Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Touring Toad Suck and Tucker Creek Trail

Just down the road is Toad Suck, Arkansas. Yes, that's right, Toad Suck. There is a nice campground called Toad Suck Park. It's right on the Arkansas River.

Before the bridge was built across the river, there was a ferry that ran back and forth. Apparently, the origin of Toad Suck has to do with when the river was either too high or too low for the ferry to run. While the guys would be waiting for the ferry to go, they would be drinking in the bar. They would drink so much they would puff up like toads (?). I'm not sure where the suck part comes in. I know it's not a very good explanation...

After checking out all things Toad Suck, I headed over to the Walmart where Gary told me the Tucker Creek Trail started. Sure enough, behind the Tire Center was the beginning of the Tucker Creek Trail, a very nice paved bike path. It, obviously, runs along Tucker Creek. It isn't that long yet, but it will eventually run from one end of Conway to the other.

At the current end of the trail, I came out to the road. I pulled out my phone to see where I was. Then, knowing enough by now of Conway, I decided to go back on Prince St. to the bridge and back to the house. It was a short ride of about 12 miles, but that's just fine.

Betsy is all packed up. We went to Walmart to find a duffle bag for the other stuff, but couldn't find one big enough. At Target I had the same problem, so I switched to plan B. I bought a big suitcase. I have a big duffle at home. We need a bigger suitcase (Dillon has the one big suitcase).

I'm headed home tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Petite Climb to Petit Jean

Monday morning...time for a bike ride! Hmmm...I hear there's a mountain nearby.

Kim and Gary suggested riding to Petit Jean State Park. It just so happens that Petit Jean State Park is at the top of Petit Jean Mountain. I mapped the route and it (and Gary) said it was 29 miles one way. Gary said the steep part was a mile.

I took off at 9:30. The ride to the base of the mountain was very pleasant. It was gentle rollers on quiet roads. My average speed up until the beginning of the climb was 15 mph! Apparently, I had a tailwind.

The climb up Petit Jean was definitely a climb. It was probably the longest hill I've climbed this entire tour (not the steepest, however). I managed to make it half-way before I gave in to super granny gear.

At the top, was a sign to Petit Jean's gravesite and the Overlook. I rode up to the overlook, but never found the gravesite. The view from the overlook was spectacular! The Arkansas River curved below and I could see for miles. The hawks were catching the up drafts. I wondered about the origin of the name Petit Jean. Of course, my questions were answered shortly ( and now so will your's). Petit Jean (Little John) was a French girl who disguised herself as a boy to work on a ship as a cabin boy so she could come to the New World with her fiancé (who didn't recognize her). The crew spent the summer with the Native Americans near the Arkansas River and the mountain. At the time they were getting ready to return to France, Jean became ill. Her true identity was discovered. She knew she would not survive the trip to France, so she asked to stay with the Indians. They carried her on a litter up to the top of the mountain where she died shortly after and was buried. Years later a grave was discovered at the the top of the mountain with perfectly placed stones. It was thought to be the grave of Petit Jean.

From the overlook, I continued on to the State Park. It was lunchtime when I got to the Registration Building. I was going to eat my lunch at a picnic table behind the building, but I saw another cyclist, so I went to talk to him. He was out for a day ride on his recumbent. He had come up the other side from Dardenelle (not as steep). We chatted for awhile about touring (he would like to come to Washington and do the Olympic Penninsula). I ate my lunch while we were talking. He was heading to Mather Lodge for his lunch.

After finishing my PB&J, I went into the office/store. The clerk asked if I had been to the Cedar Falls Overlook. She told me there was a bike path ("Hike and Bike" as they are called here) that would take me to the Overlook. Well, she was sort of right. I rode the bike trail to the end, but it came out at Mather Lodge. That was okay because the view from the lodge over the canyon was nice too. I saw signs for the Falls Overlook, but I couldn't seem to find it. Finally, I followed the bike path back and turned onto a gravel path that said "Access to Cedar Falls Overlook. The gravel path ended with stairs, so I just carried Betsy down the few stairs. The road to the Overlook was across the street.

I parked Betsy and walked the boardwalk to the Falls Overlook. The falls were not that big, but the rock formation was pretty cool. There were other trails to other viewpoints, but I didn't take them.

When I had ridden into the park, I had passed The Outpost--a grocery/cafe. I saw a sign for hand-dipped ice cream. When I was headed back, I stopped and had some ice cream. They also had Petit Jean Mountain Fudge, but I resisted buying any of that (it was in the upper 80s today--I'm not sure the fudge would have survived long).

My ice cream fix satisfied, I headed back down the mountain. Coming down was quite fun. Unfortunately, at the bottom I was met with a headwind. I rode against it until Houston (Arkansas, not Texas--population 726). From there on Bethel Rd to Hwy 60 it was a crosswind. I had a tailwind for the last 5 miles.

Overall, I rode 63 miles. That was a long distance considering the hills.

Tonight, my nieces, Haley (with husband, Dallas) and Brittany (without husband, Drew), and Kim's mom, Betty, came to dinner. I was happy I got to see the girls. After dinner, all us gals hopped into Haley's car and Kim's car and went to Haley's house (just down the road) to see all the stuff Haley has for baby "Trip" (officially, Dallas Wayne Payne III), due in June. That baby has enough stuff for a whole herd of babies! That's not counting the stuff Kim has for him at her house!

