Thursday, April 21, 2016

All But CARP or How I Turned 44 years old

Every once in a blue supermoon, I get an idea in my head to do some unique, crazy-ass bicycle ride that's never been done before.  3 years ago (the date of the last blue supermoon), I did 110 Miles of Nowhere at Burns Park in North Little Rock (100 laps of the modified Ronde van Burns criterium circuit).  There's been discussions of doing 100 Miles of Pfiefer Loop or 12 hours of Jackfork or some similar insanity.  Back in August, there was an organized ride out at the Central Arkansas Recreational Peddlers (CARP) trails at Camp Robinson called All-A-CARP in which the organizers provided the support to ride all the mountain bike trails at Camp.  

One thing that we're dearly lacking in Central Arkansas is organized mountain bike rides and events.  Usually, the only mountain bike events you have in this part of the state are mountain bike races that are part of the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series (AMBCS).  With the success of All-A-CARP which drew over a hundred mountain bikers, we need more events like that to cater to the casual and non-competitive mountain biker.  

Joe Jacobs and I discussed earlier this summer about doing a mountain bike ride/event called All-BUT-CARP, essentially riding all the mountain bike trails in Little Rock and North Little Rock with exception to the Camp Robinson trails.  Not only would cyclists get to ride a piece of every mountain bike trail, they would ride their mountain bikes from one trail system to the next via the Arkansas River Trail and city streets.  In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I grew up, they have an annual MoCo Epic where they can mountain bike up through 11 different parks in the county.  This would be Central Arkansas' version of that particular epic ride.  

But before we could try to organize it as an official event with sponsors and support, we decided that we had to do it first ourselves as a dress rehearsal just to see if it was even possible.  Because our schedules never quite synced up, the summer came and went and the idea sat on our proverbial idea shelf gathering dust.  

Enter my birthday weekend the first week of September when I would be turning 44.  I decided that I would do All-BUT-CARP for my birthday ride, shooting to ride parts of all the trails and to finish with a total of 44 miles.  A couple of weeks before that, I quickly pulled up my previous rides on Strava, started a spreadsheet, and carefully estimated the distances involved.  My thought process involved cutting trails out, deciding which ones to do (based on difficulty and time), and soon I had a rough estimate of what it would take.  I developed an itinerary of times, based on how long I thought it would take to ride each trail, and factored in some extra time for unexpected issues.  Because it was also a celebratory birthday ride, I added in two stops for food/drinks at Pinnacle Valley Restaurant and Diamond Bear Brewery and Ale House.  

I figured not everyone would want to do the entire ride, so my plan also allowed for people to join and drop along the route.  As the plan got fleshed out, I created a Facebook event page and sent out invites.  The day of the event, I would update the invitees on the Facebook page where we were so people could join us along the way if they wanted to.  

Starting group
The only difficulty with a route that starts at one location and ends at another is that you have to factor in shuttling, that is, to get riders to the start while leaving vehicles at the finish.  That ended up not being a huge problem because Mat from Spokes Little Rock was generous enough to let me borrow the Spokes van to shuttle people from Boyle Park up to Jackfork for the start.  

I ended up meeting two of my good friends at Boyle Park to shuttle to the start.  I had a couple of other probables who never showed, but in hindsight, probably was for the best.  Little did I know that the day's temperatures would rocket up into the 90s, making it an even more challenging, brutal ride.  I arrived at the Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor Center at my pre-planned time and got ready for a 9:30am start.  I was eventually joined by another small handful of friends and teammates, making our starting number 7 strong.  I deliberately planned to ride Jackfork first because of the sheer difficulty of the trail.  My only decision was which direction to ride the main loop in?  I ended up choosing to ride in in a clockwise direction, but in hindsight, that was probably the wrong choice.  I felt like that direction is harder at first, but easier to end on.  Others disagreed.  We at least got a warm up in on Rabbit Ridge Trail, the easier, beginner trail immediately adjacent to the Jackfork.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time so far.  We tackled Jackfork as best we could, stopping to re-group at times, and stopping for short breaks.  Halfway into the trail and I was already drenched in sweat as the temperatures pushed the mid 80s.  As much as I love the trail, the challenge, and the technical aspects, that was not the case with most of my compatriots.  There was much grumbling and bellyaching.  It truly is a love/hate trail.  You either love it or hate it, and those of us who love it are in the minority.  We managed to complete the trail in about the amount of time I had estimated so we hit the pavement for the easier, faster-paced ride to Pinnacle Valley Restaurant, our next stop.  

