Keeping to my word, I got up promptly at 6AM without complaint and managed to start moving with a purpose. As expected, there wasn't anything at the complimentary "breakfast" that I could eat but luckily for me Audrey had made me some of my emergency "muffin rations" which served me well enough. (These are muffins made out of nuts, honey, raisins and berries. They are very good albeit a bit messy to eat.)
Yun and Danny were already there when I arrived. Danny likes to talk and his stories are fascinating. "Our conversation yesterday really got me thinking." he said. "We special forces guys are so goal oriented. For me everything has to be a goal and you have to achieve it." He went on to talk about SERE training and about the guys that would quit. "So many guys will try their best not to quit because they don't want to spend the rest of their lives looking in a mirror /knowing/ they are a failure." He talked about the downside of this as one of the guys that was there while he was died from an infection because he didn't want to mention anything for fear they'd force him to quit. "Everything for me is a goal. I have to achieve them. I can't let it go. Even if I were to say that today I won't have any goals, that in turn becomes my goal and at the end of the day I'd check it off telling myself I had achieved it."
"So it becomes an issue of identity." I stated. "Achieving these goals you've set for yourself becomes something that defines you." He replied, "You are defined by what you achieve." He talked about how if he were to let go of this drive to achieve what he set out to do everything would fall apart. Even during this conversation you could see the internal conflict and stress that this kind of thinking was imposing on him.
"... to look in the mirror and know you are a failure ... " stuck with me for the rest of the day. What happens if you are a failure? What does it mean to be a failure, to set a goal and not be able to, no matter how hard you try, achieve it? A failure in the eyes of whom?
My old man drilled it into my head that I was a failure ever since I was little, so growing up failure was a foregone conclusion. Even success feels like failure.
"You know, interestingly, I grew up really sick and I had to learn that I couldn't have goals the way other people have them. So when I went up to Deadhorse I knew I would probably fail and it was that understanding that I could fail, that I could turn around at any moment, that took away the stress of having to achieve something and freed me to just ride the road according to it's rules and not mine." I explained. What I thought but didn't say was, "... because I am already a failure." Then I ponder all this code I've been writing and how I haven't met a single self imposed deadline and the quality of this stuff is far too poor. "Sometimes not having hard goals that you fight for works against you." I thought as I considered goal oriented thinking. In code it's probably necessary but riding a motorcycle it is likely something that works against you.
We talked about riding through the twisties in the Ozarks and how he had no fear and that was dangerous. "Well, you are talking to a man who is defined by his fear so this should work out." We would find out later that in a moment's misjudgement on my part this would turn out not to be the case.
I walked outside and saw a sight I rarely see, sunrise.
I was feeling better than I had been but was still a little off. It was as if I was fumbling. I wasn't keeping my lines as tight as I usually do and misjudging distances. I was just slightly off. We rode on but soon found ourselves confronted with what looked like it was going to be a significant rain storm.
I could see spray from oncoming traffic so I knew there was a lot of water. There was a bridge. I saw an offramp and thought for a second about taking it but waited too long so I settled in under the bridge, traffic wizzing by. Danny rode up and said, "I had hoped you'd take the offramp. It would have been better up there." He said he had needed a bathroom but could wait for the next stop. Yun and I put on rain gear and we rode on. It started raining fairly hard for about 15 or 20 minutes. We were both glad to have had the suits on but as is the case out here, the rain doesn't last and the sun comes out and then you cook. This process repreated itself as we clicked off 300 miles on I40.
We stopped for lunch looking for a local place, because Danny liked local places but it turned out to be closed so we settled on a Buffalo Wild Wings that happened to be nearby. It was an unpleasant lunch in a room that was unnecessarily loud.
We had walked into the place coming out of a just ending rainstorm. When we walked back out we were confronted with serious heat, the kind that I had feared we would have to deal with daily. It then dawned on me how fortunate we've been so far. At no time has it been oppressively hot. At times it has even been pleasantly cool. The dense cloud cover no doubt has been quite a help in this regard. I'm a bit concerned about the heat we'll encounter going forward. I do not do well in the heat at all.
We quickly clicked off the next 50 miles and took a turn onto Route 7 North which, conveniently, ran straight into the Ozark National Forest. It was a long sweeping road not unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway but not quite on the same level. We eventually came up upon a rest area with an overlook. It was just about 75 miles from our last stop so we decided to take a break there. We drank some water, took a restroom break. Danny went to put his jacket on to which we said we wanted to take a moment He was perfectly pleasant about this but you could tell something was bothering him.
The view was beautiful.
We rode up this way because of a BMW MOA member recommendation for a road the locals apparently call "The Arkansas Dragon" which is Route 123 where it meets near 7. After a few more photo ops, we headed up to check this road out.
