Thursday, May 6, 2010

It was a cold day in...April

As much as I love to ride, sometimes life gets in the way.

Over the past 60-days, my riding (and writing) time has been consumed by attending to my lovely bride in her recovery from major back surgery and the sale of, and resulting move from, our primary residence. With the recovery going very well (hoping to have her back on the bike by the fall) and the move behind us, it was time to get El Semental Negro, my new trusty steed, out on the road to stretch his gears.

With only a couple of days advance notice, I was able to persuade my buddy Bill (aka “Iron Butt”) to join me on the 2-day, 850-mile ride through Northwest Arkansas. Actually, I had hoped to make it a 3-day ride, but ole' Iron Butt had other plans.

It was a cold day in…April when departed the new base camp in East Texas. Making a run into the mountains always results in cooler riding temps, but it was a chilly 48 degrees when we hit the road at 7am. Not that cold until you get going 70mph, which tends to be the low-end of the pace when riding with Iron Butt.

Bill had traveled light, bringing only a lined nylon mesh jacket, so he layered-on his rain suit to help knock the wind chill. Knowing he’d get no sympathy from me, he sucked it up and only whined in the form of a weather report, “Looks like the clouds will burn off and I’ll take this crap off after our first stop.” We figured we’d ride for a hour or so, then stop for breakfast and the temps would catch-up. Wrong. We were in leathers (or in Bill’s case, the rain suit) the entire day since the temps barely topped 60 degrees.

Tour de Arkansas - 2010
Map created using Microsoft Streets and Trips 2009
© Microsoft Corporation 2009

It was Bill’s first journey into Northwest Arkansas on a motorcycle, so the plan was to cover as much road as possible, stopping for groceries and Kodak moments as the whim hits us. Our target destination for Day 1 was Ozark via Hot Springs, so we hit the slab (I-30) in Texarkana to cover the flat lands as quickly as possible. We exited I-30 at Caddo Valley, where we took AR-7 north towards Hot Springs.

Running almost the entire length of the state, from Harrison in the north to El Dorado in the south, AR-7 is the central nervous system of great motorcycle roads in Arkansas, with many, many great loops and side roads along the way. For months, Bill has been going on and on about riding AR-7, so I routed as much of the trip as possible to accommodate his lust.

As we danced around the foothills of the southern tip of the Ouachita Mountains, the road into Hot Springs was a good warm-up to things to come. We stopped for lunch at the Brick House Grill in downtown Hot Springs, then scouted a few candidate sites for Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge before hitting AR-7 for our first run through the mountains.

Bill gets a woody every time you talk about running the twisties through the mountains, so after giving him a heads-up about Arkansas signage (multiple chevrons on a curve generally indicate you can take the curve at +20mph over the posted speed, while a curve with a rectangular solid arrow sign deserves more respect), I told him to take the lead and that I would meet him at the convenience store in Ola. My experience is that it is best to let the boy run on the first set of twisties and you’ll either see him pulled over by local law enforcement authorities along the way or waiting patiently at the designated rendezvous site. Despite his excellent driving skills and track record, I always look for fresh skid marks along the way, just in case the road bites him…or he it.

AR-7 did not disappoint. The trees and foliage were in various stages of bloom and the air full of sweet smells (and pollen). The road was in great condition, with only one small section under repair. We were taking our journey mid-week, so there were a fair number of retirees maneuvering their massive recreational vehicles in an effort to reposition for the next step of their endless road journey. At times, threading these moving obstacles courses are considered added entertainment when performed on mountain roads. And on some days, they are nothing short of death defying learning experiences, which I experienced on the return leg of the trip.

After a quick break in Ola, we headed west on AR-10, which meanders through the Petit Jean River Valley between the Big O's, the Ouachita and Ozark national forests. The road is lined with farms and thickets, crisscrossing creeks and streams as you follow the sun. Along the way, one often catches a whiff of the unique aroma generated by a chicken farm which, if you haven’t been blessed with such an experience, is about like sticking your nose in your 3-year-old’s worst diaper…times 20. You know you are out of range when the burning stops.

