My New Favorite Ride – Arkansas’ Ozarks

October 4, 2011
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Sunset over the Ozarks.
We had no idea Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains had such wonderful roads to ride and epic scenery to see until we embarked on our latest journey to the Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally. (Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Ozark Mountain Region).

The yellow sign warned the road ahead was “Very Crooked and Steep Next 3 Miles.” Sounds like my type of road. After blitzing across the barren strip of straight asphalt of I-35 between Austin and Oklahoma, a curvy stretch through the forested Ozarks was a welcome sight. After a day of pushing hard over heavily trafficked freeways in an attempt to make time, on the second day of our journey to Fayetteville to cover the Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally it was time to get off the beaten path and into the backcountry of Arkansas to really get a feel for what the state is about. We discovered a pearl of the South in the form of the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.

But let’s go back before we go forward. Motorcycle USA first landed in Austin, Texas, where we picked up a 2012 Victory Cross Country to do a first ride article on. What better way to get solid first impressions of a bike than to stuff its bags and jump on for a 1700-mile, week-long journey through three states? With its potent Freedom 106 engine, a wind-deflecting fairing, a seat that’s all-day comfortable, saddlebags big enough to stuff a week’s worth of clothes, rain gear, a laptop, and several cameras in and a stereo system capable of cranking out tunes audible at 80 mph (because rockin’ while riding makes the time go by faster) the Cross Country was the perfect mount for our journey.

I lived in Austin for almost six years, so I met up with my old riding buddy Tony for a ride down memory lane. He’s got a Triumph America he’s turned into a touring capable mount so we started off with a warm-up ride on Old San Antonio road south of town. The amount of growth the area has experienced since I lived there is mind-blowing. We looped

Gypsy Lounge Austin  Texas
We spent the first night of our adventure in Austin, Texas, where we enjoyed some cold Oktoberfest brew and smooth jams at the Gypsy Lounge on East Sixth Street.

back into town to ride down Sixth Street then up Congress and by the state capitol. We then shot up the Drag across from the University of Texas before heading back to Lamar to get some grub at the Green Mesquite. Riding with my buddy was like winding the clock back 15 years, memories flooding my head as we passed familiar sights. Austin will forever hold a special place in my heart. We ended the night by taking in a jam session at the Gypsy Lounge on East Sixth Street before making the ride back down 35 to South Austin.

Side note – One of the first things I did in Austin was drop my helmet and break off its visor. The plastic lock which holds the visor to my Icon Alliance Harbinger Helmet in place broke clean, rendering it useless, so instead of listening to it flap in the wind I pulled it off entirely. My search for a replacement at two different shops the next morning was futile so I charted my course north on a morning where the temperature was already creeping toward triple digits. The area has been mired in drought and the brown, dusty hills are starved for moisture. The road north of Austin is fairly chewed up and it’s blistering hot in the Hill Country. Without a shield, my face is getting sand blasted by a combination of heat, sun and debris. The temperature readout in the Cross Country’s display fluctuates between 102 and 105 degrees. The earth is scalded by the unrelenting onslaught of the sun and the air is still filled with the smell of smoke from recent fires. In full riding gear it feels like one of the lower levels of Dante’s Inferno as I press on, making frequent stops at Dairy Queens a necessity to bask in their A/C and cool off with chocolate dipped cones.

I have nothing but respect for our brothers and sisters of the big rig, but trucks clog up the I-35 stretch between Waco and Dallas. The road just isn’t wide enough to accommodate the volume of traffic. A trucker will get over to pass a slower driver then gets stuck in the fast lane because they can’t get back over for miles. By then, the line of cars behind them begins to grow and traffic bottlenecks. Combined with the heat, this gets old quick. Though I charted a course to

Bikes  Blues   BBQ Dickson St.
It was cool to ride in an area that embraced motorcyclists openly as Fayetteville and Dickson Street rolled out the red carpet for bikers.

