Ouachita Challenge

Katie and I drove down to Arkansas on Saturday morning.  We stopped at the Big Brushy campground and I prerode the rockiest section of the course.  No flats.  We go and register and head to the hotel where the rest of Team HighGear is getting ready for the big race.  Sunday morning we wake up early and head over to the start.  I should mention that because this years edition had some extra paved sections, I decided to run faster rolling, less tread tires.

The race started and there was 8 miles of pavement and gravel before the first singletrack section.  I knew that the singletrack started at the top of a steep gravel climb so when a guy wearing a full on Specialized kit got a leadout going up the climb, I figured that was the climb I was looking for.  I chased.  Got to the top and it wasnt the climb and I made dumb mistake #2 (tire choice was #1) and decided to wait for the group to catch back up letting specialized guy (wylie something) ride away.  A few miles later and it was the right climb, I go to the front and hammer up the hill, Specialized guy is already in the singletrack when we start the climb, he must be a minute up. 

Im cruising through the singletrack, feeling pretty good, all by myself.  I eventually catch back up to the lead and we ride together for awhile.  Up the super rocky climb on Blowout Mtn I ease up a bit and he gets a little gap, but Im afraid of flatting.  Make it down the super rocky descent and he is still up the trail a little.  A few minutes later Im pretty much caught back on when I feel the back tire going flat.  I keep going down the hill and make it to a gravel section.  Stop and put in some air.  It holds for a good 10 minutes.  Stop again, 3rd place comes by.  Ride some more, its actually holding air.  Hit a big rock, Not holding air anymore.  Tube #1 comes out, which takes forever since everything is so neatly crammed into my seatbag and I cant get the valvestem out of the wheel.  At this point I get passed by 6-7 more guys and lose motivation.  One more descent and we are on gravel heading towards the town of Sims and a long windy paved section, like 6 or 7 miles long I think.

The next dumb move comes on the paved section.  Im all by myself and not very motivated to catch back up when I see a group of 5 a few hills behind.  I start to think it would be great if they caught me and I could enjoy some draft.  A suburban comes up and tells me they are coming fast and I still have another 3 miles of road.  I let off completely and soft pedal until they catch on.  That Cornbread guy is leading the group and I get on the back.  About a hundred yards later, we turn into singletrack, damn...What a waste of time.

I lead into the singletrack a little upset that Ive stopped so many times for flat tires and then wasted more time waiting for a group that I didnt need to.  I pop out of the singletrack, dont see Katie even though she is right in front of me and head off down the gravel road looking for more trail riding fun.  I catch my first person when we enter the singletrack, some motivation returns.  Start hammering pretty hard.  Stop at the next aidstation where Katie fills my pockets full of another tube and air can.  Hammer some more.  Im really starting to catch people now, up to 6th and picking guys off at a quick clip.  Start thinking its possible to catch back on. 

Flat #3 comes.  Pull out yet another tube, get the wheel stuck back in, cant find the skewer.  Its lost...start moving leaves and branches and eventually find it.  Jump back onthe bike, gloves in the pockets, which I now regret.  Start riding again but Im out of tubes so I want to make sure I make it to the finish.  Figure Im in 12th or so. Work my way back up to 7th in the singletrack and come onto the final gravel stretch.  Im safe now of flatting so I go all out and real in another rider.  Enter the asphalt street back into town to the finish and see one more guy up ahead.  Catch him just before town and sprint on in for 5th feeling strong.  5 minutes behind the leader.  Oh well.  Bike racing has started, time to get in shape.

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