Back to the Ozarks—“Just Right” this time (I hope)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by ScottFree, Sep 21, 2021.

  1. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Three years ago, I took my R1200GS to the Ozarks (see the “Steamed and Baked” report). It was a tough trip—too hot (high 90s by day, 80s by night), too humid (enough to put the heat index well over 100 every day), and too much damn work to ride the GS (it’s an awesomely capable bike if you’re willing to train, practice and work at it, but I’m a lazy old man). In the end I did a measly 50 or so miles off pavement, and only about 30 miles of the two state-designated “Dual Sport Adventure Rides” that had been the purpose of the trip.

    Well, I’m back… or at least on my way. And with any luck things will be “just right” this time—the forecast calls for temperatures between 70 and 80, with low humidity and sunshine (at least after the slow-moving cool front gets out of the way). And I’m now on a Royal Enfield Himalayan, which is less capable than the GS (especially on the freeways), but a whole lot easier for a lazy old guy with a long list of orthopedic issues.

    Planning, or Cue Martin Mull…

    This trip targets the same routes—the “Pocahontas to Powhatan” and “Ozark National Forest” rides from the official state tourist agency motorcycle guide (aside: if you have not picked up a copy of this, do so—it’s a fat digest containing something like 30 scenic road rides, and a half-dozen pavement-free routes). Unlike last time, I don’t have to laboriously enter these into my GPS, as the state website now has downloadable GPX tracks.

    I’ve gone to Arkansas in the fall almost every year since 2010, and camped at Bull Shoals Lake. Still haven’t really figured out camping on the Himalayan, so I decided this would be a motel trip, like my Utah trip in July. I made reservations, planning to ride from my home near Chicago to DuQuoin, IL today, then Pocahontas (start of the first route) tomorrow. Thursday’s for the P-to-P ride, and I’d finish in Norfork, positioning me for the Ozark NF ride on Friday. Then two days to get home via Louisiana (not the state, a MO town on the Mississippi River). On Sunday, I took a look at the weather forecast: heavy rain all day Tuesday, especially in southern Illinois. And, it seemed that if I went simply reversed the direction (went west and then south instead of south and then west), I’d have dry roads and maybe even some sunshine.

    This is why I make a point of getting reservations that can be cancelled. A la Mr. Mull, I’m flexible:



    Though, changing two of the three reservations before I even left the house is a bit flexible even by my standards.

    Enough planning, shall we hit the road?

    Start… and Stop

    After spending most of yesterday in doctors’ offices, I still managed to be packed and ready to go by about 10 this morning.

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    A rarity—somebody was home to take my picture before I left.

    Those who followed along with the Utah trip story may notice I’ve got a new pair of snake boots for this trip. The old ones were leaking and falling to pieces, so after close to twenty years I suppose it was time. The new ones have functioning Gore-Tex, no holes, actual tread on the soles, and heel counters that actually keep my foot in place. On the other hand, they don’t have the snazzy silhouette of a striking rattlesnake in the leather. Sigh. Can’t have everything.

    Packing for this trip was pretty easy, as I’m staying in motels, and two nights in a friend’s cabin on the White River. He has a laundry and is a mile from a brewery, so I only need to bring a few changes of clothing. Which left space for important stuff:

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    I brew beer, and the “price” of two nights in the friend’s cabin was some of this year’s Oktoberfest. It’s in the three bottles. They’re plastic because I don’t think it’ll be a good idea to go jouncing down dirt roads with glass in the cooler. Seem like I’m just asking Lady Karma to smite me. The three cans are contingency beer, in case I find myself in a dry county (can’t remember if Pocahontas is wet). As for the banana… just as I was getting ready to leave, my wife said it needed to be eaten. Which is a strange idea if you think about it: the banana has needs, and it’s my responsibility to fulfill them? I guess so…

    So, out the door and onto the road… almost. I found out a while back that my right rotator cuff is in bad shape and needs repairs over the winter. Sooner is better than later, so it’s fully healed and rehabbed in time for riding and kayaking in the spring. I have been waiting for a week or so for the orthopedic center to call back with possible dates. Did they do it when I was sitting at home staring at glowing rectangles? Of course not. I was three blocks from home, waiting to turn onto the state highway, when the phone rang. When I saw who it was, and saw the guy behind me waiting to get out, I told her to call back in exactly two minutes. By then, I was into a subdivision across the highway:

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    (Fall in Illinois… sigh)

    It was more like five minutes, but she did call and I got my appointment scheduled.

    Now, today’s plan was 300 or so miles of Illinois, so the emphasis was on covering some miles on pavement. Still, I have this silly idea that if it’s an “adventure ride” there should be at least some token pavement-free riding. So, a little farm road past a cemetery:

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    A little later on, I did a couple more miles of gravel road. Came to an intersection and saw a sign reading “GRAVEL ENDS.” Sure enough, I could see dirt beyond. Might be the only public dirt road in the county. With the rain we had last night, and given how close to home it is, I decided to save it for when I got back. Got places to go today…

    US 30 is the historic Lincoln Highway. It runs straight as an arrow from Aurora to Rock Falls, and was once a major truck route. Then the Feds built Interstate 80 about 20 miles to the south, and the state built the I-88 tollway 10 miles to the north. Trucks still use 30, but they don’t stop anymore.

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    Kitty-corner at this intersection is a strip club, which had one semi parked out front.

    I stopped for gas in Mendota, and found that the stiff northwest wind was cutting into the Himalayan’s fuel economy, pushing it all the way down to 59 miles to the gallon.

    I picked up US 34 at Mendota. 34 (the “Grand Army of the Republic Highway”) runs more or less southwest, sometimes on the diagonal, sometimes going west-then-south-then-west-again (lather, rinse, repeat). Unfortunately, the weather front also ran more or less on a SW-to-NE line, so while I could see the clouds breaking up and the sun shining when I was headed west, the road would soon turn south and I’d be looking at black clouds and virga (rain dropping out of clouds but—usually—not quite reaching the ground) again. The Himalayan’s dash thermometer read 68º, about three above what I saw at a bank. Funny how 65º feels gloriously warm in March, but bone-chilling in September!

    34 also passes through some little towns where people have time on their hands and old junk cars…

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    The Corvair has been described as the Car From Hell. Here we have a rare photo of a brand-new one emerging from its subterranean origin and being hauled into our world.

    The next big town was Princeton, the county Seat of Bureau County, home of the fairgrounds, and the former home of the first place I ever rode a motorcycle through a liquor store:

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    A story: back in the 1980s, AMA District 17 held a summer road rally at the Princeton fairgrounds. No idea why they did it in Princeton, but they did. A weekend of camping, poker runs, field games, trade shows, cookout, and of course plenty of beer drinking. One time, in the spirit of the Boy Scouts (“Be Prepared”), I rode my Harley across the street from the fairgrounds to the Drive Thru Liquor Store and came back with a small keg in the trunk (well, tied down in the trunk with the lid tied on top of it). Two minutes after I got to my campsite, the town cop pulled up and politely informed me that if he saw my Harley anywhere outside the fairgrounds before dawn, I’d be getting a free night in the county jail. I told him I was pretty sure I had enough for the night…

    It’s been many years since they stopped having the rally in Princeton. And, it appears, about as long since the Drive Thru Liquor Store closed. Think there’s a connection?

    A little further on, just west of Wyanet, this sits just off US 34:

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    This little lift bridge, which I think was designed to be cranked by hand, spans the Hennepin Canal.

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    The canal is a wonder of late Victorian engineering, completing the water route between Chicago and the Quad Cities. It connects the Illinois River (which was already connected to Chicago via the Illinois and Michigan canal, and later the Ship and Sanitary canal) to the Mississippi at Rock Island. It was started in 1892, finished in 1907, and incorporates a number of innovations that went into later canals like the Panama Canal. The Hennepin was the first to make its locks out of concrete rather than stone blocks, and like the Panama Canal it was designed to climb over the higher land in the middle of its route via a number of locks and a feeder system. A dam in Rock Falls diverts water from the Rock River, down a 20-mile feeder canal to the high point of the Hennepin Canal just west of Wyanet. From that point, water flows downhill, through locks, to both the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Neat.

