A calm disembodied voice drifted up from behind settling on us like a gossamer blanket.
“Fish… Keris… we missed you yesterday” said the voice.
Matt and I traded glances. We skipped hill repeats with the cross-country team the day before and instead walked home. On our way we fortuitously found a $20 bill and stopped at the local five-and-dime for a bag of chips and some Cokes. We thought we successfully pulled off ditching running up those accursed hills on the golf course.
We thought ourselves too slow and unimportant to be noticed by Coach. We were wrong. We got busted.
“You two are running Foundryville with me” coach Bull said calmly.
We didn’t even answer. We knew we screwed up. We knew we were busted so we ran Foundryville miles with coach Bull and didn’t complain.
Coach Bull looked like a cross between a corn stalk and gazelle. Looking very tall, due to his slender build, he had a wild tuff of blond curly hair on top. He never raised his voice. He never got mad. He was like the Carl Sagan of running.
Matt and I ran Foundryville with Coach Bull and his much faster A-team runners who just did it for the joy of running. In the end, I really didn’t mind. In fact, I even remember setting a pretty good pace.
I was never fast. Hell, I was never even good. But I always enjoyed running.
Throughout my life it has been the single thing that could heal almost anything; physically, mentally, and spiritually.
It has been a valuable part of letting my mind wander. Combining physical hardship with the solitude of the road…or better yet…the country. There are few things more satisfying to me than being out there.
I have not always been faithful to running. Whole years go by until I fall in love again and start looking forward to running as a reward rather than a hardship. In many ways it reflects my approach to life. Jump into it, never give up, and when it gets overwhelming, break it into smaller pieces.
At 48 I am back at it again.
This time in a place and a time I never thought possible in 1987 running at night through the pasta sauce dinner aromas in the crisp fall air of rural Pennsylvania.
This will be my 6th Bentonville Half Marathon.
I have run many marathons and half marathons over the last 20 years. From exotic locations such as Honolulu and Vancouver to more provincial locales such as Toledo, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri. But for whatever reason, the Bville half is my favorite. I can’t really tell you definitely why.
The course is challenging starting off flat and then rewarding you will a nice down downward grade somewhere around mile 9 only to punish you with a steep hill at around mile 12. Punishing as it is, once you are up that hill you are home free. That hill used to bother me. Not anymore. It still tough as hell, but I know it’s there and I know I can make it up it. I never walk it. I wait until I get to the strange stone obelisk up top for my walking reward.
Maybe it is the sense of community. Everyone seems to come out and cheer. When you are running it you usually chit-chat with those around you like it is float down the Buffalo river. It is always a common ground in conversation without regard to any of the day to day bullshit of the real world.
If I am really honest with myself, I think it is about something bigger.
As a psychologist and researcher, I have had the privilege of constantly investigating new facets of humanity. Recently I conducted a project on urban housing. My team and I read many academic and trade publications. We talked to experts; from urban planners, to architects, to professors. But there is one guy from Atlanta whose definition of home stuck with me:
“Home is not a physical place. It’s not a house or a neighborhood. It’s where you get good food and are welcomed. It is where your people are and where you feel a sense of belonging”
I think the reason I love this race is that, I finally think of Bentonville as one of the many places I can call home.
I know today is unique. You can never truly step in the same stream twice. Someday I won’t live here. Someday I will be too old or weak to run. Someday I won’t even be on this earth. But right now, I am here.
So, when I feel like it is too tough. Like I want to give up or walk home with a Coke in my hand. I remind myself; I will not always have the privilege to run. I hear Coach Bull’s voice in my head reminding me of the impermanence of life…and to lift my knees when running up hill.
Specifically, I liked to eat good food. So when we found out we were moving to Arkansas I had visions of a gastronomical wasteland. I envisioned plates of black eyed peas, weepy pale collard greens, overcooked dry pork, and dry salty biscuits served by melancholy waitresses named Flo or Daisy. Arriving in NWA, I was almost immediately disabused of this stereotype.
In the cold month of January we arrived at the still nascent downtown Bentonville, Arkansas. I had my first real meal at Tusk and Trotter. Our little band of Southern California refugees were still a bit shaken by cold and rustic drive from the airport. Our attitudes seemed to immediately start to morph upon this first taste of NWA.
With an excellent menu, all locally sourced foods, we ordered up a feast and washed it down with some amazing local brews. We chatted and laughed with wait staff about the area and people. We left the restaurant well fed and our spirits lifted. Maybe this place wasn’t too bad after all I thought. I could sense my wife breathe a small mental sigh of relief.
Little did I know that was just the tip of a culinary iceberg. I could not possibly do justice to the all the great food here in NWA, but if you have a week or so here, I thought I might highlight some of my favorites both fancy and simple. Let’s start with where you may start your day…
When in Northwest Arkansas try and avoid the breakfast places like Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, and the Waffle House; you can get that anywhere. Go explore the wonders of breakfast and brunch in the Ozarks.