About fifteen miles in, I notice that the smell isn’t going away, so I begin looking for the culprit. No nearby chicken farms. Lunch wasn’t that spicy and my pants are clean. Bill is too far behind me for it to be him. Hmmm. And just then we pop over a hill and come upon the shit wagon – literally a dump truck LOADED with twelve cubic yards of chicken shit. OMG! And he’s turning on our next cut-off!

Our eyes were watering as we rounded the corner and Bill was shouting, “We gotta get around this guy!” We did and just as he was disappearing from my rear-view mirror, I realized that we had turned on AR-307, not AR-309. Damn! We had to make a U-turn and were blessed with one final whiff as we sped by.

With fresh air back in our face, we found AR-309 and headed north to The Lodge at Mount Magazine, located within the Mount Magazine State Park. The mountain has hosted several lodging establishments since the late 1800’s, and if I am not mistaken, all of them have been destroyed by fires, forest or otherwise. The current facility was built by the State of Arkansas and was dedicated in 2002 by then-governor Mike Huckabee (of the 2008 presidential campaign fame). The lodge has a breathtaking southern view over the Petit Jean River Valley and boasts bluffs higher than 200 feet. For those of you who are more adventurous, Mount Magazine also offers a hang gliding launch site (must be Class 4 certified). I’ve never stayed at The Lodge, but have attempted on numerous occasions during summer months only to learn that they book-up quickly.

It was easily 10 degrees cooler in the mountains (back into the 50’s) and after a 30-minute rest stop and photo shoot, we continued on our final leg into Ozark. On the north side of Mount Magazine, AR-309 follows a path cut out of granite, providing spectacular sights along the way as we switch-backed through the Ozark National Forest. This was the first time I have travelled south-to-north on AR-309, and I think I prefer the north-to-south perspective better.

With limited options in Ozark, I tend to stick to what I know, and I know Rivertowne BBQ always delivers great groceries. Today was no exception and we feasted on a combination plate of brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Perhaps the only BBQ joint in the world that doesn’t sell beer, we went next door to The Speak Easy lounge for a couple of rounds and to see if my old buddy Curtis was still around. Curtis the rest of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players were nowhere to be found, but we did meet Roy, who appeared to be Curtis’ little brother based on the stories he told. We stayed at the Days Inn and awoke to 45 degree temps the next morning.

After a hearty breakfast at the Ozark Restaurant and a refueling stop, we headed for the Pig Trail Scenic Byway (AR-23). The most recent winter has not been kind to the Pig Trail, as there were several crews repairing the road where erosion generated by the melting snows have caused rock slides and road collapse. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department is to be commended for making the repairs so quickly and it looks like the road could use a complete resurfacing in the next year or so. Meanwhile, I caution riders to watch for loose gravel in areas where the repairs have been completed. 

Deer were foraging for food along the road and we encountered several herds of white tail deer feeding after we turned east on AR-16. This road runs the ridge along the Ozarks and provides spectacular views to the north and south. It was along here that we also snuck-up on another shit wagon, but we were able to swing around in record time, avoiding the nasal burns. I thought seriously about taking AR-21 south, having received good reports on that road from another biker at the BBQ joint the night before, but opted to stick with the original plan of coming down AR-7 back into Russellville.

It pained me to cut the trip into NW Arkansas so short, but doing so was the only way we were going to complete this ride in 2-days. Given more time, I would have made a loop on AR-7, AR-123, and AR-21, several times, then spent a night in one of my favorite towns, Eureka Springs, before exploring more sites in and around the Ozark National Forest. Hopefully, it wet Bill’s appetite enough that he’ll return.

I know I’ll be back and I’m not waiting for another cold day in April to do it!

© 2010 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder...

A welcome shout-out to the followers of Jack Riepe of Twisted Roads fame. Jack is an accomplished author, comedian, and (albeit a little known fact) a babe magnet from way back. One can only hope that when they grow up, they can attain such status. Welcome and I hope Thunder Road becomes a frequest stop for you all.

It is said that absence makes the heart grows fonder. As such, this winter has been absolute HELL on bikers. Whether it is the repeated episodes of Snowmageden in the Northeast or unseasonably wet and cool temps across the South and Midwest, Mother Nature has not been very accommodating to those longing to feel the wind in their hair and bugs in their teeth.

Like many on a budget, I used my portion of the Christmas budget to fund this year’s "wish list" - new rain suits for my bride and myself, faring mirrors, and a new bag made to fit the tour-pak rack. I used the winter garage time to install said gifts, perform needed maintenance, and give the bike a general deep clean. In the evenings, I would find myself cruising virtually - surfing the Internet for cool places to visit, reading biker-related stories, and sharing route ideas. In short, I'm anxious for some serious road time.

This year, my goal is to put 12K miles in the saddle through a combination of three or four multi-day trips and regular weekend excursions. One trip will be to explore new roads and sights in Louisiana and the Piney Woods of East Texas, while another will be into the lush mountains of Northwest Arkansas. And if the work schedule allows, perhaps a return trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway for our 30-year anniversary. I suspect the rainy season is going to continue into the spring, so it will be early May before we do the big rides.

The Grand Central Hotel - Eureka Springs
Photo compliments of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission

I’m most excited about returning to Eureka Springs in Northwest Arkansas. It is said that one-third of the nation’s population lives within a day’s drive of Eureka Springs and it remains a favorite tourist destination today. A step back in time, this Victorian village was founded in 1879 as a spa town when natural hot springs were discovered. By the 1890’s the town had grown into a full-blown resort town built on the mystic healing powers of the springs.

Downtown Eureka Springs is approximately two square miles and is built vertically into the mountain sides. The eclectic collection of vintage homes and commercial buildings remain today, as does the steam train that carries tourists through the valley. The downtown area is also known for its narrow roads that were originally built to handle horse and wagon traffic. While the Historic Loop can handle normal automobile traffic, many of the neighboring residential streets can barely handle two motorcycles passing mirror-to-mirror today.

US Route 62, the early days
Photo compliments of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotions Commission 

With the introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T, the number of cross-country drivers began to grow exponentially, despite the fact that most roads were dirt or gravel, at best. In 1916, the US government introduced the national highway system and Route 62 (US-62) runs from Niagara Falls, New York to El Paso, Texas via Eureka Springs. This portion of the highway was constructed in the 1930’s and considering it was during the Great Depression era, it came just in time to help revive Eureka Springs as a tourist destination. When first completed, the highway was known as the Ozark Skyway and Ozark Trail.

Coupled with AR-23 (the Pig Trail Scenic Byway), the roads in and around Eureka Springs make it a top motorcycle destination. Perhaps the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotions Commission sums it up best, “Eureka Springs is fortunate to be one of the few places in America that still has the mid-century roadside culture intact to tell this part of our history – The Auto Age.” All of this history, and even today there is still not a single traffic light in the town.

One of the many biker draws for Eureka Springs is the number of options to entertain visitors. The town actually has three-faces – the historic downtown district, the entertainment highway, and Beaver Lake.

Spring Street at Night
Photo provided by the Eureka Springs Tourist Center

The historic downtown district has a wealth of art galleries, local shops, museums, and restaurants for evening entertainment or as an alternative distraction for spouses or significant others who have tired of riding. The City Auditorium was built in 1928, opening to John Phillip Sousa and his 67-member orchestra. Since then, many first-rate acts have continued the show - Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Dwight Yoakum, Mavis Staples, and Bill Cosby, just to name a few. Perhaps the best way to enjoy the Historic Downtown area is via the trolley that stops at most hotels located along Route 62 ($5 all-day fare).

The highway (Route 62) hosts most of the hotels, motels, and roadside eateries, as well as the world famous The Great Passion Play, the Pine Mountain Jamboree, and the Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down Music Theater. For lodging, the Rodeway Inn Swiss Holiday Resort caters to biker and car club needs and interests. Joe “Mr. Big” McClung (owner) and Ray “Ray-Ray” Beber (manager) are riders themselves, with Joe having ridden the roads of NW Arkansas for over 40-years. If you’re interested in a guided historical or scenic tour, give them a call a few days prior and they will deliver an unforgettable experience. Another must-stop is the Rockin’ Pig Saloon, the Rowdy Beaver, and Bubba’s BBQ.

