Update: The results are now posted!

GORC conquered the 62 mile Ouachita Challenge yet again. This year marked a welcomed departure from the wet weather of past Challenges and only good, warm sunshine rained down on the course riders. The OC covers parts of the Womble and Ouachita trail systems with about 23 miles of gravel and pavement sprinkled throughout. Riders come from all parts of the Midwest including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois and Oklahoma.

The GORC train pulled into Oden early Saturday morning and almost everyone would make it across the finish line by day’s end. Bryan, Steph, Lisa and myself carpooled down and stayed in a clean rustic cabin just a 1/2 mile outside Oden, AR where the Ouachita Challenge starts and finishes. Larry, John, Scott (Kirby), Scott (Scooter), Randy, John Twist, Josh and Tammy stayed about 30 minutes away in different cabin overlooking the Ouachita River. Three keglets also made the 8 hour journey.


Bits of Salsa were left all over the trail

We all got started with about 300 other Tour riders at 8am at the Oden School parking lot. It was the usual cluster with everyone jockeying for a better position heading into the singletrack. Bryan and myself rode together and threaded the needle to get a top 20 spot entering the Womble.

I should mention at this point that both Larry and John Donjoian were rocking rigid singlespeeds and staying near the front. Scott Piepert rode well and was out of sight in no time. Ouachita Challenge veteran, Lisa Troehler, rode consistently and this was the first Tour using her lightweight titanium Steelhead 29er. Scott Whitaker and Randy Houck, along with John Twist and Scott P, had never ridden in the OC but all would end up doing just fine.

Spectators on the Womble photographed riders flying through numerous wet water crossings and ascending several hill(mountain)sides with a great deal of exposure in many spots. The downhills smoked forearms and brake pads. A tree early in the ride took JohnnyD out but he got up and trucked on with a few meat puppets clinging to his knee. Lisa crashed a couple of times, the second which landed her in a creek and completely drenched from head to toe. She persevered with a huge knot on her forearm and a tweaked ankle.

Bryan and myself paced ourselves with the intent of finishing the ride in a respectable time. John Twist caught up to us and we rode together for about 25 miles. I made sure to stay hydrated but had to make about 5 nature stops along the way. I’ve felt the torture of dehydration too many times and stopping for 30 seconds is fine by me. After yet another wizz stop I played catch up to reach John and Bryan just as we descended to the bank of Fiddler’s Creek. The creek was as high as I’ve ever seen it and the race promoters were on the fence as to letting the riders cross. We all used a guide line to cross the cold, swift thigh-high creek. The numbing coolness eased the pain of completing the first 30 miles.

Matt wrecked but feeling better overall than previous events

The next 30 would prove to be a personal challenge. After cruising 8 miles down a never-ending gravel road all three of us entered the realm of the Ouachita beast. Unlike the smooth, contoured Womble that occasionally garners a wimpy complaint from riders that it crosses shallow streams and drainages too many times, the Ouachita is an out-and-out test of strength and will power. The trail was never designed for mountain bikes and makes fast use of the available mountains by climbing suddenly and swiftly. The super rocky Ouachita features devilishly technical sections in the form of Rocks with a capital R. Rocks all over the trail, Rocks on the switchbacks, Rock fields for trail beds, Rocks on Rocks, tire-shredding Rocks, sidewall snake Rocks – there’s even Rock berms and Rock Gauntlets. Put it this way, it makes you appreciate the new sections of the Ozark Trail.

By this time, Scooter was long gone and I decided to see if I could catch up to him. With 20 miles to go I thought surely I would at least catch a glimpse near the end. I knew I wasn’t feeling top-notch by this time and had been fighting an internal struggle of commode-al proportions but what the hell. I climbed like a goat and embraced the granny lifestyle. I passed two guys but quickly faded on Brushy Creek Mountain about 15 miles from the finish.

Boom. Sigh…

I started walking the super steeps and holding brief conversations with trees. Eventually I was passed by one of the riders. The previous up-and-over, Blowout Mountain, aka Blow Up aka Blow Me had taken the wind out of my sails and torched the ship.

Thank the scientists for CytoMax. I perked up after drinking some of the stuff that a checkpoint volunteer had offered and started riding again. I was using my Edge GPS with the course map on the screen to motivate me to the finish. I didn’t want to see the stats – speed, average, distance to go(!) – just the map.

On the last gravel road before evaporating in the wind I executed a sepuku move and torqued it back to Oden. Though blown-out completely and utterly destroyed, I wound it out and went back to the single speed handbook of rocking out the gravel climbs. I caught and gapped a strong, stout rider only because there were two significant climbs and he was ignorant to the ways of the single speed.

Once on the pavement I knew it was nearly over. Legs burning, neck melted, face missing, I continued the most awesome death train of my life. The Silver Bullet was out of control and going to mushroom cloud Oden. Well, that’s what it felt like… whatever, it’s my recap. Write your own.

Lisa just after crossing the finish line.

I’m confident I got 6th, maybe 7th. It was my personal best yet 7:05 going counter-clockwise. Steph and Josh were at the finish with Josh riding 20-odd miles and Steph completing 52 miles. Tammy didn’t feel too hot and opted to sit it out. First-time OC rider Scooter turned in an impressive 2nd place overall but since it was the Tour he got the same dog tag prize as all the other finishers. In fact, he finished 37 or some minutes in front of me so I had no chance of ever catching him on Brushy Creek. It would have been nice to know that so I wouldn’t have tried so hard and detonate myself and the bike. It was cool – he killed it the whole way.

I trained for the OC this year the day of the event. My riding time has been short, sporadic and possibly uninspired so I’m happy with my place. And that brings up the bike, the Salsa Dos Niner. I have to hand it to the first generation Dos for I have abused it numerous times and have not yet snapped its legs. Awesome. Not to mention that it feels like a new bike every time I use it about 5 times a year.

The next person on the GORC passenger train to roll in was Bryan, followed by Larry (pretty sure he was the first single speeder across!), John, Lisa, Randy and Kirby. John Twist was sidelined at the last checkpoint by his stomach and race officials asked him not to continue.

Scott and Steph enjoying the PBR tallboys

As we all gathered and waited for the GORC riders to roll up, Jim and Wendy stopped by to sign in for Sunday’s race. They hung out for a while and we wished them luck on their singlespeeds. At about the same time, Team Seagal greeted us with ice-cold PBR tallboys in hand. We celebrated on the lawn of the Baptist church across the street because school property doesn’t allow alcohol. We should’ve brought the keglets but didn’t think ahead!! I, as usual, had to reconfigure my settings and reboot my body. I laid on the dirt next to the road for quite some time. Everyone else seems to end long rides just fine. Myself? It’s near-death. Edema, COPD, heart burn, cramps, sun exposure, bad juju, whatever, the end was near once again. However, this time was better than last year and I got to enjoy 2 tallboys in short order. Hot damn it tasted good.

Randy finishing up with a smile on his face

I’ll say it again… I could probably ride it on the single but I hurt aplenty on the Salsa. I don’t desire that sort of deep, dark inner struggle to survive…yet. The day you ride the course is the day you swear to do it never again. In your darkest moment you may even consider ending mountain biking altogether (mostly because you think it’s all gonna end anyway real soon on the mountain top), but then you cross the finish line, you heal up in a few days, and then you tell everyone when registration opens at midnight.

Scott W. wrapping up his first Ouachita

It’s a sickness. See you there next year! Oh, and the Berryman Epic registration opens May 1st and it’s slightly easier and only 55 miles.