circumvent Dallas altogether, I missed a sign somewhere and the alternate route I was on spit me back on 35 so I hit Dallas during rush hour traffic. Bad mistake. First there was that “Oh, Shit” moment we all dread. Coming around a blind turn in a pack of cars at 75 mph, traffic ahead had come to a dead stop. It was one of those situations where the brain is making the split-second decisions necessary to stay alive and both hands and feet are moving at once, sending the engine braking and brake calipers mashing, tires squealing as they try to grip hot pavement, the rear of the bike sliding out while countersteering an 800-pound motorcycle to maintain some semblance of control. Luckily, the brakes on the Cross Country were up to the task. They shaved off enough speed to keep me from bashing into the guy ahead of me and gave me an opportunity to jump into the next lane, which had just enough of an opening for me to squeeze into. With the sound of car tires squealing all around me, I wasn’t taking any chances with drivers behind me. I quickly dodged over one more lane, which was clear, and avoided the Dallas death trap. A quarter-mile up ahead, I pass by a three-car accident, one car facing the wrong direction, people standing in traffic directing drivers around the incident while others were on their phones calling in help. I give thanks those calls weren’t for me. The next hour would be spent in stop-and-go traffic trying to escape Dallas.

I was looking forward to riding in Oklahoma for the first time but unfortunately hit it just as the sun was going down. I did keep catching glimpses of the moon off the many waterways along the route. Oklahoma has a lot more lakes and rivers than I would have expected. I also give their DOT props for lighting up the construction areas on I-40 well with a super system of reflectors. Luckily I hit the one-lane stretch at night so there was little traffic to deal with. I finally called it a night in Fort Smith after a 500-mile day.

A hog on a Hawg. Folk art  especially relating to motorcycles  can be found in the most unexpected places in Arkansas.
A ‘Hawg’ on a ‘Hog.’ This piece of folk art was sitting roadside in the middle of nowhere and came with its own tall tale.
An Arkansas Tall Hawg Tale.

There were no early activities scheduled for Bikes, Blues & BBQ the next day so I charted an alternate route for my morning ride. Harley blood runs deep in Arkansas as my father was raised on a farm there and my grandparents are buried in the McVay Cemetery outside of Paris, so I decided to stop by and pay my respects. The morning air is cool and the countryside is green, a welcome sight after the scorched lands of the previous day’s ride. The area is heavily forested and the flat plains have been replaced by rolling mountains in every direction. I stay on I-40 just long enough to get to 23 heading south. Within minutes I’m on a scenic trestle bridge over a wide river. A little further down the road I run across a hot rod shop in the middle of nowhere, a huge iron cross sitting atop a pole dressed in flames in the middle of a field to mark the home of Hunts’ Hot Rods. It seems like most tiny towns in these parts have small motorcycle shops, and finding folk art with some sort of motorcycle theme is common. This is my kind of country.

Heading back up 23, I see a sign for Pig Trail Scenic Byway through the Boston Mountains and opt to stay on that road. A few miles after intersecting I-40, it begins to climb. Not long after that, I encounter the “Very Crooked and Steep Next 3 Miles” road sign. They weren’t kidding. The curve-laden road is full of sweepers and switchbacks, some making 180-degree, 15 mph uphill bends. The road cuts through rich farmland as it varies between passes and valleys. The Ozarks are beautiful this time of year as the fauna wages the battle between summer and fall. While some leaves had begun to take on their autumnal reds, yellow and purple wildflowers were still thriving in the fields. There are plenty of scenic pullouts, including one at Pig Trail Falls, a small cascading waterfall which splashes onto the rocks below. I keep passing groups of bikers coming down from the other direction and my waving arm is getting tired. The brotherhood of biking is still strong here. I get lost somewhere

Aunt Rose Harleys memorial in McVay Cemetery.
I stopped by the McVay Cemetery outside of Paris, Arkansas to pay my respects.

near Goshen and run across a herd of elk in a field. I stop to enjoy the big bull calling out to his harem of female elk bedded down underneath the trees. The Ozarks are beautiful, rugged and wild, and the people are full of Southern charm. I would find out later that riding these mountains is a big part of the Bikes, Blues & BBQ experience. At the hotel, I find a brochure which chronicles and charts epic rides of the area, stating how many miles are in each day ride, including points of interest and a map. They even tell you how many turns there are on a specific route. Pigs Trail was on the list, but runs to Eureka Springs and Devil’s Den came highly recommended by locals as well. I rode to Arkansas with little expectations but came away with a deeper appreciation of the roads and scenery the Ozarks have to offer. Now I can’t wait until next year now to see how many more of those epic rides I can cross off my list.