A short drive northwest of Eureka Springs, the White River flows into Beaver Lake. This pristine lake is tucked into the Ozark Mountains, boasting 600 miles of shoreline and 30’ visibility that is the perfect setting for great fishing, water sports, hiking, and day recreation. The area also offers fantastic motorcycle touring. One of the must-ride roads is AR-187 that loops off of Route 62 and includes the Beaver Bridge (915’ in length), reportedly the first suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River and only remaining suspension bridge in Arkansas.

Beaver Suspension Bridge on AR-187
Photo by John A. Weeks III

If you haven’t been to Eureka Springs before, make the trip. If you haven’t been there recently, come back soon – as the area is truly a unique biker experience. It's enough to make the heart grow fonder...

© 2010 TRHG Holdings LLC

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Biker

Ran across this on the Harley Davidson Forum tonight (author unknown) and it really struck a cord with me...hope it does with you as well.
--------------------
The Biker

I saw you, hug your purse closer to you in the grocery store line.
But, you didn't see me, put an extra $10.00 in the collection outside the store as I walked in.

I saw you; pull your child closer when we passed each other on the sidewalk.
But, you didn't see me, playing Santa at the local mall.

I saw you, change your mind about going into the restaurant.
But, you didn't see me, attending a meeting to raise more money for the hurricane relief.

I saw you , roll up your window and shake your head when I rode by.
But, you didn't see me, riding behind you when you flicked your cigarette butt out the car window.

I saw you, frown at me when I smiled at your children.
But, you didn't see me, when I took time off from work to run toys to the homeless.

I saw you, stare at my long hair.
But, you didn't see me, and my friends cut ten inches off for Locks of Love.

I saw you, roll your eyes at our leather jackets and gloves.
But, you didn't see me, and my brothers donate our old ones to those that had none.

I saw you, look in fright at my tattoos.
But, you didn't see me, cry as my children were born and have their name written over and in my heart.

I saw you, change lanes while rushing off to go somewhere.
But, you didn't see me, going home to be with my family.

I saw you, complain about how loud and noisy our bikes can be.
But, you didn't see me, when you were changing the CD and drifted into my lane.

I saw you, yelling at your kids in the car.
But, you didn't see me, pat my child's hands, knowing he was safe behind me.

I saw you, reading the newspaper or map as you drove down the road.
But, you didn't see me, squeeze my wife's leg when she told me to take the next turn.

I saw you, race down the road in the rain.
But, you didn't see me, get soaked to the skin so my son could have the car to go on his date.

I saw you, run the yellow light just to save a few minutes of time.
But, you didn't see me, trying to turn right.

I saw you, cut me off because you needed to be in the lane I was in.
But, you didn't see me, leave the road.

I saw you, waiting impatiently for my friends to pass.
But, you didn't see me. I wasn't there.

I saw you, go home to your family.
But, you didn't see me. Because, I died that day you cut me off.

I was just a biker. A person with friends and a family.
But, you didn't see me.

Send this around in hopes that people will understand the biker community. If you don't re-send this, all I can say is it sucks to be you. I hope you never lose someone that rides.

EVEN IF YOU DON'T LIKE US, RESPECT OUR RIGHTS TO RIDE WHAT WE CHOOSE AND TAKE A FEW EXTRA SECONDS TO BE SURE WE'RE NOT IN 'YOUR' WAY.

LIVE TO RIDE . . . RIDE TO LIVE

Sunday, January 31, 2010

And the Survey Says...

I want to extend a HUGE thank you to everyone who contributed to the lodging survey and especially those who shared the survey with others in your personal riding group.

We had contributions from all over the USA, Asia, and Western Europe, the latter thanks to Gary France who posted the link on his USA Tour on a Harley Davidson blog. Gary is a retiring Brit planning a 14,000 mile tour of the United States that begins on June 22 (or 22 June, depending on which side of the ocean you call home). Ahhhh, the open road...that's what it's all about!