Anyway, it was fun to get to see everything and see both Haley and Brittany's houses yesterday and today. Both girls have grown up to be wonderful women!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Little Rock and the BIG Dam Bridge

Ahhh...the luxury of sleeping in a regular bed! I'm used to sleeping 2 1/2 inches off the ground. The bed I'm sleeping in is quite high off the ground (I mean, the floor). I thought I might get altitude sickness! No, just kidding, it is really very comfortable.

Today Kim took me into Little Rock to have a look around. First we went to Central High School. For those who don't remember their Civil Rights history, Central High was the school where, in the late 50s, the "Little Rock Nine" were the first black students to enroll, and the beginning of the end of segregation in the schools. The school is still a functioning Highschool. Kitty-corner from the school is a Central High Visitors Center run by the National Park Service. The exhibits detail the fight for desegregation and all the political upheaval between the Arkansas Governor who fought against desegregation and President Eisenhower who finally sent the 101st Airborne in to control the situation. It was very interesting. The school is, architecturally, a beautiful building.

After the high school, we swung by the State Capitol Building. It is a dome Capitol building just like Olympia's. everything was pretty quiet since it was Sunday.

From the Capitol, we drove through the River Market section of town (where they are working to revitalize the area with a friendly atmosphere and even a trolley) to the Clinton Library. The library wasn't open, so we didn't go inside. But, it is a cool building. Near the library is an old railroad bridge that has been turned into a pedestrian/biking bridge. It is, of course, called the Clinton Bridge (it used to be called the Rock Island Bridge). We walked to the center of the bridge and back.

By then it was coming up on lunch time. First we were going to go to a Subway, but instead we went to a Whole Hog BBQ place. It was good! Afterward we went to the Subway for cookies (check a Little Rock Subway off the list).

Then it was on to the Big Dam Bridge. Seriously, that is the name of the bridge! It is an apt name since there is a dam, and it is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. From the bridge I could see pelicans--big, white pelicans.

When we left the Big Dam Bridge, we headed over to Brittany and Drew's house. They were home so we visited, but only for a brief moment. Then Kim's mom, Betty, called. We had stopped by her house earlier, but she wasn't home. Now she was home, so we stopped by her house too. Had a great visit, then headed back home.

We had a good dinner (pizza) and we planned a ride for me tomorrow to Petit Jean Mountain. Gonna go climb me a hill!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Last Loaded Day

First thing I did when I woke up this morning was look out the window. Yay! Not raining, but it was heavily overcast and it looked like it had just recently stopped raining. I got everything together, then used the microwave to fix my breakfast.

I was out the door at 7:55. I had put my raingear on, but almost promptly took it off (except the helmet cover). It wasn't really that cold. I was headed south on Hwy 367, even though none of my directions mentioned a Hwy 367. I turned my Garmin on. Then I stopped and pulled up the map on my phone. The directions had said to turn left, but it was to turn left onto Hwy 64, 167, and 67 (yes, this part of the highway went by three different names!). But that section of the highway was more like a freeway. I noticed, according to the Garmin, I was merely paralleling that Interstate. I figured it was fine, so I stayed on 367 until Searcy. Then, as I was going over the highway on the overpass, I looked down at the road and saw it wouldn't be too bad to ride on. There was a wide shoulder. So I got on the highway. According to the exit I would be taking, I had 13 miles on this highway. I turned on my Volcano music speaker, and listened to the music as the big trucks flew by.

When I exited, I had 31 miles to go to Conway. Along those 31 miles, I stopped for a mid-morning snack at the junction of Hwy 5 and 64 (now just 64). Back on Betsy, I noticed it was starting to misty rain. I didn't feel it was enough to bother with the raingear.

For a number of miles, I was riding on what appeared to be a pretty new road. Kim said it is a bypass. Alongside much of the road was that red blossom clover. I think it is very pretty when there are tons of the red blooms. In general, today I saw more dead armadillos than I've seen altogether. It was definitely "dead critter day". I even saw a deat rat!

I returned to the regular Hwy 64 and continued working my way toward Conway. Once in Conway, the traffic was very heavy until I passed under I-40. By this time, I was hungry and on the lookout for a Subway. In all this busy shopping area, I saw not one Subway! So, I kept going. As I was headed toward my next turn, I saw the Subway. It was a combo gas station/restaurant Subway.

After lunch I had only 8 miles to go. I found Kim and Gary's house with no problems. Kim and I had a nice long chat and I got to know the dogs. Sulu is a long-haired dapple dachshund, and Sadie is a pie-bald dachshund--both versions you don't see to often. They are very cute!

I rode 70 miles today with an all-time highest touring average of 13.6 (it was 13.9 prior to going through all the slow traffic coming into Conway)!

Below ia a photo of the new highway with red clover blooming on both sides.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Just Keep Pedaling!

Today's goal was to get as far as I could toward Bigelow. I had Google-mapped directions from Tom Sawyer to Kim and Gary's place in Bigelow. I made a couple of modifications to avoid I-40, the busy freeway.

All but about 7 miles of today's ride was on US-64. It was really a pretty good highway for much of the way. There were mostly good shoulders.

As I left Tom Sawyer today and came up over the levee, I looked to the direction I was heading and saw nothing but very dark clouds. Not a promising vision for a long distance day! At least I had stowed my raingear in the top of the pannier.

