Thursday, March 27, 2014

Along The Trail: Bovines, Bathrooms and More

As usual, if you look close enough, you'll see a lot of things happening along the Arkansas River Trail, ranging from the mundane to the remarkable to the simply weird.

Let's get the "weird" out of the way right up front.
I've run across plenty of equestrians on the trail, but this cow sighting was a first for me, though the River Trail crowd is generally very tolerant of alternative lifestyles so the appearance of this couple raised few eyebrows.

Let me go ahead and answer the obvious question: No, we did not plan the matching kits, but they worked out nicely.
I think there was a promo shoot for a running event benefiting disabled veterans, given the presence of a news crew and some runners sporting high tech prosthetics. (Thanks, guys, glad you're home.) That speculation aside, I didn't really delve into why the bovine costumed representatives of Chick-Fil-A were present on the BDB, but I'm usually good for a photo op and the BDB is an equal opportunity venue. I'm not a Chick-Fil-A fan, but have always had an appreciation for the skydiving cow commercials.
Flush Toilet Alert: Pinnacle Mountain State Park Construction
The west parking lot at Pinnacle Park lies at the corner of Highway 300 and Barrett Roads, making it a good restroom and water stop for riders of several popular road routes. For those road riders expecting to find the usual flush toilets, they will find only disappointment and port-a-potties.
Sam's smile says that he didn't really have an urgent need for that restroom.

The old facilities were flooded a couple of years ago, and I would suspect that the event drove the need for a replacement. I don't have a completion date on this project, but I would expect it to take a couple of months. In the meantime, there are water spigots near the pavilions and plenty of port-a-potties.

RT Mud Problem Abated: Drain Cleared At Jimerson Creek

Dating back at least to the construction of the southwest ramp of the BDB, there has been a consistent problem of mud washing across the trail near the Jimerson Creek Bridge.
After a hard rain, this spot was often near impassable due to flows of sticky mud. The ditch and drain on the left have been recently cleared.

The problem appears to have been solved with the clearing of a ditch and an existing storm drain. I had assumed that the problem would have required some engineering, regrading and/or the installation of a drain. Now that I know there was an existing system that simply had not been maintained, I would ask, "What took them so long?", but I'll also add a "thank-you" for getting it done!

 A Few Signs That Spring Is Near
In spite of the persistent cold weather that we have been experiencing, there are some sure signs that the world is indeed tilting toward warmer days.
Here are a few that I've noticed while riding the trail over the last week:

 This crew from the Little Rock Boathouse Club took advantage of a spot of sunshine last weekend.
These turtles were soaking up rays in a slough near the trail in NLR
Not So Cuddly Critter Sighting
 Willa Williams, Complete Communities Coordinator at City of North Little Rock, asked me recently if she could use some of my photos for something she was writing for the League of American Bicyclists. After scanning through my blog for appropriate shots, she commented, "You take a lot of pictures of snakes."
Well, not really a lot of pictures of snakes, but I do like to show off the wildlife and remind folks that nature is not a petting zoo. I will also admit that I find snakes interesting, and the lands along the river create a habitat that is ideal for many species, including some trophy size cottonmouths and copperheads.
 In keeping with that thought, I ran across the biggest water snake I think I have ever seen earlier this week.
I wondered what drove this groggy nonvenomous water snake to leave the den on a cold Monday evening. Perhaps his winter home flooded in recent high water on the river. I guessed his length to be about 5 1/2 feet and he was easily as big around as my wrist.

Snakes along the trail are a common sight in warmer weather and riders should be alert for them, especially in Two Rivers Park. I've also run across skunks and raccoons that appeared to be ill and were walking among trail users in broad daylight. While the most serious wildlife encounters on the trail that I am aware of involved deer/cyclist collisions, it is good policy remain alert and to keep dogs and children on a short leash, literally or figuratively, particularly in areas where water and brush are close to the trail. We are, after all, on their turf.

In Case Of Emergency...

