Day 1
August 21st, 2014
Prattville, Ala.

I was up before the 5am alarm.  The long drought was about to come to a end.  I was riding West for the first time in 5 years.  Having accomplished everything I ever wanted and more in Long Riding, I'd been concentrating on other things in my life the last few years.  But long riding was never off my mind.  Even while I was running and training for the marathon, I thought about it.  I'd be out training on a dark, cold morning, doing a 20 mile run, and pass the time thinking of some far off road I'd leaned years ago.

But today it was time to ride.  I kissed Debbie good bye before sliding the Shoei down on my head.  With the FJR warming up I raised the garage door to view a dark, humid, morning.  "Please becareful."  "Always, I'll call you in a couple of hours."

With goodbyes taken care of I dropped into gear and headed out.  I left my neighborhood and headed down Fairview Ave to East Prattville to gas up at the Entec Station at I-65.  It would take me out of the way a few miles, but I wanted to top off the FJ with non ethanol, and Entec had the best price on that.

The morning was dark, and warm, at 5:30am it was already 79 degrees.  Welcome to August in Alabama.  I started the day with the Roadcrafter vented out, and summer gloves.  Last minute radar check announced no rain anywhere along my route.  But come late afternoon that could change.  "I'd welcome a shower late this afternoon, I'm sure its going to a hot ride all the way."  I've done this ride to Eureka Spring several times, both north and south bound versions.  It is not a easy ride of 600+ miles.  The worst being the 200 miles of I-40 from Memphis to SR 7 west of Little Rock. 

With the gas tank full, it was a short ride to the 186 exit of I-65, where I veered north.  The entrance ramp at this exit is unique as it is uphill to the highway, but the powerful FJR paid that no attention.  I had it on 80 before I topped the hill to merge over.

​A few seconds I was in the flow at 75.  I kept my speed down because I was afraid of deer this time of day.  Daylight was still 30 minutes away.  The Zumo 390 was directing me to the starting point of my custom route- ARk SR 7, over 500 miles away.

The 390 is a product of my recent equipment upgrading.  Last December I made a list of new items I needed to update my inventory.  New gloves, helmet, GPS, HD camera, boots, neck wallet, tire repair kit, and a few other things, all were making their first long ride.  The only item I didn't get to was a new Roadcrafter, my current suit was still working, although 2 zippers were no longer of any use.  Perhaps by the Fall Ride.

By the time I made Clanton, I had the FJR on cruise control, and was leaning back on the Motofizz.  I kept the screen low to move air through the Roadcrafter.
Between the FJR's electronics, and the Zumo, I had plenty to keep me entertained.

This would be my first trip West this late in the summer.  I know the weather in August far more unstable on the Plains than in June.  I'll just have to deal with it, I'm too far down the food chain at work to get a week off in June.

I spent the time adjusting to the FJRs menu and switches.  Unlike my other bikes, the FJ has a menu thing.  When you want to adjust something (shocks, windscreen, heated grips, data) you have to scroll the menu to the desired item. 

I was having trouble remembering to do that.  Add the fact the windshield switch is above the cruise -/+ switch and I was having all kinds of trouble.  I can't tell you how many times I wanted to move to move the to speed up the bike because I hit the cruise switch.  The cruise adjustment is right where the screen switch is on the RT and ST, so naturally I was going to have trouble.  To move the screen on the Yamaha requires one extra step not on the other 2 bikes. 

It was a quick ride through Autauga, Chilton, and Shelby Counties to the first Alabaster exit.  Sun was rising and I was ahead of the morning commute into Birmingham, but traffic was building.  I moved the FJ to the go lane and zapped past sleepy commuters.

I really didn't need a GPS to ride to Eureka Springs, but I liked the feedback it provided me.  I can do this ride in my head.

I-65 took me through downtown Birmingham to the east side where I exited on US 78 and took a more west bound tack.

I'd forgotten how bad the West side of the city was.  Dilapidated buildings, empty houses, and depressing neighborhoods seem to greet me as I left the interstate for US 78.

After ten miles of urban sprawl and traffic lights, US 78 turns into 4 lane divided.  It is smooth and fast.  I put the Feejer on 75 and swatted down the miles.  The bike was loafing along at 3600 rpm, coolant temp a paltry 155 F.  At 80 mph and a touring load, the bike was still returning 45 mpg according to the computer.

