Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tour de Arkansas - Vol 2

Still recovering from our night in Ozark, our goal for Day 2 was to work our way to Branson, Missouri, then circle Table Rock Lake, ending the day somewhere between Eureka Springs and Harrison. We headed north on AR-23, which is also known as the Pig Trail Scenic Byway as it rolls through the Ozark National Forest.

The byway gets its name from the wild pigs that carved trails out of the mountainside. The trails were then adopted by travelers and later became cleared paths for local commerce. Apparently, these particular pigs have excellent skills in highway engineering, as the path is a biker’s dream.


Tunnel of leaves and switchbacks along the
Pig Trail 
Scenic Byway.
Photo courtesy of http://www.byways.org/


The road meanders along stream beds, traversing the mountains, and sweeping across open fields offering majestic views with every mile. The Pig Trail officially ends about half-way between Brashears and Delany, just outside of the Ozark National Forest, but AR-23 continues to offer beautiful views all the way through Eureka Springs and all the way up to the Missouri state line.


Winding roads along the Pig Trail Scenic Byway.
Photo courtesy of http://www.byways.org/


We cruised Eureka Springs, but quickly grew tired of the mid-morning traffic that was choking the quaint village setting. Expecting to swing back through later in the day, we continued on the journey, taking US-62 east to Berryville, then north on AR-21 to Blue Eye, which sits on the Missouri state line, where the road changes to MO-86 and turns east. Just as you pop over the last hill, the road opens-up to a long, sweeping run down the hill and over the bridge spanning the southeast finger of Table Rock Lake.

Table Rock Lake is massive, extending 79 miles upstream along the White River, with small finger coves all up and down the lake creating over 745 miles of shore line. Construction on the dam began in October 1954 with the first two (of four) power generation plants coming online in June 1959. The dam is 6,423 feet long and rises 252 feet above the riverbed. An integral part of the Branson resort area, the lake offers a variety of wet and dry recreation opportunities.

One interesting option is the 60’ pontoon houseboat rentals from the marina in the Long Creek Recreation Area, but we'll save that for another day. If you’re looking for lodging or a great meal in this area, the Big Cedar Lodge is a top-notch resort with a variety of accommodations, from traditional hotel rooms to cabins and cottages for one or a group.

Cruising through Branson in 90+ degree weather is not highly recommended – unless stop and go traffic through a tourist trap destination makes your engine rev. But we felt like we had to do it to get the t-shirt, so we ran the main road, traffic and all. Never again. Next time, I’ll take the Hwy (Loop) 265 around the southwest corner. Branson was our turn-around point for the day and the fun was just about to begin.

Sometimes the Road throws you a bone. And one of the best bones I’ve ever ridden is MO-76, which runs east/west across the northern edge of Table Rock Lake. From Reeds Springs to Bates Corner, the road is a 20-mile roller coaster ride full of foothill terrain and twisties through canopied tunnels and farm land. If you have the time, take it both ways, twice. With the temperature approaching 95 degrees, we stopped at Cape Fair Park for a mid-day swim break and a cold beverage. We continued the roller coaster ride around the west side of the lake and back into Eureka Springs, then on to Harrison for the night.


Day 2 – Waypoints 15-37.
Map created using Microsoft
Streets and Trips 2009
©Microsoft Corporation


Between the many scenic, nutrition, biology, and swim stops, we had a 12 hour day, but only racked up 243 miles...this place is a serious playground for big kids on bikes.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tour de Arkansas - Vol 1

With the brutal North Texas winter approaching (we're likely to be under 50 degrees for 2-3 weeks!), it's time to face the reality that we'll only have a couple of weekends a month to get in some decent riding.

One ride that most everyone turns-out for is The Big Texas Toy Run on December 20. This charity event regularly draws over 60,000 bikes come rain or shine. The event benefits Mental Health-Mental Retardation (MHMR) of Tarrant County, Metrocare Services (the MHMR in Dallas County), and other children's charities in the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The toys are distributed to thousands of underprivileged and challenged children all over the Metroplex. Every time I have participated, they have filled up at least one 53' trailer with gifts and toys, often times more. This year, over 500,000 toys were donated.

I snuck-in a quick ride today, ran a few errands, then hit the back roads on the way home. As I looked through trees with their leaves on the ground, my mind started to think of journeys past and planning for new ones to come. A couple of the most beautiful destinations that came to mind are the Quachita and Ozark Mountains regions in central and northwest Arkansas.

A few years back, Scott (of Mercy Rider fame) and I planned the perfect mancation - a 1,400 mile, 4-day run over the Talimena Scenic Drive in southeast Oklahoma, a zig-zag across Arkansas with a loop around Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, then over to the Mississippi River delta region. Memphis (technically Tunica, Mississippi) was the outbound turnaround point and the perfect destination for partaking in the pleasures of the riverboat casinos.

I refer to this run as the Tour de Arkansas and the plan was simple - ride till our nads were sore, then eat and drink till it didn't matter anymore.


Talimena Scenic Drive, Southeast Oklahoma
Source of photo: Public Domain

We made it to Ozark, Arkansas on Day 1, a respectable 325 miles for the day. Ozark is a scenic little town of 3,500 friendly folks located about 40 miles east of Fort Smith, on the banks of the Arkansas River. It is also the former residence of Bill Dees who wrote Oh! Pretty Woman that was made famous by Roy Orbison. According to Wikipedia, a Bugs Bunny cartoon entitled Hillbilly Hare (Warner Brothers, 1950) featured the silly wabbit vacationing in Ozark and in the premier season of the reality TV series The Simple Life (2003), Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie worked at the Sonic Drive-In located in Ozark.

We arrived just about the time the sun was setting over the mountains. Parched and hungry, we stopped-in at the bar next door to Rivertowne BBQ for an ice cold adult beverage. There is nothing like the smell of a well-established bar - that slight musty bouquet of spilled beer, coupled with cigar and cigarette smoke, and an occasional whiff of some sweet thangs' Wal-Mart perfume when she walks by. The crowd was light when we pulled-up a stool, folks were just now getting off work. Little did we know we were about to become part of one of those dinner plays where the diners unknowingly become part of the cast.

