The 2021 Big and Little Sugar Gravel Ride Review
Where to start on this one, it’s been an interesting year, not the best to be honest with a variety of things causing turmoil this year, I question how much I want to, or should share, so we’ll see what comes out in this post.
First and foremost, to the family that experienced tragedy this weekend, I am so sorry for your loss.
For the rest of the weekend and ride review:
Monday morning I texted my buddy Wagner (Wags) to tell him I was out, I would not be going to Bentonville for Big Sugar Gravel. I had spent a few days fighting a sinus infection (I am vaccinated and tested negative for covid, though I was pretty sure before the test that it was a usual for me sinus thing). I had only been on my bike once in October, and was simply not ready to try to ride 100 miles in North West Arkansas and South West Missouri.
He let me stew on the message I sent him for a bit then suggested we could still do the 50 mile ride, the Little Sugar. By early afternoon that simple reply from him had flipped my mindset. We went out for a ride that afternoon and I was back in the game, though with an adjusted plan to ride 50 miles and still be back home in St. Louis Saturday night so I could go to my daughter’s gymnastics competition on Sunday.
Friday morning we left St. Louis County arriving in Bentonville shortly after 1pm. We went to the 8th Street Market to figure out where Outerbike was, and to grab some lunch before registration was supposed to open. At registration we were easily able to switch our entries from Big Sugar to Little Sugar, and I got a thank you from Treva for letting them know about a bridge that was out on the 100 mile route.
Side Note: So this trip was not my first to Bentonville, I had actually been down there for the first time one week prior, meeting with a potential customer about a software project. On my drive back, last Friday the 15th, I decided to cruise along some of the gravel roads to see what we were in for. I wasn’t more than a mile off the highway when I came across a closed road, which I knew from looking at the Ride With GPS map was part of the route for Big Sugar. I drove down the closed road (don’t try this at home kids) and came across a crew working feverishly on a bridge. Before I got home on Friday I reached out to the LifeTime crew to ask if they knew about the bridge. They reached out on Monday and made sure to get out and check it out. In their defense, they had recently covered the course, but the bridge was damaged sometime after that scouting run.
From there we walked around Outerbike. I must admit, the Dirty Kanza/Unbound Gravel expo puts all other expos at events (besides my one trip to Sea Otter) to shame. I was kind of expecting Outerbike to compete, but it was much smaller. It was most definitely there for the MTB crew, and while the Gravel folks were accepted, the focus was on mountain bikes and demos, primarily. That being said, we picked up a number of swag items, including waffles from both Untapped and Honeystinger.
Wags found and geeked out with Jom from GravelCyclist.
Another local, Adelmann, from St. Louis showed up at the expo, so we organized a brief afternoon ride. He wanted to check out the beginning of the course, and I was really more interested in trying to see some of Bentonville and some of the trails. Wags and I ended up heading up towards the Slaughter Pen trail, which also happened to be the finish area for both Big and Little Sugar. We headed off into some single track on our gravel steeds and had a blast trying not to injure ourselves before Saturday. From there we headed out the road up and under the highway. We ended up only putting in about 10.5 miles, but it was enough to get our legs moving a bit and see some of Bentonville.
We stopped at the Phat Bike shop and eached picked up a t-shirt, while I picked up some new cleats for my shoes thinking that my old ones were wearing out (they weren’t, the new ones felt just as loose as the old ones).
Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed up to find a parking spot. We ended up parking near the Square in Bentonville, which worked out fricken amazingly. There was a public bathroom right there, and we were 1 block from the finish line so that after the ride we could easily get the bikes back on the rack and we could change clothes. We had hoped to make it to the start line for the 7am Big Sugar start, to see Adelmann off, but ended up not making it down there until closer to 720am.
The start was at the Momentary, which to be honest, is a cool looking building, but I have no idea what it actually is, the assumption is it is some sort of art space. (Runs off to google: The Momentary brings together contemporary visual, performing, and culinary arts into a welcoming, communal space in Northwest Arkansas.)
The Little Sugar ride went off right as scheduled at 8am with a lead out of town, we were back far enough that we couldn’t see the lead, but I believe it was local police doing the work on that. Before too long we were on Gravel and off into the beautiful country known as North West Arkansas (and southwest Missouri).
There was a threat of rain, but that didn’t materialize. We did get a pretty scary looking storm at the rest stop, to the north of there it was dark and the wind started blowing pretty good for a bit, but for use on the Little Sugar course we remained dry with only a couple of seconds of spitting drops here or there.
