One of the best mountain bike rides of my life was in a little-known Arkansas town that bordered Oklahoma. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. I, a past resident of bikers’ paradise Bend, Oregon and current resident of New England riding hotbed Vermont, had one of the top 3 rides of my life in Fort Smith, just south of the Arkansas River.
This past summer I was road-tripping across the country from Bend to Vermont, reversing the move I’d done two years prior. Behind me was my ski career. Ahead of me was a new life – a girl I loved, a family to whom I’d be nearer, and, I hoped, a full-time job with a stable income (editor’s note: check!). In between, as far as I was concerned, was just expanse to pass through as quickly as possible.
I don’t want to throw too much shade at the middle of the country, but, when you’re used to mountains, Kansas and Oklahoma both leave a lot to be desired. You could imagine my surprise when my mother (best road-trip companion ever) told me that the visitor’s guide for Fort Smith, a flatland town probably best known for being in True Grit and Lonesome Dove, advertised mountain bike trails.
Rolling into the park, my expectations were pretty damn low. It was 9 AM and already 90+ degrees with humidity that I would classify as “oppressive.” The trail, from what I could see while getting ready, just meandered through a field and around a disc golf course. Whatever, I figured, I can spin for half an hour and then get back on the road.
Once I hit the woods and got used to the heat, I realized that the trail was actually pretty fun. Tons of tight corners and switchbacks made the most of the minimal terrain available. There were log rides, mini gap jumps over a creek bed, and even a trail called “Playground” with a bunch of jumps, teeter-totters, skinnies, and other freeride features. Maybe it was because I had started out imagining the worst, but I was having so much fun that after 90 minutes I had to force myself to turn back to the car. An unexpectedly awesome ride in the rearview, I continued on towards home.
I look back on this ride every now and then as an example of how awesome opportunities can materialize out of nowhere. I’m sure everyone’s been to a restaurant that looks like a hole in the wall and then wows you with how good it is, or seen a band on a random weeknight that blows you away. It’s all a matter of remaining open to new experiences and being willing to look for awesome in the unlikeliest of places. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself ...
-- Ollie B