36 Hours in Little Rock

May 3, 2010

Little Rock, Arkansas…. What can I say? We actually spent a lot of time in Arkansas, staying in Magnolia, Arkadelphia, Hot Springs and now two nights in Little Rock. But as I bicycled towards the city I had to admit that I don’t know much about this state. It’s a land-locked state that is clearly in the South, but doesn’t feel quite as deeply Southern as Mississippi or Alabama; Little Rock is the capitol; and President Bill Clinton was raised in Hot Springs. So, although I’ve enjoyed my time in the state so far, I didn’t know what to expect from 36 hours in Little Rock.

We cycled in to St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, which would be our home for the next two nights. Almost immediately Team Strawberry, my support team which includes Tim, Katie, Lenore and myself, gathered everyone’s dirties and headed down to the local Laundromat to keep our group rolling in style, while the rest of the group headed off to a bike shop to keep our group rolling in general.

Work done, we were off to River Market for dinner and revelry. A group of us found our way to the Flying Saucer, where they offer 200 varieties of beer, and maybe even better, comfortable couches. Katie, Pete, Tim, Chris and myself grabbed an area of couches and overstuffed chairs and soon our coffee table was heavily ladened with beers from all over the globe in colors stretching from light wheat yellow to nearly black, with every shade in between. Having whetted our appetites, we were ready to grab food, when we looked outside and saw a deluge on the street. Oh, well… always enough time for another beer. The weather let up, and we were off to Bosco’s, whose claim of being a “Beer lover’s restaurant” piqued our curiosity. The restaurant itself was nothing to write a blog about, but they served a good wood-fire pizza and our waiter was probably one of the best servers I have ever had. He was very insightful about what we needed and the dynamics of the group. The night ended in the piano bars, rehashing old hits by Bon Jovi and Billy Joel.

The next morning we were served a Southern breakfast of French toast and biscuits and gravy by the local Knights of Columbus, and then Roshan and I joined their Mass service. Afterward, we headed back down to River Market for an afternoon of exploring. Many of the women of the trip were really excited about the Heifer International corporate headquarters. I’ll admit that it’s a cool organization, but going to corporate headquarters is not my idea of a fun day. Going to presidential libraries is.

The Bill Clinton presidential library is a huge glass structure just off of River Market that is on a beautiful setting overlooking the Arkansas River. It is a walk down memory lane to a time when Timothy McVey was America’s greatest terrorist threat, and Osama Bin Ladin was an unknown figure. The two coolest things in the library were the life-sized replica Oval Office and the exhibit on Madaline Albright’s broaches. I didn’t expect to learn something about jewelry while in Little Rock, but it was fascinating how Albright would use her broaches as a strategy to set the tone during important meetings while Secretary of State.

The next morning was Team Strawberry’s support day, and the first of two back-to-back century rides. We racked the bikes and drove through downtown Little Rock to a park on the Arkansas River. We unloaded the bikes and the riders rode across the world’s largest pedestrian bride over to a bike trail that would take them south along the east bank of the Arkansas, until we routed them east toward the small town of Marvall, AR. As Lenore and I marked route for the team, Tim headed back to Little Rock Central High School to give a lecture. The high school is not only an operational school, but also a National Monument. It’s sheer architectural beauty is juxtaposed by the fact that in 1957 nine African American students were prevented from gaining entrance but the Arkansas National Guard. After the students and reporters started being attacked by angry mobs, Dwight D. Eisenhower had to intervene and send in the military to protect the students, and their rights to an education in a desegregated South. Of course I remember hearing the story, but I had forgotten that this amazingly disappointing event in American history occurred in Little Rock.

The thing about this ride is not only do we go places I’ll probably never go again, but we also see them in a different way.  I’m sure I’ll never spend 36 hours in Little Rock again, but I’ve come to appreciate this Southern capitol city with its progressive outlook and dark past.

Hot Springs to Little Rock by embricate at Garmin Connect – Details.

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