Challenges of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

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Being a race organizer is a tough thing; dealing with permitting, aid station logistics, publicity, sponsors and volunteers. This past weekend Sarah and Frank Webber pulled off all of that and a little extra…okay, a whole lot extra, with the Mountain View Epic. For their first time directing a large, regional event, they challenged themselves with holding a mountain bike race on one of the most notoriously tough trail systems in the state. For the past year, the Webbers have been working on getting the trails cleaned up along with the organization they helped found, Friends of Syllamo Trails (FOST). Working with volunteer groups from other parts of the state, International Mountain Bicycling Association staff, leadership in both Mountain View and Stone County, plus the US Forest Service, they whipped the trails into shape. Obviously, this was no small undertaking for a trail system that  suffered from neglect and bad weather luck in the past few years. From what I saw, the trail is back to its former glory as an IMBA Epic Trail.

Racers were reminded that this was a fundraiser for FOST with free cookies at check-in.
Racers were reminded that this was a fundraiser for FOST with free cookies at check-in.

Simply putting on a mountain bike race would not be enough. To differentiate this race from previous races on the Syllamo and to include the town of Mountain View, the race would start on the town square. Adding to the complexity, the Webbers opted for two races at the same time, a 60 miler, and a 100 miler. Using as little paved road as possible, Frank spent months figuring out gravel road access between the town and the trail system. The 60-mile race would be the final race of the Arkansas Mountain Bike Marathon Series, replacing Syllamo’s Revenge in that spot. The 100 mile would be offered for those who truly wanted to challenge themselves.

Friday registration and check in on the square.
Friday registration and check in on the square.

Another task for the race organizers would be getting the city involved. Mountain View is a small, rural town, famous for its music and craft heritage. If the weather is good you’ll often find local musicians who might be a local restaurant employee, school teacher, city council member or student, playing in the evening on or near the town square. It seems everyone in Mountain View plays an instrument, and most do it well. Locals are continuing the tradition of their Ozark heritage with crafts like broom and soap making, weaving, spinning and pottery. Not as many are actively involved in mountain biking, but they welcome cyclists to town. The citizens of Mountain View were ready to step in to help, but many were unfamiliar with managing an aid station at an endurance race. The organizers had to do some training. The town was also physically transformed by the race. One street on the square would be closed all day to make room for the finish line, inflatable bouncy houses for the kids, musicians and a grill for post race food.

Sarah Webber juggling registration, check-in, participant questions, media silliness (me) and still finding time to visit.
Sarah Webber juggling registration, check-in, participant questions, media silliness (me) and still finding time to visit.

The Ozark Country Inn Bed & Breakfast was rented for race staff and out of town volunteers. This was an excellent choice of accommodations that I had the pleasure to enjoy. The rooms were well kept with great amenities and private bathrooms. The breakfast was first class country fare, but the most outstanding aspect of my stay was the overall hospitality of the innkeepers. For the two nights I was there, I wanted for nothing. It’s perfectly located only a block from the town square, the center of local activity.

A nice evening to spend on the porch at Ozark Country Inn.
A nice evening to spend on the porch at Ozark Country Inn.

Weather provided yet another challenge for the organizers; the rains came as night fell before the race. Heavy rains caused swollen creeks and rivers which meant last minute course reroutes for Frank and his volunteers. Most of the work was done on dirt and gravel roads where, on top of rerouting the night before the race, the crew had to dig out a stuck vehicle. The realization that the rain might keep some competitors away, and possibly some volunteers, weighed heavily. It was a late night that would lead to a very early race morning for the organizers.

The Community Bicyclist
Just some of the breakfast offerings. What a way to start the day.
Just some of the breakfast offerings. What a way to start the day.

A little after 4 am, I heard people moving around the bed and breakfast, getting ready for the 7 am start time. By the time I drug myself from my comfortable bed at 5:30, Frank and Sarah were long gone. After a breakfast fit for a king, I headed out to the square in time for the 6:45 instructions. It was go time on the big day.

(Part 2 – The Race)

Shift Modern Cyclery - Be Ready To Ride.
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