Oct 25
Lonely Roads” width=

Lonely little roads, far from civilization, can be beautiful. But they can
also be hazardous to the unwary rider.

My group of riding friends has always been small and intimate. It’s gotten even smaller recently as one of the two couples we routinely ride with sold their motorcycle. Health issues have caused the other couple to ride less, and rarely for great distances. Thus, my wife and I find ourselves most often alone on the bike.
We find we enjoy being on our own sometimes. There are no group decisions to make.We leave when we want, go where we want, stop for a rest when we feel like it and head for home at our own discretion. But this new-found freedom comes with a price. We’re on our own. In the event of trouble, there are no longer any friendly faces roaring along beside us.
We also prefer the smaller back roads to the more well-traveled highways and Interstates. Hopefully we can have help on the way, in case of a mechanical breakdown, with a simple cell phone call. But other forms of trouble are out there for which a cell phone my not be adequate. Taking those roads less traveled can lead you into some places that don’t often see, nor readily welcomes outsiders.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been awakened from complacently admiring beautiful scenery by angry dogs charging from somebody’s yard. I’ve also noticed suspicious glares at the two-wheeled apparition invading what is probably considered a private road.
Most of the little road-side quick stops and gas stations are friendly and welcome new customers. But not all of them are so accommodating. Even when the business owner is glad to see us, often the other clientele are not so friendly.
I don’t go out looking for trouble nor intentionally select a location where I’m not welcome. It doesn’t happen on most rides. But it only takes one time when things go really bad to change your life. I eventually came to the conclusion, if we were going to continue to ride, we would need some sort of backup. That is why I got a concealed handgun license.
This was not a decision I jumped to, nor made lightly. It is certainly not a macho or ego thing. I took this step only after much consideration. My surgery in September of last year may have also played a part in my decision. Though I am mostly recovered a year later, I still am not quite back to 100 percent of where I was before. Weak and alone is the perfect recipe for becoming a victim.
This decision comes with great responsibilities and potential burdens. Now that I’m armed, I must immediately attempt to de-escalate or escape confrontations. Letting my ego direct the course of events is no longer feasible as there is now deadly potential in the outcome. Instead of having to shoot somebody, I will apologize even though I know I’m right, or run away if I can. And if some ignorant redneck thinks I’m a coward, who cares? It doesn’t say much for my self-respect if I’m worried about his opinion. If you can’t take an insult, or your pride demands a response to any challenge, then leave the firearm at home. I’m not a police officer. It is not my intention to go into a situation, gun blazing, dispensing justice and righting wrongs. This is a resource of last resort, to avoid death or serious injury to me or my wife.
In the unfortunate event I am ever forced to use my weapon, it will not be without consequences. The use will have been justified. I won’t pull it out otherwise. But if the only witness are the perps’ friends, I may not come off so well. Even without hostile witnesses, once law enforcement arrives, I will undoubtably be cuffed and hauled off to jail until they can sort the situation out.
Once the authorities clear me, there is the strong possibility of litigation by the perps’ friends and family. I may well wind up spending ten of thousands of dollars in legal fees, even though my actions were perfectly justified.
But at the end of the day, an old cliché says it perfectly. “I’d rather be judged by 12 of my peers than carried by six of my friends. And I’d much rather my wife have to watch me put in a cell, than me to watch her put in a grave.
My plan is to never need this option. But just like helmets and seat belts, you can’t wait until you need them to get them. Having a gun you don’t need is far better than needing a gun you don’t have.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 2
A real dog
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Binky in the bag.” width=

Our Yorkie puppy, Binky, in his riding bag.

