It’s hard to get motivated and excited to ride during the long winter months. The cold air, the grey skies, the brown grass, the dead leaves… all pointing me back in the direction of the warm fire. But Arkansas has been pretty lucky so far this winter and we’ve had some very warm days. Warm enough to go for a 200+ mile dirt road adventure? Why not?!!
My riding buddy, Kendall, and I met up the other morning in Eureka Springs at 9AM on a cold but sunny Thursday morning. Even though it was 30 something out, the weather man promised it would be close to 65 degrees for the high, so we went for it. The plan was to ride south on Hwy 23 for about 50 miles to meet his buddy Nathan, and then start our dirt road adventure down by Saint Paul, Arkansas. Kendall and I, both riding Suzuki DR 650’s, clicked into high gear and knocked the pavement section out as quick as possible without freezing to death. The wind chills were gnarly and the shady valleys and backsides of small mountains were all glistening with frost and ice, so the pace was pretty moderate to say the least. We showed up at the meeting spot with just enough time to warm up a bit and release the morning’s coffee from the system.
A few sentences into our first story and we were interrupted by the sounds of a downshifting, tire chirping V-Twin. Nathan arrives on a KTM 950 Super Enduro and I instantly get bike envy! Kendall introduces the two of us and then we head out for the gravel roads. We started near Saint Paul in the Ozark National Forest and made our way south to a little town by the name of Catalpa for lunch. At this point we had just filled up in Oark and had to do a little pavement riding to get to the Catalpa Cafe. This little gem is operated by one gentleman that knows how to cook one helluva cheese burger; just don’t upset the man by drowning his delicious creation in ketchup. Kendall and Nathan both advised me to hold out on the fries and save room for the pecan pie… good call!
As the crow flies, Catalpa is only 15 or so miles from Interstate 40 that runs through the center of the state, just to give some perspective on how far south Kendall and I had traveled from Eureka Springs. From there we headed north into the Upper Buffalo Wilderness area where we were greeted with our first creek crossing experience of the trip (video here). We needed to cross Big Buffalo Creek but it was pretty high at the common crossing area, so we chose the bushwhack approach and followed Nathan’s better judgement. I thought about going for it but the water was way too cold to fall in and try to rescue a drowning DR 650. We rode all the way up to Boxley Valley and then followed Nathan through his old stomping grounds and then to his childhood home. Since I’ve lived in Arkansas, there are times when I feel like I live way out there in the boonies, but there are people in this state that really do live WAY OUT THERE!
After some shallow creek blasting and some scurrying through some private properties (all friends of Nathan’s), we got back onto some bigger dirt roads and Nathan offered up his KTM for me to ride. It took me about 2 seconds to get off of my DR and thank him kindly for the offer. Now nobody really needs a 160 horsepower dirtbike, but man it sure is fun to play with all of that power! The seat height and weight was a bit much for me at parking lot speeds but once I got rolling that big girl became quite graceful. We had a short run of pavement to get to Jasper for our second re-fuel so I did a few wheelies, ran it up to 100, backed it in sideways into a tight hairpin and then grabbed a handful of throttle and left a big black mark on the pavement exiting the hairpin. Figured I’d have some real fun before handing the beast back over!
From Jasper we crossed the Buffalo River and headed northwest for home. We traveled along the Osage Creek and took some pics at an amazing bluff overlook and slowly made our way back into the Madison County WMA where I do most of my riding. We were all treated with an awesome sunset before having to ride the last few miles home in the dark. When it was all said and done, I had logged 231 miles and had an incredible day on 2 wheels in Arkansas! Big thanks to Kendall and Nathan for showing me such cool roads that I hope to share with all of my riding buddies. And I don’t know if I should thank Nathan or not for letting me ride the KTM… Now I want a twin!!