Monthly Archives: May 2010
One year ago Syllamo’s Revenge pulled my pants down and spanked my bare ass. 50 miles of mud and rocks in the mountains of Arkansas was too much for me; I missed the time cutoff at the 36 mile mark and was required to leave the course.
Failure is a funny thing. When I was told to leave the course I couldn’t have been happier. That ride had sucked so bad and been so painful, I truly didn’t care anymore. My legs were drained, I couldn’t turn my neck, my hands were trembling and blood was coming from my nipples. You might say I was having a pretty shitty day. Even with all of that, I could have made the time cutoff if I’d had strength of mind and a better resolve.
Four minutes separated me from being a DNF or finishing the course, and I didn’t want to ride another 14 miles. Near the final cutoff I ran into a small group of riders standing in the woods so I stopped to see what they were doing. Nobody had a flat or a mechanical, they were just standing around talking about how miserable they were. It wasn’t long before one of them checked his watch and said, ” We can go now, we just missed the cutoff.” We rolled into the CP 4 minutes past the cutoff and headed for the parking lot. I’ve never told anyone that part before, and I’m glad to get it off my chest.
I quit. That’s a fact.
There’s a picture on my wall from that race to remind me what happens when you don’t prepare. It looks like this:
I spent a year thinking about that race and swore I’d be back in ’10 with stronger resolve.
The days leading up to this year’s Syllamo’s Revenge were pretty awesome; Luke and I drove down a few days early to camp and pre-ride the trail and we were greeted with dry trails and 75-ish degree weather. Conditions were perfect for camping, riding and…drinking beer.
The campground at Syllamo is amazing. Clear creeks, caves, towering pine trees and clean bathrooms are but a few things worth mentioning. The weather had been relatively dry prior to our arrival, so finding firewood was no problem. And since we were a few days early we got the best campsite in the park. We had no phone service, no complaining customers, no screaming kids and no problems.
Tell me this isn’t a badass campsite:
The first night we were out there, we were just chillin’ by the fire and this group of asians stopped by to visit. One of them was an older guy who smelled pretty bad, so we were glad when he left early. I’ve gotta say though, the rest of them were comic geniuses. It seemed like everything they said was hilarious!! We sat together and drank beer deep into the night.
At one point Luke freaked out because he saw a dark figure moving in the woodline, but it turned out to be his shadow. That’s right, the moon was so bright it was casting shadows….ridiculous.
The next day I took Luke for a lap around the race-loop Zack & I had ridden during the “24 Hours of Syllamo” race. To say he enjoyed himself would be an understatement. He was sliding through turns, bunny-hopping jumps and doing all kinds of other shit I’d bever seen him do before. I’d say he’s a definite competitor at next year’s 24.
Luke would later scare the daylights out of a group of young girls with that moustache…true story. I’ll probably let him tell you about that one, though.
If I remember correctly, we rode the race loop and the green loop that day. BTW, there is a very nice map of the entire trail system right here. The green loop is home to rocky trail and scenic views. We found several tricky sections to play on, and even took a few videos. The rocks were dry and afforded decent traction, so we really had a good time.
As always, I feel obligated to point out that 2-dimensional photos don’t do justice to this place.
The scenic overlook I mentioned before:
We were even lucky enough to find the exact spot where last year’s failure-photo was taken. This spot is actually a pretty scary drop, I don’t know why it looks so tiny in pictures?
The night before the race was..eventful. We learned early in the day that a major storm would be moving into the area before sundown, and there was the possibility of hail, damaging winds and tornadoes. Luke already had his Hennessy-hammock set up and I had been sleeping on the ground….it seemed that hail and damaging winds was reason enough to put up a tent:)
It wasn’t long before members of Team Red Wheel started rolling into the campground and putting up tents. It’s always nice to see the group get together, especially since some of us only get to hang out at races.
The sky was getting dark and rain was starting to fall, and it wasn’t long before we heard thunder and sirens in the distance.
**Weather-radar map courtesy of our good friend, Casey F. Ryback, seen below.**
I assured everyone that the sirens were NOT tornado sirens, I had grown up in Kansas and knew what tornado sirens sounded like. These were something else. Two seconds later, a sheriff drives past our camp yelling for everyone to seek shelter in the bathrooms because there was a tornado warning.
