The rumble and hiss and drone of the nearby highway is almost always present here at our campground. Tires whine on the pavement. Southbound big-rig pilots ease off the throttle on this stretch of US Route 65, Jake brakes rapping as they slow from the posted 60mph to 45mph at the city limits.
I prefer the stillness of The Mountain, of course, and we’ve certainly parked Ernie in more peaceful and idyllic spots. But to some degree, noise annoys only if I allow it to intrude — my mind knows it’s there, yet I can push it into the background.
It’s a distraction only if I grant permission.
Sitting in my camp chair with coffee this morning, I turned my back to the road and faced the wooded slope that rises up behind the bus. Before long, all I could consciously hear were chattering sparrows and the odd cicada. I watched the sun pitch patches of light through the canopy onto the leaf-littered ground. Occasional puffs of morning breeze moved hickory branches close by.
It was quiet, if not silent, because I chose it.
When Deb and I tell folks how we’ve spent the last 17 months, whether they’re fellow campers or old friends, we’ll confess to how surprised we were to find Home in northern Arkansas. More often than not they ask something like, “Did you set out looking for a new place to live?” or “Was there anyplace else you thought about moving to?”
The first is easy to answer — no. We fully expected to spend a year or longer on the road, then return to Second Chance Ranch and live out our days. Our odyssey wasn’t a scouting expedition.
Addressing the second question is a little more complicated. Candidly, the answer is a qualified yes.
I think it’s fair to say that when we crossed the Red River and entered the Republic of Texas, both Deb and I wondered if The Lone Star State would suit us. To a certain extent, it most definitely did — Texans are our kind of people, like-minded for the most part and welcoming. The culture is rich and intriguing. We absolutely loved being there.
The dealbreakers, at least for us, were the distances and the pace. Neither particularly agreed with us. As much as we enjoyed the visit, we weren’t even out of the state (a trek that consumed almost three travel days) when we crossed off Texas as someplace we’d want to live.
The longer we tarried in South Dakota, the more it looked like a real possibility. From the prairies to the badlands to the Black Hills, the territory drew us in, varied and spectacular. The people were wonderful everywhere we went, displaying near-southern hospitality (minus the drawl). And the culture of Liberty was inescapable — freedom in day-to-day life as well as in politics, expressed with unabashed patriotism, is right in our wheelhouse.
There’s just one problem — the winters suck. Seriously, that’s the only thing about South Dakota we didn’t find appealing. It’s a great place. If not for extreme cold and snow we’d rank the state right there with The Ozarks.
And then there’s Montana.
I’ve had a romantic attachment to Big Sky Country for over four decades, tracing back to my experience working in the vicinity of Glacier Park the summer of my 21st year. Indelible memories, combined with incomparable landscapes, had me hoping that maybe, just maybe, another visit would spark a special connection for Deb and me.
That was never gonna happen — I mean, if wintertime sucks in South Dakota, it really sucks in Montana. But even if we’d decided that we could endure harsh weather, we noticed a few things that’d discourage us from moving there.
Montanans treated us well — friendly, gracious, hospitable. Because we lingered awhile in several communities, however, we couldn’t help sensing an air of provincialism among the locals. Not to put too fine a point on it, but natives are glad to take tourists’ money as long as the invaders get the hell out and don’t settle.
I get it, believe me. Much of what I remembered fondly from 1978 had been Californicated by 2021.
We also saw evidence that Montana’s pro-Liberty culture, while it’s definitely there, is scattered and diluted. What’s called “libertarian” often is neo-liberal. Traditional American values aren’t woven tightly into the fabric of the culture, at least not the way they are in, say, Texas, South Dakota or The South.
In truth, it feels a lot like New Hampshire West.
I love Montana. I’ll always love Montana. It’s just not someplace I want to live.
And so, to our surprise and delight, here we are in northern Arkansas. If you’ve been following along, you know all the reasons why.
One year ago today we rolled west to what would become one of our favorite stops of the journey — an isolated prairie campground near Belvidere, South Dakota.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.