2021 Tour of Honor – Arkansas Ride

Looks to be a few days of great weather, nothing planned during the week, why not take a ride? Instead of waiting and letting Arkansas get in my head, I decided to tackle it early this year. Only having one Tour of Honor site, which I visited with Jeff on April 1, this would make Arkansas my kick-off for the year. I spent a few days to develop a route and decided to try to follow the route as closely as possible.

Day 1 – April 11

The first day’s plan was to get to Little Rock. I had set the GPS that I would check into the hotel, then visit the sites in Little Rock. First, I would visit a couple of sites in Memphis.

The GPS wanted me to head up to Savannah, then across US64. I thought about taking the southern route to Memphis via US72. The southern route would take me through Iuka and Walnut, where I could visit those sites (Iuka being a Tour of Honor site for MS, Walnut having a Huey which I have visited each year). Since I had wanted to follow the GPS, I opted to head to Savannah.

Early Sunday morning, I am ahead of the church traffic, but I know that I will be hitting Memphis as churches will be letting out. There is a Huey (actually a Cobra) in Crump, just past Savannah. It is on my left and I will have to cross the road. I knew it was there, but hadn’t put it in the GPS routing. I keep thinking about stopping, but didn’t slow down.

A quick side note…

My bride and I had met up with another rider (Dave) the other day. He is from North Carolina and was Rider #1 a few years ago. We talked with him over lunch in Iuka, actually, we spent more time listening. Very enlightening and gave me a different perspective. Though the goal of most Tour of Honor riders is to visit as many sites as possible, many like to see how many bonus sites they can visit too. I have liked to keep track of total sites I visit (Tour of Honor sites and the bonus sites). This year, Dave is focusing on the Tour of Honor sites and the 9-11 Memorial. Though he may miss many other bonus sites, unless they are within a couple of blocks of his route, he will bypass them. The reason that Dave is adding 9-11 memorials to his goals this year is because his was killed in action in Afghanistan. This caused me to rethink my reason for the Tour of Honor.

And back to the story…

I bypass the Huey/Cobra in Crump and continue on my route. I follow the route until I get closer to Memphis. The route is set to avoid interstates, but that will put me through busy streets with stop lights and churches letting out. I opt to hop on the interstate. This stretch of the interstate is one that I haven’t ridden in many year, over 30 years if my memory serves me right. I get within a few blocks of the memorial in Memphis.

The memorial is at the corner of two busy streets, even on a Sunday. I park in the parking lot across the street. The picture of the bike with the memorial in the background does not do the memorial justice, so I walk across the street for a closer picture.

The memorial is honoring those who fought in the Spanish-American War. I think that it was my great-great-grandfather who had fought in this particular war. I looked at the statue and wondered if he that was how he looked. My grandfather fought in WWII, his father (my great-grandfather) had fought in WWI. I knew my grandfather, and have seen pictures of my great-grandfather, but no pictures of my great-great-grandfather.

I lived in Memphis for ten years, and had traveled through this intersection many times. I don’t remember this memorial when I lived here. Doing a little research as I was writing this, the statue was erected in 1956 and dedicated in 1961. Over the years, the park had gotten overgrown. A few years ago, effort was made to clean up and repair any damages, taking it to its current glory.

A few blocks away is the Charging Doughboy in Overton Park by the art college. The GPS wants me to make a U-turn in the middle of this intersection. Since this is close enough to the house for a day ride, I skip this site today and head on the Little Rock.

The route was planned to avoid interstate, but there are few crossings of the Mississippi River that are not an interstate. I hop on I-40 into West Memphis. Once I get past West Memphis, I decide to get off the interstate, riding along US70 which parallels the interstate until I get to Little Rock. “Best laid plans of mice and men…”, I only ride US70 a few miles. The farmers are out in full force getting their fields ready for planting. I get back on the interstate and head into Little Rock.

The ride on the interstate took over an hour off my estimated arrival plan into Little Rock. I skip the hotel check-in stop and go straight to the State Capitol for two memorials. One of the Tour of Honor sites and a Gold Star Family memorial are across the drive from each other. I was able to find a parking spot between the two sites.

