The day started early. Too early. In fact, it was the first time I’ve ever left for a Kitty ride before the sun was even up. What we didn’t know as those 13 Kitties departed on Friday, July 18th, was that the sun wouldn’t show itself until we got all the way to Parsons, Kansas. What these same 13 Kitties didn’t know was that it would be the coldest ride anyone had ever taken in the month of July. Sure, it was a blessing that we didn’t have triple digit temperatures, but come on!…leather in July…in Kansas? That just ain’t right!
I guess my stern warning (which was a proverbial finger wagging and a theme for the entire weekend, I might add) to NOT BE LATE because we WILL leave without you was effective, as all bodies were present and accounted for at the pre-determined departure time. At 6:45 on the dot, we pulled out with Sue leading the way. Nellie and Linda were ready to roll as we rode through Augusta and they filed in to join the string of bikers.
Other than the mixture of cool/cold/freezing temperatures, the first half of the day’s ride was uneventful…until that is, we pulled off the highway to make our way to our lunch stop at the Cave Bar and Grill in Lanagan, Missouri. That’s when we were snapped out of our catatonic state with up and down hills that would give any roller coaster in any theme park its run for the money. I honestly thought I was going to be motion sick with the steep drops and then immediate ups only to be followed by more of the same. Just when you thought you had been challenged enough, there was the restaurant parking lot to deal with. Gravel, the nemeses of all bikers (or at least this biker!), greeted us as we pulled in and to make things even more interesting, there were inclines, boulders, and tree stumps to navigate around. We all managed to come to a stop in an upright position and gave ourselves a pat on the back for managing to do so.
When we first decided to eat at the Cave Bar and Grill, Kari made certain that there would be indoor, air-conditioned seating available – assuming we would be sweaty Kitties because that’s what we normally are in July. Well, air-conditioning was the last thing we wanted when we arrived, so we opted for outdoor seating to soak up what would be the last bit of sunshine we would see for the next day and a half. The Cave Bar and Grill was a fun and unique dining experience with goats grazing on the hillside right next to us. We had fun taking pictures of each other “holding up” the low ceilings and for once, I appreciated my short stature, although I still felt like I had to duck as I walked through the restaurant and bar inside the cave. After having a waitress take a group photo on each and every one of our cameras, we biked up and crossed our fingers that we would go from gravel to pavement without having to upright a bike. Because we are that good, we all made it with the shiny side up. Thank you, Lord!
Kari was now in the lead and other than a few pull overs to latch saddle bags and let some Kitties catch up who got separated from the litter while going through Fayetteville (which, by the way, is just a kitty whisker short of Dallas when it comes to traffic.), it was again uneventful. Yours truly was always more on the freezing side of the spectrum. Sueanne, however, seemed to be just fine. Damn you, Sueanne, and your “I love this weather” tolerance!
Eleven hours after departing Wichita, we finally pulled into the Walmart in Mena, Arkansas. After several Kitties huddled around my heated grips to warm up hands and faces, we made arrangements to meet up with our hosts for the weekend, Rob and Tamyra, at their bike shop, Hog Country Cycles. Rob and Tamyra are Nellie’s family, but immediately after meeting them, they became family to each and every one of us. After doing some shopping and getting a group photo in front of an uber cool mural, we decided to all head to dinner at the Chopping Block. Surprisingly, Mena has a number of very good eateries and the Chopping Block ranked right up there as one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. And don’t even get me started on the coconut cream pie, which Dawn and I shared, but secretly, I could have eaten all by myself.
After disrupting the restaurant as much as we possibly could and even taking pictures of OTHER customer’s food, we headed to where our bikes would spend the night. We were told the road to the Backwoods Lodge, where we would be staying, was not biker friendly; so, our new honorary Tom Kat, Rob, had made arrangements to rent a storage unit to store the bikes. With the precision of a moving van crew, we packed nine, count ‘em, NINE bikes in that single stall unit and the other four bikes were stored in Rob’s motorcycle shop’s service bay. As expertly as we packed our bikes in the storage unit, we packed ourselves into three vehicles and went to Walmart to do some shopping for provisions that would be needed at the Lodge.
HOLY FUR BALLS!!! That was my reaction when I saw the shoppers return to the front of the store with shopping carts full of muffins, soda, candy, eggs, sausage, tortillas, salsa, cheese, more soda, snacks, water and nuts. $167.00 later and telling Christina, no, I’m not going to push you on the bag wheel like a merry-go-round and don’t make me use my mean Mommy voice, we packed one day’s supplies (which in reality could feed a family of four for a month) into Rob’s pick ‘em up truck and made our way to the UNDERstated “not bike friendly” road to the Backwoods Lodge.
