Syllamo’s Revenge..A Lesson in Suffering
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: