Friday, October 26, 2018

The Best Little Ride In The Ozarks: Pedestal Rocks Road Ride and Lick Fork Gravel Grind

Saturday, October 20

What began a few years ago as the Pedestal Rocks 40 road ride from Witts Springs to Pedestal Rocks has expanded and evolved to include multiple road distances and several challenging gravel routes. Starting last Friday afternoon, riders from around the region gathered at the Witts Springs Community Center to pick up packets or register for this unique cycling experience. 
At 9:00 Saturday morning, all riders shared the same start at the Witts Springs Fire Department, with road riders turning right and gravel riders turning left at the intersection with Highway 16 a few yards away. It was apparent at the split that the gravel ride has outgrown the road aspect of the event. Even though last year's ride was held in a foggy drizzle there seemed to have been more road riders then.

Saturday was perfect for a ride, with many of us scurrying back and forth from the start to dump unneeded layers as the sun warmed things up from the morning chill. 

 Riders gather under blue skies for the start at the Witts Springs Fire Department.
Gravel and road riders all roll out together. The vibe is mellow so the groups sort themselves out easily. 

I'll state right here that I chose the 40-mile road ride which, even with its 3600 feet of climbing is one of the easier options available. I'm a roadie at heart and this little-traveled stretch of Highway 16 is a fine place to ride in the fall. 
There were relatively few of us and there were no really large groups, so I was happy just rolling along at my own pace, stopping from time to time to get a photo. Though there were no road closures or traffic control, I was probably passed by no more than a dozen cars and a couple of small packs of motorcyclists over the course of forty miles. Some of the road riders elected to ride the 50 or 68 mile course, further thinning out the riders along the road. 
 The open road was almost all ours.
 There was virtually no traffic on the Hwy 16. The only time I was startled was when a couple of tandems blew past me on a downhill. 

The gravel (respectfully poached from Missy Vail's Facebook post). 

I can’t speak directly to the gravel experience but it gets 100% positive feedback from every rider that I heard from. It’s not easy—the popular 40 mile option has about 4600’ for climbing, while the 68 miler has a whopping 7400 feet—but the scenery is remarkable and the support is outstanding.  It seems that the entire Searcy County community turns out to play some role, whether that means making food for the rest stops and post-ride potluck or running the roads in pickups and ATVs in support of the riders. 

Friday Rain

Rain all day on Friday may have put a damper on the plans of some riders who had planned to camp overnight, but our hosts make it easy for everyone to sleep in the dry. The community center was open to those who wanted warmth and a roof overhead.

 The weather for my drive up on Friday was less than ideal, but the Ozarks' beauty comes through in all conditions.

 I chose my usual GMC Portable Ghetto mode of camping and I was quite cozy.
Several folks decided against trying to set up their tent in the steady rain. There was plenty of room in the Community Center gym for everyone to have their own space.

The Community

Witts Springs' proximity to Richland Creek means that it is a familiar place to many of us who are boaters. I am dating myself, but when I first started kayaking Richland Creek back in the early 80's, a stretch of Highway 16 between Witts Springs and Ben Hur was still unpaved, and I've dealt with road blockages due to washouts and fallen trees way back in the day. I've driven from the creek to what is now Cindy's store to use a pay phone or to supplement camp chow and get warm. I always felt like a bit of a foreigner, but no more.
After all of those years, I now feel like I have a connection to this small mountain community and, according to feedback from event organizer Dirk Merle, that feeling goes both ways. The folks around Witts Springs love having cyclists come up and we have gained a great appreciation for the unfettered hospitality offered by them. On top of the ride support and the big ol' post-ride potluck, individuals reached out to make sure everyone had what they needed. As some late arrivals set up their tent in the rain on Friday, a family pulled up to offer their nearby barn as a camping alternative. "We're right over there and you're more than welcome...".

The Swag
The swag bag is itself cool, and it comes stuffed with actual useful stuff like a T-shirt, sunscreen, Biofreeze, a coupon for a free frozen pizza, a home baked chocolate bar that is worth trading for, and a lot more. 
Better than the average rider bag.

I'm not sure where they come up with all of the sponsors, and I regret that I didn't get photos of the potluck and the door prize tables. EVERY RIDER is a winner. Really. They had tables covered with cool stuff and all you had to do is match your bib number to a prize to claim it. Last year, I got a cool coffee cup and a flat kit. This year, I scored big with a $79.00 Patagonia shirt. It's really pretty amazing. I found myself throwing money in the Community Center fundraising jar multiple times to assuage my slight pangs of guilt for getting so much more value than my $40.00 entry fee. The desserts I ate were probably worth half the fee. 

Next Year- October 19, 2019

Put it on your calendar now so that you don't have to make excuses. And don't feel like you have to wait until then to visit Searcy County and its surrounds.
It is worth the two hour drive to see nearby Falling Water Falls after a rain or to take a hike at Pedestal Rocks. 

