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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Deuce--My first adventure (non)race

The internet is a funny thing.  Once upon a time, I happened upon a twitter link from Selene Yeager, Bicycling magazine's Fit Chick.  I folowed that link to Run Bitch Run, who writes some very entertaining race reports as well as posts from her life in general.  Blogsurfing from there, I noticed that a lot of running bloggers used Daily Mile to log their fitness activity and decided to do so as well.

Daily Mile led to me meeting Patrick, whose team's progress I then followed in the Berryman 36-hour, which got me hooked on the idea of doing an adventure race.  I roped my brother into the 2011 Berryman 12-hour, and as part of my Adventure Racing 101 plan, volunteered at the Castlewood 8-hour to see what it's all about.  My experience at that race led me searching out blog posts about it, and thus I came across Team Virtus.

The Virtus guys' posts were hilarious and just made me more excited about the whole adventure racing thing.   AND...they were planning to hold an adventure non-race in the near future, just the type of thing for a wannabe to get her feet wet (literally, as it turned out).  The date: Sunday, March 13.  I looked at my marathon training schedule, and the non-race fell the day after my first 20 mile run.  Ugh.  Now, maybe the smart thing to do would've been to choose one or the other.  But here's the thing, it's way too easy to start missing runs just because it's not convenient.  I mean, it's rarely convenient to take 4 hours to go run.  At the same time, the marathon's not my "A" goal for the year; the Berryman is.  So...both it was!

The race was about 2 hours and 15 min from my house, so I had planned to stay with my aunt and uncle in Columbia, which is 1/2 hour away.  If you read about my 20 mile run in the last blog post, though, you know it didn't go too smoothly.   After drying my tears, limping back home, and soaking in a (miraculous!) ice bath, I still wasn't packed and was on track to hit Columbia around 11.  Instead, I stayed at home and just left the next morning, which worked out fine.

I'll admit that I was a little worried how I'd feel in the morning after my long run, but I was pleasantly surprised (thanks again, ice).  The only bad thing was the nasty blisters on both feet.  I bandaged them up, took some ibuprofen, and gave myself until race time to limp.

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Heading west (or left, if you want to get technical about it)
It was a beautiful, clear morning, but it was a little chilly.  I kept watching the temperature on the dashboard, waiting for it to start going up like it was supposed to, but it didn't move much.  Thanks to some last-minute clothing advice, I felt pretty comfortable with the layers I'd brought, but I still would've been glad to have a warm day.

Note: all remaining pictures courtesy of Team Virtus.  Thanks!
Race check-in
I had no problems finding the house, which guaranteed me at least one navigational success for the day.  I got to meet the other racers and volunteers, and then we waited to get started.  Luke happened to mention to everyone that I'd run 21 miles the day before, which I appreciated.  That way, if I handed in a lousy performance, maybe they'd have an idea that I might have done better under different circumstances.

Bob shows off the schwag and gives out directions
Technically, I was racing solo, but in actuality, Luke was along with me as guide/teacher since I have no map and compass navigation experience and their race day would be much longer if they had to rescue me from the woods.

"This is a map." 
Orienteering lesson 1: Know where you're going (duh).  Try to memorize the turns you have ahead and mentally bookmark distinctive features (collecting features) as cues so you don't have to keep checking your map.  But check your map if you need to; it's better to stop a minute and check than to ride off in the wrong direction (not naming any names here).

Directions given, packs fastened, and race about to begin, we all lined up at the starting scuff and took off.

Bob looks like he's doing the running of the bulls.

Already in last place...for the time being. :)
A lot of the roads were gravel.  Very fresh gravel, thanks to the crazy amount of rain we've gotten lately.  Since I don't have a lot of gravel-riding experience, I was a little intimidated in the beginning.  The combination of nerves and sluggish legs made for a slow start.  I guess like most anything you just need to get warmed up, but dragging so much early on was disappointingLuckily, I was confident that I had the female division locked up (being the only girl competing), so the only pressure was from myself.