My first break of the day was at Chevron con store in Carbon HIll, 130 miles after leaving the Entec station.  The sun was high and bright, the air moist and thick.  I went inside.  "Hey how y'all doing?"  A dowdy lady with her name on her company golf shirt responded.  "Pretty good. where ya headin?"  As she stared at the Yamaha outside the window, it's candy red paint job and chrome glistening in the morning sun.  "Colorado then South Dakota," I said.  "Oh my"

I bought a Cliff Bar and washed it down with a Mountain Dew.

When I finished I sent Debbie a text-

"In Carbon Hill, taking a break"

"How is it so far?"

"Excellent, good to be on long ride, gotta go, I'll see ya at lunch couple of hrs"

"Ok don't forget"

Gas was on half tank so I headed out.  "If I recall the Honda can get to Memphis on a tank of gas," but the Yamaha is 6.6 gallons compared to the STs 7.8 so I'll be gassing up about 60 miles short of that."  Both bikes deliver about 45 mpg.

School traffic was in progress when I left Carbon Hill for Memphis.

S 78 took me into Mississippi and I pressed on to Memphis and the dreaded obstacle that waited for me there; I-40.  Nobody hates that road more than me.

I gassed at a con store in Hickory Flat.  Taking in a FLAT 6 gallons.

It was getting hotter by the mile and I kept the windscreen trimmed down to move as much as air possible through the Roadcrafter.  

There was little celebration when I arrived in Memphis.  It was hot, and all I could think about was the long ride from here to Arkansas SR It would be 200+ miles of tedium across I-40.  I did all I could to avoid coming thisway in my pre route planning, but in the end I really had no choice.  To do what I wanted to do, this was it.

The zumo directed me through the heart of the city.  The 390's lane assist was a big help keeping me in the proper lane for upcoming route changes through various exits.  With trepidation, I shifted over to I-40 and crossed the Mississippi River.  The bridge had one lane shut down for construction.  "It is not a good sign when the first mile of I-40 is under construction.

West out of Memphis was nothing but a long line of trucks and other traffic.  Big rigs outnumbered cars on this section of the interstate.  Long lines of them tied up traffic at 50 mph.  It was terrible.  I had them on all sides of me. Air temp on the Feejer read 100F in a stifling humidity.  The FJR itself is stable in truck turbulence, but there is a lot of buffeting in the head area with the screen low in "dirty" air.

It took 25 miles to gain clear running room.  I made the most of it and cranked the 1300 up to 85.  The wind felt good as it moved through the stitch.

Exit 160 has a big truck stop thing so I exited looking for something to eat.  Not that I was hungry, I just wanted to get off the bike for awhile, get some air conditioning and something to drink.  I found a Burger King and ordered the #1.  This would be a common necessity of this tour; fast food.  I was on a schedule, and that meant compromises.  It meant interstates and quick and dirty food, so the BK worked well.  It also had WIFI.

Weather check told me no rain.  "You know, I wouldn't mind a little summer shower about now," it would cool things off.
I sent Debbie the promised text-

"Eating lunch"

"where at?"

"some exit west of Memphis on I-40"

"I thought u didn't like that highway"

I don't"

I threw away half of my whopper, it was just too hot to eat a large meal.

Back on I-40 I went, and focused on Little Rock, that seemed like another planet it was so far away.   What I-40 does to a Long Rider.  It is so bad it will make 10 miles feel like 100.

Approaching Little Rock the temp went to 101.  Coolant temp read 170F, a nice touch to have precise numbers not just a bar graph.   I looked for the rest area I knew to be around here somewhere.  I needed something to drink and I was sleepy.  I was paying the price for thehigh fat lunch.  When I found it I parked at the far end under a few trees, and bought a gatorade from the vending machine  I gulped it down and racked out on a table for 15 minutes.

Feeling refreshed, I climbed back on the Yamaha and set out to tackle the reaming miles to SR 7.  "Not stoppingagain till I get OFF this interstate."  Riding into Little Rock I let the reigns out on the FJR a little.  It shot up to 90 mph so quick I didn't even notice it.  Nothing on I-40 could match it as I swept by cars doing 70 mph like they were standing still.  The agile and slick handling 1300 had no problem with lane changes.  I had the sun visor down on the Shoei with the main shield in the up position.  I liked the fact I no longer had to wear my Oakleys, although I still packed them.  My standard glasses are bifocal so it was nice to be able to read the instruments with having to raise my glasses up.

