Lebanon, TN, to Dallas, TX
Cold, Rainy, Hot & Sunny,
Chance of Lightning
A beautiful ride in Arkansas and an encounter with the Man in Black point up the importance of getting the hell off the Interstate. Texas greets me with a toad-strangler.
I hit the road around 7 am. For what was to be the last time on my trip, that morning I took the disc lock off my bike, and as usual it went off before I was able to disconnect it. I decided that it just wasn't worth the trouble. Triumph sells only around 1% of the bikes in the U.S., which means that, unlike Harleys or Kawasakis, the market for used parts or stolen bikes is tiny. For the rest of the trip I just locked the fork and had no problems.
I consulted the map and decided I would take the stupid god damned Interstate from Lebanon to Memphis, then get on US 79 in Arkansas and slow things down, take the kind of trip I had planned, but still end the day in Dallas. This would be the second 750-mile day in a row, and the last, I hoped, for awhile.
Lebanon to Memphis took forever. I kept having to stop, for the bathroom, to check my flapping luggage, to get gas. It was cold, and it started raining again. The Gerbing heated gloves basically kept me on the road. It would have been better with a windshield, but the one I ordered hadn’t shown up by the day I left. About halfway through day one I decided to banish all thoughts of how much better it would be with a windshield. I was on a naked bike, I was going to be cold and wet, and that was that. The rain and wind weren't bad enough to keep me off the road, but bad enough to suck a fair amount of heat out of my body. I stopped to get some hot chocolate and coffee. While I stood around drinking it in the back of the store, I checked my phone. Up blinked a text from my wife: Give me a call.
Skipped Blue Ridge Pkwy for Nothing
So I called, which is what you do when your wife says give me a call.
Wife: Your sister called. She said there's no need for you to race out to Arizona. I told her you had already left and were in Tennessee somewhere.
Me: That's crazy. She told me I should get to Tucson fairly quickly so she could leave. I'm already in Tennessee.
Wife: I know. I just said that.
Me: So all that Interstate riding yesterday was a waste? I passed up Skyline Drive and The Blue Ridge Parkway for nothing?
Wife: Apparently. Please don't say…
Me: GOD FUCKING DAMMIT!
Me: What's the reason? Is mom doing better?
Wife: I don't know. Your sister said she just decided to stay at your mom's longer.
Me: After she told me to come on out.
Wife: Yes. And don't say it.
I didn't say it, or anything else until I got outside. The cashier had heard my outburst, and I must have looked angry because she seemed worried I would kick or break something. I took a minute to cool off before getting back on my bike. I had been planning and thinking about this ride for the better part of a year. Then I lopped off one of the best parts at my sister's request. Now she says never mind, take your time. Unbelievable. And if I say anything about it, I'm the jerk, because not only am I riding a motorcycle out to see my mother, but I have the temerity to enjoy myself on the way. Some people can share the happiness of others, and some resent it and behave accordingly, unconsciously or otherwise.
I stopped for lunch at a Denny's in Arkansas just over the state line. My tank bag stank of gasoline because when I filled up at a memorably shitty truck stop across from the Denny's, the pump didn't click off and gasoline geysered briefly from the tank, then ran down over my bag, the tank and the engine. Luckily, no fire. I didn't feel comfortable leaving the bag on the bike so I brought it in with me, found a booth, took off my gear and sat down. Still shivering, I ordered some hot tea, which took some time to arrive. Hot tea must not be popular in Arkansas, because no one seemed to know where the teabags were kept.
Breakfast had been a caffeine/protein speedball of beef jerky and Red Bull which I ate while sitting on the bike, reading the map and letting the engine get warm. It held me pretty well, but now I felt the need to really down the calories. I wolfed down the Grand Slam and washed it down with orange juice and more hot tea. At that point I had been inside for 30 minutes, I had eaten a large hot meal, and I was still shivering. What the hell? I didn't realize how cold I had been. The waitress noticed and began to take a nurselike interest in me, asking if I needed aspirin or something more to eat. Funny thing, once I got outside and on the bike I felt comfortable again.
Rice is Nice
It wasn't far from the Denny's to the turnoff for U.S. 79, which takes a northeast-to-southwest path across Arkansas before turning south toward Louisiana at Magnolia. Only the occasional farm truck or American sedan broke my solitude. Everyone waved, and I waved back as I motored across some very long, very straight stretches of perfect asphalt. This road didn't freeze over or get much traffic, a smooth-as-glass treat compared with the usual pothole/gravel nightmare I endure daily in the Philadelphia region. No fences, no houses, just endless rice paddies. This part of Arkansas is flat and wet, more like Louisiana than Arkansas. Out of boredom I took it up over 100 mph a couple of times, but overall I slowed down. I wanted to make Dallas today, but now that I didn’t have to be in Arizona so quickly, I could afford to relax a little and if I didn’t make it to Dallas, no big deal. I loped along at 55 or 60, enjoying the fresh air and occasionally blowing the air horn to startle a flock of egrets into flight.
