To be fair, it was only half-sloppy. Last year was the inaugural Timberlands Mountain Bike Race, it was wet and a little slick but race organizers put on a good enough show that this year the Timberlands race was the starter for the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series. What a great way to get warmed up for cross-country mountain bike racing season.
The park staff at Cane Creek State Park, along with volunteers, added an extra 1.5 miles to the course just a week before the race, and then it rained. The new section twisted on itself like a corkscrew caught in the garbage disposal punctuated by thick, muddy areas that were slicker than elephant snot. It took some strong bike handling to keep from sliding into a tree, coming to a dead stop or zipping off the trail completely, all of which I experienced at some point during my single lap of the race course.
The race started at the pavilion/playground area at the west end of the park, heading up the road for .6 miles before making a hard turn to the right and into the mud. It was a tough turn to make at full speed. The next 4 miles would be a test: a test in staying upright. Besides the mud on the trail itself, there were several small creek crossings. Once across the muddy, sandy creek, riders were often immediately faced with a short steep uphill that was near impossible to get up before rear wheel spin left them momentum-less. I soon figured out that as I approached the water crossings my best bet was to dismount and run the bike across the water and up the hill. It was reminiscent of cyclocross racing.
Once past the 4.5-5 mile mark, racers get to enjoy the older trail system. Hard pack with only a few muddy areas that were easily negotiated. There were a couple of climbs that would put us lesser-cyclists off the bike for the uphill run but for the most part it was a fast, flowy section all the way to the finish of the lap. Hammerfest.
Riders came out of the woods near the starting line and for those of us in the CAT 3 race, it was the finish line at just over 8 miles. Other racers in CAT 1 and 2 would be doing 2 or 3 laps by turning back to the road to start again.
The turn out for the race was pretty good with over 150 racers including a strong contingent from Northwest Arkansas. Phat Tire Bikes showed up along with representatives from most of the bike shops in the area.
The trails at Cane Creek are great fun to ride and the new section will be better once it’s broken in a little. I talked to Geoff Wright, the park interpreter and instigator of the mud-fest. The plan is to armor the creek crossings and to possibly put in a couple of bridges in the new section. The old trail is an long time favorite of mine. When things are dry it is fast and flowy with some minor hills and a lot of bridges including three suspension bridges. It’s a worthy ride if you can get out there in the early fall when it’s been dry for awhile.
The trail is long enough for overnight backpacking, and a shelter area farther down the trail makes this a perfect place to take a first time backpacker or just to get away for a weekend. The park also has a full service campground, kayak rentals and a kayak trail that takes paddlers by beaver lodges on the lake. If you don’t want to “rough-it” so much they have a rental RV your family might enjoy.
Thanks to Lisa for taking photos all morning while I played in the mud. 400 photos are available from the race on our Facebook Page. Feel free to share, download, tag, comment, etc. We’ll post the results from the race as soon as they are available.