12th Annual OORC Buffalo Headwaters Challenge
Sitting and waiting at 4:30 pm on a Friday at my brother’s home, I look at my watch again as if it will help move either time or my brother’s arse quicker. The marauder is packed and the bikes loaded, I just need his bag of bones in the vehicle. The traffic in Northwest Arkansas is about to explode. Hwy 49 is about to turn into full-fledged fury road. With road construction and wheel taco-ing barriers, you are left to fend for yourself as the driver next to you posts selfies on Instagram and huffs silver paint as their halfway in your lane. Fortunately, I am driving a paid-off battering-ram with light armor, the problem is that I have three mountain bikes on the back and one on the roof. If I brake check or make a sudden rollover inducing turn, the bikes (worth far more than my vehicle) would be lost. I just need to get from Bentonville to Fayetteville, then once we pick up “The Wolfman” and his gear we are headed to Red Star.
Red Star, Arkansas
Red Star, Arkansas is not much more than a school and a ballfield encapsulated by almost mythical woods, and miles upon miles of mountain bike trails twisting their way through the various peaks and creeks. Locals have worked hard over countless years to maintain the area and deliver a riding experience unlike anything else in Northwest Arkansas. Springtime here is sublime and breathtakingly beautiful as the various native plants come out in full display. This, however, is not springtime. We are going to ride these headwater trails in the middle of winter. What is impressive, is that about 450 other mountain bikers are going to join us.
Buffalo Headwaters Challenge Grows Annually
This is the 12th Annual OORC Buffalo Headwaters Challenge, which has been a continually growing gathering of fellow riders that come out of their cold shells to shake the winter blues. Fortunately, Arkansas weather is wacky in that it sometimes delivers us decent wintertime temperatures. This particular weekend we were blessed with sunny skies. Although the night and morning temperatures were below freezing, once you made your way up the first incline, you were resembling Daytona beach spring breakers. We had arrived at the school and set up our 4-person Marmot Colfax tent. We were planted in centerfield just behind the pitcher’s mound. The bonfire was already shooting sparks and people were settling in knowing the next day was to challenge each and everybody. For that night, though, we were to only challenge our livers. Wild banshee howls could be heard around the dark woods as the war party readied themselves for the battle the next day.
The Day Of
As we awoke from our whiskey induced slumber, we made the cold break from our warm fart sacks (sleeping bags). We made our walking dead march to the school for some hot black tar caffeinated sludge. Unbeknownst to us, Airship Coffee was on the scene with some fine gourmet coffee. It was our first moral booster for the day. As we made our way into the school we were welcomed to a buffet of carbs served by friendly volunteers. We stuffed in all that we could as the rider’s meeting was closing in. Gathering our riding gear and bikes, we made our way to the stage. In a scene that looked like the safest moshpit ever was about to erupt, everyone stood around in rider safety gear, Brannon Pack with OORC talked to us about the fact that out in the Headwaters, it is remote and you need to at least have another rider with, and your wits among you.
The holy popemobile Subaru started the 450 cyclists up the first climb of the pilgrimage. Everyone was completely frozen. We slowly started to regain feeling as the blood began to finally make it to all the extremities. The group was tight but fortunately, there were several people that no matter how many memos they got, thought that this was a race. It’s a tour but for some reason, people still try to pass you like you are holding them from sweet, sweet victory. After the massive Zeester climb, all the racing seems to halt and people finally start to relax. As many of the riders are new and simply don’t know what to expect, it is really a chance for you to ride a scenic and remote area with a fully supported staff that even feeds you beer and bacon amongst other things. The 12th Annual OORC Buffalo Headwaters Challenge gets better and bigger each year.
As the day went on, the trails started to flow beautifully. People had found their pace and everyone was now warm and loosened up. After the 147th creek crossing, riders just simply started kamikazeing the water which made for great laughs with complete strangers. As we made our way to the various tents along the route, we were replenished with all the snacks and fluids we needed. I personally started with a liter and half of water and refilled once at the Fire Tower. Thanks to learning my lesson from last time, I borrowed some covers for my bike shoes that help retain heat and fend off water from all the creek crossings.
As we pushed on, we rode at a speed that was rapid and we tried to make every climb without walking. This is where I made a mistake as my legs were not having it. The climbs at the headwaters are long and steep and unlike the trails around Bella Vista and Bentonville in the fact that the climbs and trails here have shorter spurts of elevation change. Just some of the hand dug trails along the way can send you home with locked up wrists. The trail giveth and taketh away. You climb and then descend for long distances and these trails are not the buttery smooth trails you see sessioned in Pinkbike videos, some of these trails are as natural as you can get without trials riding logs the entire time.
As we made our way to the third tent, my legs decided that I should walk like I pooped myself and totally seized up. This caused those surrounding me to think that I was doing a shitty Woody impersonation from Toy Story. Muscles that I didn’t even know I had decided to turn into a hot dull blade picking at my sides. Trying to move in a manner so that one muscle group wouldn’t cramp, only caused another to burst into flames. I was a little tense, to say the least as I still had one evil bitch of a climb left in order to get to the pavement. As I sat and made the weirdest dirt humping movements trying to loosen my legs, I, fortunately, found some relief thanks to some beer, cookies, honey, and tea before I drew a crowd.
Ain’t Got Time For That
The time came when we had to leave the safety tent, the sun was dipping below the surrounding Ozark hills and it was getting chilly fast. As we started our way up the Buffalo Creek, I had to pedal standing up. Then once those muscles flared up, I sat down. After about a mile or two of this, the muscles settled down. As we arrived at the foot of the final climb, my brother was singing a song he just made up called Crampy McCramperson. He sang it behind me in a pitch so annoying that I made my way up the hill just to get away from the man. Seeing the red gates was a sign that the end was near. We crested and arrived at the Buffalo Headwaters sign. After a photo opt we took off down the pavement back towards the schoolhouse. The wind hit us so hard that it almost stopped us from going downhill. I laughed as every mile was earned out here.
Fortunately, we had no wrecks, flats, or mechanical issues. It was an amazing day and as we made our way into the warm and dry school, we were welcomed with a plethora of food and beer. We signed out and made our rounds telling stories to others and it was a treat. There is always a mass of amazing and interesting characters here. A wealth of knowledge and helpful as can be is almost enough reason to make the trek out her. As my chapped hardtail riding arse got a seat, I devoured my weight in food and beer. As for that night, I cannot let the secret out about how fun the post-ride nights are here, you will just have to find out for yourself.