I love how I start, or just am, drinking something special, or cheap, when I start writing. I began scribbling this in the midst of a micro-brewery flight at Vino’s Brewery in Little Rock, Arkansas; as I’m sure my rambling will illustrate. By the way, speaking of Arkansas, or more generally this region of the good ‘ol US of A, can someone tell me the age range one must appear to have entered in order to receive the “ma’am” title? “Yikes!” I say, which pretty much sums up the tense cringed expression I give in response.

I just left one of the many cities that I’ve traveled through that tries to boost city pride by proclaiming something special about themselves, like the freeway sign in Elk City, Oklahoma professing, “Hometown of Susan Powell, Miss America 1981” – looks like they’d better start breeding her to keep that claim up to date. These ego-building promotions usually involved the invention of a special food or a famous person who was born there. For example, I just left the “Boyhood home of President Bill Clinton” – a slogan repainted over-and-all-over the city. But other than a happenstance birth, Hot Springs, Arkansas really has something unique to pride themselves on. They have a fantastic history of Indian thermal healing pools, turned Caucasian-immigrant healing bathhouses-n-brothels, turned marble and steal decorated retreat for the well-to-do. But, even more prideful, Hot Springs was a stopping point for the 2010 Cannonball Run that I happened upon, as well as this famed gentleman, pictured below, that I had the pleasure to work with in my days as a happy moto-magazine slave.

(Dale Walksler, proprietor of the most amazing motorcycle museum ever, Wheels Through Time, in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, where everything, from engine blueprints to a motorized toboggan to a 1903 Indian runs; he’s like the Motor-Whisperer.)

I swung into Little Rock on my way back up north to the Trans-Am Trail point town of Beebe, Arkansas for a splurge on some tasty down-home brown sugar smothered yams and corn with a side of greens and corn bread. If anyone knows how to take the health out of veggies, it’s the American Suthuners. As I continued up the 67 I noticed a welcome wagon of “join us” church advertisements lining the roadside around the city or county “Now Entering” freeway signs. I won’t be surprised when they start running 2-for-2 penny saver ads; “2 wine-tasters, 2-waffers for 2-bucks in the offering bin.”

The trails in eastern Arkansas were vastly different from the lush green Ozarks in the west. The majority of my ride to the Mississippi border was spent pebble-pushing and wobbling down thick gravel farm roads and running into a plethora of visor-splat gnats. I did skip Demo Road, a 10-mile stretch that runs behind a swamp between Blacktan and Marvell, as prompted by a suggestion from fellow Trans-Amers who said they spent an hour slithering through the slimy mud there. I had already fish-tailed through a few random mud puddles that are still a bit daunting, despite a dry September and the 90-degree heat.

On the trail, I kept passing by these backcountry homes standing just feet away from a weathered and abandon one of similar size and structure. It was like a proactive country bumpkin noticed that his house was starting to “wear” and thought he’d better get started on a new one. “And if I put ‘er about four-feet away I’ll still be able to watch the game while I do it.”

As I headed toward Helena, the Arkansas/Mississippi border town, I passed by the Trail of Tears cruiser parade lead by a cop car, like a funeral procession … which I initially thought it was and pulled over to the shoulder.

I arrived in Helena and decided to make camp at the Stone Creek Campground in the St. Francis National Forest. I rolled into the Stone Creek Lake pier area in the park and asked a tobacco chewin’ papa of two little blue-eyed girls for site directions. He showed me the way before mentioning that the site wasn’t the safest of spots due to a county “meth” problem; obviously a smidge concerning. In a thick born-n-bread Arkansan accent, the man told me that he and his buddies camp there when they go hunting for deer.

“I can clean one in 14-minutes,” proudly exclaimed the man, Hunter; so appropriately named.

To ease my, “It’s open season?” concern, he also mentioned that it was only squirrel season right now.

“We have three in the kitchen sink,” added his daughter Harley.

Sweet family. I’m even thinking of swinging by to see one of the demolition derbies he restores cars for.

The next morning, bright-n-early, I passed over the mighty Mississippi and directly onto paved farm roads that cut through the cotton fields. From a comment in Long Way Around, I have second-handedly learned that cotton takes a lot of water to grow, which seems to be why the farm roads are paved and raised a bit from the swampy fields … correct me if I’m wrong.

Through the Mississippi cotton-land, swamp-land and crazy unstoppable vine-land, the pavement, with only a few gravel off-shoots, continued for about 50 miles until I reached the Highway 55 and thought, “Damn, I’m just 40 miles south of Memphis.”

Needless to say, I watched a Johnny Cash/Kris Kristofferson cover band over a nutty brown ale at the Blues Café last night; so spot on that if you shut your eyes, you’d think it was the radio.

(Singer and guitarist, Gary Hardy, is sipping on a soda in the lower left-hand corner of this photo while on session break, steps away from the marquee advertising his band.)