Back in mid-December, I reported on a meeting at Metroplan of emergency responders and other stake holders. Their purpose was to devise a means of precisely locating the site of emergencies along the Arkansas River Trail. The group has been very active and trail users will soon see the result of their efforts.

The problem was that many trail users, when calling 911, simply could not accurately describe their location, much less advise responders the best way to get to them.  Most of the landmarks along the trail don't mean much to the average 911 operator to begin with, and the nature of emergencies can render folks helpless to provide meaningful details.

 As a case in point, I ran across a family in distress on the trail in Two Rivers Park one hot day a couple of years ago. A young girl was having some sort of respiratory event and 911 had been called. As I rode back toward the bridge, I encountered EMTs and helped direct them to the correct point on the trail. The person who called 911 had apparently used the Two Rivers Park Bridge as the point of reference, so the ambulance rushed to the bridge near River Mountain Road and EMT's then had to push a gurney over the bridge and almost a mile to reach the victim. A better location report would have allowed an ambulance to access the trail from County Farm Road and drive to the correct location.  In this case, the victim was OK, but had the problem been a heart attack or other life-threatening event, the delay in the arrival of help could have been tragic.

The plan is now to place location markers at 0.2 mile intervals along the trail. Each of the markers will be coded with precise location information, and the format will be uniform throughout the River Trail system.
These markers will be glued at the edge of paved trails every 0.2 miles. They are 4-5" in diameter and lie flat. They are expected to last at least 5 years and are easy and inexpensive to replace if damaged.
When an emergency call is received from the River Trail, the caller will be asked to find a marker and read off the location data. Responders can then determine the best approach and can dispatch appropriate equipment to reach the scene. The same markers will be used and mountain bike and hiking trailheads.
I am very impressed at the level of cooperation demonstrated by the folks involved in developing this plan. Participants included representatives of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, North Little Rock Parks and Rec, MEMS, North Little Rock 911 Center, Conway Police Department, Maumelle Fire Department, and the Little Rock Fire Department. None of us plans to be a victim, but it is good to know that help can find us when we need it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Helicopter Extractions, Camp Robinson, Heavy Duty Pumps

National Guard Training Exercise At Pinnacle Mountain State Park
Saturday, April 5
A training exercise is scheduled for PMSP at 9:00AM on April 5. Here are the details from Ron Salley, Park Superintendent:

Time: 9am……  the target time frame is 30min.   maximum duration is 1hr.

Operational procedures…..
·       There will not be a need for the Black Hawk helicopters to land in the surrounding fields
·       There will be two  teams to operate on the mountain.

a)      One team will perform an airlift extraction at the number six area (using a life size human replica, just off the West Summit trail. This area is commonly called the boulder field. The soldiers will be located 200ft off the trail and have team members located  near the trail in order to keep onlookers out of harm’s way). There will also be soldiers station at the West Summit trail head informing hikers of the exercise and the protocol to following for keeping themselves safe (– see attachment and below training area 1)

b)      Another team will be located at the top of the mountain and will perform a hoist from there. The soldiers will maintain a 200ft buffer between the exercise and hikers to this area (– See attachment and below – training area 2)

·       There will also be a team of soldiers located at the East Summit trail head in order to inform hikers of the exercise taking place and the protocol to take for keeping themselves safe.

If it is possible to share this information with local media, it would certainly be appreciated. The more informed and aware the users of the mountain trails are, during these exercises the better.

Please let us know if you have further questions or comments.



Here are images of the area along with descriptions of the exercise:

If weather prevents the operation from occurring on April 5th, it will be moved to the 6th.
The operation is expected to take less than an hour and riders should not be affected, but it could be an interesting bit of entertainment on a Saturday morning ride.

Summer Ride Critical Information: Pinnacle Visitor Center Ice Cream Restock

Back in December, I reported that I had purchased and consumed the last Fat Boy ice cream sandwich from the Pinnacle State Park Visitor Center. I actually very generously shared it with my ride partner, as that is my nature. On a recent stop at the Visitor Center, I was privileged to witness the annual stocking of the ice cream freezer.

