February 14, 2013

Go: Cloudy, With a Chance of Death From Above

Welcome to the second installment of "Go", the story of my epic, five and a half month roadtrip across the United States (and a little bit of Canada). In this chapter, I will briefly recount my second trip to Arkansas (read about the first trip to Arkansas here and here), and my experience at the Wakarusa Music Festival.

We last left off with me and AGP heading towards Mammoth Caves National Park to meet our friends... 

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AGP and I got to Mammoth Caves National Park after taking a wonderful scenic drive along the Cumberland Parkway. I missed the photo opportunity of the trip while accidentally detouring through Pikeville, KY. I failed to capture the surprising beauty of the cemeteries decked out for Memorial Day with their fake, yet vividly colored flowers atop every headstone. I will be back one day for that. 

Mammoth Cave National Park was established in the National Park system in 1941 because it is the longest known cave system in the world. It is also a pretty awesome place to hike and enjoy the waterways that run above the ground. And I FINALLY got to cross Mammoth Caves off my National Park Bucket List! We got extremely lucky by choosing the Maple Springs Group Campground as our destination. AGP and I were the first to arrive, joined shortly by our good friends Leah, Dpel, and Nessa. Although we fretted about not making a reservation at the campsite and showing up a little before dusk, we ended up with the entire campground to ourselves and nary had a person (or ranger) vexed us the entire night or morning. The site we chose had FIVE picnic tables that we made excellent use out of as we wasted the night away grilling sausage and playing games.

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(Maple Springs Campground, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky)
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(Adam's Needle Yucca)
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The next morning we raced our way to the park headquarters with intention of taking advantage of our unique and incredible locale by going on a guided tour (the only possible way to explore any of the cave system), and by golly we made it in the nick of time, due to our chronic tardiness. We chose the Violet City Lantern tour that was lit only by, you guessed it, lanterns! We walked three miles with our lanterns guiding the way and learned all about the history of Mammoth Cave. We even got to check out the "hospital" rooms built to heal patients with TB with the "magical" healing power of cave air. Then after BBQ at the Smokey Pig, we high-tailed it towards Memphis (my fifth time hauling ass down I-40).

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We checked in to a Days Inn not far from Beale Street and hit the town for some drinking-on-the-street, dueling pianos, and yet another BBQ meal. The night ended in a bar where you could, *gasp*, smoke inside! So why the hell not, right?

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The next morning, we made it for breakfast in time for lunch at famous Gus’ Fried Chicken, only to realize that the line was way too long for us hungry, hung-over assholes (but we did manage to grab some to go after our actual breakfast at a joint nearby). As the sky turned green and murky and news channels were warning us to get-the-hell-off-the-road, Leah, AGP, and I waited patiently in a western Memphis Jiffy Lube for my car to get a much need oil change and all that other jazz that they say cars need that ends up costing $400. The plan for the day was to FINALLY get back to Hot Springs, Arkansas!! We even had plans with Miki-mom and Chad-dad to meet up in Jessieville.

We crossed the Mississippi River in a full-on deluge, me pretty much hoping that a tornado wasn’t about to drop down on our asses from the green sky above. After a quick Gus’ chicken snack at a fun zone outside of Little Rock, we were able to catch up with Miki, her nephew, and mother at The Shack in Jessieville. (If you want to read about how we adopted a family in Arkansas, read it here). After an evening of burgers and rapid-fire questions including, “What’s your favorite meal?” and “Where are your parents from?” we headed up Route 7 to meet the rest of our crew at Lake Dardanelle. At least we were in a car that worked this time!!

We were only at Dardanelle for a night because the next morning we were on our way to Wakarusa Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas! In fact, we had five more friends to meet up with, food and supplies to gather, an tentatively awesome camp/festival home base to set up, and crazy cool music to check out… a busy day indeed!!

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So when all ten of us were finally together, we embarked on a festival journey with thousands of other hippies that would end in near death! It wasn’t so bad, except that a lot of music was cancelled due to inclement weather and tornadoes touching down all around the festival, but thankfully missing us. I got the closest I have ever been to seeing a tornado, which is also on my Bucket List, albeit quite a dangerous thing to want to be near. Also featured at the festival location was a mile long hike down to a small waterfall. We had a wonderful time day drinking, dodging hail, getting groovy, cliff jumping, running from tornadoes, and just straight relaxing.

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Check out this amazing video my former roommate FAB made from footage with his GoPro: 


After Wakarusa, AGP and I sadly said Goodbye to our friends and headed up to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to finally, finally get our epic roadtrip officially underway- at last on our own schedule, ready to explore the wilds of the United States of America!

Here is the ground we covered in this chapter:

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A: Mammoth Caves National Park, Kentucky 
B: Memphis, Tennessee 
C: Jessieville, Arkansas 
D: Lake Dardanelle State Park, Russellville, Arkansas 
E: Mulberry Mountain, Ozark, Arkansas 
F: Eureka Springs, Arkansas

[Stay tuned for more adventures!]

