HOT SPRINGS -- Hot Springs will be the host city in 2022 and 2023 for the "grueling" 1,037-mile Arkansas High Country Race, the city's tourist agency 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 in downtown Hot Springs, the Visit Hot Springs agency said in a news release, adding that a shorter 500-mile loop is also 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 in the release.
The Arkansas High Country Race "will be another jewel in our crown in the rapidly growing biking community in Arkansas and surrounding states," she said.
The 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, Visit Hot Springs said.
The course can be ridden clockwise or counterclockwise.
With Hot Springs as the host city, riders who have competed for multiple years from other starting points will have to reevaluate their strategy, race officials said in the release.
"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.
"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," said Andrew Onermaa, who will be the race director for the 2022 event.
"Hot Springs is a perfect fit for the [Arkansas High Country Race,] and we cannot wait to highlight its community and local businesses for the upcoming years," Chuck Campbell, assistant race director, said in the release.
"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 five 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," Berry said.
"The riders are required to send 'selfie' photographs of themselves at designated mandatory 'selfie stops' on the route," she said.
The prize? The winner gets a belt buckle and belt emblazoned with the race logo, Berry said.