A few years ago (2019) I decided I wanted to see more of the US, and it seemed like a good way to do that was to sign up for some more distant mountain bike races. So, I signed up for a few across the country that were set for 2020, and, well, they were all cancelled… But, they did eventually take place again in 2021. One of those was in Bentonville, not really knowing where in the US Bentonville was, but I figured the logistics would work out eventually.

It was fortunate that I’d recently bought a minivan, so it seemed like the perfect use of it – drive out to the race in Bentonville, and stop along the way to check out some other riding/sights. 

Step one, where exactly is Bentonville? 

Turns out that Bentonville, which self-proclaims to be the MTB Capital of the World, is in Arkansas. OK, that didn’t really help me. Where is Arkansas? Turns out it’s kinda in the middle of the US. Ish. I might need to take a little more vacation time… Also for fellow non-Americans, it’s AR-KAN-SAW, not AR-KANSAS. Why? No one can tell me.

I packed my mountain bike, all my bike clothes, and a few shirts/shorts and started on the journey. I also queued up an audiobook that I’d been longing for an excuse to listen to – Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem! (If you’re into a slightly more sinister sci-fi / alien encounter novel, check it out!)

Anyway, as always, the first 50km was the worst 50km – at least until the last 50km. It was a Friday afternoon, and the traffic was stop-start to Modesto. It was then a straight and boring drive down Highway 5 to Bakersfield, which little fact, is where Korn (the 90s/00s “Nu Metal” band) is from.

I checked into a cheap hotel on the edge of town, next to an abandoned car park with a bunch of goths just hanging out. It was late, I was tired, so I settled for late night Taco Bell for dinner.

Day 2


I was up bright and early, and on my way East shortly after sunrise. I skipped on the coffee, because it didn’t seem like there was much hipster “3rd wave” style coffee options available. I’d like to point out that I’m not an addict, I’d rather pass on coffee than drink Petrol Station Coffee. Better yet, why not just have a Bang! energy drink.

A friend that has done this drive many times gave a suggestion to check out some trails in Tehachapi, a little past Bakersfield. I arrived in the small town around 8AM, and the temperatures were barely above freezing. I killed a little time waiting for the sun to rise a little more and to warm things up, as I really hadn’t anticipated, and therefore not packed for, cold weather (on or off the bike). Day one, and off to a smooth start… 

I put on what I had, and took off on some fun little singletrack loops. The trails were pretty smooth, if sandy, and at times a little hard to distinguish.

It culminated in a nice long climb (my love language), and a giant flow trail (that was kinda like riding in kitty litter – not really my favourite riding surface). 

All in all, a great way to start the day, and now I had the rest of the day’s driving to rest and relax.

So, it turns out that I was more-or-less going to be following the famous Route 66 for the next day-or-so. It’s no small feat to follow, as it is now broken into countless little segments, for the most part running parallel with newer/bigger/faster/smoother highways. The scenery wasn’t any different to being on the much faster highway, and after getting stuck at a few railroad crossings (you wouldn’t believe the length of these trains, and their frequency!), the novelty of driving the old Mother Road started to wear a little thin.

It wasn’t too long before I was approaching the Arizona border. I’d noticed a slow increase in the number of cars towing boats, which at first seemed odd, as there was nothing but dry desert landscapes. But sure enough, right at the border was an oasis of a river, framed by beautiful spiky mountains, and teeming with boats.

The rest of the day was uneventful, with a load of easy highway miles and stopping just short of Flagstaff – I would have preferred to re-visit Flagstaff, but the hotels were all over $300/night. Instead I stayed in a ratty motel, in a nothing little town that had been on Route 66. It seemed that chain smoking was the local sport of choice here. There was a BBQ joint in town that wasn’t too terrible, so thankfully spared my digestive system from another late night Taco Bell. The car park of the BBQ joint was filled with either beaten up old pickup trucks, or Harley Davidsons, so when I arrived in my little gold minivan, I was already getting stares. I was also the only person wearing shorts, and the only one not in either leather, or camo (or both). It wasn’t the most welcoming of a feeling, but I didn’t really have much incentive to stay beyond my meal anyway.

Day 3

I’ve previously visited (and briefly ridden) in Flagstaff, and thought that the town was pretty cool. The riding was a little rocky for my preferences/skills/equipment, so rather than stopping for a ride here, I just grabbed a quick coffee/breaky burrito, and continued on with my day. 