At the helm that night was Cindy, the local lady barkeep who seemed to know everyone that walked through the door and, if she didn't know you, could size you up pretty quick. Bud owned the place, but there is no doubt Cindy ran it. We ordered our beers and after a few witty comments (for which we are famous, I might add) about our mancation quest, we seemed to pass the admittance test. Cindy was friendly and seemed quite adept at carrying-on separate conversations with each of the patrons, while also being able to bring everyone into a single conversation on occasion.

At one end of the large horseshoe shaped bar was a threesome of retired locals who pretty much kept to themselves. Mack and Bob used to drive timber haulers, while John was a mechanic at the same trucking company. By the sounds of it, I'd guess they'd been raising hell together for well over 50 years and Bud probably had those stools bronzed in their honor.

Betty and Marvin arrived and she took the seat to my left, with Marvin taking the one just around the corner so she could keep an eye on him. They looked like they had come straight from the Early Bird Special at the Denny's over on I-40. It didn't take long before I realized that Betty was the Matriarch of Franklin County. She was a gruff lady in her autumn years who seemed to know everybody, and had a strong opinion on everything.

That said, Betty put forth a friendly face when talking to strangers, just as any proper Southern lady would. She asked us enough questions to make sure we weren't drug dealers or escaped convicts, then just settled in to oversee her subjects while sipping her rum and Diet Coke. Marvin nursed his bottle of beer, flinching every time Betty raised her hand to slap the bar as she spoke. I think she regularly abused poor ole' Marvin, because he didn't say ten words all night and when he did, most of the time it was, "Yes, Dear."

We ordered-up another round.

On one side of the bar was a pool table with a couple of guys playing a game of 8-ball while a third watched over. They would rotate with the loser buying beers and the challenger plugging in more quarters to release the balls for another game. After a while, a friend joined them, bringing his own pool stick.

"You practicin' for the tournament next weekend?" Cindy blurted out.

"Nah, just need some beer money," Joe Bob replied, which got the other guys talking some trash too. Each of the men then proceeded to put a $5 bill on the rail. A fool and his money...

On the other side of the bar was a shuffleboard table where Ben and Darlene, both in their early 30's, were playing a pick-up game...literally. Ben was teaching Darlene how to play, leaning across her back while gliding her hand in a slow, seductive, sweeping motion that appeared to include a little extra hip action. Ben obviously wanted to clear the table and do Darlene right then and there, but she was playing hard to get, which made him even more annoying...and horny.

"Get a damn room!" Betty yelled out. "You're in the Bible Belt and Darlene's married for God sakes!"

"I'm separated!" Darlene quips back as if to say, 'I ain't no slut. I got needs!'

Busted for his obvious public transgression, Ben looks for a way to divert the attention. "What kind of cigar you smokin'?" he yelled across the room at Scott and me.

"Tonight, we're smoking Padron's." I replied. "And you?" I really didn't give a shit, but was trying to be friendly with our charming host.

He reaches in his jacket and pulls out a leather cigar holder. "I have a La Flor Dominicana Ligero Oscuro Carajos. It's a Dominican blend with an Ecuadorian wrapper," he replies loud enough so everyone can hear. "I read about them in Cigar Aficionado last month and ordered a whole box online."

Great, I thought, here we are in Ozark, Arkansas and we've met The Ladies Man in the flesh. Somebody, get the camera! About that time, Betty leans over and tells me softly, "Don't pay him no mind, he comes from a wealthy family and never really made much of himself. He recently went back to school and thinks he gonna become a lawyer."

"What grade is he in?" I replied without hesitation.

Betty about wet herself right then and there. I immediately became her new best friend and we continued to make fun of Ben and his awkward moves on the increasingly drunk Darlene. "What grade's he in, that was damn funny!" she kept saying in-between fits of laughter.

Approaching intermission, Scott and I decided this was the place to be for the night, so we ordered BBQ to-go from Rivertowne and brought it back so as not to miss the rest of the show. Cindy rounded out the dining experience with more ice cold beverages.

About that time, Curtis walked in. "Oh, shit!" Betty immediately says under her breadth with a hint of disgust.

"Hey, Curtis. It's been a while. I thought you were still in jail!" Cindy said as if it were her regular welcome greeting to Curtis.

"Nah, I've been out a while. Been working over in Russellville haulin' gravel." he replied in his loud, twangy voice. Scott and I traded glances, is he for real? Curtis ordered a beer and, not knowing us or wanting to cross Betty, he went down to harass the old timers at the end of the bar. You could hear him telling stories, occasionally getting so loud that everyone in the bar would glance over. When the old timers began to ignore him, he decided to take the seat next to Scott and proceeded to tell us his life story.

Seems he grew up in the area and had volunteered for the Army in the early 1990's. He experienced a head injury during Operation Desert Storm that resulted in him receiving a medical discharge. "Got a metal plate in my head!" he exclaimed while tapping the side of his head with his beer bottle. He claimed it affected his personality and that he had to go to the VA Hospital in Hot Springs on a regular basis for a psych evaluation so he could renew is prescriptions. It was pretty clear this guy was certified.

About that time, Cindy took pity on us. "Curtis, how's your Mamma and Grandma?"

"Awe, hell! Those fuckin' whores?" he yelled back. "They're the ones who got me arrested. I hope they're dead!"

Betty explained that our new best friend Curtis had an unfortunate experience with the law when, in the course of a meds lapse, he allegedly threatened his (I'm sure lovely) mother and grandmother with violence...again. Said family then proceeded to file charges against their once precious son/grandson.

