Bikes and Bogeys

June 19, 2024

It was 1:40 a.m. on May 26. My brain and body jolted at a giant crack of thunder. Splashes of strobe lightning illuminated every dark corner of the bedroom. Rain pelted the glass sliding doors overlooking the Berksdale Golf Course next to our Greens One condo in Bella Vista. I sat bolt upright, and seconds later, the severe weather alarm went off on my phone.

The message warned: Seek shelter immediately…

Tornado warning in Benton County…

Jen, Jim, Josh, and I huddled in the living room, unsure exactly where we would seek additional shelter. There are no basements in NW Arkansas. As we watched the storm pound the fairway and bend the trees sideways, we determined our best option would be to jump in the giant indoor Jacuzzi tub if it got worse. We watched and waited as the storm raged, pea-sized hail smacked loudly off the skylights on the roof. Another 20 minutes passed until the wind and rain started to subside, and our heart rates returned to a normal cadence.

The next morning, we learned not one, but three tornados touched down in nearby Bentonville and Rogers, a mere four miles south. Three deaths were reported, and a mile-wide path of destruction left neighborhoods, trails, and the community in piles of debris. Giant hardwoods were uprooted, blocking most roads, some on top of roofs or cars, and intertwined with destroyed electrical infrastructure. Days and months of cleanup continue into June. Chris, the manager at Greens One, told us, “I will be working from home for a while; my office in Rogers is nothing but sticks and a few office chairs.”

Bentonville Bike Fest

We planned the trip in late May to coincide with Bentonville Bike Fest’s three days of Memorial weekend activities, plus Josh was registered to race the Enduro on Sunday morning. Rain check, please; Tornado check in this case.

Thankfully, our group of bike enthusiasts got to spend Friday and part of Saturday at Bike Fest.  Bentonville Bike Fest is an epic party for all bike riders, from kids to pros, roadies, XC riders, mountain bikers, and BMXers.  It’s four days of group rides, workshops, free bike demos, and an expo with plenty of sweet merchandise and importantly, cold PBR. There are meet and greets with bike superstars, a kids’ zone, BMX shows, and a giant jump zone to watch some seriously big air.

This amazing showcase was cut short a day as the storm ripped the expo and racecourses apart. The entire expo and all the vendor tents were reduced to piles of twisted metal wreckage. Like the community and resilient people of Bentonville and Rogers, Bike Fest will return stronger and revitalized. My cowbell is on the shelf for now, anxiously awaiting a return to action.

Greens One and Bella Vista POA

Bella Vista has become a home away, so much so that our bike buddies, Steve and Kim, bought a home in Bella Vista’s POA (Property Owners Association). Josh and I have been building sweat equity by rolling up our sleeves to help with projects like new flooring, a fresh coat of paint, and some landscape duties. It’s a small price to pay for a sweet, trailside place to stay. We’ve nicknamed the house the CycloTherapy Center for its bike-in, bike-out amenities. Tunnel Vision Trail access is just across the street from their front door, as is the Kingsdale Complex (golf, pool, putt-putt golf, and a fitness center). And for this trip, right next to Greens One and their 40 vacation rentals.

We’d been talking up Bella Vista and Bentonville as a mountain bike mecca to close friends for years. Finally, logistics and calendars aligned with super friends Ginger and Craig, Jen and Jim got a dose of the area from very willing tour guides. With eight in our group, we added a golf and trailside condo at Greens One, conveniently a short walk to group happy hours and dinners. It was home base to Bella Vista’s 100+ miles of trails, seven golf courses, plus seven lakes and waterfall hikes.

We took Jim and Craig on Bella Vista and Bentonville rides, ordering the best of the menu, the biker’s best sampler platter. We fit in a scouting ride for Josh’s enduro so he would have a preview of the techy sections. Bullet, and Schroen Train, as examples, had plenty of rock and gnar to navigate.

I queued up golf rounds at Highlands and Kingsdale when my legs needed a break. Like biking, it’s golf-in, golf-out convenience when staying at Greens One. The Berksdale #1 tee box was our patio view, where we sipped coffee in the morning and assessed how our swings compared to other players. The private pool was also a nice respite for a dip to cool off from the growing summer heat. The Greens One complex is tucked in a lovely, wooded hillside, perched on the ridgeline where Sugar Creek bends around the golf courses and layered rock ledges. Golfer, biker, hiker, or poolside lounger, you’ll appreciate its quaint and cozy vibe.

