Tuesday, January 26, 2016

BDB-River Trail Update as of Monday Jan 25, Iron Mountain Trails

Things are still a mess along the North Little Rock side of the river. I got out on my mountain bike on Saturday to scout around, and then followed up on Monday night with a ride across the BDB to confirm that the gates were still closed.
 A lot of progress has been made in clearing the trees and debris near the BDB, but much work remains.
 The silt has created large mud/sand flats in the park and along the trail. The NLR crews have learned a lot from recent experience and are spreading out or hauling off a lot of the sand to return the grade to normal.
 The silt goes from being sticky mud to hard-pack to fine sand. None of it is easy to move.
 The new pavilions held up well. Good work, scouts!
The ski platform at Victory Lake did not fare so well.

Ugly. And, as always, the debris piles are full of an amazing amount of litter. 
This shadowy rider made the only set of tracks in the Pfeifer Loop. It was not really as bad as  expected. The area closest to the river had the most debris and looked like a disaster. Behind the tree line, things were not quite as bad, but will still require extensive clean-up and rehab.

North Little Rock Parks and other department crews are hard at work to clean and repair the trail, but they have a long way to go. Things are expected to be back to normal within a couple of weeks and for now, the north gate on the BDB is closed "indefinitely". Typically, as soon as any viable route is open, the gates will be opened as well. There is a lot of equipment working in the area at this time.

Ride alternatives
As in the "not so good ol' days", North Little Rock riders are faced with driving or riding to the Little Rock side of the river or simply deal with riding open areas of the trail and Burns Park loops. Road rides east of town are always a possibility but do not lend themselves to quick evening rides due to to traffic. Once on the Little Rock side, Two Rivers Park is fully open, and there were only a few muddy spots on the trail Monday evening. 

Drive-to-ride mountain bike destination-Iron Mountain Trails at DeGray

I admittedly don't get around much. There is so much to ride within minutes of home that I seldom venture outside of central Arkansas. On Sunday, with the trail a mess and local roads still thawing from the big Friday snow, and Camp Robinson closed and likely still snow-covered, I saw a mention on Facebook of the Iron Mountain Trails on DeGray Lake near Arkadelphia. I had heard good things so I threw the Niner in the truck and headed out I-30. I had only a vague idea where I was going, but in a little over an hour I was at the parking lot trailhead for the Orange, Blue, and White trails, and was getting good advice from the riders I met there. 
 The pine forest makes for an open understory and the trails are smooth and flowy. 
The new White Trail follows the shoreline of a peninsula into Lake DeGray for much of its length.

My experiences on mountain bike venues are pretty limited, but I'll say that Iron Mountain is about as good as I've seen in terms of trail surface, accessibility, and simple fun. I'm sure that there are more challenging sections, but the counter-clockwise trail direction that I rode on the Orange and White trails seemed have long stretches of flowing downhill followed by slightly sharper, short climbs. Advanced riders can fly through well banked turns while beginners can hone their skills and gain confidence while enjoying the scenery. A summer ride could easily include a break to dive into the clear water of DeGray. Iron Mountain is not news to local mountain bike riders, and I saw several Little Rock folks while I was there, but it was new to me. I'm eager to get back down there and explore some more. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Day At Girls' Camp. Well, Sort of....

Last week, Diane noticed that Missy Vail was leading a beginner/intermediate ride at Camp Robinson for the ladies of Arkansas Heels on Wheels. She decided to meet the women for the ride and I tagged along to take some photos and let our dogs enjoy a day of running the trails.
The Heels had a great turn-out, as the Visitor Center was crowded with women when we arrived to check in, and they arrived at the TA2 ride area like a convoy on a drill day.

The Heels on Wheels convoy had arrived.

Soon, the bikes were unloaded and the more experienced riders were sharing insight with beginners in the group. The group ranged from experienced intermediate riders to first-timers, so everyone got an opportunity to teach, learn, or do both. 

Final preparation: Air and hair must be correct for conditions.
 Willie and Ivy making a run for it. I tried to keep them out of the group, but Willie is a mama's boy and bolted to join when he caught a glimpse of Diane through the woods. They are good trail dogs and the ladies didn't seem to mind.  
 Missy leads as the pack crosses the new long bridge on 10 Bridges trail.

I am always glad to see opportunities like this for women in sports. Having spent all of my adult life engaged in "male dominated" activities ranging from whitewater boating to windsurfing to fly fishing and cycling, I have observed that, though there are obviously women who excel at all of them, there is a bit of an intimidation factor. Women are often hesitant to reveal their lack of knowledge in the presence of a bunch of boys, so gender-specific events are helpful in breaking the ice.
Guys have big ol' egos, but most of us have done enough dumb shit so as not be embarrassed to ask anymore. I was such a goober when I started riding bikes, I had to call the shop from which I had a demo to ask the salesman how to shift gears after getting stuck in a 39-12. "Oh, the brake levers shift the gears, too??Wow."  He had tried to show me in the shop, but I was all, "I got this".  
A couple of guys, including Richard Machycek of Arkansas Cycling and Fitness, joined the ride. I have a difficult time saying Richard was there for "moral" support, but he checked tire pressures, answered technical questions and handed out rolling advice on shifting, bike handling, and trail features as he rode among the participants. Richard is an excellent rider and can communicate well, he he is good to have along. 