Homey, comfy, clean, and wonderful. That’s how I would describe my first impression of the Lodge. Rob and Tamyra have got a good thing going here with this Lodge set in a beautiful Arkansas setting with trees and hills everywhere you look. We unloaded all our saddle bags and T-bags and of course the food, food and more food and wait…what’s this? Presents!?! We got presents! Each Kitty was given an Anniversary Goodie Bag with cat eye sunglasses, sunscreen (won’t be needing THAT on this trip!), a kitty zipper pull, KKMC post-it notes, and a MEOW picture frame. I had sent all the items to Tamyra in advance and asked her to please, pretty please, make up a bag for each Kitty and to our surprise, she had put in a bottle coozie and a magazine in which she and Rob were pictured and they graciously autographed for each and every one of us. Not to be outdone, Bobbie ran into the bedroom and came out with a gift for this here Kitty. I told her as I was about to dig into the gift bag that if this is a pink flamingo, I’m gonna kick your butt. Sure nuff! There was a card covered in pink flamingoes and a little pink ceramic one in that there bag. Bend over, Bobbie, you got this coming to ya!
Presents, schmesents. It’s time to get down to business! Break out the alcohol bitches! We all mixed a cocktail, nibbled on the wide selection of snacks and somehow managed to steer the conversation to the virtues of Brazilians…and I don’t mean the people! Partying hard wasn’t in the cards for us that night as it had been a long, long day so we discussed who was sleeping with whom and got into our jammies. Well, SOME of us got into jammies. One of us put on an ensemble that only a blind person, or at the very least, a color blind person would deem appropriate. Now I wasn’t expecting anyone to come walking out in some fancy, schmancy, sexy Victoria’s Secret lingerie but come on! I had to surmise that this was Nellie’s way of saying, “I don’t want no surprise visitors in my bed tonight!! Period!!”
Pretty soon we all settled down and found our way to a bed or couch and before long the only thing you could hear in the Lodge was the sound of purring Kitties, or as Maureen will tell you, snoring Kitties. The only thing I heard came at 7:30 a.m. when Sue started rustling up some breakfast burritos. Hey, someone’s gotta use up those dozens of eggs, pounds of sausage and bags of tortillas! While we were enjoying our very hearty breakfast, plans were made for how to spend the rest of the day. It was agreed that some of the Kitties (Sue, Christina, Kari, Sueanne, Bobbie, Linda and Kelly) would take a ride on the Talimena Scenic Byway, a 54-mile ride along the crest of the Rich Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest and some would head to Hot Springs to tour the Garvan Gardens (Janice, Maureen, Kathryn, Paula and Dawn.) Nellie, who was feeling a little under the weather, decided to spend the day in the peace and quiet of a Kittyless Lodge, and maybe even lick her wounds a bit from the beating she took the night before. Since I was in the Hot Springs group, I can’t firsthand account for the day on the Talimena Byway, but it was reported to me that the ride was spectacular: beautiful scenery, good Mexican food, perfect riding conditions and potty breaks without a potty. I won’t mention any names, but you know who you are!!
However, before we went anywhere, we had the matter of getting our bikes out of where they had been tucked in for the night. Rob had to get the bike shop opened so we didn’t have his help. Maureen and I looked nervously at each other, wondering aloud if we were going to be able to do this without the assistance of some testosterone. “We don’t need no stinkin’ man!” was the response we got as we set about to unload nine bikes from a storage unit. Oh, did I mention that said storage unit had quite a lip up into it? My biggest fear was as I was backing out over that lip, my feet would be a dangling and over I would go. In hindsight, I had nothing to worry about as about seven Kitties surrounded each of our bikes and all but picked each one up and carried it out. Each successful exit was accompanied with screams of delight, high fives and yes, maybe even a little chest bumping.
Hot Springs is 76 miles from Mena, but it’s not 76 Kansas miles. This was a twisty, turny road that took about an hour and 45 minutes to travel. By the time we stopped at Burl’s Smoked Meats for lunch and had a photo opp with a “deer, deer” man, we realized we really didn’t have time to give the Gardens justice. We opted to do a little shopping and take in the sights of historic Hot Springs, which by the way, is a really cool town and one I would have liked to spend more time in. Known for the abundant hot springs which are perceived to have healing powers, this band of Kitties decided to take a dip ourselves. Never mind that there were no hot springs or really water of any kind in the tub, it still made for a great photo opp! We also enjoyed some ice cream from a darling ice cream parlor while listening to some outdoor entertainment.
