January 23, 2013 Edition

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Karen Pratt (center) gives cross-country bicyclists John Hunter (left) and his uncle, Shane Hunter, a tour of The Guitar Walk in Cavenaugh Park on Sunday.
TD Photos ~ John Bland

Cross-country bicyclists visit WR

Karen Pratt
Guest Writer

January 19, 2013: 251 days, nine states, hundreds of miles, eight flat tires, nine bicycles, 40 jars of peanut butter, 24 backpacks, numerous Mountain Dews and cups of coffee, 16 miles of walking against the wind and a town called Walnut Ridge.

Just before 6 p.m., at the close of day on Saturday, two weary travelers happened upon Cavenaugh Chevrolet Buick GMC. I looked up from my desk to greet Jean and David Baltz, and Jean mentioned that two men just pulled up on bicycles and said they had been walking for the last 16 miles.

I jumped up from my desk and ran to the door to greet these weary travelers and to invite them in out of the cold. We quickly made introductions, and I got them some water.

Typical for their trip they were soon peppered with questions: "Where did you come from?" "Where are you going?" "What are you doing this for?" "Where are your families?" "Where are you staying?" Once again, Shane and John Hunter found themselves in another of a long line of friendly little towns.

Out came the newspapers, and starting with an article in the Niagara Gazette from August 30, 2012, we began to hear the story of how Shane Hunter, age 51 and his nephew, John Hunter, age 35, sold all their belongings and started out from Biddeford, a city in York County, Maine, last May and ended up 251 days later in Walnut Ridge, a town in Lawrence County, Arkansas, 1,450 miles away!

The short answer is that they are headed for The Grand Canyon!

After telling them that there aren't many options for lodging, I assured them that I would check on a room for them and treat them to supper. I am "over the moon" for being a lover of great stories, and I had a feeling that I was going to hear one that I would never forget!

I told them to push their bikes for another mile and a half and to just look for the Polar Freeze. I had driven ahead, and after talking with Kay Kellim and receiving her blessing, I rented them a room for the night at the Phillips Motel.

I drove back up the road to check on them and found them passing the Walnut Ridge Fire Department. I pulled over and told them that they were almost there. Then I headed to the Polar Freeze to await their arrival.

Lucky for us, the first person I saw there was Polar Freeze owner-operator Jack Allison. I quickly asked him to join us for dinner and told him about my guests. Jack graciously welcomed them in, while I ordered up three barbecue plates.

The conversation quickly began, and Jack regaled the men with great stories of the history of our airport and the Army Flying School. Jack even pulled down pictures from the wall to complement his stories. We then told them of the famous Beatles landing and the resulting inspiration it provided to launch The Beatles at The Ridge Festival and Downtown Walnut Ridge revitalization efforts.

Of course agriculture was discussed, and Shane and John learned that they were in the heart of rice country. Jack also told them of our new peanut crop and processing plant. In turn, Shane and John told us of their odd jobs on farms along the way and shared agri stories, including one of melon blight.

Our visiting travelers were weary to the bone, and I told them that they would rest warmly and comfortably across the street at The Phillips Motel. I agreed that I would be back to check on them in the morning and bid them goodnight.

Sunday, Day 252

Sunday morning is a typical laundry day for me, and I realized that Shane and John might like to have their clothes laundered. I perused shelves, closets and drawers to come up with suitable clothes to offer them and headed out with an empty laundry basket.

Shane was grateful for the offer of fresh clothes and clean laundry, and I ran through McDonalds to grab them some breakfast before laundering their clothes. I also asked them to join me downtown for a tour of The Guitar Walk.

The visitors were fascinated by the stories behind The Guitar Walk and that their travels had brought them to Rock 'N' Roll Highway 67. We toured the Iron Mountain Depot, and then went over to Beatles Park. It had come to my attention that Shane and John were hoping to attend a church service, and I racked my brain for options.

We are quickly distracted with greetings from people passing by, such as Jennifer Jean and her children. I asked the kids "Do you think you could ride a bicycle and go all the way across the United States to the Grand Canyon?" One of them replied, "Sure, if I had the directions!"

While snapping pictures and telling stories about the people behind The Beatles Park and the downtown revitalization, John Hunter looks at me and said, "I just remembered that early on in the trip I quoted lyrics from a Beatles song in my journal!" While writing an emotional entry on how hard it was to part from friends they had made along the way he had written, "You say Goodbye, and I say Hello ... Hello, Hello."

We look up to see Greg Smith headed next door to Art and Culture, which is owned by his brother-in-law, Danny West. After determining that the shops are closed for the day, he notices the bikes loaded down with gear. Greg said, "It looks like someone is serious about something here, what's with the bikes and all the gear?"

Shane and John gave Greg the short version of the purpose of their trip. I explained to Greg that Shane and John have expressed a desire to attend a church service, and Greg quickly stated, "Hey, I would love for you to attend church with me tonight at Hoxie Church of Christ!" Shane and John agree, and a plan is hatched for me to treat them to another night at The Phillips Motel, and for Greg to pick them up and take them to church.

After a late lunch at Subway and a drive-around to points of interest, we barely make it back in time to load them up in Greg's truck and send them off to church.

Monday, Day 253

On Monday, we made plans to meet downtown for lunch at The Dark Side coffee shop, which adjoins Art and Culture. Around 11:30, Shane and John made it to The Dark Side, where John Bland of The TD, Bro. Matthew Ballentine of the Hoxie Church of Christ, and I awaited their arrival. I was excited to share the news that while at church the night before, John Hunter was baptized by Greg Smith.

My friend, Bobby Moody, then arrived, and I am thankful because I know that he is an experienced bike rider and adventurist and also is knowledgeable about what the guys will encounter in and around Little Rock. I head back to work, Bobby Moody loaded up Shane and John's bikes to head over to Gearhead Outfitters in Jonesboro to get some problems with their bikes looked at and repaired.

Monday night, as I finished up this story, I am anxious to hear how the rest of the day went for Shane and John and wondering where they have landed for the night. I can't wait to see my new friends again and take them on a side journey tomorrow. I know that soon, with tears in my eyes, I will be saying goodbye. They will travel on down the road, closer to their destination, while greeting new friends along the way with, "Hello ... Hello, Hello."

In thinking of Shane and John's astonishing courage to begin such a long and uncertain journey, I am reminded of the quote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

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