Skip and I took the trip down to Arkansas in stages. Left on Friday evening and crashed in Joplin (Missouri?). Saturday morning was the second leg of the trip. We checked into the Motel in Mena and then headed to Oden to stretch out the legs and check out the start of the course.
Skip and I took a stab at Ouachita back in 2007. When we pre-rode part of the course on Saturday, I kept thinking to myself, I don't remember there being this many rocks! 2007 was tough and this year was more of the same.
The Ouachita Challenge consists of a tour on Saturday and a 60 and 80 mile race on Sunday. The 60 and 80 mile racers started together in a neutral roll out on pavement at 8 AM on Sunday. The race was on as soon as we hit gravel (see above).
There were a few climbs on the way up to the first stretch of double track. Nothing too crazy, but one short steep pitch before entering the double track helped spread folks out a bit.
Lots and lots of rocks. It didn't take long for the rocks to claim victims. I passed a rider on the first section of double track who had just flatted. He wasn't even 15 minutes into the race. Then shortly after that a rider in front of me flatted. Skip had bad luck too and eventually had to pull the plug due to a very large gash through the tread of his tire at mile 7. Bummer. I felt bad when he told me at the second checkpoint, but he seemed upbeat about it. I'm sure the rocks took several folks out of the race.
The race opened rather quickly, so I settled in with some 60 mile racers who were riding a good pace. I pulled a train of folks up some gravel climbs and then eased off a bit. It was going to be a long day in the saddle. I constantly reminded myself of that and had to pull back the reins a few times.
Make no mistake, we were riding in "mountains". Sure, it's not in the elevation of Colorado, but there were plenty of rocky climbs and fast technical downhills to negotiate.
Saturday was beautiful. 75 and sunny. Sunday morning was a bit different. We left Mena in the rain and were sprinkled on before the start. The temp was close to 60 when we arrived in Oden for the race, but that would be the high for the day. When I finished, many hours later, the wind chill was in the 30's.
Wobble trail! This trail was a blast. Highly recommend it. The trail snaked through the trees and in many sections was carved into the side of the mountain. Not many rocks on this stretch.
60 mile racers followed the blue ribbons and 80 mile racers the yellow. The two groups split at the first checkpoint and met back up around the third checkpoint. The 80 mile racers had an additional mountain to climb and descend.
Lots of small stream crossing and several muddy sections kept it interesting. My bike is in need of some lovin'.
My day was fun, terrifying, painful, and a bit disappointing. After a decent start I ended up in 6th position early in the race and came through the first and second checkpoints in 7th. I felt awesome. The legs were peppy, I had a bunch of confidence riding the singletrack, I was having a blast and I felt had I plenty left in order to give it a go on the second half. Skip met up with me at the second checkpoint and cheered me on as I rolled out. Then I crashed.
Endo'd into a rocky stream. Landed flat on my face. I took a bath! Completely soaked head to toe. Banged up both knees and my right shoulder. Right knee took the brunt of the blow. It instantly began to hurt and swell. In hindsight, I should have pulled the plug after that crash, but I didn't want to DNF while I was in the top ten. I was really sketched out after the crash and my confidence was shot. I started making a bunch of mistakes which is very dangerous in rocky singletrack, so I decided to shut it down and just try to make it to the next checkpoint and reassess the knee. After reaching the third checkpoint I decided to push on. As long as I kept moving the knee seemed to be holding up. I couldn't climb worth a shit, but at least I was still moving. I wanted to finish.
On the really rocky Ouachita Trail I flatted. Rock gashed the tire. Stan's sealant wasn't gonna seal that gash. I had to put a tube in. I took my time changin' it and even lubed my chain while I waited for another rider to finish using my pump. Three of us flatted in the same spot. The break reinvigorated me. Twenty minutes later (yep, I really took my time) I was off again and ended up picking off a couple of riders who passed me during my break.
I have no idea where I finished, but the unofficial guess from Skip is 11th. Just happy to finish. My hats off to the race promoters. Another great event. I'll most likely be back next year.
Now it's time to ice my knee again.