    Unfortunately, by the time the Hennepin Canal was finished, it was already obsolete—too small for the big barges going down the rivers, and too slow to compete with the railroads between Chicago and Iowa. It stayed open for recreational traffic until the ‘50s; then it was abandoned until the state acquired it and turned it into a recreational bike/horse/walking trail. While water flows through the entire canal system, it’s not boatable because many road districts “bridged” it by throwing down some pipes and dumping dirt on top. Sad. It would be a neat thing to canoe.

    Next stop: Kewanee. And Pluto.

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    For the first time today, the Himalayan sees its shadow.

    If you want to see Pluto, you have two choices. You could spend millions of dollars and a couple decades sending a probe into space… or you could go up to the second floor of Good’s Furniture in Kewanee, where you’ll find Pluto. OK, just a model… but a scale model, with a 53-foot diameter sun in Peoria, a four-and-a-half-foot Jupiter at the Peoria airport, and a one-inch Pluto in Good’s Furniture. Many years ago, my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I stopped at Good’s to see Pluto. I think we also ended up buying something for the living room.

    BTW, the Peoria model doesn’t stop with Pluto. Some Kuiper Belt objects are represented in Alaska and at the South Pole, and it’s been observed that the Apollo 11 landing site is very close to where the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be in the Peoria model.

    Next: bigger water, and bigger moveable bridges.
    #1
  2. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Finally Some Sunshine…

    …but not till I got some spatters of rain on the way out of Kewanee. Then 34 turned more west than south for a while, and I finally broke through into the sun. Nice. And I found a Casey’s station that wasn’t out of chocolate chip cookies. This was turning into a good day.

    I ran into the Mississippi River at Niota, across from the Iowa town of Fort Madison… but not accessible because the road part of the swinging bridge is closed. I did notice that trains are still using the bridge, though…

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    Who let those trees grow up and block the view?

    The Fort Mad bridge is one of those things where the trains run through the truss, and the road climbs up and goes across the top of the pivoting part that allows barges to pass on the river (if this makes no sense, hang on—all will be explained). Since there’s a train crossing the bridge, the road closure can’t be due to a structural issue. I hope they’re just doing some maintenance and will soon re-open the road. I’d hate to see another of these quirky old moving bridges replaced by a soulless slab of concrete.

    Luckily, I had no plans to cross the river at Fort Mad, so the closed bridge was no problem. I followed the detour, and my planned route, down the Illinois side of the river, through Nauvoo to Hamilton, where I crossed into Iowa. Nauvoo is a historic site, home of the first big Mormon community, and site of a dignified armed truce between the LDS church (which owns part of the town and runs a visitor center focused on the Mormon side of the history) and the State of Illinois (which operates a state park across the street). It’s not always clear who’s running any particular historic/tourist site.

    From Nauvoo to Hamilton, the Great River Road is a delight. It runs right along the water’s edge, without even a set of train tracks between the road and the river.

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    There are several scenic turnouts, nice places to have a picnic or just stop and enjoy the view. One of them includes a little grotto called “David’s Chamber,” with a trickling waterfall.

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    Not much of a waterfall, but this is Illinois…

    At Hamilton, the River Road resumes its normal position (several miles from the river), so I followed the detour into Iowa… but first, my last bit of unpaved road for the day, down to a boat launch with a view of the dam and…

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    This bridge is built on the same basic plan as the one at Fort Mad, but when it was still open it was much more of an adventure to ride across. For one thing, the Fort Mad bridge has pavement; the Keokuk bridge is steel grate. From the Illinois side, you climb up the incline that’s partially hidden behind the trees on the left. Then…

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    …the steel-grate pavement made a sharp S-turn to get on top of the truss for the actual river crossing. There’s a similar S-turn on the Iowa side. I once crossed this thing in the dark, in the rain. It was slippery, and since everything was painted black, damn near invisible to boot.

    I think the railroad bridge still operates, at least occasionally, but US 136 has been relocated onto a straight, smooth concrete bridge that’s undoubtedly safer and more efficient (no stopping for barges), but a whole lot less of an adventure.

    I crossed the new bridge and found that Iowa has turned the western approach to the old bridge into a little park. There’s the toll booth where you had to pay a dime to cross, and behind it the S-turn where the road climbs onto the railroad truss.

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    They put wood down on top of the grating. Improvement? Maybe, maybe not…

    I recall one time when a bunch of us paid our tolls and rode out onto the grating, just in time to have the gates close as the span opened to let a barge train through. This took about twenty minutes, during which the people who had tiny kickstand feet could do little other than sit on their bikes and hold them up. I, luckily, had a kickstand with a foot too big to fall through the holes in the grating, so I could get off and walk around. Even got out a couple cans of adult beverages (hey, it was a privately owned bridge), which grateful people quickly drained, smashed and put under their kickstands…

    In case you’re unfamiliar with how a swing-span bridge works, here’s a picture:

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    I should have held the camera over my head.

    That big truss that’s perpendicular to the bridge is on a pivot. When a train needs to cross the bridge, it rotates so that it crosses the navigation channel. When there’s no train traffic, it’s rotated out of the way. Making things more complicated here is that the swing span goes over the lock. This was a big deal when the default position of the span was closed (so road traffic could use the bridge)—barge trains are often too big to fit through the lock and must be split into multiple segments. The swing span remained open the whole time, which could tie up traffic on the bridge for an hour or more.

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    I say son, they call that “artistic composition.”

    The dam (one of the few with a power plant attached) and the lock, photographed from the bridge.

    I took a close look at the tracks for signs that the rail bridge still sees some traffic. The rails were shiny, so it would seem at least a few trains still go through now and then. Don’t know if the bridge is now operated remotely, or if somebody’s got to come out from the lock-and-dam office to swing it closed.

    From Keokuk to Hannibal was 60 miles of drab-but-efficient four-lane, part of the “Avenue of the Saints.” This was at one time supposed to be an Interstate highway connecting St. Louis and St. Paul. Friend of mine tells me the upgrade was stopped at its current level (four lanes, divided, but with at-grade intersections and occasional stoplights) because of lobbying from the barge industry, which did not want competition from an interstate highway running that close to the river.

    Anyway, I arrived in Hannibal, at my perfectly adequate and entirely uninteresting chain motel, around 6pm. 320 miles in eight hours, most of it on two-lane rural roads. Can’t complain about that.

    After dropping off my gear, I headed across town (all of 1.7 miles) to the Mark Twain Brewing Company.

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    Nice place. Come hungry, as the burger comes with sides…

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    Like a lot of river towns, Hannibal has a slightly odd street system, so I did something I do rather rarely and let Google be my navigator. This was tricky, because my “GPS” is an old iPhone with no cell service. However, my “real” phone (the one in my pocket) will function as a local wi-fi spot, and the “GPS” phone had no trouble using it. Technology is really neat when it works…

    So, back at the hotel, ready to call it a night. Hope I made Illinois seem a bit less flat and dull. I’m looking forward to more interesting roads tomorrow. Including the classic MO 19 from Salem to Eminence, maybe a stop at Rocky Falls, maybe I’ll again find that gravel road that runs along the Jacks Fork River…

    Hey! Somebody’s shooting off fireworks in the parking lot! Maybe this generic chain hotel isn’t quite as uninteresting as I thought…
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  3. AR Twindriver

    AR Twindriver n00b

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    Excellent ride report. There is an adventure ride going through that part of Missouri, starting Thursday. Adventure Palooza. It's a blast.
    The wife and I rode the national forest dual sport route last year as published. We camped in Mt. View. Stop there on the weekend if you enjoy bluegrass music.
    We rode it on an Africa Twin and KTM 390 Adventure. Excellent route. There is a detour near the end towards Prim as it appears that part of the route is gated off for private property.
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  4. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Ah. Good to know. I was looking at the track for that ride and noticed there’s a spot where (according to OSM) the road stops and the track continues. Heading southbound it’s after the fork on Bobcat Road. The track runs across… nothing, according to OSM, and connects with a road again when it hits the Everett Ridge Cutoff. Private property? Interesting…

    I am not committed to riding either of these routes in full. Tomorrow, I figure to ride the P-to-P to Mammoth Springs and then down at least as far as Hardy, but much beyond there it starts turning east and heading away from the day’s destination in Norfork. I figure to turn west somewhere around AR 58 or Strawberry River Road. On Friday, I’m planning to ride the Ozark NF route backwards, ending at the brewery in Big Flat. Obviously don’t have to go all the way down to Prim to pick it up; will probably ride down 5 and 9 to Mountain View, then either try to find my way through Hanover and pick the route up where it turns off Hanover Road, or (if I’m lazy about navigating) just stay on 9 till it hits the track at Sunny Fox Road.

