Archives: 31st July 2001

Tuesday 31st July 2001, Chicago IL

We had a late start, perhaps understandably as it had been past midnight by the time we got back to the house with Ree. By the time we were all showered, shaven, clothed and coffeed, ready to face the day, it was a little late to contemplate a full day of sightseeing. Instead, with 13-year old Alex as our guide, we set off into downtown Chicago to find Mark at the Water Tower – where, we were assured, we would be able to park the car for free!

Fred supplied foolproof directions, however the car’s navigational computer (a.k.a. Brigid) became confused between left and right, and we ended up heading south on Lake Shore Drive, rather than north. As we pulled up outside the Water Tower, Mark was just moving his bike. Following some sort of ‘incident’, all reserved parking had just been suspended. No matter. In no time we found a space in a nearby public car park.

The Water Tower is next to one Chicago’s tallest buildings, the Hancock Building. It is not as tall as Sears Tower, but there is a very fine view from the top, overlooking (amongst other things) 24 rooftop swimming pools! It also has a Cheesecake Factory at street level. John’s stomach told him it was well past his lunchtime.

In need of some light exercise, we decided to visit the observatory. It has to be said, there are no flies on Alex. As we arrived at the ticket booth, John turned to him and asked, “How old are you, again?”. Alex surveyed the entrance fees and answered, “I’ll be 12”!

We got back to the car at about 5pm. With the usual fanfare of pings and beeps (American cars warn you about everything: open doors, unfastened seat belts, hand brakes, indicators …), John turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. (Well, nothing except the air-conditioning fan, and more beeps and pings.) It was hot, so Brigid pressed the button to wind down the passenger window. With a visible effort, the window moved about an inch, then gave up. The battery was dead.

Alex, correctly deducing that us Brits didn’t have a clue what to do next, took control of the situation, using the ‘Bat Phone’ (his sister’s mobile, lent to us “in case of trouble …”) to call Dad. Apparently this sort of thing happens all the time in American car parks, so they are all equipped with a mobile charging unit. We were soon on the road again.

oe and his wife, Mary, came over to dinner, as did Mark and Gina. Gina brought with her a couple of albums of photos taken on the Mother Road Rally and a Toys For Tots rally that she and Mark had been involved in organising.

Mark had appointed Fred and Joe as marshals for the day, which (from the photos) seemed to involve nothing more than a blatant excuse for cruising around Chicago on the wrong side of the road, grinning wildly!!

Ree was beginning to worry about Dad and his new friends

Monday 30th July 2001, Chicago IL

When we got up, the humidity was such that when we opened the door of our motel room, condensation quickly appeared on the mirror. Breathing was uncomfortable, almost to the point where one felt one might drown! A thunderstorm was clearly on the cards.

Sure enough, soon after we hit I-44, black clouds appeared on the horizon. We stopped to wrap the luggage in our ponchos, and change into our wet-weather gear.

Luckily with over 400 miles to ride to Chicago, we managed to outrun the worst of the storm, and the sun soon dried us off. We arrived with the Beyers in Orland Park shortly after 6pm (later than anticipated, due to some roadworks on I-80).

Fred and Diane quickly made us feel at home. Within minutes we were showered, changed, and fed, and plans were being made for the rest of the week. Mark and Gina Atilano arrived to loan us a car, and Joe Miroballi came in to say hello. (Anyone reading this who knows these guys will appreciate the noise-level in the Beyer kitchen at this point!).

John’s daughter, Ree (Anna-Marie), was due to land at 11pm, so Fred went to check that the flight was on time. We gave him the flight number, AA99, and he rang the airport …

A deathly hush descended over the Beyer kitchen (and not because Mark, Gina, and Joe, had gone home …) AA99 had apparently landed at 9am! Panic began to set in. How could we have possibly made this mistake? We knew that Ree had almost certainly not read the e-mail telling her that we were staying with Fred’s family (new boyfriend … need I say more?), so she would have no way of contacting us. Why didn’t she alert us when she received the ticket? She must have noticed that the flight arrived at a different time to the one we told her … she would have had to take an extra day off work … or, perhaps, she just missed the flight…

John went to find the original notes that Brigid had made when she booked the flight. PHEW! Ree was arriving on AA91, which was on time, and due to land at 11pm. Having allowed a few minutes for our heart rates to return to normal, we set out for O’Hare airport.

After a few minutes, Ree appeared. Despite a delay with Immigration (Ree had no idea which ‘hotel’ she would be staying in, so was detained, until – in tears of desperation – she invented one. Luckily the officer was feeling sympathetic.), she had cleared Customs rather too quickly … and found no-one to meet her at the gate. By this time, understandably, Ree was becoming worried. She went outside the terminal building to look for us, and Fred, seeing an ‘obviously British’ lost soul wandering around with a small rucksack, spotted her.

If she was surprised when a large, strange, American shouted “Ree!”, she never said so. Fred gave her a 30-second history of the Mother Road Rally, and she gratefully handed over her baggage, then came back into the building to find us.

