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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Training partner

It's no secret to anyone who's read my blog for long that my immediate family isn't exactly involved in my endurance sports life. Their attitudes range from my middle son's semi-gorced conscription into AR volunteering to my husband's tolerance to my oldest son's belief that I do too much to my youngest son's assertion (shared by his father) that running and bicycling aren't sports (don't get me started...). If I let it, it makes me feel bad, and I definitely envy those whose families share and support their interests. This is what has made the past few days particularly sweet.

20130430-164911.jpg J has resisted any attempts I've made to get him interested in bikes ever since I first taught him to ride without training wheels. We've done a few 'round the block loops and one trip to our Y to swim (2 mi each way) with a stop for ice cream on the return trip, but coaxing was involved. Not wanting this to turn into something he resisted because he was being forced to do something he didn't want to do, I pretty much left it alone. I still invited him to go for rides but didn't push it. This spring I hit on the idea of an overnight on the Katy Trail. There's a trail shelter that's about 10 miles from Jeff City. Ten miles is a reasonable distance for a nine-year old to cover if we're open to taking as long as it takes. When I brought this up to J, he was interested. Excited, even, and we spent the next several days talking about what to bring (chances are, polar expeditions have been undertaken with less crap than I'll be lugging), what we'd do, etc.

20130430-165840.jpg His enthusiasm for the plan was even better than I'd hoped, but an added benefit was that his desire to be ready for the ride has translated into a new willingness to get out on his bike. Admittedly, that willingness was initially fertilized with the offer of ice cream on our ride, but still...last weekend he was up to ride home from baseball practice. This being our first actual ride together, I was pretty worried about how it would go. I've always run next to him just in case, but even with him being unsteady, his bike speed has outpaced my run speed. Last time he rode, I had taken a friend's advice to lowered his seat, and his new ability to easily put a foot down did wonders for both of our confidence. We didn't set any land-speed records, but J got noticeably better as he stuck with it, and we made it home without tears from either of us. This past Sunday was another baseball practice, this one just a few blocks away. We rode to it together, and though he opted to stay and play longer rather than ride back, he was disappointed that I wouldn't take him out after he got home (making dinner). As a consolation prize, I offered him a ride after school Monday. The on-road portion of our ride was moderately terrifying, but I was able to relax (a little) when we hit the paved bike trails.

20130430-175347.jpg J once again did great, and I think the kid corners better than I do. Granted, my friends will tell you that's not anything to write home about, but still. He was a little nervous on the downhill, but he rode up the other side like a champ.

20130430-175657.jpg We rode around 1.5 mi before he started getting uncomfortable, so we turned around, stopping to
smell the rosesblow the dandelions along the way.

20130430-180046.jpg As we rode back home I was telling him how proud of him I was, what a great job he'd done. "This was really fun," he answered. "The only reason I didn't like it before is because I was bad at it." Maybe some of us are wired to avoid things that are hard for us without the right motivation. I can remember Daniel, my oldest, refusing to ride a bike because "it's just not my thing", when we knew he just didn't like doing things that didn't come easily. For him, it was a bike ride to the pool that did the trick; for me, it was adventure racing that forced me to stick with mountain biking. In J's case, all it took was the promise of an overnight trip. And ice cream. He truly is a boy after my own heart.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Night rider

No, not Knight Rider. Source
Sorry, running friends...it's another bike post, pretty much what you can expect at least through June 1.

One of the downsides of being on a team is when your teammates all live somewhere else.  That situation has left me spending a lot of time on the raod since I found Team Virtus, and while it's been totally worth it every time, all that driving gets old.  This weekend was a bit of a reprieve from all that, though, because Casey was in St. Louis for his son Austin's participation in the St. Louis FIRST robotics competition. Since teams from all over the world participate, it's kind of a big deal, enough so that the whole extended family was coming to watch.  With Luke and Casey already in town, it was the perfect opportunity for a ride, and with Chuck, Lori, Patrick, and Dave joining us, we had the makings of a fantastic group ride.

The robotics competition went on all day, so the guys couldn't start until 8:30.  That meant we'd be riding in the dark, but that's no big deal since we'll all spend plenty of nighttime hours in the saddle in just over a month. In fact, for me it was doubly helpful because a) I need the practice to get more comfortable with riding in the dark and b) I found out before Dirty Kanza that the clamp on my bike light doesn't fit my cross handlebars.  Good to know.

Night ride
Riding into Busch Wildlife while the sky looked like that 70% chance of rain was a good bet.
The group had 30-40 miles planned, and Patrick and I were supposed to meet Chuck, Lori, and Dave at 6:30 so we could get in some extra miles.  Thanks to me waiting til the last minute to find another set of straps for my bike rack, Patrick and I were 40 minutes late to meet the others and we only ended up with 7 extra miles before getting back to meet Luke and Casey at 8:30.  Once everybody was ready, we headed off down the Hamburg Trail.

Luke had to miss our March graveyard gravel grinder, so we took the guys past a couple of the cemeteries that were just off the trail.  It was just a hair spookier at night than it was during our rainy day ride.  We cruised down Hamburg and onto the Katy Trail towards Defiance, taking a little detour onto the Femme Osage loop and stopping for a snack up on top of the levee.  Then it was back onto the Katy until we got to Matson

Casey had wanted hills, so Chuck took us up Matson Hill Rd, a mile long climb that starts out gentle and turns into something steep enough that it made me nervous driving up in Chuck's jeep this summer (granted, I'm a proven chicken, so take that with a grain of salt).  I rode until it started to get steep and then put a foot down.  I doubt I'd made it the whole way up, but I wasn't interested in trying to when it meant I'd have to ride back down.  Chuck, Luke, and Casey ground their way to the top while the rest of us stood around at the trailhead and snacked.

