Thursday, March 31, 2016

Lake Leatherwood

Eureka Springs is way up on a mountain top about an hour NE of Bentonville, AR. Eureka is home of half a dozen natural springs that have attracted tourists for over a century. I'm sure the springs are lovely, but we went there for the 25 miles of trails in Lake Leatherwood Park. The cross country trails featured rocky ledges (see photos), steep slopes (they have a downhill course), and some 2000' of elevation gain. We were expecting the climbs to be a grunt fest, but it wasn't bad. The biggest problem was concentrating on the trail because the rock formations were real attention grabbers.

Today was our last Arkansas ride, so a summary is due. I have written very little on easy trails because they are similar to a Florida easy trail, flat, lots of twists and turns not unlike the quadrants at Boyette or Morris Bridge, and every trail systems has them.

The intermediate trails have moderately steep climbs and descents. All trail surfaces are rock, usually crushed, often packed into the clay base from user traffic. The most difficult trails are grunt climbs, behind the seat descents with fist size rocks everywhere. The older, hand cut trails often have even larger, baby head sized rocks and exposed rock slabs. The newer machine cut trails are generally wider, but still have the tips of larger rocks exposed. Bottom line - you get rocks whether you want them or not.

Mt. Ida near Hot Springs is a destination with three IMBA Epic trails totaling 200+ miles of intermediate trails with lots of elevation gain. Bentonville is another destination with a more urban feel. Probably 200+ miles of typically machine cut trail that can be physically challenging but less technical than Mt. Ida.

Arkansas has published several mountain biking specific guides that contain a wealth of information. The state is pushing mountain biking, which will benefit us all. 

Milage >15
Elevation gain >2000'

We are off trail because we loved the look.

These monster rocks were everywhere.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cedar Glades

Big WOW! What a fun trail system we have found in Hot Springs AR. The Cedar Glades trail has 10 miles of intermediate track with 95% of it going either up or down. This is one of the best designed systems I have seen in some time, with moderate climbs, long descents, and perfectly executed high banked switchbacks. Straight out of an IMBA trail construction textbook, the 40 or so wide, sweeping switchbacks allow a rider to carry speed around the curve, whether going up or down. After only one ride I could feel confidence improving. No doubt a second lap would be much faster than my first. Wish this was closer to home.

Hot Springs is a funky little tourist town featuring hot spring spas and hotels from the decadent years of the early 19th century. The old downtown was busy even in this off-season. Shops of vintage clothes, furniture and jewelry lined a dozen blocks. There were enough interesting looking restaurants to keep anyone busy for a month. The town offers many after ride activities not found near other good ride destinations.

Miles of trails <15
Elevation gain <1000'

Bob on a fast, sweeping downhill. Only the leaves limited our speed.

I was trying real hard not to flip over the top of that berm.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Womble - IMBA Epic - 35 miles with 4093' elevation gain

This is more than we wanted to do in one day, so we divided it in half, doing 18 miles today. Although there was some serious elevation gain, the climbs were gradual and the downhills were long and fast. However, a couple of the crew didn't care for the narrow, off-camber, root over loose rock sections. As you can see from photos 2 & 3, these were vertigo inducing. I found it helped if I closed my eyes.

Marty got in more miles today because there weren't as many crystals popping out of the ground saying, "take me - take me".   ; ). That's not to say her hydration pack didn't gain a few pounds by the end of the ride.

This trail is an IMBA Epic for a reason. And when it is combined with other trails around Hot Springs, the whole place becomes a destination.

Milage >30
Elevation gain >4000'

This was the first of many stream crossings.

My mantra was, "Don't look right".

Even Bob was hugging the inside of this skinny section.

This would be so much easier if it were wider.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Mt. Ida, near Hot Springs, AR, is best known for its quartz crystals, and the 40 mile Lake Ouachita VIsta Trail (LOVIT). On our first day here we had time to ride the 8 mile Denby Point trail, and another 8 miles of the Ouachita trail. Both are out and back, so total milage was 32.

The Denby section is rolling similar to the top photo. Some of the climbs are a little steep, but the lake views are fabulous. It is an out and back. Fun and flowing, Marty loved it.

The first 5 miles of the Ouachita trail were smooth with moderate climbs and descents. This presented long, fast fun downhills that were big fun for all. Marty, being a rock hound, was stopping every 100' to gaze at the crystals. The last photo shows the size of some of the crystals. Fortunately, this one was too big to take home, otherwise it would now be in our front yard rock garden.