It wasn't too much longer and Curtis was tanked-up pretty good. Being from out of town and apparently estranged from his family, he announced he was going to go down to find him a whore and bed-up at the Hillbilly Inn (the reviews of this full-service establishment are classics). Not sure if that meant he was going to swing by Mom's place first or not, but I immediately struck the Hillbilly Inn from our list of lodging options for the night.

By now, there was a friendly card game starting on the round table behind us. Bud, Betty, Marvin, and the old-timers joined in for a low-stakes game of poker. They offered to let Scott and me in, but having been properly fed and watered, we figured it was time to head to the hotel.

Yet another reminder that it’s the journey that makes these trips priceless. While I have fun sharing our Real People of Arkansas stories, by no means do I mean to disparage them. The folks we encountered along the way were fun and very accommodating, and I can only hope we made their day as well.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cabin Fever

As the winter weather spreads across the country, we all look for the little windows of opportunity where we can get out for a ride. In fact, if the skies are forecast to be clear, I often wear my riding boots in the event the window opens, even if only for a moment.

Last night, the wife yelled at me for walking through the house with my boots on again, so I decided to jump on the bike and go for a quick spin to cool down...


Source of photo - unknown

I'll be sending out a forwarding address for my regular mail as soon as I find an apartment, but my phone and email contact information are expected to remain the same. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Welcome to the Brotherhood, Sean

Well, Phil has done it again.

You may recall that my buddy, Phil, is the one who inspired me to quit dreamin' and start riding again. Seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

This weekend, Phil's son, Sean, purchased his first bike, a 2003 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. At last report, the father and son team spent the weekend shining, tuning, and personalizing the bike to make it Sean's own. Congratulations, Sean, and welcome to the brotherhood.

Folks, our youth are our future. We owe it to those who came before us to share the passion for the Road!

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This, my Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving in the USA and despite the many challenges facing our world, we must remind ourselves that we still have much to be thankful for on this special day. For me, this Thanksgiving is about re-connecting with what matters most.

My middle child, Emily (a.k.a. Emmers), is the non-conforming, free spirited artist in the familiy. A couple of years ago, she surprised me with a charcoal sketching of my father as a birthday present. The sketch, based on a picture taken at my oldest daughter's wedding, captures Dad in his "think before you talk" pose, with his hand reaching up to remove his beloved pipe, just before he is about to share his quick wit or years of wisdom on the topic of the moment. Needless to say, the sketch was framed and is prominantly displayed in our house. She is so gifted...and she doesn't even know it.

Emmers has had a tough go after graduating in May with a Bachelors in Art History. Eager to start a life of her own, the tough economy has prevented her from finding that perfect first real job. The search has been exhausting and, I suspect, downright depressing when one of the few interviews doesn't yield the expected outcome. Sadly, I know she is not alone in her quest. I read yesterday that 46% of American youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed today.

Being a very pragmatic, business-type myself, I tend to think in terms of reading a market trend and planning for the future, all while enjoying a little bit of the Road today. When it comes to education and work ethic, I'm admittedly hard on the kids because life doesn't cut you many breaks. So I tend to ride her pretty hard about how aggressively she is - or isn't - pursuing work on any given day.

So, as you might deduce, we haven't always seen eye-to-eye lately...

But Emmers continues the search while pursuing her real passion...writing. Seems she has used the downtime since graduation to complete her debut novel, the first of a romantic vampire themed trilogy. We've had a professional editor review the book and she advised that it is definately publishing-caliber material, so the search for the right literary agent is on. This kid definately has talent.

Similar to a cat, Emmers expresses her love on her terms. And for what ever reason, we have always been able to connect when it comes to a motorcycle cruise. She definately has a way of making her old man feel special when she nudges me and says, "Come on, Pops, let's take a ride." Then again, I need little tempting. I have no doubt that she will end up having her own bike at some point in her life. But for now, I'm going to hold our two-up ride times near and dear to the heart.  
 
So this morning, as the outside temp approached 60 degrees and the turkey was cooking away in the oven, Emmers gives me the nudge, despite knowing that her mother had but one request of me on this Thanksgiving - no cruises while the extended family is here visiting. I told you, Emmers does things on her own terms.
 
After a little negotiating with Mom, we're into our riding leathers and on our way. We barely say a word for the first hour of the ride. None was needed. We were both enjoying the cool fall breeze and the sights and occasional smells along the way. As we reached the turn-around point, I stopped for gas and some beer for the crowd back at the house (one of the negotiation "gives").
 
That's when it happened...
 
As we were getting back on the bike, she caught me unprepared and when she stepped on the footboard to get on-board, I lost balance and down we went. It was the first (public) drop of the new bike. Yes, I confess, I did have a private drop while turning around on a narrow county road about a month after taking delivery of the new wheels.  But in my defense, the Ultra Classic IS a little top-heavy and the road WAS extremely narrow...and uneven. And when I put my foot down, Newton's Law just took over. But it wasn't that bad, at least that time it was in dirt!
 
So we quickly upright the bike, get on, and off we go. Emmers was afraid to say anything or even adjust for comfort in the seat, fearing I was pissed about dropping the new bike. I wasn't pissed, just confused about how I could have dropped it...again. I've been riding for over thirty-five years and never had it happen before this bike. Must have been the 30-pack of beer that I put in the tour-pak, I surmised. About five minutes down the road, Emmers taps me on the back and says, "Damn, guess we don't look cool anymore." I about lost it laughing.
 
So, once again, one of my children has taught me a lesson about life. It doesn't matter that work is crazy, along with half the world around us, or that you might have put a scratch on one of your prized possessions...or your ego. What matters most is spending time with family and friends...laughing and doing what you love with those you love.
 
On this special holiday, I hope you spent some time on the Road with someone you love too. Happy Thanksgiving.
 
LEGAL DISCLAIMER. No bike was actually scratched, dented, or otherwise damaged on this journey. And for the record, Emmers, that's strike one!

