back to the bike to gear up, I caught this man staring at the tail end of a paper-plated KLR. He says he just got it, and his father got the matching one parked beside it. He was still in the "admiring my new bike" phase and I don't blame him one bit.

After a quick chit chat over a map, Scoon, Ian, and I had a plan for me to follow some twisty bits into Arkansas to meet up with Jamey (jar675) in Mena for dinner and the final leg of the trip home the next day. Most everyone rolled out of camp before I did, so the goodbyes were minimal.

I followed Hwy 5 down into a state I'd ridden in before - Arkansas. Without much of a shoulder to park on, I tip-toed the bike in a narrow ditch to get the state sign from the saddle.

I didn't feel completely awake, mostly because the sun had no intention of coming out to greet me. The weather report wasn't looking good at all - threats of afternoon tornadoes in the northern half of the state meant I had to keep heading south to avoid them.

A scenic vista. Well, not-so-scenic if the fog doesn't let ya see it.

But it turned out to be a worthwhile stop. As I backed away from the bike for a picture I noticed Spank had come loose and was dangling from a bungee cord. YIKES! After all this poor monkey has been through, having him jump ship on the road would almost certainly cause my friends to disown me!

Snuggled up tight, Spank and I continued on our way - until the fog rolled in, the rain poured down, and the wind picked up. I ducked under the awning of a closed shop to clear my visor and see if it would calm down at all.

The wind would gust and swirl, but it wasn't constant and I managed to creep my way south at 50-75% of the posted speed limit. I was just as afraid of someone speeding through the thick fog and slamming into the back of me as I was crashing into something ahead because of poor visibility and loss of traction. Anytime I heard an approaching vehicle or saw the glimmer of lights in my mirrors I'd flash my brake lights until I was certain they saw me. I pulled to the right and waved most of the traffic around me, but one car hovered a few lengths back and "kept watch" over me for a while.

This is NOT my idea of fun.

I was so nervous, my arms and shoulders couldn't relax the death grip I had on the handlebars. I pulled off for a potty break as soon as I saw the shoulder open up enough to park safely.

To top off a perfectly terrible mood, my GPS decided it didn't want to abort the route we'd programmed and just take me straight to Mena.

Ok, I'll do it myself then. There are people who tell me I should try to rely less on the GPS and just ride where I feel like going. I turned off the routing feature and continued south on 7 through Jasper, opting to head west then south towards Clarksville on 21 instead of 16 or 123, the "Pig Trail". Even on a bright, sunny day I would have been terrified on the mountainous curves that run through this region - today was testing the limits of my patience.

I was glad to be riding solo so that my speed (or lack of) wasn't getting in the way and I could stop as often as I wanted to take a break and try to relax. On the flipside, I didn't have anyone to follow through the turns or reassure me that we'd make it down the mountain in one piece. Nobody to sing me the "chicken dance" in my helmet this time around.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

I don't know, but I hadn't realized how empty my belly was until I passed through Ozone and caught a whiff of something cooking. I turned around to see what the speck I'd seen on the side of the road was and decided I'd just found lunch.

The Ozone Burger Barn.

I ordered up a bacon patty melt and some fries, then sat down at the picnic table with a map and my GPS. It was still giving me fits, so I started deleting things to see if I'd just over-filled it. Sure enough, it started to play nice again. Whew!

Yummmmmm! The burger barn gets four out of five stars - they lost one because the guy at the window put my food on the ledge when it was done without even alerting me.

While I was there, a hi-viz-yellow-wearing VStrom rider went by with a wave. I was certain it was one of the SLAP boys that had wandered out this way, but when the bike came back I met Moriyama out on his own cross-country adventure.

We sat and chatted for a bit while I finished my fries and he chomped away at his burger. I used my back-up maps to formulate a plan, and decided that the quickest route south to the interstate would help me get down out of the elevation and, hopefully, the fog.

Not five minutes down the road from lunch, small bits began to hit my head and hands. I couldn't believe that it could be hail, so I slowed and held my hand out to catch some - and sure enough, they were the size of green peas. They came down harder, and felt like golf balls smacking helmet. I've never ridden in hail, so I took the already slow pace down another notch to avoid sliding on the ice marbles laid out before me.

The camera was the last thing on my mind. I had actually started to worry that I'd pushed myself too far and thought I might need to find somewhere to pull off and call it a day - but I'd shipped my camping gear home and needed a hotel.

Slowly but surely, I inched my way down the mountain and onto the highway. I stopped in Clarkesville for gas and to charge my GPS which was now low on battery power. I can't charge it while its in the "powered but non functioning RAM cradle" so I spent a little extra time looking over a map and making a few phone calls. As I began to gear back up, the clerk came out and asked if I was Rebecca. "Uh, yeah... why?"

I'd dropped my wallet in the restroom and she found it when she went in there to mop the floor. Wow, that could have been a crisis!

I motored on south on 71 towards Mena, and stopped in Boles to check in with Jamey and find out what hotel I'd be looking for. I had a text messsage, "Call me ASAP".

The first thing out of my mouth was "are you ok?" He was riding up from Houston and I was worried he'd hit bad weather or something had gone wrong.

"I'm fine. You need to get here fast. First hotel you see when you get to town, Sun Country Inn. It's on the left."

I can't rush. I knew he was anxious to see me but changing my pace isn't going to... "The weather is headed right for you, and it's bad. Just get here."

"I'm on my way." The phone was tucked away, and for the first time since my mad rush through New Jersey I was in a hurry. Within a few minutes, the sky got dark and the wind picked back up and was gusting, pushing me over the yellow line a few times. There were no other cars out here with me, so I stopped fighting it and let the bike wander a bit.

Then the rain started, and it went from droplets to buckets within seconds. I could feel the temperature change a few degrees, but my liners were in and other than my hands I was staying dry. I had to slow my pace. Hurried riding in conditions like this can only lead to mistakes.

I made it to Mena and quickly found the hotel. Jamey's bike was up on the sidewalk and mine joined it after a quick hop up the curb. As my helmet came off, I got a hug that made the last day of misery worth it.

Most of the local TV channels were being interrupted by severe weather alerts. As much as I'd ridden through, it seems I may have missed the worst of it. Tornadoes has touched down in a few places, and damage reports were still rolling in.

I rid myself of all the layers of clothes and took a long, hot shower. Jamey kept his eye on the weather and by the time I was done and dressed, it was drying up. We decided to head into town for dinner 2-up on my Strom.

The view from the back of my bike:

We circled the town looking for something good, but it was almost deserted. There was a Mexican restaurant and a Dairy Queen, neither of which got our vote. We crossed the railroad tracks and eventually found the Chopping Block Steak House Restaurant. Splurge time!

Sorry, I forgot to take a picture before I ravaged my pepperjack chicken.

Jamey and his cheesecake:

I ordered a slice of silk pie for dessert, but had it boxed to go when I realized I was overstuffed and couldn't properly enjoy it after the meal. As Jamey rolled the bike backwards and I got ready to hop on, the sign caught my attention...

"Welcome swingers and open moms"

Uh, what?!?!?

Either they'd run out of sign letters and abbreviated poorly or someone was messing with the sign. Here's the other side:

I think I talked his ear off with stories of my trip, but Jamey was happy to hear them first-hand and assured me tomorrow's weather wouldn't be nearly as exciting.

Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas
313 ugly miles