I started the ride at the Cove Lake campground, which is in the western portion of the state.
|Cove Lake Campground, Arkansas|
|The Arkansas century route|
|My spot at Cove Lake Campground|
I thoroughly enjoyed the first 35 miles to Dardanelle. I actually managed to get an early start on the day, so temperatures were cool, traffic was light, and everything seemed calm and relaxed. My legs weren't feeling too bad (the 2nd day is always worse than the 3rd for some reason), either.
Mt. Nebo was a killer little climb: 2.5 miles at 10%. It starts out difficult with some super steep switchbacks, then it eases off for a little flat section before it kicks up again towards the end. There's a nice park at the top with a few campsites (water!) and a pool. There was some kind of running race going on while I was there, so the place was packed. I wish I had more time to explore the park, but I had other plans for the day.
After Nebo it was on to Mt. Magazine. What I didn't realize was that my route took me on a short gravel climb to get there. I thought I did my research on Google Maps with satellite view and street view, but obviously I missed something. My GPS was telling me to turn on the gravel road, but for some reason I wasn't trusting it. I even went 3 miles in the wrong direction before I broke free from my denial and turned back towards the dirt road. There really wasn't another option that didn't add a lot of extra mileage, so I took the dirt road and hoped for the best.
As luck would have it, the dirt road wasn't all that bad. According to Strava there's a section of 0.7 miles at 7%, but the surface was good enough that I was able to keep traction on my road bike. I took it slow on the descent and everything was fine. These kind of things are annoying when they happen, but once they're done they're over you're glad they happened. They add an extra element of excitement to the ride.
Mt. Magazine was a good climb. My legs were tired at that point so I wasn't exactly flying, but the scenery was great and there was hardly any traffic out there. There's an easier section towards the top of the climb and then it was mostly downhill back to Cove Lake Campground.
All in all it was a great day to ride a bike and a good way to end my trip. After 3 days I was finally getting used to the humidity, so it was a shame that I didn't have more time to ride and explore the area. I definitely hope to return to Mena and ride more of the Talimena Byway. I'm sure there are other nice areas that Arkansas has to offer. As always, it's difficult to pick one route in a state and feel satisfied that you know what the state is all about.