Riding through the stars

Campsite at Queen Wilhelmena State Park

Getting food ready for dinner as the campfire burns merrily at
Queen Wilhelmena State Park.

I took a week of vacation last week. Typical of my recent vacations, most of this one was spent working on the house. Buying a “fixer upper” seemed like such a good idea when I was a young lad in my 40s. Now in my mid 50s I’m starting to question the concept. But all work and no play makes for a dull vacation, so we did take two days off for a quick run up to Queen Wilhelmena State Park. It turns out to be a fantastic trip.
We take the backroads going by Millwood lake up to Hot Springs. Then we follow Highway 270 west, through the Ouachita National forrest over to Mena. We get to the camp ground right at 5:00 pm. By the time we registered and get the tent set up, it is almost 6:00. The plan is to run back to Mena and pick up sandwich supplies. I want to be back before dark, so we don’t have much time to look for firewood before hitting the road. Supplies in hand, we head back up skyline drive for the third time that day.
The sun is just dropping behind the mountain as we begin the 13 mile climb back to the campsite. The road is dark, lighted only by my headlight, but the sky is afire with the setting sun. The sky, at a little more than 2,000 feet, is clear and free of light pollution. I’d already noticed how blue it was during the day. Now, as the sun sets, it’s showing me colors I haven’t seen in years. Fiery orange silhouetting the mountain tops slowly changes to a deep velvet blue then dark violet. Brilliant stars speckle the sky overhead. Leaves haven’t started to change yet, but the air is still crisp with the promise of fall.
Riding this twisting mountainous road at night through bear country is foolish, but the beauty of it completely enraptures me. I think about stopping and taking a picture, but I know that a photo can never capture the moment. This environment has to be felt, more than seen. Some experiences are worth the risk, and this may be one of them.
Back at the campground, we start a fire and settle down to make and eat our sandwiches. Tomorrow we will run the Telimena Scenic Drive. Our plan was to then make our way home from Talihena Oklahoma. But plans change. I’ll blog a couple of more times about this trip and cover the scenic run in future posts.
The wind was brisk atop Rich mountain. I bungie the tent to the concrete wheel chock at the back of the parking pad to keep it from blowing away. Gusts of wind deform the tent throughout the night, but we sleep remarkably well. A long day of riding can do that for you.
Up the next morning, I’m surprised to find that I’m not as stiff as I expect to be. A quick run back into Mena for breakfast means two more runs of the 13 mile segment of skyline drive between the lodge and town. What a great way to start a day.

- Guy Wheatley

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