Mena, AR to Talihina, OK

The ridges in this picture are part of the Stairstep Mountains which run north of AR 8 and OK 63
the Talimena Trail, which is shorter and much steeper than the Blue Ridge Parkway,
runs on top of the highest ridge

I was hoping to do a long day (> 100 mi) today since I did a short day yesterday. The weather didn't cooperate. I got up at 6 AM, and looked outside. Rather dark and dreary. Then I used my computer to look at the weather radar. Oh dear! There were big storms on my route and a tornado watch just west of it. It didn't look like I would be able to ride today, but I decided I'd wait as late a s possible to see if I could ride a shorter day to Talihina.

I got dressed and walked down to McDs for breakfast because it was several blocks and, from the radar, it looked like it would be raining again soon. I made it back from breakfast without getting rained on and stopped to speak to the manager of the motel about my situation. She was very understanding and, although official checkout time was 11 AM, she said I could have till noon or even one PM before making my stay/go decision. The official check in time was 4 PM and I got into my room at 2 PM yesterday and could have stayed there till 1 PM.

I did web and email stuff all morning while regularly checking on where storms were developing and where they were heading About 11:30 I decided I would go because, although there was some light rain in my path, no storms were developing there or heading there. I though I might get away with a mostly dry ride with some light rain.

After getting organized and packed for riding in the rain, I left the motel and headed down to McDs. Mena's main drag is a five lane strip with heavy traffic including lots of trucks. It wasn't fun riding. On the other hand, drivers were polite and it didn't feel dangerous, just uncomfortable. I moved my bike into the playground area because this McDs had very limited pedestrian access and no other place where I could park my bike. Its main business was the drive through that occupied three sides of the building.

While I was eating a McDs, it started to rain very hard. Fortunately my bike was under shelter since I hadn't really weather proofed the handlebar bag after I got my wallet out of it. I watched the rain and wondered if I should ride back to the motel. It soon eased up to lighter rain and I went out to get ready to ride. Then a second wave of heavy rain hit. I stood there, under shelter, and figured this was more than I had bargained for and that I should punt. When the rain let up again, I rode out of McDs and turned west. The motel was east. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

AR 8 about 8 miles from Mena after I rode out of the initial rain

Riding down the main drag was a problem because I had to take the right lane in heavy traffic. I hadn't mounted my GPS, but it wasn't raining, so, when I got to what I thought was the first place I could get off the main drag, I pulled over and mounted the GPS. It told me to turn right immediately and led me (through too many turns on back streets ;-}) to AR 8 heading out of town. I would have gotten there without the GPS, but I would have had to ride a lot farther on the main drag! Once I was on AR 8, the GPS said "drive for 25 miles" so I turned it off and put it back in my, waterproofed, handlebar bag.

The next wave of heavy rain hit as I was leaving Mena. I put on my GoreTex jacket and kept riding. I was soon wet, but remained comfortable in my wet clothing. The heavy rain passed and there was a period of light rain followed by another wave of heavy rain. About 45 minutes after I started and about half an hour after leaving Mena, the rain ended. I got my camera out of my left pannier and took a picture of the road. I was still wet and dripping so I got some water in the pannier as well.

AR 8 about a dozen miles west of Mena with the Stairstep mountains ahead
Pretty and nice riding

It stayed dry for half an hour, then light rain started again and it rained for the next 35 miles. There was sometimes heavier rain, but nothing as intense as the rain as I was leaving Mena. I took off my GoreTex jacket, which was too hot while climbing and put on a wind vest with water repelling front panels for the rest of the ride. The point of rain gear is not to keep dry - that is impossible - but to keep comfortable. On this ride I needed the rain jacket to be comfortable in the heavy rain, but it was too warm - and I never zipped it up - in the light rain. The wind vest, and riding pretty hard, kept me comfortable with low 70s temps and light to moderate rain on the rolling hills of AR 8.

Looking at a tower on the highest ridge
Note the puffs of 'cloud' coming up from the trees in the middle of this image
Although you can't tell in this image, light rain is falling

Even though it was raining, I could see the ridges of the stairstep Mountains north of me and another sharp ridge south of me for most of the ride. AR 8 ran through farms and ranches, so I was not worried about having no access to shelter should a severe storm come up. It was moderately hilly, and I need my granny gear on a few of the hills. there was about 1000 of climbing on this ride and most of that was in the 16 miles in Arkansas.

The start of OK 63, 16 miles from Mena

When it got to Oklahoma, the road got rougher, and narrower, and ran through forest rather than farms. There was a hill to climb right after the border, but, on the whole, the OK 63 section is much less hilly than the AR 8 section. I ended up riding most of it in my big ring at 15+ mph. The wind, which varied but was often a tail wind unless heavier rain was coming, helped as did an overall gentle downhill trend. It also helped that the rain was a bit chilly and pushing my body harder generated more heat ;-}. I was having a good time, but I had a problem.

I needed to stop for a snack - I had two hot apple pies with me - but my snacks, which normally would have been in my rear pannier and easy to get to, were in my front pannier with the camera. I didn't want to open the pannier in the rain, but there was no way to get out of the rain. I rode for about ten miles looking for a place to get out of the rain. By this time, there were a few farms along OK 63 and, at 25 miles from Mena, I seriously considered stopping at an abandoned farm house. At nearly 27 miles, where US 259 crosses OK 63, there is a country store and I was able to stop, get some chocolate milk to have with my apple pie, and snack out of the rain. The experience was made more special by the person who sold me the chocolate milk, a little girl with a great smile whose grandfather (?) was teaching her how to use the cash register and make change. She was a quick learner and they were both really enjoying 'working' together.

It was 26 miles from the country store to Talihina, but it went pretty quickly because most of it was fast riding. I stopped again perhaps 10 miles from Talihina to eat my other apple pie. It had stopped raining and I could see clearing ahead. When I got here, I stopped at the only motel in town - there is another motel a few miles out of town on another road - and unpacked my stuff to see how my waterproofing had worked. The Ortlieb panniers, as expected, had no problems except for water that got in through the top when I opened them. The Vaude handlebar bag which I got in Germany a few years ago also did fine. It s built in rain cover and impermeable plastic bottom and kept the stuff inside dry, except for moisture that came in through the top when it was opened. My camera had some minor problems due to being used in the rain, but, after careful cleaning and drying, it seems to be OK. My rear pannier/backpack, which I had improvised rain cover for out of plastic grocery bags, also did OK.

My new rain-covers for my Nashbar pannier/backpack

I used two standard US grocery bags, one bag covering the bottom, and the other covering the top. The bottom bag is held in place by clipping the panniers side straps through that bag's hand holds. The top bag is held in place by a bungee cord clipped to its handholds and run under the bottom of the pannier. I came up with this system shortly before I left. I got caught in heavy rain without a rain cover on one of my overnight trips and it was a pain because that pannier collected a lot of water, so I spent a little time seeing what I could do with stuff I had on hand. My new system prevented that from happening quite effectively.

Hmm, it looks like I should cut a drain hole in the bottom plastic bag
I though of doing that, but forgot to do it
Note the bungee cord which holds the top bag down over the bottom bag

Later, when I was cleaning my bike, I noticed that some water had collected in the bottom of the bottom plastic bag and wet the bottom of the pannier. This was nothing like the problem I would have had without this rain cover setup, but I will minimize this in the future by putting a drain hole at the bottom of the bottom bag. I'll also stop carrying anything that will be bothered by water in the bottom of that pannier. I already do that in one of my Ortlieb panniers that has some small holes in its bottom as a result of being dragged over some rocks when I got too close to the edge of a road...

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