Located right outside Hot Springs, Arkansas, is the Lake Ouachita Vista Mountain Bike Trail. The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) is one of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) EPIC rated trails comprising of 20 or more miles of technically difficult backcountry single track. Lake Ouachita is one of our favorite places to camp )Read Why You Should Go Camping at Lake Ouachita State Park).
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The LOViT trail was completed April 11, 2014 finishing the vision started in 2002 by Jerry Shields and Al Gathright who began an effort to create 8 sections of 45 miles of uphill and downhill trails and spurs for hiking and biking trail along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita, Arkansas.
So did I LOViT or want to leave it?
The Lake Ouachita Vista Mountain Bike Trail
On our 2017 Labor Day vacation I took the opportunity while we were camping at the Lake Hamilton RV Park, Hot Springs, AR to ride a solo adventure in the Lake Ouachita Vista Trails or short for LOViT. I was psyched to see where the EPIC rated trail route would take me as a singular focus of man and machine. My goal was to complete the 40-mile direct route and finish at the trails end at Avery Recreation Area at Blakely Mountain Dam.
I researched the trail from online resources, determined my fitness was adequate by preparing a 5-day a week of leg conditioning for several months and even rode a Memphis Heat 100 mile mountain bike challenge finishing 88 miles in 11 hours until I ran out of daylight. However, the only way to determine if I could finish the LOViT is to ride it. Throughout the ride it seemed doable. Only until the latter half of the ride I found the LOViT trail would be a formidable foe and humbled me for each uphill and downhill mile for this Memphis, TN flatland mountain biker.
So begins my tale.
Driving during a hot humid morning to the Vista trailhead drop off point, we encountered no cell phone service. Was this an ominous sign of challenges to come? Did I plan an overly ambitious undertaking? I was going to find out.
Vista/Denby Bay to Homestead Trailhead
I waved to my wife good bye and started my solo ride at the Vista trailhead. I was more concerned with fiddling with the GoPro and iphone than determining the right direction on the trail. I rode a short section of an elevated wood ramped walkway and neglected to turn the GoPro on. So I returned back to capture footage. Such an amateur!
Adjacent to the Vista trailhead is the Denby Bay trailhead which is a light/easy 3.0 miles comprising as leg 1 of the Homestead trailhead. Easy peasy. Along the route I stopped on a 1.5 mile Eagle Vista Loop spur circling a large open field that accesses a wild wetland area at the south end of the Denby Bay area.
Homestead to Tompkins Bend: Leg 1
The Homestead trailhead offers an easy, but rocky 2-mile section to Tompkins Bend. The ride in my opinion isn’t technical when it comes to other rock strewn trails in later sections. The easy trail induced my ego that the trail was child’s play. NOT!
Along the trail I passed several memorial benches with a scenic view of Lake Ouachita if you peered through the young saplings. The benches offered a tempting opportunity to rest, but I had to keep to my schedule to finish the ride on time.
Tompkins Bend to Joplin: Leg 2
From Tompkins bend to Joplin is a 5-mile moderate to difficult ride traversing spring fed streams, old quartz mine, more memorial benches and an amazing stand of very large (estimated 300-400 years old) short-leaf pine trees towering over 125 feet above the trail. At this point I lost my GoPro mount … grrrr.
Along the trail is an opportunity to gaze upon spectacular views of the lake and unique rock formations by taking the 1.5-mile Eagle Vista loop. Tompkins Bend campground hosts a potable water source and bathrooms so take the opportunity here or stop at restaurants at Joplin to Hickory Nut leg 3.
Joplin to Hickory Nut Mountain: Leg 3
Finishing Tompkins bend you will approach Joplin trailhead. This was where my character was tested. Ready yourself for a strenuous 4 mile ride with five creek crossings and a mile of steep climbing with two sets of switchbacks over the last mile to Hickory Mountain trailhead.
I was making good time until I reached the last mile of Hickory Nut Mountain which was one tough nut to crack with steep climbs along the switchbacks. I walked most of it which drastically cut into my ride time schedule, hiking on ankle breaking softball sized stones exposed from water run off.
Just the hike up softball size stones and navigating between rock outcroppings and steep drop-offs gave me pause whether to ride leg 3 back down if I was riding west. A canopy of old growth trees provided some shade in the summer heat.
Note: Bathrooms, food, and water are available at the Joplin Store, located at the Highway 270 and Mountain Harbor Rd; a lodge restaurant at Mountain Harbor Resort and a Subway restaurant at the Mountain Harbor Marina on Lake Ouachita.
Hickory Nut Mountain to Forest Service Road 47A/Leg 4
At the top of Hickory Nut mountain trailhead there was a rare opportunity for cell phone service with my crappy T-mobile carrier. I texted my wife my whereabouts. At the top I met two other riders and compared notes. Both agreed Hickory Nut Mountain was a challenging trail segment. My new friend who rode a hard tail mountain bike up the steep elevated uphills and downhills and exposed softball sized rocks on trail bed found it extremely challenging.
The hard tail rider I met opined he would love to have full suspension to ease the ride difficulty of the trail. Even with my full suspension bike, the ride was challenging on this trail section.
Note: Potable water points were not available at this trailhead. At the hickory nut trailhead, the signage is misleading to USFS Rd 47A. Be sure to turn right where the sign appears with an arrow with numbers before the trailhead visitors sign.
Turning right to onto the signs to FS47A is a fun semi white knuckle challenging 3.2 mile high speed downhill over super-chunky terrain. I rode a vintage 26” wheeled full suspension Maverick that cushioned the downhill ride, but a 2-foot long by 3 inch diameter limb flipped up and hit my right knee and leg. I was glad I wore my POC kneepads which averted a painful whack across my right knee.