I’d decided to go visit the Petrified Forest, since it was kinda on the way. But, before I went to the park, I made a brief stop in another Route 66 town, Holbrook. The streets were filled with businesses that had clearly catered to a crowd of a different generation, back when this was a bustling highway. There were all sorts of souvenir shops and cafes, all with faded hand-painted signage. They were all playing off the proximity to Petrified Forest, with fossils, rocks, cavemen, and dinosaurs in their decorations. It seemed that the town was just kitschy enough to still draw in tourists (like myself), so there were still businesses open, and it wasn’t just a ghost town.

Petrified Forest

This was a new-to-me National Park, and since I figured I was in the area, I might as well stop in and check it out. 

It was honestly a little underwhelming for me. There were eroded mesa, and interesting rock formations, but nothing like the scale of places like in the north of here (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley). 

That’s not to say there wasn’t anything worth seeing. There were some interesting petroglyphs, and the mesa were interesting shades of white, red, and purple.

But, the park is named after the petrified trees that lay strewn like broken Greek columns. At first glance, you might not really notice what you were looking at, as they just look like rocks amongst the eroded hills. But, once you start to see it as tree trunks, it tells a far more interesting story. The colours of the ‘wood’ are also beautiful rings of white, red and deep purple.

White Mountains

Another of the races that I’d signed up for in 2020 (and was cancelled) was a little south of the national park. I felt it only appropriate to go and ride the course while I was in the ‘area’. It turned out that what looked like a little detour turned out to be much further than I’d really anticipated. Sadly by the time I’d made it to the trailhead, I’d realised that I wouldn’t have enough daylight hours to complete the 50km version of the course, so I’d need to cut it shorter…

The ride started a little boring, with some muddy/rocky double track, but mixed in with some fun little sections of fast and flowy singletrack. Unfortunately (for me) it started to get really fun right around the time I needed to turn around. There were some desperate calculations, looking at maps and trying to estimate how long things would take, and to find alternative routes. In the end, I probably could have gone a little further, but I didn’t want to be that idiot lost out in the woods, navigating back to their car in the dark, being stalked by some kind of carnivorous animal.

I’d realised once I was back at the car that I hadn’t had reception all day, and was starting to think that my phone was broken, or that my account had been suspended. On my driving that evening I actually had to stop at a McDonalds to use the WiFi to call T-Mobile. Everything was fine with my phone/account, I was just in a (giant) coverage black hole… But, I was also able to book a cheap hotel for the night a few hours away just outside of Albuquerque. I just had to make it there in one piece, which was easier said than done with the deer jumping out onto the road, and the giant moon in the rear view mirrors.

Day 4


Oh yeah, it took me a while to learn how to spell Albuquerque! I rambled into the old town early-ish in the morning, grabbed a pretty good coffee and burrito breakfast, and just wandered around the beautiful old buildings. 

It sort of felt like something out of a Science Fiction Western to me, maybe Star Wars, or Firefly used Adobe style buildings on their sets… Either way, it was new and novel to me, and I was really digging the shapes and the styles.

Sandia Peak

I never really noticed that we were at a considerable elevation in Albuquerque (~2000m), and would not have thought about ski resorts being just outside of the city. 

I had wanted to piece together a giant ride today, having mixed and matched bits of different rides to create a nice big challenging loop. However, during the process of troubleshooting with my phone last night, they cleared all my Bluetooth settings, and I wasted well over an hour to get my Garmin to re-sync to my phone (so I couldn’t upload the route that I’d created). 

So, once again, I was having to cut the ride short due to time considerations. I decided to ditch some of the lower sections of the trail, and just go for the cream, which was a single beautiful single-track climb to a ~3200m summit, followed by a long single-track descent.

The climb, aptly named ‘King of the Mountain’ was a 12km, 600m single track climb up some of the more challenging sections of single track up a ski resort that I’ve ridden in a while – again, this kind of riding is my Love Language, and I was thrilled. At least until I came around a corner and ran into a group of horses attempting to descend, forcing me to dismount and climb through the undergrowth to get out of their way.

The views from the lookout were fantastic, and it really felt like you were way up on a mountain, with views that stretched a truly phenomenal distance. This wasn’t the actual summit though, so I pushed on a little further, through some rooty and rocky trails that had me walk in a few sections. 

But, sadly when I got to the summit, while trying to check on navigation, my Garmin froze/crashed, and I lost my ride data from that climb. It’s such a trivial thing, but it really frustrated me, as I was keen on seeing how long that ride took me, as I’d really put a lot of effort into it.

Now there was just a long, flowing singletrack back down to the car park. Thankfully it was less technical than the climb, and instead smoother, faster, and much more flowy.