I set the rally flag on one side of the bike and get a great picture of the bike with the memorial, even though the sun is behind the memorial and affecting the picture. I get pictures on the phone to submit and on my camera for posting on the web.

I move the flag to the other side of the bike and get a picture of the bike with the Gold Star Memorial in the background. The memorial isn’t clear in the picture, and I like to see this one up close anyway, so I walk up the hill to the memorial for more pictures. I visited this site in 2019, the day it was dedicated. That was also the day that I broke my foot in Fort Smith.

I look over the route and the timing, I decide that I should just head on to the next town, Hot Springs. I skip the next stop which is a few minutes away. Then it shows that the next stop is even closer. I had skipped the Doughboy memorial which I have not visited in any of the previous years, “Das Boots.” I try to add it back, but no luck. I skip the next stop which is the hotel in Little Rock. The GPS now shows that the next stop is about an hour away. It is only 2:30, so I may try to get past Hot Springs.

There is a stretch of four lane roads in the mountains of Arkansas. Higher speeds, twisties, and not a lot of traffic. No traffic in Little Rock either. Where is everyone?

I pull into Hot Springs and ride though the outskirts of town, eventually making the turn to downtown. I found everyone as I got a block from the memorial in Hot Springs. Streets were packed with cars, trucks, RVs, motorcycle, bicycles, and people. So much traffic, I can’t focus on trying to find a place to park. The memorial is on the corner of the intersection, with a dedicated right turn lane. No place to park there. I make the right turn and check the street parking for a place to try to get a picture. I follow traffic and make a right on the way to one of the visitor centers. No parking on this street, though it is about a half mile from the memorial. A sign states that no vehicles over 30ft if taking the right turn ahead. I know that means tight turns. Once I pass that road, there is a small place for people to turn around, that right turn is a one way loop which comes out where I am not sitting.

I turn around and check the hotel situation in town. There are older, historic hotels in the two or three block area of downtown. I find a hotel about 3 miles away, and it has a steak place sharing the hotel’s parking lot. Reservation made! I will try this memorial in the morning before people are out and about.

I get to the hotel, call home, settle in for a few minutes, then head over for a steak. I check the restaurant’s estimated wait times and see that I am between the Sunday lunch crowd and supper crowd. I walk in and get a seat right away. I have four people tending to me, the manager, assistant manager, kitchen supervisor, and the waitress. My steak looks so good that the couple in the table near me decide to order the same thing. They had been sitting there enjoying various drinks. Steak was good, very good. I thought about dessert, but know I would hurt if I did.

I get back to the hotel and notice they have a basket of rags specifically labeled for motorcyclists to use to wipe down their bikes. A real nice touch. I take one, wet it, then clean my windshield and helmet visor, before returning the rag to the bin for the used rags.

I work on editing tomorrow’s route. Since I got an hour farther than I had originally planned. This change may help me get father tomorrow too, making the last day home even quicker. I set the plan to get to Mountain Home for tomorrow night.

Day 2

I get up and out early. I skipped breakfast, though I did enjoy my own coffee this morning, using my new coffee press.

I stop to fill up the tank before leaving town. I pull into a gas station and stop at the pump. There are four pumps, no one else around, yet someone pulls right up behind me at my pump. I go in to pre-pay, pump my gas, then get my change and receipt. After making my notations about the stop and resetting the trip odometer, I get ready to roll. The car is still waiting behind me, and not very patiently.

I get up to the memorial and notice a bicycle lane along the curb. Though cars that make the right turn tend to ease into that lane, I stop close to the curb with my flashers on. I get a few quick pictures. The best picture with the memorial and the bike can barely see the bike. That is the picture I submit. This particular memorial is dedicated to a Park Ranger who killed in the line of duty, he had been killed by bootleggers.

I leave town and head toward my next stop, Ola, Arkansas. My opinion of Arkansas has been tainted the last two years. Two years ago I broke my foot. Last year seemed like I spent more time waiting for construction flagmen than time riding. This year, though I did pass through a few construction zones, I enjoyed the twisty two lane roads. No traffic and beautiful vistas.

