Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Along The Trail-Cosmic Events, Good, Bad, And Ugly

The last couple of weeks have been tough on my journalistic production time, between a little maintenance and small part replacement on me and extraordinary work demands, writing has been taking a backseat. Well, it's taken a backseat to riding, too. The days are getting shorter and warm weekends are precious, so when I have been able to ride, I've taken advantage with slightly more than the usual end-of-season urgency.
Is That a Dragon Eating The Sun?
Well, no, but it's pretty cool. I'm referring to the solar eclipse that occurred last Thursday. My ride partners mentioned the eclipse and I was aware of it, but skies were mostly cloudy and the sun was nowhere to be seen. I would see photos, I'm sure.  A short time later, as I rode across the BDB, I noticed a crowd on the telescope equipped observation decks. They were wearing funny glasses and the sun had come out. I asked them if the eclipse had come and gone, to which someone said, It's happening right now", and a young man with slightly purple hair said, "Here are your glasses", as he handed me some cardboard direct viewing eye gear.

"Here are your glasses." Thanks, little brother!
It is always nice when somebody shares a small kindness and an experience with a stranger, especially when you're the stranger. Fortunately, small kindnesses happen regularly along our River Trail system, as anyone who has ever had a flat tire on a busy day can attest. If you need help, somebody will stop. If you don't need help, you'll find yourself busy turning down offers of help.

I wish that I had taken a peek through the telescope.

I'm sure that eclipses were indeed frightening and mysterious before science came along with a rational explanation. Such cosmic events still serve as a reminder of our very small place in the grand scheme of things.

Oh, Boy!! Dark and Cold Around The Corner
Saturday marks the end of daylight savings time.

Ready for the sunset. This couple was enjoying the warm weather the last week of daylight savings time with an evening picnic on the BDB.
For most of us, that means a curtailment of after-work rides or getting out the headlights and cold weather gear. With highs Saturday forecast to be in the 50's, it appears that we'll be losing light and warmth in one fell swoop. Winter time riding has its merits, but I can't think of many right now.

Dog and Bottle Friendly Fountain at NLR BDB Pavilion

The fountain at the north end of the BDB has been replaced with this pet and bottle friendly model.

Not So Friendly Along the Trail

 Bad: Selective enforcement?
On a recent Saturday, one of my ride partners talked to a runner friend who had been ticketed for parking in the grass near the BDB on a crowded Saturday. I can't really defend scofflaws, but....
On the same weekend, a mile or so up the road, dozens of cars and buses were illegally parked for a cross-country meet in the bike lane and on the grass along Rebsamen Park Road under the watchful eye of two LR police officers who were directing traffic at the golf course driveway.
On any given Sunday afternoon, Rebsamen Park is usually crowded with folks cooking out at the pavilions and picnic tables with lines of cars parked on the grass, hip-hop music blaring lyrics that make my even grizzled F-bomb dropping ass uncomfortable. Most of us are familiar with the open party scene that occurs most weekends.
It appears to me that the LRPD drops by to write a few tickets to the runners and riders who are drawn to the River Trail and the BDB, but they are wont to piss off the party crowd, where shots have been fired and alcohol seems to flow, or make track athletes feel unwelcome. 
The parking situation at the BDB is limited and calls for some tolerance. The city's response is to suggest that people park 1/2 mile away where their cars are more isolated and more likely to be subject to break in or worse.
There needs to be some sense made of parking enforcement. Either it's OK for all of us or everybody gets a ticket.
 Ugly:A-Hole Alert
While riding out County Farm Road early last Sunday, a pickup pulled along side and the driver started screaming advice that he would likely not have wanted his momma to hear. No big deal. Then, as we go on Pinnacle Valley, said A-hole came out of Beck Road and made another pass. My ride companion thoughtfully called out "God bless you', to which he got "FUCK YOU!" in return. Inappropriate response, I'd say. The guy then drove up the road and screamed at some riders waiting on the roadside.
I called the sheriff's department just to report the incident. The vehicle was an older dark-colored Chevy with white door panels and a "decorative iron" sign on the door panels. If you should encounter hits guy in similar circumstances, please call the sheriff. I think he probably lives in the area and appeared to be out for the sole purpose of being an ass. If he ever escalates his actions, it might be useful to have something on file.We failed to get his license plate number.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pulaski County Quorum Court- Staci Medlock for District 15

Political Content Ahead- Don't Log Off. I'm not being paid by the special interests, so this is likely to be truthful and I won't try to slander anybody by repeating "O" word over and over or by referring to billionaire vote buyers.

