Sunday, August 4, 2019

BSNYC Field Trip: Bentonville, Arkansas!

Way back in 2007, I started a blog.  That blog was called "Dog Fancy."  Well, it turns out there's already a magazine called Dog Fancy,* so I started another blog called "Bike Snob NYC."

Thanks to that blog, I've had a lot of notable experiences over the years: I got to hobnob with celebrity bike racers before they got disgraced, a legacy British saddle concern whisked me off to Tuscany to ride L'Eroica, and I was even on a radio show in London with John Hurt:

No, seriously, I really was on a radio show in London with John Hurt.

Well, here we are in 2019 and I'm still breaking new ground.  Some weeks back, I received an email from Aimee Ross of Bike Bentonville asking me if I'd like to come to that city and speak at the Arkansas Bike Summit.  Evidently, she'd enjoyed hearing me speak back when I spoke at the IMBA World Summit in Steamboat Springs back in 2014, which can only mean she was totally drunk.

I was intrigued.  Bentonville of course is the Global World Planetary Headquarters of Walmart, and I'd read about how the Waltons were turning it into a cycling destination.  Furthermore, for all the places in the world I've visited, I had yet to visit the southern United States.  (I mean yes, obviously I've visited south Florida countless times--I'm from New York for chrissakes, that goes without saying.  I'd just never gone anywhere in the southern United States where everybody didn't have a New York accent.)  So I readily accepted.

As I prepared to leave for my flight, I considered how I'd get to LaGuardia.  Do I summon an Uber, pay a bunch of money, and suffer the inevitable motion sickness that comes from sitting in the back of a Toyota Camry while a heavy-footed driver lurches along the Major Deegan in stop-and-go traffic?  Or do I take the subway down to 125th Street and then board the M60 bus to the airport, which would be much cheaper but also come with lots of traffic and motion sickness?

Then it hit me: why not just ride my bike to the airport?

I'd never ridden to the airport before, but the more I thought about it the more sense it made.  All I was carrying was a few changes of clothes and a laptop.  Also, it was an evening flight, which meant I could leave in the afternoon, ride at a leisurely pace, and still arrive at the airport with plenty of daylight to spare.  Most importantly, it would look great on my Strava.  And so off I went.

Sadly, the electronic device I use to record my rides failed to register my ride after all, but the bike directions provided by certain popular mapping application accurately reflect both the route I took as well as the amount of time it took me to get there:

In all, the ride was pleasant--basically it's just riding to Queens.  However, once you get to the airport itself is where the fun begins.  See, LaGuardia is basically one great big construction site, and while I'd looked up how to access the airport by bike I still had trouble finding the bike parking area.  In fact there was a dicey period there where I was riding along with all the taxis and Ubers jockeying for position in the arrivals area which I'm fairly certain you're not allowed to do on a bicycle, and I began to worry that I was going to get arrested.

So I stopped and consulted my phone, and I'd like to give a great big thank you to Josh, whoever he is, because it was his incredibly detailed web page that finally got me where I needed to go:

Thank you Josh!

In any case, if you're wondering, the bike racks are right outside the Terminal B parking garage, just across the street from the terminal itself:

And yes, of course they're those crappy racks that make it really difficult for you to lock your frame instead of your wheel:

By the way, in case you're wondering #whatluggageyourunning, the Two Wheel Gear bag you see on the bike contains my laptop and other small sundries and is my under-the-seat item.  Additionally, I am wearing a backpack, which contains my clothing and is my in-the-overhead item.  As for my wardrobe, I wore shorts.  My original plan was to change into long pants at the airport, since the idea of flying in shorts weirded me out, but by the time I actually got to the airport and started drinking it just didn't seem worth the effort:

Just think next time you choose your seat for a flight, you too could wind up next to the sweaty guy in shorts who just rode all the way there from the Bronx.

I arrived in Bentonville fairly late, and by 9:00 the next morning I was in downtown Bentonville at the Arkansas Bike Summit:

Where I was about to give a keynote talk on whatever the hell it is I talk about:

It was a pretty sweet speaking setup too, and I was pleased to see they'd included the couch and armchair I always stipulate in my rider:

Plus, I even made the news!

By 10am I'd finished boring everybody stiff and the day was still young, so after listening to some of the other speakers for a bit I wandered off to explore Bentonville.  Here's the original Walton's store, which is now a museum:

And which I visited for like 30 seconds:

They did sell some neat vintage toys in there though, including the BB gun from "A Christmas Story:"

Having also seen the actual house from that movie during my 2013 visit to Cleveland, it occurs to me now that I've completed yet another meaningless circle in life:

There's also plenty of non-retail history in Bentonville:

And this statue stands in the middle of Bentonville City Square:

I admit I found it jarring:

Though in a sense, considering its history, New York City is basically one gigantic monument to the slave trade so it's not like I felt smug about it.

