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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tomahawk Challenge 24 hour AR

Note: Written by me, commentary by Chuck in green.

This year's Tomahawk Challenge was an inaugural event, but you'd never know it from how smoothly and well the race was run.  Extras like free camping at the start/finish area and free pre- and post-race meals were an added value, but perhaps best of all in a school year where I've already had to take two personal days, the location was close enough that I could leave for the race after work.

Check-in was held at the Ribeyre Center in downtown New Harmony, a very cool historic town near the Illinois-Indiana border. Once we'd taken care of that, Chuck and I headed to Harmonie State Park to set up camp. BOR was already there, so once tents were set up and we'd discussed Chuck's and my awesomely (and exhaustingly) full race schedule we all headed back into town, stopping at a cool brewery Larry had scoped out while waiting for the rest of his team.

Hello, super creepy circus poster.
Photo credit: Scott Shaw
We headed back to the Ribeyre Center in time for lasagna and salad, followed by a giveaway where mine was the first name called, much to the chagrin of the Navy guy who'd earlier taken umbrage to my Marine mom t-shirt.

Yea free stuff!!

Race director John going over race details
Photo credit: Heather Kluch
One notable thing I took away from the pre-race meeting was an appreciation for the huge amount of local support for the race. Several county emergency management agencies were involved, and representatives from two of them were even at the meeting.

It's a map! It's a blanket! It's a tent! #multifunction #ar #adventureracing #teamvirtusAR
Chuck modeling our gigantic map/tent/emergency blanket/tablecloth

Finally it was time to get our maps and race instructions and see just what the next day would hold.  I went up to collect them and returned with a gigantic map and...coordinates for 12 checkpoints.  We would go into the race, not blind, but exceedingly nearsighted, our only glimpse of the race being the instructions for the initial trek.

That left the majority of the race as one big question mark.  Of course, we could make some good guesses. We had a bike drop at a boat ramp some 20 miles south of our start, and the trek would take us about 12 miles north, ending next to the Wabash River. Obviously we would be paddling on the second leg; it was less clear whether we'd have any mid-paddle trekking and, if so, how long it would take. I'm happiest when the entire race is set out before me and I know what to expect, so this myopic view was an enduring frustration for me throughout the race.

On the other hand, the minimal pre-race plotting left plenty of time to get back to camp and load up our packs.  For once, I was in bed by around 10, giving me almost 6 hours of pre-race sleep, an unheard-of luxury that helped soothe the indignity of the 4 a.m. wake-up call necessary to get to the bike drop and back with a comfortable time cushion.

It's a good thing we'd left early, because I realized  at the bike drop that my rear blinky wasn't working. Neither of us had the right kind of batteries (or anywhere to buy them at 5 a.m.), but Chuck dug through his gear tub, dragged out an ancient red blinky, and lucked into the right batteries. It provided enough illumination to make me technically legal but questionably safe, so I stuck an extra glow stick in my pack to supplement the mandatory light.  We were back at the race start in plenty of time for last-minute preparations.

Getting ready to start. I have no idea why we stood so close to the front.
John sent off the 8-hour racers first and then called us forward for last-minute instructions, specifically where we could find our passports. I'd spent the week before Tomahawk nursing a sore tailbone from a crash at last weekend's mountain bike race (one of several blog posts still waiting to be written) and swore up and down that I was doing zero running, but in the excitement of the race start Chuck and I ended up doing more running than expected.

Trek 1: Checkpoints 1-12, in order

Passport secured, we opted to run the longer, flatter road route instead of retracing the shorter trail through a reentrant. While I was all for this idea at the time, in retrospect our route was only more effective if we ran the whole time, and I'm most definitely not in running shape.  We arrived at our attack point for CP 1 just as Checkpoint Badgers were emerging, and rather than shoot a bearing towards the CP we just dove into the woods where they came out.

We had some trouble locating CP1, coming very close; in fact, Chuck had just said "I bet it's just over that spur," before we headed uphill instead. We need to learn to trust our his instincts, because some time later we finally found the point, just where he'd said it would be.  Not an illustrious start, but it seems like the first CP always plays hard to get, and spotting them was complicated in this race by the markers used.

(Not CP1) Photo credit: Heather Kluch
Those round PVC tubes definitely didn't jump out at you the way the typical CP bags do, especially during daylight hours in the woods, when every sun-dappled tree mimicked the look from a distance.

Rather than ease our navigational woes, CP2 continued our downward spiral. We found the correct reentrant pretty quickly and proceeded to climb up and down it several times, unable to close in on the checkpoint. At one point Lupine and a couple of solo racers passed us, going in the same direction we'd come from, but we didn't follow.  We should have: after over an hour of fruitless searching, we gave up, while they eventually spotted the marker hanging from a tree.

Root cave

Chuck:  These CP's were really hard for me to see.  My inability to spot them would haunt us all day.  Compared to the typical orienteering controls with the bold square shape and triangle orange/white pattern, these tubes took on the shape of every sapling and tree branch in the forest.  Even this early in the morning I was looking forward to sunset with the hopes that the reflective tape would make them more visible.

We didn't go straight to CP3, running into BOR in the vicinity as we all scoured the hillsides for the root cave it was plotted in. Chuck spotted it and slid down to punch our passport.  What a great spot for a checkpoint! I love it when races take me to cool places I wouldn't otherwise see.

We trekked away from CP4 in the company of the same solo racer we'd seen around the previous two checkpoints. Since it seemed obvious we were moving at the same pace and likely to see a lot of each other on the course, we introduced ourselves and killed time on the way towards 4 (failed dam/dry pond) by getting to know Mike.

Chuck also practiced his tightrope-walking skills while I recorded my more daring teammate from the safe, safe ground.
After a lifetime of working around airplanes, Chuck's hearing isn't the best, and this deficit was much in evidence during the race. As we approached the spot where CP4 was plotted and began to look around, I told him, "There's a dam...I'm going to check up there since that was mentioned in the clue."
Moments later Chuck got the first "yeah, I just said that" look of the race when he looked up and exclaimed, "Hey, that looks like a dam!"

Chuck:  SO true, and unfortunately it gets worse every year.  My teammates are constantly accomodating my shortcoming by repeating things to keep me involved in conversations and up-to-date on all the race instructions I don't hear.  They even go out of the way making adjustments to walk, run or ride on my right side or change positions to look in my face while talking.  They even find ways to make what must sometimes be an annoyance into a humorous exchange. Thank You again to my amazing teammates for accepting this about me!

Kate: He's worth it, plus it's not like I can get pissed and walk away...I don't know where I'm going!

The CP was indeed on the dam, the first time in the race we'd gone directly to our target. "It's so much more fun when we find them right away," I told him, "let's just do that for the rest of the day." We must have done just that for CP5 and 6, because I don't remember anything about them, and then came CP7 ("tip of spur").

When doing our route planning, Chuck and I had different thoughts on our approach to 7. He'd planning to shoot a bearing from an intersection; I voted to avoid climbing up and down across reentrants by following the spur to its end.  That's what we ended up doing until we reached the end of the spur and...no marker. We scoured the lower section of the spur. Nothing.

The elusive CP7

Thinking maybe we'd come down the wrong spur somehow we trekked further up the creek, climbing up and down and across at least two more spurs as we went out and back. The whole time we did this I was kicking myself for bringing up this failed strategy. Finally we retraced our steps back to where Chuck had originally planned to attack, shot a bearing, and walked straight to...the same spot we'd been nearly an hour before.

This time BOR was also scouring the area for the marker, and despite seven of us climbing all over the end of the spur we couldn't find it. In fact, we were just about to give up on yet another CP when Chuck spotted it across a tiny reentrant from where we'd been standing. Huge relief, but so frustrating to have lost so much time when we'd been right there so long ago.