Fortunately, I seemed to stay south of the darkest clouds. However, about 10 miles in, it started to rain. I pulled over to a closed florist shop that had an overhang and pulled out my raingear. I put my jacket and RainLegs on as well as my helmet cover and gloves. As I set back out on the road, the rain was already tapering off. About a mile down the road the rain quit altogether (of course it did!). I stopped and took the RainLegs off, but left the jacket on for awhile. Because I nothing better to do, I did a round of 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. When I got to zero, I took my rain jacket off. I know...I know...like I said, nothing better to do.

At the town of Parkin, I pulled over for my 10:00ish snack of chocolate milk and an oatmeal cookie sandwich thingy. A guy named Chris rode in the same time as me. He is from England. He is riding from San Diego to Washington DC. He just had rear panniers and a backpack. He had camped earlier when there weren't as many towns, but he was now staying in motels. He didn't stay long. While I was experiencing a tailwind, he battled a headwind. Sorry, dude, but I'm not wishing away my tailwind!

By 12:30 I had gone 57 miles. I can't remember the name of the town, but I told myself if there was a Subway, I would eat there (big surprise, right?). If there wasn't, I would eat my own food--a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich. Well, there wasn't a Subway. I did buy a bottle of Gatorade to go with my PB&J.

As I was finishing my lunch, off in the distance there was lightening...yaaaaay! My favorite thing to do, ride in a thunderstorm! At the time, it wasn't raining...at the time. Not far down the road, I could see the rain. I pulled over just as the first raindrops hit (actually, hail). The thunderstorm was also continuing. Each time I saw lightening, I did the whole counting thing. It seemed to be (if there is truth to the counting to determine how far away the storm is) 7 to 8 miles away. Still, the sooner it stopped, the better.

Fortunately, the thunderstorm part did stop. It continued to rain for quite awhile. In the distance I could see lighter sky (even a hint of blueness!). I just kept telling myself to "go into the light"! By the time I got to Augusta, I had done 76 miles. It was no longer raining, and it was time for another break. What do we have here? A Subway of course! I had cookies and chocolate milk.

I had 13 more miles to Bald Knob. Earlier in the day I had told myself if I could make more than half of the miles (around 90), I would treat myself to a motel stay. When I arrived in Bald Knob, I had gone 89 miles. At the intersection of US-64 and a bunch of other highways, there was a Budget Inn. Looked good to me! There is supposed to be another thunderstorm tonight. I don't care! I will be INSIDE TONIGHT!!! Of course, it's also supposed to rain tomorrow...

Today was my longest touring day ever. My average speed was 13.3--my highest for this tour!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Walking in Memphis...Going to Graceland

Now, if I could only get those two songs out of my head!

Today was the day to explore Memphis. First, however, we had to get there. Getting to Memphis from West Memphis has probably been our biggest worry of the whole tour. The MRT Guide book tells how to do it, but from the other direction. It really wasn't too difficult except for when we both realized there was no longer a shoulder as we came to the bridge. There was a pedestrian walkway, so we both ended up lifting our bikes over the jersey barrier. Fortunately for me, I did not have my luggage with me, so it was pretty easy. Christian who was a ways behind me, had to take his front panniers off so he could lift the bike. Once on the walkway, it was easy going.

On the other side of the bridge, in Tennessee, we rode down a grassy hill to the street. From there we needed to find the Mississippi River RV Park so Christian could drop off his stuff. There were no signs, but Christian found it.

After Christian checked in and set up his tent, we had to do some tricky maneuvering to get to downtown--more grass riding. We managed, but it was kind of confusing.

First we wanted to go to Midtown Bikes which was on the way. We were too early and they weren't open yet. So, we rode on to Sun Studios. Sun studios is where Elvis first recorded as well as many other musicians (Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Maroon Five, and Stray Cats to name a few). We didn't bother with the tour as it was expensive and long. Still, we took lots of photos.

After the Studio, we headed back toward Main St. On the way we passed the Peabody Hotel. This is the hotel of the famous ducks that live on the roof and are escorted every morning to a fountain where they spend their day, and are then escorted back to their rooftop home.

We headed to Beale St., but turned right first and went to the river. We wanted to go to the Visitor's Center to see if there was a "Welcome to Tennessee" sign (there wasn't one on the bridge). The closest we could get was a big egg (see photo below).

From the Welcome Center, we could see the De Soto Bridge (I-40--no bikes allowed). This is the bridge that is lit up at night. We could also see Mud Island (more of a kids place) and the hanging monorail that goes to the island.

We rode back to Beale and decided to go to the Lorraine Hotel. This is the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Of course it is all part of the Civil Rights Museum with a charge to visit. But, we could go into the parking lot of the hotel and take photos of the balcony. It's also under renovation "to make a better museum experience".

The bike shop was very close so we went there next. Christian was hoping for a Memphis jersey, but the guy didn't have much in the way of clothing. I asked for a sticker, and he also gave Christian and I Midtown Bike can-cozies (I had to explain to Christian what a can-cozy was). I noticed a Subway cup on the counter. I asked the guy where the Subway was. It was just up Main St.

We had decided to eat at a BBQ place. We ended up eating at "Pig (Pork With an Attitude)" on Beale St. We were able to sit outside so that was pretty cool. Pig has won several BBQ contests so we figured it would be pretty good--it was.

After lunch, we did the rest of Beale, then went in search of the Subway (had to check off a Tennessee Subway). Of course we didn't have sandwiches, we just had cookies. Across the street was a marker telling about the first Piggly Wiggly. Piggly Wiggly was the first grocery store where the customer picked out their own groceries. Prior to PW, the customer handed the grocer the list and the grocer put the order together and wrote the price on the paper bag. PW revolutionized grocery shopping. I did not know that!