The group gathered at the center road to decided on their next loop.
Richard Machycek of Arkansas Cycling and Fitness initiating a fat bike wheelie for the camera.

And that's not all....
Basil Hicks III was conducting a trail maintenance training session on Saturday afternoon. Basil II, Sharon Saunders, Brian and Melissa Shipman were set up at the shelter with hot drinks and snacks for that event.  It was a great opportunity to socialize and discuss the state of things at Camp Robinson. 

More trail miles...

Last week, Eric Grimmett unveiled his yet unnamed new trail off of ZigZag/Pipeline. On Saturday, Basil Hicks told me that they had just opened up a new mile-long extension of Can Of Corn. I have not come close to riding all of the current trail system at Camp Robinson. Trails range from well-marked, easily accessible beginner loops to some very technical routes. I think that "E" may have set a new standard for technical with his new trail, but I'll have to check it out when I'm ready for a little bike hike. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

River Trail, BDB Status Report

Thursday represented my latest "first road ride of the year" ever. The mountain bike has been a welcome diversion and a means of shedding some holiday gravy, but I'm a roadie at heart.

The BDB north access remains closed
The Arkansas River Trail from Burns Park to the Big Dam Bridge remains closed, and the gates on the north end of the bridge are locked. I'm told that it will be Wednesday or later before this section is cleared.

 Always a sad scene.
There are actually signs that some major trail clearing has been taking place at the approach to the BDB. The huge logs look to have been moved and there is at least a track through the sand.

There is obviously still a lot of work to be done ion the north side, and officials have asked that folks stay clear for their own safety as so as not to interfere with work crews. That said, I've received reports from explorers that say Pfeifer Loop is a total wreck, mostly due to the massive accumulation of sand. I'm sure that once a plan is in place, volunteers will once again come out to aid with the recovery.
The trail is open from Burns Park east to the sub, and all roads east of town are clear, including Faulkner Lake Road which was submerged for a few days.

Two Rivers Park is open and the trail is dry and clear. 

The trail through Two Rivers Park is dry and mostly clear.

Some trail areas still have a coating of dirt that may turn a little ugly when wet, but this well-equipped cyclist ain't scairt. With a rear fender, nice big mirror, and "praying mantis" aero bars, he is prepared for whatever he may encounter. 

We'll have to deal with some minor inconveniences when choosing routes for the next few days, but it is time to get riding.
Be Safe.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Camp Robinson Mountain Biking: Raised From The Near-Dead

Each year, I embark on a quest to embrace my inner mountain biker, with some years bearing more fruit than others. This year, I started out with a declared plan to enjoy my mountain bike more frequently, and that plan has only been encouraged by trail flooding and few days of cold, windy weather. The result is that I have been riding at Camp Robinson pretty frequently.
Riding at Camp always turns me into a cheerleader for both the trail system that exists there and for the many volunteers that have created, maintained, and improved the many miles of well-groomed single-track. A few years ago, a timber harvest in Camp's TA2 almost shut down riding for an extended period of time, and optimism for a revival was at a low.

Here is a comment from a December 2010 post regarding Camp Robinson that puts that state of things at that time in perspective:

... there are a few (literally) riders who maintain or even use the trails at camp. If these riders quit, the trails will disappear and eventually there will be no need to maintain a sign-in log at the visitor center. Who knows what the future holds for cycling on camp?
C.A.R.P. Christmas ride, December 2010. Logging had destroyed much of the trail system and rendered some still-ridable areas nearly inaccessible. Only a few stubborn riders hung onto the notion of riding at camp during this time.

The original "Christmas Tree" was only a stump when this photo was taken. It had been decorated over the years with old wheels, broken chains, and discarded tubes. It wasn't really art, but served as a meeting place and landmark at the junction of Yucca, Christmas Tree, and the center road.

Those were dark times for mountain biking at Camp. I was at the height of my enthusiasm for the place, and was determined to deal with the logging and the ensuing burn-offs and mud. For those of you who have never had to traverse a fresh clear-cut, consider that marketable timber is hauled out, leaving behind a maze of shattered wood and twisted branches. In addition, the dozers, trucks and skidders churn the soil so that wet conditions can add bottomless mud to the mix. After that, as at Camp Robinson in 2010-2011, you can then burn it all off to leave a smoldering expanse of wrecked unrecognizable terrain. I remember one cold night after losing the trace of whatever trail I was trying to follow, likely 10-Bridges, I decided to try to beat darkness by taking a more-or-less straight line back to my truck. My mistake resulted in an adventure of knee-deep mud, thrashing maddened maneuvering of bike over downed timber, and a decision that it simply was not f---ing worth it. There were still a lot of quality trail miles to ride even at this point, but access and atmosphere sucked.

April 2011. Riding at Camp Robinson was at a low point. Even Willie was looking disgusted, his feet and belly blackened by the char. 