    Things like this are fun—they give me the chance to navigate and plan a bit on my own, rather than just following a line on the map.

    Wednesday’s report… will be written on Thursday. I’m too tired to stay up and write tonight. Three years ago was scorching heat, this year it’s unseasonably chilly. Forgot that 65º is pretty cool on a naked bike. It was, other than the temperature, a nice day: sunny, 325 miles, lots of curves, a little more unpaved stuff (still not much), and a minor milestone for the bike. Details and some photos to follow when I get up in the morning. I can write while I’m not eating the “complimentary” breakfast that the hotel isn’t providing because of the pandemic.
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  5. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    So, Day Two… or…

    Is it ever really “just right”?

    Three years ago I was steamed and baked by the heat and humidity down here. This year, I’m almost shivering. The day began with sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, and temperatures in the low 50s. No “free breakfast” at the hotel (and no explanation either). I got loaded up for an early-ish start, then got delayed because I ran into the owners of my “security system” (the much more valuable-looking bike I had parked next to last night).

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    The billboard brags that the Budget Inn is just “4 miles from the BASF plant.” Whatever floats your boat…

    They’re a couple about my age, from Pennsylvania (I think), on their way to New Mexico, which means they spent Tuesday getting hammered and hosed by rain from Ohio to Hannibal. I consider myself lucky that I hit just a few drops!

    No restaurants called my name in Hannibal, so I headed down Route 79, making a quick stop at “Lovers Leap.”

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    The purpose of the fence will be clear in a moment…

    The park offers a nice view of the town, and the river, and the interesting old truss bridge (so far not scheduled for replacement with a bland concrete slab). You can’t actually get to the Leap itself, as it’s protected by a fence and there was a city employee loitering in the parking lot this morning.

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    As usual, the camera flattens things out. Those are blades of grass in the foreground; the things that look like little weeds just behind them are actually full-grown trees a couple hundred feet below.

    There are two plaques in the park. One relates the “legend” of Lover’s Leap, and if you’ve been pretty much anywhere in the Midwest where there’s a cliff, you’ve already read it: this is the spot where an Indian princess and her lover leaped to their deaths because he was from a different tribe yada yada yada… Go a few hundred miles upstream to Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, you’ll read almost the same story. And several places in Illinois. And, I would bet, many more in Missouri. There are times I think that one of the biggest hazards of living back in those days was the possibility you’d be hit by a falling princess. The other plaque is a bit more solemn, noting that three local boys disappeared in this area in 1967, while exploring the woods. Despite a major search-and-rescue operation, no sign of them was ever found.

    Route 79 is one of those roads you have to want to ride, as it pretty much takes you away from the direct route to anywhere. Which also means it’s lightly traveled, and therefore even more fun. Lots of hills and curves, and several overlooks which provide excellent views of…

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    …trees, mostly. The river’s down there, but finding a spot from which I could see it was hard. Let’s see if the view’s any better from this next overlook…

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    I had to climb up on the picnic table to see this, but it is rather neat the way the river just goes on forever.

    I had originally planned to spend the first night in Louisiana, MO, at a hotel rather precariously perched atop the bluff above the river. I changed my plans mainly because I didn’t want to be riding route 79 in the dark. I still pulled into the hotel lot to see what I had missed. It used to overlook an interesting truss bridge. The new, wider, more truck-friendly bridge is less interesting to look at, but the river’s still pretty. And I forgot to shoot a picture. Well, that’s a reason to go back another time.

    Stopped for gas in Bowling Green, where I had to fight with a pump that wouldn’t accept my chip card. I’ve had this problem before, or so I thought, and was getting ready to call the bank and patiently explain that I was traveling and the card hadn’t been stolen (this happens every year or two). The clerk said no, it’s just that pump number three is in a bad mood; try one of the others. Pump number five wasn’t all that much better, but it eventually worked, and I found that yesterday’s jaunt down the four-lane from Keokuk had cost me: my mileage was all the way down to a measly 54 to the gallon. Spendthrift…

    Route 161 runs from Bowling Green to Montgomery City, with enough curves to be moderately interesting. The pavement is also interesting: worn chip seal that interacts with my Shinko 244 tires in a most interesting manner. The fact that my hands were shaking a bit from the chill might have contributed to the bike’s twitchiness. Low 50s on a naked bike is cold! Though probably not as cold as low 50s naked on a bike (isn’t the English language wonderful? Just change the word order a little and you completely change the meaning)…

    There’s a wide spot on 161 called “Buell,” which is only significant because I happened to ride through it with a friend twenty-five years ago, on a pair of brand new S1 Lightnings. We were on our way to a weekend event in Topeka, and thought it would be cool to snap a picture of us and our bikes under the town-limit sign. This was easier said than done, as there was no shoulder and a pretty deep ditch, but we got them into position. Now we had to find a photographer. A nice local lady pulled over to help us. Got a couple nice photos. Then… did I mention there was no shoulder and a deep ditch? We had no trouble getting the bikes out, but her car… came very close to being stuck badly enough to require a tow truck. With some pushing, and I think my friend at the wheel, we got the car back on the pavement, thanked her profusely for shooting the pictures, and got on our way.

    This is what happens when you’ve been riding for 45 years and over a million kilometers—seems everywhere I go, there’s a story from some years back that I remember.

    I have ridden 161 several times, and always been a bit frustrated by the way it does a little dog-leg at the very end of this stretch: it suddenly turns due west for five miles to join up with MO 19 at Montgomery City. Then 19 goes another six miles back southeast to New Florence, which is due south of the right turn on 161. Well, there is a road that cuts off that dog-leg; you just need the right kind of bike to ride it…

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    For once I am properly equipped.

    Sunbeam Road took me straight south, and I ran onto 19 at this interesting sight:

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    I have no idea what “Rustoberfest” is, but that seems as good a use of an old Econoline as any.

    MO 19 was another destination road—but not yet. The northern part has some curves and hills, and an interesting crossing of the Missouri River at Hermann:

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    Another new bridge, but this one’s actually a bit prettier than the one it replaced.

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    A bit hilly here…

    But the really interesting part of Route 19, the reason I went out of my way to ride it, is further south. And in the next posting.
    #5
  6. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Two Continued: the Missouri State Twisty Roads Preserve

    I first encountered the stretch of MO 19 south of I-44 back in 1978. There were three or four of us piled into a Honda Civic wagon, with camping gear and a ton of beer, heading for a weekend canoe trip on the Current River. It was already about 10 pm when we turned off I-44 at Cuba and saw the sign reading “OZARK NATIONAL SCENIC RIVERWAYS: 75 MILES.” Hour and a half, we figured. Yeah, right; it was sometime after midnight when we pulled into the campground, wondering just where all these curves had come from.

    The stretch of 19 from Cuba to around Alton is pretty close to the Perfect Ozarks Road, going up and down and left and right over and over and over. Parts of it have gotten a little more civilized in recent years, particularly the crossing of the Meramec River between Cuba and Steelville (in ‘78 this was a whole lotta twisties leading to a narrow truss bridge, now it’s a few big sweepers and a long, straight concrete bridge), but the part around the Current and Jacks Fork rivers is pretty much as it was forty years ago.

    I’m told this is because people fought to keep it this way—supposedly the state had plans and budget to straighten the curves, flatten the hills, and make the road much more truck friendly, but the local people pushed back. This part of the state lives on tourism; in particular, floating the rivers, horseback riding… and driving/riding the curvy roads. So, after a bit of a battle, MODOT gave in and agreed the road would be maintained (maintained very well, by the way), but the hills and curves that make it a motorcycle destination would remain. So far at least, they have.

    Trouble is, without something like a GoPro it’s hard to photograph the twisties; there’s no shoulder to pull over onto, and besides, it’s too much fun to stop and shoot pictures! But here are a couple, far from the best parts, but located where I could park on a side road:

    23BC296B-0125-4E1D-908B-80C3A4B8E01D.jpeg
    Remember, the camera flattens things out—that curve is closer than it looks.

    There are a couple spots on 19, near the crossing of Sinking Creek and the Current River, that have so far defied all of my attempts to photograph them. You’re going through one turn after another, and there are these spots where the road is going up and left and down and right, and for a moment it looks like the next corner has an impossible bank to it, almost a hill in its own right. Someday I’ll get a proper photo of it. Until then, I have an excuse to go back and ride this road again.

