Thursday, April 06, 2017

Lake Ouachita 2017 D1

Wow, so much to consider. This week is my Spring Break, and after several months of conspiring, Pondero and I met at the Royal Oak Inn in Mt.Ida, AR to undertake a #Aprilfoolsadventure bikepacking adventure, looping around Lake Ouachita. Basically we chose a spot sort of in the middle between TX (his) and KY (mine), in a region rife (or even ripe?) with camping and riding options, include the Lake, the Forest, and numerous trails. This trip was to have a bit of it all, and we packed accordingly. I returned to my usual bikepacking mount of the Jones, adding a couple Revelate bags to flesh out my storage options. Pondero would be giving a somewhat maiden voyage on his Bantam Adventure Bike. Our pre-ride night was filled with tech talk and prep for the following day.

Day 1 opened with an easy roll west. I had noticed Joy Donuts the previous night and we couldn't resist a tour stop for sustenance. But the donut stop didn't impede our plans to have a proper breakfast at the Mt. Ida Cafe. Both Pondero and I were big fans of the cafe. It hit the spot several times and had a comfy feel you need, even while we were festooned in our strange bike gear. After breakfast our route took us pretty quickly towards gravel roads NW just outside of town.




Our gravel run provided a warm-up and an opportunity for a little bird-watching, seeing a nice black&white warbler in our view. I'm not sure whether Pondero got tired of my bird-watching or at least bird-talking, but he was a good sport. At mile 5 we hit the Womble Trail and started the first singletrack segment of our ride. Interestingly, Annoyingly, even though I've done the bikepack thing previously, it was my gear that first failed, with my fork bags being poorly mounted. We stopped briefly and got things straight and then enjoyed a 5-mile segment of the Womble. Highlights along this included the views overlooking the Ouachita River valley and the many side-hill portions. We made sure to not look, because the left trail edge offered an instantaneous plunge of several hundred feet to the valley. Yikes! None-the-less, although built as a hiking trail, the Womble here felt very suitable for mtbiking, with a good flow and rideable portions all along. Towards the end we had a good chat with an AR local we found walking up a hill. Hike-a-bike. Why would he do that?




We ended our first section of the Womble and crossed the causeway along Hwy 27 before diving into our next section. This one was a bit more mundane and unoriginal, crossing low pine forests with little interest and some swampy spots. It was fine, but not to the standard of the first section. After some nice lake views we exited the Womble to follow gravel roads north towards Story. At some point I noticed a softening rear tire and elected for a quick pump to nurse it to our lunch story, a strategy that worked well. 





Pondero action shot. He cleared this. I didn't. It looked deeper than it was.


Our lunch stop brought us to the Bluebell Cafe in Story, AR (It's got a website; that's awesome). We found a pleasant, clean country store with very helpful service. More nice folks, which would be a theme of this trip, the general generosity and kindness of the residents of the region. Pondero's burger and my grilled cheese hit the spot, and we even got a water top-off from the filtered water, not the well water out of the spigot. After a bite I changed the tube in the sunshine. The day was a beautiful one, but maybe just a bit chilly in the shade. After lunch we hit more empty gravel along Red Ridge Rd. before emptying back out onto 27 and the climb up to the Ouachita Trail. Pondero consistently beat me on all the climbs. He's an efficient spinner.

Inside the Bluebell Cafe, pre-lunch.
 


Our arrival at the Ouachita Trail began our second stint of singletrack. We found a 1-mile climb with some hike-a-bike to top things off. Oh, the effing hike-a-bike. I'm sure racers clear the sections we did not, but they are racers and aren't laden with bikepack loads. On top of our first mountain the trail was a flowy, rideable run through pine forests. Very pleasant. At the top we surveyed the first shelter, a nice one overlooking a valley, but decided that we had more miles in our legs, and decided to push on to the next shelter.



View from the first shelter, a nice one, but we moved on.
I'm pretty good with route details, but at some point things got a little hazy. Suffice to say the contours, climbing, and hiking-a-bike were starting to take their toll. The second climb involved even more brutal hike-a-biking. At some point the forest cleared, making for an open climb with the sun beating down. I got tired. I found Pondero waiting for me at a clearing and I lay down for a brief bit. We headed on but my climbing legs were done. At the top of Sandlick Mt. we found the shelter sign and walked downhill looking for it. I had read about a "steep descent" and I bet Pondero walked a good 20 minutes (I a little less; I gave up) and never found the shelter, which apparently is nestled deep in the valley. Instead of dragging the bikes down (the trail was unrideable) and back up the next day we decided on a wild camp atop the ridge. We found a good, flat spot and took advantage of the pleasant weather to hang our hammocks our in nature. It was delightful, nothing less.


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