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Friday, March 21, 2014

Going solo: The BonkHard Chill volunteer report

What do you do when no one wants to go along with your brilliant ideas? I used to spend a lot of time missing out because I was afraid to do things alone, but in the past five or so years I've come to the realization that, for me, doing things on my own is way better than sitting at home, missing out, and feeling sad.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to test out my commitment to that theory.

The BonkHard Chill was March 15.  I've never raced it, but of course I wanted to.  I'd race every single weekend if I could afford to and if my schedule, which unfortunately is full of conflicts with this year's adventure race calendar, would allow.  After my teammates decided not to race the Chill, I brought it up first to my sister-in-law and then to another friend who's been wanting to try out AR.  When neither of them were able to race, I didn't put out any more feelers.  I probably could have found a teammate, but instead I decided to volunteer.

While it's certainly not the same as racing, it is free, and I love volunteering.  I'd hoped that Jeff and Jacob would join me and make it a family camping trip; they could hang out at my volunteer station while they wanted to and then go explore when they get bored. Great idea, right?  They were unconvinced, and Jacob's soccer schedule (first game: race day) put the final nail in Chill Plan 2.0.  Version 2.1 (operation convince your teammates to volunteer with you) also failed, and just like that I was back to "doing things on my own is way better than sitting at home and missing out".

I took a half day off work and left Friday afternoon.  I have a new bike (I know! I haven't even talked about that yet!), and I wanted a chance to ride it before Sunday's (later cancelled) mountain bike race.  My friend Dan runs Oz Cycles down at Lake of the Ozarks, so I messaged him to get a trail recommendation: "Nothing too hairy because I"ll be on my own and I'm not very good."

He suggested the Honey Run trail, so I printed off a map, put the coordinates into the GPS, and headed off right after my students left for lunch. I made it down in time to spend a couple of hours on the trail and ride each of the three loops. 

Honey Run trail, Lake of the Ozarks State Park. #mtb #missouri
Scenes from the trail
This was my first foray onto singletrack on this bike and my first time riding dirt since January's Berryman weekend, and I was alone on unfamiliar trails, so I was even more slow and timid than usual.  Other than clipping a tree early on, I survived without incident.  The whole ride was more or less a Sunday drive type of pace, but it was fun and enough to convince me that I don't need to hang onto my old mountain bike.  I really love the new one.

The three sections of trail that make up Honey Run come together around a parking lot off of a gravel road.  I'd ridden the out and back section from a different lot, planning to hop onto the other sections.  It wasn't quite that easy and took a little studying of the map to figure out where to get onto the north loop.  The good news is that the map actually helped.


Just bc you have a map doesn't mean it'll be easy to figure out where you're going. #mtb #wheresthetrail #lakeoftheozarks
Map check!
When I finished riding all three sections, it was close to time for pre-race check-in to start, so instead of riding back on singletrack, I took the gravel road back to my parking lot.  It was a pretty good climb, and I was delighted with how easy it felt.  That's two tough-for-me gravel climbs that this bike has cruised up, which has me seriously considering riding it for Dirty Kanza. 

I wasn't really needed at pre-race check-in, so instead of helping I visited with arriving teams and mostly managed to control my envy that they were racing and I wasn't.  It was fun to catch up with friends and put faces to some names I only knew on paper.  When the pre-race meeting started up, I headed off in search of the campground, which was also serving as race HQ.

Even though I arrived after dark, someone was right there to check me in and direct me to my tent site, where I saw that I was the only person in that area.  I was already less than thrilled about camping by myself, so you can imagine how delighted I was to be completely alone.  Luckily, my friends provided plenty of reassurance.

I'd expected to be a little nervous on my own, but I fell asleep right away.  I woke up freezing around 3 a.m.  I had a bag full of clothes right next to me, but I was too cold/lazy to get my arms out of the sleeping bag and dig for them. Instead, I tossed and turned until finally giving in around 5:30 or so.  No need to worry about setting an alarm after all.

My tent and car were covered by a layer of frost. I'd anticipated a low of 40* , but that was in town. At the campground, my car's dashboard showed high 20's, which may not be bad if you're tough and/or properly equipped, but I'm neither.  I think it was my coldest night of camping, and my previous low temperatures were shared with my husband and tempered by hats, coats, gloves, and body heat.

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Home sweet home.  The white smudges on the right side are some of the BonkHard vehicles.
 The canoes were being trucked in by the time I finished getting ready, and it turned out that I'd inadvertently chosen a spot as close as possible to race HQ.  Had I overslept I would have been woken up by all the arriving racers; as it was, I was packed up and was huddled in my warm car when the first teams pulled in.

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Starting to get a little busier as the sun comes up.

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Almost start time...
I wished my friends good luck, and then Gary drafted me to hold the American flag while the National Anthem played.  He made some last minute remarks and at 7:30 sent the racers on their way.  All of the volunteers met with Ellen, where Doug (my partner for the day) and I were assigned to CP4, the canoe take-out and gear check.

I was delighted to learn that our station was at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.  I'd heard of it and seen pictures, but I'd never actually been there.  Doug and I took his Jeep over to our assigned shelter, but not before we caught sight of a team pull into the campground well after the other teams had disappeared, check in with Gary, and then take off.  My team has its own issues with timeliness, so I really felt for these guys.

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The Kennedy clan plays catch-up.  Also, my car is still covered in frost.
I lucked out by getting a partner who is really familiar with the area, so over the course of the day we checked out a couple of the highlights of Ha Ha Tonka.  We arrived at our station almost an hour early, so we killed time by checking out the nearby spring.

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The average flow of the spring is 58 million gallons of water a day.
We certainly couldn't complain about the view Gary and Ellen had given us for the morning.  The lake view was gorgeous, and we could see the castle ruins on the opposite bluff.  The early morning chill gave way to an absolutely lovely day, and I was quickly glad I'd dressed in layers.

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Rough life. ;)

Our job was to mark down the times teams arrived, make sure they carried their canoes to the parking lot, and then check to make sure they had several items of required gear: everyone's headlamp and whistle, and the team cell phone and UTM tool.  A gear check is stressful because if a team doesn't pass, they don't get credit for that CP, and you don't want to be the person who tells them that, even if rules are rules.  Also, it can get pretty hectic when a bunch of teams are all in at once, wanting to get through the gear check and on their way. Doug and I did our best to work together, be efficient, and get teams moving as quickly as possible.

Photo credit: Doug Arendt

Working an early CP is nice because you get to see all of the teams (and inadvertently insult at least one of them...sorry Laura!) and your job is finished relatively soon.  Of course, both Doug and I had signed on for the whole day, but we had a break in between assignments, so we dropped off Doug A (the photographer) at the bike drop and then did a little sightseeing.

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The castle
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Lake view from the castle...not to shabby.  The parking lot on the left is where our CP was.
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Natural
Because there were trekking CPs in this same area, we got to see a few of the later teams as we hiked around.  The day had warmed up into an absolutely glorious day, and in addition to adventure racers the park was filled with families hiking and picnicking.  I felt for the racers, though, because the first warm day is definitely a mixed blessing since no one is really acclimated for heat after our polar vortex winter.

Sightseeing finished, we headed back to race HQ to drop off our paperwork and pick up our next assignment.  The way back covered some crazy steep hills, and I was glad Doug was driving so I could admire the view without worrying about steering us off a cliff.  The road into the campground was so hilly that every time I drove it I was thankful Jeff and Jacob hadn't come (because I'm not sure our van could've towed our camper up it!) and that I didn't have to ride my bike up it.  Somehow, though, while I was relaxing around race HQ talking to Ellen and Doug I started thinking...I wonder if I could ride up it?

Eventually, of course, I decided to try.  Ellen gave me the map to our next station, and I left a while before Doug so I could ride to it.  Expecting to pass one of the orange and white checkpoint flags marking our spot, I rode right past it and all the way to the cross road before I realized my mistake.  Luckily, I had the map.

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Trying and failing to replicate the previous day's uber-flattering angle.
I'd planned to ride a little of the ATV trails on the map, but finding our (unflagged) spot, I remembered that WE were the CP and so it didn't need a flag.  No big deal, except that Doug didn't know that and might not find the spot if I wasn't there.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really didn't want to descend this hill in the dark when we were finished at our CP.  Instead of covering any additional trails, I just rode back down to meet up with Doug at the HQ.

Our second assignment was to set up CP14 on the gravel campground road at an intersection with an ATV trail.  We were about 500m from the finish line, and teams expecting to cruise downhill to finish a tough race were instead greeted with our smiling faces...and a "bonus map" with 5 additional CPs.  Between the gear check and now this, Gary and Ellen must have been on a mission to make us the least popular volunteers.  And it was pretty effective.

We had about an hour's wait before the first team showed up, and I slowly started adding layers back as the day cooled.  At almost 4:00, we heard a team climbing our hill and saw the smiling faces of Alpine Shop. Well, they were smiling until we handed them the map.

