Arkansas High Country Race: gear details

I recently participated in (and, spoiler alert, finished) the inaugural Arkansas High Country Race, a 1000+ mile bikepacking race that rolls over what felt like every high point in the Natural State. I definitely plan to write a race report, but writing the story of my 12-day odyssey feels even more overwhelming that riding it. A simple details page seems like an easier place to start.

My bike weighs about 28 pounds, plus I started with 18 pounds of bags/gear not counting food and water. I know there were ways to cut weight (I did end up sending a couple pounds' worth of items home after Russellville/mile 417), but my main focus was a set-up that would keep me safe and comfortable enough to get to the finish line.

The night before the race.

2019 Salsa Fargo ti, carbon Firestarter fork, double-wrapped Salsa Cowchipper bars, 36/24x11-40, SON dynamo hub powering a Sinewave Beacon light. Brooks Cambium saddle, Teravail Sparwood tires 29x2.2, SRAM rival brakes.

What worked: Overall my bike weathered the race like a champ. The front derailleur needed to be adjusted a couple of times and both my front and rear brake pads had to be replaced about halfway through, but they got a LOT of use. That was the extent of my mechanical issues.

I went back and forth before the race about running a smaller tire in deference to all of the pavement (about 50% of the route) but ultimately decided to stick with the Sparwoods. Only once -- the last day which was largely pavement -- did I feel like the bigger tires may have cost me, but many times I was incredibly thankful to have the added comfort and confidence provided by the Sparwoods. And zero flats over 1,000+ miles!

Physically, while I wasn't always thrilled to be on the saddle, I didn't experience any saddle sores or chafing. Early in the race I had problems with numb hands and an ache in my neck and left hip, but as the race progressed I started to notice things like a tendency to hunch my shoulders and to carry a lot of weight on my hands. I began really focusing on good posture and keeping my hands light on the bars. That, combined with using the hoods more, helped eliminate those problems. By the end of the race my hands were definitely weaker and had less than normal dexterity, but they weren't numb.

What didn't work: By the end of day 1 (125 miles in) I was having a tough time downshifting. I've had a similar issue with the SRAM doubletap shifting but only in a 150-mile race, so I hadn't anticipated dealing with the problem, especially so early. The rest of the race was an ongoing experiment in finding different ways to shift. What ended up working best from the drops was shifting with the knuckle of my index finger and then just dealing with the subsequent blister.

My Sinewave Beacon was fantastic when it worked, providing great light and charging up my cache battery, but from day 3 on it wasn't entirely reliable. My front roll caused enough cable rub to wear through the casing before I caught it. That may have been the problem, or maybe it was the connection to the dynamo hub; regardless, light issues were a repeated frustration and the small headlamp I'd brought for around camp wasn't sufficient to make up the difference.

Day 5

Front roll (Blackburn outpost): Clothes, hygiene items, camp towel, occasionally extra food, bug spray, small tube of sunscreen (first half).

Seat bag (Blackburn outpost): Tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 bikepacking) & footprint, sleeping bag liner, SOL escape emergency bivvy, inflatable pillow, sleeping pad; lashed to outside: flip flops, SPOT tracker, and (for the first half) a dry bag for extra food I didn't have room for. Eventually I learned I could stuff all that extra food in my jersey pockets and put away the dry bag.

Frame bag (Rogue Panda): Side pocket - ACA route map, cache battery, iPhone, cords. Top half - 100 oz bladder, wet wipes, Steri-pen, extra lithium batteries for SPOT tracker and eTrex, frame pump. Bottom half - tent stakes, two spare tubes, chain lube and rag, pre-filter for Steri-pen, iodine tablets, tube of Aquaphor.

Top tube bag (Rogue Panda); occasionally iPhone and cache battery, lip balm, small folding knife, food.

Feed bag (Revelate): small spray can of sunscreen, car keys, some food, dog spray (after day 4).

(2) Blackburn anything cages: 1 liter Nalgene bottles normally kept empty - for ease of treating water and extra water capacity when needed.

