RED STAR — The annual Buffalo Headwaters Challenge has endured torrential rains, freezing weather, ice storms and assorted natural calamities dating to 2005, when Kate and How Kuff first began hosting the event at their homestead here. The tradition continued for a 16th consecutive year April 24, despite a global pandemic.
In past years, attendance has topped 500 riders — not this year.
Ozark Off Road Cyclists president David Vansandt explained that the nonprofit trails organization followed covid safety protocols from the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas State Parks during planning, and even after the protocols eased in February, planners followed the state’s best practice guidelines:
◼️ They pushed the event from its customary January date to April. (Note: The last weekend of January had been preferred because How Kuff wanted to fit it in the open weekend between NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.)
◼️ To avoid crowding within the close quarters of Headwaters Schoolhouse, they moved dining, registration, awards and the bandstand outdoors to a baseball field.
◼️ As an added precaution, they capped registration at 375 riders and replaced the mass start with staggered groups of approximately 30 riders.
Registration sold out, with cyclists coming in from 13 states.
Even under “normal” conditions, preparing for the challenge involves many man-hours. Spice up these preparations with covid considerations, and a forecast predicting a couple of inches of rain, and planning time doubled.
This was Vansandt’s first year in charge of the event, but he kept a positive attitude.
“At least it isn’t freezing rain,” he reasoned.
LET THE FUN BEGIN
Thankfully, the forecast was wrong about early morning precipitation Friday, April 23, and it was dry while participants began checking in at 3 p.m. This good fortune lingered, allowing everyone time to park, assemble tents and make other nesting rituals.
Once settled in with bowls of Frito chili pie in hand, everyone could stroll the grounds and visit.
Through the years, the event seems to have shifted away from being all about the ride. I still enjoy the riding part, and each year it offers an unexpected challenge. But just as important is returning to this natural setting year after year to visit with my Buffalo Headwaters family before we take on another year’s Challenge.
The rain held off until the Chucky Waggs band hit the stage. By that time, with full stomachs and a mug of craft beer in hand, everyone was nestled comfortably under giant tent canopies, thankful to be sheltered from the steady trickle of water coming down.
A couple of songs into their set, no longer content to sit, we moved enough tables away from the stage to open a dance area. The wild, foot-stomping, gyrating, backwoods celebration commenced.