I like Arkansas. I've only been twice but damn, them folks is nice. They make me want to go back. They are outdoors folks. Land lovers and adventure seekers. I'll even look past the camo and the umpteenth flea market. It's that cool. Cool for mountain biking, that is. And according to Mountain View's website, it's also cool for folk singing and trout fishing. Is it really my place in the mountains? We would soon find out.
The trip started off with Kevin Galinsky's first of two magical appearances. Minutes before we were to depart, he made the last minute decision to come on the trip that he thought he'd have to skip due to some GI issues during the week that left him unable to train, eat, drink. You know, the minimum requirements needed to prepare for a 50 mile race. We were glad he could make it and with our new R.F.CoolRack, it was no problemo.
|Six shooter rack.
As they say, we were off to the races with the usual suspects: the Todds, co-starring the Kevins, with special guest appearance, Larry Kintner. I know more bikers with these names than any other. It's so weird.
Anywhoo, we took off Thursday night and made it to Clinton, Missouri where we bunked for the night in style. Hitting up the morning buffet was a great way to preload. I can't get enough of those waffle makers! On a side note, I was chatted up at the buffet by a strange and very short woman in a robe who felt she had to tell me that she brings her own flavored creamers when she travels so she can have her coffee her way. It was very odd and I was glad to be outta there.
We arrived in Mountain View, Arkansas and were greeted by flea markets, bars, restaurants, hotels and many-a-rv parks. About 5 miles out of town was our home away from home at Syllamore Creek Camp. We had an awesome small cabin that slept 5. It had a wonderful back porch with a swing and hand-made rockers that were locally made and sold at the camp's office. Come to find out the cabin was hand-made too using local timber and stone. It was pretty tight. We had a second smaller cabin so that everyone could have their own bed, couch or futon. That's how we roll. We only stuck around long enough to lay claim to a sleeping spot and then it was off to Wally World to get some provisions for the weekend. We returned to home base, made a sandwich and kitted up for a recon of the trail, which by IMBA standards is one of their 37 epics. That gave me the giggles just thinking about it.
The race was located 5 miles up the road at Blanchard Springs SRA. We knew we were in for a doozy when, from the park entrance, we DROVE 3 miles DOWN to the race start. There was a parking lot full of preriders. Many it seemed, noticed the Bike Shop sign on the van and hit up Ryan for the use of his stand, pump, tools and advice. He may as well have brought an apron cuz he was on the clock. But all good. Karma, baby.
The preride was an eye opener! Let's see how to explain the terrain. Rocky, well yes, but not baby-head rocks. More like shale with a mix of 2"rock. Like it crunched under the tires instead of bouncing off of them. It was like the feeling of riding with a low tire...very peculiar and unsettling. So it was a really good thing that we did a recon ride. We got a good sense of the starting climb (about 10 minutes at 10% grade), double track that was pretty smooth the whole way. No worrying about getting stuck in a rut when the going got going. Know what I'm sayin'? We also got a good look at the first techy section that would for sure be a walking section for us back o' the packers. After about 30 minutes we turned around and took a shortcut back to the start/finish. I had been on the fence about wearing a camel back or not since many of the photos of previous races show racers donning the c-back. After the preride, the trail didn't seem as technical as I thought, so I decided to race without it. Plus, it was gonna be a scorcher.
After the pre-ride we zipped back into town for packet pick up. Kinda cool was that we all received Hammer flasks in our goody bag and then they had bottles upon bottles of Hammer gel in all of the flavors so we could pick a flavor and fill up the flask. Coach wanted me to have more than one, so that worked out great! Also in the bag was a tiny bottle of chain lube. We were told by Pete from the St. Louis store that we should put a bottle of lube in our jersey pocket. Now why would I do that? I never have before. But I guess normally this race has high water crossings and generally muddier conditions. So much in fact, that they feel compelled to give away lube.
That night we grilled out and hung out cabin-side. Then the pre-race jitters set in and everyone was fiddling with their stuff. On top of that I was not feeling well. For the past few days I had been having some terrible cramp-like pains in my stomach and they were still there. They would come and go pretty randomly. I could still eat but I felt pretty bloated. All my bodily functions were working just fine so I was stumped as to what it could be. (As I write this, I still don't know). So, needless to say, I was very concerned about how this would play out on the bike. I already get stomach issues in long races when I'm healthy so this could potentially complicate things.
