Podcast: Ozark Gravel Cyclists – With Andrew Onermaa

podcast ozark gravel cyclists

Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, sits down this week with Andrew Onermaa, founder of Ozark Gravel Cyclists. Andrew is a passionate gravel cyclist and bike packer who has channeled energy into creating a hub for Arkansas gravel cyclists

Click to Play the Podcast

Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)

[00:00:00]Craig Dalton: [00:00:00] [00:00:00] Andrew, welcome to the show.

[00:00:02] Andrew Onermaa: [00:00:02] Hey, thanks for having me, Craig,

[00:00:03] Craig Dalton: [00:00:03] super excited to learn more about your project. It was our gravel cycling, but the more I’ve talked to you on offline, the more I want to hear about your personal journey to the bike and all the things you’ve been doing.

[00:00:15] So why don’t we start off by just a little bit of your background. As an athlete and what led you to gravel cycling?

[00:00:21]Andrew Onermaa: [00:00:21] That’s a great question. So the journey of the bicycle has definitely evolved a lot in the last decade. So I realized, or did riding bikes in college as a means of transportation. My vehicle died on me.

[00:00:36] Okay. I can’t buy another car. What are we going to do? So what’s the cheapest bike you can possibly find. It’s going to be a bike that has. One gear and has nothing extra on it. So got a six gear bike, cause I was starting to hear about it. I was cool. This is in 2011, 2012, and I started really getting addicted to just the motion of moving through the landscape and interacting with vehicles and people and pedestrians.

[00:01:09] And I started delivering sandwiches for Jimmy John’s in the middle of the night, I’d be doing a graveyard shift of 10:00 PM til three or four in the morning and just doing it all by bike. And I didn’t have navigation on my phone, so I’d be printing up stuff in the shop, turn by turn navigation and using [00:01:30] that to deliver sandwiches.

[00:01:32] And I ended up just spending a lot of years traveling. Out west always had a fixed gear bike. It’d be my fun way to explore, but I’d still be pursuing other things. Climbing backpacking, mountaineering skiing, really just fully embracing the outdoors. But the bike was always, there is more of just a really fun way to explore in a way to shake things up.

[00:01:54] And it. Like within the last two, three years, I finally got my hands on a road bike with multiple gears brakes, and it opened up a whole new world of cycling to me that I’d never seen. I can suddenly do much, much bigger Hills. I was living in salt lake at the time I was doing these canyon passes, seeing the landscape from essentially mountaintops.

[00:02:18] And I was just blown away by how much you could see in an afternoon, they didn’t even have to be a full day. And so that just fully consumed me. I was doing a lot of where I would bag multiple peaks in a day via foot. And I was like, man, I can apply this to the bike instead. Let’s like, how many high points can I hit?

[00:02:40] And so that really opened my eyes to how much distance you can travel on the bike. And then. I started looking over and what about these dirt roads that I’m seeing? I’m getting tired of all these cars living by like ruining the vibe per se. Like I’m out in nature and [00:03:00] all of a sudden you have 20 cars blow by and one person has to roll down their window and yell something or whatever.

[00:03:06] And so I started dabbling into some dirt, but I wasn’t confident with the skinny tires. So I went west. On the other side of the salt lake or it’s flat. And that was my introduction to gravel. It was just this big open space with these random gravel roads, no information, no signage. And I would just try and I go for awhile for as long as I felt comfortable.

[00:03:31] Yeah. And then I would turn around and come back and just cross my fingers for whatever reason I was thinking now that I’m on gravel. My bike’s gonna explode. Everything’s gonna go wrong. And I kept having rise where it’s whoa, that was actually really peaceful and enjoyable. And I was by myself the whole time.

[00:03:49] And that’s, I started honing in on that aspect of this is something different. This is combining a lot of years of playing outdoors and this love of the bicycle. And so that’s the quick summary of bikes. Over the last, almost decade until I moved back to Arkansas and got a proper gravel bike, my first gravel bike, and it’s been a little over a year having a bike that’s designed for this style of riding and it’s just been phenomenal.