Which is not that say that I could not be had. I wouldn't come cheap. My principles are high but JBarCycling is not much of a profit center.

Can you answer this question: Who is your Justice of The Peace?

I consider myself to be pretty involved and politically engaged, but I could not answer that question a few days ago. I went on line to the Pulaski County Government site where I found this handy interactive map. Simply click in where you live within Pulaski County and information regarding your JP will come up.The district map below is just a picture, so follow the link to use the tool.

Follow the link above to the interactive version of this map.
Justices of the Peace make up the Quorum Court, which is the county equivalent to a city council or board of directors. They are the folks who work with the county judge to approve the budgets  for things like the jail, sheriff's department, roads and bridges, and sanitation. That includes, of course, Two Rivers Bridge, Big Dam Bridge, parks, and trail improvements. They also deal with zoning and land use. Land use has been a highly contentious issue recently as regards the Lake Maumelle watershed.
If I am belaboring this, please forgive me, but I've found that most of us, even those of us who are somewhat politically active, seem to pay little mind to the role of our county government. Judge Buddy Villines has provided strong leadership and has been a champion for improving the quality of life in Pulaski County by embracing the Arkansas River Trail System and making possible landmark projects such as the Big Dam Bridge and Two Rivers Park Bridge. Villines is retiring and the makeup of the quorum court will be more important than ever as a new county judge seeks to establish himself.
What Got Me Started- A Staci Medlock campaign worker knocked on my door.
I was snoozing on a rainy afternoon last weekend when a knock came to my door. It was a young lady asking if I wanted a Staci Medlock sign in my yard. As with most door-to-door solicitors, I turned loose the crazed Willie dog on her. 
After Willie got a head pat and curled up on the porch glider, I did take a campaign card, which had four key platform points:
-Protect our clean water supply  I've been following the Lake Maumelle debate with interest and feel that a clean, healthy water supply is one of the most important things a vital community needs.  I'm on board.
-Keep the county jail secure  That takes money and good judgement. It's an ongoing problem and deserves to be a priority in keeping our communities safe.
-Provide interconnection hiking, biking, and running trails.  I love that tune!
-While keeping a balanced budget That makes sense, as well.
After looking over the card, I realized that I liked what this woman had to say, but I needed to know more. First, I wanted to know who she was running against. I looked up her opponent Jesse Macom-Teague and, frankly, I did not like anything I saw from him. I will say that I agree that the county money being spent on the Broadway Bridge could have been better spent. It could have been used on better bike-ped accomodations rather than for decorative "basket handles".
Meeting Staci Medlock
As I am wont to do when I want to know something about a public figure, I contacted Medlock and asked her for a of her little time so that I could learn more. She is a realtor and we set a time to meet at her office.
I showed up at the appointed time and Staci blew in about a minute behind, apologizing that her last meeting had run just a little long. After introductions, she quickly secured a meeting room and we sat down for a chat. I can't bring myself to call my interrogation technique an interview, but I usually get a pretty good feel for things.
My first impression is that Medlock is energetic. Like not-quite-bouncing-off-the-walls energetic, and I mean that in a positive way. If you want to get something done, give it to somebody like her.

