Misconceptions and skepticism are not the way to start anything, especially a 2,000-mile round trip to a place you’ve never been, on a bike you’ve never ridden. But that’s how this adventure for the “Lost Squadron”—consisting of John on his 2013 Harley-Davidson FXDC, and me on a 2018 Can-Am Spyder RT Limited—began. I had heard stories about Branson, MO, a town often depicted as “Hillbilly Heaven,” with folks sitting on hay bales and listening to banjo music. Man, was I wrong! And as for the Can-Am Spyder? Well, I thought they looked cool, like a Star Wars Landspeeder or X-wing starfighter, but I never considered the three-wheeled motorcycle to be a serious touring machine. Wrong again.
Our journey started from home, in Muskego, WI, in early October and covered portions of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas. Temperatures ranged from the upper 80s near Branson to the low 40s in Wisconsin. Thankfully, we only got drenched once, in Branson.
Coming into Hannibal, MO, we began to pick up portions of the Great River Road along the Mississippi. Although I have ridden this way before, I still find the drive along the national scenic byway inspiring. Unfortunately, we would be on the route only briefly, for the next day we motored west across Missouri on Highway 19, and then onto I-44 (old Route 66), before pulling into Ozark, after a 280-mile ride, for our next overnighter at the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center, about 19 miles north.
Highway 19 is a great, rolling, sometimes curvy road through small towns and pastureland. We maintained a comfortable speed on this long state highway, and for the most part the scenery was very pleasant. By comparison, I-40 was a different experience. This four-lane may have rolled and curved, and there were some nice views, but the traffic—namely the 18-wheelers with tandem trailers—was overwhelming; when those tractor-trailers passed us on the downhills at 75-80 mph, the Spyder had trouble staying on the road and John had to hang on to his H-D for dear life. This was not fun and we swore we would find a better route back.
Ozark, MO, a suburb of Springfield, is about 30 miles due north of Branson via I-65, the four lane expressway with tons of billboards and more 18-wheelers. An alternate route with a more leisurely pace is two-lane Highway 160 from Springfield to the west side of Branson, which takes you about 56 miles through small towns.
Remember those misconceptions? Here is where they started to fall apart. First, there are no bad roads in this area of Missouri, with the exception of those four-lane racetracks. If there’s a biker heaven, it’s here! Just about every road close to Branson must have been designed by a motorcyclist. Even roads we didn’t have on our hit list or were detoured onto were awesome: hilly with low, deep drops where you could pick up speed and then lean back and blast up the other side, only to whip around another curve into another dip, curve, and another curve, dip, and hill. The road surfaces were excellent, and the scenery ranged from deeply shadowed oak forests to rolling hills with streams that stretched beyond the horizon.
Recommended Lodging: Holiday Inn Express & Suites
I’ve found Holiday Inn to be a safe bet for a comfortable room and the West Plains location, with its hot complimentary buffet breakfast, proved to be a great choice. The hotel is easy to access and within walking distance of several restaurants and shopping options. We also felt that the bikes were safe and secure all night long.Find it at 1301 Preacher Roe Blvd, West Plains, MO, (417) 257-3000.
Recommended Lodging: Barrington Hotel
Located in the center of Branson, the Barrington Hotel was a bastion of peace and tranquility. Each room is spacious and features a refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker. Complimentary hot breakfast is served in the dining room. We especially appreciated the luggage dollies for moving our gear to and from our room, and the cozy lobby with fireplace, lemonade, and cookies. Find it at 225 Violyn Dr, Branson, MO, (417) 334-8866.
These roads are challenging, but you won’t feel that they’re trying to destroy you. We did observe several constants: Every town (300-500 pop.) had a Dollar General store and two or three Baptist churches (which is why nothing is open on Sunday until noon, except the church doors). Not all gas stations have premium gas and not all towns have gas stations; many of the towns didn’t have a diner of any kind, either (so keep both your tanks full).