Once the guys cruised back down, we hung out for a while, talking, snacking on Casey's delicious homemade trail mix, and taking some pictures.

Night ride
Team Virtus missing man formation.  It kinda looks like Casey's holding the invisible man's junk.  Awkward.

Night ride
Hanging out was fun, but it got chilly standing around, so we hopped back onto our bikes and headed towards Weldon Spring again.  The group split up before Lost Valley, with Lori, Patrick, and Dave riding up the Hamburg Trail and Chuck, Luke, Casey, and I riding the Lost Valley doubletrack.  Just getting to Lost Valley was a bit of a challenge for me.  We had to cross under a waist-level bar gating the road.  The guys got off their bikes and rolled them below the bar.  For whatever reason I decided to cross while straddling my bike and sort of limbo-ing underneath.

I'm not particularly flexible or coordinated, so this plan was moderately doomed from the start.  Scooting my bike below the gate and leaning way over to the side, I decided to grab onto the bar and kind of swing myself under and through.  As I put my weight on the bar, it moved slightly, pulling me off balance.  Now my feet were all tangled up in my toppled bike and all of my weight was on my arms as I clung to the bar to keep from falling.  My wonderful friends stood there laughing at me and looking for a camera before realizing I was the one holding it, but they did as if I needed help (affirmative) and rescue me from my predicament.  My face and stomach hurt afterwards from laughing so hard.

We rode into Lost Valley and then up the first climb, which was surprisingly not bad except for getting crop dusted by Luke the whole way up.  For whatever reason, I think that climb is easier on my cross bike than my mountain bike.  Of course we had to stop at the gate to play.

Night ride
Getting ready for takeoff
Night ride
Man in motion...it looks like it's going slow, but it feels fast as you come around.
Night ride
Bashing the stopper tree.
We all rode away with new bruises from slamming into the gate as it hit the tree on the other side of the trail.  Luke's was the most impressive; he managed to shave all of the hair (and some skin) off of a strip of his shin.  The doubletrack led back to a big descent, which the boys cruised down and I crept down.  Being a huge chicken isn't just a blow to my ego; it also steals me of the momentum I'd have climbing right back up the hill at the bottom.  Even so, while in March I only was able to ride my cross bike about halfway up that final climb, on this ride I made it within about 15 feet of the top and just kind of gave up. Lame, and yet encouraging. 

We met back up with the others in the parking lot, and our good intentions of riding an 18-mile loop at Busch Wildlife were derailed by a case of beer and good company.  We spent enough time hanging out and visiting that we could've ridden the extra miles, and eventually the clock hit 2:30 and we decided maybe it was time to head home.  I was really glad to have Patrick's company and conversation to help massive amounts of caffiene keep me awake for the drive, and I was even more glad to wheel my bike into the house and climb into my warm bed.

30 miles of gravel and fun friends.  What a great night.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Third time's a charm (and the first 2 weren't bad either!)

April has been a pretty fantastic month so far.  I celebrated my birthday, of course, and every weekend has been awesome. First up was the CAC2 and the next day's gravel ride, and the following weekend featured Robby's 5K, more gravel, and my family birthday party.  While the first half of the month was hard to top, this past weekend is definitely up there too.

Friday night was the Mesa Cycles women's bike seminar with a lot of cool ladies, delicious food (and wine!), good information, and smokin' sales. The sale/wine intersection was not a good one for me.  I set my glass (well, cup) on the sale table while I looked at a saddle; unfortunately, it slipped out of my hand, hit the wine, and dumped my drink allll over the table.  How humiliating.  After helping rescue what I could from the drenched table, I slunk back to my chair as the Mesa employees cleaned up my mess.  So if you wander into Mesa and bring home a sale item smelling suspiciously of Chardonnay, you can blame me.

Totally worth the embarrassment, though, was spotting this sweet thing on the table.  I've been eyeing the Selle Italia diva gel flow saddles since my friend Kim suggested it to me last year before Dirty Kanza, but the price was way too steep for my budget.  I was excited to see it half price on the table, and delighted when it rang up $50 at the register.

My sitting parts are overjoyed
Saturday morning I finally made it to another of J's soccer games and then came home to get his bike ready for our planned afternoon ride.  After his baseball practice we rode for a little over a mile to get ice cream and then ride home.  It was the first time we've ever ridden bikes together (instead of me running next to him), and he did great.  He's never been too interested in biking, but he got visibly better as we rode, and even when he struggled he stuck with it.  I was so proud of him. Totally worth the $9 in ice cream our stop at Cold Stone cost me. :)

Sunday morning I left at 6 a.m. to meet Chuck for a trip to Hermann, MO.  Our Dirty Kanza training plan (which he is following far better than I am!) called for 90 miles, so he took us back to part of the Tour of Hermann course, but only the easier northern section.  I actually rolled into the park and ride ten minutes early, and if you know me at all you know that's a very rare thing.  The drive to Hermann went quickly as we got caught up on each other's races and training, and before long we were loading up for our first loop.

