One month, $2800, 6000 miles and 13 states later, we concluded the first half of our cross-country voyage in Missouri, on arguably the best all-around road in the region: Route 125. Now some may argue that the long hillside sweepers of West Virginia hold the blue ribbon, or that the tight mountain switchbacks on Route 16 in Virginia take the cake.
Nevermind the plethora of riders that trek every year to Deals Gap to take on the Devil’s Triangle. Even our new friends from Arkansas might have a thing or two to say about us choosing their northern neighbor, but just hear me out for a second.
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The 125 loop in Missouri is epic. The entrance to the road at the top of Arkansas is a free ferry ride crossing Bull Shoals Lake, dropping you at the Arkansas/Missouri border in Protem, MO. At the base of the route is the Pioneer General Store and Gas Station which delivers mouthgasms via fresh sandwiches at only $3.00 a pop (yes, you read that right). After a quick fill up and an energy drink to combat the looming food coma, we entered Missouri on smooth, shoulder-less blacktop covered by a canopy of forest, following the signs for 125. As soon as we got onto the route our Scalas were blaring with cheers reminiscent of our favorite boyhood Christmases.
Drastic elevation changes on the straights lifted our front wheels at the crests, then slowly put us back on two just before the valley compressed our suspension and dropped our stomachs like a steep drop on a roller coaster. The bikes dipped up and down in unison until we reached our first corner, heavily banked with perfect visibility curving out to an exit backdrop that competed with the next turn for your attention.
The sheer pressure of each valley and banked turn inspired infinite confidence as the bikes planted hard against the pavement with what felt like thousands of pounds of pressure. For 49 miles the road curved back and forth with some of the most dynamic elevation changes unlike any other roads in the East.
Our previous rides have all been incredible, but they were also consistent. After a few turns, you started to form a routine as each road was designed with a purpose of getting from one side of a mountain to another. This is the kind of consistency that indicated an engineer’s influence. But 125 had none of that. Every corner kept you guessing, and with high banks and completely cleared pavement, it felt like it was designed by motorcyclists, for motorcyclists.
On Route 125, bikes do not need much speed or lean angle to get a thrill, which was a welcome change after mountain roads lined with “cheese graters” (that’s the Arkansas term for guardrail) raised the hairs on our necks. The pure physics of the way your body reacts to the different dips and curves makes this road thrilling on any type of bike. Although few sport riders would admit it, you can have a ton of fun at 45 mph.
The only complaint we had with the overly distracting fun of the 125 Loop (which includes routes 76 and 160) is that if you don’t make it back to the ferry by 8:20pm, it sails without you. At 8:22pm, we learned this the hard way. What should have been a 10-minute ferry ride turned into a two-hour detour through Branson, MO and slab back to Northern Arkansas. Normally, after a loop like that, a little bit of slab to calm your adrenaline is welcome, but an Ozark Arkansas destination put Branson at the beginning of the gnarliest five-hour mountain night ride through roads that challenge experienced riders in the daylight.
We arrived back at the truck to peel ourselves out of our one-piece suits that had become a natural extension of our skin after wearing for 19 straight hours in heat over 100 degrees.
After much needed showers and a few hours of sleep, we were off to make room for new campers to the slab making our way through Oklahoma and Texas to our next camp outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
After a party pit stop in Oklahoma City and some tourist fun in Amarillo, Texas, we passed into the Mountain Time Zone in New Mexico late Monday night. With a fresh 4-day route from the guys at Butler, we’re about to see what this state’s all about.