Saturday, April 24, 2010

Arkansas meets Missouri

8 days a week

The "Open 8 days a week" sign catches my attention and I think, "cute".  But then I see the closed sign on the door and I begin to wonder what day it is.  The 9th day of the week maybe?  I have had weeks, back when I was among the working class, that had 8 or 9 days working days in them.  

Speaking of work
We keep passing all these little educational factories with full parking lots and we know that America's brightest minds are being nurtured to their full potential. We smile to know that the process goes on and we smile because we're just gliding past on our bicycle. And as we smile and pedal down the road I can hear Kamala singing, "NANNY, NANNY, BOO, BOO." 

Ahh, this can't be right.
This is a very popular chain of convenience stores in the area, but wouldn't you like to have been the fly on the wall at the meeting where they came up with that name? Or maybe we just have dirty minds.

Sometimes going out of your way can be good.
I'm sitting in one of the smallest yet most diverse National Forests in the U.S.: St. Francis. But I'm not happy. We've just left the flat delta and found the only hills in the area and went 7 miles out of our way. I feel guilty and responsible. It was only supposed to be 2 to 3 miles out of our way and I didn't expect the hills. I had confirmed camping facilities on the internet and I even called, but we discover that due to a recent State Park - National Park merger the camping facilities were being reconstructed. The State Park ranger was kind enough to give us permission to camp at the day-use facilities. Charley puts his hand on my back, "It's OK, just look around. It's beautiful." It was. Slowly the magic of this forest calms and heals my spirit. Camp is set up. I make chamomile tea. We sip and take in the beauty that surrounds our little home. As dusk dims, a cacophonous lulluby of hoots, chirps, creaks, and squeaks emanate from the darkness. I emerge from our little nighttime cocoon to see a light glow reflecting off the still lake. Slowly the excitement of the new evening settles down to complete silence. Magic! We leave the next day, grateful for the out-of-way excursion. 

Did ya'll (I'm developing a Southern accent) ever hear of 'Larry the Cable Guy' from Red Neck Comedy? I'm outside a convenient store while Charley is purchasing bicycle fuel (lunch) and this guy walks up to me, and I swear if I had my eyes closed that it would have been him. He said, "Good Lord, ya'll are taking 'green' to a whole 'nother level! I swear, ya'll are goin' hog-wild! Good travels to you!"
I smile, "Thanks!"
Another fellow walks by and asks, "Where ya'll comin' from?"
"El Paso, TX"
"MERCY!" I just came from El Paso, Arkansas and I couldn't do that on a bicycle!

All of these comments, waves from cars, thumbs up, make me feel like I'm in a one-float parade. 

Our last day in Arkansas finally came to a close but not too soon that the gnats didn't get to have fun with us. Apparently, they love sweaty heads. We're riding to a state park and stop to look at a map and suddenly we are swarmed with gnats. I see Charley's helmet is covered with hovering pests. They really like those ventilation holes in the helmets too. They playing chase and hide-n-go seek with each other as we try to bat them away. We finally take off and are free of most of the little fighter jets at about 12 m.p.h.. We stop again, to breathe, to check our location and THEY'RE BACK! Off again, every time we stop the flying gremlins are back so we decide that our state park camping goal just might be loaded with the little varmints at this time, so to continue moving seems like a good idea and we both agree that we have more miles in our legs.

Our new destination is Jonesboro, another 20 miles.We arrive and are manuvering our two-wheeled cargo through afternoon traffic of 55,000 population and I feel something on my arm and look down to find a two-inch iridescent bug calmly stretching his legs. Little did he know that it's human vehicle was going to shriek, shudder, shake the bike violently, and flick him off onto oncoming vehicles. After Charley learns of my encounter, he chuckles. Actually he has to; he did a wonderful job keeping the bicycle straight with all my tumultuous movements. After that I see signs like, 'Buy a room of furniture and get a free bug.' I shake my head, oh yeah it says rug. Later on an RV sales says, 'Free bug with purchase of an RV." Alright, now I have a problem.

Obligatory new state photo
This is just something cycling tourists seem to do, (state and country boundaries and mountain tops).  We've now crossed Arkansas diagonally and, all in all, a sweet ride.  The roads were safe, 95% of the shoulders were wide and smooth. The most dangerous parts of the trip were bridges and towns. There are NO shoulders on bridges or in towns, (or sidewalks for that matter), so we just had get out there in the traffic. We had no close calls because the motorists treated us real nice and gave us plenty of space. Thanks Arkansas.

Kamala--The flat terrain buckled at the Jonesboro city limits as we rolled up and down a few hills. Fitting, we had hills when we came into Arkansas and we'll have hills as we leave. Arkansas has been our home for almost two weeks and it finally ends when we take our victory picture at the Missouri state line. We pass Trinity Community Church where men are standing around a pick-up truck's bed and one calls out over the 50 yards, "WHERE ARE YOU GOIN'?"
He shouts back, "GOOD L-O-R-D! GO WITH GOD!"
Welcome to Missouri!

