This is a series of columns called the Muleshoe Chronicles. Muleshoe is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran who likes to ride. He lives in Benton. Read more of his columns at mysaline.com/muleshoe.
Muleshoe here again. Riding a motorcycle brings so many good things into one’s life. One of the most important are the people you meet along the way. Folks you ride with regularly, riders you meet at the many stops on your journeys and people who live in the places you go. They all become a part of what makes you, you. I cherish the many individuals who are ingrained in my memories and who continue to add to the fabric of my soul. We recently honored one of our own with a memorial ride.
Loyd Stover’s road name was Uncle Van. He was a member of one of the chapters of the motorcycle riders association to which I belong. He passed away this past January from cancer. He fought a brave battle but, in the end, he was called home to be with the Lord. I rode with Uncle Van only once, but it was a memorable ride indeed. A friend and I met up with Uncle Van and his nephew, whose road name is “Crazy,” in the little hamlet of Casa, Arkansas. Our destination was Salina, Kansas to attend that state’s rally. The Kansas rally was hosted by the same association as ours here in Arkansas.
Our newly formed group started off fairly normal. Down Highway 10 to Highway 7, up to Interstate 40 and we were off. The weather looked to be clear and no rain in sight. A fuel stop before we crossed into Oklahoma and soon we seemed to be making real progress. But suddenly looming clouds were on the horizon. Those dark, dark clouds that move fast with little streaks of lightning piercing the morning sky. Those kind of clouds with a distinctive shaft of rain that even light itself cannot penetrate.
As we rolled westward and closer to the monster ahead, I began to exam every overpass for its suitability as shelter. But since I was not in the lead, I really had no control over our fate, no control of where we could harbor against the danger ahead. All I could do was telepathically send my cries of concern to the lead rider. We must stop. We must stop. I gave every ounce of brain power I could muster but to no avail. Suddenly we were engulfed with a deluge of driving rain that forced most traffic to a crawl. But we would press onward, passing everyone who had all but stopped. It felt so strange. I could only imagine what the other drivers were thinking. But I guess my brain waves finally reached to the lead, because we suddenly pulled to a stop under an overpass. An overpass with a shoulder barely wide enough to park the bikes without them leaning into the constant line of traffic.
Eighteen-wheelers would pass within inches of our little group. At least the cars had slowed with the storm. Soaked to the bone, I took refuge behind the concrete barricades that lined the area under the overpass. Even though I was really uncomfortable and somewhat peeved with our situation, Uncle Van seemed to take it all in stride. His calm demeanor softened much of my irritation. When the storm passed, we mounted up and headed west again. It was so hot that late July day, I did manage to dry out pretty quickly. The inferno that lapped over me as I rode onward was like being in a huge dryer, just no tumbling round and round. After we sorted through the toll roads towards Tulsa and across to Interstate 35, we were finally headed due north to Kansas.
Somewhere just above Wichita, another monster cloud seemed to be bearing down on us, or were we bearing down on it. It didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was to get out of its path. I was going to find a place even if I ended up on my own. Only minutes before our collision with the beast, a truck stop appeared off to our right. I guess one soaking was enough for the guy in the lead because his right blinker signaled hope that we just might beat this raging storm. Bikes were lined up and covers pulled over our luggage strapped to the back of our rides. A quick dash to the front door of our newly found sanctuary was only moments before the wind and rain set in. The storm was so intense, the huge plate glass windows began to bow inward.
One attendant was heard to say, “I have worked here for over six years and never saw a storm like this.”
I was sure we would make the evening news. But providence prevailed. We had once again cheated the forces of nature.
Northward once again, I was positive we were in store for an easy final leg. The last 150 miles would be a snap. Of course, an easy finish was not to be. At our next stop, Uncle Van’s front tire was going flat with a fast leak. Luckily, I had a bottle of tire goop in my saddle bags. The goop managed to slow the leak, but the tire was still going down. Uncle Van didn’t seem to be worried at all. With it aired up beyond its normal pressure we blasted off again. Twice more we would stop and grab for the air hose, super fill the tire and take off as quickly as we could. It seemed to stay up as long as we were rolling at highway speed.
I would have been panicked to have such a problem with my bike so far from anywhere. But again, Uncle Van seemed to ignore the gravity of the situation. It was after 10:00 p.m. when we limped into the hotel in Salina. The next day he procured a new tire and all was right with the world again. It was then I was beginning to understand just how close bikers are. I think that Uncle Van drew his calmness from being surrounded by a group of brothers who would not abandon him. His devotion to the group was returned by our devotion to him and the problem he was facing at the time.
As we departed this October on the memorial ride for our fallen brother, the Kansas story became one of many told during the day. The laughter however was only a cover for the depth of our loss and a filler over the pain. We rallied in Pleasant View, Arkansas. In all, there were about 25 bikes, all riding in close formation. The roads southwest of the Arkansas River Valley are my favorite. There are plenty of hills and twists with no real sharp turns. Bends in the road that allow you to lean so far over, your highway pegs almost scrape the asphalt.
The most notable landmarks were the few wide places along the way – places with a name but not much else. Wide spots such as Rover and Bluffton, and Y City in the crossing of two highways. Little unincorporated villages with the center of “town” the local Baptist Church. The next 80 miles or so were a sheer joy to run but somewhat overshadowed with the purpose of our mission. I was proud of how disciplined our convoy looked as we weaved thru the beautiful countryside.
I wish more cars had been on the road that day to see how awesome the procession looked. When at last we made it to Mena, we turned north and upward to the Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge. On our way up the majestic mountain we stopped at a large overlook to pay honor to Uncle Van and take the requisite pictures. Facebook demands plenty of pics, you know. A couple more miles and we were inside the lodge at a long table that sat us all. A toast to our missing brother and we all dove into the tasty buffet.
Motorcycling is about more than just riding. It is also about fellowship. It is about depending on friends and them depending on you. Uncle Van taught me that. Two wheels on the road leaves you somewhat vulnerable. Bikes don’t carry a spare tire. Bike shops aren’t on every corner. Riding with a group brings people together on a level above our normal social ties. We are all in the same boat together. You do indeed become your brother’s keeper. It carries beyond the group. We form somewhat of a family and watch out for each other even when we are not riding. Riding is a brotherhood, more than even what I experienced in the military.
So when you see a large group of bikers give them a little room and an extra moment of time as they fill the road ahead. Remember they are probably riding for a cause, a charity or to lay someone to their final rest. Well I am almost to Malvern so I had better close out this log entry. Until next time, ride safe. Muleshoe.