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Arkansas? Mountain Biking Destination? Who knew?

IMBA World Summit 2016 – Bentonville, Arkansas

imba-ws

I have never been to this part of the country. All I knew was that Bentonville is the world domination headquarters of Wal-Mart.  And, yes, it is true. There is a Wal-Mart Museum here.  

Attending the  2016 IMBA World Summit to represent SDMBA were myself and four board members: Kevin Loomis (President), Ben Stone (Vice President), Jose Galaz and Robert Hubbard.  

Traveling to this event on election day added a little extra excitement as we landed at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and they couldn’t manage to get the door open on our plane. This resulted in all of us just barely missing our connecting flight. We debated about renting a car and driving the five hours to Bentonville but then came to our senses and let American Airlines buy us hotel rooms for the night.  Ben was particularly enamoured with the brisket nachos we had when we finally reached the Marriott Hotel restaurant.  We caught another connecting flight early on Wednesday morning to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.  We got an amazingly polite and knowledgeable Uber driver to take us to Bentonville.  

We traveled through beautiful fields and trees that were just starting to turn every shade of autumn and caught glimpses and hints of trails heading off into the woods. We knew we were in for something special.   The state of Arkansas, and the region around Bentonville, with the help of the Walton Family Foundation, have created a mountain biking destination that is exploding with mountain biking enthusiasts. A unique system of connected trails and bike parks was purposefully planned and built that showcases the natural beauty of the scenic Ozark landscape.  

After settling into the Air BnB Victorian house we had rented, we set off walking through the quaint streets to find the Expo area.

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Robert brought his own bike but the rest of us had to rely on the amazing fleet of demos (Trek, Giant/Liv, Yeti, Specialized, Salsa, Advocate, Orbea, Haibike, and more) that were brought in for the event.  

I had signed up to participate in the Liv Cycling Women’s Clinic on Wednesday afternoon, so I soon was set up with a sweet Liv Pique Advanced.  Liv had gathered an amazing group of cycling ambassadors to lead the clinics of varying levels.  I was paired up with Tandie Bailey, a local shredder, who I later found out is the star of this amazing new video released at the World Summit by the OZ Trails Council. 

 We got ready and headed straight from the downtown venue of Compton Gardens onto a bike path leading straight into the woods.  Within less than 25 yards we cut off onto some singletrack that paralleled that bike path.  Whizzing past trees, we encountered smooth singletrack interspersed with skinny rock elements and wooden bridges for some extra fun.  Before shooting out again onto the bike path, we whipped through a flowy section of five smooth as butter berms great for practicing cornering.  We had just left downtown!  I couldn’t believe it.  Tandie told me that they planned it that way so that people on the paved bike path would be able to see all the fun riders were having on the singletrack.  

We headed down to Slaughter Pen Bike Park and played around while honing our cornering skills and front wheel lifts.  Then our gang of women headed up still another quality singletrack trail to town.  Straight back to check out the vendors (Primal, Progressive Trail Designs, BikeFixation) and the beer provided by Bike Rack Brewing.

Still somewhat stunned by the bike friendliness of this town, we headed to the Summit opening reception.  Good snacks and beverages were accompanied by presentations which included the introduction of Dave Weins as the incoming IMBA board chairman.  

We awoke to a sunny but crisp morning and headed to the opening session of the summit. Jenn Dice, director of People for Bikes, spoke about how mountain biking development fits in with national level advocacy efforts.  Hans Rey, all around living legend and fun guy,  gave the keynote address talking about the scope of his amazing career and the advocacy work he has done for mountain biking around the world. He is an amazing ambassador for our sport and for IMBA.  Other legends roaming around the place included Gary Fisher, Danny MacAskill, Ryan Leech and Shaums March.  These guys can all shred like nobody’s business but they also do their part in giving back to their sport and to advocacy issues that face all of us.  Then our SDMBA delegation headed off in different directions to attend breakout sessions on subjects including nonprofit board development and management, Wilderness access issues, and e-Bike access on public lands.   It was a full day of sharing and learning best practices and meeting like minded people from all around the country and the world who all have a passion for making mountain biking better for all of us.  

Kevin represented SDMBA as a presenter on a panel called “Successful Advocacy Messaging” where he shared the story of our issues and continued progress with the Marines and the Stowe Trail access.  Attendees from across the nation are well aware of our little “problem” with the Marine patrols and the confiscated bikes but are also impressed that SDMBA has made progress on this front.

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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Being an Art History Major, I did take a small intermission at lunchtime for a stroll through the amazing Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (free admission by the way. Thanks, Walton Family Foundation) with CORBA president and all around super-hero, Steve Messer.  We found we share a love of art and creativity that balances our love for mountain biking.

 We managed to carve out some time for a working happy hour at the local cycling hangout, The Pedaler’s Pub, with all the IMBA California attendees and our Regional Director Laurel Harkness. It is valuable time spent talking California issues and ideas with people who understand the opportunities and constraints peculiar to the Golden State.  Ted Stroll, President of the Sustainable Trails Coalition joined us and gave us an update on the bill s.3205, Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act.  

For the evening festivities, we all headed back down to the beautiful Crystal Bridges Museum for a fairly swanky reception (by mountain biker standards) with an address by Tom Walton. Yes, that Tom Walton – avid mountain biker and trail advocate and one of the heirs to the Walmart empire.  Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson also addressed the crowd.  Governor Hutchinson has been instrumental in making his state is an adventure sport destination with mountain biking being a key component.  Governor Hutchinson also gave an award of a new Trek mountain bike package to a young inspirational female NICA racer for her stellar participation in the Teen Trail Corps Program.