[00:04:22] And just the more I’ve done it, the more I’ve just, I don’t know, absorbed as much as possible as far as learning. [00:04:30] And getting faster.

[00:04:33] Craig Dalton: [00:04:33] That’s a super cool journey to the bike. I, I remember in connecting with the originally, when you were talking about your passion for mountaineering and climbing and hiking it’s, as you came to it from a road biking perspective, it’s pretty natural that you started to see those same peaks you’d hike and say, why don’t I go up a dirt road rather than the paved roads.

[00:04:53] It’s really cool to hear that store, that backstory about how you got into gravel cycling.

[00:04:58] Andrew Onermaa: [00:04:58] Absolutely. And a lot of the hesitation initially was I felt like it was going to calm, complicate things of being out in nature in that environment. Since I always did things by foot or by skis, I, it felt very minimal.

[00:05:13] And I thought, oh, now that I bring a bike, I’m going to have to bring tools in case it breaks down, I’m going to have to bring bags to carry things and it’s going to have to attach the bike. So a lot of the hesitation was more so thinking is going to complicated all and take away from the joy. But it turns out and you can just cover so much more ground.

[00:05:31] And for the most part things work out. So you’re not getting out there and just getting flats all the time and derailers falling off or anything like that. It’s, you’re just doing what you love and you’re doing it in a really cool. Environment.

[00:05:45] Craig Dalton: [00:05:45] Yeah. You came into the sport at the perfect time, because a lot of the kinks had been worked out of the system on the bike.

[00:05:51]They are super reliable and I definitely see what you’re saying about hiking versus biking. I often think to myself as I’m [00:06:00] hiking with my family, we’re just covering so little ground compared to what I do on a bike. We have to pick such a small section to hike, whereas that would be one eighth of what I might ride in any given day.

[00:06:12] And I always feel a little bit guilty, the amount of terrain I’m able to cover versus when I’m hiking with my family. And they’re just seeing this little tidbit of what’s on the mountain

[00:06:22]Andrew Onermaa: [00:06:22] for sure. And then one, one thing I was overlooking for a long time was the. The element of enjoyment of downhill, running, hiking, whatever going downhill is not nearly as fun my foot as it is on a bike or on skis or something like that.

[00:06:39]That in itself adds a lot of extra joy on covering that terrain. Cause you get to. Experienced these crazy speeds and be making on the fly decisions and audibles to Dodge, a little boulders, or hop over ruts and things like that. So that’s, it’s a blast. You work, you like earn your journey is the term and skiing.

[00:07:01] And I feel like it relates to gravel riding really well. Really well,

[00:07:06] Craig Dalton: [00:07:06] so true. I had run into a friend of mine’s wife who was out on a all day, a mountain biking trip down onto the peninsula to a great spot called Scags. And she told me, oh, I got a text from him saying he just had the time of his life.

[00:07:21] And he’s, she’s I don’t, I just don’t get it. And I’m like, it’s hard to explain to a non cyclist, but it brings us back to our youth. It’s. It’s like [00:07:30] playing video games, wrapped into working out this constant decision making that you have to do. When you clear a section you want to just high five, your friends and you just have a laugh because it’s just such an exhilarating sport.

[00:07:45] Andrew Onermaa: [00:07:45] Yeah. There’s many times where I’m in the middle of the nowhere and those are laughing, going down a dissent or just grinning ear to ear. Cause it’s. It’s so much fun,

[00:07:55] Craig Dalton: [00:07:55] so true. I’m smiling. Just thinking about it. So you mentioned, and that your journey took you back to Arkansas and you are new gravel cyclists at that point.

[00:08:04] And the reason I was super stoked to connect with you is because I love these community based projects. So you started a group called Ozark, gravel cycling. What led you to begin that journey and put a stake in the ground and say, Hey, I’m going to be a hub for activity. Nos are in the Ozarks and try to unearth information for, would be cyclists and start a community around

[00:08:26] Andrew Onermaa: [00:08:26] gravel.