The hour and a half from Hot Springs to Ola was too short. Ola is a small town, with one four-way stop. This intersection has the Tour of Honor Memorial in one corner, which has a vacant lot behind the memorial. I pull in and take my time getting the pictures. This memorial is dedicated to an officer who had been killed in the line of duty.

Today’s route is set to avoid interstates. The closest I come to an interstate is when I pass under the interstate east of Fort Smith. The mountain roads are much nicer that the roads through the farmlands.

Getting close to lunch, I was getting hungry. I start looking for a place to eat. I see a place that was probably great based on the number of trucks in the parking lot, but I wasn’t able to slow down to make the turn quick enough. A little while later, I enter the town of Elkins. The name struck me since there was an Elkins, VA that I passed through many times when living in Virginia. I see a Mexican place, but it looks closed. I then see a little strip of shops, one being a BBQ place. With no one behind me, I make the quick stop and turn left into the parking lot. The name is unique, a good sign that it will be good. The sign over the entrance is on at an angle, yet another indication of good food. I enter and look over the menu, which in written on a board above the counter (a third sign of good food). I ask the owner what he would prefer, he suggests the brisket sandwich. I see his drink cooler is full of cokes (sodas and pops to people in other parts of the country), I get my drink from the bike.

I notice the decor and comment that he must be a baseball fan. He says he is. I say that a true BoSox fan, eh? He clutches his chest as if having a heart attack and laughs. (The decor is of New York Yankees.) We chat while I stocks and takes other orders. What had planned to be a quick 30 minute stop has turned into almost an hour. A very pleasant hour! He coaches youth baseball, closes early on Tuesday and Thursday for practice. We talk about him starting the business, how he and his wife prayed about whether to do it or not. So few people would talk about praying for their business in public, much less to a total stranger. I tell him about the Tour of Honor, giving him a card with the website and a poker chip. Rarely do I share my Spotwalla site, but I gave him that link too so he and his son can keep track of me and my travels. Fantastic lunch and visit at G’s Meaty Buns!

As I pull onto the road and see the Fayetteville city limits sign before I shift through all the gears. I follow the GPS directions toward the Police Station. The route selected by the GPS has me turning a sharp left, at a busy intersection, with me on a blind hill. Gee, thanks. I catch an opening in the traffic and make the turn, getting to the memorial a few minutes later.

As I start to park in a parking spot, a car pulls in behind me, waiting for me to leave or move over for them to park. After the honk the horn, I decided to move since they must have important business or this is a restricted parking. I move to the side of the road closer to the memorial. The guy in the back seat gets out and talks with me for a bit. The driver and front seat passenger head into the police station. I explain to the guy what I am doing and about the Tour of Honor. He tells me that his father had been killed in the line of duty when he was younger. He walks over to the memorial for a minute. I wait until he finishes his time there before taking my pictures. He is wiping his eyes as he goes back to the car. I get my pictures and leave a poker chip. Odd thing about the guy was that he was wearing a BLM T-shirt. I chose not to discuss the irony of the situation.

The sites the rest of the day are nowhere near interstates. I have no option except to enjoy the back roads. Again, the riding to day is making me rethink my impressions of the past two years in Arkansas.

No more Tour of Honor memorials for today, but I do have a Huey planned along the route. A mix of two lane and four lane roads. I am enjoying these roads, and staying at or below the speed limit.

The GPS has me turning left on a side street, but I see the Huey in the parking lot in front of me. I pull into the full parking lot of the VFW, sharing a parking spot with a Goldwing Trike. As I am getting ready for my pictures, the VFW Commander walks up to me and asks if I am a VFW member. I explain that I am not, so he offers to sign me in as a visitor. I explain why I am there and ask about the full parking lot. Seems that today is BINGO day, with a $1000 pot. He tells me about the Huey and its history. He had served in Vietnam in the same area where this particular Huey had been shot down. The pilots had been killed before they could get out of the cockpit by enemy soldiers. This particular Huey had been shot down several times, being repaired after each incident.

As I get ready to leave, he warns me that the next town, Lakeview, is a speed trap. There is a speed limit sign of 45mph in clear view, shortly afterwards, there is a speed limit sign partially hidden that states 35mph. The police strictly enforce the 35mph. He says that it is 35mph, not 36mph! Fair warning.