The course itself was amazing, hilly but the hills were not TOO much. I did get off and walk on a couple of those hills however. I was able to hop back on and finish the climbs each time I did though. We made it to the the aid station at Whistling Springs Brewery without any noticeable trouble, though neither Wags nor I drank enough fluids in that first 2 hours on the ride. I chugged a bottle of Scratch that I had to try to force fluids in me and then grabbed some water at the brewery to fill both bottles back up.
The aid station was stocked with Untapped Maple products, as well as other assorted items. I tried their “MapleAid” which I pictured as lemonade, had someone told me it was Tea I might have taken to it better, but expecting lemonade with maple flavor, I quickly poored out the sample that I had put in my bottle and just grabbed water instead.
Wags went inside and grabbed himself a beer, as we all had “drink” tickets that we could use there. I grabbed some snacks and looked around a bit. With the storm appearing to be moving our way, I wasn’t too intersted in standing around, but I did get to see some of the beautiful property there, including a pig and dog wandering around saying hello to people.
To get out of the brewery you climb up Whistling Springs road, I was chugging along the climb when I decided to stand up and put a little effort into it. This caused my rear tire to lose traction, my foot to immediately fall down to the bottom of my stroke, a quick unclip and I was hoofing it for a little while up the hill.
It was shortly after leaving the brewery that we came across a maroon Toyota Tacoma, first coming at us, then after it turned around, it passed us going back the way from which it came. Not a minute or two later and we came across the same Tacoma stopped in the middle of the road. He stopped because a rider had fallen on the downhill, we could see a rider down in front of the truck.
I immedatiately jumped off my bike, called 911 and began trying to figure out where we actually were so that we could get help to us. For now, for the families sake, I will leave out any additional details, if anyone from the family would like more info, please feel free to contact me.
Wags and I stayed on the scene for about 45 minutes, before heading back out on the road. On the way out the ambulance was coming in, we were glad to see that.
The rest of the ride kind of blurs together, at one point Wags and I were talking about how we hadn’t had any of the 100 mile competitors pass us since the accident (maybe 15 came through while we were there, a BIG thank you to those who slowed down, to those of you who didn’t, a couple of the top 5 men’s riders, show some decency next time). We began to wonder if the organizers had closed the course at the Brewery for weather or something.
It wasn’t until shortly after this conversation that we started to get riders coming by us from the 100, we found out later talking to a gentleman who finished in the 21st spot that they had actually shut the course down where the ambulance arrived on the scene.
Once the trickle started as 100 mile riders were passing us, the flood came. Mostly we were passed by the top men, but a number of women passed by as well, including Amity Rockwell. A big shout out to all the riders who passed us slower guys with words of encouragement, it was much appreciated each and every time someone said something.
The finish required you to climb back up into the park area around the start of Slaughter Pen, you were on paved roads at this point, but was a slog for someone who wasn’t in shape and ready for a 50 mile ride. Wags waited for me and helped motivate me towards the finish as we crossed the line together, 5 hours and 21 minutes after we started, in 254th and 255th spot. I definitely had hoped to finish this ride in under 5 hours, hoping for closer to 4 hours, but with over 3k feet of elevation, and stopping for 45 minutes to assist, I am please that we still finished in 5:21.
Post ride you were given a mug/mason jar of Untapped Maple syrup and a big lollipop (lots of SUGAR). Wags and I headed back to the car, loaded up the bikes and changed into some street clothing to be comfortable before heading back to the finish area to grab food from a food truck with our meal tickets.
We sat down and talked to a few fellow competitors, and I chatted with Big Tall Wayne again (Wags and I spoke to him Friday at the 8th street market, as well as at Unbound earlier this year). Adelmann wandered up to us after he finished and he downed a bottle of my Scratch Labs drink that I had made while at the truck. He was struggling with nutritional issues and said he was fortunate to have finished having vision concerns the last ~30 miles of his ride. He averaged 14.98mph on his ride, while Wagner and I averaged 9.94mph.
I got all sorts of comments on my jersey for the ride on Saturday. I wore my 2019 Cuban Gravel Crisis jersey. That WAS a real ride, and I gotta say, the best named gravel race in the history of gravel races. Unfortunately I hear rumors that the organizer of the ride no longer has rights to the name and is changing the name going forward, that’s unfortunate (looks like they let the domain expire even, that’s a shame)!
If you’ve not made your way to North West Arkansas yet, definitely check it out. Bentonville, you are amazing. See you soon, next time my family is coming too.
Be sure to check out BigSugarGravel.com for information on when registration will open for next year, you don’t want to miss this event!
A big thanks goes out to the event organizers, and to the folks at LifeTime for reaching out on Sunday as well. My thoughts again go out to the family.