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I started the trek earlier in the morning than in past years. I also was going alone, what with the wife keeping our grandchild that day. After giving assurances to be careful, I loaded the ice chest into the truck and set off.

It isn't a long trip, only two and a half hours each way. I had the radio on, as usual, but after passing through Fayetteville and then Sonora, I turned it off. I wanted to focus on the surroundings of the drive, not on music I knew by heart. After all the stress of the past year, it was good to have thoughts flowing free.

All the leaves were brown -- no California dreaming here -- and had fallen from the trees that nursed them since Spring. Traffic on 412 East wasn't bad, but I knew I'd eventually encounter the slow drivers. I urged my inner self to be patient, to observe the goings-on beyond the highway. Passed over Glade Creek, then by Hilltop Flea Market. I would pass many other flea markets, collectibles, and antique shops on the way. I felt no urge to stop and check them out, though.

I cross the War Eagle Creek bridge, the road reduced to two lanes. Luckily, the road department wisely installed periodic passing lane areas. If one's timing is good, slower traffic won't be a problem. Instead of nicer homes and newer businesses, the roadside buildings become older. Many obviously require repair, others appear outright abandoned. I wondered why they are kept. Perhaps someone believes they still have value.

A black cat sits atop a large round bale in the middle of a pasture, surveying its domain. Old pontoon and fishing boats are stored by old barns in various states of disorder. Why weren't they sold off before they became junk?

I cross Big Onion Creek heading into Marble in Madison County, population 473. Ironically, Petersen Granite & Marble, a third-generation stone fabrication business, sits at the edge of town as I head toward Kings River Country store to take a break. I guess the town was named for the nearby quarries. Petersen's store seems to be doing well.

Who named all the creeks I pass? Big Onion, Dry Fork, North Fork of Dry Fork, Osage Creek and Kings River must all have stories behind their naming. I make a note to do some research for future articles. I pass a cemetery called Gobbler, next to a church of the same name. I've stopped there on past trips. Many don't realize that the area is actually an unincorporated community known as Gobbler. It was established sometime in the 1800s by Alexander Wilson when he moved from Tennessee. He provided land for the church, school, and cemetery. He and many of his family are buried there. Not much else is left of the community.

The drive continues on to Alpena, home of The Ragbarn and Top Rock Diner. One of these days I need to stop and eat there; the reviews are good.

From here it's just a short drive to Harrison, a town with a tractor dealership seemingly on every corner. I notice a new billboard stating, "Black Lives Matter." A couple of miles down the road there is another hyping WhitePrideRadio.com. I never stop in Harrison.

From here I turn onto Highway 65 where road work is a never-ending endeavor. The small towns of Valley Springs, Western Grove, and Pindall go by. Seems like lumber and pallet manufacturing are the primary businesses. Pindall is a sad-looking little town of around 120 people. It was named for Governor Xenophon Overton Pindall who helped create the Ozark National Forest.

The next town of note is St. Joe. If you are a railroad buff, you should stop and visit the St. Joe Depot. This was a stop on the Missouri and North Arkansas Railway in the early 1900s, which was considered one of the most scenic railroad lines in the Midwest. The line was important economically for exporting lumber and minerals. The railway closed in 1946 but the building is on the Historical Register.

But this little town is not my final destination, so I continue on until I see Craw Billy's Seafood Boil and BBQ and Fergusons Country Store. Make a right turn and you come to Coursey's Smoked Meats. If you had your window down, you could smell the smoke from their building a mile away. Enter the store and the sweet smell of smoked ham, turkey and sausage makes your mouth water. I had a sandwich here twenty years ago on a Buffalo River float trip and have patronized the business ever since. I ship the bacon to select customers as Christmas presents, so this trip is an annual event. The folks there are friendly and patient. I'm always impressed with the huge pile of bacon behind the counter waiting to be wrapped. I get twenty pounds of it plus three hams and a 2-foot long stick of summer sausage. Because of covid, they couldn't serve the sandwiches we usually get for lunch, but I will be eating plenty of ham and bacon for the next few weeks.

The trip home was uneventful. We all sampled the ham and sausage, doled out portions of bacon to be frozen and gifted, and exulted in the smoky aromas. I should make this trip more than just once a year.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] gmail.com . Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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