 The Fat Boys are back!
The ice cream freezer is a big draw for me on those hot days of summer, and the promise of a cold reward is often my motivation to make the 3/4 mile climb to the Center.

Camp Robinson

Every time I venture out to Camp Robinson for a little single track, I'm impressed by the trail condidions and by the amount of work that has taken place. Trails have been rerouted to avoid problem areas, bridges have been built, water crossings have been hardened with rock work, leaves have been cleared, fallen trees cleared, stobs removed, and trailside brush has been cut. That is the work of volunteers, mostly old-school CARP guys like Basil Hicks Jr and III.
The parking lot has also been graveled, I assume by Camp folks.
A new bridge on Airport Loop. Airport used to extend to the left at the visible sign, but that section has now redesignated as part of Buddha Trail and no longer connects back to Airport beyond this crossing.
The new bridges and rock work make the trail system much more sustainable.
If you want to invest in some sweat equity, the opportunity is there for you.
The tools even come with a handy set of instructions to help coordinate the trail work.
The trail fairies must be nearby!
One of the many good things about Camp Robinson is that everyone is there with a purpose. While many parks and public use areas are subject to theft, vandalism, and littering, Camp is pretty secure, so tools can be left to use another day. Besides, few ne'r-do-wells would be willing to walk 30 miles of trail system hoping to find a leaf blower or shovel.
Two River Park Work Station Pump Upgraded
The new pump is vandal resistant.
The pump at the Marilyn Fulper Memorial work station at Two Rivers Park has been replaced a a vandalism resistant model. The work station pumps along the trail are often out of service. The general that most of the damage is done by children playing on the stations as their parents sit by oblivious or uncaring as their kids destroy these public resources. The work stations are an asset and are used by many riders. Here's hoping that the new pump remains functional.They are expensive and I think that before more are purchased that  their durability.will have to be demonstrated.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bicycling Magazine's Editors' Choice: Vista Trail Is The Venue of Choice

After noticing some strange, as in "not carried by Spokes", mountain bikes on the Spokes bike shop RV last week, I pressed owner Mat Seelinger for details. He was forthcoming, but asked me to hold off on this article for a few days.

It seems that Bicycling Magazine had chosen Lake Ouachita Vista Trail as the venue for testing mountain bikes for their Editors' Choice Awards. As you may recall, Mountain Bike editor-in-chief Peter Flax was in central Arkansas for the Big Dam Bridge 100 last fall. I had to opportunity to visit with him a bit and found that he was very impressed by our hospitality and by the local riding scene for both road and mountain bikes. I'm a long time subscriber to Bicycling and since I never saw any mention of that trip in Peter's regular column, I assumed that perhaps he had a "one date" relationship with Arkansas. "He don't write, he don't call...."
That assumption was incorrect, as Peter has been back at the Capital Hotel in the last week, ready to gather his crew and a load of state-of-the-art mountain bikes to be tested and reviewed.

Ready to roll! The Spokesmobile and trailer serve as a backdrop for an impressive array of mountain bikes.
There was plenty of bling like the Hive crankset.
This just made me want to go out and get some of these bikes really dirty!
Mat was flattered that Spokes was chosen to help get all of these bikes ready to ride and he offered up the use of the highly visible Spokes rig for the purpose of transporting the bikes to Mountain Harbor Resort and the Vista Trail. Impressive stuff.
The choice of locations by Bicycling says a lot about the recognition of the growing bike culture of Little Rock and Central Arkansas. The former presence of Competitive Cyclist in North Little Rock and the current presence of Orbea, USA, in Little Rock helped put us on the radar with bike industry insiders. The highly visible Arkansas River Trail System and IMBA designated Epic Mountain Bike Trails Syllamo and Womble Trails attract road and mountain bike riders from across the region, helping to build a bicycle tourism industry that is said to now rival hunting and fishing in terms of economic impact in Arkansas. And those road and trail systems are just the tip of the  proverbial iceberg in representing quality ride opportunities in our state.
Recognition has go out to political leaders like Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines and former NLR Mayor Pat Hays for recognizing the viability of cycling as an industrial catalyst for the region and helping to build infrastructure. Further credit goes out to entrepreneurs like Seelinger, Orbea's Tony Karlins, and Michael Chaffin of the Capital Hotel for helping to build business opportunities around those resources.
Roll on, and welcome to a bike town!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Alien Mountain Bikes: Something's Going On!

