AR & OK Labor Day 2009
I purchased an older, plated KTM 400 EXC and rode my first couple of races and a few D/S rides. Between the two bikes I have since ridden about 1/3 of Tennessee and most of Mississippi, but I really need, NEED, to get out West. By September 2009 I had let most of the Summer slip away with only about half the weekends spent on self indulgent rides with the other half spent alone in my garage with my family abandoned. I really needed a multi-day trip by myself to close it out. I picked the week before Labor day for the ride in order to maximize the continuous days off, but I came across a thread in "TRIP PLANNING" http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=475095
of a guy from Nashville riding a 450 exc and starting in Arkansas.
I did a full service with valve adjustments, air and oil filter and even put in Engine Ice coolant. I also replaced the sprockets and chain. I had just done the wheel bearings from a catastrophic failure in June while on a Florida ride (this is important).
I built a cover for the exhaust from an aluminum medical instrument tray and painted it orange with spray paint. I had to drill a couple of holes in order to mount the kolpin Fuel pack to the subframe.
The top bag is a backpack that I got from work a few years back. It contains my tent and sleeping bag and some clothes and tools. The little saddle bags are the Stearns "ATV tank Bags" that they sell at Walmart. One has tools and lubes, the other has food stuffs. I really didn't like how they looked and felt on the tank so I moved them to the back but I honestly never rode with them on the tank. The blue bag is my tent poles and one long tire iron. The seat has one of the Walmart atv seat pads that is still uncomfortable, but doubles my day.
I tested the load by doing some wheelies in the yard and riding to my Mother's house for a pool party.
Day 1 September, 1 2009:
Tom is driving in from Nashville and we are planning to meet at the Helena, MS Casino parking lot at 10:00am. I want to ride the last 35 or so mile of the Mississippi section of the TAT to meet him there, but I have to ride about 100 miles to get to the start. Just after my alarm goes off, he calls to say they are running late so I should wait an hour and a half so I went back to bed. When I did leave, I discovered that my backpack was interfering with the top bag in a most annoying way. I had tested the combination earlier in the Summer and it worked out, but having them both overpacked was causing me to lean forward too much on the most boring part of the ride where I should have been the most comfortable.
On the way to meet Tom and Jeff, I finished off the last bit of the MS TAT that I had never done before including the old bridge out and riding the levees which I was really looking forward to.
I got to the Casino where Tom and his friend Jeff had been waiting an hour and a half for me to get there.
I am borrowing this picture from Jeff to illustrate how well-apportioned Tom's 450 is.
He had 13 or 14 bags on the fenders, handlebars, tank, and seat. He had two video cameras, two GPSs and two horns. He had cold gear, hot gear and rain gear, tools and spares. To be fair, he was riding the whole TAT, then down to California, then up to Alaska... This picture (also credited to Jeff) illustrates the differences in our loads.
The butterfly would be our constant companion for the next 900 miles.
We could have eaten the buffet at the casino, but I wanted to spend some money in Helena, AR as it is a perpetually depressed place and home of the world's largest free blues festival. http://www.bluesandheritagefest.com/
We chose BurgerWorld because he had a scooter out back and because it was the first place we passed. We got there at straight up noon, on a weekday, ate at the on-sight picnic tables and were the only customers there the whole time.
Tom asked our server if he got a lot of bikes like ours there and he told him "no but I seen them at the casino".
Jeff started back East to Nashville and we headed toward California. I adjusted my chain at the lunch stop because it was a bit snug. I took off my jacket and found I had nowhere at all to put it. I thought it would go into the backpack or top bag, but they were both overstuffed. I rolled it into a ball and strapped it to the rest of the luggage with the bunjee cord that was holding my flipflops. We hadn't even left Helena before we hit gravel and my coat fell off. Somehow re-routing the bunjee caused it to get into the tire and it broke causing my jacket to come loose. I tied the jacket back down and we got out of the big cities and into the farms that make up most of the Eastern AR section.
Because of the farm roads in one mile squares There are more straight up dirt roads in Arkansas than in TN and MS where Gravel is King. The dirt was very fine silt in some places that required us to ride side by side and we left 60'tall dust plumes behind us. Running water from the rice fields made muddy spots in the middle of nowhere. One road was probably not really a public road since it needed mowing badly and had huge holes in it. There were people working the field but I didn't look up to see if they were watching us.
At some point it occurred to me that the bungee that broke was also tying down my cherrished flip flops with fish skeletons on them.
About 100 miles into Arkansas, we stopped to gaze at the traffic on I 40. Tom looked my bike over and somehow noticed that the brake side wheel bearing was off kilter.
I was pretty screwed. The bike was running fine, but we knew it wouldn't last forever. Since it was the middle of the day still, I decided to turn back toward home on the trail. I calculated that I could ride back to Helena, then take 61 south while my wife could get off work at five, pick up the child and we could meet near Tunica, MS. That plan worked out, she rescued me, again, we ate dinner in town and retired back to our home. Tom called while I was eating and said he was camping at a trailer park about another 100 miles into Arkansas. I told him I would catch him before he got to Oklahoma.
I'm surprised I have never seen this in another ride report, but there is this big Tractor sitting way the hell out in a bean field right on the TAT. It doesn't look like anything was removed from it. If it was crashed, why didn't anyone take the engine? If the engine went bad, why didn't anyone take the body parts, axles or transmission?
I ran over this snake while Tom and I were riding and assumed it would move on. I passed it coming back and I'm afraid it couldn't take a knobby to the elbow. I think some birds had been after it too.
The best news of the ride back is that after 3 hours, my flip flops were sitting in the middle of the road right where they fell off. I don't even think they had been hit by a car the whole time.
My wife came to the rescue again driving 60 or so miles to pick me up in Tunica, MS. The bearing probably would have held for the rest of the trip or at least long enough for me to get to her in retrospect but the previous bearing failure had been so devastating I was gun shy.