Racing in Arkansas

7/27/2009 - Gary Lowden

Show up at the happy, sunny KOA in Eureka Springs – unhitch, set up and off to the short track & OMNI sign ups, where S was to start another attack on all the genres of MTB’n. The OMNI points calculating method was still canted heavy to one end… so not much hope for S to take the overall but he still wanted to pursue it with the utmost gusto… so we got him signed up for; Short Track, Downhill, Observed Trials and the Cross Country events that were taking place over the next three days.


When querying about the start times for the short track we were told CIII at 7, CII at 7:30 and CI at 8 (I will come back to this later).  Race venue was basically a dirt flat track for 18 minutes + 2 laps. Course was about 4” wide, loose & packed sections and about a 50’ elevation change at one end into & out of  a dry creek bed. Pole position was defined by a single lap test earlier in the day, (best time was a local at 1min. 29 sec.). Since S is a CII junior, we had plenty of time and so we headed back to camp for bite to eat – expecting to get back in time to see the CIII race.


After a quick bit to eat and machine check we headed back to the ST venue. On the way I had a stabbing pain in the back of my neck… it was S. jabbing at me and asking if I had asked specifically when the Juniors were racing? I had a cold flush run through my gut and weakly answered no….  Immediately all heads went to work at lightning speed and calculated that if in fact they were planning on running the juniors with the beginners, we had a 5 minute drive and only 4min. & 55 secs. before the gun went off! The plan we executed was this – after power drifting through the last turn to the venue, and as I slowed and corrected the sideways drift, C would leap out and run to the official, begging for clemency and to hold off for just one minute – please. As I was catching some slight air in the truck through the parking field, S was to finish gearing up and Zman was to be loosing the race ride off the rack – this all went smoothly and S superman’d onto his steed, got up to the official, asked if he could take his place at his earned pole positions, (front row), the boss man pointed to the last row and told him to start back there. L


OK so at least we made it (kinda). Gun goes off and for 18 minutes the spectators had the fun of watching an anaerobic dash of about 20 guys with elbows, berms, drops, slide outs, red faces, & curses all being bandied about. S gradually worked his way through the crowd to 4th position where he experienced a very talented blocker for his two other teammates leading the field. Towards the end it looked like S might nip # 3 at the ledge drop but it was not to be and they came across the finish with a wheel gap and S scoring 4th overall and 1st in his junior classification. The fallout from, all this was a happy kid and a Dad that found himself (for the whole weekend), being reminded by USAC officials, Trials riders, a few drunks and just about everybody else in attendance that night that I lost S the prems. and a true 1st place in the cool venue that the ES short track is.


On to Saturday morning… cup-a-joe, grilled up breakfast burritos and off to the Down Hill course for a few quick runs on the new AWESOME  DH course that Progressive Trail Designs built at Lake Leatherwood. I hung out a bit with the unique crowd of DH’ers, then headed off to see about a good position for some video. Found a spot that allowed me to capture about 75’ of line with a couple of rock drops and a triple to a RH berm and settled in for the entertainment… 6th one down was S looking sharp and smooth through the section and through it pretty quick, I decided to stay a bit longer at that spot and was rewarded with some fine bike handling displays from the cash crowd and one XC weenie that was running it with a high post, wife beater T,  white socks to mid calf and now – a collar bone and shoulder that will probably never be the same due to his pogo’ing over the rollers while his bike went off into the woods (dude didn’t even have insurance!). Eventually the course was opened again to allow the DH’ers to continue their battles. S was being challenged after the first run so his 2nd attempt was important – but after a slide off the course put him 5 seconds back, (got it on video tape!), he was bumped to finish 2nd within the Jr. crowd with a very respectable run.


After rushing to the DH awards and wolfing lunch, we got to the Observed Trials course a bit late (as expected some said…), to put S. into the upper level Sport crowd and Zman into the Beginner group. The Sport group comp level is a big upgrade, the ability to handle 3’ gaps, 4’ ups and downs, balance and fancy bike skills are required. S. was able to match a few of the guys and would wind up tied for 4th with three others – many thanks to the OT guys for taking him under their wing, helping him learn and grow in one of the coolest disciplines that can be done on a bike. Meanwhile, I had spent the first 15 minutes sweating and trying to fix a rear wheel on Zman’s mod – yes now I am being dinged for being late and poor bike maintenance – which we finally got going correctly and let Zman play on the rocks – with about 12 other guys – some who were the XC CI & CII guys sandbagging for the OMNI competition! It was the coolest thing to see three 12 yr old kids wind up in 4th, 6th, 7th spots of this group, (Hunter, Trevor & Zack). Kudos to the XCers (you guys know who you are…) that, now scarred and humbled by this challenging sport, admitted that it was one of the hardest things they have attempted on a bike and heaped praise upon the three kids many years their junior that fared better than they.


