Eastern Arkansas

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers

The light slanting through the slit in the blackout curtains seems to indicate the day has dawned bright and sunny. Slowly, like a tortoise, my dream-fogged head extrudes from the dark shell of the motel room at the door and swivels in the outside world. Yes, it's a beautiful morning to begin a tour. A familiar grin tugs on the corners of my mouth and suddenly I'm ready for that first cup of bad coffee.

Don't get me wrong - I love a good cup of joe. But there's just something about a watery, cardboard, lifeless splash of tannic swill that lets you know you're really on the road. Teaming up with the first breeze of fresh morning air, I'm ready to move on, to a better cup of coffee if nothing else. The "free" coffee at the same Interstate-accessible stack-o-racks that welcomed this weary traveler last night is shooing me away today. I know Little Rock has good brew somewhere, but the need to explore has me defying Captain Caffeine's orders to discover a proper mug. In this southern town, said mug found too often would then lead me on to biscuits, gravy, sausage, and eggs, and I certainly don't have time for a nap just yet.

Thrice the Rice

Gold Wing gassed and ready to roll, I bid the Arkansas capital adieu and watch the city fade into the horizon in the rearview. There's nothing wrong with cities, but I always find when riding that they look much better going than coming, unless it's late and I'm looking for a room. I race with the warm morning breeze, heading east across long straight country roads into the agricultural heart of the Natural State. The eastern Arkansas Delta region is nearly tabletop flat and the Wing easily gobbles the miles of Route 38 toward Des Arc.
The size of the fields is nearly incomprehensible. The distant tractors are small, slow-moving points trailing expanding, windblown billows of dust. The big diesels break and furrow the rich alluvial soil deposited over millions of years by the flooding of the Mississippi River and its many tributaries. It's a deep, ancient sediment that nourished thriving communities long before the first European explorer, Hernando De Soto, arrived in 1541.

Over my years of traveling throughout the countryside, I've developed a pretty decent sense of which crops are which. Around these parts though, I find myself a bit confused about what these farmers are up to. It's spring and the planting hasn't been done yet, so I'm left to deduce the intended harvest by the way the fields are being prepared. These huge, flat fields are crisscrossed with serpentine, knee-high lines of soil, and despite the seemingly random placement of these graceful earthworks, there seems to be a method to the madness. After miles of curious musings, my amateur agrarian sleuthing finally puts two and two together when permanent water pumps become part of the mix. These super-sized spigots are obviously designed to flood the areas contained within these alluvial levees creating - rice paddies. Okay, maybe those signs for the Arkansas rice farmers cooperatives helped a little, but I figured it out, by golly. I later read that Arkansas is the nation's leading rice-producing state, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the total U.S. crop. So, if you ever learn you have a long lost Uncle Ben in Arkansas, be nice to him.

(End of preview text.)

For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2006 back issue.