Thursday, January 3, 2019

You Can Do It In the Rain-Alternatives

Happy New Year! 
A positive thought that is often followed by grumbling from Arkansas cyclists, especially when the weather forecast looks something like this:

Darkness comes early and winter temperatures are a deal killer for a lot of riders. Add a cold rain and most of us just ain't gonna get on the bike. Bummer.
Many folks find satisfactory respite by droning away on their trainer or by joining a popular local spin class, where they can at least enjoy some company. That just doesn't do it for me. While I value the fitness that comes from hours on the bike, the real draw for me is being outside and the satisfaction of self-propelled motion.

Alternative Plans- Take A Hike, Climb a Mountain, Play In A Boat. 
The good news for those of us here in central Arkansas is that there are many things to do that don't require anything more than a pair of hiking shoes or boots, some decent outdoor clothing, and some direction. Most riders have a good collection of synthetic base layers, which is a good start.

Last summer, I was looking for ways to meet some new people and get out of that old rut in which  that many of us find comfort. I had enjoyed a lot of walking the trails at Camp Robinson while rehabbing from shoulder surgery and Cassie Wells of the Little Hikers Meetup group did a little presentation at a CATA meeting. I joined them for a couple of hikes up around the Buffalo River and I was reminded of the many wonders found just off the road. There is a reason that Arkansas was known as the Wonder State from 1923-1953.

Winter is the best time to hike in Arkansas for the same reasons many of us consider it the best time to mountain bike; the snakes, chiggers and ticks are gone, terrain is more visible with the leaves off the trees, and creeks and waterfalls flow.

Some places are surprisingly easy to get to. Petit Jean State Park is an hour away and offers a range of easy to medium difficulty hikes. The Heber Springs area offers several quality, easy-to-get-to destinations. Both are about an hour of easy driving from Little Rock and the Heber Springs sites are only ten minutes from my home on the Little Red.

Cedar Falls at Petit Jean. The hike is about 2 miles round trip. 

Bridal Veil Falls at Heber Springs is about 1/2 mile off of Highway 5. The viewing platform is just about 50 yards from parking, but there are trails and another waterfall in the small canyon area. Mountain at Heber Springs is a short, fairly steep hike followed by a little chimney climb to reach the top, and the views are  outstanding.

The Ozarks

The Buffalo National River features many popular trails. While often crowded in the spring and fall, winter allows you to enjoy the beauty without feeling like you're on a bus tour. You can be at Ponca in about 2-1/2 hours from Little Rock. 

 Some Buffalo River trails are overwhelmed during the peak seasons. Winter is a great time to enjoy them. 

My New Year's Holiday Weekend-No Ride But Plenty Of Outdoors At Richland
Many Central Arkansas cyclists have become familiar with Witts Springs and the Richland Creek Wilderness through their participation in the Pinnacle Rocks 40 and Lick Fork Gravel Grind. Two hours away from Little Rock, the area is rich in natural beauty, and it is where I spent most of the New Year holiday boating and hiking. As a wilderness area, there are no developed marked trails, but the most popular of many horse trails are easy to follow. If you are not following a creek or a clear trail, a GPS is a good idea. Cell service is scant. Camping is primitive but pleasant, though I took advantage of the offer of a friend's remote cabin. The outhouse was chilly, but the wood stove and satellite dish provided warmth and Netflix. 

Richland Creek boating
OK, winter whitewater boating isn't accessible for everyone, given the required skill level and specialized gear, but it is part of my lifestyle. Rain, especially in winter, means the creeks are up. Friday was cold and sunny. New Year's Day was just cold, but Richland has magic in the foggy drizzle of these days. When I envision the river it is always a scene of mist and waterfalls.
 Low winter sun is still better than no sun at all.

 The high falls above Richland Falls are in the background. I'm guessing it drops over 100' before cascading into the creek. It's just one of many waterfalls in the area. 
Richland Falls

Steep creeks drop fast  but more rain over the weekend meant a return to Richland on New Year's Day. 34 degrees, foggy, and a great day on the river. 

In between boating days, I struck out with adventure dogs Willie and Ivy to find some waterfalls. Tim Ernst has helped make this a popular activity among hikers with his Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook. I had these on my list before I recently bought Tim's book. Now I have about 200 more falls to seek out. 

 Lower Horsetail Falls requires about a 2-mile RT hike and some medium bushwhacking. Well worth it. 
Upper Horsetail Falls and my trail team.

