Another fun Ouachita Challenge is in the books. This year I opted to ride with my son Christopher. After taking about 3 years off the bike he started riding some recently and said to sign him up when registration opened. I told him that he would need to train some over the winter to get in shape to be able to finish. He agreed so I signed him up and put the OC as ha "C" event on my calendar......fast forward 4 months and Christopher had only ridden a handful of times off-road and about the same on gravel/road. Would this be enough?
Please let me by.....We lined up towards the back of the field with the intent on pacing ourselves and having a good time. Our finish time was not important. Everything started off good and we kept a relaxed pace on the 9 mile gravel road trip out to the first section of single track. The good thing about this plan was we conserved energy. The bad thing is you end up getting stuck behind some very slow riders that lack any technical ability. The trails are only so wide and generally slower riders will let you pass with no problem. Well we encountered that 1 in 9999 rider that refused to let us by and did everything in his power to prevent us. I could here him say "I payed my entry so you can just go F off". As we rode behind this guy for over 10 minutes. I, along with several other riders, tried to pass and kept asking to get by and rang our bells until our thumbs hurt. Some riders even got off their bike and tried to cut the trail and ended up just falling. If I was riding alone and did not have my son I can tell you with 100% certainty that I would have found a way quickly around him. But I new Christopher would not be able to put an aggressive pass on him nor did I really want to set a bad example. Finally, after several miles (I still do not know how I actually was able to contain myself for that long) the guy pulled over and let the 15+ riders go by.
Some sweet single track.....We finally got rolling on the sweet single track of the Ouachita trail heading towards our first aid station at Big Brushy Creek. Christopher was riding very well and picked up the pace. He was handling the descents a lot better than the climbs, but still our pace was good and we started to catch other riders. I could see our teammates Tim Greene and Sean G. ahead of us. I was actually very surprised that Christopher was actually catching them. I let him ride his own pace but kept asking if he was o.k. and to make sure he stayed hydrated and ate. He Speaking of eating. I use Hammer products and trust them because they work. Of course nothing works if you do not use it and having easy access to my gel flask is important. Important enough to buy a flask holder and strap it on my stem. My review of the product is coming, but let me just say that it is a total failure on rough, technical downhills that one would encounter at such an event as this one. I ended up losing 3 new gel flask on the downhill sections. Very depressing to see you gel flask go flying down the trail in front of you. Especially since I just love that Vanilla flavor :-) Maybe I went to fast I do not know. They did work great on the easy single track sections and the gravel. I will get it that, but on rough stuff a Total Failure! We had a good stop and Carolynn did a great job of having everyone's food and water available.
The challenge of the day was going to be the successful navigation of Blow Out Mountain. This is one hardcore and challenge trail. To me the entire event is downhill if you survive old Blow Out..... I was totally blown away by Christopher during this section. The kid was catching groups of riders and just blowing past them as everyone was having trouble and having to walk the many technical sections. I had plans to take a lot of photos but Christopher ended up dropping me as I just could not keep up with him. Hopefully it was just the advantage of his 29er bike that he was riding and not the fact that I am just getting old.... As we dropped off of Blow Out Christopher opened up a small gap on the fast downhill section. My motto for long distance events is "save your body and your equipment" I ride well within my ability level. I have had way too many bad crashes and hits to the head. Don't want nor need any more. Fast forward a mile down the trail and has I am flying down the mountainside I come upon a nasty crash and barely come to a stop before I crash into the Black Turner 29er. Yes the same Black Turner 29er that my son was riding but where was he? He is rolling down the hill the victim of one of those tree attacks that you hear about sometimes. You know the one, the tree reaches out and grabs your bars and yanks you off your bike. I hate when that happens. First order of business is to check on the bike. Wait, that is not correct is it, first check on your only son. Then check and fix bike.
It takes awhile, but we get going again only this time at much slower pace. Bad crashes take the wind and sometimes spirits out of you. We roll into the a aid station before some more climbing and descending. I was happy to find out the Christopher had drank all of his water and Heed. We
chill out the station for awhile and allow him to eat some food. He was not looking well and I had some serious doubts as to if he could finish. We were well ahead of the cut-off times but overall fitness and being able to carry on after his crash was a major concern. Upon leaving the Blow Out / Fiddler aid station we were greeted to some of the hardest climbing of the day. This section took for what seems like hours to complete. We should have reached Sims within about 30 minutes, but this section took us well over an hour. During this section Christopher stopped several times with cramps. I told him we could not stop in the middle of the woods. There is no way out other than ride or I carry him. There was no way I was going to carry his big ass so we continued on. Before we exited the OC trail Keith Baker caught up to us and we rode into Sims together.
We meet Carolynn in Sims but still had about 6 miles to go before the first check point. Christopher realy wanted to reach that point and then was going to pack it in. I went ahead and finished up the event by myself. Christopher got in a little over 40 miles which when you consider his fitness level is actually very good. We are looking for another challenge to do this summer. We wanted to do the Dakota Five O again, but it has already sold out. We will find something because the one thing we both like about mountain biking events like the Ouachita Challenge is that they are fun. As our teammate Tige Lamb demonstrates to the left.