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Jim is writing a blog about the events of the 2016 BRAA ride. I decided to write my first person account a few days after each of his accounts.
This BRAA ride was originally designed for the lower few counties of the state and was to include a trip out of the state into Louisiana for one night. Well, that did not happen due to flooding. Kenny Gober and I drove the entire route after I spent many hours scouring the maps for a route. Needless to say, I was disappointed, but the BRAA would still go on. And it did go on quite well.
When I arrived at our starting area at Heifer International in downtown Little Rock on Sunday, March 20, 2016 I found we had a total of 7 riders. At first I was again disappointed but soon got over that when I started assessing the riders. We had 7 guys that had good equipment, good bikes and were ready for an adventure. We had four men from Arkansas and three men from Illinois. Note I said men as ALL the women cancelled for a variety of reasons. My guess is that the weather and the 70 plus mile first day playEed a major part of the cancellations.
Of note: The three Illinois men included Rob Grinder who has ridden with us several times for which I am grateful. Then there was Rich Scott. Rich rode a few years ago and returned this year. Ken Exum round out the Illinois group. Ken is a very experienced tour rider. He and Rich have led several Adventure Cycling tour rides the past few years. So, in this group we have two professional tour leaders being led by myself and Jim Britt. We are a couple of rank amateurs and we are leading pros. How was this going to work out?
You get the setting, so it is time to actually ride and ride we did for over 70 miles and this day we rode with the wind at our backs for most of the day. However, as I said, this is a first person account, and I need to say I was not sure I would make it all the way. At about half the distance we stopped in Humnoke for lunch where I quickly devoured some pizza and tried to rest a little. I knew I was not doing well but did not know how bad it would be later.
As we rolled to the junction with Hwy 79 in Stuttgart I was really tired. My total miles of riding before this trip was the lowest in several years due to many reasons. This lack of training was telling. I remember falling back with one other rider. We were well behind the rest of the group. I would work up the energy for a few pedal stroke and then coast. I was struggling.
Somehow, and I am not sure how, I managed to join the group just before entering Clarendon. We were at the junction where either we cross the White River on the old bridge or go under or around a barrier and take the new bridge. As the traffic continued to flow past us I voted strongly to take the new bridge because the old bridge is very narrow. We did take the new bridge and was thankful we did.
We rolled through Clarendon and then out to the city RV park where we would camp for the night. Kenny and I had spent a couple nights in this RV park with out RVs during the summer. There were a couple portable toilets which would work for us.
Robert Carrol, Jim Britt, Kenny Gober, the three Illinois guys and I then rode the short distance into town to eat at a dairy bar. It was cold and we had to eat outside, but everyone was tired, so we ate out burgers and headed back to the park to settle into our tents for the night...............
The wind continued all night but we were down in a hole in the state park and somewhat sheltered. Once we got back to the highway to Marianna, it was somwhat windy and hilly in Crowley's Ridge but very scenic. Once we got back to the flat lands before Forrest City, the wind was very strong, going into a straight headwind of about 25 mph. The group split into 2 parts. A few went straight through from Forrest City to Marianna. The rest of us stopped to eat at a nice buffet place in F.C. I'm glad I did because there wasn't much in Marianna. Our group got back together and went into Mississippi River S.P. on the Mississippi River Road. We were able to get a developed group campsite in the main park, without going all the way around the lake to the primitive area. I think it was said the wind gusts were up to 40 mph. My tent blew nearly flat down to the ground and bent a pole. It seemed to be more stable once I got the weight of my gear in it. It was too windy and somewhat cold to cook in camp. Brad shuttled us back to town for a Mexican dinner. We were glad to have him along in the car but none of us ever needed to sag forward. A man at the restaurant said we could have camped at the Marianna airport and another man on the highway stopped to thank us for bicycling in Arkansas. That was very nice, having 3 out-of-staters with us. Actually, the traffic was overall very respectful of us and probably feeling sorry for us on this day, and the next 2.
We broke camp and regrouped at Bendi's for breakfast before leaving town. We headed to Brinkley. The police chief found us at the south end of town and gave us an escort through town. He told us there was a store in Hunter to the north, so we headed there for lunch. We had the best white bread sandwiches ever. I knew they would be good because they had a toothpick in the wrapping! They were glad we stopped, as were all the small stores we stopped at. From there, we went east to Village Creek S.P. with the entire route for the day being part of the Trail of Tears. The S.P. gave us 4 nice campsites. We weren't on the lake, but there was one,, and cabins but they were all reserved. This is the only night we cooked and ate in camp. Also the only night that we had a campfire. This day was about 62 miles with again mostly a nice tail wind but it was somewhat windy all night and still the next morning. Brad met us late that night in his car and took pictures along the way for the next several days.
Our group thinned out to 7 for the ride. We had to change the route at the last minute due to flooding in southern Ark. Thanks to Kenny and John for planning that route that we'll use another year. Our first day was our longest at 72 miles. I was probably our easiest due to mostly a tail wind all the way. The restaurant in Humnoke was closed but we knew that and had snacks and a rest at the store. The restaurant in Clarendon also closed for the day, being Sunday, before we arrived but the Lion's Den drive-in had burgers and such and ice cream. We camped at the city campground on the White RIver. A porta-potty was still there for the Trails Symposium that weekend.
