Reunited with Paco once more, we set out on June 4, 2018 in Paco’s truck hauling our two motorcycles in his brand new trailer. We were in pursuit of my quest to ride the lower 48 states. I’ve ridden in 42 states; six are left: Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington. This road trip will tackle Oklahoma and Texas. (Summary: total motorcycle mileage=353. Truck mileage=over 2,000; we lost track.)
An Oklahoma Cowboy at the Hotchatown County Lodge
Before I jump into this latest travelogue, I need to say a few things about my moto buddy, Frank “Paco” Bartlett.
Frank “Paco” Bartlett at the Talimena Byway Entrance
To have a good friend, to paraphrase Cicero, increases your joy and lessens your sorrow. Paco is my amiable, competent traveling companion and I am truly blessed that he is my friend. He is the guy who can expertly back up a 14 ft. trailer without a hiccup. He knows how to tie down motorcycles for transport. He can drive hour upon hour without food, seemingly beyond human endurance, and get us safely to our destination.
Truck, trailer and bikes at the Hotchatown County Lodge–6/6/18
My admiration and affection for Paco is limitless. Without him, this trip would never have happened. Thank you, Paco.
It was Paco’s wise recommendation that we divide the motorcycling in OK and TX into two rides: a south to north and a north to south one, which was the second ride route that took us to the Talimena Byway. (See map. Green route is Ride #1; Orange route is Ride #2).
Map of our two rides: Ride #1 [Green] into Texas and back and Ride #2, [Orange] the Talimena Scenic Byway (Click on map for larger image)
I had envisioned doing one long ride that would include riding the Byway then dipping down into Texas and returning back north. This would have been a disaster. I had badly miscalculated the time and distance involved. Breaking it into two rides was perfect. Big hand to Paco for suggesting this!
So, we chose a spot near Broken Bow, OK–the Hotchatown County Lodge as our base. (Broken Bow and a good part of McCurtain County are within the boundaries of the Choctow Nation. We saw many native people during our time in the area.)
Front entrance of the lodge
Back of the lodge
On day 1 we rode into Texas, up through Arkansas and back into Oklahoma.
As for Texas, well, there was only the bragging rights of having ridden through a part of the state. Aside from cattle and produce farms there were mostly lonely stretches of highway and a few towns on Ride #1. (See map). We noticed that the rural pastime in both Texas and Oklahoma is shooting up road signs. That and applying graffiti to Jersey barriers set up along dangerous curves in the road. Well, I guess you gotta do something to keep amused out in empty parts of the west.
The Red River (image source: internet)
Crossing the Red River was the highlight of the Texas ride. We did that twice (the Red River forms the borders for Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas). It’s lovely, gently curving river with, as its name implies, red clay banks.
We began day 2 by riding the Talimena Scenic Byway in eastern OK. http://www.talimenascenicdrive.com/
Paco’s Triumph at a Byway Overlook
I won’t sugar-coat this trip. It wasn’t as scenic as anticipated. Yes, it had its moments but the real fun was hanging out with Paco and surviving a hellish thunderstorm with the required lightning bolts and swirling winds on our way back from Ride #2. That plus a good time at Kess’ Korner where we stopped for lunch that day. (Scroll down to the very end of this blog entry for details about the Kess’ Korner experience.)
And, to be fair, we also very much liked riding through Beaver’s Bend State Park.
Within the park is the vast and beautiful Broken Bow Lake.
Broken Bow Lake
Another plus during the two rides was enjoying two satisfying lunches at local places, Burke’s in Broken Bow and Kess’ Korner in Mena, AR. (See photos below)
Burke’s Menu: Note the grilled PP&J sandwich
Welcome to Kess’ Corner, Mena Arkansas: we never expected to find good food and conversation at a gas station but happily for us, we did….
We had ridden some 60 hot, punishing miles from Talihina, Oklahoma into Arkansas without seeing a gas station (or anything else) and we badly needed to fill up our tanks and rehydrate our bodies. We were getting desperate and hardly noticed the green heights of Rich Mountain to our left as we plodded along. Arriving at the outskirts of Mena, Kess’ Korner came into sight. Yay! Civilization! We headed for the pumps first.
Kess’ Korner is more than a gas station. It’s convenience/general store, lunch spot, meeting place, and mini-community center. The only thing Kess’ Korner doesn’t have is alcohol. We were in Polk County and it’s a “dry” jurisdiction. Located at the intersection of Routes 8 and 59/71 it’s the only place around unless you ride into Mena.
After taking care of the gas situation, we went inside to pay. There we met the owner, the friendly and genial Brian “Kess” Kesterson. I inquired about possible places for lunch and Kess graciously mentioned a couple of place in Mena, then added, “We serve lunch here.” Sure enough. There was an on-premises kitchen and along one wall were several tables and chairs. I’m pretty certain I heard the chairs tell us to sit down and have lunch. “Why go elsewhere when you’re tired, hungry, parched and food and drink are at hand,” they said. But maybe it was the dehydration talking.
Paco’s chicken wrap and my BLT were thoroughly satisfying and we gave the soda machine a work out.
Between customers, Kess sat down with us curious to know where we had come from and what we were doing in this flat, dusty (and “dry”) corner of the U.S. We got a good laugh when Kess explained that Polk County is the wettest dry county in the State. Thirsty locals in need of adult beverages need only travel about 15 south, then a short distance west and presto, they’re in Oklahoma. Indeed, we took the same route to get back to Hotchatown and right across the border is a neon bedazzled jewel of a liquor store beckoning all those sad Arkansans to find their “beach.”
After paying for our food and drinks, we returned to our bikes and mounted up. We were about to leave the parking lot when Kess ran out to warn us of the impending thunderstorm (the one that caught us about a half hour from our lodge). He had identified the storm on the radar on his cell phone. Terrific guy, that Kess! Thanks for everything.