Making my way along the Twisted Hickory Trail I found my technical riding limits. Other riders seemed to be making similar discoveries as we passed by each other over and over again, picking through the leaf covered rocks, wet roots and tight turns. As promised, I was challenged.
This was my third year to attend the Buffalo Headwaters Challenge. On my first trip I decided to focus on taking photos along the trail and with the help of James Gaston and putting together a fun video. I rode a couple of miles just to get back in the woods and on the way home I told myself I would not come again unless I was riding at least one of the courses offered.
Last year I rode the eastern parts of the trail starting from How Kuffs house to the fire tower and down along Knuckles Creek. After a short detour I finished up about 15 miles. It was a great ride and I was very excited about returning.
In the past, the only way mountain bikers could ride these trails legally was to be a member of the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists or attend this event. These old hand cut trails were built by locals in an area of the Ozark-St. Francis Forest originally designated for logging. After years of legal battles, the US Forest Service officially recognized the trails. Grant money was found by the hard working volunteers at OORC and soon many of the trails were redesigned and rebuilt by Progressive Trail Design. The trails received Epic Status from the International Mountain Bicycling Association just last year. Not all the trails got the grooming treatment, there are still a lot of old school singletrack trails and that’s where I found myself about 5 miles into this year’s ride.
Riders had a choice of three distances, 20, 30 and 40 mile routes. My riding has been minimal the last several months and I knew the 20 miler would be more than enough. All 200+ riders left the Red Star School along Highway 16 and headed straight up a gravel road that soon turned right onto a much steeper gravel road (the beginning of the video). For most in the group it was only the first section that would force them to walk the bike. At the top of the hill we took a short road to the first bit of singletrack, a groomed section that dropped for a couple of miles of fast riding bringing riders to the first real technical section, the Twisted Hickory Trail.
The next several miles were beautiful, riding the Azalea Falls Trail and South Bench Trail. We enjoyed short uphills, fast downhills and random technical pieces. More climbing brought us to the Skyline Trail. Mike’s legs started cramping on him so we took it easy eventually reaching the Wildcat Trail. We had been warned about this trail and rode only a bit of it. It drops down quickly with many technical sections and high penalties for failure. Finally at the bottom we only had a short climb out to the road. At about 18 miles into the ride, the Red Star Trail did not seem as short as it looked on the map and near the top of the climb my quads also locked up.
A short, downhill road section soon brought us back to the school….and the beer….and food. Mike and I had made it.
I hadn’t planned on staying too long, but was soon wrapped up in hanging out with everyone, hearing their stories of the ride and past rides, dreaming of what might come next and planning to return for more rides. This continues to be a great event more than doubling in size this year over last. The volunteers and sponsors did a great job of keeping everyone safe and well fed. I’m looking forward to next year and possibly returning before then.
More information on the trail can be found on the OORC website.
(Editor’s note: Mountain biking is coming into it’s own as a tourist attraction in Arkansas. Drew Harris, photographer for Cranford, Johnson, Robinson and Woods, the advertising agency of record for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism was out on the trails. That means you may find yourself featured in future tourism ads and/brochures. Also, in an effort to gather more information on the economic impact of mountain bike events like the Buffalo Headwaters Challenge, OORC is asking all riders who took part in the event to take a quick, short, anonymous survey.)