We got a Yorkie puppy in September, a few days before the doctor’s appointment that would cause such a disruption in my life. Mrs Sharon made it clear from the start that he would accompany us on the motorcycle. We found a bag that was just the right size for both him and Sharon to be comfortable. She can hold him in front of her in the bag secured by a strap to her shoulder. The last ride we took in September was up to Dekalb, Texas, for the annual chili cookoff. That was Binky’s first trip on the bike, and he did rather well. Sharon zipped the top shut, but left it open enough for him to stick his head out. He spent the first half hour of the trip, watching the world go by and enjoying the wind in his furry little face. But after that, he pulled his head in, lay down in the bottom of the bag and slept the trip away. He arrived at the chili contest well rested and ready for samples. We didn’t let him have anything spicy, but there were some stews and roasts, so he got a few treats. Just a few days after that, we had to leave him with friends for a week. There hasn’t been much bike riding after that.
But last Saturday, I had new brakes on the Valkyrie and the weather was inviting. Sharon snagged Binky, but soon discovered that he had outgrown the bag from last September. Fortunately, she has a good supply from which to select a suitable replacement.
We waited until after noon to give the day a chance to warm up a little. We loaded up and headed out about 1 with no real destination in mind. I took the Genoa road exit from Loop 245, only to find it blocked by a passing train. Then I noticed a small road ruining parallel to the tracks and took it. This small road eventually ran into 237. I headed south for about 25 miles, then cut back west through Bloomburg to Queen City. At Queen City we hit 59 north back to Texarkana. We ran about 50 miles. This was my first ride of any distance since September and I was surprised at how ready I was to get home after such a short hop. I guess I’ve got to regain a little stamina.
Binky did pretty well. He got a little wiggly a few times, but always settled down. He’ll do just about anything as long as he’s with us. I couldn’t ask for a better little dog, and I’m looking forward to me, him, and Mrs. Sharon putting a lot of miles on the bike. It gives a whole new meaning to “the dog days of summer.”

- Guy Wheatley

May 11

Having only one hand doesn’t slow down Jimmy Brown. Here he is on his
1978 Yamaha XS-650 which he rode into Texarkana from Hope.

I was looking out my second-story office window a few days ago and noticed a motorcycle parked in front of the building. I was trying to identify the make when the rider comes back and starts loading up. I immediately ran for the stairs hoping to get to the front door before he left. I just had to talk to this guy.
I exited the front door and got a better look at the prosthetic hook protruding from the rider’s right sleeve. It was this that had sparked my curiosity. I identified myself as a blog writer and asked if he minded if I asked a few questions and blogged about him.
Mr. Brown has owned five motorcycles over the years, ranging from those with 50cc motors to 750. His current ride is a 1978 Yamaha XS-650. He showed me how he’s moved the throttle to the left side and demonstrated using it in conjunction with the clutch. He primarily brakes with the foot- actuated rear brake, but showed me the little screw he’s added to the end of the front brake lever on the right handle bar. It stops the hook from sliding off so that he can use the front brake as well if he chooses to do so.
I ask if he has a motorcycle endorsement, and he pulls his license out to show me that he does.
“Were there any problems getting your license?” I ask.
“I got my license in 1973,” he explains. “I lost my hand in 1976.”
He told me he started riding again in 1978, and that he never had any problems or fear about getting back on his bikes.
“I just got on and started riding,” he said. “I never was afraid I couldn’t do it.”
Currently Mr. Brown doesn’t have a car, so the 650 Yamaha is his primary means of transportation. He doesn’t belong to a motorcycle club, or routinely ride with a large group of people. He is not, then, your typical baby boom biker. He’s just a man who has always liked and ridden motorcycles. An original free spirit, seemingly unaware that he has a “disability.”
Mr Brown had no intention of impressing me when he hopped his bike and rode to town. But he did.

- Guy Wheatley

May 11
Talimena Run
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Title: Talimena Run
Location: Meet at Whisky River Harley Davidson
Description: Sunday May 15 is the last day of standard registration.
The Talimena Run is 3 days of motorcycles, msic, food nad fellowship May 26 through 28 to benifit the Hooks Children’s Ministry of Hooks Texas.
The run begins Thursday May 26 with a meet and greet ar Whisky River Harley Davidson with a group ride to Fisherman’s Wharf in Hot Springs, Ark., to follow Friday. The Talimena Run Mountain Ride is Saturday, May 28 to Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Mena, Ark. Lunch and dinner will be provided both Friday and Saturday. Points Run tickets will be available for chances to win prizes both days as well.
Standard registration for the run is $40 per person. Cost for registration after Sunday is $50.
For information or to register, call Neil Jones at (903) 547-6720
Start Date: 2011-05-26
End Date: 2011-05-28

Jan 31

The Court House on the square in Magnolia, Ark.