One thing I did not expect to find in Bentonville was bagels:

Nor could I have anticipated being in the presence of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile:

Evidently this is one of six Weinermobiles currently making their way across the United States, and I feel privileged to have witnessed such a rare and awesome spectacle.

And yes, Bentonville does have lots of bikey trappings, including workstands and pumps:

There's also a blue Walmart-branded bike in the background, and as far as I can tell those are just there for anyone who wants to use them, though I did not have occasion to use them.

After wandering around for a bit I ducked into a restaurant that could have been in Brooklyn just as easily as it could have been in Bentonville:

And as I sipped my craft beer and ate my hamburger on gluten-free bread the rain and thunder began.

Eventually the rain tapered off, but it didn't stop completely.  Even so, I couldn't sit around drinking beer all day (I mean I could have but that would have been both sad and expensive), and so under light and steady precipitation I followed the signs to the Crystal Bridges Museum:

As I walked the well-signed bike-friendly path, I lamented the fact that not only did I have no bike, but I'd also left my hat and water-resistant windbreaker back at the hotel:

My remaining hair was soon plastered to my head and my clothes were steadily taking on water, though even under these conditions the beguiling surroundings lulled me into a contemplative state:

And soon I was at the museum:

I didn't realize it yet, but the damp, solitary, primordial nature of my walk had primed my brain and rendered me highly susceptible to the power of art:

It may look a bit grey and glum in my crappy photos, but the museum is beautiful, even on a rainy day:

I also hadn't taken any time to read up on Crystal Bridges--I had a vague sense that Alice Walton had built some kind fancy museum and that was about it--so the effect of basically just stumbling into it while dripping wet was like thinking you're grabbing a sandwich and realizing you're in a 3-star restaurant.  (The museum also charges no admission fee, so it's like stumbling into a free 3-star restaurant.)  It's also important to consider that as a parent all my museum visits now consist of elbowing my way through crowds of tourists in order to take my kids to see dinosaur bones, so the idea of walking slowly and staring at pieces of fine art felt impossibly luxurious:

And walk slowly and stare at pictures is exactly what I did:

My time in the museum transported me high into the artsy-fartsy layer of the atmosphere, but eventually my feet alighted back on Earth and a glance outside indicated that the rain had eased up:

So I walked back to the square and summoned my hotel shuttle.  While I waited, I sipped from a gigantic lemonade served to in one of those quart containers they give you when you order wonton soup:

My hotel was just a few miles away from downtown, but the neighborhood it was in was was eminently unwalkable, which meant that my dining options for the evening were limited:

Is there a more saliva-inducing alliteration than Friday Fish Fry?  No, there is not.

The next morning I headed back downtown to Phat Tire Bike Shop, where I picked up the rental bike my hosts had kindly arranged for me.  The trails in Bentonville start right from downtown, and after just a few minutes of pedaling I was here:

Yes, just a stale Ozark bagel's throw from where I'd been marveling at art the day before were the most luxurious mountain bike trails upon which I'd ever ridden:

They were also remarkably dry despite the all the rain the day before:

And they incorporated all manner of built features:

So sumptuous were these trails that they were even stocked with food, beverage, and sunscreen, though I assumed those were for some event of which I was not a part and so I refrained from helping myself:

With each pedal stroke I marveled at how decadent these trails were--even the connector bits that ran along the road incorporated all manner of gratuitous features:

And they had better signage than the entire New York City Transit system or pretty much any major airport in the United states:

Best of all, everything flows together so nicely off the greenway that even an idiot like me couldn't manage to get lost:

Basically you just ride them and everything else sort of takes care of itself.  It couldn't have been more different from the twisty, rocky, rooty, knotty trail networks I'm used to in New York, which require years of riding before you really gain a sense of how everything works.

By the way, if you're wondering what I was riding, here's a closer look:

It's a Trek Fuel Plus, which I know because it said so on the handlebar:

I really enjoyed the bike, and the dual suspension was a novelty for me as I ride rigid bicycles pretty much exclusively.  Certainly I'm not about to run out and by a full-suspension mountain bike anytime soon, but it was certainly a pleasant diversion.

As I rode I considered pressing on all the way to the so-called "Back 40" trails, but stupidly I'd brought no food and also another rainstorm seemed imminent.  So instead I figured I'd play it safe and head back downtown via the greenway, then eat lunch and maybe head back out again later:

Shortly after I returned, that rain indeed did fall:

And while I'd only ridden for a couple hours I was just tired enough to call it a day.  However, I would not hesitate for a moment to return to Bentonville and indulge in another weekend of ultra-lush mountain biking and art-gawking.  I'd also strongly encourage you to do the same if you're in reasonable striking distance and looking for an indulgent weekend getaway.  (It's a fairly short and cheap flight from New York City, for example.)  The only things I'd do differently next time is stay a little closer to downtown, and do a lot more riding and eating.

