Words by Scotti Lechuga, photos by Scotti Lechuga and Darryl Treat
We are Arkansas natives, and no strangers to the rugged beauty of cycling in our Natural State. The gravel roads of the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains provide endless exploration, and the Arkansas High Country Race Route connects many quiet backroads you’d never know were there. It’s a special route, traversing 80,000+ feet of climbing over the 1,020 mile course, with many of the mountains killing you softly with their 20% gradient pitches.
We completed the ARHC route in November of 2019 as a pair in 5 days, 18 hours, 24 minutes. This year, we wanted to challenge ourselves to take it on with a different mindset: Ride hard, but ENJOY more.
The prior year, we were continuously antsy with how slow our average speeds proved to be. When we saw a downhill on the course profile, our roadie brains calculated roadie speeds, but many of the downhills are chunky, washed out by rainwater, leaving exposed sharp rock and boulders. In our first year, we had no idea the terrain would gobble us up slowly over time, our peppy legs disintegrating into mush with the hundredth hilltop and many more on the horizon. We joked that even the downhills felt uphill.
Going in with that knowledge for 2020, we were at peace with our pace, and we didn’t let the slow speeds weigh us down. We were more patient, more relaxed, and definitely more aware of the beauty around us. It’s not just about breaking a record, but about choosing to enjoy every moment of the process. Even the achy butts and sore hands that show up after a few long days in the saddle.
We also chose slightly different gear that made for a better experience. We both increased our tire size. Ernie stayed on a gravel bike, but I transitioned to a flat bar rigid hardtail with easier climbing gears. Although advertised as 60/40 paved/gravel ratio, the gravel sections are so much slower that time on the pavement adds up to only 20% of the total ride time. That’s something we underestimated the first time around! After year one, we knew to prioritize comfort on the off-road segments, since that’s where we’d spend the majority of ride time.
We crossed the finish line this year inn 4 days, 22 hours, 5 minutes. It was 7:00 AM and the sun was rising over the Arkansas River just as we were counting down our last few miles. It was bittersweet to end such a long journey that had given us so much along the way. We were relieved to get off the bikes, but another part of us didn’t want to let go of that connected time with the great outdoors. Arkansas’ moody forests, misty mornings, and deep dark purple and pink sunsets lulled us once again into believing we’d traversed not only miles, but time. We’re so proud and grateful to have this route be a part of our back yard.
The Arkansaw High Country Race is scheduled to depart from Downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas at 7:30am on Saturday October 31st. You can follow the event along live here, once the race begins.. Full event details including rules and risk management, Covid-19 Safety Plan, and hotel and short-term parking information are available here.