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David and Jeff look over this evil new twist.
They were less than enthused, and this was by far the most positive response we got.  Thankfully no one shot the messengers. One team, riding off with the map, muttered, "F-in bonus. I hate bonus."  Another, on seeing us, groaned, "Oh, no...not another gear check!"  We tried to sweeten our bad news with cookies, and that seemed to help a little bit. 

The distance between teams had spread out a lot by the end of the race, so we never got much of a rush at this CP, but it was always exciting to hear voices coming up the hill or (after dark) to see the bike lights heading our way.  Judging from the faces, it had been a good, but tough, day.

It was a good, but long, day for us, and I was pretty glad when Gary showed up at 8 (or 8:30, I don't even remember now) to hang a flag for anyone who was still on the course and send us back down to race HQ.  As much as I love to hang around after a race and talk, I still had a 4 hour drive home waiting, so I said a couple quick goodbyes and scooted out of there. 

I made it home just before 1 a.m.  It would have been nice to have someone to share the driving with, but I caught my second wind after the first hour or so and was ok after that.  Was going on my own ideal? Not particularly, but it was worth it.  I had a fun weekend, rode some new trails, saw friends, met cool people, and still got to be part of the race.  That definitely beats missing out.

Race results and pictures
Emily's blog about Alpine Shop's race
Toporadicals's blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Adventure racing for cheapskates


Adventure racing, while being the coolest sport on the planet, can present some obstacles to the budget-minded athlete. Prospective racers first face the hurdle of acquiring basic gear, but it doesn’t stop there. Unlike camping, where most expenses are incurred at the start, after gear is accumulated racers still have to pony up for entry fees…which don’t necessarily come cheap.

Now, my definition of “cheap” may be different than yours, so let’s clarify that. In my brief adventure racing career, I’ve paid between $100 and $225 for most races. Compared to the $130 registration fee for a Rock’n'Roll series half marathon, of course, or $675 for an official Ironman race, adventure racing looks like a bargain!

It's definitely a great value, especially when you consider the cost in terms of time on the course. Calculated that way, the LBL Challenge cost me $6/hr — far cheaper than even a small, local 5K. Even so, it’s a big chunk of money to lay out at one time, and with additional expenses of nutrition, travel, and race-specific gear, the cost can be downright prohibitive for someone on a tight budget. Caught between a love for adventure and a need to pay the bills, what’s an adventure-hungry cheapskate to do?

Happily, there are some things you can do to remain on the AR circuit and safeguard your credit score. Financial barriers crop up in three main areas: gear, race fees, and travel expenses. We’ll look at each category.

Save on gear:

My beloved (bargain) Osprey pack and trail shoes ready to race
  • Research. Know what you need and what features matter to you. The most expensive gear is that which sits in the closet unused because it doesn’t suit your needs.
  • Hit up sales. Outdoor stores have great seasonal sales. Watch for these like a hawk. Alpine Shop at REI both have annual gear swaps/yard sales where you can get huge deals.
  • The internet is your friend. Often you can find better prices for new items on Amazon.com than in-store, and TheClymb has great bargains. You can also check out sites like GearTrade.com, where people sell new or gently used outdoor sports items at a discount. I got my AR pack there for about half of what it would have cost new. Of course, there's always Craigslist and ebay.
  • Beg, borrow, or steal: you’ve built your Personal Adventure Network, now work it. The endurance community is full of amazing, generous people. Maybe you can borrow an item from a friend who’s not racing. Just make sure you return things in good condition.
  • Gift list: Remember when your birthday list stretched for miles? Welcome back to those days. You’ll never again groan, “I don’t knoooooow,” when asked what you want for Christmas. Be specific. If your loved one isn’t an adventure racer, they won’t know what qualities are important in a pack/compass/headlamp.
  • Prioritize (part 1): You probably have a full closet. Dedicate the money you would have spent on that cute new pair of shoes to your adventure fund. My wardrobe has gotten a little stale, but bushwhacking through backcountry is way more fun than fighting mall crowds, right?
  • Make do. I’m still packing a bulky Target fleece sweatshirt while saving for the Patagonia shirt I really want. It’s a pain to fit into my pack, but it fulfills the requirements until I can afford better.
OK, you’ve checked off every item on the required gear list, but there’s nothing worse than having a bunch of great gear taking up space in your garage because you can’t afford to race.

