Strangers in a Strange Land
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to ride on one of our local IMBA Epic trails, The Womble Trail near Mt. Ida, Arkansas, along with a dude I’d never met from Ohio. We’d spoken on the phone previously, as he gave us a ring to see about some local trail beta. To be honest, it seemed odd that he was spending a week’s worth of vacation riding our trails when he could’ve gone to Santos, Florida or he could’ve stopped even closer to home in Tennessee or North Carolina. It was flattering at the same time, so I did the best I could to assist with the plan for his fat-tired tour of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains.
I could tell that Jeff was pretty fired up, and he told me that one of my coworkers told him that I would get pretty fired up about telling him where he could/should ride. A natural fit? Indeed, like a brother from another mother. He got to Arkansas after driving south from the ice and snow that had Cleveland socked in and rode a few days bagging some nice trail miles and saw some of Arkansas’ Geological wonders -- Blanchard Springs Caverns, Pedestal Rocks, and Petit Jean State Park. We met on a cloudy Saturday morning near the Womble. I could tell right away we’d have a good day. Jeff was an adventurer and was ready to ride. I had decided to bring along my trail partner, Roxie. She doesn’t ride a bike, but she’ll sure put her paws to the ground and try to keep up all day.
After we scoped out the trail map, we decided to start our ride on the western end of the trail at North Fork Lake, a small but pretty spot at the end of a dead end dirt road. It was a reunion of sorts for me, as the Womble has always been a stop for our state race series, but we hadn’t started there in many years. Many years ago, we raced it as a time trial from the lake. As it happens, time erases points of detail, and as we dug in and started climbing up Mauldin Mountain, I began to faintly remember, not so much the bends and bumps in the trail, but the pain and labored effort to reach the top. Then that’s where the trail rewards you for your effort, and last weekend became brand new for me. The incessantly swerving benchcut was perfect in every way for miles, it seemed. And every time I thought it surely could not continue on, we’d round another bend and see the trail snaking its way along the mountainside towards the other side of the holler -- perfectly outsloped and compacted, made of tough sandstone gravel and a thin hardscrabble soil and sprinkled with milky quartz crystals.
At the end of the day, Jeff was clearly appreciative of having a riding partner for the Womble Trail and for the other trail information I’d helped him with. To that point, his trip to Arkansas had yielded a bounty of adventure, beautiful scenery, and fun. Of course, it was no problem for me, and his thanks reminded me of a much ballsier gesture of good faith done to me in Crested Butte a number of years ago. It was 2001, and after a rousing Tour watch party at a local burrito dive in Gunnison, my friend and I were approached by an obviously drunken individual about a ride back to Crested Butte. It turned out that he’d ridden his bike to the dentist in Gunnison, gotten gassed up, then had a few too many beers watching that day’s stage and was in no shape to make the ride back. We sure weren’t going to turn him down, he’d bought the last round after all and he didn’t smell bad, so…
On the way up the valley, our passenger babbled on about this and that, and eventually we made an improbable connection. We’d both been at the same USCF mechanic’s clinic at the Olympic Training Center the year before. What turned out to be a surprising coincidence morphed into the greatest offer of generosity I’d ever experienced. Jack had asked us if we were riding any. We said no, we were just trail running and climbing fourteeners, as we’d not brought bikes out to Colorado on that trip. He said emphatically and perhaps a little drunkenly, ‘there’s no fucking way you are not riding while you’re in Crested Butte. You guys are borrowing gear from my roommate and I and riding Reno, Flag, Bear, Deadman’s tomorrow!’
Of course we didn’t argue. We just looked across the front seat at each other and smiled at our good fortune. The idea of a day of mountain biking was just too awesome. The plan would be to meet them at their casa in CB South in the morning. We did, and felt really bad because we woke them both up. They roused easily though and let us know that we had to go get coffee with them before we could do anything else. Apparently the preferred vehicle for an early morning coffee run is a 50cc pit bike. Strangely they had four of them, so as soon as we got them kick-started, it was a race. We tore ass down the gravel streets, a little out-of-control but grinning wildly all the way to the coffee shop. Once done with the Café Grand Prix, those guys handed us everything we needed for our ride -- shoes, gloves, bib shorts, jerseys, and two XTR equipped bikes that were certainly better than what we’d left at home back in Arkansas.
It was unbelievable. They didn’t know us, but they loaned us thousands of dollars worth of their gear and turned us loose on the trails above Cement Creek. We did the loop and returned a few hours later, having spent ourselves on some super fine singletrack up in that thin Colorado air. And what reward did Jack and Brian get for lending us their bikes -- some stanky shorts, a couple of dirty bikes, and for what it was worth, our heartfelt thanks. We left after a few high fives and handshakes and took something with us that meant as much as the ride itself. Jack and Brian selflessly gave us an adventure. They put everything in place for us, as if we’d called months in advance and paid for their services. I’ll never forget it. And so when Jeff from Ohio thanked me for riding with him at the Womble and I said, ‘Man, it’s nothing. I’m riding too, and having a blast on this sweet trail I haven’t seen in ten years.’ I meant it. It was nothing really, after all I was riding and having fun, but at the same time it was something.