We race toward the setting sun, darting from curve to curve along Arkansas' Route 14. A glance at the odometer verifies that the miles have really piled up since our departure from North Carolina. But the welcome climb into the foothills of the Ozark Mountains is reenergizing a couple of bottom-sides made weary by the Natural State's vertically-challenged eastern reaches.
Despite being burdened with stuffed saddlebags and two riders, the rock-steady Honda VFR800 Interceptor still responds adeptly, slicing through the winding corners with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel. Kathy, just plain tickled with the advent of any arc, prods me on with the raucous urgency of a Ginsu knife plowing through a Pepsi can. On one hand, her enthusiasm is infectious; the tabletop-flat rice fields we just spent the last three hours yawning our way across had become quite tedious. On the other, tempering one's enthusiasm far from home does prevent garnering yet another attorney for a pen pal.
It's been a long day, and the distance digits for Mountain View are ticking down. Known as the "Folk Music Capital of the World," this welcoming community of tidy, tan colored limestone buildings is the hub of our Shamrock Tour®. The town's square is the meeting place for jam sessions by talented pickers that gather nightly to play, share, and preserve the traditional gospel and country standards favored by generations of local residents. More than just fun-time tunes, these numbers mark but one aspect of the deep, folk roots that continue to nourish this close-knit enclave. Traditional community mores and handicraft talents so necessary for survival by the Ozark's early settlers are both embraced and perpetuated in Mountain View. As fans of old-time music, we'd like to stay longer and listen in, but the scores of miles already under our belts dictate otherwise. Unpacking and relaxing takes precedent as we still have many explorations ahead.
Our base of operations at the Ozark Folk Center State Park and their Cabins at Dry Creek features comfortable rooms with semi-private patios, and the on-premise Skillet Restaurant is just a short walk through the woods. After a hearty, country-style breakfast, we're ready to roll. Though still carrying a slight chill, the September morning breeze refreshes as we climb westward on Route 14. The smooth pavement bores into the hardwood canopy like an asphalt Tilt-a-Whirl whipping left then right, sending a message to the brain for all hands on deck. I suppose we could opt for a gentler wake-up call - perhaps a guided journey to the center of the earth? The signs for the United States Forest Service's Blanchard Springs Caverns summon us from the road. And why not, since the opportunity to walk off the morning meal 200-feet underground doesn't come about very often.
The Dripstone National Recreation Trail tour is a four-tenths of a mile subterranean hike accessed via elevator. It includes a breathtaking cathedral room that dazzles with features ranging from delicate soda straw stalactites to enormous flowstones that look like limestone waterfalls. There's even some delicate calcite draperies referred to as cave bacon because they look just like rashers hanging from the ceiling - as if we didn't get enough of the porcine variety for breakfast. This cool 58-degree stroll only takes an hour and is a fascinating way to either begin or end a day on the road. Don't miss it.
Motorcycle & Gear
Back under way, we quickly locate Route 341. To the local folks, it's Push Mountain Road and everyone we've talked to swears it's the best motorcycle road in Arkansas. Within the first few miles, we're believers. A near flawless ribbon of asphalt bounds across the undulating mountains seeming to exploit every natural crook and jog in the topography. Tight turns mixing with high-speed S's flow amid deep stands of greenery that occasionally relent to mountain prospects, before consuming the tarmac once again. By the time this one ends at Route 201, we're packing two big grins, a hearty appetite, and some delightfully anemic chicken strips.
In Mountain Home, we devour a couple of sloppy links while creating an impressive pile of napkins at Gil and Deb's Chicago Style Hot Dogs. We turn north toward Missouri on Route 101, and once we pass a spate of small motels and campgrounds on the bluffs above Norfork Lake, we have the road to ourselves. When we enter the Show-Me State, the going gets even lonelier, so in Bakersfield, we reverse course and head back toward Arkansas. With the exception of a farm truck or two, and a few bold strafing runs by cadres of scrambling birds, we fly nearly solo all the way to Route 5 and back to Mountain View.
Our Daily Bread
The surrounding Ozarks are still wearing their summer green, but fall's nip has taken center stage this late September morning. As we climb westward on Route 66, the mercury hovers in the mid-forties and I fudge the Interceptor's outside-air temperature reading, hoping it'll have a warming effect on Kathy. She's far too wily a traveler to fall for that lame placebo attempt. Shivers aside, it's hard not to be taken with the striking view. A crystal clear sky pocked with a few puffy clouds offers an unlimited panoramic of the distant valleys spreading from this ridge top byway.
After a curvaceous plunge into Leslie, the irresistible aroma of freshly baked goods brings us to a halt next to Serenity Farm Bread. These bakers, like generations before them, handcraft loaves of organic sourdough that are leavened naturally and contain no refined ingredients or preservatives. Their enormous wood-fired brick oven not only warms our hands, but it provides us with a loaf of piping hot goodness that promises to be the building block for a stellar supper.
At the intersection of Routes 74 and 377, we stop to peer through the dusty windows of the long shuttered general store in the village of Snowball. At this lonely crossroads, local music legend and then schoolteacher, Jimmy Driftwood began writing songs based on historical events. He used these tunes as teaching aids to inspire his disinterested students. This unorthodox style of educating not only worked for his pupils, but it also garnered Driftwood much local acclaim and helped launch his musical career. Writer of over 5,000 folk tunes, he's most widely known for penning the Johnny Horton hit, The Battle Of New Orleans.