My tires weren’t looking so hot.
By comparison the below picture shows the same model tire I’ve been running, a Dunlop D606, with just under 300 miles on it.
It was still hooking up on the off-road terrain alright I suppose; however the ground had been extremely dry. I had a decision to make; I was in Western Arkansas with Ozark National Forest ahead of me. I really wanted to see the forest but the looming question was how much more off-road should I do?
There were a few considerations: The first was how to approach the Ozarks. As I said, I really wanted to ride through them, however, the comments online and the word from riders coming the other direction were the same. It’s a great place to visit, it’s beautiful, but it’s typically muddy and you can easily find yourself stuck. This didn’t sound promising; especially since on a typical East-West journey you would run into the Ozarks with far less than the roughly 4,000 miles I already had on my tires.
Also, from reading ride reports and talking to people about the trail ahead it was pretty unanimous that Mississippi wasn’t much of a ride. The word was that it was 50/50 off-road to tarmac and pretty much all backwoods Mississippi; small towns, junky lodging and poverty. Tennessee was basically the same, although less extreme, until you reached Nantahala National Forest where the trail sort of just became road.
The second consideration: I’d already planned a pretty cool route through Eastern Tennessee.
With that route and my predisposed disinterest in the entire state of Mississippi, did I abandon the trail after the Ozarks?
I didn’t really have the tire for it if the tracks became muddy. I was also tired of the dead ends and the frankly idiotic places the tracks went at times. Plus, Oklahoma was an absolute killer. The days spent traveling through it, no matter how short they were at times, were completely soul crushing. The heat and the lack of variety felt endless. I felt like I’d need a week off before I could continue riding an equally hot but undoubtedly more humid part of the country.
What to do… What to do…
To TransAmerica Trail purists I would surely be abandoning the trail; thus not “technically” completing the journey. Would I have earned the right to say I’d completed the TransAmerica Trail if I hit the road in Hector, AR?
Who the hell knows, and quite frankly who the hell cares? That was half the problem with this trip anyway. It had basically become pre-manufactured; a trip accessible to those willing to spend the time and money to take it. Was it really even an adventure? Sure, of course it was, there were many unexpected occurrences and missteps along the way. It certainly had been the biggest adventure of my life so far. However, at the risk of sounding hypocritical, at the end of the day I was checking a website that included a comments section and weather updates for god’s sake. Was it useful? Absolutely! I’d made plenty of decisions based on what other riders had said on there. However, it was like earning a merit badge and I’d been caught up in it. Every August advrider.com’s ride report section begins to flood with TAT ride reports. When a route is that popular can you really even call the adventure your own?
I’d been at the mercy of a guy I’d never met, blindly following a magenta line on a 2.5″ x 2.5″ screen for weeks now. The question I had to ask myself was did I care where I got off the trail? I’d ridden just 4,000 miles across the country; 3,500 of them had been off-road. I’d traveled from Portland, Oregon through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma and now Arkansas to get to where I was. I’d transformed from a overly stressed, unusually nervous and at times indecisive rider to a confident, bold and decisive rider who was now focused on getting to the coast. The concerns I’d had at the start about completing the TAT “proper” had faded away.
My mind was made up. I wasn’t buying a new tire, I didn’t at all care about Mississippi and I wanted to get to the coast. I’d ride through the Ozarks into Hector and then over to Conway, AR. From there I’d plan the routes all the way into Ocean City, MD on tarmac. I’d get my east coast beach picture at the beach I grew up on. It was settled. I was going to ride my ride; if they want to criticize it they could go ahead.
Ok, end rant, back to the story…
Fayetteville is a huge city and that meant that there were a handful a motorsport stores in the area. Which was convenient because I needed a front tube. I headed down to one about 4 miles from the Motel 6 I was staying at and grabbed one.
I headed dow Route 71; I’d decided to meet up with the trail just South of Lake Fort Smith. This would cut off the Western part of the day’s track, but catching the beginning of the track would have meant back tracking to Lincoln, AR and I wasn’t in the mood to back track. Recommendations online also said to skip Warloop Road; it was effectively closed permanently due to constant flooding. Rumor had it that it was a complete mud bog with numerous single track attempts from previous TAT riders to get around it. I didn’t have the tire tread for that kind of nonsense. I decided to follow the recommendation of one of the commenters to take Route 348 around it.
The track took a right and pulled up to this gated area:
There was a way around the gate on the right. It was plenty wide enough but there was a sign.
I’ll admit I don’t know all of the rules for when or how to use these areas so I decided to just find another way around. I was irritated because the track was once again taking riders through another seemingly prohibited area. This validated my decision to break from the trail after the day’s sections. I guess I could give GPSKevin the benefit of the doubt that maybe there wasn’t a sign if you rode the trail East-West; I sincerely doubt it though.
There was a giant spider just hanging out on the sign though. Nasty looking thing.
I’d become quite proficient at finding work arounds through forest areas at this point. I ventured off down a road that seemed to parallel the road I was supposed to be one but wasn’t on my GPS’s map.
It was a pretty nice road though. It ultimately didn’t parallel anything but eventually met up with the track again.
The tracks for the day were split by main roads every 30 miles or so; meaning there was always an easy bail out somewhere if this mysterious mud ever appeared.
It never made an appearance though; just beautiful trail and scenery.
I continued on until I was out of Ozark National Forest and the tracks turned into about 50/50 off-road/on-road.
I passed the legendary TAT Shak; a small house that TAT Riders are free to use. It’s a pretty basic place but it has everything you need; coffee, running water, a small kitchen, a few cots and a place to work on your bike if you needed to. I didn’t stop, it was 20 miles from the end of the track in Hector, AR and I still had a 50 more miles to go from there to get to Conway, AR.
I finished out the last 20 miles of track. I ended up behind a truck that pulled out of one of the lumber areas. Unfortunately, I followed him for 15 miles down a narrow dirt road. We parted ways just outside of Hector. I fueled up at the local station which was a pretty popular place. The local middle school cheerleading squad and their parents where there getting snacks. The place was a nightmare…
I finally made it to Conway. It was a pretty cool little town with a few universities; it was like a larger college town. I grabbed a room at a Motel 6 and unloaded my gear; I love when I get a ground floor room with a door that opens to the parking lot. Easy unloading.
Plus, Conway had a Starbucks and since I have a minor addiction to their dark roast I felt the need to partake. I hadn’t had my fix in a while.
As I said, Conway was nice, but the Motel 6 was obviously were the sketchy people stayed; and me of course.
When I left to grab my coffee there was a real druggie looking guy in the room above mine hanging out on the balcony. He said “Hey”, so I said “Hey, how’s it going?” The usual small talk; so you can imagine my surprise when he replied “I’ll be good as soon once my dealer shows up with my sh*t and my hooker get here”
Sure enough a little later in evening I was outside grabbing something out of my top case when his dealer showed up… One can only suspect that the lady of the night wasn’t far behind…