Far from this opera forevermore

We left god and his transparent architecture behind in Eureka Springs and headed north under ever bleaker skies. With all our sightseeing, hiding from the weather and generally enjoying the good life that civilisation allows we’d whittled away a good chunk of the day. We needed to make some headway though, so we buckled our helmets on a notch tighter and averted our gaze from the grey dome above us.

Grey skies, but we did find a section of the old Route 66 which was interesting
The past and the future? Perhaps 
An old house on the prairie; for real

We were headed to Roaring River State Park campsite, which as luck would have it was only about 20 miles up the road. As it was that was easily enough for us that day and we located our preferred pitch just as darkness crept in. It was, by this point, freezing. Our camping gear was still damp from two nights before and we realised we were out of cooking gas just as we tried to cook dinner - another one of those trying moments which a life on the road can involve. We were feeling more downtrodden by the second but this all changed when some lovely fellow campers emerged from the twilight and offered us their spare firewood as they were leaving the following day. Absolutely magical timing, and before we knew it dinner was on course again and the tent was being slapped into shape by my weary hands. We slept very soundly that night and awoke to a fresher day, edged in frost.

Into Kansas and the awesome landscapes of nothingness

As the ice melted away that morning, and our sleep addled minds cleared accordingly we took stock of the day’s route - 254 miles west into Kansas, seven corners in total. Yes that’s correct. The route North-West into Kansas involved five major corners and from there it ran straight as an arrow, aside from a single S-bend, all the way to Wichita, 164 miles later.

Once en route Aby read whilst I rode, ticking the miles under our tyres like a night train counting sleepers. I sensed the heat from the sun steadily circumnavigate the left hand side of my body; watched the shadows of stray wrist hairs project lazy afternoon shadows on my sundial skin; felt the tilt of mother earth inevitably drawing me in as night does the day.

And then I stopped, because clearly it was time for a break! Fredonia. Ever heard of it? Well if not you probably never will either, because if you weren’t born there then you’ve no reason to go. That being said a lovely shop assistant told Aby she has the most ‘purdy face, darrlin’ (I won’t disagree there) and a trike riding Harley fan gave her a go on his colossal steed in the car park. Everyone seemed to be straightforward, content folk and that is one of the things that we both love about the United States. Honest people who are confident enough to ask and kind enough to care.

Riding in tandem with the buffalo on the prairie grasses. It doesn't get much more cowboy!

The home leg to Wichita was more of the same, due West on the I-400, but we were on our way to Scott and Lynda’s house (our quad-biking friends from Arkansas, see this post) so we were content enough. We could practically feel the warm shower water on our skin! After a little confusion with finding the meeting point we hooked up with Scott in his immaculate turquoise Ford pickup and I followed him back as Aby rode shotgun. What followed was the first fun night of many with this wonderful evergreen pair. After showers and dinner we went onto a dessert of beers then conversation, meeting Dave the neighbour then liquor, hanging out in ‘The Triangle’ and talking motorbikes. It was fantastic.

The Triangle in all it's glory 

Scott and Lynda are a middle aged couple who, brilliantly, still act like teenagers. They do what they want, buying fun toys like quad bikes and going on adventures in canoes because it’s what they love. They really are an inspiration to anyone who feels like they “can’t” do these things because they’re too old/poor/tired. By the end of our stay they were running rings around us to be honest! We visited local micro breweries and met Kathy and Bobby, self confessed Rednecks and kind people. One evening after trying out Scott’s trials motorbike (he’s a high level rider) we all camped out in the garage with country music blaring and beer bottles chinking. Scott was showing his mechanics credentials and servicing Sandy whilst I got handy with some spray paint and stickers on our helmets! We chatted long into the night until we were interrupted by hurricane sirens wailing in the streets. It was eerie and intimidating for us lily-livered Brits, but it turned out the storm was several miles away and we were able to stand in the strange stillness, a line of us with bottles in hand and enjoy the epic lightning show dancing above the neighbouring town. What a wonderful nightcap.