For the next 2 hours or so, Luke and I huddled in a concrete shower with Pete Goode and a dead lizard while it rained like a cow pissing on a flat rock. Believe it or not, it was a really good time.
After the tornado warning ended we all went to bed. Lying in my sleeping bag, I listened to the rain fall and said a quick prayer of thanks for this horrible weather. I knew tomorrow the trail was going to be muddy, slippery and horrible, just like it was last year. If I finished the race tomorrow it would mean overcoming a course that literally spanked my ass one year ago. I didn’t sleep worth a damn, but who really does on the night before a race like that?
350 people signed up for that race. I don’t know the numbers, but I know at least 50 people didn’t show up. We knew we’d likely become separated as soon as the race started, so Luke and I, (and all our friends and team-mates for that matter), said good luck before making our way to the starting line.
I’ve only been to a handful of endurance events, but I must say the beginning of the race is my favorite part. We all start at the same time, and no matter who wins, we’re all united under the familial banner of finishing. Sure, some people are there to win, but everybody wants to finish.
**The horn sounds and you hear the sound of 600+ SPD cleats snapping into position. Shifters tick and tires whine as the impatient mob moves steadily forward. Take stock of those around you, you’re pedaling among friends, team-mates and total strangers. Who will finish? Will you finish? Next thing you know, you’re rolling along a short stretch of pavement past family and friends… they take photos and show support just before you ride around the corner and out of their sight.**
And now that all the fanfare and “happy-times” are over, it’s time to embrace the true reality of the situation. This race isn’t called “Syllamo’s Revenge” because it sounds cool. Oh no, this is 50 miles of muddy, slippery, boulder-laden perilous shit. Your day begins with a steep .9 mile fire-road climb that serves to separate the weak from the strong. Posers are immediately exposed, and if you’re in the back of the pack you better forget about passing anyone. Friendly chatter quickly ceases as oxygen levels deplete and reality settles in. Syllamo’s fire road is a gut-check in its truest form.
It’s going to be a long day, kids.
My only goal was to get to the final checkpoint before the time cutoff, and that meant keeping a chill pace and keeping up with my nutrition. In the early stages of the race I found myself in a group of about 8 riders moving at what I would call a decent pace. I believe this first bit of trail was the yellow loop; technical in places and super slippery. Every now and then someone would crash and have to scramble out of the way as the rest of us passed by.
About ten miles into the course I got to the bottom of a hill and saw at least 6 dudes changing flat tires. Casey Ryback was a familiar face, so I stopped to see if he needed anything. He told me there was a rock in the trail that was laying waste to everyone’s tires, I had just been lucky enough to make it through unscathed. He was doing fine on his own, so I peaced out. Only about another 43 miles to go.
I’m not gonna lie, this section of singletrack wore on me a little bit. It took a lot longer to get to the first checkpoint that I thought it would, and that fact was making me a bit nervous. I didn’t remember it being this hard last year, and now my head was all jacked up. Had I been more fit last year? Oh shit, what if I don’t even make it to the 2nd checkpoint? My mind was chock full of panic as I made my way through the mud and rocks.
When I finally got to the first checkpoint there was a full-blown party going on. There were racers literally everywhere, just hanging out. WTF? Are all these people quitting already?
That’s when Noelle and Tyler ran up to me and started handing me (peeled) bananas, filling my water bottle and cleaning my chain. That’s service!! With no excuse to dally, I pressed on.
In all honesty, I don’t remember a lot of what happened after that portion of the race. I can tell you there were about a thousand times I wanted to quit, and I came up with countless reasons quitting would have been acceptable. I contemplated sabotaging my bike or faking an injury…anything to get off this damn mountain. I mean seriously, how do you ride up something like this?
But then I thought about last year; I thought about eating breakfast the day after the race with my team-mates, knowing I was the only one at the table who hadn’t finished the race. I remembered the shame. I remembered the embarrassment. I remembered the feeling of inferiority. Quitting was not an option…tomorrow I’d eat a pile of biscuits and gravy and be able to look my team-mates in the eye. That was all the motivation I needed to quit being a crybaby and press onward.
