When you head due west out of Little Rock, things get pretty rugged, pretty fast. The first signs are the rock outcrops visible on Pinnacle Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge. Once you get past Lake Maumelle and near the highway 10/highway 9 intersection at Williams Corner, you find yourself in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains.
Camp Ouachita, near Lake Sylvia, is a popular staging area for adventures into the mountainous wilderness of the eastern Ouachita Mountains. Big running events like the Full Moon Run and the Traveller 100 are staged here. This year the Slobberknocker Mountain Bike Race found its way back to this beautiful forest service area with its lodge and cabins.
For the past several years, the Slobberknocker has been staged out of the town of Perryville to the north and involved a long road ride to get into the gravel section. This year race organizers pulled the event from the AMBCS marathon series and got back to basics, gravel grinding with friends. Without the added costs of timing and series accreditation, the CARVE mountain bike team was able to use the event as a final fundraiser for the Laura Wooldridge Memorial Fund , in support of a memorial on the Pfeifer Loop trail system in North Little Rock and to encourage women to ride bikes.
The event was broken up into two rides, the 55 mile race and the 35 mile tour. In a rare moment of lucidity, I chose the tour. Conditions were perfect for the event this year with start temps in the 50’s and finish temperatures in the 70’s. Bright and sunny with light wind plus good tacky roads had all the riders happy.
The 55 mile race started first, the largest of the two groups, with riders on mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, a tandem and one poor soul on a road bike. There was every kind of gearing combination one could imagine. We once did an article on the bike tech that shows up at this race. The smaller tour group left next with me hanging toward the back not wanting to blow myself up on the first hill. I know enough to know that even in the tour, the front group would push it.
The first hill starts where the pavement stops and goes on for about 3 miles of gradual climbing. Nothing too hard unless you’ve decided to sprint up it. I did not, but I did ride my pace which put me somewhere in the middle of the group. Once at the top we passed the trailhead for the Wildcat Mountain trail system and then it was downhill for a couple of miles.
Coming out on the Lake Winona Road we started heading west climbing up around the Lake Winona day use area where the annual Catsmacker Fun Run is staged. Soon we were riding the rolling hills around the north side of the lake eventually moving past it before a turn to the right.
And up the hill we went. Bruce Alt had caught up to me at this point and was kind enough to hang with me the rest of the day. The climb out of the Lake Winona area was the crux of the day for me. We had two-way traffic during this climb as the 55 mile group had made their climb to the ridge earlier and were now making their way back down. For them, it was a relatively smooth, fast section. For those of us climbing, we were stuck on the right side of the road which was a bit rutted. It was a 2.5 mph track stand for a few miles. False tops, cat head sized rocks and cramping legs were our companions.
Finally, the aid station. We arrived at the aid station near mile 19 and were soon caught by a couple of triathletes and the Ladies of Carve, Tabitha and Jennifer. After a bit of refreshment and a few photo ops from the Lake Winona Overlook, we were all back on our way. As I always do on long rides, I started doing the math. We had three climbs left before we would get to Flatside Pinnacle and had nothing but downhill left.
Back and forth now with the women and the triathletes, Bruce and I slowly made our way to Flatside and upon arriving stopped for more selfies. And then the CARVE Ladies went by. We mounted up and started on our way. We had about 10 miles of down in front of us, steep at first and then more gradual. We were moving along at a respectable 20 mph on the gradual part when Robert Mooney went flying by us. We were back on course with the racers and they started coming through. We caught Tabitha and Jennifer and pushed on. I stood up to take a short hill and suddenly my legs yelped. Not full on cramping yet, but they let me know to take it easier.
We popped out on the road feeling like we were done. Bruce didn’t realize we had a road hill to go before the finish. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, he’d see it soon enough. We pushed our way through, getting passed by a couple more racers and finally rolled into Camp Ouachita and the promise of beer and grilled meat. 35 miles with about 3500 feet of climbing. Not bad, my longest ride so far this year had been about 30 miles on flat pavement. As always, the best part is hanging out with everyone at the finish, swapping stories and telling lies.