If one likes steep, long hills followed by more hills – and then even more hills – it’s tough to beat the Ozarks for cycling. We spent the Memorial Day holiday with the in-laws at their home on Tablerock Lake – possibly the most restful, contemplative location in the entire world.
I’ve taken to carrying one of my bikes along with me for early morning rides, sometimes cycling from the lake house up to the top of Breadtray Mountain Road, and other times fighting my way up some seriously steep inclines just to arrive at our Lampe, Missouri turn off along Highway 13. There, I huff and puff a few minutes of oxygen before heading south to the Arkansas border.
The highway is curvy with small rollers as one cycles out of town. It’s easy to hit speed and a lot of fun to tear around the tight turns but the warning track along the outside white line of the roadway is treacherous and forces riders to stay clear lest one hit the closely placed bumps at speed. I misjudged my line on at least two occasions and immediately regretted the error, violently jarring my insides loose from the skeleton.
Exploring small towns and seemingly forgotten – or nearly forgotten – places is, for me, one of the more appealing byproducts of road cycling. At the state line sits Blue Eye, halfway in Missouri and halfway in Arkansas, a present day window into the past.
Nestled into the Arkansas hills are quaint little communities with equally quaint names like Oak Grove and Maple. Buildings house post offices and small grocers, liquor sales and the odd implement or automotive repair service, but mostly there are husks of former tenants, the ghosts and general flotsam and jetsam of past commerce.
On this weekend I rode my Freschi Supreme Super Cromo. It’s decked out with Campy C-Record components and a Selle Regal saddle. The Cobalto brakeset adds a touch of jeweled color to the bling of chrome, blindingly reflective in the sun and heat.
When I stop to ponder the towns, sweat pours down my face and so I pause only a moment to make a photograph and then I ride, the wind evaporating the perspiration, immediately cooling my engine. The Freschi is so much fun to ride: it fits me well and is comfortable. If I’m feeling fresh, I can go – and go fast! The Campy gearing is wonderful as I slide the friction shifters smoothly from one cog to the next, the shifts extraordinarily – even eerily – silent. It’s just me and the bike: no huge ker-chunks like that of the touring bike with the long cage derailleur.
I see no other riders at all this weekend – astonishing, really, as these roads are smooth and quiet and less trafficked. In passing vehicles, the drivers raise a hand in friendly greeting, although the occasional massive pickup truck guns the motor impatiently on curves, roaring past me as the road straightens out, leaving me to inhale the blue cloud of diesel fumes left in its wake.
To the west, I pass a school of some sort. Is it a high school? An elementary school? All grades in one building? It’s impossible to know from the momentary view as I pass through town, but I sense an emptiness in the structure: school is out for summer.
And me, on my Italian wonder bike – we continue on our way, down the road, over more hills and past farms and creeks and livestock – on to the next small town, and the next.