Save on race fees:
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Working gear check at the 2014 BonkHard Chill
  •  Volunteer – You can receive valuable swag and discounts on race fees as well as feeding your AR habit by being a part of the race and meeting new people. Just don’t take it personally if they’re too busy punching their passport to shake hands.
  • Volunteer your family – You’re involving them in something you love, and if they don’t want to race, you get their coupons. Win – win.
  • Prioritize (part 2): Cut back on events. Unless you’re independently wealthy, there’s only so much race money to go around. The year I started adventure racing I paid for 17 running / biking races. The second year: 7. Sometimes it stinks to miss out, but it’s worth the trade-off.
  • Make your own adventure – Adventure races don’t always have to be something you pay for. You can have a blast at non-races, virtual races, hike/bike adventures, or practicing at local orienteering courses.
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Climbing barbed wire fences for FREE at the 2012 Carnage at the Creek non-race

Once your garage looks like an outfitter’s warehouse and your registration has been sent off, all that remains is getting there!

Save on travel:

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A cozy ride to the Perfect 10 orienteering race

  • Carpool – Ride with friends is more fun anyway, and you can share the pain (or switch drivers) on the way back when everyone is wiped out from that long race.
  • Race locally – Limiting yourself to events within driving distance eliminates the cost of plane fare and the hassle of shipping bikes and gear. What constitutes “driving distance” can be determined by the team.
  • Share your hotel room – My team crams as many people as the hotel will allow into our room. It gets cozy, but if you can’t tolerate each other in close quarters you shouldn’t be racing together under pressure for the next 24 hours. Plus, being the only girl on the team I get the guaranteed perk of a bed to myself.
  • Camp — It’s even cheaper than filling your hotel room like a clown car, and while you’ll still hear the snores, at least you won’t be smelling what 24 hours of Ensure can do to a stomach.
  • Take advantage of local friends/family: I’m slightly notorious for my love of the Acquaintance Motel. If we’ve met (sometimes if we haven’t) and I’m traveling near you, you’ll probably get a phone call. Don’t worry, though. I’m comfortable on the floor, I’ll be gone most of the time, and I can get my own breakfast…probably an Ensure.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gravel double

Alternate title: If a bike ride doesn't have a GPS track, did it ever really happen?

***Catching up on last weekend's goings on***

Saturday (3/8):
Finally, finally the weather forecast was semi-favorable, and we made sure to take advantage of the polar vortex's absence.  At the ridiculous hour of 7:00, Chuck, Lori, Bob, Mickey, Justin, and I met up at the Mound parking lot to take on some gravel.  We were planning a pretty relaxed pace, so Mickey took off to get in some extra miles while the rest of us took pictures and waited for Chuck to take off his fender, a job which ended up being a little more involved than he'd anticipated.

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Photo credit: BLD Jenkins

The weather, too, wasn't quite what we'd anticipated.  Between the wind and temps that never made it into the 40's, Justin was regretting his decision to wear shorts and I was very thankful for the jacket I'd considered leaving behind.  Luckily the roads in Busch were more sheltered from the wind, and as long as we were moving we stayed pretty comfortable.

We looped around on the gravel roads weaving through the area.  With a five hour ride planned, we weren't too worried about where we went, so instead we just explored, enjoyed the company, and headed where our wheels pointed us.  Lori spotted a new bridge and trail, so of course we had to check that out.  Justin had stopped at the top of the hill when we all rode down; we'd thought he was just shedding a layer or grabbing a bite to eat, but when he didn't join us after a while I headed back up to check on him.  We'd ridden across the bridge and were hanging out right on the other side, so I rode back across it, braving (hey, for me it's brave) the foot-plus drop down from the bridge.  I made it ok, but my positioning on the bike probably wasn't ideal and the landing didn't feel great.

Justin was at the top of the hill working on his bike after the crank had almost fallen off.  He got it secure enough to ride downhill, and then he, Bob, and Chuck played bike mechanic while Lori and I supervised. Once they had it more or less fixed, we headed back across the bridge to tackle more gravel.  This time I decided I'd just walk my bike down the step I'd ridden before.  Instead of climbing off the bike and walking it down, though, I somehow thought it was a good idea to stand over the bike and walk down still straddling it.  It was a big step, though, and after my front wheel touched down the bike just kept going...and so did I, right onto my back.  It's a little ironic that my biggest fall on a bike is from walking it. I laid there on the ground, laughing my ass off while Bob dug for his camera, telling me, "Don't you DARE get up!"

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Bike yoga
Lori wasn't really feeling it after a rough couple days, so she headed back while the rest of us rode on for a while longer.  A big highlight of the morning was seeing a bobcat dash out into the road and then dart back into the woods.  I've never seen one in the wild before.  A lowlight was the fact that my bike seat, which I'd raised the night before, slowly slipped back down until my riding position was fairly uncomfortable and hard on my knees, and because the bolt was pretty stripped out, there was no mid-ride adjustment (I shouldn't be allowed to touch my own bike).  We ended up with around 30 miles for the morning and probably did almost as much hanging out as riding (4:30 total ride time, 2:51 actual moving time).  Overall, while I didn't feel amazing I felt pretty good and was happy with the chill pace, knowing the following day was going to be tough.

Sunday (3/9):

The intersection of Daylight Saving time with a 7:30 a.m. rollout (and an hour-plus drive to get there) left me a little grouchy, and to add insult to sleep deprivation, I the forecast high of mid-50's certainly hadn't led me to expect starting temps in the 20's.  I knew I'd be fine once we got started, but that didn't keep me from indulging in a little facebook whining.


Mickey was kind enough to bring me my own cue sheet, which I promptly forgot in my car, and once we were sufficiently bundled up we headed East on the Katy for a minute before turning onto Defiance Rd. We were riding part of a route he'd put together for a ride earlier in the month that ended up being iced out, and it turned out that a large portion of the route was on pavement.  It felt sooo much easier than all the gravel we've been riding lately, and what it may have lacked in challenge it made up for in quiet rural beauty.

Before long we were turning onto the first gravel road of the day, Femme Osage Ridge Rd.  As nice as the pavement had been, I was happy to be on gravel again. Somehow less maintained roads tend to be even more scenic.

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Look...the sun!
Soon after turning onto the gravel we crossed a bridge, and in the water next to it were a bunch of dead birds.  They didn't look like they'd been there for too long, and there was no obvious cause of death.  Weird. If I was a Virtus boy, I'd have a picture of them to put here or have pretended to eat one or something, but I'm a Virtus girl, and so you get nothing. Sorry about that.

The ridge road started out nice and flat, but it quickly became an intimidating (to me) climb.  Usually I manage to freak myself out about uphills and have developed a nasty habit of giving up way too early, but this time I just told myself, "Just do what you can..." and I guess this kinder, gentler approach worked because eventually I made it to the top.  I was pretty happy with myself that I made it to the top.

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I may have looked slightly less energetic at the top of the hill than this portrays.
(Photo credit: Mickey)
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I'll move over to the sunny side of the road, but I'm not lifting my bike again...
Mickey was nice enough to play blog photographer again (he's so much happier when he hasn't just gone swimming in freezing water), and because the downhill ended up being nicely paved with good visibility and limited curves, I didn't keep my usual death grip on the brakes and ended up hitting 40 mph...a new high speed for me.  Good stuff all over.

My speed PR high only lasted until we hit Schleursburg Rd, with a climb that looked (and felt!) like it went on forevvvvver.  Having made it up the previous big hill made me more determined to stick it out on this one...or maybe I just didn't feel like I could quit on it if I'd ridden the other one.  Whatever the reason, I managed to make it to the top eventually.  Mickey had ridden partway back down to encourage me/ make sure I didn't give up, and he "motivated" me with gems like "Woooo, we're having fun now!" and "Wanna pop wheelies?" while I gasped for breath, and suggested things like, "Wanna fall over and die?"

There was a nice, flat section at the top where I could recover ("Are you moving? Keep pedaling!") before flying down another fun (I can't believe I just said that) downhill.  I am still FAR from brave on hills, but I've made a lot of progress and now can at least keep the braking to a minimum on smooth roads with good sight lines.  On this downhill I hit 43 mph --  a second speed PR in the same ride.  We passed these guys after the hill and had to stop for a picture.  They found us far less interesting than we found them.

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Longhorns
 We detoured down Calloway Fork Rd, a gravel road off of Hwy F that looked interesting.  It featured several creek crossings, but unlike our last foray into cold weather creek crossings, Calloway Fork had several new low-water bridges and almost no spots where our tires got wet.  It was another really pretty road, and I lagged behind Mickey admiring the view all around me.  The first 3.5 miles were relatively flat, and the hill started right about when the thick new gravel did.

I slooooooowly made my way up the hill, buoyed by my previous two hill conquests, but I was having a tough time and I really had to go to the bathroom.  Mickey rode back down -- "Almost there! You've got this..." -- and then back up.  I looked past him and the hill only seemed steeper.  Disheartened, I stopped and stood over my bike catching my breath.  Resigned at first to walking the rest of the way up the hill, I took advantage of my wimp-out to take a bathroom break and then decided to try to finish riding the hill (which I did).

