Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cycling in the Ozarks.

It had been a harrowing semester, averaging less than 7 hours of sleep a night, work days packed down to the minute, schedule so tight I had to keep reminding myself to breathe. After all that, spring break this year came highly anticipated, and gave me the chance to restore both my mind and my body.

Mizzou road race

As soon as classes ended, our team drove out to Springfield, MO for the weekend’s races at Missouri State. The road course on Saturday was a 35-mile loop over rolling hills with one long, steep climb. I stayed with the front group for the first 20 miles or so, until a false flat left me winded and paired with a rider from Depauw.


I should have dropped her the moment she started complaining about the climbs, but something made me decide to stay with her in case we could work together to chase the front. That was a mistake that cost me a better finish, and I consider it a lesson learned. “Race your race”, as they say. I finally left her behind on the big climb, and spent the rest of the race trying to make up for lost time. I finished fourth.

Quite proud of this photo of Naveen's finish.

Mizzou ITT and TTT

I hate individual time trials, mostly because I suck at them. Sunday’s weather was a biting cold, and I spent the 20km devoid of any motivation to be fast. The team time trial was a smidgeon better; my teammate Hope and I enjoyed being the uncontested champions, being the only group in our category to race.

We spent the rest of the day driving to northwest Arkansas, right in the Ozark mountain range. The 16 of us made ourselves at home in our two side-by-side cabins.

Arkansas Day 1:

Cold, wet, miserable weather. I decided to take the day off the bike, and explore the surrounding woods with Becky, Doza, Chris, and Stephen.





The evening ended with a bonfire, s’mores, and a good soak in the hot-tub.


Arkansas Day 2:

Summary: Petit Jean and Mount Nebo, 65 miles, 3000 feet of climbing

Eight of us (Naveen, Stephen, Doza, Cortez, Erik, Branden, Becky) drove 1.5 hours to the town of Dardanelle, and from there started a 50-mile ride that looped us through mostly flat terrain with one 3-mile climb over Petit Jean. The pace was good; I sat in behind the boys and cruised, silently thanking them for the cycling chivalry.

Finished with the “warm-up” 50 miles, most of us continued onto the looming Mount Nebo. I’d heard stories, and I was afraid. 23 percent grade? 18 switchbacks? Pros having to get off and walk? They were all true. If there could be sorrier excuses for climbing a mountain on a bike, I’d like to hear them. I was heaving and hawing, stopping to push my bike, yelling profanities, and sinking with despair every time I saw yet another switchback. When I finally got to the top, I was so angry with myself I simply couldn’t enjoy the feeling of getting there. I felt like I had cheated, like the summit wasn’t really a success, like I had lost a psychological battle with the mountain.

On the lookout. I'm not too happy.

The descent was extremely hairy. I gripped my brakes the entire way, leaned my butt far back over the saddle, and prayed my arms and my focus wouldn’t give out. I’ll be back, Nebo, next time with the bragging rights I failed to achieve this time around.

The Nebo group.

Arkansas Day 3:

Today was a rest day to finish up some schoolwork. Becky and I drove to a nearby town to do laundry, and spent most of the afternoon at a McDonald’s for internet. I have to say, backcountry Arkansas is like a foreign country. I swear that cashier has never had anyone ask if they have Wifi. Ever.

The weather was too nice to pass up a ride. Our cabin was located on top of a mountain, so Becky and I decided to descend the mountain and then climb back up. To the east lay Lake Fort Smith. To the south lay the small town of Mountainburg (population 682). We first took the descent to the lake, climbed back up, then descended into town, and climbed back up again, making about 25 miles of riding total. The climbs were enjoyable – long, steady inclines.

In the evening, Becky and I cooked a delicious dinner of pork chops, browned then simmered with onions, mushrooms, and apples.



Later that night, Naveen, Matt, Chris, and I drove down to Lake Fort Smith and plunged headfirst into the freezing cold water. A shrieking, invigorating good time.

Arkansas Day 4:

Summary: Mount Magazine, 40 miles total

Hour-long drive to the town of Paris. From there, we began a gradual incline for 15 miles to the base of Mount Magazine. Once the climb started, the seven of us (Naveen, Doza, Stephen, Chris, Erik, Wil) split off into groups. I went at my own steady pace, feeling the tailwind push me up the mountain, hardly noticing the miles go by, so focused I was on keeping my breathing and pedal stroke smooth. I met Erik and Wil at the top, the highest point in Arkansas.


The descent was brilliant. Erik and Wil are powerhouses, and I used that to my advantage. I locked myself onto their wheels and flew down the mountain, sustaining breakneck speeds. I never once touched my brakes, and felt completely in tune with my handling, rounding the curves in the road, and staying locked on. It was indescribable, truly one of the best moments of my short cycling career.

After getting back, we headed straight to the lake, soaked our tired legs in the icy water, and enjoyed the sunshine.




Arkansas Day 5:

Summary: Oklahoma border, 75 miles, rolling hills

Five of us (Matt, Stephen, Erik, Branden) set out from our cabin for the Oklahoma border. The scenery was beautiful and rustic – chipped barns, old houses, white-washed picket fences, cows, horses, and annoying yappy dogs that tried to bite our heels at every corner. The terrain was all big rolling hills with not an inch of flat road.

Legs feeling dead from all the accumulated miles, Branden and I sat back after reaching Oklahoma and went the rest of the way at a relaxed pace. The last five-mile climb back up to our cabin was painful. I had maxed out my legs, and they did not thank me for rounding off a long, hilly ride with a mountain.

Still, there are few things sweeter than the feeling of tiredness that comes with quality miles, and few things to make a person more content than to take a brief pause from worldly responsibilities to do nothing but sleep, eat, ride, and repeat. Already looking forward to next year.