It’s not that I don’t love museums, because I do. It’s just that, when given the choice between studying art and bicycling, I’m going to ride.
So it was last weekend when Mr. Spoked and I visited the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. I admired the modern buildings with ceilings like the overturned hulls of boats, docked around a central reflecting pool. I enjoyed the moving ripples of light reflected off the water and onto the window scrims. I lingered over the remarkable but lesser known 19th century works by major artists. But by the time we reached the modern art galleries, I couldn’t stop thinking I’d hit the “pause” button when what I really wanted was “play.” I tugged on Mr. Spoked’s shirttail to draw his attention from a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture and told him we’d meet in the gift shop in an hour.
It was one of those glorious spring days when the sun is fierce but not hot, and the light seems to issue from the plants themselves. I couldn’t wait to be outside and lit from within, too. I yanked the mountain bike from the back of our Subaru, slapped on a helmet, then opened up the museum brochure describing the grounds. There were several trails flagged for cycling, but it wasn’t clear where to pick them up. I approached a guard standing in the parking lot, and she pointed to the bottom of the hill into which the museum and garage were built. But when I coasted there I still couldn’t figure out how to pick it up. So I asked another guard standing nearby (they were plentiful and helpful), and he gestured in the direction of some steep stairs. “I need to carry my bike down to the trail?” I asked, but he said, “No, follow the ramp.” It was only then that I noticed a narrow concrete ramp with two wicked doglegs twisting down the hillside. Hmm. Time to test the brakes.
Once I got to the bottom of the ramp (designed more for pedestrians than either bicycles or wheelchairs), it was pretty easy to get on the “Art Trail” leading uphill to the “Crystal Bridges Trail.” There are six trails on the grounds, three of them acceptable for biking. I hesitate to call them fully suitable. I suppose it depends on what kind of biking you prefer. If you like to ride fast, stay off them. If you don’t mind riding slow, stopping frequently, and sharing the trails with masses of people, children in strollers, and dogs on leashes–all of you enjoying the beautiful woods, waterways, and art–then you’ll like these trails. I expected a leisurely ride but was still surprised by the crowds. Things are probably calmer on weekdays, whereas this was a Saturday and during spring break, too.
I rode Crystal Bridges long enough to out-distance the crowds and reach the northern terminus, then picked up the Enfield Trail, a short but steep connector. It was at this point that I began to appreciate the logic. Unlike the South Bentonville Trail, this section was well marked and hooked up with trails leading downtown and to other neighborhoods. The pavement was wide and fairly straight (perfect for commuting), although a few sections were steep by Kansas standards. I almost wished to live there so I could test it on a morning commute. But I want to stay in Topeka awhile to see how our trails system develops. Well done, Bentonville.