Originally, we had decided not to go to Graceland. But, we rethought it, and decided we should at least go to the gates. Graceland is a 10 minute drive from downtown which makes it about a 30-45 minute ride. Riding on Elvis Presley Blvd. was highly unpleasant. The road was bad and the traffic was heavy. But, we made it to the gates of Graceland (did not see any ghost of Elvis). It was sort of anti-climactic, as you would expect something...I don't know...bigger? More ostentatious? Really, it's not. What is more ostentatious is all the touristy stuff across the street from Graceland itself. The area of town surrounding the Land of Elvis is pretty low-rent. I can't help but wonder what the area would have been like if Elvis had lived to a ripe old age???

After Graceland, we retraced our ride on the nasty road. Once we got off of EP Blvd., things quieted down. We stopped at Stax Studio (also a museum and Music Academy) for a photo.

Christian had Google directions to get back to the RV Park. With just one wrong turn, we made it back. At the RV Park, we said our goodbyes. It was a great tour. I told Christian I'm sure I will be looking for him in my rearview mirror for the next couple of days as I make my way to Little Rock.

The way back to West Memphis, Arkansas was not bad. I just had to walk down and up a few embankments to avoid much of I-55.

When I got back to Tom Sawyer RV Park, I decided to take a shower. When I got to the restroom/shower, I noticed a toiletries bag sitting on top of the paper towel dispenser. Uh-oh, it was Christian's! I emailed him right away and told him I would leave it at the office for him. He will come tomorrow to get it. I will be gone by then. Bummer!

Anyway, it was an interesting day in Memphis. Now, onto Little Rock!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Housekeeping and a Reconnaissance Mission

Last night we survived our 5th thunderstorm. It started raining at about 11:00 and didn't stop until about 8:30 this morning. The thunder and lightening didn't last too long and it was never very close. After initially waking up to the sound of the rain, and going through a mental checklist of making sure everything was put away or closed, I went back to sleep for the remainder of the night.

We had planned to ride over the river to Memphis, but with the weather we decided to stay in West Memphis and take care of some housekeeping details. First up was some charging of our various electronics. The laundry room was a perfect place to do that. There are several outlets and a couple of tables.

Once the rain stopped, we got on our bikes and went first for some lunch. As I had not checked an Arkansas Subway off my list yet, we went in search of one. Of course, Subways are never too difficult to find. A sure-fire bet is near a freeway interchange. Sure enough, I found one! Since the Subways in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas don't seem to serve coffee past 11:00, we hopped across the road to McDonalds so Christian could get his post-lunch coffee (and wifi, because he is unable to get online at the RV Park).

After the coffee and computer chores were completed, we rode over to a Kroger grocery store. Because Christian is heading to a different park tomorrow (in Memphis), he needed to restock food that doesn't require cooking. I will be staying at Tom Sawyer and just riding into Memphis tomorrow without my stuff. It will be easier for me to head toward Little Rock on Friday from here. I found a new thing at the grocery store. Quaker makes an instant oatmeal that comes in a ziplock bag. You can use as little or as much as you want. It packs easier and comes with less servings. I don't need a whole bunch because I just have, maybe, 5 more breakfasts (depending on how long it takes me to get to Little Rock).

We returned to the park. Christian wanted to dry his tent. I decided to do a reconnaissance mission for tomorrow's ride into Memphis. I rode down a road that a sign said was easy access to I-55 (the bridge we need to cross to get to Memphis). The road took me to Broadway (aka Hwy 70). From there I could see MRT signs again so I knew I was going the right way. I followed the signs as far as the entrance to the freeway. There appears to be a good shoulder on I-55. The return trip from Memphis is a little trickier involving pushing the bike up an embankment to get to the freeway. At least I won't be carrying any luggage. I rode back to the park and reported my findings to Christian

Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be sunny. Actually, the sun came out this afternoon, so it looks promising for tomorrow. The river is rising, but we'll be okay until Friday when I leave for Little Rock.

In the photos below, you can see the height of the river is right up to the edge. The other photo shows the final height of the river in 2011 (the same flood that closed Great River Road State Park). The problem is these places are on the river side of the levees. When the river rises, these places are under water.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Flip of a Coin Day

It was either heads or tails today. I'm talking, of course, about the wind. This was our longest day yet, so we were actually thankful for all the tailwinds, even at the price of headwinds. Had we had no wind, it would have taken us much longer. As it was, our ride time was 6 hours and 15 minutes. We rode 81 miles. Yesterday we ended up doing 74 miles and it took us 6 hours and 45 minutes.

Yesterday, when we realized how far north we were from Helena, AR at Storm Creek Campground, we decided to continue to follow the MRT instead of returning to Mississippi and going up the east side of the river to Memphis. I was a little nervous about the route Christian had mapped using Google Maps. It showed a levee road, but who knows if the road was actually rideable. I've been burned by Google Maps before.

It was 4.7 miles back to the route from the campground. The first part of the ride was pleasant along Hwy 242. At the junction with Hwy 1, we turned north. The wind was a fabulous tailwind! It was easy to go 17 mph. This section was about 15 miles long. It was great!

At the town of Marianna, I pulled into a gas station Subway to wait for Christian (I also got a snack--but not from Subway). As I was waiting for Christian, an older gentleman named Jack asked me if I ever get tired. We chatted for awhile even after Christian arrived. He was a very nice man. I enjoyed visiting with him.