All too soon, it was time head to the bikes to start the trip back to Mena, albeit a tad bit later than we should have. You see the agreement was that we would all meet at Hog Country Cycles at 6:00 sharp to ride to Papa’s Mexican Restaurant in Mena for dinner. When we gassed up to make our trip back to Mena, I did a quick calculation in my head and I knew we weren’t gonna make it on time. I also knew there would be hell to pay since I was the one who kept telling people “Don’t be late!” I gotta give Kathryn credit as she led as back as fast as a biker can go on those roads, but alas, we walked into Papa’s about 30 minutes late. Just as I suspected, as we walked into Papa’s private dining room, where they knew they needed to put us all by our lonesome after the disturbance we created at the Chopping Block, we were met with jeers and finger wagging and “Don’t be late!” mockery. That’s alright Kitties, bring it on! Enjoying that ice cream was totally worth anything you gotta dish out!
After taking family photos at Papa’s and tucking our bikes in for the night once again, we made the trip back to the Lodge where cocktails began flowing faster than the hot spring in well…Hot Springs! Paula had passed out candy cigarettes and there we were, sitting in the Candy Cigarette Smoking Section of the deck, enjoying our third or fourth cocktail, when all of a sudden I realized perhaps I had had three or four cocktails too many because right there before my very eyes was a life-sized Sock Monkey! We were relieved to find out that said Sock Monkey was really none other than our new BFF Rob! I’m not sure if we were more relieved that it was someone we knew or thankful that we weren’t as drunk as we thought we were and could keep on drinking!
And drinking we did! But none more than our very own Maureen, who believed there was no good reason to carry back the bottle of liquor she had brought with her so she might as well drink every last drop. I wish I could be more specific about the things we talked about and laughed about, but I was sworn to the code of “what happens in Mena stays in Mena” (that’s my way of saying that I, too, was partaking of the Devil Juice and things are a tad bit fuzzy, but I know I have never laughed so hard or enjoyed a group of girls as much I did that night.) But alas, all good things must come to an end and after debating about what time we needed to leave in the morning, we called it a night. Well, everyone but Maureen, who with her WAHOO! Let’s party some more!! enthusiasm, had to be toned down with an Ambien and tucked in. Bobbie was more of a hindrance than help in that process as she continued to “play” with Maureen, which might have been one of the funniest moments of the evening and even caused other Kitties who were already tucked in to get out of bed to see what all the commotion was about. I finally had to wag my pink finger-nailed finger at Bobbie and banish her to her bedroom so we all could get some sleep.
All too soon that gawd awful alarm went off on Sunday morning and the Lodge became a flurry of activity of getting ready, stripping beds, eating muffins, drinking coffee, cleaning up the kitchen, and having one last photo shoot with, of course, the cat eye sunglasses. Although, as I was carrying stuff out of the Lodge, I did see that Bobbie and Paula found time to hold their own private photo shoot with their cat eye sunglasses and some leftover candy cigarette butts (EWW!) from the night before.
We all met up at Hot Country Cycles where more pictures were taken; we loaded up all the luggage that we felt like had just been taken off the bikes; and watched Sueanne hook up an air conditioning unit to her bike. Seriously, wherever Sueanne went…that fan went. (Reference my comment earlier about how much she loved the cool/cold/freezing weather. Damn her!)
And then sadly, we had to hug our good-byes to Rob and Tamyra, who I just can’t say enough nice things about. These people, along with Nellie’s brother, Grayden – Jake – Wayne (seriously, the guy goes by THREE different first names!) and Rob and Tamyra’s daughter, Kaitlyn, made this trip not only EXTREMELY affordable, but convenient and over the top fun! They hauled us back and forth from Mena to the Lodge and whatever we needed, they provided. They are the epitome of southern hospitality and are truly wonderful people. If you are looking for a great great-away in some of the prettiest country in these here parts, PLEASE consider the Backwoods Lodge as your home away from home. You will NOT regret it!
The ride home started off cold, but by the time we got to Joplin, we FINALLY were able to shed all our layers and ride for the first time on this whole trip in short sleeves. By the time we got to our last gas stop in Parson, Kansas, I was bitching about being hot and sweaty and yes, I do realize that makes me look like I’m never happy. They don’t call me a prima donna for nothing, ya know!
It was everything I hoped it would be. That’s how I would summarize the Anniversary trip to Mena, Arkansas. The memories we made will be talked about for years to come and I think the Kitties will be talked about for years to come in Mena. We made new friends, (Rob, Tamyra, Grayden-Jake-Wayne and Kaitlyn) and forged deeper friendships with friends we already had. Thirteen ladies traveled over 1,000 miles and as Bobbie would say, every one of those miles were smile miles. I wish every single Kitty could have been with us, but those who were able to make – thank you. Thank you for making this Anniversary Trip one that will never be forgotten! Kitty Kisses to each and every one of you!
Kitties on board for the Kitties in Hog Country ride were Janice, Dawn, Nellie, Linda, Maureen, Sueanne, Kari, Sue, Bobbie, Paula, Kathryn, Christina and Kelly.
Janice – KKMC Founder