Staci Medlock will definitely bring some energy.
I had a few specific questions. I won't try to quote her verbatim in most cases, but I think I can accurately relate her positions.
What is your political experience?
"None. The seat was open and I've always been involved in my community. I'm a leader."
About the job of JP
"A lot of people think being a JP is about marrying people like you often see on TV or in movies. I don't have any interest in marrying people. It's about managing the money. It's about taking care of taxpayers money and being responsible to them. That's what I do for clients every day as a realtor."
Thoughts on the Pulaski County Jail
"I'm very passionate about public safety. Recent events have brought that close to home for us.", referring to the recent abduction and murder of a fellow Crye-Leike realtor shook our entire community.
Her view of the Arkansas River Trail System?
 "It has improved the quality of life for county residents." She also understands the positive economic impact that follows. "It increases our property values. As a realtor, I can see that."
Medlock seemed to have a good understanding of the fact that many funding sources are tied to specific segments, such as roads, bridges and trails. By take advantage of those resources, the county can leverage our tax dollars to provide greater benefits to its citizens. For example, we can't take federal transportation dollars and use them to build more jails.
Are you a rider?
"I bought a bike and rode 50 miles at an event last summer. I rode in the BDB. I ride some and I run."
The Lake Maumelle Watershed.
Clean, healthy water. We absolutely have to have it. There has been a lot of talk in west Pulaski County that controlling development in the watershed amounts to the taking of land. Simply not true. Medlock is for responsible land use, as we all should be. As long as the land in west Pulaski County was virtually all timber, there was little threat to our water supply, but with development comes the need for reasonable regulation. 
My impressions and conclusions 
I found Medlock to be straightforward and transparent. When she said, "I'm a leader.", it was said without any shade of ego or self-importance. I think she's a leader simply because she goes to work with an energy that is hard to stay in front of. If you're not going to go as hard as she is, then you might want to get behind her.
I'm going to vote for Staci Medlock and I hope that my readers in District 15 do so, as well.  I liked what she had to say and I liked her. She sells real estate and her husband is a builder, so she has an interest in growth within Pulaski County. She also seems to have a strong sense of responsibility to see that growth doesn't come at the cost of our quality of life.
Most of you live in other districts, so follow the link to the Pulaski County district map, find out if your JP seat is in play this year, and learn about the candidates. If you're like most of us, you likely have not given those races a lot of thought.  Get informed and decide for yourself who will best represent your interests.
My thoughts on some of the county-wide issues: Jesse and I will not agree on much.
Medlock did not express an opinion of her opponent, but I will do so. I've always been of the opinion that you can do what you want on your land so long as the result doesn't run downhill on to mine. That's pretty simple. Requiring responsible land use in a watershed that supplies water to 600,000 people is simply a part of living in a civil society and a legitimate role of government..
 Follow the link to a video of Macom-Teague and you'll hear that he thinks watershed regulation is another step by an overreaching government, along with what I consider to be some small-minded views on our bridge and trail development successes that have helped make Pulaski County a desirable place to live. He seems typical of many cookie cutter "conservatives" and Tea Party types we hear from these days. What I did not understand is why he chose to ride the watershed issue as a platform plank when his constituency in district 15 is in the middle of North Little Rock, where we need healthy water, but are not in the watershed. It becomes a little more clear when he declares, "by God, I care about my property rights" and states that our neighborhood is next in having the government, specifically, the Democrats, tell us how to use our land. Then he goes on to invoke the Consitution. Really? Does the Constitution prohibit zoning?
I want somebody to protect my interests, in this case our safe water, over some perceived threat to the fine folks out in Roland who might some day want to get into the factory pig farming business. I'm certainly not threatened by watershed regulation here in Park Hill. The government already tells me what I can do with my land, and I'm glad of it. I can't have noisy business in my neighborhood, I can't let my yard get out of control, let my dogs run loose, burn my trash, bring in a mobile home, build an outhouse in lieu of connecting to the sewer system, or keep a herd of cattle. Regulation of that type makes for good neighbors and protects our property values. Let them propose a convenience store next to Jesse's Indian Hills home and see if he still objects to government.
"We can't keep spending money on bike and hike trails if they're not safe."
He obviously hasn't spent any time on our trails. They're among the safest places in the county, largely due to the fact that they are used at all hours by thousands of folks like you and me.
Fear mongering 101: Create a threat where is is none and then promise to save us from it.
Your vote is important.
Unfortunately, far too many voters react to this kind of rhetoric without seriously evaluating the statements being made.  Challenge the claims made by candidates. Most are easily proven or debunked by spending a few minutes on the computer. Get a sample ballot and become an informed voter. You might be surprised at how your ballot looks if you forget about the "D" and "R" and look at candidates' qualifications before deciding who will best serve your interests and beliefs.
Following the money works, as well. I found it interesting that the "family values" groups fighting electronic "games of skill" at Oaklawn Park a few years ago were largely funded by Southland Greyhound Park and the Mississippi casinos.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Full weekend ahead if you want it!