Back on the road, we continued with the tailwind much of the way to Hughes. It was occasionally a crosswind, but still easy going. I arrived in Hughes at about 11:30 (45 miles done). I asked at the gas station/minimart if there were any other restaurants in Hughes. One of the customers said there really wasn't. Of course, Hughes had what every single southern town has, and that is, not one, but two Dollar Stores (Dollar General and Family Dollar). And, they are always close to each other! I don't get it...

Once Christian got to the gas station, we decided it would be a gas station lunch day. They had the usual selection of fried everything, and they had 7" pizzas. Pizza seemed to be the lesser of the evils, so we had pizza. I have to admit, either I was just hungry, or it was really pretty tasty! There were no inside tables (or outside either), so we just sat on the curb.

The next section of the route was a ferocious headwind! It seemed to take as much time to do that section as it did to do the previous 45 miles (it didn't really, but it sure seemed like it!). Since we were going by empty cotton fields (you can tell by the bits of cotton on the side of the road), I was keeping an eye out for a souvenir bit of cotton. Pretty soon I saw just what I was looking for. I pulled over and picked it up, and put it in my handlebar bag. Later on when I stopped and Christian caught up to me, I asked him if he was wondering why I turned around. I showed him the cotton.

We took a short-cut from the route that saved us 8 miles. It was a section that went around the other side of Horseshoe Lake. We could see the lake just fine on the short-cut. After we were back on the MRT route, we had another marvelous tailwind. I was in my hardest gear and I was spun out at 23.5 mph on the flat! I can only imagine how fast Tessa would have gone!

Then, as all good things must come to an end, the road turned, and it was no longer an awesome tailwind. It wasn't the worst headwind, but my speed plummeted.

This headwind/tailwind coin flipping continued all the way into West Memphis (still in Arkansas). We are staying at Tom Sawyer RV Park right on the Mississippi River. The last mile to get here was the hardest (that is often the case--especially after 80 miles!). Christian has just heard that in the first week of May the park will be flooded (something about rain up north...). Good thing we got here when we did!

Again I don't have many photos from today. I have included a not-so-great photo of a curious phenomenon I saw a few times today. The birds were sitting in the road--lots of them. They wouldn't fly away until I got right up to them. It was almost like being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie!

Tomorrow we explore Memphis (the Tennesee one)!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Crop Dusting is Alive and Well

We left our lovely campsite in the gazebo this morning, and made a stop in Rosedale at the nearest gas station to use the restroom.

From there it was miles and miles of not much. We saw two crop-dusting planes working both sides of the road we were on. That was the great excitement for the morning.

We made it to Friars Point. Christian wanted a "real" lunch--like at a gas station. I told him I did not want gas station food, and that it's not a "real" lunch anyway. We ate in a park instead. I had a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich and an apple--a real lunch.

Back on the road, we were supposed to turn onto Moon Lake Road. Instead we stayed on SH 1 to Hwy 49. I saw another crop-dusting plane working the fields. It was a good thing we didn't do Moon Lake because we cut out about 4 miles on 49. There was no shoulder and lots of semi-trucks. 49 took us over the Mississippi River into Arkansas. Depending on the route we take tomorrow, we may or may not be in Arkansas for very long. We are currently at the library in Helena, AR

We have about 5 more miles to go to Storm Creek Campground for tonight. I did take some photos today, but nothing worth posting.

All Because of a Flood

We did something today that I've never done on a tour, but I'll get to that in a moment.

We enjoyed a nice hot breakfast in Roy's Store this morning. I had French toast, bacon, and grits. The same gal, Pam, who was there last night, was there this morning too. I commented to her that she sure works long hours. She said she works 92 hours a week. On Sunday, the store closes at 2:00, so she gets the rest of the day off. Just as an aside, besides the free camping, we were very lucky in a couple of other ways. First of all, we didn't have any dinner food for last night. It turns out the cafe in the store only serves dinner (supper) on Friday and Saturday nights. Had we been a day later, we would have had no dinner. Also, had we been a day later, the store wouldn't have been open at all when we got there. Lucky lucky!

Because I didn't have to clean up after breakfast, we were able to hit the road a little earlier. We left Roy's just before 8:00. The ride north was pleasant to start with--sunshine and no wind. It was a little chilly, but fine once we got riding. We had about 20 miles to Greenville. Along the way we stopped at one of the last remaining mansions (The Belmont) in the area. It was for sale! I had to pee, so Christian went on. Just as I caught up to him, I noticed an MRT sign that told us to turn left. Christian rode past it. I hollered to him that we needed to turn. SH 1 had just gone from a two-lane to a four-lane road. The MRT route went into Greenville on a much quieter road.

We needed to get groceries and find wifi in Greenville. At Hwy 82, we turned off the route to what looked promising in the way of a grocery store. I stopped and asked a young guy if there was a grocery near by. There was a Kroger just down the road. We got the needed re-supply and rode back to where we had seen a McDonalds for wifi. McDonalds wifi is typically not very good or doesn't work at all. I checked BEFORE I bought anything. Well, lo and behold, the wifi was excellent! I published the last two posts in no time! Since it was almost acceptable lunch time, we bought lunch there. I think the last time I ate at McDonalds was in New Zealand (also for wifi--if only Subways had wifi...).

After we accomplished our necessary tasks, we left Greenville. There was not really much else to see there. Back on SH 1 (now back to a two-lane highway with a good enough shoulder) we came to the Winterville Mounds. Unfortunately, the museum wasn't open until 1:30. The mounds have something to do with the Native Americans. A couple of them were pretty big.

