You know how sometimes, when you've thought about and looked forward to something for a long time, it can't possibly live up to your expectations?
This is not one of those stories.
After a year of anticipation, I spent the last week jumping up and down with excitement like a hyperactive little puppy. My brother Jim, my teammate, had just gotten back in town on Wednesday after visiting friends in Colorado and hiking up Pike's Peak, so he was a little tired in general and a LOT tired of driving. Despite that, he was pretty tolerant of my frequent "I can't believe it's here!" "I'm so excited!" "This is going to be so cool!" He only had to listen to that for 2.5 hours; I'm sure it wasn't annoying at all.
Fortunately, I have a teenage daughter and have spent many a day tuning her and her friends out while driving them to events, so I was prepared for the car ride with Chatty Kate.
We got to the campground a little before 4 and registered, running into Chuck and Lori (and their boys) on the way out. Patrick came by while we were setting up the camper, so we talked for a while, then Bill from Mid-Rivers Adventure walked by and we recognized each other from a training run way back in the winter. After checking in at race HQ, we stopped by to catch up with Bob and Travis, so basically the day was shaping up something like a high school reunion filled with everybody you wanted to see, and Jim got to meet some of the people I've been talking about for the past year.
I was glad to find that Kate hadn't made up a number of imaginary friends so she had something to put in her blog. I was also glad that they were such a good group of people who welcomed in her sarcastic brother.
|Check out the sweet fleece! I'm going to wear this with pride. :)|
Jason was pretty funny, too. He asked, "Any first time racers?" [several hands raise] "Why you picked a race called 'a real ass-kicker' I don't know... Just kidding...I'm sure you'll have fun..." And in regards to something else: "It'll get better...maybe..." Besides the comedy routine, thanking the sponsors, and giving a shout-out to Forum Dental's video submission to the adventure racing TV show "Expedition Impossible", he also shared some useful information about the course, things like some of the trails aren't reflected accurately on the map due to reroutes since the map data was updated, the 36 hour race would start at 11 p.m., and the 12 hour would start at midnight. At which I had a minor coronary. Midnight?? What?? Then Jason's wife, Laura sang out, "NObody beLEEves you," and I started breathing again.
Our race actually started at 6 a.m., which was awesome because it meant we'd get a decent amount of sleep. We also found out we'd be starting on the bikes and wouldn't have to transport the bikes in canoes like they had to at the Castlewood 8 Hour last year, so I breathed another sigh of relief. While the 36 hour people got their maps, clue sheets, and instructions, I finally got to meet my friend Wendy's husband, Jim of Team Trail Monster fame, and then we got our maps and headed back to the camper to plot our UTM coordinates.
|This is our main map. We also had another, smaller map.|
|Teamwork: I read, he plots, then we recheck each one.|
|All packed up and ready to go. :)|
We oraganized packs, filled water bottles, set alarms, and then slept like babies. I hadn't been all about taking the camper for this trip, but I'm sooo glad we did. I heard the cowbells as the 36 hour racers took off, and then every once in a while I'd wake up, hear rain on the camper, and be simultaneously thankful that we were dry in the camper and wincing at the thought of my friends out riding in the rain. Our alarms sounded at 5 a.m., giving us plenty of time for breakfast, the all-important bathroom stops, last minute tire checks, and making it to the start line with a good 2 minutes to spare. :)
|Red blinkies and headlamps at 5:58 a.m.|
We were off down the road...for a minute or two, and then we were up...up...up the road. Man, it felt like we climbed forever. Teams were getting separated in the crowd and having to stop and wait for each other, and mechanical issues seemed to start early, from flat tires to a guy whose pedal fell off. We were lucky enough to be trouble free, other than the problem of trying to breathe and maintain enough speed to keep upright.
I was pretty pleased with the first section of biking. We made the conscious decision to start at the back of the pack, but this was a case of slow and steady winning the race. Or at least a case of slow and steady making it to the top of the hills without dying. We rode our own pace, stuck together, and slowly picked off a few teams who had started in front of us.
The turn to the first checkpoint was easy to see because of the crowd of people heading onto the trail ahead of us. We saw the Orange Lederhosen guys and Bob and Travis around there. Then it was more road riding (and by "road", I mean mostly fire roads and gravel roads) before hopping onto the Berryman Trail. Of course, if you've been reading my blog for any time at all, you know I'm still not too confident on the mountain bike or crazy about riding somewhere for the first time in a race. Add to that the face that my bike shoes were gunked up from the muddy trail and I was having a terrible time clipping in. And so it was that I was ridiculously slow and tentative. And that I managed to fall right in front of Bob and Travis. Jim and I got passed by a LOT of people during this time. It was really frustrating. I felt like I'd never been on a mountain bike before.