One of my favorites is the relatively new comer The Buttered Biscuit. As I understand it the owners, Ana and Sam Russel , were really jonesing for a good breakfast place like they had back home in Lansing, Michigan. Not finding one here to their liking at the time, they did what everyone seems to do around here when they want something not present; they opened one. All the food at the Biscuit is locally sourced, but all you really need to know about this place is two words: bacon jam. On the weekends the place gets very crowded in the morning with LA-type lines piling outside and people parking across the street. No matter, its worth the wait and they get through those lines pretty quickly.
Another must eat at is the Press Room in downtown Bville. This place is hipster central, but with a welcome emulsion of Arkansan friendliness. The food is thoughtful, unique, and delicious. I am a fan of their avocado toast and their corn beef hash (Press-Trami). Their Gingerslap shot is a great whoa-boy way to start your day too.
I am not a buffet fan, Jimmy or otherwise, but Table Mesa (again in downtown Bville) has an absolutely fantastic one on Sunday mornings. It is reasonably priced and features a variety of Southwestern and Mexican inspired food. There is an omelet chef and a variety of high quality dishes to chose from. Sadly, my kids often opt for the fruit loops…
If you are in a more traditional frame of mind for breakfast than you can’t beat The Station Cafe. Operating since 1977 it offers up traditional breakfast fare like sunny side up eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy all for an incredibly reasonable price. Bring your paper, relax, and eavesdrop on the locals for the latest hub-bub. Sadly you better go soon as the Station is set to close this year.
If crepes are your game, then Crepe’s Paulette is Monopoly, Chess, and Twister all rolled in one. Now for the record, I am typically not a crepes fan. They are the pancake and waffle’s precocious European cousin. But put your teeth into the Elvis crepe and your tastes buds will transport you to the tiger print couches of Graceland. Amazing. These folks don’t mess around. They have both sweet and savory crepes that are sure to please. They recently moved from the shack by the ice-skating rink to a permanent location on A street. As a bonus Hero’s Coffee is right next store.
Heading south, a very popular and crowded weekend location is an old converted farm house in Fayetteville called The Farmer’s Table. It has a bohemian vibe with a floor plan that is pretty much what you expect in an old farm house. With creaky floors and odd ball dishware they also have an outdoor seating at picnic tables. You can really notice the difference in their dishes because of the local and organic ingredients. A few grow right outside. It is crowded but the food and service are both excellent. They change up the menu seasonally to conform with what is locally available. My favorite: the curried deviled eggs with Sirachi.
One of our other favorites for breakfast or lunch is Arsaga’s at the Depot in Fayetteville. Typically a younger crowd they often have live music and serve a great selection of omelets, crepes, sandwiches and salads. As any proper fixie riding mustachioed ironic t-shirt wearing person would expect, their brussels sprouts may be mixed with crack; they are that addicting.
A short drive east of Fayetteville in a little town called Farmington is a place called Briar Rose Baker and Deli. Looking like the home of some benevolent German witch, inside is a stockpile of delicious confections to eat. While the sandwiches and soups are excellent; they really make their mark with their baked goods. I am a particular fan of their cinnamon rolls and sticky buns served warm and gooey.
Finally, if you are feeling fancy and want to bask in the glory of Bville’s weird artistic vibe, head on down to the Hive which is inside 21C right outside of downtown Bentonville. With a menu that reads like an assignment from your anarchist poetry professor, you can ponder the meaning of BMF Chicken on a Biscuit while sipping on a When Life Gives you Lemons elixir. There is really nothing on this menu that is not short of extraordinary…and you have life size green penguins you can play with too.
So that’s my very short favorites list. There are others, but those would be my “must visit breakfast spots” in this area. If you are new to the area, make sure you try and stop by. If you live here, would love to hear your opinion or additions to my “must eat breakfast places”.
That’s the number of unique trails in this little sliver of Northwest Arkansas. If you enjoy bicycling, NWA has many trails-less-travelled on tap for you to explore. The Slaughter Pen Trails in Bentonville and the recently opened Back 40 is paradise for mountain bikers with over 40 miles of off road trails.
The Green Belt runs 36 miles from Bella Vista to south of Fayetteville. It is a truly enjoyable and closed pathway that winds through six different towns with many places to refuel with some food or perhaps a refreshing beverage along the way. It also a network of spurs that would take years to explore.
Yesterday I joined what seemed like several thousand people in the annual Square to Square ride between Bentonville and Fayetteville co-sponsored by both municipalities Parks and Recreation departments. It is a fun 30 mile ride winding through country side, forest, and small towns.
This year we had a great turn out. The Square to Square ride starts in downtown Bentonville square and goes South on the concrete two-way Greenway. There were all kinds of riders; roadies, mountain bikers, recumbent bikers, single speed “fixes”, and I even saw a few homemade machines on the trail.