Shortly after getting back on the road, the headwinds really picked up. We would spend the next 35 miles going against the wind. Due to the endurance I have in my legs, I just put my head down and kept on pedaling. Consequently, I got way ahead of Christian. There weren't any real points of interest along the way anyway. In fact, it was mostly just corn fields and fallow cotton fields.

I went through Benoit and Beulah--blink and miss them towns. After Beulah, with just 5 miles to go, the wind finally became a tailwind. Woo Hoo! Finally able to go faster than 10 mph!

I got to Rosedale, and followed the signs to Great River Road State Park. My plan was to check in, pay for the site, then wait for Christian. Only one problem...the park was closed. I went back out to the highway to wait for Christian. Just before he arrived, one of Rosedale's police officers drove up. I took the opportunity to ask him about the park being closed. He said it was because of the flood from 2011. They had not cleaned up the park yet. I asked if it would be okay to camp by the boat ramp. He said it would be no problem. Nobody would bother us. We needed water, so we went to the Piggly Wiggly (been wanting to go to a Piggly Wiggly) and bought a gallon of water. I strapped it on top of my front rack for the short ride to the boat ramp area.

So we set up our tents near the boat ramp in a nice grassy area. There was a park bench and a couple of trash cans. One had a bunch of dead fish carcasses. Christian moved that one. Although no one bothered us, we were certainly not alone. Multiple cars drove through. Some stopped for awhile. Some people stopped to fish a bit (not catching anything). Except for one older guy, no one asked us what we were doing.

After awhile, we decided we would ride our bikes into the park itself. We could easily go under the gate. It was about two miles to where the look-out tower overlooked the Misssissippi. Even though the park was not available for camping, it was still pretty nice. As we stood at the top of the tower looking out over the river, we decided to move camp. We returned to our tents and took everything down, packed it up, and moved into the park. We set everything back up in a huge gazebo next to the tower. Since we are under cover, I didn't put the rainfly back on.

All because of a flood two years ago, we set up, took down, and set up again in one day (something I have never done)! By the way, it is much nicer here. No other people. There are some occasional critter noises, but we are pretty secure in the gazebo...I think...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

From Lake to Lake

We thought today's ride would be pretty boring. We were going from Eagle Lake to Lake Washington (funny...I don't see Seattle or Bellevue!). In reality, today's ride turned out to have four very different sections.

The first section was the one-lane levee road section. Along this road we crossed 8 cattle guards, but saw not one cow. What we did see were tons of egrets. There were also only 4 vehicles, all pickup trucks that passed us. It was a pleasant ride.

The second section was the detour. Along the levee we came to a place where the road was closed to thru traffic. There was a detour sign. At first the detour was fine--a few barking dogs, but otherwise a nice road. Then another detour sign pointed left onto a gravel road (really???). We followed it hoping it would just be a short section. After about 2 miles or so, we came to a paved road. We were still on the detour route. Maybe a mile along the paved road we were directed back onto another gravel road. We were on this part for a good three miles. Actually, I was doing just fine. I think my riding on dirt and gravel with Star at home has been really helpful. Betsy, with her 1.75" tires, handles gravel without any problems. At the end of this gravel road, we popped back out onto the correct route. I pulled out my phone to see exactly where we were. It didn't seem that the detour added any more miles. In fact, it may have been shorter.

The third section was Mayersville. It was the only town shown on the map. Christian didn't have any lunch food, so we asked if there was a store in town. Some guys directed us to Tony's Store. It seemed to be the main hangout on a Saturday for the town locals. A couple of guys asked us about our ride. I told them we had ridden from Austin just to come to the fine town of Mayersville! Christian bought a hot dog and some fries. I had food of my own to eat, but I bought ice cream after lunch. When I went in to buy the ice cream, I asked to use the restroom. For the first time ever, instead of giving me a key, the guy gave me a roll of toilet paper! Okay...

After watching the town locals chew the fat, we headed down the road. Not long after turning on Glen Allen Rd., we were beeped at by a Sheriff's car. A long line of cars were following it. About the sixth car in the line was a hearse. Christian counted 26 cars. I asked him if he knew what the long line of cars was. He did not. I had to explain what a funeral procession was. I told him that was an unusual thing to see on a bike tour. After awhile, we saw two of the three sheriff cars coming back the other direction. Before long, we came to the cemetery where the funeral was being held. It was in the historic Greenfield Cemetery. There are the remains of an old brick church that was destroyed by a cyclone in 1800 something. We stopped to check it out. As we were leaving, I told the deputy, who was still there, that I've never been in a funeral procession while on a bike tour!

The fourth section of today's ride was along the lake. Mostly what we had seen in the way of homes along today's route were either mobile homes, or small, shabby looking houses (we did see a lot of apartments in Mayersville, yet no apparent industry). However, along the lake, the houses were very nice and the area looked very prosperous. There was only one store (more of a bait shop). I imagine people have to go to Greenville for groceries. The road was tree-lined in places, and a nice ride.

Our destination for tonight is Roy's Store. It is on the lake. We went into the store to ask where we could camp. The gal said we could camp wherever we wanted. I asked if she had a recommendation. She showed us a spot near the bath house with nice grass and shade. Yes, we are darn near completely surrounded by RVs (many appear to be here long term), but it's free. Dinner starts in the store at 5:30. We've heard it's pretty good. We need to get more dinner stuff in Greenville tomorrow, so we will "dine out" (or "in" as the case may be) tonight. Maybe we will even eat breakfast there in the morning!

