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Day 33: Forrest City, AR to Collierville, TN

78 Miles - Met Aimee Spencer; I-55 Bridge Over Mississippi River; Biked Through Metro Memphis - March 24, 2011

Highway 70 Arkansas
Interstate 40 running parallel to me in the distance.
From Forrest City, I traveled east on Highway 70, which runs adjacent to Interstate 40 to West Memphis, Arkansas. The road was fairly empty, as most of the time it would make more sense for a driver to hop onto the Interstate instead of taking this road with a slower speed limit. The road was calm, but the sounds of semis roaring was never far.

One problem: The direction of the wind had changed. This morning it was coming from the north. With me traveling northeast to northeast-east, it was a partial headwind. Ugh. I know ... I know ... after yesterday, I couldn't complain. :)

Bridge The bridge over the St. Francis River.
Arkansas Food Court

Text Message

On top of the headwind, it was a nippy morning. For much of the first 32 days of my tour, my main concerns were sunburn and heat exhaustion, but today, I was worried about freezing my butt off! Add a menacing headwind, and I was having a rough morning.

I equate cycling in headwind to driving a car in first or second gear: You can only go so fast, and the moment you let your foot off the gas, you slow down.

Slowness (riding under 10 mph much of the way) and coldness had me longing to take breaks indoors anywhere I could.

Shell Lake, Arkansas

At Shell Lake, in the northeast corner of St. Francis County, there was an area of gas stations and services. 2 1/2 hours into my ride, I had only gone 22 miles and already I needed a prolonged break. The wind and cold was kicking my ass!

As seen in the photo, I texted a dreary message to Charles Smith in Memphis, who planned to host me that evening. I wasn't so sure I'd make it to Memphis today.

Root Beer Licorice


This food court was where I took cover. It was feeling like a low mileage day, like Waurika, OK or Durant, OK, but I kept my spirits up.

TOP LEFT: I loved the Arkansas Razorbacks stuffed animals in one of the machines with toys.

TOP RIGHT: This large package of root beer licorice was so tempting to buy, but I refrained.

BOTTOM: A self-portrait with my package of Mentos. :)

I greatly enjoyed the warmth, just sitting and feeling lazy. But soon I knew I had to deal with the elements, however adverse, for I planned to see Aimee Spencer of Smile for a Lifetime in West Memphis.

Interstate 40 Arkansas East of Shearerville, Highway 70 turned directly east, giving me relief from the northerly winds. And while it never became truly warm, the temperature rose enough to take away the misery.

Highway 70 ran extremely close to Interstate 40, and for awhile, traffic went at about my speed of 10-15 mph hour. It felt good that they were moving at my pace.

Now imagine driving really slow in traffic, day after day, week after week, for six hours a day. That, my friend, is the pace of biking across America! ;)

Meeting Aimee With Smile for a Lifetime In West Memphis, Arkansas

Meet Aimee Spencer, a mother, wife, financial supporter of my ride and runner who competes in many marathons. Although she is a wonderful Arkansas friend of mine, Aimee is a native of Alabama and only moved to Jonesboro, AR because of her husband's job. She's not a Razorbacks fan (she backs the Crimson Tide), but nobody is perfect.

Aimee was also the executive director of Smile for a Lifetime, a charity that helps children from low-income families receive braces. I originally met Aimee on Twitter in the fall of 2010, and after learning about the great work they do, it felt right to dedicate my ride to spreading awareness for Smile for a Lifetime. Check out their website (www.s4l.org) and the videos and information on the Smile for a Lifetime page on this website.

Throughout this tour, I had been keeping in touch with Aimee and we coordinated meeting in West Memphis today. It was so great to finally meet her! :)

Our visit was far too short. Aimee found me on the road on the west side of West Memphis, and we had a late lunch at a Subway. We talked. She let me use her laptop to catch up online. And even though she's camera shy, I captured two photos of her ...

Look at all the clutter on our table, ha ha! :)
Steve and Amy
In the Subway parking lot.
After lunch, we had one more mission. Aimee would drive along with me and be my help (if needed) as I attempted to cross the Interstate 55 bridge over the Mississippi River.

Aimee's Car
Aimee's vehicle on East Broadway in West Memphis.

Interstate 55 Bridge Over The Mississippi River

Before my tour, I was concerned about whether I could cross the Mississippi River here, but soon I learned a pedestrian walkway exists on each side of the bridge. However, getting to the bridge from West Memphis proved to be a challenge.

West Memphis, AR From this very point in the adjacent photo, there is no frontage road. You might as well get on the Interstate and bike on the shoulder.

Here's what I did: I continued on the road to the right, that appears to be a frontage road with Aimee behind me ...

Arkansas Flood ... but it lead to this. The road was flooded out, and it looped under the highway.

With no other recourse, I went back and got on the I-55 shoulder to cross the bridge in the adjacent photo.

Road Closed So I biked on the shoulder of I-55 for about a half mile. I was not sure if it was lawful, but truly no alternative route existed. (That's what I would have politely told a law enforcement official had I been pulled over.)

Over the bridge, I noticed what appeared to be another frontage road. Immediately I got off the pavement and walked my bike down the grass embankment. The problem: After a few tenths of a mile, a sign read "road closed."

