Saturday, December 3, 2016

ar-kən-saw



A stone hiker, an effigy not realized until very late in the trip but with us the entire time. Put your pack down and get prepared to read the slog that was our Arkansas Mountain Biking tour.

Late fall, winter is coming, wanderlust of what could have been before we got rained out in spring. Some high talk about a short run to Arkansas for a long weekend of mountain biking to see what we missed in spring triggers a last minute 4 day.

That's a lot of fractured speech so lets set the stage. Buddy Blake and I feel end of summer like everyone else in Minnesota. We have a pattern of road tripping on the shoulder seasons to bike ride and catch up on the season we missed. This fall was just like every other but we were supposed to go to Arkansas in spring and get some early dirt but it rained. It rained for days. It flooded! We ran to South Dakota and had a blast but we longed for Arkansas dirt. We want the IMBA Womble Epic so we resolve and put our stone packs on and head out.

It's an easy drive south on 35 about 10 hours to hit North West Arkansas or the NWA. Leave after work; drive till twelve, sleep road side and we are in NWA by 11am Friday!


Fayetteville! This place is awesome. IMBA is coming, Riding is fantastic but a lot of trails are seeing maintenance and cause some issues but today its all fun and sun.



Local wisdom (aka Beta) is found at trailheads and local bike shops. They say, "Fayetteville is the best, you can ride here all weekend!" We believe it but at the same time we have a goal to ride the Womble trail a few hours south. Fayetteville was 'first dirt'. We grim up and head south to take our turn on the IMBA Womble. Our reason, it's labeled IMBA EPIC and the locals are poisoned.

Right: Ozark Mountains, more on that later.

The trailhead is easy to find but I've seen better maps. We had to ride around a bit to get a feel and get our heads into the map.
 The WOMBLE! Bamb, mission accomplished. Put down 2 hours of trail. It was, um, ok.




Womble trail is 35 miles one way, so to ride the entire trail means a repeat return of a road ride so we knew we'd do an out and back but when we turned was up to the Womble.
We bail out, road ride it back and drive to the other end to save time and get the most of a single 35 mile long trail that so far is average or less. We attempted to ride north of the parking lot we started at but it dead ends at a lake in the woods and as such sees almost no traffic, is overgrown and awful. The other end's trailhead is in need of some care taking but they no longer require fees and registrations. It's heavily used but it's a slog climb for miles. Grade is hard to hike-a-bike and the penalty of error is going over a huge cliff (100+ ft to river) or pinging off and down an Ozark Mountain!

 Exhibit A: Hike-a-Bike
  Exhibit B: Cliff 8 feet left of trail, river -100 feet. Ping a tree, take a dive and you're a bird for 2.45s
  Ex C: Bike-skid-a-palooza. Go left and you butt ski until a moonshiner asks you What-U-Want?
What passes for a summit view in the Ozarks. We've had enough and turn around. We want to go to a new trail in Upper Buffalo Gap.

This is not good! We are trying to find a trailhead but Google/Trail/all info we have sends us into the wrong Buffalo forest and we get locked in! We drive off the main road no more than 15 minutes, realize our error, turn a 30 foot rig on a 15 foot road and on our exit find that the gate we just passed is closed! Call the local cops,... Lots of Yankee pleas ... and a very helpful officer arrives with keys about 2 hours later to let us out. I'm sorry I don't tell a better story but its beyond legendary to be captured in Arkansas backcountry at night and have nary a bar on your cell to call the cops. 
We escape and lead foot it north to the proper Buffalo Gap some 90 miles away. My advice, if you see an orange gate and it may not be US Forest Service, its a trap.

After all the gravel roads we arrive at the real trailhead with a bumper full of dusty bikes and we are stoked to ride. Elevation is huge and we expect great things from this trail.


 Starting out the trail is long glide down a few hundred feet into a flat pan, full of boring trails and spider webs that are thick and coat your face until you have to stop and clear them. It's like a tick check only with spiders that may be very poisonous. It sucks a little but we press on hoping for a gem of a trail to make it worth eating spiders. 

 So, those spiders we talked about ....


 The trail has it's high points but if you remove the 2 or 3 we found you don't have a trail. It's no joy.
Ten years ago when this is all they had it probably was worth a weekend drive to ride the Womble, and adjacent trails now days.... Blake and I get it. Fayetteville rules the NWA. We press on.


Up the road an hour we find the next trail head with miles of dirt single track. Below is the best thing that happened!
The Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame are from AK and long ago on a family trip Sam Walton needed a place to stay while on the road with his family and said to his wife that if he ever made it big he would let travelers say in his parking lot. Well he did and today Wal-Mart's across the country let RV's park overnight in their lots because of Sam. I can't say much about Wal-Mart but I like Sam's hospitality. Blake and I hole up 3 separate times because we get to town late and have no place to stay.
The next trail that morning is a deeply nested set of loop trail. We drive to the trailhead and after 30 minutes of biking up hill and around the area we find a sign that said the park is closed and we must enter from the other side of the mountain. An hour later we find the trail, enter and again bike uphill and around until we find miles of disappointing trail. I crash, almost dislocate a finger and we limp back to the camper after a few hours of mediocre trail.



 Next up is the highly rated terrain park called the Railyard. All indications were that this place would be so fun as to save the trip.
 Ride up the hill and see this! Wow! We are stoked and it's not busy. Time to learn how to pull air.



Well, that explains why nobody is at the park at 10am on a Sunday. Freaking thing is closed. We find a local and ask about our bad timing. He says, I've been here 3 times in the last 6 months and it's never been open. Chains in the trail prevent poaching anything. We ride back disappointed, again.
It's the last day so we trim a few hours off our trip and drive home. Many hours of driving leaves us to sleep roadside for the last time. The morning yields a cool fog about as exciting as our trip.
We didn't have a bad time but we had to work really hard to keep spirits up. Trails were ok but in hind sight we could have stayed in Fayetteville. We may not have had a better time but it would have been a lot easier and we could have avoided a lot of headaches and one not so happy policeman.