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Visiting a Founding Father

While most of the fall colors are nearing an end, Mother Nature held out for one more show this weekend. We made a run from Tyler to Nacogdoches, home of Stephen F. Austin University, via the backroads and the scenery was outstanding.

Any road heading east out of Tyler is a good road, but FM-850 has the most character. Formerly part of the main highway between Tyler and Henderson, FM-850 cuts its way through the countryside like a kiddie roller coaster - nothing too sharp or steep to make a 50-year-old kid scream, but enough to make you anxious for what's around the next corner. Along the way, you pass an occaisional hay farm and the colorful homes of the hard working folk that make East Texas so friendly. 

You'll also drive through Overton, which was founded in 1873. On the "I didn't know that!" front, Overton was the official seat of government for the Republic of Texas independence movement from 2003-05. The Republic of Texas group is/was a separatist group that claims the annexation of Texas by the United States was illegal and that Texas remains an independent nation under occupation. The Republic of Texas headquarters burned down in August of 2005. I guess the debate is over...or is it?

From Overton, take FM-323 southeast towards Henderson. On the way, you'll pass through New London, the site of a tragic school explosion on March 18, 1937, killing almost 300 children, teachers, and parents. You may not realize it, but this tragedy led to the injection of the distinct, scented odor in natural gas, as the cause of the explosion was a natural gas leak. Unscented in its natural form, the undetected gas had accumulated in the building's classrooms and hallways, and was ignited when the shop teacher turned on a sander that created a spark. The buildings were completely leveled. A testament to East Texas' compassion and determination, the school was rebuilt and a memorial erected that stands proud today.

Continuing on FM-323, you will weave your way through the pine tree forests and farmlands to Henderson, the county seat of Rusk County.

FM 225 out of south side of Henderson is a treasure trove of twists, curves, and gentle rolling hills through the Piney Woods. As you head south, you will go through Laneville, Cushing, and my personal favorite, Looneyville. Expecting a scene from the cartoons or a Jack Nicholson movie, I almost missed the lone sign and dilapidated, empty general store that makes up the unofficial town center.

Taking FM 343 out of Looneyville puts you on your final leg of the journey to Nacogdoches, the Oldest Town in Texas. A cross between a regional commercial center, college town, and logging town, Nacogdoches is rich with historical architecture, great southern cooking, and an occaisional watering hole or two. No doubt, "Nac" is in deep East Texas where the pace is slower and most everyone willing to strike-up conversation. Make the time to see the Millard's Crossing Historic Village, the Nacogdoches Railroad Depot, the Statue Trail, and the Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site while you're in the area.

But most of all, enjoy the tour. It's definately Thunder Roadworthy!

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Musings About the Village Idiot

Can't help but comment on the Honerable Nancy Pelosi's comment at the conclusion of the House of Representatives' health care vote last night, "We had Democrats and a Republican vote for this bill. That makes it bi-partisan."


Come on, California, how many more reasons do you need to finally elect someone with a brain to send to Washington? And to the rest of us, please say a prayer for Mr. Pelosi.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Time to Break Out the Leathers

With Fall riding season just around the corner, I thought it might be a good idea to get out the leathers to see if I will be able to ride in cooler weather. You see, it's been a hectic summer and with stress comes eating and little extra beer...and the inevitable rider's cushion that comes along with it. Luckily, I usually drink Michelob Ultra, so it looks like we'll be seeing the colors again this year.

Just as Spring means touring to see the wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country, the Fall is all about seeing the colors in the Piney Woods of East Texas or a brisk ride into the mountains of northwest Arkansas. This year, we hope to spend many weekends touring the winding Farm-to-Market roads and rolling hills of East Texas.

This part of Texas is my secret motorcycle touring treasure. I took a friend, Patrik, on an all-day trip there a couple of years ago and, to this day, every time I see him he begs to make the trip again. Coming from a guy who grew-up riding in the Swiss Alps, I think he knows beautiful scenery when he sees it.

One of my favs is FM-16 between Canton and US-271, just south of Gladewater. A Texas Forest Trails road, FM-16 is a great alternative to I-20 / US-80, running through the thriving metropolises of Lindale, Red Springs, and Winona along the way. All three communities are have vestiges of the big oilfield days of the 1930's, but have been reduced to primarily rural bedroom communities of Tyler, the Rose Capital of Texas.

If you are a burger connoisseur, the East Texas Burger Company in Mineola is a must stop. Set in a 100 year-old building on Main Street (US-80), this little burger joint is world renown for its hand-packed patties and fresh-cut french fries. They also offer another of my favorites, chicken fried steak, but I've never been able to eat both in one setting.

Once you're fed and watered, go north about a half-mile on US-69, then hang a right on FM-49. This road is my #2 in East Texas. You see a little of everything on FM-49, hay fields, pine tree forests, rolling hills, expansive creek bed views, and pristine two lane roads with huge tree canopies. In the fall, the trees really put on a show, usually at their peak between late-September and Halloween. If you have the time, take FM-49 all the way into Gilmer, the horse farms in the last five miles will remove any remaining stress you might have in your body.

Continuing east out of Gilmer, you have two great options to run the perimiter of Lake 'O the Pines. Option #1, go northwest on TX-155 to Avinger, then right on FM-729 to Jefferson. FM-729 is a twisty two-lane cruise through the pine forests on the east side of the lake. It is 23 miles of sensory overload all the way into Jefferson.

Option #2 is TX-154 east for about two miles, then left on FM-726. FM-726 takes many turns as you journey through the small villages that make this part of rural Americana. Simply follow the signs for Jefferson. You'll have several options along the way and every one of them worth take multiple times.

