WanderlustBy Sam Lepore
(Click map for full size)
Ruston to Mena
Subject: Wanderlust 32 - Mena, Arkansas
Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 22:45:30 -0700

        For some reason, despite the pleasantness of the scenery and the whumpless condition of the road, my mind never captured specifics about the day's travels. Lots of mental road debris kicked up and pelted the windshield of my mind, but nothing stuck. Maybe that's not so bad after all ... cleaning bug splatters on the bike is bad enough.
        Perhaps I am subliminally affected by the new direction - the sun is in my mirrors in the morning. It means I am headed somewhere familiar.
        "The road was new to me, as roads always are, going back."
        - Sarah Orne Jewet (1840-1909) American writer

        Yesterday I reported about the heat heaves in Louisiana roads. From whump to whump I kept thinking "get me outta this state". I eagerly watched the state line get closer on the GPS ... and wouldn't you know, the last 6 inches of LA pavement had a final farewell whump. And not another one since. I would have said it sure isn't the weather that is a difference ... but as soon as crossing into Arkansas I noticed there was no standing water and the humidity dropped perceptibly. Even though the temperature increased through the morning, it felt less palpable at 99F-Arkansas than it did at 89F-Louisiana.
        When you spend hour upon hour, day after day doing the same thing, unless your brain is burned out by repetition, you - or at least I - notice the slightest anomaly in the continuum. Wise riders do not let sleeping anomalies lie, but in retrospect it is amusing to watch my own mind attack, recoil, and counterattack something obscure simply for it's difference: when I started the engine both turn signal arrow lights came on at the same time - but only when the starter button was pressed. Now, I've been on the BMW mailing list for many years and I have never heard this discussed (and believe me every screw, washer, and nut on a BMW has been discussed at some time).
        Panic, of course. I had just stumbled upon the first new electrical failure warning signal found in the 14 years since K bikes were introduced ... so I analyzed as I rode. And analyzed and rode. The mechanics mantra is: check first what you last 'fixed'. What had I done? Nothing. Even as incompetent as I can be, checking air in the tires is not going to cause lights to go wonky. What? What? Hmmm. Noticed that as soon as I turned on the turn signal it shut off. Aggg. It is falling apart! No - wait. All it seems is the shut off switch is stuck. Ah ha. The last 'fix' was to wash the bike (never do that again! ... just kidding). Soap must have gunked the switch. But now I know a new trick ... hold in the shut off switch when you start or stop the engine and both the turn signals will energize. Ungunk is one of the few things I do not pack ... oh well.
        Other small things stand out today. I pulled up to the head of a line waiting on the grade for a closed train crossing. Although it is reputed to be 'unaccepted practice' in this part of the country, for safety sake I didn't want to be the only vehicle waiting in the middle of the road, and if I had to cut in somewhere, it may as well be the front. So I stopped beside the first car. The window was open. I said hello to the driver and asked how long the wait usually was. She said "Not long. Air Force?". Excuse me? She made a motion like putting on a glove. Ah. In summer I wear military pilot gloves for riding. She noticed that small detail, but the gates were up before we could continue - so I "flew" away.

        Life in small town America is romanticized by city dwellers as the missing past, the innocence of simplicity. Yet while it is peaceful compared to the aggressive bustle of urban density, the people I have observed are not romantic peasants playing, planting, and praying in some predestined pageant. They are scraping to put together a comfortable condition in difficult circumstances. Many of the smaller towns, the kind that dot the roads I favor, have lost population as small scale manufacturing was lost to the economy of mechanization and the economics of mergers. Those who are left are not desperate, but are determined to made the best with what is left. I doubt they would trade their lot for a cramped condo and a congested commute in the big city, but neither would the romantics find solace in their idealism should they have to trade places.
        We are lucky to have the ability to choose for ourselves. We are luckier still to have chosen something satisfying to our self. Just be careful what you ask for.

        Traveling north and west in Arkansas, the roads subtly become increasingly involved until what seems suddenly, they abound in curves. Being lulled into inattention is dangerous, but I responded to the subtle alerts when my continuous road handling feedback loop noticed I was having to make mid-curve corrections in angle or speed. All sensors were realigned (Captain Piccard would only have demanded a Level 2 Diagnostic for these discrepancies) and the voyage continued.
        Someone else wasn't paying attention, though. Within 15 miles of each other I saw two 18-wheelers that failed to make a curve. One was a box trailer on its side, accordioned into a hillside. It must have happened a while ago because there was little activity around. But the second was fresh. A logging truck slipped off an outside edge. The load was thrown like matchsticks, and the cab was ground down from being dragged by the load. Police were everywhere. The driver was sitting beside the road with a neck brace. Oil was slowly seeping across the road.
        A little girl watching from her yard ran up to me when I stopped. She said "you can go through. bikes are ok!" Thank you, kid, you got the right idea ... but she meant bikes could fit past the wreck. Despite the frantic waving of the officer in dark camouflage with *two* hip pistols, I refused to follow his directed path through the seeping oil. I rode on the most extreme edge of the shoulder grass. He was, shall we say, not pleased. I cared more about remaining vertical than his, uh, line of authority.

        A service appointment is made for my bike in Lubbock, so why am I now in Arkansas? Because after zipping through this area three times in a hurry to be somewhere else, it is time I rode the Talimena Trail from Talihina OK to Mena AR. (Actually, I will be riding from Mena to Talihina, so does that make it the Menahina Meander instead? :) After all, I am on a 'wander', so what's a couple hundred more miles. Well, it was not to be today. The weather which has let me enjoy dry travel decided it would claim the mountains this afternoon. Seeing I could not see the peaks of my passage subsumed into the line of darkening thunderheads, I circled the wagons early.
        Arkansans are rightfully proud of their state. The steak house menu said "Arkansas strip steak 10.95, New York strip 99.95". I asked what would happen to the price if Hillary became the Senator from New York. The cashier said "How do you think we are paying for the campaign."

FuelPlus 226 miles, 4:38 hours, 49 mph average
Ruston LA146 US79 US371 US286(was AR4) US59 Mena

Sam Lepore, San Francisco
Wanderlust Rider

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