We’ve been to The Mountain

Fair warning — I have some catching up to do, so this’ll be a long post and an image-heavy one.

I told you I’d be away for several days, and I was — five days, my longest absence from Ubi Libertas Blog since its launch in October of 2020. Several times I thought about posting via my phone but decided not to. The hiatus did me good, I think.

Deb and I loaded my Tacoma and left Second Chance Ranch early last Wednesday morning. Every nook and cranny was crammed with cargo, the sturdy little truck squatting noticeably and hitting the bump stops with disconcerting regularity. We rolled out of Ohio into Kentucky, turned west in Louisville and crossed the Ohio River for the second time.

We pushed through southern Indiana, exiting Free America at the Wabash River and entering Illinois. A couple of brief showers popped up but didn’t slow our law-abiding dash across hostile territory. We turned south at Mt. Vernon, crossed the Mississippi River north of Cairo and started breathing again.

Not long after that, the route we’d chosen left the Interstates behind. In Missouri four lanes became two and, briefly at one point, pavement became gravel. While zig-zagging through farm country somewhere in the lowlands — the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, to be precise — we entered Arkansas.

There was no sign, no welcome center. If the Toyota’s GPS hadn’t announced it we wouldn’t have had the faintest clue.

We found US Route 62, turned west and settled in for the day’s last 150 miles. That stretch of road was new to us but the landscape was familiar, more so the farther we traveled. Finally, almost 14 hours after we’d rolled down our driveway in Ohio, we arrived on The Mountain.

Even though Deb and I had split the driving, it wasn’t an easy day — 750 miles from start to finish, and that really tested us. Deb’s cousin greeted us warmly, helped us unload the truck and waved goodbye as we left for our overnight accommodations.

We’d never used Airbnb. The week before our trip Deb presented me with several options, and we ended up choosing a private residence north of Flippin, about 25 minutes from The Mountain. It was well after dark Wednesday evening when we snaked up the steep and wooded slopes, turned onto a narrow dirt road and parked in front of a small house.

We grabbed our bags and cooler, punched a four-digit access code into the entry lock and let ourselves in. The place was spacious, comfortable and immaculate, relatively new construction, with all the amenities we could’ve wished for — and it was about half the price of conventional lodging.

Exhausted from the long drive, we stumbled to the bedroom and collapsed. We wouldn’t know how truly special the house was ’til Thursday morning.

As usual, I was up before Deb. I shuffled into the kitchen, made a pot of (provided) coffee, pulled a mug from the cupboard and poured myself a cup. Knowing that the house had a large patio off the back of the house, I opened the French doors and stepped out into the cool air.

The wrinkled green carpet of The Ozarks spread out before me. Bull Shoals Lake was right there to the northeast. The vista stretched past Arkansas into southern Missouri.

Deb stirred eventually and joined me on the patio, and we relaxed there a long time. It was a spectacular location, perched in an isolated spot not far from the now-overgrown quarry that had supplied stone for Bull Shoals Dam in the 1940s.

We also had a chance to absorb the comfort of the house itself and congratulate ourselves for choosing it. The place featured one bedroom with a king-size bed, two nightstands, a wardrobe and a walk-in closet. It had a full bath and a half bath, plus a laundry room with washer and dryer. Kitchen, dining and living area were one big space, with windows along the east wall framing That View. And like I said, everything was spotless.

The reason we were in the neighborhood in the first place was, of course, to spend time on The Mountain. We gathered ourselves, hopped in the truck and drove down into town, where we made a quick stop at the Flippin Walmart.

When we left Arkansas in mid-March the landscape was showing the first signs of spring. The transformation since was remarkable, striking, To hear the locals tell it, it felt like the area went from zero-to-lush in a matter of days.

Once we arrived at Deb’s cousin’s place we sat around his garage awhile and caught up on the last few months’ events. We paid our respects to Mercy, our trusty orange Jeep, before pulling the Ranger out of the shed and heading down the road for a little exploring. That had to include a run to the summit, one of our favorite places on The Mountain.

The path we’d cleared had grown up some, we noticed, so this fall and winter we’ll have more clearing to do. Once parked up top we grabbed our walking sticks and made the short walk to our bench, which a deer or some other critter had toppled, and we ate the lunch we’d packed.

We stopped by the site of our future home, of course, and we dreamed aloud of the day when we won’t have to leave.

By then it was time for dinner, which we took at Carolyn’s Razorback Ribs in Yellville. We ended the day back at the house, watching the setting sun paint The Ozarks and the sky in dusty hues.

While we were back in the area, even if it was only for a couple of days, we wanted to return to Harrison to connect with a few people, After lingering on the patio to watch the sun come up we managed to get a fairly early start, stopping first at the Ford dealer to visit with the young fella who’d sold us the Jeep a year ago this month. We dropped by a local vape shop and then drove up to the Harrison KOA Holiday, the wonderful campground where we’d wintered.