[00:08:26] Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great question. So through fix gear riding, I honestly just spent a ton of time by myself cause it’s such a very niche aspect of riding bikes that is hard to find other writers that did the same thing. And to have the same fitness or goals or schedules. So whenever I got a road bike, I was about to start racing for a team by no means was I going to be going to local crits or road races and dominating or anything, but I was just really excited on the aspect of [00:09:00] here’s a group of people that love bikes and we’re going to hang out and we’re going to ride bikes and we’re going to travel sometimes to events.

[00:09:09] And do more riding bikes. So it was just this really cool group setting that got me excited. It reminded me of sports in high school, growing up junior high, middle school, things like that. It was just, I’m an adult, but also I have the shared activity that we all get to enjoy together. And so I was just really thrilled on having friends through a common activity.

[00:09:38] And as soon as the pandemic happened, everything got canceled. So I never got to actually go to these races. I got to do a team camp, started doing some practice rides and then boom, everything canceled. So I was like, oh man, I was so fired up for this idea of traveling and riding bikes and checking out new spots.

[00:10:02] And so when I moved back to Arkansas, one is to be closer to family. My grandparents are here. I wanted to help them with grocery shopping. I didn’t want them to have to go out and do all these things by themselves. So I, one move was definitely to be around family, but the other was, Hey, things are shifting the ski resorts no longer open than I work at.

[00:10:27] This seems like a good time to [00:10:30] pursue the bike a little bit more and just skip a few months of winter and jump straight to spring by moving down south. Showed up in Arkansas and I knew one guy that rode gravel in Arkansas, and that was literally it because we knew each other in college and our very first gravel ride together.

[00:10:50] I basically told him, Hey, I was really excited on riding bikes with a group and trying to travel around and check out more places to ride, essentially make friends. And I told him that idea. He said, yeah, that’s cool. We don’t really, we have different, smaller groups, but there’s no like central thing.

[00:11:08] That’s dedicated only to gravel right now. And so I pitched an idea of, Hey, let’s. Let’s do that. Me and you, we’re having a good time right now, right? You probably have chief friends like this. I bet there’s other people in Arkansas. We know there’s other people in Arkansas that ride gravel.

[00:11:23] Let’s just try to connect more people. And that’s really how it started was just me and one other person went on a gravel ride, had a great time together. And wanted to do it more and find other people to do it.

[00:11:36] Craig Dalton: [00:11:36] So did you start off with a Facebook group? Cause I know now you have, you’ve got a website up and running.

[00:11:40]How did you get started?

[00:11:42] Andrew Onermaa: [00:11:42] Yeah, so it was whenever I first came back, I couldn’t get a job when I first came back to Arkansas. So I was living with my mom and my grandparents and I was applying and trying to get jobs anywhere. Couldn’t get a job. When I wasn’t riding my bike, [00:12:00] I decided to make pursuing this a job per se.

[00:12:04] It didn’t feel like a job is I loved every single minute of it, but it’s like, what can I do? I can create an Instagram account. That’s like the very first thing I did create an Instagram account. Those are gravel, cyclists, boom. Here’s three photos from our ride. Here’s two people that like riding gravel.

[00:12:22]What are some popular hashtags related to gravel? Who else in the area is riding gravel. So looking up ride Arkansas, anything I could do to try to find people through basically social media, I try to follow them and comment on their rides and be like, Hey, this is really cool. Where was this at?

[00:12:42] And so it was just very genuine. Because I wasn’t trying to do this Hey, this is a gravel authority and America is very, just start small, start local start focused. I didn’t like, I love what’s going on in the country, but I want to know what’s happening right here, where I live. Yeah. Oh, I love

[00:13:03] Craig Dalton: [00:13:03] that, and I’ve spoken to the Ohio gravel grinders and a couple other groups on the podcast and it’s just so critical.

[00:13:09] I think part of it seems to me that, there’s. There’s a challenge. Anytime you’re getting out there in the wilderness. And just knowing someone did this route before you, or finding a group, that’ll go do it with you. It’s just so confidence inspiring. And it just accelerates that learning curve of, once you get hooked on gravel cycling, you just [00:13:30] want to explore new and different places as frequently as you can.

