The Wampoo Roadeo is a fundraising bike ride to support the Marilyn Fulper Memorial Fund. Marilyn Fulper was an active bicycling advocate who was killed in 2010 after she was hit by an automobile when the driver ran a red light. Money from the fund has gone to support bicycle education, advocacy, and infrastructure in central Arkansas. Funded projects include four fix-it stations so far along the Arkansas River Trail and free helmets for kids when they receive bikes from Recycle Bikes for Kids.
I’ve not done this ride before, our calendar is always full, but this year I found a way to make this trip happen. The ride has two options, a 50 mile route and a 62 mile metric century route, I fully intended to go the distance. The routes cover much of an area east of North Little Rock near Scott and England, Arkansas. Out there the roads are straight and flat and the wind can add a bit of misery to any ride. The heat of the typical Arkansas summer was also going to rear it’s ugly head by mid-morning but I felt confident that this ride would not present a problem.
The ride started at All Souls Church in Scott, Arkansas. Cars were parked in the field across the street from the church and cyclists mingled in the street, talking and getting into position, finding their group. I wandered a bit, greeting friends, signing the waiver and making a donation. Suddenly, everyone was moving. Hundreds of cyclists started moving south, I was toward the back of the group but that was okay, I had a plan. As the easy rollout started, I eased my way up through the pack. I wasn’t going to catch the fast groups but that was never my intent. I moved forward at about 20 mph until I came upon a group going close to my speed and grabbed on. I caught a little break and then moved up some more to the next group. Eventually I got into a group that was being pulled by a tandem. I refer to this as a gravy train. Usually a tandem (two wheels with two engines) can keep a stronger pace than a single rider. They were moving along between 19 and 20 mph and the one cyclist between myself and the tandem seemed to be an experienced rider which made holding his wheel comfortable. I did this for about 10 miles until we came to the first aid station.
I don’t usually stop at the first aid station. This is part of my normal tour strategy. I like to see if I can grab a group coming out of the stop, leaping me forward. As I thanked the engines for the pull and passed the aid station I realized no one was exiting. I was suddenly alone with no groups in the immediate future. I glanced back and saw I had one guy on my wheel. Okay, we’ll just ride for a while and see if we find a group. I kept the 20 mph pace. I felt good, the wind was still light, it wasn’t really hot yet and I was almost to England.
In England, the course crosses highway 165 and then makes a sharp left on the first block. I didn’t do this. My brain remembered only that we were to go to Keo, Arkansas after England and I turned up highway 165. My partner stayed with me thinking I had some idea what I was doing. So he screwed up too. After about a mile I realized that this couldn’t be the way, there were no other cyclists in sight on this long straight road. I told my buddy that I was going back to England, he followed.
Back in England we found the turn pretty quickly and I dropped the hammer. I’m pretty sure I had a tailwind and I pushed it up to 21 to 22. Yes, I know, it’s not a big hammer but it is mine. By the time we arrived at the second aid station I was beginning to feel the stress of pulling for so long and after a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my riding partner (Tommy) and I introduced ourselves and we were off again. I told Tommy that I was going to back off a little on the next section and he said he was thankful. Of course I still had a bit of a tailwind and the pavement was so smooth that I just couldn’t bring myself to drop down and even when I did, Tommy didn’t take the hint to move in front. Yes, I moved to the side to drop back and he just slowed and stayed back. So on we went, passing the random individual riders but not finding a group to grab onto. After a few more miles, Tommy said he was ready to take the front but within about 100 yards we came to the split for the 50 and 62 mile routes. I asked him what his plan was and he said he was going for the 62. I was toast. I told him I was done and heading on the 50 and said goodbye.
Alone I was able to keep my pace near 18, I was riding with a guy on a triathlon bike, not really doing any drafting just hanging in sight of each other until we finally came to the highway 70 turn and the last aid station. This is where the two routes would met up again. I stopped and filled my water bottle with Gatorade and chatted with Ron King of Recycle Bikes for Kids for a bit. This wouldn’t be the last time I saw Ron while riding this weekend.
I got on my bike for the final push to the finish and I found the infamous headwind. I knew I couldn’t go all day without it and now, when I was at my weakest, there it was. I pushed on catching a few riders here and there. The sun beat down and I felt myself fading. The final turn of the course was on to Walkers Corner, a road I know well from both competing in and covering the Crosswinds Classic road race. I was only a few miles from the finish and must have looked rough when a cyclist came up beside me and offered me his wheel. I grabbed it and we headed in. Back to a respectable 19 mph as we headed into the finish. I peeled off for my car while thanking him for the pull.
Although my plan was totally shot, I still felt good about the ride. I pushed myself, I pulled at a 20 mph pace for almost 20 miles. I rode the majority of the day with no one breaking wind for me and, with the help of another rider, I finished strong.
One of the things I like about this ride is how informal it is. No race shirts or jerseys, just a donation to a good cause and some great aid stations. I later found out that the aid station I skipped had pancakes, the others had just about anything you might want including pickles and pickle juice. Look for this one next year. Maybe I’ll actually get the full metric century in.
Special thanks to Tish Fallis for all the great photography, it was really nice to not be behind the camera for a change. See and download over a thousand photos from the event at alittleedgy.com. Prints are also available to purchase on her site.