Early to bed early to rise. Alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. The guys were up right away and Larry was making coffee. Good travel partner, he is. Each took our turn in the bathroom and then shuffled around the kitchen making our prerace meals. I opted for oatmeal with bananas. Stomach wasn't completely happy but it was manageable. While many of us opted for the glucose-laiden foods, RF was chomping on cold chicken and a sweet potato. What a Neanderthal. HA! Before we knew it, it was time to hit the road.
This race course was also host to an NUE Series Race so it was no small potatoes. As we pulled in, the long haulers were already kitted up and warming up. Luckily we got a spot that was right at the start line. We piled out and got bikes ready. It was mildly chilly but an otherwise perfect day.
Once the NUE race was off, I soon followed with a warm up ride up the double track start, looking for anything that might give me an advantage or opposite. I got my heart rate up there a bit too. I dumped into the single track to test my suspension on last time. Everything seemed to be as it should so I turned around and headed back to line up. The announcer gathered us around the finishing arch. He introduced us to the Park's manager who apologized right off the bat for the overgrowth of parts of the trail. Due to an early spring flood and lack of budget, they weren't able to get some of the trail cut back. We noticed that on the recon ride and we'd find out later that he was dead on. Luckily I came prepared, buying a tube of Poison Oak scrub so that we could hopefully prevent a breakout. As we stood there listening to info about the course, I started to notice all of the camelbacks. What did they know that we didn't? Crap. I started second guessing my choice to not use it. Oh well. Run what I didn't brung.
|Note the C-Back Brigade
Per usual with these events, it was a cattle call to the start line. They did give priority position to last year's winners at the front, which was cool. One last run to the loo and I found a spot about 10 rows back. I had heard one other woman behind me but other than that, I had no idea where the others were. I just hope they weren't in front of me.
|RF is right below the sign in the background.
The race started with a neutral roll out due to a bunch of gravel on the road. Nobody was pacing us to the opening climb so the pace was quick to accelerate. Judging from this photo, the lead guy didn't listen that it was a neutral roll out. If you look about 10 back, there's RF! Once I hit the opening climb I jockeyed around a bunch of guys. Bratetic and Eyberg were shooting up the middle to gain spots, almost getting caught up in some wreckage. I probably entered the single track in the top 1/3 and it was slow going right at the start. Then we hit the first tech sections and I was off the bike, running, cursing and running some more. It was so rideable but not when there are so many trying to go through it quickly. I finally got clear of the walkers and sped on. The next tech section was a bit more challenging with drops and tight turns. Again folks were off their bikes so I did the same asking outloud why were we walking. I saw the first woman at one of these points, not riding, and in front of a train, so I knew she might be lacking some tech skills which would play to my advantage later. Once she was mounted back on the bike, she was off like a pistol. I remember her from the Barryman Epic and she had an engine so I had to keep her close. The next tech section I got boxed in and people were hopping a huge boulder instead of taking the trail. Larry was one of them and soon he was pedaling quickly away. In a way that gave me a boost cuz I thought if I'm up with Larry, I'm probably up pretty far. The trail finally chilled out and we all could actually get a pace going. Coach gave me some great advice: it's a race, but you're also racing the trail. Keep your heart rate steady and keep the food coming in. I had to believe in the plan. And good thing, cuz not long after the start, I picked up that first woman. She bobbled a hill and I went around her as she unclipped but that meant nothing. I pretended she was right behind me, but that was almost impossible because people were riding in trains. If ya got off for one, you got off for a few. At least at the start.
The first aid station was a long 13 miles from the start. The trail was all singletrack. Up or down. Rarely a moment to coast. Believe in the plan. Keep it steady. Soon I came up on Bratetic who had his bike upside down. Flat tire. Which wasn't surprising. The trail was littered with sharp shale. One wrong move and it could cost anyone. There were many trail side for that first section but the hard thing was was that much of the trail was benched so folks had to climb up or down mountain to get off the trail and like I said, it was very over grown in spots. Changing a flat was challenging.
