What a difference a year makes.
This past weekend (August 24) was my second time at the Thunder Rolls 24-hour adventure race, held at Camp Benson in Mt. Carroll, IL. Last year, I both loved and hated the race. Well, that's not true. I loved the race; I hated how I felt. The late-August date is a bad one for me, because I tend to get lazy and gain weight while off work for the summer, and I certainly did in 2012. I'd arrived at camp out of shape and as heavy as I've been since I started with endurance sports.
It showed in the race. Granted, we had a couple experiences that further went against me (yellow jacket attack, dragging myself up a cliff for 45 minutes), but the inescapable fact is that one cannot spend the summer eating and sitting on the couch and retain any hope of doing well in a 24-hour race. One one hand, I had a fantastic time -- that's a given with any race I've done with Team Virtus -- but my happy memories were tainted by deep disappointment in how I'd felt. We had to shorten our race for reasons that weren't related to me, but I was relieved. Glad even. That's a first for me in any adventure race.
I still gained weight over this summer (though not nearly as much as last year), but I stayed active. I didn't have any major adventures or races after Dirty Kanza, but I spent a lot of time on my bike and started training for a half marathon. Back in March I'd gotten additional practice on rappelling and ascending so that I'd hopefully have a better ropes experience. I drove back to camp in much better shape than last year...but still heavily medicated.
I'd spent the previous race dosed with Benadryl to hold allergies at bay; this time it was a nasty head cold that hit on Wednesday. Sick two years in a row? Waking up Thursday with a headache, sore throat, and congestion, Most likely the cause is has more to do with beginning of school stress and exposure to everything my new students might be bringing in, but I'll admit that I started fearing some Thunder Rolls curse. Feeling like crap made shopping for race food fun...nothing sounded good.
|After about 20 minutes of wandering the aisles at Super Walmart.|
I hung out down by registration and read my magazine while teams slowly trickled in (registration didn't actually start until 2). I met some guys who were there for their first ever AR...the 24 hour. They'd read my blog (and Emily's...where they got any valuable part of their information!), so that was pretty cool. I jumped in and helped for a little bit with registration ("helped" being a bit of an overstatement...I sat at the table and highlighted team names for a while), confusing some friends. "Are you volunteering or racing?" Both!
Once the guys arrived and we were all registered and settled in the cabin, the first order of business was to get down to the ropes practice area. Travis and Robby would be rappelling and ascending for their first time, and I wanted some practice.
|Team Virtus in da house!|
The guys looked a little nervous while they waited, but Robby and then Travis made their first rappels and looked smooth and comfortable. I went next, and John, who was volunteering on ropes, remembered, "You don't like heights much, right?" That's putting it mildly, but he talked me through sitting down over the edge and getting started. It's so much scarier in practice than in a race!
|The first step is the hardest...|
|On the way down...|
|Travis nearly caught up with me.|
|The crowd at the bottom.|
|Cozy. Not sure whose idea it was to put the two biggest guys in one seat, but it was the right choice (for the rest of our entertainment).|
|Low carb? No. Delicious? Indeed.|
|Race director Gerry, probably heckling our team. :)|
The basic structure of the race was like this:
1. Midnight start with a short run to pick up the pre-plotted maps for our initial o-section, which would include both the rappel and ascend. The early ropes were kind of a good news/bad news situation. I was much happier to get ascending out of the way before I was exhausted, but it also created the potential for a big bottleneck of teams waiting.
2. Coasteering leg (hiking down the river)
3. Short run (walk) to the canoes
4. Canoeing the Plum River (paddles, pfds, and food staged here)
5. Bike leg (bike shoes, water, and food staged here, climbing and paddling gear could be dropped here)
6. Bike-o at Palisades Park. You could ride your bikes on the park roads to get closer to attack the CPs on foot.
7. More orienteering on foot
8. Advanced course (it was pretty clear from the maps that we wouldn't be experiencing this)
9. Mandatory bike route back
We had a lot of discussion about whether or not to bring extra shoes to change into after the coasteering leg. If we sent dry shoes with our paddling gear, we could change after we finished the canoeing. I kept going back and forth about what to do until Bob told Travis, "I'm taking my shoes because that's what Luke is doing, and every time I don't listen to him I'm wrong." That decided me; there were three times in last year's Thunder Rolls that I didn't listen to Luke's advice, and I regretted each one.
Luke: I think the main point here is I'm always right. It has nothing to do with the fact that I've made WAY more mistakes than everyone else.
|Almost start time.|
|Teams picking up the maps for our first O-section.|
|Robby punches CP1 while Travis checks the map.|
Luke: I believe there was a CP here at one of the Lightning Strikes races where we had to clip into a rope just to get on top of it before we could rappel. At TR2013 we had no ropes whatsoever.
|We think this picture, from Team Virtus's 2010 trip to the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race, shows CP5.|
|Pretty sure that this is on the way back from punching CP5. Note my death grip on the tree.|
|This is me at the bottom of the rappel. OK, I look kind of stupid, but look at the SMILE on my face. I was so happy at the bottom of the rappel.|
|Another picture from the Team Virtus/Lightning Strikes archives. Luke and I came down the flat face on the left; Robby, Bob, and Travis came down the side with the overhang.|
Now, make no mistake...it was a big cliff, but it didn't seem all that much bigger than the practice wall and I'd been anticipating something twice that size like last year. I knew I'd still have a hard time, but I was really relieved that it wasn't worse. When a rope came open, Bob, Robby, and Travis went first since three of them had to get up their rope.
Bob started up line 4, and almost immediately things seemed off. He was struggling to make any progress. Ascending is exhausting when it is going well, and it's debilitating when it isn't. Now, Bob isn't a pro climber or anything, but he knows what he's doing. Remember, this is the guy who coached me up the wall at last year's race when I had pretty much accepted that I was going to spend the rest of my life hanging off the cliff...and then zipped the rest of the way up with a smile while I collapsed at the top.
|I'd say he was feeling a bit better than I was.|
Meanwhile, I had started up rope one, calling encouragement to Bob as I went up, and my ascent was going really well. It was the best of times and worst of times all at once. Everything was clicking, I was making good progress...and the irony was agonizing. My friend -- my hero -- was in the midst of one of the worst moments of his life, and I couldn't do anything to help him.
Luke followed me up our rope, and we waited at the top, having no idea what was going on below with Bob (you can read all about the ordeal in his words on the Team Virtus race report). In the end, after an hour or so long ordeal, the ropes staff rigged the ropes so that Bob could rappel back down, exhausted, spent, and ready to quit. Robby was next up the rope, and then Travis hiked up to update us on how Bob was doing (not great). Luke and Travis hiked down first, and Robby and I followed them shortly afterwards.
|Friends don't let friends' suffering go undocumented.|