Payson McElveen took a deep breath, then launched into the darkness.
On the early morning of April 22, before the first crack of light, McElveen began his chase on mountain biking history. As darkness fell 17 hours later, he accomplished his quest to become the first rider to navigate all five mountain biking trails in Bentonville and Bella Vista. The epic ride covered more than 140 miles and 15,500 feet of elevation changes.
"I'd done this here in my hometown of Durango (Colo.) back in 2019 and it was just sort of a funny, random challenge," said McElveen, 28, who hails from Dripping Springs, Texas near Austin, but has been living in Durango for 10 years. "It gave me such a great appreciation for the area. S I started thinking about all of the other places and where the challenge could be done, and it's a fun, bucket-list kind of challenge."
"It's one of those things you're not sure you can do, but it gets you excited to have a goal."
McElveen said he's always been fascinated with the Bentonville-Bella Vista area, which fancies itself as "the mountain biking capital of the world."
"You wouldn't ordinarily think of this region as being the case, of this being a mountain biking mecca," said McElveen. "It doesn't really have the high mountains like the western US. So I was just curious as to why this relatively small town burst onto the scene and who are the people who have made it this way."
McElveen, a two-time mountain biking marathon national champion, documented the ride and produced an 18-minute video that can be seen on YouTube. The video also includes interviews with key members of the Northwest Arkansas mountain biking community.
J.T. Geren of Oz Trails in Bentonville said the notoriety of McElveen's ride would further enhance the region to the growing mountain biking community.
"This will really elevate our region and our trails system to new audiences," said Geren. "It will stimulate tourism and help drive traffic to our hotels, our restaurants, and the many other great amenities we have in the region."
Geren said there are approximately 140 miles of mountain biking trails in Bentonville and Bella Vista and an estimated 300 miles of trail throughout Northwest Arkansas. He said there are roughly 1.5 miles of trail built every week in the region.
McElveen said he spent several days in the area trying to decide his plan of attack for the challenge, but that he only documented about 15 percent of the ride before taking off that morning.
"We did a little bit of filming and a lot of scouting on a 7-day trip before the actual ride," McElveen said. "Then we just went out there and did it. But there was so much discovery along the way. The adventure just unfolded before me.
"Some of me did not want to know too, too much going in. The whole premise was about discovery, exploration, and adventure."
McElveen said the 142-mile trek was not his longest ride. He said he's done more than 200 in a day.
He said what made this ride so unique is the spider web of trails that zig and zag through the heavily wooded area of Bentonville and Bella Vista. And although he was able to complete the challenge, he did admit to a couple of proverbial bumps along the way.
"I actually did have the double back and go back and ride a section that I had accidentally missed," he said. "It was, in a way, more tedious than some of the rides that I have done that may have been technically longer. But that was all part of the process and I knew that going in."
McElveen said that miscalculation could have spoiled the challenge, but he was able to overcome the mistake and the day's rainfall to finish what he started, even though it was in the dark.
Geren called McElveen's feat a remarkable accomplishment.
"It's a pretty impressive accomplishment both mentally and physically," Geren said. "To have the stamina and the endurance and the discipline to grind it out for 17 hours, is a very remarkable accomplishment.
"At the end, he was riding Here's Johnny, which is a treacherous, technical rock piece of the trail at Coler Mountain in the dark, in the rain on slippery, mossy rocks, and he was able to complete the challenge. So that is incredible."
m To view Payson McElveen’s 17-hour ride of the mountain biking trails in Bentonville and Bella Vista in a single day, see the video on YouTube: Trail Town: Bentonville.