 In winter, I always carry a headlamp, an extra layer of clothing, and a way to make a fire. Clothes go on and off with stops and climbs and the rest is insurance against the unforeseen. 
Falling Water Falls is a roadside attraction. 

All of the places mentioned here can be done in day trips from Little Rock, and they are just a handful of the hundreds of similar possible destinations available to us. There are several Meetup Groups in the area if you are interested in trying something new and enjoy starting out with some more experienced folks. Download the app and search by area and interest. 
Another very good hiking site/ app is Alltrails. It is also free in its basic form and you can find hikes for every area. It provides detailed directions, along with reviews, photos, and insight from folks who have hiked the trails. 

Don't let the crappy riding weather lock you in the house. Relief can be as simple as lacing up your boots and heading out the door. 

TBT: December 2012 Super-Prestige Cyclocross

Fortunately, it was more muddy than cold for this traditionally cold and muddy event.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cyclocross: 2012 Arkansas Super-Prestige

Cyclocross is a wintertime cycling sport that is closely associated with cold, mud, beer, cowbells, and rowdy crowds. 'Cross is growing in popularity in Arkansas and this season's race series culminated with the Super-Prestige championship races at Burns Park. The promised rains fell Saturday night, but Sunday was rain free, cloudy and still unseasonably warm, making for perfectly atrocious course conditions that delivered a full dose of mud but none of the cold that we might of expected.
You can find results here, and I will not attempt to provide a narrative of the racing except to say that it was damn fun to watch and the open class was decided at the finish line as Seth Rider of Germantown, TN, threw up his arms to celebrate victory just in time to be pipped by Gerald Drummond of Springdale. Hell, yeah, that's racing!

Staying close. The leaders fought it out until the dramatic finish.As you can see, conditions were textbook cyclocross other than the balmy temperatures.
Lakefront race village.
Yes, there was a little mud on the course. Above, participants from the earlier races were embracing conditions as they rinsed the top few layers of grime off of bikes and bodies.
Those with the skills hopped these uphill barriers.
Maintaining speed and bike control was a challenge and many riders resigned themselves to running this section and others.
Thank goodness for warm weather.
There were many small rewards for riders. Addie Teo was handing out dollar bills to riders coming out of the pit, though I think she suffered from a few bites.
Yes, cyclocross riders are a thoughtful and rational bunch.
There seemed to be no good line in axle deep creek flowing across the course, but it was a wide place and tempted racers to pass. Few riders successfully stayed mounted and most just ran for it!
Chad Cragle redefines the line. The few riders who stayed mounted here late in the race did so by hugging the ribbons and staying out of the deepest mud.
Cowbells clanged and the crowd shouted words of encouragement as local favorite Zack LaVergne gracefully loped by with his shouldered bike. No, Zack, I don't know who yelled, "You run like a girl.", but it made you look!
CHAD CRAGLE! I'm not sure what the top finisher won, but Chad was a big winner in the sock prime category, coming away with three pair. I'm thinking he probably threw away the ones he raced in.
This kind of racing makes for great photos, and I took a couple of hundred in 45 minutes or so, but this is all that I have the energy to write captions for! This race drew a good crowd, but more is always better. Keep an eye out for 'cross races near you and I'll try to keep you posted here.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

NLR Parks MTB Project Updates

Jeff Caplinger , NLR Parks and Rec Projects Director, recently sent out a short update on the mountain bike projects underway at Burns Park, the centerpiece of which will ultimately be the Big Rock Bike Park.

From Jeff:
Phase One is underway:

-          The new trail north of the Tennis Center has been flagged.  CATA will be clearing a corridor later this month and will schedule a work day in January* to try to finish it out so it can be open for riders in February.  Date to be announced by CATA.
-          The downhill portion of the green trail leading toward Arlene Laman Drive is complete.  The new section that will parallel Arlene Laman Drive has been flagged.

I was only superficially familiar with the woods north of the tennis center so I decided to walk the area and follow the flagging. The new trail will start at the Hospitality House and parallel the road for about 3/4 mile to a point near the softball fields to the west. 

The trailhead at the Hospitality House
 The trail runs along a fairly level line paralleling the adjacent road and a ridge
 The hill visible in the background is the site of the Overlook Pavilion. There are also plans for trail development in that area. 

 The new trail is on the shoulder of a ridge which is topped by a remarkably clear old road bed. There is also potential for more trails on the north side of the ridge, making for a nice little complex of a few miles, easily linked to many more nearby. 
 The road is visible from the trail for most of the way, at least in winter. 

End of the line. It is just a short hop from here to the Boy Scout trailhead across the I-30 overpass and the existing red and green trails. 

