A return to common ground
The Baker Maker Roadshow is a biscuit-powered baking, bicycle, and banjo tour of the Arkansas Ozarks. Built around food and story collection, the Roadshow will curate new kinds of conversations which cross generations and other divisions in an attempt to increase understanding, empathy and connection.
Beginning in Brashears and headed toward Ozark I will pedal south on Highway 23, the “Pig Trail.” I will carry a basket of ingredients and knock on doors, offering to bake, play my banjo, and talk. In the course of these conversations my hope is that we might return to our basic connections, using stories and food to rekindle our common, compassionate, human traits.
Elkins to Breshears, Combs to Crosses, Cass, then over the Mulberry river; I’m pedaling south on State Highway 23, Ozark-bound. The road--a pavement spit, with knots and twists--is asphalt on borrowed time. The forest, kudzu, ticks, and heat, will rise, climb, smother, and eventually subsume. Everything headed to red dirt.
Once colloquial, now branded, “The Pig Trail Scenic Byway,” it was the best connection between Northwest Arkansas and the state capital in Little Rock. But, it’s been long bypassed by straighter, wider lanes with cruise control and blurred views--a mighty effort to avoid hairpin turns. There is no shoulder or room for hurry and worry here; take your eyes off what’s ahead or, grab the wheel after beers, and the woods will watch, unblinking, as first responders peel you off a tree.
But, travelling at Pig Trail speeds, we are given an offering in return. A 52-mile chance to be present. A moment to connect with something old, something that will outlast the hubbub and commotion that seemed all-important before we entered the tree tunnel at Brashears Switch. So here I am, back for something.
I began in these hills. Riding rear-facing, wedged in the back of a station wagon, I built permanent immunity to all forms of motion-sickness and tight quarters. Locals memorize the location of straight patches where passing is possible in the event of chicken truck or tractor traffic. These memories are stacked, laid down over time like the limestone underneath me: dusty roads and greening ponds, fresh cookies handed over a fence, chicken houses, and Switchel from a gallon jar. If I define myself--if I choose a badge or write a bio I always include Arkansan, or Ozark native--there is no denying my roots, or accent. But, years ago I left, headed for school, coasts, cities, and life on straight roads.
And where I landed is far from here. While my Green Mountains of today resemble the Ozarks, somehow almost everything else feels like I’m on the other side of a divide. After the mountains, springs, green spaces and rural views, we fall into tribes, political parties--more differences than similarities, it seems. But I’m back. Back trying to connect myself--the person that I am today--with this place, and, more so, the people that live here, the people over the fence, my family. Our people? Ourselves?