Day 10 (July 21st): HOT SPRINGS
, AR
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I don't believe I've yet mentioned that there are a LOT of churches down here. They are located in big buildings alongside interstates, in small buildings that look like they were once banks or realtor's offices, and in places that look merely like houses. If I had to, I'd say it was a tie between central Louisiana and northwest Arkansas, with Alabama closely behind, for the most places of worship per unit of distance traveled.

Upon waking and heading down to the lobby of the Park Hotel, I was thrilled to note that Sinatra was still being primarily featured over the sound system, so I concluded that the musical taste of this hotel is outstanding (FWIW, the Microsoft Word dictionary apparently recognizes the word “Sinatra” -- Ed). Was I hung over? Perhaps a little bit. Certainly I did not get cheated the night before, thanks to the generosity of the local barkeeps, but it hadn’t been a very long night, so maybe it was just altitude sickness.

Kidding on that one.

I managed to pull out of the room in reasonably quick fashion, having already secured use of one of the two luggage carts available, although an added morning routine was to fill the hydration backpack with ice and water before bolting. When I got down to my VIP parking space, a dude was power washing the sidewalk, which was cool, except that this could also have been termed the “power filthying” of the rig, because it appeared that that was where approximately 97.6% of the dirt ended up. Hey, the thing’s certainly no trailer queen, and it’s gonna get dirty during this gig, but give a guy a break!

I had noted that there was an observation tower -- the “Mountain Tower” -- atop the peak abutting downtown, so I went up to visit. More extreme twisties for the bike! This set me back six smackers to get in but it was well worth it. On the way up, the voice-over in the glassed-in elevator mentioned that the third level was open-air, which admittedly made The Chief (tm) a bit nervous – he had been shaky on the more extreme catwalks up on Chimney Rock three years before, so here would he be reduced to weak-kneed clinging to the rail?

Folks, it worked out OK for all involved -- even if a little old lady from Tulsa, OK wondered why this strapping young stud was holding onto her elbow near every railing -- and it was a very worthwhile visit. I wished there was more of a view of Lake Hamilton, but the downtown vistas were available in all their glory. There was also a very interesting (and surprisingly objective) history of Hot Springs, plus a video about Bill Clinton’s rise in politics and old high school pix and so on. Ah, to long for the days of budget surpluses and not being hated by most of the world. Not to mention the drafting of anti-terror guidelines and specific mentioning of Al Qaeda as a threat to national security -- naturally ignored by the Republicans until 9/11, because until then they were focused on the completely fabricated reports of the trashing of the White House, which then disappeared once the whistle was blown (to which my man The Tokish One [tm] might say: “hmmm”). Having had sex with an intern -- a terrible decision both as a President and a husband, and a terrible decision to employ subterfuge to deflect discovery of the truth. But the current administration has been having sex (read: “f-word-ing” -- Ed.) the whole country, and the world, since taking power so what was worse?

Rte. 7 out of Hot Springs took me past many more churches, some former lodging and dining establishments which had apparently failed as the town’s allure faded, some current lodging and dining establishments which looked like they should have closed up long ago, and eventually up into hills and winding roads and more lovely scenery. At the end of the most scenic stretch, after a long downhill run into Ola, AR (“hello, Ola!” Har de har har -- Ed.), there was a Conoco gas station offering prices starting at $3.839, and This Guy was all over it.

Alas, the “Conoco Effect” (see Day Five) was to strike yet again. Upon arriving inside, I noticed there were at least three registers, all staffed, yet there were three or four customers lined behind each. What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks was going on? Ah, there’s the rub -- the cashiers also fetch lunch for these people, and apparently this was the last place on earth serving food, so everyone not at the counter had to wait for the girl to take the latest food order, go gather it, then take payment. It just did not look good. At one point an enterprising young’un moved to yet another register and barked out, “Can I help the next person in line?” A few folks -- including your The Chief (tm) -- tried to look casual while oozing over in the attempt to mask the utter desperation in wishing to initiate a fuel purchase. Sadly, I was only the second-fastest to get there. What’d the guy in front of me do?

Order food.

Finally roaring out of there after literally thirteen minutes, I was thrilled that a tractor-trailer hauling a load of garbage had taken up position in front of me. An instant before I was about to pull the trigger on the most ridiculous illegal passing maneuver of the trip by far, there was a left-turn blinker, and I wished the guy luck to where ever the hell he thought he was headed. Next burg after the land flattened out, the town of Dardanelle. Corn and other crops stretched almost as far as the eye could see on either side, bounded eventually by the same hills from which I had just finished descending. I crossed the Arkansas River into the Port of Dardanelle and, wait, now what’s that monstrosity looming in the distance?

Oh, OK, it’s a Wal-Mart -- I guess we’re back in civilization  :-(

I had also noticed a sudden preponderance of small business with a Mexican bent, and almost before I had a chance to wonder about that, I saw a Tyson chicken plant. Hadn’t the poultry industry recently been taken to task for questionable immigrant hiring practices? Ah, if only they were all subsidiaries of Halliburton, there’d be no problem.

Back where the rubber meets the road, passing through Russellville I encountered some stop-and-go traffic in humid, 96-degree weather due to a car accident, but shortly thereafter reached a decision point: do I continue up Rte. 7 towards Harrisonburg, then cut west to Eureka Springs, or take the Interstate westward right now and then go north?

How the hell should I know?

