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Day 32: Pine Bluff, AR to Forrest City, AR

110 Miles - Century Ride In The Arkansas Delta; Cyclist Harassment On Highway 79 & Forrest City - March 23, 2011


Pine Bluff, Arkansas On the northern edge of Pine Bluff, I photographed this sign on Highway 79. Memphis, Tennessee, 143 miles away, was my next major destination.

Arkansas River

Arkansas River, AR
I crossed the Arkansas River, a waterway with special value to me. The Arkansas River runs through my hometown (Buena Vista, CO) nearly 1,000 miles away. Deep in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, the Arkansas River is a like a small and energetic child - a wild river with rapids that are great for whitewater rafting.

Here are my pages about the Arkansas River:

  • Walking Along Arkansas River (Granite)
  • Whitewater Rafting (Royal Gorge)
  • Kayaks in Arkansas River (Salida)
  • Arkansas River (Buena Vista)
  • Running Dog On the other side of ther river, I had crossed into what some say is the edge of the Arkansas Delta, a fertile ground for farmers that runs all the way to the Mississippi River. There are less trees and more wind ... and on this day, strong winds came from the west-southwest (WSW). I had a wonderful tailwind!

    West of Altheimer, a dog came toward me. I pulled out my pepper spray and was ready to use it, but I quickly realized this critter was harmless. In fact, the dog casually ran beside me for a mile, as if he wanted company. :)

    Wabbaseka, Arkansas

    At Altheimer, Highway 79 turned northeast toward Memphis. It wasn't a perfect head-on tailwind, but it was close! I rode easily in the 18-20 mph range.

    Wabbaseka, Arkansas

    I went through Wabbaseka, Arkansas ...
    Store

    Humphrey, Arkansas

    ... then Humphrey, Arkansas.

    I briefly stopped at a convenience store with many signs on the door to deter theft. I soon learned some of the Arkansas Delta region also shares in the same reputation as Pine Bluff - a place where crime is more rampant.

    No backpacks
    No more than 3 kids at a time unless accompanied by an adult
    No underwear showing

    I actually thought all the signs on the door were funny, but the top right sign applied to me: "$10 minimum on credit card and debit card purchases." At this point, I had no cash on me, only my VISA cards - one debit, one credit. I never used an ATM and rarely had cash on hand. If a place didn't take plastic, I didn't buy it.

    Adventures In The Arkansas Delta
    Arkansas Delta
    Photo Above: A typical view of the Arkansas Delta. It's flat farming country.

    My cycling pace was swift, thanks to those consistently strong winds. I made it to Stuttgart in very good time and didn't stop to rest. Clarendon was the next town with services at 21 miles away, and with my average cycling speed, it didn't seem like a long distance.

    Cyclist Harassment

    Incident #1 - Between Wabbaseka and Humphrey, a black pick-up truck passed me and I heard something suddenly hit the pavement. At first, I thought something may have fallen from my bike, as it did near Haskell, TX on Day 21. I turned back and saw a plastic Mountain Dew bottle tumbling onto the grass. Then I looked back up and the passenger side window of the truck was down with an arm partially out. He threw his soda bottle at me! I've heard stories from other cyclists about having things thrown at them, but this was my first time.

    Incident #2 - Between Stuttgart and Ulm, I cycled in the middle of a full shoulder, minding my business. Among hundreds of trucks that passed me that day, the routine sound of a large semi approached. Then, when he was right behind me, he slammed his horn. Hoooooooooonk! He passed me hard and didn't move at all the left, and although I got a good wind blast from it (see Day 4 about "wind blasting"), it scared me.

    As for tractor-trailers, I don't want to paint a picture that truckers are mean folks. I'd say 99.9% of all truck drivers were courteous, and in fact, I have friends who work in the trucking industry.

    Both incidents were fleeting moments of disrespect, but I let them slide. I was in a good mood with my tailwind and it didn't seem worth becoming too upset. Miles later, an oncoming truck tooted his horn in friendly fashion, as if he was encouraging me. Also, a man in a utility truck on an adjacent road gave me fist pumps with a smile. I had fans in some of those trucks. :)

    Later today, I would experience a third unpleasant incident in Forrest City, but I'll tell you about it when it arose.

    Wilkerson Jewelers

    I entered a forested area near the White River.

    TOP: I loved the sign of Wilkerson Jewelers of Stuttgart! :)

    SECOND: A narrow two-lane bridge went for miles over marshland.