By about mile 10 or so I hear my name as I pick my way up and down some techy rocky stuff. It's CVO! Jimmy Johns had obviously helped him gain fitness! We rode together for a couple of miles until I whimped out on a drop and he took it like a champ. Buh-bye CVO! I didn't see him again until Aid station #2 I think...
So I roll into Aid station 1 at about 1.5 hours (or more. cant remember exactly). At each aid station we had to put on a rubber bracelet to mark that we were there. I then popped off the bike and grabbed a bunch of orange pieces and pb&j. I filled up one bottle and was off. 3minutes tops spent there. It felt good to get off the bike and stand up and stretch.
|Girls just wanna have fun!
The next section was pretty straight forward. I managed to catch two more ladies but I still had no idea who or if anyone was up ahead. I think I passed Larry in this section. His saddle was giving him issues and he was off trying to straighten it out. I never saw him again. The day before, Bratetic had said to be aware of the yards of sand that were right after the stream crossings. Some dudes told him probably better to carry the bike than mess with a bunch of sand in your shit, tearing it up. When I got to the water, it was rideable and the sand didn't look so bad but when I got there, the sand pit was farther down and deep. Sure enough I heard a creaking like I'd never heard before. Sand grindig in your chain and on your rotors is very unsettling. It sounds like the bike was breaking. Surprisingly though it stopped not long after it had started.
By the time I made it aid #2, I was well on my way to 3 hours of riding. Shit! Really? My goal was 6 hours but at this rate I didn't think I was going to make it. I did the same eating routine and was off to slay me some trail. We had hear about "The Stairway to Heaven" on this trail. It was a natural starecase of stone between two large stone walls. Not rideable was an understatement. I had to shoulder the bike just so I could carry it, the steps were that big at the start. They got smaller as I ascended. Luckily it wasn't too long. Kinda cool. It gave me a opportunity to swap bottles and eat at least.
|Stairway to Heaven
Aid #3 finally came. I was somewhere between 4-5 hours. This is where my body starts to rebel anything other than water. A very nice volunteer was all over my situation and filled up both bottles with ICE water. I poured some of it on my head. I ate more oranges this time knowing my body would really benefit from them later. I didn't have enough spit to eat a pb&j so I left on orange fumes.
Believe in the plan. Keep it steady.
The heat was rising. Ryan said his GPS read 90. There were a few spots where the trail turned into the wind and I let out a hall le lu ya! The trail was not marked all that well. There were left over ribbons from some trail run along with ribbons for our event (or not, as the promo materials stated). At one point I came to a T after a road crossing and there was no obvious sign but there were ribbons going in both directions. I had to wait a few seconds for others so I could ask which was the right way.
I think the 2nd stream crossing was in this section. It was wider and deeper. I tried riding it and had to clip out. I was in the big ring and couldn't pedal through it. Great, sandy socks and a loud bike. But I got over it. Soon I found myself in a train lead by a dude on a single speed... and a full face helmet? Ok. Whatever works, dude. He was riding just perfectly and steady.
|Fullface SSr. I've seen it all.
The single track was relentless. Not that it was hard, but it just didn't end. There wasn't anything breaking up the rhythm. Well, until some numbskull who had been trail side decide to jump in front of our perfectly flowing train and granny it, GRANNY IT!! in front of all of us. My SS lead out man tried to get around him and almost crashed. He wouldn't pull over so we had to get around Mr. Granny one by one and by then, the zen had been wrecked. We couldn't get back in rhythm. Wait. I couldn't get back in rhythm so I told the guy behind me to go. I'd pull him back and then he'd go around. We did that for a while.
Around this section I caught Wixen. He was taking it easy. Come to find out he had taken a pretty nasty fall early in the race and it was taking it's toll. He wasn't too far behind, coming in at 6:14.