Playing bikes (above) and the wonderful duo (below)

The next morning there was nothing for it but to strap up the bike and hit the road again. Scott escorted us an hour or so out of town, where we stopped for the obligatory Kansas treat, cow fries. A rather neat name for a pretty queasy deep fried snack of bovine knackers. We digested it as a cultural lesson but needless to say, once is enough for us! From there we parted ways, he turning left and back towards town, us taking a right towards the middle of who knew where...

Boys and their toys
Hitting the road hard in the crosswinds! 
The road back to civilisation... But we were going the other way! 
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As nature casually lapped at the stream and munched on some cud.

Back on the road, with our fancy new cold weather outfits, we were less numb but even more laden. On cold days we were super appreciative of our friend's generosity whilst on the occasional hot day we found ourselves perched atop a mountain of folded coats and jumpers. It was certainly not the slickest of operations but we made it work. No more sore bums at least!

After mere minutes en route we crossed paths with a gaunt and shaggy fellow who looked rather worse for wear. He was skulking across a relatively busy road and once we'd pulled over and switched off we managed to coax him over with the remaining scraps of food we had - a can of sweet corn, some crisps, a bit of water. This pooch was really ragged looking, it was terrible to see. It looked as if he'd been living wild for a fair amount of time and not very successfully. His fur was lank, he looked downtrodden and hopeless and his frame was painfully thin. We had to do something.

A really odd yet epic house we stumbled across, deserted, on a hill overlooking a lake. We rolled up the drive nervously and saw no one, heard nothing. It was eerie, scary, and more than a little fun.

Whilst Aby stayed with him and gave him some much needed cuddles, I headed up the road to see if the nearest neighbour had any idea where he had come from. When I arrived they had dogs and I was suddenly hopeful that perhaps we could re-home him there. They seemed friendly, had a child and a big garden, but it wasn't happening. They directed me down the road to an older gent who apparently had had sheep dogs in the past, working dogs for his farm, so off I headed to meet him.

After repeated knocks on the door and plenty of rustling from inside I was finally gifted a hello through a tiny crack in the door, TV still blaring in the background through the room's darkness. I explained the situation as succinctly as possible whilst trying not to sound like a very imaginative prospective home invader. This is rural Arkansas after all - everyone is packing shotguns! She mumbled something about her husband around back and, mentally crossing my fingers, I headed round the house to meet my future...

Seventy plus, cowboy boots, extravagantly bearded, a half full bottle of whiskey in hand, several empties packed in a crate on the floor, I met this absolute character of a man. He listened to me and chuckled jovially, "You're a good kid ain'tcha! I see that. Hur hur hurrr!" He got straight onto his phone and called the Sheriff's office (I love America!) for information on the dog pound and whether the dog could be collected. By some beautiful twist of fate it turned out that the receptionist at the Sheriff's office had sheep and could do with a dog of this kind,  so she'd be on her way to collect him after work. After a chin wag with beardy about life (ex truck driver turned farmer) and animals ("they're smarter than us humans, sometimes they just need some help"), we headed back to collect shaggy from down the road.

Just floating, with ancient felled trees on a passive Arkansas lake.

Our mode of transport was an incredible clunker of a pick-up, the make escapes me, but with 280,000 miles on the clock and more dents that windows she still ran like a treat, he assured me. Meanwhile back on the side of the road with Absta, during a thirty minute period she'd had about ten different sets of people pull over to offer help, a ride, or just ask what was up. Just an indication of how friendly all the locals seemed to be - particularly the men in pick-ups to a gorgeous young lady. Seriously though, we even got invited to the local town for dinner. Once woofer was back at our buddy's garden I watched him wolfing down an overflowing bowl of dog food (the pooch I mean!), smiled, and we hit the road.

Elks doing what they do.

Having lost a few hours to a pretty unexpected occurrence we tried to twist the wrist, if ya know what I mean, cruising through forests and over rolling hills, along the renowned motorbike route of the Arkansas 'Pig Trail'. It's well known for good reason - the scenery is just fantastic and on a sunny afternoon in April we couldn't have felt luckier. We sailed our way right through the afternoon on favourable winds with sights set, upon recommendation from Don & Carrie, on the lush valley of Buffalo River. As we cruised past another abundant meadow we glanced right to observe a huge herd of elk. For our first sighting of these funky looking mammals to be not just one, but an impressive flock of bulls, cows and calves was really special. We gawped with the best of them, and believe me we weren't the only ones screeching to a halt. It was so nice to see everyone taking time to enjoy nature, as nature casually lapped at the stream and munched on some cud. Breathtaking.

