Day 22
June 26th, 2004
Joplin, Missouri

The Motel 6 looked filled to capacity as I strapped my gear down for the last time this trip.  Home was 15 hours and 800 miles away.  By 6:30 am I was down the street at a gas mart topping the gas tank.  I tooled past the honky tonks, and clubs back to U.S. 71.  Litter and broken bottles covered the parking lots of the closed bars, and the parked cars stood alone in the mist, their owners too drunk to drive home, or they got lucky and "scored."

These sections of Missouri and Arkansas look very much like Alabama, lots of green foliage and hills, and it was getting humid.  I could tell I was not far from home.

Most of U.S. 71 south is a controlled access roadway to Bentonville, Arkansas.  Keep in mind I said most, just so happened I was stuck behind 5 Wal Mart trucks on their way into the city in a section that wasn't.  I moved the 1300 into position and picked off the first 2, swooped back in, and on the next chance took 2 more.  One more to go, and I got it with no sweat.  Another awesome display of power and agility.  I love this bike.

This area of Missouri and Arkansas is in deep growing pains.  Wal-Mart's home offices are in the tiny city of Bentonville.  The volume of traffic coming and going through here has strained the area's infrastructure to the breaking point.  Wal Mart trucks converge on Bentonville from all over the country 24 hours a day.  They can't build the houses or apartments fast enough for the thousands that work for Wal Mart and related companies.  Almost all the roads and highways were under some kind of construction.

Only 2 years ago I came through here, but recognized very little on this day to the rapid expansion.

I made it through Bentonville and took U.S. 62 east towards Eureka Springs.  I remembered it as a good road, but the last time I was here it was raining, and no leaning was possible.  That wasn't a problem on this day.
The road turned very twisty and the 13 responded unlike any time this tour.  Yes, I could still feel the load, but the 208 stuck fast to the asphalt.  I wondered what would happen if I put a 208 on the front?  I could probably unsaddle, tilt the bike over, and watch it stick mid lean like one of those telescoping long necked lights.

As I've said elsewhere, the Ozarks have a very East Tennessee feel to them.  Traffic had thinned out since I left Bentonville, and I was enjoying this last day on the road as much as the first.  A good sign it was a great tour. 
Nearing Eureka Springs the road became extra tight and twisty, it was a lot of fun. 
​SR 62 near Eureka Springs, Arkansas
A bareheaded joker on a sport bike turned out in Eureka Springs, he wore a baseball cap that blew off right in front of me.  I had to cut left to avoid running over it.

The morning ride was good all the way to the Iron Horse Motorcycle Campground.  I pulled in and ate breakfast with several Harley riders who were on vacation.  Most were from St. Louis.  I had an excellent bacon biscuit and coke.  They asked the usual questions about my trip.  

I called Sgt Mike Kearley at station 3 when I finished eating.  Mike and I joined the fire department a few weeks of each other 25 years ago.  He was retiring in 3 days.  I called to reassure him I was going to be at his ceremony.  Retirements are a big thing in the fire service.  He asked when I was checking out, and I said,  "I don't know, but sometime soon."  When I finished that conversation I called station 1, and Chief MCgough asked if I would say a few words at Mike's ceremony.  I'm glad I called, or otherwise I might have only a day to work on the speech.

The nice riding continued after my break.  The road surface was good and the 13 and I took our time in the many curves.  I was feeling like Chris a few days ago, it was good to see green again.

The Ozark villages I passed through reminded me of the Smoky Mountain towns of Maryville, Townsend, Sweet Water and Madisonville.  In Harrison I turned south on SR 7, a road already on the favorite list, but this was the first time I've sampled it this far north.

The switchbacks were so thick on SR 7 I felt a need to swat them down with a flap. The few cars I came across were easy prey, and the sticky 208 allowed good lean angles.  If a guy rides less then 5k a year, I wonder what would be wrong with 208s as a primary tire?  Especially if the bulk of his riding was in the mountains?   
​The Ozark Mountains of Arkansas
  I kept the screen low all morning, it really seems to help in the twisties.

SR 7 was as good a ride as any of the entire trip.  The surface was smooth and the road challenging.  While leaning the twisty curves of SR 7, I thought about this being the last day of great tour, but it didn't feel like a last day.  Day 1 seemed like last year. 

The antique stores and flea markets were doing a brisk business on this Saturday morning.  Blue hairs were getting out of their sedans to check the merchandise, that to me, just looked like someone else's junk.

The fun ended in Russellville, when I had to pick up I-40 east.  I approached the on ramp with my left turn signal on, before turning I let 2 northbound cars pass, after that it was off to the races.  I brought the screen up and resigned myself to my fate.