    Speaking of Sinking Creek… I’ve been stopping at this place for years, but only arriving by water. It’s a major landmark and stop when floating the upper Current River. The Current is spring-fed, which means it’s pretty chilly even in hot weather. Sinking Creek (so named because for stretches it sinks into its bed and looks dry, only to re-emerge a bit further downstream) is rain-fed and warm, and therefore the gravel bar where the two streams meet is a great place to pull your boat ashore, pop a top, and play in the warm water.

    A few years back, they replaced the pretty-but-crumbling concrete arch bridge with this new steel one:

    F8D313FD-B375-4E22-8B12-C4C44FC94433.jpeg

    I’m not sure when the Park Service built a gravel road down to this place, but there’s now a nice little first-come/first-served campground down by the river here.

    214CD799-645C-4712-A1E5-EF93FBFE3513.jpeg

    The other thing about Sinking Creek is that it’s about a mile upstream of the Round Spring takeouts, so for many floaters this is the sign that your day on the river is almost over and it’s time to dispose of any remaining beer.

    Round Spring is an interesting place as well. As the name implies, there’s a big, round spring here adding more cold water to the Current River. There’s also a really nice cave, which is unfortunately closed for the time being because of disease—not Covid this time, but a fungus that attacks the bats living in the cave. It’s believed to be spread by spelunkers, so the all the caves under government control in the Ozarks are closed during the parts of the year when bats are active in them. In better times, the Park Service has a nice guided tour of Round Spring Cave, which I took several years ago. I hope we get these pandemics (both human and bat) sorted out so people can see these caves again.

    Also at Round Spring… this nice bridge carries route 19 over a minor creek.

    4722015B-D20F-45F4-A210-930860018D47.jpeg

    The bike is parked on a “low water bridge” which gives access to the spring itself… which I notice I did not photograph. Well, use your imagination. It’s a spring. It’s round. And the water flows out of it, under a natural bridge that (depending on water levels) may or may not be visible, and down to the river.

    For close to forty years I’ve gone by this sign and wondered what the heck the “Virgin Pine Interpretive Drive” was.

    66A88BC4-1DE4-4015-8BCD-64EF9F3C4A0E.jpeg

    Never had the right kind of vehicle. Now I do. Let’s find out…

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    Well, it’s a narrow gravel road through the woods…

    6CDA1DA6-2D5D-4D30-A008-AFA6BFA65C99.jpeg

    There are some signs back here, none which convey much information. The one in the background just says “RSR,” as if that means something. There are a couple more signs implying some of this land, or perhaps the virgin pines on it, are for sale. And one post with a number “2” on top, which looks like it might be keyed to some kind of guide book. Alas, no guide books at the entrance, and I saw no posts with “1” or “3” on them. So, after a brief exploration, the Virgin Pine Interpretive Drive remains a mystery. For now. I suppose I could use the internet, but it’s 8 in the morning and time to hit the road.

    Today’s plan is to ride the “Pocahontas to Powhatan” state-designated “dual sport adventure ride.” The GPS track begins at the Harps supermarket 1.7 miles from the hotel, which conveniently offers gas as well. The weather’s supposed to be a tad warmer today, otherwise just like yesterday—sunny and cool. Tonight’s target is Norfork, where I’ll be staying with a friend in his cabin on the White River for the next couple nights.

    I hope. I suppose I should let him know I’m coming.

    One more minor milestone from yesterday: somewhere along Road J near the Irish Wilderness, the bike ticked over another number:

    834CD9EF-11C9-41D8-B372-641B74558B22.jpeg

    It’s not as much of a milestone as it looks, since the bike had 700 miles on the clock when I bought it. I should hit 20,700 miles (meaning I’ve put 20,000 of my own miles on the bike in twenty-five months) somewhere on the Illinois prairie on the way home.

    There. I’m caught up. Yay! Off to find some (officially designated) Adventure!
    #6
  7. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Followed the Wrong God Home Supporter

    Joined:
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    Great writing with interesting details.

    I’ve ridden the GRR from St.Paul to the TriCities, but not any further south for the same reason: I was either going to get boiled alive by heat and 100% humidity or get lashed by cold rain coming up from the Gulf. It’s hard to find a month when it’s dry and 75F.

    I drove a car once from the TriCities to Nauvoo before turning east toward my destination in Indiana. I didn’t have a dollar bill in my pocket (old engrained college habit of never carrying cash) for the Fort Madison bridge toll and the woman in the booth waived me through with a stern warning to have it next time. [I was a long way off course on that trip and there never has been a next time.]

    As a former Mormon, I know more about Nauvoo than I wish I ever did. Mormons are very exclusive (read as “tribal”). I got the sense while traveling through town:
    i) they weren’t getting along with their Gentile neighbors any better than the first time they settled the area
    ii) not anywhere near as many Mormons visit the area as they had hoped

    The new temple there, built in 2001, was wholly paid for by the elderly John Huntsman. The church took advantage of his gracious offer and capitalized upon it by increasing their local historical presence. But relatively few Mormons live within easy driving distance and non-Mormons couldn’t care less about a weird blip in 1844 history if they aren’t going to spice it up by talking about polygamy (which they won’t because only a fool would believe that “God commanded it”.). Anyway.

    That same drive it rained like Noah’s flood proving the earlier point that it’s risky weather bet to ride down the Mississippi corridor. It’s the only time driving my car I felt like I was in a submarine.

    I’ll shut up now so you can return to your most excellent storytelling.
    #7
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  8. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Coming to you LIVE from the Norfork Brewing Company in beautiful Norfork, Arkansas…

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    My good Mormons & Gentile Tourist story (guess which one I am) happened in Carthage, not Nauvoo. Rode there with a couple friends and my TG/NW (then girlfriend/now wife), stopped at the Carthage Jail Historical Site. Took the tour, (mistakenly) thinking it was a state park site. We were herded through the building with s group about evenly split between Mormon pilgrims and heathens who thought this was a state historical site. Eventually we arrived at the upstairs room where Joseph Smith was shot, which the guide called the “martyrdom room.” I whispered to my accomplices, “How’d you like to write the real estate listing for this place: three bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen and a martyrdom room.” This brought suppressed giggles and a stern look from the guide. Then he did his dramatic performance of the shooting, finishing by solemnly intoning, “At the autopsy, they found four balls in his body.” I leaned over and whispered, “So that’s why they were polygamous!”

    OK, not that great of a joke, but at the time… we all got the giggles and struggled to get to the end of the tour without busting into laughter or wetting our pants. We made it… barely.

    I suspect there’s a file somewhere in Salt Lake with my picture. Probably with a line of “XXXXX” across it, like Number 6…


    Anyway, today… 186 miles, almost 60 of them on dirt roads. Here’s a sample:

    9BCA9BB3-D8F4-40BE-9664-1D815CE17602.jpeg

    Plus hills, curves (with and without pavement), and a dog. But first, I have to find the guy I’m staying with and get out something easier to use than this phone!
    #8
  9. BigDogAdventures

    BigDogAdventures Fart Letter Supporter

    Joined:
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    Enjoying another ride of yours-----------you do know we must be long lost brothers ????

    Both Old with aching bones.
    Both Contrary
    Have a very weird fetish for old bridges and the such.
    Ride motorcycles not necessarily approved by main stream AdvRiders.
    Have ridden most everywhere------and have a hard time going somewhere without crossing old paths.
    Ride so slow-----------we see stuff most people never see.
    Appreciate stuff most people don't give a rat's ass about.
    Hate new concrete bridges---------and just about cry when we see an old one gone :(

    Himilayan.jpg
    #9
  10. ROAD DAMAGE

    ROAD DAMAGE Long timer Supporter

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    Looks like fun!
    Glad to see you out and about enjoying that nice weather and working that RE odometer.
    Have a cool one for me. :D

    EDIT: My comment was meant for Dan, but since Mark showed up with an RE it's meant for him as well! :lol3
    #10
  11. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Followed the Wrong God Home Supporter

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    @ScottFree: Hilarious story!!!! They probably didn’t mention that Joe had a pepper box pistol and fired it … not that I can blame him, but how many martyrdom stories have you heard where the martyr fought back? Kind of counter to the meaning of the word I think. Anyway, glad you got to see the old ketchup stain on the floor without peeing your pants. Ride on.
    #11
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  12. JimRidesThis

    JimRidesThis Local celebrity

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Cumbria, UK
    :lurk
    #12
  13. jdfog2

    jdfog2 Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    519
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    West Central Indiana
    Nice writing - I've been over some of these same roads (south of I 44) going and coming to Salem and Licking and passing through on my way Oklahoma. (I often take the long way) since 1982 so I should know more than I do. But I have learned quite a bit from your thread and been reminded of some things I knew but had kind of forgotten. Thanks for that! Good memories.
    #13
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  14. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Three Part One: Is This A Good Omen or What?

