We had been planning to ride the Talimena Scenic Byway for months and finally found time to do it. Memorial Day weekend provided us with a three-day weekend that was perfect for the ride. Margaret reserved a room for us in advance so we wouldn't have any issues trying to find a place for the night. As Saturday approached though we began seeing an increase in the chance of rain. We became disheartened late Friday evening when the chance for rain in Mena, AR was showing 50%.
Since the reservation was already paid for we reluctantly made the decision that we would just drive instead. We stopped packing our bikes and bags and went to bed. Were early risers because of my long work commute every day so at about 5:30 am. I pulled up the weather report and now it was only showing a 30% chance of rain for the day.
Arriving At The Talimena Scenic Byway
We headed up the winding byway stopping at pullover vistas occasionally to enjoy the magnificent views. The landscape stretched before us for miles. The mountain tops faded behind mountain tops in varying colors of purple, blue, and white.
It was overcast at this point and we were in the area that fell into that 30% chance of rain. This gave the vistas a sinister appearance with some of the darker cloud formations that hovered over the mountain tops in the distance. There was also some fog sitting lower in the valleys that stood out prominently as we looked down from above. Although the weather gave a darker view instead of a nice crisp clean sunny outlook it was still awesome.
Before leaving one of the vistas we saw skateboarders rolling down the Byway. With GoPro in hand, I managed to get a quick clip of a couple of them laying on their backs on their skateboards as they flew down the road. I didn't expect to see more or I would have gotten off the bike and captured more footage from a stationary position. We headed up the road and saw more of them coming down the mountain. I managed to video them as we passed. Further up the road, they had a staging point and a U-Haul truck that they were using to pick them up. It was totally unexpected and exciting to see.
Arriving In Mena, Arkansas
Upon arrival in Mena, AR we headed to the Carriage House Inn where our reservations were held. This is a beautiful home and the innkeepers Scott and Ashley greeted us as we rode up. They were a wonderful couple and had a beautiful family which we were honored to meet. The house we stayed in was originally a barn that had been restored into a small cottage. It had a living area, dining area, kitchen, bath, and an upstairs loft bedroom that had at one time in its history been used to store hay.
They had done a remarkable restoration and made us feel completely at home. They also provided us with a bottle of Pinot Noir which we drank as we spent the evening exploring their garden and taking pictures of the flowers. I honestly believe this was one of the best nights of rest I have ever experienced on the road.
Riding The Talimena Back Home
Before leaving Mena, AR we had breakfast and spent some time taking pictures of some of the local architecture and sights. We weren't in any hurry knowing we could arrive home at any time during the evening. We headed back on the Talimena to ride it in the opposite direction this time. By now the chance of rain was almost gone and the sun was attempting to peak out through the clouds. This made for a few very beautiful pictures where we managed to capture the sun rays shooting down from the clouds with some beautiful vista backdrops. Something interesting we saw this time was turtles on the road. Turtles? Up in the mountains? They were walking across the street taking an early morning walk. I wouldn't have expected to see turtles at the top of the mountains.
About The Road On The Talimena
This time I began to take notice of the road condition. I saw the sides of the road were left to grow naturally. On most roads the state keeps the grass mowed and sprays the edge to keep anything from growing into the pavement. Not here though. They let nature grow right up and even over the road. There were often long stretches where these tall grass-like shoots would hang out into the street. Whatever pine needles fell from trees were left and often provided an interesting shoulder of color and texture. The guard rails were even painted a deep reddish-brown to blend in with the landscape.
All of this gave the road a natural aspect that allowed it to "Fit" into the landscape instead of dominating the scenery. The return ride was more enjoyable for us since we were rested and had the time to stop and enjoy the sights. We met a lot of other riders as well and it was nice to share riding stories and find out where they came from.
Something We Ate Made Me High
We stopped in Talihina, OK at the end of the Talimena ride for lunch at a local diner called the Hateful Hussy. Even though the food was good something weird happened to me about an hour down the road. I began getting blurry visioned and lethargic to the point I wasn't riding safely. Something was wrong because I began having difficulties maintaining a constant speed. I kept drifting back and forth within the lane. When we came to a stop sign Margaret mentioned she noticed I wasn't riding normally. We pulled over to get fuel and rested for a while until the effects subsided. I never got cramps, sick, or nauseated though, just a drugged feeling. It was almost like someone stuck a psychedelic mushroom on my burger to give me a "trip" for the ride home.
Storms On The Ride Home
When we got close to the Texas state line we began to notice the landscape ahead was dark with storm clouds. These weren't the pretty puffy ones we saw on our first day, this monster was a storm front and solid as far as you could see into the horizon. I decided to take a different route using FM 51 from Gainesville, TX which would take us southwest into Decatur and keep us from riding directly into the storm. This worked pretty well for most of the ride home! You could feel the moisture, smell the rain, and the winds were pushing towards us from the storm front the whole time.
We managed to get to Decatur and skirted that part of the storm the entire time. We decided to stop in Decatur for dinner where we ate at Sweetie Pies Ribeyes. It was a bit pricy but well worth it and the service was great. While we were eating a small amount of rain came through and thoroughly drenched the roads. We could look to the southwest where we were headed and see more storms ahead. We wouldn't get away from it this time. The storm caught us in Springtown, TX and we finished the last hour riding home in a torrential downpour.