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Kelowna women finishes first in grueling Ozark bike race

Meaghan Hackinen was the first female and third overall finisher at the Ozark Doom race in Arkansas

A Kelowna woman has won yet another ultra-distance bike race.

Meaghan Hackinen is a Kelowna-based cyclist and writer who is drawn to take on events that push her deep into the pain cave.

In the thick of the forests of Arkansas, Hackinen woke up before the sun on March 29, to drink her instant coffee, eat some oatmeal and soak up some final moments of comfort before tackling the 656 km gruelling bike race that was set to begin just outside her tent.

On the cool and misty morning, more than 100 riders nervously gathered at the starting line of the race to collect their protective “Gremlin Bells,” before the Ozark Doom race could begin.

Doom is described as a “beautifully evil bikepacking route,” complete with dark legends, soul-sucking climbs, technical terrain, and elevation gain equivalent to one and a half ascents of Mt. Everest.

Arkansas legend states that evil road spirits like to latch onto bikes, causing mechanical problems and bad luck along a journey. The legend stems from the long history of issues faced by motorcycle riders in the region.

The tradition of attaching protective Gremlin Bells onto a person’s bike has since been adapted from the motorcycle world and is now a mandatory piece of equipment in the Ozark Gravel Doom race.

“By attaching a small bell onto your bike, the evil road spirits will become trapped inside the bell where the constant ringing drives them insane, making them lose their grip until they fall to the ground,” said the Ozark Gravel Doom race organizers about the piece of mandatory gear. “Ever wonder where pot-holes come from?”

The small bells were purified in a short ritual before being attached to each competitor’s bike to protect them on their long journey ahead.

At the start of the race, Hackinen pushed hard uphill through the mass of jingling bikes to secure a spot at the front of the pack.

“I was feeling strong, competitive,” said Hackinen.

She had pushed to the front, knowing what was to come.

Despite being one of the strongest ultra-endurance riders in North America, Hackinen said she struggles with technical trails.

Over the next several hours of challenging singletrack riding, Hackinen was passed by what felt like dozens of people.

“It was discouraging,” said Hackinen about having to stop to let riders pass her on the narrow trail.

She continued and pushed into the night, only able to see what her bicycle’s lights and the forest’s twinkling fireflies illuminated.

“Everything seemed so magical,” said Hackinen.

At one point, with only the constant jingling of her Gremlin Bell as company, Hackinen carried her bike through a thigh-high, fast-flowing river in the dead of night.

Undeterred by the cold, damp and hilly conditions, she pressed on, passing her competitors as the race twisted through the Ozark Mountains.

@kelownacapnews Kelowna’s Meaghan Hackinen just won the 656km Ozark Gravel Doom race down in Arkansas 🚵‍♀️ More at Photos by Kai Caddy #gravelbike #bikepacking #ozark ♬ original sound - Song lyrics 🫦

For a while, she led the race after purposely skipping a re-fueling location. She thrives in gritty situations and knows that mental toughness and her ability to endure discomfort are her secret weapon.

As the second day of constant riding turned to night, Hackinen hit a dark spot.

She had been unable to stomach food for hours and was left completely depleted and exhausted. She had been passed by the first and second-place man, making her third overall.

“I just didn’t want to do it,” said Hackinen.

But, she did.

She had a quick ‘ditch nap’, wrapped in her emergency blanket like a burrito, and woke up feeling “refreshed.”

Then, she gave everything to crush the remaining 180 km.

For the second night, Hackinen, her Gremlin Bell, a few forest critters – including an armadillo, possum and snakes – along with hundreds of fireflies, weaved through the forest.

The trails were dangerous, technical and dark, said Hackinen. Several people crashed and were unable to complete the race due to broken gear and injury. She doesn’t know how, but her Germlin Bell kept her safe for the entire journey.

For that night, her world was reduced to the light cast by her headlamp and the knowledge that the third-place man was closing in on her.

“You don’t know any farther than you can see with your lights,” said Hackinen.

With dawn approaching two big climbs were remaining, and Hackinen knew that the third-place man was getting closer to knocking her off the overall podium.

Finally, with one kilometre left, Hackinen looked behind her and knew she had secured her spot on the podium.

“I just ripped down with a big grin on my face.”

After racing for 52 hours and 15 minutes, the time of day was irrelevant.

Hackinen celebrated her win as the first-place woman and third-overall finisher with a beer, a big breakfast and plenty of hugs and high-fives before laying down for a nap.

Now, she is preparing for the 4418km Tour Divide race from Banff Alberta down through the mountainous continental divide to New Mexico.

To follow Hackinen’s journey, follow her on Instagram or visit her website

Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

I'm a reporter in the beginning stages of my career. I joined the team at Capital News in November 2021...
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