This was definitely a better hill-riding day than some of the ones I've had lately, but that success was a bit of a double-edged sword.  One one hand, yea I rode the hills!  On the other hand, somehow that made the thought of needing to walk a future hill that much more stressful, and each uphill was starting to feel like a personal affront.  I mentioned to Mickey that I'd be perfectly content to skip Duke and Terry roads.  Pretending he thought I was joking, he led me up Matson Hill Rd (the paved part) to Duke road, reassuring me that it turned out that we were tackling Duke from the "easier" side.

Whatever. Turns out that's like saying giving birth to a 9 lb baby is easier than a 10 lb baby.  It might be true, but they both hurt like hell.  We started Duke at the top of a hill, and never having ridden it I happily asked, "Oh, we're riding the downhill part?!"

"Yes," Mickey replied, and then continued, "you do realize I'm just agreeing with you, right?"  I kind of ignored this part and blissfully sailed down the hill; my bliss was interrupted with the sight of an uphill.  I might have inadvertently taught a couple kids who were playing outside a new word at that point.  Thankfully the hills on Duke were rolling hills.  That was a big help, though at one point I counted a little too much on momentum, didn't downshift soon enough, and had to walk the last 20 feet or so of a hill.  A little later, I stopped a climb maybe 200 feet from the top and walked the rest of it.

Other than those two blips, I rode every hill of the day over our 50 mile ride.  I couldn't wait to go home and upload my Garmin and look at the route.  Unfortunately, it had some kind of software malfunction and lost ALL of my data from the weekend.  In this "garmin link or it didn't happen" day, I guess that means I'm going to have to reride the route (and hills).  In the meantime, Mickey's elevation graph will have to do.
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His shows like 57 miles bc he rode 7 extra miles while waiting for me, but the hills should be basically accurate.
Definitely a tough ride for me, but riding hills like that is exactly what I need to be ready for Dirty Kanza. Well, that and longer miles.  It's 2.5 months away and I'm starting to get nervous about my lack of long rides.  Hopefully I can kick it into gear pretty soon here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Adventure Racing 101: How to build you Personal Adventure Network


In education, the Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a popular concept. Basically, a PLN is a network of resources — blogs, websites, and individuals — that inform and inspire you in your career. Similarly, aspiring (or active) adventure racers can benefit from building a personal adventure network. You can’t overestimate the benefits of knowing what to expect, learning answers to questions you haven’t even thought of, or just seeing a familiar face out on the course.

When I fell for adventure racing, I knew nothing about it beyond what I’d seen on Checkpoint Tracker’s live race coverage, but that soon changed. Over the next year, I embarked on my own personal course in adventure racing, and though my first official race was hardly a resounding success (we were disqualified for missing the time cut-off), it was an absolute blast. I attribute my ability to have fun even while lost in the woods after 13 hours of racing to the mental preparation my personal adventure network afforded me.
Here are some tips for building your own personal adventure network:

1. Explore race websites: These include basic details about the races and required gear lists. Some have suggested links to organizations where you can learn more about facets of adventure racing (orienteering clubs, for example) as well as recaps of past races. Many will list the teams who are already registered, along with links to their websites/blogs.
2. Dig into blogs. I read every word of my friend Patrick’s post about his first adventure race and then looked up his ROCK Racing friends who had also competed. If you don’t have a personal AR connection, start with the teams listed on your target race’s website or google “adventure race”, “adventure race reports”, or the name of any race or team that has caught your eye.  Blog posts are filled with helpful information and can give a clear picture of the ups and downs of a long adventure race.
3. Be a Facebook stalker: Many teams (like Team Virtus, my personal favorite) also have Facebook pages. “Like” these pages and you can read about their training and upcoming races, view race pictures, and see links to adventure racing articles you might never have come across.  My stalker tendencies (I'm harmless, I promise!) paid off in spades, eventually leading to a spot on a team.



4. Join the conversation: Comment on the blogs and Facebook pages you’re following. Cheer them on. Ask questions. Most adventure racers love to talk about their sport and many of us are surrounded by family members who are sick of the topic. Interested ears are a refreshing change! In most cases, you'll find that even people on top teams are super cool and very approachable.  Adventure racers want more people drinking our kool-aid.