* The work day has been set for noon, January 20, meeting at the Burns Bark Hospitality House. 

I did not go over to check out the work on the downhill section of the green trail but will do so soon. 

Phase Two:
-          Architect has finished new renderings for pavilion and will have an estimated cost later this week.
-          Engineering cost estimate to come next week.

The pavilion mentioned would be the main building at the Big Rock complex. The first pass was had a modern look and I think it was thrown out there to elicit feedback from the committee. The consensus was that the buildings should be consistent with the rustic look of the existing Burns Park pavilions with a nod to the industrial vibe of the old quarry structures. It will be interesting to see how that has evolved. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice: Longer Days Start Now, But In The Meantime...

I always welcome the winter solstice, as it is the tipping point at which the ever shorter days of fall make their turn and begin to share more sunshine each day until June. At first the longer days are barely noticeable, with daylight hours increasing by less than a minute each day. By the end of January, the increase is 2 minutes per day, and then daylight savings time returns on March 10, opening up the after-work ride opportunities for the gainfully employed.

Time marches on and those days will be here soon enough. In the meantime, there are many folks who don't like to ride in the dark or the cold, and who find the prospect of trainer time and spin classes to be downright depressing.

Some changes in my cycling life
I'll confess that after quite a few years of compulsive year 'round riding, I've lost a bit of that drive. Even though I've retired and have much more available time, some extended time off the bike due to injury, a return to some previous passions, and the development of new interests have all added up to mean less riding for me. Of course, less riding has also meant less fitness and different kinds of rides than the big miles and hammer fests I so enjoyed. I've got mixed emotions about my more balanced life, but it has its rewards.

As a longtime kayaker, I'm no longer torn between missing a Saturday ride and going to the creek. If it rains in the right places, I'm back to loading boats. There are a lot more days available for riding than for boating.

Fall and winter mean good boating in Arkansas. Richland Creek. 

I'm getting more pleasure from my river house because I'm not anxious about missing a day on the bike. I'm cultivating mushrooms, fishing more, reading more, and learning more.

Probably my biggest revelation has been a love of hiking. When I was injured and recuperating from shoulder surgery last year, I took to walking the trails at Camp Robinson and elsewhere. The miles rolled by and I really enjoyed seeing the woods at a walking pace. That led me to start exploring some park trails and then some wilderness areas.

Take a Hike

Now is one of the best times of the year to hike in Arkansas. The color of fall is long past, but with the leaves off of the trees, the woods are open and many hidden features are revealed. Water flows more freely so our many waterfalls and creeks show their stuff. Here are a few places I've visited in recent months.

Camp Robinson, Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Burns Park, Allsopp Park

You could add any number of other local parks to this list, but I know that these have miles of good trail. A couple of hours covering 5-6 miles on foot is always a rewarding experience and can be done in any weather with a minimum of equipment--good shoes and weather-appropriate clothing. Having a dog or two along adds a lot to just about any adventure.
Burns and Emerald Parks in NLR offer good local hiking options.

Pinnacle Mountain Base Trail with Little Rock Hikers Meetup Group

Petit Jean State Park

I had not hiked the trails of Petit Jean S.P. since childhood until one rainy day this fall. I decided it would be a good day to hike to Cedar Falls and I was rewarded for my small effort.
Cedar Falls. Petit Jean is an hour away and offers a number of trails. 

Buffalo National River

I first floated the Buffalo River in the 70s as a poor student (both financially and in terms of academic interest) at the U of A in Fayetteville. We floated from Ponca to Pruitt, freezing our asses off at night and finishing our overnight trip famished as we didn't take nearly enough food. It could have been a miserable experience but it cemented my lifelong love of rivers. 
One of the memories that stood out was the sight of hikers 300 feet above the river on the narrow ledge of the Goat Trail at Big Bluff. I wanted to be up there. I made it this fall, twice in fact, several decades after that first sight. 
The Goat Trail

Whitaker Point/ Hawksbill Crag
There are many great hikes around the Buffalo. The problem in spring and fall is that there are so many people that the majesty of nature is overwhelmed by the masses, especially in the Ponca area. Hikes like Big Bluff, Hemmed-In-Hollow, and Whitaker Point get so crowded that traffic control is a problem. A winter trip avoids the crowds, along with the chiggers and ticks. Make a weekend plan or get an early start on a day trip to enjoy the Buffalo River country in the winter. 