Saturday:Flatlander Ride, Ribs or Razorbacks

From Greg Maxted, P.E., Executive Director, Harahan Bridge Project

I know that you have been dying for a chance to ride a metric century with a total elevation gain of 24”.
Well, Oct 18th is a close as you are going to get!!

Folks in West Memphis laying groundwork for future cycling trips in Eastern Arkansas, in anticipation of the Bridge being finished in 2016.
Hope you can come ride with us, 20 and 40 mile routes available….

After the ride, you can either scoot over to Memphis for some ribs or boogie on back to Little Rock for tailgating and what may be the last Razorbacks SEC game at War Memorial Stadium.

Sunday: Biketoberfest
Last year's Biketoberfest took place on the same day as the Joe Weber Arky 100, so I was late in arriving, but I still got there in time to know that it was a blast!!
That conflict is not present this year. I passed on the Arky last Sunday due to the crappy weather, though they still reported 215 riders for the ride. I'm only a little sorry I missed it, as I don't like riding in drizzle and rain, but delighted that it was such a success in spite of the weather. Perhaps I should have followed rules 5 and 9. (If you're not familiar with  "The Rules", follow the link and learn!)

Get on the townie and cruise on down to the River Market!
I'm sure I'll be reminded of many other things happening in our bike world this weekend, but these were top-of-mind for me at the moment.
Go ride your bike.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Short Stuff- Heels On Wheels On Dirt, Gravel On The Road

Dirty Girls

When I pulled into Burns Park for my usual evening ride on Wednesday, I spotted Victoria Crumpton in the parking lot and noticed that I was being surrounded by women. They weren't carrying torches and pitchforks, so I figured I was safe for the moment. I was just encountering another adventure led by the very active women of Heels on Wheels.
Victoria preparing to lead the HoW women's beginner mountain bike ride at North Little Rock Burns Park.
The gang's all here! 13 women enjoyed a beginners' MTB ride at Pfeifer Loop.
Photo respectfully lifted from Heels on Wheels Facebook page (link above)
Crumpton, along with Stacy Tierny, Missy Vail and others, has helped fuel the confidence and enthusiasm for riding among a growing group of female cyclists in Central Arkansas. In addition to beginner sessions, they have hit the road and trails for events like the BDB100 and numerous other events and races. With Willa Williams, they've held women's workshops on changing flats and the basics of bike mechanics and maintenance. I've found that for many women, the kind of supportive environment provided by other women takes a lot of the intimidation factor out of cycling. I can relate from my own efforts that us guys tend to speak a different language due to our manly mechanical experiences, and many women are soon lost in the minutiae of "gear-speak". That is not to imply a lack of capability, but just a different approach. I would say that many women are less interested in "how it works" and more interested in "how to work it".
Hopefully, I've managed to wade through that last paragraph without sounding like a sexist throwback. I'll let you know if the group greets me with the torches and pitchforks the next time I see them.  
Beware Of Gravel- New Shoulders At Two Rivers Park
As I rode on to County Farm Road at Two Rivers Park Wednesday, I immediately noticed that the road was littered with gravel. It didn't take long to discover the source. Shoulders have been extended along the road near the community gardens. I'm not sure whether the work is considered to be complete or if it was intended to be ridden by the many cyclists who pass through. For now at least, the shoulders themselves are chip and seal with a layer of loose gravel, much of which has been scattered on onto the road.
Don't duck off of the road on to these shoulders at any kind of speed!
It would be an improvement appreciated by cyclists and drivers alike if the shoulders are made safe for road bikes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Along The Trail: Fike's Bikes Hikes, Model Railroaders Derailed, More BDB

