What? Rain? Darn sure is. Can’t find my watch to check the time but it must be 3am or so — so this is September 3. Now it’s almost 6 and I’m so glad I turned off the alarm before I snuggled into bed in the Jayco 19H camper. It’s cool here in the Ouichita Mountains of Arkansas, especially down here in the valley. Must be 64 degrees or so.
A few rays of light are peeking through the pine and hickory forest. In the cool, still air I hear the creek flowing over the swimming hole dam. I’m here alone, me and the animals … and God. He definitely is here and that makes sense because only God could make a place like this. Now there is just enough light to make the birds tune up in full song. I have no idea what kind of bird that is, but the low-high warble wafts easily on the cool breeze and fills the valley with song. It’s a beautiful morning in the Arkansas Ouichita Mountains.
Driving now into Norman, AR (hey, it’s an easy choice: 6 miles East to Glenwood or 6 miles West to Norman — 50/50 chance of getting it right!) to see if Melba’s Diner is open. Passing through Caddo Gap — doesn’t take long — and along the Caddo River valley the road gently winds and dips. Is there enough shoulder for a road bike here? Looks decent. Around the last bend, partially obscured by towering forest, Melba’s is in sight. Open? Yep, sure is. I’ll just pull my “pickup” in here next to the “real” pickups. I’m pretty sure this crowd would not consider the Chevy Avalanche to be a”real” pickup. Not a sedan in sight.
Inside Melba’s, two tables are fully occupied — plus a few, kinda like Atwood’s at home — with groups that are obviously regulars. Interesting, the two tables don’t seem to be talking back and forth much. Now why is that old dude staring at me? Oh, must be that I’m the only one not in over”hauls” here. Here comes that cute waitress with about 4 days worth of way too much dark eye shadow … but the order is taken proficiently and the hot coffee is here promptly. Didn’t make any at the camper this morning, so this is the pump-priming slurpage. Breakfast is here with the egg fried in real grease, wonderful patty sausage that, surprisingly, is not grease-laden and hash brown potatoes (Dan Quayle: correct spelling?) that were hand-hashed and definitely browned. None of that compressed stick of a potato you get in so many places.
More locals filter into Melba’s, only a few leave. Pulling out onto the highway now the house across the street has a couple of guys on the porch — looking. 100 yards later the abandoned gas station is not abandoned but has several guys obviously just hanging out — looking. Well, it’s a nice day just to be outside looking, I guess.
Now for some biking. The newly-refurbished (thanks, Mike McKenna of Mike’s Bikes in Marble Falls) Trek 850 Antelope
is ready to go. As I approach her, she asks “are you ready?” I neglected her terribly for 12 years or more and I don’t think the miles I’ve put on the road bike have quite prepared me to resume mountain-biking. Never did do it seriously, but we will this weekend! Brother-in-law Bill is to arrive in a couple of hours and we have plans for the Albert Pike Recreation Area and the Little Missouri Trail, as well as the Lake Ouichita Vista Trail. (shhh, he doesn’t know all of that yet!)
Full sun is now trying to warm the valley but the air is brisk as I crank the Antelope up to 7-8 mph, “flying” down the gravel road. Dang, feels really fast sitting lower to the ground and feeling every pebble. Down a hill, weight shifted back, she kisses a stone now and again but tracks true. Turning up Bean Rd now there is a bit of an easy climb and I’m trying to make the shifting a smooth and automatic evolution. Clumsy at first, I started getting it right — and in time for the downshifts — after about a mile. There are cabins for rent up this part of our valley with yet another all-weather creek flowing through it. Crud! BIG river rock now for the roadway, obviously a measure to prevent washouts from the torrents of water that occasionally ravage this area. Then there is the Bean Creek & Southern RR! (not your eyes, bad focus)
Back down to our main road now and up by the family cemetery where cousin Claude was buried only a few weeks ago. He has a nice view from the top of the hillside, overlooking so many of our ancestors buried there. He was a kind and gentle man.
Back on the main road. Let’s duck off to the side and catch the logging road that runs up the mountainside. Gears, watch the gears. Only a couple of steep (but blessedly short) climbs lie in wait but I still need to be prepared. The grass between the wheel ruts is already a foot high, having grown since July 4. Old man Sun is trying to penetrate, with little success, the dense forest canopy that guards the road. The air is warming nevertheless … wait … that’s the warmth now emanating from me as I pump up the second of the steep dips. Over some small fallen branches and occasionally careening off of fist-sized rocks lurking beneath the forest debris, I’m beginning to feel confident about my trusty Antelope.
Back down the logging road, popping back into the valley behind Hillbilly cabin, the Garmin Oregon GPS shows 3.01 miles. The cyclometer shows less so I need to adjust the pickup lead. I think I may be ready for the trails now.