Day 3: As we say, "the road will provide." A restaurant had opened back at the Hwy. so we met there for coffee and breakfast. Thanks to Kenny. This breakfast was great since there is no other place along the way. We took the usual 3 miles of well bladed dirt road to the Bear community and on to the dam and Mt. Pine. The Hot Springs Bike/Ped coordinator met us in town and took our picture and got the news published, which helps there advocacy efforts there. We were not hungry so we didn't have lunch and just disbanded and wet to our cars.
Day 2: Again, the weather was great. We climbed back to Hwy 298 and continued west to Story. It wasn't time for either breakfast or lunch so we went on the Mt. Ida after a break. Our normal restaurant in Mt. Ida was was in business since about 1950 something was closed so we ate at a drive-in diner. We broke into 2 groups for the ride to Crystal Springs but that was fine. The camp host let us camp on one site this time. I was the only one to ride back to Burl's BBQ at the Hwy. for dinner. It's nice to be inside for a while. The rib plate was great. We didn't bother with a campfire that night. It wasn't cold enough or enough wood right at camp.
Day 1: We left Hot Springs pretty much on time. There were some rangers doing a controlled burn as we went over Cedar Glades so we got a group picture. The ride to lunch was uneventful with the weather being nice. Cool but just right for riding. We got to the Home Plate a little earlier than usual so we were served right away and they were very friendly as usual. We ran into another controlled burn before we reached Irons Fork Campground. There was still fire across the lake inlet which made for a nice show at night. Plenty of driftwood and other wood was available for our camp fire after dinner. I think the lake had been much higher with so much driftwood. When I got up during the night, it was cool, but not cold. It was the best weather we've had for this ride.
We started out with 9 of us. Thanks to Jarion for the sag vehicle. We had a very cold start but we all feel good once we started and even over dressed on the climb to Prim for lunch. Crossing the Midway Bridge over the lake was very scenic. We picked up 2 more riders who had spent the night before at Mt. View and rode backwards to Prim. Well, one of them had a broken bike so we had another sag vehicle. We had 1 blowout on the way which bend the rim, but the rider found a flat rock and hammered it back in and it held with some tape for the rest of the ride. "The road will provide." Another couldn't shift into the lower gear which is not good on this hilly ride.
We got to the B & B from 3-3:30 pm. The rooms were very nice and several of them were suites with a sitting area. The breakfast was great too. We had dinner at the Rainbow Diner on the town square. It got down to about 22F overnight but very little wind and it was a tail wind and it started sunny. Only 3 riders braved riding back up the mountain and completing the entire return. Most of the riders did ride another portion and after lunch. Only 2 of us had done this ride before so we were glad to have some new people to experience this weekend with the club.
We had about 12 ABC members on the Bentonville to Fayetteville ride and almost all had their ABC jersey on, at least after it warmed up. The day was great and the shuttle option before or after the ride made it more convenient for many. Some of us rode both ways but we were a little late getting to the official start. We'll work on that next time. We were talking about staying overnight in Bentonville next time to see Crystal Bridges and take the trail to it. The trail system is beautiful and well worth the drive up there to ride it. There were not nearly as many side road crossings as I thought there would be. There are few services directly on the trail except downtwon F'ville and B'ville. The Kum and Go was on the trail was very popular. It was about 20 miles from Fayetteville. I was told that the next one of these will be May 14 from F'ville to B'ville.
This was a bit of an anti-climax day. The Saturday day riders had left with a few of the Friday riders, so we were down to 7 on the return. It was decided to leave after 6:00 am. I didn't want to get up so early but I knew that was best with the 100 degree day ahead. Even then, it was hot and especially humid getting the vehicle loaded. It was much better once we were on the road at 6:30. We had a tail wind for much of the return and we set a pretty fast pace but we stayed together. The restaurant in Humnoke was not yet open but it was too hot and still 25 miles to go to have more than a breakfast snack at the store there. We passed one local rider from Stuttgart who asked if we were the group from Clarendon, so the word got around somewhat which made me feel good.
Again, thanks to John and Susan Linck for the use of the support vehicle and Terry for driving. We couldn't have done it without carrying the extra ice water and the gear in the hot weather. Burton and Sarah Moore were great in offering the 2 furnished houses for our use. We'll have to tour their museum with antebellum furnishings next time. Mayor Jim and Phyllis Stinson in Clarendon were great hosts. We saw them off and on the whole time we were in Clarendon and Holly Grove. Clarendon Police were also great in getting us over the bridge. I think the Sheriff also had a vehicle there too. Also Police Chief Hollis Foster from Holly Grove was a great escort and friend and Mayor Lulu in Holly Grove and it seems the whole town, for turning out to greet us with cold drinks and hot dogs. The catfish lunch Saturday by Jim and Linda at East Lake was great and they and their son and daughter were also great hosts. The son drove us on their farm wagon on their gravel road from where we left our bicycles at the end of the payment. I think the folks in Madison County were very appreciative of us coming to publicize their bridge and we had a great time with them.
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