by Sara Dykman
Tonight is our last night in Arkansas. We have been in our 39th state for just under two weeks now. I figured by the 39th state that they might begin to bleed together, but I can’t say they have. Sure the southeastern states have had a lot in common, but I have found them to be easily distinguishable by the diversity of the scenery, the quality of the roads, the weather, the unique people we have run into, and our state of mind along the way. Arkansas has proven to be a great state, one of my favorite so far.
The scenery has been great in Arkansas. Finding beautiful places is a priority. We hardly ever choose the most direct route anywhere. This is especially true of our time in Arkansas. First we headed west then back east in order to traverse the ‘green’ areas on the map. Green areas are usually federal or state public lands: state parks, national forests, county parks, etc. Green usually means more scenic, more hills, slower speeds, and fewer cars. When we see green on a map, we head to it.
And a good thing we did. Though not as dramatic as the mountains of the west, these rolling forests make for fantastic biking. After months on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where the ocean is beautiful but the land is flat, we were all happy to add some variety to our daily riding. For me the hills break up the day. They give you little goals to strive for rather than pedaling in the same gear, cadence, and speed for 50 miles a day. And with uphills comes downhills, which I enjoy oh so much.
We had some of the steepest climbs of the trip in Arkansas. Luckily our bikes have gearing that allows us to spin, so we can go SLOWLY up the hills. The steep climbs lead to ridges that were formed when the glacier scraped the tops of the mountains off. It is on these ridges that we can glimpse a view of rolling hills covered in the green of pines and the browns and grays of naked trees.
But soon those trees will begin to produce buds and color will return. Already the yellows of flowering tulips dot the road sides and spring peepers call to potential mates from warming ponds. After months of cold, we could not be happier about the emerging spring.
etween the green we find pastoral lands. Biking through the countryside is as iconic as it sounds. Here the roads are scenic, offer nice views, and are less monotonous than tree farms, thick forests, or suburbs. Between the solitary houses we passed groups of cows and horses. I particularly remember a herd of about 40 ponies. Those ponies all turned their heads to watch us bike by, and we all turned our heads to watch those funny looking horses. We have also seen lots of donkies, mules, pigs, chickens, goats, and dogs.
We are regularly chased by dogs. They come sprinting from porches or under trees, running as if catching us is the only thing that matters. Aaron has an air-horn in tote that can be recharged with a bicycle pump. One toot from the air horn usually sends the larger dogs back, but the small yippers are fearless. If you keep riding they will give up; I try not to worry.
In Arkansas the roads have been ideal. On the biggest roads we have found a shoulder that eases the stress of traffic. On small roads, cars are infrequent and most drivers wave or nod hello as they pass. These small roads are the norm in Arkansas; winding through forests lands, pastures, and rural towns.
In town is often where our trip becomes the most unpredictable, and thus most memorable. In town people ask us about our trip and we ask people about the coming roads and towns. These conversations often lead to invitations that we try never to turn down.
In Russelville the owner of Highlander Cycling told us of an approaching storm and invited us to his house for the night. It had been awhile since our last shower and laundry, so Bryon’s offer was more than appreciated. Not only did we escape the storm but Bryon’s mom treated us to our first taste of chocolate gravy. We were skeptical as we poured the gravy onto our eggs and biscuits, but like I always say: any excuse for chocolate is a good excuse.
In another town, Tommy struck up a conversation with a woman while waiting for us to do some grocery shopping. She called the local reporter, Freda, who tracked us down on our way out of town and wrote up a story for the newspaper. She also looked at our route and gave us the contact info for a woman she knew. Doris ended up letting us stay at her guest house for two nights, giving us some much need rest.
Rest is always good. I think all of us will remember a few sick days in Arkansas. Tommy and Aaron both got sick with the flu. People ask us what we do when we get sick. This time around we rode shorter days, drank lots of juice, and when given the opportunity to take a rest day in a guest house we jumped on it.
I guess if I am going to tell you all about Aaron and Tommy’s sickness I should mention my own minor mental sick day. In southern Arkansas I had a minor, yet memorable, meltdown. It is hard to pin point the cause of such breakdown. It is really the product of months of compromising, 24/7 companionship, hunger, and tiredness. All I know is that one small annoyance pushed me over the edge. I didn’t want to talk to the rest of the group; I wanted to talk to anyone else and especially a girl. I called my friend, who could help me laugh at my collapse and turn my thoughts beyond the microcosm of bike49. So it goes. That won’t be the last.
Aside from the sick days, Arkansas will stand out as a great state on this trip. Though it is the 39thstate it stands out because of the beautiful scenery, the varied terrain, the warming weather, and the generous people. With 10 more states to go, I fully expect to like each one for its own reasons and look forward to the adventures to come.