It is Tuesday morning and I am still drilled from this weekend. At the moment I can not remember a one day event that dished out as much punishment as the 80 mile route of the Ouachita Challenge.
My traveling companion for the weekend was Mark Cole, we headed down Saturday morning with Gerard and Tim Green in caravan with us. Early afternoon we arrived at the Highway 27 fishing village and headed out for a quick 1:30 sampling of a middle section of trail. It was a good stretch for to see having been on everything up to that point and been on the final 20 miles a few times it gave me a glimpse of what was to come. The other fortuitous event was Mark slicing the side wall of a tire and my front tire randomly spouting Stans out of a little pinhole. When we got back to the vehicles we B-lined it to Hot Springs arriving just as the bike shop was closing to pick up some burlier side wall tires for the next day. Back at the accommodations provided by Scott and Craig we mounted our new rubber and freshened up the bikes. I also got to enjoy lasagna left overs that hit the spot. I slept like a champ and woke up to nearly an ideal racing temperature of 65 degrees.
As we were getting things around at the race venue a little weather dropped in dribbling some rain but also dropping the temps a good bit. Everything about this race form a organizational stand point is phenomenal. There are countless volunteers, and every last one of them that I had dealings with were exhaustively helpful and friendly, I simply can not say enough about how impressed I was with the entire outfit.
The BIG group rolled out of Oden at 8:00 and it was obvious by the depth of talent on the start line that this was going to be a epic battle. At the base of the first climb leading up to trail a lead group formed and as I big ringed the first handful of climbs I grinned to myself knowing what torture lay ahead at this type of pace. I went into the first check point in fifth, two 60 mile racers were ahead of me and 2 80 mile racers were ahead of me, and Garth Prosser was right behind me. In one of the first of ten thousand creek crossings Texas strongman Brian Fawley had slit a tire and was stopped for repairs, having seen this He-man race plenty in the past and witness the way he was climbing at the start of the race, I knew a whole bunch of bad luck was going to pile on him to keep him behind me.
The singletrack at the start of the middle third of the race in super fast. Garth was just pounding the pedals and staying on his wheel across this section was a serious injection to the pace I would be going on my own. We started a long fast climb that I remembered well from our fall trip and Garth hollered back to me that all the zig-zags and sheer cliff side we were on was causing vertigo. The exact thing had happened to me in the fall, and I knew the steep pitches at the top would not be in his favor. I passed Garth on the first scramble and pined my ears back for the roaring decent off of the mountain. I just caught a glimpse of second place as I took to the highway for the short stint of road before disappearing into what would feel like a thirty mile climb. In the first of a series of steep rises I caught the Ergon rider who was fiddling with his bike, now in second place with over half the race to go I just tried to forget about what all lay ahead and just eat and drink and not wreck.
At the half-way checkpoint the army of volunteers meet me with my drop bag and were eager to do all they could to help out. Skip was there, what happened I never found out, but as always Lincoln, Nebraska, offered me more than a little help to keep the wheels rolling forward. More climbing leaving the check point, the Ergon rider had overtaken me at the stop and Garth was back with me, but as the climbing turned to hike a bikes I distanced away and was soon plodding uphill with the current leader Kip Biese. After following Kip downhill for awhile I passed him at the base of another crushing climb, and now was in the lead and nothing to do but grit it out. This whole section between the 2nd and 3rd checkpoints was beyond brutal, nothing about it was easy and there was nowhere to hide. My legs were feeling strong but already my upper body was starting to cramp. My typical out of the saddle big gear climbing style does not always hold out, and I was time and time again charging uphill until the snakes started crawling around in my forearms and different parts of my back cramping. I was relegated to in the saddle, draping my useless appendages over the grips and spinning until it would reside enough to try again. All things considered I was still moving decently well. Towards the top of the final climb before heading onto Blowout Mountain, Brian caught back up from his flat tire. He was simply looking phenomenal, so strong, and as always his good attitude made getting blown past a little easier to deal with. We rolled into the third checkpoint together, but I had no illusion of climbing with him over Blowout. There was a long way to go yet and this was not the time to set the entire book of matches ablaze. Blowout Mountain is tough, lots of small chainring spinning and odd little rock gardens that a fresh rider would not hardly consider, but one hanging on the edge finds to be that gentle nudge over the precipice. At the top I seemed to recover quickly and was trying to focus on riding fast downhill and not simply cruising the way I tend to at points like this in a race. I came into the final check point excited and ready to leave it all on Big Brushy. Things went South, ALL was left about three miles from the top of Big Brushy. My upper body was simply not cooperating. Earlier in the race the cramps would recede quickly and I would get another few minutes of hammering before plopping back in the saddle for the spinathon. Now I could not hardly come out of the saddle at all, all the 60 mile racers that were walking up the climb seemed to barely be going slower than I was on my bike. I was getting angry and just wanted it to be over, it was not over and the tenacious Garth Prosser rounded me, pushing the middle chainring and looking possessed, had there been a car to get into I probably would have just said screw it. That was not an option. Finally I got to the top, no one else caught me and I finally turned the anger into something positive and went flailing away in my biggest gear down the dirt road decent. I was bound and determined that if anyone else was going to catch me it would have to be a super human effort. After what seemed like ages I made it to the finish line.
Even laying in the grass after the race I was hurting to bad to be honestly relieved that it was over. The Seagal Boys brought me two PBR's, I was to tired to drink one of them, the pizza that Dave Burnett secured for me was delicious but was having trouble working its way down my esophagus, I could not remember being inside out like this.
7:20 minutes, 3rd place, and a suffer fest that has me grinning while I write this, I simply do not get it sometimes. That is just the way it is.
Kansas City secured 4 of the top ten spots in the 80 mile race. I will be interested to see how many finishers there were after they post the results.
My new bicycle worked Phenomenally well, I love it so much, and it makes me look forward to the rest of the season that much more.