Farm tractors churning earth on either side of I-40 west of Memphis have created finely powdered clouds the prairie gusts tumble over the featureless landscape. Target: Gold Wing. Thanks to the conspiratorial workings of Mother Nature and John Deere, the grit slowly building on my sunscreen-slathered face has inspired images of a new super hero - Sandpaper Man!
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, far from it. Farmers working barren fields mean it's springtime and another riding season is finally here. The brand new Honda Gold Wing 30th Anniversary Edition had remained resplendent despite 800 miles of insects unfortunate enough to have occupied my slip of space in the I-40 corridor up until this recent infusion of airborne, Mississippi Delta talcum. I wanted to start my explorations right away when I arrived in Little Rock, but a car wash visit seemed like a better idea. Like most state capitals, Little Rock is a fairly big city and a high-pressure hose is no further off in any direction than the closest stretch of gas and burger franchises. Two minutes later, the Wing is as good as new, and I'm the same but feeling even dirtier. Oh well, when Sandpaper Man rolls out to save the world, he always does it on a clean machine.
A low-speed reconnaissance loop around town arouses some curiosity about finding Cotham's, a joint proclaiming its "hubcap hamburger." Assuming they're describing the size and not the texture, I figure they're bound to know quite a bit about this distinctly American delicacy. After all, a rather prominent politician with an often-reported fondness for burgers once called Little Rock home. Despite an urge to increase the area's bovine mortality rate, the timing is off: it's too late for lunch and too early for dinner. That, combined with a warm, breezy spring day, doesn't do much to silence the call of the road. I'd love to stick around and explore in town but that would involve getting off the bike, and I'm not ready for that just yet. Full of true grit in both respects, I decided instead to get down to some touring.
The chosen course from the city confines is Route 107. The inset map of Little Rock on my trusty AAA map tells me it's better known as John F. Kennedy Boulevard. A quick jaunt over one of the bridges spanning the Arkansas River heads up North Main Street, which soon becomes JFK. Like most city streets named for politicians and others of great renown, JFK Boulevard carries a rather heavy complement of traffic. I guess this should be expected considering the number of strip malls and apartment complexes along the way. Luckily, after only a few miles of this urban muck, the stoplights and the traffic begin to fade in the mirrors and the road and countryside begin to open up.
The 30-mile ride on Route 107 isn't too scenic but it allows me to make that always welcome transition from a frazzling, Interstate frame of mind to soothing back-road serenity. My rendezvous with Route 64 says it's getting late and I'm a bit more worn out from my four-lane ride than originally thought. Rather than chance finding a room in a smaller town, I opt for a short westward ride to Conway. Its proximity to I-40 should guarantee plenty of motel and food choices. Thankfully, that assumption is correct and I quickly proceed through check-in. Once I'm in the room, my first mission is to purge the jealousy over the Wing getting its bath before mine. Yes, Sandpaper Man is happy with his day of service to the universe, but it's well past time for him to slip back into his mild-mannered alter ego. Lightly rubbing his/my face with a damp washcloth, I'm surprised to see a creepy dirt rendition of facial features in the cloth. I can't help laughing aloud, looking at this soggy Shroud of Tourin'.
Ozarks, Here I Come...
Looking at my tour map, I see OZARK MTNS in big, bold letters due north of my location. I've heard stories and even read a previous article in RoadRUNNER about the excellence of the riding in the Arkansas Ozarks. And now that I'm in the neighborhood, I can't wait to dip my own toe in the pool. Anticipation gets me out the door early and before I know it, I'm Wingin' it east on Route 64. Like all good workouts, this one starts a bit slow; but Route 107 proves to be the perfect wake-up ride, allowing my riding eyes to adjust to wakefulness at their own pace. The rolling hills and wide sweepers are just enough to get a nice rhythm established, yet simple enough to permit some casual sightseeing. As the smooth, flawless pavement rolls under the Wing, I can't contain a constant, silly grin. Yeah, I probably look goofy, but who's to know? The way I see it, if you're not beaming like a Cheshire cat on your first good ride of the year, there's something wrong with you in the first place.