Fort Smith is behind me, and I will be departing Little Rock tomorrow. I have had very positive experiences in both cities, which is great, especially considering the fact that I knew virtually nothing about either of them before the Seize The World project began. So far in Arkansas, we have had two slide shows, and there is the possibility of having an impromptu presentation tonight at the house where I am staying. I am also happy to report that I have been able, through a combination of good luck and good hospitality, to avoid staying in hotels during my time in Arkansas. In Ft. Smith I found a campsite which was located just a few feet from a small road, but was sheltered from that road by a thick stand of trees. It was good luck to have found such a spot so close to town!
The first of two slide shows occurred at Webster University, just a couple of blocks from downtown Ft. Smith. I had the great pleasure of meeting Diane Fagan, who runs Webster`s Fort Smith campus. She was one of the most compassionate people I`ve met on this tour, arriving at the slide show with coffee and brownies ready, and just as exciting to me, with a steady flow of questions that she was excited to have answered about Seize The World. She took a particular interest in the mentalities of the two people from STWF who she encountered – Ben Perdue and myself. After the Webster slide show, Diane took me to dinner where we had some great conversation, mostly about life, personality, family, and, for lack of a better phrase, life philosophy. In other words, she might describe herself as taking on a great deal of responsibility and concern for the things that surround her in life – a remarkable quality to encounter, which in my case manifested itself in the form of her asking me all about STW, taking me to dinner, driving me to my campsite, and then attending our slide show the following day. She found a contrasting mentality – mine, and perhaps Ben`s though it`s difficult for me to put him in a box – fascinating. I tried to explain that I often will look at things which are not really within my control on this trip – e.g. rain, flat tires, other people – not worry much about them, not be upset about them when they are acting in a way that affects me negatively, and take comfort in the fact that they are out of my control. The contrast between us would be that in my case I am comforted by the lack of control with these things, whereas with Diane the lack of control is not comforting. Or at least, from our conversation that was the closest I could come to understanding the contrast. Diane seemed very happy to have met someone who saw life from a different point of view, which was both flattering and confusing in the sense that I didn`t quite know how to respond to a compliment that my outlook was interesting!
Another notable event to take place in Ft. Smith was the shipment of my MacBook Pro computer. It`s finally been sent off, and my load is now about 8 pounds lighter!
I spent about 2 hours at the FedEx Office store last night (no longer FedEx / Kinkos…) accomplishing this feat. I carefully boxed the computer in one of their special $10 laptop boxes, and then the employee weighed it and measured it, and we were about to be done when she told me that she couldn`t find her shipping labels, without which shipments could not be made. So I had the (what I thought was a) brilliant idea of printing my own label from the FedEx website and taping it to the box. 17 minutes and 37 seconds later – according to the timer on the computer I was using – the website was still telling me that all 3 of my credit cards had invalid numbers, and that I had to call 1-800-GO-FED-EX. The employee walked over, took a look, and handed me her personal cell phone – necessary for this procedure, because my personal cell phone was dead at the moment.
After another 17 minutes or so on the phone with 1-800-GO-FED-EX, I finally had a valid online account number with which to print a label…in another 3 minutes, I had the label. The very-gracious employee taped it on the box (which I honestly don`t remember if she remembered to charge me for…), gave me a receipt, and I was on my way. I just really hope the computer is on its way. I was beginning to wonder during the process – employee can`t find labels, website does`t work, call to 1-800-GO-FED-EX – if maybe I should be picking up a signal that FedEx is not the best way to go! In case you are curious at this point, the UPS store next door had closed 20 minutes ago, and I didn`t want to be dealing with the computer the following morning. At this very moment, I`m thinking about a mountain bike that I shipped (FedEx) from Boulder, CO to somewhere in Mississippi I believe… It showed up four weeks late with holes in the box and parts missing, and during the entire process the FedEx claims office did not compensate me or the receiver for any of the damage… Of course I`m sure that there are plenty of similar stories out there about UPS and the Postal Service too…mine just always seem to occur when I walk through the doors of a FedEx store :-) Hopefully the MacBook Pro will fare better than my other FedEx shipments! I am optimistic that it will.
