Wednesday, June 21, 2017


     First, a little background.  I have ridden all over the United States and some in Great Britain and France.  I have a National Geographic map on the wall with pins indicating where I've been.  Last year, I noticed I hadn't ridden in any of the states bordering Texas.  I jumped at a Velo View Bike Tours offering in New Mexico (see previous post).  Dan and Dani of the Austin edition of Velo View hinted that a gravel ride out of Fayetteville, Arkansas might be in the offing.  Velo View is a fantastic tour group and I was the first person signed up when it was officially announced.
     This is billed as a gravel grinder (ride), but as we all know, in order to get to a gravel road, you have to ride (or drive) on asphalt.  I have a very nice, old (2004) mountain bike that I've used on many rail trails, and earlier this year, on the ride to Bastrop (see that posting).  It is comfortable on or off road, but I've never tried it on a single track (except for a quarter mile when the rail trail narrowed).  I had no worries.  An added bonus, Dan and Dani were driving from Austin and allowed the Austin contingent to tag along, so that I didn't have to take my car.
     Dan had several routes planned for our arrival afternoon Thursday, depending on when we got there.  We had to go to plan B, a shorter circuit, in order to clean up and make our 6:00 pm dinner reservation.  As it turned out, I think it was plan C, but that's immaterial.
     Your brain will play tricks on you if you aren't vigilant.  For instance, I'm quite experienced riding rail trails, having almost a dozen under my belt.  I've only done a couple gravel rides, and one was quite smooth, the other mostly so.  Therefore, my brain interpreted this gravel grinder to be similar to a rail trail.  Friends, let me tell you!!  I won't say it was a complete surprise, but it certainly was a shock.  I'm sure those country folk appreciated the fresh, loose, large gravel (small rocks, there must be a real name for it) on the slopes of the road but I did not.  Ok, let's get to the day-by-day.
     Thursday afternoon turned out to be an out-and-back.  Drive to the start, ride a couple of miles on asphalt, then hit the gravel.  I felt good, even with the heat and humidity.  Everyone else rode a 'cross bike.  I looked like I was astride a Clydesdale.  But I had big, wide, studded tired and lots of gears.
Poor Joe suffered the first of four (total, not all today) flats.  We got that fixed and continued on.  This gravel riding isn't bad!  Then we ran out of gravel, took a left turn and started up.  My graph shows 9%, 11%, 12%, a couple of 16% ramps.  18% finished me off.  But then we turned around and had a great downhill.  Of course,  I had nothing left.  My heart-rate stayed ten beats high and I noodled all the way back to the van.  I can do Courtyard and Jester so this climb shouldn't have gotten to me.  I blame it on the humidity and having only water in my bottle (Nuun added the other days).  Total mileage was a measly seventeen, average speed 10.5 mph but I got that Clydesdale up to 35.5 mph on the downhill.
     Our main lodging was the Dickson Street Inn in Fayetteville.  Our rooms were very nice and we had a killer upstairs patio area where we sat and drank beverages and relaxed.  We met the couple from Florida, John and Ruth, and walked to dinner at Bordino's.  Now Shannon has been known to walk us a quarter mile, half mile, or more to eat.  Dani led us across the street and down a short block.  Very upscale restaurant, but lacked an amber beer on their menu.  A great start to this inaugural gravel adventure.
     Friday morning, awake at 2am, heart rate still about ten beats high.  Along about 3am it finally slowed and I dozed off.  The Dickson Inn offers Continental Breakfast, but our plan for today was to sleep in, stroll to Arsaga's at the Depot for fabulous breakfast, then head out on the Savoy Gravel Loop for thirty-nine fun miles.  A slight change of plans had us ride our bikes to Arsaga's and after breakfast jump on the excellent bike trail to get out to the Savoy.
     Another distinction between rail trails and gravel grinders is most of the time you drive to the trail head and spend all of your riding on the trail.  Today, we spent a lot of time on concrete or asphalt.  Also, for the most part, rail trails only have 1-3% grades.  Today were lots of 5%+.  I hung in for a goodly chunk of asphalt miles then sagged for about six before remounting.  Glutton for punishment.  I finished with almost thirty-four.  I blamed it on the humidity.  I wasn't the only one suffering.  John should have sagged with me, but soldiered on.  He seriously bonked and finally was convinced to get in the van.
     Tonight's fancy feast was at The Farmers Table, a short van ride of only a mile.  Another fine dining experience but without an amber on the menu.  So tonight I had wine.  After being told we missed happy hour (with their bottles of wine for $15), I had a glass of house Cabernet.  A few sips into it and the waiter advised they extended happy hour (I suspect just for me and to sell some wine), so after receiving some assurances from my companions that they would help in the consumption, I had him bring me a nice cab.  Dan and Ellie were my helpers.
     An Asside:  I am an experienced cyclist.  But I'm also old and sometimes forgetful, especially of things that have happened in the distant past.  Velo View always includes a small Chamois Butt'r in their packet.  I usually put them away in case some poor unfortunate rider has a problem.  Well, I had a clue on Thursday, with the humidity soaking my kit.  But I didn't recognize it.  After Friday's humid ride, with a similar soaking, my brain finally caught on what my butt had been screaming about.  Saturday and Sunday had me liberally applying the cream.  
     With the heat and especially the humidity affecting their riders, Dan and Dani switched Saturday's ride, from having brunch at Ella's then riding, to an early breakfast at the inn and riding followed by lunch at Ella's.  Well, that was the intention and we all were up early and ready to ride.  Mother Nature entered the picture.  Looking at the radar with the reds and yellows descending upon Fayetteville, and listening to the dire weather report that threatened thunderstorms, we delayed our departure.  This was to be a quick moving line of storms and once through, we would have good weather.  As it turned out, it wasn't as quick as expected.  