Fike's Bikes At River Trail Station Closed

As many of you may already know, David Fike has closed the doors on Fike's Bikes at River Trail Station in North Little Rock. I think that David's bike rental business had suffered from competition from Bobby's Bike Hike in the LR River Market, along with inconsistent marketing, unpredictable hours, and a relative lack of visibility to the tourist trade. Fike made some improvements to the city-owned building, such as the patio and outdoor fire pit, and had obtained a beer permit. In addition to bike rentals, the business was rented as an event center for meetings and private parties.

River Trail Station
The location served as a pit stop for trail users, a place to enjoy a post ride beer, a meeting place for groups, and David's presence added to the feeling of security for the many cyclists who chose to park there for their rides. That was good for the community but did little to pay the bills.
I'm sorry to see David give it up, but perhaps the location will see use as something new and a little more vibrant.

Do you have an idea and a business plan?
The City is currently entertaining proposals for use of the building.
For information, contact:

Nathan Hamilton, City Services - 120 Main Street (72114), Phone: 501-975-8833

I would like to see a combination bike shop/craft beer venue that also serves coffee early and breakfast late on weekends. This could be your future!
Broadway Bridge construction will likely impede traffic to the area for a year or so, but don't let that stand in the way of a good idea.

A Sad Ending To A Decades Long Love Affair

The Arkansas Valley Model Railroad Club was founded in 1962 and, since 1974, has been located in the UP yellow building at 3300 River Road in NLR near the quarry gates of the Arkansas River Trail. The many trail users who passed by without ever having an opportunity to look inside would likely have been amazed at the small world that the building held. It was filled virtually wall-to-wall with an intricate model train set-up, complete with mountains, trees, a roundhouse, and too many small details to describe.

This tree fall dealt a fatal blow to the building housing a small world of trains.
The storms that blew through the area last Thursday toppled a large tree onto the building, causing irreparable structural damage. I noticed the damage on my Sunday ride and stopped by to get a report. Club members we sadly sorting through the debris and dismantling the set up in preparation for a move to a storage unit.

A club member preparing the model RR set for the move to storage and an uncertain future.
I suspect that it would be hard to calculate the hours of labor that went into this set over the years.
I spoke to a club member who reported that they had no place to move and that the club was down to 6 members, several of which are over 70 years of age. They just don't have the collective energy and resources to start over. With things like this, the joy is in the doing, but it is still sad to know that the project may be lost to a storage space.

More BDB Follow Up

On the Sunday morning following the BDB100, I headed out for a ride along the River Trail that took me by the NLR Wyndham Hotel. It took note of the fact that many of the vehicles in the parking lot had bikes or bike racks mounted.

This gentleman travelled from around Lafayette, LA, with friends to ride the BDB100. He met his brother from Fayetteville for the ride. All stayed at the Wyndham. Judging by the cars I saw in the lot, most of the rooms were rented to riders.
I met a group staying at the Capital who were from NYC, along with a Bicycling Magazine exec who was here last year on assignment with Peter Flax, but paid his own way to come back this year. That is the kind of draw that our River Trail system has become.

The RV park was also heavily populated by riders.

This family was up from Benton. Mom did her first 50-miler, along with her hubby, while the young lady rode 68 miles.
I always find it ironic when supposedly "pro-business" types talk about the investment in our bike trails as bridges as wasteful spending, while the hotels and restaurants fill up for big events such as the recent Southwest Tandem Rally, and the cities and corporations have the BDB and Arkansas River Trail front and center in virtually every tourist and employee recruitment advertisement or website. For many people, Little Rock and Arkansas have been redefined by virtue of Forbes magazine "Most Livable Cities" ranking and high marks by Bicycling and other national publications. Quality of life is what builds vibrant cities with strong economies, educated work forces, and growing tax bases. It would have been cheaper on the front end to have let Central Arkansas stay as it was, an aging, gray city along the river, with a population streaming to Conway, Cabot and Benton. I'd much rather ride my bike through Argenta, SoMa, and along the ART as I watch us grow.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

9th Big Dam Bridge 100 In The Bag

The ninth annual BDB100 went off last Saturday and, by all accounts, was an enormous success. The weather was absolutely perfect, the organization was good, and the Finish Fest was full of smiling faces.
Preparations were underway well before dawn at the finish line.