My wife and I took a quick ride Saturday to Magnolia, Ark. The temperature was in the upper 60s by noon and the sun was shining. We hadn’t been on the bike together in months and despite the list of chores needing to be done, we hopped the bike and hit the road. I was amazed that less than seven days earlier, we still had snow on the ground and that in less than 5 days, we would again be under threat of winter weather with bitter temperatures. On this mild day with the sun shining from an azure sky, it was hard to believe we were actually in the depth of winter, or at least what East Texas produces as winter.
We had no destination in mind. The intent was to simply burn some gas and get some wind and sun in our faces. We just headed east on U.S. Highway 82 and, after a little more than an hour, found ourselves pulling into Magnolia. We parked on the square and started sightseeing.
As we wandered into an antique shop, I soon had reason to be thankful we’d come on the motorcycle. Had we been in the pickup, I’m sure we’d have hauled several large pieces back with us. As it was, we had to moderate our shopping to accommodate the remaining capacity of the trunk and saddlebags. We already had extra clothing with us in case the weather turned cold, so we could only buy as much as we could stow in the remaining space. We secured our treasures, then decided it was time to start back home. We weren’t sure exactly when the weather might turn on us and wanted to be home before the sun went down.
We put about 120 miles on the road that day with three hours of saddle time. Out of shape and practice, this short ride left us stiff and tired but happy. The day had the magical feel of an Indian summer. It was wonderfully renewing, after hiding inside from the winter weather, to be free on the road with the wind in our hair. There was a timelessness to the day, possibly because it was so incongruously crammed between two winter storms. And perusing relics of times past in an antique store on such a day simply added to the ethereal and ageless feel. The souvenirs with which we returned are from another time as well as another place.
The motorcycle on this day was far more than a simple mechanical conveyance. It became a magical machine that took us on a timeless journey to a place that exists more in the heart than on the map.

- Guy Wheatley

Nov 26
Hwy 71 south od De Queen

Hwy 71, just south of De Queen Arkansas on a 2008 fall ride.

As summer came to a close this year, I again swore that I’d make the Talimena run as the leaves changed. As I’ve done so many years in the past, I missed it. We made one run in early October, but that was before the colorful display. Now I sit here, looking at nearly bare trees and wonder how it has happened yet again.
The optimal weekends would have been sometime during the first three weekends of November. The first weekend of November was dedicated to some nonoptional house repair. The balcony was threatening to fall off the front of the house, so I spent that weekend replacing a support column. It rained buckets the second weekend, and we had a class reunion scheduled for the third weekend. And just like that, the color run of 2010 was gone.
So the bikes sit in my carport with only an occasional ride to the store or to work. And that’s the best I can hope for the rest of the year. The holidays mean weekends are all spoken for with visits to or from the kids. Even if we do actually get a weekend at home by ourselves, we will need it for packing, wrapping and mailing gifts. Once we get past the holidays and into the new year, we’ll be able to leather up and ride on weekends it’s not raining or icy.
It’s strange how my life allows me to ride in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, but insists I miss the prettiest time of year. Fall has always been the time I most enjoy being outdoors. When I fantasize about the perfect ride, it’s always down a peaceful winding road, littered with fall leaves.
Well, by golly, I’ll make it for sure next year!

Oct 6

A 1-and-a-half minute video from the Talihina Scenic drive.
Watch for the squirrel 48 seconds into the video.
He survived.

