Arkansas Enduro Series | Race Recap
Early June marked the second round of the first ever Arkansas Enduro Series at Big Brushy. Colten Jones and I packed up our bikes and gear and headed 3 hours south of Fayetteville to arrive at the venue Friday afternoon high on stoke and ready to shred. Views of hidden peaks and dense greenery were common sights, complemented by the odd white picket fence outlining vast farmland.
Stepping out of the car immediately you could sense the heavy humidity. Each of us knew at that moment that this venue would be difficult regardless of the terrain, and that hydration would be vitally important. We partially setup camp, met with our teammates, and shuttled to the top of stage 1. Time to ride!
Five miles of shuttling on fire roads, we reached the trailhead. The plan was to pre-ride stages one, two and six. It was immediately clear that this terrain was rugged, technical and raw with a few heart bursting punchy climbs thrown in. All perfect characteristics for a gnarly race venue. The climbs were tight and technical and the timed stages matched these characteristics. Right off the bat of stage 1 practice, we saw that these trails would reward precision, accuracy and a huge amount of fitness in order to do well, not to mention avoiding those hidden pedal catchers only inches off of the narrow single track. I got a little too familiar with one of those sniper rocks – dusting myself off after becoming victim to a rogue boulder sticking out onto the trail. Ouch, not a great start.
Drenched in sweat after pre-riding , it was time to head back for the night. Like many of the other race venues I had been to, the campsite was filled with good humor and good vibes for night #1. Stoke was in the air.
Saturday was the day of official practice. We decided to pre-ride early and late in the day to avoid the midday 100+ degree temperatures. Again we traversed to stages one two and six to get a closer look at lines. The slightly more ‘broken in’ trails by other riders and maintenance by an excellent trail crew were welcomed, and invited more flow than the previous day. Stage 2 revealed tricky sections of rolling rock gardens and exposed turns that required a light touch and setting speed before features. Stage six, though, was a whole new beast all together. Welcome to flat boulder fields, off camber loose corners, and tight trees. I knew after riding six, that whoever was able to carry speed through sections like this would win. After braving the heat, it was time to cool off at the water hole. Familiar faces, chilly turquoise water, high humidity and burgers fresh off the grill were all a recipe for recovery before pre-riding the second half of the stages.
After some time chilling out in the river, and letting the hottest part of the day pass us by, it was time to get back on the bike and head up to stage three, four and five.
We started our climb up stage three, cautious of riders descending. A warm 500 or so feet of climbing later, we arrived at the top of the marked start all stoked for the downhill ahead. I was pushing hard on the downhills and trying to carry as much speed as possible when around a blind corner a tree too close for comfort came to my attention. I locked my brakes, but it was too late. I hit the tree dead-stop travelling 20mph. I thought for sure my hand would be broken, but to my pleasant surprise it was fine and I would walk away with only a few scrapes and bruises. Phew…lucky.
After a good night’s sleep, it was Sunday – race day. Game time. Kitting up, breakfast, and rider meeting was the order of the morning followed closely by our departure to the transfer to stage one. You could tell that most riders were filled with a mix of stoke and nervousness. Light chatter filled the air and I was ready to go. Stage one was everything it was in practice with just more speed. Tight single track keeping the giddy honest with hidden sniper rocks and boulders. Staying smooth and not crashing under cold legs was my strategy for the beginning of the day. Solid run, on to stage two.
Stage two entailed rocky single track followed by a fast, smooth descent to end with a 30 second climb. All seemed good, until the trail got the best of me. My clipless pedal caught hold of a rock blowing my foot off of the pedal. It’s not enduro unless something goes wrong! At the end of the stage I found that half of my left pedal was sheared off, restricting me from clipping in on that side for the rest of the day. Not ideal. Regardless, I had no other choice but to continue aloofly to stage three.
Stage three would be the most physically demanding stage of the day. The stage would include 4 climbs all at least 10 seconds long and rough, loose, exposed single track slathered with trees to round it off. The consensus among riders were that mistakes were plenty in stage three for the majority of us, myself included. Cautious riding was not the recipe here though, and the stage rewarded explosiveness, precision and a thorough understanding of key features.
After a short lunch break for all of the riders we transferred up stage three to get to four. Four saw a mix of tight single track, loose off camber hairpin turns and, again those short punchy climbs. I knew four would be quite the adventure as clipping out would not be an option with my mechanical from stage two. Sliding around those tight left hand corners without clipping out was interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, I ran off an exposed part of the track which meant I had to run back up the steep bank. Live and learn. This stage would reward a loose style and looking far down the trail to make do with the challenging terrain ahead.
A quick transfer from four to five revealed fast and loose descents followed by very tight switchbacks with a couple leg sapping climbs thrown in. A test of efficiency and brakes. By the end of stage five, what I believed to be my best stage, fatigue was starting to set in.
After a longer transfer to stage six it was time to empty the tank. Stage six had momentum-sucking rock gardens and technical off camber rocky turns that required a great amount of skill. Jarring rock gardens and a fatigued body tested control of the bike. Luckily I had not crashed on this one. Others were not as lucky some suffering flats or ejection from the bike via Big Brushy gnar.
The day was done and dusted. It was time to head back to see how we had done. It turned out that Gravitas Racers landed on the podium 7 times. Grant Rogers (5th Pro Men), Garrett Hubbard (4th Pro Men), Eric Smith (1st Pro Men), Andy Wiseman (2nd Expert Open Men), Colten Jones (1st Expert Open Men), Lucas Byrne (17U Jr), Johnathon Ellis (1st Amateur Men 30-39).
The weekend was over and it was one to remember in the heat and chunder. I learned a lot and cannot wait until Round #3! None of this would be possible without our awesome and supportive sponsors. Oven and Tap, Mojo Cycling, Bike Rack Brewing, Visit Bentonville, Kimberly Homes Inc, American National insurance – Rusty Cramer, Greater Bentonville Chamber, Skratch Labs, and OZ Trails.