PAC Tour, Southern Trancontinental 2006

Day 16, Monday, September 25
To: Mena, AR; 111 miles

"13% grades next 21 miles"
Riding Time: 7:23:30; Avg Speed: 15.1 mph; Max Speed: 48.3 mph

The start was a cool 46°F and clear then warmed to the upper 70's.

Rolling terrain for the first 55 miles, then steep climbing for 50 miles followed by a screaming descent for the last 6.
There are two major climbs. The first is 6.3-miles with an average grade of 4.2% starting at the 55 mile point.
Then at 80 miles we hit the real leg buster of the day, 3.2 miles with an average grade of 7.5%. There was one 0.3 miles
section of that ascent that I had to climb standing up in a 36x27 gear. That was the only climb of the whole tour that
was necessary.

 

Just east of the Talihina OK is the start of the Talimena Scenic Drive. I presume the name "Talimena" is derived from the names of the two towns it connects "Talihina" and "Mena".

 

Riding most of the first 50 miles alone, I hooked up with Butch and Paul just before the "Winding Stair" National Recreation Area at 56 miles. Butch was going well today and rode away from us on the lower slopes. Further ahead of us was Ken and Randy.

Rolling hills at the foot of the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced "wah-shi-tah"; at 46 miles) This marked the beginning of the 50 miles of steep grades (at 55 miles)
The right photo was taken at the base of the mountain ridge shown in the distance on the left photo.

 

Start of the Talimena Scenic Drive to the first major summit 4.5 miles further (view looking ESE). This is the upper 2/3 of the 6.3 mile 4.2% climb to the first ridge line.

 

Paul and I rode well together despite our different climbing styles. Paul likes to ride hard and fast on the descents then use his robust power to muscle up the climb in a big gear standing up. While not as powerful, I am lighter and prefer to sit and spin a smaller gear. So on a short climb Paul would surge past me, and on a longer climb I passed him. The net result was our average speed was the same and we would just yo-yo back and forth over the varying terrain.

Oh my Gawd!
At the start of Talimena Scenic Drive (mile 57.2 with 4.5 miles to the first major summit)

 

Although we were pacing ourselves at a high tempo, that didn't stop us from visiting every scenic overlook and stopping many times to take photos.

Paul was a joy to ride with. We rode all of the early climbs to lunch, where we were joined by Eamonn and Walter

 

After the first 6.3 mile climb we rode the along a jagged ridge line with magnificent vistas on each side. It felt like riding the on the back of a stegosaurus.

Paul greeting Eamonn at lunch. This spot has my vote for the most scenic lunch stop of the tour (at 75 miles)

 

At lunch, together again. Although we don't plan it, we always seem to join each other near the end of the day. Butch was riding strong today as his chest congestion has cleared over the last few days. He went on to finish 2nd on this very demanding day.
 
This the second of two major climbs (view looking ESE). It took us to the second ridgeline in 3.1 miles at 7.5%. We hit this after lunch at 80.1 miles. Most agreed this was the hardest climb of the day.

 

Pine Mountain Vista (at 91 miles)

 

These climbs were brutal as they just kept coming one after the other. A steep descent followed by a sharp steep climb - 46 to 6 mph very quickly.

In the west the grades can be very long but usually 6% or less since those roads were constructed after the invention of dynamite (by Alfred Nobel in 1867). Dynamite allowed crews to blast though the peaks. They then used that material to fill in the low spots resulting in a more uniform grade. The earlier roads in the east, however, were laid over every natural hill and dale. The result is a series steep up and downhill grades.

Unfortunately, we did not get a photo at the "Welcome to Arkansas" sign since there wasn't one. We knew exactly where the border was as we found the "Welcome to Oklahoma" sign in the opposite direction. Maybe we are not welcome in Arkansas.

Walter needed Paul to help drive the train. Walter said, "The controls are labeled in English!"

 

"Want-a-be?"
While climbing a particularly steep pitch, I mentioned to Paul how challenging these grades were. Paul agreed and added that these pitches were tough enough to separate real riders from the "want-a-bees". Walter overheard, and asked what kind of bee was this want-a-be. Paul explained, that its someone who would like to be good at something, but in fact are not. Walter still thought it had something to do with a honey producing insect and punctuated the point with an erratic index finger and a buzzing sound.

They finally agreed to discuss it after the ride. Over post-ride milk shakes at Mc Donald's we cleared the confusion and Walter now has a new english word to use.

Someone yelled, "Free food up ahead!" and the race was on.

 

The descent into Mena was a real screamer and technical in some parts. With minimal experience descending steep mountain passes, I chose to be cautious. But rather than ride the brakes (which could overheat the rim and lead to tire blowout, in addition to excessive brake wear) I learned to adopt an un-aerodynamic posture to control speeds more naturally. Sitting up high and one knee well outboard, it feels a bit like a parachute.

Success! The end of a great day.

 

In the end, Ken won the day and we came in behind him, Butch, Randy and Dennis. We had a surprisingly fast ride, but more importantly had fun on and off our bikes all along the way.

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