Side Trails

I've become, for better or worse, less obsessed with riding over the last couple of years. 2017 included retirement, a mountain bike injury, surgery and long rehab, and a divorce, all of which likely contributed to a shift in my focus to a broader range of activities. While I was off the bike with the shoulder injury, I would gather the dogs for long walks in the woods. Those miles helped me maintain some of my fitness and peace of mind while renewing my love for the pace of walking and the observations that such a pace allows. 
I took advantage of my weekend in the area to do a couple of hikes at the Pedestal Rocks area. The King's Bluff and Pedestal Rocks loops share the same trailhead.

King's Bluff

The parking lot was empty and I had the King's Bluff Loop to myself on Friday. The steady rain was not much of a bother and it fed the waterfall.

Pedestal Rocks

I've been wanting to check this out for years, and might have been a bit disappointed in the tree-obscured view of Pedestal Rock were it not for a chance meeting with friend Tina Chwalinski on the hike in. She advised me not to miss the caves present below the bluff line. Wow! She was right.
Happy trails. I love walking in the woods, especially now that the chiggers are somewhat subdued. 
When I encounter folks with dogs, I tend to focus on the dogs rather than the people they are walking. I was surprised to look up and see Tina attached to these leashes. She turned me on to the caves that were the best part of this short 2-3 mile hike.

Fall color is just starting to show. 

 There is an extensive system of bluff shelters and shallow caves at Pedestal Rocks. I doubt that I found them all--I went in half a dozen or so-- but I'll explore more on my next trip.

Get out. Ride your bike. Walk Your dogs. Put on your hiking shoes and head for the woods. It looks to be an outstanding fall in Arkansas.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Throwback Thursday--The Latest Word In Sports Nutrition: SPAMé Gel Dec. 6, 2012

In seeking an article for throwback Thursday, I ran across this gem. Much credit goes to Jason Warren for introducing Spam to the conversation. I've got to admit that this article gave me a chuckle. Laughing at one's own humor may be a fault but I couldn't help it.
This is also perhaps the only post in which I included original art. Likely a good thing given my limited talents.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Latest Word In Sports Nutrition: SPAMé Gel

If you spend many long hours on the road bike in the company of like-minded friends, then you know that conversations can take some unusual turns. Much like the conversations shared on monotonous 20-hour drives with my paddling buddies, riders  end up hashing out the same old political questions, sharing some of their deepest secrets, and telling all of their most tasteless jokes. You know, the ones that are not fit for mixed company or, really, any company for that matter, but, you still laugh your ass off and vow to yourself that you're going to remember it.
It's kind of an unwritten rule that the secrets are forgotten at the end of the ride and that the bad jokes are stashed away only to be shared under some similar circumstances in the future; however, these hours can also be times of revelation and creativity! Jason Warren and I recently shared such a Eureka! moment. Well, maybe it wasn't quite the lightning strike kind of Eureka! moment. It came upon us like the rolling thunder before a spring storm, or perhaps like the sound of the approaching Waste Management truck in the moments before the inevitable crash of the dumpster being emptied below your hotel room window at 6:00AM.
In this case, we were considering the possibilities of melding a popular food item into the over-crowded and over-priced realm of sports nutrition. Let's face facts-- most of us have very little real understanding of long-chain amino acids and the like, but we spend big bucks to support marketing schemes that promise results based on sketchy science and flavored sugar. Let's get real. Get real with SPAMé!

SPAMé Gel: The é gives it an air of sophistication that goes beyond any real science!
The result of our revelation promises to be a popular breakthrough as we shatter the paradigm of sucrose, fructose, and maltodextrin blends by packaging a gelatinous energy food derived from genuine miscellaneous meat products, juiced with caffiene and naturally  high in sodium.
We promise results with  SPAMé! Look for it in your favorite local bike shop or convenience store soon.

Coming soon from the same folks that will bring you SPAMé: Gravy Blocks

Note to Jason: consider name change to Gravée Blocks


Bryan said...
I think I just threw up a little bit in the back of my throat. :p
JBar said...
Like I said, "We promise results!"

Facebook group posts--I'm still kind of a Facebook goob, so I could probably share better than I do. I've never paid to boost a post, for instance. While I'd love for all of you guys to follow the JBarCycling Facebook page, I post to several groups. I get mostly positive feedback but also respect when a group has rules prohibiting off-topic posts. Please let me know if I step on any administrative toes.
Share If you Like--Other than new friends, positive comments, and the very rare cold IPA, I don't get anything tangible from JBarCycling. I write because I enjoy it and feel good about making a small contribution to my community. If you enjoy reading a post, share it. I'll confess that my ego is given a boost when an article gets a few thousand reads.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Putting on the Bitz from October 2013

I'd say that my timing is perfect for recycling this 5-year-old article as we enjoy our first really cool morning of the fall. Just a few days ago, we were still sweating out temperatures in the 90s and I was still clawing at the worst bunch of chigger bites I have endured since childhood.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Puttin' On The Bitz: Accessorizing For The Season

As I write this on a cool, bleak Saturday morning, I'm trying not to give in and declare myself to be tired of winter already. OK, I give up. I'm tired of winter already.

