Bentonville, Arkansas, 6th October 2016
Business travel can be a chore, but it becomes significantly more interesting when one’s destination is new. Not only had I never been to Arkansas before, I’d never ventured into the southern US states either. I must confess, our destination of Bentonville, Arkansas was a complete surprise. I’m not really sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t a hipster cafe society vibe – complete with uber-trendy coffee shops and art galleries. It was easy to forget we’d actually swapped from our regular venue in Sausalito, California. But this was not just Arkansas, it was “North West Arkansas” – a subtle but important difference which we were reminded of more than once.
The reason for the altered venue was originally, of course, cycling. My firm’s office in Arkansas (sorry, North West Arkansas) just happened to be drive-ably close to the finish line of the Natchez Trace 444 race which I had been entered to ride. Sadly that plan went over the handlebars with my Argus crash back in March, so here we were just for the business end of the trip. A couple of us had packed cycling gear, but the meeting schedules were always going to be on the tight side for any kind of worthwhile ride. Reports we’d heard of local trails certainly weren’t exaggerated though (albeit only just on the rolling side of dead flat). Long, smoothly surfaced cycling and walking trails fanned out in several directions from our delightfully appointed, and really rather swish hotel-cum art bonanza – 21c Museum Hotel.
So persistent was the jet-lag from the 30 hours of traveling that not once did I sleep past 3:30am. And whilst the cycle shoes may not have left my suitcase, the running shoes I had tossed in as a fallback went out not once but twice. OK, neither were especially long or fast efforts, but they were nevertheless rather pleasant. The dark, cool air of the pre-dawn outings were a wonderful chance to unwind. On the first of these I ran down the woodland trails to the Crystal Bridges Art Gallery. Having forgotten to pack a head-torch, I stuck to paths lit by streetlamps. Even so, I nearly shat myself twice in less than half an hour. The first fright coming courtesy of a possom suddenly jumping out of a pile of leaves beside the trail. And the second came on rounding a corner to be greeted by a pair of ghostly white figures on a park bench. I’m guessing whoever decided on this art installation hadn’t foreseen the potential to scare the living shit out of a somewhat hungover, slightly lost foreigner, who was out jogging before dawn in totally unfamiliar surroundings. Or maybe they had – in which case, it was a joke well played. I guess that could even be called Art!
My second morning run explored a slightly more mundane network of surface streets, but ended in much the same way as the first (if a little sooner). Being a cyclist at heart, I am completely unable to pass by an open coffee shop, especially when it’s been recommended to me. I had been directed towards possibly the slickest coffee bar I’d ever seen. The minimalist, spotlessly clean bar was punctuated by a dazzling array of built-in coffee machine spouts, each brewing a variety of excellent blends and styles. In my colleague Andrew’s words “it was like the iStore of coffee shops” – except in this case, they were selling something which actually interested and excited me.
I’m also rather proud to say that the other two mornings on which I woke up unfathomably early weren’t wasted either. I used the time productively to invent nude-yoga. Sadly, Yoli tells me that someone had beaten me to it and this wasn’t actually an original thing. But, when the objective is to stretch muscles unaccustomed to running, and you’re alone in a hotel room, there doesn’t seem much logic in hampering the process by getting dressed! Too much information? Probably. Sorry.
I must have done literally hundreds of work trips down the years, but this one had more than a few memorable moments. Running may not be my bag, but it doesn’t suck either. Especially when at the end of it you find yourself in a delightful little town square sporting an iCoffee Store.