Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Silly Slippery Syllamo

I really like to race mountain bikes. I like it enough that I'd rather suffer than quit most times. I'm sure this has something more to do with pride or ego than it has to do with lust for racing. Or maybe I'm just a foolish girl.

This year was the 9th running of Syllamo's Revenge, a 50 mile marathon and a 125K NUE race that takes place in the stunning Ozark Hill Country surrounding Mountain View, Arkansas. Known as the Fiddle capital of the World, Mountain View isn't exactly a tourist town, which is why we stayed close to nature at the Syllamore Creek Campground. We stayed there last year, in a hand-built cabin, made form locally sourced logs. It had all of the amenities one would want to have to prepare for and celebrate after a big race like Syllamo's Revenge. 

Just steps from our cabin.

This trip's MTB WAGN Crew was made up of myself, Ryan, Rafal, Wixon and Alex Sanchez. Alex works more than he sleeps so he thought he'd come with us to get a couple good night's rest this month. Later, we would meet up with Casey Sheppard, who arrived the day before. We left Omaha Thursday night and bunked up in Clinton, Missouri. Comfy beds and a hot breakfast, featuring the always appreciated Belgian waffle maker, were the highlights. 

We arrived in Mountain View on schedule, around noon. We checked into the cabin, Casey showed up, we ate a bit and were off like a prom dress to recon. Rain the day before would set the tone for the race, however, we never made it far enough on the recon to really know the level of slippery silliness that awaited some 250+ racers. Casey knew. She got caught in it the day before. Got lost in it. Cussed and cried in it. After coming upon several large down trees, we turned back, never getting to the rocky sections. Probably a good thing. I may not have wanted to start.

Slippery Silliness

After the recon, we went back to our homestead, got cleaned up and headed into town for provisions and to register. RF and I had prepared a bunch of food but still needed some additional stuff. Like ice cream. And poison oak soap. The trail, though better than last year, was again overgrown. Some areas had weeds that completely covered the trail corridor. I didn't want to take any chances of getting poison oak b/c of some f-ing federal budget cuts. The park has limited resources to get fifty miles of trail ready for the public. The best I could do was arm myself. Registration was again in the town square. 

Back at the ranch, we dinked around with bikes and made dinner. We had to be at the venue by 5:30 am so it was lights out by 9 or so for us. And wouldn't you know it, I could not sleep. I couldn't turn my mind off. I drifted in and out b/c I remember dreaming but it seemed like I was awake the whole night. For some reason, my left shoulder ached. I didn't have a clue why, but you bet your ass I thought about it all night long.  It was pretty hot in our room too. The windows didn't have screens so we couldn't open them. This happens on occasion, usually when I'm at elevation or in a hot tent. When the alarm went off at 4:00, there was no reason to stay in bed. I just got up and got to it. Soon everyone was stirring and the kitchen began to get crowded. Coffee was brewing, eggs were frying and sweet potatoes were nuking. Everyone had their thing, their routine. We all made it out of the cabin by 5:20. We were five winding miles from the course. Talk about wake up call. And the morning was very foggy and humid, both of which are results of water in the air. Water anywhere near this course would be an equalizer. It would play to the strengths of those capable and exploit the timid. I was somewhere in between.

We arrived at the s/f and there were maybe a half dozen cars in the lot. Perfect. We'd get to pick our spot. 

As we unloaded, a woman introduced herself as Emilie from the Trek Store Women's Team. She recognized my jersey. We chatted it up. She would be doing the 50 as well, her first mtb race, I think. (She's more of a road racer). Wow, a team mate. Awesome. I've never had a female team mate on the mtb side before.

Around 7am, Rafal was off with the 125K racers. He's been having a great training spring, already putting in some serious mileage in preparation for Dirty Kanza. Thirty minutes later, it was our turn. I lined up about 5 rows back. One pro woman, Andrea Wilson, was on the front row, a single speeder who was a machine! Not much fan fare and we were off to races, as they say. The opening climb is such a dick waving contest. I dreaded it. Spring rains caused large ruts half-way up and I didn't want to get stuck or wedged into one. As we approached the climb, our 10-rider wide wave narrowed to half the size in order to make the sharp right turn up the service road. For whatever reason, be it adrenaline or nerves, riders forgot that it pitched up rather quickly causing many to pedal in too big of a gear. Soon the sound of chains slipping over cassettes could be heard and elbows were flying. It was a mob. I'm little and defending my spot can be precarious in these types of situations. I had arms on me several times but I held firm and kept my eyes on the person in front of me. About halfway up, I found myself among a group of very talented and strong SS riders. It was quite impressive to watch them grind away. As soon as I saw some daylight I moved up the train. I got over the ruts luckily with no issues. About 8 minutes later I entered the single track. That's when the real fun began.

Forgot to hit start on the ol' Garmin.

 Typical to these types of cattle-call races, the first pinch point is always a fine dance. Within the first mile, a sharp 180 up loose, wet rock had many off the bike. I yelled out slowing so that the bulls behind me wouldn't take me out. I managed to ride up the first few steps and past a couple of hikers but then it got rooty and tight and I spun out. So I clipped out and started on foot. Holy crap, I felt like I was walking on ice. Every rock, every root had a wet slimy surface from the morning dew and it was almost impossible to even walk on it, especially if it was off-camber. F-get about it. So I just hiked as quickly as I could until the trail smoothed out. It was this way for a good mile. On-off. On-off. Cuss-cuss, lift the bike. Cuss-cuss lift the bike. At one point I started singing outloud, "Tip toe through the tulips, in the garden…" But eventually, I was able to get back on the saddle. Somewhere along the way slammed a knee into a head set screw and it was bleeding pretty good but considering what we just had to try and ride, I was happy that's all I was dealing with. So many riders were trail side fixing flats and other things. I probably had too much air in my tires but ya walk a fine line in these conditions. Low enough to grab but not so low that you pinch flat. I opted for more air but since I couldn't ride most of the technical stuff anyway it worked out. The trail itself is made of stones and gravel. There's not much dirt really so I was constantly on guard, trying to navigate my way to the first check point. I got there around 1:30, about the same as last year, so that was a good feeling. I grabbed a couple of oranges filled up a bottle and was off. 

The next section was deeper into the woods. Spots of the trail were over grown and I, along with everyone else, had small slices all over our arms and legs from the weeds. One got caught in my mouth and pleasantly sliced my upper lip as I rode 15mph down a hill. Yeah, awesome. I think on this section I got stung by something on my forehead that left a hole. Not something you wanna be dealing with in a multi-hour race. Luckily, it didn't swell or hurt so I knew it wasn't a bee sting. I've had them before and the sting usually stays with you for a while but this one didn't so it was probably something else, although what, I'll never know.

After I made it to check 2, I wasn't even half-way done. That can really reap havoc on the brain. I was riding pretty well and feeling strong. I hadn't seen any women until at one point when I had to stop when I saw a group go one way even though some trail markers were up a few feet off the trail to my left. I just happened to see them so I stopped and pointed it out to a group that was close behind. A woman was in that group and riding well. It turned out the trail hooked back up to trail we were just on, only it was a piece of shit with down trees. So I lost a spot and never actually saw her again. 

During the whole race I wasn't really ever alone. I'd go back and forth with riders, drop some, catch others and vice versa. One section, on the way to the "Stairway to Heaven" an absolute hike a bike unless you were Danny Macaskill, I was tooling along. An SS rider was walking, saying he was saving himself for the last loop. So I go by. Suddenly, my front tire goes into the soft edge of the trail and sends me down hill. I instinctively grab a spindly tree branch. This causes me to spin completely around and land on my back but it did keep me from tumbling to my doom. The SS rider was helpful getting me back on the trail but it was one of those moments when I wished nobody was around. 