The next several miles were steep climbs and descents covered with large, loose rocks. We turned around at 8 miles because we were getting tired. Sometime in the next several days we will attempt another portion, hoping for smoother surfaces. Over the full 38 miles (one way), there will be 4262' of elevation gain. We shall see how that goes.

Elevation gain >4000'

Marty enjoys the Denby Point Trail

The climbs and descents on the Quanchita Trail were sometimes steep, but smooth.

One of hundreds of large quartz rocks we found.

This was day two at Lake Ouachita. The first day was mellow compared to today, but it is all fun. We began our climb lakeside at 484', climbed to 1150', descended to 550', climbed to 1297', and ended a 3 mile downhill at 650'. It was a tough 18 miles, considering the final 750' climb was in less than 2 miles. But as you can see, the view was spectacular. 

What makes this area around Mt Ida unique is the three IMBA designated Epic trails totaling over 200 miles. The Womble is 36 miles designed primarily for bikes with easier climbs. Lake Ouachits has steeper and taller climbs with 40 miles. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is 108 miles with 15,600' of ascent, and is the most technically challenging of the three. All are connected. One could easily have a full week of riding if running both directions. A shuttle helps.

Not sure why Bob wasn't riding this?

View from the top was worth the climb.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Slaughter Pen

Today we rode Upper Slaughter Pen, located in Bentonville, AR. Yes, headquarters of Walmart! Bentonville is actually a great outdoorsy town and the trail system offered up steep technical rocky climbs, fast-flowy singletrack and a great downhill park that was expertly built for speed. We were able to ride in the shadow of several rock overhangs and behind waterfalls. 

We also finished the day with dinner at the "Peddler's Pub". A really nice eatery that served local brew and featured an eclectic band that sounded retro but was entertaining. It was a great day for all of us. We rode about 14 miles total.


Milage >15

Elevation gain >1000'

Remember to duck your head.

This is way steeper than it looks.

Bentonville is definitely a biking community. Starting in town, an 8-mile paved trail connects half a dozen offroad trail systems. First up are two loops totaling 8-miles of intermediate terrain featuring rocky climbs, rolling descents and overhanging cliffs with very narrow passage. A downhill course of high bermed turns, single and double jumps, tabletops, and flowing straights is the best designed and built downhill track I have seen since Whistler, BC. It is that good.

There are four more 6-8 mile systems with similar features except for the downhill course. If you rode all the trails that access the paved urban trail you could have a 40 mile day. Considering that each loop hs several hundred feet of elevation gain, spreading this over two days would be wise. In total there is close to 1800' of elevation gain. Very little is gut busting. It is mostly just steady climbing and descending. Most of the surface is rocky, some is exposed slick rock. All of it is something an intermediate rider could complete if they studied the trail and chose lines wisely.

Within 30 minutes are another 7-8 trail systems with similar features except for the cliff overhangs. This area could easily support 4-5 days of riding.

Bentonville is a chi chi town with a vibrant downtown featuring the Fat Tire bike shop and the Peddler's Pub, a micro-brew with a wood fired pizza oven. It's a great way to spend a free afternoon, assuming you get off the trails long enough to explore.

I appreciate this is a long way from Tampa, but combined with other nearby trails, northern Arkansas is a fun destination.

Climbing between the rocks.

After completing our stay at Mt Ida, we were supposed to head to Amarillo TX, but decided to return to Bentonville because we so loved the trails there. After having lunch at the Pedalars Pub, we stopped next door at Progressive Trail Designs, the company that built all the urban trails thru Bentonville. We talked with Woody, the owner, who told us the Walton family (Walmart & SAMs Club) paid for the trails that Woody had been building for the past seven years.

Returning to our motel, Dennis, who worked at the motel, introduced himself after seeing our bikes. We told him of our trip and we talked bikes. Dennis suggested a local bike shop where we could get trail info. At the shop, the owner saw us drive up and said Woody had talked to him about us and our trip. While there we met the Walton family's number one man for getting the trails built. He told us Walmart would be adding another thirty miles of mountain bike trails by September. Having met every bike dignitary in town was amazing.

The top photo is Wolf on one of the many technical structures along the Lower Slaughter Trail. Next is Wes attempting the downhill course, and then there is Marty starting her climb up President Hill, so titled because President Bush rode his mountain bike up the same hill as part of a fitness challenge for veterans. 

The Upper Slaughter trails that we rode over the weekend and the Lower Slaughter are all part of a thirty miles system of intermediate level urban trails that can be reached from the center of town by an eight mile, paved multi-use connector. Add to this another half dozen state park trails within an hours drive and you have a weeks worth of riding. I rate all these trails highly because of the variety, and well planned construction.