About 2 hours later I rolled into a section of the woods that looked very familiar. This was the place I had stopped last year to let the clock tick down, and that meant the final checkpoint was just around the corner. When I got there I laid my bike on the ground and walked over to the water trailer to sit down. My ass/taint/pelvis was killing me, so it was nice to sit on something other than my bike saddle. Noelle told me that Nick Smith had just left and I should try to catch him. Sorry Charlie, I had done what I came here to do and now it was time to relax.
I sat there and took in the moment. Tyler jokingly offered me a beer, and to his surprise I took it. Ice cold PBR from the BOTTLE, no less!! That beer tasted like victory…ice cold delicious victory.
36 down, 14 to go.
Getting back on the bike after that was pretty painful. My pelvis was all jacked up, (and thanks to dehydration), one beer had gotten me mildly drunk. The last several miles of the course were flowy and relatively fast, but by this point I was smoked. I did quite a bit of hike-a-bike before finally getting to the fire road, but once you get to the fireroad it’s all downhill.
When I crossed the finish line I made a bee-line to the spaghetti.
I like to think that the guy in the top-right corner of that photo is vomiting.
It wasn’t long before Luke finished the race, and I still don’t know how he did it with those smooth-ass Fast Trax tires. Seriously, how is that shit even possible?
Everyone in our camp crossed the finish line that day, and it wasn’t long before there was a bonfire and a massive pile of beer cans. Stories were exchanged and much wind was broken. Truly though, my favorite part of the whole event was breakfast the next morning. Eating haystacks with your team-mates knowing you ALL finished the race is a very beautiful thing. Speaking of beautiful haystacks, check this badboy out:
Who knew that NOT racing could be so fun? Well, anyone that has ever done a Team Seagal non-race before would clearly know how much fun could be had at an event such as this. For circumstances beyond my control (my wife’s kidney stone, a family Christmas party, and just being a wuss among other things), I had never attended any of their non-races before. I’ve read all of the race reports from past non-races and felt like such a jerk for missing out on the fun. Well, I was NOT going to miss this one, though. We even rescheduled my son’s first birthday party (Happy birthday, Otis!) so I could make it to this non-race. And it was worth it.
Bob and I were two of the 31 official entrants for the first of Team Seagal’s 2010 Non-Races. All we had to do was submit a postcard before the deadline. There were no fees, no waivers, no anything other than sending a postcard. It was just enough to keep the posers out of this non-race (I’m not gonna mention any names, but his initials are… Corey Case). Once the deadline passed and some info regarding the “secret underground” race was leaked, many people wanted to get in. I don’t blame them. They knew they were going to miss an incredible day. And oh, what an incredible day it was…
Bob went down to Council Bluff on Friday to help with some trail preparation and to partake in some celebratory festivities. I didn’t make it down there until Saturday night. I guess I should say I didn’t make it down there until 1:00 AM on Sunday morning since I got a little lost on the way there. I found Team Seagal’s HQ, and I was greeted by Casey Ryback and Mason Storm who graciously let me set up my Hennessey Hammock in their campsite. Bob was already snoring away in a tent nearby.
We got up the next morning, ate a little bit of food, and got ready for the ride. Bob and I drove down from the campsite to the trailhead together where we saw many of our comrades.
This was the last time I would see Roger since he is just a wee bit faster than I am. I also figured that this would be the last time I would see Bob until the non-race was over, so I figured we better get a pic together for our scrapbook…
The parking lot was buzzing with excitement, adrenaline, and even a few hangovers. We staged our bikes and then headed a short distance into the woods. Storm said, “Go!” We went. Many riders took off and were riding into the single track before I had even gotten to my bike. I think Bob was somewhere near the middle of the pack. I wasn’t the last one into the woods, but I was probably one of the last 5 or 6. This was by design, though. I knew it was going to be a long, hot day for me, so there was no reason to kill myself early.
It wasn’t very long, though, until I caught up with Bob who, along with John Farinella, was helping Team Seagal’s very own Sasha Petrovich with a flat. She was crushing the course before this flat derailed her, and she wasn’t exactly happy about it. Bob and John got her going pretty quickly, though, and we were all on our way again.
Sasha was gone and out of sight in no time, and Bob and Farinella were putting a little distance on me as well. After only a minute or two, I caught back up to both of them contemplating a sign on the trail. I think it was a sign for Sasha and things to come, but I’m not sure if she saw it.