Forest Service Road 47A to Pipe Spring: Leg 5
After finishing Hickory Nut the Forest Service (FS) Road 47A, proceed onto the LOViT trail marked by a wooden sign off the gravel forest service road. Don’t let the smile fool you. I was hurtin’ for certain and my face was the only muscles not cramping.
My legs started cramping after the brutal last mile climb on Hickory Nut and made the supposable easy ride challenging. Finding the hidden trail entrances along FS47 of 2.2 miles of trail to Pipe Spring or 1.9 miles if following FS47 on a trail that is easy with a few low hills.
Pipe Spring to Crystal Springs: Leg 5 continued
Riding towards the Crystal Springs trailhead, twinges of leg cramps wreaked havoc during my ride despite taking Sportlegs supplements and an electrolyte solution. Along the way, I met up with a couple from TX searching for the elusive unencumbered viewpoint of Lake Ouachita. Unless it was at the Eagle Vista Loop spur I didn’t see the elusive sightseeing point either. At this point I ran out of water. I was able to get a water bottle from the kind couple to ride to the next trailhead.
At Pipe Spring, a 2.2-mile trail is rated an easy to moderate ride towards the Crystal Springs trailhead. Although marked as a water point where a pipe sticks out of a rock, the signage depicts warnings that water needs to be filtered or boiled. I was parched and hoping to refill. Note to self: bring along a Lifestraw water filter.
Crystal Springs: Leg 6 to Little Bear Creek
At Crystal Springs trailhead you will find the Crystal Springs campground water sources and restrooms. Stopping at Crystal springs I calculated that my ride distance of 22-miles, I was not going to keep pace to meet my wife at Trail Heads end at Blakely Mountain Dam. I was using up my remaining energy reserves and well past ready to call it a day.
As luck would have it, I bumped into a family of 5 who finished the ride from the top of Big Bear Mountain to Crystal Springs. I agreed to follow them back to the Brady Mountain Road Trailhead since it was only 10 more miles and they would ride at an easy pace. They had a sparse cell signal with AT&T and I called my wife to leave a message to pick me up at Brady Mountain. I was hoping she would get the message and not think it was a robocall since it was from an unknown Arkansas area coded number.
Little Bear Creek: Leg 7 to Brady Mountain
The Bear Mountain trail is 10 miles comprised of Little Bear Creek crossing to the base of Bear Mountain with the last two miles downhill to Brady Mountain road. Crossing Little Bear creek at the base of Bear Mountain is a long steep rugged ride up to the summit with several switchbacks. I rode up about 2 miles attempting to keep pace with my new friends until I ran out of water and pedaled out my remaining energy reserves.
I fell further behind walking while the group pedaled on. I had thoughts of Bear Gryllis survival tips creep in my mind, as the last available water point was 8 miles back at Crystal Springs.
I struggled to pedal up and dismounted to walk the upper sections of the trail. Since I pretty much felt like toast I kept hiking up the arduous single track trail and foregoed further riding. As the walk provided me the opportunity to view my surroundings I found memorial benches along the way. At this point I was getting light headed and without water the hike was an ordeal. Nearing the top, the folks I followed came back to encouraged me to keep climbing and paused to take in the elusive ridge line scenic views and Lake Ouachita with a convenient bench to rest while taking in the breathtaking view.
At this point a short climb remained before the 2-mile downhill. The downhill was a glorious sight for me to coast down. At the end is a creek crossing to the Brady Mountain Road.
At the bottom of Bear Mountain I was ecstatic and hopeful that my wife was there at the trailhead. My legs were cramped and my throat was parched. It was about 5pm which meant I had completed a seven-hour ride. I was happy that my wife got the message. Although I didn’t finish my goal to complete the trail to Blakely Mountain Dam, but I gained a lot of experience and respect for the LOViT trail.
I am not worthy!
Brady Mountain: Leg 8 to Blakely Mountain Dam
Although I did not finish, I wanted to depict the last leg of the ride compiled from other sources. The last leg “Brady Mountain” is a 6.2-mile segment of the planned LOViT trail to end at the trail’s end at Avery Recreation Area located below the Blakely Mountain Dam. An arduous climb once again greets you to earn a descent through switchbacks on the southeastern slope of Brady Mountain. Along the route are a spectacular rock outcroppings. Another challenging climb is offered to Rick’s road then a descent to a vista view and a backdrop of Blakely Mountain Dam. At the vista the remaining trail is an easy ride to potable water, restrooms and the Avery Recreation Area.
As I write this, I have noted the lessons learned for this particular trail:
- Partner or group up. A partner or group can provide encouragement, sanity checks as well as opportunity to preposition a vehicle drop off point or opportunity to distribute a cache of water, tools, and spare parts.
- More is better than not enough. Bring a lifestraw filter or pre-position water sources at trailheads if you plan to ride one way beyond your hydration carrying capacity. (I brought a 3-liter hydration pack and ran out at mile 20 of 40 with few potable water sources along the way.
- Check your cell phone coverage. Bring a cell-phone from a carrier that is widely accessible for that particular area. AT&T & Verizon were the predominate carriers to have accessible cell phone signal in the Hot Springs area. Otherwise, bring a satellite phone or SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS messenger and make sure your contact may be reached. Cell service from our campsite to the LOViT trailhead was not available.
- Condition for the heat and terrain. Get the necessary conditioning through cross-training or additional ride time to tackle the target mileage you want to complete. I was not prepared for the grueling conditions to complete my target goal of 40 miles end to end.
- Know when to say when. I should have called for pick up at Crystal Springs mile 20 instead of pushing another 10 miles beyond my performance endurance point with no water. It’s very hard for me to admit I can do the same cycling at age 50 that I was able to do easy at 20!
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