The condo was super spacious, and each unit has a unique walk-in atrium, which turns out to be a great place to store golf clubs and bikes. The master bedroom and enormous attached bath are equipped with a hot tub. After copious amounts of time in the saddle, I pretty much melted into the king bed each night.

The POA also manages several bars and restaurants, all open to the public and away from the business of downtown Bentonville. Between Bike Fest activities, after a round of golf or a good rip around the trails, we would roll into BV Bar & Grille at the Country Club for happy hours and dinner specials. Also, a favorite, pull up a picnic table at the Gear Garden in idyllic Blowing Springs Park. It’s a must for post-bike or bogey refreshments, where the locally brewed Trailhead lager is on tap.

The Land of Oz, The Mountain Bike Capital

The storm derailed plenty of plans, but we certainly didn’t complain about making adjustments, considering the hardship many were facing post-storm. In Bella Vista, localized flooding closed the golf courses for several days and many trails near Sugar Creek and low-lying areas. However, within 24 hours, there were ridable sections of Back 40 and Little Sugar. The OZ Trail network extends from Bella Vista to Springdale, Fayetteville, and beyond. Bentonville’s impassable trails forced us to expand our trail experiences and try new areas.

Kingswood Golf Course after the storm

Snowbird and Back 40 in Bella Vista
Snowbird is a new Bella Vista trail connected to the Back 40. It’s an easy green with several art installations around the 1.5-mile loop. We adopted this trail as the “Michigan” namesake. Like us, most Michiganders, aka Snowbirds, seek warmer and greener pastures during our gray and cold winters. Thanks, Bella Vista, for naming a trail after your northern state neighbors.

Centennial Park in Fayetteville
Plenty of US Pro Cup races, including the XC Open series, are held here, and it is well-known on the racing circuit for its tough and techy trails. Your full-suspension bike will be your best friend on these trails, where rock gardens rule the woods.

Mount Fitzgerald is home to the Best Trail Ever?
Springdale, about 30 minutes from Bella Vista, is home to Mount Fitzgerald. This trail system takes you on some spectacular raw singletrack through dense forest that passes through rock chutes and the Coyote Caves. To get to the Best Trail Ever, start at Bayyari Park, do a warmup on Stage Coach, then take the connector to Butterfield or Coyote Cave; either has access to the Best Trail Ever. Tip: Ride counterclockwise for more descents and less hike-a-biking. This trial tested my ability and mental toughness. So much spectacular rock. It was impressive but also intimidating. Thanks for the lesson on bike humility, Mount Fitzgerald.

The Cleanup

Our group of eight dwindled to just Josh and me during our last two days in the land of Oz. The storm cleanup continued earnestly, so we jumped at the opportunity to chip in on a volunteer night at The Castle Trail Hub. The Trailblazers and crew organized 200 volunteers who showed up with rakes, trimmers, and mostly just can-do attitudes. We pulled on gloves and headed into the melee of brush and downed tree limbs to begin clearing each trail. Back and forth we went, making giant piles of limbs and brush for crews to pick up later.

It was a heartwarming display of teamwork and community spirit. Kids raked the trail clear of debris and the adults coordinated removing and carrying the larger branches. We worked, hauled branches, and sweated together; it rained some more, and just two hours in, most of the Castle trails were ridable again. There’s still so much to do in Bentonville, but my heart was brimming to see how much progress was made in such a short time. Teary, tired, and hungry, we headed to Greens One for a shower and one more dinner before heading back to Michigan.

The exclamation point on the trip was a delightful sunset dinner at Bella Vista’s LakePoint Restaurant on Loch Lomond. A less moody Mother Nature brewed up a stunner of a sunset, sending vibrant oranges and yellows over the lake while we sipped a red wine flight before dinner. Our craft-prepped filet and salmon entrees were a delicious delight. The meal also included some grilled asparagus atop a pile of buttery, garlic-mashed potatoes. We savored the culinary indulgence and spectacular views, deep in conversation about a return visit.

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