Sunday 29th July 2001, Rolla MO

Today we aimed to make it to St. Louis. Our Moto Guzzi riding friend at North Dallas BMW had pointed out a ‘scenic’ route that would take us up through Arkansas to Springfield via Rt. 7.

The day did not look promising. A thick fog obscured the view from the Lodge, and the air was still uncomfortably warm and humid. We were low on gas, and became increasingly concerned when no gas station appeared in the 60-odd mile stretch of Rt. 270 between Mena and Mount Ida. By the time we finally did come across one, we must have been on fumes!

The route from Mount Ida to Harrison (where we joined Rt. 65 to Springfield), lived up to its billing. Though as we travelled north, ominously dark clouds started to gather. With the first few splashes of rain, we speeded up, anxious to be undercover by the time the inevitable thunderstorm hit.

Eventually the rain caught up with us, and we pulled over in the car park of a small country restaurant. It was closed, but the car park afforded us a spectacular view of a violent thunderstorm moving through the valley below us. We were still relatively dry by the time we reached Jasper. But this time our luck had run out. We stopped in a small café advertising dairy ice cream, while the rain deluged outside. When the sun at last reappeared, we were dismayed to discover that it would take us another hour to reach Harrison and Rt. 65. Part of the attraction of the Rt. 7, is that it winds around the hills, and the bends are sharp enough to make overtaking virtually impossible.

By the time we reached Springfield (in the grips of another thunderstorm), it had become clear that we would not make St. Louis this evening. Instead, once the rain had cleared we made a dash for Rolla (site of the extraordinary ‘Stonehenge’ replica), and spent the night at a Motel 8 on the outskirts of the city.

Saturday 28th July 2001, Mena AZ

We arrived at the dealership half an hour later than intended, but no-one seemed to mind. Merrin took the Trophy for a ride, checked the brakes, then rolled it into the workshop to change the battery and oil.

There was a small snag with the bike’s ‘Title’. Corbin, it appeared, was going through a divorce … and his ex-wife had the vital document! However, it emerged that Corbin’s nephew in Oregon had long coveted this bike, and would be only too pleased to buy it off us at the end of our trip. Thus we agreed that Corbin would make out a handwritten Bill of Sale for now, and send a duplicate Title to his nephew. In this way, the bike need never actually be registered to John, so saving the complication of having a new Title sent to a Texas address in his name. (Quite what they would do in the case of any more speeding tickets, remains to be seen!)

The deal done and dusted, we rode back to the hotel (Brigid on the new Triumph, and John on the BMW!) to pack up. Finally, (John having wrested back the keys of the Triumph from Brigid) we were on the road.

We made it to the Talamina Trail before dusk. As the sun went down, we enjoyed 50 or so miles of undulating, twisty, mountain road, meeting no more than two other cars between Talahina and the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge.

With no advance booking, we were lucky indeed to find a room at the Lodge. Nominally it was a smoking room, though either their cleaners are exceptionally efficient, or the Lodge attracts few smokers, as the room was as clean and fragrant as any non-smoking room we have used. The dining room closed at 9pm, but we were just in time to order dinner. Afterwards we strolled outside in the humid night air. To the south, the lights of Mena were visible below us. But we were more interested in a thunderstorm to the north, where distant flashes of lightening lit the sky like the aurora borealis.

Thursday 26th July 2001, Plano TX

Better news today. We spotted a ’95 Triumph Trophy in a Suzuki dealership off Rt. 75. The price looked about right, so we mentioned it to Junior at North Dallas BMW. “Don’t touch it”, he said “it’s the older shape. People aren’t buying those now. They are asking way too much.

“But let me make a phone call. I have a guy looking to buy a new Moto Guzzi. He has a ’97 Trophy which he will sell. Impeccably maintained, D&D ‘Texas pride’ pipes, Triumph luggage … trouble is, we can’t offer him the money he needs to buy the new bike.”

The phone call was made, and we agreed to meet Robert Corbin with his bike the following morning.

By this stage, the dealership staff were beginning to feel quite sorry for us. Very kindly, they mentioned that there was an ‘open evening’ at a local motorcycle accessory store, “ … free food, drinks, prize draws. We will be there. Come along. Have some fun”.

That evening we both jumped on Brigid’s little BMW and set off to find Moto Liberty on the other side of Dallas. By the time we arrived, the party was in full swing. The forecourt was full of sports bikes of varying age, capacity and condition. Kids showed off their wheelie skills to the watching gallery of friends and peers. Merrin was there with his young daughter, and a couple of the other guys had brought their children to watch the high-jinx. The impromptu displays ended rather abruptly when one of the less competent riders wheelied into a hedge. We winced as we heard that all too familiar sound of cracking plastic … Mercifully, the worst the rider suffered was a badly dented pride!

We all finished the evening with a trip to Speed Zone, where we spent a couple of hours go-karting and racing motorcycles on the video simulators.