Me in the front on the left, getting as far away as I could.
The group of us all trekked towards the next CP, an abandoned cabin just off the road. Chuck was briefly distracted by a bloated animal corpse that, like the 9 year old boy he is on the inside, he wanted to pop. I wanted no part of that disgustingness, a sentiment Amanda shared (one more reason it's nice to have more women in AR!).

Chuck at the cabin

Chuck:  After having been denied a good attempt to pop the possum, I made sure there was time for a quick exploration of the cabin interior while Kate, Mike, and BOR punched passports.

The cabin was easy to find (and another cool spot for a checkpoint). We continued on together, having to backtrack when the old road shown on a map led, in actuality, through a soybean field. Hard to believe that maps that were last updated nearly 100 years ago weren't entirely current. Though we thought the "road" was possibly legal, we weren't positive and thought whatever farmer had planted the field might not be super happy about a crowd of adventure racers tromping through his crops. Instead we retraced our steps and took a road route.

We all attacked (CP9) from the same point, but when we didn't immediately see the point Chuck, Mike, and I trekked up the creek a bit...and then a bit more, running into Bushwhacker who was already on their canoe leg and looking in vain for a hilltop.  There was some confusion as to who was dramatically in the wrong place, but in the end it wasn't us. They moved on in search of their hilltop, and we retraced our steps back to where we'd first come in off the road, once again finding the CP right where we'd originally thought it should be before we'd headed in the wrong direction.

BOR was long gone by that point, but we met up again coming from (them)/going to (us) CP10 (hilltop). Neil warned us to stay (right?? Left??), which we did, finding the marker with zero drama and then doubling back to head into town for our next CP. We took a trail that led directly behind the labyrinth where the next marker was hidden, reaching it just as BOR was emerging.

Heading out after finally having punched the passport.
What a cool spot for a checkpoint, right?? And also, annoying. When you're in a race the last thing you want to do is traipse through a maze looking for a piece of PVC tubing. Luckily Mike spotted it, so all I had to do was figure out how to get where he was, a feat I barely accomplished. Visual-spatial stuff is not my strong point.

Chuck:  But it was very entertaining watching Kate run through the multiple concentric rings while I took pictures.

We refilled our camelbaks at the nearby spigot and then followed the sidewalk into town, catching BOR where they'd stopped outside of the Ribeyre Center (and real bathrooms). We walked towards CP12 just long enough for Amanda and I to squash the boys' dreams of a mid-race beer stop, and then as we reached the golf cart path that would lead to the Wabash River, our final trekking point, and eventually the canoe put-in, BOR inexplicably turned off.

Confused but sure of our route, we stuck with our plan, quickly finding CP12 and then the TA, where we were given the "bad news" that we had to skip CP13, an upriver paddle that we'd anticipated and already decided to avoid, passed a gear check, and were given the coordinates for several paddling points. Always eager to cut out whatever paddling time possible and concerned because of the strong Bushwhacker team's problems finding 14, I voted to skip any points that looked tricky -- basically anything that required getting out of the canoe.  Much like my running prohibition, however, that plan quickly changed.

Paddle leg: CPs 13 14-19 in order (though you certainly wouldn't want to do it any other way)

Despite our head start at the TA, BOR arrived, plotted more quickly than we had, and were on our heels as we put in on the nasty mud of the Wabash River.  In no time Chuck had spotted the creek that was the attack point for CP14, which we found with no problem: all you had to do was climb up a gigantic hill.  We passed BOR on the way back to our canoes and hastened to CP15 (reentrant).

Looking back out the reentrant towards the river.
The marker was easy to find. Back at the canoe, we nervously eyed the rapids just past the reentrant. A water safety boat and several volunteers were stationed there, which was only a slight comfort; I'd have been far happier if they hadn't been necessary, but in the end I greatly appreciated their presence.  As we shoved off, I looked back at our friends with a "we who are about to die salute you" expression on my face, and Scott solemnly wished us good luck.

We tried to set a strong cadence as we splashed through on the left side, but the boat tipped and we went over. Our packs were strapped to the canoe, but our paddle bag and a ziploc with almost all of my race food for the next several hours floated away while I watched in despair. The strong current and slick bottom made it nearly impossible to stand up, so we did our best to swim the canoe towards the river bank.

It took ages to get the canoe to a spot where we could stand and dump out all of the water, and once we got it as drained as possible we hopped back in and paddled back out, thankfully past the rapids.  The safety boat motored toward us, a volunteer inside tossing me the paddle bag and MY FOOD once they were close enough. We were saved! I'd been sick feeling to lose all of that food. It had been really careless to leave the food out unsecured, but I'd thought having it easily accessible would make it more likely for me to eat during the paddle. This ended up not being the case.

I'd packed with the same lack of forethought that led me to leave nearly all of my calories lying on the seat of the canoe, so while I had a very thin baselayer shirt and several pairs of socks in waterproof baggies, the rest of my cool weather gear (waterproof jacket, gloves, and a fleece hat) were loose in my pack and therefore completely soaked. The weather forecast showed lows in the 40's after dark, but I tend to run pretty hot and felt confident I had enough clothes...which I did until everything I was wearing got soaked.

Luckily the sun was still out, giving us hopes of drying out during the rest of the paddle. Chuck was exhilarated by the whole experience. "That was awesome!" he kept repeating.  I didn't want to be a buzzkill, but I'd found it significantly less awesome.

CP16 was on Mink Island, and Chuck led us straight up the wide, dry creek to our point.  Though I'd felt relatively comfortable while paddling, I couldn't stop shivering as we hiked across the shady island. It was another of the many times that, despite not having looked at the map in hours myself, I was convinced he was wrong...and it was another of the many times I was glad I just kept my doubts to myself because he was totally right. Within a few minutes we were back in our canoe and on to another gear check at CP17 (boat ramp), where we told the volunteer that Mike and BOR were close behind us and explained that BOR stood for "Boring Old Racers".

Chuck:  I planted that "Boring Old Racers" seed with hopes that the volunteers would pass it along when BOR got to the CP, but we never heard anything afterwards, so I guess it didn't get passed along.

CP18 was on another island, the first of two on the map. We found the island pretty quickly but the point itself was hard to find. Chuck thought that maybe the island had been cut apart by the river in the time since it was mapped, so we moved on to the next section, where with some teamwork with Kiss My Compass, a 3-man team, we were able to park our canoe and scramble up the steep embankment to the CP.

That long skinny island is now two islands.
We paddled off just ahead of the guys, expecting them to pass us at any moment since we'd been chasing (and failing to catch them) all day, only staying close because they'd had to stop a time or two to dump their leaking canoe. They never caught us, though, and we worried the rest of our paddle that something had happened to them.

That wasn't our only concern. Chuck kept obsessing about the bike leg: "I just wish we knew how long it was going to take!" I was confused by his worry; after all, we'd driven 21ish miles from the start/finish to the bike drop that morning. It couldn't be much longer than that. And we had plenty of time.  I said as much to him, and he replied, "But we only have 5 hours left and we aren't to the TA yet!"  For some reason, probably residual Thunder Rolls hangover, he had a midnight start/finish in his head.

"Chuck," I said, "It's 7:00. We have twelve hours left!"

Chuck:  Ha!  Thunder rolls hangover indeed.  

Railroad bridge just past Grand Chain Island, where CP18 had been located
That settled, Chuck felt much better about our time frame.  Though we'd originally planned to skip the final paddling CP, which required an out-and-back paddle on a creek that fed into the river, we decided it was worth the extra time in the canoe. Our land nav hadn't been stellar, but we'd nailed all of the paddle points; it seemed silly to pass on what seemed to be a sure thing just because I don't like paddling.