[00:13:34] Andrew Onermaa: [00:13:34] Yeah. Hands down. And so it was that’s what a lot of it was getting people together. Check out new roads that at least one person had been on it before. So we’re like, cool. You’ve been on it. You’re still alive. You’re still talking to us, but let’s go check that one out. And then on my days where I couldn’t ride with anybody, I was scouting out new roads myself and trying to create new routes.

[00:13:57] And then eventually bring people out to this other area I saw and then started adding some more consistent group prides. It was just once a month. And then it was every Thursday night and it just has grown very quickly just because. One there’s a huge scene for gravel in Northwest Arkansas, but two we’ve just been consistent, no matter what it’s been for a year straight, we’ve had a group of people riding gravel every single week.

[00:14:27]Craig Dalton: [00:14:27] Amazing. So for the listener that may not be familiar with the Ozarks and Arkansas in general, can you just tell us where in the country Arkansas is and where are the regions that you love riding most in Arkansas?

[00:14:41]Andrew Onermaa: [00:14:41] Yeah, that’s great. So when I lived in Utah, it was actually one of my jokes.

[00:14:46] I’d say, Hey, I’m from Arkansas named three states that border Arkansas, and a lot of people can do it. So Arkansas we’re above Louisiana. We got Texas down to the Southwest. We [00:15:00] got Oklahoma, Missouri Tennessee, all these different states bordering us to we’re south central and. The Ozarks themselves is I was just looking at this earlier.

[00:15:14] So it’s 1.2 million acres of incredible forest. It’s big rolling Hills where the highest point is 2,700 feet tall. That’s Mt. Magazine, and you have a ton of these scattered peaks that are. In that range of 2000 or so feet. And what happens is, as you’re riding through this terrain, you get to a high point here on original line for a little bit.

[00:15:43] And then you drop way down to where these rivers and creeks are, which are down at maybe 300 feet elevation, 400 feet elevation. So you constantly get. These repeating Hills of a thousand feet or so. And so it’s this very engaging up and down rollercoaster you can’t ever see for too far in one direction either cause the tree coverage or just cause it’s so winding that it just really.

[00:16:12] Pulls you in you’re really engaged. You can’t just stare off into the distance, that stuff, because you gotta be looking at what’s in front of you.

[00:16:20] Craig Dalton: [00:16:20] So my limited experience riding in Arkansas was out of Bentonville on the big sugar course, and it was the bits I did, which was only, I think about 35 [00:16:30] miles, a lot of gravel roads, wide gravel roads, wide enough for a couple of cars to go back and forth on pretty rough gravel roads.

[00:16:37] As it turned out was she was a little bit surprised about. When you compare that type of writing with what you might find in the Ozark national forest, what would you, how would you describe the differences between the two?

[00:16:49] Andrew Onermaa: [00:16:49] Yeah that’s cool to bring that up because even a lot of people that live here, they tend to still hover around.

[00:16:57]What’s right by Bentonville arrived by Fayetteville and the way you describe it, I say that’s a great representation of what’s. Around these towns. I agree. It’s pretty chunky and it can get steep and anything that you find out and those, the proper roads aren’t national forest is just a more amplified version of what you experienced just outside of Bentonville.

[00:17:19] So it certainly sounded like

[00:17:21] Craig Dalton: [00:17:21] certain certainly sounded like the climbing in the Ozarks was, maybe 500 feet more than you might see or in and around Bentonville.

[00:17:30] Andrew Onermaa: [00:17:30] Yeah. Yeah. And then just the vistas are that much more beautiful and the rivers are that much bigger. The creeks are that much bigger.

[00:17:37] So it’s really just like anything that’s near Bentonville. It’s just, I don’t even know how to, it’s hard to, that’s why I’m so obsessed with. Getting out there and trying to develop new routes because I just think it’s absolutely phenomenal. And I know how much people love the riding right by the towns we’re at.

[00:17:59] So if [00:18:00] you love this and you’re willing to push yourself a little bit more, to go a little bit further up the hill, then you’re going to get this much bigger of a reward going downhill or seeing this view. So to me, the Ozark national forest is just the. The absolute pinnacle of what Arkansas has to offer concerning gravel, riding and bike packing.

