Originally Published in my column for RoadRUNNER Magazine on: 5/22/2014
When I look around at the roads that I am riding, both paved and dirt, it is hard to believe I am riding across America. I have driven across country before, but like others it has usually been with a focus on going fast, zipping down the highway, not stopping to learn anything. Simply traveling to get somewhere else on roads designed for speed and not the soul. Little to no effort is made to stop and get to know any of the people that live in the towns along the way. They are simply barriers to another destination. If you do happen to meet up with anyone they tend to be fellow travelers on the highway. Other pilgrims, off to somewhere else who are generally no more aware of the surrounding area than you are.
This is one of the main reasons I enjoy each day of this adventure as I ride through woods and neighborhoods amongst the residents that live in these wonderful areas. Sometimes there is talk; other times a simple wave will suffice, but it makes me feel more connected each day. While some choose to tackle the TAT by camping, I find no issue with rolling into a town each night. I am not afraid to admit that I appreciate a hot shower and a good meal at the end of each day, and if a beer makes its way into my hand, who am I not to oblige? Riding alone also provides multiple opportunities to make new friends. There is something about a single traveler that makes us more accessible. Folks are more likely to start a conversation. I also find if I reach out first, respondents are more forthcoming then when other storm trooper dressed riders flank me. Honestly, is there really a more intimidating sight than an out of shape, fully armored rider on a spiritual journey striking up a conversation with a stranger? I shiver at the thought! But sincerely most folks are friendly. They love to share and hear about the journey.
Upon entering Oklahoma I am struck on how much like Arkansas it is. Often, when you cross state lines you can feel the change. As if the state lines perfectly divide two indisputably different places. However, as I ride along the Illinois River and into the Eagle Bluff Resort, where multiple sunbathers float on tubes, I am struck by how little has changed. The woods give way to the Chewbacca Bridge (Chewy Bridge), (Sadly not named after Chewbacca from Star Wars). The old bridge beckons me to cross it several times just to take in the beautiful views. The resort director flags me down and educates me about the surrounding area. I also learn that floods in 2011 took their toll on the bridge and it will soon be torn down and replaced downstream with a more modern bridge (i.e. less attractive but more functional).