HANGING OUT IN ARKANSAS

For a long time now - since '82, in fact - I have belonged to an informal national organization called the IBMC, for International Brotherhood of Motorcycle Campers. The original idea was mainly to have a network of members across the country who could help one another in emergencies, maybe provide a place to spend the night; but there is also a tradition of getting together for casual campouts, with a national (or rather, at least theoretically, international) campout each year. In June of 2008 it was to be held in Mountain View, Arkansas, only a couple hundred miles or so from where I live; so naturally I loaded up the bike and headed east. It would be Maggie May's first time out of state since I got her.

It was a fine day for a ride, and the scenery was splendid in early-summer green. Road quality, on the two-lane blacktops of Oklahoma and Arkansas, was less inspiring, with a lot of construction and repair going on and plenty of other stretches badly in need of it; and as a former Arkansas citizen I was disgusted to find that the 55mph speed limit was still in effect most of the way. I thought we'd gotten rid of that shit back in the previous century.

(The Fayetteville-Springdale area was a great horror to get through, but that's just something you have to deal with if you're heading across northwest Arkansas from Oklahoma; where there used to be a series of pleasant, attractive towns, a butt-ugly urban sprawl now stretches all the way north to the Missouri line, and you've got to get across it no matter which road you take. This is one reason I so seldom go back to Arkansas, even though I was born and raised there.)

The gathering was at a private campground on Sylamore Creek, north of Mountain View. Most of the sites were taken by the time I got there (not just with bike riders, we were sharing the grounds with other travelers - including a mob of pubescent girls from some sort of church group, whose chattering and giggling played hell with sleep) - but I got a spot and set up housekeeping.

You see all sorts of bikes at these events; the IBMC is by no means a single-make-oriented outfit. On one side of my campsite was parked a Russian-made Ural with sidecar -

- and on the other a beautiful old Triumph Bonneville 750.

Most of the riders did favor big heavy touring bikes, but there were those with other tastes as well.

As you might have figured out from the backgrounds, "camping" has a considerable range of interpretations, with some favoring big, elaborate setups; in fact there are quite a few who pull small trailers behind their bikes, though personally I can't see it. (If I wanted more than two wheels I'd drive a car.)

Some of us, however, still go the minimal or Spartan route, figuring the more stuff you take along the more you have to fool with.

Next day some went for rides in the surrounding country, or into town for supplies.

But it was hot, and most preferred to sit in the shade and take it easy.


(Photo by Gordon Roberts)

It was a curious experience for me; I'd had to quit drinking the year before, after my liver reached critical mass, but I'd had quite a (well-earned) reputation as a boozer at these events. There were people present who'd known me for years who'd never before seen me sober.

Sylamore Creek, below the campground, made a nice place to cool off.

I left a day early; the final day, when everybody else was leaving, was Friday the 13th, and supposed to rain as well. As it was, the wind was gusty and strong going back across northwest Arkansas, but I made it home all right - if somewhat dazed at the gas prices, which were considerably higher than in Oklahoma.

Maggie May performed flawlessly the whole trip. It was the first time I'd had a chance to do any extended riding with her on wiggly mountain roads, and I took it pretty cautious at first, but she proved fully capable as I got used to her handling.

But I learned something: I'm not from Arkansas any more. For all I've said about Oklahoma - and for all some of its residents have said about me - it's my home now; and I guess it will be for however many years I've got left.

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