Salvation Through Cycling
By Mike Mitchell / Photo Courtesy Of CATA
My journey to a passion for mountain biking was a long one. I went through a divorce in 1975, and for the first time in my life I was living alone and feeling really pitiful. I needed to get out. I flew to Aspen and attended ski school at Aspen Highlands Mountain. It was exciting, but at the same time disappointing when I realized we had no similar activities back in Arkansas.
When I got home I decided to change my life by starting a running and exercise program. I didn’t consult a professional (which everyone should do), and in retrospect I am sure it was dangerous to my health. Each day I would sprint as far as I could—maybe a quarter mile at first. I struggled to complete three pushups and eight sit-ups. Slowly, my body adapted to the point that I was completing two miles.
In the late 70s, I built a house out in the woods of west Pulaski County, and did my running along old logging roads. It was on one of those roads where I twisted my ankle one day. Unable to run, I pulled out an old road bike from my garage and headed for pavement. I was hooked, and quickly bought a Fuji road bike from a guy named Tony Karklins. He owned a bike shop called Chainwheel, located at that time on Kavanaugh Boulevard.
Unfortunately, I found it scary “sharing” the road with 5,000-pound vehicles driven by people who seemed to resent my presence. Rather than endorphins following a ride, I felt stress, fear and anger. So, I went back to Tony’s store and bought a Trek mountain bike. As it turns out, those intolerant drivers unknowingly did me a favor. Wham, a passion! I had discovered mountain biking.
I began taking mountain bike vacations to places in Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico and Oregon. At a medical-legislative meeting in Santa Rosa, California, a few years ago, I had an experience that changed mountain biking for me forever. Searching for a guide, I discovered a mountain bike meet-up called Annadel Mountain Bike Group (AMBG). I didn’t know what to expect, but it was free to join—so I signed up. Pretty quickly after my inquiry, a notice appeared on the (AMBG) ride calendar for a ride at 2 p.m. on Thursday. The ride was entitled “The Hospitality Ride for Mike from Arkansas.” I still get emotional every time I remember this experience.
Four Annadel members showed up for the occasion, including Cris Anderson, a group organizer. During the ride, Cris explained what a meet-up was, and how to form one in Little Rock, which I quickly did when I returned home, calling it the Burns Park Mountain Bike Group (BPMBG). We now have around 450 members. Any member can schedule a ride locally or elsewhere.
The BPMBG is how I became acquainted with so many mountain biking friends, including Bruce Alt and Matt Goddard. Not long after our acquaintance, we decided to form a nonprofit 501(c)(3) named Central Arkansas Trail Alliance (CATA), a chapter of International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). Bruce was the first CATA president, now VP for governmental affairs with IMBA. Matt succeeded Bruce as our current CATA president.
CATA is dedicated to establishing and maintaining multi-use trails in central Arkansas open to mountain bikes. One of our efforts—and my dream—is to duplicate the public school mountain bike program that the Walton Family Foundation has helped establish in Bentonville. In that program, students are taught mountain biking as part of their physical education curriculum. CATA is looking for a sponsor so we can create a pilot program for a school in central Arkansas. This is an opportunity for someone with a philanthropic vision to create a legacy in our part of the state. Teaching this sport to our kids will ensure they will be able to ride with their kids.
The sport of mountain biking is still in its infancy. We at CATA are doing what we can to advance the sport as a healthy aerobic exercise. But for kids to be engaged it has to be fun, and we intend to make it fun! Mountain biking can make for a great family vacation to places like Colorado, the Grand Canyon, mountains of Lake Tahoe, red rocks of Sedona, giant redwoods of California—and it is also a wonderful reason to explore the beautiful country right here at home in Arkansas. Come join CATA and BPMBG and help us develop the sport to an epic level. Ride together with us—forever.
Mike Mitchell is the vice president of the Central Arkansas Trail Alliance. For more information, visit centralartrail.com.