Day 23: Pain, pain, pain in the Ozarks

by James

I’ll be condensing the entries for the following days up until Tulsa. Giving each day a full treatment has proved to be too demanding given the amount of downtime we’ve had in the past few days.

Mike and I woke up in the Hillbilly Motel and got the hell out as fast as we could. We ate biscuits and gravy at a gas station and stocked up on carbs for the ride through the Ozarks, where we suspected there would be little to eat.

We started the ride and pretty immediately hit a good little climb. Okay, fine, can deal with that.

Looks innocuous, right?

The second climb was worse. I was sweating more profusely than I had at any other point on the trip despite the relatively mild heat. I blew the dust off the breathing patterns and mental chants1 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and worked my way up the hill.

At one point, the climb wore me down and I shouted “BREAK SOON.” Shortly thereafter, Mike pulled over into a shady spot by the side of the narrow road, a downward incline on the other side.

We’d packed the two extra, awful beers that we had left over from last night in Food Bag 2. As I laid my bike down, panting like a heavyset Labrador, I asked myself how I could make this situation more ridiculous.

Only one answer came shining through, and it drove me to immediate action. I tore open Food Bag 2, ripped one of the loose beers out of it, and twisted the cap off with a dramatic explosion of beer.

I poured the tepid brew down my throat. Mike’s deadpan response was, “that’s stupid. I don’t care if you die.” I shrugged and signed off on a mental seal of agreement, then made one more dead soldier for the state of Arkansas.

We got back to the climb, hit the crest, and snapped some photos. We descended and the wind through my sweat-soaked jersey felt like a sheet of ice on my back.

The horror ended when we hit a small town, St. Paul, that had a closet called the Snack Shack that served one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten. The locals asked us questions and expressed surprise upon hearing that we’d biked up the Pig Trail (those horrible climbs). Whenever Atkins tells you to take a “scenic route” on bicycle, think twice.

Snack shack burger
Took a while, but it was worth the wait.

We made it to the town of Huntsville, where Mike’s third cousin Marvin lives. In an airplane hangar.

We went to the Walmart in town and stocked up on supplies, first sitting outside and drinking sodas. I was totally content with sitting in the foyer, watching people enter and exit the ‘Mart. After a hard day of biking, any activity that doesn’t involve pedaling is a joy.

We had ice-cream at a gas station and then got a call from Marvin during which he revealed that he had cold beer in the fridge. This perked us right up and we biked up a few wicked hills to the airport, which, according to Marvin, is the highest airport in Arkansas.

Into the airport
Into the airport.

We got to his hangar and talked to him for a while, poking around his tool-stuffed, nonstandard house. I loved that place; the huge collection of tools reminded me of my Dad.

Marvin is an awesome guy with a DIY-mentality. Everything he’s taught himself, he said, he did so by diving in and starting a serious project.

Got tools
Where's that phillips head...

Marvin makes his living fixing up old airplanes and doing niche work on airplane parts. He told us many interesting things about the industry, one of which was that there hasn’t been any innovation in non-jet planes because of FAA regulations.

Where we slept
Sleep area.

He told us we had free-reign of the upstairs portion of the hangar, so we went up there to shower and change.

Marvin in the diningroom
Marvin in the diningroom.

We spent the remaining evening talking with Marvin about various things2 while eating delicious hamburgers and drinking cold beer. I slept like a football player at an opera.

  1. changing the subject of all swears and profanities from “Blue Ridge Parkway” to “Ozarks”

  2. his friend being beaten up, abducted, and returned by drug lords in Mexico; his son Matthew’s various adventures in the army; his own adventures riding planes around the continent.

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