We kept rolling. It was already really hot, and the uphills were already taking a toll on me. About ten minutes later we found Sasha on the side of the trail again with another flat. Someone had given her another tube. Bob checked her tire for any debris while Farinella got the new tube in place. A little CO2 later, and she was on her way.
We kept on riding, more or less as a group, with Bob putting some distance on us while trudging up the hills. If you’ve never ridden Middle Fork, you need to. The uphills are long and arduous, but the downhills make them all worthwhile. Just as you think you can’t go up anymore and you’re cursing Middle Fork, you get to roll down some sweet, downhill singletrack that makes you forget all about the pain… Until the next hill you have to climb. And the cycle repeats in perpetuity.
We soon rode past Casey Ryback taking some photos and recording times. Then we met “The Most Interesting Man in the World” face to face. Well, Bob was so interested by this most interesting man, that he kind of met him “ass to face.”
I, on the other hand, was able to keep my composure and act cool. I introduced myself, and we became good friends.
Bob and I rolled on, and Farinella must have stopped to talk to Casey Ryback or something because we didn’t see him for a little while. We rolled up on another rider who was messing with his tire. He had a flat, but he couldn’t get his tire inflated. He had some huge, weird looking rims that only allowed the stem of his tube to only protrude a little bit. He couldn’t get his pump to latch on. Bob worked his magic and got a little more air into his tire, and the dude (who was in the top 5 before this flat) took off. We saw him a short time later walking his bike in the other direction. He must have gone back and found someone else with a pump that actually worked for him, because he passed us a little while later.
Shortly thereafter, we met a rider named Ben sitting on the side of the trail. He looked to be completely wiped out, but he still had an enormous smile on his face. You could tell that he was having a blast and hurting at the same time. We asked if he needed any food or water, but he said that all he needed was to sit there. Gino from Team Seagal soon came up behind us. He was sweeping the course, making sure everyone at the back of the pack was okay. Knowing Ben was in good hands, we rode on.
Farinella caught up to us, and we pedaled on, enjoying the perfect conditions of the sweet single track. Team Seagal and the OTA did an amazing job getting this trail in primo shape. The heat was getting to me, though, as I drained my Camelbak. Bob seemed to be the strongest of our trio on the hills, so he would drop us pretty quickly. At the bottom of the downhills, usually at a creek crossing (of which there were many) or a gravel road crossing, Bob would be waiting for me, followed by Farinella.
We made it to the first water drop at mile 17, and I was elated that there was plenty of water left. This had worried me ever since I realized I had already consumed 3 liters of water and one of my two water bottles of e-Fuel (like I said, it was really hot). The three of us filled up as Farinella said sarcastically, “It’s good to know that we’re almost halfway.” Damn. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it all the way.
We had to ride a little bit of gravel to get back onto the singletrack. It might have been a nice break from the trail if we weren’t getting scorched by the sun.
Even though, the sun was beating down on us unmercifully as if we looked directly into the ark, I still managed to surprise Bob and blow by him on the gravel:
Okay, that’s not true. Bob slowed down to wait for us as we made our way back onto the trail. We kept on rolling, but I was struggling on the hills. I’ll admit that I walked a couple of spots. The downhills were still amazing. Somewhere along the way, we picked up another rider. I never caught his name, so we just called him Salsa Dude since he was wearing a Salsa jersey with peppers all over it. We all kind of separated at this point with Bob in the lead, followed by Salsa Dude, me and then Farinella.
With about two miles of single track left my freewheel became jacked up. I could no longer coast. Whenever I stopped pedaling the chain would go completely slack which would lead to chain suck, and I was afraid I was going to really jack up my bike. I could sort of ride my bike here and there, but I walked a lot of the last mile or so. My bike was shot, and my race was over. I was pretty sure I was not going to make the final 10 miles of gravel and 2.5 miles of single track.
I figured Bob was long gone at this point, so I was pretty damn happy to see him at the next gravel road. He and Salsa Dude were both there, Salsa Dude sitting in the shade and Bob fixing a flat. I told Bob of my problem, and we weren’t sure what to do. I filled one of my water bottles (I could have used more probably, but I didn’t want to kill the water in case there were others still behind me).
