Photo credit: Brad KutnerListen to the full story here
It was so sunny, people's eyes burned. The dust in the air clung to ankles like cake batter. The smells and sounds and sights appeared more like a battle arena than a bike festival. This was Slaughterama 7.
The event has grown significantly since its inception 7 years ago. Starting in Oregon Hill, the first Slaughterama was 40 people partying and riding kids bikes around a track.
This year’s turnout was easily in the thousands. Events include the Six Pack Attack, the Whiplash, Tall Bike Joust, the original Mini Hell Track, and BMX Side Car Racing. The event is held just as spring begins to creep back into the River City, and lots of folks consider it a sign of the new season.
“You wanna talk about Slaughterama and Easter? Same thing! We’re rising from the dead of winter into the beautiful resurrection of spring.”
Noelle Archibald, a founding member of the Cutthroats who organize the event, watches the mayhem from the sidelines. She has been into bike culture for years, saying her husband brought Tall Bikes to Richmond. She is the owner and operator of the Lamplighter Café. She said with help from other bike clubs and an army of volunteers, they could handle it.
“There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, but it’s the seventh year, so we know the drill. There are so many crews around town like RODA and they pitch in. Everyone knows what’s going on, we all just make it happen.”
She also believes Slaughterama is genuinely more than a bike party on the river -- it’s sign of youth who want to take part in their city and are willing to organize to achieve it.
“This formula will work anywhere – fun is free, go out and do something, it’s about the ability to create your own environment – we’re living in the now.”
While a lot of folks come out to support the cause, many more come out for good times and competition. Teams are formed and participated in any number of events. They start the weekend with the scavenger hunt, a citywide blitz to collect some of the most bizarre items you could imagine and a point system that seems somewhat uneven.
Ryan Villan and John Caslet, members of The Hooligans, a bike club formed for the event, feel Slaughterama is about folks from around town getting together without big business getting involved.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to come out and enjoy some community activity. It's about competition. And its about having fun without corporate sponsorship.”
Malcom Wolf slipped out of the masses huddled around the competition area, covered in sweat and dirt after competing in the Bike Jousting event. He said,
“I hold a 15-foot PVC pipe with a pillow on the end and I went full-speed on a tall bike and I jabbed him twice in the face. I dunno if I won, but does it really matter who wins? People come from all over the country for the event just to chill and ride your bike and drink lots of beer have a good time and be ridiculous. Let's not be cynical for a bit and realize, in the moment, we're having a good f******* time.”
It’s easy to imagine the incredible mess left at the end of such an event, but the Cutthroats and their friends are sure to leave Belle Isle in a better condition than it was when they first arrived.
James Lipton, a 5-year veteran of the Cutthroats, was in charge of the cleanup process. He said it’s a team effort that takes thousands of volunteers.
“We usually finish up by 8 pm that day, come by the next day, then again a week later. It's something we’ve always done. All these cans go to the James River park service. They recycle them, and they get to keep and they get to use it for whatever they want. It's really rad.”
With all the action and debauchery shrouded in a cloud of dust, the scene seems aggressive, but Lipton knows he can count on the crowd attending to keep order.
“We can count on reliable non-violent, chill people to come to our events. When things get weird, people help.”
Altamont this is not. B.J. Robinette, a member of the Guild Team, was enjoying his third Slaughterama. He volunteered to help clean up the remains for the second year in a row. Trash bag in hand, he explained why he thought the event was so important.
“I think it brings a whole lot of people together who would not normally be together. I think it builds friendship and I don’t think, at the end of the day, there are any negative effects -- it's all positive.”
The price of all this togetherness is the mess he is left to clean up, but he feels it’s important to leave on a positive note.
“I don’t wanna come down to Belle Isle and have to deal with a bunch of beer boxes and crap lying around. I know no one else wants to. So we clean up after ourselves, it's something everybody should do.”
It’s the end of the day -- 6 pm Saturday -- and it’s time to leave the isle. The masses slowly congregate toward the footbridge. Some brave the mighty James River and swim to the other side.
Archibald says something weird happens whenever the event comes to a close. No one really wants to think about next year’s Slaughterama quite yet, but you always wonder if this will be the last one.
“Every year we think it's gonna be the last one, that its gonna get shut down. It’ll implode on itself like the summer of love when the Hells Angles did security, and it could go that route, but all we try and do is set it up. Set it up, and let it go.”