    After filing yesterday’s report, I got myself organized and carried my gear down-elevator (have I yet mentioned that on Tuesday I was in Room 220, and on Wednesday in Room 330… will my next hotel put me in 440? If so, they’ll have to add two more floors…) As expected, no “free” (i.e., included in your room rate) breakfast. OK… out to the parking lot, start loading up the bike… and a complete stranger comes over, chats for a few minutes, and presses a twenty-dollar bill into my hand. “Buy some gas with it,” he says, “You’re living my dream.” Seems he has always wanted to go wandering around the country on a motorcycle, but there were always Reasons why he couldn’t, and now (he thinks) he’s too old. I promised to put that twenty to good use.

    Funny how that kind of thing happens. It’s sorta sad how many people I’ve met who wanted to do what I’ve done, but had reasons not to. I’ve had Reasons as well—I’m married, for 36 years now, with a child, and grandchildren, and I had a career.. yet somehow, I’ve also managed to fit a million kilometers* of riding into that. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but maybe the people who really wanted to do these things but couldn’t… didn’t really want to as much as they thought.

    But… judge not, lest ye be judged… so, as I said, I’ll spend the money on something worthwhile.

    So… onto the road! Today’s target was the “Pocahontas to Powhatan Dual-Sport Adventure Ride” from the Arkansas tourism guide. Conveniently, the track begins at the Harps supermarket/gas station. I picked up the track and… was a bit disappointed by the first nine miles, which were paved. I suppose that’s the price they paid for having it go from one town to another. But, nine miles in, we crossed the Eleven Point River…

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    The Eleven Point is one of my regular float trip destinations, so it’s neat to be crossing it. And, once across this bridge, the pavement came to an end.

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    The next seven miles were a collection of fun gravel roads. This part of the Ozarks is a lot like the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, hilly and curvy and pretty.

    I crossed several of these bridges, wondering if they are really bridges or actually cattle guards that happen to span (dry) creeks…

    BB7BAA2F-9210-4139-953C-C64DFC385048.jpeg

    Another inmate, whose name I can never recall, signed his posts with “Adventure Riders: Boldly going where other people live.” Yep. And sometimes, going where they were planted after they died…

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    That’s the Yadkin Cemetery. There’s a church across the road.

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    And a nice hill ahead. The road varied a lot, from smooth, wide and flat to narrow, twisty and steep. The most interesting parts didn’t have any places where I could pull off to take pictures, and the GoPro died in Utah back in July, so there are no photos of those stretches. Oh well…

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    The hill is steeper than the phone camera makes it look. Being conservative (that is, old), I took the downhills pretty slowly. Second gear, a light touch on the brakes, 15-20 mph…

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    Meet my new friend! When I pulled up at the stop sign (where the gravel ended and pavement resumed), this dog greeted me… by jumping up on the bike, putting her paws on the tank bag… She was just so friendly! The folks in a car in front of me panicked and rolled up their windows, fearing a “mad dog,” but in fact this girl just wanted some affection. I petted her, told her she was a good girl (while she had her paws atop my tank bag!), and eventually she wandered away, probably looking for somebody who had food…

    From there, a few miles of pavement to Mammoth Spring State Park, featuring one the tenth biggest spring in the world.

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    Fun fact: the water in this spring fizzes. Not with carbon dioxide or methane, but with nitrogen. Like Guinness beer. Nobody’s certain how it happens, but they think that somewhere between Grand Gulch (a collapsed cave system up in Missouri that’s been linked to Mammoth Spring) and the spring outlet, the water passes through rock formations that release nitrogen. Nitrogen doesn’t like to be dissolved in water, so it bubbles out in the spring pool. I’ve read that there are no fish in the spring pool, because they’d get the bends from the bubbling water. Truth or fiction? Beats me…

    Mammoth Spring is the halfway point of the P-to-P ride. At this point, I’ve ridden about 45 miles, 24 of which were unpaved. Not bad… but I’m getting hungry…

    * Yes I know, I live in the USA. It’s unlikely I’ll make a million miles, so for this one statistic I’ll go metric.
    #14
  15. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Three Part Two: Harder and Easier at the Same Time?

    Having had no “free” breakfast at the hotel (Wyndham Corporation, are you reading this?), I was getting some stomach growls as I started south out of Mammoth Spring on the second leg of the P-to-P ride. Just as I was heading out of town, my brain clicked on a sign I had seen about a quarter-mile back: “HALIBUT SANDWICH AND FRIES $8.50.” I’d had a hankerin’ for fish and chips, and a halibut sandwich and fries is fish and chips on a bun, so… quick U-turn…

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    The sandwich satisfied, and the conversation with the owner satisfied more. Seems he’s from Tennessee, used to own a motorcycle but sold it when he moved to Arkansas. Said the deer scared him. I took this as a fair warning, and kept my eyes open (even more than usual) the rest of the day. Indeed, about an hour later I came around a corner and found Bambi staring at me. Of course, he took off before I could get the camera out…

    So… simultaneously harder and easier? Well, I rode this part of the route three years ago, on my GS. I don’t remember any stretches of road that were quite this primitive…

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    A lot of the roads seemed to be in worse shape (possibly because of the heavy rains on Tuesday?), but the riding was easier. I credit this to the Himalayan, which is just so forgiving and easy to ride… though the mid-70s temperatures might have had something to do with it as well!

    The ranger at Mammoth Spring had remarked about the heavy rains on Tuesday, so I expected to run into some mud. I did run into some places that looked like mud—dark red with pickup truck tracks—but they turned out to be so dry I didn’t leave any tracks behind. I did find a water puddle, and splashed through it just on principle. Good thing or bad thing?

    Remember “boldly going where other people live”? Here’s an example:

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    Might be a narrow gravel road (and the trickier sections are up around the corner, where there’s no place to pull over and shoot a photo), but people are farming here.

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    One of the things that was missing from this ride is really dramatic scenery. When I rode out to Utah in July, a road like this would have a big mountain or a thousand-foot cliff next to it. But the ride is pleasant, and the scenery is bucolic, so I’ve got nothing to complain about.

    I think that shortly after this I ran a much more interesting stretch of English Creek Road—tight turns, narrow road, steeper hills, loose stuff and maybe even some mud… but of course I took no pictures. After that, I turned onto Nine Mile Ridge Road, which was by comparison an interstate. I was in fourth gear, running 35-40 miles an hour. Good thing I didn’t pass any cops, because I looked in the mirror and saw this was a 20 mph zone!

    The book says to expect several creek crossings. Well, I went over a number of things that might be fords… if there was water. And a couple of bridges over full-time creeks. This one’s my favorite:

    A152F331-E6B9-49F2-93EF-22657CA40B9F.jpeg

    The main span is a retired railroad flat car. The kids are arguing with their dad about whether they can cannonball into the two-foot-deep creek. Well, they’re young… Three years ago, riding up the hill on the other side of the bridge was an adventure. Today, it was a piece of cake.

    A bit more about riding… I had to get up on the pegs more on this section of the route than I did on the stretch from Pocahontas to Mammoth Spring. There were more big rocks sticking out of the road, and more erosion gullies, washboards and potholes to deal with. Still, I spent most of my time on the comfy seat. I haven’t yet adjusted the bike to be comfortable for long periods of standing (parts are on order), and my right arm (facing shoulder surgery in November, and who-knows-what after I have the elbow examined in a couple weeks) was acting up.

    Eventually, pavement resumes… but it’s an interesting form of pavement!

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    A one-lane bridge (or is it a dam?) over the Spring River. I timed this picture perfectly… in the next two minutes, four pickup trucks had to negotiate right-of-way over this bridge.

