The first Big Dam Bridge 100 took place in 2006, shortly after the official opening of the bridge. Since then I have participated in the 100-miler and the 68-miler. I hadn’t been training for the long ride this year and wasn’t sure how I was going to cover the event when I ran into Phillip Prater at the Gauntlet event last weekend and he suggested that I ride in the CARVE Car. It seems some of the guys were planning on making a go of the 4-hour mark for the
race ride by having a support vehicle for fluid and nutrition hand ups. Since there is no way of ever embedding myself with this group of riders on a long ride like this I jumped at the chance to cover the Big Dam Bridge 100 from the front of the pack.
Arlene Gill, wife of one of the riders was driving and Jennifer Rankin, another rider’s wife, was doing the hand ups. All I had to do was take pictures and stay out of the way. I can’t believe how quickly the whole morning went by.
The riders left us in the parking lot to line up several minutes before the 7 a.m. start time and we headed for the first spot we would provide support. Arlene had pre-driven the course and had worked out all the best places to do hand ups. The plan was to get ahead of the group and wait around at a predetermined spot. Once the lead group went by we would follow behind for just a short bit while riders dropped back to exchange bottles. Once we felt like everyone had what they needed we would pass them and get up to the next place to wait and do the same.
At Round Mountain near Conway the group of about 30-40 riders came through quickly. The roads were smooth and fast. We soon caught up and bottles started flying in and out of the car window. As fast as Jennifer was handing them up, working out of at least 3 coolers, the floorboards were rapidly filling up with empties. The excitement was soon over, but only for the moment while we watched for some four-lane road to get past them and head to the next hand up spot to experience the thrill of the rolling hand ups all over again.
Once we crossed the Arkansas River at Toad Suck we moved on to our next waiting spot in Houston, AR. We had a little time so we stopped by the organized rest area that none of our riders would be using. The lead riders would be rolling through before the volunteers at this stop were truly ready for the long line of riders that would be coming their way throughout the day.
In Houston, riders make a wide u-turn crossing some train tracks in the middle of the turn. We were happy to see them all make it over the tracks unscathed. It was time to do the bottle thing again. Arlene was a little nervous about this one since we would be forced to get around the bikes on a rolling two-lane road. If we didn’t get by them before the climb up Wye Mountain we would probably miss them at our final support station of the ride.
Despite the concerns, everything went well and we were able to pass them just before heading up the mountain.
Wye Mountain is the big climb of the Big Dam Bridge 100. The crux of the climb is 3.1 miles long with 573 feet of elevation gain. The climb starts at about 65 miles into the ride when legs would be starting to feel the mileage and the pack would separate a bit. Wye Mountain was about how much energy the climbers had conserved in the first 65 miles. Did they pace themselves well? How much were they willing to burn with 30 miles left?
We parked at the junction of highway 113 and 300.. This time we would be doing stationary hand ups. We carried a couple of the coolers to the roadside. I figured out some camera angles I liked and we waited.
Things got crazy at the top. The front group stayed together better than we had figured and one rider who happened to have thrown some extra wheels in our car needed a new front. Jennifer and Arlene were busy with the water hand ups which left me to help with the wheels so I ran to the car, grabbed the wheel and got it to the rider. While I was happy to have been able to help, it meant missing my photos of the front group topping the hill. It looked a lot like a bunch of very serious bicyclists coming over the top of a hill – imagine it. Since this was our last water hand up station we stayed around a bit to give out what was left of the water to riders following behind the lead pack.
Once the water was gone we headed down the backside of the mountain and toward the finish line. Downtown North Little Rock, the Argenta district in particular, goes all out for the finish of the ride. The trolley tracks are closed, food is available everywhere including free hot dogs, most of main street is closed off for the day and vendors of all sorts are lining the street with canopies, tables and chairs to give tired legs a much needed rest.
It was satisfying to watch many of the shorter distance riders coming in as we waited for the 100-milers. No matter the distance, riders are happy to finish. The announcer was encouraging finishers as they came across the line and volunteers were helping them as they started getting off their bikes. This is where you see all kinds of bikes, kids on bikes, folding bikes, comfort bikes, mountain bikes and of course road bikes. It was great seeing so many smiles.
The first 100-mile finishers came in around 4 hours and 15 minutes. I’m sure the riders will spend the next 12 months trying to figure out where they can gain those 15 minutes. Should be pretty exciting next year. For now, it’s time to rest…unless someone wants to dance.
Some facts about the 2012 ride:
- Approximately 2500 total participants.
- Three crossings of the Arkansas River, two over the Big Dam Bridge.
- The ride uses most of the Arkansas River Trail system.
- The ride takes place in three counties, Pulaski, Faulkner and Perry.
- 2012 is the seventh year of the ride.
- It travels through some beautiful countryside.
- You need to try it sometime.