We're back, and better than ever.
I did go back to Camp Robinson, as did others. It took a couple of years for the earth to heal and for stubborn trail fairies to make repairs and rebuild or reroute trails.

Basil Hicks and Bryan Shipman, along with others, were at the heart of the trail building and restoration at Camp Robinson. JBarCycling Jan 2012

Basil Hicks, shown above, has since retired and seems to have taken on the CARP trails as a new career. Folks like Bryan Shipman have been very helpful in communicating with the facility administration as some leadership changes have taken place at the Guard. I can't address that facet of things in detail, but it seems that Camp Robinson has been very welcoming of the opportunity for interaction with the local community afforded by the mountain bike trails. I have also met a number of folks taking advantage of the trails who are at the facility for training. While TA2 is still a training area first, the improvements to parking and other trailhead features certainly benefit the mountain biking crowd.
Three good reasons that the trails are in such great shape:
On a recent rainy Sunday, I decided to take the dogs out for a hike at Camp. As I headed in, I encountered a 3-piece band whose music accompanied much of our 5-6 mile walk.

 Sharon Saunders on backpack blower accompanied by her terrier.
Basil Hicks on string trimmer
and Bruce Alt on chainsaw.

It can sometimes be a challenge to identify the trails at Camp when the leaf cover is thick, so the leaf-blowing  is really appreciated.

These folks are often seen hard at work so that we can have some of the best riding around, but they are far from being alone in their efforts. Last Sunday, as were emerged from a cold ride, we ran into Eric Grimmett. "E" was grabbing his helmet and shoes to "go ride my new trail". I had seen Eric, girlfriend Kashari, and his dad logged in ahead of me a few times, but had not run into them out riding. He let me know that they had spent the last couple of months building "the sweetest trail out here". "I'm building it like I build a bike." Eric has a longstanding reputation and as proud and capable bike mechanic, so that means that his yet unnamed trail will indeed be sweet. I haven't seen it, but will likely explore it soon. He might tell you where it is, but I'll let E do the unveiling. 
Update: He unveiled in a Facebook post

April, 2010. These rocks were hauled into this spot on 10-Bridges by wheelbarrow.

I also ran into Lane Septon recently. I first met Lane several years ago as he hauled wheelbarrows of rocks into 10 Bridges Trail, and he was back at work this week clearing leaves from under some of the many bridges to allow the water to flow. 


Even longer than it looks- I walked off the length of this new bridge on 10-Bridges Trail. It is about 85 feet long.

In the past, my winter excursions usually saw me leaving Camp Robinson wet, muddy, and cold, with the bike a total mess. There was almost always good riding but many of the key entry trails had some seriously muddy patches and unimproved water crossings. Good policy says not to ride muddy trails, but back then getting muddy was pretty much a fact of life on the CARP trails. Today, even after a big rain event, you would have to seek out off-path soft spots to experience the hub deep crossings of the past. Trails have been rerouted to better use the terrain, bridges have been built or improved, and most of even the smallest water crossings have been hardened. 

The extensive trail system means that even on the heaviest user days, you are unlikely to see many other riders. I checked in on a recent weekend and there were likely 25-30 riders signed in ahead of me. I rode for a couple of hours on some of the most popular trail sections without encountering another rider until I was headed back to the parking lot. If you want company, you'll need to use your charm at the trailhead, as you are unlikely to cross paths with others once you get out on the trail.

A few short years ago, it appeared that mountain biking at Camp Robinson was not quite dead, but seriously ill. Now, the scene is alive, well, and gaining strength.
Get your sportsman pass, air up your knobbies and head to Camp. If you have never ridden there, or if it has just been a while, you'll be amazed by what you find. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

River Trail Update-Tuesday, January 12; Updated 1/13

Our friend Robert Mooney shared some January 12 photos from the NLR River Trail.

I think there is still a little work to be done before the trail is road bike ready. Thanks, Robert.

My road bike has not been seeing any action lately due to River Trail conditions, but I am getting more deeply involved with the annual mountain bike romance.
Things are still a mess in NLR and, though reportedly passable, I've received a report that the trail at Two Rivers Park is still covered with a layer of rutted dirt. I have really been enjoying Camp Robinson and, for me, it is more accessible for a short evening ride than driving to Little Rock to ride up and down Rebsamen Park Road. Feel free to add any personal knowledge in the comments section.

From the City Of North Little Rock, Jan 12:

Flood Cleanup Update: This morning, Tuesday Jan. 12th, our crews continue to work hard getting our trails and parks back to a condition where residents and visitors can enjoy them. There are still a few portions of the Arkansas River Trail still underwater, but we have heavy equipment removing the tons of sand and debris that settled when the river receded. Still closed are the soccer fields, dog park, Cooks Landing, and the Arkansas River Trail (through Burns Park.) We hope to have many portions of the now closed areas open by later this week, but that timeframe is dependent on the weather cooperating. It could just as easily be next week. Expect some detours on the trail when it does open, due to continuing cleanup by the heavy equipment.