Friday, October 24, 2008
I finally pulled the trigger on a trip that has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a few years now. A part of the country I haven't visited yet is the Ozarks of Arkansas and Ouachita National Forest of Arkansas and Oklahoma. I had planned to go when my wife was away for a few days at the end of September, but work and other commitments got in the way. Looks like last chance this year will be in December, just after regular deer rifle season ends in most parts down that way.
I plan to hit two areas that received IMBA Epic designation, the Womble Trail west of Little Rock in the Ouachita NF and the Syllamo Trail system north of Little Rock in the Ozark NF. The Womble is a 38 mile point to point trail that can be ridden as an out and back or looped with back roads. The Syllamo network consists of many purpose built trails, totalling around 50 miles and growing. Both riding areas offer a variety of technical challenge and incredible scenery. Here's a cheesy touristy video that gives general flavor of the riding down there.
Running the whole length of the Ouachita NF is the Ouachita Trail at 192 miles long. Only a few segments that run through wilderness areas are closed to mountain biking. I plan to hit two sections. One is a loop with Old Military Rd trail just over the border in Oklahoma, the other is in the vicinity of the Womble Trail. Much of the riding on the Ouachita is on ridgeline. Ought to be pretty, although by then leaf drop will be complete.
Also in the area is Magazine Mountain, the highest peak in AR at 2700ft. There is a paved road to the summit with bike lanes, gaining around 2000ft in 11 miles. There is also a partial dirt route up. The summit is a large bluff with dramatic cliffs along the edge. Not sure if I'll be able to squeeze this climb in yet. I think I'd rather spend the kilojoules on singletrack.
Temps should be in the 50-60F during the day, lows around freezing at night. They rarely get snow that sticks around. December is not the driest month - always at the mercy of Mother Nature when planning short trips like these.
I haven't gone on a solo cycling trip in a while. The last one was Colorado a few years ago. I will have four full days to ride in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Some of the more social types out there probably can't imagine flying to a far away place to ride solo. But sometimes that's what it takes to really clear the mind. No talking, no waiting, no cell phones, just total immersion in nature and endorphins.
I go cheap. $239 round trip airfare, compact car rental, and probably Econo Lodge for the first three nights. It's just a place to flop until the next ride begins. The whole trip should cost around $800 including bike shipment. The Mt Washington race alone costs more than half this when all is said and done. That's more than $50 per ridden mile for my metrics weeny friends. The trip should net a $6 per ridden mile figure of merrit, a bargain.
This will add two more states, making five new states I've mountain biked this year. As you can see here, I've already covered 80% of the country. By December, I will have biked in 18 different states in a 12 month period. Nearly all of that is just riding, not travelling for races. Since the goal of riding dirt in all 50 states is quickly becoming a reality, I need to start planning some grander goals. Ideas kicking around in the furthest reaches of my mind are the Himalayas and the Atacama Desert in Chile. You can ride to 16,000 to 18,000ft in these places. In Chile, you can start at sea level! Parts of the Atacama are claimed to have not received precipitation in over 400 years. Many other riding opportunities exist in South America. Some of these places aren't the safest for Americans these days, so an order of magnitude more planning will be required.