During the early 1800’s a Native American named Syllamo and his family occupied the creek valleys and hills of Stone County, Arkansas. Apparently, Chief Syllamo, a Creek Indian, was an antagonist to the early white settlers of the area. He was said to have supported raids and was also known to have stolen horses from the settlers. Eventually, these acts lead to Syllamo being shot during a local battle between the settlers and a group of Native Americans. Since Syllamo was an important part of the county’s history, his name is associated with a creek and various types of trails in the area. Syllamo’s name was also recently used to name a difficult mountain bike race held in the hills where he once roamed. The race was named Syllamo’s Revenge because it was so hard to complete that Syllamo would get revenge over those who killed him by watching all the riders suffer on race day.
Syllamo’s Revenge is a 50-mile MTB race that has been held in the northern mountains of Arkansas since 2005. This year the promoter added an even harder 125-kilometer version of the event to race day, which was also the second stop of the NUE Series Race Calendar for 2011. From what I read about the race prior to my arrival, I was thinking that this might be one of the toughest races of the series, even though it would only be 80 miles in length instead of the typical 100-mile distance of a NUE Race. I figured the race would be hard from descriptions of past racers that the course is almost entirely comprised of tight, rocky and hilly singletrack. I also took into considerations the slow finishing times from the previously held events and the fact that the weather could be either really warm or really wet during this time of the year there. I enjoy new challenges and trails though, so I was eager to test myself at this race despite it having a reputation of being very harsh.
Usually, when I think of mountain biking, I think of big hills (mountains) and singletrack trails through the woods. And, this typically gives me images of riding in the Appalachian Mountains around where I live or the bigger stuff out west. Since I had never being to Arkansas, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a mountain bike race being held there. I’d heard of the Ozark Mountains where the Syllamo’s Revenge is held, but I guess that I never really considered the central U.S. as being a place with big hills. Once I arrived in Mountain View, AR, I was happy to see that the Ozark Mountains actually were really big hills with plenty of dense foliage. While driving and riding through the area I thought the layout of the terrain was actually pretty similar to the trails and races I have done in West Virginia over the years.
The trail network used for the race is in the Blanchard Springs Recreation Area of the Ozark-St. Francis National Park. It is a beautiful park with a fast flowing rocky creek, steep wooded hills and limestone cliffs. There is a pretty extensive trail system there with four different mountain bike trail loops from which to choose. If all the loops are ridden at one time, a rider can do 50 miles of IMBA-designed singletrack without riding on the same trail twice. All four loops are put together to create the Syllamo 50-mile racecourse. The new 125k racecourse does a repeats the majority of the yellow trail and also adds a complete second loop of the fast, flowing 12 miles of red trail. Each of the loops is a little different than the other and when combined together, it is a good test of a rider’s overall mountain biking ability.
Earlier in the week, before the race, the temperatures were in the 80s in Mountain View, but the day before race, a cold front blew in and temperatures were much cooler than usual. It was only about 50-degrees when the race started at 7AM and the high of the day only went into the mid-60s. Additionally, even though the area had received a lot of rain leading up to the race, including the day before the event, the course was in pretty good shape. There certainly were some wet and muddy spots on the course, but the rocky soil composition drains water very well. From what I was told, the conditions for this year’s event were better than any previous race. The aspect of the course that I thought made it difficult and most different from other courses that I have ridden is the imbedded limestone on the trails. The rocks I ride on the trails around home and at other areas around the country are usually not real slick when they are wet or muddy. The limestone rocks at the Syllamo Race were very unpredictable and have even been given the nickname “slickrock” over the years.
From a perspective of a singlespeed racer, this course is a hard one. The climbs are not super long, but they are quite steep in some sections. Other parts of the course are very fast and rolling. It seemed as if I was either very close to spinning out or just barely able to push my gear up and over some of the steep climbs. Overall, I was very happy to be on my singlespeed instead of a geared bike. The mud and creek crossings on the course must have wreaked havoc on more than one geared bike during the race. Meanwhile, my singlespeed Selma Ti stayed pretty smooth and mechanical free for the entire race.
My race went well from start to finish. There really was no point where I felt bad physically or was not having fun on the demanding trails. I rode with a few geared riders here and there, but for the majority of the race it seemed as if I was by myself. Sometimes it can be hard to keep riding fast when I am alone, but it didn’t seem to matter on these trails because they demanded I think more about being smooth than about being fast. I kept my riding smooth enough during the day to take home the singlespeed victory and one nice sized and nice looking rock trophy. I can certainly understand how this course could conquer someone and give Syllamo the revenge he is seeking, but the time I spent riding these trails was too much fun for Syllamo to receive any gratification from me.
Happy Trails, Gerry
The Pfluginator takes the SS win at Syllamo's Revenge. And yes, those are bar ends.