I don’t think we can say it started at the state line exactly, but somewhere on the road from Missouri to Arkansas, the air became heavy and thick with moisture. We’re back in the land of humidity. It’s not a new feeling… sweat pours down your face and back and into your eyes and the heat begins to suck energy from you in a different way. In fact, this feeling is all too familiar to us as native Southerners. And as miserable as it can be to bicycle all day in 85 percent relative humidity, it’s a good sign to us that we’re getting close to home. The humidity has been just one indicator that we’re back in the South, and as we’ve cycled through our own part of the country, we’ve been reminded of a few other things that are unique to this region.
Chick-fil-A. We pulled out on the main drag in Bentonville, Arkansas, and there it stood proudly—the first Chick-fil-A we’ve ridden past. Sure, we tracked it down in Denver while we were in town, and enjoyed our chicken combo meals. But the one we saw in Bentonville was the first one we’ve ridden up on, and true to my word, I immediately pulled into the turn lane. I’ve been saying for months that the first time we see a Chick-fil-A, we’ll be stopping. So we did, and we ordered up a delicious cookies and cream milkshake with orders of waffle fries for our afternoon snack. Life is good
The Accent. You know the one I’m talking about. As we’ve met people from around the world, we’ve been told time after time, “You’re from Alabama? You don’t SOUND like you’re from Alabama!” I have often criticized these people, being frustrated that they might be so narrow-minded as to assume that everyone from the South must sound like a complete and total redneck. However, in the past two weeks, we have been reminded that stereotypes do, in fact, come from somewhere. No, not everyone has it. But those who have the real twang easily compensate for those who don’t. We have encountered a few people who we declared nearly unintelligible. One statement we overheard in a conversation went something like this:
“Way-ull, some folks is always in a hurry. I s’pose I get in a hurry every once in a-whal, but them folks rushin’ around on the highway are gunna kill somebody if they ain’t careful.”
We have wondered to each other how anyone who is NOT from the South might begin to understand the true twang, if we, as natives, struggle to understand it at times. And it’s more than just an accent, it’s downright misuse of the English language. Someone said this to us just last week:
“I ain’t got none of those for ya,” he said, then paused. “I shouldn’t say that,” he half muttered, then “corrected” himself with, “I don’t have none of those for ya.”
Barking dogs. Are there really more dog-owners in the South? We cannot prove it statistically, but more dogs have barked at us or chased us in the past two weeks than in the rest of our time riding across the U.S. combined. (Possibly in the rest of the world, but not sure, because the dogs were pretty aggressive in Peru.) Fortunately for us, about 75 percent of these bike-hating dogs are on a chain or in a pen. The other 25 percent often chase without any biting tendencies, and often lose interest by the time they’ve run across the lawn to us. But either way, they keep us on our toes.
Open doors. Perhaps we’re a bit biased, being back in our part of the country, but Southern hospitality has a reputation for being the best, and we can’t dispute it. Once we were in Arkansas, we noticed almost immediately how many people were holding the door open at places like gas stations or stores. More people have stopped to chat with us about our trip, taking a genuine interest in what we’re doing.
Much like town parks are prime camping zones in Kansas, churches are a great place to stop and ask to camp in the South. We knew we were back in the land of Southern hospitality when we stopped at First Baptist Church in Ozark, Arkansas. We realized it was Wednesday, and thought maybe we could drop by for the mid-week evening service, then ask to camp out back. When we walked in, we discovered we had shown up just in time for the weekly fellowship supper—perfect! We were about to go get the $3 each to pay for the meal when the pastor intercepted us, urging us to help ourselves, not to worry about paying, and welcoming us to his church. We were instantly surrounded by friendly people, and after dinner and the service, were invited to spend the evening in the pastor’s home. This would be just one of many moments of hospitality and kindness we would receive from churches.
We could go on and on… after all, we didn’t even talk about the increased number of pickup trucks on the road, the sudden appearance of armadillos as roadkill, and the amount of fried food available for purchase in gas stations.
On top of all these familiarities of the South land, we’ve enjoyed the trees, rivers and hills we’ve ridden through as well. It might not be known for the most spectacular scenery in the country, but the views certainly aren’t bad! We rode through the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas before the land leveled out to the flood plain of the mighty Mississippi—probably the largest river we’ve crossed on our trip.
And just as an update, we are ON SCHEDULE for our arrival in Auburn! We will be rolling into town on Saturday, September 28, and if you’re in the area and would like to join us in celebrating, you can check out the details in our Homecoming Plans post.