The trail was fairly congested in the first few miles of the ride but quickly cleared up. The trail takes you straight down J Street behind the high school until you cross Walton Boulevard and enter Horsebarn Park. There you can grab a donut at the nearby Kripsy Kreme or, if you are in need of a repair or accessory, head up to the HighRoller Cyclery right off the trail.
You continue down through Rogers crossing underneath Interstate 49 where one might be tempted to stop in for a Bagel at Einstein’s or perhaps a cold one at the Core Brewery Public House outpost right next to the trail. I pressedon taking a brief break to listen to some great Old Tymey blue grass at Mercy Trailhead at around mile 6.5.
After crossing Promenade Road you ascend slightly past a school and few churches…from there things get a bit country. It was here that I was traveling at what I consider a good clip and I heard a voice behind me which made me jump off my seat.
“We could use a better draft today, couldn’t we?” an older disembodied male Arkansan voice said.
I thought for a moment it might be God.
It turned out it wasn’t God, but a octogenarian pumping along effortlessly on what looked like a 1960s-era Schwinn 10 speed bicycle. He smiled broadly at me and then sped off like Han Solo successfully executing the light speed jump. Hope I am in that kind of shape at that age. Heck, I wish I was in that kind of shape now.
From there you continue on to a very welcome steep down grade and criss cross over Puppy Creek numerous times until you eventually make your way to downtown Springdale at mile 18.5 or so.
If you didn’t know any better on any given Saturday you might think you are close to Santa Monica beach. Folks are doing Yoga, there is a Farmers market, Phat Tire bike shop…and yes, another Core Brewery outpost right on the trail!
I took a quick breather there, said hello to my elderly Schwinn riding friend munching on a chicken salad sandwich, and then made my way in earnest down to Fayetteville. Briefly following Spring Creek the trail then splits off and heads south and then hooks up with Lake Fayetteville right after mile 21. At the entrance to the Lake you are treated to a nice down hill coast followed by a steep switch back up. You will wish for mountain bike gearing here.
This section is probably the nicest part of a really nice ride. There are tons of trees that cover the trail like a canopy. Leaves fall from above, see-sawing their way lazily to the ground. The trail curves around about one half of the Fayetteville lake loop, up past the dam and then you begin your descent into Fayetteville proper.
Things get a little more congested once again with local traffic and walkers on the trail. College students can also be found, some perhaps a bit bleary headed from the previous night’s festivities.
You eventually make one more modest ascent and then descend down to Dickson street past Arsaga’s before being confronted by the final steep hill up to the historic square in Fayetteville and their weekly Farmer’s Market.
I never rode the entire trail end-to-end and it was more difficult than I anticipated, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would do it again for sure. The Green Trail is just another aspect in NWA of the inter-connectivity between people, art, and nature. It is reminder that we should certainly take some time to look around and enjoy what is in front of us every day. I look forward to hitting the trail again soon and checking out some of the other trails in NWA.
For runners, the nice thing about Southern California is that there really is no excuse not to go out for a run. Well, almost no excuse. Those smog days are fewer and farer between than they once were, but still sucking air from a tailpipe while you are running pretty much deletes out any aerobic health benefit. That being said, most mornings are a nice 60-something degrees with little humidity and no rain. And best of all…the beach is flat.
So when we started thinking about moving to NWA outdoor activities, and particularly running, were on my mind. I’m not particularly fast, but running has been a lifelong imperative for me for two reasons.
First, I like to eat crappy food and throw a few beers back. Running has always been my antidote from ballooning up to Chris Christie proportions. Second, distance running has always been my mental yoga. It allows me to unclench my brain from the day-the-day problems and challenges. I have never returned from a run thinking “man, I shouldn’t have done that”
I was concerned that the weather might inhibit one of the few healthy habits I developed. Also I was concerned that there might not be any kindred running spirits in Arkansas. So I began to investigate.
Doing some web searches I was happy to quickly find the Bentonville Half Marathon and races series. I immediately signed up. I thought to myself “well at least there are a few hundred runners who share my passion.” I signed up for both the half and the next race they had before moving.
Our first race was an unorthodox Valentine’s 8k/4k that started in downtown Bentonville. It was cold. Very cold. Like if you spit it freezes in the air cold. Ok, perhaps not that cold. But definitely nipple chafing cold.
Chattering our teeth amongst what felt like over a thousand people assembled in the Bentonville Square, we heard the heavily accented Arkansan announcer first announce the national anthem and then some race instructions.
“…what yer wanna go and do is head down on 2nd and make sure you make a LEFT on Jaaaay street. You don’t want to turn right…make a LEFT on Jaaaay…”
Our coven of transplant thin-blooded runners exchanged glances as we marveled at the white plumes of evaporated water vapor that we exhaled. My plan was to follow whomever was in front of me…as it is for most races.
