Breaking news: I found where God lives!

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

Trek 850 Antelope Mountain Bike, probably built around 1986-87

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.

And if the biking proves too strenuous, there’s always the MantaRay12 kayak and the Caddo River teeming with smallmouth bass!

Fishing on the Caddo, May 2009

Work sure gets in the way of fun, but not this weekend! Memorial Day weekend with some reunion prep work at Jones Valley and two wonderful days fishing on the Caddo River with Cousin Larry. Friday was all work including a lot of weed-eating and assembling a cart for the riding mower — that would be the cart with no instructions for the jillion pieces. Our combined heads prevailed nevertheless. The day was polished off with a meal prepared by Larry’s mom and sister.

Saturday was a fishing day. We did the short trip, Caddo Gap (Manford Road, where the swinging bridge is) to the Narrows. Caddo River Day 1 The start was a little shaky at the bridge due to some huge trees that had washed up against the bridge structure. We had to haul our worthy craft around the fallen timber.  The next day would have us starting upstream from there and hoping that a kind soul with a chain saw had come along the way.

We caught quite a few fish including this nice brownie. First good fish

I caught maybe a dozen that day, with larry catching quite a few more. Mostly bream but with a few Brownies thrown in.  The day was topped off with a couple of Shiner Bock and another fine meal from Larry’s family. My refrigerator in the camper remains full.

Here is a good example of one of the many finely-colored Bream we caught. The colors really did not come out well, but you get the idea.

BreamAll in all it was a pretty productive couple of miles on this gentle stretch of the Caddo. The water was high enough to have some fun in the rapids and not have to paddle to make time down the river.

Then came Day 2. I started the day with a hike up the mountain to “Igor’s” cabin — not the real name, but you get the drift. Spooky. But with a very nice pond just below it.

Four casts = four fish. In 45 minutes or less I caught 15 fish including this gorgeous slab crappie. crappie

It was the most exciting 45 minutes of fishing I’ve experienced!  Toss a lure, pull in a fish, take it off the hook. Repeat.  The photo doesn’t do it justice — darn phone camera.

Then the river. We launched at 9:57 and would make the 8.5 miles in just over 6 hours. For the first 5 miles we fished a lot.I bagged 23 fish total including 6 bass (1 largemouth, 1 smallmouth, 2 Rock Bass, 3 Brownies). Fantastic day. Rained the whole way but we were prepared. The route was Norman at the Hwy 27 bridge back to Arrowhead.

Day 2 on the Caddo
Day 2 on the Caddo

In fact, as I write this (about 5:30 Sunday) it is pouring down rain. The drops on the camper roof are steadily thumping and popping and a cool breeze is wafting through the open windows.

Among the fish caught was this one Nice little largemouthwhich was the only largemouth of the day.  He was a real fighter. In fact, most of the fish we caught really performed, tail-walking and all, even the little bream.

Here’s a good shot of the river with my kayak in the foreground.

Kayak on the Caddo

And below that is a good shot of Larry and his giant canoe. Can’t believe how well he managed that 17′ canoe. Larry in canoe

The last picture is at the takeout the first day. Larry - end of day 1We exited at the Arrowhead lodge/canoe rental place run by “John.” And no, that’s not a fish Larry is wrangling there but a towel drying his feet — and likely massaging them a bit too as he had forgotten his wading shoes!

Speaking of wading shoes — my new felt-bottom waders and waterproof socks performed perfectly. No slipping on rocks and feet stayed DRY!

It’s almost 6 and the rain continues to pour down as I write. I love the sounds here. This morning, just before daylight, a whippoorwill broke the still of the cool night air. Before long he was joined by another and they serenaded me for a bit. Also in the morning, up at “that” cabin and pond, the bull frogs were in fine voice and at times I was certain that I was totally surrounded by them and that they would be pouncing upon me any minute — made me feel right guilty about all the frog’s legs I’ve eaten!

Headed home tomorrow, back to reality.