There's always some semblance of relief in the arrival of fall, in that many of us are feeling the fatigue that comes with riding almost every day, the big event rides are behind us, and the first cool mornings refresh the soul. For me, that lasts at least a couple of days until I realize that it is getting dark at 6:30, it gets cold when it gets dark, and I'm already missing the sweat soaked bibs, salt encrusted helmet straps, and nightly rides with my friends.
I'll tell readers the same thing that I have to tell myself: HTFU*

* From The Rules. See rule #5.

When following this edict, it is helpful to have a good collection of what I call bits. Those small cycling accessories that allow you to stay warm in the wide range of conditions that are typical of Arkansas winter riding. They add little soft and fuzzy barriers between you and weather related harshness where you need them the most.

Clockwise from bottom left: arm warmers, knee warmers, longer knee warmers, shoe covers, ear band, and toe covers.
Dress for flexibility
It is not unusual to start a winter ride in cold conditions, only to be riding in sunshine and glorious warmth within a couple of hours. Arm warmers, knee warmers, and an ear band can keep you comfortable early in the ride and can be easily stashed in a jersey pocket as the temperatures rise. Add a vest to the mix and you can easily leave home equipped for everything from the 40's to the 70's; not an unusual fall or early spring temperature range in our home state.
Full on frigid conditions call for tights and more robust layers, but a base layer and bits can get you through most of an Arkansas winter.

Veteran riders will have a drawer full of the stretchy, fleecy accessories. If you don't have a collection of bits, go visit your local bike shop and spend a few bucks to get started. Retail therapy is good for you and specialty retailers love folks who shop local. It's also not too early to start that Christmas wish list. If you're like most of us, you're damn hard to buy for, so do your family a favor and conveniently leave a list of your needs lying around so that they can surprise you with exactly what you want.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Along The Trail--Nuts and Berries

Summer has endured long into October, making for hot rides, a bumper crop of mosquitos, and chigger infested hikes. It appears that we are finally turning the corner into fall, though long-range forecasts do call for a wetter and milder than normal winter. Warm winters are becoming the new normal which, though representing an existential threat to humanity, has some benefits for the fair weather riding community and for the mosquitos. Chiggers die out at about 40 degrees so they'll still be just a seasonal menace for the time being.

In the meantime, get ready for fall riding by rounding up your long-fingered gloves, knee and arm warmers, and other cool weather bits.

Seasonal Hazards-The Second Most Dangerous Nuts on The Trail

Last night's rain and wind are sure to have added to the leaves on the trail. Caution is required this time of year as the leaves can hide many hazards. 

 While acorns and hickory nuts are the most common, black walnuts are far more dangerous due to their size and hardness. They are the second most dangerous nut on our trails.

The most dangerous nut on the trail.

Fortunately for other trail users, the ski pole wielding inline skater is relatively rare on the Arkansas River Trail; however, their rarity does not render them to be without hazard.  Approach with caution!!  As is the case with the common inline skater, this bird is usually equipped with headphones or earbuds blasting dance music, making audible warnings useless, and an enthusiastic skating style that takes the entire trail. Add ski poles and it takes the danger to a whole new level as the follow through leaves the tips at eye level to anyone overtaking them. 

The Berries

I have been writing for many years about the foraging opportunities along the trail. Mulberries, blackberries, and plums are among the most commonly found; however, my favorite is the muscadine.
This comment was posted by CTYankee to a recent article concerning the Big Rock Bike Park:

Try to incorporate the planting of fruits & berries along the trail wherever possible. I recently participated in the bicycle/pedestrian survey as a volunteer and one of the regular riders mentioned his favorite secret muscadine patch along the river trail in Burns Park and would like to see more of the same.
September 21, 2018 at 8:09 AM

I appreciate both CTYankee's service to the community and his respect for my anonymity.  Now that the berry picking season is past, I'll own up to being the picker of muscadines.

I had been watching these muscadines for weeks, awaiting their ripening. As soon as the first ripe berries appeared, so did the deer. They will visit the vines regularly, picking off the best of the crop as they ripen. 

 While the deer are expert foragers, I managed to claim these beauties for myself.
My grandmother, Mabel White, taught me to make muscadine jelly and it is a staple at my house. 

I don't feel bad about competing with Bambi for food. While my impact on the local crop is relatively small, the deer at my Heber Springs property eat virtually all of my cultivated muscadines and most of my blueberries. I set up a game camera years ago to see where my berries were going and found that I was feeding a group of deer every morning and evening, along with various birds, rabbits, and even a coyote. 

Be Polite With Your Light

I won't repeat the entirety of my bright light sermonette. Please be aware that your high-lumen light has an impact on others, just as an oncoming car with its brights on will blind you on a dark country road. Look at your light from the perspective of an oncoming rider and be polite. Try partially shading your light with your hand when approaching other riders and walkers.