The sun finished setting as we paddled up the creek, and I spent the rest of the paddle straining my eyes to watch for any strainers or other obstacles in the water, really REALLY not wanting to do any nighttime swimming. The paddle seemed to take forever, though it was broken up by the dulcet tones of a solo racer whistling and singing "Eye of the Tiger" and he paddled back towards us and, later, our second Checkpoint Badger sighting of the race.

We easily found the marker hanging under the railroad bridge, its reflective tape making it far easier to spot at nighttime than during the day, and then paddled back towards the river, finally reaching it and making our way towards the next transition area, the bike drop we'd visited some 15 hours earlier.  By this point, the temperatures had cooled and I was shivering in earnest.  "You know what would be awesome?" I asked Chuck. "If they had hot chocolate!...and a fire!"

Sure enough, in the kind of glorious dream-come-true scenario that's the closest I'll ever come to winning the lottery, both ingredients of my hypothermic fantasy were at the TA. I chugged hot chocolate while huddling close to the fire; the only thing that could have been better is if Mark Wahlberg was there warming me with his body heat while wrapping us both in a puffy jacket...

...uhhhh...where was I? Oh, yeah...fire. Hot chocolate. Yet more points to be plotted, these ones for the bike leg to the TA back at the state park. And the opportunity to take off my sodden jersey and replace it with a dry shirt. Even though my chamois felt like a wet diaper and my pants were still damp, my upper body was much happier.

Bike 1: Checkpoints 20-25 (in order)

BOR had come in slightly after we had and made another lightning-fast transition, so we all rolled out at about the same time, though they quickly left us behind. Somehow, despite all the bike riding I do, it takes me a long time to get comfortable riding in the dark, so I really slowed us down.  We picked off CPs 20-24 with no problems, Chuck's stellar nav keeping us in the mix with several teams who'd left the TA ahead of us.

Like on the paddle, we went for every possible bike point, knowing we'd be far faster on wheels than on the anticipated trekking leg back at Harmonie.  Most were super easy, though CP25, down a rutted, slippery, mud/sand road was a little stressful in the full-on wimp mode I'd found myself in. From there we took gravel and forest roads and then rode a park road uphill forever back to the TA, where we were greeted with fire, more hot chocolate (though, sadly, still no Mark Wahlberg)...and more coordinates to plot.

Around 12:20 a.m.
Finally, more than 17 hours into the race, we had a full view of the course.  5 trekking points in the state park, several bike points on singletrack (including one CP featuring ropes), more bike points to an orienteering course at Indian Mound Farm, where we'd trekked earlier in the day, and then bike points back to the finish line.

Though we plotted all of the coordinates we were given, we quickly decided to skip the trek.  Bike points would be faster and easier, a much better use of our time than another trek. I was pretty thumbs-down on the ropes CP, and there were another couple on singletrack that looked like they featured a lot of climbing.  Instead we decided to tackle the a bike/trek combo, the four closest singletrack points, and then see what kind of time we had left. If we had enough time, we could go for a couple of bike points along the road.  The downside of this was that I'd be spending the remainder of the race in my soggy chamois instead of being able to put on all dry clothes.

I was able to trade my wet trekking pants for dry running tights, and I added a thicker base layer shirt under my waterproof jacket, but that was the extent of warm clothes I had available. After a pretty leisurely transition (an hour-ish), we climbed back onto our bikes again.

Trek 2: checkpoints 26-30

Bike 2: checkpoints 31-33 in order; may leave bikes to trek to points

CP31 was at an old cemetery reminiscent of ones we've visited during different iterations of the SHITR, approached by horse trails that were somewhere between singletrack and doubletrack.  That was easily found, and then we headed to 32, which I believe was at a trail/creek intersection, another easy mark.  From there, we pushed our bikes up some super shitty trail before getting back onto grassy doubletrack. Nearing 33, we saw BOR coming in the other direction, having given up after struggling to find it.

They backtracked with us to give it one more go, dropping the point after the six of us were still unable to find it. Not having looked as long, Chuck and I were reluctant to give it up, but we had to admit defeat after additional fruitless searching.

Bike 2b: checkpoints 34-?; no bikewhacking

Checkpoints 34 and 35 were along the beginner singletrack (comically explained in the park brochure as "suitable for beginners", while the intermediate trails were -- you guessed it -- "appropriate for intermediate level riders") in Harmonie State Park. As we rolled onto the singletrack I initially thought how nice it would be for my 11 year old, smooth and flowy with little elevation change, but I quickly revised my opinion as it wound like the tentacles of an octopus along the edge of a reentrant.

Chuck called back, "These are awesome trails!!", an opinion I didn't share. While on one level I could recognize how fun the trails should be, I was totally fixated on the gaping chasm of death to my left (full disclosure: I have no idea how deep it actually was; it was dark and I was afraid to look to my side for fear of plunging in.).  Every single other person I talked to about those trails loved them, so I think I'm pretty safe in assuming that I'm the only one who crept along like a petrified snail. There was so much winding back and forth that I started to feel like we were in some kind of bizarre Hotel California trail system, continually riding the same piece of trail without ever reaching our destination.

Eventually we reached the CP, and the trip to CP35 seemed a bit shorter.  Looking at the map for our next singletrack segment, it seemed clear that we could cut a significant amount of distance from our ride by approaching the trails from a parking area.  We quickly located the trail entrance for CP36 and it was a short ride to the marker. Then we backtracked to the road to look for the trailhead on the other side of the parking area.

This one took a little bit longer to find, but again we were successful.  These trails had a bit more elevation change, and while my mental game was pretty nonexistent my body felt good.  Chuck, on the other hand, was starting to feel bonky, so he chugged an Ensure at CP37 and we took it easy as we retraced our steps to the road.

Back on the road we looked over our maps. We had less than two hours remaining.  The other singletrack points looked like a lot of riding to get there, but there was one CP down some of the gravel park roads that we felt comfortable going for and the possibility of one more that was farther away.

Without the likelihood of certain death of the singletrack to hone my focus, I started really struggling with sleepiness as we rode the pavement towards CP41. I felt so good riding...if I could just pedal with my eyes closed I could continue forever.  One of Chuck's Foosh mints helped wake me up (yea, caffeine!), and we made it to the CP without incident.

Looking at our map after punching the passport neither of us felt confident about our ability to get one more CP without missing the cutoff and being penalized, so we called it and rode back towards the finish line, coming in just before 6 a.m., thanking the race directors, and gratefully climbing into our respective tents and sleeping bags to finally, after nearly 12 hours in wet clothes, get warm and dry.

We got up and hour or so later to eat pancakes and sausage, pack up, and catch up with all of our friends. The awards ceremony featured no surprises. Perennial powerhouse Alpine Shop took first overall, and Bushwhacker came in second and Lupine third. In our division, AC/BDAR won first place, and Chuck and I took second.


Big thanks to the race directors and all of the volunteers for all the work and planning. What a fun, well-run race. We had a blast!

Chuck:  This one is definitely going on the 'gotta-do' list for next year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hellbender 16-hour

Note: Commentary provided by Bob (in green) and Mickey (in red). Chuck was on vacation and settled for telling me what a great job I'd done and going back to kayaking Lake Michigan.


When Bonkhard Racing cleared their schedule for 2015, Missouri was left with only one adventure race for the entire year, December's Castlewood 8-Hour.  Thankfully the Rolla Multi-Sport Club stepped up and planned a 16-hour race in the same general area as the much-loved Berryman AR.  Chuck and I had originally intended to race in Kentucky that weekend, but shorter drive/longer race won out over longer drive/awesome location/one of our favorite race directors.  The rest of the team was unavailable, but Bob and Chuck's son Jacob joined us on a 4-person Virtus squad.


Hellbender was an apt description. Though the name actually references an endangered aquatic salamander native to Missouri, the temperature was definitely of the hellish variety. Heat warnings had been issued for the area, and the forecast high was 97. Perfect weather to lounge by the pool or in the air conditioning...or, you know, spend 16 hours racing outside.