“Ok, we’ll have two guns, for the first one the 4k runners will go and then the second the 8k runners will go….good luck!”
Rubbish. The gun went off and everyone started running like hell. Did I mentioned it was cold?
It was a fun run, and one of at least two dozen I have done since moving to NWA.
Turns out, NWA has a very healthy running, biking, and anything outdoor culture. But I was particularly impressed by the focus and inclusive spirit of the running culture in NWA. It wasn’t just hard-core elite runners who were enthusiasts, but runner of all ages, types, and sizes. Everyone is very supportive of others no matter your time or ability.
The center of NWA running culture is radiated out from many sources such as local clubs and informal groups, but perhaps the strongest running vibe originates from Rush Running. Rush Running is a local sporting goods store that focuses on runners. The folks who worked there are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
And if Rush Running is the Mecca of running culture in NWA, then Mike Rush is the high priest. You will see Mike out running in all conditions and random locations across the countryside.
More importantly Mike and his die-hard crew of runners are a driving force in encouraging people to get involved in running culture and doing it safely. He has a great half Marathon program which sells out quickly every year and gets people who never ran a half marathon do to it for the first time. On any given run you will usually hear Mike before you see him, shouting encouragement at people and occasionally trying to pants one of his friends.
The community also support running and cycling culture. NWA has an excellent and well-maintained trail system that keeps you off the road. If your run or ride does take you on the road, that’s no problem either. The slow and mindful motorists of NWA are generally very courteous to runners and cyclists alike.
In SoCal I would regularly get beeped at and have almost been run over more times than I care to count. In my 3 years here in NWA, only once did someone give the horn…and I think it might have been my neighbor greeting me.
One area of caution when running in NWA; there is wildlife. On a back road I have been pursued by, what turned out to be, a friendly pitbull. I have been eyed by a large hawk, jumped over a snake or two, and been mutually freaked out by deer. Also, there is road-kill…lots of road-kill.
So, yea, the weather does make it impossible to run out door in July through part of August for me, but the rest of the year you just adapt. It’s kind of fun to get suited up and go for runs while flurries are dropping from the sky or run through torrential down pours. You get used to it. And you won’t be alone out there for sure. That, I can assure you.
 With the only possible exception being after I ate a half dozen hatch chilies before running on a hot day which effused through my skin like battery acid during my run.
The weather in NWA is a bit like going on a hunting trip with Dennis Hopper. You don’t know what’s going to happen…but you know it is going to be interesting…and perhaps a bit dangerous.
Coming from Los Angeles where we had small variations on one comfortably low humidity and pleasant season, I was jolted into Arkansas’ schizophrenic and unpredictable weather when we moved here. As a result, after decades of not even thinking about the weather, I suddenly became obsessed with the weather forecast.
Not long into my obsession, I became convinced that the weather app I was using was faulty. It was more often wrong than right. So tried another app. And another. I gradually discovered that horoscopes have better predictive validity than weather forecasts here. The most accurate nightly forecast for tomorrow would be “we really have no idea…but good luck!”
Unlike the single monolithic season of SoCal, here in Arkansas we are blessed with no less than seven, with one them thrown in randomly across the other six. Let me review them for you in sequential order
Zombie Apocalypse Season
Occurring in late October through early December, plus or minus 3 months, this season is the most grim here in Arkansas.
It is also the time we moved here more than three years ago. Almost everything is dead or dormant. The grass is brown, there is nothing on the trees, and the fields look like they were watered with salt water. The only people people you see out and about are folks like Mike Rush and other skinny fit runners. However, the nuclear after glow upon this post apocalyptic landscape keeps things relative warm, which leads to the next season…
This is a mercifully short season which can last from 1 day to 45 days depending on the year. This is a very quiet time of year in NWA, but can also be very beautiful. What’s a real treat here is when we have any precipitation during this season; fun times. While I love the folks here in NWA, as I have noted previously, their driving proficiency I find to be wanting. This situation is exasperated when we have snow or freezing rain. Now to NWA drivers’ defense, the road treatment here is minimal. And when I say minimal, I mean none.
I grew up driving in rural Pennsylvania where we got plenty of the white stuff. While it paralyzed us occasionally, we usually had no problem getting around. Here it is white knuckle time in those same conditions. I remember sliding down a small hill uncontrollably, like fat guy on a water slide, on what appeared to be a clear road. My advice when it snows: stay home and mooch off your neighbors. It will melt soon.
