For Part I, go here.
With my current level of fitness, I’ve got about five hours of endurance riding in me, and three hours of intense riding in me. That’s all my current fitness will allow. So while I’d have been happy to slay myself on the trails in and around Bentonville for eight hours a day, I just didn’t have that in me. So I needed to spend time doing other things, like drinking beer.
Once I’d verified that the trails were indeed great, the big question on my mind was just how livable a town Bentonville is otherwise. The answer to this question has considerable back story, some of it based in local legend. The story I heard from a couple of locals is that the hometown behemoth, Walmart, wanted their biggest vendors to have offices in Bentonville, to make face-to-face meetings easier. That much is understandable. However, no one who worked for Coke, Nabisco or Smucker wanted to move to Northwest Arkansas. That’s when the town began a crusade to make it more livable.
Based on conversations I had, the Walton family brought in the tide that has lifted the town. Just as the local trails have been paid for by the Walton Family Foundation, so was the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. When I first heard of the museum, some 10 years ago, I had the same reaction to it as I did to the notion of world-class singletrack in Northwest Arkansas: I laughed until I needed to catch my breath.
However, the collection at Crystal Bridges—which is, itself, with its haunting, organic beauty is a landmark facility—is easily one of the preeminent collections of American art in the world. It has what is arguably the greatest collection of American Impressionist work that I’ve seen; Impressionism may have started in France and is best known by its European practitioners, but it took hold with a group of American artists and I’d never seen so much of it exhibited together. That alone is worth the trip, but there’s much more to the museum than that.
I wonder how many towns of 35,000 can boast the presence of two craft breweries. Bike Rack Brewing sits next door to Pedaler’s Pub and is bike-themed enough to call their session IPA F.A.S.T. and their double IPA Faster. Faster has great floral notes without the bitterness found in some doubles. The county is glutted with good beer. Between Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale there are 11 breweries, and I’m told more are on the way. In my travels, I’ve come to hold the craft brewery as my personal canary. If a city has no craft brewers, I make my exit, and in this instance, hasty is okay. Bentonville also boasts its own distiller in case hops ain’t your thang.
I should also suggest that you be careful with post-ride visits to Phat Tire Bike Shop in the middle of town. They have their own tap in-shop, so to speak, and it’s easy, nay it’s virtually impossible not to spend an hour there after shredding. This fly was easily caught in their trap.
Quaint and Modern
Bentonville has a classic downtown layout, complete with square. There’s a Walmart museum (I didn’t go in), plus a number of restaurants. I’m told eating in Bentonville is much more interesting than it used to be. What I can say for sure is that every meal I had was good, from the burrito at Sin Fronteras, a food truck (a trailer, actually) parked near my hotel to the pizza I had at Pedaler’s Pub and the lasagna at Oven and Tap that was so rich it could have paid the tab for me.
I stayed downtown at a boutique hotel called 21C. And I swear to you that the staff urged me to move the plastic penguin around. I was happy to play along with the whimsy. I once had one stand guard in front of my room all night as I slept. A young girl had one sit next to her as she ate in the restaurant. It was cuter than a kitten painted pink.
Billed as an art gallery with a hotel, 21C is hip in a way I’d expect in a big city, with a clientele wearing skinny jeans and beards long. But it’s short on pretense. The staff was ultra-friendly and were happy to keep an eye on the Trek Fuel I rented from Phat Tire if I ran up to my room to grab more food or answer nature’s call.
For my final ride in Bentonville I rode to the northwest corner of the city with a couple of guys from Dig Trail Design, the outfit responsible for the vast majority of the trails in and around Bentonville. We went to a network of trails called Coler and that was the point at which my mind officially weighed anchor and drifted from its mooring.
There’s a fair amount of terrain in Coler that I can’t ride. From drops to long tabletops, from step-ups to wicked berms, it has terrain to challenge anyone. It was easy enough to skip the stuff that would have required clearance from the FAA, so it’s not like I had to walk.
At the top of a hill I encounter what can only be called a launch pad. It’s a metal structure than stands more than a dozen feet in the air and is under construction. It provides a number of ramps for riders to pick up speed as they swoop into a trail. It’s beautiful and terrifying, but that’s because I’m not 16 in my body (or even my head) anymore. This thing is to cyclocross flyovers what Disney Hall is to a log ramp. It’s easy to think that such a device is beyond my timidity, but Coler offers such a range of difficulty that I can imagine progressing to the point that I can ride much of the terrain I was riding around.
Back at the hotel, I move a penguin one more time before packing. I grab another burrito from an outdoor vendor and sit in the sun, washing it down with a Mexi-Coke. When finish I wander over to a little trailer with the logo “Sweet Dream Creamery.” All the ice cream is handmade, on the spot. With flavors as original as Cereal Milk and Bacon Brittle, it’s difficult to choose. I try a taste of the Earl Grey and Lavender, which is mind-blowing. Eventually, I settle on the Peach Bellini Sorbet.
As I savor tiny spoonfuls of sunshine I can’t help but wonder why the hell I’m about to drive to an airport.