The trip back to the hotel was scary. As the weather was still sweltering, we had gone out wearing only t-shirts and jeans. The party proved to be further away than we had thought, but it was still light and warm, so (even two up on the F650) the mileage didn’t really worry us. I-635 is the Dallas equivalent of the M25 … but with exit ramps to the left and right of each carriageway. Hairy enough in daylight, but a real bottle-tester on a dark windy night, with 16-wheeler trucks overtaking us on both sides!

Once safely back in our room, we cracked open a couple of ice-cold beers and vowed “NEVER AGAIN”!

Wednesday 25th July 2001, Plano TX

The insurance assessor did call today. We now just had to wait to see whether Arbella would ‘total’ (write-off) the bike (… and, if they did, how much would they give us). Depressingly, ‘Junior’ advised us that the book price for the Tiger was likely to be in the region of $6500!

In the absence of any news from the insurers, there seemed nothing better to do than go window-shopping for another bike for John.

Tuesday 24th July 2001, Plano TX

Having had a poor night’s sleep, we were anxious to be up early to see Merrin at the BMW dealership. (We would have given anything to be able to see his expression, when he was alerted by George on Sunday that we were back!)

The engineers had already stripped down the engine, revealing an even larger hole which had been concealed by a breather tube. The second hole was about 2” square – large enough for us to peer inside the casing using a small mirror. With a little dexterity, the broken connecting rod was clearly visible.

There was good news and bad. The good news was that Merrin confirmed that the damage was accident-related – there would be no need for a protracted argument with Triumph over the warranty. The bad news was that the engine was (predictably) unrepairable. There was no new unit in the country, and the parts (if available) would have cost $6,700.

The insurance assessor was quick off the mark … too quick really. He arrived at 8am to look over the bike. Unfortunately, the dealers didn’t open until 10am. That was the last anyone saw of him today.

Sunday 22nd July 2001, Plano TX

We were in high spirits when we set off on the 24 mile ride back to Talahina. It was sunny and warm, and the bikes were purring along nicely. We were looking forward to taking some fine photographs in the mountains, and planned to stop for a snack at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge just short of Mena.

All of a sudden John waved his hand violently to indicate a problem. At the same instant, Brigid (about 100 feet behind) felt something warm, wet, and vaguely unpleasant, splattering her bare hands. A gushing fountain of oil had erupted under John’s seat, saturating his trouser leg, and covering Brigid, her bike, and the road, for several hundred feet until he came to a standstill on the shoulder.

Even to an untrained eye, the cause was plain to see. A small jagged hole had appeared in the engine casing of the Tiger. This was clearly not going to be a quick (or cheap) repair.

It was 10am on a Sunday morning, and we were still 6 miles from Talahina and the nearest phone. Leaving John with his crippled bike at the side of the road, Brigid headed into town to find help.

Burrell Kennedy, the operator of the local tow truck, was in church, but two helpful girls in the gas station managed to track down his colleague, Dale Daney. By midday John and his bike had made an ignominious arrival in Talahina, once again loaded aboard a tow truck.

After some hasty negotiation with Kennedy, it was agreed that for a fee of $400 Dale would drive us both back to Dallas. He secured Brigid’s bike behind the Triumph, and the three of us squeezed into the cab. Dale is a half-blood Choctaw, until recently a member of the local Indian council, and a baseball coach, and we were glad of his company on our return journey. While we might have wished to meet under different circumstances, he proved to be a mine of information. The 200 miles slipped by quickly, and we arrived in Dallas enlightened about many aspects of Indian life. Without wishing to upset Dale’s weekend any further than we already had, we were quite sorry to say goodbye as he dropped us off at the Super 8 motel in Plano.

Saturday 21st July 2001, Clayton OK

At 10am sharp, we phoned Merrin at North Dallas BMW to find out whether we should check out of our Garland motel. He said we should be on the road by mid-afternoon, so we made plans to deliver the hired Jeep back to Enterprise, and left the Days Inn at 1pm. Our plan had been to head for Texarkana on I-30, and thence to Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee.

Both bikes were ready as promised when we arrived at the dealers. While we waited for the final bill to be prepared, we got talking to the owner of a white Moto Guzzi on the forecourt. “Why would anyone want to go to Texarkana?”, he exclaimed, “If you want to get out of the heat, head north to Oklahoma”. He suggested riding the ‘Talamena Trail’, 64 miles of twisty mountain road linking Talahina, Oklahoma, and Mena, Arkansas. 64 miles of cool, tree-lined, road, meandering through the Queen Wilhelmina State Park, overlooking some of the most stunning scenery that this region has to offer.

We needed no further encouragement. Pleased to be back in the saddle after a week’s delay, we headed north up highway 75 to Oklahoma.

The Moto Guzzi owner’s advice was sound. Talahina was about 4 hours ride from Dallas, and dark was just beginning to draw in as we arrived. Unfortunately, such is the popularity of this particular drive, that the few hotels in the area are booked solid every weekend. We were lucky to find a room at the Country Inn in Clayton. The kitchen staff had cleared away dinner, so we put together a picnic from the local grocery store and sat outside our room, drinking beer and listening to the deafening sound of a million crickets chirping in the warm and humid night air.