In our defense, this was a rough area of trail and a LOT of people got off and walked. We just exercised impeccable manners and gave way, probably more than we should have. Much like I did with my college boyfriend.
It looked easy on the map: just follow the trail to the campground. Basically a straight shot; no problem. And then we rode into a clearing with trails branching off in three directions. While we were stopped for a map check, a girl there asked, "Is your name Kate?" When I said it was, she replied, "I read your blog." Too funny. The first time that's happened. :) I was pleasantly surprised at being recognized, and by "being recognized" I mean Kate being recognized, and I also got a kick out of being known by my alter ego "Brother", so thank you team Small But Mighty.
We eventually sort of figured out where we thought we maybe should go, though it was probably a lot luck in that some other people who stopped noticed that the trail to the left had a small marker for the trail on one of the trees and none of the others did (that we noticed).
|Fall #2 of 2, neither of them bad.|
|Yeah, it was a little muddy out there.|
So I already mentioned that the 36 hour racers had 8 hours to complete their orienteering course. We had four. By "complete", I mean you had to check back in at the campground within 4 hours of checking out; otherwise, you were penalized 1 checkpoint for every 5 minutes you were late. You didn't have to actually get all of your checkpoints...which was a very good thing for us. We definitely had some issues; one comforting thing later was that it seems like most teams found the orienteering very challenging. Why? Well, for one, the clue for each of our 7 checkpoints was "reentrant".
What's a reentrant? According to wikipedia, a re-entrant is a very small valley or draw that occurs at the head of a stream, or that begins partially up the side of a hill or ridge-line. Got that? OK, take another look at the map of the area we were in. That just shows a portion of the course where our point 4 was.
|Heading off down the road with high hopes...|
We started out looking for checkpoint 4, which was somewhere to the left of where it says Berryman Campground on the map. If we had been navigating more by the compass, we might have had a better chance of finding it; however, we were relying much more on terrain features like roads, trails, elevation, etc. Now remember, the USGS data on these maps is about 30 years old, and things change. Thing like, oh, new roads. We mistakenly went off down a road that wasn't on the map and looked for over an hour for number 4. With noooo luck. Finally (and, really, way later than we should have), we decided to cut our losses, get back to the campground so we knew where we were again, and set off for CP 6.
This is also where we met the world's most friendly 4 wheeler riders. Some of the locals were out riding and were bound and determined to help these poor lost souls wandering around in the woods, regardless of whether we wanted help or not. The guy kept telling us, "You just need to go..." while I was mentally plugging my ears and singing to myself la la laaaa I can't heeeear you...
CP6 was another challenge. It looked like a straight shot back down the trail we'd ridden to get to the campground. There wasn't much straight on the trail. It curved back and forth so much that it took us over an hour to cover what looked like about 2 km on the map. We spent the last part of the hike walking with a couple of other teams who were similarly confused, and we were thrilled to finally find a checkpoint that wasn't right there in front of us.
Now, though, we were down to just about 1.5 hours left, and given the amount of time it took us to get to CP 6, we didn't think we'd have time to go hunting for any others. We certainly didn't want to lose the one precious one we'd found to a penalty. Then Jim looked at the map and realized we could take a fire road around to another road and swing into the campground that way. I was a little doubtful because it looked like a significantly longer distance, but it was actually much shorter because these roads, unlike the trail we'd come in on, were pretty straight. We decided to take a shot at CP7 on the way back since we were going right past where it would be, heading into the woods with another team we'd been walking with, and we pretty much went straight to it. Big confidence builder.
|Jim doing his magic with the map|
Bike leg 2 (at this point I think we'd been racing for around 8 hours):
We ran into Bob and Travis, who'd had some navigational challenges of their own, back at the campground, and they took off down the trail ahead of us. We took our time getting some food and saw Orange Lederhosen, who'd gotten all but one of the CPs on the orienteering course, come in. Then it was back on the bikes and onto the trail. All my hard-won bike mojo from leg one had evaporated, leading Jim at one point to tell me, "I came to ride with SuperKate, not Wimpy Kate." He was actually very nice and supportive, but it sucked to be so weak on something I've worked so hard to improve. The first part of the trail wasn't too bad for the most part (thought it was mostly downhill, which is a challenge for me and my poor, overworked brakes), then we crossed highway 8 and met up with a stream.