 Next up was a thrilling excursion into riotous Ponca - population 14. It seemed a real point of pride, the number of inhabitants, which sounds weird perhaps, but we liked it. I also got a lesson in the benefits of lower octane fuel for scooter engines from the girl in the extremely old-school gas station (imagine a clunky numeric display ticking around and a trust based payment where you have to stop at the amount you've paid for). It was fantastic, and doubtless older than Aby and I combined which made it even more fun to experience a bit of that era. As great as Ponca was though it wasn't strictly on our route, and we had to backtrack a little to a major road, with darkness and fatigue descending. 

We blasted onwards into dusk, stopping only at a popular fast food 'restaurant' for a hot choccy and to book a motel for that night. Neither of us fancied a wearied tent erection and my body odour was now slipping from inhumane to catastrophic. A further hour or so found us thanking the motel owner in Eureka Springs for waiting for us to arrive, long glorious showers, bizarre worship of the clean sheets, then unconsciousness.

A church of glass. God will be most pleased.

Morning (late morning of course!) bought us around to an exciting new town! And rain. Plenty of icy rain, so after sorting out washing (dreamy) and admiring some of the gorgeous wooden framed housing we hussled pronto into the Mud St Cafe who, I think it's fair to say from their frankly ridiculous list of coffee awards, know how to make a decent brew. We were so happy to be here, in the dry, on a sofa, with coffee. It was the perfect place to recover after a good few days of mileage and camping, and we took advantage of this. There are even rumours that we took off our shoes and dried our trousers on the radiator but these are unsubstantiated, officer. Our new friends at the cafe (we were there for about four hours after all) were kind enough to give us some pastries for the road and a target camping spot for that night - Roaring River National Park. Although the weather did put a dampener (See what I did there?! With the rain... No one?) on the day in Eureka, we still enjoyed the hippy vibrations a lot. Also on the way out of town we saw a massive statue of jesus, like in Rio de Janeiro (but way less cool) and a glass church in the forest, which was... Leafy. All good fun really.

Sofa bliss at the Mud St Cafe
A piece of art that blew our mind with it's detail, precision, utter beauty. So like a photograph, it's painstaking finesse. The kind of thing you only see in a photo. I mean wow, it looks just like a photo......
It is a photo.

And so on to Missouri we rolled.


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Motorbike Club

There is nothing like getting out there on two wheels, when the sun is bright and the evenings are long - and we're certainly not the only people to think that. You see, in the motorbike world there's a sort of club and itst super duper inclusive. All you need is two wheels and a motor and membership is yours!

Larking about on two wheels - is there anything better?
Part of the club, bin bags and all.

We've met people all over who have said things like; "Nice day for a ride" and "Woah, tough day out on the bike eh" and that's the sign. It's like a secret handshake and then you know - they're in the club! What we don't mention to them is that for us every day is a good day for a ride, we're living on the road. We don't want to seem weird...

Some of the places you can explore blow my mind.

Partner in adventure.

The freedom that a bike gives you to adventure and explore seems to attract kindred spirits and coupled with the inherent vulnerability forms a deep unspoken bond between complete strangers. Hand gestures to other riders are so common that I feel personally insulted (and a bit teary frankly) when I'm given the cold shoulder. As our friend Jordan said the other day, the road is just there beneath you and that road could be your death.

On the Colorado/Utah prairie, riding with the deer at dusk.

Scary thoughts aside, we are hardly the 'real deal' on our little scooter overloaded with saddlebags and sleeping bags in bin liners. Nevertheless we've never been judged for it and have received respect from Harley riders to superbike racers, across the US and into Canada. It seems to be such a welcoming fun, adventurous clan to have sidled sneakily into and we have met so many lovely people through it. Long may it continue!

I'd like to say we kept strictly to the roads, but I wouldn't want to lie to you.