Actually, it's journeys like Gary's that created the calling for Thunder Road. Whether it's a lifelong dream or a mid-life medical crisis that makes one Live Like You Were Dyin', as Tim McGraw so aptly put it, a multi-day motorcycle tour has a way of cleansing the soul like no other.   

So what did we learn from the survey?

I'm pleased to note that the survey confirms many of the business tenants on which we are building Thunder Road - a preference for lodging that supplements the journey experience, value for your hard-earned money, and a clean, comfortable private space in which to relax and refresh after a long day's ride. Amenities are important, but you're not looking for a spa experience.

We also confirmed that you are passionate bikers, with the vast majority of respondants taking multiple trips per year, most of which are 2-5 days in duration and involve group rides. And we validated that the touring locales we are targeting are the places you want to go...or go again. I'm eager to introduce the concept to the Europe market, as our family across the pond is equally as passionate!  I will continue to let the survey run through the remainder of the 30-day open period, but I believe the trends provide a good indication of what you expect when making your travel plans.

What's next?

We're in the funding stage and have entered into preliminary negotiations for properties in several of the target markets. As things progress, one of them will emerge as the right opportunity for the flagship property. Stay tuned, as the announcements will be shared here first!

Meanwhile, if you need route or accomodations ideas, drop us a note and we'll provide some ideas. As an example, here is a route from Ashville, North Carolina to the Texas Hill Country that I recently shared with a member of the Harley Davidson Forum

See you on the Road!

© 2010 TRHG Holdings LLC

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's This About a Motorcycle Lodge?

Over the last six months, I have shared some tales of the Road and provided insight into what the Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge concept is all about, hopefully providing a few interesting stories along the way.

Now I need your help.

It’s time to “Road” test some of the concepts we have envisioned. I need your feedback so that I can refine the concept, select the site for the flagship property, and put the final plan into action. Not only do I want your feedback, I want the feedback of at least 10 bikers with whom you regularly ride….and even more feedback from 10 of their riding buddies. So if you find the Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge concept compelling, help get the message out. After all, Thunder Road is all about building a community among those who share a passion for the road.

To help collect the information, I have added some survey questions in the sidebar to the right. Vote once, vote often – I want to tap into your passion for the Road. I also encourage your comments to this blog entry - tell me more about what you want, need, and expect while touring. 

So here goes…


Cruisin' the Backroads

Most bikers take one or two multi-day rides per year. If you are among the few who make time for more, consider yourself blessed. What are your favorite overnight destinations?

When taking a multi-day ride, do you prefer to ride alone, with your significant other, or with a group?


Candidate Property
Piney Woods of East Texas

I envision Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge to be a rustic lodge setting with amenities that cater to the biker crowd. For example, the lodge will offer a restaurant with food like Mom used the make, a bar that Pops would be proud to call his own, and an entertainment venue for small live performances (after all, who wants a dead performance). It will have a large outdoor patio with a fire pit that we can sit around while smoking our cigars and tellin’ lies about the roads we’ve traveled…while sippin’ tequila or your favorite cold one. We'll also have an outdoor entertainment venue for hosting concerts and rallies for up to 5,000 people. Are you in?


The Great Room


Patio view of the lake


55 acre spring fed lake

Now, for the important stuff.

We all know we need to make Momma happy. To that end, we'll have over 50 cabins that cater to the biker and your significant other. The log or stone cabins will be tucked away in the woods overlooking a mountain view or lake; and include covered parking for your most prized possession; a king-size bed for, well, you know; a storage area for your leathers and gear; a boot and glove dryer for those days when you couldn’t get to the bar soon enough; free internet access; and in-room entertainment to help put you to sleep. What are we missing?

2-Bedroom Cabin - Exterior


2-Bedroom Cabin - Interior

We’re all on a budget these days, so when selecting lodging, what most drives your decision – price, ammenities, location, safety of your bike, internet access? When traveling with other couples, would you prefer 2-bedroom cabin so that you can share with another couple? When travelling without a significant other, do you prefer to stay in your own room or do you bunk up with a friend?  

Oh, and one more thing. To make it truly Thunder Roadworthy, would you prefer a chocolate mint on your pillow or an ice cold beer at check-in?

© 2010 TRHG Holdings LLC