Monday, April 9, 2012

2012 Ouachita Challenge

After many years of riding the fence on this event I finally decided it was time to take the plunge. I missed the registration deadline in 2011 and made sure to get myself registered for 2012. This year 500 slots filled in 20 minutes.
I "bundled" my excursion to Arkansas with a week off from work and I visited my mother in Fayetteville while checking out the local trails. The weather in the area was nice with 70 degree temperatures forecast.

I found a suitable hotel in nearby Mena and the overall logistics went fairly smooth. I quickly realized that I had placed myself smack-dab in the center of a dry county! No beer didn't mean the end of the world. Instead, I hydrated well anticipating the heat.

I went and picked up my packet and scoped out the Start/Finish area but, unfortunately, I was unable to do any kind of pre-ride. I studied the route map and quickly decided I would have to figure it out on race day. Bad strategy.

The morning was cool with the promise of 87 degree temperatures forecast for later in the day. It was cool to hang out at the start and watch all the locals exchange greetings like the first day of school after a long winter vacation and NOT know a single sole.
The route this year went clockwise with a long roll out and sustained climb that split the field. We then jumped onto the Ouachita Trail at the Brushy Creek aid station. I quickly found the trail to be very humbling with lots of bike-a-hike and very technical sections. I fared well on the climbs and fire road sections but, wow, my descending skills need some serious improvement. The heat took it out of many (including me) and the pickle juice at the latter aid stations was actually a nasty blessing in disguise. The Camelback was helpful in staying hydrated and keeping my hands on the grips. The Womble Trail was indeed the best part of the course. The technical aspect of these trails had me thinking that these local riders have a real advantage. This is their home turf and they were certainly killing it, especially the badass'on the rigid singlespeeds!

I went with Maxxis Ignitors 2.10 set up tubeless with a healthy dose of sealant. They held up great with only a few noticeable scuffs on the sidewalls. I threw a suspension fork on and the 29’er hardtail felt like the right tool for the job.
I was the sole rider representing the State of Michigan. There were a ton of DNF’s and I feel good about getting through it unscathed. I made a few observations after the ride which may serve to better describe my experience.

Benchcut - Switchback - Creek crossing (in every possible combination)
Boulder fields
Square rocks of every size
Granny gear
Large snakes
Long climbs

The event was well run and the Southern hospitality was amazing! I learned a lot about the area and I have gained a deep appreciation for the trails and the folks who ride them.

In the meantime, I have been checking out the trails in NW Arkansas before heading back to Michigan. I would suggest you check out Arkansas if you ever get the opportunity. You won't regret it.

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