Florida to the Ozarks by Way of Barber Vintage Festival, Part 2
The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) Had a Prime Spot Just inside the Gate
Below the hill from the VJMC tents was the vendor area where Triumph, that year's festival sponsor, had a huge tent filled with gear and Trumpets. In this area, too, were Motorcycle Classics magazine, with its own bike show; Erik Buell formerly and famously or infamously depending on your viewpoint of Harley-Davidson, who had now gone on his own; and numerous other specialty vendors.
Erik Buell's New Offering
There is a perimeter road circling the entire track and scattered along it were visiting motorcycles, most of which were vintage examples of both rare and common makes. One of my favorite things to do at the festival is to walk along this smorgasbord of bikes, looking at the clever or unusual modifications the owners had made and watching for unusual marques.
Attendees' Bikes on the Perimeter Road
Just before I had left I received an email from a magazine I had written for before asking me to do a story on the festival, and so I was wandering camera in hand snapping away for pictures that could be used along with the story. I went down to “Ace Corner,” a cafe racer specialty area that was supposed to have good inside track views and snapped some pictures of the bikes whizzing by, only to find blur after blur when uploading the photos to the computer later. I did the same thing at the track-side forested hillside, so popular with race watchers. I obviously needed more time training myself with my DSLR. I took picture after picture as I strolled along, of the swap meet area, the bikes parked along the snaking perimeter road, the bikes at VJMC, and the air show over the track at midday. The auction bikes, too, were captured in my flash as I wondered what kind of prices such priceless motorcycles might fetch when the gavel went down.
Air Show over the Track
Stunt Show on the Track
Iron and Air's Cafe Racer at Ace Corner
Dime City Cycles' Cafe Racer at Ace Corner
Highly Customized Cafe Racer
Colorado Norton Works Restores and Modernizes Old Nortons to Make Them Dependable Riders
Customized Helmet Show
Friday, after a quick run out for my evening dinner, I came back to camp at the swap meet. A couple spaces away and across from our spot was a group that drove in with a large motorhome, equipped with fold-down handrails and a roof deck. When I returned to my tent the whooping and hollering had just started. I sat down at the fire with our neighbors and we chatted as the night began to cool down from the sunny 80s that had baked us all day. During the day I had sold a book at a substantial discount to Tony, with an agreement for him to provide me coffee for the rest of the weekend, solving my expensive coffee situation in the mornings. During the evening conversation, I found out that Nathan had lived in my town for a year “back in the day.” After swapping Lake Wales stories of “Is this still there?” and “Do you remember…” we each wandered off to our tents as the volume from the sky-deck club climbed louder and louder. Surprisingly the tumult had little effect on my passing into sleep.
Saturday was the busiest day at the swap meet. During the day Luis all but emptied his trailer of goods. I wanted to get as much of the magazine photography out of the way early so I could head out with Roger, who I had ridden up from central Florida with, into the mountains northeast of Leeds. I continued my wanderings winding up the picture taking in the morning, sporadically stopping back at our swap meet spot to check in and to enable some of the others to wander off on their own quests.
By three o'clock Roger and I met up and headed out on our search for twisties, with a vague idea that most of the mountainous area appeared to northeast. We left Leeds behind us and headed north on US 441 through Leeds and north past Interstate 20. After the I-20 we continued on this road northeast until AL 174, which looked like our best bet for putting us in the mountain ridges that ran roughly roughly parallel to I-59 on the north side and hopefully into some twisties. 174 would become County Road 9 just past I-59 and would start climbing. As it was about to crest the ridge it made a hard left and ran just south of the top until turning back on itself in a tight hairpin that put us on top of the ridge at 1800 feet altitude. Here we took a quick break in a gravel pulloff and overlook where we could look a thousand feet down into the valleys we had crossed.
At the Pulloff
The plan was to follow County Road 27 north across the convoluted landscape and join US 231, which we could take back southeast to US 78 completing our loop. Instead, we got off 27 somehow and found ourselves running the crest of the ridge on rural and scenic County Road 24 emptying us back where we started at the same overlook where we had started. It was now late afternoon and we decided instead of trying to find our original route and continue, we should high tail it back the way we came. The added bonus was we could run that hairpin again in the opposite, and downhill, direction.