[00:18:26] Craig Dalton: [00:18:26] Are you finding that the athletes that you’re riding with and yourself, are you riding bigger tires because of that chunky terrain?

[00:18:33] Andrew Onermaa: [00:18:33] Yeah. So some of the guys that have been here for a while and girls they I’ve been pushing them to go bigger and bigger tires. I’ve never finished a ride and been like, man, you know what?

[00:18:44] I should’ve had a smaller tire. I should’ve had a smaller tire. And a lot of it stems from, of course, people coming over from the road culture and wanting to keep speed on pavement sections. So if it’s your Thursday night ride out of town, there’s going to be a fair share of pavement. Say we’re doing pace lines.

[00:19:01] People are going to want a smaller tire and go faster. But the thing is I run a 47 seat tire. All the time. It doesn’t matter what, I’m doing 40 17 tire. And that’s truly just because that’s the biggest tire I can fit in my frame. If I could go bigger, I would honestly be looking into a 50 CC tire, potentially, especially getting out.

[00:19:22] If you do a ride only in the Ozark national forest, that’s where you’re getting in the train of man. Maybe I want like a fully rigid mountain

[00:19:30] [00:19:29] Craig Dalton: [00:19:29] bike and stuff. Yeah, no, I was thinking about the exact same thing today and I’m with you. Like I just, I. Go as fat as my bike will allow, and I never seem to regret it.

[00:19:40] I was thinking about it also in the context of descending and just how much more confident I am to have a bit more fat rubber there. It’s like going uphill and I’ve been experimenting with some really narrow tires just to test the other end of the spectrum. And it’s all good going uphill. Like I’m perfectly fine.

[00:19:55] But the moment it starts going downhill, I start getting nervous about, how much suspension is that tire providing? How hard can I hit this rock garden that I’m going through? And lot of times it’s out of your control. You’re, you get into some rough stuff going fairly fast.

[00:20:10] You got to have equipment underneath you. That’s going to survive the abuse. You’re giving it.

[00:20:14]Andrew Onermaa: [00:20:14] Absolutely. I feel like I remember whenever I listened to your podcast, like quite a few episodes in the last year or so, didn’t you have a phase where you’re starting to. Experiment more with six 50 B, just like you can go bigger tires.

[00:20:27] Craig Dalton: [00:20:27] Yep. For sure. For sure. And yeah know, it’s funny. I just posted something on Instagram this weekend, about three sets of tires and wheels that I had and which one did I choose? And it’s going to be a no surprise to anybody that it was the biggest tire that I could fit that weekend. I really like, unless it’s a very specialized ride oh, I want to do this.

[00:20:46] Particularly longish road section, and then I’m going to go on a completely smooth, gravel climbing back. I’m definitely gonna go with the big tires and I hate to sound like a broken record on the podcast, but I think like you [00:21:00] suggested a lot of people get into the sport from the road side and start thinking, oh, like a 700 by 38.

[00:21:05] That’s perfect. It’s way bigger than my road tire, which is true. But I think we’re starting to see trends in the industry more and more. But the frames are coming with a 700 by 50 tire with capability. And I think that’s a positive trend.

[00:21:22] Andrew Onermaa: [00:21:22] Absolutely. And it truly, it varies by region. So when I’m talking about those are national forest, I definitely am going to be preaching a bigger tire.

[00:21:31] Sounds like same thing with where you’re at. And is it Marion county? Yeah. Marin county. Yep. Yeah, Marion county. You get some people maybe in Iowa. So I just, I did a race in Iowa, not too long ago. And out there I can tell, I didn’t need that tire. I could have gone. A little bit skinnier, but it was what I was used to.

[00:21:49] So that’s part of it. I’m used to it. I know how it handles and it still felt good. I never felt like I was sacrificing speed, but definitely by region. I think that’s where you see trends just coming back to the different communities. It’s that there’s established community in the area and their bell curve of tires, tire, width.

[00:22:10] Is at a certain point. That’s probably what you’re going to hear recommendations for.

