My Waaah-Chaw-Taw

First the good news. I finished. I lived! It was a long day out there and I am glad I did this race.

You know it, you love it, the long version. With pictures!

I left early Saturday morning for the Ouachita Challenge with Todd and Cully in the big truck. It was a long drive but our spirits were high, mine nervously so. We traded stories and talked about the race and watched the scenery green up as we motored south. Got into our hotel and met the Eppens who had driven down the day before and had ridden some course already. They reported mud and rocks. We went and checked in for the race and none of us won an Orbea carbon frame. Got a pair of socks, the obligatory t-shirt (long sleeved, bonus) and a packet of Cytomax drink mix. Off for dinner at a local mexican restaurant but no Corona or Margarita for this was a dry county. Back at the hotel we put our bikes to their final state of readiness and filled bottles and camelbaks and passed out.

Up early race morning, the super nice folks that run the hotel opened the restaurant early for us racing types so we could get out early for the early start. Eggs, hashbrowns, toast, coffee and we were off. It was about 50 degrees and very cloudy, the mountains

were misty. At the school that starts and finishes the races we got dressed and instructed by the organizers. Cully and the Eppens were doing the 80 mile event and

Todd and I the 60. They went off and we followed 15 minutes later. It was cold standing in just shorts and jersey but the highs were projected to be in the low 70’s under partly cloudy skies so it was worth the chill to not have to lug extra clothes.

Our race started and we rolled pretty fast out of town and I took the lead in a stunning and foolhardy show of bravado but it is important to the sponsors so I did it! Got gapped on a curvy gravel descent as I was running some high pinch-flat avoidance psi and did not want to biff it in a race like this. Joined up with two other fellows and we hit the first single track around 15th, Todd was up in the front group. I hit the trail and started bouncing off roots and rocks and climbing and huffing and puffing and got really tired and could not find my happy place. We had a good gap over riders behind but I first lost contact with my two companions and then found myself getting caught. This 15 mile first stretch of single track saw me pulling over more than a few times to let faster smoother riders and even faster smoother groups pass me by. This did not help my rhythm. The rocks were relentless and it was plenty muddy in the lowlands. I saw Todd on the side of the trail with a broken chain but said he had everything he needed so I kept on trucking and getting passed. I was beginning to despair that I truly and honestly sucked. I had hoped for a top 50 ride but thought I might surprise myself, as we finally left singletrack I was wondering if I was even in the top 100 anymore.

The road was kind to me and I motored back ten places or so and we hit the trail again for a big rocky sustained climb. I handled this okay and was enjoying myself on my new bike. I don’t remember anyone passing me on this climb, but oh boy did they ever on the descent! Pick your cautious adjective, that is how I was rolling. I felt so middle aged… The next road section was short and I ate some food and when we hit trail again I quickly realized it was much tougher and rougher than anything we had yet encountered. Blowout Mountain they call it and I don’t know why but I can think of a few reasons. The climb was steep and rocky and had me walking sections. Over the top there were long rock garden sections that I rarely even tried to ride. Here I lost more places and as a bonus started cramping and got attacked by a swarm of flies. I have a lame habit of riding with no computer or watch and at this point, having no idea of how my race was going, my despair-o-meter went over the redline.

I asked a passing racer for info and he was local and told me I was doing great and that we were already over Blowout and the last challenge was Brushy Mountain which was a long climb but then it was road in. I was heartened but Blowout never seemed to let up for me, the entire section of trail was brutal. Finally made it out to another road and an aid station where I stopped to fill my bottle and add some of my little electrolyte fizzies. When I started to cramp I had slammed all I had left so I was just down to water in the camelbak. The volunteers were super helpful and I was out of there quickly.

The climb of Brushy was tough. The trail was much easier but I was soooo tired I had to walk some sections of the climb. It was a strange feeling, I had plenty of gas left but my back and arms and hands and about everything was so worked I just started getting off the bike rather than getting out of the saddle at times. I started to feel like I was going to puke which concerned me but I could not figure out what to do about it as my hydration and eating had been good so I just soldiered on, looking for the road. The race was pretty spread out by now and I saw very few people, a couple up ahead but none behind.

Finally, after many false summits the trail pointed down for good and I did my usual slow-poke descent to the road to the finish where I got my last of three colored zip-ties to prove I had done the route and directions in from a nice man. I drilled it as best I could to be sure no one would catch me. It was some miles in yet and I passed one person and made the finish in 5:47 or so, 42 place. I was surprised at my placing but I only stopped the one time and had no flats to deal with or any other mechanicals but for my chain falling off once so I guess between my strong road riding and that I came out well enough.

Todd had ridden strong before and after his chain break with no other mechanicals and finished a nice and shiny 12th place in just over 5 hours. He was all showered when I came in and I was super worked and just sat on my cooler in the shade, covered in mud

with a bloody knee from an early wreck that I forgot about while writing this. As we cursed Blowout Mountain our good friend Brian Eppen finished his 80 mile race in 6 hours 15 minutes for 2nd place! What can you say about that guy? He is a wonder and

we were all damned impressed. He sat down. Cully came in 7th in the 80 but I do not know his time, he looked super fresh when he finished, all smiles!

We all got cleaned up and ate food and picked up bonus finisher schwag and waited for Kim. She had a goal of 8 hours and after Brian and Cully reported on the brutality of the course we were starting to wonder how she was doing when she rolled in smiling at 8 hours 15 minutes as the first woman finisher and now defacto course record holder. We

were all pretty happy with our rides but for feeling like we had been beaten. We loaded up and went back to the hotel for a relaxing evening with beers and grilled food and a

great view.  That is what mountain bike racing is all about, right? The drive home was long and offered much opportunity for introspection. I am happy with my race. I need to make many adjustments to my bike and it would probably be a good idea to lighten it up. I like camelbaks. I need a watch or something. I need to get off the brakes on descents. I need to keep racing and riding mountain bikes!

Official results are not yet up, there are more pro pics over here.


6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    well done, only son of mine.
    photo observations:
    1–in your post-race photo, you look quite tired.
    2–eppen with beard looks alot like chad would–if he had a head full of hair.
    3–what is this “70 degrees” of which you wrote?

  2. 2

    Tarik said,

    I like race reports where I have to go to sleep in the middle and finish reading it the next day when I wake up!
    Well done.

    You would be less tired if you still had your beard

  3. 3

    goooooo pickle! this makes me jones even more to ride and race mountian bikes this summer. rad reporting on the play by play. i will keep my eyes out for a watch for you to fend off the despair-o-meter.

    hearts and tailwinds.

  4. 4

    DG said,

    Ouachita is a great race in a beautiful area, worth the drive just to ride the trail. I missed it this year, but we’ll see what Syllamo is like instead.

    Nice effort and great writeup, as always.

  5. 5

    […] this weekend past, the Ouachita Challenge again punished the mind and body while rewarding the spirit of those taking part.  Local bearded […]

  6. 6

    […] myself an endurance mountain bike racer.  Which is funny, because I have really only done one endurance mountain bike race ever.  I am, truth be told, not much of a mountain bike racer at all, I think I have only done […]

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