SPECIAL TO THE PULSE
BY SUE HAWKINS –
This will be the 14th year that the bicycling tour and race will be put on by the Ouachita Cycling Club. On April 5th, the 60-mile Tour will start from the Oden School campus. The riders will head towards the Ouachita Trail and do a mixture of single-track trail and road leading to the Womble Trail, which loops back towards the school where the riders will finish.
The Race on April 6th, is 60 miles as well, but instead of going around Blowout Mountain on the Ouachita Trail, it goes over it. Here the steep, rugged terrain and long rocky sections has most riders getting off to push their bikes, at least some of the time. The fastest winning time last year was 4 hours and 40 minutes. Most riders take 6 to 8 hours and some much longer than that! Winners in 4 categories get a cash prize and a trophy made locally from crystals mined at Wegner’s.
The weekend draws more than 500 cyclists and their families for the event and most of them are from out of state. This year’s registration shows riders from 13 states. They come back for pre-rides and vacations. Many seek lodging and restaurant services in Mena.
In order to put on a mountain bicycle event of this magnitude many volunteers are needed. On Saturday the bicyclists and their families and the volunteers are treated to a pancake breakfast and spaghetti dinner. On Sunday they have breakfast as well as post-race pizza. Polk County Development Center is in charge of coordinating all the food.
When the cyclists arrive at the school they head for the Registration area to get their race numbers, t-shirts, cycling socks and goody bags. CASA is in charge of organizing all of this.
To ensure the safety of the riders we have radio operators from the Ouachita Amateur Radio Club. First Responders and Volunteer Fire Departments in the area facilitate communication and emergency medical help, should it be needed.
The Tour is a more relaxed version of the race. The objective for most of the entrants is to see how much distance they can complete before a given cut-off time. As the cyclists pass through checkpoints on the course they receive colored wristbands. The Mt. Ida Trap Shoot team is in charge of checking each rider and counting the wristbands. On race day they separate the finishers from the riders who had to bail out.
We couldn’t have a race without a course. The Ouachita Mountains offer some of the best mountain bike single-track trails in the country. In fact, the Womble Trail near Pencil Bluff has earned Epic status by the International Mountain Bike Association.
Trails have to be maintained, especially after ice storms! The Ouachitas were badly hit in December and miles of trail were littered with fallen timber. FoOT (Friends of the Ouachita Trail) volunteers who were certified by the Forest Service as sawyers spent several days cutting and removing fallen branches and trees.
FoOT volunteers also serve as Course Marshals, directing riders and making sure that they stop for vehicular traffic on the highways. Five Aid Stations offering water, energy drinks, and snacks are manned by FoOT Volunteers.
We are very fortunate to have Oden Schools allow us to use their facilities. Riders eat in the cafeteria, being served meals prepared by the staff who put in many hours of overtime. Indoor camping is permitted in the gym. Students greet visitors and answer their questions.
The Ouachita Challenge is special for many reasons. For the cyclists, it is an early race in their season that allows them to hone their skills. Since all profits from the Tour and Race go to the community organizations and the school, it is a welcome source of revenue. Please make all of our visitors feel at home and say, “Y’all come back!”