The park’s mother-and-daughter owners became like family to us over the months, and our surprise visit was warm and full of joy. They brought us up-to-date on the goings-on there, especially proud to tell us that they’d made good use of our parting gift in March — their campground-wide Memorial Day cookout featured chicken grilled with Bubba Sauce from Squeek’s Bar & Grill.

We turned around and headed east again, swinging by the local Post Office and arriving back on The Mountain before noon. Deb’s cousin joined us for a long-anticipated meal at Blacksheep BBQ in Yellville, the trip interrupted briefly by a stop at a neighbor’s garage.

The final hours of our two-day visit to The Mountain were spent porch-sittin’ and beer-drinkin’ at Deb’s cousin’s place. We said reluctant farewells, returning to the Airbnb for one more Ozarks sunset.

We’d made the Ohio-to-Arkansas run in a single day. That was both intentional and necessary, but we weren’t about to reprise the high-pressure drive on our return. Our plan was to get on the road relatively early, retrace our route (more or less) and see where that might put us when we felt like stopping for the day.

Saturday morning’s sunrise over Bull Shoals held us on the patio for a while, and still we rolled out just before 7am Central Time.

We knew that our first 170 miles would have us on two-lane highways, mostly. We made a conscious decision to slow down and take in the character of the Heartland countryside — signs and scenery, small towns and salt-of-the-earth people.

At our first pit stop we met a guy on his way to a local car show in his 1947 International KB3 pickup truck, rat-original except for the Chevy 327 under the hood. Later we ran into the eccentric owner of a retired Fayetteville ambulance being converted into an RV.

We passed 18 Dollar General stores. (Yes, we kept track.)

Not too far into our day we entered the city limits of Pocahontas, a town of 6,500 or so in the northeast corner of Arkansas. That’s significant to us because it’s home to Overman Buildings, the company making our house kit. We decided to detour a mile and pay a visit.

A soft-spoken gentleman patiently answered our questions and offered advice on materials and timing. It was a great experience, boosting our confidence in the choice we’d made.

On the front end of the Overman Buildings facility is the American Made General store, a good-sized shop that sells only items manufactured in the USA. We had fun browsing the aisles. Deb bought a pair of shoes.

On the down side — and this truly was the only negative moment in five days — at the American Made General Store I saw a guy offering knife-sharpening services. I stopped to talk to him awhile, decided that he knew his stuff and handed him my 15-year-old Benchmade Griptilian, which was in need of a touch-up.

When I got my knife back it was even more dull than when I’d handed it to him. I paid my five bucks and figured I’d have to do the job myself, but that wasn’t the worst of it — later I discovered that he’d completely destroyed the profile, removing what I’d estimate to be 20% of the blade material. The once-straight edge is now a mild recurve.

It’s my own damned fault for being lazy. I do have an identical backup, brand-new in the box, and I may have Benchmade replace the blade on my old one, but I’m pretty frosted about what happened.

Back on the road, we plowed through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. We crossed the Ohio River at Louisville, and that’s when I asked Deb to start looking for lodging. She found a Holiday Inn Express north of the city with rooms available. We pulled in, unloaded, had dinner at a nearby Cracker Barrel and called it a day.

I’d done all the driving, surprised that after 550 miles I felt as good as I did.

With a relatively short day ahead of us, we slept late Sunday morning, enjoyed long showers and took full advantage of the hotel’s “hot breakfast,” downing two plates and several cups of coffee. It was sweet icing on a comfortable, clean room that showed up at the right place and the right time.

Our younger boy and his fiancée, who live on the east side of Cincinnati, had been keeping Scout and Dipstick since Monday evening, so we took the outerbelt across the Ohio River and stopped by to scoop up the pups. We had a great visit with the kids, and the dogs were ecstatic to see us.

We hit the driveway at Second Chance Ranch just before 5pm. Two days and 760 miles had brought us back to where we started.

It was a great trip, for all practical purposes a perfect trip. The weather cooperated, with no wind and virtually no rain. We did what we wanted to do and spent quality time with the people we wanted to see.

My Tacoma performed flawlessly, averaging just under 24mpg fully loaded and almost 25mpg (relatively) empty. Naturally, fuel prices were absurd — from a low of $4.299 in Kentucky last Wednesday to $4.599 at the same station four days later.

And now here we are, refreshed and with a fresh dose of incentive. We took today off from doing anything productive, but we’ll be purging and packing again tomorrow.

This is the home stretch.

One year ago today we pushed ourselves harder than any other day before or since — 500 miles, from Harrison, Arkansas to Gainesville, Texas. We hammered through heavy traffic, harrowing construction zones and shitty weather, landing at a pleasant Harvest Hosts stop after a thoroughly unpleasant day. All that to put us in a position to have Ernie’s fridge replaced the next afternoon.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

#LetsGoBrandon #FJB

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