We retraced our path and arrived back at Barber at six o'clock. I had put off going to the museum until after our ride, but as we pulled into the parking lot the visitors were being shooed out and the doors locked. Luckily, I had been in the museum twice before and the pictures for the article of the collection would have to be selected from the previous visits. This was a small price to pay for the fun of getting out and riding in the area and for the purpose of giving the readers an idea of what the museum was like the older pictures would serve just as well, and I had many of then from which to choose.
Roger and I had chatted on motorcycleforum.com about meeting up with other members who might be going to attend at a restaurant in Leeds where 441 crossed I-20. One member from North Carolina had stopped by the swap meet booth earlier with his friend, and others had indicated they were attending, but Roger and I ate alone. While it would have been nice to meet face-to-face with some other members, we weren't really surprised. With so much going on at the motorsports park it would be hard, especially for first-time attendees, to tear themselves away. We enjoyed our meal together and talked about plans for the next day.
Roger thought he would ride back with the Pinetta group and then take to the Interstate to get back the same day. I, on the other hand, was heading on alone to the Ozarks. I had received more good news of a great weekend had by Andrea, Leah, and the kids which further relieved my guilt for abandoning Andrea, leaving her to single-parent the kids while I went off gallavanting.
My destination was in northwestern Arkansas, near a little village called Wesley, a little east of Fayetteville. If I was going to make it before dark I was going to have to leave well before dawn on Sunday morning. I settled down early for my last night camping at Barber after a bit of chat and a shot of bourbon enjoyed around the “camp fire” of my new friends, Tony and Nathan.
Tomorrow would start the part of the trip I was looking forward to most. As much as I enjoyed riding with a few friends, I would be back in my element from here on riding solo into new lands. Nothing compares to the experience of riding solo and becoming one with your bike in a way that is impossible when riding in groups where an eye must constantly be watching the group and trying to stay in synch with it. Now all I had to synch with was myself and I had all day to think about whatever came to mind. It was during this part of the trip I quit thinking about each thing I did and I just let it happen. It is a kind of synch between bike and rider that is similar to what I had experienced in my days as a solo sailor where all the tasks aboard my boat to get her from one place to another were done competently without consciously thinking about them. It must be akin to what an athlete feels when he or she is in the groove and the body does what it has been trained to do without conscious effort. In a way, this part of the trip was the real start of the adventure for me.
In the chill of the dark morning I broke camp and reloaded the Bonnie. Birmingham traffic is awful, but I figured I'd be safe at 5 o'clock on Sunday morning so I passed through downtown in the predawn darkness on empty city streets following US 78 to the far side and into the countryside northwest of the city. It was cold, but I had taken precautions and broke out my winter gloves, reinstalled the liner in my jacket, and had donned a sweatshirt under that. 78 was a wide and empty divided four lane highway rising and falling over the diminishing foothills of the tail of the Appalachians. It is soon to be upgraded to Interstate 22 as the signs along the side and on the overpasses attested.
Halfway between Birmingham and the Mississippi line with my reserved light on I lef the nascent Interstate for the little town of Eldridge just as daylight was about to break and fileld up the tank. I took the opportunity there to go inside the little combination gas station, convenience story, and restaurant to grab a large cup of coffee. The early rising locals were scattered about the seating area doing the same. We sat while we drank and discussed the hunting season and prospect for deer this year, with the inevitable deer strike story thrown in, and perhaps embellished. The shot of coffee had revived me and I went out side to lube the chain before chucking the bottom of the cup, remounting the bike, and heading back up to US 78 and continuing west to Tupelo, Mississippi, on the still deserted highway in the growing light.
Not one to savor the experience of riding through big cities, to avoid Memphis I took US 278 west from Tupelo on good two lane pavement, heading for the Mississippi River and the first crossing south of Memphis. Soon after my departure from 78 I could see a bank of ominous dark clouds gathering up ahead. I passed another motorcyclist going the same direction as he pulled into a small parking lot. A mile or so further down the road as I watched the sky get darker, I realized he must have pulled over to pu on his rain gear and when I saw an empty covered fruit stand I turned off the road and pulled under its metal roof and the sky grew wilder and did the same. I had my rain jacket on and the pants on one leg when the sky let loose and poured its wet contents onto the shed roof. I finished dressing in a cacophony of pelting rain and still under shelter I remounted the Bonnie, negotiated the now wet gravel entrance, and returned to the road in the midst of the downpour, relatively safe from being drenched. My rain jacket caught the wind up the sleeves and billowed out making me feel like the Sta Puft marshmallow man. I'd need to do something about that once I found a lull in the rain, but for now I puttered along trying to see the best I could through my rain splashed visor under a dark gray ceiling. The wind had picked up tremendously from the west-southwest and made for a turbulent ride when combined with the wind caused by my forward motion as I rode into the teeth of it.