To ride, or not to ride

Charley--It was an unanimous vote by our little tandem team to find a dry place to hold up in. 
We're 1,404 miles away from home. We're currently in Hayti (Hay-tie) and taking a day off, thanks to the weather and 100% precipitation. Tornadoes are the main topic on The Weather Channel. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Arkansas spectator

Arkansas spectator

Rolling through the Arkansas roadways I see the dents in the ground filled with water. All ditches are full of water. Walking out away from the bike I feel the spongy bog give way. On excursions into the bush, I carefully watch where I step to make sure I don't touch the wicked plant life: poison ivy is everywhere! Water is everywhere. Life abounds. Turtles take splashing dives for cover to avoid exposure, squirrels scamper up trees, horses come up to the edge of their corrals to get a closer look, and cows stop eating to gaze as we pass by.

While we're not able to see all wildlife-alive, we do get a sense of what lives out here by the road kill: beavers, possums, owls, badgers, armadillos, skunks (lots of skunks) etc. We did see a road-kill taxidermist along the way.

In Wabbaseka, we pass by a 'Chicken Shack' where a fellow is barbecuing what we assume was chicken. So we ask, "How much is the chicken?"
"Ain't got no chicken."
We clip back in about to continue then it dawns on me, the man is cooking something, so I call out to him, "What else to do you have?"
"Turkey legs, ribs, chuck steak. Ya wanna have a look?"
We get off. Smart too! We eat the best turkey legs I think I've ever eaten!

Passed through Stuttgart--Rice and Duck Capital of the World. Rice fields surround the flat land around the area. Trees seldom line the road to protect us from the wind, we're grateful whenever they reappear.

Coming to Clarendon, we are a quarter way through this water causeway combination bridge when we see a sheriff's car behind us with flashing lights. We stop and he tells us, "Go on, you're going to need me behind you. You have no idea how dangerous this road is." So we continue forward, now with pressure because he's behind us, holding up traffic to keep us safe but also because now everyone now knows just how slow we roll when facing a pretty strong headwind. The causeway takes a sharp turn, we're glad he's behind us. He now has a trail of cars behind him. What we are on looks like a bridge but it was the causeway because 3 miles down the road, we come upon the bridge which takes a skyward turn up. Spin, spin, spin and up we go; finally, we meet the downside and the end of peer pressure as we land on a shoulder of the road safe and sound. The sheriff does a u-turn and we thank him for his help for getting us over that safely.

People are so friendly! People wave, toot horns, wave out car windows, yell out to ask where we're headed. If we're stopped, people ask about the journey, where we're from, where we're going. The other day, while stopped at a traffic light in Pine Bluff, AR, these girls pull up along side us (all decked out to go partying) ask where we're from, "No way! Really? El Paso? Texas? Well, I need to ride with y'll! What's that thing on your glasses? A mirror! Oh, that's soooo cool!" When the light turns green, the car behind passes by slowly and calls out, "You two are beautiful! Stay safe!" These things really make the journey.

Ever since we entered into Arkansas we have been riding on land that rolls up and down, up and down, up and down. This has really slowed the forward motion of our journey and we are really glad there has been places to stay in closer intervals than there had been in Texas. The land flattened out after Pine Bluff but a northeastern wind is blowing. Guess what direction we're heading: you got it, northeast. That makes it a headwind. So, we look at the good points: It's cooler, flatter, we're healthy, we're with each other and we don't have to be anywhere too quickly (unless there's a police car behind us).

We're currently in Clarendon, Arkansas: 1,204 miles from home on our 34th day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Texarkana and beyond

The KOA in Mt. Pleasant gave us a 'pleasant' surprise by asking, "Would you like to have that little building over there for the same price as a tent spot? It has a double bed and it even has a little TV with cable."
Sweating and unsure I heard her correctly I ask, "For the same price?"
"Well, Y-e-a-h!"
We tried to camp but they wouldn't let us. Having found such a bargain we decide to let our muscles recover and stay an extra day and let the winds take us to New Boston, then onto our ultimate goal: TEXARKANA!

975 miles across Texas we camp less than a half mile from the Texas-Arkansas border where the State Line Avenue divides not only the two states but the courthouses as well. It's decision time, do we pack up, rent a car, go home OR do we go on?
It really wasn't a difficult decision, we weren't ready to go back.  Almost immediately we sense the difference of being in a new state: people start talking to us, smiling at us, and waving to us. Now don't get me wrong, North and Eastern Texas was very polite, but people seemed a little reserved--probably because we're a little strange. Another difference is the road etiquette. Usually people will pass us easier on a two-lane road than a four-lane road. I've always thought this was curious. I, as stoker of the tandem, will turn my head to look the driver in the eye, then s/he will change lanes. My theory is that they don't want to hit us once I have seen them. Arkansas drivers are sweet, 98% of the drivers are changing lanes even if we are on a shoulder--Thank you!

This must be the tour of zoo animals, two days into Arkansas, Charley is minding the road and traffic and what do I yell out? "Zebras!" Then we see camels, buffaloes and llamas as well!

A walk in the woods: Logoly

Mural in Camden, Arkansas

Flowers, flowers, everywhere!

We're currently half-way through Arkansas with 1,100 miles on this year's tour. Our next decision spot is Memphis, Tennessee! Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mt. Pleasant, TX

Toto, I don’t think we’re on the plains anymore.

