Monday, June 20, 2022

Biking in the land of OZ, NW Arkansas

Spring Break 2022!

I haven't gone anywhere for spring break since maybe 2005, when I last participated in one of the Upper Midwest's most prodigious institutions for learning. A gap in Jr. North's school schedule presented us with an oppertunity to pack up the Vista Cruiser and head south in search of spring. The snow would follow us to about mid Iowa but, we did find it eventually, in Bentonville Arkansas.

An on-trail, open air cafe.

The 10 - 12 hour drive to Bentonville, Arkansas was broken up with hotel stops in KC on the way down and Des Moines on the way back up. Thankfully, a hotel with a pool is all we need for a successful and entertaining layover. 

Stop #1, skateboarding in Des Moines.

That night we stayed in Independence, Missouri near the Bass Pro Shop. It's a destination shopping area but we were there for its proximity to the freeway and the indoor/ outdoor pool. Jr and I swam outside in the cold sunshine and we took an after dinner walk around the "lake," watching the waterfowl do their thing. It was very spring like.

Heading back North on Thursday, we stayed in downtown Des Moines, hoping to take advantage of the giant skateboard park and botanical gardens. It was cold and rainy in the morning, so we didn't get many outdoor activities in. Dinner at the Royal Mile, meat pie and English bitter, was a trip highlight.

And now for the main attraction, Bentonville Arkansas. Bentonville is a booming little town in northwest Arkansas and the home of Walmart. It's also home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the country. The locals sport an interesting mix of business casual and athleisure wear; the trails reflect that mix too. In town you'll find highly manicured bike trails and jump lines while just north of town there are at least 100 miles of back-country Ozark bike trails to explore.

Mrs. North in excellent form

My rig suffered a mechanical failure on the first day.
I was able to rent a "full squish" Orbea Occom!
Thank you Mojo Cycling!

We got a little riding in on the first afternoon but it rained the first full day, closing the trails. We spent day one exploring Eureka Springs, about a 45 minute drive to the east. It's a very fun town built into the hills, hosting many historic buildings, shops, and even a ghost tour. The rain and earlienes of the season kept many visitors away and we had it mostly to ourselves. 

Eureka Springs

Bedrock is a common motif.

Green, just like spring!

One of many in town.

On the return journey, we caught the last tour at War Eagle Cavern. It didn't blow me away with formations but it was a fun side trip. On a hot summer day, it's probably heaven.

This is what the underside of a sinkhole looks like,
 a very common topographic feature in south east Minnesota.

 A river flows through this cave system, 
making short work of any stalactites or stalagmites.

The following day we wandered the hills behind Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art while we waited for the bike trails to dry up.

We started out on some of the in-town "trails." The trails don't really close and they do dry up quickly. As complete newbs to the area, it was hard to know where to ride and we did get into some wet trails. Minnesota bike trails are often gated off until they dry out. These were built out of crushed gravel or built into the rocky hillside. The other odd-to-us thing is that most of the trails are two-way and are designed with that in mind. All the uphills felt like we were going the wrong way, but you get used to it.

Mrs. North

Mrs. North dropping in!

And Jr. too.

A water crossing on Black Apple Creek trail.

Good times!

Some of the more challenging trails.

There's no shame in walking the tricky bits.

More water!

Choo choo, the most fun I've had on a bike!

Community bouldering is available at the brewery/ café/ bike shop plaza.

That's Jr. North flying through the air.

Yet more signs of spring.

This was worth the drive.

We rounded out our visit with a hike at Tanyard Creek before making our way North to Des Monies.

Our outdoor activities, social distancing, and AirBNBs have kept us all (mostly) happy and  healthy in these turbulent times. The family bike rides, both near and far, have been a much needed diversion, a consistent reward, and a relief valve for us all. I very much hope that you and yours are finding balance, happiness, and satisfaction in your day-to-day or weekly routines.

