Thelma and Louise Take On The Ozark Mountains

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Every summer for the last 9 years, Tyree and I are sure to take a few day-trips on our two-wheeled beauties.  Sometimes we rolled out with an agenda in mind, most times not.  Over the years they progressed into the Thelma & Louise adventures, matching shirts and all.  On numerous occasions we had talked about taking off on a multi-day adventure, but summers always filled quickly, never leaving any opportunities.  Finally, during the late 2017 winter months, we penciled in two adventures into our summer ’18 calendars that were non-negotiable: Colorado over July 4th with our boys (more about that later) and a T&L only adventure to the Ozark Mountains during the 3rd weekend of July.

And so, on Thursday, July 19th, 2018 we put our kickstands up for an adventure we won’t soon forget.

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1st Official Destination: Warsaw, MO for a late lunch and an ice-cold beverage.  We happened upon Dam Restaurant, adjacent to a swinging bridge and decided that was our place to stop.

As we chatted with the regulars and enjoyed our meal and first beer of the day, they kept track of a storm cell that was building just northwest of Warsaw.  A lazy, no-rush afternoon, turned into an afternoon with a slight sense of urgency attached to it due to the oncoming storms carrying 70+mph winds.  The locals hurried us out the door (truly…  they nearly forgot to tab us out before we asked) and with well-wishes being shout-out behind us, we headed south, just barely 20 minutes ahead of the storm cell.  To the folks at Dam Restaurant, we appreciated your hospitality and desire to keep us safe. 

People are good.  

There was only one time where we thought we might not beat the storm due to a brief jaunt west of Springfield to avoid the backlog of traffic heading south.

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But, we made it in to Branson safe and sound, left our bikes at the hotel and headed out for BBQ and beers at Gettin’ Basted where we waited out the storm before leaving our mark on the Branson strip.

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Friday, July 20th | Weather forecast: 115 degree heat index.

7:30am: Breakfast at Belgian Waffle and Pancake House, where the staff are absolute dolls.

“You girls are hot!  Like, not hot/hot, but hot/hot!” 

After a few conversations with our waitress we found out that she and another employee are referred to as Thelma & Louise.  Of course, we had to have our photos taken with the local T&L before we departed for our FULL day on two-wheels.

Thanks, Belgian Waffle House for a WONDERFUL breakfast and conversations.

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First leg: Branson to Peel, Arkansas so we could take the ferry!

If you are in the area, this route is a must out of Branson. Rolling hills, incredible views and curvy roads the entire 44 miles.  And as always when traveling into mountainous areas, plan for almost double the time as a straight path may take you.  Lot’s of gear shifting (and FUN!)

As we waited for the ferry, we struck up a conversation with a guy who just happened to hail from Plattsmouth, NE, only having just recently moved to Arkansas.  Small world!

After a brief wait, we boarded the ferry and off we went across the lake to begin our afternoon, and very dark evening, in Arkansas!

 

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Thanks to the recommendation of our new buddy from the ferry ride, we pointed our headlights towards Cliff House Inn in Jasper, AR, which overlooks the “Grand Canyon of Arkansas”.   The stellar views, and what appeared to be a breeding ground for giant butterfly’s and hummingbirds, this stop certainly didn’t disappoint.

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A quick bite to eat and an iced tea (hello dry counties in over 90% of the State) we headed out.  By this point in the afternoon it was well over 100 degrees.  We were one of FEW outside, which provided us the opportunity to own the roads.

Our route took us straight south on 21 to the D&J Country Store where we sought out water and air-conditioning for a few minutes.  The hotter-than-satan’s-lair weather conditions, while straddling a boiling hot motor that is working double time thanks to the terrain… well…. you get the idea of what we looked like at this point.   Thanks to the cashier we received the recommendation to head back into the national forest to Country Road 4400 and take a left.  Literally saw ONE car in the hour we were in this part of the forest.  It was perfect.

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Once we were satisfied with our County Road playground, we headed on West to find a major road and happened upon the bottom end of the Pigs Trail.

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Typically this part of the Pigs Trail is JAM PACKED with tourists and locals.  This day?  Crickets, man.  My phone tells me this photo was taken at 4:54pm and it was well into the 115’s for the heat index.

Tyree missed riding the Pigs Trail byway the last time we were in Arkansas, so we for sure wanted to hit it this time around, but to be honest: it wasn’t that thrilling after the day of switchbacks we had explored already, all thanks to taking the roads less traveled.  Ah-may-zing. 

Fun (?) side note: lower left side of my windshield you can see the remnants of something that most likely didn’t make it out alive…

It was at this point in the day that we were becoming cognizant of the time and sun placement and knew we needed to be making our way out of the national forest and back towards Branson.  So, we left with the destination of Eureka Springs in mind.  Surely we could get there, eat dinner and take a semi-scenic way back into Branson?!

Surely…

A wrong turn (but gorgeous byway) took us 30 miles out of our way but we took it as a challenge and headed to Eureka Springs anyway.  We NEEDED A BEER and a BURGER something fierce by this point and so around 7:30pm, we rolled into the Cat House Lounge, a favorite amongst bikers.

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The beer was welcome and the belly laughs abundant, which was most likely due to a combination of part heat exhaustion and said beer.  We mapped out a perfect little route back into Branson, via NW Arkansas and Branson West to get us back to our hotel … And then we bounced.

