I’d heard the Ozarks had beautiful riding, but I had no idea how to start. Truth be told, before visiting Arkansas it had so little bearing on my life that I wouldn’t have been able to point it out on a map (this can be said of many of the states in the middle, which was part of what I wanted to rectify the really, really long way).
I had a long riding day planned right off the bat to get me in the right area, even the overcast skies couldn’t get me down.
The last time I was in the region, I had originally planned to pass through Texarkana heading west (I turned north instead). Now, I am actually going through Texarkana…heading east! You could say, with all my luggage, I was east bound and down…
Debbie put me in touch with her motorcycle friend, Wayne, my destination for the night. After meeting their three pugs, Wayne and Sheryl took me to their favorite local spot.
Wayne had time to ride part of the way north with me the next day, but first some touristing…
Before parting ways, Wayne gave me some pointers for good roads in his home state. Each time we paused in a town for a snack or gas he would say, “Aw I should get back… Maybe at the next town.” We ended up sharing the road as far as Mineral Springs. Then Center Point. Then Dierks. They were the kind of roads I could ride all day without getting tired. Thanks for welcoming me, Wayne!
Chris (-Chris-) had reached out to me on ADV, and even pulled some strings with Ralph, who sponsored me so that I could crash the Squeal Like A Pig rally. An ADV rally, checked off the bucket list!
A plate of fried catfish was waiting for me, and a SLAP beer mug that would immediately be put to use. There was a raffle, checking out other people’s bikes, and hanging out at fires. I suppose bike rallies are similar enough in spirit, but this one seemed remarkably tame. Civil. Responsible, even. It was as if most of the riders owned big, nice bikes and had homes to go back to or something.
The biggest party pooper came from the skies, an oncoming thunderstorm threatening to flood the nearby river. At least half the attendees bailed by morning, but I pitched my tent under an awning between two picnic tables. If the flood warning was called, my plan was to empty the tent contents onto a table, grab the spokes in one hand, and steer the scooter to higher ground with the other. Save the scooter, have a dry place to wait out the rest. It’s survived a flood once, it’ll do it again.
Fortunately, the beer-emboldened plan never came to fruition. The thunderstorm was loud on the tin roof over my tent, but the waters stayed back.
I really must say an additional thanks to Chris, who vouched for me at SLAP. I’m not sure they would’ve let me in if it was just me rolling up on the blue scoot – might have made the big bikes look bad!
Chris and I had been in touch, and planned to share the road for a few days. Some of the following photos are his. It was a blast to ride with him! I think he did at least half the miles on one wheel, too.
Chris had a couple bygone amusement parks in mind to check out. First stop: Dogpatch USA.
We searched the only ‘bar’ in town for Fat Tire, a beer not available in Oklahoma that Chris was seeking, but Ozark Cafe said we’d have to go to the next county. I was still at peace with our takeout dinner, eaten on the deck while the sun set over the hills.
Traveling with someone, you get to share the exploration and adventure, but also the quiet moments. At the end of each day, I take notes about the events, names of people, trains of thoughts that I try to capture before they leave the station. Back in the room, American Pickers played quietly on TV, and I think we chatted a bit between my note taking. For someone I met just a day ago, to now expecting to sleep in the twin bed just a few feet away, it was oddly intimate and ordinary at the same time. One of those dualities of the road, I suppose. I don’t remember what my last thoughts were before I succumbed to the comfort of a real bed.
It’s good to make friends.
A truck eventually did pull up and tell us we’re not supposed to be there, but Chris dialed up the charm and the driver let us continue exploring. The signs went up because they’ve had trouble with teenagers spray painting things on the property, but we’re just a couple illiterate adults with no paint cans.
For all the dry counties, it sure seems a bit muddy and wet. In spite of (or to spite?) the rain, Chris started a fire after dinner – a luxury for solo-camper me. We located a couple bottles of Fat Tire in previous not-dry counties, which were sipped victoriously from SLAP mugs around the fire pit.
After three days of riding with Chris, he needed to turn homeward. Another sad parting of ways, I was going to miss this goofball. I love how different travelers seek out different things on the road, I wouldn’t have thought of exploring old amusement parks if not for him. It was brilliant fun following each other around the hills, no set routes, just chatting with locals and tooling around a motorcycle playground. He courteously ramped down for Vespa speeds the whole time. As he spun out of the campground that morning, the ache of going solo again was a little sharper. I couldn’t keep my thoughts from revisiting the tired, grass-is-greener subject; maybe… maybe I should put more energy in seeking a longer-term riding partner…
In no real rush, I let the road take my mood. There were lots of little, light grey roads on my map on the way to Conway, AR, probably of the quiet, unpaved kind.
Besides turtles, there seemed to be a lot of snakes crossing the road. They look like garden hoses left across the tarmac.
Remember Amy, from Providence, RI but more recently West Lafayette, IN? It turns out she’s working at the Shakespeare festival in Conway, AR. She had an extra bunk in her dorm, so I crashed with her, college style. In a move that nearly made me cry tears of happiness, she gave me a verbal run-down of all of the local coffee shops as soon as I arrived. After the hills, college-town Conway seemed super hip.
Amy is one of those interesting people who is extremely occupied doing all the things that make her so interesting, so we only got to hang out in short spells. It worked out though, it was still good to see her, and I needed some recovery time for drawing catch-up in coffee shops.
Blue Sail Coffee became my go-to office, but I did poke around a couple other cafes. At the Patio Cafe, a man struck up conversation after he saw me pull up on the scooter.
“You ride that from Rhode Island? What’s that like?” He had scraggly hair, wore overalls, and was missing teeth, and it took me a moment to decipher through his thick accent. It turns out he owned the Kawasaki parked in the back.
“Rhode Island…” he mused, “Is that…like here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, does it have roads and buildings and trees?”
I want to say he continued by stiltedly asking whether I had to take a bridge or ferry to get to the rest of the continent. I confirmed that it did indeed have roads, buildings, and trees, and though it had many islands the majority of the land was on the continent, which seemed disappointing for him. Some historians say Rhode Island actually referred to Aquidneck Island, the island at the mouth of Narragansett Bay, which reminded an early explorer of the Isle of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea, and the full name for the state is Rhode Island And The Providence Plantations, making it the longest state name for the smallest state. But I think this may have been lost on him or give him the wrong impression, so I just wished him a good day. Oh well. I guess I didn’t know much about Arkansas before I arrived either.
It was refreshing to see a familiar face even though she was swamped. The two of us and her roommate would find a perch on the couch or table, all three on laptops working on respective works. I ended up staying an extra day, and caught up with Amy for a taco dinner. Soon enough, I felt recovered enough to continue. Thanks, Amy!