The galleries of the museum were still open so I took another look at the breathtaking collection with NICA SoCal League Director Matt Gunnell and Associate Director Brandon LaRue.  I know that this has nothing to do with mountain biking but we had wonderful conversations about life and art that somehow must lead to getting more kids on bikes!  

This schedule was pretty non-stop. Needless to say we headed back to the beautiful victorian we stayed in and went straight to sleep to get ready for Friday, which turned out to be epic.  

The day began with a talk given by Neil Kornze, the National Director of the Bureau of Land Management.  He rides mountain bikes and the BLM has promoted the development of mountain biking across the country.  

Then the breakout sessions began again. I stayed to hear about the new Unself app which IMBA has been developing in partnership with the Unself developers and selected chapters, SDMBA being one.  Unself will be beta tested soon by SDMBA. Think of it as Strava for volunteers which will help with tracking hours and projects.  

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Patrick Kell and Susie Murphy

After that, I was honored to present a session with Patrick Kell (IMBA Southwest Regional Director) called “How to Fund Your Trail Project.”

We talked about traditional and alternative funding sources that all chapters can explore in their own communities as well as listed some tools that chapters need to experiment with such as peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding. We also emphasized the importance of communications and social media marketing development in order to tell a chapter’s story to members and potential donors.

The real fun started when everyone started to load up the shuttles to head to the Railyard Bike Park in Rogers, Arkansas.

What a treasure for this community and the surrounding region.  There were kids of all ages and families enjoying the safe space to practice their skills in a progressive environment. This is built on about three acres.  An amazing connected trail system led off into the woods for miles.  We got to hang out with our friends Robin Baloochi and the gang from WD-40 Bike, Adam Watkins from BIKE Magazine, and Jackie Reseigne from Jenson USA.  Bike demos were available to hit the trails down around Lake Atlanta. I borrowed an Advocate Cycles Hayduke with 27.5+ 3.0 tires! What fun!  Did a few laps on the beginner and intermediate bike park lines with a little coaching from ICP certified coach and SDMBA super volunteer, Jason Liebrecht.    An amazing trials demonstration was put on by Hans Rey, Danny MacAskill and Ryan Leech to entertain the huge crowd.   

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The Railyard Bike Park

We headed back to town with big smiles on our faces but still wondering why San Diego is so behind when it comes to bike park infrastructure and amenities like bike parks.  SDMBA is getting closer to getting a bike park in partnership with the County of San Diego after almost 9 years of work.  If our government officials could just see a stellar bike park like the Railyard in action, they would understand! Lots of work to do here! Stay tuned.

We enjoyed an amazing southern dinner at the Flying Fish of fried catfish, fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried pickles, hush puppies…you get the picture!  We hit the hay early after all that fried goodness so we could get ready for the big Saturday ride.

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Ben Stone, Back 40. Photo by Jose Galaz

The glorious weather continued as we hopped the shuttle to Blowing Springs Park, south of Bentonville.  The entire IMBA expo vendors and demo fleets made the trip too.  I got set up on a Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp Carbon 6Fattie and headed into the woods towards the trails known as the Back 40.  Here’s a shot of Ben on a smooth Pivot ride. (Check out SDMBA Facebook page for more of Jose’s great photos..as usual.)

Did I mention the rides here do NOT involve any fire road?  Really!  Not a single foot.  It is all singletrack, all the time.  You have to watch the fallen leaves as they can be slippery.  The occasional outcroppings of limestone and small water crossings lend some variety to the trails.  The terrain is constantly rolling so you never really stop pedaling for long.  Some folks found even the short route of 15 miles to be more than challenging. Those that completed the 30 miler were sure ready for the delicious lunch of gumbo and hot dogs from Pedaler’s Pub with beer provided by Core Brewing.

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Susie Murphy with Jenny Johnson (Mount Wilson Bicycling Association) and Leah Dilbeck (Inland Valley MTB Association)

We piled back in the shuttle to town to get cleaned up for the evening’s VIP event that included a silent and live auction and a room full of some of the most influential folks in the business. The energy was high as everyone shared their experiences from their rides.  Tom Walton passionately shared the path that Bentonville has taken to become a world class mountain biking destination with over 260 miles of interconnected trails. In the end, lots of folks took the opportunity to step up and support IMBA in its mission of creating, enhancing and promoting great mountain biking.  

As if all of this wasn’t enough for one epic day, there was an after party at the Meteor, a guitar shop and music venue hosted by the Phat Tire Bike Shop.  Great live music by Crescent City Combo provided the perfect atmosphere to celebrate a great week of riding and progress for mountain biking.

We packed up on Sunday morning and called Uber to take us to the airport. You know you are in a small town when you get the same driver as the day you arrived.  As we sit in the Dallas airport trying to get home, the five of us share our thoughts and discuss the people that we met and the inspiration that was gained.  

  • How should we prioritize the work that needs to be done in San Diego to improve our riding experience?
  • How can we better tell our story and demonstrate the need for trails to our land managers and elected officials?
  • How can we serve our members to make SDMBA the best IMBA chapter in the country?  
  • What is the best way to cultivate volunteers and other supporters to take initiative and drive SDMBA’s mission forward?

We barely scratched the surface as far as the riding opportunities in Northwest Arkansas.  There is definitely reason to return here one day soon.  After all, I never made it to the Wal-Mart Museum.