Travel Blog 5: People in the Ozarks
Entering Arkansas through the haunted mountains of Eureka Springs, creative masks walked the streets while rainbow flags hung outside every establishment on the main road. The hilly community provides a fantastic energy with people smiling through their eyes!
My first verbal encounter was with a young pregnant girl working in the gas station. Her beautiful blue eyes and pig-tailed blonde hair caught my attention. When she offered me a sample taste of pizza puff, I knew I’d entered safe territory. However, I didn’t expect to come across such an inspiring story of encouragement. This sweet human evacuated Portland, Oregon due to fires and protests. Now, she and her unborn baby’s father live in a van alongside a nearby lake. She spends her time making art, connecting with the spiritual realm, and earning money, preparing for a fresh adventure into motherhood. I handed her a Kustom Kyle sticker for encouragement before continuing on my way.
Miles and miles of vibrant fall colors on curving country roads led me to Sam’s Throne, a rock climbing haven with a gorgeous sunset view and free camping. Not ten minutes after arriving, I met two ‘good ole local country boys’ (they labeled themselves) to show me the legendary rock. The 21 year old heavyset man led the way in his cowboy hat, see-through brown sunglasses, beige vest over a blue flannel shirt buttoned in to his big belted blue jeans and loud cowboy boots. He was quite the character beginning and ending every sentence with the word “Son” as he sipped on his Polar Pop plastic cup of whiskey. The smaller, skinnier, red-eyed 23 year old was further along in his life, having already been married, divorced, and working to support three kids at home. These two guys work in the local sawmill and on construction sites, enjoying every bit of their daily lives. Not one complaint came out of their mouths as they genuinely treated me like a welcomed guest. “Son, give me this view, a bottle of booze, and my pistol to shoot at the woods and I’m a happy man, son.”
As I walked around Sam’s Throne, I observed people happily enjoying the money-free, drama-free environment. An older couple walked their dog, a young woman sat in her hammock beside her tent reading a book, and a 29 year old paramedic from Kansas City drove down to spend the next two weeks rock climbing. He brought along his climbing gear, an assortment of musical instruments, a large amount of food, and two cases of beer. He told me about a forty foot fall he endured a year ago, giving his body a shock beyond belief. He shared about forgiving himself for his mistake (on the rock), facing his guilt of worrying his friends, and returning to where he fell to help himself move on. This inspiring man is on a mission in life to help others in need, heal his own wounds, and also challenge himself any way he can.
Finally, while standing in the empty parking lot at Pedestal Rocks, a beat up van charged into the space next to me. A long haired younger man with a top hat hopped out of the driver’s seat to look under his vehicle. I stood, quiet and dumbfounded, watching him proceed on his mission. He looked up, “Car’s makin a sound,” which might be the scariest words for any traveler. To take his mind off it, he joined me on the four mile walking trail. He’s a geologist on his way to Kentucky for a job since he’s been forced back to the states during covid instead of the land he claims to be “his heart,” in Serbia. Our love for international travel paralleled one another, sharing stories about hitching on foreign land, displaying appreciation for strangers around the world, and enjoying road travels in our home country. He turned his childhood van into a home-on-wheels similar to how Blaze became mine. We bonded immediately, as two travelers in need of a like-minded soul.
It’s hard to pinpoint why the connections are so strong. Has 2020 pushed us into directions we didn’t see coming that it’s so nice to find a friend that understands my former world? Have we been longing for travel so much that we appreciate the simplest conversation with another person that knows the desire? Are we simply two souls that were meant to come together at this time?
While sitting on the stone bench at the trailhead, we flipped through paper road-maps identifying special places for the other to check out. We soaked in the special moment of two strangers needing an interaction with another traveler. There’s no describing the feeling I get when I meet genuine people on the road. I’m not sure if it’s the rocks or the rivers, but spectacular adventurists seem to flock to the Ozarks!