Jefferson is the Fredericksburg of East Texas. Chocked full of quaint antique shops, B&B's, and small inns, many of the establishments in Jefferson boast of being haunted by ghosts. My friend, Phil, will testify to that fact, but that is a completely different blog entry to be told at a later time. The biker bar of record is Auntie Skinners. Go there, enjoy the delicious food and cold beer, and tip your waitress well -- they do a great job there.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mercy Riders to the Rescue - Vol 2

We settled on staying at Baron's Creekside in Fredericksburg. We wanted to stay in the romantic log cabins crafted from 200-year-old timber from a Swiss barn, but they didn't have two available or one that could hold two couples, so we settled for the Victorian, a quaint little house that had been relocated from its original Main Street location. The Baron's Creekside B&B is owned by a Swiss national who stumbled upon the Texas Hill Country and now splits his time between his homes in Switzerland and Texas. 

We agreed to meet at the B&B around noon, then would spend Thursday making the Willow City Loop and spending the evening in Luckenbach. Friday was reserved for running the Three Twisted Sisters, and on Saturday, we were headed to the San Marcos area to take in some of the festivities at the Texas State HOG Rally. Scott reserved his bike rental and everything things was set.

Or so we thought...

As the week of the trip approached, so did the clouds. Seems even the threat of the Mercy Riders coming to town causes the weather gods to bring their game. In the past five days, several inches of rain had fallen and more was on the way. The 10-day outlook indicated thunderstorms on three of the four days of the trip. Not bad odds when you're riding with Scott and Karen, but a concern nonetheless. By Monday evening, the threat of rain was only building, we now had a 20% chance of rain on the remaining "dry" day. Considering the cost of the bike rental and the additional air fare to bring Karen down, plus the already sunk deposit for the B&B, Scott began to question the trip.  A few showers along the way were tolerable, but four days of riding in the rain was a little much. We agreed to make the final call on Tuesday evening.

While the locals claimed the weather was "goin' round Fredericksburg", weather.com continued to indicate rain most of the weekend. So the Mercy Riders decided to back-out. Within 24-hours, the weather gods acknowledged their decision and parted the clouds. The revised forecast showed rain on Thursday only. Liz and I decided to make the trip anyway and began looking for someone to fill the open bedroom.

Enter my buddy Bill, aka "Iron Butt". Bill decided he'd join us for the night, riding down from the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Thursday, only to return Friday evening. That's over 1,200 miles in less than 48 hours!! We were honored to have him there.

True to forecast, we had a few showers on Thursday, but that didn't stop us from holding a beer summit at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera and taking a run over to Luckenbach, Texas. The Luckenbach visit was a hoot. As best I can recall, Kent Finlay was leading the picker's circle that evening and the music was great. We spent most of our time sitting under the rooster tree talking - rather laughing - with Walt Perryman, who is also known as The Cowboy Poet. 

Walt has an interesting way of telling his life's stories and every single one of them is true - he swears! If you ever get the chance to hear him, do so. But please, PLEASE...don't ask him about the little puppy he had as a kid unless you have some tissue nearby cuz you'll laugh till you cry! 

The Rooster Tree - Luckenbach, Texas
Photo by Ralph Wranker

Now, you may have caught my reference to the rooster tree earlier. Seems Luckenbach has more fowl than folk. So many that the hens and roosters run free-range style. These birds of feather are quite colorful and apparantly, have learned to mimic the lonely cowboys that come in off the local ranches. Put bluntly, it seems the roosters are eager to screw anything that walks around on two (chicken) legs and don't mind doing so right there in the middle of the crowd. Anyway, the bar sits under a HUGE oak tree that provides shade for the temporary residents of Luckenbach and the fowl like to jump on the picnic tables, then up to the tree to watch the crowds. A word of warning to the wise, if you're lookin' up at the chickens, do so with your mouth shut. Likewise, it's a good idea to keep your beer covered as well.  

Just ask Walt, he has a story 'bout that too...

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mercy Riders to the Rescue - Vol 1

A couple friend of ours, Scott and Karen, are transplanted Texans living in the Washington DC area. Looks like they are headed to Texas on business the week of September 21 and considering staying over the weekend of September 24-27, which just so happens to coincide with two large motorcycle rallies that are being held in the Hill Country - the Texas State HOG Rally in San Marcos and the Thunder on the River Rally in Bandera. And so begins the planning of another trip to the Hill Country in search of property!

Normally, planning a trip is a non-event, the normal querying for what do you want to do / see, how long and where, etc. But planning a trip with Scott and Karen gets complicated. It seems that no matter where they plan to ride or the season, they bring rain. They did it when we went to Hot Springs, when we met them for the Blue Ridge Parkway cruise, even when they take a dinner run in DC. We're not talking about a few little showers here and there...we're talking frog-choking downpours.  On the Blue Ridge Parkway trip, we couldn't see twenty yards ahead and were forced to take cover for the entire day! 

We call them the "Mercy Riders" and now, they're coming to Texas to save the Hill Country from the two-year drought.

So it's not enough to plan some really cool rides, but I also have to plan for alternative activities in the event Noah is being summoned, if even for the day. I also have to find B&B accomodations that are motorcycle friendly - no gravel / dirt roads, convenient to shopping and restaurants, and all of the other things that barely come to mind when you're planning a caged adventure. We decide on Fredericksburg as the base camp for this trip and build a short-list of alternatives for all to consider and comment upon. 

Let the planning begin...

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Postscript - Done Deal

We ended up renting an Ultra Classic from Lone Star Harley-Davidson in Tyler the weekend we returned from our trip to the Hill Country and put 350 miles on it in less than 24 hours. It was everything we'd hoped and Liz's back was feeling MUCH more comfortable. After a few days of haggling with the the sales manager, Joe "The" Mann, we struck a deal comparable to the offer down south.

Sold my precious Road King Classic yesterday to a nice fella from Conway, Arkansas. He had just sold his rice burner and wanted to make some thunder of his own.

Sometimes, things just work out on the Road.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Closer Look

As a follow-up to the trip in May, we returned to the Hill Country this weekend to take a second look at serveral of the properties that we scouted in May.