By around March, things are consistently above freezing and if you are brave enough you can start moving your plants back outside and stare at your lawn and the random weeds that are beginning to germinate there. People are now out and about as they awake from their long winter nap. You start to see trees with buds and you will start seeing that random guy walking around on Walton holding a sign again. Spring is around the corner or as we call it…
Road Kill Season
In May and June we get our heaviest amount of rain…about 5 incheseach month. That is ark consideration amounts of rain. And it comes down fast. Roads flood out regularly but the denizens of NWA pay no mind and calmly plod away with some even taking the opportunity to go kayaking due to the numerous local rivers and streams. And with the rain life blooms. And that blooming life, inexplicably wants to cross the road. I have never seen the volume or variety of dead species splattered across the road as here in NWA . Beware of the Armadillos, I have heard they can do some damage to those radials.
I have never been to Saigon in August, but I would guess it is just a smidge more humid there than NWA in the late summer months…even though we might give them a run for good Phở. Life at this time of year is absolutely exploding with hedge rows clawing out of their place on the side of road and infringing upon the edges of rural roads. It is a great time to go out and explore the beautiful local forests such as Hobbs State Park, Devil,s Den, Ozark National Forest, and 1.8 million acres of Ouachita National Forest. Even though it can get incredibly hot, you can find refuge in the woods and or go float on one of the number of amazing rivers in the area. I like Jungle Season.
The official Razorback football season starts late August or very early September. This is one of the few seasons that reliably falls on an appointed time frame. Find yourself one the many amazing brews in NWA and treat yourself to some Razorback football. At your home or at the stadium it is simply not something that can be ignored. The nightly local news treat you to a healthy dose of Razorback Nation after the regular news. I love the earthy smell of fall in NWA mixed with the cooler temps which makes me just a bit nostalgic for my hometown and the shared pervasiveness of football fever.
Tornado! (Insert Randomly)
Tornados seem to occur at any ole time here in Northwest Arkansas. Most natives here don’t seem to get overly worked up about them. I remember being in a physicians office when a Tornado touched down 3 miles away, folks continued to read their magazines and watch CNN in waiting room. Nothing to see here. As far as natural disasters occur they aren’t that bad. Earthquakes are focused and you get no notice, hurricanes you get notice but cover a large swathe of land. Tornados you get some warning and they are highly focused. If I am forced to picked natural disasters, sign me up for Tornados. While infrequent, they still can ranch it up your pulse a bit. Know where your neighbors storm cellar is just in case.
Seasons in the Sun
One benefit we have here, is we are blessed with much more sunlight than you might think; 215 days! Not too shabby! That light makes a big difference on your daily outlook and mental health. Also, after a while you look forward to the different seasons. My days in SoCal seem like one big blur as we had no falling leaves, snow, or blossoms. It is kind of nice to have some variety. Especially the amount of variability we have here in NWA. I wonder what tomorrow will be like. Everyday is an adventure.
Red. White. Red & White. Pigs. Ahem, sorry not exactly. Actually a Razorback. No, literally a Hog. Go Hogs! We Love ❤️ the Hogs. WOO PIG SOOIE.
These nice folks here in NWA really, really, support the pigs. I mean razorbacks. Wait, I mean them Hogs. Yes, yessiree everyone calls the Hogs around here.
Well I wasn’t “from here.” I just got here. At school they wondered where my “red” was on Friday. Didn’t I like the Hogs? Huh? Gee I don’t know. I mean I don’t dislike the Hogs. Ok, I’ll say I like ’em. But I sure as heck am not gonna do that goofy call thing. It’s weird, loud and I feel embarrassed.
Soon I would realize calling the Hogs can and will happen anywhere, anytime for any (or maybe no) reason at all. Where two or more are gathered, energetic, excited, passionate (to the core), Hog fans will rise, throwing their hands above their heads, fingers wiggling cheerily, and shout those funny famous words WOO PIG SOOIE RAZORBACKS!!
Gotta admit, we now have a University of Arkansas grad in our family….. I’ve called those Hogs with the best of them…. in a bar, on the golf course, in a parking lot, in front of the TV. It still feels funny. But you know…. whatever…WPS!
The year before I moved to the area, Benton County was dry. That would have been a non-starter. Fortunately, things evolved toward a more progressive frame of mind in regards to libations. In fact, the good folks in Little Rock have even recently seen their way to allowing out of state wine be delivered to your door step. Yeah!
The good news keeps rolling. The citizens of NWA are blessed to have a large variety of extremely good craft breweries that have exploded in production and popularity over the last few years. Here are a few of my favorites in alphabetical order.
Good food, good drink, and the outdoors are inexplicably intertwined in NWA. Of all the breweries in the area, Apple Blossom Brewery probably captures this bohemian trinity the best. Located just off the bike trail by Lake Fayetteville, a visit there is a great reward for that loop around the lake or the longer ride down from Bentonville or Bella Vista. They have a very good menu, good service, and a recently updated selection of brews on tap. ABB tends to offer some of the more unorthodox offerings on the beer scene in the Bubble. I am particularly partial to their Soulless Ginger which has an a nice clean and zesty finish. Their Earl Grey ESB has an unusually smooth, refined, and earthy flavor which I think Jean Luc would even approve of. Altogether a nice scene, and on a nice day it’s great to chill out on their wrap around porch with friends, family, and your canine companion.