Pre-race check-in and meeting were both held basically across the street from the hotel, and in between was a restaurant where I could get my usual pre-race BBQ pulled pork...always a good start.

Mickey: One of the perks of this race was the free 1-night hotel stay prior to the race. Thanks again to the Rolla MSC and the Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce for the tourism grant that made that possible!

We were given one large waterproof map as well as several smaller supplementary maps. Typically race instructions specify the order and mode by which CPs can be obtained and by which mode (CP 1-5 in order by bike; CPs 6-10 any order trekking); this course was "choose your own adventure" style: points could be found in any order and by any mode. This kind of thing is a nightmare for me: too much strategy. Chuck and Bob were much more excited about it.

Bob did some last-minute running and then worked on bikes while I helped Chuck plot points.  Our very first point, for the start/finish, was in a wildly different location than indicated by the directions to the bike drop. After re-checking our work twice, we decided to deal with that point later. We plotted our remaining points with no issues and then checked with some other teams about the questionable start/finish.  Carrie had already emailed the race director about it, and he quickly sent out the correct coordinates.

Race morning came early...3:45 alarm to be on the road at 4:30 to be at the bike drop by the time it opened at 5. Adventure racing is definitely not the sport for people who love their sleep. Mickey: Having to stay up late the night before a long race planning/strategizing is definitely one of my least favorite parts of AR.  In a must un-Virtus-like move, we were actually on the road as planned, but our bike drop journey wasn't exactly smooth as I had trouble following the directions. Thank goodness I was only navigating to the bike drop! Lori and Jacob, who'd stopped on the way for coffee and donuts, actually beat us there.

We dropped our bikes and some food for later in the race and then headed for the race start. There was a good hike from the parking area to the start/finish, and the fact that it was all downhill was absolutely no consolation because we knew that a) we'd be trekking right back up it and b) at some point we'd be repeating the quarter-mile stretch while carrying a canoe.

After a group picture and some last minute instructions, Kevin said go and we went. We had decided to go after two trekking points near the start before setting off in the canoes. It made sense to grab them since we had to go back uphill for our canoe anyway. Chuck led us right to both, and I enjoyed the benefit of letting Jacob be the one to punch the passport, something that's always my job (and constant worry after losing it at Stubborn Mule 2014) on a 2-person team.  All too soon we were lugging the battleship-weight canoes back downhill.

Not as fun as it looks.
Photo credit: Rolla Multisport Club
Mickey: That portage sucked, big time.

Bob: A 1-kilometer downhill canoe-carrying hike sounds really cool until you have to actually do it. But hey, at least the boats were really light and nimble on the water. (sarcasm)

Kate: I'd like the record to reflect that it never sounded cool to me.

We put into the river and enjoyed a delightfully short paddle to the attack point for our next trek. There was no beaching area to speak of and faster teams had already staked out the limited space where canoes could be dragged, so we tied ours to the exposed root system of a tree on the river bank, stepped into the oozing mud, and clambered uphill.

Bob: I actually thought climbing the roots was pretty fun, but yeah, the mud was rather deep.

Kate: He thought it was so fun he went back to do it again (and to get the supplemental map we'd left in the canoe).

We found our first CP relatively quickly and then initially overshot our attack point for the next one. Once we realized our mistake, we found it pretty quickly and began hiking UP.  Woodson K. Woods Conservation area is full of access trails -- basically a wide swatch of semi-mowed doubletrack -- that we used to navigate to the 5 or the 6 checkpoints we tackled in this section.

We found CP4 relatively quickly, then initially overshot our attack point for 5 before finding it and having a nice uphill hike. While the two look fairly close on the map, they didn't feel close at all, which may give you a feeling for how very long the trek between 5 and 7 felt.

When we finally reached the reentrant where 7 was plotted we had a terrible time finding it, trekking back and forth along the side looking for the flag. The clue was "hillside", and it looked to be plotted about midway down. We spread out and followed the reentrant looking in the middle: no luck. Again looking higher: nope. Thinking maybe we'd entered too soon we went back past where we'd started: nothing.  Finally, on our last attempt (by which time I was thoroughly sick of traipsing along the side slope), I happened to glance across the reentrant and see the flag hanging on the opposite side from where we had it plotted.

All that extra searching may have set the tone my mood on this trek. It had taken us what felt like a long time to near the point and then forever to punch it.  We saw Mickey and Andy, looking none to happy themselves, on the trek between 7 and 6 (or 8); despite being a much shorter trek, that too felt endless.

We went 4 - 5- 7 - 6 - 8 - 9 - 10
Mickey: There were some seriously long treks between CPs. We chose to go from CP4 to CP6, and the trek was over 2 miles.

I was grumpy about the long treks to such spread out points.  I'm much happier with more frequent reinforcement, and I'm sure the heat and my sore feet colored my attitude.  I've spent very little time running this summer, and that's most obvious on trekking legs: once my strong suit, lately they've become much less enjoyable. Trekking in wet shoes and socks just added to the fun.   I tried to at least act positive, I was very crabby on the inside. I joke that my role on the team is "chief morale officer", which was far from the truth during our trek.

6 and 8 were thankfully near each other, then we had another long trek to get to 9, where we punched the flag to the sound of a raucous party going on at a nearby campground. From there we hiked out to the road and race-provided water drop. I'd emptied my Camelbak on the way to 9, and though I still had one bottle of water in my pack, I was very happy to have a full tank again.

With one checkpoint left on this section we opted to walk the shoulder of the highway to get to our final CP. We bagged that, seeing both a 2-p team from Texas and Mickey and Andy in the woods. We were able to top off our water on the way back to the canoe and after a brief detour made it back to the canoes right around 2.  The volunteer in a kayak at this point warned us that most teams were taking about 3 hours to get from that point to the canoe takeout, information that was of concern because there was a 5:00 cutoff and we aren't a particularly speedy paddling team.

In light of the cutoff, we decided to skip all of the paddling points and head straight to the take out, but even with a deadline looming, we took some much-needed time to cool off in the river before climbing back into the canoes and heading downriver.  And then...disaster.

Bob and I have paddled together before, most notably in the above-referenced Castlewood 8-hour. Starting temps that day had been 10 degrees, but it had probably warmed up to 15 or so before we got onto the river. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a fan of paddling, and paddling a river in freezing temperatures, where tipping could very well be a survival situation, was very frightening. And we did great. That was one of my favorite race paddles ever.

I'm only talking about our successful Castlewood paddle because this canoe leg was pretty much the opposite. We looked like we'd never been in a canoe before; drunk people on the river do better than we did. We ended up sideways and backwards several times. We rammed a partially submerged tree and slid partway up it like it was a ramp (flashback to my first Berryman). And we eventually tipped...right in front of a little girl who then laughed at us. (Big thanks to the kayaker who chased down my paddle and hat.)

Mickey: In her defense, it was super funny! I wish I could have caught it on video.

When we weren't struggling to avoid strainers and gravel bars, we were slamming into the large submerged rocks that for whatever reason I could not see despite the clear water) and slaloming around the crowds of people out enjoying the river in the heat. ("Enjoying" here defined as "sitting in the middle of the best paddling line".)

Bob: I'm gonna blame the turning issues on that heavy ass canoe...it was like piloting a school bus. And then when people who would see us coming and literally sit in the middle of the river...well, I'll admit that pissed me off a little bit. All that aside, it was a nice time on the water.

Meanwhile Chuck and Jacob smoothly negotiated all obstacles and spent most of the paddle waiting on us to get our shit together.  It probably would have helped our speed if I'd accepted the offer of one of Chuck's paddles, but even though I know kayak paddles are faster I really prefer canoe paddles. So basically I chose slightly more comfort over improving team speed, which was bad race strategy and selfish on my part.