My thought was this: I was kind of sick of the more recent Rte. 7 act, so I thought I’d take the Interstate and do that route. The first few miles were gorgeous, taking me high alongside Lake Dardanelle. Suddenly I realized that if I went this way, then when I came back a few days hence I’d be literally backtracking on my route, and how silly would that be on a seven thousand mile trip? So I ducked off the superslab at Clarksville hoping to find a route north through the Ozarks.

Somewhere on Rte. 103 in Clarksville I passed two thousand trip miles thus far, but I certainly wasn’t two-thirds of the way across the country. Who planned this thing? Oh, wait, um…OK, so I pushed directly north, making the mistake of trusting the GPS to find me some route because my print maps of Arkansas were not sufficiently detailed enough to include good secondary routes. The road through Ozark National Forest was fantastic, with more beautiful mountain scenery. Then it plateaued and I passed through tiny “towns” anchored only by general stores. What did the GPS try to do next? It selected routes for me over “county roads” that were steep, dirt and gravel roads mostly covered in sharp, fist-sized stones. I tried one and said forget it. Another, same thing. Yet another, ditto. I had pretty much run out of roads that would go north through this stretch of the Ozarks without popping all of my tires. A quick check with the good folks at the Catalpa Store -- inside of which I wished I had had time for lunch, because that’s how good the cooking aromas were -- revealed that I had no chance if I wanted to avoid the rocks, so I headed way back down through the Forest, getting caught behind a road maintenance crew through the twisties and proceeding at about 15 MPH. The whole ordeal added 50 miles and ninety minutes to my trip, and who knows what it did for gas mileage (actually, it was still not that bad at 39.63 -- Ed.)

Mercifully I came across a county road that was not a bombed-out logging trail, meaning that I didn’t have to backtrack all the way to the Interstate, and so for each mile I proceeded on asphalt I reasoned meant one mile less if it ever came to dirt. Well, it did not, and therefore I had myself another route around and up through the mountains -- twisty, steeply climbing roads sometimes traversing ridges and crests, other times opening to wide plateaus supporting farming or livestock ranching. It was hotter up here, and some of the cows thought they had the answer to that. Little did I know I was doing what was referred to as the “Pig Run” up around Rte.23, and eventually to Rte. 62, into Eureka Springs.

The approach took me past some motels and other businesses I recognized from my research on the web, but I was not prepared for the turn-in to the historic downtown district where my crib, the Basin Park Hotel, awaited me. What a cute little town we had here! Hills and sharp rock faces everywhere, with streets, houses and buildings built into them, staircases from one street to another, etc. Face it: any time you throw varied topography into the mix, The Chief (tm) is likely a buyer -- see San Francisco, Carmel, Montmartre, and so on. So I loved what I was seeing even before I got off the bike.

Once I did get off of it, the story changed just a bit. The hotel was located right on a steep upward part of the street, and the road curved down to the sidewalk, so not only would the weight of the trailer perhaps try to pull it down the hill, but it was barely leaning over on its sidestand. I could see one (or both) disasters happening as I unloaded weight from the rig. As far I knew there were no bellmen here --- they had all quit on their first day --- so I had to wrestle a cart down off of the high curb over to the bike, load it up, ease it down the hill to a ramp in the curb, then push it back up the hill. Even the cart/wheelchair access to the hotel was precarious. Next, I somehow went to and unloaded all of my stuff in the wrong room. What, was this my first time outdoors? Ridiculous!

Once back where I belonged, all was as it should have been: the room was big, with a high ceiling and deck right off of the hallway. Only one thing was odd -- it was a handicapped-equipped room, so the shower head was only four feet off of the floor!

The town, in my opinion, was super-cute. I walked all over the place, and again, I loved the hilly thing, but also it was eclectic without ignoring attention to detail, and featured all kinds of galleries and artistic businesses without coming across as chintzy or fake. At the moment I must admit I cannot think of the particular, similar places that I do find to be artificial, but they are out there, and we’ve all found ourselves visiting them from time to time. “Not here”, was all I could come up with. My hotel had a restaurant on a high terrace overlooking the street below, a sauna on a deck abutting a cliff in the rear courtyard (the installation of which I was to learn was not an easy engineering feat to overcome), and a lounge on the top floor featuring billiard tables and the like.

Many of the local restaurants were closed on Monday, but I went for a walk and found a few places to hit. Jack’s Lounge, down a half-flight of stairs from Spring Street, was darker n’ heck when I first walked in, but my eyes adjusted and it was full of nice, friendly people. For dinner I visited a place called the Pied Piper, which I suspected might be a throwaway but was not. The menu had some interesting variety which, at the very least, suggested an adventurous spirit in the kitchen. As such, I tried something called the “Scotch Egg”, chorizo with some spiciness to it wrapped around a hard-boiled egg. Yum! I wished there had been more cabbage on the corned beef n’ cabbage sandwich, though it was still tasty and I’m not even sure where I come off wanting more cabbage anyway. Almost as I was ready to call it a night I happened to chat with a nice couple from Tulsa, OK via Pittsburgh, and then met a few women who were friends with a guy who looked exactly like my Uncle Bobby. They were heading out to another place even after that, but how could I ax for any more? I went back to the hotel to charge up for the next day.

View from Mountain Tower

The Catalpa Store

Cool Cows

Basin Park Hotel

Entering Downtown Eureka Springs

Streets on Shelves

House on the Hill

Corner Building

Staircases Everywhere

Community Umbrellas

Little Store

Hotel Restaurant