As for the distance today, we thought it would be about 67 miles. Turned out it was only 60, and they were all flat miles (only one very brief hill to get up on the levee road).

Post Coffee Shop

As we were getting ready to leave Vicksburg, we saw the waterfront murals. At first we weren't going to ride down to them, because we thought we would have to come back up, but then I noticed the road below continued and came out to the road we needed to be on without going back up the hill. So, we went down the hill (on brick cobblestone) to the murals. There were murals depicting the history of Vicksburg, but also some modern art murals. The area down there was called Catfish Row. There was a great kids park too.

After looking at the murals, we really did leave Vicksburg. We rode out of town on Old Hwy 61 (also called Washington St.). Got chased by one dog. I just hammered the pedals and out-ran him. When Christian got to the dog, there were cars coming so the dog couldn't chase him (HA HA dog--you lose!).

We had to ride on Hwy 61 (the regular one) for about 6 miles or so. There was no shoulder and the speed limit was 65. Cars were good about changing lanes. There was even no honking!

We went up and over the Yazoo River (I just like that name! There is also a Yazoo City). There was a good shoulder going over the bridge. Just after it, we turned off onto a much quieter road. It was pretty flat with an occasional strong headwind.

We were planning on going to Chotard Landing, but Christian was so far behind me that when I got to Sunset View RV Park, I decided to wait and see if he preferred to stay there instead. It means more miles for tomorrow, but there is nothing to do but ride anyway. We'll probably have about 68 miles tomorrow.

The sign said tents were $15. It also said to find a spot and they would find us for paying. Apparently, we hid from them pretty good because no one came to find us. We set up behind the restroom building--not really all that hidden. Oh well, another free night's camping is fine by me! Besides, the lights are burnt out in the restrooms and the showers were somewhat less than warm.

It was a beautiful sunset over Eagle Lake. The end of another nice day on the road!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cannons and Coca-Cola

Well, we did have thunder and lightening afterall last night--our 4th thunderstorm. Things were mostly dry by morning.

We were headed down the road, fortunately not too far, when Christian remembered he had left his clothesline. We went back of course. Not only had he left the clothesline, but he left the things he had hanging on it too! Good thing he remembered!

We thought we had about 10 miles to Vicksburg. It was more like almost 26! We pulled into the Vicksburg Military Park at about 10:30. First we went to the Visitor Center and watched a 20 minute movie about the Battle of Vicksburg. We didn't really have time to do the entire 16 mile driving tour, so we did a short loop. We saw plenty of cannons, monuments, and the interview site between Grant and Pemberton.

After the Military Park, we stopped at Subway for lunch. This was one of those gas station Subways, but it was fine.

Next up was a stop at the Coca-Cola Museum. Vicksburg is home to the first bottling of Coke. I got a commemorative bottle to add to my bottle collection. The museum was small, but interesting. Coke was originally bottled with a rubber stopper, but they found the rubber gave an odor to the Coke after about 10 days from being bottled.

Now we are in a coffee shop next to the museum so Christian can have his coffee and we can take advantage of the free wifi.

We have about 30 miles to go to Chotard Landing. It is only in the mid-50s today, but sunny. I told Christian it should be all downhill from here as Vicksburg is the highest point between Memphis and the Gulf of Mexico. Somehow, I doubt he believes me...

A Trace More of the Trace

This morning, Christian was the early bird. I slept soundly until almost 7:00 (we actually stayed up later than usual talking with Adalbert and Petra). Still, I was ready to go by 8:30. We first went down to get a photo with Adalbert and Petra and say goodbye. Below is the photo (notice the big photo on the RV behind us).

We rode back to the Natchez Trace Parkway from the State Park. That was the steepest hills of the whole day, just getting back to the Trace!

We rode a short distance on the Parkway until we came to Mount Locust. This was an Inn on the Trace. Then it became a home. The last person born in the house is still living (he is 76). The house was vacated in 1944. The National Park Service has restored it to its earlier days. The grounds are also home to a slave cemetery.

After our tour of Mount Locust, we resumed our riding. The terrain was still somewhat rolling, and there was very little traffic. We had either crosswinds or tailwinds which made the going pretty easy. I got ahead of Christian on the hills.

I was noticing how much red blooming clover there was. At one point there was a beautiful meadow filled with the clover. The photo below doesn't do it justice.

At the turn-off for Port Gibson, I waited for Christian to catch up. He wanted to go into the town for lunch. We left the Trace and rode the highway into Port Gibson. There were mostly churches along the road into town. We came to where we would need to turn to get back on the Parkway. When we stopped to decide about lunch, I looked ahead and could just make out a sign for Subway. That seemed to be the only restaurant (if you don't count the gas station that had a sign saying, "We be servin' breakfast!"). Well, I did need to check a Mississippi Subway off my list...

It was the most "hole-in-the-wall" looking Subway. But, inside it was the same as all the others. They even had coffee, so Christian was happy.

After lunch we returned to the Trace. I was quite happy to get back on the Parkway. The traffic on the road to get there was heavy and there was no shoulder except a rumble strip.

Our next stop was to have a look at "Sunken Trace". It was part of the original Natchez Trace that has "sunken" about 15 feet. This is due to the type of soil that covered the area after the Ice Age. It's very sandy, so erodes easily. We met a family as we were leaving that recognized us from the State Park. They were from New York and were travelling by car with their three young kids. They had been to Texas too.