Derrick, of Orange Lederhosen, shows off the stickers he "found"


Orienteering Lesson #2: Often, checkpoints will be found near distinctive features....

Clearly, that's not me, but it's a cool picture of the big tower near CP #1.


CP#2
Orienteering Lesson 2a: ...but not always.

At CP#2, it was time to shed a layer.  The day was warmer, I was working harder...and my shirt matched my socks.

Grabbing a bite to eat
Surprising lesson #1: It's hard to eat enough on an adventure race.

At least, it was hard for me.  Luke was good about asking if I needed to eat, stop, whatever, but accessing my food was another matter.  I had stuck it in the top of my pack so it would be easily accessible, but that's only "easily accessible" to me if my pack is off my back.  Also, I haven't been riding this bike for very long yet, and I'm still getting used to the different body position/balance, so I wouldn't have felt comfortable eating while riding (something I have no problem with on my other bike).  A smarter move would've been to put some food in one of the side belt pockets



My bike and CP#2
Luke was really good at guiding me in using the map, which does not come naturally to me at all.  Thank goodness he's patient! It took me a while to get the map oriented correctly, and then to figure out where we were on the map and where we wanted to go.  Once I did, though, we were off again, the riding felt much better by that point...and it only got sweeter.

RD Bob stops by to tell us that we're in the lead.
The good thing about being fast is...you're fast.  The bad thing is that, if you get off track, you're going fast in the wrong direction.  One of the other teams missed the turn after CP#2, and the two other teams followed.  Sadly, everyone quickly passed us by again, but I enjoyed my brief, shining moment in first place.

CP#3...awesome
After CP#3, we moved onto the singletrack.  Well, after the (first) creek crossing.

Someday, maybe I'll ride across this kind of thing.
I'm sure Luke was wondering just how long of a day he was in for once we hit the singletrack.  I had this great plan to get out after Christmas and ride.  I rode the local trails once by myself, and I did one group ride.  Every other organized ride I was supposed to do was cancelled due to the weather.  Well, we didn't get too far before we were walking (Luke was walking bc I was walking...I'm sure he'd have been fine on the trails).  Incidentally, among the participants, only our bikes and Derrick's made it through without mechanical issues, and in my case that probably was related to the amount of time the bike was walked rather than ridden!

Actually riding the bike
When we got to a flatter area, I managed to get some riding in, and of course the longer I rode the more comfortable I felt. I ended up riding some areas that were more technical than I've done before and coming through it unscathed. :)  Soooo much fun!

Great day to be riding!
This was definitely my favorite bike section.  My riding improved some, I tried some new things, and I had a blast.

This was a really cool area to ride through.

There was a cool mix of terrain in the race.  Gravel, trail, field/pasture...something for everyone.

CP #5 was also our first transition area and the mystery event.  For this event, we had to push a sled around a loop at the campground. Being a girl, I only had to push the sled, while the boys had to push it with additional weight.

Mystery event #1
I started off strong.  I believe my words were "This is easy!"  And then I got to the slight incline on the loop.  Why did I start off running again??  Let's just say my pace slowed considerably.  Then, while Luke took his turn pushing the sled, I grabbed some snacks (supplied by Bob's mom--thanks!!) and started checking the map for our next move.

Completely non-posed map check picture.
Incidentally, if you look at the picture you can see that half of my hair is in a braid and half isn't.  Somehow I lost a braid early on. You can further see that I have an extra ponytail holder around my wrist.  Who says just the Boy Scouts are prepared?

On to the trekking section.  I felt like I should run at least part of the time (new experience doing so with a pack, by the way), but my legs weren't in full agreement with the plan.  We ran some of the trail towards CP #6, but mostly just downhills...and that didn't last for long.  We found CP#6 with no problem (after I learned about the symbol for major power lines on the map), but #7 was more of a challenge.  We could either take the trail around a hill and then climb the hill to get to the CP, or we could go over the hill and get the CP from above.  I opted for the latter.

