Powering away from the Motel that morning felt great. I had washed all my clothes in the bath, as I did today. Sweating that much makes you stink… and I’m not normally a sweaty person. I’ve actually taken to keeping one of those crunchy little water bottles that people dispose of so readily and every time I see a creek I fill it up and tip it over my jersey and trousers.
The flat part of Arkansas is pretty horrible to ride on a bike. The roads seem to be either constantly being graded, which is a sandy nightmare or 6″ thick gravel, like a rich person’s drive. If you ride a motorbike you’ll know the terror of the gravel; tottering along with the wheels seemingly under some demonic control. Yeah? Well I did that for most of a day at some clip too. The technique is-
Hold as tight as possible whilst seated and hope your bowels hold….. or is it Stand on the pegs and lighten your grip? Easier said than done. I’ve now mastered the Paris Dakar ‘ride like a racehorse jockey’ stance.
Now here is an admission that I’ve been thinking about whilst wrestling this giant bike. I grew up on small off road bikes and thought ‘no problem… Pffft, silly mid life crisis Adventure bike, I’ll just POWEEEEERRRRR through everything looking incredibly cool whilst I fishtail out of every corner and roosting dirt on the admiring crowds cooing at my incredible adventurousness.’
No. Not at all. It’s more like… Shit! Gravel on the outside of this off-camber corner, there might be some hick in a truck coming so I can’t take the rut… I’ll just Poole round at walking pace. All those people that say the Africa Twin “doesn’t have enough power, I mean the BMW has loads more, and the KTM… well… have I just put a canoe in my pocket or is that power? WOOF!”
They can suck my trench foot toe. This trip requires finesse and judgement. I mean… It would be great to spolsh into every water crossing with a abandon but that wouldn’t be wise. I tend to stop… look and gently meander through. I can’t imagine dropping Ginko in a slimy bottomed creek ford and trying to right her.
So poodle I did… Then POOOOOOWER… then pootle etc. Until I saw TAT written on an old shop. So I use the amazingly effective ABS and come to a stop. Out pops Percy who offers me a cold drink and some crackers. Him, his son Glenn and his friend from down the road Al maintain the ’TAT shack’ near Trenton, AR (oops, I seem to have been calling Arkansas AK!). It’s kind of Percy’s retirement hobby, that and the horses. It’s at odds with the “piles of crap I’ve collected over the years” adorning the shop that he uses an iPad and flat screen TV for the horses. In there is a large board dedicated to many #TransAmericaTrail riders and a some books that Al makes every year with photos of the ones that have stopped.
Al often sees #TransAmericaTrail riders from his sawmill a mile down the road and calls ahead to Percy who greets them. What an amazing experience. I asked Glen if he had a hose so I could wet myself down and he led me to his mancave (oh if I could dream) where I scored more ice. Al and Glen admired Ginko, with her weird gearbox and we were off again to the gravel. By the way everyone – SHE’S NOT A FREAKING BMW!!! I need to get a sticker made.
Very shortly after the shack was some of that talcum powder like dust which is nasty, and a pretty big water crossing where some rice fields had leaked. The umbrella came in useful again.
And onto the levies. High speed riding like flying above the fields upon these magnificent bits of engineering I came upon a cool looking cat on a three wheeler enjoying some tunes after work. I came alongside when Jordan pulled over to let me past and we chatted. After the now usual ‘where, when why’ questions I asked about food and he directed me to the burger joint in town where his mom worked. We parted and I went to freak her out by sticking my head through the order window and asking for her by name. Jordan appeared and we chewed the fat under the fans of the outdoor seating area. He drives combines on the farm and is a lovely kind bloke. His biggest concern is paying for health care for his growing family because he earns too much for Obama Care. Thinking about what he was saying on the levy overlooking the town was insightful of the cultural outlook of the people I met. Pointing at the rails he described how most black people live on one side and whites on the other. We were at the crossing, and so is he as his mom turned out to be a lovely white lady who makes a great burger. He’s not going to vote because he thinks it won’t make a difference.
More farms, gravel, farms, massive projects with giant machinery to dodge. ”What you building” I shout to the driver of one stepping down from above head height to refuel. He plops down to the oily squelch I’ve wobbled through to round the massive dam scoop and he replies in a thick Texan accent. ”This here is gonna be a dam Sir”
It’s about half a mile long scar in the land like a meteor strike. Bigger than any Dam we ever built… maybe besides Kariba ;).
With failing light I do the zig zag through the countryside looking for a place to camp. Again everything is deserted because of the heat. I look at maybe a church with flat green grass surrounding it, but locked doors bar that idea and I furrow a path down another gravel road to have a bug splat me in the eye. I stop. Stop engine, remove dome, gloves, rub eye (it’s a self cleaning mechanism you know?) and hear dogs.
