Arkansas High Country, day 12: The long road home

June 19, 2019 ~ Fifty-Six to Little Rock
138.6 miles ~ 14.5 hours moving time ~ 9,246 feet

The nice thing about staying in a hotel is that there's no need to pack up a tent the next morning. On the other hand, it's a lot harder to leave. Still, I was excited enough about my (hopefully final day) that even with taking the time to drink multiple cups of coffee and make a morning facebook post I was on the road by 6 a.m.

135 miles to go. I don't know if my legs have 135 miles in them, but this will be the easiest day elevation-wise since day 1. Easy being a relative term at this point.

(Spoiler alert: It was not, in fact, the easiest day since day 1. It actually featured the third-most climbing of the race, and though the climbing was spread over more miles, my legs emphatically did not appreciate this distinction.)

The forecast once again warned of the distinct possibility of storms, so I was once again very nervous about the weather. Until it struck, though, I was happy to enjoy the cool morning air en route to the final (!!) selfie stop of the race, Blanchard Springs.

6:18 a.m.
My good mood was certainly assisted by the flat-to-downhill nature of the first few miles, but even when the route directed me past a gate and onto an overgrown forest road leading steadily uphill, I just grinned. "Oh, Chuck Campbell, always a fun surprise up your sleeve!"

6:34 a.m.
I made slow but steady progress to Mountain View, where I stopped at a convenience store/Hardee's for second breakfast and resupply about 3 hours in. There, the girl behind the counter gave me the senior citizen's discount on my order. Nine days before I'd been told I looked like I was in my early 30's, and now I looked like I was retirement age? I mean, I wasn't upset enough to refuse the discount, but ouch.

Speaking of ouch, I'd never given thought to how the town of Mountain View got its name. Well, the view was to the south, the way I was going, and I got to see it up close. Over the next 15 miles I gained and then gave away the same 500-600 feet of elevation five times. Have I mentioned how flat my part of Illinois is? It's really flat.

10:11 a.m., about midway between Mountain View and Prim. I'd rounded a turn after a half hour of climbing to see this view spread out before me. It doesn't look all that exciting here, but in person it was so beautiful that I stopped on a downhill to take the picture.
I hit the town of Prim (mile 35) just before 11:30. The cool temps of the morning had given way to afternoon heat; within 30 minutes it would break 90, eventually hit 100, and not drop into the 70's until nearly 8 p.m. All I knew at the moment, though, was that I wanted a break. I stopped in the small store to refill my water and get some food. I couldn't have looked more different from the lunch crowd gathered at the tables; while no one said anything as I walked past in my bike shoes and sweaty spandex bike kit, it was a definite My Cousin Vinny moment.

I took my pizza and soda outside and ate while packing away my purchases and talking to a little girl whose parents worked at the store. We talked bikes and first grade and summer; I think she'd have chatted all day long, but I had places to go and delusions to dispel.

I'd anticipated an easy day and have never been so betrayed by my own expectations. The route was largely paved but much hillier than I'd understood from looking at the elevation profile. I'd made the mistake of thinking it would be flattish because there were no mountains to climb. Nope. And it was hot. So hot.

Prim was near the beginning of a lovely downhill trend, so my pace over the next 13 miles or so might have topped 10 mph. The first 40 miles or so had featured comfortable temperatures and plentiful services at regular intervals. Then the heat set in.

I stopped at the Sonic in Greer's Ferry (mile 48, about 12:30), savoring ice cream and tots with an order of pretzel sticks to go. Resting in the shade I got a text from Mikey warning me of a bridge out ahead on the route.

Five miles later I passed a gas station and pulled in, unsure of when the next water would be available and unwilling to pass by an easy source. I bought a couple Paydays I didn't need so I didn't have to feel guilty about refilling my water bladder there, then was charged for my water anyway. It was annoying but ended up being a good decision. I drink a lot when it's hot and there were limited services past Greer's Ferry.

While previous days' heat had been tempered by timely breezes and plentiful shade, Arkansas was all out of mercy for this weary traveler. Almost all of the day's riding was on pavement, exposed to the sun and buffeted by headwinds that somehow did nothing to ease the temperature. (In writing this nearly a year (!) later, I started wondering if I'd exaggerated how tough the day was and was reassured by Weather Underground that my memory was accurate.)

Facebook post, 2:17: 75 miles to go and suffering greatly in the heat and wind. And here I was worried about rain.

By mile 60 I was pulling over every 5 miles to take a break in the shade, but only when I was able to make it 5 miles. By mile 67 I'd been watching for a creek, but in contrast to earlier sections of the route the ones I crossed were infrequent and way below the road level. I was saved by a passing farmer, though it required backtracking a mile uphill to his house.

He waited in his driveway so I didn't miss the turn, and I followed him into the blissful air conditioning of his house. It wasn't until I'd filled my water that I realized maybe my personal safety awareness could use a booster shot, but like the rest of my Arkansas experience this was just a reminder of how kind and good most people are.

