The previous evening, while lubing chains on the Suzuki and Triumph in the Super 8 parking lot, my friend riding the Honda ST-1300 noticed his rear tire getting a bit thin. It looked like it would hold up in the dry but if it got wet, cornering could be hazardous. Our schedule takes us southeast today and the only city of any size is Russellville, Arkansas with a population of 28,000. As luck would have it they have a Honda dealer there and a phone call this morning arranged an appointment for tomorrow at 10:30 am to mount some new rubber. Just need to take it a bit easy until then… which is too bad as we’re to ride the Pig Trail this morning. Guess he’s last link in the chain today!
So, after our scrumptious complementary breakfast at the Super 8, we load up and head east out of Fayetteville on highway 16. It’s not long before we hit highway 23 south, otherwise known as the Pig Trail Scenic Byway. Some say the name is derived from the twisty characteristics of a pig’s tail, others say it’s in reference to the University of Arkansas’ mascot, the Razorback pig. Who knows? I can tell you that the section of highway 23 from highway 16 south through the Ozark National Forest is pretty damn sweet. The road is in outstanding condition with sharp turns and steep hills. Slower traffic is uncharacteristically courteous, doing their best to move out of our way once our headlights appear in their rearview mirrors. Not that this occurs very often; this is a lightly travelled road. It’s as if I was in a time warp as that 19 mile blasty-blast run went by way too quick. Thankfully, we rode under sunny dry conditions, so my friend’s tire wasn’t a handicap at all.
Hoping for some southern BBQ, we stopped in the town of Paris off highway 309. Using the Garmin and our smartphones, we searched for an appropriate restaurant. Nothing. Sometimes these modern gadgets just get in the way. A white pick-up with three teens approaches to compliment my buddy’s Victory when we ask where we can get some decent BBQ. “Try The Grapevine Restaurant. It’s only a few blocks away and it’s the best in town.” Cool. “Thanks.” Pulling into their parking lot, we knew right away we scored – plenty of cars there. We were seated immediately and I ordered the beef brisket. In a word – fabulous: lean, tender and smoky. The proprietor talked with us for a while and recommended we stop at Mount Magazine State Park for the view and lodge.
Continuing southeast on highyway 309 we soon arrive at Mount Magazine State Park and stop at their magnificent lodge for a beer in the restaurant. What an incredible building, set on a high plateau with stunning views!!! Noting several cabins with gazillion dollar vistas, we all got to thinking that maybe we should abandon our plan to camp at Mount Nebo State Park tonight and take up residence here instead. Checking the front desk we learn only one cabin is available on this Wednesday afternoon and that it would be over 300 bucks. Youch! Mount Nebo, here we come!
Seven miles west of Dardanelle on highway 155, Mount Nebo rises 1,350 feet above the expansive Arkansas River Valley. As the road nears the apex at Mount Nebo State Park, it slopes upwards at a steep 18° assent with numerous tight switchbacks and hairpin turns. State park literature warns anyone with an RV or trailer in excess of 24 feet to not attempt the climb. And they’re not kidding. The pavement is scarred with numerous deep grooves where undercarriages have scrubbed the asphalt like an ancient glacier.
At the visitor center two extremely helpful and friendly park officials saw to our camping needs. Since there was only one (expensive) cabin available at Mount Magazine, I had some apprehension on campsite selection here. Not to worry. These two young ladies assured us “The best campsite in the park” was available and allowed our whole group to gather on that single site. Wow! What a breath of fresh air. I have camped at numerous state parks, mostly in North Carolina, where the park officials are mere robotic automatons, unable or unwilling to bend any rule.
Camp permit in hand, we rode a mile to campsite 16 and what a terrific site it is! Facing east, it’s perched on the edge of the summit, a low stone wall providing a barrier to the steep drop-off beyond. The vista east is nothing less than spectacular with a patchwork of green meadows and the bluish gray waters of the Arkansas River and Lake Dardanelle under puffy white clouds against an azure sky. With a 20% chance for overnight showers I installed my fly and staked my tent for the first time this trip. Then some canned fish, chicken risotto with porcini / shitaki mushrooms and broccoli cheese soup for dinner. I had brought some mescal back from my winter motorcycle journey to Mexico so took this opportunity to share with my fellow Nomads. A perfect memory under a starlit sky with the orange glow of a campfire and shimmering lights of Russellville in the distant blackness.