5. Don’t overlook the little guys: While I logged a lot of time obsessively following perennial front-runner Tecnu‘s progress at the AR World Championships and always benefit from Emily Korsch‘s race lessons, seeing top teams in action is like watching Olympic gymnasts: the things they make look easy are well beyond my abilities at this point. You can also learn a lot from middle-of-the-pack teams, who often come by their lessons the hard way. With careful reading, you might even avoid some of their mistakes.

6. Volunteer: Once the race reports failed to scare me away from adventure racing, my next step was volunteering at a race. It can be surprisingly fun (even in 20-degree weather), and volunteering offers you an up-close view of adventure racing.

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Patrick, looking official(ly) cold.
Since many volunteers are also adventure racers, you’ll add to your AR contacts. Of course, you’ll also see plenty of race staff and participants. They may to be too busy for introductions, but just by being there you’re becoming a more familiar face and helping support a sport you love.  If I can't race, the next best thing is volunteering so I can still be a part of it.

7. Join the club: Orienteering is vital in an adventure race, and mountain biking and paddling are generally featured as well. Some races may include rock climbing or kayaking. Your skill level in any race discipline will definitely impact your success on race day. Look for clubs or groups targeting these sports and join in some of their activities. You’ll have fun and develop your skills while meeting like-minded people (and potential teammates).

Getting ready to start the Hawn Turkey-o #sloc #orienteering
Getting ready to practice nav skills at a St. Louis Orienteering Club meet

8. Say yes: If a team you’re following online hosts an open event and you can go, do it. You’ll meet cool people and gain experience. My first taste of adventure racing was at a “non-race” hosted by a team based 2 hours away from me. While it was no picnic convincing my husband it was a good idea for me to spend the day in the woods with a group of strange men, that 9 hours cemented my love for adventure racing.



9.  Jump in: Preparation and contacts are good, but in the end, the best way to learn about adventure racing is to do it.  Find a teammate, pick a race, and enter.

10. Complete the circle: After all you’ve learned from others, wouldn’t it be nice to give back? If you’re so inclined, start your own blog. Share your training, funny stories, race reports, triumphs, and failures. Blogs afford the ability to connect with others, obsess in print about favorite topics, and collect great memories and pictures in one place. Platforms such a Blogger, WordPress, and Weebly offer free blog hosting and are pretty simple to negotiate.

Use these ten tips and before long your calendar will be full of fun training opportunities and your adventure races will be full of familiar faces!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cold feet

I'm not much of an idea person, so I'm really lucky to have friends who come up with awesome plans and then let me tag along.  It seems to work out pretty well: I get to avoid driving, see cool new places, and have someone along to call the paramedics, and they get comic relief, lots of breaks while waiting for me, and the ego boost that comes with being the stronger rider.  Last April, one of the cool new places "we" discovered was Massas Creek Road, which Chuck and I rode on a route he'd devised after Tour of Hermann.

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Chuck making one of the many creek crossings look easy.
We both loved Massas Creek Road, despite (or because of) amounts of gravel that at times made it seem we were riding in the creek bed instead of just across it.  There were plenty of creek crossings as well, some that were ridable and some where we carried our bikes through knee-deep water.  It was a blast.

We've talked a lot about going back to Massas Creek, so when Mickey came up with a gravel route that included the nearby Lost Creek Road, I was all for it...even though I had an idea of what we were in for. Wet feet in April...no big deal. Wet feet in February, however, had the potential to be a little less pleasant.

Mickey was unconcerned.

It's a measure of just what a follower I am that, despite what I knew, this assurance was good enough for me...even when Saturday's glorious warmth was followed by a steep overnight drop in temperatures.  There were all kinds of cool things going on in St. Louis, so in the end it was just Mickey and me who set off on the 30 degree morning for a 45-mile gravel loop.  I'd forgotten to put on a buff to cover my neck and face from the wind, so my face was pretty cold until it got numb.  Overall, though, once we got going the temperature felt fine.

The first few miles were pavement, and these were followed by a nice stretch of well-packed gravel.  Even though I should be all about getting lots of practice riding on rough roads, I was still thankful to be rolling along smoothly.  Mickey, on the other hand, was ready for something a little more challenging.  "I hope we get a little more gravel," he mentioned.  As if some fairy gravel godmother was granting his wishes, we rounded the next curve to much chunkier gravel and the first creek crossing.  Soon after that we got our feet wet the first time.

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I need more practice with these, but I made it most of the way through.

The morning was pretty gray, but the scenery was beautiful.  The trees bordering the road were liberally blazed with the purple that indicates private property, which is a real shame because it looked like there was a lot of cool stuff in the woods to explore...hills, rock outcroppings and overhangs, reentrants...I spent a lot of time trying to envision how the area would look on a topographical map.