    I’m glad I rode it this year, because this pile of gravel suggests there will soon be “improvements” that put an end to this fun crossing:

    0B4B81ED-E7DA-4501-AD96-A88C2E8F5678.jpeg
    Notice the smooth rock ramp in the background… it’s in better shape than the road, and it heads straight for the river, a hundred feet below the bridge. Sigh…

    In ‘18, I stopped for lunch at a place in Hardy that had the two things I really wanted: ice water and air conditioning. No need for that this year. After a brief stop to stretch my legs and relax my sphincter in a town park, I continued on the next stretch: a few miles of pavement, featuring one of the better road signs I’ve seen…

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    Really? Ya think?

    Compared with the earlier stuff, Rock Creek Road was a veritable Gravel Interstate. FAACE75B-BE74-4C7A-AC6D-77B6EC06E1DE.jpeg

    I had the Himalayan all the way up to fourth gear and 40 mph on this stretch. And… I almost had to pay for this easy ride: I came up a hill and encountered another deer. I slowed down and moved to avoid it, no problem… and then my front wheel went into some deep, loose gravel and started washing out. Luckily, a quick downshift and some attention to where I was going kept me from looking stupid in front of Bambi!

    The P-to-P route turns to the east after it crosses AR 58 at Sitka. I ran a few more miles, down to Strawberry River Road, but beyond that point I’d be heading the wrong way. So, farewell to the P-to-P ride, and hello to a couple more miles of gravel…

    D13FB1CE-0236-4DC2-94CA-65E6C5849F1B.jpeg

    And that was it for pavement-free roads. 55 miles of them, out of 86 miles total to this point. No more gravel today… but man does not live by gravel alone…
    #15
  16. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Three Part Three: Part Of This Complete Breakfast…

    The dust was tasty, but a balanced diet includes more than dirt and gravel. Like curves…

    So, once off the P-to-P, I started picking my way west. Three years ago, I was so beat from muscling that GS around in the heat that I just hauled ass back to my campsite. This year, I was still comfortable and looking for more fun. The natural destination was AR route 9 from Melbourne to Sylamore. I rode this last year, on my Road King, in the other direction, and snapped a photo that made it into the POTW page on the website. This year, after some wandering around, I decided to ride it in the opposite direction (something I had last done in 2005, on my Buell M2 Cyclone, on my way to the “Bikes, Blues and BBQ” rally).

    A couple miles into the interesting stuff, I noticed a guy on a Japanese four-cylinder hovering behind me. I moved over and gestured him around, and he took off. One of the things about riding a Himalayan is that you learn courtesy to faster riders…

    Not to say I was slow—I was running about 20-25 mph above what the curve signs read. Although I know from past experience that Arkansas is pretty conservative about these signs… as you should be able to tell from the fact that I’m going 20+ on a 24.5 horsepower dual-sport ADV bike with semi-knobby tires… and did I mention I aired them down for the unpaved stuff?

    Riding a road like 9, where you know there’s no passing zones for the next twenty miles, poses a tough choice: when there’s a scenic turnout, do you pull over and risk having some grandma from Iowa in a minivan trundle by at ten under the limit? Or do you value the twisty-riding more than the photo-op? Decisions, decisions…

    I took my chances at this turnout, which (I think) is not the same one I stopped at on the Harley last year:

    937B74F3-8A40-447F-AD8B-35B7D7AF64D9.jpeg

    Another vehicle did go by while I was shooting photos, but luckily…

    679B51FC-34B7-4CA9-B92E-A7556C818D44.jpeg

    … I’m pretty sure he’s faster than me.

    Which he was, though I did run into him again, along with the guy who had passed me earlier. After twenty miles of twisty delights, I made a gas stop in Sylamore. Outrageously expensive by Arkansas standards—all of $2.99 a gallon for regular—but cheap by the standards of my home state, where it’s more like $3.40 a gallon! Anyway, while I was at the station, I saw both of the guys who’d passed me pulling in and looking around. Apparently they decided the gas here wasn’t up to their refined standards, and they took off. Hope they found gas… it’s not always easy in this part of Arkansas.

    From there, a quick seventeen miles up to Calico Rock, which (I guess) is named for the bluffs along the White River.

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    It is remarkably hard to get a good photo of this.

    Then, another twenty miles up to Norfork. Now… I should note that Arkansas is a strange patchwork of wet and dry counties. Most everywhere I had ridden today was in dry counties. On Route 177, I crossed the line into (wet) Baxter County, and the first thing I saw was (of course) a liquor store. Complete with a warning for people leaving Baxter County:

    8A7D5044-AC62-4815-A518-B4B897C34C02.jpeg

    I didn’t have to stop, as I had six beers in the cooler in the trunk… though, after the bouncing they took on the P-to-P, it was probably a good idea to let them sit and settle for a while!

    And, over the Norfork Dam. There are two big Corps of Engineers dams up here. Bull Shoals is the bigger of the two, and there’s an overlook for tourists to properly admire it. Norfork is more modest, hiding its spillways behind the power plant.

    CA563D05-CD18-4971-AB5B-424DD16AF0EF.jpeg

    I made a quick stop at the Norfork Brewery (see earlier post), which has one of the more interesting signs on its Beer Recycling Facility rooms:

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    Another mile or two to my friend’s house on the river, a little chain maintenance (it had loosened up a bit in the last 800 miles, and it needed a brushing-off and lube), and the riding part of the day was over. The conversation, dinner, and beer drinking part had just begun.

    So… one of the two planned “Dual Sport Adventure Rides” was a grand time. Tomorrow I’m taking pavement down to somewhere around Mountain View or Prim, and riding back up to Big Flat on the “Ozark National Forest” ride. It should be fun—the pavement-free part ends at Gravity Brew Works. And Push Mountain Road fits in there somewhere.
    #16
  17. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Four: More Dirt, More Curves, A Little Something For Next Time…

    I arose to… pea-soup fog. My friend’s cabin is on the White River, and while the view’s spectacular in the afternoon, mornings are often completely fogged in. Luckily, I was in no hurry to get underway. The fog lifted around nine, the sun came out, and I was on my way…

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    First stop was for breakfast in the very quaint touristy town of Calico Rock, named for the big limestone bluff overlooking the White River. The walls of the restaurant were adorned with photos of trains, woodcuts of printing equipment (the building had previously been a print shop), and quotes about the town’s history. The most interesting quotes concerned how after the War of 1812, this territory had been settled by people “unconstrained by law or religion,” but following an invasion by Baptists and Methodists, it had become properly religious, moral, or at least afraid enough to pretend they were.

    The plan was to head generally south on Route 5, pick up route 9 at Mountain View, and get on the “Ozark National Forest Ride” route where it crossed Route 9. I was a little concerned about getting back before dark, as the state motorcycle ride book said this ride would take about eight hours. I figured I was cutting an hour or so off by skipping the section between Prim and Route 9 (which includes the private-land part that’s now apparently closed), but since it was already well after ten by the time I got done with breakfast, and I figured to spend around an hour at Gravity Brew Works in Big Flat when I got back to pavement, I didn’t want to dawdle.

    So, of course, I dawdled for about fifteen minutes or so, chatting with these two touring bike riders (Gold Wing and K1600) at a “Scenic Turnout” that left us all somewhat mystified by the lack of any particularly spectacular scenery.

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    It’s a nice enough view, but there are lots of nicer views on this stretch of the “Sylamore Scenic Byway.” So we talked bikes and rides. Seems these guys are from Illinois, one from a town not far from me, and one of them just bought land in this part of Arkansas and is planning to move there in the next year or so. We talked about the riding in the area, I told them about the stretch of 9 between Sylamore and Melbourne (ridden Thursday) and how it’s highlighted in gold on my Butler map of the Ozarks. I got this out and showed them, said it’s a must if you’re moving down here. It really isn’t; I had ridden most of those roads long before I got the map, but it’s a nice summary. The guys were interested, and one said he was going to buy a copy.

    All right, no more dawdling. Through Mountain View, which looked to be gearing up for some sort of music-related festival, and down 9 to Sunny Fox Road. Turn right, try not to get run over by a dump truck (“boldly going where other people live”), and ride… six miles of dirt road. It was fun…

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    And there were occasionally some glimpses of the mountains.

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    At this point, a note: one of the questions I’ve been trying to answer is whether I really enjoy riding dirt roads all that much, or are they just a way to get to the pretty scenery. On the Utah trip, there was no real difference; all the dirt roads I traveled in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah were full of stunning views. The dirt roads I traveled on this trip were different—most of the miles are just going through the woods, and there’s little to look at beyond the road and the trees.