|You can see where the trail comes down to the stream in the top center of the picture.|
|Orange Lederhosen in the awesome team jerseys.|
|It breaks my heart that this picture doesn't even come close to showing how ugly this hill was.|
Canoe leg (6 miles):
If you look in the background of the picture below, you can see that everyone had to leave their bikes and bike gear at the canoe put-in and then retrieve them after the race. As we were parking our bikes, we noticed that a couple of teams had left their maps behind and felt really bad for them.
|Checking the map before we take off.|
Just a little better, though. After a while, we caught sight of Orange Lederhosen ahead of us and tried to steadily catch up. It seemed to take forever, but we finally caught their back canoe and passed it. Feeling good, we started working on the lead canoe. And it was going pretty well...right up until we managed to jam the canoe up on a tree that was on its side in the water. The partially submerged roots made the perfect ramp for the front of the canoe, and suddenly my end was out of the water and perched on the tree, while Jim's end was still in the water.
Despite the fact that the Huzzah has a lot of really shallow areas, this particular spot wasn't one of them, and Jim would've been swimming if he'd gotten out. We tried shoving backward with the paddles to push us off the tree, but we weren't budging. I just knew we were going to tip. At this point, the Orange Lederhosen canoe floated past. "They didn't even offer to help!" I told Jim. (That may or may not be how THEY remember this, but it's how I choose to.)
"No, but they laughed at us."
"Well, that's almost the same."
This was the point in the race where I wished we had a camera man. We looked completely hilarious. Kate up in the air and me down in the water, and neither one of us willing to pull out a camera for fear that we would be swimming in a matter of seconds.
Somehow we made it off the tree without flipping the canoe, and life was good again. That is, until we floated into a branch on the other side of the river just a little later. I was pushing at it with my paddle and ducking at the same time and dropped my paddle in the water. "Don't worry, we'll catch it," Jim said and started paddling hard...just as the paddle hung up in some plants on the side of the river. He managed to stop the canoe, and I got out and waded in hip-deep water to go get it. Man, the water was cold. On the other hand, it did wash my trail shoes where I'd accidentally peed on them earlier. :) At this point, it was after 6; thankfully the day was absolutely beautiful, but it was starting to get a little cool. I was looking forward to getting out of the canoe and into some dry pants.
|A calm moment|
The long walk "home":
You can look at the map below to follow our progress. We left the canoe beach at the same time as Orange Lederhosen, but they decided to take one of the trails shown by double dotted lines back to the campground. I had suggested to Jim that we follow the creek to the pipeline (shown in yellow) and then use the pipeline as a handrail to get to the Ozark Trail (shown with a single dotted line). Then we could take the Ozark Trail until we got to the main road back in.
This idea had legs until we got to the pipeline. I took a picture of the route, but it was too dark to really show what it looked like--steeeeeeep and high. A couple other teams were there and heading down the pipeline, but Jim announced, "I'm not walking up that." His suggestion was to follow the creek we were walking along until it ended, cut over to the Ozark Trail, and then take it back to the main road. That plan is shown below in the blue highlighter.
The great thing was that there was a doubletrack trail that followed the creekbed the whole way. At one point, we passed some tents with some kids playing outside. "You're at least the last racers," they told us, "At least 150 people have gone by here already." Such an encouraging little peanut gallery. :) We assured them that there was at least one team behind us and went on our merry way.
When Jim said to, we cut across the creek and bushwhacked for a minute or so, coming right out onto the Ozark Trail like he said we would. I'm not going to lie. We were so proud of ourselves and what an awesome plan we had. We just knew we were going to beat those other teams back, and we were taking a relatively easy way across (easy = quick = good). The Ozark Trail ran right into a nice packed road, and we made our left as planned.
I have to admit, I was completely pleased with myself and feeling pretty smug at this point. Here I was a first time adventure racer, and I knew we were going to beat some of those veteran teams back into the finish, and all because of my plan. Little did I know...
Eventually it became clear that we were NOT going the right way, but we weren't sure what our mistake had been. Knowing that we weren't going to make the time cut-off, we decided to follow the road and see if we could find some markings and figure out where we were. When we got to an intersection, there was nothing helpful. This was stupid. We headed back towards where we first turned off to see if we could figure out our mistake.
