July 21, 2016
Banff, Alberta. On the eve of the 2015 Tour Divide race, Adventure Cycling member Chuck Campbell was carb loading by way of pizza and brewskis with good friend Mike Dicken. The conversation was naturally focused on long distance mountain bike routes and having exhausted talk about the adventure ahead of them, their thoughts drifted back home. They lamented the damn shame that Adventure Cycling hadn’t mapped a single route in the entire state of Arkansas.
As they rode the first days of the Tour Divide, their imaginations wandered, and they passed hours in the saddle brainstorming a potential route. “What if we linked up the Ozark and Ouachita mountains, the Arkansas River Valley, and FOUR IMBA EPIC TRAILS? Yessir — that would be awesome."
Chuck returned home and started riding, researching, and piecing together GPS files. The idea for the Arkansas Highlands Mountain Bike Route was born. Now all he had to do was sell Adventure Cycling on the idea.
You really can’t blame a bunch of Montana cartographers for our initial skepticism of placing the words “mountain bike” and “Arkansas” in the same sentence. Years of riding high-alpine singletrack in the West has honed our bias of what quality mountain biking entails. Boy, were we wrong, and I was lucky enough to find out firsthand.
Serendipitously, shortly after Chuck sent us his route idea I was heading out of the Adventure Cycling office on a bit of a sabbatical to complete some Air National Guard training in Biloxi, Mississippi. Chuck’s enthusiasm for the potential route convinced me to stuff my mountain bike in my already jam-packed 4Runner and see what this Highlands riding was all about. I was to meet with him en route to training and report back on the viability of his ideas.
Chuck welcomed me into his bucolic home with a heaping plate of venison spaghetti and an impressive PowerPoint presentation of the proposed route. Chuck’s teaching background served him well in impressing me with his knowledge of the history, geology and geography of Arkansas.
We scrolled through photos of the four IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) Epic Routes and the Bentonville IMBA Ride Center — all linked by the route and including enticing swimming holes, museums, rock faces framed with climbing routes, quirky geological formations, breweries, mountaintop lodges, small town cafes, festivals, and yes, AA baseball stadiums. This route has it all — year-round accessibility and culturally diverse mountain bike riding — something for everyone. I was sold and couldn’t wait to get wheels on dirt.
Though we had hoped to do an overnight on the route section near his Russellville home, torrential rain had slowed me down a day in my travel itinerary. I needed to be in Hattiesburg, Mississippi by nightfall the following day, so we settled on a dawn-patrol start. A light rain greeted our headlamps as we pedaled away from Chuck’s front door.
We were on singletrack in minutes. Techy root and rock sections twisted through the trees along the Arkansas River, and as I struggled to keep up, Chuck rambled off regional knowledge like a professional adventure guide. Twenty-four miles later, I had a muddy grin plastered on my face. Next time I’m in the area, you know I’ll be riding as much of the whole route as time allows.
While riding in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi during breaks in my training, I was blown away by the passionate, core group of riders who took to the woods every chance they got. I realized mountain biking in America doesn’t start west of Colorado. I’d personally love to see the Arkansas Highland Mountain Bike Route come to fully mapped fruition.
But I’m just one optimistic cartographer — what do y’all think? Could this be your next dirt route adventure? Send us your feedback on this possible new route in the Natural State!
This post was written by Adventure Cycling cartographer Travis Switzer. His keenness for an Arkansas mountain bike route is unmistakable; let us know your response in the comments.
All photos by Chuck Campbell.
GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.