I follow the advice of my new friend at the VFW. Sure enough, if you aren’t paying attention, you will miss seeing the 35mph speed limit sign. A block away, the police officer isn’t even trying to hide. I kept my speed below the 35mph.

I get into Mountain Home, making a hotel reservation once I pull into the parking lot. I relax a few minutes, then head to check in. When checking in, I ask about a place nearby with good food. They recommend the bar and grill next door. It was good!

After supper, I plan the route with a couple of options for tomorrow.

Day 3

I am not sure, but I must have been in one of the higher elevations in Arkansas. We had a storm come through last night, but I was back in the room and asleep before it hit. The breakfast area had a college golf team getting breakfast before they hit the road to head back home. I enjoy a cup of my coffee again this morning.

I have a couple of options for today, two sites are for Dougboys that are south of the main route, but they will take me near Blytheville which has a diner that may be an option for lunch.

I make my way to Salem for the North Arkansas Linemen Memorial. I thought about a friend who works for one of the Electrical Coops in Virginia. I should send him a copy of these pictures.

I gas up before leaving Salem. Much like yesterday morning, someone pulls up right behind me as I stop at the gas pump. Is this an Arkansas thing? I was able to pre-pay at the pump, but the pump was not printing a receipt, so I had to go inside. I come out and the lady is tapping her steering wheel and revving the engine for me to hurry up. I move the bike before making all my notes of the stop. I forgot to reset the trip odometer, not realizing it until about 30 miles down the road.

I noticed the trip odometer had not been reset when I see a warning on my display. The warning was that my front tire was low on air. I pull over to the side of the road and check the tire. As I am doing this, a pickup pulls over to check on me. We talk for a bit as I check my front tire. Air is less than 1lb low, not enough to set off the warning. The display isn’t showing any reading for the front tire, so the sensor is having a problem. One of the guys in the truck warn to expect some serious rain in a bit. I notice that the skies are dark behind me. I tell him that I am headed to Tennessee and he lets me know I should be fine, just keep moving to stay ahead of the storm. At this stop, my headset quit working, it wouldn’t sync with the bike. This means no phone calls in or out.

That warning must have been a signal. The winds started to pick up and the skies kept getting darker. I saw staying ahead of the storm, but just barely. In my mirrors, I could see the wall of dark blue/green behind me. I had thought that the winds in Georgia were strong, the winds today were even stronger. If I let off the gas, the bike would stop and start rolling backwards. At full throttle I was only able to get up to about 50mph. There was nothing around me to slow the winds, flat farm land as far as I could see in every direction.

As I rode through Imboden, I passed the diner where I had breakfast last year. Reminiscing, I missed my turn to go to Pocahontas and the Doughboy there. With the storm behind me and heading my way, I decide that is a memorial I will try to visit later this year.

As I got into Rector, the buildings were able to help ease the winds. This was another memorial to fallen police officers. There was a car parking in the parking spot next to the memorial, so I had to get creative to take the required pictures. I managed to get a couple and was ready to tackle the winds some more.

I decided to skip the Doughboy memorial in Manila and lunch stop that was recommended to me. I headed toward Missouri and the Mississippi River. As I approached the Missouri state line, I pulled to the side of the road to get a picture of the state sign.

I pull into Kennett, MO, the home of Sheryl Crowe. I pull over for a potty break and check the headset to see if I can get it working again. Nope, no luck. I try calling home, but only leave a message.

I am still fighting the winds as I neared the Mississippi River. I see the bridge and notice how high it goes. This will be challenging as there will be nothing to help block the winds. Oddly, as my front tire touched the bridge, the winds stopped. I crossed the river without any wind buffeting, even from the semi trucks on the bridge.

I pull into Dyersburg and gas up. I decide to pass on the Doughboy in Jackson. I am close to US45. The way the roads crisscross, merge, and split, the next turn will actually be as I turn onto Cox Creek near the house.

Even with the winds today, I still enjoyed the ride in Arkansas. The scenery was awesome. I visited six of the seven Tour of Honor sites in Arkansas, a Gold Star Family Memorial, and a Huey.