Bob: So selfish.

Other than the billion people on the river, it was a beautiful day to be out in canoes. Granted, it would have been even nicer with a cooler and some drinks and multiple stops to swim, especially at the very pretty Maramec Spring Park, which due to our time limitations, we sadly passed without even a picture stop. We did, at least, take the time to dip our hands into the lovely cold water.  Bob spent the last hour or so of the paddle feeling really sick. Finally reaching the canoe take-out was a relief: for me, so I could stop paddling, and for Bob, because he was finally able to throw up.

Photo credit: Rolla Multisport Club, people who are much nicer than us and therefore opted not to document Bob's suffering. 
Bob: This was a particularly rough moment. I'm just glad I could kneel in the cool river water and barf instead of laying on the side of the road. I puked enough to be nervous about all the calories I was losing, but the fish seemed to enjoy their surprise lunch.

In light of our suboptimal paddling performance, we were surprised to see Mickey and Andy still at the canoe takeout, but Bob wasn't the only one suffering in the heat.  Andy had to drop due to heat exhaustion, so Mickey asked if he could continue unofficially with us.

Mickey: Thanks again to the RD and Team Virtus for letting me keep racing. I needed the MTB-O and night nav practice. I was glad I was able to help a little, too.

We had a slow transition but got to chat with Alpine Shop and Kuat who were at the bike drop at the same time (after getting loads more CPs on the trek/paddle).  I'd left plenty of food with my bike, none of which sounded good, so I jumped at the chance to rummage through Jeff's leftovers. Unfortunately, nothing there caught my eye, either. I have a really hard time eating in the heat and hadn't put a lot of thought into my race nutrition ("it's only 16 hours"), so I was stuck with plenty of calories and nothing remotely appealing.  This was not a recipe for a successful bike leg.

I caught sight of my AR friend Ron, who was volunteering, as we pedaled away.  "Have fun riding up the hill!" he called.

The bike leg started with a 150 foot climb, the beginning of which Strava tells me was about a 13% grade. I made it to the top, but I was suffering by the time we stopped to regroup and really struggled from that point until the sun started to relent around 7:30.  Bob was still recovering from his bout with the heat, so Mickey's offer to tow was much appreciated.

Bob: I could never describe how much I appreciated that tow. For a long time after I threw up, I was just staring at my handlebars or whatever was directly in front of me, turning the cranks and trying to keep moving. Any time we'd hook up the towstrap, I'd get nearly instant relief. The boost in my speed and morale was incredible. The fact that it benefited him in no way to make such a kind gesture speaks volumes about his character. 

They quickly shot off with Chuck and Jacob close behind, while I (somewhat tearfully) attempted to close the growing gap. I was so frustrated by being the slowest one.  Mickey circled back to check on me.  "This heat is killing me. I can't keep up. You guys are going too fast." (I know I complained about the heat; I'm not sure whether I said the rest or was just thinking it, but I was definitely thinking it.)  He towed me back to the group, but while I'm a huge fan of the tow on his cross bike I don't love the mountain bike one and was very skittish; once caught up, I opted out for the rest of the race.

Chuck and Mickey navigated us flawlessly to the first couple of CPs (one at an "old intersection" and one down a doubletrack trail that was thankfully much better mowed than the ones we'd been hiking earlier in the day.  Again we bounced back and forth with Kuat and Alpine Shop; it's always a highlight to run into the fast teams on the course, even if our faster friends are much further along in the race than we are.

Bob: Riding next to the Sonas during this stretch of the race was definitely a highlight of the day.

We had to beat a 7:00 cutoff before the Forest City trails in order to get credit for any of the singletrack CPs, and we were the last team(s) to arrive before the volunteers closed down and left.  They had a big cooler with Gatorade and water and ice.  Having something cold to drink for the first time since 6 am was glorious.  Even better, since they were going to dump the ice I stuffed as much of it as I could fit into my sports bra. Around that point I finally started feeling human again.

Another big hill led to the trail system; we then took a minute or two to make some decisions. The final race cut-off was at 10:30; missing that would cost us 1 point immediately plus one point for every 5 minutes we were late.  Looking over how far we had left to ride after the trails (guessing around 24 miles), we chose two fairly close CPs on the singletrack.  I was really excited to ride Forest City because I've heard such good things about them, and the first couple hundred feet did not disappoint. That's about all we rode, though, before Jacob flatted. The first tube was bad, so the guys had to rechange the flat. It only took maybe 20 minutes, but we'd been cutting it close on having time to tackle the trails, so we reluctantly decided to bag the singletrack and head back the way we'd come.

Mickey: And we STILL haven't ridden Forest City!

We were able to pick up a couple more CPs as we passed through the town of St. James but lost a chunk of time looking for one that we never did find in the city park.  Finally we had to cut our losses and ride for the finish line, again picking up some CPs on our way.

The Rolla/St. James area has some serious hills, and it felt like we rode all of them. Along the way we came across a team who was doing their first adventure race and was struggling with the nav in the dark.  (Bob: I mentally checked out somewhere in this section. Like, gone.) We all continued together, now riding eight strong. There was much regrouping at tops of hills.

Eventually it became clear that we were not only going to miss the cutoff but miss it by a wide margin. I began to fantasize about some kind stranger driving past with a truck big enough for all of our bikes, a quick ride back to supper and cold drinks and a shower.  I knew even if such an opportunity presented itself I'd have to pass, but it was a nice thought.

As we neared the camp hosting our start/finish, we saw a van approaching.  "Hey," Chuck exclaimed as it stopped near us, "That's my wife!"   She was the vanguard of the search posse forming to track us down, the rest of which was assembled at the end of the camp road.  "We were just about to come look for you!" someone called.  In retrospect, we should have called the race director to let him know we were fine, just moving more slowly that we'd like. That said, we probably wouldn't have had a cell signal anyway.

SO ready to be off of our bikes, we made our third (and fastest) trip down the road to the finish line and crossed through the arch at 11:29 p.m., almost exactly an hour past the cut-off.

Bob: I made a wrong turn and slammed my bike into a brick building right before the final turn. I though it was a shortcut. It wasn't.


We had a pretty big penalty for coming in late, but at least we finished with a positive score.  More importantly, we finished under our own power: stinky, tired, and hungry, but otherwise none the worse for wear.  Despite our late arrival, there were still plenty of burgers and beer, and with all of the other finishers on their way home we plenty of seats to choose from. There were even third place medals left for us.

I'm so photogenic.
Bob: I'd like to take a moment and elaborate on the finish line atmosphere. Mind you, we finished REALLY late. The volunteers had been working all day, but you never would have known with the way they treated us so well. There was an abundance of delicious hamburgers, hot dogs, baked pies, water, sodas, and a variety of good beers. (I wasted no time getting shitfaced, btw.) There was even a prize table where you could help yourself to free gear. Even better, they gave us a ride up the hill back to our cars. A classy group of people if you ask me.

Mickey: I really appreciated the on-site, hot showers. It made the drive home much more comfortable.

The heat and the terrain definitely made this a tough race and a fitting successor to Berryman. The Rolla Multi-Sport club did a great job on their first adventure race: tough course, good maps, fantastic and enthusiastic volunteers.  We're planning to be back next year...hope to see lots of our AR friends there, too.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Council Bluff

I've ridden on the Council Bluff Lake trail a couple of times, once for my second Berryman AR and once last summer when Luke and Casey were staying nearby with their families, but I've never ridden all of the way around the lake. Like most trails I've ridden for the first time during my early adventure races, it has stuck in my head as a scary place, so when a free weekend day came up, I was eager to put that fear to rest by finally riding the whole trail.