I knew there would be water again somewhere around mile 80 at Woolly Hollow State Park but rather than look at my maps I counted on seeing a sign to direct me to the just-off-route park. I never saw a sign, leaving me one more on-route (ish) place to refill my waning water supply. The store closed at 7. It was already past 5, my (admittedly sketchy) notes showed another 22 miles to go, and my average pace for the day was well under 10 mph. My chances of reaching the Enola store looked weak at best.

Mercifully, the route smoothed out before throwing a road closed sign across my next turn. Though briefly confused, I didn't lose much time thanks to Mikey's earlier warning.  I rode past the sign, got to the other side of the creek, and continued on my way.

The nearly flat road, the fact that the temperature dropped into the high 80's, and (most of all) the fact that the store was actually only about 14 miles away combined to get me to the Enola store 20 minutes before closing. "Hot one out there," the woman at the checkout greeted me.

"So hot," I replied, tearing up at the combination of kindness, relief, and exhaustion. I sat in their restaurant area eating my ice cream and wiped my eyes. Glenda, concerned, asked if I was OK, and I cried more as I told her how hot it had been, how hard it had been, and how very ready I was to be finished. Just before 7 I thanked her for her kindness and went outside, not wanting to keep them from closing up.

She followed me outside, still worried about me as I couldn't stop the tears running down my face. "I live just down the way. Maybe you should come with me and rest there a little bit until it cools off."

A man walked up: "Did she crash?"

Another man: "Have you seen the weather forecast? They're calling for severe thunderstorms, hail, and damaging wind."

The morning forecast had indeed called for storms, but the nonstop sunshine had eclipsed my weather worries. Looking south at the darkening sky, though, I realized my relief had been premature. The previously bright sky was now filled with ominous dark clouds.

Glenda tried again. "Why don't you stay the night at my house? You can finish up tomorrow when it's safe."

I was really afraid of getting caught in a bad storm, but after nearly 1,000 miles only 44 lay between me and the finish. I couldn't bear the thought of stopping when I was so close. That didn't mean I felt good about the decision, though, and my fear spurred an hour of hard riding before it wore off. The temperature dropped to comfortable around golden hour, and I started thinking my storm fears were once again misplaced.

Darkness fell, but my lights did their job and I pedaled along in peace until lightning started streaking the sky. Gradually it became less distant and more frequent, and I began watching for somewhere to take shelter.

The flashes were almost constant and the wind was howling when I spotted a store with a covered front porch. I had just enough time to stop and drag my bike up with me before the storm hit.

Facebook post, 9:31 p.m. This race has really over-delivered in the adventure department. Taking shelter 18 miles from the finish.

What was left of the storm after an hour.
The weather for that time shows wind speed of 35 mph with gusts of 50 mph. In the space of 10 minutes the temperature dropped 10 degrees. After suffering with temps in  the high 90's I was now shivering in a soggy 65 degrees. I dragged my emergency bivvy from my bike bag and crawled into it while hiding next to a newspaper machine from the wind.

As the rain poured and the storm howled, a guy pulled into the lot and kicked his girlfriend out into the weather. "I didn't take your cigarettes!" I heard her yell. More yelling, then she climbed back in and they drove off. Shortly after that, two more cars pulled into the lot. I'd spent the day alone and ended up taking shelter in Grand Central Station.

Ally messaged: "Are you ok? I'm worried about you. I have access to a car...I can come and get you." My friend Tammy drove up: "I saw your spot and wanted to make sure you were ok. Do you want to get into the car?"

"I can't," I reminded her, "I have to do this unsupported." Before the race my friend Jason had advised me to think for myself and not do something dangerous just to stay on route. "It's just a race." I wasn't in danger, though the area was a little sketchier than my ideal shelter.

After an hour of hiding on the porch, the storm seemed to have passed. Stiff and sore from the extended break, I dragged my bike back down to the ground and took off on the longest 18 miles in history.

Approaching North Little Rock on a four-lane road, I hit a bump and my lights all shut off, leaving me with a faint headlight as my sole source of light and visibility. I was relieved to turn off that road until laying eyes on the vague suggestion of a trail I now traveled. This new challenge featured some unwarranted hike-a-bike, a downed tree to carry my bike over, and a 5-6 foot deep ditch to drag my bike through.

After way too long the trail turned to pavement and I rolled back into a Little Rock area that had been hammered by the storm. Street lights were out, making it even harder to navigate the downed tree branches, flooded streets, and (the final insult) a stopped train.
12:32 a.m.
"What else, Arkansas?? Nothing like a train blocking your way to the finish!"

Looping past the end of the train, Google maps and I muddled our way to the bridge I'd crossed 12 days earlier on my way to the start. After the longest ride in a series of very long rides, I finally made my way to the Clinton Presidential Park where Chuck and Phyllis had been waiting for me. "I'd like to tell you thank you," I told him, "but I wouldn't really mean it right now."

At the pre-race meeting, Chuck had displayed the race belt buckles. Three were given away: one for the male winner, one for the female winner, and one for a random finish number Chuck had selected before the race. Number ten. Out of nineteen starters, ten finished, and I was that lucky buckle recipient.

They very kindly drove me to a couple hotels until we found one with a open room, and just like that it was over. Not with a bang but a whimper, and a very, very long bath.


  1. What a tale! I've enjoyed following along as you completed this. What a massive accomplishment.


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