[00:22:15] Craig Dalton: [00:22:15] Yeah. I had a similar experience to yours in Iowa when I went to Steamboat Springs and. Tire people I was talking to, you were saying, oh, you can race that course on a 38. And I was like, no way. And I did come down to a 40, which I thought was a good [00:22:30] accommodation, but at the end of the day, like I totally could have done it on a 38.

[00:22:33] And I know a lot of the local guys and girls were running 30 twos because they call it champagne, gravel out there. And it’s, it’s not technical at all compared to what it sounds like you and I are used to.

[00:22:45] Andrew Onermaa: [00:22:45] Yeah. Yeah and teach their own. I w that’s what I love about gravel is that there’s so many different consistencies and styles that you take a road trip and you’re like, man, this is.

[00:22:58] A brand new experience. Not only is it new scenery, but just the way I am riding is a completely different experience. Yeah.

[00:23:06] Craig Dalton: [00:23:06] And you design your equipment for what you want to make. Maybe you’re designing around a weakness, you want to climb faster. So you get a lighter set up where maybe you’re not confident descending.

[00:23:16] So you get something big and burly to allow you to keep up with your friends. And, as you said, it’s all good. And it’s fascinating to see different people’s setups.

[00:23:24]Andrew Onermaa: [00:23:24] Yeah. And no matter what, whatever a person brings, I’m excited for him. You’re here to ride. Let’s do it. And we’re going to bring, to get through this ride together.

[00:23:35] Hopefully there’s not many mechanicals, but if there are so be it or flats, it’s the fact that you can pull someone and experience something like this together. That’s more important than sometimes getting into the nitty gritty of what’s the right call. It’s more like the fact that you have the enthusiasm to come do it.

[00:23:56]Will overpower a lot of those little things with the equipment. [00:24:00] 100%.

[00:24:00] Craig Dalton: [00:24:00] It’s all about riding. What you’ve got. Like you said, when you’re out there in Utah, you just had the desire to test those gravel roads out there and you just rode your road bike and it was all good. And as it became a passion of yours, you’re like maybe I want to get more specialized equipment over time.

[00:24:14]And you did. And now look what you’re doing. Adventures all over the place.

[00:24:19] Andrew Onermaa: [00:24:19] Yeah. Yeah. It’s so much fun. And I’m just barely getting started. So that’s definitely exciting thing. It’s finally being like, all right, I’ve found something I’m in it for the long haul and it’s going to progress a lot over time in so many different capacities and I’m going to keep doing everything I can to help the local community while I’m at it.

[00:24:39] Craig Dalton: [00:24:39] That’s so great. That’s so great. Speaking of racing and being in it for the long haul, I can’t help, but ask you about the Arkansas high country race. Now that I learned you did it and you cry, you crushed it. So was that your first ultra distance race?

[00:24:56] Andrew Onermaa: [00:24:56] Yeah, that was my first ultra distance race, first gravel race.

[00:25:00]So several firsts in that one outing and. Crushing it’s, I don’t know about crushing it. I went in with the mentality of I’m going to either pull off something crazy. I’m going to go up in planes. And I think I did a little bit of both. I did enough to where I was in the conversation with.

[00:25:21]Like a caliber of an athlete of tagging. Just the fact that they kept mentioning my name for the first few days and I was around the same [00:25:30] mileage and all of that. So that was really cool. Ultimately I had never pushed that far in my life as far as my mental and physical. And so it was an awesome learning experience and sleep deprivation as well.

[00:25:44] I slept. Two and a half hours in the first, like three days. It was just, yeah, it was a lot and it was exciting and a really cool way to start. So I’m definitely looking forward to more ultra distance racing. I think that’s definitely the sweet spot for me personally, is just getting on the bike and living on the bike for days on end.

[00:26:06]Craig Dalton: [00:26:06] How many miles was that event?

[00:26:08]Andrew Onermaa: [00:26:08] That event it’s right around 1,037 miles. They’ve still been shifting the route over the years, whether it be due to flooding or closed roads. So it’s still a little bit of a dynamic route. It’s not a hundred percent set in stone, but yeah, just over a thousand miles.

[00:26:27] So that’s a pretty substantial distance that be covering, especially just in one state.