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    This makes sense, because these are by and large utilitarian roads, not “scenic” routes built for tourists like me. They go to farms, logging operations, and so forth. I’m just intentionally misusing them to have fun.

    Anyway, after six miles, Sunny Fox Road spat me back onto the pavement. For another twelve miles. It was very, very good pavement—especially riding the route “backwards,” as I got to ride the twistiest stretch of AR 263 downhill, enjoying 20mph switchbacks on a good 10% downgrade…

    And then, the turn onto Oak Grove Loop, and back onto dirt.

    The state ride book shows a picture of somebody splashing across a creek in the writeup for this ride, but the closest thing to a water crossing is this low-water bridge.

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    It is also one of the places where you can see more than the road and trees.

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    The camera works its “magic” again, flattening out this steep, off camber hill…

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    This is the stretch that wore me out on the GS three years ago. It was much easier on the Himalayan, but it was still a bit tricky: again, some long, steep downhills, off-camber and curvy. I just took it slow, second gear, let the engine do most of the braking, occasionally add a bit of front brake. I tend to stay off the Himalayan’s rear brake on dirt, because it’s a bit touchy and prone to lock up on loose stuff (my Himma is a pre-ABS model).

    Again, a short piece of dirt (6.5 miles), and back onto the pavement to Sylamore.

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    All of a sudden, I was less concerned that I’d run out of time than I was about getting to the end of the route before Gravity opened! And, with a whole twelve miles of pavement-free road in the first 32, I was wondering how much of a “dual sport adventure ride” this would turn out to be.

    And then, a couple miles north of the gas station, I turned onto a forest service road, and things got… interesting.
    #17
  18. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Four Part Two: Some Scenery, a Whole Lotta Dirt, and Why I Need A New GoPro

    So… following the line on my GPS, I turned onto a forest service road. Signs informed me that the road led to three mountain biking trail heads. That’s nice. It also led, 23 miles later, to Push Mountain Road. Finally this ride was getting some dirt!

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    I have been a bit skeptical of the whole “follow the line” approach to navigation. I’m more accustomed to having a map on the tank bag and making my own way. But, to be completely honest, there’s no way I could have navigated the 23 miles of dirt road between AR 5 and Push Mountain Road using maps and the directions in the “ride guide” book. For one thing, the directions assume you’re going the other way. More important, they refer to roads by names like “Green Mountain” and “Gunner Pool,” and I did not see one single sign with a road name, anywhere. I did see occasional signs with National Forest route numbers, but of course the book didn’t mention route numbers. And the OSM maps in my GPS app, when they attach names to the lines at all, tend to use entirely different names like “Baxter County Route 75.” Under the circumstances, I was happy to follow the line.

    Once again, most of this section was just dirt road and trees. There were a few places where the trees parted and I could get a glimpse of scenery, though.

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    I saw very few other vehicles along here, just a couple pickup trucks and one big ol’ KTM ADV bike going the other way.

    After 23 miles in the woods, the nine miles of Push Mountain Road was a pleasant break: pavement and very nice sweeper turns.

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    And then, back into the woods. This stretch of road was a bit rougher, and a bit twistier, and entirely in the deep dark woods.

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    This stretch is where I came to regret my decision to not replace my GoPro after it died on the Utah trip. I’d done a little shopping, but found that the relatively cheap, entry-level “Hero” model had been discontinued. Its replacement costs nearly twice as much and is loaded with features that seem oriented toward professional video producers (what part of “entry level” don’t they understand?). So, I figured my iPhone’s camera would be sufficient. Which it pretty much was, except that using it requires finding a safe place to stop, which wasn’t all that easy on this part of the ride. So, what follows is a couple places I wish I’d had a GoPro so I could at least capture frames from the video…

    There is one actual turn (from one road to another) on this part of the ride, and as I approached the T intersection I saw a big pickup truck pulling a bigger horse trailer going down the hill at a rather alarming speed. When I turned the corner, getting a strong whiff of overheated brake linings, the truck and trailer were already well ahead of me and hauling ass in a cloud of dust. As I started down the hill, I wondered how the hell this guy had gotten over the big rock in the middle of the road without busting a trailer axle. I caught up with him after another mile or so of rough downhill, when he’d gotten to a stop. He waved me around, and I saw him starting up—slowly—in the mirror.

    The road then got more interesting, following a creek bed (and at times, I think, being the creek bed). It’s an Ozark style: rounded river rock and sand, between foot-high dirt berms on both sides, eventually ending in a patch of loose, tennis-ball-size rocks where the stream crosses the road. Fun, and an interesting sight, but with that truck back there I didn’t want to stop for a photo.

    After thirteen miles I was back on pavement, in the town of Big Flat, home of the Gravity Brew Works.

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    Here, I learned a couple interesting things in conversations with locals. First, the horse trailer… there’s a horse camp up in the hills there, and the “normal” way to get up there is to take Push Mountain Road to the relatively easy forest road I’d ridden up to that T intersection. Apparently this guy had used the other road as a shortcut, and paid the price. I saw his truck go by on route 14 after I got to Big Flat, so I know he made it, and at least there were no horses in the trailer at the time of his adventure. Who knows, maybe he just does this for fun.

    One mystery remains, though: this road was narrow, barely wide enough for me to squeeze my Himalayan around a pickup truck going the other way. And yes, there was a pickup truck, a big Ford, going the other way. How the hell did he and the horse hauler get past each other?

    The other thing I learned at the brewery was where a picture in the state riding guidebook and website came from. It shows a guy splashing across a creek on a dirt bike, and it’s captioned “water crossing on Roasting Ear Road near Fifty-Six.” Now, it’s not a part of the Ozark NF ride route (the only stream crossing is that low-water bridge), and the Roasting Ear Road near the town of Fifty-Six is paved. Another patron explained there are two Roasting Ear Roads, the paved one near Fifty-Six, and an unpaved one a mile or so from the brewery…

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    Which includes a water crossing. He says he often hops into his side-by-side ATV and drives up that road to the brewery for a pint. Seeing the sun going down, being still thirty miles from the cabin, and having no desire to ride Push Mountain Road’s curves in the dark (especially with it being rut season for deer), I decided to drop a pin on my GPS, snap this picture, and put Roasting Ear Road on the list for next year’s ride.

    The direct route back took Push Mountain Road, which is another “gold” highlighted route on the Butler map. Twenty miles of smooth asphalt and curves. Great fun—so much fun that I didn’t think to stop and take a photo.

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    At least, not until I was at the White River crossing, and done for the day.

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    As I said, my friend’s cabin is in a pretty place, right on the river with this big bluff in the background.

    And that’s it for Day Four. Under 160 miles, but tons of fun. Day Five is going to be nearly twice that, back to pavement, but still pretty scenic and fun… most of the way. Time to load up, air-up the tires for pavement riding, and get underway. Maybe I’ll finally get that pizza I’ve been craving…
    #18
  19. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Five: The Many Uses Of Water

    Today’s plan was Back To The Grind: after two relatively short (under 200 miles) days enjoying the dirt roads of Arkansas, it was (already) time to head for home. But don’t cry for me, Marge and Tina (let’s see if any of my readers are from Dublin)… all but the last 30 or so miles of today’s ride would be on the twisty roads of the Missouri Ozarks. All pavement, though—given that Google put this at a 280 mile day, and I always seem to add about 10% to that because I refuse to take the “direct” route. So I planned to get an early start and stick to the paved roads.

    “Early” got re-defined to around 9:30, by the time I got done posting yesterday’s ride and airing-up my tires and generally re-organizing everything after two days without having to re-pack.

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    So… today was supposed to be all about pavement. But in one of those odd ways that seems to happen on motorcycle trips, it became more about water, and all the things it can be used for.

    Use One: As A Thing To Build Bridges Over

    As I’ve said over and over, I’m no fan of the boring concrete-slab bridges that seem to be steadily replacing more interesting steel trusses and cantilevers. Part of my reason is that concrete is such a plastic material—it doesn’t have to be dull; you can make all kinds of interesting shapes from it:

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    Missouri used to have a lot of these nice spandrel arch bridges. Not so many, as they’ve been replaced one at a time by something cheaper and more efficient, like the bridge over Sinking Creek featured in Day Two. It used to be a nice concrete arch like this one at Twin Bridges, but now it’s just a pre-rusted CorTen™ steel beam. Progress (hoock-spit-tooey!)