You definitely didn't want to dismount on the right side.

We all rode this a bunch of times, getting faster with each lap.

Very few make this steep climb of loose rocks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain is just south of Birmingham, AL, and is heavily used by the locals. Every afternoon the trailhead parking was busy with riders eager to hit the trails, and what fine trails they were.

The main trail runs the perimeter of the park, utilizing both two-track and single-track. There is easy rolling single-track along scenic lakes, grunt climbs up rocky, rutted two-track to reach ridgeline trails, and bombing downhills with names like Bloody Rock. Dispersed around the park are other fun things like a BMX race track, a very technical skills course, and rest stops with picnic tables.

Within the park are lakeside rental cabins, several campgrounds, a boating lake, a couple swimming beaches, and an equestrian park (we don’t share trails). Immediately outside the park are motels and restaurants by the score, making this a great destination for a family. There are half a dozen very good trail systems within an hours drive if you wanted to spend a week in Birmingham.

To reach the more challenging (and fun) trails requires a fairly taxing climb, by single-track or two-track. But once on top, there are so many ways down you will want to make the climb again and again. OK, maybe not again and again, but like us, you will probably at least wish there was a shuttle service.

Milage >30
Elevation gain > 2000

Dennis on the skinny bridge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Chewacla State Park near Auburn has about a 18 miles of intermediate trail with 1100' of elevation gain, another 16 miles of easy trail with 900' of elevation gain, a BMX pump track, and numerous wooden structures. The intermediate trails have natural rock outcroppings and constructed rock features. 

Unfortunately, many of the wooden structures, in my opinion, were poorly designed. They had a nearly vertical 15' high wall on basically flat ground. I doubt even a highly skilled technical rider could get up enough speed to get very far up the wall. In the top photo you see a bermed structure on flat ground. We literally had to climb up onto the deck, which slowed us down, then pedal really hard to reach a speed to utilize the berm. The last photo shows a very steep roller built as a bridge over a stream. Too slow and you slide backwards, too fast and you launch. Eather way and you get wet.

We only rode on intermediate trails. Personally, I didn't find them even moderately challenging. The rock sections (middle photo) were fun, but few and far between. The intermediate trails were scenic, built on rolling terrain with occasional lake views, but nothing special. They charged four bucks a head. Not worth the money.

Milage >15

Elevation gain >1000'

Bob rode this once, then was over it.

Bob rode this several times because there wasn't much else.

There wasn't much room for error on this bridge, and it was the only way across.

Monday, March 21, 2016


The Sylaward Trail system is in the Lake Howard State Park near Sylacauga, AL. It's a beautiful system boasting smooth trails, fast-flowy ups and downs with a good balance of climbing and gravity riding. It has the same flow as Jack Rabbit, but with more elevation change (1200'). It has similar elevation changes as Tsali, but without the steep climbs.

Bob and Marty loved this trail. Unlike the rocky surface of several other Alabama systems we have ridden, this trail was smooth, inviting riders to pick up the pace. The climbs and descents were gradual, and the turns and curves had good line of sight. This combination really encouraged us to ride a little faster than normal, which allowed us to really carve our turns. At the end of the ride we had completed 17 miles. This system was very well maintained and definitely worth a try.

Milage >15

Elevation gain >1000'

Nice rolling terrain with a well groomed surface.

Marty waits for Bob at the top of a climb.
Riders of all skill levels will appreciate this system. Though not technically challenging, expert riders will love the ability to ride fast and carve perfect turns. On the long, gradual downhills you have a good line of sight and can let go go the brakes. We hit some pretty impressive Max Speed numbers on our computers. It was all fun and no worry.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Cold Water Mountain

Cold Water Mountain is near Anniston, AL. Total trail length is over 23 miles, all of it machine cut with good flow, banked turns, and optional technical sections. The premiere line is called the Bomb Dog. It is a 2-mile flow-style descent with rollers, table top jumps, and a whole bunch of rock features like those in the below photos. The Bomb Dog Loop combines several individual trails to make a 10-mile loop with 1290' of climbing and descending. Depending on which way you ride, these rock stairs could be an unforgiving climb. Best to ride clockwise to save the hike.

The Anniston Loop is another 9-miles with 1003' of climbing and descending. This loop has better flow, and because there are fewer rocks, is less technical. If you start at the eastern parking lot closest to Anniston, you start with a climb. Or, you can drive west a couple miles and start at the top, giving you a chance to warm up before the climb.

