Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back on (single)Track

'Tis the season! No, not THAT season. Even though I was greeted with strains of Winter Wonderland when went into Best Buy this afternoon to replace my purloined phone headset, it's not Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas yet for me. For me, it's time to get back out on the dirt and learn how to ride my mountain bike again. My mountain biking skill development pattern reminds me very much of a conversation that I had with a boating friend many years ago as we sat in an eddy near the put-in of the Ocoee River in Tennessee. I was very seriously into my boating at the time and the Ocoee was my favorite playground, while he was expressing misgivings about his own ability. I assured him that he'd be OK, "Man, you've been boating as long as I have. You'll do fine." He said, "Yeah, but you've had five years of experience and I've had one year of experience five times." I pondered that statement and decided that it made perfect sense and was an accurate assessment. Well, now I'm that guy and my mountain bike is his kayak. I rarely ride my mountain bike in the summer and each fall I seem to start over, perhaps a little better than the fall before, but not a giant step better.
The Niner and I are still learning to get along. It is exactly the sharp handling, nimble ride I was looking for and I'm looking forward to spending some quality time on it so I can do it justice.

Camp Robinson: Getting In Is Easier Than Ever

So, I headed out to Camp Robinson Sunday to get a little dirty, explore the state of the trail system, and begin my annual learning curve. The word on current procedure at Camp Robinson is that a $10.00 sportsman's pass is required for mountain bikers. They may be obtained at the main gate Visitor Center between 9:00AM and 4:00PM Tuesday-Thursday. You will need your drivers license, car registration and proof-of-insurance and the process takes about 5-10 minutes. The upside is that these days with a sportsman's pass, you simply sign in and out. No more waiting in line or having to deal with the guard, so once you have a pass, entry is streamlined quite a bit.
Note: If it's hard for you to get by during the hours available to buy a pass, call before you make the trip! There is just one young lady who handles those duties and I have heard of folks taking time off work only to find that her hours have changed, or she is off, etc.. The main number is (501) 212-5100. Ask for the Visitor Center.

Things are surprisingly good!
Camp Robinson offers a lot of trail miles featuring a wide range of difficulty and character, from fast flowing and mostly flat to technical and steep, so there is something for every rider and mood. Many riders virtually gave up on Camp last year due to confusion over the sportsman's pass procedure, extended trail closures for logging operations and the mess that results from clear cutting, and then a period of frequent controlled burns. I stuck it out longer than most before finishing out my season riding at Burns Park and elsewhere.
I got on the bike unsure of trail conditions but expected a bit of an overgrown mess. What I found was that the trails I rode were in remarkably good shape, the piles of debris from the logging were mostly gone, and the understory was fresh and colorful in the areas that were burned off last spring.

The last time I rode this stretch of Outer Loop in the spring, it had been freshly logged and then burned, leaving a smoldering mess. Now, the trail is clear, the brush is subdued and the the trail surface is excellent.

My ride covered Yucca, what's left of 10 Bridges, Outer Loop, Airport Loop, and the newly built Turn, Turn, Turn. I'm not sure who did the trail work, though the list of usual suspects would include the two generation team of Basil and Basil Hicks or Bryan Shipman. My gratitude goes out to anyone who has done trail work around the central Arkansas. This stuff doesn't just happen! All of the trail surfaces were dry at the time and in great shape. Some stretches were already getting the usual covering of fallen leaves.

Starting near where the old Christmas Tree once stood, I headed west and ran into signage for a new trail,  Turn Turn Turn. I'm guessing that the trail was a couple of miles and, true to its name, it turns, turns, and turns, though it flows pretty well and isn't as raw as I would have thought.

Camp Robinson is a fantastic place to ride, though it has fallen from popular favor for some of the reasons mentioned above and because recent trail work has improved the Burns Park system. That's understandable, but Camp can't be beat for single-track variety, and for opportunities to improve your skills. It's just what many riders need, and what the area needs most to stay good is more riders. I can hear Buddha calling.


Bryan said...

Do they allow runners on those trails or are they only for MTBs?

JBar said...

They've never asked to see my bike and the sportsman pass also covers hunting and fishing. If somebody gets down on you for running, just tell them you're chasing squirrels! There are very few trail users and some of the tri folks combine trail runs with their rides. This isn't official by any means, but I'm sure it's OK.

andy h said...

Rode out there last week as well. I was a bit confused on 10 bridges, but found my way through. Ten bridges needs some work, but all of the other trails I rode (outer loop, port-o-potty, buddah, airport loop) are in great condition. Leaves have exploded with color it was nice. Only one other truck in the lot.