*Hey, I just looked it up and Dog Fancy is now called Dogster.  Guess they must be looking for a millennial audience.


BamaPhred said...

A travelogue, photography, and fried southern cuisine.

Anonymous said...

The channel 5 chick:

"…a speaker from New York city who runs a popular bike blog called Bike Snob NYC…"

See what happens when you go by half-a-dozen different monikers — no-one knows what to call you, so they reduce you to an abstraction: "a speaker". Maybe you could add "A Speaker" to your list of aliases?

Anonymous said...

I got it! The Sacklers should pony up for some MTB trails in Snobby's backyard. Imagine how excited he'd be to shill for them, just like he does for the folks who brought us Sprawl-Mart. Of course the Waltons didn't addict anyone to hillbilly heroin but instead drove countless independent merchants out of business with predatory pricing while paying wages so pathetic most of their workers qualify for food stamps. What's next, Snobby riding in a MAGA hat?

huskerdont said...

That trail system looks amazing, but a sign that says "feature" seems a bit pointless.

Glad you had a good trip on someone else's dime.

Crosswalks were my verification. You know, those stripes they put across roads so the drivers know where they can get you most easily.

Matt said...

Not bad Snobby....but was it catfish at the Village Inn Fish Fry? If you're gonna do 'southern', then you'd best do catfish is all I'm sayin. And sweet tea. The giant lemonade was a HUGE (pun intended) bonus for sure. And you make me want to visit Bentonville I have to admit.

hellbelly said...

Third step? I too was totally drunk when I heard you speak at the 2014 IMBA summit and it was fantastic. Maybe I'll find an event down here in Georgia for you to pontificate at forthcoming.

Willie Voltaire said...

Great piece. Bentonville's riding is sublime, but I prefer Fayetteville as a town. Fortunately, they're linked by the bikeway, so you can get the best of both!

Anonymous said...

Wait a sec., you went to Cleveland!?!

Thomas Jonathan Jackson or Edmund Gerald Brown Sr. (take your pick) said...

"...the most luxurious mountain bike trails upon which I'd ever ridden..."

Even compared to Mount Tamalpais?

"Also, surprising use of correct grammar."

Some guy from upstate said...

Wait - isn't Texas in the south? Even Austin?

Thanks for explaining the sudden appearance of Arkansas in your Strava feed. I think Dirt Rag gushed effusively over that Trek when it came out.

HDEB said...

WMT sucks! The sign indicating a "feature" is absurd. Crystal Bridges looks fantastic, it is far away from major population centers and built with yucky sprawl/cheap labor money. The trails look beautifully maintained and smooth.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Some guy from upstate,

I don't know, I just assumed I was in the west when I visited Texas.

Thomas Jonathan Jackson etc.,

Seems to me much of Mt. Tam is closed to bikes, and the trails that are open don't really qualify as mountain bike trails.


No, the sign indicating "feature" is fantastic.

--Tan Tenovo

1904 Cadardi said...

"Certainly I'm not about to run out and by a full-suspension mountain bike anytime soon..."

The betting pool is now open on how long before Tan/Wildcat/Snob has a full-suspension mountain bike.

Chazu said...

a breath of fresh air on a Monday in the office.

Seattle lone wolf said...

Great travelogue piece TT! Now I want to visit Bromptonville.

Colin said...

I read that the Daughters of the Confederacy were a group who put up pro-Confederate monuments all over the country back during the height of Jim Crow. They were revisionists who wanted to change the national memory of the Civil War from being about slavery to being about states rights and protecting Southern heritage... Or something. Looks like they were successful. We even have one of their fucking monuments here in Minnesota

BamaPhred said...

“Hey, I just looked it up and Dog Fancy is now called Dogster.”

And Cat Fancy is now Catster.

The horror, the horror....

wle said...

i really like that feature sign "FEATURE"!

you're in high cotton there, snobster!


wle said...

no, "Texas" is not in the south!

Alabama is in the South!

Gateway to Georgia!

Pist Off said...

Nice gig with paid travel you got here, Snob. FFS anonymous commenters, going to Bentonville is not the same as shilling for WalMart. Those trails look fun, but only in the new “flow” style which gets boring really fast. It’s like Disney drew a trail for kids. If flow trails had been everywhere when MTBs were young, dual suspension would have stayed a niche for downhillers. Now the world is littered with Fox-logoed bros on 160mm bikes riding smoothly manicured trails like that. I’ll take a goat trail littered with rocks, where I might have to walk or bleed, any day.

Anonymous said...

Isn’t Austin South by Southwest?

Beck the biker said...