One property, in particular, was along TX-16 between Kerrville and Bandera.  It requires a considerable amount of renovations, but would allow the Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge to be in business in time for the 2010 riding season. The property was recently purchased in a short-sale and the new Buyer has not yet determined whether they want to make a go of it or flip it to turn a quick buck.  After touring the property in more detail and several days of negotiations, we determined he was leaning more towards the former. Good luck to him...and we look forward to having him as a competitor, as it will be an easy choice for our guests to stay at The Road. 

The Hill Country continues with the two year drought. At this point, most of the the spring-fed creeks and rivers have all gone underground. Between the drought and the economy, time is on our side. We have two properties that are strong contenders and the right terms will come along in due time.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Friday, May 29, 2009

This is THE place!

Day 3
We awoke to partly cloudy skies on Wednesday, so we steered west through Ingram, Hunt, and points yonder on TX-39. The first 20 miles out of Kerrville are nothing short of awesome - rolling hills and gentle curves as we follow the creeks through the valley with a tree canopy overhead to soften the morning sunshine. It's a little cool, so we resist the urge to stop and dip the toes in the spring-fed creeks, we'll save that for the return trip.

Yesterday was good, but this is it, I thought. We've found "THE place" for Thunder Road. Hell, "THE place" is all around this part of the Hill Country! Wow, look at that 6-point buck in the woods! You get the drift, we were already into sensory overload and hadn't eaten lunch yet. Once we pass the FM-187 turn-off, we leveled off to a classic scene from an old cowboy movie. "Home, Home on the Range" begins to go through my head...I'd be able to actually hear it on the XM radio had I bought the Ultra yesterday.

Yet another thunderstorm was brewing about 50 miles out and headed our way. With nothing but longhorns and an occasional ranch hand's truck in sight, I twisted the throttle back to race the storm to US-83, then TX-41 where we would turn back east for our return loop. We beat the storm, but it was gaining in intensity. Coming south on FM-1340, we began to descend through the canyons, passing the summer camps, and we came upon...well, what looked to be Stonehenge! The site attracts a fair amount of visitors each day, but we opted to keep cruising to stay ahead of the rain.

We spent the afternoon looking at property in and around Bandera, ending up in the 11th Street Saloon for a beer briefing. We’d seen some good site options, but need to look further. "Can I get another beer, please?" I ask as I'm looking around the bar whose walls are lined with bras of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Rodney Carrington's Titties and Beer song immediately comes to mind. Maybe these cowboys are on to something...

Day 4
We headed south on our new favorite road, TX-16, for breakfast in Medina. On a whim, we stopped at The Rusty Rooster, a tiny cafe located in what used to be "the" gas station in this tiny, quarter mile long town. OMG!! Get Ride Texas or Texas Highways on the phone, the food was awesome and the proprietor was very friendly! Note to self, we'll be back tomorrow...and this time, ask his name!

Today was reserved for the Three Twisted Sisters. RR-337 is a dream road - starting with gentle rolling turns, then heading up the mountain pass (OK, a Texas mountain pass) and along the ridge for 36 glorious miles. The road is in great condition, but not too many places to pull over and enjoy the views or water the flowers. As you come down from the final ridge, you cross a (normally) flowing Frio River and into Leakey. A word to the wise, if you don’t pronounce it “LAY-key”, they’ll figure you’re a tourist and charge you double at the counter.

We make a pit stop and run into Ralph and Doris, a retired couple from the valley (South Texas). Ralph wants to buy a motorcycle, but Doris seems to think he's too short and fat to hold it up...and she's not about to get on the back of one of those things! Does she really think that was his intent? Sometimes loud pipes have a purpose.

We continue on RR-337 towards Camp Wood and about 10 miles out, come-up on two bikers ahead of us...and a herd of Axis deer in-between. LOTS of deer - probably 12-15 of them of all sizes! The problem was, they were scrambling along the left shoulder of the road, where they kept bouncing off of a game fence and back towards the road. Not wanting to become roadkill ourselves, we slowed to allow them to disperse and cross over to jump the low fence on the right shoulder. Note to self, I responded admirably, but could have reacted even better if I had that new Ultra with ABS brakes.

While refueling in Camp Wood, we met the town jester. He was about 75 years-old and pulled up on his little 50cc scooter that he uses to go down to the senior center for a hot lunch with the ladies. He was born in Camp Wood but saw the world in the military.

The gentleman gave us a quick historical tour, pointing out the old hardware store that Charles Lindbergh crashed into back in 1924. They ordered a new wing for his plane and once installed, he crashed again on take-off after he hit an overhead wire. Apparently, the third time was charm and he never returned. For those more macabre, the chopped-up bodies of the famous atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair and her son were found in a barrel in the gravel pit down the road in 2001.

He was also full of jokes, but the best was his closing line about why he likes to ride his scooter while wearing baggy shorts, “I like the feeling of the wind on my wiener.” Perhaps no truer words have ever been spoken by a seasoned biker.

RR-335 is often referred to as Roller Coaster Road. Once you get into the hills, the road criss-crosses and follows a ridge overlooking the Sabinal River. It is an excellent scenic tour for the passenger, a little less so for the rider given the curves and constant terrain change, but a must-ride road for anyone on an iron horse.

After a boring, but short eastward run across TX-41, we turned back south on RR-336. I can’t really top the descriptions about the other Sisters, but RR-336 brings in a new challenge…cattle guards. You see, this road cuts through several large free-range ranches, where there are no fences along the roads. So when you’re moving from one tract to the next, you cross through a cattle guard.


Where there are cattle guards, there are...well, cattle. Now, cattle aren't inclined to jump into traffic like deer might, but they also don't clear the road just because you happen along into their world. That's safety lesson of the day #1. Safety lesson #2 is for you foreigners who ain’t ridden' across a cattle guard before. Here are three words of advice – slow and straight – especially if the roads are wet! The road gets really interesting as you descend from the plateau, with lots of switchbacks and terrain changes to keep the thrill factor high.