I'd encourage every one of you to spend some time taking a different route, maybe on two wheels or maybe on foot. Go for a stroll in the woods, find that sagging lylo from the summer in the attic, take it down to the river and float around for a while. Sometimes you can go on a journey and not need to get anywhere. These are when the real adventures begin because there is no plan and you're open to all those wonderful surprises life throws at you. Get out there and have some fun, it's summertime!

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We Didn't Speak, We Only Moved and Were Moved Across the Landscape

What happened the next morning set a pattern which we couldn't shift for weeks: a late morning wake up, leisurely breakfast, coffee and conversation, before hitting the road in a semi-panicked stated around mid afternoon. If you know either of us you'll know we're kids and this new found freedom equated mostly to dreamy lie-ins at first. It wasn't a choice so much as an irresistible routine of later and longer adventures into the night followed by the inevitable bleary eyed mornings.

Despite this 'scooter lag' we still did a fair bit of cool stuff and by 'did' I mean saw. Sandy gave us a load of freedom but also in some ways limited us to two wheeled activities as we didn't have the energy or equipment after four hours on the road to, say, go hiking huge distances. This meant that most of the amazing things we did were actually what we saw, smelt, heard or felt on the bike. And boy did we witness some things!

A lonely gas station on the isolation that is the plains of the Delta farmland.

After a local frozen smoothie for lunch in a cute cupcake diner we set off north, crossing the Mississippi border without any hitch and keeping the wheels rolling. Past Port Gibson, Jackson, up the snaking mass of brown that barrels eternally from Minnesota down to the mouth of New Orleans, and into Greenville where we admitted we were pooped and searched out a spot for the night. Greenville by the way, for anyone considering a visit, isn't worth a piss stop. The name is a twisted joke when you arrive to grids of billowing litter, sirens calling out and third grade fast food joints skulking beside the four lane highways. Our field to pitch up was next to some radio aerials, opposite a drive through bank. We searched for some decent food to raise our spirits, in the end finding ourselves in Subway. Finally we found a decent cafe to get a hot chocolate for desert, but they were closing so we were shortly back outside amongst the dross. We got a free hot chocolate though which was kind of them. Getting an early night we vowed to leave immediately upon waking.

We bolted into Arkansas the next day, in search of humans with souls and good coffee. Crossing The Delta I found a depressing experience , with endless acres of dreadful lifeless soil and a brutal reminder of the vast deforestation that must have occurred previously. In our frowning stupor we inadvertently allowed the bag with our sleeping stuff to slip off the top box and melt enough on the exhaust to allow the sleeping bag to escape. Somewhere on that ghastly wilderness we left behind our sack of Walmart comfort. We were passed dangerously close by a crazed gesticulating woman who misjudged an oncoming car and nearly took us off the road. I wanted to get off this mad sad plain. We pulled way off the road to regroup and get our hearts ticking at normal pace and that's when we realised the bag had fallen out. Maybe she was trying to get us to pull over to give it back, maybe she was just a nutter - we'll never know.

Just before (or after, I forget) crossing the Mississippi River we took a route across gravelled dykes through wild wetlands. It was quiet and strange, and lovely. We were bumbling along at a steady pace on the loose stones, occasionally drifting precariously, but mostly just floating. In the physical sense, although quite free, we were still bound by the waters to our weaving road, but mentally we were unshackled. My mind drifted left and right, through treetops past marshes and down gently through grey sheet mirrors into murky unknowns. The physical freedom that travelling allows is trumped only by the mental freedom enjoyed. We didn't speak, but for a word or exclamation here and there, we only moved and were moved across the landscape.

A man at a very local shop gave us directions and we chatted about motorbikes, freedom, smelling the place you are in through a helmet. All the richness that two wheels can give you. He followed us out to our bike and seemed reluctant, with sad faraway eyes, to see us go. He spoke of his wife, the colour her hair used to be when they rode motorbikes together, how he would return from truck driving and she would have the bags packed and they would be gone... We left him there standing in the layby, his mind lost in decades past.

We came upon a town on stilts that was flooded in with the cars parked up on the raised road and the houses down in the water, all still functioning fine. This was a way of life so removed from the incessant cursed bustling of inner city life as to bear no resemblance at all. It was fantastic!

