We interrupt my travelogue through Egypt for a bike trip across the state of Arkansas.
Why Arkansas? Because my sister has ridden across all the lower 48 states except two: Arkansas and Utah. Now she is down to one: Utah, where I have promised to be the Supplies And Gear (SAG) person because I cannot keep up with her.
There, I have said it. No more sibling rivalry. I have surrendered. I will forever be a half mile behind her — or more.
We started this ride in Fort Smith, Arkansas, right on the Oklahoma border and the Arkansas River, headed to the Mississippi River and Memphis, some 300 miles away by Mary Jo’s route.
Day One: The weather was chilly but clear. My new electric-assisted bike was working fine. It was Sunday morning, and the traffic was light. And for once in my rides with my sister, I cannot be blamed for cutting short the day’s ride. That blame goes to a nail that found itself lodged in Mary Jo’s tire somewhere near Midway, AR. We were 54 miles into a 77-mile ride when Mary Jo stopped, walked up to me and announced she had a flat tire. “Front or rear?” Rear. Ugh.
We decided to call the SAG team, otherwise known as our spouses. MJ spouse Don arrived for the rescue, and after a Mexican lunch at our first overnight stop in the town of Dardanelle, three of us spent more than an hour changing the tire.
If it hadn’t been for that nail, I might have shortened the ride. Somewhere in those 54 miles, I discovered that the auxiliary battery I bought to make sure I could make the average of 80 miles a day was not charged. So soon after those 54 miles, my bike would have been without power, and it would have been up to my two legs alone to get us to Dardanelle. The SAG team does not answer the phone on those calls.
After the tire repair, I examined my batteries, found the right slots for the charging tabs to go into and set them up for overnight.
Day Two: We rode 20 miles on a foggy morning before stopping for breakfast at the Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park. I’d go back to Arkansas just to stay at the lodge. The website says that the “native log and stone facilities (were) constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) beginning in 1933. The CCC built trails, roads, bridges, cabins, and the focal point of the park, historic Mather Lodge, a 24-room lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon with a restaurant, meeting rooms, and gift shop.”
The story behind why the park is called Petit Jean is a charming — but sad — one. I hope you can enlarge and read it on the menu page I photographed.
Concerned about whether my bike and batteries would last the 90 miles for the day, I did lots of coasting to reserve battery power. Coasting downhill is the only time I can get ahead of my sister, who holds back on the descending grades. So somewhere on Arkansas Route 300, I got way ahead of her, so far ahead that I missed a turn. At the bottom of the hill, Mary Jo told me I had missed it and we had to ride back a mile, adding two miles to the day’s ride. Maybe because of coasting or maybe because the batteries have more juice than I thought, I made the 90-mile ride to Little Rock with power to spare. And I was feeling pretty good about staying less than a half mile behind my sister, until after dinner when she acknowledged that her electric-assisted bike had run out of power. At what point in the ride? About 75 miles, which means that she rode the last 15 miles on her own power. The ego balloon popped.
Day Three: I was slow. I do not like riding in the rain, which started before we got outside the city limits of Little Rock. It rained until we arrived at England, AR, 37 miles into the ride. The only good thing I can say is that Mary Jo’s route had us on beautiful roads: Hardly any traffic, smooth pavements, trees along the route. Besides being a great bike rider, my sister is also a pretty good navigator. She has to stop along the way to dig out her reading glasses to study her Garmin, her written route in a rain-proof folder and check her cell phone if there is coverage. Even when I think she has led us astray, I follow. We turn onto a road that says “No Outlet,” I’m riding behind her (a half mile back). “Road closed”? Who cares? There will be a trail at the end of it. Or a way through a construction zone, as happened in the photo below. “Sometimes it works, sometimes not,” Mary Jo said. “This time, it worked.”
I also do not like riding in the wind, which I thought came up after the rain even though my sister said, “This is not too bad.” So I was slow. So slow that at 64 miles, we called in the SAG team 13 miles short, realizing that getting to Clarendon, AR, before dark could be a problem.
In my defense, I would like to point out that walking 1.8 miles across the heaped-stone gravel “shortcut,” did not help our time. Still some work to do on navigation, sis.
Day four: It rained all night and into the morning. Rained hard. Enough that we walked to breakfast and decided to drive with the SAG team to Marianna, AR, ahead of the rain.
We kept dry for 60 miles into Memphis, TN, but were disappointed in the Mississippi River Levee because you can’t see the river from on top of the embankment, which is covered with crumbly gravel.
The Big River Trail was an assortment of trails, roads and turns, one of which I slipped in gravel and came down hard on my side. Two miles from the end of the ride — but better than two miles at the start of the ride, as Josh at the bike shop pointed out.
The bike lane across the Mississippi River is on a converted railroad bridge, fenced in with very few people on it the day we came across.
Despite the flat tire, the rain and my fall, we made it across Arkansas. When the woman at the bike shop, which is shipping my bike back to Seattle, heard about our journey, she said: “It was an eventful ride.”
And we ended it all with a ride in a pink Cadillac limo to a dinner with Elvis at the Marlowe Restaurant (order the ribs).