This is a ride report of the trip through the Mississippi, Arkansas, & Oklahoma parts of the TAT my father and I rode April 9th through 14th 2012.
Dad’s: 1971 Yamaha CT175
We are vintage bike nuts and dad has been riding and racing his entire life. Dad bought one of these bikes new back in 71’. He wanted to keep the CT as original as possible with the only additions being small bolt on items including; a roll chart holder (same one he has had since the 70’s), windshield, widened homemade rear rack to hold necessary luggage, handguards, headlight grille, Doubletake Mirror, and Wolfman Luggage.
Mine: 1996 Honda XR250R
I bought this bike in late 2011 for $500. The XR had very little maintenance done to it its entire life and was rough to say the least, though the core components were all in good shape. I had a lot of items I wanted to add to whatever bike I was going to buy so I figured buying a junker was a good place to start so I didn’t have to waste a bunch of good OEM parts. I had enough time on the bike pre-trip to know it would be the perfect reliable machine for the job. Some of the goodies on the XR include a Clarke oversized tank, XR400 Leo Vince exhaust, large rear rack, headlight grille, MSR skid plate, Cycra handguards, and a bunch of other things.
Both of the bikes did very well the entire trip and made us really proud. I cannot imagine wanting to take anything above the size of a KLR650 or XR650L on a trip like this. Sure I could have taken my V-Strom but why would I want to? When you are wrestling the bike through a tight, technical, or muddy section you want something lightweight and manageable. I guess what I am trying to say is sure you can chop down a tree with a $20,000 overweight and over engineered sledge hammer but I would rather use a $10 axe to get the job done more efficiently if you catch my drift.
We left home in Bloomington Indiana on April 8th with our bikes loaded in the back of a rental 10’ box truck headed for Corinth Mississippi. We used rope instead of tie downs to keep the bikes in place. This way we could junk the rope when we unloaded since the weight and space taken of tie downs would have been a pain to deal with along the trip.
We arrived at Corinth that night got a hotel and tried to get what sleep we could. The next morning we headed to the truck drop off to unload and start the trip.
After getting geared up we headed for a close trail point in Kossuth MS. When we arrived in Kossuth we pulled over at a family ran auto repair shop to make sure we were on track. The owner came out and was in awe of dad’s CT and had his son come check out a piece of antique motorcycling. They were both nice folks and didn’t seem to have ever heard of the Trans American Trial. It was at this time that I noticed fuel was pouring out of my overflow! My needle must have been sticking in the carb. We got the bike going and headed on hoping it would clean itself out as I was riding.
The first parts of MS had us chasing our tails quite a bit while dad figured out how the roll charts were set up and how they needed to be read. They were a lot different than the role charts he was used to in enduro racing. It doesn’t help the MS has a turn or a small veer every quarter mile or so. Another time taker was our luggage adjusting. We had never rode with the setups we were running and so it took a little time the first day tightening and straightening to get everything just right.
We made it to a crossroads around lunchtime near Cotton Plant and decided to head into New Albany for lunch. We hit up a fried chicken and burger joint called George’s that we were told was good and we were really pleased with the food. We already noticed how everyone was looking at us like aliens everywhere we stopped and George’s was no different. A guy started talking to us about what we were doing and called his friend to come to the restaurant to check out our bikes and talk to us. Turns out the friend is doing a Mexico to Canada trip on a KLR250 soon and wanted to pick our brains a little bit about small bike trip taking. Everyone was really nice and kind of thought we were a little out there for doing the trip on small kick start only older and vintage bikes.
As we left our lunch spot I noticed I was still leaking fuel out of my overflow so I was sure to shut my gas off a little ahead of stopping from then on. We continued riding throughout the day and the trail was really really great. We were took through a lot of areas that had been logged some time ago but was still very beautiful. The dirt is mostly clay so the ground was extremely red. Dad didn’t notice because he didn’t have anyone in front of him but it was pretty dusty and I was getting completely covered. I was already thinking about my poor air filter.
We made it to the gas stop in Paris MS that night and decided to go into Oxford to get a hotel.
We pulled in to the hotel and two older guys were outside smoking that immediately came over to us and checking out the bikes. They had been and were drinking so they were really talkative and super nice southern guys. They explained that they were Harley riders and take a lot of trips on them but were totally blown away and had never heard of what we were doing. I showed one of them a TAT map and he said he had never knew most of those roads existed. They said what we were doing was “just fantastic” like we were doing something unimaginable. We talked for a little longer and the guys told us a couple of good jokes and then they were walking to Ihop to grab some food.