Chuck had mapped out a 40 mile loop and then a 25-mile loop. That way we could stop back at the Jeep to restock and hopefully shed a layer.  We knew those loops put us in grave danger of getting back after 65 miles and bagging the rest of the ride, so Chuck's plan was to do some side road exploring to rack up some distance on each loop.  The route started with a few miles of flat Katy Trail, and it was chilly enough that I was actually looking forward to some climbs to warm up.  Of course, that lasted right until we started climbing.  And climbing.

Actually, I know I need the hill practice, and maybe because I've been on the gravel for the past two weekends I was feeling a little more confident on the downhills, too.  I mean, I didn't savor them, but I wasn't quite as terrified as normal.  Right up until Chuck mentioned, "Oh, yeah...watch out for potholes...for whatever reason they're hard to see on these roads and some guy broke his collarbone last weekend after hitting one wrong."  Goodbye, confidence, hello paranoia.

Signs like this never make me happy...even on pavement
We did a good job making sure to eat every hour or so.  I had a stack of new foods I was trying out.  I've been eating a pretty consistent Paleo-type diet, and it's been surprisingly easy (and happily led to a 20 lb weight loss)...except for when I have long runs or rides.  Then I end up falling back on the same ol' stuff I always eat.  This time I actually did some planning ahead to take real food options.  Here's what I went with:
  • Allen Lim rice bars (good, but hard to eat bc of cook error...I'll try these again with the right rice)
  • Small baked potatos cooked with some coconut oil and salt (delicious!)
  • Roasted salted almonds and freeze-dried peaches (delicious, but the peaches were expensive.  Maybe I'll just get a food dehydrator and play with that)
  • Coconut water instead of Gatorade (gross)
  • Justin's nut butter single packs -- almond butter/maple and hazelnut/chocolate -- instead of GU (delicous)
  • Ensure clear (OK, but full of ingredients with really long names)
I probably won't buy the Ensure clear again; I didn't like it that much.  I was really happy with how I did nutrition-wise for the day, though.  We spent about 8 hours on our bikes due to a lot of slow exploring, rode some challenging hills and fought wind, and I ended the day feeling really good.  No bonks, no cramps, and I could have kept riding.  Everything but the Ensure is definitely on my Kanza nutrition list.

I had to walk a couple hills because I just couldn't ride them and a couple others because I waited too long to downshift and then got stuck.  Then you'd get to the top and zoom back down again, going from sweating like crazy to freezing.  And repeat.  Eventually we dropped back onto the Katy Trail and headed back towards Hermann for the end of our first loop.  Rather than being a nice respite, though, the Katy section was straight into a headwind.  That got really old.  I had to pee pretty badly but was hanging on until we got back to the parking lot so I could use a real bathroom.  When we hit the last little town before Hermann I was pretty relieved and really counting down the time until I could go to the bathroom and get off my bike.  My attitude, which had been really good so far, was spiralling downward. And then Chuck turned away from the trail.  "Hey, let's see what's out this way!"

I wasn't excited about our extra mileage program when I'd been so looking forward to getting back, but that had been our plan all around so I kept my mouth shut and followed the leader onto the new road. 


Just getting out of the headwind was a nice change, and the day, though cold and gloomy, was also really pretty.  We followed this road around between fields until we came to a turn that went over the levee.

That's a nice road.
Chuck dropped his chain as he started up the hill, so I took the opportunity to cross over to the other side and go to the bathroom. That, combined with eating some food, dramatically improved my attitude.  We rode the crappy road until it turned into swamp and then headed back in the other direction.  Our detour along the gravel roads was fairly flat and gave us an extra 10 or so miles, so we were at 52 when we got back to the car and more food.

Just as we'd been finishing up on the extra gravel, the weather took a subtle but noticeable turn.  All of a sudden there was a definite warmth in the air, so after we ate we both shed a layer.  After leaving my arm warmers at the car and shivering for 55 miles last week, I was too gun-shy to leave my fleece at the Jeep, so it spent the majority of the ride in my pack.

The first loop had been fun, but the second loop was pure awesome.  We had a short flat Katy ride to our turn and then some smaller hills, and then some serious climbing.  At the top of all that climbing, though, we entered the Daniel Boone Conservation Area.  The road through the conservation area isn't all that long, I guess, but we hit just about every side road and trail we saw in the interests of adding mileage.  Our time:distance ratio was probably pretty week, but we had a blast exploring.

Cross bikes are fun because they can go on crappy trails as well as crappy roads.
Horse trail? No, bike trail!
We did laugh about the fact that the well-signed horse trails had far less horse damage than the shared use trails we're used to.  And we, or at least Chuck, laughed when my crappy bike handling skills landed me off the edge of the road on a u-turn.  "What the hell are you doing in that ditch?"

Unfortunately, the conservation area fun had to end eventually, and then we were dropping way down again.  "It looks like we're riding off the edge of the world," Chuck called back as he started downhill.  Yaaaaayyyyy.  I took the hill much more slowly.  We had to hit the pavement for a while, and though boring it was a blessedly smooth ride.  Missing our turn gave us even more bonus miles, and when we finally figot back to the correct road (right where we'd stopped for a snack and discussed whether this was our turn) it was of course a sketchy gravel downhill. 