    Not from this trip, but worth featuring…

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    Obviously not a Himalayan in the foreground… This is from a trip to Arkansas that I took last September, after I recovered from a mild (that is, only sick as a dog for two weeks) case of Covid and had a couple positive antibody tests. Figured I might as well take my immunity on the road (cue the Moody Blues: “Travelin’ immunity road, what will you find there…”). Never wrote up an RR for it, mostly because it was all paved roads (obviously). Then again, going for a trip in the midst of the pandemic might qualify as an adventure…

    Anyway, one of the things I went out of my way to find was one of the few remaining Marsh Rainbow Arch bridges. This one’s over the White River in Cotter, AR. Five (the camera couldn’t get them all in the frame) concrete bowstring arches. Concrete bridges don’t have to be ugly! All the more reason to be pissed off when they are.

    Back to today… this shot was also my “token off-pavement ride” for the day. Or so I thought. Which brings me to the next use for water:

    Use Two: Canoeing, Swimming, and Playing With Your Dog

    I worked my way generally north and east though the Ozarks, following a mix of “letter” and “number” roads. I missed a Golden Opportunity to add a little legitimate off-pavement when I noticed, too late, that there is about a ten-mile section of “Old US 60,” much of which is not paved, running parallel to the four-lane I was on. Next time…

    On a whim, I got off the four-lane several miles ahead of my planned turn, and ran County E up to MO 106 (there, I did it again: in Missouri, the letter roads are state highways. I do too much riding in Wisconsin, where the letter roads are county highways). This turned out to be a gorgeous road: smooth asphalt, one turn after another, and roller-coaster hills. A fine ten miles. Not only a whole lot better than the four-lane, but it left me just a mile or so from Alley Spring on the Jacks Fork River. And while today was a pavement ride, I couldn’t resist a little taste of the road that runs right along the river out of Alley:

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    This road shows up on the OZAT tracks, and I’ve seen it from my kayak when I float this river. There’s a sign in the Park Service facility at the Alley Spring end of the road, saying “LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY.” I never figured out what this meant—did it mean the road wasn’t open all the way to Eminence? Would I reach the end of the NPS property and find a locked gate? Didn’t want to risk the delay that would cause, but couldn’t resist riding a half-mile or so out, to where the spring branch met the Jacks Fork River. I was feeling a bit chilled, but obviously the folks in the canoes weren’t, nor was the guy toward the middle of the photo, who’s just climbed out of the river after a swim. The road here is mostly dirt and gravel, with occasional sections of rough concrete like the one I’m parked on. This is were I turned around. Beyond is a stretch of big rip-rap stones, about the size of Chicago softballs. Before the concrete is some loose, soft gravel that was a bit tricky to ride through. As I said, I float this river at least once a year, and I’ve noticed that sections of this road are often under water in the spring. I didn’t want to be riding with a full load on a river bottom.

    Notice I said I didn’t want to be doing that. But when does “what I want” matter?

    Use Three: Riding Your Motorcycle Through It

    I made a quick lunch stop at Eminence. I was sorta surprised to not see any ADV bikes there, as a guy I ran into at a gas station in Mountain View (the one in MO, not the one I visited yesterday in AR) said he thought there was some sort of “dual sport adventure” event taking place in Eminence. But the only off-road vehicles I saw were the ubiquitous SxSs.

    I took 106 east from Eminence. It is a great road, with lots of curves and hills, and (unfortunately) a slow-moving Prius for the first dozen miles. Which included the odd sight of an airport-style bus on its side in the ditch. Be careful out there…

    Gas stop in Ellington, then back onto the letter roads. K, from Eminence to Annapolis (NOT the one in Maryland) is a great road as well, twenty miles of roller coaster. I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth out of these tires, using more than just the center of the tread! K crosses the Black River, and I noticed a lot of ATVs and Jeeps down by the river, along with many canoes. The tail end of summer in river country. I almost rode down there, but reminded myself I had places to go. Besides, what was I going to do, try to ride across the river?

    After Annapolis, I got on highway C, which opened with this promising sign:

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    Quiz: why would a road be posted “no semi trucks”? A) a bridge (hopefully a delicate old truss) that’s too small or too load-limited? B) turns too tight for a semi to negotiate? Either sounds like a good reason to hit this road, so I did.

    10 miles later, I encountered a flashing LED sign informing me BRIDGE OUT 24/7, LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY. Having encountered such signs before, and occasionally found them to be exaggerating…

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    It’s OK, I have authorization…

    …I continued about a half mile before I found a local guy out tending his lawn. I pulled over and asked him about the bridge. He assured me it was completely out and gone. Hmm. No alternate route that didn’t involve backtracking ten miles and then going another twenty out of my way? Nope, he said… unless…

    There was an alternative: “take FF till it ends, hang a left on the dirt county road, that’ll take you down to a place where you can cross the river.”

    Notice he did not say anything about a bridge, and he was looking carefully at the Himalayan, as if judging its clearance.

    So, I decided to give this a try. The county road was genuinely dirt, not gravel, mostly packed and moist with occasional loose spots, and eventually it took me to the St. Francis River. Along the way I ran into a few more local people, all of whom thought I should be able to make it across the river. Of course, they were on quad ATVs and UTVs. Still, I was pretty determined to give it a go by the time I saw what I had to deal with:

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    Not too bad. If you look closely, you’ll see there’s a sort of dam/ford built up in the river, where the water’s only a few inches deep. Unfortunately, I had stopped a bit beyond that point and didn’t think to back up so I could ride across on the proper ford. Nah. Figured I’d just head in from where I was and then roll over onto the shallower part. So, pull on over into the water and…

    Well, it was deeper than I thought, maybe 8-10 inches. And the bottom was pretty loose, and my back tire started spinning. I put my feet down and promptly discovered that 17” high GoreTex boots were not high enough. Oh well. About twenty feet into the river, as I paddle-walked the bike toward the ford, I felt the back tire spinning and the bike came to a stop. At least I had the presence of mind to pull in the clutch before I dug myself in. Stopped for a moment to think, then picked my ass up off the seat, pushed forward on the bars, and very gently feathered the clutch. It worked, the bike moved forward. I dabbed and pushed and feathered, and the front wheel climbed up onto the ford, the back wheel followed, and before I knew what I was doing my feet were on the pegs and I finished riding across as if I had been doing this for years.

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    See? I had wet feet, but for the first time since 1981, I had ridden a bike across something more than a little trickle of water or a paved ford. I felt kinda good about this.

    Of course, had I been thinking enough to start on the upstream side of the ford, where the water was shallow, I probably would have had such an easy time that I’d have set up my phone camera to shoot a video, gone back and crossed the river again. As it was, I decided not to push my luck, so all we have are these still pictures from opposite sides of the river.

    Another mile or so of dirt road, and I was back on C, unfortunately past the place that turned out to be the reason for the “NO SEMIS” signs: neither a truss bridge nor an impossible-for-semis curve, but an overhanging cliff that would clip the top of most trailers. I’m told (by a couple guys on ATVs who watched me cross the river) it’s quite a sight. I will have to come back and have a look next year.

    Road C continued, with lots of fine curves and hills, to just outside of Fredericktown, where I stopped for an ice cream bar (I felt I deserved it) and a gander at this exercise in 1959 extravagance:

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    They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

    Next: more uses for water!
    #19
  20. ScottFree

    ScottFree Long timer

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    Day Five Part Two: One More Use For Water

    And then… out of Missouri and across the Big Muddy:

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    Now this is a bridge!

    Chester is the home of Popeye, and they want you to know it:

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    I’m waiting for somebody to notice the oil leak.

    Chester is also the place where I watched the solar eclipse a few years ago. It was the perfect location, smack in the middle of totality, not a cloud in the sky, fantastic corona (back when “corona” wasn’t a virus).

    It’s amazing how the hills and curves just end at the Mississippi. There are one or two climbing up out of the river valley, and then… nothing but flat farmland. Ah, back home in Ill-Annoy.

    There was a covered bridge. Illinois, Iowa and especially Indiana are crawling with the things.

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    Alas, you can’t ride through this one.

    Thirty more miles to DuQuoin, my hotel, and the fourth Use For Water:

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    Making tasty beverages might just be the best use of all.

    Tomorrow… 300+ miles of mostly flat farmland ahead. Don’t expect too much…
    #20