I was ready to get the show on the road and took off at a pretty fast pace.  It wasn't until we had cleared the two short pavement climbs and descended the other side that I noticed I had left half the group behind.  Didn't they know I had a timetable to keep?  I slowed up to wait for everyone to catch up and we rode as a group to the restaurant.  The temperatures continued to climb slowly and the patio was in the sun, so we opted for the cooler air-conditioned indoors.  Not having much time, we got drinks and appetizers.  Oh, and milkshakes.  It was my birthday ride so I was going to drink a milkshake, and drink it all up.  However, in hindsight, riding in high temps and humidity, a beer, milkshake, and cheese dip was probably NOT the brunch of champions.  I was definitely surprised that I didn't heave that nasty concoction in my stomach up all over the pavement at some point, but I'm not about to eat that combination again any time soon.  In the short time we were there, we were greeted by the Ladies of CARVE (LoC) who were out on a training ride themselves, and several of my friends from the Little Rock Hash House Harriers who were out on a rare bike ride.  They all thought I was crazy and wished us luck the rest of the day.  By the time we left, it was almost noon and we had only covered a quarter of the distance.  Time to get a move on.  

After gaining a friend who was going to join us for a short portion of the ride and saying goodbye to a couple of my friends who had started with us (who had other plans the rest of the day, and maybe weren't quite as disturbed in the head as the rest of us), we made our way to Two Rivers Park, the Big Dam Bridge, and Pfiefer Loop.  We rode briefly with the LoC but soon left them behind as they were just cruising at an easy pace while we had some ground to cover.  Reaching Pfiefer Loop, we gained yet another one of my friends, Dena Woerner, the only female bad-ass enough to suffer the rest of the day with me.  Pfiefer Loop was nice as it got us out of the direct sun.  And I was excited to ride it for the first time since it had been flooded.  

My one mishap and almost potential ride-ending incident occurred at the sandpit on the southeast side.  While only moderately annoying before, it was now a full-fledged beach with sand strewn as far as the eye can see, well, nearly.  I managed to get my wheel turned sideways somehow and crashed ungracefully into the soft sand.  To make matters worse, my friend Nate was right on my wheel as I went down so he had no choice but to practically run over me.  Thankfully we had a soft landing but I did draw blood as his bike sandwiched my leg between my bike and the ground.  But it was only a flesh wound and I was not even close to being mostly dead so I just rubbed some spit on it and kept going.  

Our next stop would be Burns Park and I had picked a route that included a good portion of the trails out there (namely the Green and Red Trails).  We were down to just James, Dena, Vinny, Nate, and myself at this point.  And the heat and humidity was quickly taking a toll.  I was starting to have doubts whether I could even finish the ride, and was starting to feel fatigued.  I ended up riding my pre-planned route with James, although at times barely moving at all, while the others did shortened versions of the route.  Poor Vinny, who was on a borrowed bike (which he previously owned) which he felt really uncomfortable on, so he bailed and said for us to meet him at the skatepark where he would take a long break.  We ended up meeting back up with Nate and Dena by the quarry/golf course and we decided that we needed to find water STAT.  We were all overheating by this point and needed to cool down.  We remembered the restrooms at White Oak Bayou which were just down the hill so we went on the search for water there.  James didn't even stop as he screamed by Dena and Nate yelling something unintelligible about bathrooms as he sped by.  Nate informed us he would be leaving us at this point and wished us the best of luck.  I told him I didn't envy the fact that he still had Overlook to ride up to get home (but later found out he called for a SAG vehicle, namely his wife, to pick him up at the bottom of the hill).  

While there was water at the restroom, it wasn't nearly cold enough so I went to check out the river to see if it was any cooler.  I was fully ready to take a quick swim/dip but the water in the river was just barely above lukewarm.  No dice.  It was then James spied a spigot by one of the pavilions.  We prayed that it worked.  Not only did it work, but it was pouring out sweet, cold relief.  That was our saving grace for the day, I determined.  I doused my head and upper body under the clear, flowing manna for a good minute or two.  I can't even describe how refreshing it felt and how much it reinvigorating it was.  We had the last difficult climb ahead of us, namely Emerald Park, and we needed every ounce of energy we possessed.  Finally cooled down and somewhat rested from our short break, we set off to summit Emerald Park.  
Sweet cold relief!!
Resting atop Emerald Park

James felt slightly stronger so he took off ahead of us while I spun easy with Dena on my wheel.  Having my friends there as support, I wasn't about to let them down so as long as Dena kept riding, I wasn't going to stop either.  I think she was thinking the same thing.  Powered by each other's determination not to stop, we made it to the top in probably my slowest time ever, but we still made it.  We reached the top to find James slumped over his handlebars as he tried to recover from his effort.  We took quite a longer break than I planned at this point, but we all needed a little extra recovery time.  We lay on the shaded asphalt while trying to take selfies of us without looking completely hideous.  I now felt we could finish the ride, it was just a matter of how long it would take us.  

After being able to breathe again, we all remounted our rides and rode the paved trail adjacent to Fort Roots to take us down to the skate park where Vinny should be waiting for us.  Dena and I stopped for photos along the way and lost James and then took the road down.  We ended up meeting James and Vinny at the skate park where we found Vinny in good spirits.  We apologized for taking so long and having him wait so long for us.  He said he was able to grab a nap and it wasn't a problem.  James was pretty exhausted by this point and both he & Vinny decided they would ride as far as Diamond Bear with us (our next stop) but they would be calling it quits.  

With more indoor air conditioning beckoning, we made our way to Diamond Bear.  We tried a paceline as best we could, trying to help each other out in the hot, blazing sun.  Yeah, this was a brutal, brutal ride, no matter how you looked at it.  As I had a first date later that evening, I was sort of on a timeline now too, and I struggled with trying to finish in time, trying to ride the requisite distance, and riding the requisite trails.  I figured if we left Diamond Bear by 3:30pm, that would give us 2 hours to ride to Allsopp, ride a very shortened version of Allsopp and then to Boyle Park.  At this point, I really didn't care about the final mileage anymore than just being able to finish.  No one was going to say boo about not hitting every single goal that day considering the conditions and what we attempted.  We spent almost a good hour at Diamond Bear cooling off and re-fueling.  Vinny & James wished us luck and we told them we would call them when we left Allsopp so they could meet us at Boyle to pick me up & take me back to get the Spokes van.  

I was certainly glad Dena was still with me and kept me company during the final stages of my ride.  I couldn't have done this without the support of my amazing, wonderful friends.  We weren't going fast any longer but we made sure we kept moving.  As we made our way to Allsopp, I was trying to figure out the best route for us through the park considering she had never ridden there before.  It's not an easy trail by any stretch of the imagination and we were going to have to do some decent climbing to get to where we were going.  I ended up choosing the more-technical but less steep climb, and warned Dena was to expect.  She toughed it out like the badass that she is and we made it through Allsopp unscathed.  

Based on a recommendation from another friend, we hit Kavanaugh and then west on H Street to N Hughes which would take us directly into the backside of Boyle Park.  Those roads weren't without their share of hills but we powered through slow and steady like we did the rest of the day.  We did a quick loop of the northwest trail and that met my goal of riding a portion of every mountain bike trail in the Little Rock/North Little Rock metro area.  We made our way down to the parking lot to wait for our friends and I checked my Garmin.  It read 41.9 miles.  So close.  Well, I didn't really know how long it was going to take my friends to get there so I decided to make the best of it while waiting for them.  I would turn the pedals over as fast as I could and maybe I could still hit 44 miles before they got there.  

Turtle savior!
My legs were pretty cooked by this point so it was a real struggle to ride with any decent speed.  I made out and backs from the parking lot, I did small little loops, I do-si-do'ed with Dena and I allemanded left and right.  My friends arrived shortly thereafter and I checked my Garmin again.  42.9 miles.  Damn, I was THAT close.  Oh well.  I didn't have time to do another mile so I chalked it up to being "close enough".  I very well couldn't keep my date waiting.  It wasn't until later when I uploaded my Garmin data that it had corrected the distance to 43.6 miles.  So I ended up officially being 0.4 miles short.  Now THAT I probably could have done in the parking lot.  

Last two standing!!
So with the support and company of some amazing, wonderful and loving friends, I rode ~44 miles on my mountain bike to celebrate my 44th bday. Huge thanks and appreciation from the bottom of my heart to Vinny FergusonJames MorganDena Witt WoernerNate SiriaRick HoytAaron RobertsNick Volgas, and Mike Simmons for coming out and riding with me. I couldn't have done it without you. The unique thing about this ride was that we rode to and portions of all 7 mountain bike trails in Little Rock and North Little Rock (Rabbit Ridge, Jackfork, Pfiefer Loop, Burns Park, Emerald Park, Allsopp Park, Boyle Park) with exception to Camp Robinson. I don't think this has ever been done before?  Thinking about making this a cycling event in the future for everyone so it was a good recon/dress rehearsal. Took 8 hrs 10 minutes with stops at Pinnacle Valley Restaurant and Diamond Bear Brewing Company. It was not an easy ride to begin with and made all the more challenging in some pretty intense heat (97 deg!!?!).