By now Little Rock was our target, specifically Kavanaugh Boulevard which turned out to be very 'hip' as the kids say. It's situated west of Little Rock town and South of Allsop Park which is a nice green space to enjoy. It's a kind of leafy suburbia, but with an injection of youthfulness and interesting independent caf├ęs and shops that quash any possible dreariness. Mylo coffee house was our pick for refreshments and it was a good 'un. We spent our moneys on coffees and sweet fancies and smiled at trendy people. Falling into conversation with a friendly barista Aaron, when he noticed our helmets, before long we had a low down on the great points of Arkansas and a super recommendation on where to camp that night! He even offered a place for us to camp in his garden, but we were keen to get into some green space after our previous night. Great guy. We left Mylo buzzing slightly (with excitement of course!) and headed for the forests of the Ozarks.

Mylo is a sweet spot for kool kats.

Southern Arkansas is, topographically speaking at least, rather dull, but as you hit the hills which bulge upwards north of Russellville all that changes. The dreary flats ruck up into deep forested valleys and enchanted pathways squirrel away into the trees leading who knows where. The streams are astounding greens and turquoises and burning cold to the touch. The Ozark Mountains are in fact a "high and deeply dissected plateau" (thanks Wikipedia) covering southern Missouri, northern Arkansas, west into Oklahoma and touching upon Kansas. Spread over 47,000 square miles the Ozark highlands area is the largest mountainous area between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. So a pretty amazing nature playground basically!

With the sun on our faces and the landscape before us, we had the best of times.

Hills upon hills looking across the Ozarks.
Realising we had a fairly essential item (the sleeping bag) missing from our sack.

We were getting jaded now by the impending darkness, a chill in the air and tiredness. We never made it to Aaron's isolated camp spot sadly, but where we ended up was brilliant enough. Just off the road but already into the woods, we had a jovial couple for campsite neighbours who would become great friends of ours in time. They began by feeding us so we should have known already they were great people! Scott and Linda were visiting from Kansas with a quad bike in tow to explore the woods together - how cool. They also had plans to canoe down a secluded river spot they discovered in the near future. We talked and talked that night, about adventures and nature and fun, and they said if we were ever in their neck of the woods we should stay over. The kindness of strangers just amazes us and really inspires to do likewise. We would take them up on their offer in a matter of days!

Our beloved shop with defrosting facilities.

Scott and Linda were gone early the next morning, or perhaps not even that early, but before we emerged at 10:30 at least! We had the camp to ourselves and I decided to have a bucket shower under the tap which was a big mistake. A cold spell had come in overnight and although the sun was out it was bitter. Bearing in mind we were still sporting our Florida summertime clothes, we were less than comfortable. We put on all we had, which was a pair of jeans, a jumper and a waterproof each and got on the bike to go explore. Great Odin's raven - it was cold! I was blue and shaking uncontrollably five minutes in. I hadn't been this cold since racing a bicycle in Belgium in hail in spring. Aby wasn't that happy either. It was rough. We stopped as soon as we could at Hankins Country Store and defrosted on the wood burner, absentmindedly browsing items so we could stay longer. It was a fascinating little place, built in 1922 with hunting trophies on the walls and old woodsman's tools hung up. Eventually we had to move on though and we were hungry, so we headed further up the road to The Cliff House Inn overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks. They had hot drinks, we weren't in the wind anymore and the view was amazing!

True happiness in the warmth of the Cliff House Inn, with a view of the Grand Canyon of The Ozarks behind

We also noticed on our way in a pair of Honda Goldwings, great big touring motorbikes, and when we sat down we were next to the couples on them. They struggled to understand the insanity that was our inadequate clothing. After talking a bit they wished us luck and headed off but moments later Carrie rushed back out of pity to tell us they could give us some extra motorbike clothing later in the day. We were so damned happy! That very afternoon we met up in a McDonalds car park down in Russellville for what felt like some kind of shady transaction but was actually the exchange of some woolly jumpers. Don gave me an old jacket of his, some waterproof trousers and some thermal socks and undershirts. Carrie gave Aby some brand new motorcycle boots(!) a bike jacket, thermals, socks and waterproof trousers. We couldn't believe our luck really, that amount of stuff would have set us back so much.

A brief conversation later and we all headed back for a tour of their awesome house which Don built himself, plenty of chat about travels, Aby took advantage of a hot shower (smart girl) and a sandwich dinner. I can't express how great they were, and so in love - it was really sweet to see. Finally it really was time we got going, being already dark and bitterly cold out and us having a half hour ride back to our camp. They gave us a spare bag and straps for all our new winter kit and we hummed back up their mysterious driveway and into the night.

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To the DMV... And beyond!

Relaxed, rejuvenated, replenished, ready and raring to roll, we set off to the Pensacola DMV office. Renowned across America for it's atrocious customer service we were keen to get in and out as quickly as possible and, bar a few clerical errors, our darling in disguise Gloria did us proud. Ninety minutes later we hit the streets with our new digits, went to the garage next door to get some free bolts (thanks guys!) and got going.

It has been such a long process to get it sorted we were still in disbelief. Now the road trip proper could begin! Heading back west towards New Orleans we saw Doug senior outside our favourite Louisiana Bayou local and couldn't resist stopping. Surprisingly (??!) Dougy boy and the guys convinced us to have a drink, then another drink, then a few more to be sure. We didn't pay for a thing that night! Before we knew it we (mostly Doug) were slurring our words and it was pitch black outside. We got offers from seemingly everyone to crash over at their place and finally decided on Chris' as it was the shortest stumbling distance away!

View of the Bayou- good hangover cure!

When we got in around midnight he cooked us a full dinner and we listened to some strong female singers on vinyl. Sadly we have forgotten whom exactly (thanks Jack Daniels!) In the morning we awoke to coffee and this incredible place to chill out in!

Chris headed off to work fairly early and left us to it - what a top guy. Chris is one of the first in a long line of people who have shown supreme levels of kindness to a pair of strangers. We felt strange at first, as if we were receiving so much and giving so little, but then we realised that people gain a lot from our company, our stories and the great feeling they get from giving. Chris identified with us as he has travelled before himself and he had plenty of interesting and funny stories. People want to help and to carry on exploring, vicariously, through us and we got better at letting them.

Some inspiration for us!

When we finally dragged ourselves off the sun balcony we packed up and headed into the N.O. streets to check for Aby's post at the hostel and try to buy some new tent poles, as ours were cracking (no luck with either!) We were offered a possible cheap replacement tent by a really cool guy at a tent shop but decided we'd just hit the road and work it out later- we were hungry to eat up some tarmac. Such drifters!

The highway out of N.O. to the north is rather charming, as it heads across a huge expanse of lake, with the city disappearing behind in the haze of a sunny spring evening. The bridge is over twenty miles long so you can't even see the other side when you set off. It is some feat of engineering!

Once across the bridge we stopped for supplies - hungry tired and feeling like we'd travelled a lot that day. In reality we'd done about twenty five miles of our route north and were still a few hours from our potential camp spot. This scooter quest was going to take some getting used to! Onward we forged, through the night, eventually stopping around midnight in a vacant field to pitch up and conk out, uncaring and unconscious. Still, the tent pitched ok, albeit a touch wonky and we were on the road, really doing it. We were actual adventurers now and we liked it!

The packing system was FLAWLESS.

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The Gulf Coast

The Gulf shore national park is steeped in history, the forts in the park span almost 150 years, from the Spanish colonial Bateria De San Antonio (1797) to the World War Two-era battery 234. But if I'm completely honest, we didn't soak in much of the history of the place. We mostly spent our time admiring the sun, the sand and our books. Travelling uses a lot of our energy and concentration, we are constantly looking, reading information boards and taking in the sights of a place. During this weekend we enjoyed relaxing, having the tent set up for more than one night, reading our books, writing and not having to be anywhere for two days. We are so blessed and lucky to be able to travel freely, but sometimes we just need somewhere to lay our heads for a couple of nights, to sleep, eat and think back on all the wonderful experiences we have shared so far. Like the weekend itself, this post is short and sweet. But before I leave, I'll tell you about one useful thing I did during this weekend which required huge amounts of physical effort. I crazy danced to Eric Clapton's 'Lay down Sally', on the beach in my pyjamas, much to Doug's delight and amusement. This is all the motivation one needs for an impending visit to the Pensacola DMV the next morning. 

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