Rather than actually navigating to it (or near to it), though, I just went over the hill, which left me doing some searching until I found it.  I was trying hard not to look at Luke, since I knew that he knew where the CP was.  I think the clue was something like "rock outcropping".  Naturally, I guessed the wrong way first, so he had to follow me over there.  Eventually, I found the right spot.

It was comforting to know that it was too cold for snakes. :)
I was lucky to have a good teacher out there.  Luke gave me pointers to help me figure out what my options were, but he left me to make the decisions.  And, like any good teacher, he both seized those teachable moments and resisted the urge to give the answer when his student was baffled.

I'll admit that this is posed, but it's an exact replica of what I was doing right before he brought out the camera.
Baffled by things such as, is this the trail? After our second creek crossing (and keep in mind, I don't clip in, so my shoes had been wet the entire time.  It wasn't uncomfortable, and I'm not complaining...it's just something that comes into play later.), the trail crossed the road and we had to find it on the other side.  This turned out to be harder than one would expect.

We walked a bit down the road before we found the trail.  Or thought we did.  A sidenote here: because I was the one "competing" (or non-competing), Luke left me in the lead.  So if I say "we" did something dumb, you can assume it means "I" did something dumb and he followed me and helped me learn from my mistakes. Anyway, I got not very far down the trail when it pretty much disappeared.  I stopped and asked, "Is this the trail?"  He just looked at me: "I don't know.  Is it?"

Surprising lesson #2: It's great to have a coach, but it's hard not to have a partner. 

This isn't a knock on Luke.  He was doing exactly what he was there to do: give me the tools to be able to navigate on my own.  But the fact that he was doing that and that he knew the course meant I didn't have anyone to help make the decision.  He'd help me see what the options were ("You could go further or you could go back", "Look at your map.  Where's the creek on the map?"), but the decision was on me.  I can be very decisive when I think I know the right answer, but not so much when I'm not sure.  We decided to go back out to the road and look for the trail.

Speed demons

...where we saw Corey and Phil cruising back...

Map check!
...and Travis looking as confused as I was.  He had gone up my trail (non-trail...should've been perfect for a non-race), too, which ran into the actual trail and had circled to where we were.  We all headed back up that trail, Travis setting a smoking pace, and ran into Derrick, who'd hiked along the creekbed, at the next checkpoint.



We all hiked on to the next checkpoint where I learned another caveat to Orienteering Lesson 2.

Orienteering Lesson 2b: (Often, checkpoints will be found near distinctive features...) but not necessarily obvious ones.

The clue for this checkpoint was something like "creek deadfall".  I had learned my lesson about looking near lame little features like the rock that distracted me back at CP#7.  And in the creek was a big ol' tangle of deadfall that I just knew had to house our CP. 

Deadfall near creek...not in.
Or not.  Rats.  And I thought I was so smart.  Oh, well.  Once we had that CP, we had to get back to the transition area for the next bike leg.  We were all taking the gravel road back to the trail, and once we got to the road, Travis took off running.  Overachiever. :) I kind of thought I ought to run, too, but that thought didn't last long.

As we reached the creek, somehow it came up that Derrick had found a way to cross the creek without getting his feet wet.  Now, keep in mind these facts:
  1. My feet were already wet.
  2. My wet feet weren't bothering me at all.
  3. I kind of got a kick out of wading through the creek.
Despite all these facts, following Derrick across the dry-cut (because it certainly wasn't a short-cut), seemed like a good idea.

That's why they call me SuperKate...oh, wait...nobody calls me that. :)
I guess I assumed that it would be no problem to pick up the trail on the other side of the creek, but we crossed a ways down from the trail...and come to think of it, the trail took a sharp right after crossing the creek, and we were coming from the left.  Anyway, before long we were in a mess.

Orienteering lesson 3: Don't follow somebody else just because.

LOT of thorns in there.  My kids mocked my socks, but it's pretty clear which part of my legs were bare during the race!

