My road cycling cred has been sinking. The last road cycling event I participated in was the Cross Winds Classic more than a year and a half ago. That experience ended miserably, mainly due to my misinterpretation of the masters category. Masters is not just for old men, it’s for old fast men. It was time for redemption, even if my fall from road cycling grace was only in my mind.
It’s a good idea to train for a 100 mile ride like the Big Dam Bridge 100. The flat sections can be windy and the climbs are steep. It’s also strongly recommended to ride with a group who are all willing to ride at an agreed upon pace. I had neither trained nor did I have a group. This habit of poor decision making often brings adventure to my life.
I did have a loose plan, perhaps more of a goal. I’d go out for the first half of the course at a 5 hour finishing pace (20 mph average), eat food I could carry on the bike every 45-60 minutes and then ride the second half of the course at whatever pace I could manage, stopping at aid stations for more food. My goal was realistic, finish in under 7 hours and as close to 6 hours as possible.
I lined up near the front of the large group of riders waiting for the 7:30 am start. Just ahead of me was professional cyclist George Hincapie along with some of the fastest cyclists in the state. This was the last time I would see any of them until after the finish. Around me were members of local bicycling teams like the Mello Velos, Major Taylors, teams from the surrounding area like the Mercy crew from Ft. Smith, and teams from across the state line like Soundpony out of Tulsa and the Memphis 901 group. I was in great company.
The ride started west down highway 10 past a portion of the river trail that is not yet complete. Coming down the hill between the Dillards headquarters and the Episcopal school at over 30 mph held a special joy for me.
The ride to the first crossing of the Big Dam Bridge gave me time for visiting with cycling friends, many of whom I would see along the route as the leap frog game of pass and and be passed began. Once over the bridge and heading into Maumelle I began to settle in for the long haul, I hooked up with a couple of guys with Razorback jersey’s and took turns at pulling. As I made my way toward Mayflower I was overtaken by some larger groups that had formed. I bounced between them as we headed toward Conway.
The entire course was well marked with large signs directing riders and every intersection was manned by local law enforcement allowing cyclists to keep pace and cruise through. It was like a national bike day and the roads by and large belonged to cyclists.
My plan was to skip the aid stations until I crossed the Arkansas River at Toad Suck. Our friend Emily was on her triathlon bike and I grabbed her wheel for a while as we made our way around Conway. Two hours in and I was riding close to my 20 mph average goal pace.
When alone on a long ride I have a habit of doing math, glancing down at my odometer, “10 miles in, I have to do that 9 more times…”, “33 miles in, only 2 more times…”, until I finally hit 50 miles and the countdown starts. Throughout all this I’m working up desired average speeds in my head. I probably do my best math calculations while on the road bike.
The first time my foot hit the ground after the start was at mile 50 to take a photo of my odometer. I stopped rather quickly, not realizing that I was pulling a pretty good size group that seemed more than happy to let me be the workhorse for a while. It almost caused a wreck. Sorry guys, sound out when you grab my wheel and that won’t happen again.
I made my first aid station stop at Houston, Arkansas. It was 55 miles in and my body was reminding me that this was the farthest distance I’d ridden in a couple of years. I was feeling good but I sensed pain coming. It wasn’t until just past mile 60 when I started feeling the first twinges of cramping. The cramps joined me just in time for the Wye Mountain Climb, hooray!
The Wye Mountain Climb is the crux of the ride. Without it, the Big Dam Bridge 100 would be a relatively easy ride, just a stroll through the countryside. As I headed up the first curvy diagonal section of the climb, my quads began threatening to seize up. I dropped to my great-granny gear and spun my way through it. A few riders passed me but I was able to make my way past those forced off the bikes by cramps. Eventually I made it to the top of the first section where I was treated to a beautiful view of the next ridge I would have to climb. A relaxing fast drop ended abruptly at the base of the ridge that required more spinning, this time straight up to the top. The blue lights of the local sheriff’s car signaled the top, he wouldn’t need his radar gun today to see that we weren’t exactly exceeding the speed limit. Finally reaching the crest, I pulled over into the Wye Mountain aid station to refill my water bottles.
The aid stations along the way were well stocked with all the standards: PB & Js, bananas, oranges, cookies, water and ice cold Gatorade, which I almost overdosed on. Aid station workers were busy breaking up bags of ice to add to riders bottles and helping them get back out on the course. It was hard to get back on the bike but I was in familiar territory and ready to get this thing knocked out.
I was 4 hours in and realized the guys at the front of the pack were probably racing down the Arkansas River Trail trying to break the four hour mark for the ride, something that had never been done on this course. I later found out that the goal was missed by a mere 4 minutes. Maybe it will happen next year.
I was in my own battle, feeling every little rise in the road in my legs as I followed the ridge. The expectation of the downhill I knew was just ahead kept me moving forward. The drop down to Lundsford Corner is a curvy twisting, fast ride. It was an enjoyable section that would give my legs a much needed break.
After Lundsford Corner the course takes Roland Cutoff to Roland where I was trading pulls with a woman who was keeping about a 17 mph pace toward the next aid station and more Gatorade. The next section from Roland to Two Rivers seemed to pass quickly while I shared pulls with a few people but mostly I was by myself. I had been riding without a partner for the last 5 and a half hours, alone in my own head. I had nothing left to think about but pain, the last 10 miles were not going to be pretty.
Stopping at the Two Rivers aid station I promised myself I would not put my foot down again until the finish. At one point earlier in the day I thought that I might be able to break 6 hours but it was evident that I wouldn’t make that goal. I was back to the “as close to 6 hours” goal that I originally planned. Small hills like the climb up the Big Dam Bridge and the small rollers along the North Little Rock side of the river trail threatened to debilitate me with cramps. I took it easy and just kept moving forward.
As I made my way to the finish line I got that last spark I needed to finish strong. One thing that kept me going was trying to finish early enough that the party would still be going on. I made it to the finish line and four cartons of chocolate milk later I began to feel human again. I finished in 6 hours and 18 minutes with a moving time of 6:04. I’d take it, but I know with a little better planning I can break 6. This may haunt me until I try again.
The ride was masterfully orchestrated by Fred Phillips of DLT Events, the course is a great sample of Arkansas, taking riders through farmland and mountains, past parks and scenic views. It was a beautiful day on the road and I had a great time in spite of the suffering. Thanks to the Big Dam Bridge Foundation for having the foresight to know how important a ride like this would be to the community. Over 2800 riders rode their choice of 15, 25, 50, 62 or 100 miles, pushing the limits of their endurance while sharing the roads and trails with friends and families. It was great having a recognizable cyclist like George Hincapie on the ride. But, it was better having my friends there to enjoy the nervous pre-ride discussions, to wish each other luck as we saw each other on the ride and to greet each other as we finished the ride. It was another good day to be on a bike.
For a complete list of finish times go to No Limits Timing.
A bunch of great photos that Lisa took are available on our Facebook Page to share, tag, comment on and download.