Chuck, Jacob, Bob, and I met up near Bob's house and caravanned down to the lake, Bob and I riding together with our bikes on my fancy new  used Kuat rack. Goodbye, worn-out trunk rack! In some bizarre occurrence, Bob and I actually beat Chuck to our meeting spot, though the world was quickly set right again when I promptly drove across an intersection and onto the wrong side of a divided road on the way to breakfast...in front of a police officer, who thankfully had better things to do than write me a ticket for being clueless.

Council Bluff
Making fun of my crooked helmet.
I'd say the drive went pretty quickly, but accusations were made from the back car about me driving like a grandma, so obviously it wasn't that fast of a trip; still, we got to the lake just at the time we planned, an un-Virtus-like feat, indeed, and attacked the trail from the beach in a clockwise direction.

Council Bluff

Jacob hasn't really ridden his bike in the past two years, which didn't stop him from totally outridng me.  What he lacks in practice he makes up for in fitness and the natural fearlessness of an 18 year old boy.  Usually one of the things I love about mountain biking is tracking how far I've come from when I first started, but on this trip I felt like a beginner all over again, scared, tentative, and walking things I know I could ride.

Council Bluff
Bob does not suffer from my lack of confidence.
Having chosen to ride on one of the first hot, hot weekends of this very weird summer, we were very looking forward to hopping into the lake to cool off at the boat ramp.

Council Bluff
I opted to walk in.
After hanging out for a while and talking to the fishermen getting ready to launch, we set off again, soaked clothes providing a little additional cooling for the ride.

Council Bluff
And thank goodness for shade!
We took another water break, this time in a lovely, cold, clear creek at the connector to the Ozark Trail.  Halfway around and past the more technical parts of the trail, I finally started to gain some confidence.  Bob flatted and crashed, so I rode ahead to let Chuck and Jacob know we'd be stopping to change a tire.  They decided they needed to finish up the ride because they had plans later in the day, so they rode back to say goodbye.

Council Bluff
Doesn't look like much, but the water here is DEEP and since it's a man-made lake, there are trees down there just waiting to impale someone.

Seeing the rocky ledge near the spot Bob had stopped to change his tire, Jacob told him, "I bet you $10 you won't ride off that into the lake." Most any bet against Bob is a loser's bet, and this was too. I was very unenthusiastic about this plan. The water is deep, and I thought chances of Bob's steel-framed bike sinking to the bottom were good, not to mention his likelihood of impaling himself on a submerged tree. I was so opposed to the plan that I almost rode away, but I decided it would be better to stay and play lifeguard if needed or at least document where rescuers could find his body.

If your sentence to Bob Jenkins begins with "I bet you $10 that you won't..," you're going home a poorer man. Or boy.
Posted by Kate Lavelle Geisen on Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chuck and Jacob took off, and Bob and I were just about to leave when we heard voices approaching pretty quickly. Knowing our pace was going to be considerably slower than the oncoming riders, we opted to wait until they passed. "That sounds like Maria," I told Bob, and sure enough she and Sam rode around the corner. We talked for a little bit before the girls rode away, and then we followed.

Council Bluff
It was a gorgeous day, and it's a beautiful trail
I typically like to be in the back of whatever group I'm riding in; I like being able to see the line of the rider in front of me. This day I felt much more comfortable with a clear trail in front of me. I'm sure it also helped that we were on a far less technical section, too. Regardless, I was finally really enjoying the riding portion instead of mostly just the company.

Council Bluff
It's hard to see because of the shade, but there are quite a few rocks and roots here, and I was so excited to have ridden up it successfully that I walked back down to take a picture of it.  
We reached the last boat ramp before the beach and rode out on the dock. "I kind of have to ride off this, don't I?" said Bob.  "Or maybe I just shouldn't press my luck."

"It's OK if you're too scared," I teased, feeling much more comfortable about this spot and knowing he wouldn't be able to resist the taunt.

More magic words: "It's ok if you're too scared..."
Posted by Kate Lavelle Geisen on Sunday, July 12, 2015
His water bottle came loose on impact, so I offered to swim out and get it.  I took off my shoes and socks and hopped in from the dock so as to avoid the super slippery ramp.  Bob laughed at me as I tried in vain to keep my face from going into the water (I'm seriously turning into my mom) and then again as, after retrieving the bottle, I gingerly made my way onto the bank, squeamish about the muddy bottom, the plants, and the dead fish I saw.  Otherwise it was fun. More mountain bike rides should involve lake swims!

We made our way back to the beach and car, and then attempted to find "the bluff" on Johnson Mountain. My little Cobalt is no off-road vehicle, and if Chuck and Jacob thought I drove like a grandma on pavement they would have REALLY laughed to see me creeping up the rutted gravel.  Stymied at the top when we couldn't find the spot Bob was looking for and too hungry to look for long, we headed back down and into Potosi for Mexican food.

We probably spent as much time in the water as on our bikes, but it was a super fun day. I'm really looking forward to the next trip back. My driving probably won't improve, but hopefully I'll ride less like a grandma!

Monday, July 6, 2015

2015 Stubborn Mule 30-hour

Cable, WI, is a long drive from the St. Louis area, but it's totally worth the trip (especially if you aren't the one who does the driving!). This year the Stubborn Mule adventure race moved northwest to the Cable area, and though I was looking forward to the race before I heard about the location change, I was really excited once I started reading about the mountain biking opportunities in the area.

Chuck and Lori picked me up Friday morning and we headed north through lots of rain, an ominous echo of last year's weather that thankfully did not portend another 6-hour midnight downpour during the race.  Our hotel was about 2 minutes from the race HQ, which we scouted out between check-in and dinner at the Sawmill Saloon.  After dinner we went back to get our bikes and gear as ready as possible, a task that was complicated by the fact that we had no idea how the course would be structured.

Most ARs I've done start with a pre-race meeting the day before where you get your maps and race instructions.  That way, you go into race morning having a good idea of where (if at all) you can drop gear and food, how the race is structured, etc. Without a pre-race meeting, I filled my normal pack food pockets and stocked up my bike, then put the rest of my race food in a large ziploc bag until I knew whether I'd be leaving some behind or carrying 30 hours worth of calories with me all day. Aiming for 250 calories an hour, that seemed like a lot of food.

Race check-in started at 4:45 a.m. We received two big maps, a smaller supplemental one, and a packet of CAMBA trail maps. Chuck copied information about private property from master maps while I traced the mandatory bike route on one of the trail maps (first scanning the descriptions and being relieved to see they were rated intermediate) and read over the race book, highlighting mandatory points and time limits.  We were left with a few minutes to strategize before the pre-race meeting, where it was my job to be the primary ears for our team.

The race was largely centered around the HQ/start/finish, giving us one place we'd return to repeatedly during the day (with a bathroom! I'm not too ladylike to go in the woods, but not having to was lovely!). This made staging gear super easy. We left extra food, shoes, paddles, and bikes at the HQ and made our way to the start.

Photo credit: Stubborn Mule AR
WEDALI up front, Chuck and I waaaaaay in the back on the right. :)
6:00 am 

Trek 1: 6 CPs, may be obtained in any order, must get 4 or attempt section for 2 hours

The opening jog was a sad reminder that my summer running mileage is anemic at best, but it was impossible to be down in such lovely surroundings.

Nice way to start the day
We got off to a slightly slow start, hampered by the fact that it was difficult to tell the difference between hills and depressions on the map, an issue which might have been mitigated if the navigator's assistant (that would be me) had looked at the clue sheet and mentioned that the clue was "depression".  Oops. My bad. It's only been three months since my last adventure race, but apparently my race brain is rusty.  That little issue resolved, we knocked out the first four CPs in quick order.

Getting CP4
The Chequamegon National Forest has "over 300 miles of marked and mapped routes", which is fantastic.  It also means you may well come to an intersection of six trails spidering off into different directions.  We hit one such junction on our way to CP5 and spent a longer time that felt right hiking it towards our next CP. At one point we stopped and asked ourselves, if we're not on the right trail, where else on the map are we, but at the time we didn't make the connection that we were on a roughly parallel trail.

In retrospect, we should have stopped, thought it through, and if necessary backed up to reattack, but we kept moving forward until we hit a signed intersection and figured out where we were.  At that point we decided to bag CP5 and move on to 6. Hiking along the grassy doubletrack, we saw a black bear on the trail ahead of us.

Not too long into our race this weekend, Chuck and I came across this bear. It stood in the trail for a minute or two and then ran off into the woods. It peered over at us from the side as we passed, but before I could get my camera out again it lost interest. We actually saw a second bear later that day, maybe around 4 or 5 in a different area.
Posted by Kate Lavelle Geisen on Monday, June 29, 2015

Holy shit. A bear. One of my enduring disappointments from last year's Stubborn Mule was the complete lack of bear sightings, so once our furry friend ambled along his or her way we were as excited little kids.  Seeing a bear totally made up for missing that checkpoint and losing some time. On a high, we collected our final checkpoint and made our way back to race HQ.

Chuck:  The bear was definitely a highlight for me too.  We all watched each other for a few minutes while Kate got her camera up and running.  The bear flicked his ears a few times and shifted his weight around projecting an image of total curiosity.  Finally deciding that this IS a bear we started making some noise, then he ran off just like the experts say its supposed to work.

After each leg of the race, teams checked in and out with volunteers. This meant race staff were able to keep track of how many CPs each team had throughout the race, plus they also tracked our transition times, which is interesting information for post-race analysis (that said, while I typically love to start talking about how the race went and what we could do better next time as soon as it's over, this time most of my post-race was spent asleep in the back seat of Chuck and Lori's van).

Trek 1: 
Time: 3:27
Distance covered: 9 miles
Checkpoints: 5/6


9:39 a.m. (3:39 of racing down, about 26 to go)

Paddle 1: 6 CPs, may be obtained in any order; teams must obtain at least 4/6

We now had a long flat-water paddle on the lovely (and enormous) Lake Namakegon. I'm still no fan of paddling, but like last year, the canoes were some of the nicest I've ever used in a race. I'd say the first three-fourths of the paddle weren't terrible at all. Chuck's nav was flawless, and while we aren't fast paddlers we weren't super slow, either.

Water like glass
At one point we crossed paths with a three-person team. Since the canoes only have front and back seats, the person in the middle is stuck on the bottom unless they bring something to sit on.  I was that unlucky person last year, enduring a long river paddle which perched on my pack, so I commiserated with the guy in the middle, telling him I knew it was no fun.

"Yeah," he responded, "but you weren't paddling!"   (That's what I get for revealing my "if I'm taking pictures I can't paddle" strategy in last year's race report. :D)

This smile may not be entirely sincere. Also, not the less smooth water.
We'd toyed with getting the four mandatory CPs and then heading back to HQ, but somehow we decided to get a fifth as well. I think Chuck even left it up to me, and far be it from me to add to my canoe time, but I wasn't feeling awful at the time. That changed not long after we pointed ourselves towards that last CP. My shoulders and back were sore, my hands were hurting, and I kept shifting position because my legs were uncomfortable. Additionally, lake traffic picked up as the day went on, and it seemed like every jet ski and pontoon boat was making a point to knock us around with their wake. I was very happy to get back to the beach and out of the canoe.

Get me out of this effing boat.
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
Paddle 1:
Time: 3:59
Distance covered: 14 miles
Checkpoints: 5/6


Happily switching from paddle mode to bike mode.
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
Once again we checked back in with the volunteers and then prepared for the bike leg.  We had a 25-mile bike to a new transition area with a 19-CP trekking leg, followed by a 34-mile bike leg back to HQ.  We weren't going to be back at HQ until early the next morning, so we loaded up with extra food, stuck our trekking shoes in our packs, and climbed onto our bikes.

2:01 p.m. (8 hours of racing down, 22 to go)

Bike 1: 5 CPs, may be obtained in any order; teams must obtain at least 2/5 CPs

Chuck at the beginning of the bike leg

Yes! The bike leg! If there's anything I was trained for post-Dirty Kanza, it was this. We started on pavement/gravel, ticking off miles and our first checkpoint. We had to stop and check the maps to figure out the right turn for our next checkpoint, discovering at that point that we'd lost the map where we'd marked the mandatory bike route. We biked down to a trailhead and looked over the map posted there, noticing Lori's van in the parking area and looking forward to seeing her along the way. 

It looked like we could either take the singletrack or a little bit more road. "Let's take the road," I suggested, "Look how squiggly the singletrack is...the road will be way more direct."  That may have been true, but once we turned towards the trail the road got super rough.  The trail, once we hit it, was buttery smooth and so much fun. Bad call on my part, made worse by the fact that Lori was waiting to cheer and take pictures on the section of singletrack we'd missed.

Chuck:  Not a bad call on your part, I was down with it too.  It was the best call with the limited information we had.

"Is this Heaven?"
"No, this is Wisconsin."

Highest point on the trail (maybe in the area...I've forgotten now)
The trails alone made the 10-hour drive to Wisconsin totally worth it. This section of the race included the Flow Mama and Seeley Pass trails, the swoopiest fun I've ever had on a mountain bike. The three CPs on the singletrack were unmapped; you just had to keep an eye out for them as you rode. We snagged the High Point CP and then spent most of our remaining time on the trails swinging between savoring the trails and worrying we'd missed the other CPs (sometimes doing both at once, because we're overachievers like that). We did get some reassurance when we ran into another team (Marine One, maybe) at a trail intersection. "How many checkpoints have you found on the singletrack?" I asked.

"Just one," they replied. "Everybody else has said the same thing."  Whew. 

Finishing up Seeley Pass trail

Having missed us at the beginning of the singletrack, Lori found us towards the end and got a couple of pictures on the bike. Usually in an adventure race, by the time one leg ends I'm ready to be doing something new; not this time! I could have stayed on those trails for way longer.  Definitely the most fun I've ever had on singletrack. We pulled into the TA with huge smiles on our faces.

Bike 1:
Time: 3:46
Distance covered: 24.4 miles

Checkpoints: 5/5


Trek 2: 19 CPs, may be obtained in any order; teams must obtain at least 8 CPs or attempt course for 3 hours

As we reached the TA, we saw WEDALI running back in to get more water. "Take your time," Emily warned us, "The terrain is really subtle. It's tricky."  We pulled on trekking pants, changed shoes, and reapplied bug repellent, then I topped off our water while Chuck looked over our new map.  Knowing we weren't going to be clearing the course, we immediately discounted a couple CPs that had almost no contour lines to help with the nav and then identified two different circles of CPs; we'd complete one, then re-evaluate what we wanted to do next.

And we're off!

6:15 p.m. (12 hours of racing down, 18 to go). It's numbers like that that tell you 30 hours is a long time to race.

This trekking leg was centered around the famous Birkie Trail. One section of the Birkie was overlaid on our maps,  but no other trails were. This would have baffled me, but once again Chuck nailed the nav. As we completed our first loop, we passed near the TA again on the Birkie, and stopping to check a trail map saw yet another black bear ahead of us on the trail. With dusk starting to fall, I was slightly less excited about seeing the bear, really not wanting to encounter one in the dark.

We saw one 4-person team as we hiked back onto the Birkie from our first CP of the trek, and then we never saw another person until running into the Marine team on our approach to our last CP. Here we encountered the thickest vegetation of the race, thankfully able to follow their path to the CP but having to break our own trail when we decided to go north towards the road instead of backtracking.

Chuck:  And, she really means "BREAK" our own trail, the vegetation was straight out of some jungle movie, a machete would not have been out of place.

