Greetings friends. I'm not generally someone who likes to gloat, but when faced with such an opportunity such as this, it is hard to resist. If anyone who had been planning on venturing down to Arkansas had even glanced at the weather reports, they would have expected rain on a Biblical scale the night before, and thunderstorms during the race which would have most certainly killed all participants, thus being dubbed "murderstorms." Usually when all the weather reports are unanimous in saying "90% chance of severe thunderstorms" you can pretty much bet on thorough heinous-ocity.
Fortunately, we don't bet.
The rendezvous point on Friday morning was set at my house, Casa Crotch. A certain sense of uncertainty was in the air, as we weren't quite sure what we were getting into after pouring over the weather reports. However, we quickly dismissed the uncertainty in the air as some of my leftover pasta-farts from the night before, and promptly departed. A wave of calm flowed over us upon ready the simple and straight-forward brand name of Gino's peanut snacks, foretelling it's value:
I do take issue with their claim of having the best nuts in town though - Farinella's take that crown.
The drive down had our spirits lifted as we encountered only slight misting on the windshield, not to be confused with the crop dusting inside the car - especially Nico and his pit-toilet farts. The road became moar and moar steep and twisty as we neared our final destination, one of Sarah's Cabins:
To get there you look for Geier Rd.
Or was that Gier Rd? Thankfully they were the same road.
Our cabin was as crunk as Dave is STLPAF. Panoramic porch, satellite tv, beds, couches, a toaster, wood paneling, a fridge in which to put beer, and obscure John Wayne DVDs. More of a romantic Ozark getaway than a bike racer's home base if you ask me. We arrived early enough to get in an hour pre-ride, allowing me to see the infamous Blanchard Rd climb and some of the course - which was in nearly perfect shape the day before the race. Holy shit. Root-balls: fixed. Mud: none. Pine needles: lots. Retarded climb: one.
After digging our trenches, eating Gino's pasta, and preparing for the next day, we we able to get our lean on while sitting on the porch, as we watched the expected thunderstorms roll in that night. Started with steady rain, and soon added rapid-fire lightning into the mix. And from our badass porch, this made for one baller-ass vantage point from which to watch the light show. I felt like Francis Scott Key watching the Battle of Fort McHenry as the Brits pounded Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. (Boom! History Bomb!)
The morning found us in various states of... ability. The toilets in that cabin were also of solid construction - something that can only be truly tested by 5 large dudes the morning of a race. Nicorn was not feeling 100% and tentatively decided not to race, wondering if he had potentially contracted food poisoning. He still came to the start line to see the rest of us off, but with all of the brewing excitement he showed his true superior state of mind and called an audible, grabbing Storm's car keys and driving the 15 minutes back to the cabin to get his gear and bike, and then the 15 minutes back to start the race 25 minutes late.
Registration couldn't have been easier - seriously, that was how it should always be done. It took less than two minutes. That is time that can be spent taking the last minute fuji, just to make sure you don't have to pull a Tom Albert on the trail.
The transition from the racer's meeting to start line was a little hectic, and it was a little too late for me to realize that I was already off the back before we even started. Not knowing where any of my cohorts were, all I could do was to use big Brian Busken (B^3) like a linebacker as he bobbed and weaved through traffic to the bottom of the climb. Gino, and perhaps Mr. Taft and Masson might not have had to deal with this, as they scored better start-line positioning, but there was actually a jam-job of significant proportions going into the double track climb. I managed to continue pedaling a 3 rpm cadence while the rest of those jerks ambled their way up the first 100 yards. Seriously, you can't get off a bike in traffic on a hill like that and then expect to get back on. After leaving loads of people behind, I caught sight of Varry Bollmer on his turd-brown Fischer (Nick, he told me he was sorry!) and loosely traded places with him and one other SS dude as we slowly but surely man-trained our way through traffic before reaching the singletrack.
Seen on the first climb: lady stops dead in her tracks without moving off to the side, thus causing lady behind her to get hung up and say "Are you fucking kidding me"
Compared to the yellow loop, Blanchard Road was as easy as winning the duck pond: The muck from the previous night's rain and technical difficulty of this loop was only compounded by the fact that it was still jam-job city.
10 miles in, and I start seeing T-tocs just a few riders ahead of me. I'm getting ready to call out to him when PSSSSHHHHH!!!! I blow a tire. I come to a stop as T-tocs rode away, unawares I had always been *behind* him. Looking up, and I see Mashor's smiling face as he tells me something like "That rock has gotten everyone!" It was a killing field of flatted riders - Mashor and two other riders were fixing their flats from the same rock. While I sat there, probably 4 or 5 more riders flatted right in front of me including Adam from Team Red Wheel (on his first mtb race ever!)
