(Update: We now have video posted from the race…Enjoy.)
I have a cruel streak, I’ll admit it. It may be why I enjoy covering cyclocross races so much. In fact, I enjoy covering just about any outdoor event where the odds of getting a photo of the perfect “pain-face” are in my favor. Not that I’m a total sadist, I’m usually willing to join in the masochistic endeavour to see what pitiful look I can achieve on my own. But not on this day.
Last year was the first time I covered Syllamo’s Revenge and Syllamo 125. I drove up early in the morning and arrived too late to catch the start of the 125K race so I settled for shooting the start of the Revenge, a 50 mile race through the IMBA Epic trail system known as Syllamo. I then tried to get out on the White River Bluff Loop for some photos in the rock gardens near the White River Overlook. I was too late as the first riders were already threading their way down the trail to finish that loop and I was stuck just 100 feet from the trailhead.
This year I took Lisa to help with video and we camped in the Ozark National Forest with friends who were racing on Saturday. As soon as they left camp for the race start, we headed to the White River Bluff Loop for a quick ride of about a mile to the rock gardens. It was a good plan.
The Syllamo Trail system consists of about 50 miles of trail in the Ozark National Forest north of Mountain View, Arkansas. Wedged in between the White River and Sylamore Creek, the trails offer everything from easy to advanced riding with lung-burning climbs, fast descents, technical rock sections and water. It would be the water that prove itself the nemesis of most riders on this Saturday. It wasn’t the water crossings so much, although I heard tales of riders landing in cold streams and not wanting to get up, it was the wet rocks that caused more than a few expletives.
The race starts and finishes at the Blanchard Campground, where after crossing a bridge over Sylamore Creek racers face a straight up climb on an old fire road for almost a mile before jumping onto the single track. This is done to thin the herd of racers but there is usually some congestion as fresh legs and lungs are anxious to get whatever advantage they can before the course becomes more technical.
The first trail is the Jack’s Branch Loop or the Yellow Trail which, like all the other loops, is ridden in a counter-clockwise direction until they hit the Scrappy Mountain Loop or Blue Trail. After a short ride on a section of the Bald Scrappy Loop, racers get to the first manned aid station at a little over 13 miles. There they receive a bracelet to prove their check-in and then it’s off on the White River Bluff Trail.
Much of the riding to that point is a combination of flow with some scattered technical rock sections. Both the Scrappy Mountain Loop and the White River Bluff Trail are considered advanced technical riding areas which is why we stationed ourselves there. The trail was elephant snot slick and the climb up to the overlook put many off their bikes. One rider described it as trying to ride a bike on a hockey rink. Of course most jumped back on for at least the short section in front of me. I heard a lot of, “Don’t shoot until I’m back on the bike.” and “I can’t believe you’re doing this too us.” It seems the 50 feet or so in front of the photographer becomes a mandatory ride section. At the top of this section they encounter some very slick rocks where some tough technical moves were needed to pass. Then it was a relatively easy section back to the Bald Scrappy Loop to continue around before rejoining another section of the Scrappy Mountain Loop.
The Scrappy Mountain Loop heads down to cross highway 5 and the second Checkpoint/Aid Station. Just a couple of miles after the aid station racers cross highway 5 again for the biggest climb of the day. This after over 25 miles of hard riding. The next 1.5 miles are straight up, getting riders back to the top of the trail system and soon after that, back on the Jack’s Branch Trail. This is followed by the Bad Branch Trail which is the easiest of the trail sections but also was a little overgrown due to the recent rains.
Tired and wasted the racers finally meet up with the Jack’s Branch Trail one more time to complete the loop and then head back down Blanchard Road and into the finish line. Unless…
Riders of the 125K don’t get to head down Blanchard Road yet, instead they get to do another lap of the Jack’s Branch Trail before dropping down to the finish. It’s a brutal day on the bike. Due to the technicality of many sections, mechanicals and flats are often the order of the day. This race tests even the best riders.
Syllamo’s Revenge is the last race of the Arkansas Marathon Mountain Bike Series and the Syllamo 125 is a part of the National Ultra Endurance Series. A great map and details on the trail system are available for download from the U.S. Forest Service.
Enjoy the photos on our Facebook page, look for the pain faces, tag your friends and yourself, feel free to download and share.