[00:26:32] Craig Dalton: [00:26:32] Oh, it’s massive. And what I thought was interesting about that event, you can choose to go clockwise or counter-clockwise right?

[00:26:39] Andrew Onermaa: [00:26:39] Yeah. It’s wild. So it’s definitely with bike packing, being newer bike, packing racing.

[00:26:45] Let me say being newer in the United States, you have your classics, like the tour divide, the Colorado trail. I’d say those are when it comes to bike, packing, racing, and routes. Those are the prime examples. [00:27:00] With the most history. And it’s very clear, you start at one end and you end at the other, and for the Colorado church drill, you can do it either direction.

[00:27:12] And there’s an SKT for both and an overall MKT with the tour divide. As far as I know, the race has always been north to south. People have done the route, both directions, but the race is north to south. And so what’s a loop, right? What they’ve been developing here is, Hey let’s shake things up with this loop.

[00:27:30] You can go either direction for one, two, you can start anywhere. So we’ve had people start all over this route for the race. It’s a mass starts. Everybody starts together. But even that in itself, that mass starts going to change every two years. So it’s this crazy dynamic race where. You can go one year and then you go again three years later and you’re starting in a completely different city.

[00:27:56] You might even be going a different direction. The weather might be completely different. It’s, there’s a lot of things that they’re tying together just to keep it very interesting,

[00:28:06] Craig Dalton: [00:28:06] which is cool. And how did you feel about your choice of direction and what was it this year?

[00:28:10]Andrew Onermaa: [00:28:10] I like the counter-clockwise direction.

[00:28:13] A lot of it was strategic in the fact that starting from say a bill for last year and this year being the host community, you get the hardest stretch out of the way and the first 250 miles. Okay. So that [00:28:30] has the hardest train. So my mentality was get the hardest section out of the way right away.

[00:28:35] The biggest run out of no resupply, which is, I want to say around 150 miles and no resupply, no service, barely any water, definitely no food. Just knock that out and then keep trucking along. So that makes sense. I liked that idea. I think part of the problem was I definitely didn’t keep in mind that I.

[00:28:57]Was covering different terrain than the leaders and the other direction. So in this case, this was taking, so he was covering different drain and I didn’t need to be even with him at mile 300 I should have been behind, but instead I was even, and so it, it really does mess with your pacing strategy when you’re looking at dots on a website and you’re trying to base decisions on what other people are doing versus.

[00:29:22]Solely on how you’re feeling and what you think is the right call for you to put out your best time.

[00:29:28] Craig Dalton: [00:29:28] That makes sense. And what was your sleep system and what was your sleep strategy?

[00:29:33]Andrew Onermaa: [00:29:33] Sleep strategy and system went hand in hand. My strategy was sleep as little as possible, ride the bike as much as possible.

[00:29:42] So I brought as little as possible when it came to sleep to ensure that I didn’t give myself the choice. So I was like, whenever I get to a major town, say halfway through, get a motel sleep for four hours, get back on the [00:30:00] bike, make another huge push, occasional plopped down in a ditch in the middle of the night and put on emergency busy and all your layers and sleep for an hour.

[00:30:09] That was my mentality, which that’s not what I do for a tour or a fun ride. But for. Race of competing against people of that caliber. I knew that’s what personally I would have to do to be able to make up that differential and fitness and experience

[00:30:26] Craig Dalton: [00:30:26] you did decide to bivy in a ditch.

[00:30:28]What was your body telling you? Just like I’m completely done or was it your mind? You couldn’t ride a straight line anymore?

[00:30:35]Andrew Onermaa: [00:30:35] The first time I slept. I was just not nodding off, but I was yawning som starting to ride slower. The hill started filling bigger and harder and I just decided, okay, go ahead and take a break, take a nap and get back after it.

[00:30:56] And so Alan worked great. Second time I took a nap. I was on the wooden floor of a community church. In the middle of nowhere and luckily the doors were unlocked. So I just laid down on the ground between two pews on the hardwood floor and my knees were crazy creaky. When I got back on the bike and everything hurt terribly bad.

