I’ve always been adventuresome in spirit but rarely acted on it except in spurts. As a young boy I think I had the typical fantasies ranging from being a swash-buckling pirate to a “spaceman” (yes, that was before the term “astronaut” was coined), to a fireman and so on. Having originally been an electrical engineering major in college and later getting my degree in accounting, I was immersed in the more “stoic” part of our population.
Times gradually bent me toward outdoor interests more and more. While in the Navy another young officer and I took USO-supplied bicycles (3-speed touring bikes with fat tires) from Sasebo, Japan to the resort city of Karatsu. Upon embarking, we had no clue that there were seven mountains in between! Adventure met ability head-on that day, but that’s another story in itself.
The years from then to the current period have seen backpacking, running, motorcycle enduros, water and snow-skiing, instrument flying, long-distance motorcycle touring and camping, kayaking and more.
Having recently gotten serious about running and recently rediscovering the joy of cycling, it seemed an obvious transition to get my mountain bike (a classic, Trek 850 Antelope) fixed up and so when I headed to Arkansas to the Ouachita Mountains, taking the mountain bike was a no-brainer. After a brief warm-up the day before, Bill and I set out to explore the Lake Ouachita Vistas Trail which follows the shoreline of Lake Ouachita in Southwestern Arkansas, and promised not only a great outdoors experience but a “doable” mountain bike experience for a couple of novices.
The overview chart shows Denby Bay (trailhead P1B) to Tompkins Bend (trailhead P3) to be a mere 5 miles. Why we had ridden 4 miles just the day before so we would no doubt simply ride that portion, then on around the loop, meandering at will, for as many miles as we felt like. Cooler and more cautious heads did prevail and we dropped a car at the Homestead trailhead as a midpoint location which would be handy AFTER the extended loop we planned.
The trail started off with a gradual climb from the cove of Lake Ouachita and was quickly enveloped in a lush forest of pines and hardwoods. The trail was generally smooth with a few small rocks peeking above the leafy floor of the forest. There was little underbrush that might otherwise have been grazing our legs.
There were some nice vistas like this point overlooking the lake. There were several of these side trails that take the rider out near the lake. Lake Ouachita is quite large with a shoreline covered in the green of the forest, yielding only slightly to give a beach shoreline.
Then the trail began to dip a bit and then some gentle climbs appeared. This is great, I thought, and just knew Bill too was feeling like the 5 miles to Tompkins Bend would be largely uneventful. Suddenly, without much time to think about it we were plunged into a gulley and pedaling up the other side I was surprised by how much effort it required. Oh, right, gears. Wrong gear. OK, next one would be a piece of cake. Down another — this time more of a ravine — with some speed and momentum to carry me at least part way up the other side. Pedaling again now, rapidly. Quite rapidly. Nothing happening as I’m too fast for the granny gear into which I had shifted. But not to worry as the momentum died off and my speed dropped, now my pedaling was very much needed — and moderately effective. Up the hill and back on more level terrain I was sure that I had now conquered mountain-biking (MTB). At least MTB101.
As the morning progressed we discovered faster downhill runs that were frankly a little scary and led me to test out the brakes. Now I know why the modern MTBs have disc brakes! The little calipers squeezing the wheel rim work, sort of. And just as Newton’s Second Law says that what goes up must come down, we now have Bill’s First Law is that what goes down has to get back up again. Indeed it does!
There were downhills requiring a slight dodging of trees. There were bridges to cross some of the creeks — bridges about 6 inches wide! Well, they were about 3 feet wide but seemed unnecessarily narrow. Then there were the climbs that began (often immediately beyond one of those skinny bridges) with a quick 90 degree turn and loose rock coming up the hill. “Walk the bike” became a necessity in some spots when either the energy just wasn’t there, or traction was lost with a spinning rear wheel. It seems that technique is important as well as brute force.
It was becoming quite an adventure and we were doing our best to match some ability to it. Now keep in mind that I’ve been able to do 4 mile runs and just last weekend rode the Peugeot for 32 miles. For a 66 year old dude I think I’ve gotten into pretty darn good shape. But these ravines were beginning to look like the Grand Canyon and the climbs out of them were running my heart rate up to 155 or so. And I was getting winded. Really winded.
This trail was built with a lot of volunteer labor and donations for, among other things, benches placed strategically along the path. It was amazing to me how those folks whom I don’t even know had divined the exact spots where the choice was between sitting down or falling down! Truly amazing. We would rest a bit, sip some water, and strike out again.
I was getting discouraged with the slow progress we were making because the GPS on the handlebar kept reminding me of where we were, and were not. It was becoming indelibly clear that a 10 mile ride would not happen today. At some point, without even discussing it Bill and I formulated different plans for the vehicle parked at the Homestead trailhead.
It would not be the end-point after the extended loop but would be the “save us from our folly” rescue point.
Adventure had met ability, and adventure won!
It was, nevertheless, a good adventure and an instructive one. I now knew, just as I had learned that bicycling muscle groups were somewhat different from running muscle groups, that mountain-biking called on some yet additional parts of the body. We had made about 3 miles of the planned minimum of 5, and have vowed to learn how to do this better. One day, ability will yet overcome the adventure!
(as of the initial writing, there are photos and a video on Bill’s camera not yet available to me and this article will be updated later)