It was billed as a three day mountain bike festival, but upon arriving in Bentonville we quickly discovered that the Slaughter Pen Jam was going to be about much more than mountain biking. We arrived at the downtown Bentonville Square around 5 Friday evening and things were already hopping. We were there to see the trials and BMX demonstrations, but soon realized that we were in the middle of the monthly First Friday Night Block Party, complete with music, food, kid’s activities, vendors and this month, cool bicycle demonstrations.
Kicking off the weekend for bicycle enthusiasts was the trials exhibition featuring Mike Steidly, United States Champion and Adrian Lengyel, Hungarian Champion. Both showed off amazing skills as they jumped their specially designed trials bikes from obstacle to obstacle and eventually over volunteers from the crowd. When the trials champions took a break, BMX stunt crew Real Encounter took to their bikes and the air as they flew off ramps performing various maneuvers high above the street. Once they were done it was back to Steidly and Lengyel. The back and forth demonstrations went on for a couple of hours and were a real crowd pleaser as people lined the streets to watch.
Back on the square we wandered through the craft, food and other tents eventually finding our way to the Walton Arts Center Stage where the bluegrass band, Mountain Heart from “out east” was entertaining young and old. After a few more laps around the square we decided to head to the hotel since Saturday would start early for us. We were nearby in the Simmons Suites, just down the road from the square. The rooms were nicely appointed plus the hotel offered an indoor pool and hot tub along with a nice workout room and continental breakfast. We highly recommend it and expect to stay there again.
A new event at the Slaughter Pen Jam for 2014 was the 10K trail run starting early Saturday morning. Although it was raining, Lisa was excited to get out on the Slaughter Pen Trails for a good run. More information on the trail run can be found in her article from last week. Once the trail run was over we wandered through the tents that were set up at the park, spending some time with friends at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) tent and visiting with folks in the Lewis and Clark, Phat Tire Bike Shop, Orbea, and Mojo Cycling tents. Being under the tents was a big part of it as the rain wasn’t letting up. The crowd wasn’t as large as it might have been on a sunnier day and it remained too wet for a bike ride so we decided to head into town for lunch. An old favorite just off the square was at the top of our list, the Tusk and Trotter. It was a cool, rainy day, more reminiscent of middle of autumn than the end of summer, so we opted for hot soups and cold beer. We chose well.
The rain seemed to finally be letting up some so we ventured back out to the park using our bikes and the Razorback Greenway Trail to get from the parking area to the festival area quickly. By that time, some of our Little Rock friends had made their way up and mountain bikers were pre-riding the course in anticipation of the race on Sunday. Some of the bands were able to put on a show under the food tent and the party/festival atmosphere was growing. We watched as the kids race took off down the field. “This is harder than I thought!” exclaimed one little girl who went on to finish despite the difficulty, with a big smile on her face. More mature riders lined up two by two to ride in the drag races. Sprinting the short distance of the finish line chute, the losing rider was knocked out of the competition until there were just two riders left to battle it out for the top stop. Everywhere we turned there were kids riding bikes, and even Adrian Lengyel from the trials demonstration the night before stopped by and rode with some of them.
Soon enough dinner time was upon us and we headed out to meet friends at the Pedalers Pub a few blocks from the square, another excellent beer selection, some good pizza as the day changed from damp and cool to perfect eat-outside-on-the-deck weather. With another big day ahead of us, we headed back to the hotel early. The next morning would be the touchstone of the weekend, the Slaughter Pen Jam Cross Country Mountain Bike Race.
Bentonville continues to be a great destination for a micro-adventure, even on rainy weekends. In addition to the miles of soft and hard surface trails, Bentonville offers unique dining opportunities which one can only scratch the surface of on a two night visit. Bentonville is home to one of the greatest art museums in the country, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and don’t miss the modern artwork that you can see at Hotel 21C. Other nearby sites of interest are the Walmart Museum housed in the original 5 and dime on the square and Compton Gardens, a public park on the grounds of Ozark Society founder Dr. Neil Compton’s home. Make sure you bring your bike as that is the best way to get around town. Each trip to Bentonville has us looking forward to our next visit to favorite spots and to the discovery of new pleasures.