For the first time in almost 9,000 miles I was riding with a definite purpose, sort of.  But anytime you are on a interstate you are riding to just get somewhere.  I put my camera away, there was little chance I was going to need it on I-40.

The interstate was under construction in several areas, but thankfully both lanes were open.  I just wanted to get to Memphis, and from there I'd worry about Alabama.

Wary of tickets, I kept my speed at 10 over but no more.

At Conway I stopped for a butt and Mountain Dew break.  I decided to skip lunch because of the bacon biscuit at the Iron Horse.  Instead I'll eat a T Bone at the Waffle House where I usually stop on the way in from long tours.

I was leaving the gas mart when a line of 10 school buses came off I-40.  It was going to take 2 forevers for all the buses to cross the highway I was trying to get back on.  I played it safe and took a right turn, and then a U turn at the next light to get back to I-40.  It was a good strategy, the buses were still locked down when I came by.

This day was the only significant time I had on the slab since leaving California, and the only reason I was there because I was in my homeland.  Nothing I've not already seen, so best to just get on home. 

Little Rock came and went, and it was on to Memphis.  It seemed like I was never going to get there.  I crossed the Mississippi about 4 pm and back into the land of W radio stations.  

Traffic was moderate in the city, and I managed to find U.S. 78 without much trouble.  I don't know why Elvis called Memphis home.  Of all the places he could've lived why he chose there is anyone's guess.  Maybe the city died when he did.  

U.S. 78 is terrible in Tennessee, but once you reach Mississippi it becomes interstate fast.  A few rabbits came and went, and I followed them when I could.  

It has been very wet in the south this summer, and the area looked extra green.  I can judge the rainfall extent by checking the medians along the highway.  If they are thick or recently cut, you know things are good.

The miles passed quicker in Mississippi, and with the reserve light flashing I came off the highway at Tupelo for gas.  I saw the sign for the Elvis' birthplace so decided to check it out.  It was a short ride into the city, I made one turn and there it was.  A small white frame house in a neighborhood that looked to be on hard times.  A library of some sort stands near by.  I saw a few folks walking the grounds, and taking pictures.  I didn't go inside, I just wanted to see what it looked like, and now y'all can to.
​Elvis Presley was born in this house
I turned the Honda around and started back to U.S. 78 and Alabama.  On the way out I saw a Little League or Dixie Youth tournament in progress and stopped for a look.  The boys looked to be 9-12.  Coaches and parents were everywhere.  At least 2 fields had games in progress and kids in colorful uniforms waited for the start of their teams game.  The only game that starts on time in these things is the first, the rest back up quickly after that.  I use to hate the waiting because it gave a coach time to think too much.  "Do I have the right batting order?  Is my pitcher ready to go?  Who is coming off the bench first?"  It also made the kids nervous, after waiting around all day, it was hard to wait some more after arriving at the ballpark.  I could relate to the nervousness of the coaches and the butterflies they were feeling.  

Most of these coaches have a son on the team, and he better be good, because the pressure can be too much.  A coaches boy can bat .850 but the only thing any of the other parents remember is the ONE time he strikes out, or makes an error.  Chris  handled it well, the only effect naysayers had, was the motivation it gave him to work hard.  They had a lot to do with his success with the game at the higher levels.
​Memories came back to me at a ballgame in Tupelo
I've come a long way since those days, and so has my son. 
It was time to head for home, next stop the Waffle House in Pelham at exit 246.

The afternoon was slipping when the Welcome to Alabama sign appeared.  After 22 days and almost 9,000 miles I was home.  The memories and experiences of the tour began to replay in my head.  What a great trip this has been.

U.S. 78 was fast and empty, so I was glad when a high powered pick up truck with Florida plates blew by at 90+.  What is this guy doing?  I had my rabbit, and because of his speed, I gave him a long leash.  I quickly brought the 13 up to 90 but it wasn't enough, on the long downhills this joker was near 100 mph.  I gave the 13 a little more to find a spot where I wasn't moving up or losing ground on him, the gap between us was better than a quarter mile, any closer would be risky.  

We flew along 78 quickly knocking down 30 miles, and then it happened.  An overpass appeared ahead, and as soon as the truck flew by it, a trooper popped out from behind the right girder, and went after the truck.  I hit the brakes and got the 1300 down as soon as the cruiser jumped.  The pick up knew he was toast and went straight to the side.  Good thing I gave him a long leash.

Jasper has a new by pass loop around the city, but geezus, its 20 miles long.  I still think its quicker to just drive through the city.

For some reason, I was missing the 1100.  I guess after so many miles and days I just wanted to sample something different.  "I'm going for a ride on it tomorrow," I thought.

