Huck Finn
In April 2023, Mike is tracing the raft journey of Huckleberry Finn, using the effort to raise money for cancer research at Dana-Farber as a supplement to his regular Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) fundraising.  Donations, large and small, are welcomed and can be made via this link.

Mike's route will take him from Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain's hometown) 900 miles through seven states, finishing in Vicksburg, MS.  A 10-day trip down "Old Man River", taking in the sights and the history along the way.
Arkansas   102 miles

"The duke said these Arkansaw lunkheads couldn't come up to Shakespeare.  He said he could size their style.  He drawed off some handbills:  THE ROYAL NONESUCH!!!  Admission 50 cents.  LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED.  "There," says he, "if that line don't fetch them, I don't know Arkansaw!"
-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain seems to have little respect for the citizens of Arkansas.  The confidence men (the king and the duke) exploit their gullibility multiple times. 

Before today, I had spent roughly two hours in Arkansas attending a business meeting many years ago.  In other words, I had never been here.

I took the Big River Bridge out of Memphis to the 'Natural State'.  (Arkansas apparently has struggled to land a nickname for itself -- before 1995 it was "Land of Opportunity", "Bear State", "Wonder State" and "Toothpick State")  Most states have something you instantly think of about them.  Florida:  Sunshine.  Arizona:  Grand Canyon.  What do you think of when you hear "Arkansas"?  Yeah, I couldn't come up with anything either.

What I saw today -- this part of Arkansas is the land of struggling farm towns.  Like much of the bottom country I have visited on this trip, agriculture is large plots on pancake flat land.  The first half of the day, mostly cotton, but switching over to rice as I moved south (Arkansas produces more rice than any other state).  The unfarmed land is mostly swamp or bayou -- and given that it rained all day, standing water was everywhere.

In my hundred plus miles, I passed through two towns, Hughes (pop. 1400) and Marianna (pop. 4100)  Both have lost nearly 40% of their population in the last 20 years -- abandoned storefronts and burnt out homes everywhere.  I did enjoy a wonderful pulled pork sandwich at the 313 Blues Cafe in Hughes for lunch.  And enjoyed seeing a racially diverse clientele that socialized like they were part of a common community.  Which, of course, they are.

My highlight of the day -- I rolled through a farm village and saw two boys cross the road in front of me and run thigh deep into the swollen rice paddy across the street.  They were roughly ten, one white, one black, obviously best friends, taking advantage of what the rains had created.  I wanted to take a picture but didn't want to cause a scene.  Joyous and delightful.

My day ended in Helena (pop. 12,000) -- the biggest town for a hundred miles up and down the river.  Helena was a center of the blues scene, Elvis played here four times before he hit it big.  The Union won a decisive battle here during the Vicksburg campaign.  (I enjoyed visiting Freedom Park, which showed where the 2nd Arkansas African regiment held a key position in the battle).  But today -- it's the biggest fish in a pond that is drying up.  The decay isn't as pronounced as the smaller towns, but the trend of vacant and abandoned houses and storefronts is evident.

In Helena, median household income is $19 thousand.  41% of the population is below the poverty line.  This theme goes back to East St. Louis -- the combination of having (inevitably) the "best and brightest" move away combined with loss of critical mass for retail and education services -- death spiral that once begun, doesn't end.  Whose problem is this?  IDK.  Maybe no one's.  I'll reflect on this over the next two days as I head into the Mississippi Delta region, where these issues are even more acute.

Had a great catfish dinner at a spot recommended by the B&B.  I was the only white person in a crowded bar.  Didn't faze me a bit -- I've gotten over my issues.

660 miles down, 220 to Vicksburg!

Previous Post
Memphis River Crossing
Arkansas Bayou
Boarded Storefronts, Hughes
Downtown Marianna
Fort Curtis, Helena
Grit Line after 100 miles in the rain
Freedom Park, Helena
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