Moving in full dark now with only the light of our headlamps to help us find the clearest path, Chuck took us slowly and steadily towards the road. At one point I looked back and thought I saw eyes reflecting my headlamp, and every time he stopped to look at the map I heard weird noises behind me.  I was increasingly paranoid about bears. While I'm not a fan of three-person teams and being stuck in the middle of the canoe, at that point I wished desperately for a third teammate so that the bear I imagined behind us could eat them instead of me.  Possibly my happiest moment of the race was when we popped out on the road unmauled.

Trek 2:
Time: 4:05
Distance covered: ?

Checkpoints: 9/19


Hike-a-Bike: 10 CPs, may be obtained by bike or foot; teams must obtain at least 2 CPs 

The TA had moved into the Birkie warming huts, which made a nice place for us to plot the CPs given to us when we checked in. This next section was billed as "Hike-a-Bike". Again we were to cover a combination of gravel and singletrack. Paula, the race director, was at the TA and pointed out to everyone that our CAMBA trail maps would help greatly to find some of the points. Thankfully the map we needed wasn't the one we'd already lost!  After Chuck plotted our points, we went over them again with the trail map, also marking that with our route. While I'd been at sea with the topo map, at least the nav on the trail map made sense to me.

11:10 p.m. (17 hours of racing down, 13 to go). 

While all CPs could be obtained by either bike or foot, what it boiled down to for us (and most teams, I imagine) was biking to the attack point, dropping bikes, and hiking in to find the point.  For our first CP, on a peninsula, we questioned ourselves and had to crawl a log over a creek three times before we went far enough to find the flag. We then somehow missed a turn to our next CP ("Hilltop"), deciding to skip it when we finally figured out where we were.

Lots of signs at 1 a.m. The large trail map (not shown) to the right of this picture was really helpful.

We found the marsh CP with only one false start, and things got interesting.  Attacking too early for CP B9 ("Lake"), we then moved off our bearing in search of our target. Being in the wrong place, we naturally didn't find it, and our wandering around resulted in a slightly disconcerting period where we couldn't see our bike lights and didn't know how to get back to the road.  I thought we might have to wait til dawn to figure it out, but Chuck sat down with the map for a minute, got things straight, and led us back out.  Once we got back on the road, the actual attack point was just a little bit further, and we and the Wolseley Wanderers located it without further drama.

Chuck:  In vegetation that thick, and that late at night, I should not have taken us off a solid bearing in some vague hope of spotting a CP.  (I wonder now, in hindsight, if that poor decision was influenced by the beginning of my 'dark time' on the bike leg.)  To our great relief, spreading all the maps out on the forest floor and plotting a safety bearing to intersect the road worked out perfectly .  This was a great lesson learned.

Subsequent bike CPs were on singletrack, and though I'd been really excited to get back on the awesome CAMBA trails (and thrilled that we'd be riding "easy" trails in the dark), the reality was less joyous than our earlier ride. The trail may have been easy, but it was also boring. My increasing sleepiness was revealed by the way my bike was weaving back and forth across the trail.  Still, I was thrilled to be on the bike rather than on foot or in a canoe.

Chuck, on the other hand, hasn't spent as much time on the bike lately. With a previous long ride of around 20 miles, he suffered quietly throughout most of this leg.  Since I had a pretty good handle on the (uncomplicated) singetrack nav, Chuck was able to retreat to the pain cave for a while, emerging right as we hit our final trail and just in time for my attitude to go south.

Chuck:  And that's why AR is such a great team sport!  Everyone goes through a time where they have to depend on their teammates.  Kate did outstanding leading us through that section.

I'd been excited about riding another IMBA Epic designee, but despite the fact that daylight had broken and the trail was easier than almost anything we have locally, I somehow began riding (and feeling) like I'd never been on a mountain bike. Meanwhile, Chuck was zipping along the trail like a kid just let out for recess.

We finally got to the end of the trail, where one of us noticed that the cover of one of Chuck's red blinkies was missing.  I mentioned that I'd seen it back on the trail, not realizing it was his. "Where was it?" he demanded, "That's my best light!"

"I don't know...it was a ways back," I mumbled vaguely, watching in disbelief as he turned his bike and rode back towards the trail.  I thought he was just joking about going back for the light, but he kept going.

"Come on!"

I stared at his back, still trying to formulate the words to nicely tell my teammate that there was no way in hell I was turning around for his stupid taillight when he looked back at me with a big grin and turned us back towards the race HQ.

Chuck: Evidence that I was out of the 'dark time' and Kate was in one. She is usually way to quick to get caught by something that easy.

Time: 7:40
Distance covered: 30-ish? miles
Checkpoints: 8/10

Paddle 2: 10 miles, 4 cps, any order; teams must get at least 1.

7:17 a.m. (25 hours of racing down, 5 to go). 

The volunteers at HQ gave us coordinates for four paddling CPs.  It was mandatory to get one, but there were three that were allegedly "pretty close together".  We grudgingly grabbed the paddles and trudged back to the canoe beach, only realizing after we'd chosen our boat that our map was back at HQ.  I sat in a beach chair and almost fell asleep while Chuck retrieved our map.

The lake was beautiful in the morning light, flat and calm with no sign of the pontoon boats and jet skis that had plagued us the previous morning.  Still, the first part of the paddle was terrible as we both fought with sleep.  A combination of chocolate-covered espresso beans and conversation helped the situation, but the paddle quickly revealed that my idea and Chuck's idea of "pretty close together" are wildly different. Still, we stuck with our plan of getting the three closest CPs, all of which needed a question answered to prove you were there, and were both thrilled to finally limp back to the beach.

Paddle done, just one...more...leg...
We were very not thrilled when we turned in our passport and answers and were told we'd written the wrong number down for one of the questions. We'd miscounted the number of 2x6's that made up a bench on one of the docks, so we didn't get credit for that CP. Rules are rules, and everyone else had gotten the question right, so it was our mistake not to get out of the canoe onto the dock and count more carefully, but I was pissed we'd done all that paddling for nothing.  Definitely my least happy moment of the race.

Paddle 2:
Time: 2:19
Distance covered: 8? miles
Checkpoints: 2/4


9:48 a.m. (28 hours of racing down, 2 to go). 

Trek 3: 9 CPs, all optional; 4.5 miles

Plotting and strategizing...and eating Pringles.

The volunteers gave us our final set of coordinates to plot for the final trek.  We knew we didn't have time to get all of them, so we picked the closest ones and headed out.  We found the first one, located on a beautiful open grassy hilltop (you'll have to take my word for it since I left the camera back at HQ), pretty quickly. The second, located at the end of a boardwalk in the middle of a marsh, proved much more difficult as we got distracted by a small marsh along our bearing. Eventually we found it, and since it was another question/answer CP, I made Chuck double check my answer.

There was one more CP in close proximity, but after the issues we'd had with our last one we decided not to take any chances with the hour we had left.  Instead, we headed back to the finish line, which we found with no problem.

Trek 3:
Time: 1:25
Distance covered: not all that far
Checkpoints: 2/9

Second in my growing set of Stubborn Mule coasters!

11:13 a.m. (29:13 total race time). 

Even better than finishing the race was the fact that we were able to immediately use the showers at the resort hosting the race, brush our teeth, and then eat. I know I've been grosser during a race (Thunder Rolls 2013!), but I've never wanted a shower as badly as I did this year.

Showers...and food (lots of food)...

...and beer. Now we're happy.
We ended up finishing first in our division and 8th overall. Had we gotten credit for the paddle CP where we answered the question wrong, we'd have been 6th overall. Either way, we had a great race.

If you have any way of making it to next year's Stubborn Mule, you really should. The location is incredible, and the race director and volunteers are fantastic. The race is so well-planned and the logistics both years I've raced it have been flawless.  Seriously.  Do this race. Your only regret will be waiting this long.

Chuck:  Oh yeah, I'm definitely IN for next year!