Friday morning Mike and I walked over to Bob's Barksdale to meet the traveling Rapha Continental team. All together, this table full of skinny white guys consumed more breakfast than I think our waitress had ever seen. Typical orders consisted of two eggs, biscuits, hasbrowns, bacon, a short stack and the odd plate of country ham and grits. And biscuits and gravy. Bikes and kit took a little bit to get together, but we finally made on our way and to the river for pictures and our first flat. Despite a recognizance ride on Tuesday, the river had risen enough that our route to West Memphis was partially underwater. Not that it mattered to much as Cole demonstrated that we could just ride through it. The water only reached the hubs - that's ok, right? The second was a little deeper and somewhat faster, so some of us had a Stand By Me moment crossing an elevated railroad trying to avoid the flood. Finally we found open road on which the Rapha guys could drill it into the wind (and I could hold on for dear life). Daniel (the Rapha contact and organizer) and Cole were great, always offering me the best protection from the wind and keeping me with the group as much as possible. Everyone was great making sure that if I created a gap, someone dropped back to help me back up. Even with 500 miles on the week, they were strong and fast tearing up the Arkansas chip seal. Unfortunately, between the pace and the gravel on the levee, I couldn't find the time (or breath) to take any more pictures. Despite being only twenty feet tall, the loose twelve mile gravel levee was described as "the longest, flattest hill I have ever climbed." The roads were great all the way to Mariana where we took a much needed (and later than expected) break. As we headed south to Helena through the St. Francis National Forest I quickly fell off the back. The hills and gravel exposed my weak-sauce riding and I couldn't keep contact. At a crucial juncture, everyone took a left and I took a right when I came to it several minutes later. They got a ride on wet, gnarly roads, where I got a ride on nicer, hilly roads. Buy I also suffered three flats which led to me riding my final 7 miles on a sloppy tire before Dave and Adam found me.
Finally in Helena, we were both impressed and dismayed by the deserted, but once-cool appearing town. With only a package-store available, we enjoyed a cold american lager watching the river below. When the van finally caught up with us, we raced back to Memphis only to find every BBQ joint in town closed. Cole somehow made a deal with RC at Central, who sent us on our way with an entire shoulder and a pair of gloves with which to pull it. After a brief stop for beer and veggie fare we had a quick sandwich on the front porch before calling it a night.
What was supposed to be a flat, easy century or so, broke a couple of us and was epic in it's own special way. Many thanks to Daniel and Rapha for bringing the continental team down here. I had a blast and think they did as well.
Check out the Rapha Continental Road Journal for a superior account and photos. Also watch for an upcoming book which will thoroughly document the ride with all of Brian's great photos, maps and more.