    Clarendon, Arkansas
    Clarendon, Arkansas

    Two bridges crossed two seperate parts of an oxbow, and then I made it to the grand bridge over the White River. Most of the time, few vehicles were on the road, but as I climbed this bridge, I thought this would be the kind of place a trucker or frustrated driver would blare their horn at me. Thankfully, no one did. In fact, a pick-up truck behind me seemed to intentionally drive behind me. Speeding down on the other side of the bridge, I gave a "thumbs up" jesture and turned at the first point where I could swerve onto a shoulder. I waved at him with a smile. He was probably a local, as he turned into Clarendon.

    I was at 58 miles and I took my first prolonged break in Clarendon. A motel existed nearby, but there was no way I could stop so soon. The cycling gods had given me a fantastic tailwind that I had to take advantage of!

    Arkansas Delta I cycled fast into the afternoon. The scenery didn't seem too interesting, and I kept taking pictures of signs on the road. Six miles to Monroe, AR was a piece of cake; 26 miles to Marianna was nothing to be scared about with these tailwinds. :)
    Arkansas Cycling

    Monroe, Arkansas

    Not much was in Monroe. I didn't see any stores. Only a small cluster of homes.

    Early in the morning, I leaned my bike against a sign that read Memphis was 143 miles away. And now I was only 78 miles away with more cycling to go. I was doing all right! :)

    John Deere Tractor
    A large tractor in Lee County, Arkansas, west of Marianna.

    Marianna, Arkansas

    I cruised into Marianna at the 90-mile mark. I still had energy to continue, but I faced a dilemma with lodging.

    Ideally, I wanted to continue in a northeasterly direction on Highway 79 toward Hughes, AR. This route would eventually reach Shearerville, AR at Highway 70 (which runs along Interstate 40) and take me to West Memphis. The problem: No lodging existed on that route in case I wanted to quit early, and it was 50 miles to West Memphis. Did I have 50 more miles in me that afternoon? With those strong westerly winds, my heart said "yes." But my mind wasn't so sure.

    The safer route was to travel north for 18 miles to Forrest City, a major town on the Interstate with numerous lodging choices. The problem: From Marianna, it'd be a straight north ride, meaning those strong westerly winds would be a crosswind. I'd be biking slow. Ugh. The spoiled part of me didn't want that.

    Deep down, I knew I needed to be grateful to have cycled 90 miles already, but this dilemma bothered me. In a perfect world, a support vehicle would have been so helpful. I could have continued northeast on Highway 79 out of Marianna, and I would have had the comfort of knowing I could stop at any time, be transported to a motel in Forrest City, and then return to the same spot the next day. Maybe I could have made it to West Memphis, or at least Shearerville, but I'll never know. It wasn't in the cards.

    After a rest break, I went north of Highway 1 to Forrest City.

    Forrest City, Arkansas

    Forrest City, Arkansas

    For the first two miles, the road went northwest, meaning that westerly wind had become a partial headwind. Then the road turned straight north, making it a much more graceful crosswind, but riding at 10-12 mph seemed so slow. The noisy wind quickly sapped my energy; I was so ready to be done in Forrest City.

    A Third Incident

    In Forrest City, I was on a busy four-lane road with no shoulder. Many cars passed me just fine as I cycled on the far right of the right lane. Then a car from behind hit his horn with an unmistakeable tone of antagonism. Beeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! It was as though he was offended or annoyed at my presence. Then the car passed by going way around, using both lanes. Maybe the driver honked because he was scared, but that's not an excuse to slam one's horn like that. From what I could see, it looked like two teenagers in the car, and something inside me snapped. I gave a mean stare at that car as it went ahead, hoping they saw me in their rear or side view mirror. A long and murderous stare. It's a good thing I didn't catch up to that car, for I may not have controlled my anger well.

    Country Hearth Inn
    After meandering from one overpriced motel to another, I was at 110 miles when I finally checked in at the Country Hearth Inn, the cheapest place I could find.

    Dairy Queen Food
    Dinner at a nearby Dairy Queen in Forrest City.

    I was grateful to have gone 110 miles, but something inside wasn't right this evening. I felt like I was becoming too tough. Some of this was probably good. Little seemed to scare me, I took on whatever I needed, and noticed a confident strut with legs that increasingly felt like tree trunks.

    Yet there was a negative side. I found myself angry - ready to pounce on the next person who showed me disrespect. My gentle and goofy personality that I like wasn't with me. I felt calloused. I had become a finely tuned cycling machine, but I didn't feel 100% human anymore.

    Maybe the anti-cycling incidents did get to me. Or maybe I was somber that today was the birthday of my late father. Or maybe I was simply exhausted from riding the longest distance on my tour, and the physical was affecting the emotional.

    Whatever the reason, on this evening this grand adventure didn't feel like much fun at all, and that bothered me. But as it is in life, a good night's sleep did wonders for my morale. Tomorrow would surely have its challenges, but it would be a much brighter day.

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