BMC and Ibis mountain bikes on the Spokesmobile?? This typically fuzzy undercover photo is a clue to the mystery.
I dropped by Spokes bike shop Saturday and noticed some really cool mountain bikes on the Spokesmobile. That in and of itself isn't unusual, but these were not brands like Orbea, Cannondale, Niner, or Santa Cruz that Spokes carries.
There is more to this story!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Tis The Season....For Bike Maintenance

Many folks either don't ride much in the winter or we tend to let our bike care standards slip a little bit.  Whether you simply put away your bike on the first cold, rainy days of winter or you've been riding but just haven't faced the task of hauling your dirty rig out for a good cleaning, now is the time to get ready for spring riding! That means cleaning, lubricating, and checking for wear and tear.

I still consider the Litespeed T3 that I got last June to be brand new, but the fact is that after 4000 miles, it needed a little love in the form of a new chain and a set of tires.

Litespeed made ready for spring with good cleaning, new tires and a chain.
Even if your bike maintenance skill are limited to the occasional hosing off visible filth and a chain lube,  you can take that rare opportunity to look over your tires, check the tightness of various bolts and look for any obvious damage or wear.
The streets and trails are frequently wet from runoff and covered with sand and grit. The result is that our bikes pick up abrasive material and it sticks. It pays to keep your drive train and braking surfaces clean of this stuff.
When brakes make that "fingernails on chalkboard" sound, it usually means that your brake pads have picked up some grit that is prematurely wearing the braking surface of your wheel in addition to being annoying as hell.
The silver spots indicate where the grit embedded in this brake pad has worn material from the braking surface of the wheel.  The grit can be picked out with pen knife. If the pad is pitted, it can be sanded to get down to a uniform surface or simply replaced.
It is easy to inspect the pads by simply taking  the wheel. It's easier to pick out the grit with the pad removed but it can be done with the pads still mounted.
If none of this makes a damn bit of sense to you, drop your bike off and one of our fine local bike shops. They will get things in good running order. Most will routinely check for tire and chain wear. If your bike is more than a year or two old, also ask that they inspect your shifter and brake cables. Shifter cables usually break at the cable end in the shifter body, so early signs of failure may not be visible. 
By giving your bike a little love now, you can likely avoid the possibility of finding yourself standing on the side of the road on a hot Saturday in July with a flat tire or a broken shifter cable.
The joys of a cycling household
Diane and I share a love for bikes; however, she seems to turn a deaf ear to my admonitions that bike mainteneance skills are NOT gender specific. Though she is quite adept at maintaining her bike, she is even more adept at getting me to do it for her. After I had spent a couple of hours of working on my road and town bikes, she advised that hers "could use a little attention, too."
Which one do you want first?
My offer to leave the work stand and tools out went ignored until I finally relented and said, "OK, take off your bags and stuff and I'll do your bike, too.", to which she replied, "Which one do you want first?"  Bamboozled again!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Welcome Daylight Savings Time! Big Dam Bridge Closing Monday-Friday

It seems like the time change is much closer to winter than is natural, but I'll accept it as a blessing of national energy policy. We could get into an extended discussion of the nature of time and timekeeping, but I'll just settle for, "it will get dark an hour later. I'm going to ride my bicycle".

While Sunday morning is cool, cloudy and drizzly, the forecast calls for better weather Monday and Tuesday with sunshine and highs in the 70's.