Chuck hit the bottom waaaay before I caught up with him, and as we came to our turn we saw the coolest little building on the side of someone's driveway.  I don't know if it was a gatehouse or what, but it had a door shaped like a boat, and it looked like someone was covering it with stone and plaster.  Hard to describe, but trust me, it was cool.  The property had another shelter-looking building on it, too, and as we made the turn I was rubber-necking to check out what else might be over there.  There was a very pretty creek to our left, a very scenic property to our right, and we were riding on gravel riddled with big potholes.  "This road is not conducive to sightseeing!" I complained.

One of the great things about these gravel roads is that they're often really scenic; another perk is the lack of car traffic.  When we did see a truck up ahead of us, it was creeping slowly across...something.  As we got closer, we saw the reason for the driver's caution: the road crossed a creek.  Fun!

Chuck made it all the way across; I didn't get far at all.
This was only one of many creek crossings on this road, some of which were up to our knees as we carried our bikes across.  Others were paved low-water crossings.


This was another slow section because the dry road wasn't much better than riding on a creek bottom, but this stretch of was incredibly fun.  And scenic

This picture doesn't even come close to showing how pretty it was down in the valley.
The road wound along the creek and through the valley.  Occasionally we'd see crazy steep roads leading off to the side and my heart would sink until we got near and realized they were driveways.  My hands were definitely starting to feel beat up by all the gravel. Thankfully (unlike last weekend) I'd remembered my gloves, but towards then end my left pinky and ring finger were starting to get numb.  I'm hoping adding a layer of thicker bar tape will help with that, because numb hands could be a real problem in Kansas if they kick in too bad before I'm finished.  Last year Becca had to cut my steak for me the next day because I couldn't hold my knife tightly enough to do it, so this is definitely something to figure out.

Getting a picture with our new favorite road.
Cool old barn, taken way too close up because I was too lazy to move further back.
 Leaving Massas Creek road left us with just a few more miles and a couple more hills before we were back to the parking lot.  The climbs were a little demoralizing because I was so over hills, but I think I made it up both of them ok.  Riding back to the Jeep with the wind at our backs was pretty awesome, too. 

We were at 84 miles when we made it back, and both of us were just fine with that.  Not quite the planned 90 miles, but Chuck and I both felt like we could've kept riding.  It was definitely a confidence booster for me to finish a challenging day and know that I had more miles in me.  It was the best long ride I've had all year. The only think missing was the rest of our friends, and all day long we kept talking about how much fun they'd be having if they were there.  No fear about missing out, though, because I'm pretty sure we'll have to repeat this ride.

Right now I'm at around 650 miles for the year, which really doesn't feel like much when I think about the 200 mile race I'm tackling in just over a month.  At the same time, I spent way more time on the gravel than I did last year, I have a different bike, I'm in better shape...and at this time last year I hadn't even registered for Dirty Kanza yet, let along started training.  While anything can happen, I'm feeling like finishing the race this year is a definite possibility.

Up next, though, 100+ miles of gravel at Cedar Cross on May 4...and I'm excited about it. What's wrong with me? :)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Carnage at the Creek (2) - non-racing with the best

Note: This report was written by Kate with commentary from Adam in red and Jeff in green.

Ever since the 2011 Deuce, Team Virtus's annual non-race has been a can't-miss event for me. Non-competitive and low/no-cost non races can introduce new people to the sport and give others a chance to practice/develop their skills in a more relaxed and cheaper setting than a formal race. The Deuce was my first ever adventure race, and Luke (who barely knew me at the time) was kind enough to shadow me throughout the day, introduce me to basically everything I know about orienteering, and make sure I didn't die in the woods. By the end of the day, my theoretical love for adventure racing was confirmed by experience.

Why no, I never do get tired of using this picture from the Deuce.
April 2012 saw the rise of the CAC (Carnage at the Creek) non race and a much larger field than the previous year.   It included a weekend of camping, many AR friends, and a partnership with my buddy Chuck of ROCK Racing.  Chuck's an awesome navigator, and when we teamed up with Travis after the bike prologue their combined map skills made quick work of the orienteering.  While they didn't literally carry me, basically all I had to do was follow along, keep up, and not row the boat under any circumstances.

Perfectly willing to do my share but banished to the back of the boat for rowing incompetence.
Adam: During the first CAC, I only had time to finish the first bike leg and the nav section that followed.  I teamed up with WTF long enough to get them lost in the woods and when we finally reached the transition area, I bailed because I had to work.  I also didn't want to see Todd scream like a little girl again if we came across any more snakes.  I was immediately looking forward to CAC 2.0 and a chance to redeem myself.

I was so determined to be at this year's CAC2 that I actually postponed my 40th birthday celebration in favor of the race and left straight from work.  I was both excited about all of the fun people I'd get to see over the weekend and nervous about the anticipated "learning experience".  You see, in my first two non-races, I had the benefit of experienced navigators, but this year Adam and I had decided to race together despite the fact that neither of us has much orienteering skill.  We were fully aware it was a bit of a recipe for disaster.

Adam: I did envision us getting lost at times and wandering around, but I also figured between the two of us we would eventually figure it out.

Kate: I may have exaggerated our worry a bit for dramatic effect.

We're so screwed...
One of the cool things about this year's race was that some really skilled adventure racers joined the party. First Emily Korsch, who's got a growing stack of AR wins under her belt, volunteered to attend and race with anybody who wanted some help and then one of her teammates decided to join the fun:


At first I just left it alone because I'm a team member and figured I should leave the rock stars for our guests, but later I started to comment that Adam and I would love to have help if no one else spoke up.  I never sent it, daunted by the prospect of exposing just how weak I am to somebody of that caliber.  I do my best to be up-front on the blog about my weaknesses, but it's one thing to admit it online and another to actually demonstrate it in front of someone who has a clue. No, Adam and I would just make do on our own.  Maybe we'd even surprise ourselves.

After an easy 2.5 hour drive, I pulled into the campground and was treated to the sight of a rare double moon.  As befits a non-race, I parked in a non-spot, and my wonderful friends pulled up their pants and helped me carry my stuff and get my tent set up.  Already having enjoyed a super healthy dinner of gas station pizza, I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out by the campfire as other racers arrived.  The weather was perfect for camping, and I had was a fantastic, fun, often hilarious night visiting with old friends and new: Luke and Becca; Bob and Cara; Robby; Travis, Crystal and family; Brian and Todd of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot; Tardy Rooster Dave and this year's AR newbie, Woody; Blue Moon Dave; Derrick and Emma from Orange Lederhosen; Team Roadkill's Ron along with his friend Louis; Emily; Jeff and Carrie; Team Torti's Fletcher; and finally Kim, who drove over 4 hours to be there.

Luke, Becca, Robby, Fletcher
Louis, Woody, Derrick, Dave
Carrie, Jeff, Fletcher, Dave, Emily, Louis

Since Adam wasn't arriving until morning, I took a fair amount of crap suggesting that he wouldn't show up and I'd have to race alone.  Jeff mentioned that he was looking for a teammate and we could race together, so Adam and I ended up lucking into a third (and immediately MVP) teammate.  I was both delighted (because our chances of dying in the woods were drastically reduced) and nervous (because non-racing with a member of Alpine Shop is kind of like having Michael Jordan join you for your pickup game).  I warned Jeff that we'd be really slow, but he was super cool and assured me that he was just there to help us out. 

Adam: I was also a little nervous when Kate told me who we would be non-racing with but like Kate said, it was reassuring to know we had someone with navigating experience with us.  I just didn't want to slow anyone down except Kate.

Lessons started the next morning as we were able to go over maps with Jeff, see the kinds of things he writes on his maps, and discuss our route. 

Kate, Adam, Jeff
Adam: As you can see from the picture, I have assumed a supervisory role in watching my teammates plot the points on the map.  Actually, they just wanted it done right so they wouldn't let me help.

Kate: Whatever... Adam was a big help helping me figure out exactly where to plot the points when we were copying from the master maps that everyone was crowding around.

Jeff also showed me their bike tow (basically a strap connected to the back of his bike that someone behind him could grab to help maintain a consistent team pace).  While I've never had a desire to use one, I resolved to try it.  If we were going to get the opportunity to race with a rock star teammate, we needed to take advantage of everything we could learn!

Precious cargo
Bikes had to be loaded onto a trailer to be shuttled to the transition area (TA), and we would have to drive to the race start.  Since CAC2 didn't start until 9:00, getting up was a pretty relaxed affair.  Still, between being responsible for transferring the checkpoints to our map from the master map (something which made me deeply thankful that my normal AR job is to read coordinates to Luke), discussing route choice with Jeff, and doing my fair share of visiting, I was even more disorganized than usual and made numerous trips back to my tent.  I really don't like wearing pants and usually wear shorts and tall socks for adventure racers, but after several warnings from Bob I threw my trekking pants into my pack.  The race started with a very short trekking leg followed by a bike;  I'd just put on the pants before the long trek.  Feeling as ready as I was going to be, I grabbed a ride to the start in Aaron's van and tried not to worry too much about my bike swinging from the tetherball pole.

 Yeah, that's mine.  Maybe I should've loaded it early.
Thankfully, all the bikes made it intact and I could relax for some prerace pictures.

Kim drove more than 4 hours to guest race with those crazy boys from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and I'm pretty sure she laughed for the entire race.  Love those guys!

Me with  Kim, who's moving even further away (boo) and giving me yet another awesome friend to visit in CO (yea!).

Now that's a fun looking group!
Back row: Woody, Dave H., Young Ben, Todd, Fletcher, Travis, Dave B. Jeff, Brian, me, Adam, Louis, Kim
Front row: Derrick, Dan, Robby, Emily, Emma, Ron
Luke made a last minute announcement:  "It's now 9:41, so by Team Virtus time we're actually 19 minutes early. That means the cut-off is pushed back 45 minutes."  Cut-off? What cut-off? This was news to me.  One of these day's I'm actually going to pay attention at a pre-race meeting. 

Let's just be thankful they told us about the cutoff. We have been to a race where they didn't tell us, and it cost us dearly.

There might have been a countdown, nobody sang the National Anthem (which was a terrible oversight except for the fact they'd probably have made me do it), and then we took off running down the road.  Well, I tried to run, but some clown was holding onto my pack.  Eventually I got free (or he let go), and we were off!

Leg 1 (trek): Find the passport:

The race began with a short (~.5 mile?) run down the road into a park area called the Carrington Pits to follow the map to collect our passport.  Adam, Jeff, and I had agreed that Jeff would navigate and we'd follow along on the map.  I had the map first, though following along on it while running was a challenge (also while walking, biking, trekking, and standing still, but that's another story).  Near the lead, we followed a trail while keeping the water to our right like on the maps.  This worked out pretty well until I noticed a small lake to our left as well.  "That water over there is making me nervous," I told the guys, "Why don't I see it on the map?"

It turned out I didn't see it because we'd turned and actually gone between pits instead of staying to the right of all of them. What should have been a 10 minute jaunt to grab the passport became a 45-minute odyssey through Brer Rabbit's briar patch, culminating in Jeff wading through knee deep water to get our passport. 

Jeff: My boys remember the water being somewhat over my knees.

Adam: Yeah, he really took one for the team.  I'm pretty sure it was up to at least his waist and maybe chest at one point.

Leg 2: Bike (10 miles)

Back on track, we ran back to the bike drop, getting there in 4th (??) place, and transitioned.  This process was slowed by the fact that Adam's front wheel had mysteriously "fallen off". 

Adam: There's nothing mysterious or surprising about Bob Jenkins removing my wheel.  I was more surprised to see that he even brought my bike to the drop area.

Kate: If he hadn't, Jeff probably would have just tied you to his pack and carried you for the bike leg.

Hmmm...how did that happen?
Jeff was ready way ahead of us; while Adam fixed his bike, we looked at the maps. I don't have a map holder on my bike or even a way to hold my map case around my neck, so I did my best to memorize the turns (there weren't many) and then tucked the map case into the front strap of my pack.  We took off down the gravel road, and as soon as we hit the first incline I opted to try out the towing system (strictly in the interests of science and certainly not because I'm slow ;-D).

Basically, a towing system (explanation and good basic picture at this link) is some type of line attached to the front bike with a loop on the end of it for the tow-ee to grab.  My team has discussed towing in the past, but I wasn't excited about the idea for a couple of reasons.

1.  I'm a big chicken and don't want to be dragged along at faster speeds than I'm comfortable with.

2.  It hurt my pride.  Looking at it as being towed because you're the weakest person is a little bit of a blow.  I started changing my mind after reading Robyn Benincasa's book, where she talks about sharing  strengths.  Does it make sense for the strongest member of the team to be sailing along easily while someone else is killing themselves to keep up?  Wouldn't it be better if everyone's effort was more similar? And theoretically, I'm not always the weak person, but even if I am, it's not about pride, it's about what's best for the team.  Does it make sense for me to kill myself to do it alone or is it better for the team for me to let someone help me so I'm not dragging later in the race?

Jeff told us that Alpine Shop tows all the time, not just one person but the whole team.  And not when someone is struggling but BEFORE someone is struggling. What Robyn and Jeff said made sense. That helped with the pride issue, and it was easy enough to grab and release the tow strap that my fear stayed out of the way.   Well, on the road anyway; it'll be a long time before I'd be comfortable on the singletrack.

Adam: I'm pretty sure I saw Kate trying to rest her legs on her handlebars at one point.  If she could just get a backrest on her bike seat she'd probably just kick back and write her race report while someone was towing her.

Kate: I'd be mad at him for ratting me out if that idea wasn't so brilliant!

Scene from the first bike leg
The weather was beautiful, but there was a pretty good headwind blowing. You'd drag yourself to the top of a hill, but instead of sweet relief from climbing you'd have wind pushing against you all over again at the top. Between the wind and the hills, I quickly became a big fan of towing systems.  Not only was it a big help, but every time that tow strap started to stretch out more it made me push a little harder so that Jeff wasn't having to drag my slow butt up the hill.  I did feel a little guilty because I was getting help while Adam was dealing with limited and slipping gears, but he turned down the chance to give being towed a chance and I hated for it to go to waste. :) Shortly after getting CP1, we passed Fletcher changing a tire, and soon after that Adam got a flat.  Jeff helped him change it, and then we sailed into the TA that Adam's girlfriend Michelle was manning (womanning).

Adam: When I started to fall behind Kate and Jeff, I thought it was just because I'm slow, but then I ralized it was because I'm slow and my tire was going flat. They were already too far ahead that yelling was useless, not to mention the wind was blowing 20 mph. When I went to change it, I realized I had forgotten tire levers and I couldn't get the tire off.  I had to push my bike until they realized I wasn't behind them.  I wasn't too thrilled to have a flat this early in the race.  I only had one tube with me and I thought for sure I was going to have a long hike a bike at some point later on.  Eventually Jeff came to my rescue.  Little did he know at that point, he would be saving our asses all day long.

Kate: I bet it was pretty clear by then.

Adam: I was happy once we made it to the TA and I saw Michelle sitting there.  Just seein gher smiling face automatically makes my day better.


Leg 3: Trek (~11 miles)

The maps showed a fairly long trekking leg ahead of us, but unlike last year we wouldn't be doing it pushing our bikes.  Heeding Bob and Luke's advice too late, I finally put on my trekking pants over the scratches from the passport hunt...better late than never.  I was heading for the marked trail leading from the TA when Jeff walked to the road next to it.  And that's why I'm not the navigator.

When I say "road", this is what I mean mostly.
Adam spent the first part of the trek picking Jeff's brain about nutrition, while I was all about how long have you been adventure racing, how did you get started, etc.  In addition to being interrogated, Jeff also kept up a steady narration of how we could tell where we were on the map, and I did my best to follow along on my map.  I can look at a map and say, "OK, we need to go west along this ridge until we get to the second reentrant", but I still have a hard time matching what I see on the map with the actual terrain in front of me, so Jeff's descriptions were super valuable to me.

Adam: If eating Almond Joy and drinking lemonade is good enough for Alpine Shop then it's good enough for me.

Kate: If I could get sponsored by Mounds....what a match made in heaven.

On the way to our first CP we passed an old swing hanging from a branch.  "We should take a picture there," I remarked as we passed.

"Yeah," agreed Adam as we continued walking, "Luke and Bob probably put it there for that  We really should."

"Umm..." Jeff said, "Do you want to go back and take the picture?"

Pic Stitch
Of course we did!
"Hey, you don't get pictures like this racing with Alpine Shop!" I laughed, "You're getting the real Team Virtus experience." 

Adam: We would still be kicking ourselves if we hadn't snapped a few photos of us in the swing.  I mean really, why would anyone put a swing out in the middle of nowhere like that, if not for people to stop and have their photo taken on it?

It was a beautiful day to be out in the woods, and we didn't have many problems finding the checkpoints. It always amazes me how much is out in the woods that you'd never guess driving by on the road.  The guys picked out a lot of cool stuff for us to see, pretty much all of which they found by just going out and exploring.

Our first CP of the trekking leg is under this bridge
Gratuitous beaver shot on the way to the next CP
The beavers had been hard at work as evidenced by downed trees all over near some ponds.  It was the first time I'd seen anything like this except in a book.  No actual beavers were spotted.

Way high up
Map check
 Adam and I switched off the map after the first few checkpoints so that he'd get a chance to learn from the master, too.  It was kind of disorienting not to be holding the map for a while, but then I got used to it and spent most of the rest of the race in my usual state of happy ignorance.

On our way to one of the "rock arch" CPs
For the CP with the "rock arch" clue, we'd guessed it might be low and so didn't head uphill.  Unfortunately, we'd guessed wrong and got to climb this bad boy.

This does a better job than most pictures of showing slope, but it's even steeper than it looks.
At the top, we saw Derrick. And the CP.


After that, I think we were headed to the second rock arch.   We had to come down off the hill and cross a reentrant.  Jeff, as always, moved up and down the slopes like he was walking on a sidewalk, while I cautiously picked my way down and Adam moved somewhat faster than I did.  On the other side of the reentrant we basically went up a wall.  "Huh," Jeff remarked at the top, "That was a little steeper than I realized."

I'd just been following behind him and hadn't realized how steep the hill was until I was almost crawling up it using hands and feet.  At the same time, it was really humbling to see what a different level Jeff's on: navigation, of course, but lots of other things, too.  Way faster at transitioning, the pace he could move up and downhill, pace in general (at one point as we hiked through a fairly open wooded area I remarked, "You guys would be running here," and he agreed), he never seemed disorganized (I'm always trying to figure out where things are in my pack)... it was a great look at many areas in which we could improve.  And yet, throughout the day, Jeff raced our race at our pace, totally cool and supportive with however we were going.

Following the creek to our next destination

After finding the two rock arches (CP 5 and 4, one of which I didn't take a picture of and have no memory of), we had to bushwhack southeast through the woods until we hit a road.  "It always seems to take a long time when you're hiking through the woods, especially when there aren't any big terrain features to follow," Jeff remarked (those aren't his exact words but get across what he said).  Just after we started to get nervous, Jeff popped out onto the road. Success! We initially turned the wrong way but hadn't gone more than 50 feet before Jeff realized we were off track and got us headed in the right direction. This is another of those times I'd have continued on trying to make the map fit what I was doing. Hopefully some of the lessons I learned from Jeff will stick next time I'm at an O meet or something.

Adam: That's most of my problem when it comes to navigating.  I don't take the time to go and practice.  Hopefully I can go to some O meets this year and practice.

Getting onto the correct road, it was a short trek to our next CP, the Laffoon Stone.

The Laffoon Stone.  Any resemblance to male genitalia is purely intentional.
Adam: I have to admit it's pretty sweet to have a giant rock named after me regardless of what Bob's intentions were for doing so.  The view from atop is pretty cool.

From what I hear, if it was true to life it would've been more of a pebble...

Then we crossed over the creek again and hopped onto the trail to CP7, a shelter cave.

Another CP
Big bone we saw after the cave

Adam: Heh heh...she said big bone.

I recognized Sapp Bluff from CAC2012.   The CP flag was even leftover, though last year we had to push our bikes up a hateful hill after dragging them over all kinds of horse-damaged singletrack.  Trekking there was much nicer.

Up on Sapp Bluff...it's way high.
Adam and Jeff stood on the edge for a closer look while I hyperventilated (still not a fan of heights).  Dan caught up to us as we were starting down, and we all headed in search of CP 9 together.  This necessitated crossing Cedar Creek and bushwhacking through another edition of thorns gone wild.

Crossing Cedar Creek at a low spot.
 The clue was Devil's Backbone, and our hike brought us out onto a gravel road with a really cool rocky spine outlining it...but no CP.  After 45 minutes of fruitless searching we finally accepted the fact that it had probably blown away (in the end, that's apparently what happened).  We had one CP left on the trek and were either near or past the time cut-off, but that's the beauty of a non-race.  Getting non-disqualified is no big deal.

Adam: The fact that the CP wasn't there just gave people more opportunity to enjoy the view while they searched for it.

I had taken back the map during our aborted attempt at 9.  It took me a while to catch on again, and "Can you show me where we are?" was a repeated refrain.  We found 10 with no problem and then set off for the road back.  There was a pretty good trek to the road where we were just following the compass, and after a while we started to wonder if we'd somehow gotten off track.  Of course, our route led us right through a forest of cedar trees...thank goodness for my hat or I'd have left half of my hair behind in all those grabby little branches!

Kinda like this picture from 2011.
One funny thing on this section of the trek...we found a maroon shirt laying in the road (which basically looks like a wide trail).  I picked it up wondering if it belonged to one of the other non-racers, then noticed it was cotton.  "Probably not ours...none of us would be wearing cotton," I told the guys. "....Well, except me," I admitted as they laughed at me.  I was wearing cotton, but only because it was turkey season, my only orange shirt was cotton, and I preferred potential chafing to being shot.

Back at the TA, there was a little party going on with Becca, Michelle, Cara, and Bob all there with food.  We got updates on who was in, who had dropped, and who was still out in the woods.  Dan transitioned lightning fast and was gone.  Jeff was ready in no time, I grabbed a chicken leg and a baked potato, and Adam visited with Michelle.  Jeff offered to carry my shoes (he's the Alpine Shop pack mule), but I turned him down because they were all gross and wet.  Of course, so were his shoes.  In retrospect, I totally should have handed them over.  I don't know why it's so hard to take help.

Adam: It was nice to get back to the TA and be able to eat some real food.
Other than having some uncomfortable chafing from my bike shorts (first time I've chafed from bike shorts when I'm NOT riding), though, I felt good as we left the TA on our bikes.  We rode about six or so miles to the mystery event, where Luke directed us to cross the creek, scale a steep hill, look at a lego structure, come back, and replicate the structure exactly.  I don't know what happened, but I pretty much fell apart as soon as I started walking uphill.  I went from feeling fine to totally weak and a little nauseous (almost like an instantaneous bonk, even though I'd just eaten), and I barely made it to the top of the hill before the guys were ready to come down. In retrospect, I should've just stayed at the base.

That hill was no joke.  I was totally spent by this time and I could feel my calves starting to want to cramp up.

The last two miles of the non-race were singletrack, starting with crossing the creek again (I walked my bike across) and then a gentle uphill.  I didn't get far before I had to walk.  My legs were dead and I was breathing super heavy.  I'm always weak on singletrack, but this went beyond lack of technical skill and was straight physical meltdown.  I felt bad that the guys had to keep waiting on me, and it was downright embarrassing to have felt good all day and then be such a train wreck with just a couple miles to go. The guys never once rolled their eyes or were anything less than encouraging, and after snagging one last CP at a cool old building, we rode (and walked) the rest of the way in to the finish.  A special treat was when we had to lift our bikes over a barbed wire fence that some farmer had built ACROSS THE TRAIL...and then lift them over again when the trail looped back.  Thankfully, Jeff and Adam did most of the lifting because I had nothing left at that point. 

Jeff: I'm sorry I didn't know you were in such a bad place at the end.  I could have been more helpful.

Kate: Right, in addition to lifting my bike over the fences and coming back to push it up the hill for me. :) Actually, for someone who never shuts up, I don't communicate that well when I'm feeling bad during a race.  That's something I need to work on.  On the other hand, it feels like a bit of a failure of will to let myself fall apart with 2 miles left, like I should have been able to tough it out better.

I was feeling pretty bad myself.  At this point, any time I would get off the bike, my legs would start to cramp but I guess that's what I get for doing hardly any training.  The funny thing about the fence is we could have just walked along it down to where the trail came back to it if we would have been paying closer attention.

Someone jokingly asked me later, "The guys pushed you that hard, huh?" but that wasn't it at all.  I was more than fine with the pace; I'm not sure what happened.  I actually threw up after we finished, the first time that's happened to me in any race. Yeah, that's right...the CAC made me gag. 

Once we could hear our friends back at the campground, Jeff, who'd been leading all day, dropped back and let us ride in first.   As we neared the finish he asked what our team name was. "Are we Team Virtus?"

"Team Virtus Plus, " I suggested, but Adam had the best idea: "Let's tell them we're Team SONA: Saving Our Newbie Asses." And he did. Totally.  He carried us without even breaking a sweat.  I only hope he had as much fun as I did.

Adam: Yeah, he really did help us a ton.  I don't know how many times Kate and I mentioned during the race that we wouldn't have made it past CP2 if it wouldn't have been for him.  It was a great time, and I am definitely looking forward to doing it again next year.  I think Michelle will be ready to handle the CAC by then.

HUGE thanks to Bob and Luke for non-race directing, to Becca, Michelle, Crystal, Carrie, and Cara for volunteering, and especially to Adam and Jeff for racing with me.  Hanging out with everyone before and after the race was fantastic.  If you were there, you know just how awesome it was, and if you weren't, you should definitely plan better in 2014.  The Team Virtus non-race should not be missed.  And if Jeff Sona wants to do some more heavy lifting, he's more than welcome to carry me next year too!

I would also like to thank Luke and Bob for putting on a great non race and all the volunteers that helped throughout the day.