- Ride North

cool | rainy, then sunny | April 3rd - 8th

Trail maps

Little Sugar - back country trails 25 mile loop

Saturday, June 18, 2022

the Waterfalls Capital of Wisconsin

June is here, time for some moto-tourism! In past springs we've planned these trips around riding. This year we chose the scenic route and spent equal parts of Saturday both hiking and riding in the woods north of Green Bay. Our route connected us to both physical locations and memories.

Dave's Falls

Marinette County is the self proclaimed "waterfalls capital of Wisconsin." It's also where our family visited when we went "up north." It's been a very long time since I've been back to the sandy trails where I first learned how to ride a dirt bike. 

But first, I'd have to make the trek east. I didn't particularly enjoy I94 and 29, I found myself wondering, "why do I do this, a car would be so much easier." I had a hunch I'd be rediscovering the answer to that question soon and rode on. My first stop on Friday morning was for food and gas at the Cadott Veterans Memorial. I'm always shocked by how crudely built these machines are. It fosters a real appreciation for the people who climbed inside and put them to use. 

My dad and I were set to meet at the Dells of Eau Claire county park, just west of Wausau, around lunch time. I got there a little late at 1:00. He rode up from south east Wisconsin and had set out on Tuesday to follow the Wisconsin River north.

Carved into the rock, "Roland Brelimer 7.26.25"

It's a beautiful park and our first waterfall of the trip.

We stumbled upon the Gunderson House in Hogarty and did a quick 180. (hwy 52) 

For lunch, we managed to find a fish fry (in Wisconsin on a Friday). Then stopped in at Motorama, home of Alfa Heaven. In addition to Alfa's, they specialize in all the odd, niche, never imported vehicles they can find. Ten dollars a tour, all the car stories you want. 

SSZ Motorcars is their own brand and are built in-house. (very limited production)

Ralph's Quality Corvairs!

We camped at Goodman Park on Friday and Saturday both for nostalgia reasons and for its proximity to all the good waterfalls. It was a good test of my gear too. I had bought a 35L dry bag for my camping gear which fit everything but my tent. The next size up is 60L which would have been perfect for my tent, bag, pillow, sleeping bag and sweatshirt.

The mosquitoes came out at dusk but were never an issue otherwise. The drinking water is tannin stained and slightly iron flavored but I've had WAY worse. I was happy drinking the pumped-by-hand groundwater all weekend. The only gear adjustment I'd make would be to bring a better sleeping bag, it was a little light weight for the 40 degree temperatures we woke up to on Saturday.

The camping spots are all under towering red pines.

Lots of branches on the forest floor, hope it's not too windy. (it wasn't)

An evening walk at Goodman Park

Not pictured, rustic cabins for rent.

Our first stop in the waterfall tour was 18 Foot Falls, located in 12 Foot Falls Park. (camping available)

18' falls

18' falls

18' falls

The water is tannin stained but crystal clear.
12' falls

12' falls

Trillium was abundant on the forest floor.

Your's truly

Ride North Sr.

12' falls
8' falls, as short walk from 12'. We passed on 4' falls. 

Long Slide and Smalley falls were our favorites. The short hikes into these falls were rugged and required scrambling over granite outcroppings and around boulders, all part of the fun.

This is just the lower half of Long Slide falls.

This is Smalley, can you find him in the following picture?

More wild flowers. 
While the Trillium were abundant, 
these yellow lady slippers were a rare treat. 

Dave's Falls, our last stop of the day. I figured we wrap up our waterfall viewing in the morning and do some riding in the afternoon but the sun was already getting low by the time we hiked down to the waterfalls. I'm not sure if there's camping at this park but the waterfalls are impressive.

Don't let the kids out of your sight at this beach!

On Sunday we packed up camp and headed out for a big sitdown breakfast. I think we were out of there before 7AM. I was looking forward to taking hwy 8 all the way to the Minnesota border, almost its full length. It took longer but was much more relaxing than taking the 4-lane all the way, and more interesting too.

A stop to charge my long-dead phone and refuel "the temple."

My final stop, just north of Stillwater.

Happy. Happy.

- Ride North

June 3rd, 4th, and 5th | 50f - 70f | mostly sunny, the rain stayed just south 
750 miles | 15 hours in the bike | 58 mpg!