From the seat of a motorcycle, southern Arkansas doesn’t look to have changed a lot in the last half-century. Sleepy and agrarian, it makes a beautiful backdrop for a leisurely ride. Later in the day it got a little hilly. Coming around a corner a sign hove into view that completely validated my no/low-interstate travel plan:
It's impossible to overstate the importance of sampling the local fare. I salute Lee's Pig Skin Co. Inc. for taking care of all my fried-out pork fat with attached skin needs. These really were very good.
US Highway 79 is a relaxing way to see south central Arkansas. Very little traffic and nice towns to stop in. I snapped this pic because West Helena is mentioned in the great Mark Knopfler song "Stand Up Guy."
There I was singing Johnny Cash songs all morning, and what do I run in to along the way? Coincidence? Yep. You gotta love the Man in Black.
I had been planning and thinking about this ride for the better part of a year. Then I lopped off one of the best parts at my sister's request. Now she says never mind, take your time. Unbelievable.
Welcome to Kingsland, Arkansas
Birthplace of Johnny Cash
Does it get any better than this? I don’t like to listen to music on a motorcycle (my life is noisy enough, on a bike I like silence and my own thoughts), but sometimes I like to sing. Earlier that day I had been singing “Rock Island Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Wreck of the Old ‘97” over and over, because Johnny Cash. And suddenly here I am riding into his home town, which I stumbled onto through dumb luck. I stopped and filled up, and had a classic southern snack – a bag of spicy cracklins and a Mountain Dew. It should have been a Moxie or RC Cola but they didn't have either.
The weather had cleared a ways back and I cruised the undulating, tree-lined two-lane under blue and sunny skies. At Magnolia I bade US 79 farewell and took US 82 to Texarkana, which is, surprise, on the Texas-Arkansas state line. My college buddy and host for the evening, Jeff, lived in Carrollton, northwest of Dallas.
With little daylight left and 700 miles behind me for the day, I figured a quick blast on the Interstate would end the day nicely. Accelerating down the on-ramp, I noticed the traffic was markedly faster than it was in Tennessee. I knew from personal experience it wasn’t because Texas state troopers were lax in their enforcement. Presently a sign came into view:
Speed Limit 75
Woohoo! I love Texas! I burned through way too much gas on that blast into Dallas, but I did not care. I gauged the normal speed to be around 80-85, and rode accordingly, straight into the sun, skipping through traffic and watching for the low fuel light.
More Lightning Than I Really Care to Deal With
About 30 miles out of Dallas I noticed some angry blue clouds hulking on the western horizon. Big deal, I thought, if I go fast enough and they go slow enough, they’ll slip southwest of me and I’ll be golden. But the storm didn’t cooperate. By and by I noticed all the cars coming east had their lights on, and it wasn’t near dark yet. The closer I got to Dallas the worse it became. I had to get to the George Bush Tollway and head west across the top of the city. But where the hell was it? I had lived in Dallas in the 1980s, but it seemed like two more Dallases had been added since then. What the hell were all these buildings doing here? For that matter, what the hell was the George Bush Tollway? It didn’t exist when I lived here.
The blue clouds now lumbered across the sky to my left, throwing down lightning bolts every now and then just for fun. At least it hadn’t started raining. But then, plop. Plop plop. Great big raindrops smacked my face shield. The temperature dropped a few degrees in less than a mile. Yep, here it comes, I thought.
The clouds brushed the sunset out of the sky, and gave it a scary green tinge.
I exited quickly, parked under a gas station pump shelter and took a quick look at the map, which indicated another 20 miles to Carrollton. I called Jeff for a weather report. “I just looked at the radar, and once you get over the lake, it’s completely clear all the way to my house,” he said. “Just get over Lake Ray Hubbard and you’ll be fine.” The clouds were over me, but it hadn’t really cut loose yet. What the hell. Anyone can ride a motorcycle in nice weather. I started her up and gassed it up the on-ramp.
And that’s when the rain started.
A classic Texas gully-washer crashed down. Traffic slowed to a respectful 35 or 40, although some idiots were still passing other cars. Sheets of rain whipped past on gales that wanted to pitch me over the rail into Lake Ray Hubbard. People in cars looked either amused by me or frightened for me. Big forks of lightning hit the ground to the south, maybe a couple miles away judging by the thunder. Once again I was soaked. I had forgotten to wash the bugs off my face shield back at my last stop, and the rain turned them into an insect slurry that would not wipe off. I could see the red blobs of the taillights in front of me, but that was it. I lifted the shield and received a blast of water in my eyes. Eventually I settled on leaving it open just a bit, occasionally tilting my head back, taking frantic peeks and adjusting my course.
I saw the sign for the George Bush Turnpike almost too late and had to scramble across a busy lane to get to the exit. Someone honked, someone flashed their lights. I know, I know, sorry. I finally got some clearance on my shield -- the bug slurry was gone. The rain slackened, then stopped. A half mile later the road was completely dry, no sign of any foul weather. It turned out Jeff was right, I had an easy ride right up to his house.
I had been on the road for 13 hours, but we stayed up past midnight talking, eating and catching up. Since I no longer had to be in Arizona quickly, I expected to stay in Dallas for a few days. After 1500 miles in two days, that was fine with me.