I rode the Talimena Scenic drive recently. This is a 53-mile mountainous road between Talihina, Okla., and Mena, Ark. This is one of those roads made for motorcycles. This road was the reason we were camping at Queen Wilhelmena State Park. I ran the 13-mile stretch from the lodge atop Rich Mountain back into Mena six times while we were there. I only made the longer 40-mile run from the lodge to Talihina twice. Once going east to west, then going west to east. Our original plan was to leave our campsite at the park, then make the run before heading home to Texarkana through Oklahoma from Talihina. But sitting in Talihina, we decided we had to make the run at least one more time. That meant going home, back through Mena.
I was experimenting with a video camera mounted to my bike. I was unfamiliar with it and only managed to get a short segment of the run leaving the lodge heading toward Mena. I missed the best part of the road because the camera timed out before we got to the twisties.
This was my fourth run of this stretch of road and I was riding fairly aggressively. I wanted to get some good video. One thing I did manage to capture on camera was a narrow miss with a squirrel. I was going into a long curve and saw the little guy come hopping across the road from the left side. I decided to try to take the line as far to the right as I could to give him as much time as possible to stop. I was fairly sure that if I tried to go behind him, he’d turn at the last minute and I’d hit him. In the video, you can see me drifting toward the right side of the road as the furry little kamikaze keeps coming.
At the last second he makes an impossible move and darts back the way he came. I then gently eased my line back toward the center of the road. Or at least that’s what I remember.
Watching the video, I’m surprised to see a substantial swerve right after missing Rocky. At first I thought it was a delayed attempt to avoid rodenticide. But the jag back toward the center lane clearly comes after passing the squirrel. It feels like I might have tried to give the varmint every extra inch by standing the bike up trying to get the wheel a few centimeters further to the right. The visible jag is clearly me trying to get back into a proper cornering line.
The thing is, I have absolutely no memory of doing that. Ultimately it made no difference, but if I had gone down there, I would have sworn that I was holding an even line. But in fact, I wobbled my way through the rest of the curve. It’s not a big deal really, but I find it disconcerting that my memory of the event could be so different from the facts recorded by my camera. It makes me question the validity of any memories during a stressful moment. It also goes a way toward explaining how in the aftermath of an accident, you can have two people both adamant that the other party is at fault.
I think the squirrel and I both learned a lesson. Hopefully he learned to watch out for motorcycles, and I learned that memory can be squirrely.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 2
Campsite at Queen Wilhelmena State Park

Getting food ready for dinner as the campfire burns merrily at
Queen Wilhelmena State Park.

I took a week of vacation last week. Typical of my recent vacations, most of this one was spent working on the house. Buying a “fixer upper” seemed like such a good idea when I was a young lad in my 40s. Now in my mid 50s I’m starting to question the concept. But all work and no play makes for a dull vacation, so we did take two days off for a quick run up to Queen Wilhelmena State Park. It turns out to be a fantastic trip.
We take the backroads going by Millwood lake up to Hot Springs. Then we follow Highway 270 west, through the Ouachita National forrest over to Mena. We get to the camp ground right at 5:00 pm. By the time we registered and get the tent set up, it is almost 6:00. The plan is to run back to Mena and pick up sandwich supplies. I want to be back before dark, so we don’t have much time to look for firewood before hitting the road. Supplies in hand, we head back up skyline drive for the third time that day.
The sun is just dropping behind the mountain as we begin the 13 mile climb back to the campsite. The road is dark, lighted only by my headlight, but the sky is afire with the setting sun. The sky, at a little more than 2,000 feet, is clear and free of light pollution. I’d already noticed how blue it was during the day. Now, as the sun sets, it’s showing me colors I haven’t seen in years. Fiery orange silhouetting the mountain tops slowly changes to a deep velvet blue then dark violet. Brilliant stars speckle the sky overhead. Leaves haven’t started to change yet, but the air is still crisp with the promise of fall.
Riding this twisting mountainous road at night through bear country is foolish, but the beauty of it completely enraptures me. I think about stopping and taking a picture, but I know that a photo can never capture the moment. This environment has to be felt, more than seen. Some experiences are worth the risk, and this may be one of them.
Back at the campground, we start a fire and settle down to make and eat our sandwiches. Tomorrow we will run the Telimena Scenic Drive. Our plan was to then make our way home from Talihena Oklahoma. But plans change. I’ll blog a couple of more times about this trip and cover the scenic run in future posts.
The wind was brisk atop Rich mountain. I bungie the tent to the concrete wheel chock at the back of the parking pad to keep it from blowing away. Gusts of wind deform the tent throughout the night, but we sleep remarkably well. A long day of riding can do that for you.
Up the next morning, I’m surprised to find that I’m not as stiff as I expect to be. A quick run back into Mena for breakfast means two more runs of the 13 mile segment of skyline drive between the lodge and town. What a great way to start a day.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 16
Stopped at Burge's