Recently relocated to Ozark’s old location in Rogers, Bentonville Brewing Company is a relatively newcomer to the NWA brewing scene. What they lack in brewing punctuality they made up for in quality. Their Kolsch is excellent and goes down way too smoothly. I am not normally a big fan of IPAs but “Homewrecker IPA” threatens to do just that, beckoning you to drink just one more “…yes honey, I am on my way now…” The folks at BBC also regularly host some awesome events in collaboration with the local restaurants and shops. We attended their Beers and Hymns event which was a ton of fun and got the whole crowd in the Holiday spirit.
Starting as a “nano brewery” this place has grown exponentially in the last few years to become a prominent player in the NWA beer scene. With two locations, the original is in the Arts District on A Street and they recently opened up a second location on 8th Street both with outdoor seating. Both locations are awesome, with the the Arts District being right next to Peddler’s Pub where you can grub on some good pizza and the 8th Street location having one or more food trucks on hand to feed the masses. Both regularly have really good live music, are dog friendly with a fun and friendly staff.
Oh and the beer. The beer is excellent. They usually have 5 or 6 on tap, with two or more being seasonal. I am a fan of the Amber Ale as well as their wickedly tart Grapefruit Saison. If you are into IPAs, they have knock your toe clips off Double IPA. Insider tip: for $100 you can become a permanent “Trale Builder” and enjoy some great perks…including a biggie boy glass to flaunt your membership exclusivity!
I honestly don’t know a whole lot about these folks other than they make some kick ass ciders. Celebrating their second anniversary this month, I first came across them when changing up gears at Bike Rack and noticed they made a guest appearance on the pour menu. Sourcing apples locally, I first tried BAX’s nicely balanced 1904 cider. I prefer dry, tart, German Reisling-like ciders and the 1904 didn’t disappoint. Be careful though, at 7.8 abv, it could put a ‘hurtin on you like your dim Uncle Pete. Located in downtown Springdale, I have been impressed with what I have tasted so far and intend to find out more.
“A 3 barrel brew house owned and operated by 3 University of Arkansas graduates who love Fayetteville and the craft beer industry“is how the newest brewery to the Bubble describes their brewing Vision Quest. To that I say “BRAVO!” Opening their doors in 2015 and just off the bike trail in Fayetteville, they have an interesting array of traditional and non-traditional forms of fermented happiness. I honestly don’t know a whole bunch more than that…but with its proximity to the bike trail and some rave reviews I am planning on correcting that ignorance toot sweet!
With multiple locations, Core is one the more venerable brewers in the area having been established in 2011. Their calling card is a little Weiner dog named Barney on their cans and they have several locations. Their Brewery location is in Springdale and there is also a nice Public House on the bike path which is conveniently about halfway between Bentonville and Fayetteville. The Public house is also fun to throw some darts, shoot a little pool and listen to some live local music. There is a Pub in Rogers and a location in downtown Bentonville as well as others springing up regularly. Also if you are stranded at the XNA you can also enjoy some good food at their outpost there as well. They have many many good beers and a few weird (in a good way) ones. I am a fan of the Arkansas Red and the Behemoth Pilsner. For the more adventurous they also some quirkier ones like Toasted Coconut and Jalapeno ESB.
Founded in 2012, Fossil Cover has nice Jurassic theme going with with their brews. Their tasting room and brewery is located conveniently not far off of Gregg Ave, easily biking distance from the trail. I always thought of them as the “grown up” of the brewers in NWA, despite their cartoon inscripted cans. Their most famous beers arethe crisp Paleo, tasty La Brea Brown, and bold T-Rex Tripel. They also have some ongoing experiments with their “Evolution Series”. For example, currently the crew at Fossil Cove offer T-Rex on Peaches which is their Belgian Tripel soaked in bourbon and wine barrels with a heap full of Ozark Peaches layered on top to put a little southern sugar in that that Trip.
This brewery has a very special place in my heart. Perhaps it was because it was my first beer-crush in NWA. It was a cold day in November of 2014 and our first time to NWA. I was still kind of freaked out about the whole “move-to-Arkansas-thing”. Our small SoCal tribe found a surprising hip gastro pub downtown called Tusk and Trotter which brightened my mood immediately. I looked up at the giant chalk board post on the wall in the restaurant to see a list of locally sourced meats, vegetables, and grains used to make everything on the menu. I am a fan of Belgians so I skeptically ordered up Ozark’s Belgian Style Golden Strong. It was love at first sip.
Moving out of their old brew house (recently where Bentonville Brewing Company has set up shop) they are now just outside downtown Rogers in a retro-fitted historic flour mill. Like all the brew houses around NWA, it has a very cozy and family oriented atmosphere. They even have a play area under the stairwell for the youngsters. If you are fan of sours they also do a nice seasonal Berliner Weisse in the fall. Hard work, honest beer indeed!
