Epic days in the flatlands

Epic.  One word that describes pretty much every day on the road.  I know it sounds dramatic but when every turn in the road unfolds onto a new stretch of terrain, every hour brings changing weather, and every day finds us in a new place meeting new people, really, it feels epic.  At night we'll reflect on the day and that morning will feel like days ago because we'll have been in so many places that day.  Regularly we struggle to recall all the places we've slept in the previous week.

Take our last two days for example.  The morning of our departure from Memphis we had to sadly say goodbye to our guest riders Richard and Katie Palmer.  We wish they could have stayed longer - they were so easygoing and gave us some incredible support in the two days they were with us!  Plus they restocked our cache of snacks in a big way - huge thanks to Marti for doing the shopping!  The hardest goodbye for Steph was with her baby, Autumn. 

Thanks Richard and Katie Palmer for everything!

Emotional goodbye
With Katie driving the Manatee for the first miles of the day, the Flying Square took off through the city to cross one of our biggest landmarks on the trip as a team - the Mighty Mississippi!  The morning was clear and cold and after a day off we had fresh legs and were in great spirits.  Memphis cyclists warned us that the only place to cross was the somewhat-inaccessible I-55 bridge, and gave us very specific instructions for climbing up the grassy embankment and exiting the bridge on the shoulder of oncoming interstate traffic, at which point we were on our own because they hadn't ridden beyond the Arkansas end of the bridge.  The challenge added to our excitement and in a strong crosswind, with noisy semis rocking the bridge as they passed, it felt very monumental to cross the wide river and find ourselves west of the Mississippi
Flying square formation

State #7

White hot warriors - the camera can't even handle us

RASR was here

MAJOR landmark, check
Our Memphis colleagues were right - once we crossed the bridge we found ourselves in a you-can't-get-there-from-here situation.  We again scrambled down the grassy embankment to a dirt road - the only alternative to riding on I-55 - and followed google's directions north along the river.  The dirt road turned to loose gravel and after a few miles disappeared into rutted double-track across a field.  We checked and rechecked our google directions on our GPS and smartphones to confirm that yes, this really was the only alternate road to I-55 into Arkansas.  So at that point Manatee backtracked to the highway and we switched into dirt bike mode and took off across the field.  Chelsea took the lead through a particularly loose stretch and fell victim to skinny-tires-in-deep-soil syndrome.      
Leaving Memphis (literally) in our dust

Off-roading across America

Very dramatic fall #4
After 6.5 miles of off-roading we finally popped out on pavement and with great relief reunited with the Manatee.  As we turned west away from the river our relief faded into a new challenge - a 20mph headwind.  Now Stephanie, being from Illinois, has admitted her struggle with riding hills.  And I will admit we've come up against some very tough ones.  But I will take hills any day over the endless flatness of eastern Arkansas, especially with a headwind.  It really does break your spirit, like the hill that never ends, for 45 miles!  We struggled to keep a 10mph pace and we were working hard.
oh, the flatness
Finally, finally, we hit Crowley's Ridge, an unusual geologic feature stretching north to Jonesboro, and were relieved to get a break from the flatness and wind.  We were soon met by our champion escorts Doug and Mike on motorcycles into Jonesboro.  They led us to a group of ladies from a local riding group called Pedal Pushers that road with us the rest of the way into town.  Sally Broadway, director of the Northeast Arkansas Bicycle Coalition, generously coordinated our stay at the beautiful West Washington B&B and dinner with local riders at Don Jose's.  We enjoyed hearing about all the great work they are doing to make Jonesboro a bike-friendly hub, and got some special treatment at Sally's husband Jason's beautiful bike shop Gearhead Cycle House.  Thanks to the Broadways for your incredible generosity and the whole Jonesboro cycling community for welcoming us!
Awesome biking ladies of Jonesboro

Talented Taylor, lead marketer for Gearhead
Today we were led out of Jonesboro by Jason and Troy, bike route expert in the area.  The wind turned(!) and we had a rare tailwind for most of the morning.  We flew across another 50 miles of flatlands on some of the easiest riding of our whole trip.  We passed huge rice and soy fields and "towns" of less than 100 people where the road barely even bends in acknowledgement. 
Thanks Jason and Troy!
After lunch we paid another school a visit to present to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders of Tolleson Elementary in Jacksonville, AR.  They were a very attentive group though very few of them were allowed to walk or bike to school. As school let out we noted how badly they needed some Safe Routes infrastructure!
Safe Route to School wanted here!
We rolled the remaining miles from Jacksonville into Little Rock to meet Bernadette Rhodes, Safe Routes to School coordinator for North Little Rock, who set us up with another school visit for tomorrow morning.  She gave us a quick tour of North Little Rock, a bronze Bike-Friendly Community, and grabbed a quick (first) dinner with us.  While we were eating the Mayor of North Little Rock stopped in to chat with us about bike-related issues in the city.  We were extremely impressed by the contentious effort North Little Rock is making to move up to Bike-Friendly "gold".
Mayor Hays, Bernadette, RASR, and vegetables
Tonight we're staying in Little Rock with the Westfall family, another family that goes way back with the Ward-Wallers.  Terri permitted us to take over her laundry room and made us a delicious dinner, over which we enjoyed catching up with the whole family and another old colleague of Jane's Frank Larusso who stopped by for dinner with his wife.  Thank you so much to Chris and Terri for your gracious hospitality!

Having old friends host us in their homes and meeting generous new ones; as Stephanie affirmed these are really the most meaningful moments for us at the end of long days on the road.  Our "epic" days would feel like just another day on the road without the warm energy we receive in each place we stop.  And incredibly, every one that we meet, whether avid riders or not, connect with our mission to make roads safer and encourage more people to bicycle.  For me, sharing my passion for bicycling through these personal connections is the true purpose of this whole trip.  If by sharing our experience we can encourage a few more people to get out and ride, or add a little extra motivation to a community that is already working hard to be more bike-friendly, or get a few more non-riders to be more considerate of the bikes on the road when they get in their cars, then we have been successful.  Arriving in San Francisco will just be kind of a bonus. 

A BIG thank you again to everyone that have supported us so far and allowed us to share our experience and enthusiasm for bicycling in your home or community.  As I've become fond of saying - bike more!


  1. I am soooooo impressed with you guys!!!! Congratulations on getting to your 7th state (I think that is what you posted). WOW!!!!

  2. I think the dramatic fall was staged for dramatic effect and maximum sympathetic appeal. I suspect a little tickling would have put that rider quickly back in the saddle and across Arkansas lickety-split.