River Mountain Biking in Arkansas
Welcome to Mississippi! Just as we crossed the border we got a cell phone alert for flash floods. I stopped at a mini-mart. I said to the young girl at the counter “it is hard to like this weather”. She replied in a southern drawl “Yes, unless you’re Noah”.
I was mt. biking up sandstone; upstream against the current of a river that was flowing down the singletrack trail I was riding.
Three days before we were driving in a torrent of rain in Mississippi through a storm that was crossing along our route...for days. Last night we hugged our dogs as their bodies trembled in the hours of rolling thunder and lightning. After every interval of thunder and lightning a rapid increase in raindrops followed, pounding down on the top of our Sprinter van. We were on high ground and outside the world was coming apart at the seams. This was a storm for Noah, not mountain bikers looking for an adventure. At least that is what it felt like at that moment.
The thunder, lightning, and rain continued until 12 noon the next day. Finally the sun made an appearance. We hadn't seen it for days. Days of being stuck in the van or running for cover in the pouring rain had left us with van fever. The temperature, the past few days, had plummeted to 40 degrees and we had to dig out our winter clothes again. This was not what we expected in the south!
We tentatively opened the door and peaked outside. A warm wind blew into the van and surprised us. It was like we went to sleep in one state and woke up somewhere else the next day. Were we still in Arkansas?
Not wanting to waste time in case the sunshine and warm weather disappeared again, we quickly changed into our bike clothes and grabbed our bikes. Rather than spend any time driving to another trail we decided to do the local trails in the park. They weren't epic but they were there and we needed to ride!
I knew that today was going to be a mud wet ride. I was prepared to look like a mud puppy when we were finished. It didn't take long before we were all covered in mud. We were three miles into our ride when we crossed our first larger stream swollen with rainwater. Then we dropped down to the river. The first thing we noticed is that it had gone beyond its banks and was pulsing around submerged trees and was creating new side channels and lakes. It was three times as big as it had been when we first drove by it two days ago. The trail turned and followed the river. At one point a narrow band of dirt next to the river on one side and a pool on the other was all that was left of the trail. Luckily the trail turned away from the river and climbed up onto the hillside again.
Then we came to a secondary creek that merged with the larger river. There was a bridge. It started ten feet into the river water beyond the new shoreline. One end of the bridge seemed to be against the upstream side of a tree. The rest of the bridge spanned the remainder of the flooded creek and was still attached to the other shore. We watched as the dogs walked out into the water on this side of the bridge. The water wasn't too deep. We discussed our options and decided to try and cross it. If one of us fell in, we’d ditch our bike and make for the shore. David went first because I had to take photos. He walked his bike across the bridge. Then he and the dogs waited for me to make my way across. I paused in the middle to look up and downstream at the pulsing mass of water that was churning under the bridge. This was just this side creek not the main river.
We continued crossing smaller creeks and then one of the creeks jumped its banks and the trail became the creek. The surface of the creek was smooth sandstone so it was easy to ride the river of trail. Further on we had to hike around a new wetland and reconnect with the trail further upstream. The trail climbed back uphill and then descended down again. At the bottom we realized that our turn led right back toward where we had come from. It was another river of trail. We turned right and rode upstream following what seemed to be the path of the trail through the trees...and water. We rode against the current, upstream for about fifty feet and then the trail turned left onto the flat ground between the stream and the main river. We wondered if we'd have to turn around.
We crossed the flat area and came to another bridge. This one was narrower. It was riding at the surface of a raging stream. The top was covered with tree branches and debris that had been carried up and over the bridge. We looked at the bridge, looked at the map, looked at the bridge again. We decided to try crossing. David went first. The dogs followed behind him. As they all crossed the far end dipped a little deeper and water started pulsing over the wood slats. They quickly finished the crossing. The bridge held strong with just the water coming over the edge. I followed carefully picking my way through the debris and avoiding the water lapping at my feet.
This tame smooth packed single track that was a workout had turned into a great adventure. Suddenly we weren’t just riding to get out we were finding a whole new sport of bike-kayaking down rivers of trail. Sleepy creeks and rivers were thumping with floodwater. At our next creek the water was running down the trail at a good gradient. We didn’t hesitate this time. We just rode up the trail, upstream, against the current. All around us was a forest of trees with a ground covered in pine needles. Here on the trail was water carrying all that rain down stream.
We rode up this river of trail for quite a ways and then, finally, the trail turned away from the stream’s course and we were climbing back up to our trailhead. Below us we could see the river again. We passed by some other people at the park who were playing ultimate Frisbee. There weren’t any other mt. bikers in the park. David wondered why. I thought only people from Seattle would rush out to ride before the next rainstorm. People here probably know they have another day or two and can let the trails dry out and the river’s recede.
We high fived, washed the mud off the dogs at the bike washing station and cleaned our bikes too. Then wiped the mud off our legs. This tame ride had been anything but normal. It seemed that we couldn’t find normal this winter. Between record snow fall in the west, subzero temperatures in the north, and torrential rains in the south we started to feel like we should just give up on a classic road trip and just chase extreme weather and go mt. biking or at least start a new sport of mt. biking down rivers of trail.
We loaded up and headed off to Hot Springs for a long soak in the thermal pools at Quapaw Spa. A great way to end an adventurous day!
10.0 Mile, 100% Singletrack
538' Ascent , -537' Descent
Other trails in the area
Things to Do Around the Town of Hot Springs
Ohio Club; Visit Hot Springs first original bar, the Ohio Club for some great food. A place where the likes of Bugsy Malone, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ownyee Madden frequented along with movie stars and politicians.
The Gangster Museum; Learn about the infamous gangsters, the less organized criminals, moonshiners, ladies of the night, and baseball spring training camp.
Restaurants (we can vouch for them because we tried them)