3/30/2006 - Todd Davis

Well, I've finally done it. After more than two years, I have broken down and decided to cross-post a blog from the Rider Forums on our site. Credit the shared pain (and joys) of a recent race with teammates as my inspiration.

While I'm here, allow me to thank Mike Cleveland and Pat Houtakker for their leadership of the mountain biking efforts on the KCOI-Blvd squad over the past 18+ months. Mike introduced me to this great race last year and really brought our team coordination on races up a notch in the spring of '05. While he's ice-racing and waiting for the thaw in Germany, Pat and others are trying to keep the newfound tradition of some early season endurance length racing alive.

Finally, for those wondering what the off-roaders are up to while not at Spring Fling Crits, the Perry training races, or other early road events, here's a taste.

KCOI-Blvd was well represented at the 5th Annual Ouachita Challenge, a 63 mile race across the incredible single track and scenic forest roads of the Ouachita Mountains near Oden, Arkansas. Pat Houtakker, Greg Rupp, and I car-pooled together for the 6 hours journey down to Arkansas (Native American for land of many WalMarts). Barb Wages and Rob Pennell were also in the house for this epic race.

Overall, I think KCOI-Blvd tied the BikeSource off-road team for most members from the KC area. Brad Cole from Team X was also there, looking for a top 3 finish. More on Rob's heroics and Brad's woes later...

Despite recent flash floods in the area that made for extra-comfy/squishy tenting the night before the race, the trails were in perfect shape, and we enjoyed a mild mid-60 degree day once the morning chill at 8am wore off.

After a brief roll-out through town, the race explods with 5 miles of fire roads that help string out the group before the first mtn pass over Big Brushy Mountain. A few rollers help loosen up your legs and lungs. After a 2 mile ascent, a screaming decent into the Big Brushy Recreation Area takes you onto the Ouachita Trail around mile 9.

At mile 14, the second major climb onto Blowout Mountain begins. As if a 5.6 mile climb, traverse and descent weren't enough, Blowout has a 2 mile section punctuated by several rock gardens where all but a few experts in technical trials riding (a sport where the ability to balance and hop over objects is a necessary skill) have to dismount and clamber over boulders the size of Boulevard kegs (Mmmm...beer).

It was after these rock gardens that I stopped to offer help to Brad Cole. After flatting a tubeless tire and with no rim strip to allow him to put in a tube, Brad was SOL and had to hike out several miles.

After the decent from Blowout and a short section of fire road, the third and steepest pass knocks you on your arse at Chalybeate Mountain. It was here, at around mile 23 that I started to feel the first twinges of cramps in my left calf. Fortunately, E-Caps kept them at a manageable level. I don't think anyone escapes this race without cramping legs, sore backs, and wreaked triceps.

After the descent, dirt and paved roads take you into the town of Sims. Rob Pennell was THE MAN at the Sims sag, helping several racers with various technical maladies. He offered pedals to one KC area rider and even gave a 29'er tire to our very own Pat Houtakker who shreaded a sidewall on the sharp "baby-heads" of Chalybeate.

Sims has the largest crowds of the event, with locals whooping and clapping for the racers and a sizable chunk of the town volunteering to keep racers hydrated and fueled. Out of Sims, the wind became the largest foe, with a bracing 3.5 mile road section to the Womble Trail. During the ~10 miles of remaining roads that same steady 20 mph headwind followed our every turn of the pedal.

The Womble is the queen of area trails. Buff and twisty, the Womble gives you the inspiration to get through the race. Unfortunately, it also leads to the last two major climbs of the day at Mauldin and Gaston Mountains (miles 40, 50, and 58, respectively). Letter Man should switch it to "Maudlin" Mountain, because that's how I felt climbing this steep, off-camber SOB. At one point, I came to a dead stop when my pedal hit a rock on a steep uphill pitch. "Dabbing" to the left side, I stepped into thin air off the trail and tumbled face first down into thick leaves and brambles. Adrenalin has a strange way of helping you get back on a bike quickly and the zapping your energy a few minutes later.

Greg was our fallen soldier of the day after a nasty crash and knee-full-o'-trail-rash took him out of his flow somewhere in this area.

The trouble with Gaston Mtn is not its elevation or steepness, but the fact that you climb it twice when you're at your physical and emotional low. You climb it once on singletrack on the way out to the flat and beautiful final trail section of the day, where the Womble Trail passes by North Fork Lake, and again on the final 7 miles of gravel road to the finish. The race guide says, "Don't let the climb intimidate you; it is not as hard as it looks." B.S.! Through the buddging early spring forest, you can see this motha arcing up and through two major switchbacks for about 1.5 miles. The final section is the steepest with loose gravel and ruts from pick-ups braking hard on their descent of this road in the opposite direction.

In the end, I finished in 50th place with a time of 5:54:28, roughly two minutes slower than last year but a full 21 places lower in the overall. Still, I scammed the last of the sweet 5th Anniversary trophies they gave out.

Pat's technicals cost him at least an hour, but he finished strong. I am not sure of Barb's result as she may have transferred registrations and we did not see her at the finish, but we heard she had a crash of her own. She is one tough racer.

At the finish, we shared some cold Boulevard beers with fellow KC riders and cheered the finishers coming in. One guy had ridden the last 14 miles with no seat. YOW!

Overall, only 155 of the 227 registered racers finished -- a 32% attrition rate. Unbelievably, last year's course record by Hays Kansas' very own Cameron Chambers (the reigning NORBA 24 Hour Solo Racing Champion) was shattered by approx. 5 minutes by Okie, Ray Hall. As a fair lady once said, "The reigning names train mainly on the plains". Matt Brown, the solo 3 hour winner from Spoke Pony here in KC two weeks ago, finished third. It's great to see the Ouachita Challenge gaining converts and more competitive fields.

For anyone seeking a great mtn biking and camping
vacation, I highly recommend this area. For those thinking about giving this race or the corresponding "tour" the day before a try, remember to bring your chamois butter, tools, and a spare tube or three. You won't find a better grass roots race, butt-kicking course, or cycling friendly town within 1,000 miles.