By Bob Black-Ocken
Photography by NOVO Studio
As the father of four, it’s hard to find much time to ride my bike. I could travel over 40 miles to find awesome trails to ride, or I could just head to Camp Robinson. The MTB trails there were founded by the good folks of C.A.R.P. (Central Arkansas Recreational Pedalers). The group, armed with tools, muscle, energy and coffee, has created an incredible system of trails worth checking out. There is also an interactive online map you can print and take with you to explore the trails. If you are tech savvy, download a map to a GPS unit.
I have been riding and training there with friends for almost 20 years. Every Wednesday, I meet my posse of four or five close longtime riding friends. We go for a weekly fast-and-furious ride of 10 to 15 miles, followed by a couple of adult beverages and sometimes a small cookout, complete with the dogs of death—that’s overcooked hot dogs charred to perfection and smothered in mustard, ketchup and relish.
Camp Robinson, with its 40-plus miles of trails, makes me feel so removed from my busy life—and in an urban area, no less. Each time I arrive I pick a different trail depending on my mood and fitness level. There is always the right trail to ride. Sometimes I will bring my son and his dog; we can ride at his pace and take the dog off the leash. I feel secure on this trail system. The trailheads are well marked, and the trails also include shelters and port-a-johns. The best trail names in the state are found here: Advanced Trig, Ball of Nails, Can of Corn, Porta Potty, Buddha and Dead Elvis are some of my favorites.
On the right day, riding Porta Potty feels like catching a wave for the first time. Riding so close to the trees and rocks, it seems as if they are going to crash into me at any moment. As I look up the trail on the horizon, I can see more gnarly single track. I position myself to ride the wave again, descending at breakneck speed. Somehow, I survive as I ride it out, looking for the calm out in the next section of trail, my heart pounding in my head. I am a surfer of the trail.
On any given day, I can make new friends and see old ones at the trailhead. I always bring a chair and hang out for a while after I ride. One thing you will not find is the helicopter flyovers. We have a couple of riders who are assigned to Camp Robinson and are pilots. If they see us riding, they do a low maneuver giving us a thrill while riding.
Other things that make these trails particularly enjoyable include the fact that the system is a living, breathing thing. The trails are constantly changing. New trails appear, old trails get rerouted, new bridges show up—all due to a group of aging advocates who act on their dreams to improve the trails. I am on the board and love to hang out with the trail stewards at Central Arkansas Trail Alliance. After an evening ride, you’ll hear about new areas they have discovered, reroutes that will improve flow and new connectors allowing for better ride routes. You might also find a beverage or two!
This is where mountain biking in central Arkansas was born and still lives. I love the excitement of bombing down some hand-cut single track, catching a glimpse of another rider or runner on another trail and then they’re gone, or stopping at an intersection and making the call for what you’re up for next. When you’re contemplating improving your PR on Porta Potty counterclockwise, all stresses in your life just fade away. For the next 20 or 30 minutes you are a part of the trail; the rocks, the roots, the climbs and the tight turns are your entire life.
Drop by the visitor center and fill out the check-in. You’ll need your driver’s license and tag number. It’s been recommended that you write them both on the back of your blue window card so you can just carry it in and sign.
Get back in your car, show your Sportsman Pass to the guard at the gate and head out to ride. Cool.