This flat tire taught me something - double check your spare tubes prior to a race to make sure they also aren't full of holes. That thought had never really occured to me, but when the same rolled-up tubes get tossed around or strapped to the bike, the can develop lots of little cuts. I figured this out slowly over the course of about 25 minutes as I sat there going through co2's and both spare tubes, but not before first putting the original tube back in. Somehow managed to make a Park glueless patch stick despite the sewer I was standing in. I'm up and rolling, and within a mile it turns out that the sidewall also had about a 1/2" slice, and my tube was squeezing out of the slice, and about to burst. Came to a stop, cursed Energor for this misfortune, and proceeded to repeat the process all over but this time just to put in a Pro-Bar wrapper as a tire boot. I'm happy to announce that this ghetto boot lasted the rest of the race, and looked like this at the finish line:
It was during the tire booting that Jerkward rolled up, not looking so hot. Of course, he didn't think I looked so hot either - on the side of the trail, mosquitos and flies buzzing around my head, I looked like one of those babies that needs to be saved with your monthly donation that is less than your daily cup of coffee. Or like Pig Pen: Remember that he started 25 minutes late. We rolled together for a while, separating for a little bit, but rejoining at the checkpoint - nearly 3 hours after starting. Norcword had a rough ride, but was still coherent enough to lay enough charm on Noelle (and I forget the other dude's name), who were running in between all the aid stations for TRW, and got them to drive him to the last aid station.
This first checkpoint was a major turning point for Mr. Ryback. I sat there thinking the same thing that this donkey is thinking: "how the hell did this happen?"
Those first 14 miles felt like a full Berryman. Pulling myself up, I felt as confused as that giraffe, but knew one thing - I didn't come all the way down to fucking Arkansas to require the use of a vaginal irrigation set. So I pressed onto the next checkpoint, seeing a so many Stan's Sealant explosions on the trail that I thought I was hot on the trail of some nasty pervert.
The miles clicked by slowly but surely, and over the next several hours I seemed to keep be keeping a steady pace, running into plenty of interesting people, some of whom I recognized from when they had been changing a flat next to me. I wondered if I'd come across T-tocs or Masson or Mr. Jenkems.
Making it to the final checkpoint with less than 20 minutes to spare was a relief, even more of a relief knowing that the final loop was going to be smooth sailing, which it was. That final Red Loop is *EXACTLY* how that race should end - minimal climbing, maximum superiority. All was 100% ride-able. It was about halfway through this section that I came upon Mr. Borb Jorkens who was on cruise control. Good to see a familiar face, especially one that was not attached in any way to snapped wrists.
Bombing down the fire road I passed another TRW member, though he was on foot carrying his bike. Arriving at the finish line I met up with my compatriots where I saw that I wasn't the only one to have suffered mechanical issues:
Everyone was worked, evident from the faces of those who found their way to the finish line:
I learned that Gino technically beat Dwayne by 1 second. I can only imagine the sound of colossal sprinting to determine that time split.
Mennonite spaghetti is the best, and lots of PBR is also delicious, which we *crushed* with the help of many others as we watched people finish. Scotty, Zach, B-Cubed, and Keith all helped us reach the second finish line (as the Discussion Divas bag looks on like a lonely puppy):
3 dinners were had that night - Mennonite Spaghetti, delicious Mountain View mexican food sans margaritas, and later on a Papa Toscani Original - Finisher's Crowns:We ate those crowns while watching "Hard to Kill, and also while listening to a tale that Jerky told us about a mythical beast - a 50 year old, 7 gallon toilet that resides in a house in North County, nicknamed "The General." This may be a challenger to the Jenkem Cycles/Chris King High Precision Anodized Toilet in terms of toilets that may be able to handle one of Coach's Morning Constitutionals with only one flush.
The resemblance is still there:
And so it turned out, the closest we got to the 90% chance of thunderstorms was some distant thunder around 11am or so. Otherwise, even though some things are and will always be out of our control, the race in the Costa Rican Rainforest that resides in northern Arkansas was nearly a complete success. This was the kind of race that will certainly go down as Epic As Fuck (EAF.)
Another thing to mention, I took a rather long unintended detour on the way home. However, I forgot all about that when I realized that I managed to get a photo of one of the most elusive billboards on I-44:
Isn't there supposed to be an apostrophe in there somewhere?
Truly a glorious weekend - you should have been there.
-Casey F. Ryback