OC 2012

4/10/2012 - Gary Lowden

OC 2012 As it has been for the last 10 years, the Ouachita Challenge, (held in Oden, Arkansas - late March), has always been a measuring stick for me as to my fitness level (or lack of), going into the racing season. This year was certainly no exception. Life changes, relocation, (an 1,100 mile commute), a bizarre Winter, a broken Yeti frame and a new full carbon ASR (never ridden), were all the things on my mind as we prepared to hit up Arkansas and the OC of 2012l  Friday morning has me checking gear, loading up, and heading down by early afternoon with S. just the two of us cruising through Arkansas back roads on a beautiful sunny day. We first visit our lodgings at the Crystal Inn in Mt Ida, with already a few vehicles and bike racks building up in the parking lot, I can feel the expectation growing. After a bit O’ chill time, we drive back up to the school in Oden for sign ups, see some friends, connect with a few new ones. After a quick meal with friends at one of the few local restaurants, we were back at the hotel with the rest of the Joplin crew, staying up too late bs-ing and chatting about the next day and days past. Next day we awake to cool temps, a bit O’ fog and we quickly get loaded up and are off to get us some breakfast at the  cafeteria Oden’s School – where the start / finish is held. After pancakes, sausage and some pb&j’s, the Saturday bunch – totaling some 240 souls - wondering what the day has in store for us – stage up, continue the nervous chatter and share a few more re-connection with friends. A mass start is always a thrill – for good and bad reasons… but we all get moving in the low fog and for the most part successfully negotiate the few turns and pot holes. Slowly we transition into a long mass of riders heading down the fire roads to the first single track.After an extended fire road climb, towards the first section of awesome single track, we dive right into a traffic jam as those with fitness but no technical skill choose to start walking about 100 yards into the trail, while this is fully expected it is always somewhat frustrating. I back off and expand the gap between my front wheel and the rear wheel of the closest person, allowing me to stay in the saddle and pick my way through the technical elements and eventually get to some fast twisty up hill and bench cut sections. This first area, while rough, is definitely a good time, gradually warming up, happy to be on the bike and flowing pretty good. I arrive at the first check point feeling good, grab the first wrist band of proof and head off again, a short mixture of gravel, single track and road lead us to the next challenging area – with many more to come. A few up and downs through some rough saddles and technical sections, the starting group has definitely splintered up into ones, twos and fours. Climbing and climbing gets a little more difficult with some road sections. The true challenge with this type of distance is keeping fueled and watching your pace. I lucked into hooking up with a couple of riders on the longest gravel road stretch, and without hammering too hard, we flew along the dry hard pack, passing and passing others that didn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t hook up on our wheels. At the next band station we head up and up again, time for me to back off and spin out the effort of the road. The weather is definitely improving but now concerns about how hot and the blazing sun start to creep into my thoughts – happy to be in the trees and the shade, I continue on to the next aid station where S. awaits with some refuel and I gather up a few pickles and an awesome pb & j that hits the spot. I chilled here for a while hoping that a few hotel partners with show up and after a bit both J and J roll in. The recover and refuel and we head out together onto some of the best, flowiest and funnest sections. Pushing harder than we should, J and I slowly leave J behind (no not the first J the second one…), as we hit the whoops and start some of the bigger climbs, my legs are not yet screaming at me but certainly letting me know their happiness is on the edge, so I back off and hang out for a while, stuffing endurolytes, sport legs and anything else I can find in my pack – into my body. As the climbs get bigger, and the day gets hotter I opt for numerous hike a bikes and once, back to a reasonably level section, I start to through a leg over and both hamstrings lock up in one of the worse dead wood cramp I think I have ever had. As if that wasn’t enough… I am off balance and pitch backwards on the downslope – I didn’t even care if anyone was watching – I just laid there. Finally I am able to get moving again, and gradually work my way down the trail to a road cross over  - I know where I am at, the three o’clock cut off is a few more miles of single track, if I make it - without cramping again  – maybe I will continue on. Halfway through the next section, I stop, rummage around in my pack for about 10 minutes, realize I have no idea what I am looking for so I zip it up, put it on and then start the process of getting back on the bike. For some reason, if I swing my leg over the rear wheel and saddle, I start to cramp, so I try to just go up and over the top tube – but the handle bars keep getting in the way. After a few attempts, I try the other side; they still get in the way. The clouds back away, allowing me some unwanted sunshine to blaze into my brain, but with it comes the idea of “hold onto the handle bars and put your leg over”… I try this, it works, and I am not getting off this thing again until I am done. I wind up at the 3:00pm cutoff point with plenty of time to think and question my sanity to proceed. I stay straddled over the bike, eating drinking and staring off into space for a bit. E. shows up on his rigid Titanium SS (bastard), we discuss strategy – or more like survival – and we head off pursuing the last 12 miles. What a joy it is to have someone to talk to, review the highlights so far, enjoy some good humor, odd events of the day etc… securing our black rubber band at the last checkpoint we are elated, it doesn’t matter now when we show up back at the school – we are making the 60! Oh yea the last climb…. Somehow we keep each other motivated; we work together and encourage each other up a long, hot, slow, fire road climb. Breaking the crest brings relief and happiness that, for the most part, it is all downhill from here – except for the last uphill. G.