I can't express how demoralizing this was. We had been so excited, giggling and doing a little jogging, hurrying to get back ahead of the other teams. (One of Kate's previous blog posts was rather prophetic, given that she said that if we would run it would be in the wrong direction.) When we realized that we weren't going the right way, it just took the wind out of my sails, and the sun was going down to boot. I knew he was really bummed, but at that point, what do you do. We'd had a good plan, it went wrong, life goes on. I was NOT thrilled that we had who knows how much further to walk before getting into camp, but I wasn't getting upset about it.
So this pretty much sucked. Our plan had been so good, and it had gone so wrong. It had been a long day. At this point, we had been racing for about 14 hours. The headlamps came out again, and this was our view:
We weren't lost, since we at least knew how to get back to where we'd know (more or less) where we were on the map. I was starting to wonder if we were ever going to make our way back to the campground. Eventually we passed a really faded sign for the pipeline, and looking at the map we realized that we'd somehow turned left on the wrong road. If you look again at the map above, our "mistake" route is marked in red. Thinking we'd maybe turned too soon, we went a little further on the Ozark Trail in the hopes that we'd find our missing road. No luck. We returned again to the spot where we'd made our initial wrong turn.
This time, we decided that we'd turn right on the "wrong" road since it appeared to lead to a main road. Looking back now, it's clear that it led right into the road we wanted, but at the time it wasn't clear at all. By the time we hit the pavement, it was about 8:15, we knew we were disqualified for missing the time cut-off, and we were just done. Jim got out his phone and actually had a signal, so we used the GPS to figure out where the hell we were (exactly where we'd planned to be about an hour earlier) and then called Jason to let him know we were alive...just inept navigators...and on our way in. (What we eventually found out was that the Ozark Trail had been rerouted, and that's why it didn't lead where it showed on the map.)
It was about 2 more miles down the road to the finish line, and cars kept passing us either going to or coming from the bike drop. I was at war with myself: I wish someone would stop and pick us up. No, it'll be good to come in under our own power. ...I really wish someone would stop and pick us up. I hope no one stops so I don't have the opportunity to take the easy way out.... No one stopped, though, so my resolve remained untested.
We finally trudged up to the finish line at 8:45, 14 hours and 45 minutes after we left, to cheers and cowbells. When we hit the finish chute, we broke into a run, and Jim told me, "I'm beating you this time!" (since I crossed the marathon line a second before him) This turned out to be a good move...for me, anyway, because when Bob came running up spraying champagne all over us, Jim took the brunt of the shower. It was the perfect end to an epic day.
Coming into the campground, I was exhausted and struggling to have a good attitude. It had been a long day, and I was disappointed at the events of the last hour and a half, but running through the arch and having smiling friends there spraying champagne on us totally turned my attitude around. It was a fantastic reminder that what we had done it itself was a huge accomplishment, and we had just joined a small fraternity of people crazy enough to spend 12+ hours running, riding, and canoeing around the woods.
So we missed our time cut-off and got disqualified in our first race. Whatever. I'd have liked to officially finish, but it was all about the experience for me, and there's always next time to work on the things that need improving. Really, my only disappointment is that I have no idea how many miles we hiked or biked and so can't log them on Daily Mile. Otherwise, and even with that, the day is pure gold to me.
We ate baked potatoes and talked for a while at the finish line pavilion, then headed back to the camper to drop our gear and change into cleaner, drier clothes, then we went back to hang out at the campfire. Bob was BBQing, so we sat with him and Travis for a while. Jim headed to bed before the food was done, and I waited with the guys in the hopes of seeing any of my 36 hour friends come through for their next set of maps or their race finish. Drinks were drunk, stories were told, and let's just say I heard a few things about the varied phobias and "talents" of some of my friends.
What happens at Berryman stays at Berryman, though, so if you want to find out you'll have to come along next year. I'll be there, for sure.
I felt a little guilty going to sleep when I did and not hanging out with everyone, but I was completely spend and found myself falling asleep in the chair next to the fire. Who would have thought that running an adventure race would tire me out? In any case, it's probably better that I didn't have to listen to stories about my sister's phobias and talents. It probably would have scarred me for life. First of all, I want to note that nowhere were my phobias or talents brought up. Second, I want to mention again that a) Jim climbed Pike's Peak earlier in the week, b) he drove in from Colorado on Wednesday, and c) he has two ruptured discs. If completing an adventure race under those circumstances doesn't show how tough he is, I don't know what does. He more than earned that early bed time.