We begin our week's adventure with a short two mile ride to the local Elks Lodge, where you'll partake of a bountiful breakfast buffet, rated best of the week by our 2015 cyclists. After breakfast, ride south to the small farming town of Matthews, where the city park will be the location of our first rest stop of the day. Immediately upon leaving the stop, you'll enter the flattest terrain you've likely seen anywhere. Farming is king here, and remember, on the road, farm equipment, which you are likely to encounter, has the right of way. Best to give it a wide berth. Shortly you'll arrive at out next rest stop. Always be sure to refill your water bottles at each stop-you don't want to run low and become dehydrated! Traversing through more farmland you'll arrive at rest stop three, located at Miller's convenience store in Parma. Here you'll have the opportunity to purchase food and drinks as well as avail yourself of the rest room facilities. You're nearly at the halfway point of today's route! Next stop is Gideon, where Casey's General Store will be available to meet your hydration, nutrition, and other needs. As you travel along the route, take a look at the variety of crops being grown. You'll see corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, rice, and others. Next up is the tiny hamlet of Peach Orchard. The Bean Cotton company is your host, and the owner, Barry Bean, is an avid racing cyclist! He's looking forward to meeting you and offering a unique lunch experience if you can't wait until you arrive in Kennett. This stop will also feature a fund-raiser for one of the local school clubs, so help them out if you can! About 7 miles further on the Friendship cotton gin will host our final water stop of the day. Our first overnight is in about 7 miles at the American Legion hall in Kennett-hometown of pop singer Sheryl Crow. There will be more "down-home" cooking, some adult beverage offerings, live music, access to a swimming pool to cool off, an informative display of some of the farm equipment you've seen today, and more.
Day 2 Monday-Kennett American Legion to Paragould, Arkansas Community Center 59 miles
After a brief detour to the Grecian Steak House for our breakfast buffet, we'll head west out of town, crossing the St. Francis River and entering Arkansas. There may be a little road work to ride around, so keep alert for any construction equipment. After about 15 miles we’ll be at our first rest/water stop for the day courtesy of the Call's Chapel Church. Seven miles further on, after passing by the courthouse square in Piggott, we’ll arrive at rest stop two, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum, operated by Arkansas State University. Here, famed writer Ernest Hemingway lived during the late 1920’s with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer, whose family had moved to Piggott in the early 1900’s. Hemingway wrote several short stories as well as portions of his novel “A Farewell to Arms” in a converted barn/studio. During rest stop hours, RTFL cyclists will be able to tour the home/museum.
Also available for tours, the adjacent Karl & Matilda Pfeiffer Museum exhibits a large collection of minerals and was a location for the 1957 Elia Kazan movie, “A Face in the Crowd”, featuring actors Lee Remick, Patricia Neal and Andy Griffith in his first dramatic role. The movie premiered in Piggott in May 1957.
Leaving Piggott the route follows U.S. highway 49 south, reaching the community of Rector which will host our third stop of the day. Grab a snack or two, refill your bottles and then continue south and west to Marmaduke, where the local Quik-Stop is your mid-route meal opportunity. Leaving Marmaduke and pedaling south, be conscious of potentially heavy traffic the next five miles. Before long, the day's final rest stop will be found at the St. Francis water district building east of Paragould. Shortly thereafter, you'll reach the Paragould Community Center, our destination for tonight.
The most populous of all the communities on our tour, Paragould has graciously extended us the use of their wonderful community recreation center building and grounds. Here riders will have access to both indoor and outdoor pools, showers, and the gym for sleeping, as well as a shuttle to take you to the Crowley’s Ridge State Park, which offers swimming, kayaking, and pedal boats, among other attractions. A wine/beer patio in the afternoon/evening, featuring live music, is courtesy of "Skinny J's" restaurant downtown. The Chamber of Commerce is offering tours of the historic Greene County Courthouse as well as local agricultural operations. An extensive choice of local restaurants for dinner round out your visit to the Greene county seat.
Day 3 Tuesday-Paragould Community Center to Kennett, Missouri 60 miles
After your hearty breakfast served by the local Kiwanis Club, we have a moderate length trip on tap for today, but any wind should be at your back as we ride due east! About seven miles into the route, you’ll pass by the vintage George Ray Dragstrip. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is the oldest continuously operating dragstrip in the U.S., having hosted its first race in 1961.
Our first rest/water stop will be at the Christ United Methodist Church on the east edge of Paragould. Soon after that, riders will pass by a convenience store just after crossing back into Missouri. From there, our next point of interest and water stop will be the Arbyrd location of Black Gold Farms, producer of potatoes! Have some snacks, get your water bottle filled, and take a
Passing Hornersville, we press onward and about four miles north, cross over a closely spaced series of five drainage canals. These are the “floodway ditches”, a key component of the drainage system that, just about 100 years ago, turned the vast area of land you are riding through from an unusable swamp into some of the most productive farmland on earth. It also made possible the very flat routes you are riding on the first days of this tour.