My Admission: I Was Wrong

When I looked at this year's route, I predicted dire results. The long stretch on Highway 10 from Barrett Road to Williams Junction looked like a traffic control impossibility, as it is a heavily used state highway. Add rumble strips and heavily littered shoulders and I foresaw trouble. A ride of the 68-mile loop a couple of weeks ago did nothing to allay those concerns. On Saturday, however, the traffic control on Highway 10 was near-perfect, the ride along Lake Maumelle was gorgeous, and there was never a reason to deal with the rumble strips. My preride assessment was simply wrong. Job well done by the organizers.
I also thought that the addition of another daunting climb on the 100 mile course would result in slow times and a lot of SAGs as disappointed riders cracked under to task. I was wrong again. In comparing last year's route to this year's, there was only slightly more total climbing and much of the elevation gain came on the two major climbs, rather than on many smaller climbs as on the previous route. The fastest riders were as fast as ever, coming in at just over 4-hours, and I got many, many reports of groups coming in at under 4 1/2 hours. Several friends reported their best BDB100 times ever. I was initially not even going to ride, but was thankfully shamed by my peers into riding the 68 miler, so I can't give any first-hand reports on the total 100 mile experience. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the 68-miles. It was a typical distance for a Saturday morning ride and the massive packs, traffic control, and support made it seem easier than most.
I was wrong again.

Things looked much different at the finish a few hours later.

2900 riders, along with volunteers, family, and friends make for a good party.
Some concerns without a solution 
When I was a management guy, I always appreciated it when I was brought not only a problem, but some ideas for resolution. That is something that I always try to do, rather than just laying the proverbial smoldering turd on someone else who likely has less knowledge about it than I do.  I say that to acknowledge that I'm presenting a problem without any solid ideas for a solution.
The most dangerous part of the BDB turned out to be the stretch from Roland Loop to the finish. At Roland Loop, fast packs of 68 and 100 mile riders joined meandering gaggles of 50-milers who were enjoying their day, often spread widely across the road, while chatting, weaving, and going 12 MPH. This is not a knock on those riders at all, but it creates danger for everyone when such disparate groups share the road. I would suggest that even the casual riders need to follow the rules of the road or, as my trail mantra says,"Be alert. Be polite. Stay Right.", especially in the midst of a couple of thousand hard-charging event riders.
One of our group was taken down as his wheel was clipped by a cyclist doing the old 'paper boy' weave on Pinnacle Valley Road. Both of them should have been more attentive. As the ride passed through Two Rivers Park, we began to encounter runners, dog walkers and the usual assortment of trail users, though signs had been posted since at least Thursday advising that the trail was closed for the event.
The most egregious encounter we had was with a couple of yahoos riding against the flow of BDB riders on the narrow, winding trail west of the new bridge at Burns Park. These goobers were going too fast as evidenced by the fact that one of them overcooked a curve and crossed the trail as he swung into the path of the dozens of BDB riders. If you are going to ignore the "trail closed" signs and ignore the fact that you are facing streams of oncoming cyclists, at least keep your shit together enough to control your bike and stay on the right side of the trail.
One anonymous rider managed to spew a stream of advice in what was described as a "good cussin".That led my adoption of the JBar E.R.P (Expletive Reduction Program) in which I am going to attempt to show a little more love and understanding to assholes who endanger me or my group out on the trail or road. I'll let you know how that goes.
Maybe I'll man up and go back for the century distance next year, but it was sure nice to be done at 68 miles while I was still enjoying the ride.
For this year's BDB100, our entire community deserves a "well done".
Go ride your bike.