If you didn’t know any better you might think New Province was the latest brand from one of the mega brewers. It is not. It one of the newest brewers in the NWA bubble making some great beer for all to enjoy. They also seem to be enjoying some white hot popularity as of late. While you really can’t go wrong with anything from their wide selection, I have recently become enamored with their Fallen Queen Witbier. They also release a set of new small batches every Tuesday in their taproom on Hudson. Get there early on Fridays…the place gets jammed.
Don’t despair, you aren’t lost…just keep driving. The first time I set out to find Saddlebock I was beginning to get nervous. I thought I could hear the banjos. Saddlebock is just a bit out in the boonies but it is worth the drive. They have a very laid back tasting room with some good munchies. They have several good standards on tap including a very nice Heifeweizen, several IPAs, Lagers, and Stouts. One of my favorites is the Lost Bridge Smoke, with just hint of a smokey flavor that goes great with ribs or steak.
Bubbles in the Bubble
Those are the primary craft brewers I have experienced in NWA. They are all part of the local “ale trail“, but over three years of trying I think I have only made it to three in succession…despite scheduling a driver. Its just hard to pass up all the good stuff in one place let alone the more than half dozen in the area.
Of course, that’s not all. There has been an explosion of really great craft brewers across the state with double digit growth in craft brewing for last several years.
That was the advice I received from my boss about driving on the freeways of Los Angeles when I first moved there. Driving in Los Angeles is a psychological, and sometimes, physical war game. Turn signals aren’t used, but occasionally firearms are employed. The object of driving in LA is to get to where you are going as fast as possible…which usually isn’t very fast. I always called it “driving with a sense of urgency”.
In comparison, whatever sense of driver urgency may have existed in NWA, it got lost somewhere in the Ozarks. The local driving mantra would probably be closer to “get there as politely and lawfully as possible.” It is the only area I have ever lived where motorists regularly drive 5-10 miles below the speed limit. It is not just the indigenous population either.
This tendency will quickly send the city driver into road rage if expectations aren’t recalibrated. To be honest, as passengers in my vehicle can attest, this is still one area of “opportunity” for me to which I have not yet adapted.
This more mindful motoring also has it’s benefits. I have never been in area where people so frequently let you merge, let you pass, and let you go first at four way stop. This courteousness is rather contagious and before you know it you are conforming to the new social norms of politeness. Oh no…I insist…you go FIRST! It’s very refreshing compared to the freeway Darwinism of most major metros.
The other benefit is that if you are to get into a bit of a pickle, your fellow NWA motorists are very quick to lend a hand. When accidents happen there is not typically screaming and pointing. People don’t rubber neck as they pass by at 65 mph….they stop and help. You will never see a stranded motorist alone looking at their cell phone, people stop and try and help.
When I first moved here I had a hard time determining why this molasses polite driving behavior existed.
At first I thought it was because of some kind of maniacal police department administered by an Arkansan version of Boss Hogg and Roscoe P Coltrane. Not so. In fact, I find the surrounding municipalities to be fair and even lenient in traffic enforcement.
Looking further into it, I have concluded there are a few drivers of this behavior.
First, local infrastructure hasn’t quiet caught up with the massive population growth in the area. Benton county alone has doubled its population in the last 15 years. Twisty country roads with no shoulders tend to mitigate high speed driving. In fact, there is even quiet a few dirt roads around here…much to my childrens’ delight.
Second, although the area is rapidly growing, it is still a just a network of small towns. Of the four major towns in the area, only Faytetteville broaches the 100,000 population mark with a population of about 73,000. The population also has a notoriously dense network, with only a few degrees of separation. That means the odds that the BMW driver you just flipped off might be your co-worker, your doctor, or your boss’s wife is higher than usual. Open wide and say “ahhh!”
Fundamentally, I believe it is a cultural phenomena. It is part of the agrarian ethos of being self-sufficient but knowing that your are part of a community, and as such, you have certain responsibilities to your neighbors. You help your neighbors out when they need help because you never know when your cattle may stray off your own property and you need a hand. It is also about slowing down and not always rushing toward the goal, but literally enjoying the ride there.
I am doing my best to adapt. I do let people merge and wave people ahead at the four way stop. I sometimes talk to myself. I oftentimes rant and swear. I have to always remind myself that driving under speed limit isn’t always a sign of mental or physical impairment; it is just people enjoying the ride. I will try to enjoy mine a bit more and I hope you enjoy yours.
“Would you like that in a sack?” the friendly lady at the liquor store asked.
“A what?” I had visions of a burlap bag in my head.
“A sack” she smiled patiently as a teacher might at a particularly dense student.
I stared blankly. Not changing the smile on her face she continued to look at me as she pulled out a plastic bag and shook it a few times making that familiar loud crinkily noise.