Central Arkansas riders, let's flood the River Trail with bikes in celebration! Bring out those dusty bikes and give those pasty, unshaven legs a little taste of sunshine. It has been a long winter and I'm looking forward to seeing all of my friends out and about. 

Big Dam Bridge Closed Monday-Friday 7:00AM-5:00PM

The Big Dam Bridge will be closed for inspection by the Corps of Engineers from 7:00AM- 5:00PM Monday, March 10 through Friday, March 14.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Shillcut Bayou Bridge, BACA Meeting, Cantrell Road-Highway 10 Project

Shillcut Bayou Bridge Replacement

I received a phone call a while back from NLR's Mike Smith a while back with updated information on the construction schedule for replacement of the "wooden bridge" near the Burns Park launch ramp. Contracts should be signed in the next few days after which materials delivery will take about 45 days followed by 60 days of construction time. My calculations put completion at around the first of July. My experience with announcements about this project make me think it could be later!
In any event, the old bridge will remain open during and after construction and there should be minimal disruption use trail use.

 BACA Meeting-April 8 with Highway Commissioner Robert Moore

This announcement from BACA president Judy Lansky:


The development of few, if any, bicyclist - government relationships are more important to the improvement of bicycling in Central Arkansas and across the state than that of BACA with the Arkansas Highway Commission. In the past we have not been able to identify active supporters of bicycling within the five members of the commission. Just about a year ago Governor Beebe appointed former Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives Robert Moore to a ten year term on the commission. Mr. Moore comes to the commission with a long history of active interest in bicycling and trail development. He is also one of the prime movers behind the development of the Delta Heritage Trail State Park, currently being developed in phases along seventy-three miles of abandoned Union Pacific Railroad right of way through Phillips, Arkansas, and Desha counties in eastern Arkansas. 

LET’S HAVE A HUGE TURNOUT. Showing Mr. Moore and the Arkansas Highway Commission that there is a large community of support for bicycling in Arkansas is crucial if bicyclists are to have a seat at the table when the Highway Commission considers policies and allocates resources that could affect bicycling. Please reserve Tuesday evening April 8 to hear Mr. Moore talk about how bicyclists can develop a good working relationship with the Highway Commission and also learn a bit about the exciting Delta Heritage Trail.

River Mountain Road/ Cantrell-Highway 10 Redesign

In a recent article I mentioned traffic problems for parks users at the intersection of River Mountain Road and Highway 10. As was also mentioned, this area is being studied for a redesign to ease the flow of automobile traffic along Cantrell Rd/ Hwy 10. This redesign is all about cars and will likely result in 10- 11 lanes of traffic of to be crossed with the goal of "keeping them moving" in a constant flow. The configuration may ease the commute for the urban sprawl crowd, but could create an even worse situation for cyclists and pedestrians.
I've been assured that the engineers at work on the project have been given a directive to provide for safe passage by cyclists and walkers in the form of an underpass or overpass, along with off-street approaches. Unfortunately, such features cost money, and when budgets are tight are often reduced in scope or eliminated. This is especially true when it comes to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's perception of the value of alternative transportation. They haven't earned the moniker "Department of Cars and Trucks" for nothing.

These projects take years to develop and any influence of the design must come in the early stages. They then must be fought for all along the way as ways are sought to reduce costs or reallocate resouces, often at the expense of smaller stakeholders (that is written to mean cars trumping bikes).
Who is going to do that for us?  See the BACA invitation above. Show up. Be counted. Be heard. Help BACA keep the heat on. Politicians do listen to voters but the voters have to speak up often and early.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Events Report: Stylish Parade Pedalers, Spokes Orbea Location Open, Miserable Marathon, Time Change

I fully expected to be in the spring mode by this week, but it was not to be so! Lingering cold and gloomy weather continue as I write this article from the JBar Bunker, where my limited view outside remains a frozen white.

