More Forest Roads

Why drive from Paris to Hot Springs in four hours when you can make it take the better part of eight? We marked the official start of this roadtrip with a detour to The Eiffel Tower — and even in the city of Paris, Texas, when I asked Google to “Navigate to the Eiffel Tower,” it still tried to find a transatlantic route before deeming my request unnavigable.

On the way out of town, we refueled. Thanks to “these [continued] unprecedented times,” that was especially painful for Evan; princess takes premium. The Ranger suggests Premium, and George is still trying to get on its good graces. Thankfully, the Xterra and I both run on sludge-grade.

He’s gonna hate me for this.

We tooled around on tiny rural highways and winding roads to make our way to Athens, Arkansas for our first stop of the day — Shady Lake.

Shady Lake is a beautiful little reservoir on the Saline River, off a tiny mountain road on the southwest edge of the Ouachita National Forest. The lake itself is only 25 acres and largely surrounded by the Shady Lake Recreation Area, originally established in 1937.

A short while later, we realized we hadn’t had our usual sticker party. The Brave Little Toaster previously held the record, so George’s sticker-o-meter has been reset.

From there, we dirt-roaded our way between passes through the heart of the forest, taking a few opportunities to break out Evan’s new drone. Not gonna lie, this thing is fun, both for a new way to see the landscape, and for the new opportunities for documenting car drama.

Unfortunately, we found a dead end and had to back out to that junction — but that would look weak in retrospect, so I reversed the video! But when George had to back himself out, he made me ride in the bed with a pair of tinsnips to cut away branches with pinstriping potential. Thankfully, I was able to push most of them away instead.

Toward the end of our journey, we linked up with the New Year’s 2020-2021 route through Mount Ida near Lake Oachita. Another half hour down the highway, we pulled into what turns out to be the “gated” community of Hot Springs Village. The entire town is encircled by entrance stations that check residents and guests. The security guy was confused when Evan radio’d George for the check-in information, and even more confused when it dawned on him that George was two cars back.

Once they sorted out an understanding and we were approved for entry, we found our mansion on the edge of the mountain. I think I might take up residence on this porch forever.