Day 4 Wednesday-Kennett American Legion to New Madrid, Missouri elementary school 57 miles
A final visit to the breakfast buffet at the Grecian, then you're off on your way back north to the namesake community of our tour, New Madrid. Bean Cotton Company will serve as our first rest stop, with others at Casey's in Gideon, Miller's in Parma, and a final option at Casey's in Lilbourn. Along the way, put your new-found knowledge of farming techniques and equipment to use as you ride past the seemingly endless fields of crops. Our overnight destination is the New Madrid elementary school. While in New Madrid, be sure to bike or shuttle downtown and experience the earthquake history museum, the Higgerson one room schoolhouse, the adult beverage opportunity with views from the Mississippi River observation deck, and more! Your included meal this evening will be a spaghetti dinner prepared by the Methodist Men's group.
Day 5 Thursday-New Madrid elementary to Hickman, Kentucky Fulton County High School 58 miles
Leaving the elementary school, we'll ride past the Hunter-Dawson civil war era mansion and then travel along the top of the river levee for several miles. You'll get a commanding view of the area, and time to think about what you would have seen here some 100 years ago before the river was harnessed, the trees all harvested, and the swamps converted into farmland. Our first rest stop of the day will be at the Wallace Farm headquarters. This facility was completely rebuilt after the great floods of 2011, when the original structures were inundated by water more than 10 feet deep. We'll depart the rest stop headed for our first encounter with a river ferry crossing! Upon reaching the river, you can bide your time at rest stop two while awaiting the arrival of the ferry to take you across the river. Arriving on the eastern shore, you'll head south across the river flood plain of far west Kentucky, stopping at the Midway Baptist Church for hydration and nutrition. Next you'll cross the state line into Tennessee for a quick loop around the Volunteer state. A final rest stop awaits once you return to Kentucky and arrive at the Fulton County High School east of Hickman, your home for the next two nights. Your evening meals here will be catered by Hub's restaurant. During your stay in Hickman, you'll also be able to tour the historic courthouse, including a trip all the way to the top to see the still functional 112 year old Seth Thomas clock. A visit to Kentucky Kernel Pecans is capped off with your being able to personally vacuum pack your own souvenir can of "munchin' pecans". Adult beverages will be offered each afternoon in the air conditioned confines of Hub's Restaurant, while for those with a sweet tooth, a local family offers a tour of their period home capped off with a sampling of homemade cakes! Don't eat or imbibe too much, though, as on Friday you have your choice of three fascinating routes to explore.......
Day 6 Friday-option 1-Union City Discovery Park loop 34 miles
Travel a short 16 miles over some gently rolling hills to the brand-new Discovery Park in Union City. Spend several hours exploring the exhibits on history, science, and technology. Experience a simulation of the 1811-12 earthquakes from which our tour takes its name. Immerse yourself in the underwater aquatic life of Reelfoot Lake at the aquarium. Have lunch at the on-site restaurant. Stop in at the "Libation Station" if you're in the mood. Return to Hickman in time for the evening activities there.
Day 6 Friday-option 2-Reelfoot Lake State Park loop 61 miles
The longest of our 3 choices for the day, this 61 mile loop will take you past the Civil War "Battle of Island #10" marker, then around the entire periphery of Reelfoot Lake. You'll be able to stop in at the visitor center, browse the exhibits on the great earthquakes and area wildlife, and if you wish, take an eagle-watching boat tour with a park naturalist. Ample choices for lunch along the route. Blue Bank restaurant and the Boathouse in Samburg both offer outdoor dining. Return to Hickman through the Samburg rest stop.
Day 6 Friday-option 3-Columbus-Belmont State Park loop 51 miles
An "out and back" route northward to one of Kentucky's most popular state historic sites, location of one of the earliest Civil War battles. Nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the West" for its location on the river bluffs, you'll be able to tour a museum, see trenches where the troops took cover, and examine many more artifacts. Check out a spectacular view of the Mississippi River showing the strategic significance of the site. For lunch, there is a snack bar in the park, or a restaurant on the route in the nearby hamlet of Columbus. This route has the steepest hills of the three choices offered, mostly clustered right at the entrance to the park. Retrace the outbound route to return to Hickman for the night's activities.
Day 7 Saturday-Fulton County High School to YMCA of Sikeston 63 miles
We start Saturday off with a short trip of about four miles to the eastern landing of the Dorena-Hickman riverboat ferry. About halfway there we'll stop off at the West Hickman Baptist Church for breakfast. Over 50 years ago, prior to the construction of the I-155 bridge at Caruthersville, there were as many as five or six ferries operating at various points along this stretch of the river. Now this is the only one that remains. The ferry can safely carry 100 cyclists per trip. So as you can see it will require multiple trips to get all our riders and vehicles across. Each round trip takes about 35-40 minutes.
Upon landing back in Missouri, the route will take you by the Big Oak Tree state park. The park is home to many large trees, some record holders. This will be the first water/rest stop of the morning. From Big Oak Tree, the route travels along portions of the Mississippi River Trail past the community of East Prairie, pausing in the village of Anniston for our next water/snack break. We'll continue north towards Charleston, home to our ride’s most impressive collection of historic homes, and site of our third rest stop of the day. Leaving Charleston, we traverse more farmland until we have our final rest stop at the Air Evac Lifeteam air ambulance