After getting settled in we hit up a Chinese Buffet across the street for dinner that was pretty decent. They had an oyster and sushi bar that I don’t think you could have paid me enough to try but everything I had was good especially after a day of riding. The next morning we packed up and headed back to Paris to start the trail. The weather was looking perfect for us again and the trail was really great and windy.
The dust was still pretty bad but definitely way better than fighting the bikes through muddy clay. We made it to the “All American Truck Stop” in Tillatoba for lunch and were again greeted with stares from everyone like we were otherworldly. I can definitely tell that some of the people around here are interested in us and really think what we are doing is great but we do get the whole “you’re not from around here” evil eye vibe from some folks as well.
We had some good food here gassed up and headed out. After a long stretch of riding I noticed the roads were getting straighter and the dust was not calming down anytime soon. I decide to hold back from dad a little bit to keep out of it and keep from getting pelted by rocks from his rear tire. Some of the corners can really sneak up on you out there so the last thing I wanted to do was be on the wrong side of one of them because I couldn’t see through the dust.
We stopped in Crenshaw at the very local corner store for fuel and a little break. We got more stares and people coming up to us asking where we were headed and all. A really nice older guy came up to us with half of a mouth of gold teeth and started talking to us. He said he had seen a few bikes come through like ours before and was wondering where we were all headed to. We told him about the trail and he couldn’t believe dad was doing the part of it we were on the old 175. He told us that he was about to retire after working in one of the local clay mines for 26 years and said “yall be blessed on them bikes” before he left. Really nice people and a great little corner store that had a little of everything in it. After the break we were riding on levees in between huge farm fields for much of the rest of the day, which was pretty cool. We averaged around 45 mph on most of these straight roads.
We made it into Arkansas that night and got a hotel in Helena AR. It felt really good to be done with this day of riding considering much of it was done on very straight and dusty gravel dirt roads. That night we hit up T-Macs BBQ and Catfish joint for dinner. WHOA was that some good stuff. We both had deep-fried peach pies for dessert which I had never had before and they were amazing. The owners were there and we talked for a bit they were very nice people. By the time we got done eating it was dark and so on the way back to the hotel we got a chance to realize how terrible our headlights were. We both have our bikes factory headlights and bulbs and dads over forty-year-old bike had a headlight at least two times brighter than mine! This is something I would definitely keep in mind for later on down the road.
This night, like most of the rest, we decided to have our bikes sleep in our hotel room with us. We always seemed to get first floor outside accessible rooms that made it perfect for us to just walk them through the door. By the time we would push them out the next morning and load up the room was aired out of the little gas fumes there were and we were good before anyone could see us. We put plastic bags under the bikes every night in case something would have dripped from the bikes.
We headed out of town to look for the next turn point that was right by a Super 7 hotel. After turning around, checking the GPS, and just generally getting lost for about an hour we went to the Arkansas visitor station to figure out what was going on and where the Super 7 was. The lady’s at the visitor station told us that it had been torn down a month or two earlier and got us set on the right path. We were finally, after and hour and a half of figuring out where we were going, ready to hit the trail. We rode for a couple of hours until we came to Marvel AR. We were pretty hungry at this point since we hadn’t had anything to eat for breakfast and so we started searching for lunch.
We drove by a building that looked like it could have been a restaurant so we stopped next door at the farm supply store and asked about anywhere to eat. The guys at the supply shop told us “The Carousel” next door was the only place and it didn’t have a sign but it was a diner.
We rode on over and grabbed a bite to eat. This was exactly what we were looking for. A great home cooking kind of place that had a lunch special of two BBQ pork chops, potato salad, baked beans, a roll, and a piece of cake for $6.95.
The food and the people were great and we spoke with a few of the locals that were passing through about our trip. One guy said he had saw a few guys come through that were “loaded down like us” and that he helped one of them patch a tube in his tire one summer when it was boiling hot out. He also said we were lucky it was dusty and hadn’t rained lately because “it gets sleeeek (slick) out there if its wet”.
After lunch it was practically nothing but straight farm roads. We were keeping a solid 50 to 55 mph pace on these roads as no one was around and we are very used to riding this sort of stuff. We made it to Beebe and it was time for a food break again. We were not in the mood for digging around for a local spot so we headed dead ahead for the golden arches. After eating it was straight back to it. We quickly came to an out bridge that was pretty well advertised. We didn’t pay much attention to the signs considering we had already crossed one “out bridge” that was surely due to open within then next few days and we just rode on over.
