words: Carrie Morgridge
images: courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Carrie Morgridge
Two summers ago, my husband, John, and I biked the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a mountain bike journey across North America from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico (a border crossing on the Mexican Border). The ride was hard, but we have an adventurous spirit and we just love to bike. So, after this incredible ride we bought a small RV, and now we frequently take trips, with our touring bikes strapped to the back. Recently we traveled in our RV as part of our annual journey from our winter home in Stuart, Florida, to our summer home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Our trip began with rainy weather for five continuous hours on Interstate 10. We were traveling on mostly major interstates, and after that tedious wet trek, we made the decision to drive on more scenic roads and chose to take Highway 61 N in Louisiana as it parallels the east side of the Mississippi River. We were able to stop for lunch at a small lake, inflate our kayak and go for a swim. It was after lunch that I was able to find our spot for the night at Lake Ouachita State Park in Mountain Pine, Arkansas.
This is where the great adventure begins.
I don’t know why we were surprised by the hills in Arkansas. The trees are tall and grand, there is frequent rain, which keeps the grasses and flowers green and lush. Getting off the major interstate was a great decision, and something I highly recommend if you have the time. I was able to book our campsite online and lucky for us there were three sites left. Lake Ouachita is thirty miles in length and looked quite large on our paper map. The lake has almost 1,000 miles of shoreline. It’s clean, huge and has many fingers of water to navigate.
When we arrived at our campsite, families were barbequing dinner, kids were on their bicycles, and happy dogs greeted us. The campground was pristine, and our site backed up to the lake and was a quick downhill jaunt. We took our dog, Nina, to play in the lake before dinner.
As I made supper in the RV, John started the campfire. After dinner, we sat in our oversized comfy chairs, listened to music by the campfire and played with our dog. Nina is a very cute toy Australian Shepherd, only twelve inches in height and has two blue eyes, so she attracts many people to come over to play with her. That night was no different, and as the kids played up and down the camp street, they would all stop by and play with Nina and talk with us. Personally, I just love all the kid voices and hoots and hollers when we camp. It brings back so many great memories of my own youth.
The magical part of the evening happened when the sun started to set and the fireflies came out. There must have been over a hundred in the forest between us and the lake. Every second a spark of light would go off from the fireflies, and it felt like magic fairies were in the woods playing tag.
When we got up in the morning, it was already pretty warm. We headed down the steep trail to the lake waterfront with our chairs and let Nina play in the water while we drank our first cup of coffee. The sun danced on the smooth water, and the birds sang as we enjoyed our surroundings.
John had found a trail near our campsite called the Caddo Bend Trail. It didn’t even register with me that this might be a hard or technical bike ride. So I geared up for a simple ride on the lake. In Steamboat Springs, where we reside in the summer, the lake has a great single track. It is fairly flat and a great place for first-time mountain bikers to learn how to navigate. I guess that is what I was expecting.
The route was just four-point-five miles long, so how hard could it be? I biked in my tank top, no helmet, no gloves, and sneakers. No sunblock, no water. I was prepared for a simple ride. John hooked up our homemade bike basket for Nina so she could come with us.
As we left the campsite, the first down then uphill had pretty decent inclines. I just assumed this was unusual for the “quick” bike ride we were taking. The route continued to get harder, tighter, more technical. The lake was to our left and incredibly picturesque. We found ourselves on cliffs, between trees, and in ample places to jump logs, sticks, and rocks.
I looked down at my watch to see that in forty-five minutes of riding, dripping in sweat, we had not even covered one mile. This was epic mountain biking, and I was not prepared, which was a total bummer. I was so sweaty that my hands kept slipping off the handlebars, and I didn’t have the grip to change
gears on my shifter. I wanted to go faster, but I was concerned that I was wearing a baseball cap instead of my helmet, so I had to slow down. There were so many places we had to get off our bikes and walk, and one of the highlights was biking across small, narrow bridges along the trail. After eighty-six minutes of riding and dripping sweat, we bailed out of the woods onto the service road to get back to the RV as we knew we had a long day of driving ahead. Before we left, we stopped at a great local hangout on our way back to the interstate called Patty’s, located in Royal, right outside of Hot Springs, where I had grilled catfish and coleslaw (which Patty herself says is better than KFC!). You have to stop here when you’re in the area.
Who would have thought that there would be such challenging mountain biking in Arkansas? Next time, I will be more prepared. We wish we could have stayed longer, but had to get back on the road to meet family back in Colorado. Until next time, Arkansas. We will be back!
Carrie Morgridge serves as the Vice President and Chief Disruptor of The Morgridge Family Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to invest in transformative gifts for educators and youth. Carrie is the award-winning author of The Spirit of the Trail: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide.