The Weekend April 3, 2016 stands out as one of my most memorable camping trips with my two loves camping and mountain biking (and you, too, Carmen). I broached the subject with my avid camping spouse about the epic 28th OORC (Ozark Off-Road Cyclist) Annual Mountain Bike Festival at the Devils Den State Park in Winslow, AR. Why did I feel the need to sell this? Well, it was a mountain bike ride and Carmen hasn’t ridden since she was a little girl. She has learned that although I say it is fun there is a sense of foreboding that I could be seriously injured.
If you love something enough to do and share… bring along a like minded activity like camping to ease the idea.
Building it up … without the travel trailer
I like mountain biking, she likes camping and what couldn’t be more of a reward than sharing the great outdoors together! Well, here was the kicker. We just purchased a travel trailer/camper, and I thought that would be the selling point of sharing the adventure by taking the travel trailer for its maiden voyage. Bad news. The park was booked with other mountain bike fanatics, meaning no vacancy for travel trailers. ( Read 3 Reasons to Go Camping at Devil’s Den State Park) So we booked a tent campsite with other like minded campers and mountain bikers! So it was a two for one deal in the making. Did I mention that it was 30 minutes away from University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where her daughter attends? That was the kicker to make the trip to mountain bike nirvana… ahem camping in the mountains.
When we arrived at Winslow, AR (after a 5.5 hour drive), I felt the buzz of activity including the sound of knobby tires whirring on pavement as riders in matching spandex outfits or canvas all stars and cargo shorts rode by and clinking of stakes anchoring tents. We set up our tent and all the usual unpacking and getting settled.
As Carmen paid a visit with her daughter for dinner, I surveyed the first night’s itinerary. The evening started with a rare night ride since the park is closed nightly. I had ridden the 5 mile route earlier in February 2016, but riding a familiar route at night is obviously different as night and day, no pun intended (For night riding tips read 5 Tips for Mountain Bike Riding)Finishing the ride and getting back to the tent was a welcome sight. No crashes, but the ride takes it out of you with your senses on overdrive trying to maneuver a course strewn with roots, sharp rocks, switchbacks, narrow single track with steep drop offs, trees and branches with only a 750 lumen light at a distance of 6 feet. Plus I’m approaching the big 50 and my legs don’t seem to bounce back quite as fast as they use to.
The crisp COLD frigid mountain air
As we settled in for the evening the temperature dropped throughout the night to below thirty degrees. We laid down with hats and thick clothing with our little propane heater cranking out heat the best that it could. The heater lasted a mere two hours.
Note to self, always check your propane tank levels before packing for a camping trip.
In the middle of the night, we woke up freezing with our air mattress feeling like a bad 1970s waterbed. We re-aired it up and in the process of using the air pump we woke up a baby and then the camp. The other campers just loved us! The next morning, we found our mattress deflated again, and Carmen and I were wedged together in the center. I liked being in a mattress sandwich with my lovely wife. Carmen, not so much. Despite the sleepless night, it was a surreal moment to take a breath of cool Ozark mountain air and feel the warmth of a morning campfire and coffee percolating in a white speckled blue enamel coffee pot. This is what makes the camping excursion worthwhile.
Make like a banana and split
After breakfast, Carmen and her daughter Rachel (attending the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville) went on a shopping trip to Eureka Springs, AR. That left me to ride the day away with our hosts the Ozark Off Road Cyclists (OORC) in the oak hickory forest. The OORC improved and maintains the single track trails in Devils Den State Park. I rode with the OORC members who conducted a clinic on trail riding techniques that I could have used during the night ride.
The day culminated in a 15 mile trail ride. Starting from the camp site was a 2 mile long slogging slow climb up a 10% grade switchback of asphalt road with the sun and heat reflecting off the road and onto the riders. Reaching the top with salty sweat burning my eyes was the Butterfield trailhead. A bit of trivia Butterfield Trail is named for the Butterfield Overland Express stage coach route and offers a rugged overnight hike in the Ozark Plateau. Sections of the Butterfield Trail extend from the hiking trail connecting the single track Fossil Flats Trail.
Going down down down
Our steep asphalt climb was amply rewarded with 1 mile white knuckle ride down the Butterflied Trail with limestone rocks and crags ready to shred my tires. We all stopped to assist a rider in the group who crashed and change out another rider’s flat tire. Afterwards, we finished out the ride across a stream bed heading back to the campsite. We were rewarded with our riding efforts as we met our OORC hosts to down beers, telling tall tales of past mountain bike rides, comparing camping gear and homemade fire pits.
The evening closed with an indulgement on charcoal grilled burgers and hot dogs by the Devils Den Park staff. While we were waiting, the NorthWest Arkansas Bike Trials riders showed off their prowess in balancing and hopping their bikes from rock features, picnic tables, concrete and railroad embankments.
Packing out the tent one last time
The next morning was pack out day. I made the complimentary breakfast of sausage eggs, coffee and toast on trusty camp tools of the trade all over a camp fire. Oh, we were also rewarded with a memorable glimpse of the white squirrel hopping from branch to branch. Everyone who rode saw a glimpse of the white squirrel, but we had never seen it until now.
It was a great way to end the camping adventure seeing the natural beauty and oddities of Devils Den. We took down the tent with the knowledge that it would be the last tent outing (at least for us, we’ll save the tent for visits from the offspring). The tent has served us well, but hey, we have the technology! Why can’t we enjoy it in a travel trailer and all its amenities?
Once the car was packed, we said our goodbyes to friends we made and hope to see them on the trail next time.