The whole ride had been made all the more beautiful by the autumn colours on the groves of trees exploding into seas of reds, and yellows, and oranges.

Santa Fe

I’d faffed around far too much today, and the evening was approaching. I had to make the decision on tonight’s plans, and after a lot of consideration, I opted to just head in to Santa Fe a little north of where I was currently. 

I walked around the downtown, which had more of an upmarket boujie art gallery vibe to it than Albuquerque did. I tried to go to one of the fancy restaurants in town, and was met with a 3hr wait time. I revised my standards, and found a place that would accommodate me immediately, slurped down a local soup with giant grain things, plus one of those giant bread-pillow-things, and topped it off with some local dessert thing with fennel seeds. I should have taken better notes… 

Day 5

I was given another local recommendation on a place to go ride, so again, I was up early to try and squeeze in some riding before a day of driving. 

The trails were on the opposite side of town, which had me driving through these beautiful neighbourhoods with their adobe buildings. It was amazing just how homogenous everything felt, and for the first time in a long time, I really felt like I was in a very different place.

Dale Balls

No idea what the name is about. But, there was some pretty basic mountain bike trails here. It was rocky, but more of a loose dry rock, than a bigger chunkier kind of rock. I’m sure there are better vocabulary words for different kinds of rock. 

Anyway, there were some short punchy little climbs, and equally short descents, and some points that were quite fast and flowy. It felt much more improvised and un-manicured. More like the trails I remember riding way back in the day.

It didn’t really gel with me though, and I found myself slipping out on multiple occasions while struggling with the (lack of) grip on the surface here. Rather than destroying my bike (and myself), I dialled it back quite a bit, and tried to put my energy into going uphill fast.

All in all, it was a novelty to ride new trails (always a pleasure to try something new), I just don’t know if I’d rush back.


I was back in the car before lunch, and back on the highway headed east. It was fun to watch the vegetation ever so slowly change, from golden grasslands in the Bay Area, to the sandy rocky hills through south of Arizona, and now here in New Mexico there were small shrubs and grasses on the side of the highway.

I was still roughly following Route 66, and Tucumcari was another of those towns that were bypassed, and turned into a ghost town. The main street of town, the old Route 66 highway, was lined with abandoned hotels, cafes, and petrol stations. It was fascinating to me to drive through and see what was like a living museum. Time more-or-less stopped on development in Tucumcari when it was bypassed, so the buildings and businesses that remain are as they were from that era.

It was also incredibly depressing to see, since you could clearly see that economic prospects in the town weren’t so great – and I was honestly unsure that things would ever really improve there.

Cadillac Ranch

I’m not sure when this was created, but if there was ever a roadside attraction designed to be the backdrop for the Instagram (I guess TikTok now) Influencers, this would be it. Ten old Cadillacs with their nose buried into the ground, brightly painted with graffiti, and surrounded by corn fields.

I’ll have to admit that I really enjoyed the sight of it, and I was also busy running around snapping photos of it, too.

It was amazing seeing it up close, and seeing the impossibly thick crust of paint. It was soft and rubbery, and you could (with some effort) press a key deep into the layer of colour.

Without my own cans of paint to add to the creation, it wasn’t much more than a quick pitstop – a chance to stretch the legs, smell the fresh air (with hints of spray paint and undertones of highway fumes), snap a few photos, and be back on the highway across the north of Texas.

The change in vegetation continued, and we were now into tall grassy fields, with not a hint of a hill in sight.

Instead of hills, there were a countless number of wind turbines that stretched far back from the highway, beyond what I could see. They were all shapes and sizes too, some truly like sky scrapers.

There was also an uptick in religious advertising, from billboards, to stickers on trucks, to giant roadside crosses.

But, the thing that stood out the most were the giant storm clouds, with lightning rippling through in little white and pink flurries of colour through the dark grey shapes. Lightning is such a rare occurrence here in the SF/Bay Area, that seeing these storm clouds just makes me feel nostalgic for the tropical summer storms of home.


Years ago, I watched this video of Ken Block (RIP), and finding the petrol station really interesting, I saved it into Google Maps, and quickly forgetting why I’d saved it. It turns out that I had also booked a night into the same hotel that the video starts at!

After checking in, and spending a few moments to just admire the lightning ripple through the giant storm clouds, I had a big dumb steak dinner. Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. Do I regret eating so much meat? Absolutely. Were there many other options in this little town? Not really.

Day 6

I spent the evening sweating from trying to digest all the meat I’d consumed. It came as a surprise to me when I woke to see that there had been a tornado alert on my phone in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully nothing major happened here in Shamrock, though maybe if the hotel started shaking and dismantling I’d have woken up. 

