Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ouachita Madness

Old Military/Boardstand/Oauchita Loop, Talihina, OK
21.1 miles, 3090ft vertical, 2:42 hours riding time (5+ total)

Once in a while a ride doesn't quite go as planned. Today we had one of those rides. This loop looked promising enough with good reports on the web, but alas, you can't believe everything you find on the web. Trail descriptions are relative to the rider, and GPS track files might really be just somebody doodling in DeLorme or the like with old topo data.

The drive over from Hot Springs was a real treat. I took the Talimena Scenic Parkway, a 21 mile portion of ridgeline at about 2000ft. Everything up here was caked in rime ice. With pristine blue skies, it was a dazzling display of sparkles and color. I began to worry about the ride, not about what I didn't know, but how cold it was up here. The wind chill must have been below 0F. I did not have clothes for this, and our loop was to come over the ridge.

Chris (who drove up from Dallas this morning) and I started off at mile marker zero of the Ouachita Trail, which is 192 miles long. It is a hiking trail that is open to mountain biking in most places. We immediately hit hike-a-bike sections. Many downed trees, wash-outs, etc. It appears no maintenance has been done here in a while.

We were to come many miles down the Ouachita later in the ride. But first, we forked off on the Old Military Trail around, an 1800's wagon trail. Following the GPS track, it immediately became unrideable and completely overgrown. We bush wacked for at least a mile, killing over an hour, before we reached the Talimena Parkway. I suspect the guy that put the track file up just traced it out from old topo maps. There hasn't been a hikeable or bikeable path through here in decades. The old wagon path was still faintly followable however.

Rime ice on everything, even the road

From here we crossed over to the other side of the Talimena, gaining several hundred feet since the cars. It was bony as heck, but mostly rideable. The smallish girly tires I had on my hardtail had me fearing a pinch-flat. Pretty much the whole way was loose, sharp rocks, mostly buried under oak leaves. Made for some pretty dicy riding. A dualie with manly tires would have been nice.

The hike-a-biking and slow progress had us reconsidering our original ride plan. When we got to the junction of Boardstand Trail, it looked the same. This was a 7 mile climb on the same kind of hardscrable. There were two options. Loop pavement back to cars with minimal climbing or take forest service road to high point of the Talimina. Chris doesn't ride the wacko hours per week I do, so he opted to take Hwy 271 back to the Talimina State Park were we started. I still wanted to get that big climb in, even it was going to be a Jeep road instead of singletrack.

Killer grades on the parkway. My Nissan Versa struggle to hold 40mph up these hills.

We parted ways. I hit the climbing pretty hard once it got down to business. The grade held 12% average for 3 miles, portions much steeper. From where I split off with Chris to high point gained 1600ft net. The last 700ft were on the paved Talimena and were killer steep. The sign at the parkway entrance said 13% grade next 21 miles. I bet parts were >15%.

It was now much milder up here at 2300ft than it was in the morning. Rime ice was still breaking off the communication towers above me. The view was fantastic. From Panorama Vista, you get about 270 degree view to south, west and north. Visibility must have been 100 miles. It was now nearly all down hill from here back to cars.

I got back to the cars just after Chris did. Turns out he had a pretty good climb too on Rt 271. Ride fell well short of expectations, but I still enjoyed it none the less. Temp in 20's starting out really wasn't an issue. Got way more of a full body workout than I anticipated, carrying my MTB while rock scrambling insanely steep terrain. Talking with a hiker after the ride, I was really glad neither of us attempted the Ouachita Trail up on the ridgeline. The hiker never made it as far on his out-and-back as he wanted either. Lots of debris in the trail with blow downs. It would have compounded the frustration. Instead, we hit a hole-in-the-wall joint in Talihina after the ride. Dirt cheap prices. Half-pound burger for $3 and change. Fried okra was good too. Home grown we were told. First time I ever had it. Our total bill was less than $12 and we did not leave hungry.

It was good to see Chris again. He would like to visit the Ozarks with his family next fall. I would come back again too, with Cathy next time. There's lots more to do than ride.

Next up is more Ouachita Trail riding (if I dare after today). This is in area not far from Hot Springs, and the bike shop confirmed it is good. I should be ok. I hope to have enough daylight left to bike up to high point of Arkansas, Magazine Mountain from Havana, AR. It is about a 12 mile, 2350ft climb.

Old Military Trail. I think. GPS track went here. We hiked for an hour. Bike got so tangled in thorns at one point I thought about abandoning it in place.

The only buff spot on Old Military. All 50ft of it.

Forest service road 6010 to Deadmans Gap

Looking back east along ridgeline the Talimena follows.

From summit on the Talimina.

Drive back home on the Talimena at dusk

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