By the time we got back into Leakey, we needed a pit stop and a cold brew. Both were ready and waiting at the
Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop.

We spent the remainder of the day cruising through the Frio River Canyon and Utopia, then headed back to Kerrville for some much needed showers. Probably could have handled another 100 miles had we been on the Ultra.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's for her comfort, not mine!

Day 2
As we were eating breakfast, Liz notices an ad for the H-D dealer in Boerne, Javelina Harley-Davidson. "I've got to have one of their t-shirts," she proclaimed, "that should be a cool one!"

And just like that, my weeks of planning this journey changed.

We finished our Rooty Tooty Fresh with No Fruity and multiple cups of java, then headed south on TX-16 towards Bandera. About 11 miles south of Kerrville, the road turns to biker heaven. "This is the place," I exclaimed, "This is where we need to put Thunder Road!"

Seems the storms from last night stalled just west of Bandera and by the time we turned east for our final leg of the run to Boerne, the storms came rolling in. It was a race to the dealership...we won. The reward for our victory was a covered parking space on the side of the building.

Now, I must confess, I have the occasional drifting eye...and the 2009 Ultra Classic has caught my attention for some time. It would be for Liz's comfort, not mine, of course - her having a bad back and all. Truth be told, I've had my eye on a 2007 and 2008 as well, ever since H-D started introducing upgrades to the touring models. My '99 Road King Classic has been my steady for 8 years, so I'd been breaking it to her gently. Besides, I didn't want to piss her off while on the road, you know.

So we walk in the door of Javelina H-D and there she was - long sleek lines, all the chrome right where it ought to be. New suspension and wide rear tire, "This baby's got back!", I thought to myself. While Momma was distracted making her t-shirt selection, I strike up a conversation with John Wheeler, salesperson extraordinaire. John first acts hard-to-get, reading the paper while I walk the bike and we go through some idle chit-chat. Noticing my drooling, he begins to sneak-in some features and benefits of the new touring line. "In fact, I just bought a new Road Glide just for the ABS feature," he says.

"Wow," I think to myself, "I can make Liz comfortable and ensure her safety too."

Then Liz walks up behind me and asks, "Is that the one you've been wanting?"

"Yes," I reply.

“Well, if THAT’S the one, why don’t you go ahead and buy it? Your burthday is coming up and that's what I wanted to get you!” she says aloud in the practically empty store. My cover is blown. John's ears immediately perk-up as he awaits my response – the sales manager puts his doughnut down and began reaching for the phone to call Detailing and Prep.

"No, we need to rent one for a weekend first, so that we get the real feel for it before buying. We have to make sure it is comfortable for your back.” I reply, ever the concerned and caring husband.

John, ever the professional, listens in the background a while longer, then politely interrupts and says, “Excuse me, sir, do you realize that your chance of getting struck by lightning last night was better than the chance of a wife TELLING her husband to buy a Harley?” The man was starting to make some sense!

He then tries to ‘force’ me to take a demo ride, but I had him there. "No, I want to have it for a couple of days, a 10-mile demo ride just isn't enough. She has a bad back, you see. Besides, we're traveling by bike and I'm sure I can't get enough on the trade to make it worthwhile." I'm cheap that way, I was planning to buy used and list mine FSBO. "Checkmate," I thought to myself. By this time, the sales manager is just shaking his head in disbelief. "Idiot!" you can hear him say behind his now closed door.

"Well let me take a look at your bike and at least give you a price on the Ultra, we really want to move these before the 2010's come out," John says with every bit of respect he can muster. To make an already long story short, his trade-in offer sucked, but the no-trade, out-the-door price was impressive...and below MSRP too, an uncommon occurrence within the hallowed walls of an H-D dealership.

We head-off to lunch and an afternoon ride to mull it over. I think better when I ride...

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kickstands Up!

The purpose of our trip to the Texas Hill Country is two-fold. First, to stop the craziness we call life and breathe a little, just the two of us. Second, to look for some new craziness. You see, we're on a life-changing journey to start a hospitality company dedicated to the needs and comfort of touring bikers.

Our goal is to build a portfolio of a dozen properties spread along popular touring roads across the South and Southwest. Regardless of what brand, all bikers share one thing in common - we’re looking for places to ride. We prefer to travel in groups along scenic roads, and to frequent establishments where bikers are welcome and the bikes are safe – places where we can share tales of the day’s ride with friends, both new and old, while enjoying a cold beer and a roaring fire. Then adjourning to a comfortable cabin with a king size bed where the old muscles and bones can heal before hitting the road again tomorrow.

After months of planning and market research, we've set our sights on the Hill Country for the flagship property. The properties will be called the Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge. But once you've been there, we hope you'll call it home.

Day 1
We arrived in Kerrville around dusk on Monday and the clouds were building to the west, just over the hills. By the time we unloaded and had adult beverages in-hand, the light show began. Mother Nature had the stage to herself last night, providing a spectacular storm with crackling thunder and lightening that would have made Zeus proud. The eternal biker optimist, I figure she was just cleaning the roads on our behalf. And, given the area is in a two-year drought, who was I to complain?

Once the storms passed, a constant rain sang its sweet lullaby and we were off to sleep.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Destination: Texas Hill Country

Every April, I open up the map and start looking for an interesting destination for a 'Bring in the Spring' motorcycle getaway. This year, the Texas Hill Country is the destination of choice and it looks like May 25-30 is the perfect time to make the trip.

We've been to the Hill Country many times, but usually spend most of it in the Highland Lakes area and Marble Falls because it's such an easy ride down from the DFW area. This year, we're going to ride the pinnacle of motorcycle roads in Texas...the Three Twisted Sisters, also known as the Twisted Sisters, The Sisters, or, in Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) lingo, FM-335, FM-336, and FM-337.

We'll make Kerrville our base camp, figuring any road worth taking is within a day's journey. Will also need to spend a little time in Bandera, I understand there is a watering hole or two worth visiting in the Cowboy Capital of the World.