However, if you look closely, a green sign signifying an exit was ahead. That is Exit 1 for Bridgeport Road. I scrambled up the grassy knoll to the Interstate, and biked a few tenths of a mile to that exit. From there, access to the pedestrian walkway (on the south side of the bridge) is easy.

I-55 Bridge Memphis Approaching the pedestrian walkway with two lanes of traffic beside me.
Memphis, Tennessee
A zoom-in photo of downtown Memphis.
I walked on the bridge with the bicycle beside me. I suppose I could have ridden, but there was a lot of broken glass and debris. I was okay with not rushing though, as I figured I should take in the views of downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River as much as possible.
I-55 Bridge Memphis

I-55 Bridge Mississippi River

I-55 Bridge Memphis TN

Mississippi River

Three photos from the bridge. Three years ago, I crossed the Mississippi River at the Highway 82 bridge between Lake Village, AR and Greenville, MS.

Tennessee - 6 States Down, 4 To Go!
Memphis, Tennessee
The welcome sign for Tennessee ahead on Interstate 55.

Florda Street Memphis TN
Riding south on Florida Street in southwest Memphis.

Cycling Through Memphis

My friend Charles Smith made it clear that he would leave work early and shuttle me anywhere in Memphis. That was a generous offer and something to remember, but I did not want to cheat. Ideally, I wanted to bike through Memphis and make it to his home in Collierville on the southeast side of the metro area.

Before starting, I sensed cycling on streets in this large city had the potential to be thrilling ... or tragic. I took a deep breath. I said a modest prayer. And then I went!

Elvis Presley Boulevard Traveling south on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Cycling through Memphis was intense. It wasn't necessarily any worse or better than other cities, but this was no leisure bike ride. Could I make it to Charles Smith's house without his help? Oh how I wanted to show up in his Collierville driveway!

I took Florida Street south, then turned east on Winchester. At Elvis Presley Boulevard, I turned south. I biked past Graceland, but didn't stop for that. I kept going south with some friendly help from that northerly wind ...

Shelby Drive Memphis TN
Shelby Drive eastbound in south Memphis.
... then I turned east on Shelby Drive. I was at 65 miles and knew if I biked over ten miles on this road, I would be near Charles' house.

For a short while, I considered traveling a couple of miles south for the novelty of crossing into Mississippi. Then I could cross the metro area via State Line Road or even Goodman Road (Highway 302). I would have been fairly close to Charles's house anyway, and I could have taken advantage of him meeting me by car, but something inside wanted to continue toward Collierville.

Shelby Drive went on and on. Shoulder was minimal much of the way; I was fortunate to have a couple of feet, at most.

Thankfully Shelby has three lanes of traffic on each side, which somewhat relaxed traffic and made it easier for cars to pass me.

Collierville, Tennessee
Collierville, Tennessee

Shelby Drive greatly quieted in Collierville. A few miles earlier, I called Charles to give him an update. I had already been to his house on two occasions, but needed directions to get to Byhalia Road.

So close, Charles, his wife Araceli, and their kids Sydney and Carter drove out to find me. :)

The Smith Family Greets Me On The Road - Collierville, Tennessee
The videos speak for themselves. Below are their five raw videos as the Smith Family followed me for the final two miles to their home.
Video #1 - They Spot Me On Shelby Post Road

I love the raw quality of these vidoes. They're so real! :)
Video #2 - Encouraging Steve
1:30 - I share my reflections after biking 28 miles across Memphis. :)
Video #3 - Charles's Commentary

Charles would make a great sports announcer, wouldn't he? :)
Video #4 - Their Version Of The Amazing Race

Almost there.
Video #5 - The Finale Into The Driveway

0:40 - I was taking pictures of the bike lane sign. I was impressed their suburban neighborhood had such wide bicycle lanes!

Oh the joy of this accomplishment ... I rode into their driveway! :)

Smith Family 78 miles. Across the Mississippi River and through Memphis. I was very proud of myself. It was one of those rare times where I thought about what I did and said, "Wow! That was pretty amazing!" :)

The Smith Family

Let me introduce you to the Smith Family. Charles has been my friend for many years. On my 2008 tour, Charles drove two hours (one way) to shuttle me from Winona, Mississippi to his home in Collierville. Charles has also met with me in Fayetteville, Arkansas to attend Razorback football games in 2010 and 2009.

Pictured here is Charles (left), myself, and two of their twins, Carter and Sydney. (Araceli took the picture.) They also have Rachel, a senior in high school who wasn't home.

Carter and Sydney As I settled in, Carter and Sydney were playing with a United States puzzle. Considering my long ride, I though that was fitting.
Logan's Steakhouse

Logan's Steakhouse - Memphis, Tennessee

For dinner, we went me to Logan's Steakhouse, an excellent restaurant.

When Carter decided he was sleepy and laid down, ohhhh I knew that was picture material. ;)

Sydney Sydney became messy while eating her ribs.
Logan's Steakhouse
The waitress and I at Logan's Steakhouse.

Our waitress did a great job. Near the end, we discussed my bike across America tour, and I gave her this web address on a business card.

"Here's my website, so you know I'm not lying," I said. But she didn't think I was. :)

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