Getting some coffee thawing out at Burge’s

The weather was indeterminate and I still remembered last weekend’s abbreviated ride. But we had been planning to hit the Daffodil Festival in Camden for some time, so we loaded up and hit the road anyway. Besides I was still craving a fried pie from Burge’s, so we were going to come back through Magnolia and Lewisville and take care of that piece of business.
Leaden clouds covered the sky, with the occasional patch of blue peeking through. The meteorologist promised there’d be no rain, and she was right. Temperatures were in the mid- to upper 40s as we pulled out, so we were in full leathers.
By the time we got to Hope, a mere 35 miles up the road, we had to find someplace to thaw out. We got some hot coffee, got rid of some we’d drunk that morning, thawed out a little and got back on the road. Heading east on Arkansas Highway 278 for the 50-mile run into Camden, we saw a little more of the sun. I could feel it warming up my black leather jacket and chaps, but it never stayed with us long enough to completely knock the chill.
We made it to Camden and discovered that many employee groups from Lockheed Martin were set up in tents and giving away free food. I never fully understood why, but that didn’t stop me from chowing down. Man! Those folks can cook! Stuffed like a tic, I figured Burge’s was going to miss out on my patronage this trip too.
We missed the Civil War re-enactments earlier that morning, but spent several hours checking out the food, vendors, and the bike show. I kept thinking that as the day wore on, the sun might come out more and it might warm up. It didn’t warm up much.
By 3 we were ready to head back. We gassed up in Camden, so I didn’t plan to stop until we got home. By the time we hit U.S. Highway 82 East out of Magnolia, I was starting to shiver. As we pulled into Lewisville, I started to think about how good a cup of coffee would be, so I flipped on the blinker, hooked a right into Lewisville, and headed for Burge’s. As full as I was, I found just enough room for a fried pie.
I’ve ridden in colder weather, but this time I hadn’t put on quite enough gear. Thank goodness for the pie and coffee.

Click here to see photo gallery

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 11
It was a long winter
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Stopped at Burge's

A frequent stop on our rides in southwest Arkansas is Burge’s

We took a short ride last weekend. It was shorter than we intended for it to be. This was the first really nice weekend this year and we were determined to get out on the road. I mapped out about a 170-mile circuitous route that I figured would take about 4-1/2 hours at the snail’s pace I intended to go. We’d head up to Ashdown, over to Hope, then south to Lewisville. We’d stop there for ice cream and fried pies at Burge’s then keep heading south until we ran into Louisiana Highway 2. A quick jaunt west on LA-2 would bring us back into Arkansas where we’d pick Highway 71 north for the final run back into Texarkana. That was the plan.
One advantage of running a circle around town is that if I need to get back home, I’m never more than about an hour away. We’ve got new people at work and I wanted to be close enough to get back if something came up that they didn’t have the experience to handle. Work wasn’t what cut the ride short, though.
About 58 miles into our ride the fact that we hadn’t been on the bike much since last fall began to assert itself. Muscles in my neck and shoulder started locking up and tried to pull my head to the middle of my back. My beautiful passenger wasn’t fairing much better. We were riding my ’94 Honda Magna. Despite my attempt to drive like an adult, Maggie has a tendency to be a little sporty pulling away from a stop. I could hear the missus grunt a little louder each time I rolled on the throttle. By the time we rolled into Hope, the ride had stopped being fun and was simply an endurance contest.
The other couple riding with us assured us they were also tired and ready to head for home. It’s possible, but I really think they were just trying to make us feel better. Whatever the reason, they followed us back to Texarkana.
I was surprised by how out of shape I was. The wife and I were both sore and stiff the next day. I’ve been riding the bike for most of what passes for winter here in East Texas. But looking back now I realize that these were short hops. From home to work is barely nine blocks. A run to the store or Bike Night is only a few miles. These little rides weren’t long enough to maintain my endurance. Hmmmm. That may help explain the extra 15 pounds I’m carrying around since last summer.
The weather is getting warmer and I’m hoping for some sunny weekends. By June I’ll be ready for 500 miles, weigh 15 pounds less and have some color on my cheeks.

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