     We ended up going back to having brunch at Ella's, sitting in our kits in their upscale dining room, then cycling from there.  Most of this ride was on the bike way or road.  I was hanging in just fine, even though my Garmin showed four climbs over 10%, the big one being 14%, and a couple of smaller ones.  But I wasn't all that perky.  My average speed for this segment was 10.5 mph, but I did get the Clydesdale up to 39.4 mph.  When Dani said she would sag for a few miles, I decided to join her.  As it turned out, only Dan and Joe left our stop on their bikes.  It wasn't long before we saw a wall of a hill.  Given my gears, I probably could have suffered up it without walking.  But I would have paid a dear physical price.  At the top Amy opted (perhaps with a false sense of no more hills) to get back on the bike.  The rest of us stayed put.  A few miles further on, we all stopped at the beginning of the gravel loop.  Joe was in need of a gel, liquid, rest.  Dan was dapper and chipper.
     A slight digression: Dan was forever extolling the scenery on these rides.  He was correct.  But please remember, in order to see this great scenery, you have to CLIMB!
     This was really gravel, not the rail trail smooth stuff.  I had a difficult time holding a straight line.  Fortunately the group had strung out.  You'd try to find a smooth line then hit deep gravel and slide out to the left or right.  Fun!  The road had rolling climbs, my graph has 5 climbs over 10%, with a short 16% being the biggest, but not the hardest.  It traveled along the ridgeline.  About six miles into this riding came a precipitous downhill.  I am a sucker for downhills, just let the wheels roll.  Well I got it up to 26 mph, holding on for dear life and bouncing around.  Then I noticed a slight dogleg right.  Pook, ding-fu!  I took as much of the apex as I could, still not touching the brakes, but praying my studs would dig in and keep me upright.  Once around the corner I could see Dan and Joe at the bottom and cruised on in.  I admit it, that was fun!  I'm still glad I sagged when I did.
We had a good rest and several of us left to get a head start on the last four miles.  It turned out a bit more than that as we immediately took a left instead of a right.  Bonus mile, plus a couple of great pictures of rocks and bridge.  We caught up to the others, and I took the opportunity to sweep behind Ellie.  After several miles I saw the van and some folks off their bikes and others continuing on.  I assumed (duh) the others were just taking a break and would follow and at my speed catch up.  That last mile was a doosy.  Four ramps of 7%, 8%, 12%, and 11% that had deep, big gravel.  Once again thankful for the mountain bike gearing, thick studded tires, and suspension (unlocked for this segment), I slowly reeled myself up each one.  The van came up just as I finished the last one.  John and Ruth were ahead of me, and everyone else was in the van.  A couple hundred yards later we all got in the van and headed back to Fayetteville.  A post-ride recap found unanimous agreement that clockwise was much better than the planned counter-clockwise gravel portion.
     Back in Fayetteville, we cleaned up for our ride to the Apple Blossom Brewing Company.  Would you believe it, a brewing company without an amber.  I picked something else that the waiter suggested.  Another fine dining experience.  But Dani whispered sweet nothings in Dan's ear and he disappeared.  It seems the van had a flat tire.  Eventually it had to be replaced in that a screw was deeply embedded in it.
     Our Sunday ride was a cruise on the Razorback Greenway all the way to Bentonville.  No big climbs, no traffic.  Well, once again the morning radar showed reds and yellows bearing down on Fayetteville.  Once again we delayed departure.  No worries, we had zero time commitments.  With an intermittent drizzle and a clearing radar, we left.  I had my rain jacket on.  The road was still wet, with numerous puddles, and we soon had a brown streak up our backs.  We stopped for lunch in Springdale.  As we left our lunch stop, a rain cloud appeared and dropped a deluge on us.  But before getting really soaked, we happened upon a tunnel in which we took refuge until the rain stopped.  The rest of the journey was uneventful, if you don't count the new section of the bike way that had Dan using dead reckoning until hitting a familiar portion.
    Our accommodations tonight was the posh 21c Museum Hotel.  We might look bedraggled, but we had really fine lodgings.  We even had bike lockers.  This Caddy is covered with pennies, nickels, and dimes.  The group decided we had time to clean up and go to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, so we did.  Marilane sees to it that I have my fair share of culture whenever we go touring.  I've been to great museums in New York, Washington, Paris, London, Rome.  I wasn't expecting this to be on par with them.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The presentation was very good.  They had the Norman Rockwell Rosie the Riveter painting, an Andy Warhol, a Picasso.  I was really impressed with a Michael Waugh triptych of three animals in a charred landscape.  But the whole thing was handwritten script from the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It seems the artist took issue with the premise of the book and this was his response.  I wandered and wondered through the Modern Art section.  I detest Modern Art.  However, the one that used embroidery thread was intriguing, as was the shoe laces.  Enough culture for one evening.
     Tonight we dined at Oven & Tap.  They had four ambers on the menu.  I'm quite familiar with Abita Amber and picked that one.  Then I switched to Pecan (which was Ruth's pick).  Both quite satisfying.  Poor pick of dinner.  I chose the ham chop.  Can't win them all.
     After dinner we wandered the square, going past the Walton Museum and the original Walton store.  Then strolled back to the hotel to sit outside for awhile.  Dani (or Dan) had purchased a six pack of amber beer that morning, so that I wouldn't have the whole trip without one.  But I couldn't hang out past one beer, the trip had really tired me out.
     Let me sum up: Go to the Velo View website and take a tour.  It might not be what you expect, but it will be a great experience.  I've taken four and have yet to be disappointed.

PS - I left some stuff out, some on purpose others because I didn't remember.  And as for the title, this was gravel, asphalt, concrete, and HILLS.  Don't come expecting rail trail gradients.

No comments:

Post a Comment