Friday, December 12, 2008

Ouachita/Ozarks Double Header

Another pristine day here in the south. Temperatures have moderated a bit, rising into the 50's. There was not a cloud to be seen all day with light winds.

My wife isn't the happiest with me right now. It seems we got a bit of ice back home. At one point, nearly half the people in the state of New Hampshire were without power. Reports are that our power might not be back on until Sunday or Monday. That could be four days. Many years ago I bought a cheap generator. I used it once, but power came back on shortly after firing it up. It has sat dormant for five years at least. I did put Stabile in the tank. My hook-up is bootleg. I never figured somebody else would have to get the generator going. My wife and son could not figure it out. Fortunately, my neighbor across the street came over, recognized my setup (kill mains first, start generator, then turn on secondary breaker). The generator started right up. Now Cathy just has to keep feeding it gas. It will die overnight. At least the pipes won't freeze. Sounds like a cold one on Saturday. Skiing sounds a bit rough this weekend, so maybe I didn't sacrifice much by coming down here. So on to the ride reports.

Ouachita/FS-149/Womble Loop, Story, AR
25.4 miles, 3000ft vertical, 2:42hrs riding time

After yesterday's fiasco of a ride that was to include a section of the Ouachita Trail, I had reservations about hitting a different section, more than 100 trail miles east. My reservations grew driving to the trail head. The road was a two-track suitable for a high-clearance vehicle. I was scraping brush the last mile. I figured if access to the trailhead was this grown over, nobody comes out here to ride this.

Starting out, it was very rocky and immediately began climbing. Then it got steep. Seriously steep. Factor in loose rocks covered by 6" of oak leaves, I got off my bike. Maybe with no leaf cover and fresh legs I could have ridden this set of switchbacks. I believe this trail was called Round Top Trail, and it accessed the Ouachita Trail (OT) that followed the ridgeline. Eventually I reached the top and started following the OT. This was nice, but still quite techy. I never dared let my speed run out due to the perils that lurked just under the leaf cover.

One of the best reasons to ride down here this time of year is the leaf drop. Following the ridgeline, you could see out through the trees and knew you were somewhere up high. You'd lose that in the summer. There were no bugs or oppressive heat to deal with either. One of the worst reasons to ride down here this time of year is the leaf drop. There is so much loose rock mixed up in those leaves that it forces you to ride very defensively. Chose your poison.

The OT runs out on Suck Mountain. Yeah, it is really called that. I think the locals call this the Suck Mountain section of the OT. The only thing that sucked about it was my legs with two days of hard riding in them. It was rocky going up one side, smooth down the other side. The descent followed an old logging road and was chocked full of giant water bars. There must have been at least 30 of them. You could get major air off each one. But I'm a wuss riding a hardtail with girlie tires. I didn't want to risk a pinch flat or an ouwie riding solo.

After descending what seemed like forever, I reached Forest Service road 149. This was well groomed and was like a super highway back to the start. It climbed the first 4 miles though. Then 6 miles of sweet, mellow descent. This brought me back to the OT, but several miles east of my car. Plan was to get on the OT, but then veer off on the Womble trail were it first starts on the OT.

Getting back on the OT was a pain. It seems any access gets you to the top in the most direct, painful route. Another nasty set of switch backs sent my sorry carcass off my bike again. It seems I was either going 3mph or 10mph. When I was going 3mph, I was constantly jambing my thumb to find a lower gear. I was already in a 22x34, a sissy gear by Expert racer standards. When I was going 10mph, I was riding brakes trying not to slide out, pinch flat, or endo on on what lie underneath the leaves.

Once up on the OT, I did not stay on it for long. The Womble Trail starts up here. This was the most direct route back to the car. This means I rode all but a few miles of the Womble. I rode the 30 most western miles and 3 most eastern. That leaves about 4 in the middle I mised. I hope to come back here some day and ride the whole Womble in a day as a loop ride with other trails and fire roads. I figure that would be good for a 70 miler.

I maintained a pretty hard pace on this ride. I had another ride planned in the afternoon and wanted to make sure I had plenty of margin. What amazed me is that I never encountered another person on this ride. It was a prestine day by any standard. Granted, it was a work day. But it looked like the trails had not been hiked or biked in weeks based on how unpacked the leaf cover was and tree debris in the trail that had not been touched. I deeply enjoyed the solitude.

Mount Magazine, Havana, AR
26.6 miles, ~3000ft vertical, 2:00 hours riding time

Hill Junkie can't visit an area that has the state's highest point and not ride it. Doesn't matter if its a paved climb. I don't have a singletrack mind (ok, maybe I do but my MTB doesn't). Fat tires work on pavement too.

Mt Magazine was featured a while back in Bicycling as the climb to do when in Arkansas. It was practically on my way to my next destination on Saturday, just an hour away from this morning's ride. I ate only a Gu during the morning ride, and a Clif bar and half a scone on the way to Havana. I wanted to get there with good daylight margin so I wouldn't be rushed. This was a climb I want to savor. I skipped lunch. I didn't worry that bonking could turn this into a death climb.

I parked in a church parking lot right at the base of Hwy 309 that goes up and over Mt Magazine. The first two miles of the climb barely gained any vertical. The next seven hurt at ~7% grade. The 12 mile climb finishes out with a few miles of rolling climbing. The sky was still cloudless and brilliant. The veiws from the summit were stellar. A sheer cliff lines the whole southern exposure.

There is a lot built up on top. Fancy condos and huge resort. You'd think this was Vail, Colorado, but I'm not aware of skiing anywhere in Arkansas. It was at least 10 degrees colder up here. Perhaps folks come here in the summer to beat the heat.

The high point is reached by foot path only, gaining another 100-200ft from pavement. Don't ask me how my bike got up there. The place was deserted. There were bits of snow on the north side of the peak. After the obligatory summit self portrait, it was time to bomb back down. I resisted the urge to put the wind shell on. Something about chilly air stimulating the senses when in an endorphin enduced haze. The first few miles of the descent sucked, as there were some ups along the way. I was ready for all down. The steepest seven miles were nice, needing no pedaling. I got back to the car by 3:30pm, plenty of daylight left. It was still 52F out. I never bonked.

So I bagged another high point. I have no goal to ride high points in each state like the hiker club does. Most high points are either completely inaccessible by bike or illegal. Off top of my head, I've hit NH, MA, VT (almost), AL, AR, HI.

The WiFi here sucks. Blogger told me it kept saving as I typed, but it wasn't. I lost my connection and had to type 3/4 of this post twice. To top that off, MS Picture Manager stopped working so I can't reduce image sizes. You get only Mt Magazine pics today. Next up tomorrow is the Syllamo Trails. This is a purpose built 50+ mile network of singletrack about two hours north of Conway (where I'm staying tonight). With almost 13 hours of hard riding in three days, I'll probably do only 3-4 hours tomorrow and chill in the evening. Oh, from the hotel I can see a Sonic, Starbucks, and a Ryans (all you can eat American). I could live off these three.

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