Once again, it was moderately early by the time I was up and about, and there was very little going on in town. I really, really, really wanted to go inside the small dinner next door to the hotel (from the video), but sadly it wasn’t open until much later in the day… Instead I had to settle for just peering through the windows, and enjoying the slice of Americana, imagining it served with a slice of hot cherry pie (and some terrible burnt coffee).

I continued with the driving east, and as I continued driving, the scenery continued to get greener and greener.

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum

I’m not sure what possessed me to make a stop here, but I suspect it was to try and make this trip have a little culture – and not just me eating burgers, driving, and riding bikes.

There was plenty for me to learn here, including the mass migrations with the Dust Bowl, and Great Depression, as well as the change to society with the rise of car culture.

Oklahoma City

I did my usual trick to find the hipster neighbourhoods in a city, by looking for ‘pour over coffee’. Sure enough, I found a cool area in town, with giant colourful murals, and all sorts of fancy restaurants and food trucks. Though, the first thing that struck me was just how clean everything was. It wasn’t that it was sterile, not at all, it’s just that there wasn’t any garbage on the streets, and the only graffiti were the giant murals.

After a quick lunch, I went for a walk around the old Bricktown area surrounding the giant baseball stadium. Again, I was struck by just how clean the city was, but again, not in a sterile way, it was just free of trash and graffiti. I do love SF, but so much of the city is a damn mess.

I tried to go on a little afternoon MTB mission around a lake (Drapper Lake) in the area, but I found when I arrived that the trail network was closed to cyclists. I briefly considered just pushing my way past the barrier tape, but considered better.


Tulsa is one of these places that I’ve heard the name, but had not really known much about it. Supposedly it was incredibly wealthy during the earlier part of the 20th Century, due to oil companies, which caused a bit of a boom in construction during that era – which has left the city with a large number of Art Deco styled buildings downtown. I was kinda hoping for more than what I found. It was more of an Art Deco ‘flourish’ on big red brick buildings. Not to say it was disappointing, but I was expecting something a little … more. The insides of the buildings did look rather glamorous, but I had to settle for sneaking peeks through locked doors.

Day 7

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the drive today continued to get greener and greener, with forest lining the highway for the first time on this journey. 


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I didn’t really know what to expect from Bentonville, seeing as though I only recently learnt where in the country it was located. Suffice to say, I had a stereotypical conception of Arkansas as being a little less progressive, and expected Bentonville to mirror that. What I found was pretty far from that. There were LGBTQI flags proudly flying from hipster restaurants and cafes, in a very, very charming little old downtown. 

Sadly it was absolutely POURING down with rain, and stupid me, living in SF didn’t even think about rain on this trip… So, I had to just run through the heavy showers, and just put up with being wet. 

For those that don’t know, one of the things that originally put Bentonville on the map is due to this little hardware store called Walton’s – which is now better known as Walmart. The original store is still here on the main square of town, and they still have their company HQ in the area. 

The story I’ve been told is that the heirs of the Walton fortune are required to spend a certain percentage of it on the community. Turns out that some of the Waltons are big into mountain biking, so have poured (actual) millions into building trails in the area. I was starting to wonder if maybe their claim of being ‘The Mountain Bike Capital of the World” was going to be true… 

The Waltons also purchased the cycling apparel brand, Rapha, who also have a giant storefront in the centre of the old town. 

I had a coffee, and a burger (bad decision), and after confirming it was OK to ride on wet trails (it rains here a lot, so they build it appropriately, and ride on them in any conditions, unlike the trails in SF/Bay Area, which turn to mud), I went out to do a bit of a recon ride.

Bentonville Recon Ride

I decided to save some time/energy and just ride some of the singletrack that is in the race on Saturday, skipping the firetrail and other access roads that connect this trail network to the town – aka, the Back 40. 

I thought I had successfully loaded the course, but it seemed my Garmin wanted to route me in other interesting directions (like the wrong way up a downhill only trail). Still, what I found was some really well made, fun, and challenging trails.

I also found a lot of water and mud – though, the trails had drained very well, and certainly didn’t appear to be doing any damage by riding on them in their current state. They were made out of gravel and a shale-like rock (it could have been shale), and had sections that traversed narrow ledges on the sides of small cliffs.