[00:31:18] And sometimes I just, that will last for 10 minutes and then your body goes, oh, okay, here we go. Back to what we’ve been doing. And sometimes you’re working through that for two or three hours and you’re just [00:31:30] in your head nonstop. All right. Like surely this is going to change, right? It’s so it’s definitely a lot of mental warfare.

[00:31:38] I’d say the mind is. Equally important as any other aspect when it comes to that kind of racing. Yeah.

[00:31:45] Craig Dalton: [00:31:45] Yeah. And the idea that you’re gonna feel so many things from throughout the day, and it’s going to change you’re gonna feel like everybody’s going to feel like crap at a certain point during the day.

[00:31:55] And the ride is so darn long that you’re bound to feel better at some point, presumably.

[00:32:01] Andrew Onermaa: [00:32:01] Yeah, absolutely. And which are you doing that route one kind of coming back to the whole inspiration with Ozar gravel, cyclists was having the opportunity to do that route over the summer while I was still looking for a job, I was so blown away by the terrain that it sealed the deal for me.

[00:32:19] I was like, I’m definitely gonna live in Arkansas for the rest of my life. This is incredible. I’ll take trips other places, but this is a great home base. And I can train here for the rest of my life and ride here for the rest of my life and be so happy. So that route gave me just so much joy and fulfillment that for one, it just got me incredibly excited on Arkansas riding, but too.

[00:32:46] I knew that we were just barely dancing through this terrain, 1.2 million acres and the national forest of the Ozarks alone. And we just do one little line and through it a couple of times. [00:33:00] So what about all these other roads that we don’t see on that route? And so that’s been just the utter joy of.

[00:33:06] Every weekend I can go sample one or two more new roads, make new connect actions, keep changing up loops. And right now my summer project is to make a new bike packing loop in Arkansas. That’s around 300 miles, but it’s way more. Gravel way less pavement. So 80% gravel, 90% gravel, and you’re getting 32,000 feet of elevation in 300 miles.

[00:33:37] And you share almost no roads with a high country. So it’s just this beautiful sample of you want to know what bike packing and gravel riding is an Ozarks check this out all in the Ozarks. Exactly. And yeah. Ultimately it’s to make a bunch of smaller loops within that loop. So you don’t have to go do a hundred mile day.

[00:34:00] I want to be able to have people here’s a 25 mile route that you will love. And then you can eat a burger at the oldest cafe in Arkansas right afterwards, or something like that. I have all these friends in this community that are all stoked about it, and we’re all getting out together and exploring.

[00:34:16] We have this community everyone’s so excited. And it’s just been so uplifting for everybody. It’s just the Spire and more and more people are jumping in as time goes on. [00:34:30] So it’s just this beautiful snowball effect that who knows what’s gonna be the scene in another year or two, but it’s only getting bigger and better and more exciting.

[00:34:41] Craig Dalton: [00:34:41] I love your passion for it, Andrew and it’s definitely, Arkansas has definitely been coming on the map more and more over the last few years between the big bike packing race and big sugar and other events that are going on. It’s truly a place that if you love off-road riding, you got to get to one of these days.

[00:34:59]I think that’s a good place for us to end. I really appreciate the time and truly appreciate anybody who’s growing a community from the ground up. Ozark gravel cycling is such an amazing resource and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes for anybody in the region. Who’s looking for great routes.

[00:35:16] You hear the passion in Andrew’s voice for what he’s doing. So go visit him, hit him up on social media and get out there and try some Arkansas gravel.

[00:35:26] Andrew Onermaa: [00:35:26] I would love it. And I do get messages from people coming out of state and they want to know where to go and what to see. So it’s it’s very rewarding to share this with others and I’m glad to have.

[00:35:39] You asked me onto the show. Cause it’s just helping us reach an even broader audience that maybe one person is going to make a road trip to Arkansas. And that’s because of you having me on the show. So thank you.

[00:35:52] Craig Dalton: [00:35:52] I think we might be getting a rush of people to Arkansas after this. I love it.

[00:35:56] Thanks Andrew.

[00:35:58] Andrew Onermaa: [00:35:58] Absolutely. Thank you. [00:36:00]

Craig
The Gravel Ride Podcast