Very welcoming terrain
Derrick bushwhacked over the hill, and Luke and I headed somewhat in the direction of the trail.  Eventually we came across an old farm road, which made the hike a bit less (literally) painful, but before long we were back to bushwhacking.

If you look carefully, you can see that there are little tree trunks all over.  Lots of branches to climb through.
We had a vague idea of where we were on the map, so we had to come up with a plan to get us to a location where we'd know where we were...or at least be able to get to a known place from there.

That section was mentally difficult for me.  I didn't know where to go or really where we were unless Luke showed me on the map where we'd come from.  I was definitely at that point where I just wanted to shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't know.  Tell me where to go."  Of course, if you're out there on your own, that's not an option.

Using the compass to keep us headed in the correct direction (west, or right-ish, if you want to get technical about it), we eventually got to the power lines we'd used to navigate to CP#6.  What a great feeling to finally know where we were again! 

Orientation lesson #4: Known locations are golden.

I remember thinking, if not saying, that I was looking forward to getting back on the bike again.  Looking at the map, all we had to do was follow the trail to the next few CPs.  Easy!

See this trail marker?  I probably didn't.
I've never ridden across fields before.  Not a lot of trees on which to post trail blazes.  There were some places where it looked like there was maybe a trail, or maybe not.  We rode all over trying to find the trail, and if you notice from the picture, it's not exactly flat.  I did have one near fall/flying dismount coming through a muddy patch at the bottom of a hill...but it helped me remember to avoid the mud the next time I was at the bottom of the hill...and there was a next time.

We thought maybe we were in the right place, but it didn't look right, so we rode further.  Once again, there were power lines that crossed the trail.  Hmmm...that worked out pretty well for us in the past...we'll just follow the power lines until we get to the trail.  Great plan, except for the fact that we got about 20 feet and saw the fence that crossed our path.  Pretty sure that the fence was blocking off "the Pit", we decided to follow the fence around until we could get to the other side of the Pit and catch the trail.  And thus I was introduced to "bikewhacking"...bushwacking, while you drag your bike.  I really encountered a wide spectrum of adventure racing components!

View of part of the pit
At this point, I was worn out.  I'm sure Luke could tell a big difference because we went from lots of conversation to near dead silence.  I was sore, and I didn't have a whole lot of energy to talk (I know that people who know me in real life will have a hard time believing that); I was just hanging on and trying to push through.  I was also starting to think about the time.  I knew we had about an hour's ride back at the end, and I had a 2+ hour drive home.  I really wanted to do the orienteering leg that was coming up, both for the experience and because the guys had gone to a lot of time and effort to set it up.  Eventually, though, I asked if he'd mind heading back after we got the last couple of bike CPs and did mystery event #2.

A funny thing happened on the way there.  We came to a spot where we had to make a decision which way to turn.  I just looked at Luke; for a second, I knew he was going to tell me to get out my map.  I was so done, which must've been obvious, because he just told me which way to go.  And then he assessed a 4-hour penalty on me since he helped me.  Which led to a discussion of what a penalty consists of in a non-race.  Is it a non-penalty since it's a non-race? Do I actually get a 4-hour credit?  Why didn't I think of this earlier?  If I DNF a non-race is it a non-DNF?  Can you non-non finish?  Does that mean you're already done?  Double negatives are fun.

Honestly, I can't believe I'm smiling here.  It just shows what a camera whore I am.
Getting to the site of the mystery event we encountered an unexpected challenge.  Riding down the trail, we came across a big tree across the trail.  OK, no big deal, we'll just go around it.  Except that, on the other side, was a mess of trees that had been cut down.  They smelled wonderful, but they covered a big section of our trail.  I took a picture, but somehow I didn't get the trees.  Oh, well.

Coming down the hill to the event.  Who's in the back?  Me.  Bc I'm still a wimp on hills.
Ah...mystery event #2.  What a joy it was.  Derrick made it look so easy.

