November 1st, 2018
There isn’t much going on in Alpena, Arkansas. It has few houses and a gas station that are located at the intersection of Highways 412 and 23. It was about five in the afternoon when Karin and I drove there in the pouring rain. We were looking for place eat something, and there happened to be a tiny sandwich shop right next to the filling station. We stopped.
We went into the sandwich shop and checked out the menu. They could make a variety of wraps, burgers, and sandwiches. At least, that’s what the menu said. We were greeted by a timid young girl who looked to be barely into her early teens. She asked what we wanted. Karin ordered a veggie wrap.
The childlike teenager smiled nervously, and said with a thick southern drawl,
“This my first day at this job. The girl who’s training me hasn’t shown me how to make a wrap yet. She’s in the back right now, but she will be here in a minute. Y’all don’t mind?”
The experienced trainer came into the shop. She didn’t look much older than the new employee. I wonder what the child labor laws are in Arkansas. The older girl told Karin that she would be teaching her young apprentice as they made the wrap together. She cautioned Karin that it might take a while. It did.
I ordered a cheeseburger. The master sandwich maker took care of my order. That went more quickly. The girls were very friendly, and I could tell that they were doing the best job that they could. The older girl was patient as she taught the newbie. I was impressed by that. We left a tip.
Karin and I were tired. Very tired. We had already had eleven hours of windshield time, and we could feel it. It was going to get dark soon, and we still had over two hours of driving left before we arrived at the retreat house at the Subiaco Abbey. The last couple hours were all going to be along the steep, narrow roads that wind through the Ozark mountains.
I took the first stretch from Alpena through Huntsville. The car has a six-speed standard transmission, and I shifted through all of those gears repeatedly. It was raining hard, and fog was starting to rise from the ground in places. It was a white knuckle ride.
Karin told me, “Now don’t wait too long before we switch drivers. Tell me when you’re tired.”
The truth was that I had been tired for several hours already. Now I was just getting scary tired.
We traded seats in some wide spot in the road called St. Paul. Karin had the last leg of the journey, and it was bad. Karin asked me to read the speed limit signs that came just before the tight turns. I called out,
“Thirty miles per hour!”
“Twenty miles per hour!”
“TEN miles per hour!”
Yês, there were hairpin curves that required the driver to slow to ten miles per hour. With the rain and the leaves on the road, it was slick. The grades were steep. Karin’s stomach tightened into a fist. She was not enjoying Highway 23.
We saw some big trucks coming the opposite direction as we came down this slalom course into the Arkansas River Valley. I cannot imagine how it is even physically possible for a tractor pulling a 45′ trailer to handle some of those hairpin turns. The Toyota barely made it.
We made to Subiaco. Karin was exhausted. It’s strange. That trip would be great on a warm, dry autumn day for somebody on a Harley. It sucked on a dark, rainy night.