Help! We’re in Muenster and the wind won’t let us out! Herman was no where to be found but they had really good sausage.


The day's going to be a long one. We're setting out to do 65 miles. No problem. The hills are more shallow and we have a tailwind--first one in a week. We're putting the miles behind us, rolling and pedaling hard. Sometimes we work just as hard as when we're bucking a wind or climbing mountains, but it feels wonderful to spin for speed. Twenty miles out from Paris, the symbol for the end of the day, we change counties. Now changing counties means a change in road and/or shoulder quality. Sometimes it all gets better, sometimes we lose a shoulder, sometimes the road gets better but the shoulder gets worse. "What happened today?" you ask. We are now riding on the worse pavement ever! Gravel roads are far better quality. The road is the same as the shoulder.  Our speed slows, we grind away. I hear the front panniers become Maracas as they play a jittering tune. Now, it’s not just us, the cars are using more gasoline too. Shouldn’t the taxpayers be angry? Oh well, this is an oil state and it makes the oil tycoons richer, right? As I’m plodding away, I realize that this road is the symbol for life and all those fancy quotes I used to show my students to get them to engage thought:

“Sometimes it's good to contrast what you like with something else. It makes you appreciate it even more.” Darby Conley, Get Fuzzy, 2001

“Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.”Author Unknown

"Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."  Author Unknown

. . . Like smooth pavement!

 We're currently in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. We went south because we had a north wind. Tomorrow we are going northeast because we will have a south wind. We've cycled over 900 miles so far.

Friday, April 2, 2010

North Central Texas Observations

We’re still in Texas and Texas is home, but some of these little prairie towns have a surreal, alien feel . We stopped at a restaurant (I should call them bicycle fuel stations), and parked our bike in front of the only window so we would be able to see it as we ate. Since I met Mack, the guy from that rest area who likes to see what happens when he moves a cycle tourist's ride, I now want to see my bike more than ever. Darn! The dining area with the windows was the smoking section! Oh well, food was good. But I watched as a mother and her six-month-old little boy sat, in the smoking section, with auntie at the same table smoking away without a care in the world while she made goo-goo eyes at the baby. The next table over, there sat another smoker. Now, I took my chances with second-hand smoke because it is so rare I share my air with smokers and I could see my bike. But the baby?

We went into a general store in Benjamin, TX. The lady is letting the phone ring because she's expecting a fax and finally decides that it must be a customer and finally answers it. She later explains to a gentleman sitting in the store that it was a neighbor and (you need to do this with a Texas drawl), "He had his wife call us. Finally after the third time, he figured she was doin' sumthun wrong, 'cause he knew we just had to be open. Of course I answered when he called and I had to explain to him that his wife had dialed it right and that I was just waiting for a fax." Another customer enters the store and she asks, “Can I hep ya?” 

Does a burrito by any other name taste better?  As we make our way into the area of North Central Texas we are seeing, more and more that these little tasty delights that we refer to as burritos back in El Paso, being called tacos, sometimes soft tacos, sometimes breakfast tacos.  And yes, they still taste good, not exactly the same, but good. 

An ubiquitous small town Texas icon is the Dairy Queen. In Holliday, TX, a couple of girls tied off their horses at a Dairy Queen while we leaned our metal steed against the wall . Then we all went in and had a burger with all the fixings and a load of fries (maybe not the healthiest of fares, but definitely good and filling).

How come if I’m at the zoo and someone says “Hey, look a camel!”, I say “Oh, yeah, cute.” ,but when we’re pedaling through mesquite pastures loaded with multicolored cattle and someone say’s “Hey, look, a camel! Then I get all excited and say “Wow! No shit, a camel? Where’s my camera? Oh, wow, there’s two of them, no three, no five, and look, that one’s playing with a plastic sack.”

Other things seen from the bicycle, "IS THAT A GORILLA?"

I have also noticed that our sense of history increases during the day. You know those historical markers that they stick along the road where some long gone school was built by the pioneers or some community well was dug. Well, at the beginning of the day, these hold little interests for us but as the day gets long and our butts tired, we find ourselves stopping to read almost all of them.  Curious, huh?

I’m getting that usual odd-looking touring cyclist’s tan: helmet straps remain on the face and neck even after the helmet is off. There is a pattern on my face for my glasses. I have both sleeve and short line tan. In addition to these usual markings, I have something new: because we’re traveling west to east, I’m getting a one-sided tan. My right leg and arm (which gets more sun) are darker than my left leg and arm.

Up until yesterday, people have not been too concerned where we've come from, just where we're going. They'll respond, "Texarkana? Well, that's a long way from here." Also, when you read that sentence, do so with a Texas drawl. As of yesterday, we're beginning to get a combination, "Where ya'll goin' and where ya'll from?" They'll arrive at the same conclusion, “That’s a lot of distance.” We stopped at a Family Dollar Store in Crosbyton, an elderly gent drove over to tell us that his son-in-law and daughter have a bike like ours--built for two. "They go all over the place in that thing. They even went to France to ride in front of the tour race they have over there.”