Tool bottle mounted on down tube: multitool, tire levers, 2 quick links, spoke wrench, chain tool, patch kit, tire plugs.

What worked: Basically everything. Bags were solid, zippers held despite occasionally called to go above and beyond.

What didn't: This wasn't a function issue as much as a compatibility issue, but I started out with a dog spray holder mounted to my stem. It worked perfectly, holding the spray securely while also keeping it easily accessible, but it also made it hard to strap my top tube bag on well enough. I spent three days with the bag flopping around and hitting my leg every time I pedaled out of the saddle before finally removing the spray holster and tightening the bag straps.

The tool bottle stayed secure on the down tube, but there was so much shaking that the (cheap) multitool came apart.

Navigation: Garmin Edge 520 with route and better base maps downloaded, Garmin Etrex 30x, paper ACA maps, ACA app on iPhone with the High Country maps, Ride with GPS route downloaded for offline use, and (after Russellville) Arkansas map downloaded from Google maps for offline use.

What worked: I'd been concerned that the 520 wouldn't have enough memory for the base maps, big route, and recording daily mileage, but this was never an issue. It did great. The paper maps were wonderful for getting a big picture view, and the ACA app had a feature that would show you the distance and elevation between any two points you selected as well as showing you exactly where you were on the route. Both the paper maps and app showed points of interest and services along the route.

What didn't work: The first time I turned on the eTrex during the race, it didn't show me what I wanted to see. I turned it off, planning to figure it out later, but I never needed it and mailed it home from Russellville.

Also, when I put new base maps onto the 520, the tiles with the northernmost sliver of Arkansas included a huge chunk of Missouri, nearly doubling the memory load for a tiny part of the route. Rather than (potentially) lose all that storage capacity, I just left off that part of Arkansas, figuring I could rely on all of my other map sources if I had problems there. Naturally I had several problems there! The Razorback Greenway in Bentonville particularly gave me fits, but it all worked out in the end.

Packing list:

Clothes (worn or carried in front roll): 

  • Team Noah kit
  • spare kit (sent home after Russellville, never worn)
  • running shorts for off the bike
  • tank top for off the bike
  • thin long-sleeved base layer
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • buff (never used)
  • rain jacket
  • extra short-sleeved shirt (sent home from Russellville, never worn)
Note: before packing, I treated everything I might wear during the race with permethrin spray. I had one mosquito bite and found one tick on me the last day. That was the total of my bug issues.

Sleep system (seat bag):
  • Big Agnes fly creek 2 bikepacking tent with footprint
  • Thermarest inflatable pad
  • Sea to Summit inflatable pillow
  • sleeping bag liner
  • SOL escape emergency bivvy
Notes: as with my big tires and my double wrapped bars, my sleep system was optimized for comfort. I never had any illusions of being competitive to win this race; my only goal was to finish it. Other people traveled way lighter, but I've slept in a bivvy (or tried to) and knew I'd be miserable. I was a total princess about where I stayed. Either a hotel, campground, or nice, clear dispersed site. No rolling up for an hour in a ditch for me.

The bag liner/bivvy combo worked out well. We actually had some cool nights, and the bag liner alone wasn't quite enough. The first night I actually climbed into the bivvy, waking warm but wet from condensation. Subsequent times I just laid the bivvy on top and that was perfect. Next time I'd probably just bring an emergency blanket for a little extra.

Hygiene (mostly carried in front roll):
  • Dr. Bronner's Castile soap
  • travel toothpaste and toothbrush
  • small pack of baby wipes
  • small tube of Aquaphor
  • small tube of moisturizer/sunscreen
  • tweezers and razor - my luxury items
  • travel deoderant - sent home from Russellville
  • small spray can of bug spray - could have lived without this but was happy to have it when setting up camp in the evenings
Notes: I didn't use Chamois Butt'r or anything like that, but the Aquaphor was a huge help in the first week when I'd feel like I was starting to get chafed. By the end of the race I was rarely using it.


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