6 Days from Memphis, No Dark and Cold can Prevent This
Brian and I drove with my stepdad to visit my brother in Alabama for Thanksgiving. On the way home my stepdad dropped us off in Memphis. He kept saying, “It’s like you’re jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. I don’t understand this. You can just ride home with me in the car and you’ll be home tonight.” But later he admitted, “I wasn’t afraid for you to take this journey because I’ve seen how much cycling has done for you and how good it’s been for you. Besides, at least you had the smarts to bring someone with you for a trip like this.”
We got out at Memphis the Saturday night after Thanksgiving and when we hit pavement both of us had a great sense of exhilaration. “We’re on the road again!” and “It feels so good to be out.” Brian pointed out that the hardest part of a bike journey is just getting all your stuff packed and getting out the door. The first night we camped at a Wilderness Area and realized after we’d pitched our tent that they allowed deer hunting and we were in the middle of deer season. We resolved to get up well before daybreak so we wouldn’t get shot. Brian wasn’t so concerned, “We’d be fine as long as we were on the road,” he said. Brian doesn’t get concerned about too much stuff. That’s how we got the great sunrise shots the next morning.
The first day we rode the 114 miles from West Memphis to Walnut Ridge, AR to stay with Bob, an inveterate bicycling enthusiast that we’d met via Warm Showers, a bicycle touring host site. Bob gave us homemade chili dinner and all the pumpkin bread we could eat. He has a great collection of bicycles that decorated our sleeping area. Bob led us all the way through Walnut Ridge, which was quite a bit bigger than we could see from the highway. “You’ve got a 80% chance of heavy rain,” he told us.
Everyone we ran into that morning told us about the rain that was coming. “I hope you beat it,” they’d say. “It’s supposed to be really heavy.” When it started to sprinkle we got covered up in our rain gear and resolved to stop if it got heavy. About the time it got really thick we got to a campground that said, “Bikers – STOP.” So we stopped. We knew they meant a different kind of bikers but we got to hang out there for a couple of hours through the worst of the rain. We made 60 miles through heavy rain and 40 degrees that day. That’s just about the hardest conditions I know for riding. About dark we got so cold and wet that we had to ride ourselves to a laundromat, put on dry clothes and dry the wet ones out.
The next day we started off into the hill country. Coming from Colorado, I thought they were hills, since the Rockies start at aobut 6000 feet. We climbed and climbed and climbed and once in a while descended. One hill was so big that I had to get in my lowest granny gear and crank for two and half miles. I said to Brian, “We’re still going up?”
I mentioned the two and half mile hill on my Facebook page and my new boyfriend said, “Those aren’t hills. Those are the Ozark MOUNTAINS.” Now I know.
Ken Braiterman, the chairman of the board for Human Hand Wordworks, said, “Rockies people always underestimate Eastern mountains until they try to hike or bike through them.” I kept thinking, that once we got to the next town or the next highway or the next camping site that maybe we’d be done with the climbing.
We rode 80 miles on route 160, a two lane highway across Missouri about 20 miles north of the Arkansas Border. In all that time, the only large corporate businesses we saw were gas stations. There was only one grocery store in that stretch. I asked one person what people did for a living in that area and he said, “Some people work at these resorts and tourist attractions. There’s not much else down here unless people make their own business.” Now I know why people don’t want to raise taxes for social services – I didn’t see a faint trace of any social services at all down there. That kind of stuff doesn’t reach the rural areas we went through.
On the last day we rode from Bolivar, MO, all the way to my stepdad’s house in Freeman, MO. It was 134 miles fully loaded with a high of 40 degrees that day. Brian and I both set our records for the most miles we’d ever done. He was so tired that his weak leg was giving out and he couldn’t stand up on the pedals any more. We hit this little hill at the very end and we so tired we both had to use our granny gears to get up it. But the next day we were back at it – Brian came to burn off steam at First Friday and I was there to work the rolling bicycle based health fair display booth for Poetry for Personal Power.
It was a great trip. We saw a lot of things. We’re ready for the next one.