For the mom’s reading this, you may want to skip ahead to after the map photo.  We know that even though we are both 37 years old, you’ll want to scold us after this… 

MapQuest had a mind of it’s own and we found ourselves deep into the Ozark Mountain and forest terrain welllllll after sundown.  Do I dare mention there were no stars due to a slight overcast and threat of rain? It was black.  Sheer black.  A 60-75 minute ride ended up being about 2.5 hours of:

  • white knuckles
  • outward laughs from the nerves and the stupidity
  • three one lane bridges that we prayed were not actually one plank bridges (it’s a thing and there are a few down there)
  • a few tighter than expected curves because where we were, road signs weren’t a thing,
  • thigh squeezing/butt-clenching
  • a lot of down shifting
  • forced relaxation to navigate curves fluidly
  • a few stops to say “you good?”
  • quick eye glances towards the ditches for wild animals
  • quick glances back to what you could see of the road due to said curves with no warning road signs
  • internal thoughts of what the news channels would say about us if we really did go off a cliff… with our Thelma and Louise shirts on…
  • a few morbid chuckles about that, because come on.  That’s actually kinda funny.
  • deep breaths and verbal reminders to take it all in and enjoy the journey, regardless of the fact that we couldn’t see a damn thing
  • out-loud verbal affirmations of “Girl, this is AWESOME” to “Girl, you are STUPID” and back.

…and when we finally saw the lights of Branson and navigated our way confidently towards “home” we breathed a sigh of relief, relaxed our clenched butts, laughed at ourselves, thanked the man upstairs for the guiding hand, praised our common sense of taking it easy and laughing through the journey and recapped what an incredible experience that actually was.

I only hope that someday we can retrace our steps and actually experience those incredible less-than-traveled roads again, but in the daylight, preferably.  I can only imagine the absolute beauty those bridges and cliffs held.

Maps do not provide justice for the type of curves and elevation changes you can expect on this route.  Top notch! 

Uh, especially between Eureka Springs and Branson. 🙂 

Saturday, July 21st | Still Hot As Hell

We didn’t have any set plans for Saturday other then slowly making our way towards Nebraska.  We had a few points of interest and an idea of where we were going to end our evening, but didn’t set it in stone.  And so after a 50’s inspired diner breakfast, we set out to play in the Missouri National forests.  We did several pass-through’s and loops, a few backtracks, and even found ourselves in a one-lane valley where a local farmer coming out of his farm ground gave us a friendly head nod as he rolled on by at a leisurely 15 mph.

Thanks, buddy, for letting us take over your road for a short period of time.

After we played all morning on those incredible roads, we landed ourselves in Ozark, MO around 2:00pm for a Bloody Mary and a few beers at Back Home Brewing.  I mean, it was our vacation and we just spent the last two days in mostly dry counties.  We were due a few. 🙂

And then realized we had literally made ZERO headway towards home.  Like… at all.  HA!

And so we made the executive decision to hit the ever boring Highway 13 for 136 miles to Warrensburg, MO for a brief beer stop on Pine Street (apparently the stomping rounds for all Central Missouri State University kids) before heading on to Weston, MO.

Side note: make sure you take all the back roads North of Warrensburg towards Excelsior Springs (Highway 10 to 92)and then into Weston, MO if traveling that way.  Those roads were insanely gorgeous.  Had no idea there was such beauty in that part of Missouri.  NONE!

Weston, MO is a community pulled straight out of a Christmas Hallmark Movie.  It is so quaint and full of charm with it’s little shops, restaurants, wineries (Pirtle Winery is housed here) and bars.  I cannot wait to go back and spend an entire day there.  Seriously, folks.  Explore it online (here) and then go pay it an actual visit.

We had dinner at the Tin Kitchen, a southern smokehouse, walked up and down the main drag to do a little window shopping before landing into O’Malley’s Pub to end our night.  O’Malley’s is a series of 3 vaulted limestone cellars, with the main bar located in the lowest level.  They had an Irish band playing on Saturday evening and we seriously could have stayed all night listening to and enjoying the show.  Such a cool bar and community!

But, we still had a 30 minute ride ahead of us to Atchison, Kansas where we had last second booked a hotel for the night, so back on the bikes around 10:30pm for the last part of our journey.

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Bright and early we woke and set out for breakfast at a café about 60 miles northwest-ish.  Upon arrival it appeared the whole town was closed up and dried out, so a quick call to Tyree’s mom:

“Whatcha doing?  Any chance you want to make us breakfast?”.

And so on we went another 60 miles, with a quick stop to Tyree’s grandpa for a quick good morning hug and on down the road to her parents house where we enjoyed a warm and made with love breakfast with her family.  A walk down memory lane for Tyree as she gave me a tour of the neighboring communities, her high school and finally a stop at Peru State College where she completed her undergrad.  The town is literally a college, a small grocery store and a bar/grill.  So, naturally, we stopped to enjoy one last vacation beer before taking on the last leg of our journey home.

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And so the Thelma and Louise multi-day adventure concluded and with a happy heart and giant smiles on our faces as we split ways at the highway 32 interchange.

Thanks, Tyree, for an epic adventure.  Lot’s of memories were made down in those trees.  Happy to have you by my side for so many fun events.

Cheers to many more!

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A note of acknowledgement to the victims, survivors, families and workers of the Duck Boat accident in Branson on the evening of July 19th.   The storm that we outran, unfortunately, did not dissolve before hitting the tourist town of Branson.  Our thoughts and prayers were with you upon hearing the news of such a tragedy, so close in proximity to where we were.  May you find peace and understanding in the days to come.

One thought on “Thelma and Louise Take On The Ozark Mountains

  1. So you KNEW when you wrote, “Moms skip this”, you knew it would be read….Praises you ladies were safe and that your angels were with you, and kept you safe. See you in a few weeks.

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