After the OT awards, dinner at Pipers… tired, happy and ready for bed we drifted off to dreams of strategy for the next day and Racin’ to the Lake.


Wake up Sunday to another cup-o-joe, eggs and bacon - some checking (not quite enough), of the steeds that will carry us through some of the best uphill, downhill & bench cut, technical terrain you can find - we head off to downtown Eureka Springs where masses of MTBers are warming up themselves (yea it is like 60 degrees!), on the main drag – while waiting for the starting gun to launch them up and out of town to drop into the Lake Leather wood basin. S, W. & T. take to the streets before me with a very large CII group of young bucks all snorting and stomping and some grinding and cursing – pedaling up some of the steepest streets around.


While waiting for the lead motor to return, I pause to check out the competition – a few familiar faces but no real certainty as to who may challenge. It is during this time that the lack of a bull horn and a few pointed remarks from yours truly, got me yelled at for not being a junior?? (I still can’t figure how being one or not being one got me in trouble but – oh well…). So I stoked the fires of a couple of neighbors – which got them yelled at and finally the official intervened and… so on and so on… The motor finally returned and we awaited the gun.


Off we go and I dig hard wanting to get away from all the other 50+ers and make my way up and out of town. Just before jumping out at the Crescent Hotel parking lot I feel the presence of another and we settle into a good pace together as we continued the first quick road descent and then climb again up towards the ridge leading to Lake Leatherwood Valley. Denver (that’s where he is from), and I chat back and forth a bit about what is coming up. He allows me to lead, as he doesn’t know where to go.. and we descend into the park which first rewards you with some fast up & down undulations, and few spots to pass – but we still manage to sneak past a few of the 49 and under crowd. As we pass another and just before we head down a short steep track, a rifle shot goes off which is followed by very loud cursing from my riding partner – (found out later he ripped a hole in the sidewall the size of a tire iron). As I hit the bottom of the hill at the “T” and slide right at the “which way?” intersection, I chance a look over my shoulder and see that there is no one there, as I continue along a very fun and very fast traverse I notice that behind me the trail is still vacant – so now I am the rabbit and all alone. As I make my way through the growing volume of riders, (‘scuse me… old guy passing), I mentally run through the  # of climbs, technical sections, fun sections, nasty sections, hard sections, what do my legs feel like etc. etc. Temperature in the low 70’s cramping or heat was not going to be an issue, the concern was to be sure to maintain a pace that, if I now had several minutes lead over the next guy, would keep me out in front to the finish.

Using the method of catching, resting, passing once recovered, I continue to pick my way through the field of sub 49’ers - only once having a class member catch me and promptly blow up – never to be seen again until the finish. I wind up thoroughly enjoying the rest of the course – with around the lake being kick @$$ as the rocks were quite dry and so allowing for some fun, fast lines, (no skittering up hill, slide outs nor bashed knees). I get to the final gravel to pavement coming to the B-Ball fields, a look behind – no one – zip up the jersey and wave to the scoring official as I cross the line.


After grabbing my ticket, & turning it in – I see and get an update from W. on how he faired and then up comes a grinning S to rub us both the wrong way by letting me know his time was faster and he caught W. early on – so much for respecting your elders -  who raised this kid? As I make my way over to the Easy Up with gorgeous new Boulevard banners fluttering and a line up of happy new friends, Z man catches me by the elbow and relates…


Zman’s start went very well – up and out of the city and into the first decent to the park office – leading the pack on a 2:1 ratio, sweet Surly 1x1 with some blue chain bling. As he slides into the gravel drive at the park office, he notices that he can pedal with his right foot but has something hanging off his left… turns out his mechanic failed to check his drive train sufficiently and there hangs his pedal and crank arm off the bottom of his foot. Skids to a stop, shrugs his shoulders and finds a nice old lady with cookies to call his Mom and let her know where to come get him. Spends the rest of the day hanging with the adults in the shade, relaying his tale so that when I show up… I continue to get nothing but grief – rightly deserved.


We end the day, under the red canopy, sharing Boulevard love, even getting a few announcements of thanks for the refreshments from the promoter, (can you say great press!!). Having a great weekend, great weather, lots of biking, hanging with good friends and some new ones – no better way to spend the time.