Coming up- Go: Okla-home

February 13, 2013

Arkansas Travelers: Part Two

(Welcome to Part Two of Arkansas Travelers! Check out Part One here. And excuse the lack of pictures- some have not been included to protect identities and places. Lots of pictures were just not taken at all, which sometimes happens when you are on a unexpected adventure. I hope you enjoy the story regardless!)

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Apparently the car was fixed! And the mechanics even dropped it off at the hotel for us. It seemed like even though we lost Memphis, there would be still time for Mammoth Caves, and just enough time for Katie to make her flight home. Although, none of that mattered, because the car promptly broke down again before we even got out of Hot Springs, with the same symptoms as before. Another wrecker came to get me and Leah. Katie caught a taxi cab for the epic seven and a half hour drive to Louisville to ensure she wouldn’t miss her flight. With our heads hung low, we checked back into the Village Inn.

In the morning, after checking out of the hotel with high hopes of a fixed car, we settled down at the nearby coffee shop to wait for news. We were calm, hopeful, and using the downtime to update our "drawing journal" (more on that soon!). We were diligently and quietly recounting the so-far tales of our trip in sketches, when we were abruptly interrupted by the woman at the table next to us who was sitting with two other women and young man.

"Are you two mad at each other or something?" Must be Southern for "Hello" in some cases. At least that is how it turned out. Miki and her slightly mortified family, were from nearby Jessieville (where we were originally stranded). As Miki fired off questions at us and we dutifully satisfied her curious mind as to what two quiet, Yankee girls were doing in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, we decided that she wasn’t in fact crazy-harmful, but just crazy-curious and a little crazy-silly. And when she invited us to a fish-fry that night, we thought, sure why not?!

We said Goodbye to our new friends for the afternoon and swapped numbers, and shortly after, received the grim news that the car needed a new fuel pump, which the mechanic would not be able to get until Monday. It was a Saturday in a small, southern community, after all. They did, however give us the car back for use around town since it could go about fifteen miles without acting suspicious. At last we were freed from our confines of the Village Inn plaza and able to explore the National Park that makes up Bathhouse Row of Hot Springs! And at least I could cross off one (more) National Park on my Bucket List during this trip! So Leah and I toured the historic bathhouses of Hot Springs, which were very popular during the turn-of-the century because of the pleasant thermal waters that Hot Springs is named for. It was hot that day, so we stopped in at Lucky’s Bar a couple of times for drinks.

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It was there we made the final decision to take Miki up on her offer and check out the fish-fry with her and her husband, Chad. Where we found ourselves for the rest of the evening was at the Hippie Holler Band Hangout which was not unlike a motorcycle club. We got to meet some of Miki and Chad’s friends, including the lovely Oona Love, who was fronting the band that night. So, in true form, we got a little tipsy and danced to the funky music until we started getting a little too much attention from the single boys and headed home… well, to the Village Inn.

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Except it was nearing two in the morning when we finally got back to Hot Springs Village and we weren’t so sure we wanted to drop another 90-ish bucks on a hotel room we were only going to occupy for a couple of hours. This is where the story gets a little bit silly. Leah wanted to put on our swimsuits, some bug spray, and sun block and sleep on the lawn chairs by the pool, I quickly nixed that idea (although Leah still maintains to this day that it was a great idea!). Oh- and by the way- we had made plans to join Miki in church the next morning. Oh yea, and we were SO HUNGOVER. So, in the parking lot of the Village Inn, we slept in our car (which was beginning to take on a bizarre, yeasty odor that wasn’t jiving very well with our hangovers). When the sun finally rose, we cleansed ourselves with an early morning swim in the pool, forced down breakfast at a nearby diner, tried to find coffee to-go but had to make do with some fake, syrupy iced coffee from a gas station, and then went to our designated meeting spot to meet Miki and family.

The next hour or so that Leah and I spent trying to miraculously feel good enough to go to church with strangers, while sitting in the crazy-hot car, was probably one of the most uncomfortable times in our lives. It was as if we had melted. The time passed by slowly, and with a lot of moaning interrupted by confused laughter mixed with bad smells.

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Eventually, we went to church, which was Southern Baptist. Neither Leah or I are religious, but we do enjoy a righteous, cultural experience. And hey- we were offered the chance to be Saved! Which we declined. Miki’s large family welcomed us into the fold seamlessly, and by the time church was over and we had finished lunch, we were family: Miki-mom, Chad-dad, and their Yankee daughters.

As evening rolled around, we found ourselves back at the Village Inn, formally checked in and everything. And fully recovering from an unexpected weekend we still like to brag about. And lo- the car was fixed the next day at around 4pm (we ended up waiting at the mechanics from noon to four). Twenty six hours and a few tired tears (mine, not Leah’s) later, we were back in Boston.

And that is the story of the first time I went to Arkansas.

Hot Springs Village on Dwellable

^^Yayy!! I'm gonna be famous!!^^