Ashley Carelock’s 2020 Arkansas High Country Race

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Hosted by the city of Fayetteville, the 2020 Arkansas High Country Race brought in 20 riders, had a 65% scratch rate, and several new course records were set. We reached out to Ashley Carelock, the first and only woman to complete the 1,000-mile route during the event, to hear more about her experience. Find her story and photos by Kai Caddy here…

The 2020 Arkansas High Country Race is a self-supported 1,017-mile event following the perimeter of the Arkansas High Country Route that Adventure Cycling Association published in 2019. The route connects several of the state’s natural divisions in Central and Northwest Arkansas through a series of three gravel and paved road loops, starting from Fayetteville’s historic Downtown Square.

  • Ted King Arkansas High Country 2020
  • Ted King Arkansas High Country 2020
2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap

This year’s grand depart brought in cyclists from 10 states, all looking to experience Arkansas’s most scenic backcountry roads, through the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, along the Buffalo National River, and across the Arkansas River Valley. Riders had the choice to race the course in either direction, setting up for dramatic finishes as racers pedaled back to Fayetteville, resulting in several riders finishing within an hour of each other.

Several new records were set this year, including Ted King’s Solo Male FKT (Fastest Known Time), with a time of 4 days, 20 hours, 51 minutes—besting both Jay Petervary’s and Ernie and Scotti Lechuga’s impressive finish times. Chasing the Women’s Solo Record, first set by Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee Rebecca Rusch, Ashley Carelock was the first and only woman to complete this year’s race. Carelock set a new Solo Women’s FKT at 7 days and 9 hours. Carelock battled nausea and mechanicals to cross the finish line in record time, and in second place overall.

Ashley put together a reflection from her ride for us, which we’ve included alongside photos from event photographer, Kai Caddy. Check it all out below.

2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap

Words by Ashley Carelock (@AshCarelock), photos by Kai Caddy (@KaiCaddy)

A few months ago, I found myself pining and searching furiously for another ultra-endurance race. When I stumbled upon the Arkansas High Country Race through BIKEPACKING.com, I immediately wanted to give it a try. I expected it to be a lot like my last race, Across Andes, but not anything near like my first ultra, the Colorado Trail.

Winding around the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, the route is about 1,020 miles on roughly 50/50 gravel to pavement, logging 80,000 feet of climbing. I expected the route to test me. How could it not, with stats like that? What I got was far greater than a test. Expectations can be dangerous. Finding out that something is different than what was anticipated can be devastating. Alternatively, when expectations are exceeded, the fondest memories of our lives can be formed.

  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap

The beauty of this corner of Arkansas is breathtaking. The rolling hills and epic ridge lines on the course made my race difficult, but the phenomenal views were my reward. The oak-hickory hardwood forests were in full fall colors; the sun illuminating them with the warm glow of a campfire. The fallen leaves of these beautiful trees were a substitute at night for the sleeping pad I didn’t bring. Springs are abundant this time of year, and I took advantage of their water and their soothing sound; I camped by a few during my short sleeping sessions. The sound helped calm my race jitters with the availability of the water being an added bonus. I was surprised at how much I needed to rely on these streams for my water over the course of the race. I found myself filtering water over 60 percent of the time.

2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap

I knew the climbing would be tough. Each hill, little or small, slowly wore me and my fellow racers down. There are few breaks between each hill, little time for the legs to recover before the next one is staring you in the face. I quickly learned that momentum was my friend. When my front brake went out at around mile 350-400, I couldn’t help laughing at my thought, “Well, at least you’ll have more momentum to roll up the next hill if you brake less!”

  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap

Not only was the terrain challenging, but the route is also more remote than I expected. There were long stretches of no civilization, no food stores, just wild Ozark forest. Many of the small towns lacked stores, and I quickly learned to carry more food than I thought I needed. It could be over 150 miles to the next food supply. The lack of supplies was contrasted by the warm hospitality of the locals. The warmth and openness of the people encountered on the course was a consistent counterpoint to the consistent brutality of the terrain.

2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap
  • 2020 Arkansas High Country Race Recap

The Arkansas High Country Race exceeded my expectations in nearly every way. It is one of the toughest races I have done to date, but also one of the most beautiful. My fondness for the state and its people is now sealed in my heart; I will definitely return one day.

Arkansas High Country Race Records

  • Women’s Solo: Ashley Carelock (7 days, 9 hours)
  • Men’s Solo: Ted King (4 days, 20 hours, 51 minutes)
  • Singlepseed Solo: Seth Wood (7 days, 12 hours, 18 minutes)

Congrats to everyone who participated at this year’s Arkansas High Country Race. It was a lot of fun to follow along online. The 2021 Arkansas High Country Race is already planned for next fall, but until then, you can check out a smaller version of the route here.

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