Soon I could see what I thought was the edge of the front, a tranquil bright blue spot to my right. But the front was teasing me and the clear spot stayed just out of reach as I apparently paralleled the front and I stayed tucked just inside its northern edge.
The rain continued as the land grew flatter and cotton field appeared around me and I approached the Delta area of Mississippi. I was looking for a small road to the right, MS 3, at Marks but blew right by it without a clue and ended up at US 81/49. I turned right and rolled north to a place where 49 would split off and continue to the mighty river and my crossing to Helena, Arkansas. Finally, the blue sky was close to overhead and the rain had fallen off and almost completely stopped as I crossed the last levee, so I pulled to the paved shoulder just before the bridge across the Mississippi next to an Indian casino to took off my rain gear and to grab a photo of the bridge ahead that would be my gateway to Arkansas and the first time I had ridden in the West. Rain gear stowed away again I rode over into Arkansas.
On the other side I continued to follow US 49 out of Helena and to Arkansas 1, which led me north to Wynne and US 64. Heading almost due north it was nice to finally have the wind more or less behind me. Unfortunately the front had not finished toying with me and not long after my entrance to this new state the blue hole in the clouds closed up and the rain began again. At least this time it rained with less authority and I was able to keep rolling and not have to stop to re-don my gear. The rain came and went but the skies slowly started to improve and the each rain shower was lighter than the previous. Somewhere around my turn to the west ay US 64 it left completely and I regained the sun. Then all I was left with was the terrific wind blasting me from the front and left side, or forward of my port beam, as I would have said so many years ago when I depended on the wind to sail from one place or another. The land opened up and gave encouragement to the wind which now fairly howled across the farm land as the flat fields rolled quickly by and I struggled to keep the bike on the road as gusts roared in.
US 64 moved me west and turned into a Interstate-like four lane for a short while heading southwest, where it joined US 167, then a short time later split off again to continue west to Conway and Interstate 40.
It was getting well into the afternoon now and I was starting to have doubts about my arrival time. The wind was still blustery and threatening to knock the wheels out from under me. I hopped onto I 40, the first real Interstate I had ridden on the trip so far, with the intent to haul ass and get to Wesley before dark. But there is a time warp in Arkansas, I swear, or some kind of space-time distortion. Anywhere I pointed my front wheel toward took me fifty-percent longer to reach than even my unoptimistic estimate forecast. This phenomena followed me for the rest of my time in the Ozarks.
I continued west and as the afternoon was waning I found my turnoff at little AR 23. This was my first real chance at riding in the Ozark mountains and this road did not disappoint, but with darkness falling quickly and quite a way to go I could not relax and enjoy the ride as I should have. I sped on 23 through marvelous hills and mountains, into and out of the rapidly cooling shade cast by their flanks, with plenty of twist and turns on my way north to the junction with AR 16. I turned left on 16 and went a short distance where 16 met AR 295. 16 went northwest here and 295 went northeast then north. If followed far enough 16 will take you into Fayetteville, but I knew that was further than I needed to go and Wesley, where my camp was waiting, was east of 16 on AR 74, where it joined for a while with 295 forming a circle with me at the moment at its southern edge. Light was fading fast, the sun having set behind the mountains quite a while before. The cold was coming on, chillier than it had been even in those cold mornings at Leeds. It was time to make a call. Stopped on top of a concrete divider at the 16 and 295 junction I took out my phone and searched my contacts list. No “Doc” listed! I was sure I had entered the info into the phone before I left but what I was seeing was telling me otherwise. I was in deer-infested mountains and would be riding in the dark soon. I scrolled back through all my old called or received numbers, hoping Doc would be there, but apparently we had not talked on this cell phone. Then I remembered that initially he had texted me. I looked over those old texts and luckily found my host's number there. I texted him and told him I was lost. We agreed I should ride up 16 to where it joined 74 and text again when I got there. I hopped on the bike, mindful of his warning to “watch out for deer!” and when I could I stayed behind cars so if something jumped out they would take the brunt of it instead of me. I got to the intersection without incident and texted again. Doc gave me final instructions and I picked up a sandwich for my evening meal, threw it in the baggage, and hopped back on the Trumpet for the last short stretch of the ride. Doc would be waiting for me at his “road” on an ATV.
