As the first anniversary of the bridge opening approached, we decided to step up our riding mileage. We had been wanted to do a century ride (100 miles). I had ridden that far once before for the Trail of Tears mountain bike race. That was during a period when I had a great deal of free time to devote to training. So this year we decided to do the Big Dam 100, a ride that would start in North Little Rock, go over the Broadway bridge into Little Rock, through downtown to the Millennium Trail to the Big Dam Bridge. The ride then went through Maumelle, Mayflower, around the west side of Conway then east side of town out into the middle of nowhere, coming back through Mayflower, Maumelle and then down the North Little Rock trails into the finish in downtown North Little Rock.
What makes the Big Dam Bridge so special? It is the longest pedestrian/bike bridge in the world built specifically for that purpose. It spans the Murry Lock & Dam and provides extensive views of the Arkansas River. From the bridge, there is a spectacular view of sunset. At the right time of year, Pinnacle Mountain is set ablaze with the pink and orange glow. the bridge also makes it possible to travel by foot or bike between the two cities without having to go downtown. We now have about 17 miles of continuous trails in the city,and there is more to come.
Training? We don’t need no stinking training! Of course what we always say after one of these events is, “I wonder how well we could have done if we’d trained?” Training consisted of a few long rides but nothing over 50 miles (the longest Lisa had ever ridden before this ride). I did the Tour De Rock a few months back then did the course again with Lisa. A few weeks ago we did the 40 mile Lake Maumelle loop which is very hilly and we both felt pretty good on that ride. Lisa was a bit apprehensive about the 100 miles and felt that she might make the turn for the 75 mile ride. I agreed knowing that once she got there her competitive spirit would kick in.
The Big Dam Bridge 100 ride started at 7:30 am on Saturday. The weather was cool. We had some pasta the night before and a little wine (a glass of red wine is suppose to help with blood oxygen and who am I to argue). Some eggs and sausage for breakfast and we were off to the ride…..with 1500 other people. That’s a lot of bikes. Because the ride has a 12, 25, 50, 75 and 100 mile loops, it allows cyclists of all skill levels to join in the fun. One of the coolest things we saw was a tandem pulling a trailer with two kids. Behind the back seat of the second rider they had a DVD player set up to entertain the little ones. I have no idea how far they were going but they were working it.
Riding with that many other people is a little unnerving but we made it through the first part of the ride with no incidents that we could see. It was kind of cool having the streets pretty much to dedicated to cyclists. There was traffic control at every intersection and we cruised through the city. We came into Cook’s Landing in North Little Rock and the first aid station but we blew on through it. The ride through Maumelle was uneventful except for some of the cyclists spreading out into the other lane. This was a 4 lane highway and they were giving us our own lane for the ride yet some cyclists felt that they needed more than that and thus caused some traffic backups. These are the idiots that give cyclists a bad name. Anyway we came through the Maumelle aid station still feeling really good and blew by that one. This was also the turnaround for the 25 miler.
Lisa and I were riding together, taking turns pulling. I was feeling very comfortable and before long we were at the Mayflower aid station. They had a huge line at the port-a-potties and we had plenty of food and water still so we kept going. The ride was pleasant out west of Conway with rolling hills with a few that we really had to push on. We came into Conway making lots of turns on streets with no shoulders. Again the police were out in force helping riders get through the traffic. All of a sudden a guy on a recumbent bike who had just passed us slowed quickly and rode into the grass on the side. There was a tight group behind us and I heard someone go down. We kept moving as we could see plenty of people around to help out.
A few minutes later we came into Toad Suck Square in Conway. Man you’ve got to love the south! It was mile 39! Not too bad for no stops. I had a little to eat but Lisa was smart and ate more. Again there were long lines for the potties but we figured the route would take us over the interstate soon and there would be gas stations we could use so we were off again. Gas station stop in less then a mile. Joy!
The next aid station was in Stillo at mile 50. This would also be the turn for the 75 miler. We started slowing our pace some during this section. It was obvious we were going to be in a head wind for a good part of the rest of the day. Lisa had been doing a lot of the pulling for the two of us but she finally figured out how to get on to the back of a group ahead and hang on. She also found out that this is a good thing. We came into the aid station and refilled water bottles and ate a little. Lisa was not even considering the 75 miler we would be off for the 100! My legs were hurting in a way I’ve never felt before. Just overall soreness with a weird pain behind my left knee. I remember saying to Lisa that this was a hell of a way to start a 50 miler.
The next section felt like it went on forever. Lisa pulled a lot but I would still step it up on the hills. One particular hill put several people walking but we made it up. A lot of ups and downs for the next 5 miles just about finished me. We came into the next aid station at Fortson and all I wanted to do was lay down. My legs felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to them. We ate some and filled water bottles and then got going. Lisa, bless her heart, pulled for a long time. I could still push the hills as it feels better on my legs to spin faster on the hills so I would top out first and then Lisa would catch up and start pulling again. We came into Mayflower ready to get to the aid station, the one we had passed on earlier in the day, but I wanted a break so we pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store. We got some food and I downed a Gatorade in about two seconds. We saw some other riders go by so got moving again.
Since we stopped at the grocery store, we formulated a game plan of passing the Mayflower aid station and stopping at the Maumelle aid station. Then we would skip Cook’s Landing again and push for the finish. It was nice getting past the people who stopped in Mayflower and we were on our way. More ups and downs and finally we got into the Maumelle aid station. We go more food, more drink and got back on the bikes. Lisa kept leading and I was hurting too much to stop her. What a machine! Finally she turned to me and asked how I was feeling. It was kind of a comparative question. She was basically wanting to know how I felt compared to her. It was time for me to suck it up. I started to pull. We did pass a few riders which helps with the mental end of it. As we came into Cook’s Landing I realized that Lisa was really hurting now. I asked if she needed a break but she just mumbled something about the finish so we headed on.
We have ridden the North Little Rock trails hundreds of times. This time was the hardest. I knew every twist and turn we had left to go and knowing what lay ahead only made it worse. I rode ahead with Lisa behind me with a guy who had joined us. Talking to him helped take her mind off the pain. We have our own ways of dealing with fatigue and pain. I’m quiet, she’s not.
Finally, after 7 1/2 hours of riding we pulled across the finish next to each other. We got water and then started walking the 3 blocks to the car. No way were we getting back on those bikes.
Thanks to all the sponsors, the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock and Conway, DLTmultisport and Fred Phillips for putting this whole thing on. Special thanks to my wife for pushing me, pulling me and occasionally, dragging me.