FINALLY SR 7 exit came into view.  I peeled off I-40 in the late afternoon for the last 125 miles to Eureka.  Immediately my mood became better.  SR 7 is a pleasant ride through Quachita National Forest.  Outside temp also began to drop back to the low 90s. 

I remembered the road to be twisty the further north you ride, so I went in a closed down campground and broke out the Garmin Virb HD camera to capture some video.  I shifted the suspension for a more sporty ride.  The bike leaned at will through a mixture of tight curves and sweepers.  The touring load had a minimal effect on the Yamaha.  "Gah this is helluva motorcycle," as I flicked the bike left then right in a series of S turns.  I missed a lot of good leans when I got stuck behind a dump truck pulling a backhoe.

Ozark Mountains

 I stopped for pictures and captured some excellent riding video. The Ozarks are not so much mountains as they are a series of plateaus.  

 ​      The FJR takes a break in a Ozark Scenic Turnout

A series of mountain communities dot the highway but the one everybody seems to congregate to is Harrison, where I gassed at a con store.  I bought another gatorade to celebrate the miles.  The last 100 made me almost forget the first 500.

​Quiet Ozark Valley

In Harrison I went to US 62 to close in on the KOA in Eureka.  I saw the Pizza Hut in Berryville where I ate supper on a couple earlier trips.  

The Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort is currently closed, located a few miles west of Berryville.  I heard it was so I came in off the highway to confirm the situation.  I've camped here twice and both times felt it was something to be desired, but I thought I needed to support the motorcycle only business.  I had no intentions of doing so this trip, even if it was open.  It had a tricky road to the tent sites I wanted no part off on the tallish FJR.

 The Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort has seen better days.

Tired and stiff in the saddle I pushed on to the KOA.  To get there I had to ride through the tourist town of Eureka, that today, did not seem like much of tourist town.  It was pretty much closed for the summer season with Labor Day only couple weeks away.  In a few weeks things would perk up as Fall leaf season starts.

The KOA is located down a side road west of the Eureka.  I followed the signs and soon I was in the office paying my fees.  I caught the owner just as he was closing.  I finished the day with 673 miles.

In the office I noticed a 3 legged cat that seemed to own the place.

"So he just hangs out in here all day?"

"nah he stays out most of the day but at night we bring him in"

I wasn't really hungry enough for supper so I told the man-

"put me a drink and a candy bar on my bill"

"ok, that'll be 22.50"

I settled my fees and proceeded to my tent site.  I found the site back of the campground.  I had no trouble getting to it, but getting out the next day might be a problem because the site was dead end.  I unloaded the bike and called home and gave the report. 

The sun was beginning to set and although it was warm, the humidity was down significantly.  I was setting up my tent and while bowing the pole and it broke.  "This aint good," about a hour later I had it rigged.  I was able to get the broken ends back in, but it was surely going to fail again.  "I'll have to see about a new pole, perhaps I can find one in a store along tomorrow's route"

Thinking ahead, I turned my attention on how to get the Yamaha pointed in the right direction to ride out.  "It will be easier to maneuver the bike unloaded so I'm gonna take care of that right now."  The surface was gravel and dirt, and on top of that on a slope.  My plan was a U turn and then coast down the slope.  I pulled it off with not much problem and was now ready to go in the morning.  A loaded bike would have been hard to pull off.

Finished with the necessities I walked over to the shower area to clean up.  Like most KOAs the bathhouse was clean and orderly, with lots of hot water and good pressure.

Unfortunately the WIFI fell short of the bathhouse operation.  My Ipad said I had a connection but I couldn't open up the first URL with it.  Didn't matter.  I downloaded 4 TV shows to watch when I didn't have a connection, but when I went in my tent for the night, I was too sleepy to even think about TV.

​It had been a long hot day, but the night was cooling off and the sleeping was good.

Day 2-     into the Flint Hills, long ride in Kansas, and longer night in a remote campground.