Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Womble Epic

The Womble Trail, Mt Ida, Arkansas
52.7 miles, 4321ft vertical, 5:03 hours

Enjoyed my best dirt ride today since Colorado in July. Really lucked out too. Flying into Little Rock last night, all I saw was water everywhere, flooded fields, murky fast running streams, etc. Some areas got 3" of rain on Tuesday. I figured I was doomed to a cold, messy ride today. To top this off, the local weatherman was saying a good chunk of Arkansas was under a winter weather advisory, but it should clear up by noon.

Kitting up, I realized I forgot to pack my booties. It was just above freezing. What can you do? I thought about picking up a couple grocery plastic baggies to wrap around my feet inside the shoes but decided to just suck it up.

The Womble Trail is just under an hour outside of Hot Springs, where I'm staying. I parked at the Fishermans Village on Hwy 27. The plan was to ride out to North Fork Lake on singletrack and back on forest service roads. This would be 25 miles of Womble singletrack, a couple more miles doubling back on the Womble, then 16 miles of rolling gravel forest road the rest of the way back.

I started off around 10am. The skies were dark and heavy, like it could snow any moment. From Hwy 27 heading SW, the Womble begins some pretty serious climbing. I've read reports that this trail is a single-speeders dream, but I wouldn't want to climb these hills on a 1x1. There was a killer view early on, where there was a hundreds of feet sheer drop to the Ouachita River below. The first five miles had a lot of steep climbing in it with ruckus descents. Then the trail mellowed out for several miles.

Detail of last several miles on ridgeline

The amazing thing was, there was no mud anywhere. The soil here is essentially coarse gravel. It drains marvelously and rides fast. It was hard to believe inches of rain fell here 24hrs ago.

The mid section of the trail was a riot. Gentle climbs, and scare yourself silly with speed going back down. This kind of riding I like. You get in this groove, tempo pace, no need to think about scary features, just meld into the flow of the skinny ribbon carving through nature. I would love to race something like this. A portion of the Womble is included in a race called the Ouachita Challenge (an 80 mile race!).

Then I got to a sign that said Mauldin Mountain. Hmmm, was I on it already or just starting out at the bottom? It was the latter. Lots more climbing ensued, including a steep switchback I botched. This part of the ride racked up a lot of vert. The trail basically cris-crossed over the ridgeline many, many times. You come up one side, ride the ridge a little ways, then down the other. Repeat often. With full leaf drop, there were some nice views of the valleys here and there. I would imagine in the summer you wouldn't see much at all.

3" of rain, 50+ miles, and barely a mud spot. Fender was not needed

A few miles out from the west terminus of the Womble, it was time to cash in all that hard earned vertical. Nearly all of the Womble has a very narrow tread that is benchcut into extremely steep terrain. They call this exposure. This wasn't fear of death stuff, but you'd certainly go for a toboggan thrill ride with all those oak leaves coating the sides of the mountains. You did have to pay attention to what you were doing once in a while.

I was sad when I reached the end of the Womble. I was now 25 miles from my car by trail, a little less by road. Having a catastrophic mishap, like taco a wheel, was not an option. No cell phone coverage, and nobody I could call if there was. Fortunately the dirt roads were a fast, safe way to get back to the car. I never saw another person in three hours of singletrack time. Regular rifle season is over here, so no hunters to worry about either.

Favorite post ride beverages

I was still going strong with 43 miles and 4+ hours on the legs when I got back to the car. The day was still young. After wolfing down an egg mcmuffin sandwich that sat in my car all morning, I decided to ride a portion of the Womble north of the Ouachita (pronounced Wha-shi-ta). Sarah at the Chainwheel bike shop where I preshipped my bike said this section is not to be missed. At first I was dissapointed. It stayed low and hit more water crossings than I liked (remember, no booties, needed to keep feet dry). But then it went up with a vengeance. The exposure-o-meter ticked up a couple notches here. There were some seriously steep grinds, no more than 12" wide, with near certainty that the Ouachita river far below would be what ultimately stops your fall. With tired legs, I wussed out and walked a couple short sections. There would be no place to put a foot down if you petered out and leaned to the exposed side. The views of the river here were very nice. A few miles of pavement looped me back to the car.

It never got warmer than mid 30's down here today. I hear it was at least 20F warmer in Cow Hampshire. I have a knack for traveling thousands of miles to places people don't usually associate snow with ,but I manage to find snow or ride in wintry conditions. At least the dank skies never dropped anything today. The bike even stayed quite clean. So how do you top off a flawlessly executed trail ride? With a Sonic malted milkshake and a Starbucks, of course. Life shouldn't be this good.

I try to get away once per year for some solo riding. It's great for a mental reset. I've hit many states riding solo. Often in the past, it was extending a business trip by a few days. I haven't biked anywhere near central Arkansas before. Closest is probably Austin Texas, and that is about 500 miles away.

On tap for Thursday is riding the Ouachita Trail in Talihina, Oklahoma. My "Texas Connection" friend from Dallas will be joining me. Could be a chilly start, but 0% chance for precip, and the sun should make an appearance. I might have to bring the digital SLR camera for this one.

North side of Ouachita River

Natural surface of crushed stone. Drains, does not make mud. In the UK, they have to manufacture trails this way with heavy equipment.

North side of the Ouachita

Forest service road 37 taken most of the way back

Shortly after starting out from Hwy 27 on the Womble

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