Everything was going fantastically (other than getting periodically ‘lost’) until I came around a corner and noticed a handrail on the trail, no sooner had I start to think that it was odd, I had slipped turning on the rock, bounced off that handrail, and pinballed across to a rock wall on the other side of the trail. That handrail had stopped me falling several metres down a cliff… 

That said, I wasn’t completely scott free. I had a decent gouge down my left leg, and other deep wounds in my left shoulder. My right side was also really sore, and it took some effort to breathe deeply.

It took a while to collect myself. I went to get back on the bike and limp the 8km back to the car and I noticed that the front tyre was completely flat. I don’t know if that happened before or during the crash.

I patched the tyre, but in my haze I can’t have re-attached my saddlebag properly, because when I finally made it back to the car, it was missing. My mood had gone properly sour.

I cleaned up as best as I could, but I was still bleeding heavily from my left leg, so no doubt looked like a real mess, wet, muddy, and bleeding, walking through a supermarket to buy some wound dressing. And fried chicken (and salad).

Day 8

It should be no surprise that I didn’t sleep particularly well, though mostly it was my left shoulder that was causing me pain initially, it was now the right side of my chest that was exceptionally tender. 

I was in a pretty sombre mood, realising that I wouldn’t be able to race on Sunday, and I’d also lost all my bike tools and spares. There wasn’t much I could do about being fit for the race, but I had this crazy idea that I’d be able to find my saddlebag if I just re-traced the 8km between the place I had my crash, and the car park. Casual stroll… 

I really wished I could have been on the bike, as walking was just so damn slow. But, the added benefit was I was able to look around better. I was busy scanning the undergrowth, assuming it had fallen off and rolled down the side of a hill somewhere.

I started at a really motivated pace, but I quickly realised that as soon as I started breathing heavily, my chest was in severe pain, so had to back it right off. I was getting pretty despondent, and was close to giving up, and as always happens when you’re close to giving up, I found it! It was right on the side of the trail, hard to miss. And all it took was 6km of walking up and down muddy trails.

My front tyre that I quickly patched the night before was flat again this morning. Thankfully I’d thought to bring spares, so I set about swapping it out for a new tyre (I actually put brand new tyres on front/rear before leaving San Francisco, so that front tyre lasted under 100km…). It was a struggle, especially with my sore ribs, which seemed to only be getting more and more tender.

I went back in to town, completed the registration and picked up my race number, watched some of the Pro field competing for starting positions, and bought food for a massive Mac n Cheese dinner back at the Airbnb, which was washed down with a bunch of Ibuprofen.

I’d come to acceptance that the journey out here was worth the journey, and even not racing, I got to ride the fun sections of the race course already – which was the whole point in the first place.

Day 9

Sleeping was worse than the first night, and struggled to find a side that was comfortable to rest on – my left shoulder was tender, and my right ribs were even more so. 

But, I got changed into my race kit, had a big bowl of cereal, and made my way into town. This was my first race in 20 years, which took a little time to sink in for me. Twenty years! The last time I’d entered a race was way back in 2001, when I was still in my teens (before I got Chronic Fatigue and gave up riding bikes).

Epic Rides Ozark Trails 50mi Race

Our wave started at 8AM. The pros left at 7AM, before the sun had even come out. It was 5˚C as I stepped out of my car, and joined the crowds headed to the starting line.

I was struggling to really ride the bike, but I figured I could just take it easy and complete the lap at a slower pace, not attempting to compete. With this in mind, I sat towards the back of the field, and let the race go on ahead of me.

Unintentionally, I started passing people, and slowly making my way up the field. There was already a surprising number of people fixing flat tyres, and we were only basically on a gravel firetrail. It was uncomfortable, but the pain was manageable. 

And then we hit the first section of single track, and I had to stand up and pedal, and I nearly collapsed in pain. I decided right there that I was out, this was dumb, and I should have just allowed myself to rest today instead.

I’d survived the first ~10km of an 80km race, and now I had ~25km to get back to town (it looked like less when I checked the map, or I would have just ridden on the road). My Garmin also said it was ~3˚C, which was pretty painful when I didn’t have the strength to be pushing at race pace and keeping my body running hot.

I rejoined the second half of the course, and crossed the finish line a little ahead of the professionals, which did cause some confusion for a few seconds for the announcer and some of the spectators. I returned my timing chip, announced I was abandoning, and I couldn’t wait to get off my bike, get changed, and warm up. First race in 20 years, and it was a DNF…

I had originally wanted to visit some very old friends of mine from Japan times that currently live in Lincoln Nebraska, but I figured I would probably return via Colorado/Utah for even more mountain biking. Now that cycling was off the table, I gave them a call and made plans to drive up there to visit them tonight…