Rollicking through the American South, we are crunching down yet another gravel road, Samantha is sending a small plume of dust and I am entertaining myself by singing. Southern Rock, Southern Blues and any road song I can think of. I sing Bobby McGee which I think might qualify for two categories. I sing “Born to be Wild” and surprise myself with how many lyrics I know. My voice echoes in the helmet, it’s not a pleasant sound but I’m in a good mood and singing seems appropriate, after all it’s Sunday.
We are leaving Clarksdale behind today. The abandoned Sunday morning town left us hungry and decaffinated and we are having a rough time of it. We both feel sore and tired but the bikes are eager, always wanting to go. We mapped our way back to the Trans America Trail through Friars Point and up onto the Levy. This massive dirt mound follows the river like a snake and to our delight there is a road on top. We are higher than the trees, we look down on the towns we pass. It is a surreal place to ride and as the gravel tosses us to and fro I consider a loss of control sending us into a long descent down the steep grassy wall off the levy. It’s rideable but once the descent begins there is no stopping till the bottom.
We follow this engineering marvel above farmers fields and spook a herd of bulls. There is no fence and they come running up the side of the levy and stop in front of us on the road. They are massive and appear to be deciding whether to charge or run. We think about how quickly we could turn around. I wonder if we could even outrun them on the slippery gravel. If we were charged we would probably try to turn around and in terror drop the bikes just before being trampled. The bulls stare for a moment and then careen down the other side of the levy out of sight and still heading the same way we are going. We slowly advance until we can see them again. We have them spooked for sure and they run down, through a break in the fence and then back over the top of the levy and down the other side. Some are tiring and lagging now. It looks as if they are running all the way home, back to the barn. It’s odd this herd of massive animals running from us and our little dirt bikes.
We take a dirt road that swoops off the levy, down into a grove of trees and onto the bank of the Mississippi. I feel like this is some kind of a milestone. We’ve passed through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and now Arkansas is just over the river. I understand why Huck and Tom floated this river. It’s wide and swirling, flanked on both shores by wide bars of sand. It looks much like the way Mark Twain saw it at this wild spot in the river. And this to me is why we do it. Enduring miles of dusty gravel and aching muscles, sleeping on the ground and oiling greasy chains to get here.
Samantha lies down on a picnic table. She’s uncomfortable and tired. After two days off the bikes we’re surprised at how worn out we are. I discover a dragon fly clinging to my sleeve. He’s dazed. I remember something hard hitting me square in the sternum. He must’ve tumbled under my jacket till now. It’s too bad he’s injured. I’ve been a fan of dragon flys. Somewhere I had learned that they spend their early years as aquatic insects, swimming in stream before emerging, gleaming metallic, 4 wings capable of flying at 30 mph forward or backward. They are truly impressive creatures. And apparently able to hit a man’s sternum full force and survive.
We had heard Eastern Arkansas is long, boring and dusty but a short summer rain made the trail tacky and smooth. We ran between farmers fields. Each day on the ride seems to have a character. There was the day of the broken down mountain shacks of Tenessee. The day of lush bottomlands and soybean fields. And today, the day of dead flat fields and harvest.
We had crossed over the Mississippi on a narrow two lane bridge. Trucks squeezed us for space and blew the little bikes around as they passed. Once over we pulled off highway 49 and into the welcome center. We met Pam who gave us free coffee and tried to find us camping. She knew about the TAT from other riders coming through. A few minutes later we are tunneling through forest and then rolling out into wide open fields. It’s a day of harvesting. Massive tractors dump what looks like rice into semi trucks. The ride is beautiful and fun and before we know it we are checked into a little motel in Beebe. We are ready for a cold beer and a hot shower but Beebe, like a lot of Arkansas, is a dry town.
Tomorrow we are back on the road, headed to the Ozarks.