Derrick, setting the bar high.
"All" you had to do was get into the raft and pull yourself along the rope to the CP in the middle of the pond.

I look like I'm about to take on water.
Getting into the boat was the hardest part.  Derrick apparently sat on his feet.  Well, I ran 21 miles the day before, and my knees were having none of that.  In addition, apparently unlike an inner tube, the boat has a front and a back.  Information that would've been helpful before I climbed into the boat.  Thanks, guys!  Luckily, despite the sinking (get it? sinking) feeling that my butt was going to be submerged before I got across, I stayed dry and reached the other side without incident.  And got a Snickers out of the deal, so it was well worth it!

Darin, who spent a looooong day sitting outside in the cold (and helped me get out of the boat).  Thanks!!
Darin told us some ugly weather was supposed to be heading in, which just reinforced the idea of calling it a day.  We also got the news that the two other teams had dropped out due to mechanical issues.  It was down to Derrick and me.

You'll note that I waited until after the boat ride to change into my warmer clothes...just in case.
Sooo...ten miles of mostly gravel roads back...let's do this.

Ummm...let's do this...after we get up the hill
It's getting late.  It's going to be getting dark.  So yeah....let's walk the bike.  I had nothing for those first couple of hills.  I was pretty much at my limit.  Again, I've very thankful to have had such a patient partner.  On the plus side, the gravel wasn't quite as scary as it had been earlier (either that, or the thought of an accident and an ambulance ride wasn't such an unpleasant possibility by then. :D).  On the minus side...ten miles.  That was a lot after the day. 

And then the wind kicked up.  Oh, joy.  Thankfully, at that point, Luke pulled around to break (the) wind.  Oh, what a difference drafting makes!!  Really, I can't thank him enough for that help because for quite a while then I could just hang onto his wheel and focus on pedaling. 

By the time we got back it was dark.
Darin drove by to check on us a time or two while we rode back.  Eventually we got onto the paved road near Bob's house.  For a moment, it looked like Derrick was going to pass the street and give me a chance to come in first, but his navigation was spot on.  Darn the luck.  I finished second overall, first place female.  (Also, last overall, last place female, depending on how you want to spin it.)

I love my bike, but I was soooo glad to be off of it.
But I finished, about 9 1/2 hours after I started.  I can't say enough nice things about the Team Virtus guys (and their families and friends who volunteered).  Not only did they go to all the work of setting up the race (and supplying some sweet schwag!), but they volunteered.  It's one thing to spend the day outside competing; it's another to spend the day outside worrying about details, babysitting a newbie, and waiting on people to finish.  And supplying food at the end!  Thanks so much to all of you!! 

I've already been thinking a lot about things I could've done better.  Of course, a lot of it is just experience.
  1. Pack my food in an easily accessible place.
  2. Not run 21 miles the day before.
  3. Don't follow other people (I'm guessing I'm going to learn this lesson a lot more)
  4. Ride more hills so they don't kick my butt.
  5. Get out and do more orienteering and bike riding.
At the end of the day, I took home a sweet beaver stick (Sounds like something dirty, but it's a hiking stick!!), a floor pump to replace the one I don't have, a pair of arm warmers, three baked potatoes (on the inside), some new friends, some great experience, and some fantastic memories!  Oh, and even more respect for what adventure racers do in their events.  And excitement about doing it again.

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Best. bling. ever.

27 comments:

  1. Sounds like it was a great event. Thanks for including me in the trail of blame.

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  2. That is awesome Kate! What a crazy adventure and you survived! Also great job on that long run, you are ready for that marathon!

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  3. Epic, truly epic. I'll bet there is another on the horizon!

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  4. oh wow- this looks like so much fun!!

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  5. WOW! You did not dissapoint with the EPIC race report. The pictures speak volumes. Makes me antsy just sitting here reading it and looking at the pictures of the trails and wide open terrain. Good job all the way around. 9.5 hours? I think you need to train for an Ironman now if you can go for that long and still manage to smile, despite one braid falling out :)

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  6. What a great event! Look slik eyou did awesome.