When we returned from a ski trip last week, I took these blooming daffodils as a sign that spring was indeed comng to Arkansas!
Shattered along with dreams of an early spring: When I let Willie dog out the door on Monday morning, he brushed by this daffodil, shattering it and scattering ice-encrusted leaves across the sleet. 
Life and scheduled events go on
Though most of our after work rides and many other casual outdoor activites have been curtailed due to shitty weather, long scheduled events go on. On Saturday, the Tweed Ride and South Main Mardis Gras Parade managed to carry on in a festive, if cloudy and cool,  atmosphere, while some 10,000 runners and the organizers of the Little Rock Marathon kept an eye on ever-deteriorating weather forecasts.
Styling On Main
I considered putting on my driving cap and tweed sport coat, but instead stuck with my good old fashioned lycra Roubaix knickers, a jersey and capeline base layers in preparation for the Tweed Ride. After all, I was only there as a reporter, though I really like the ride. I think such events bring about a sense of community and it is simply good fun!
The ladies were quite stylish! I'll admit to a fondness for this look on the bike.
The women didn't have a lock on style. The rider of this classic Schwinn was perfectly decked out from head to toe in subtle good taste. Note the matching tie and pocket square set off by the dashing scarf.
Lining up to join the South Main Mardis Gras Parade.
Jeremy Lewno, owner of Bobby's Bike Hike and LR Pike -Ped coordinator, won the prize for best costume. We could debate the point of "best costume" but his carefully cultivated moustache ruled! 
I sensed that this moustache lacked the months of cultivation demonstrated above. Maybe next year, kid.
Bring the family!
"Hey, what's your little dog's name?"  "Little Dog"
The rest of the dog and pony show.
Mason Ellis had it all going on! He assured me that he had tied his own bow tie, an art I've never mastered.....or even attempted.
I've got to stop somewhere, but I really enjoyed the photos from the Tweed Ride. Maybe next year, I'll actually participate. In the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye out for the perfect old Schwinn.
After some construction delays, Spokes shop and coffee bar is now open  in Orbea USA at 119 S. Main
Mat Seelinger of Spokes shares information about Orbea bikes to some customers.
Mat said that their coffee was going to be "even better" after some recent on-site training by their Doma Coffee rep.
The shop on Main will offer Orbea bikes and accessories and limited bike service, along with coffee, espresso, blended drinks, iced drinks, and fruit smoothies. Here's wishing them success. Tony Karklins, of Orbea, USA, has worked with Michael Chaffin of the Capital Hotel on several events and promotions to help bring new business ideas to downtown Little Rock. The cooperation of Orbea, Spokes, and the nearby Capital Hotel has the potential to bring fresh life to this end of Main St.
2014 Little Rock Marathon
I've volunteered to ride escort for the LR Marathon for the last few years, but had decided to pass on the opportunity this year. My resolve lasted until my phone rang and our friend Rich Cosgrove asked us to help the entertainment chairman, to whom he happens to be hitched. Nancy Green is one of those south Arkansas women who just seems born to organize. Soon, Diane and I were signed up to run any required errands along the course for the entertainers.
The forecast had narrowed down to 100% chance of rain, thunder, wind, and cold, so we decided to go ahead and start out  on our town bikes and just see how long it would take for the weather to sweep us back to the car.
It was wet at the start, but the serious rain held off until later.
Runners stream over the Broadway Bridge into North Little Rock.
From the Heifer Project parking lot we headed to the start line. It was already drizzly but the temperature was in the  mid-50's.
 "Can I take this to go?"
Vino's on 7th St. once again offered up their Amber to runners.
Volunteers need love, too.
Most locals know the story by now. Things went OK and hardy runners braved wet and ever-colder weather. Around 11:30, thunder boomed and organizers got reports of numerous lightning strikes in the area. Runners still on the course were detoured to a more direct route to the finish or offered bus rides. It could have been much worse, as the weather continued to deteriorate and by Monday morning central Arkansas was again covered in ice.
On the bright side... 
Sunday night marks the return of Daylight Savings Time! We'll have an extra hour to ride after work and the weather has got to break soon!