Although these are fun and challenging trails, erosion has been a problem and the majority of the surface is covered with baseball size stones that move around a lot. This isn't so much a problem as it is just annoying, unless of course you are going stupid fast, then it gets challenging.

Milage >15
Elevation gain >1000'

Across the top of Bomb Dog.

This staircase starts 100' above and continues down. Best to hold tight.

Rich on one of the smoother sections.

Dave tops a climb.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Desoto State Park

Desoto State Park is high atop a mountain near Ft Payne, AL. Our ride started with snow flurries, then it got cold. The trails here are all entry level with mild climbs, but lots of roots. What these trails lack in technical excitement they make up for with beautiful scenery. Huge rock outcropping, car size boulders and several stream crossing add to the beauty of a thick forest. Cliffs of exposed rock begged to be ridden, but the propensity to crash kept our tires on solid ground.

There are numerous low, wet areas that necessitated creative decking, which adds to the fun. I would suggest not riding here after a rain. It might be popular for locals, but I wouldn't go out of my way to ride here.

Milage >15
Elevation gain >1000'

BTW- this first photo one was off-trail. We were looking for something exciting to ride, and we found it. Fortunately, Bob's injuries were only superficial. 

Minerals in the water added color to each stream crossing.

Wes tries to maintain traction on the wet rocks.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Tsali is next to Bryson City, NC. I first rode there in the late 80s, so this is a well established system. It is old school design, originally cut for equestrian use. Over the years it has been improved and maintained for bicycle use. Much of the trail has wonderful views of Fontana Lake, rising from a few feet above the lake to several hundred feet. Most climbs and descents are moderate, but there are several grunts on each loop to keep it interesting. Each of the four loops are 8 miles, and two can be combined to make a 16 to 20 mile loop. A really nice campground sits between the two sets of loops. Drinking water, a bike wash and bathroom are adjacent to the trailhead parking area. This system is highly recommended for a first experience in the mountains.

Milage >30

Elevation gain >3000'

On the first day we rode Mouse Branch and Thompson’s Loop for 17 miles of lake view trail. Both loops started with lengthy, sometimes steep climbs followed by undulating cross country and fast downhills. 

Ron cornering hard on Mouse Branch

Day two was the Right and Left loop. Elevation gain is broken up into numerous shorter climbs, some of which can be challenging because of steepness and loose rock. Let go of the brakes and scary fast speeds can be encountered on half a dozen well groomed downhills. But for the most part, it is gentle rolling, twisty singletrack.

Yes, there are climbs, but think of this as a future downhill.

Mike negotiates a tight switchback.

The lake is viewed from an overlook on the trail. The water level was low because the dam had been opened to draw down the water level before the spring rains. By the end of summer none of the shoreline will be visible. 

After our ride we had lunch at the NOC. Great food, huge portions, desserts that could count as a meal. From our table we could see the river with kayakers honing their skills, not unlike what we bikers had been doing only hours earlier. Next door is the NOC store, which is like a compact REI placed midway along the Appalachian Trail. Drool worthy gear for every sport imaginable. 

River's Edge Restaurant at the NOC.

View from the restaurant.

We stayed at the Euchella Lodge which has a dining deck over a ravine. After the days ride we would grab a few drinks and snacks, and sit on the deck to watch the sunset across the mountains. These trips are all about camaraderie. A fellow SWAMPer who in Tampa was an acquaintance, can become a new friend after sharing their biking experiences and life stories. Personal friends should be considered as one of life's greatest assets, and need to be cultivated as such.

Dinner on the deck overlooking the mountains.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Paris Mountain

Paris Mountain State Park, just north of Greenville, SC, gave true meaning to the word mountain. We did more climbing in 12-miles than we had done in the previous 4-days over in N Carolina. But what fun. The Pipsissewa section had some of the best rock features I've seen (see photo). There was always a good line somewhere, you just had to find it. The Sulphur Springs section featured a dozen high bermed switchbacks that were fun going up and down.

There were a couple of spectacular over-the-bar dismounts today, but I told Bob and Ron I wouldn't mention any names. We did capture a few good videos of us flying around some of the termed switchbacks. Well, it felt like we were flying, but after reviewing the videos, it looked more like a couple of Florida flat landers holding on to their bikes for dear life.

If you enjoy technical trails with some serious elevation change, you will love this place. Paris is just a short detour off the interstate on the way to Asheville, a good way to spend 2-3 hours. Take a map because there are hiking and biking trails and several confusing intersections. Enjoy.

Milage >15

Elevation gain >1000

It took three tries to get up this nasty section.

Marty shows us how it's done.