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  7. WOWZERS! That was a great race report. I read every word and was riveted! Great job, girl!

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  8. That was a FANTASTIC race report! And you had one helluva race. Seriously, you have an open invitation to race with us anytime you want. I can see it now... the first-ever four-person coed Team Virtus! Not ONCE did you complain or whine, and you laughed at all of my bad jokes. That is a perfect teammate! Thanks for coming out to do the race. I had such a good time tagging along with you.

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  9. Kate, I cant tell you how proud I feel after reading your report. People like you make it all worthwhile. I'm so glad you enjoyed the experience, and I hope to see you at the next one. I think any one of us would be proud to race with you anytime.

    ~bob of Team Virtus

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  10. WOW!!! What an adventure, for sure!!! I did something similar, only much shorter, a couple years ago So I know how much fun you had! Tough considering you did the 21 before but that just makes you that much tougher, girl!! Way to go!!! :)

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  11. WOW!!! What an adventure, for sure!!! I did something similar, only much shorter, a couple years ago So I know how much fun you had! Tough considering you did the 21 before but that just makes you that much tougher, girl!! Way to go!!! :)

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  12. i felt like i was back in boy scouts reading this!

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  13. A great post with wonderful pictures! It sounds like an epic adventure, you could prepare one album for every event like this.
    Now you are ready for every kind of race.

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  14. WOW! I think after that race, I *am* going to start calling you Super Kate! That looked like so much fun.

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  15. I've never heard of these adventure runs and I use Daily Run. Clearly I am not as networked as you are.

    What a fascinating course. The crossing the river, the insane trails. I can't believe you did 21 and then this the next day. You deserve a metal. Or a hot tub. Or a medal in a hot tub.

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  16. I follow the Team Virtus blog and now I am happy to have another blog to follow. Great story, definately the first place female! Think how many didn't have the guts to even consider doing the race. Great job, but really...20 miles the day before??? LOL Amazing you could even walk!

    One of the Golden Girls

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  17. You are Super Kate. An amazing race and what a great race report.

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  18. I'm tired just reading your race report and to do it after a 21 mile run is amazing! Looks like Team Virtus set up an awesome event and the your guide was excellent. I'll follow Team Virtus based on this.

    BTW, I loved the socks in your pictures. They rock!

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  19. Really great, well done! Super report as well! I've never done this but have a few friends that love it. I might give it a try some day after I've reached a few long term goals.

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  20. Do you want switch bodies some day? You can even ride my vintage bike leisurely around the hood here and I'll be SUPERKATE for the day! (Just don't be mad when you get your body back and there a few broken bones) By the way, HOW do you remember all this stuff while racing????

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  21. That just about the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life.

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  22. What a great race report. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed your first race so much. If you ever need a team mate just let me know. I would be more than willing to race with you anytime

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  23. I can't believe you did this amazing adventure race the day after your more than 20 miler!!! You are my new hero! Awesome job Kate!

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  24. Are you a spec. ed. teacher? It's too bad the co teaching didn't work out. It is doing some amazing things for the spec. ed student that joined my math class to do it. Is he caught up? Of course not. But he has made huge gains compared to where he was and he is eager, focused and working hard. And he is on a very strict behavior plan - believe me he's no angel although he is a sweetie and I love him!

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  25. those plaid socks were a touch of class ... why did you not have to skin a bear or capture a raccoon with your bare hands?

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  26. SUPERKATE!?!?!? That is so awesome , it looked like a total blast...and, FWIW, water crossings are my favorite!

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  27. I had never read this race report, but saw it referenced and decided to go back and look at it. How super cool that this event was literally spitting distance from my dad's house. I recognized the orange/white checkered awning on the restaurant in the background near the start. Awesome!! I will have to pay attention and see if I can come cheer or volunteer next time. I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle adventure racing, but hey - 2nd place female would look good in a race report!

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