Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Batesville is only about fifty miles from the Mississippi River and where the TAT begins in Arkansas. An early start meant we got to start riding with the sun at our backs and temperatures at their coolest point during daylight hours. This also meant, we’d have the chance to see some more wildlife activity.
West of Batesville, the terrain becomes distinctively Mississippi River bottom – flat ground with the only height created by human activity (levees). This flat ground represents acres upon acres of cropland farming. Here, the TAT follows farm roads and levees with changes in course dictated by ninety-degree turns.
Those of you that either live in this part of the country or have traveled here have experienced these right turns and left turns. Did you know that they are the by-product of Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson developed what is known as the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) as a way to organize US land holdings and eventually private ownership. The PLSS uses a combination of lines of longitude and latitude and the left/right turns are shifts that need to occur to accommodate for the narrowing that occurs in the lines of longitude as they reach towards the poles.
Enough of that, back to the TAT. Scott found deep sand… Probably just psyched himself out when the first road of the day, a levee road, is named “Sand Bed”. When you don’t have your head on square, sand will conquer and slow moving drop number three occurred.
No harm, no foul, except for the ego and lost energy required to upright the bike. Thank goodness for Kendrick! He rocks! Did we mention that this was our secret plan for building his muscles?
Vertical once again and we were off. Around the corner we encountered a little fellow we haven’t seen since we lived in Missouri, a beautiful copperhead in the middle of the road.
No need for any other drama, so we continued towards Arkansas. The TAT doesn’t have any designated bathrooms, so we look for convenient non-public places. It still is a bonus to be a guy!
Before we knew it, we were climbing at a steady grade up to a bridge that would eventually cross over the mighty Mississippi River into Arkansas.
The bridge descends into Arkansas directly at a beautiful Welcome Center. The Welcome Center just opened in November of 2013; however, the woman working the counter was familiar with the TAT. She mentioned that probably a half dozen riders had stopped by this summer.
A break at the Welcome Center gave us a chance to update our roll charts for Arkansas, relocate a RAM mount, rest, put up some redneck laundry, see some more wildlife, and apply cool water to our heads prior to getting back on the bikes.
Plain and simple, this part of Arkansas is Mississippi River bottom farming at its best. Part of the Breadbasket of America. More sorghum and soybeans, then rice crops become more prevent as did acres of cotton.
This farmer was by his field, so we stopped for a quick chat. We were ready to pose a couple of questions, but he beat us to the punch. He was wondering what we were doing. Because for the last five years, he’s constantly seeing motorcycles pass by. We explained that we’re riding the Trans-America Trail and that the route passes right next to this field. Now he knows… ;>)
On this chunk of land (94 acres) he’s growing cotton. In all, he’s got over 3,500 acres of cotton in production. Cotton is a thirsty crop, so it requires a lot of irrigation. The well on this field is 120 feet deep and the problem they’re investigating is that the pump is pulling sand… this is not good and a sign that the well is running dry at this depth. This will be a problem we’ll learn more about only a handful of miles later.
We said our good-byes and continued on the TAT. Lot’s more left turns and right turns on gravel. Eventually we came upon this TAT stop.
Here, both Percy Kale and Glenn Kale have established a nice rest stop for TAT riders in what used to be a general store for the area back in the 1950s. Not unlike the woman at the Welcome Center, they’ve seen an increase in TAT riders over the last five years. And apparently, riders completing the whole TAT is becoming more common too. With a cold bottle of water, we signed their guestbook and discussed our trip and how farming has changed for the Kale family.
In 2008 the price of cotton hit rock bottom and the only way they could survive was to change their entire farming operation to other crops (corn, soybeans, milo, etc.). From an irrigation perspective, their wells are also over 100 feet deep even though they hit water around 40 feet. They pull from a water table recharged by the White River and its tributaries and don’t show the same signs of running dry like the other farmer we had met and others in the State of Mississippi.
If you’re riding the TAT, you should stop by and say hello to Percy and Glenn, as they would love to hear about your experiences. Glenn was so inspired by all the TAT riders, that he finally picked up a dualsport motorcycle himself and we’re trying to convince him to ride to Oregon so that we can return the hospitality.
Daylight was burning and we needed to make it considerably further north and west to get ourselves to a decent town for our by-day accommodations. The afternoon was our hottest yet, with temperatures in the high 90s. This portion of Arkansas continues to throw road construction, gravel roads, dirt roads, grass covered lanes, and a bit of tarmac at us.
Occasionally, there will be wet spots where small groves of cypress trees are growing. They’re even called “bayous”, which surprised us since they seem to be so far north.
By 5:30pm, we reached the town of Searcy and the thermometer hovered around 100 degrees. We found lodging, but somehow we managed to pick a dry county… Looks like we’ll get to fall asleep based on exhaustion alone ;>).