Over the last several years, we’ve covered just about every Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series venue the cross country series has descended upon; Devil’s Den, Slaughter Pen, and Burns Park to name a few. This year was our first trip to the largest mountain bike festival in the state, The Eureka Springs Fat Tire Festival. We decided to go full immersion and attend all three days arriving Friday afternoon in time for the short track races and some unofficial events like the Beer Relays. The relays consisted of teams of three cyclists, in turn, making a lap of the short track course, then downing a beer at the finish line before the next team member took their turn to be repeated twice: three riders, six laps, six beers. You can see a quick exchange of riders in the beginning of the video below. Tying the weekend’s events together was the Omni, a combination of the short track races, the Super D race on Saturday and finishing with the cross country race on Sunday. Racers competing in all three qualified for overall epicness.
We opted to make the Twin Pines Cabins our base along with several members of the Ozark Off-Road Cyclist group. It was a good choice, situated about halfway between the festival site at Lake Leatherwood and downtown. We’ve always enjoyed our visits to Eureka Springs but this was one of the few Summer visits we had made to the historic, Victorian town in the mountains, we typically visit in winter. Good food and beautiful scenery is always guaranteed in this part of northern Arkansas.
Saturday morning brought the start of what was billed to be a very busy day; first the downhill races. The course is one of the best in the state, taking the bold riders down over a mile of drops up to 20 feet deep and a couple of gap jumps. For the beginners, the bigger features have alternative routes, but either way it’s fast and intense. With crowds lining the bigger features, the sounds of cow bells and cheers could be heard throughout the woods.
The festival grounds were busy with portable pump tracks for the kids courtesy of Progressive Bike Ramps, vendors, music, riders coming and going from various pre-rides, and friends just catching up with each other. We decided to take advantage of some downtown cuisine by heading to the Spring Street area to enjoy the cooler than normal temperatures and some outdoor seating. As we were finishing up our lunch, the devastating news of a friend’s death following an accident while pre-riding the cross country course reached us. Much of the cycling community has mourned the loss of a great friend, and while the Arkansas Outside family continues to grapple with our own personal loss, we realize that the wheels must keep turning.
We weren’t able to attend the fun ride in town but we did arrive back at the festival grounds in time to catch some of the Super D race. This race takes riders down a course of a little over 2 miles including a few sections of the downhill course. It’s fast, it’s technical and it caused a few scrapes and bruises. A final short climb out of one of the tunnels built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s brought racers to the finish and the end of the day’s racing events.
Sunday morning’s activities started bright and early with a logistic nightmare for two photographers trying to cover the point to point cross country race. You may have seen the photo of the racers starting in downtown Eureka Springs and heading up Spring Street used in the publicity shots for the festival. Racers start from this iconic spot riding to the Lake Leatherwood trails via backstreets that all seem to travel uphill through the town until finally entering some gravel road and eventually the single track. In order to capture photographic evidence of all this activity, Lisa was dropped off at the festival site where she hiked into the woods to find a strategic spot to take photos while Joe went downtown to catch photos and video near the Howell Spring turn and climb. Once all the riders were through Howell Springs, Joe headed for the festival area to get more photos and video.
At the festival, the Ozark Off Road Cyclists along with Progressive Trail Designs, set up a kids obstacle course which was enjoyed by many. Summer seemed to have returned and the temperatures were closer to the norm on Sunday, but numerous canopies provided plenty of shade for the fans to watch the competitors finish the cross country races. Riders paying tribute to the fallen cyclist gathered near the finish to ride across the line together, all wearing pink shirts and Laura’s signature tall socks.
The final events of the day were kids races over a portion of the short track. We always enjoy watching the younger riders give it their all and appreciate seeing the future of the sport. Even if you don’t ride, we encourage you to attend this event next year and enjoy the spectacle of a true mountain bike festival set in a scenic location like Eureka Springs.
A quick highlight of many of the festival events are included in the video below.