Walking the Line: Fort Smith

It was a gorgeous bus ride over many soaring bridge spans thru the Boston Mountains from Fayetteville to Fort Smith.

Too pretty to take a nap

Followed by a humbling drop off at a truck stop at the far south end of the Fort Smith city line. A parking lot dust storm kicked up for added effect as I got off the bus.

Littlefield Express 2 Travel Plaza. My ground zero for Fort Smith

Inside Littlefield Express

I was quickly energized by the desire to get closer to town and upgrade my prospects for food. The sunny weather and listening to some Otis Redding classics took the edge off being in destitute concrete surroundings. Interesting rather dated drive-up architecture was all around: motels, restaurants and liquor stores:

Liquor stop

Some kooky street intersections too. Lots of pavement for me to dance around car traffic on, but not many actual sidewalks.

One of many strange one way stop intersections around Fort Smith

Within a few miles lunch prospects ticked upward. I settled for a local family style restaurant. College football on the TV and a very traditional sandwich menu. I typically go for a burger in these situations figuring it to be the most popular item. And thus quality might be the highest. And eventhough I usually crave a burger nap immediately after eating, the huge calorie count can keep me moving strong for hours.

Great plating

The scenery improved markedly after lunch as I continued on heading northeast. I hit residential areas within another mile and then found a magical ribbon of pavement called Cliff Drive:

A beautiful drive...I mean walk

There was no sidewalk but traffic was very light and not too speedy. The road has numerous gentle curves along the edge of a rise overlooking the town below to the south and east. Trees line the road. I did have to walk alongside a golf course which is always a conflicting thing for me. On one hand I love the preserved open space, but on the other hand you have the exclusiveness and the over manicuring going on. Also I listen to Malcolm Gladwell.  Some very large homes along the way too:

Cliff Drive real estate

The road led downhill and the magic stretch was over. I was very close to I-540 and my sleeping spot for the night Baymont Inn & Suites. I checked in just before sunset. One quick peak out the window at my interstate highway view before I crashed for a nap:

No need to open this window

Waking up from my snooze I barely recalled what planet I was on. The giant cheeseburger earlier left me barely hungry for dinner. I was still restless to get out and about though so I headed 1/2 a mile down the road to the.....mall:

Central Mall. Scooters are big in Arkansas

Fun night! I went to bed early and commenced a deep sleep. 10-12 hours later I woke up like this:

Breakfast was indeed pure sadness (with a loose gravy incident I'd like to forget), but thankfully the water stopped dripping from the ceiling when I needed the toilet upon returning to my room. Not too shocking to be so weary after covering 58 miles on foot over 6 days in Arkansas. I walked out the door into golden sunshine, no wind, low humidity and a temperature in the 50's. After dutifully waiting behind a car to use an ATM across the street, I set off meandering west towards Seva Yoga.

No thank you

Thoughtful pedestrian accommodation

Construction scene

I tried to stay off the main road Rogers Ave to get some tranquility before eventually cutting up along it to find the yoga studio. In a daze still:

Sunday chillin'

A really dynamic owner and yoga class brought me back to my usual joyful baseline within a few hours. The Sunday 12:30pm class I attended had a unique focus on breathwork in a variety of poses over the course of 2 hours. The sequencing and poses showed the dynamic influences of Tiffany Cruikshank and her Yoga Medicine techniques.

Inside Seva Yoga with Taylor Henry

Taylor even had donuts. I left real happy indeed heading down Rogers Ave towards downtown to take in the historic Fort Smith. Too blissed out to even get mad about one seriously narrow sidewalk situation:

Pedestrian no passing zone

Next came more wonky street alignments to navigate:

Approaching downtown Fort Smith

It was approaching the golden hour of the day as I came into downtown. Lots of historic brick buildings:

Dang that's big one

Finally I was to Fort Smith National Historic Site. The fort sits alongside the Arkansas River bordering Oklahoma. It features a gallows, visitor center, a few historic buildings and numerous historical information plaques. It's history dates back 200 years and most significantly includes a period as the last major outpost along the Trail of Tears before entering Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

Here I was walking a troubling line. I am reading of past atrocities against Native Americans in my modern privileged existence as a Caucasian male. I was grateful for the soothing late day sun and the opportunity to sit along the river. The peace of nature allowed me to linger and take in more information to ruminate on. On previous solo stops at historic sites under cloudy conditions, I often got overwhelmed with emotions and had to quickly move on.

The Arkansas joining the Poteau River

Lighter themes took hold as I walked back downtown. A large family with happy small children appeared on the scene. I stumbled into a few senior photo shoots. I had passed up a busy coffee shop in an old gas station on the way to the fort and I headed there as the sun set:

Inside Fort Smith Coffee Co

I sat and plotted out the evening ahead. I had no place set up to sleep for the night. That was because I had a bus to catch at 3am! Here we circle back to the fabled midnight train from Texarkana concept. Only two options exist to get to my next planned stop in Little Rock from Fort Smith if you are sans car.. I (along with most humans in my experience) much prefer a train option over bus travel. The closest Amtrak route though is 4 hours by bus down to Texarkana. On top of that one could argue:  1)Is Texarkana even Arkansas and 2)Is Texarkana even walkable. Having driven thru 2 years back the interstate appeared to double as main street.

And so it was the 3am Bus out of Fort Smith theme I settled on. What to do to pass the time?! I had a mere 9 hours to kill. 90 minutes of that would be walking back to my Fort Smith ground zero 6 miles to the south to catch the bus. That truck stop waiting area opened at 2am. If I could stay busy up to just past midnight, I was all set to stumble in there and sleep on a bench until the bus came.

My favorite local hangout, Central Mall, would be closed early on a Sunday. But next door to it was a cinema. I'd go to the latest showing of the night. Only The Brave was on at 9:50pm so that was my movie. One dicey detail I didn't think of until I got close to Malco Cinemas was whether or not they would allow me in with my large backpack. A sign was posted prohibiting all backpacks at the ticket booth, but no one stopped me there. A vigilant ticket taker though called me out soon after. She called for the manager. I pleaded my case as a unique traveler trying to manage catching a 3am bus and the manager kindly gave me a pass.

Spoiler alert: the film is frigging tragic. And Jennifer Connelly delivers a heart wrenching performance as the wife of a fire crew leader. The film did last past midnight though which was great. My tears dried and I hit the deserted streets:

Late night on Rogers Ave

Making good progress at 1am

Only slightly creeped out, slowing but still moving and at nearly 2am, my new favorite truck stop came into view:

Back to ground zero

Jefferson Lines has great staff. They were alert and helpful as I boarded the bus to Little Rock. Quite a relief to pull off the most daunting transportation wrinkle of the trip. Finally some sleep.