Heading to the Arkansas High Country RaceJan Heine
The Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. Lush green valleys. The Arkansas River valley. I’ve heard so much about the Arkansas High Country Race…
…from Ted King, who raced the full-length 1000-mile version and set the FKT,…
…from Annie Davis who rides there all the time and holds the FKT for the Northwest Loop,…
…and from Hailey Moore, who did a solo ride on the Ozark Gravel Doom route (and set the FKT at the time).
They talked of incredibly steep gravel roads, of river crossings with water so turquoise it almost defied belief, of small country stores in the middle of nowhere. It sounded like such a romantic landscape, yet also such challenging terrain.
I had to visit this mythical place! So I entered this year’s race on the 487-mile South Loop. (For readers who prefer metric, that’s 783 km.) The course has more than 32,000 feet (10,000 m) of climbing. It’s said to be about half gravel and half pavement.
The race starts in a few days on Saturday morning. It’s a big challenge—riding and racing in a part of the country I know little about. The Arkansas High Country Race is a true bikepacking race: You’re on your own when it comes to planning your ride, figuring out how and where to resupply… In fact, you even get to decide whether you want to ride the course clockwise or counterclockwise! (I’m thinking clockwise to ride the hardest climbs with fresh legs.)
I’ve looked at topographic maps and realize that many of those climbs are steeper than 10%. I found out that those place names on the map are often no more than a house or two. Resupplies are few and far between. I checked Google for opening hours of the country stores along the way and realized that many are closed on Sundays. It all adds to the challenge. But that’s also why I want to do this race. It’ll be an experience to remember.
I’ve prepared my bike—above on a test ride over Seattle’s steepest hills—by swapping the 40-tooth chainring with a 36-tooth. Those climbs look steep!
I’m excited to ride in a part of the country I know little about. It’ll be a good test for rider, bike and tires. I also look forward to meeting people I’ve known for a long time but never actually met: race organizer Andrew Onermaa, photographer Kai Caddy, as well as racers and riders. Most of all, it’ll be fun. Follow the race at
—and wish me luck!
Photo credit: Kai Caddy