Day 22: Hey, what's a century?

by James

I woke promptly on Wednesday, June 8th, on Richard’s living room couch. Mike was sprawled on an armchair under the cover of a blanket. I raised my head out of the warmth of the couch’s corner and looked around slowly like a groundhog surveying a cold winter morning.

We eventually brought some motion to the living room and made a few visits to the bathroom, waking up Richard in the process. Samantha followed him out shortly afterwards and began to cook potatoes and fry eggs over-easy.

Minutes later, we sat at the dining-room table halving yokes with knives and shoveling potatoes while R&S looked on. We didn’t talk too much, but I’m not sure who does at 6:40AM. The potatoes were extremely well-prepared and the breakfast was delicious and filling.

After the meal, we finished packing and gathered outside for a picture. We rolled our bikes out front and said goodbye to our hosts as they pet the neighbor’s pack of mutts. R&S were good to us and I’d welcome them into my home any day of the week.


Mike and I biked on. Long day ahead; we had around a hundred miles to Ozark. We biked quietly through Conway, a typical, sprawling Arkansan town. We waded through the light morning traffic without event.

Outside of Conway.
Beautiful, flat nothing.

The ride for the day took us along the Arkansas river. We rarely caught sight of the water, but our elevation relative to the foothills surrounding us throughout the day made us know it was always close by.

I can’t now recall what sort of thoughts I was having during the ride; I think most of the day was directed by music.

'Cross the AR river
Sometimes we did see water. Lots of water.

Around lunchtime, we pulled into an especially well-decorated McDonald’s and I saw the most depressing newspaper front-page of all time.

Most depressing newspaper ever

We found a corner of the McDonald’s, towards the back, to claim for ourselves. The mod decor and cushy seating lured us in and before ten minutes had gone by, we had the fort fully set up. I was a little winded and didn’t feel like writing, so I read a sample of some Bukowski novel, Post Office, which I really enjoyed. Bukowski is a lewd, drunk son of a bitch, but his prose is lean and colorful without being gaudy, arbitrary, or presumptive like the work of some contemporaries1.

Bukowski didn’t write in mystical, marketable generalities or ungrounded abstractions like many peers, but he described specific things and events and gave you enough of a narration to piece together what he was getting at. The guy had subtlety and he used words as purposeful tools. He had reasoned principles and stuck to them unwaveringly, whether or not he lost a menial job, missed out on fast cash, or got into a one-sided fight.

I escaped into the hilarious, crude anecdotes for a while, then quit that and talked to Mike about the route; we’re2 planning a deviation from the Adventure Cycling maps come Colorado. I pulled up a map of the US on my phone and saw our progress at a macroscopic level for the first time in recent memory.

Almost halfway.

We talked a little with a black truck-driver, who initially came across as very chatty, but ended up being a gentleman. He was wearing a headset, which made him look as though he was working an air-traffic control shift remotely, and BearShare’ing3 on a laptop.

I went back for another pass at a fudge sundae and a chicken sandwich4, then we were outta there.

Plenty of miles and a few hills later, we were ten miles outside of Ozark and pedaling still only because the scent of barbecue two-stepped across our memories. Mike signaled the number of miles remaining by holding digits up above his head and I cheered whenever this happened.

Roadside flowers.
Downhill to Ozark
So close to Ozark.

We finally pulled into the cozy vacation town, which was littered with liquor stores. There are a few dry counties in Arkansas, so I assume the cluster of booze-wells put one of them nearby. Either that or there isn’t much to do in Ozark. We made a few turns off of Main and found Rivertowne Barbecue, the restaurant that had served as the carrot for the later half of the day. Four and a half stars on GMaps’ aggregate index can’t be wrong.

And it wasn’t. The place had atmosphere, service was impressive5, and the food was awesome. They even offered us free cake at the end on account of the place’s 11th birthday.

Dinner at Rivertowne BBQ, pt2
Oh hey dinner.

We finished up at Rivertowne and walked outside, en route back to the bikes until we were stopped by a server at Rivertowne. This dude, maybe in his mid-forties, didn’t speak the Arkansan twang. He asked us the basic trip questions, then got to asking about DC; he revealed he’d been a mover around the capital area for a few years and described a few of the places he’d worked with alarmingly accurate characterization. He told us he was originally from Boston and moved around a lot. He said the humidity and heat that comes with proximitiy to the AR river was killing him.

Shortly after we started talking to him, our waitress stuck her head out of the front door to call him in, saying that someone was upchucking something fierce in the back and he was needed. He waved her off and continued talking to us, as though uninterrupted, for a few more minutes. He had an easy way of moving and talking; the both of us enjoyed meeting him.

We had called around to a few motels in town during dinner and the cheapest sat at an intimidating $45. We weren’t too excited about the fee, but tomorrow threatened a rough ride through the Ozark mountains, so a motel stay was probably wise. We agreed that I’d buy beer while Mike would scope out the motel with me conveniently out of sight.

I bought some awful swill6 and gave Mike a ring. He told me that, while he hadn’t found the Ozark Inn, he had found an unlisted prospect: the Hillbilly Inn, which offered rooms for $30.

The motel wasn’t constantly manned, so Mike had to call the proprietor and wait on him. I 10-4’d in response and started biking for the Inn.

When I made the turn into the Hillbilly Motel, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was the phrase that came to mind. The place was totally dilapidated; paint peeled, wreckage lounged, and an uneven gravel road framed the shoddy row of rooms.

Outside 105
Where's Mike?

The “front office” was a darkened hovel with furniture scattered around inside. I saw Mike’s bike and rode over, placing mine up against his in the typical locking fashion that economizes space best. I looked around for Mike — nothing.

The Hillbilly Inn lobby
The Hillbilly Inn check-in desk.

“Oh god,” I thought, “they’ve got him.” Just as I wrote Mike off as having been axed in half, he walked out of a room four doors down, beside him a stout man with beet-red cheeks, apparently the proprietor. He had the seedy, dingy look of a guy who has night-sweats over dog races7 and forgets to pay his utilities. He probably does neither, but that’s the way he looked. Mike paid him 30 dollars in cash and he went on his way.

As we were walking into the room, which smelled vaguely of piss and onions, Mike told me that the proprietor had said he’d thought the previous occupants had started a fire in here.

A cathode-ray-tube television sat comatose on a speckled plywood table. A duct-taped doorknob promised indoor plumbing. Our bikes rested comfortably against the rough drywall.

This motel was perfect.

Room 105
Home sweet home.

Mike and I unpacked the brews and downed two each, then bolted the door and unloaded onto the reluctant mattress. The sheets were clean.

The Snickers knife volunteered for the night-shift on the bedside table.

  1. Burroughs, I’m looking at you, you hack. I could rewrite your catalogue over a rainy weekend with three dry Bics and a bad case of food poisoning.

  2. Mike, that is, with very occasional suggestions from me.

  3. welcome to 2002.

  4. total cost of $2.22, or thereabouts

  5. I had my Dr. Pepper refilled three times before the food even came.

  6. Bud Light Golden Wheat — yeaacchh

  7. and not in the cool Robert Redford, Lucky Number Slevin kinda way

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