“Get Your Wows in the Ouachitas.”
That is, or should be, the tag line for the brand spanking new Arkansas High Country Route—which opened on May 1st—1,200 miles of mixed-surface riding through the Arkansas Ouachitas Mountains and the Ozark Plateau. Arkansas school teacher Chuck Campbell envisioned the route, and the Arkansas State Parks and Recreation and the Adventure Cycling Association helped plan and draw funding for the route’s creation and dot all the “i”s. Interestingly, powerful Arkansas family, the Waltons, of Walmart fame, pumped a ton of money into the route, continuing their financial support of the cycling community through big infrastructure projects.
It’s roughly 50/50 pavement to dirt, with mostly gravel sections providing the messy stuff with some singletrack options for people who want to ride the route on a mountain bike. The singletrack portions, by the way, are officially epic, as in certified so by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Otherwise, a gravel bike with speed-oriented geometry is the way to go. Three loops connect Little Rock with Bentonville and Fayetteville; portions of the route dip into Oklahoma and Missouri too. Arkansas has been developing a reputation as a big-draw for road and mountain biking in recent years, and the AHCR is the state’s newest new cycling crown jewel.
Though the route is doable for riders of any skill level, depending on how much ground they want to cover on a daily basis, it can be a real asskicker.
Endurance legend Rebecca Rusch just completed the first ever thru-ride of the AHCR, covering 1,041 miles in a blistering pace that saw her finish in 8 days, 3 hours, and 33 minutes. Rusch climbed a leg-burning and lung-searing 84,373 feet along the way. The rugged topography, at least in terms of elevation gains and losses, blew her mind.
“I’m really surprised at how hilly Arkansas is,” she said. “I was a bit naive about that. I come from a mountainous state, I live in Idaho, and this [Arkansas] is like serious mountain elevation. Smaller hills, but a lot of them.”
The average climb on the AHCR is 77 feet per mile, with grades that top out at a grunty 22 percent.
On Rusch’s ride, not only was the climbing a shock, but poor weather made riding conditions brutal at times.
“The Arkansas weather has not been kind to me,” she said, halfway through her bid. “Every day I’ve been in pretty much a torrential downpour. It’s 45 degrees and raining, so it’s really cold. I’m carrying everything with me on my bike and I don’t have a lot of extra gear. When it gets soaked through, that’s it. It keeps me moving though, to stay warm.”
Maps of the route can be downloaded at the Adventure Cycling Association’s website.