I was on the bypass when it started to rain.  Thick clouds had been in the area for awhile and I finally hit a rain pocket.  I almost made it home with getting a single drop on me.  I was in the wet stuff for next 20 miles.
Two Gold Wings were in a fast food parking lot getting there rain gear out.  I love my Roadcrafter because I never have to do that.

U.S. 78 into Birmingham is not pleasant, it never has been.  It was almost dark when I entered Birmingham and began working my way through the west side to I-65.  I don't need any notes now, I know the way.
While sitting at a red light a black man in car pulled his window down and said he was getting a Gold Wing next week.  He asked where I was coming from,  "British Columbia and the Hotel California,"  "DAYUM." was his reply.

I made it to I-65 and zipped through downtown in the fading light.  I was still damp from the recent rains.  At last exit 246 came into view, and I exited for the Waffle House and a welcome home steak. 

The typical Waffle House waitress took my order and while it was cooking I called Debbie.  The machine picked up and I left this message. "I'm at the Waffle House eating supper so don't cook anything, I'll be home 90 minutes from the time stamp on this message, make sure the garage door is up."

I called Chris and said I'd be home soon, and to come over on Sunday.

Waffle House steaks are not very thick, but tasty.  And I love WH hash browns.  I ate my fill and made a few quick notes in the Axim.  I wanted to be sure not to forget the guy getting a ticket in the truck, and how I played him.

It still wasn't dark when I left the WH to put down the last 65 miles.  Saturday night traffic was all north bound, my direction looked good.  As soon as I cleared the Alabaster exit my speed came up to 85.  I was in the home stretch and reminded myself not to get lackadaisical because I was close to home.  I moved cautiously around the south bound beach traffic into Chilton County.  

Pete Neal (fire dept co worker) lives near the Verbena exit, you can see his house from the roadway.  His lights were on, but his truck gone.  I wasn't going to stop anyway.  I took the Verbena exit last year and came in on CR 57, but this year I continued on I-65.

I motored past the land I know so well.  It was dark but the sky was still showing a little light.  I took the 179 exit and brought the 1300 down from cruise speed.  I took it easy the last 5 miles home, and even went a little out of the way to check Mr. Powell's corn.  I did it on the way out, so it was fitting to follow up on the way in.  It looked good.  A few minutes later I was turning on 6th street and then onto my short block.  

My little house with the red metal roof never looked better.  I was glad to see Debbie was home, and had the garage door up.  I came in the driveway, slipped past the Accord, and bleeped the throttle a couple of times.  I settled the 1300 in the garage next to the 1100, and dropped the stand after a 775 mile ride for the day, and 8,884 for the trip.  I said a prayer for my safe return.
Debbie came out to bring me in, and the celebrating began.  It didn't feel like a 775 mile day.  I left my gear on the bike and was looking forward to a hot shower and my own bed. 
Another great tour was in the books.  I was looking forward to sleeping late the next day, and eating a home cooked meal.  It felt good to be home as I relaxed in my den after a hot shower.

I slept late the next morning and I'm still basking in the glory of this awesome tour.  All my tours are profound, but this one is dear to me.  The scenery and riding were the best.

By the time I made it home the poison ivy that had been plaguing me was much better.  It still took another week to get over it.

It was another 2 days before I could get the 1100 out for a 200 mile day ride, like I said its been raining a lot here.  It felt good to ride my old friend.  It still runs perfectly, and I've still managed to log a couple thousand miles on it since bringing the 1300 home.  

Taking a 200 mile day trip, 2 days after returning from a 9000 mile tour is testimony to how well the Honda works, and the manner at which I carried out this tour.  If at the end of long tour you tell yourself you're glad it's over, you did something wrong. 

I washed the 1300 the day after returning home.  She made the entire trip without a single rock chip.  
The 208 has almost 3,000 miles on it, and still looks pretty good, I might be surprised.

The STOC bbs members are few, but some of the best folks you'd ever want to meet.  It's reassuring when on a long tour a number of folks are standing by to help if needed.  For all their help and advice I say thank you.
The support my wife and son give me are critical.  Without their love and understanding, none of this would be possible.

I took over 300 pictures on this tour.  What you have seen so far is only sample, I have to limit the pictures to those that tell the story best, to have reasonable downloads.  

If enough visitors are interested, I can post a couple of photo albums made up exclusively with the best pictures of the West Coast 04 ride.  I'm rapidly nearing the bandwith limit of my contract, I don't mind buying more space if enough are interested to make it worthwhile.  If you don't care about any new or even the current albums let me know that too.  

I hope you enjoyed this story and if you have any comments good or bad be sure to let me know.    firfytr@aol.com