The bike has only so much room and so one takes only a limited amount of clothes and one does laundry every so often while on the road. In my case, I pack six pairs of underwear and six pairs of socks, two short sleeve, two sleeveless, and two long sleeve t-shirts to ride in, one pair of Carhartt tan duck-cloth pants to wear riding, one pair of jeans, and one "nice" shirt to wear to dinner in the evenings, and a pair of gym shorts and tennis shoes, and my riding boots. This means that in addition to the clothes I arrive in, I have five additional days of undies/socks before I have to do laundry. As I occasionally tend to buy a Harley shirt or two from dealers I visit, I seem to always have enough shirts. Well yesterday I was down to the last pair of undies and socks, so had to do laundry that night at the hotel.
I arrived at my Holiday Inn in Vicksburg only to find their guest laundry was out of order. The desk clerk said she'd called the repair guy, but it was Sunday and he probably wouldn't come. I had noticed another of the Holiday Inn "family" of brands just up the road and since I have "Platinum" frequent guest status with them, I asked her to call and see if they'd let me use their guest laundry. She said that the owner of this hotel also owned a Marriott Spring Hill down the road and she'd try there first. They said sure, come on down, so I loaded up the dirty laundry and headed over. When I got there a guest had just started a batch and another guest was waiting, but the very nice desk clerk, a lovely young lady named Ranesha, said that she would do my laundry in the hotel machine, as she knew the predicament I was in! I said, no, but I'd do it if she'd let me. So I went back and loaded up a machine with all my stuff and sat out in the lobby reading. When it was all dry I used their table to fold and she sat with me and we chatted about the trip and where I was going and riding and whatnot. I was so impressed with this bit of Southern hospitality I had to send her boss a note. That's the kind of customer service is all to rare. Just like Prius' in the South -- I noticed today that I rarely see them out on the roads here, unlike home where they are as common and annoying as ants. But I digress...
Vicksburg is a wonderful old town on the Mississippi River, and home to a major Civil War campaign. The day before I had emailed a colleague who knows more about "The War Of Northern Aggression" than anyone but Shelby Foote, and asked him what I should see at Vicksburg. He shot back "its the one civil war sight I've not been to! I'm so jealous". He did say It was one of the last Confederate holdouts, and was very difficult to capture because of the terrain. The area where the fighting took place is now the Vicksburg National Military Park, and has a lovely driving tour of the battlefield. It's perfect for a motorcycle, although it was well into the upper 80s by the time I got there about 1030am. It's very peaceful and reflective, with a lot of interpretive signs and monuments, and of course the battlefield grave yard. The entire fight for Vicksburg lasted over a year, and almost 20,000 casualties. Today it's quiet and peaceful, the cannons silent and overlooking the Mississippi and this old town, with row upon row of markers.
There are only a few places to cross the Mississippi and Vicksburg is one, and so I motored across the river back into Louisiana, before heading north into Arkansas, towards Hot Springs. This little corner of the South is flat and mind-numbingly boring - the roads straight as an arrow and dusty farms and small towns, and it was quite hot too. I was not enjoying the ride much, and I'd left after noon so the heat was at it's most intense.
I pulled off in the small town of Lake Village, which sits astride US 65 and US 82 in the SE corner of Arkansas. The only place that was indoors was a McDonalds and I needed to get some fluid and out of the heat. I wasted about an hour in there, dreading going back out into the heat. I booked my hotel up in Hot Springs, about 130 miles away. It was only 2p, so I cooled off for a while, and went over the map looking for the most direct way there.
However, my iPhone app for Holiday Inn links to Google Maps and they had a route that I'd not really looked at -- a combination of a bunch of Arkansas state highways, that was shorter than the US highways I was looking at. I thought I'd go for it and headed out. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip.
I've never been in Arkansas on the bike, and what I'd seen so far I was not liking. Flat, dusty, hot. But truth be told, I was totally unaware that the route I was going on would be hilly, through pine forests and small towns, and curvy and on very quiet back roads. Gotta give Google Maps some credit for this one.
It was still hot when I left Lake Village, but off in the distance I could see some thunderclouds and falling rain that evaporated before it hit the ground. Growing up in Salt Lake, I learned that this is called "virga" (thanks Mark Eubanks - my SLC friends will know who this is). Looking online tonight, the NOAA definition is: Streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground. In certain cases, shafts of virga may precede a microburst.
What was nice is that I was feeling a few sprinkles occasionally and the temperature dropped as well so it was much nicer to ride. I kept skirting these pockets of virga around a few towns, and then I'd feel a few more drops, then a few more, and the next thing I knew, the second half of the NOAA definition kicked in. A microburst. All of a sudden I was riding through a shower. Ironically though the sky looked like it does in the picture! I could see blue skies, its as if the rain was falling from the clear blue sky. There was no time to pull off and put on rain gear (nor was there any shelter to do so), and I figured it would stop quickly. I figured that for about 5 miles. By that time I was soaked through, but with the temperatures in the 80s still, and moving along at 50mph, I dried out in a matter of a few minutes, and it was actually kind of refreshing in a way, although the bike was now filthy dirty.
At the next town I stopped to fill up and clean up a bit, and when I came out of the restroom I found one of those semi-homeless guys with a bottle of Windex and a rag cleaning my bike windshield. He said "nice bike", at least I think so, he had no teeth and a southern accent. I gave him a couple of bucks and sent him on his way, and I turned off up AR-8, the road that Google Maps suggested.
What a wonderful road. I had no idea rural Arkansas was so beautiful too. The smell was incredible -- a mix of pine trees and sawdust (there are lots of small logging operations here, many abandoned -- much like back home) and rain. The roads had little or no traffic -- it's as if they were made just for me. The air was cool and fresh with that smell. And I was feeling at one with the bike too -- the right mix of curves and speed, where you just lean into some great curves, throttle up and it's like flying six inches off the ground. It's what makes trips like this so much fun. Miles and miles and miles of this.
Like I said, I was not expecting rural Arkansas to be this scenic. Small towns, each looking like a Norman Rockwell painting - almost stereotypical in a way, but never boring.
I worked my way across Arkansas in a generally northwesterly direction along AR-8 and AR-9 for two hours until I arrived in Hot Springs about Sunset. I'll take some time to explore the town tomorrow before heading further northwest. I've been on the road a week, I have two more weeks until I have to get back to Seattle. At times I feel the need to be home with friends and in my place, but on afternoons like today -- with quiet two lane roads, small towns, fresh air, pine trees, sawdust, and perfect riding weather, I could take another couple of weeks to get there and be just fine.