The longshot was coming from Illinois. Not confirmed, but perhaps an actual completely built driveshaft in a box ready to go was being shipped as of Friday night. If it arrived Monday the Jeep would be ready one hour after delivery. My leg with Kéa was long shot, but the longshot could still provide a shot of going long. I pumped the brakes on buying a plane ticket, looked for another cheap Airbnb, and made three trips on my bike across town to move everything I took out of the Jeep on Tuesday.
I moved into the new place two and half miles down the street. It’s not as nice. No washer or dryer which could be a problem with Arkansas weather, but there was a pressure hose in the yard. Arkansas is muddy. My bike started each day at 31 pounds and returned from the trail caked with wet pasty soil weighing in at 37. My kit suffered the same fate. At least I could spray everything off. I had this place until Tuesday morning. If I’m still stranded by then, I pull the rip cord.
The sun made a rare appearance on Saturday and with nothing better to do, I loaded up with water and a couple Clif Bars. I have no plan, which is congruent with my life’s current predicament. I leave the house and ride into a confluence of trails named Coler. Three hours later I find myself in Bella Vista on the Back 40, a forty-mile singletrack loop that braids the Missouri border. It’s hot and I’m down to my last splash of water. The phone rings.
I don’t recognize the number. The area code is 616. Western Michigan. I pick up the call. “Sparky! It’s Andy. Kohler’s friend. Come over for dinner tonight.” Various random connections were provided to me by friends before I set out on this ill-advised junket, and I remember Ben telling me about a guy in Bentonville. I don’t have to think about my riposte. “Sure! Where’s your place and what can I bring?” Andy tells me he’s in Bella Vista, the town just north of Bentonville. I give Andy my coordinates and he texts me his address. “You’re super close to my house right now. Just ride on up.” Four point two miles up a moderately steep country road, I find Andy under the hood of his 1971 Chevy C10 pickup.
I’m approaching a reasonably distressed state of dehydration and Andy greets me with a question. “What kind of beer do you like?” The answer is obvious. “Cold,” I say. He slams the hood, introduces himself, and we bump fists. Sitting on the back of the Chevy’s lowered tailgate we get acquainted. Andy is a 33-year-old professional mountain bike trail designer and builder. I had no idea this was an occupation until arriving in Arkansas, and the interrogation began. I’m fascinated with the process and risk asking too many annoying questions. An hour goes by and Andy’s wife Michelle returns with a car-load of groceries.
“Which Walmart did you go to?” Andy quips. Needless to say, Walmart has cornered the market of markets in this region. “The one in Missouri,” says Michelle. “It’s definitely cheaper.” I help bring the bags inside to an empty house. And I mean empty. No furniture, no photos, no floor. “We’re in the middle of a re-model,” says Andy. Now the tailgate made sense. These guys are one month into their marriage and their new home. Michelle is an exec for SRAM, a bicycle component manufacturer based out of Chicago, and other than being fun and cute, I understand Andy’s attraction. SRAM makes some high-quality stuff and the discount must be killer.
We grill some burgers and have a great night. I’m invited to join them on a Sunday ride to inspect a new trail system called Keystone that Andy recently helped design and build. The trails aren’t open to the public, so it helps to have an inside line. Later that night I’m given a ride home in the ’71 Chevy. “It’s my daily driver!” Andy says as I reach around for a seatbelt. “Don’t bother looking for a seatbelt,” he says after watching my eyes hunt around the normal connection points. “The bench seat isn’t even attached to the floor.”
I’m successfully deposited at my dirtbag mountain biker Airbnb only to be picked up the very next morning. The sun makes another cameo on Sunday and I load my black Specialized Enduro onto the tailgate pad of the Chevy. The three of us slide around on the bench seat as we bounce our way to the trailhead. The riding was all-time. Andy is a master at his trade and we session a series of six downhill tracks. Michelle and Andy are both amazing riders and I learn a lot just by following them off ramps, tabletops, and gap jumps. For at least a few hours, I forget why I’m still here.