Well, to say the least this out bridge was a different story than the first. We roll up to see that the bridge was in the phase of being built where the bridge was built but not the ramp or roads up to the platform. The platform was about three or four feet from the ground and so we walked around deciding what to do. I tell dad that I could GPS the next road over to get us around this bridge. He is looking at the side of the road at the drainage ditch leading down to the creek and up a bank to the other side saying, “he is deciding on what to do”. Well I knew by the way he was looking and moving rocks around in the ditch that he had already made up his mind on what we were going to try. We went to the other side moved and repositioned some large pieces or re-bar and we figured on the best path to get across. After moving some more big rocks out of the “path” in the drainage ditch and getting scared by an already dead three foot long snake dad was ready to give it a go. I stood on the low side of the opposite bank waiting for dad incase he needed a push up when he got there. The rebar was still very close to the side of the bank where we were planning on coming across making it a pretty low margin for error. He got the 175 fired up and got down in the ditch. After getting some other rocks out of the way with his foot while on the bike he made it down to the water. Dad cracked the gas and gave it a go on the bank. I knew he could use a push so I got down there and helped him on up. He made it by the re-bar and got past the large equipment and other huge rocks and we had one down and one to go.
Next turn was mine. I wasn’t feeling too confident and make a better pit crew than a rider some times so dad took mine on across. The power and tires that my XR has compared to dad’s CT made this go a bit easier. Dad made it across no problem with a little push around the re-bar and bank for help. We had made it through and it was a real adventure. We made it passed an obstacle most would have turned back for. Many things could have gone wrong but nothing did. It was a really cool experience.
Some time during the day I started getting shocked every time I would touch my brake or clutch lever. After riding with this for a few hours we pull over at an abandoned half torn down house that had a concrete slab out front and take a look. It was just after we get our helmets and jackets off that an old hag came rolling by in her car yelling at us about the house being private property. I tell her we are just taking a quick look at my bike and she continues her huge “private property” rant as she slowly rolls away. We see her stop down the road and half turn around so we decide to ride on and work on the XR somewhere without senile old women around. We see a turn off and a cemetery that also has a concrete slab to park on so we turn in. After checking all of the electrical over that we can see without taking the seat off we decide to unhook the kill switch hoping it was just shorting out somewhere and going through the bars into my levers into my hands. I knew that it would be a bit of a chore to get the seat off so I really hoped this was it as we rode on. Thankfully the kill switch was the culprit and I would just need to kill it by dropping the clutch from here on out. It was really nice being able to brake and shift without getting a shock!
We rode on to Quitman for fuel and it was getting dark. We tried to go further but with no light on the roll chart we got lost within fifteen miles and decided to head to a town to get a hotel. Out in the middle of nowhere I pulled out the GPS and saw that Clinton was about 25 minutes away. We headed that way but knowing how poor my headlight was I knew I needed to do something. I pull my Black Diamond camping headlamp strap it on my head over my helmet and found out that it was about twice as bright as my Hondas headlight. I was by no means confident but it was definitely better than without. We made it in to Clinton, got a hotel, and decided to just walk to the Wal-Mart next to our hotel to find something for dinner. My nerves were shot after riding in basically darkness at 60 mph for a half an hour and I was dying for some beer. We walk in to Wal-Mart and asked where the beer was and were told it was a dry county! I wish I had a video of my face because it was a mix of disgust and disappointment. We get a pre-made sandwich from the deli, chips, guacamole, and some drinks and call it a night.
We did our typical get lost for an hour and a half routine the next morning trying to find the trail. Knowing that we would be heading right back to the roads we were on at some point but not knowing where we were on the roll charts we decided to just head back to Quitman to find where we left off in the dark the night before. Thankfully, this day of riding was going to be worth every bit of frustration we had been dealing with finding our starting point. I knew that we were starting the Ozarks part of the trail today and it was going to get really really good.
We road through good curvy gravel roads and made it to Scotland for lunch. This was another one of those amazing spots with great deli sandwiches and a cool general store. The lady at the counter had us sign her TAT book and showed us pictures of some guys that ride all over the place on Honda Dreams that came through. This was definitely the local hub and everyone’s main supply for household needs and general items.
We road on into the Ozarks and were in heaven for dual sport riding. We stopped multiple times to take in the views and really loved the twisty hill climbs and switchbacks. I could see where riding this type of terrain could be tiresome on a big bike but ours were just in their glory. The water that we see throughout the Ozarks was almost a turquoise blue and more beautiful than any I had ever seen. If it had been warmer out we would have hoped in the water to cool down on multiple occasions, it was just gorgeous. If we stop for anything over five minutes or so bugs attacked us so we learned to start up our bikes and have the exhaust keep them away.