Instead of being like the Dragon, Yun accurately observed that it was much more like the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a fast road with slow but sweeping corners. It wasn't all the technical. We were going at a fun but not terribly fast pace. I could see Danny edging up close to Yun which I thought was unusual since he had been riding quite far back. This road is fun and I would gladly ride it again, but it's not anything worth a long trip for. The end, however, becomes spectacular from a scenery point of view. It turns into this wickely twisty very very slow section filled with 15 and 10mph corners with sheer cliff on the right and steep drop-offs to the left. I wanted to stop and take a photo but turn after turn I missed my chance. We came around one bend after having been going at a pretty good clip. The road had been completely empty. I pulled up a small distance, stopped real quick to pull my camera and take a shot of this road. I kept my eye on the rear view as I was pulling the camera out when I got unsettled as Danny passed by and said, "I'm not stopping there." and he was gone. Yun mentioned he was uncomfortable. I snapped the photo quickly and looked back and realized I had stopped on the far side of a blind 10mph right hander with what was likely too little distance.
Off we went. It would be quite some time before we saw a car. The universe has a twisted sense of humor as that sole vehicle we did eventually see was am ambulance.
The road became increasingly technical.
Danny was no where to be seen. "Did he crash?" Yun asked over the intercom. "He must've been going at a pretty good clip but I haven't seen any indications of a slide out so I doubt he's run off the road." I replied. He must've been going at a really good clip through there. I began to feel that we had been going way too slowly for his taste.
The road cluminates in this series of downhill dropping 10mph switchbacks that Yun didn't seem to enjoy. The road became less twisty as we came upon an intersection. I had expected Danny to wait for us but he was no where to be seen. I mentioned how surprised I was at this when I noticed that he was in a pull off a couple hundred yards up. Somehow I figured he would wait.
I rolled up and he looked up from his GPS and said, "It's been nice riding with you but I can't ride with you any more. I'm going to head back now. You showed really bad judgement on two occasions and I just can't ride with people like that. The first was under the bridge when you could have pulled off the off-ramp and the second was on that corner." He talked for a few moments about training, riding your own ride and then with a "maybe I'll send you an email sometime" he was gone.
I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks and, of course, had to spend the next few hours replaying those moments in my mind. I completely didn't understand the bridge comment, as we had stopped under several a few at his prompting. Bridges on the side of the interstate are risky but are also a part of motorcycling. You go for cover when you need to sit out from the rain. But for the corner I was certainly guilty as charged. I hate it when I'm coming around some corner and there's some fool stopped in the road taking photos. I was guilty of not being cognizant of the distance between the corner and where I stopped. Caught up in the moment seeing a cool shot, I lost situational awareness. Not from a point of view of trying to make an excuse for myself, but asked myself how bad a lapse was it? In the absolute sense, yes, very bad. In this context, however, there were no driveways and we had not passed any cars or seen any cars at any time on that road. Any car coming up behind us on this tight corners on that small road would be going quite slowly, certainly much slower than we had been going. I would have seen any approaching cars as we had come around a long left hander where I could see back quite a ways. The 10 to 20 second window of taking a quick shot was not by any stretch of the imagination the type of damning judgement lapse that it would be had the situation been different.
But it was still a bad call on my part and one I have been beating myself up about. "Maybe you shouldn't ride with me. I'm clearly dangerous and can't be trusted." I considered telling everyone I ride with. I guess in some ways I'm doing that now.
We err. I erred.
But it seemed to me that this is the kind of error you talk about, deal with and move on. But this was not to be. Yun suggested that maybe our somewhat goalless style had finally gotten to him and he needed to leave for his own sanity. Maybe we were going too slowly. Maybe it was a reminder of the horrible crash he had had. Maybe it was something else. Unfortunately, it seems we will never know. It's too bad. He was an interesting guy and I would have liked get to know him better.
This coupled with other conversations of the day conspired to send my mood tumbling back into the darkness.
Subdued I carried on. Yun and I made our way slowly towards Eureka. On the way we saw an impressive storm cloud.
We eventually made it to Eureka Springs which a number of people recommended as a place to go. We drove into town and it started to look like just another tourist trap with a series of motels. Not realizing that we weren't in the part of town we were supposed to be in we meandered and considered leaving until we saw a sign for a "scenic overlook". It was a crazy little wickedly twisty badly maintained road that weaved it's ways down the valley wall. At the bottom was Eureka Springs proper. A town of precariously built stone buildings. in many ways it reminded me of some of the small mountain towns in Germany.
We ate at this truly great restaurant called Local Taste Cafe (I think). I had a great salad and the coffee was very good.
We planned out routes for the quite a while. The trouble we are faced with is that we have too many places to go and too few days in which to do it. We are on day 3 and are only in Arkansas. Next comes the Big Flat(tm). I had hoped we'd be able to take side roads across and see some of the little towns along the way just to do something different, but Yun is quite correct that if we are going to make the coast in time we need to push it.
We found a ridiculously nice Best Western of all things on the edge of town.
Oh well. It's now midnight. Tomorrow we are shooting for 700 miles and I've promised to get up at 06:00.
It'll give me some time to think.
(Interactive map here)
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