Ted King Ups the Ante on Bikepacking the Arkansas High Country

We last caught up with Ted in late spring when he rode clear across Vermont in a 310 mile, one-day epic. Not ready to call that good enough, Ted has upped the ante as he’s fresh off the 1,020 mile Arkansas High Country Race where he took top honors. Given our easy access to this UnTapped co-founder, we thought we’d pick his brain on some hot topics from this ride.

Welcome home Ted! How do you prepare for something like this?

Thanks very much. My bikepacking experience errs towards novice, so I relied on fitness and overthinking every other detail. I logged a few long training rides in the weeks leading into the Arkansas High Country. There was a single ten hour ride, an eight hour ride once and a couple six hour days. In truth, that’s something of a joke as it compares to the hours needed for the race itself. A massive ten hour training ride might be only half of what’s needed in a single day of pedaling in a bikepacking race! It’s fascinating to me how you intuitively empty the tank for that specific amount of time when training. So sure, you’re tired by the end of a ten hour day or eight hour day or even a three hour day, but you’ve allotted your energy accordingly. Then jump to bikepacking and I'm out there logging 17-20 hours consecutively at a go with only brief windows to rest and recharge, so it was a whole new normal for me.

The riding is one thing, but the preparation, packing, and research for everything else is an equally huge component. I slept out on my back deck on a couple of rainy nights in order to see what the sleeping accommodations might be like – specifically, whether I would use a sleeping bag or just dress really really warm while sleeping in the bivy. The temperature at home dropped to the low thirties which is what I expected on course in Arkansas at night. Thankfully it was dry the entire time in Arkansas. I honestly don’t know how I would have handled it if it were as chilly as it was with the added element of precipitation.

How about food – how did you handle nutrition on this adventure?

I’ve used UnTapped as my ride, race, and training fuel for years, so I wanted to be sure that I had that as a constant. It’s next to impossible to take five-plus days worth of nutrition with you, just because of the restricted amount of room on the bike, so I made sure to pack enough UnTapped that I’d be able to allot out and enjoy three Mapleaid sticks per day, two waffles per day, and two UnTapped packets per day, estimating a five day adventure. I paid attention to get UnTappeds and waffles for pure energy, some caffeinated products like Coffee UnTapped and Lemon Tea Mapleaid when I needed a little more pick-me-up, plus electrolyte-forward products like Salted Raspberry and some pre-release and now brand new Salted Cocoa UnTapped.Anything you can do to feel "normal" on this trip is really important, and knowing that I had UnTapped day after day was a really nice constant. Beyond that, nutrition is catch-as-catch-can. Gas stations, diners, grocery stores are all our resupply zones. I tried to focus on carbohydrate rich food since that’s the body’s main energy source, and whenever possible a focus on real-food. So bakeries and coffee shops offer baked goods, the Rich Mountain convenience has a short order diner where I loaded up on pancakes, eggs, and hashbrowns; a burrito in the middle of the day was another highlight on day three. I was eating at least every hour and in some hard sections, there’s food down the hatch every 30 minutes.

There are enough convenience stores that water isn’t an enormous concern in the cool fall months, but I still had to use my water filter and hydrate from a stream a handful of times.And sleep, how much were you getting?

As little as ninety minutes one night and as much as five hours later in the race when I was particularly empty. That five hour night was in the luxurious comfort of a motel – the rules of support are that racers are allowed to use anything to which the general public has access – but then fast-forward to that evening when I’m putting in the final push to the finish line, I had to stop twice for a pair of fifteen minute power naps in the final four hours because I was so tired. I never fell asleep while pedaling, thankfully, but there were times I’d stop, be standing over my bike and start to doze off!

Well congratulations on the ride, 4 days, 20 hours, 51 minutes in a record setting Fastest Known Time. What’s next up your sleeve?

We can agree that 2020 was a strange year, to put it mildly. From events to travel to seeing friends and family, everything was thrown in the blender this year. I miss racing, I miss that gravel community, but it’s so cool what you can do in this self-supported type of adventure. So first things first, it was a trip home and see my favorite girls, my wife Laura and baby Hazel. I’m up by 5am most days trying to catch up on lost time being away for such a stint, but resting up a ton – i.e. not riding my bike much. I still find myself exhausted by 3pm. Long story short, rest and recovery in the short term, and I’m definitely interested in more bikepacking trips, rides, and races in the longer term. This was a really cool introduction to this side of the sport for me.

Photos courtesy Ted King and Kai Caddy.