Holy Shit! This last weekend I drove down to Arkansas to with Sean and Jamie to compete in Syllamo's Revenge! 50 miles of pure singletrack with lots o climbing awaited us. We pulled into the gorgeous Blanchard Springs Campground after picking up our packets. Tim and Brooke had arrived earlier and secured a sweet campsite right next to the river. We got busy carb loading and giving our pedal machines a once over.
Some background on this shindig. Sean, Jamie and Tim had all done this race previously. I was the only Syllamo virgin up for sacrifice. I had heard many descriptions of the course, which basically boiled down to a big gravel road climb to single track that starts out very technical with no major climbs from that point on and finishes smooth singletrack. Refer back to the sacrifice part.
Saturday morning we lined up for the start with temperatures in the 40's. The start was a frantic blast to get to the gravel climb. The opening climb is just short of a mile long with a constant grade of 11%. I had chosen a 32/20 gearing which turned out to be a wise choice. I was unable to stay in the saddle during the climb for more than 5 seconds at a time. Towards the top of the climb Dave Wilson went blitzing by in the saddle looking really strong. By the time we entered the singletrack I was sitting around 20th place. My heartrate had been in the low 180's for the entire climb, I was totally gassed, and it took me a good hour of riding to recover from the start.
Back to being the sacrifice. The technical riding started very soon and didn't let up for a good 25 miles. I'm talking technical that required a lot of hike a bike, those cyclocross skills came into play. Not only was it technical, but very muddy. The limestone rocks were all off camber and crazy treacherous. Some were hard just to walk through. There were actually several sections that I got off and walked DOWN, for fear of bodily harm. I would love to go back and ride that place a little drier and actually try to get some of that clean. Somewhere around mile 30 the "climb" began, and it lasted for several miles. It was unrelenting in technicality and brutality. I walked my bike even more, I felt like the helpless maiden being tied to the ceremonial altar. The climb finally let up after a 1/4 mile of gravel so steep that I walked some of that also.
The gravel dumped me back onto smooth single track, which I should have been ecstatic about, but my spirit was almost completely broke. My goals going into this race were to finish in less than 5:30, place top 20 overall, and to podium in singlespeed. I knew I was sitting 4th or 5th in singlespeed and somewhere in the low 20's overall. Those two measurements are all relative to those I was racing against. 5 hours and 30 minutes was my constant. The bad part was that my garmin showed my distance as 30 miles at 3 hours and 55 minutes. I tried to stay motivated and talk myself into pedaling harder but the beast had been released and was bearing down upon the altar to which I was tied.
Right as my clock hit 3:59, I exited singletrack to an aid station. I was completely bewildered. I knew there was a checkpoint at mile 36 but this seemed impossible, the knots that bound my wrist were suddenly looser than seconds before. The volunteers called my plate number, and i asked them if this next section of trail was the Bad Branch Loop. They said yes, 12 miles on this trail back to this point then 3 miles to the finish. I took a quick assessment of my situation. My body was on the verge of failure, 14 miles of singletrack left, 1 mile of gravel road to descend in under 90 minutes. I pulled both wrists free from the ropes that held me captive and jumped off the altar sprinting into the jungle with restless natives and beast in pursuit. I was a man on a mission. 2 packages of sport beans, half a bottle of protein/electrolyte drink and 82 minutes of pain. I have never pedaled so fervently, I passed several people and got passed once. But like the last 40 miles, I for the most part was riding alone in the beautiful mountains of Arkansas. I rolled back through the checkpoint feeling strong and in minutes had taken a hard right onto the gravel road and was traveling at ridiculous speeds downhill towards the finish line. I crossed at 5:22, looking over my shoulder I saw the beast and the natives that pray to it waiting for the next unsuspecting virgin.
It was such a great experience I can't wait for next year. And I learned a lot of things that will help me do better in the future. Most importantly is that my fiercest competition will never be the man or woman pedaling behind or in front of me. It will always be the small person inside of me who looks to compare myself to others. There will always be someone faster and more talented than myself, I am content with that. But I will never be complacent to giving in to myself. So take that Jesse Gross, "I kicked your ass at Syllamo!"
The rest of the group had great races as well. Sean kicked (his own) ass by knocking 35 minutes of his previous time. Jamie knocked 3 plus hours of his previous time (last year he received bad directions form a volunteer and ended up doing an extra 20 miles). Dave Wilson got 3rd in SS and broke the 5 hour mark. Sarah Worthington got 3rd in Womens Open, with Kay Lehman not to far behind. Tim just finished which may have been the most impressive feat since he has ridden his bike once since Bonebender.
look at those blingy rims