Fuck, does this trail end? Where is the sky? Fucking weeds. Yes, you see where this was starting to go. Inside my head. I new there was another check point but it was mainly for the NUE riders who had to go back out and do another section. The promoter made it really clear to make sure to leave that check point correctly else we'd be doing part of the course again. Before getting there, however, I noticed my front tire was bottoming out on square edge bumps. I stopped and checked it. CRAP it was low. So I jumped off and dug out my CO2 stuff. OF COURSE IT WAS AT THE BOTTOM OF MY SEAT BAG! I dug it out and gave it a hit. I didn't need to use all of it so I stuck it all in my jersey and got back to business. A few minutes later, I was at that last check point. I made sure to ask which direction and as I rode I started questioning the direction. I didn't double check that this was the direction for the 50 milers. But as I rode the treeline started to thin out and look familiar. I was close to the end, I could feel it but my mileage was at only like 42 miles and it was 5:45. Shit. Was I going the wrong way? But as soon as I was ready to turn around I saw a sign that said FINISH and I yelled out THANK YOU GOD! I was so happy. I turned down the starting climb, being careful not to do something stupid in my excitement to be done. As I turned down the finishing straight, there was Ryan and Bratetic, cheering me on. The second I was off the bike a angel soared from the heavens and handed me a cold wet rag and an icy bottle of water. Angels sung. I swear.
I asked Ryan if he had seen any other women come in and he had not. He went to the timers and asked if any other women had come in. Nope. I was the first and with that they announced that I was indeed the winner of the women's open category. I came in at 5:50, in 45th place out of 174.
This was a big win for me. I really didn't expect to be able to pull it off only because when you are new to a venue, you never know who's home court you're on. And with a trail being this technical, you expect other racers to have technical riding ability, especially if they are local. And because I wasn't feeling well, I really just didn't know what the day was going to bring me. Luckily, it brought me a 50lb slab of stone and some cash. (As I write this, Ryan informs me that I got some ink in velo news. Don't blink, or you'll miss it.)
|All I could think was don't drop it!
|Hurry up and take the picture already!
To add to my elation, Ryan had come in under 5 hours, 7th in his age and 12th overall. I was so happy for him because he had been suffering from some knee issues for a while and just was unsure about himself. He put those demons to bed! Bratetic had a bad day. It started out well, as he put it, and then it to hell in a hand basket it went with two flats, ripped sidewall and a finally a broken bike. His solo hike through the bush allowed him to be alone with his anger. Not surprisingly, he was upbeat the rest of the day.
We all hung around, waiting for our travel mates to arrive. The 2nd place woman came in at around 6:04, greeted by a significant other who gave her a huge hug. Soon Wixen showed up and then Eyberg. Wait, I never saw Eyberg and Wixen said he hadn't either since the start. Uh oh. Well, remember the whole "pay attention to where you leave the 3rd aid station" speech? Yep, Eyberg was probably in the bathroom. He ended up doing part of the course again. It wasn't until he saw some weed wackers that were left trail side that he knew what he had done. Now we all know Todd is not an angry guy but I bet you a hundred bucks he was spitting nails and firing F-bombs while going back up the trail, against traffic. He came in smiling though and told us what happend. Ah crapwheezle! But he had a good race otherwise and focused on that. Larry trodded in after a bit, having suffered from some cramps and bike issues. Always a positive guy, he still had a good time as well and was already plotting how to return to the scene on his next visit to his inlaws.
And now for KGill's second magical appearance...hours ticked away and no Kevin. We all had eaten, stretched, eaten again, did the podium presentation...put bikes away and still no Kevin. What if he went the wrong way? There were plenty of spots that were confusing. We were kinda getting worried. He had been good the whole trip, not drinking, taking in fluids and resting. We really wanted him to finish. And sure enough, he didn't disappoint. We were all standing around the road that lead up to the climb (that's how we returned as well) and all of a sudden we spotted him and he was flying...flying towards us. His grin was from earlobe to earlobe. We started yelling out his name. He had nothing of it and flew on past, ready to be done. We chased him to the finish line and were celebrating like he'd just won the thing. And in our minds, he had. After being sick all week and making the effort, the guy didn't let Syllamo get it's revenge!
Once KGill got his chow on we all headed out. We got cleaned up and was hoping to hit up a BBQ place that was up the road that looked like it had been a gas station at one time. PERFECT! But it was closed. What? It was Saturday night. So we kept on and came to the Wing Shack where we were able to get BBQ and sit outside. Fried pickes, chicken wings and ribs were on the menu. It was damn good.
We followed it up with icecream from Wal Mart. The place we were going to hit up was closed so we got pints and took them back to the cabin where we proceeded to eat it as we sat by the fire pit. As we passed around Eyberg's cherry-flavored tequila flask and listened to Bratetic's crazy-ass stories, I think we all were feeling this was definitely our place in the mountains.