More and more....
Some other very cool established hikes are available at Pedestal Rocks, DeGray State Park, etc. If you are a little more adventurous and want to get of the more heavily used trails, The Richland Creek Wilderness, the Buffalo River Trail, and sections of the Ozarks Highland Trails, etc, offer great day trips with a little planning. 

Kings Bluff and Caves at Pedestal Rocks

As is often the case, I bit off more than I can write about here, so I will stop now and end with the suggestion that you take a hike over the holidays. I'll be surprised if one hike doesn't lead to another. There are more amazing places to see in Arkansas than any of us are likely to cover in a lifetime.

I always felt that as a kayaker I was seeing places inaccessible to anyone not in a boat. I also realize now that there were wondrous things just beyond the tree line that can only be seen from a good pair of hiking shoes. 

A good tool for finding trails nearby is the Alltrails App. You'll find concise directions, reviews, photos, and detailed descriptions to help to pick your next adventure. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

You Have An Urgent Call: Take This 10-Minute Survey

There is significant momentum for the development of more bike/pedestrian infrastructure in central Arkansas. The entities, governmental and others, need information from potential users and the users of current facilities in order to shape their proposals and determine the level of community support for such.


The City of Morrilton, the head ranger at Petit Jean, Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, Metroplan, a couple local cyclists, and the Department of Geography at UCA are the organizers.  UCA is running the survey.

It took me right at 10-minutes to complete the survey. It needs to be completed by the end of the month. Please feel free to share it within your contacts, as more participation is a positive thing.

Follow this  link to the survey.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Southwest Trail Update

There are many trail projects at some stage of development in the State of Arkansas, but perhaps none have more potential than the proposed Southwest Trail. The trail will connect the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site with Hot Springs National Park, and will appeal to hikers, cyclists, birders, and just about anyone who enjoys the outdoors. The preliminary engineering and environmental study began in April of 2018 and should be complete by fall of 2019. It was funded by the three counties involved and by a federal transportation grant . The contract for the study was awarded to Garver, the North Little Rock based regional engineering firm.

Last week, public information meetings were held in each of the three counties through which the Southwest Trail will pass, Garland, Saline, and Pulaski. The purpose of the meetings was to inform the public of the proposed route, along with alternatives, and to seek comments and concerns from those along the routes. The meetings were each held from 4:00 to 7:00PM and were of an open house style. There was a 5-minute PowerPoint presentation that gave a broad overview of project, and large scale photographic maps were laid out on a number of tables. In addition, several members of the Garver team were on hand and available to address specific questions using laptop computers with detailed maps and more detailed information.


Dan Lysk getting a word from Lynn Bell of Metroplan. Jon Hetzel of Garver looks on as participants check out the proposed routes. 

I attended the Pulaski County meeting, which was the last of the three. I took the opportunity to speak with Jon Hetzel, communications manager for Garver, and to ask him about the feedback he had received thus far in the process. Jon stated that most of the attendees at the Garland and Pulaski County meetings were potential trail users, while the Saline County event drew a larger number of land owners concerned about the potential impact of the trail on their property. I had heard that there was some significant pushback at that meeting but Jon didn't see it that way. "People got a mailed notice of a meeting about a trail right-of-way that might cross their land so they were understandably concerned." 
The intent of the routing is to minimize negative impact on the environment and on private landowners so it will largely follow existing right-of-ways. Hetzel said most seemed satisfied when they saw the plans. Of course, there will be more direct discussions as the plans become more firm, and, as with any large scale project, funding for engineering, land acquisition, and construction will be key. This is a years long project that will have multiple phases but it got a good start when the three counties approved the initial funding for the environmental plan.  

 A Garver representative discusses the plans with the aid of large scale, detailed maps.

 I showed up as the meeting opened at 4 o'clock and there were already a number of interested people on hand.
The maps of were laid out in a linear manner and divided by county, making it easy to locate specific points. 
The maps and supporting documents are available from ARDOT

The Southwest Trail will build on out state's already impressive portfolio of cycling and trail resources. One needs only to look north to the Katy Trail in Missouri to see how a point-to-point route for cyclists and hikers can become a regional magnet for tourists. Local economies all along such route benefit as BNB's, hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other retailers grow their businesses on the influx of new visitors. The proximity to the Arkansas River Trail, the new Northwoods Mountain Bike Trail, the Iron Mountain Bike Trails at Arkadelphia, and the proposed Big Rock Bike Park in North Little Rock would make central Arkansas a destination for cyclists of many disciplines.

