"Better far off to leave
half the ruins and nine-tenths of the churches unseen and to see well the
rest; to see them not once, but again and often; to watch them, to learn
them, to live with them, to love them, till they have become a part of
life and life's recollections."
- Augustus Hare, 19th century English writer
It surprises me that I would
remember that passage while traveling through rural Arkansas for only the
second time on a motorcycle. I intentionally repeated a section of AR 23
that I enjoyed when I went to Branson two years ago, but this time I went
further, seeing the same again and learning new at the same time. This
has been great fun. This section of backwoods Arkansas has a ungentrified
ruggedness to it, but not feeling so remote that you worry about finding
necessary amenities. I recommend if you find yourself having to vertically
transverse Arkansas, consider 23, 27, and especially 309 over Mount Magazine
which passes near the highest point in the state. Adding a nice touch,
the edge of the road in many of the valleys are carpeted with "miniature
sunflowers" - small very bright yellow daisies with brown button centers.
In general riding in Arkansas can be described in three ideas: great roads, slow drivers, no passing zones. Ok, there are some passing zones, but not many. Certainly not as many as there are slow drivers. And what's more weird is a line marking system unique to Arkansas. In many places there is a double yellow line with yellow stripes *between* the doubles. So what is it? Left over from a former passing zone that has been 'closed'. Do they mean it is ok to pass if you ride between the double yellows (but officer ...!) ? Are they some kind of 'emergency' passing zone? (I don't think they are leftovers because in some places the stripes are too few to have been a real zone, and the stripes are not aligned where they would have been if the doubles were painted later.) Whatever ... I finally did what I dislike doing. Passed over the line - following at 40 mph in a 55 zone is a safety exposure.
As an aside - a food related note. Huntsville has a nice little local legend in the form of food - Granny's Kitchen. The breakfasts are large and well prepared, but the notable mention is the sweet potato french fries that come with dinner ... I was half hoping for sweet potato hash browns, but (can you believe it?) they never thought of that.
Some passing observations:
apparently this is GoldWing country. Hardly a Harley happened upon the
highway, yet half a dozen times I saw GWs stopped at intersections (talking
to each other on their CBs ... isn't this a bit like using the telephone
to talk to someone in another room of your house?).
How wonderful it is in youth we forget that work and fun rarely mix. I saw four young boys thrilled to be riding on the side of the tractor mowing the great lawn. Chores for them have not yet become chains around their freedom.
With this time being near the American celebration of Independence Day, fireworks are being sold everywhere. Amusingly, one entrepreneur named his stand Black Market Fireworks. Likely true. But as with any competition in supply and demand, the innovations for enticements to get you into the tent are pushing any button they can. Everybody has 'lowest prices!' and many have 'buy 1 get 1 free' (marked up, of course). I saw a new (to me) trick on this theme ... buy 1 get 5 free. Ripping by the stand at 60 miles per hour it was nonetheless clear that they were only sold in 6-packs! (and at that speed I couldn't see the price 'adjustment').
In a small town there is the Memory Lane Cafe ... the street sign said Forgotten Road. I appreciate a sense of self-humor.
A shop advertises "custom slaughtering". Turns out it is a game animal butcher ... but still a surprise to the unexpected.
A man-made lake (bulldozed with a piled berm) has an island in the middle. On the island is a sign liberated from some gas station ... This is a full service island.
Murfreesboro, "The site of
America's Only Diamond Mine" is where I stopped for gas. Upon paying I
was asked by the ladies at the counter if I had been to the mine yet. They
had trouble believing I had taken the road to there without intending to
visit the mine. What do you mean 'it is a nice road'? ... you only use
roads to get somewhere, and the only reason to get here is the mine. Now
I'm not much of a betting man, but I'd bet they have never seen life from
between the handlebars. Behind a steering wheel, every curve is flat, gravel
on the road just makes a funny sound, and you don't consider where to put
your feet when you stop. On a bike you notice the road as much as where
it takes you.
Anyway, I chatted with them about the mine. It costs a few dollars to get into the area ... "mine" is a loose description. You can dig, but it is more a field and rock face. You get to keep whatever you find, and the local paper publishes the finds each week. Most are yellow diamonds, and most are less than 1/4 carat, but some have been several carats. I still declined, saying I'd wait until I needed another wedding ring, then maybe come back. They were aghast. "What if you never need one?" Then I don't need a diamond, do I. The road away from Murfreesboro was as fun as getting there.
One habit of Arkansas drivers
has come to greatly annoy me. When being passed (even legally), these same
slow pokes almost always speed up during the pass. It is not an aggression/prevention
reaction, but it seems more like being passed drives home the message they
were going too slow ... so they rectify that, but at the worst possible
time. Then they tailgate for a short while before falling back to their
habituate molasses pace. In response, I modified my 'pass attack' to be
a rapid acceleration behind them, then a swoop out and back, instead of
pull out, accelerate, pull in. It worked, and as soon as I crossed the
Texas border, the universe rotated ... the drivers let you pass uncontested
and even pull half onto the shoulder without slowing.
This gets to my social philosophy thought of the day. How many times have we heard "driving is a privilege, not a right" ? Bullwheels. Self motion, self transportation from place to place is a right in this country. It comes under the liberty of free association - to go anywhere and be with whom you choose. Some will argue that the 'privilege' is actually the permission to use the public road. Bullwheels. You do not have to earn and hold the privilege to walk on the road, nor to ride a bicycle on the road. If someone were to invent an anti-gravity conveyance that did not touch the road surface ... would this intersect with the 'privilege'? No, folks, I am not going to rant against government like Jan Hofman does in his Luddite Screed, but after seeing so many poor drivers and so many great roads that have been limited to speeds and uses guaranteed to not rattle the dentures of the worst driver, I'd like to see the 'privilege' extended and enhanced for those who can prove they earn it ... have multi level driving/riding skill tests, and let those who prove themselves run higher speeds, pass on shorter 'no zone' stretches, and go to the head of the line. We should all have equal opportunity to prove our skills, but we do not drive/ride equally ... we should not be treated equally.
Finally, clearing Texarkana, the last 50 miles went poof in Texas style. This is Texas, where pizza deliveries often go farther than that. The tiny town of Avinger is home to huge hearted Herb and Wilma, who grow friendship along with their business on the Texas Blueberry Farm (and it is also a 'two wheels only' motorcycle campground). If you find yourself anywhere within a 'Texas distance' of Avinger in June or July when the berries are ripe, you must stop and pick some. Where else have you ever been that you are *encouraged* to sample as you walk through the field, so you can be sure you are getting the taste you want from the four different bush types? Herb and Wilma are real people, and I thank them for this crazy event ... even the blueberries and grits for breakfast.
FuelPlus 316 miles, 5:55 hours, 54 mph average
Huntsville AR23 AR309 AR10 AR27 AR355 US67 TX8 TX155 Avinger
Sam Lepore, San Francisco