Hot Springs will be the host city in 2022 and 2023 for the "grueling" 1,037-mile Arkansaw High Country Race, Visit Hot Springs announced Wednesday.
The first year's race, which takes competitors on a loop that encompasses much of the "toughest mountain terrain" in Arkansas, will start on Oct. 8, 2022, in downtown Hot Springs, Visit Hot Springs said in a news release, adding that a shorter 500-mile loop also is available.
“Hot Springs is already famous for our city’s Northwoods Trail System, which is one of the finest mountain biking facilities in the South,” Traci Berry, Northwoods trails coordinator for Visit Hot Springs, said. “The Arkansaw High Country Race, which will start on October 8, 2022, in downtown Hot Springs, will be another jewel in our crown in the rapidly growing biking community in Arkansas and surrounding states.”
The ArHC Race, which takes at least five days for the fastest racers to complete, consists of a loop of gravel roads and highways that will begin in Hot Springs, travel west through the high ridges of the Ouachita Mountains and Ouachita National Forest, over to the Mena area, angle northeast past Lake Dardanelle, up to Fayetteville and a brief jog into Missouri, cut southeast through the tough territory of the Ozark National Forest and Buffalo National River area, drop south through the Greers Ferry Lake and Conway region, through Maumelle and back to Hot Springs.
The course can be ridden clockwise or counterclockwise.
With Hot Springs being chosen as the host city, the riders who have done the race multiple years from other starting points will have to reevaluate their strategy, race officials said.
“As many as 100 riders will come to Hot Springs to push themselves and their bodies to the absolute limits in a race where just finishing is winning,” Berry said.
“We are super stoked to bring this challenging and awe-inspiring event to Hot Springs. Gravel riding and bikepacking are growing in popularity in the outdoor industry. Our region has some of the best gravel in the state with spectacular views of the Ouachitas. With Hot Springs being selected as the host city, it gives us a great opportunity to highlight points in our region along the race route like our historic downtown and National Park, the [International Mountain Biking Association] Epic LOViT Trail out at Lake Ouachita, and much more.
“Arkansas is known for its exciting trails, scenic highways, sparkling waterways and unique destinations, and the riders of the Arkansaw High Country Race are just as awe-inspiring and multifaceted as the terrain. We are so thrilled for this unique opportunity to begin and end this race in the heart of the Ouachitas, and in our community, which has embraced the sport of biking. We will show them this region’s upcropping hotbed of individuals, businesses and organizations as the community comes out to rally around these amazing athletes and give them the warmest welcome to Hot Springs.”
Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe said, “I cannot think of a better host city than Hot Springs to send off some of the most passionate and toughest cyclists for the 2022 and 2023 Arkansaw High Country Race.
“We will welcome them as they arrive in our picturesque city and will have the natural hot spring waters — which have been used for healing and rejuvenation for thousands of years — waiting for them upon their crossing of the finish line.
“Adding this exciting event to our Hot Springs biking repertoire only continues to enhance our place as a mecca for those seeking the thrill of the trails on two wheels.”
Andrew Onermaa, who will be the race director for the 2022 ArHCR, said, “The ArHCR is still in its early years and we’re thrilled to continue to watch it grow with its new host community of Hot Springs for 2022-2023.
“The Ouachita Mountains are often overlooked by visitors and Arkansas residents alike when it comes to gravel riding and bikepacking in the state; this venue truly provides a unique experience for riders while still embracing the original spirit of the race we’ve come to love. Incorporating the South Loop of the ArHCR Route for the Short Circuit Race will bring riders to some of the most remote and beautiful terrain you can find in the state.”
Chuck Campbell, assistant race director said, “Hot Springs is a perfect fit for the ArHCR and we cannot wait to highlight its community and local businesses for the upcoming years.”
“It’s a test of endurance, strength and tenacity that covers most of the high country in the state,” Berry said. “The 2021 winner, Scotti Lechuga, took 5 days, 10 hours and 46 minutes to complete it. Some of the competitors take a week or more. It’s a bear of a course.”
Berry said the riders are on their own for the entire race.
“Each rider has a GPS device that lets the race monitors keep track of their progress minute-to-minute,” she said. “The riders don't travel in a pack. They’re on their own, no support vans or ‘sag wagons,’ although groups of people called Trail Angels may provide support at various spots along the way. Some of the riders just pull off the trail and catch a few winks of sleep on the ground from time to time.
“The riders are required to send ‘selfie’ photographs of themselves at designated mandatory ‘selfie stops’ on the route.
“The prize? The winner gets a belt buckle and belt emblazoned with the ArHC Race logo.
“The Arkansaw High Country Race is a feat of monumental challenge, and Hot Springs is really honored to be the start-finish place for the next two years.”
Berry said the riders will stay at the Hotel Hot Springs as host hotel and will be treated to the city’s other amenities during their time in town.
In May of 2019, the Adventure Cycling Association outlined the Arkansas High County Route. Days later Rebecca Rusch made the first ride of the complete perimeter of the route to set the fastest known time. On a wet track and in miserably wet, cold weather, she finished in 8 days, 3 hours, and 33 minutes.
Less than a month later, 19 riders lined up at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock for the inaugural riding of the ArHC Race. When the gravel had settled, 10 of the riders completed the grueling course. Mike Dicken, an Arkansas expatriate living in Wyoming, took home the winner’s buckle with a time of 6 days, 10 hours, and 5 minutes. Ally Mabry was the first woman to finish. Her time was 8 days, 15 hours, and 9 minutes.
“The race will bring the toughest athletes in the sport to Hot Springs,” Berry said. “We’ll make sure they enjoy everything Hot Springs has to offer, including our spectacular Northwoods Trails.”
For more information call Traci Berry at 501-321-2027.