 This kind of growth is good for our economy, good for our image, and good for the health of the citizens of a state where 35.9% of adults are obese. For our youth to have a chance to break this cycle, we need to continue to provide more opportunities for healthy activities. My personal experience is that better nutrition follows regular exercise. Put that fast food burger down and give peas a chance. 
I don't sell anything or don't have a clue on how to collect data.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Back To Camp Robinson-Getting A New Pass, Upcoming Closures and More.

A Rite Of Fall

I'm primarily a road rider. I enjoy mountain biking mostly as a chance to get out of the cold wind in the woods and to let my trail dogs enjoy the freedom of running unfettered for miles. Camp Robinson is my preferred locale for doing that--it is just a few minutes from the house and is a perfect place for Willie and Ivy to do their thing. I also prefer to get out on the dirt after most of the snakes, ticks, and chiggers have hunkered down for the winter.

There were a few puddles after recent rains but the upper trails are hard packed and hold up well. The pups like to cool their paws when they get a chance. 

There are about 40 miles of well maintained single track in TA 2, the mountain bike area. Frequent community work days complemented by the regular efforts of folks like Basil Hicks, Jr and 3, and Scott and Sharon Saunders mean that the trails at Camp Robinson are always in top shape. 

The leaves are falling fast but there is still plenty of color and the trails are still clearly visible. 

There seems to be an annual debate as to how much leaf clearing is appropriate. I come in somewhere in the middle on this discussion. The most frequently ridden trails may benefit from some protection afforded by fallen leaves, while trails like Merlin's and Shipwreck can be rendered invisible when buried under the thick cover. I've found myself off trail on more than one occasion and rocks and roots can become hidden mines. That said, this is a quiet debate that resolves itself.

Trail Dog Training

I've been asked several times how I trained the pups to be such good trail dogs. I can't take any credit. Willie and Ivy, like their predecessors Zuli and Josie, take to the trail naturally. They go where I go, whether that be hiking or riding, and they love having the freedom to run, something I can't afford them on leash. The dogs seem to instinctively want to take the lead and I take great pleasure in being able to witness their sheer joy of running.

 Willie and Ivy always lead the way. I do my best to keep the pace and distance low on fall rides but they are not real patient. Willie is the most senior athlete and, like me, he needs more conditioning  and recovery these days. Ivy's bandana makes her more visible in the woods.

If you trust your dog to stay with you, and most will, Camp Robinson is a good place to take a well behaved dog for some mutual exercise. Keep aggressive dogs at home. 


This wet fall has created a perfect environment for mushrooms. Like many other folks, this has spurred my interest in learning more about them.
Coral mushrooms like these are everywhere at Camp. They are edible but I've refrained from trying them without some expert confirmation.

 These caught my eye due to their size-they were 9-10" across

I'm just trying to learn some basics of mushroom identification and have not eaten any wild finds. The variety of types is almost overwhelming but very interesting. 

Current Sportsman Pass Procedure
Access to Camp Robinson for riders requires a Sportsman Pass. The procedure has been slightly different each year since the system used for hunters and fishermen was made to include cyclists.
I renewed my pass yesterday and the current process is below, subject to change:

1- At the visitor center, where riders normally check in, present your driver's license, along with current auto registration and proof-of-insurance
This step is required even if you have a current pass, as they run the required new background check at this point.
You will be issued a temporary pass that confirms the background check. 

2- After entering the gate with your pass and photo ID, proceed to Building 4201, where you pay $30.00 in cash or check (no credit cards) for the annual pass and will get a receipt.  This is a new step from last year's procedure. 

3-After getting a receipt for your payment, go to the nearby HQ building where signs will direct you to the office where passes are issued. They will want to see your pass, receipt, and photo ID. They'll take your picture and issue a new pass and dashboard card. 

The process is only slightly tedious, and I would suggest allowing about 30 minutes and a little patience. 

Current hours for obtaining passes are Monday-Friday 8:00AM-3:00PM, closed from 11:00-12:00 for lunch. 

The most common hang-up is lack of current proof-of-insurance. Check your documents before heading out to avoid delays. 
This was mentioned to me by the security guard because mine had just expired and my new proof of insurance was laying on my desk at home. I had to call my agent and have it e-mailed to my phone as I waited. 

Upcoming Closure Dates
TA 2 is closed from time to time for hunting and for military operations.

 Note the closure dates shown above.

I'm looking forward to my annual re-learning-to-mountain-bike experience. I love being in the woods and I also get reacquainted with my dedicated dirt riding friends. Wednesday evenings are regular ride nights at Camp for many folks, often including a post ride social hour.