The following morning, I hit the road toward Little Rock, where I arrived after a 40-mile day, a 55-mile day, and a 70-mile day. The days (and nights) were chilly, but I made good time, and enjoyed some time spent playing my GameBoy DS at night. Link now has a fourth heart container, and has acquired the Phantom Hourglass – the namesake of the game – perhaps analogous to our acquiring a front page story in the Ft. Smith Newspaper? Perhaps… I like to think that our quests are somehow linked (ha!). Although I doubt it. Anyhow, that`s what`s going on with Zelda…more details to come!
The riding in Arkansas is hilly in many spots, flat in others, and usually forested. In places, it almost feels like Colorado riding. There are small ranches on either side of the road, lots of churches, and sporadic gunfire in the hills. I think that it`s hunting season.
Unfortunately I did not make it Little Rock in time to present my scheduled slide show at the Little Rock Central Library, which was to take place on Monday at 1p.m. I did, however, arrive in time to make a number of contacts at the National Trail Symposium, which was taking place across the street.
The Symposium was taking place at the same time that I was in town purely by chance, and I knew about it first because my friend Ben learned about it, and then I started seeing volunteers from the Symposium wandering around town in green t-shirts who encouraged me to swing by with my bike and meet the people over there. Great to have people actually encourage me to bring my bike in somewhere! So I went in, said hi to the people from the Arkansas Bicycle Club, who became quick friends – Brad, Jim, Tom, John, and Corrine (who was the first person I met outside the convention center) – were all curious and enthusiastic both about cycling and about STW. Check out their website, especially if you are an Arkansan! Next, I swung by a booth that had some info from Adventure Cycling – an organization which puts out info and maps for touring cyclists who ride cross country. I met Ginny Sullivan, whose formal title with Adventure Cycling is the New Routes Coordinator, and whose claim to fame is being a key part of creating the Underground Railroad touring route from Mobile, AL to Owen Sound, Ontario, which follows many of the paths used by African Americans before and during the Civil War to find their way to freedom.
Another connection I made at the Symposium was a couple, Keith and Murry, who, after chatting for several minutes about touring and about the ride around the world, offered me a place to stay in Little Rock. I, of course, immediately accepted their offer, and spent last night in a wonderful guest apartment next to Murry`s house. She and Keith gave me directions to the house, and then took me out to dinner when I arrived a little bit later, and were really great people to have met! Both are cyclists, Keith teaches at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and Murry is working on a second degree. I decided to stay an extra day in Little Rock, and if all goes well, they may have a few people over this evening to look at slides…we`ll see!
I`ve spent today seeing a few of the sights in Little Rock, which as it turns out, is a beautiful city. Downtown Little Rock has a trolley system, trees which are in fall colors, a mixture of brick and glass architecture, and a couple of attractions which are particularly appealing to cyclists: two great libraries: the Central Library and the Clinton Library (free books and internet), the River Trail (many miles of paved, car-free riding along the Arkansas River, complete with perhaps the largest pedestrian bridge in the universe – the Pulaski County Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, or as it’s known by everyone in town, the “Big Dam Bridge.”).
It also has Central High school – the first Southern school to be racially integrated – an event which occurred when nine black students attended their first day of class on September 23, 1957 under armed escort from 1200 members of the 101st Airborne Division who had been sent to Little Rock by President Eisenhower. Central High and the Clinton Library were the only things I`d heard of about Little Rock before coming here, so it`s neat to see all of this other stuff here… The road ahead will take me to Memphis, where there is a slide show scheduled for Nov. 20, and then down to Birmingham, over to Atlanta, through Augusta, and on to Charleston, which will be my departure point – on December 8 – for the Old World (i.e. Europe). Everything is still on schedule and looking good. Thanks for reading, I`ll post another update from Memphis.