Each weekend, thousands of bikers converge on the Hill Country, so I expect we'll see some old friends and make a few new ones too. Time to get the bike cleaned and road-ready.


© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC


Saturday, April 4, 2009

In the beginning...

It all started with my buddy, Phil.

We've known each other for over 30 years and it seems we've always shared a passion about motorcycles. But life always got in the way of getting an iron horse between our legs.

In 1997, Phil unexpectedly (at least to me!) took the plunge and bought a used Road King to begin his journey. I thought he'd never find time to ride, as he too was working his ass off, had kids the same age, and, and, and...(all the other reasons we often don't go where our heart leads us). Within three years, it seems all of our friends were out riding on the weekends and my wife, Liz, and I were still spending our time at the baseball, basketball, and soccer games.

Then came my day -- March 17, 2000.

I found a Heritage Softail Classic with 800 miles on it in the paper that was FSBO. The lucky bastard had won the bike in a drawing -- "...it was the last day of a conference that my wife was attending in Austin," he said. "At the hotel counter, there was a charity drawing for a new Harley, so I bought $10 worth of tickets. I really didn't think anything else about it until I got a phone call two months later telling me I could come out to Barrett's Harley-Davidson in El Paso to take delivery of my new bike. Hell, I couldn't believe it, I hadn't ridden in 25 years! But I flew out to El Paso and picked out the bike, then rode it back to DFW. For the first 100 miles, I sucked the seat up my ass every time a semi passed me by!"

Still laughing, I asked him why he was selling so quickly.

"Well" he said, "I have a cousin in Paradise (TX) that has hit on some hard times and needs to sell his land. We've been living in Arlington for 20+ years and are ready for a change, so I'm going to use the money to buy his land and build a house. But the best part is, I have a geologist friend who is very familiar with the area and he tells me this land sits in the middle of a new natural gas field called the Barnett Shale. So I figure if we hit something, I'll be able to buy whatever kind of Harley I want!" Let me get this straight...this guy is parlaying a $10 charity ticket into over $100K in gas royalties? Welcome to the latest Texas oil boom.

I talked my bride of twenty years into the purchase, but only after she exclaimed that, "...there is no way I'm going to be one of those biker bitches all dressed in leather and crap."

So there I am, dressed like a biker wanna-be in my Hard Rock denim jacket, make-shift doo-rag under a borrowed helmet, and what looked to be antique fighter pilot goggles, riding bitch on the back of Phil's bike headed to the guy's house to take delivery of my first Harley. I would have made Dudley (from the Wild Hogs movie) proud. Doug came along too.

Personally, I think they were LOL at me and taking bets as to whether I'd be able to ride the damn thing home without dropping it at the first stop light, having not ridden for twenty years myself. Luckily, I dissappointed them, but appreciated the glory of riding in a group from the get-go. And it didn't hurt that they would be there to help me lift the bad boy up if I DID drop it!

We made the obligatory trip to the dealer the next day to "make the bike mine", which is code for worshiping the H-D gods by spending another $1K to put engine guards and a bunch of chrome on there that should have come with it in the first place. That's when Liz got religion. Within 15 minutes of going through the sacred doors of the H-D temple, she had found the sale rack....and "oh, look at this cool leather coat and matching chaps!!" She was hooked...and the rest of the Bonus of 2000 was squandered away on selfish luxuries that only new bikers can appreciate. After several hours, a couple of six packs, and a few scraped knuckles, the bike - and we - were ready for our first ride.

It was barely 55 degrees when we pulled out of the driveway the next morning, headed for a breakfast run with Rhonda and Phil. After 50 miles of construction and four-lane highways, not to mention several u-turns, I realized that either Phil didn't know where he was going or he just didn't know better. This was a job for Radar...or Magellen...or Gallileo...or all the other names the guys used to call me during the post-ride beer briefings.

But they soon learned to appreciate my gift.

Taking the roads my Dad used to frequent, I've been creating cool touring routes for years - filing them away in my mind and, as technology evolved, capturing them in various mapping programs. You see, Dad was a communications engineer, the brain behind a company that created a series of microwave towers that delivered cable TV to all of the cities west of Fort Worth. There isn't a map that he hasn't read or a back road that he hasn't taken.

As a kid, I remember traveling with Dad to his tower sites, which were usually located off some remote Farm-to-Market road, on a vista in the middle of a ranch, where you could see as far as the weather would allow. Every once in a while, we'd stop and fish in the rancher's tank, but we ALWAYS found the best dives for groceries while on the road. Some think this route thing is a gift, but it's not. I was trained by the best of them and he's still going strong at 84 years-old.

In the beginning, it was enough to map a dozen 2-3 hour rides rides around the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex for a quick getaway with my buddies. But let's face it, North Texas isn't exactly known for it's rolling hills and forest trails. As the kids got older, we began to take overnight trips - little 1-2 day escapes. Now that they're all out of the nest, we've extend our ventures to 5 or 10-day journeys, sometimes trailering out to "get through the ugly stuff" faster. Sometimes we're just in a rush to get there, like the day after we dropped our youngest off at college. Liz and I jumped in the truck at 5am the next day, bike in tow, and drove 19 hours so that we could wake up in the Great Smokey Mountains for a 10-day "Celebration Ride". I don't know what excited Liz more, the prospects of no more kids in the house or going through the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway...both are pretty amazing milestones.

But I digress.

Bottom line, if you're looking for an awesome ride in the Greater Texas area, I've got a lot of them and am actively building a library of routes throughout the South and Southwest. If there is a good road that you've taken, I want to hear about it. Once we take the route and like it, I'll add-in a few watering holes, diner dives, and points of interest along the way. Then I'll certify it as a "Thunder Roadworthy" ride and post it on our site when construction is complete.

And hopefully - just hopefully - the rest of you will put some of life's noise on-hold and go make some thunder of your own.


© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC