What a difference a year makes.* Last year's Castlewood 8-Hour was my first chance to see adventure racing up close, albeit as a volunteer. "Seeing", in this case, meant standing on a windy beach for about 7 hours on a day that started with a high of 37 and felt progressively colder, checking in teams as they finished their paddling leg, and informing them that they had to carry their canoes up to the parking lot. I knew one person (Patrick, my fellow volunteer) and had just started blog-stalking Chuck and Robin.
This year, I was a "wily veteran" of two previous adventure races and was a participant rather than volunteer. I now count Patrick, Chuck, and Robin as good friends. I have friends and acquaintances on multiple teams and had seen/heard of lots of the other racers. And, most miraculous, our midwest December day started with a low of 48 and climbed somewhere into the high 50's or even low 60's.
I was lucky to be racing at all. After my original race plans fell through, Orange Lederhosen posted that they were looking for a fourth person for their team. I was intrigued...
I had met Derrick twice before, and our teams spent a decent amount of time around each other at Berryman. While I didn't know him that well, I thought I'd have a good time on his team. I figured he had a clear enough idea of what I was capable of on a bike to know what he was getting himself into, so when Team Virtus was able to field two full teams without me, I happily signed on with Orange Lederhosen.
I wasn't joking about lack of bike skills. These guys do a lot more bike riding than I do, and of course the thing about a team is that you truly are only as strong as your weakest member. My running ability isn't a whole lot of help on a non-running team. On the other hand, my lesser bike skills could really hold us back. Like Emma said, though, Castlewood is home trails to me, and even if I haven't ridden it all I'm pretty familiar with it. I also clung to what Robin always says, that you'll be surprised how little singletrack there is in adventure racing, it's mostly fire roads and paved roads. Since I know that I can keep up on that type of terrain, I went to race check-in feeling almost confident.
And then we got the maps. Very little trekking (my strength) and two big bike sections, the first on the singletrack of Greensfelder Park. I'd never ridden at Greensfelder (so much for home-field advantage), but what I'd heard of it made it sound intimidating. Rather than freak out, though, I pinned my hopes on my improved mountain biking skills and headed home to pack up for the race.
Because the race HQ was just over an hour away, I opted to stay home and just drive there that day. The 5 a.m. bike drop meant a 4 a.m. departure time and, thus, a 3 a.m. wake-up call. Bleh. Once I was up, though, I felt fine, and since I'd loaded everything up the night before, I was out the door right on schedule. It's amazing how much faster the drive is when
I found my way to the bike drop and then race HQ (the only navigation I had to do for the day) and then hung around with the other early birds as teams started to arrive. I got to see all the Virtus guys and all of the ROCK Racing crew. There were a lot of them: Virtus was fielding two teams, with Bob and Robby in the 2-man division and Luke, Rusty, Drew, and Adam on a 4-man team.
|The Virtus army--the hope in Adam's eyes is a little heartbreaking...maybe THIS time I won't get fired...much|
|The ROCK Racing crew|
While this wasn't my first race, it was a new experience to be part of a veteran 4-person team. When Jim and I raced Berryman, it was a first-time thing for both of us. We had to accumulate all of the necessary individual and team gear and figure out what the heck we were doing. This time, all I had to do was show up and keep up. They had everything they needed...except a fourth person. :) I didn't have a watch, so I never had any idea what time it was, and since I didn't have to help plot points and hadn't seen the map, I had little idea where or how far we were going. It was pretty liberating, really, like being a kid on vacation (except I tried to keep the "are we there yet?"s to a minumum). A few more "are we there yet"s might have kept us from overshooting two checkpoints. I apologize. I'll attempt to be more annoying in the future.
Before the race, Race Director Gary gave us some last-minute instructions. I couldn't hear that much, but it seemed to consist of "don't ride your bikes on Interstate 44".
Gary's pre-race instructions were:
- Greensfelder has some paved trails, and where he is from those are called roads and therefor off limits for CPs 4-6 and 7-10 since you had to remain on the trails (which were the only way to get those checkpoints anyway)
- I-44 was off-limits (and who thought we needed this rule...interstates are illegal to travel by bicycle or foot, and it would have cut out 4 check points)
- The last thing he said was to be careful crossing the railroad tracks, because anyone hit by a train would be disqualified. A very Jason-ish comment, to be sure.
- And now that you've jogged my memory, I also remember Gary warning us to give horses a wide berth, which Kyle heard as "give the horses the bird" and led to a few jokes along the trail.
Then we sang the Star-Spangled Banner and were off. It was something to see. You know those movies where you see the attacking army come swarming out of the woods? Picture that in reverse.
Leg 1: Orienteering
We started off the race with a bit of a run. It seemed like the thing to do. There were three points in this section, and you could get them in any order.
|This was one of the first things we saw. The guys all hoped that it would be part of the predicted second orienteering leg. I may have been a bit less enthusiastic, but I'd have done it. I mean, bike shorts are practically diapers, right?|
"No we're not," Derrick told us, "I know exactly where we are." As we walked, though, he kept looking at the map. "Unless that was number five...."
Yeah, it was number five. The funny thing is that we'd been following the trail along a creek. Once we hit a road, we were supposed to turn away from the creek. A road, unlike a fork in a dubious trail, is pretty hard to miss, but we managed to cross it without turning. I think what happened is that, when we crossed it, we didn't realize it was the right one because this particular map was a smaller scale than usual and Derrick didn't think we'd gone far enough.
Three things happened with missing that turn for the second CP, all of them because I wasn't paying attention to where we were going. Probably because I wouldn't shut up.
- First was the scale...everything comes up so much faster on a 1:15000 scale, and I'm not used to it, it's been a problem for me to transition to that scale everytime it's used.
- When I looked at the map, I looked at my marked planned route...which didn't match the trail, so WE were supposed to veer away from the creek and trail after so far...and the trail kept going along the creek. I thought it was the trail veering and started to watch for that instead.
- And I completely spaced out crossing the road, even though it had only been about 5 minutes since we did it.
We quickly got back on track and Derrick led us straight up a hill and directly to the next point. We literally walked right up the hill to it. It was pretty impressive. The hills were pretty impressive, too. It was steep going, and to complicate matters, there were a lot of rocks and downed branches under a liberal coating of leaves. My uphill muscles got a serious workout, but luckily my ankles made it through unscathed.
|Photo credit: Luke Lamb AKA Captain Awesome|
See what I mean about steep hills?
(And speaking of steep, let's talk about the STEEP cost of getting your friends to post their pictures quickly for you....)
Leg 2: Bike
By the time we reached the first transition, I was ready to get onto the bikes and excited about the flush toilet there (it's the little things in life). Jason, the former owner of BonkHard Racing (who puts on the race) was there and came over to say hi. Of course he knows the Lederhosen guys from several previous races, but then he knew my name too. I had my little star-struck moment...Wow, Jason knows who I am... I have to think that his personal touch (as well as just putting on first-class races) is a big reason that the company was so successful under him, and hopefully that success continues with the new owner, who seems to be a good guy.
To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot of detail about the first part of the bike leg. I think we began with some fairly tame trail (the eagle/squirrel trail, depending on your interpretation of the picture on the sign), though it started at the top of a hill. You all know how much I
The majority of the trail riding was a major suckfest for me, though. This was the kind of trail that might be semi-fun if I
I did ride some stuff that was more challenging than anything I've done before, but I walked a lot of it. I fell once (and yes, I cursed, but unlike my regular falls it was actually in a trickier spot), but oddly it wasn't confidence-crushing like my falls usually are. That said, there were a lot of parts where I'd ride up thinking maybe I'd try it, but then chicken out when somebody in front of me fell. I'm sure it was a lot of fun for Derrick to repeatedly have to stop behind me. To add to the general misery of this section, Kyle was hacking up all kinds of junk, Greg was feeling absolutely awful, and they were both outriding me by far. Greg jacked up his shoulder several months ago on a mountain bike ride. He thought it was going to be happy and relatively pain free this weekend, but that wasn't the case. I think the first set of rocks aggravated it and he was in pain from there on. If you ask him about it he just tells you not to worry about it and it is all relative. Definitely a grin and bear it personality.
To say that I was thrilled to be finished with the singletrack would be a huge understatement. When we hit the road, we talked for a while with a county policewoman who was stationed there and got a fun picture of the guys up against the police car. I opted out of the shot; since RegularKate is a teacher, I don't want any police car photos out there floating around...even if they are just in fun. :)
|Adventure racing: so much fun it might just be illegal|
Leg 3: Paddling
Canoeing didn't go so well for Jim and I at Berryman, and in this race we actually had to transport the bikes in the canoe. I was a little nervous about this; despite the freakishly nice December weather, I really didn't want to go for a swim. Though I'd been semi-dreading the paddling leg, it showed me another benefit to being on a 4-man team (at least, this 4-man team). I had fully expected to help carry my canoe, but Derrick and Kyle carried both down at the same time. Once the bikes were loaded and strapped in, we were ready to go.
|Doesn't this look fun.|
Wow...looking at the picture of the bikes in the canoe, I realize how horrible a job I did loading them.
I think it was better after I dropped the canoe and you had to reconfigure them.
|You can see the guys punching the passport in the background.|
|I kept my helmet on, just in case Derrick decided to whack me with the paddle.|
We carried the canoes up to the parking lot (I did my part this time, though I think Kyle offered to carry my end and I turned him down), had a gear check, and set off on bikes again. I think I managed one pedal strok before my chain dropped and got stuck. I couldn't get it set right, but Derrick fixed it for me, and then we were off for real.
Leg 4: Bike
The navigation here was uncomplicated enough that I think even I could have done it. The first part was on a pretty flat trail, which was nice, but my legs were cramping and starting to hurt. When we came out to the intersection where Emma was stationed, I grabbed some ibuprofen. I didn't realize you dug out some ibuprofen. I would have probably pushed Greg to take some at that point. I can't have any, so I always forget that it's an option for those who can. I didn't realize Greg was in actual pain, I thought he was just having a bad day. I had enough ibuprofen for a small army and would have been glad to share. The same police officer from our first bike leg was now at this intersection giving warnings about the crossing. Her final words struck fear in my aching legs: "Get ready for a lot of climbing."
She wasn't joking, either. I guess it was only one hill, but it was one endless, steep hill. After my sucktacular mountain biking, I was thrilled to ride the whole way up. Seems like usually I manage to screw up my shifting on hills, waiting too long to shift and then not being able to, but this time I did it right. I guess it helped that I had to spend most of the climb in my smallest gear. The only bad moment came when I was following too closely behind Greg and he stopped. I'm not good at clipping back in on any hill, and I knew that if I put down a foot on this one I'd have to walk the rest of the way. Instead of stopping, I tried to scoot around him and bumped him as a car passed from behind me. Not my smartest move, and I'm glad the car had given us wide berth or I could've gotten hit. Once we got to the top of the hill it was a long, fun downhill and then flat roads back to race HQ, where we got an additional eight orienteering points to find.
Leg 5: Orienteering (reprise)
|Derrick, working his navigational magic|
Derrick: "I'm just saying...we might have to run back,"
Greg: [black silence]
My excitement about being off the bike and into different shoes rapidly evaporated as we headed back up the steep hills of the O course. At one point, Derrick grabbed onto a tree for support and it fell over, almost landing on us. We had our first checkpoint misplotted, but luckily we ran into Josh from Team Wahoo who pointed us in the right direction, and then we went straight to the next one, seeing the 4-man Virtus squad along the way.
|Photo credit: Luke Lamb (AKA Captain Awesome)|
I may have been happy to see them. Or the flag.
|Kyle getting our second (third?) checkpoint|
|Photo credit (you guessed it): Luke Lamb (AKA Captain Awesome)|
This was a lot more fun once you were at the top.
And suprisingly, after more than 9 hours of hiking and riding, I felt pretty darn good. Good enough that, as we came to the foot of yet another monstrous hill, I thought about the upcoming Pere Marquette (very hilly) race and decided to see how far I could run this hill. As I took off, Bob yelled something about me being a showoff and started running too...and passed me! There was no way I was going to let him win. "Bob!" I yelled, "If you beat me to the top of the hill you're giving me a piggyback ride the rest of the way!" Suddenly, he stopped. I guess he thinks I need a diet, too. What a jerk.
I didn't make it quite to the top, but I got most of the way. Pretty soon it was time to get off of the road and back on the trail. We were walking fast, but it still seemed to take forever. Finally we started hearing the cowbells and cheering at the finish line and knew the end was in sight. My stomach had been bothering me on and off, and I was really looking forward to having some finish line pizza. Greg started running first, and we came dashing out of the woods across the finish line.
|Photo credit: Luke Lamb (AKA Captain Awesome)|
And look who's in the back. Sigh.
|Me, Kyle, Derrick, Greg|
And I did have good company, all day long. It's funny how we all took on our roles: Derrick, the team leader, el capitan; Kyle, the comic relief (picture a cross between a naughty little boy and an adult man) We were joking and hoping before the race that you should feel right at home with our 200 lb, 6' tall 1st grader; me, I guess I contributed my general sunshiney nature and grit; and Greg...well, Greg earned his doctorate in grim determination. I was amazed throughout the day by the way he soldiered on with very little complaint. I was a little nervous about racing with people I don't know that well. You just never know how things will go. But the guys were awesome, despite my lead weight mountain biking. I think we made a great team, and if I promise to practice on the bike, maybe they'll even let me race with them again someday.
*P.S. What a difference a day makes. I spent my race Saturday in shorts. It's snowing now.