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Dateline: Little Rock, Arkansas – the inaugural post of a realized dream

By admin on February 7, 2012

on I-40 heading into the setting sun and Little Rock, ArkansasI left Atlanta this morning on a road trip that has been 30 years in the making. In 1982, my brother Tom drove our grandfather’s old (1960′s?) F-85 from Gainesville, Georgia to Eugene, Oregon with four friends, their bicycles and all the equipment they thought they would need(please weigh in here, Tom)for the trip home. He sold the car for $75.00 and began his journey eastward across the continent. I have romanticized that trip for thirty years and am finally acting on my desire to do the same- albeit in slightly more comfortable transit, and in reverse. My plan is to end up in Malibu, California and make my way back. More on that later.
The goal for my first day was to travel the 525 miles that would deliver me across the Arkansas River to Little Rock, Arkansas.
I drove to Birmingham, Alabama and then north and west into Mississippi on US 78, identified as the Appalachian Highway. I found it difficult to regard this road as anything other than an Appalachian dead end, preferring the wise, secretive, green hills that I know to this crumbling brown land. Passing towns whose names were redolent of the Creek and Choctaw people who lived here first, I crossed the Tallahatchie River (though not on the bridge made famous by Bobbie Gentry in the 60′s) aware that this was the river that swallowed the beaten body of Emmett Till.
I was spat out of my reverie into an ugly section of congested road that took me through Memphis, Tennessee and over the Mississippi River into Arkansas.
Swampy, brown land gave way to broad, green fields that reminded me of Holland. Large expanses of land on both sides of the expressway were quartered by well-worn berms that rose above the wet fields.
Because of my late start this morning, I was pushing to arrive in Little Rock by sunset. Be careful what you wish for…  I was still an hour away from my destination as the winter sun began its perilous descent directly in front of me. I have a postcard on my studio wall of Louis Kahn’s magnificent Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. He incorporated into its design a runnel that bisects the property and appears to empty straight into the Pacific Ocean. My postcard shows the runnel at sunset, the setting sun balanced perfectly at its mouth. Headed into Little Rock on I-40, I was reminded of that scene as I struggled to trail the giant truck in front of me, its outline all I could see in the blinding sun.
The reward for that travail was the calligraphy of distant winter trees against an expanse of coral sky once the sun dipped below the horizon.
I arrived after dark, but with no problem, and checked into my hotel near the river.
I walked under a full moon,an auspicious beginning, to a pub around the corner where I sat at the bar with my book- John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley- and wrote some notes about my first day while I enjoyed my dinner with a glass of wine. Tomorrow 600 miles to Amarillo, Texas. Pictures to follow.

2 Comments Post a comment

  1. Tom Jenkins

    Donna, now you’re MY inspiration and source for romanticization of a cross-country journey! I so wish I was there with you; to share the driving, sure, but to share the views and the experiences that only the road can provide. The next curve brings a new adventure and dimension, and every stop a chance to make a new friend and get a different perspective on life. Great picture, along with an awesome image of silouetted trees against a backdrop sunset. I’m very happy for you and wish you the best of road food and all the U.S. can offer the eyes-wide-open traveler. There’s nothing like an open road! Soon, you’ll have no agenda and no immediate destination, and when someone asks where you’re headed, you can respond, “Wherever I wind up at the end of the day.” And they can think, “Man, I wish I was you.” Bon voyage! Love, Tommy

    • admin

      Thanks for the good words, Tommy. I am thinking of you and wishing you were with me, too. We would definitely have stopped in at that roadhouse last night…

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