So we climb the stairway and jump onto some double track and eventually I make it to check point 3 (which is also check point 1). I grab some food, fill bottles and ask which way to the end for the 50 miler. That was the WRONG question to ask. For whatever reason, I thought the last loop took us to the finish but in reality, it looped us back to this exact spot and then we were to take a connector to the service road we came up on. So I'm wondering if I'm going the right way. I don't see anyone. I saw the leader of the 125k leave on another trail but I thought it was b/c he was doing the 125 and would be going a different way. I see a photographer and felt relieved, thinking, well if a photographer is there, this has to be the right way. The trail is looking familiar from last year and I get to the road in a few minutes. I let out a whoop and blast off down the road to the finish line. There isn't a sole in sight. No Ryan, no racers hanging around. I have a bad feeling. Andrea, the Pro SS who flatted out, came over to give me some serious props. Then a guy who had just been at the check point said, um, I saw you at the check point but I also saw these pro dudes who aren't even in yet, so are you sure you went the right way? I click to my mileage on my computer and sure enough, it's in the low 30s. Ah shit. Now what? The people at the scoring table said I was the third or fourth person to skip the last loop. I told them nobody is really giving directions up there. Andrea encouraged me to go back out and try to podium, so I book over to the RD and ask if I can go back up. He gave me the OK, I told the scoring table and was off. Just as I left, Ryan came up the road, elbows out and slamming it. I yelled, I went the wrong way! I didn't stop or turn or anything. I was hoping he hadn't done what I did. As I raced back up the road, some of they guys I had been going back and forth with were coming down. I yelled, how many miles do you have? Thirty-two and I said me too and I'm going back up. They all had gone the same way I went. It was a long climb too. I had to keep it under control so I wouldn't use up too much energy getting back on course. I got back onto the single track and had to be on the look-out for racers coming at me. Luckily, there were only about six or so, as it was just the top 10 that were finishing. I get back to the check point, yelled that I went the wrong way and was now going to head out the correct way. I saw Emilie at that time but had no idea if she was getting ready to finish or head out on the last loop. I knew the loop was a good 12 miles. It was very flowy and didn't have the technical rocky crap that the start of the race had. For that, I was very grateful. That allowed me to keep a good pace and not blow up. There were a couple of hub-deep creek crossings but other than that, it was the funnest part of the race. I recalled from last year, at this time, that the forest seemed to never end. This section was all single track and you get to the point where you pray that around the next bend is the end. I thought that a couple of times only to find more trail. But eventually, I made it back to the check point and down the connector again and down the service road to the finish line. 

I was spent. I hadn't planned on being out there for over 6 hours. Thank the Lord for aid stations.

So after spinning a bit and sulking, telling my sob story to Ryan, I marched over to the timing table and ask if my race would count. He was like, you bet your ass and you got 2nd! No shit? As in second place? I assumed it would be by at least 15 minutes, but to my amazement, it was only by 2 minutes? Two minutes, really? Well that just bucked up my buttercup. This one may have had a happy ending but only because I was stubborn enough not to quit.

Keeping it in the family.

Women's podium.

Even better, all of the MTBWGN Crew made it in. Ryan got like 3rd after two pros. He just rocked it. Todd, who passed me pretty early, had a great race compared to last year, placing top 10 in his age group. Alex finished and so did Rafal, although with a few choice words. He did not have a good day. But the most encouraging was seeing Casey Sheppard come in. Her goal, after not finishing last year, was to just finish. And finish she did. Despite flats, derailure issues, getting lost and having an all out temper tantrum, she made it in and with the smile of a champion. Which to me, that day, she was. It's watching your friends have experiences like this that humble me back to reality. It's not if ya come in first, sometimes, it's just that you come in.

By the time she was in, all of us had eaten once or twice and were on fumes. We packed up and headed back to the cabin to wash the race off as fast as possible. I think we could have eatin southern fried armadillo at that point. But we settled for the Wing Stop and gobbled down everything in front of our faces. Unfortunately, Ryan had a bad case of the hiccups (if you recall, he had them as a side affect of his anethstesia from shoulder surgery) so he wasn't his normal post race puppy on steroids. A friend of ours showed us a trick for getting rid of headaches that includes pressing both ears with the palms of your hands and drinking a glass of water. It worked for a while. Ryan passed out and the rest of us lounged around until we were hungry enough to mow down the B&G ice cream we bought earlier. So needless to say, there was way too much alcohol left over. 

Early to bed meant early to rise and we were on the road before 7:30 am the next morning. Syllamo got its revenge on some while others took out their revenge. It was a tough race at all levels, both mentally and physically. And the one beautiful thing about it all; none of us quit.

NEXT UP: Gunnison 1/2 Growler