January 9, 2015 found me taking a miniature road trip to Mountainburg, Arkansas. Instead of the Ouachitas, I was heading for the Ozarks. The great thing about living in Ola, Arkansas is that I can drive one way North or South and find two different mountain ranges as well as access Petit Jean and Nebo Mountains without a big hassle. Petit Jean and Nebo are thirty to forty-five minutes away from me. If I wanted to drive an hour, I can reach Pinnacle Mountain near Little Rock, Arkansas. The Ozarks are where I started hiking with Dad. They hold memories. Here I was, about to travel on my own for a weekend of memory making with Dad and his wife, Bobbi, her kids and grandkids, and my brother when he showed up Saturday.
I was nervous. It had been a year since I had been down there, and I was a passenger at the time. When I am a passenger, I am too busy looking at the scenery rather than what road we’re on and what direction we’re going. So I texted Bobbi and she sent me the directions. I wrote them down carefully, double-checking after each line. Maybe I would get there. My step-dad gave me alternate routes and pressed me to get off the interstate at Alma and hit highway 71 and take that all the way to Mountainburg. My Nana had told me the same thing. I decided the best route would be the I-40 to I-49 to HWY. 282 to HWY. 71 route. I had to drive thirty minutes to get to the interstate but it would be worth it, no hills and sharp mountain roads. Less of a view, faster time, less gas usage… The Interstate wins.
I left Friday afternoon on the 9th. I wore my new dress, dressy boots, make-up and contacts. Now I could wear my sunglasses during the drive. I drove through the familiar little towns I’d learned to drive in without paying too much attention. I took a shortcut in Russellville, Arkansas that took me to the Interstate side of town without all the traffic. I always fear on ramps. Will the other drivers be polite and move over? Would I be able to get on without pulling some crazy trick driving stunt? I can’t drive like a race car driver! I was driving down the ramp, I kept glancing to my left to be sure of the distance between the cars. I had my blinker on. I said,
“God, give me an opening. You know I hate this. Let me get in safely.”
I kept driving, I merged beautifully. No one swerved away honking and yelling, I wasn’t dead, my fears were for naught. I was relieved. I passed London, the tiny town where my Nana lives. As the road became less familiar, I began to feel exhilaration. Here I was, almost twenty-five and trekking alone. I was free. I had left my comfort zone for new places. Was this how Percy Fawcett felt as he entered the Amazon? I cannot know, but I think he would have snubbed his nose at such a small pleasure jaunt. My drive from start to finish would have taken me two hours without stops. I had to stop in Russellville to fill up my gas tank. I was very thankful that it only wanted $14 of gas at below a quarter.
As I drove, I kept thinking about the next step on the route. I-40 to I-49. I remember a merge from one interstate to another but could I trust that fragment of memory? And the tunnel; oh, no. No, thank you. No tunnels, please. I like walking through tunnels, driving is a whole other thing. I passed trees and cars and cars and trees. To break the monotony I listened to my MP3 player. I started out with Fireflight and by the time the trip was over, I was on Feff, an indie rock band from Queens, New York I had come across on Myspace in 2005. The people rushed past me. Apparently, going the speed limit is never in fashion.
I saw the sign for I-49. My fingers tightened around the steering wheel. I merged into the exit lane. I was now behind a person who was doing less than forty mph. If I hadn’t had been so nervous, I would have facepalmed. The merge was different than I recalled. The lanes merging were not three but one, and rather dilapidated. I had to slow down to let people on I-49 pass so I could merge safely. I moved deftly through traffic when I was tired of driving the trucker’s speed limit. I found the slow car who had been in front of me when merging onto I-49. There were four people in the car; two women and two girls (I assume).
I passed them. They passed me after a few miles. They slowed down. I moved into the left lane to pass them with a feral relish. I drove for a couple minutes and looked to my right. They were keeping pace with me. I grit my teeth and accelerated a bit more. I was almost past them. Just half my car to go and I would be clear. Suddenly, the car shot past me. I threw my hands up in a quick gesture of disgust and moved over to the right lane so the silly person behind me could deal with them. I said,
“God, watch over those fools.”
I went up hills and over the tall bridges. I wished I could have looked out the window and that I had time to pull over and take pictures, but I was driving. I wanted it to be daylight when I got to my destination, not dark. I wasn’t entirely sure it would only take two hours. I pressed on. I took the Chester exit onto 282E, just like my directions told me. I found my way to 71 which wasn’t very hard. And then I re-read the last part of the directions for the thousandth time: “When the right lane ends turn left onto Cartwright Mtn. Road.” Some roads had a sign, some did not. I was driving very slow.
I passed the “Right Lane Ends” sign and began to get very nervous. I turned left onto what I thought was the road. I was wrong. The pavement soon ended and I crept over a golden, leaf-covered drive with roots and rocks sticking up. I prayed that I wouldn’t scrape bottom and mess up my car. I stopped at a good spot to turn around. This was not right. I had turned wrong; I was in someone’s yard. If it had been dark my mind would have instantly turned my present situation into a horror movie.
“Hey, Dad. I think I turned wrong….” I said into my phone. When in doubt, call out.
I went back the way I came, turning back onto the highway. The next road was Cartwright Mountain Road. I had been so close, one driveway short. I turned onto Barnes Loop and at 4:30pm I was at Frontier Lodge in Mountainburg, Arkansas. Dad and Bobbi were there and I put my stuff in a room. This weekend would be internet and gaming system free. All I had was my camera and my next to useless IPhone 4 because I have no data plan.
The lodge was cold. Dad was working on the fire. I had come prepared; I snagged my blanket, wrapping it around me. It was good to be warm. After a little bit, Dad went out to find a good stick for the piñata. I accompanied him. He was after a good stick, strong and stout, preferably a hardwood. The stick had broken last year without breaking the piñata. Dad did not want a repeat. We grabbed some small downed trees for small firewood. The trick to a good fire is to mix bigger pieces of wood with smaller pieces to keep the blaze strong and steady. Dad was doing a good job of coaxing life into the stove. Bobbi was making a stew and toasting bread.
Dad and I went into the cold mountain air to find a nice stick for the piñata. Last year the stick broke during our fun. Here are some pictures of Dad chopping the stick:
The return trip began with ice. That was rather nerve wracking. I was glad Dad helped me down the mountain. Thanks Dad, I love you.
The family weekend was full of games and fun. On the way home, I forgot I-49 was no longer called, 540. I missed my sign, but Dad and Bobbi got me back on track. The return trip was uneventful. I enjoy uneventful.
I arrived home to the joyous howls of my dogs and the cats mewing at me from safe vantage points. I had been missed. But I was kinda sad to be home. I must remember that adventure waits around every corner; we just have to take that turn.