In all fairness, Doc did say in his invitation post: “OFF ROADERS ONLY” so I was not surprised when I spotted Doc headlight on the right side at the start of a dirt path. We said our hellos and Doc informed me that the road was rough and there was a little water crossing on the way to his place four miles or so up. “Up” is right; the road wiggled its way across the Ozark landscape across a valley and up a mountain. I had ridden on the dirt roads, usually clay grove roads, before. In fact I have at times purposely searched them out just for practice, so I was not too concerned about having to ride a mere four miles on dirt. As we rode on at times the road was smooth and comparable to a graded gravel road; not bad. At times, though, it turned into a passage across exposed rock, albeit more or less flat rack. The “gravel” was a collection of round rocks ranging from the size of golf balls to baseballs. A little momentum got me through the water crossing with no surprises even on this “street bike” and soon we arrived at Doc's mountain home, perched on the crest of a ridge and looking through a gap in the trees down into the now dark valley we had ridden through before our ascent. There was a roaring fire already going down in the area I was going to pitch the tent. After a little chewing the fat at the fire, Doc left me alone to eat my sandwich and call my family. I got about a half minute of clear communication with Andrea then lost contact completely. I was not to get through again at all, but at least I was able to let her know I got in safely.
Tomorrow, when I was out exploring the Ozarks I would be able to check in again. I crawled into my bag dressed in my sweats, exhausted from the day of fighting wind gusts and soon was asleep in perfect camping weather, the wind having dropped at sundown and the temperature falling.
My Camp in Doc's Backyard
I woke to the view of the valley now in sunshine illuminated below and climbed out of the bag with the promise of coffee wafting in the air. The Ozarks mountains were in full autumn color under a blanket of reds, oranges, and yellows with spots of green from the pines counter-pointing the riot of colors. I found Doc and the coffee, up on the wide veranda jutting out from his house from which we could sip the hot brew and watch the glory of an Ozark morning develop around and below us. I had carried up my maps and Doc and I set to work figuring a doable day ride from here to the outskirts of Little Rock that would give me the best riding roads northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri. I had only a day to get in some just-for-fun riding then I had to meet my friend and afterward start the long trek home.
Doc and I planned the Day's Route Here while Sipping Our Morning Coffee
Autumn Was in Full Swing in the Ozarks
Doc suggested he take his dirt bike and we could go out the other way together completing the loop his trail made back to the paved road. I rolled up the tent and had the Bonnie loaded almost instantly, having had plenty of experience by now loading and unloading it. We rolled away from the house and up the trail. Doc, on his more capable dirt bike, would ride up ahead and wait for me on corners, so I could take my time on the Triumph. This was idela so that we could both ride at our own paces stayin within the capability envelope of our bikes and experience. Doc moved ahead, but the Bonnie did well and Doc didn't have long to wait at each stop. I found standing on the pegs helped a lot in the rougher patches and soon got the hang of riding over rock and loose rubble. We stopped for some pictures and then at the end of the dirt, we said our good-byes and I rolled onto the pavement and back to AR 74.
Our Bikes Parked on the Road to Doc's
The View from Our Stopping Place
Yours Truly and My Bonnie
I headed northeast here and rolled along in the still early morning light on a quiet country road among hills and pleasant valleys. Passing a large golden field on my left I saw what I had hoped to miss the night before—four large does racing across the field toward the road. There were tow cars in front of me and they barely slowed. I was not willing to take any chances and I rolled to a stop. The group saw me ahead and heard my motor growl and with one jump changed direction and bounded off in the direction from which they had come in the filed flood lighted by the morning sun.
After admiring that spectacle of nature I moved on and came across the little village of Huntsville, where I spied a pastry shop. I stopped for more coffee and a taste of a delicious freshly made poppy seed muffin while I jotted notes of things I wanted to remember about the ride and took a rest before my day long adventure got into high gear.