Just as I was about to give up, Farinella came rolling out of the trail. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but he works at a bike shop. He had me take the back wheel off, and he was going to try to get some lube down into it. As he was doing this, he noticed that the spoke protector was rubbing the cassette. This was the problem, and he whipped out his Alien Tool so we could cut the plastic disc off. He then adjusted my rear derailleur to make sure it wouldn’t get caught in my spokes. Thanks to John, I was back in the race, battling it out for the back of the pack. A big thanks goes out to John. I really appreciated the help.
As we were getting ready to ride on, we noticed something peculiar. When Bob bought his Specialized Epic Test Bike from Nick at Red Wheel Bike Shop, Nick had told him that he would probably never see another bike like it out on the trail since it was a Test Bike. Well, here is proof that Nick is full of shit:
As we were getting ready to head out on a 10 mile gravel stretch, we noticed that Salsa Dude was having some digestive issues. We started to roll out when he said that he thought he needed to take care of some business. Farinella turned back to give him some TP and make sure he was okay. Bob and I trudged on, feeling bad for Salsa Dude.
The gravel was great. And by great I mean shitty. The sun was killing us, and it felt like we would never make it to the finish. Then we hit what has been dubbed “King of the Mountain.” Let me just say that this climb is brutal. It screws with your mind because you think it’s over as you come around a corner only to find this mo-fo keeps going… and going… and going… The 90 degree heat really added to the enjoyment of the climb. Bob just bared down and crushed it. I had to walk two of the steepest sections, but I rode more of it than I thought I could.
Bob was waiting for me at the top and the final water drop. There wasn’t much left, so I only filled half of one water bottle. A couple of refreshing creek crossings, a near-miss with a dog, and one amazingly/frighteningly fast downhills later, we were faced with a five mile stretch of flat, hot, seemingly never-ending gravel road. I seriously thought we were never going to get back onto the shaded trail. Just when I was about to stop and rest, Bob spotted the yellow arrows on the road pointing us back onto the trail.
Bob dropped me on the first climb of the singletrack. This was good, because I felt bad that he kept waiting for me. I knew I was going to finish with only 2.5 miles left. I was pretty damn slow on the uphills, but I rode most of it. As I crossed the highway, I knew I was within a few hundred yards of the finish. As I rounded a corner, I saw Bob sitting perfectly still in the woods to the side of the trail. He sat motionless, avoiding eye contact and hoping to let me pass by without noticing him. I guess he thought I was a legally blind T-Rex whose eyes only picked up motion. Too bad for him, his bright red bike caught my eye.
I kind of felt bad that Bob had waited for me yet again, but there was also a part of me that was really happy to see him. We rode that last little piece of trail together, hand in hand, sharing a warm embrace, tears streaming down our faces as we crossed the finish line to a standing ovation. Okay, that’s not exactly how it happened, but we did finish together. I think Mason Storm said something like, “I wrote down the same finishing time for both of you since you rode in together holding each other’s cocks.” Way to ruin a beautiful moment, Storm.
We finished in 6 hours, 45 minutes, and 25 seconds (although Bob technically beat me by a second or two and could have beaten me by a lot more). All of the top ten finishers were under 4 hours which is just ridiculous. We sat down, had an ice cold beer, and we were awarded with “I Heart Pabst” bell for our bikes. I got three so I could put them on my daughters’ bikes so they can be way cooler than other kids.
A little while later, John Farinella and Salsa Dude came rolling in together, and then a little while later Gino (the sweeper) came in. It appeared that Ben hadn’t made it. Then Gino informed us that Ben was just a few minutes behind him. We also learned that Ben refused an offer to hitch a ride in a truck when he was on the long stretch of blistering gravel road. Kudos to Ben. That guy has some serious guts, heart, true grit… whatever you want to call it. I would have bet against him when I last saw him. To me, that is more impressive than a sub-4 hour finish.
So, we hung out for a little while, and then we made the long haul back to Jefferson City. I had consumed roughly 10 liters of water while completing this non-race, yet I was still dehydrated. I had a wicked headache by the time I got home and felt pretty shitty. But it was all worth it.
Team Seagal put on an amazing event. The trails were perfect. The course was marked better than any other race I’ve done. I got a sweet, free t-shirt. I got to ride my bike with a great friend while making some new ones. It was a great day. Make sure you don’t miss the next Team Seagal non-race. They are definitely worth the entry fee.