From there we only had about 12 miles to go. The Parkway became more open and we passed a cornfield or two. I saw two different kinds of dead snakes on the road. One was a big black thing, and the other was a pale color with stripes. Best of all, they were DEAD!

We arrived at Rocky Springs Campground, our destination for the night. Another couple on bikes were here too, but they were concerned about the storm that was supposed to come through tonight. I'm guessing they went on in to Vicksburg to a motel.

We've been hearing for a few days now about this storm. Everyone has said, "We're supposed to get some weather on Thursday. Whata ya'll do when it rains?" Well, we sit in our tents writing blog posts! We managed to get everything set up, take a walk up to the old Rocky Springs town site, fix dinner, and clean up before it started to rain. The hatches are battened down and we just hope this passes by morning.

Tomorrow we want to spend some time in Vicksburg before going on to Chotard Landing (30 miles north of Vicksburg). Christian is interested in the Military Park and I want to go to the Coca-Cola Museum (where the first Coke was bottled).

Now I think I will read my book and listen to the rain tap-tapping on my tent. Hey, I just thought of something! There is no thunder and lightening! What a novelty!

A Meander Among the Mansions, and a Taste of the Trace

MISSISSIPPI! We crossed the bridge from Vidalia, LA to Natchez, MS. It was not a bad bridge crossing as there was a nice wide shoulder.

We didn't have many miles planned for today due to camping options. Therefore, we had time to do the Natchez Mansion Tour. There were 11 mansions along the tour. Most all were built circa 1800s. All are available for touring with a ticket obtained at the Natchez Visitor Center (which we did not do). We went by 10 of the 11 (the only one we didn't see was Longwood). We didn't stop at all 10, but did about 6 of them. The last one, Melrose, seemed to be the most important as it is part of the Natchez National Historic Park (run by National Park Rangers). Sadly, it was partially under construction, so not the best photo-op. One of the more elegant mansions was the Stanton House (built 1850). The photo below with Betsy gives an idea of the size of Stanton House (and most of the others too).

At Melrose, we asked the ranger in the visitor center where the nearest grocery store was. That was our other quest while in Natchez. She directed us to the local Wal-Mart (woo hoo...). So, after our meander among the mansions, we hit the highway and rode to Wal-Mart. At least it was on our way! We restocked our groceries (perhaps got a little too much), had a snack, and headed for the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a route that runs 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville. Lots of cyclists make a tour just of the Trace alone. By no means do we ride the entire Trace (although that would be cool). We just get a taste of the Trace. We will detour from the Trace on a road that will take us to Vicksburg and back to just the MRT.

The Trace itself is rich with history. It was a major commerce route for the Natchez Indians, and later settlers and an important mail route. We saw part of the Old Trace along the nice smooth road of the current Trace. The terrain is rolling, with the ups seeming to top out at a bridge across either water or a road. As we were going up one of the longer hills, we passed 5 women out for a day ride. They caught up to us at a info site for the Old Trace. They were all near 60 years old and this was their first ride together as a group. They are all local gals from Natchez--Marie, Pat, Mary, and 2 Kathy's. They were all very enthusiastic about cycling, and I encouraged them to keep it up!

From our visit with the Natchez gals, we didn't have much further to go before the turnoff to Natchez State Park. That doesn't mean we were anywhere near the park, however. We had to cross Hwy 61 and then ride another 5 miles or so to get to the Gate House for the park. As with Pedernales, they have located the Gate House at the far end of the park, past the two campgrounds. We had to ride there to pay for our campsite, then ride back to the campground. Camping continues to be pretty inexpensive--$18 for a site with water and electricity. And, the showers are still free. There are what they call primitive sites that are cheaper, but they are located far (like, have-to-get-on-your-bike-and-ride-to-them far) from the restrooms. We are fine paying a little more to be closer to the showers and restrooms.

And now, a word or two about the ants (Christian's "friends" as he seems prone to stepping on their hills). They are EVERYWHERE! I don't mean everywhere in the sense that, well sure, there are ants. No, I mean EVERYWHERE! Their little dirt anthills line the roadways. They crawl all over the picnic tables. They work their way up and onto the bikes. Every campsite has several mounds and dirt trails. They make interesting little towers of dirt after it has rained. The towers look like miniature nuclear power plant cooling towers. I've learned to watch where I step so as not to disturb them. They're not too bad if you don't mess with their houses.

Tomorrow we return to the Trace for about 40 more miles (plus the miles to get back to it from the park). I can check another state off my list. Now to find me a Mississippi Subway restaurant...

Later in the evening...

Christian and I set out to walk the nature trail to the lake. Before we could get to the lake, I commented to Christian that an RV we were about to walk by looked interesting. It was not really like any of the RVs I have seen. Christian said, "Oh, it is German". There was a woman sitting outside. Christian said hello to her in German. She answered in German, and thus began the rest of our evening. Adalbert and Petra are touring around North America in their RV that they shipped by boat to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The coolest thing about their RV is that they have a large photo of themselves on one side and a collage of photos from Freiburg on the other side.

We spent a wonderful evening talking with them. I like to hear Christian speak with other Germans. It is the most speaking I hear him do! Tomorrow, before we leave, I'll take a photo with them. Maybe I will see them in Germany???

One last thing, on the way back to our campsite, I saw what I thought was a possum. I said to Christian, "Look, there's a possum." But, it wasn't a possum. It was an armadillo! I tried to get a photo, but those buggers can run fast when they want to! Darn!