When I look over my shoulder I see some mean looking dogs, Trump garden signs, a flamed dump truck a cherry picker and a random assortment of buildings. There’s a scary looking 8ft tall dude with a beard staring at me. I leave Ginko on the road and approach the demise line of his property and wave hello. There is a castle doctrine in Arkansas – you know what that means?! Matt comes bounding up and enthusiastically introduces himself instantly asking if I need to rest or want anything. And so I come across incredible generosity. Matt and Janice are looking toward the good life. Un-reliant subsistence seems the goal with chickens (amazing scrambled eggs Matt), cows, pigs and even Guinea Fowl chirping down from the shed roof alerting them of my presence. Matt is no redneck. He lived in Oz for 30 years and has the most comprehensive knowledge I have come across in a man. Microscopic electronics to animal butchery. Incredibly resourceful. He’s a keen HAM radio operator with the top licence and enough equipment to reach anywhere with the quality of a good radio broadcast.
I slept on their couch and when Janice left in the morning for work Matt set about making me a screen to try and combat the terrible buffeting I was getting from the wind. Being a life long biker he knows the suffering that turbulence can bring. He has the most beautiful Harley. I’m not really into them but I’ve seen two I like, both owned by people I got to know in a short space of time. Matt’s is the top dog with subtle and showy in one package: All chrome with silver and gun metal paint embellished with blue pinstriped scallops. Tell you what. He’s a very brave man taking that down his nasty gravel road. Oh and the screen he made from a chainsaw face shield is magic.
I left the Davis’ sad I couldn’t get to know them better (didn’t get a photo of Jan either) and headed toward the Hills. More riding through tracks and trails, farms, woods, creeks and roads in the incredible heat I rounded a corner and saw Scotland. Thinking of Jenny (my long time friend and colleague) I selfied at the seemingly deserted town, fiddled with the inreach to try and get it to Bluetooth to my phone (fail) then came across a little shop. It was lunch and I could nearly see if it was open. I saunter in, probably complaining about the heat and am presented with a #TransAmericaTrail sign in sheet. Wow.
They too have #TransAmericaTrail memorabilia and I’m the 13th to pass through this year. Lucky because I get chatting to the lovely lovey family that run the place. Jonathan takes my order and makes my lunch whilst Becky and Bill quiz me; Savannah probably thinks I just talk funny. It always takes some time to explain not only the trip, but also my background. Again, they seem genuinely interested and ask very relevant and thoughtful questions. It’s a shame that Buck is selling the place and I hope that people as kind and thoughtful take over. Becky not only offers to wash my disgustingly smelly clothes (I could never let her!) but then pays for my lunch. I couldn’t refuse her, it wasn’t allowed.
Up and up into the Ozarks where I was promised cooler weather, but not a hint. Through deserted woods roads, higher until that time to sleep again. It comes round so quick. I pull into a camp… ”there is a public campground down the road, we have this church group who booked the whole place”. Bit of a shame, all I wanted was a patch of grass. So I pull into the remote county campsite that is completely deserted, set up and use one of my panniers as a water hauling system to wash and use the stove to boil more drinking water. The tap is a way up the road. A weird couple does the rounds in a white sedan in a really creepy way which gives me the heabies and I get into my tent and try to write. I fail. It was so hot that, lying on my mattress, phone above me, my elbows dripped with sweat. I ended up waking at 4am because I was being eaten by tiny tiny ants and was sweltering, so packed and set off.
I managed the rest of Arkansas and a fair chunk of the incredible Oklahoma, the start of which has a great river in which swimming is a must. I met Larry there. He fishes whilst the raucous young floaters drift by. He says the biggest fish he got was when they are about, so doesn’t mind them. Larry works in a can factory but says he preferred his first job in a plant nursery.
Over the plains I went to the incredible comfort of the quality motel in Bartlesville.
I donned flipflops and shorts, white tee shirt and left the helmet to enjoy the wind in my bald for the first time in a city on the way to Murphys. There, the dish to try is a burger on toast covered in cheese, fries and gravy. A ate until it looked like road kill and gave up. There Roger (the codger) and Brian entertained me with great craic. Roger seems a favourite of the ladies that work the place. He’s into oil and was familiar with the place where I took the pics. I actually snuck in there because the trail was too low. When hearing of my architectural work he suggested I visit the tower that I spotted on the way to the Resturant; the advantage of no helmet! It seems that Frank had his hand in Bartlesville and his tower here is his only ‘skyscraper’.
Brian came on his flamed Screaming Eagle Fat Boy and joined Rodger and I in to car park to kick tyres. I gave him a go on Ginko and he loved the gearbox. He wanted me to ride his Harley but I had to refuse because in flipflops I’d be a menace. It seems Brian is a victim of the awful separation of Indians (is that politically correct??) because his family are completely disparate, so much so that he had to convince the hospital that he had a solid base of friends to take care of him otherwise they wouldn’t give him a new liver. Rodger and 9 others were there for him and he looks very very well now. Super cool with hair to accompany that Oklahoma helmet law.
The main problem with this trip is having to move on from all these wonderful people. Even the intimidating looking geeza at the milkshake place in Salina, OK was a thoughtfully generous person, looking carefully at my maps and giving all the knowledge he could.
Now I have to hit the interstate, for my own well being and the time needed to meet Adam in Denver; I just hope my rear tyre lasts so I can enjoy New Mexico. The Saint should know; I have pinned the OK dirt – 100+ club!