Because my wife is continuing to struggle with health problems, I haven't sprung for the Yamaha SR400 I threatened to buy earlier this year. She still doesn't feel up to riding even on the recliner-like pillion of the Enterprise (i.e., a white 2011 Victory Vision Touring). Thus on the rare days when everything is more or less caught up, I roll the Enterprise out of the garage and take a solo tour of the backroads. I had a couple of hours to myself over the weekend. Instead of heading out north and east as I usually do, toward the stomping grounds of my sadly misspent youth, I headed south and west.
Highway 125 runs very roughly north and south in Southwest Missouri from the intersection with US-65 at Fair Grove to the Arkansas line below Protem. I picked it up at US-60 and headed south to cross over the Finley River at Linden and on to Sparta, home of the Trojans?
It says so on the sign coming into town, though I'm sure during a pep rally some kid must have yelled, "This is Sparta!" There's probably about 300 kids in the high school. They seem a little confused on their Iliad, history and geography. However, I believe at least some of the members of the semi-legendary, sadly defunct Arkamo Rangers bluegrass band hailed from Sparta.
Highway 125 doglegs east in conjunction with Highway 14, more or less the main street of Sparta, for maybe a mile or two until it breaks away south to Oldfield. I think Oldfield has a post office. Bruner has a post office. Oldfield ought to have one. The important thing about Oldfield, though, is that it marks the point where 125 starts to get a little snaky. While it's hardly a Tail of the Dragon, the road does have character. As it winds on down to Chadwick, through Garrison, and to the intersection with Highway 76 at Bradleyville, a lot of the surrounding countryside and views are part of the Mark Twain National Forest.
Chadwick has a school and some businesses. A Christian County deputy watched from across the highway as four or five Harley riders refueled at a gas station there. The Enterprise looks huge, plastic and lumbering compared to the cruisers. Looks can be deceiving.
Despite the weight disadvantage, the 106 cubic inch twin on the Victory churns out sufficient horsepower with quite a bit at lower rpms. It's also balanced well -- I mean, for a 900 pound bike -- 1100 with me in the saddle. I got the rhythm of braking going into a 30-mph corner, rolling back on the throttle, and rocking on out -- after twenty or thirty times. The only thing you have to watch is that this is farm country, and there are lot of blind drives and approaches. This is especially true where the road is more rolling, and you end up going over a hump as well as around a corner. For that reason, I didn't, perhaps, charge as hard as I might have. I was enjoying the ride so it didn't really bother me.
There are some nice falling-away views, mostly off to the east as the road gets closer to Beaver Creek so it isn't all an exercise in cornering skills. It's the heart of the Ozarks with mounds and knobs, the roots and remnants of the ancient mountain land. I think it's about 35 or 40 miles from 60 to 76, most of it interesting, and some of it is occasionally fun. It's certainly not going to test a skilled and experienced rider, but parts of it will keep one's attention.
It's a nice warm-up for a biker headed into some of the more notable rides down in Arkansas around the Buffalo River area and Arkansas 7, Harrison, and Flippin. For any bikers in the Springfield area, 125 is easily accessible off I-44 at Strafford or off US-60. An interesting alternative would be to take 65 to Branson then 76 east to Bradleyville and traverse 125 back north to 60. The same would be the case for bikers vacationing in Branson if they didn't feel up to the more challenging Arkansas routes or just wanted something different.
In my case, when I reached Bradleyville and not having the entire day to run, I headed east on 76 to Ava, Missouri, county seat of Booger County and the capital of Missouri Foxtrotter Nation. It's actually Douglas County. The old-timers could recall when those wanted by the law -- "boogers" -- would occasionally disappear in the remote parts of Douglas County. I picked up Highway 5 at Ava and took it to Mansfield, where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her "Little House" books. That is the obligatory statement to be made when Mansfield is mentioned. I think it's probably a legally binding thing.
I'm pretty well over Little House at this point. What I remember about Mansfield is somewhat naively taking a black friend of mine into the pool hall there one night. Also, I stole a girl from the banker's kid. Mixed antediluvian memories aside, the main reason I stop in Mansfield is that, at the eastern part of the jog in Highway 5, there is a Signal station that sells no-ethanol 91.
Mansfield is in Wright County. If a person rides on north on Hwy 5, the next town is Hartville, county seat, and site of the Civil War Battle of Hartville -- oddly enough. It's also the hometown of Aaron McDaris, banjo player extraordinaire for Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.
In my opinion, having run parts of it more times than perhaps any other road on earth, Highway 5 itself has a bit of character. The stretch south from Ava to Gainesville was notoriously wickedly crooked when I was a kid. They have straightened out a lot since then or the curvature of the earth has changed. There's been considerable water under, and over, the bridge since I've been on that end ... maybe next weekend ...