Scintillating tales of your travails to Wally world. Nice. For towns like Bentonville, always stay downtown, the increased cost of the hotel is more than offset by the ambiance and location. I typically take a Travellers Check in a suitcase on rare occasion i fly somewhere, just to have a bike in the room ready for a quick recon or longer ramble. Bringing along a bike allows a person a far easier grok of a new locale.

DC said...

This reminds me i need to find a Surly Trucker Deluxe in my size.

Anonymous said...

Pist off - so what is this then "Bentonville of course is the Global World Planetary Headquarters of Walmart" along with the props for the artsy s--t the Sprawl-Marters ponied up to display in their gallery? It's the Sacklers, but spelled Waltons in this case. These f--kers have made zillions off the human misery of others and now Snobby is sucking their teats. Maybe Snobby should forget the MAGA hat and get one with a Wal-Mart logo...or Purdue Pharma? He should ditch the SNOB and just call himself the Bike SHILL!

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 6:43pm,

Oh grow the fuck up. I'm shilling for Walmart now?!? Gimme a fucking break. Sure, by accepting an invitation to speak at an event promoting cycling in Arkansas I'm contributing to "the human misery of others," absolutely. I should have said, "Fuck you, hillbillies!" and just stayed home in my New York bubble.

I've been to a Walmart maybe three times in my life, we don't even have them in New York City. (Of course we have Target, and Amazon, and every other retail behemoth you can think of.) However, if you want to somehow blame me, a guy who writes about bikes, for the changes to the retail landscape we've seen in the United States and the world over the past 50 years and sound like a total doofus in the process go right ahead.

And yes, Crystal Bridges happens to be an incredible museum. Museums are often funded by people with billions of dollars, and unfortunately the nature of accruing billions of dollars usually involves some form of moral bankruptcy. When I take my kids to see those dinosaur bones at the Museum of Natural History guess whose name is all over the exhibit? David Koch. And yeah, I'm pretty sure the Guggenheim family didn't make their fortune by singing songs and giving away flowers. So what, I'm not supposed to look at the shit in the museums now because of that? Okay, fine.

As for being a bike shill, YES, I AM A BIKE SHILL. I want companies that sell bikes to be successful. I want people to be able to make a living by working in the bike industry and promoting cycling. I want people to get paid for writing about bikes and making content about bikes. I want advocacy organizations to make money so they can actually pay people and grow. Is this controversial? Maybe I should root for the bike industry to fail so cycling stagnates and people like me have to go get jobs at Walmart.

So save it, Anonymous. When it comes to having integrity with regard to one's professional life I'll go toe-to-toe with you any fucking day of the week.


--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

How many times did you actuate the dropper post? Don't lie.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 8:56am,

Twice, while testing it out at the shop. Used it exactly zero times during the ride. I'm sure the Mountain Dorks will tell me it's because I don't ride aggressively enough.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

Did you also have the shocks locked out and refuse to use the shift levers outta principle?

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 12:28pm,

Nope! But at no point in the ride did I think to myself, "Wow, I really wish I could move my saddle." I mean maybe if I came screaming into a sick-ass wall ride, sure, but...I mean look at me.

--Tan Tenovo

Scott said...

Glad you enjoyed your visit to our little state. Thanks coming by.

Next time, have them put you up in the 21c Hotel - right off the Bentonville Square. It's very cyclist friendly.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Tan Tenovo - fair enough. We know where you are on these issues. Just replace "SYSTEMATICALLY AND MERCILESSLY DISASSEMBLING, FLUSHING, GREASING, AND RE-PACKING THE CYCLING CULTURE." with "Sucking up to the bike industry (and rich people) in every way possible." and we're all good.
Finally, anyone who has to brag about their "integrity" has as much of that as Donald Trump, so get out the MAGA hat you piece of capitalist s--t! Or free the real Bike Snob so we can get back to normal - how many f--king Jones' bikes do we need to buy?

Art lover said...

Never been to Bentonville, but not because I wouldn't like to visit - it's just a matter of time and work yada yada yada.

I think patronizing museums either created by or sponsored by capitalists does not in any way reflect poorly on anyone - I don't need to agree with or like David Koch to enjoy the ballet at the NY State Theater and I don't need to agree with or like the Waltons to appreciate the effort in putting together a fine museum - I'm supporting the arts, which in the long run (I hope) will prevail. Goodness knows, we could all use the humanities in our lives.

So, thanks, TT, for the descriptions and the photos of a place that I have never had the chance to visit.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 2:57pm,

Sorry things aren't working out for you.

--Tan Tenovo

Some guy from upstate said...

OK, from my point of view, if the state you are in was part of the Confederacy, you are in the South. Of course, I'm just a damn Yankee. Although 'round these parts, "Yankee" means you are from Vermont, which is a good 45 minutes east of your beautiful state capitol, and a good 300 miles east of my ancestral homeland.

Sorry for the late reply.