WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Finishers Wander 4 - Branson, Missouri
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 2004 18:25:08 -0700


    After 1600 miles of straight Interstate it was a pleasure to see some of the sexiest curves ever packed into a tight set of soft rises and snug valleys (I'm talking terrain, of course) and a bit of a surprise to see how quickly I forgot how to read the curves before entry. When I finally got off the limited access roads at Muskogee and picked up US 62, it was easy to overcook the corners until I did a mental reset and began watching the tree line, the condition of the centerline, and the cut of the pavement edge. These are three quick indicators that give clues to help dial in the right speed. When the centerline disappears over a hill before you can tell how sharply it turns, the convergence of the tree lines is a decent second source. If the left and right lines have relatively equal depth and meet "somewhere around the bend", the curve is not likely to be sharp. But if it looks like one wall runs into the other, tight times a'coming. Also, if the entire curve is not visible, I always glance at the centerline near the apex. If it is dirty or more scuffed, that could be a sign where trucks have cut a tight curve. Finally, a ragged pavement edge especially in a right turn means trailers have often drifted over, and even if the curve is not tight there could be dirt after the apex. There's much more than this, but it is easier to read a road when you pay attention to what you see. That makes curves fun.
    It didn't seem possible there could ever be a road with a speed limit too high. US 62 in eastern Oklahoma is such a road. The two lanes twist through the Illinois River Valley, rising and falling with the rocky ledges. The speed limit is 65. Even feeling ripe and ready for the curves, I wasn't comfortable going much over 60. And I certainly wasn't comfortable finding 18 wheelers in the middle of a curve with the back wheels a foot over the line. As fun as it was, and I have the boot scrapes to prove it, I was relieved when the limit dropped to 55 at the Arkansas border ... so I could still go 60 but not worry.

    A kindly older gentleman standing beside a pickup at the motel last night watched me unpack and started talking about travel by bike. He used to have one many years ago and enjoyed it but gave it up for unspecified reasons. Now his wife died a couple years ago and he was thinking of getting either another wife or another motorcycle. He missed the companionship, but he missed traveling and his wife didn't care to travel. He mused a bit about having to do maintenance on bikes, then commented "Most women are high maintenance too, but at least with a bike you know when the maintenance is done." I don't think he had quite decided which he wanted yet ...

    Okie no latte. That could mean something in a native language, but to me it means there are no coffee shops in rural Oklahoma. Or so it seems. My normal practice is to ride 50-70 miles before breakfast. This morning 70 became 90 because of sparse exits, then 90 became 100 because I would need gas about then anyway, then 100 became 120. But the town where I stopped was so small the station was just that, with no associated food store. I asked if there was a coffee shop nearby. The look I got told me I could have just ordered a double-caf-no-whip-with-foam - and gotten the same look.
    Once back on the bike I didn't want to stop soon again ... so come 12:30 pm and not even a cup of coffee yet. At last there came a small cafe/restaurant in Westville. I stopped eager for even meager fare. But my "cafe eye" told me something was amiss. I have a difficult to explain knack for recognizing good cafes. This was all wrong. Maybe it was the location across from the high school. Maybe it was the chef in his apron changing the marquee out by the road. Maybe it was because this was the only place I'd seen for many miles and not a customer was there. Anyway, I rearranged my map while the chef and waitress watched me the way a funeral director watches mourners, then I mourned my choice and moved on.
    And I am so glad I did. Ten miles later in Lincoln, AR, Appletown claimed to be the largest orchard in Arkansas. The Appletown Restaurant had the right look. I ordered, ummm, Apple! pie. Sorry, no apple pie. "But we have apple dumpling". Ok. What I got was a 6 inch personal apple pie made of two entire halves of one huge apple, covered in a sweet syrup, and steaming from the oven. Breakfast AND lunch. Man, that was good. While I took a moment to digest, the owner came out from the kitchen for a break. A jovial man, he struck conversation about all sorts of things with everyone he did not know. After my compliment on the dumpling, someone ordered one to go, with ice cream. He hollered "I like that man! All the rest goes to pay for lights and labor but the money from ice cream is minnnne!" When the man joked "You mean you pay these waitresses?" the owner responded "No, they work here for free. I just pay them to be pretty." At which the waitress walking by said for all to hear "Then you don't pay me enough!" Laughter. A few minutes later a man came in asking to place a poster for the coming circus. The owner read it and said "Knife throwing contest? You don't have to go to the circus to see a knife throwing contest. Just watch me when I get mad in the kitchen!" He likes his work. And it shows in the food. Good place.
    Northwest Arkansas has some outstanding roads. Ridges, hills, valleys, swoops, and twirls - later stories at the gathering told how riders would cover 250 miles when starting out from a town only 50 miles away. I revisited some old favorites and found some new ones, bringing a satisfying close to the first goal of the trip. Arriving in Branson mid afternoon, one of the first friends I met was long distance rider and four time Iron Butt finisher Ardys Kellerman, up from Texas on her new R1150RT. Ardys mentioned she had three new great grandkids she hadn't seen yet and might go up to New England to see them, on the bike of course. In case you don't know, Ardys is in her 70's and is a more competent rider than some I've seen who think they are good. [Photo of Ardys and Helen Two Wheels]

only 314 miles but more curves than that
Midwest City I40 US69 US64 US62 US71 AR45
AR12 AR23 US62 AR21 MO13 MO86 US65 MO248 Branson

(downtime until Sunday when I have to decide if the weather sends me home)
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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