Day 20 – McAlester to Queen Wilhelmina Lodge

Our twentieth day sees us undertaking one of the key days on the trip. Today’s route from McAlester, Oklahoma to Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, Arkansas is a relatively short day at only 100 miles but has 7000ft of climbing – mostly concentrated in the last 40 miles as we travel along the Talimena Parkway, a scenic drive along a ridge of mountain range. Couple all of this climbing with the fact that we are now well and truly into the humidity of the south and you have the recipe for an epic day.

The day started out with a relaxed rollout in warm weather (already 75f at 7am!)

The Peloton rolling out from McAlester

The Peloton rolling out from McAlester

Lon Haldeman taking photos for their website

Lon Haldeman taking photos for their website

The crew of PAC tour have a good system which allows everybody to ride. Basically the crew splits in to A team and B team. The day A team crews, B team rides and vice versa. This means that the whole crew gets to ride every other day if they so chose.

The first exitement of the day came quite early on when we encountered a road closed sign. After some deliberation we carried on towards the roadworks. When we got there, they were replacing a bridge but the way was passable. so as not to cause too much disruption to the workers, we grouped together before walking through the road works. It was bone dry and the ground was like a dust bowl. After walking through we were all covered in a thin coating of red dust – we were glad we were not working there all day long in those temps!

Everybody grouped together before proceeding through the roadworks

Everybody grouped together before proceeding through the roadworks

As the day carried on, the road got more and more hilly as we headed towards the Talimena Parkway. The temperature also continued rising along with the humidity.

The road heading towards the mountains

The road heading towards the mountains

By mile 57 we had only climbed 2000ft. The remaining 5000ft of climbing would all occur in the next 40 miles as we tackled the Parkway. It is basically a scenic roadway which runs along the ridge of a small mountain range. It does however consist of a series of steep uphill and downhill sections all of which are between 5 and 13% gradient.

The start of the Talimina Parkway

The start of the Talimena Parkway

Virtually as soon as we started the Parkway it kicked up to the first big climb. A 3 or 4 mile climb at 10%

The first big rise on the Parkway

The first big rise on the Parkway

As we climbed up , the views over the surrounding forested area were superb – reminiscent of the Blue mountains in Australia as the humidity and the sap evaporating from the trees gave the haze a bluish tinge.

Superb views along the Parkway (note the road in the distance)

Superb views along the Parkway (note the road in the distance)

Of course after all good climbs comes a good descent and the Parkway was no exception. The first major descent was an absolute screamer and I increased my all time max speed by another 4 mph cracking the 55mph barrier – it was scary!!!

55.2 mph - my new all time max speed

55.2 mph - my new all time max speed

The Parkway - a downhill followed by an uphill - both steep

The Parkway - a downhill followed by an uphill - both steep

As the day wore on and we worked our way along the Parkway I actually broke the 50 mph barrier on 5  separate descents!

The climbs however were purgatory – especially in the heat and humidity.

Just before we arrived at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge (named after the Dutch Queen) we passed the Arkansas state border and thus entered our 8th state.

Arkansas state border (graffiti'd)

Arkansas state border (graffiti'd)

The Queen Wilhelmina Lodge is situated 10 miles short of the end of the Parkway and is right on top of one of the highest points. There has been a lodge on this site since 1895 and the current one is the third to occupy the space. The lodge itself is the best place we have stayed in so far on this trip and the views were gorgeous.

Queen Wilhelmina Lodge

Queen Wilhelmina Lodge

The view from the front of the Lodge

The view from the front of the Lodge

The red line - now well over halfway.

The red line - now well over halfway.

Chillin' in the shade after a long hard day.

Chillin' in the shade after a long hard day.

After a great day we were treated to a lovely sunset.

After a great day we were treated to a lovely sunset.

Stats for the day:-

Distance: 101 miles

Climbing: 7000ft

Temp: Hot! 95f

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