“Ummm…no thanks” I said a grabbed my six pack and sheepishly exited the store.
While the emigration of people from around the globe has homogenized the Bville local dialect a bit, southern idioms and accents are strong temptresses. The walls of the so called “Bville bubble” are porous, and never more so to the virulent contagion of the Arkansan drawl and dialect.
While hard core Yankees from Boston, Philly, and New York will successfully slow the advance of the southern twang, most others, including Brits will eventually submit to the will of the Arkansan tongue.
You will get use to this. You will adopt it. You will like it.
While you will probably never pronounce cement as “SEA-ment”, at around three months you will notice that your friends from back home and at work will be making fun of you for slipping “y’all” into your day-to-day conversation. You won’t notice it, it will just happen. It is just so easy to slip into it. After a short time you will not know how you ever did without the helpful and friendly phrase.
While I won’t spoil all of your surprises, here are a few of the local expressions and references that may save you some heartache, confusion, and embarrassment in the future.
Boil = usually a crawfish boil consisting of corn, potatoes, sausage, crawfish, and boiled in a big pot and then dumped out on a table and eaten with your hands
Buggy = shopping cart
Crawdad = crayfish, crawfish
Cattywampus/Cattycorner – diagonal from, especially used in geo-location
Daggum = Polite version of god damn
Fixin’ = meaning you are getting ready to do something
Float = tubing, canoeing, or kayaking on one of the many beautiful rivers in the area.
Gettin’ place = reference to obscure the origination of goods purchased
One in particular you should be aware of, that took me a while to catch on was the expression “Oh, bless your heart.” Now, you might be tempted to think this is a term of endearment or empathy. Let me disabuse you of that notion; it is not. Roughly translated “oh bless your heart” means “you are a dumb ass.” The person saying it is acknowledging that fact.
It goes like this.
“Ma’aam, I was wondering if you could tell where I could pick up a six pack of beer for the game tonight”
“Oh bless your heart…you know today is Sunday right?”
I learned that one the hard way. So, I hope some of these terms may help you settle in if you are new to NWA. If you are a veteran of the area, I would love to hear your additions or edits to my list above. Talk to y’all soon.
The muscular black BMW M5 was pulled off onto the grass on the side of the road. I could see the setting sun reflecting off its symmetric obsidian curves. I spotted it as I was traveling up Rainbow Road on my way home. A few meters away from the six digit Teutonic piece of industrial art I saw a women. She was dressed in business attire and was walking toward the barb wire fence by the side of the road.
I was concerned. Was there a problem? An accident? A flat tire? I slowed my car.
As I passed I got a closer look at what was going on. I saw her kneel down by the fence. I saw her smiling broadly as she put her hands through the fence to pet the miniature pony on the other side.
For me this captures so much of the spirit of Northwest Arkansas. People move here from all over the globe. They bring with them their aspirations, their worries, and their hopes. They also bring with them their obsession with stuff…and many start to engage in their gradual divorce from it.
Once you are here, you tend to become aware that stuff is really not that important. In fact, you start to realize that stuff really gets in the way of enjoying your life. You start to realize that it is a distraction and the real way to enjoy life is experiencing it. And there really is so much to experience here.
This evening my wife, our kids, and some close friends and some other complete strangers sat around at Peddlers pub. We do this often. We play Scrabble and Jenga with our kids and we drink beer and eat unhealthy cheese fries and pizza. We know many of the folks at Bike Rack Brewing Company and many of the servers at Peddler’s Pub. They are, by and large, good people and you feel comfortable in the hodgepodge social nest that you make here. Tonight we got to enjoy an amazing duo as pedestrians stopped and watched and the sun set as marshmellow clouds loitered in the sky. Truly beautiful.
When we were infants what we principally wanted was the attention of our parents and others. We wanted to belong and have social engagement. We are, of course, social animals. Early on we become polluted with the promise of what “things” can provide. It is a drug that we get addicted to. The next car, the next house, the next this, the next that. It doesn’t stop. It’s a drug.
In NWA, you get a chance to get grounded again if you so choose. You rediscover what you knew as an infant. It is not about “stuff”, it is about experiences. It is about the people around you. The lake, the trees, the river, the long bike ride or the walk in the woods. It is about being with people you love. It is about learning and exploring the unknown. This is the stuff that makes life worth living.
That young women stepping out of her BMW to pet that pony captures that essence perfectly. This is the transformation that many choose when they get here. She perhaps took her first step on that journey.
It’s nice to have nice things, but their reward is temporary and fleeting. You may or may not remember that fancy car in your twilight years. You will always remember the time you pulled your car off to the side of a rural road in Arkansas, knelt down, and spent some time with a pony. I expect she will be driving a used Subaru soon.
So remember to take some time to pull off on your own road and check out your own ponies. You will likely find it is time well spent.