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Since the road followed the creek bottom, it was fairly flat, but you can see that the hill to the right is pretty steep.
Counting back now on the GPS map from the ride, it looks like there were 19 creek crossings on the way out...I don't remember there being quite that many, but we rode through a lot of water.  Some of the crossings were short or shallow enough to ride across, but many of them I'd get part way across and then end up walking.  I remember hitting a fairly short one with all kinds of confidence, only to realize once I hit the water that it was quite a bit deeper than I'd expected.

As you can imagine, our feet were pretty wet.  I was wearing one pair of merino wool socks, my bike shoes, and some (non-waterproof) shoe covers.  Even though I was soaked, the shoe covers at least cut down on the chill by blocking wind.  I wasn't particularly comfortable, but I wasn't miserable.  Mickey, with no shoe covers or even plastic baggies inside his shoes, was less lucky, and I'm pretty sure he was freezing.  And it only got better.

We'd just crossed one short creek crossing when we rode a brief stretch of gravel and then came upon the section of road in the picture below.  The creek between the raised gravel bars? That's the road.  I was standing at about the midpoint to take this picture, with a similar amount of underwater road behind me. Since my feet were already soaked, I didn't bother with walking the dry gravel, and I actually made it about halfway across before losing momentum and putting down my foot.  Mickey made it almost that far before stopping, but just as he unclipped his right foot, his front wheel hit a deeper patch of gravel and threw his balance to the left.  Still clipped in on that side, he toppled over into the water.  The really, really cold water.

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Only somebody really hardcore goes swimming on a 30* day.
I'm not sure he appreciated the fact that I laughed my ass off, but he got me back by hopping up before I could get a picture.  To help you visualize how it looked, though, let me remind you of this little gem from January:

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Just imagine this move, in slightly warmer water.
My friends joke (well, it's not really a joke because it's totally accurate) that you can tell how I'm feeling by the amount of talking I'm doing.  When I get quiet it's usually a sign that I'm not doing well either physically or mentally.  By the same token, though Mickey wasn't complaining, the total lack of pictures he took might indicate how cold he was.  Either that, or he's getting tired of playing blog photographer. ;-)

 We rode a few miles further down the road, passing more cool scenery and one section with trees marked with the blue blazes that signify public land.  I was excited to see a spot that could be explored (a future date) without trespassing.  Looks like it's an old cemetery, so you know we're going to have to go check it out.

On one hand, I was thoroughly enjoying the ride.  There's something awesome about being out in non-ideal weather and making it work for you, in doing something as stupid as riding across creeks in freezing temperatures, and in seeing new places from your bike.  On the other hand, I was slower than I felt like I should be (seems like every ride lately features me thinking, As much as I'm riding lately I should be stronger/faster than this...how am I going to finish Dirty Kanza?), and when I thought about it I was pretty cold.  Because of this, when I caught up with Mickey and he brought up cutting the ride short, I was entirely un-heartbroken.

In fact, even though I hadn't even considered turning around, as soon as the decision was made I couldn't wait to get back to the car.  The 12 miles back seemed to take forever. Of course, the ride back was complicated by our inability to shift gears.  At first I blamed my cold hands; when they're numb it can be difficult to use the right pressure to get my double tap shifters to move the chain the right way.  I reacted exactly the way my husband does when the computer is moving too slowly...repeatedly hitting the non-responsive levers.
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The picture really doesn't do the amount of ice justice.
Eventually I realized that ice coated my bike, freezing over the derailleurs and rendering my bike a virtual singlespeed.  A glossy frozen sheen covered the lower tubes, and chunks of ice built up between my cranks and feet. Unfortunately the gear I was left with was too hard for the climbs, a little low for the flats, and way too low for the downhills.  Despite my nonresponsive derailleurs, I couldn't keep myself from trying over and over to shift, and eventually I got a gear or two back, but only when my bike would randomly shift on its own.

I was thrilled to hit first the smooth gravel and then pavement.  We'd flipped the original route to ride Hwy U early in order to avoid traffic.  Since we changed to an out-and-back instead of a loop, we ended up hitting U again when it was considerably busier.  Thankfully, the drivers were unfailingly courteous, passing safely and giving us wide berth.  The highlight of this section was definitely passing a pasture full of cows that ran along in a group beside us as we passed.  It reminded me of a similar scene during my first attempt at Dirty Kanza.

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Kind of hard to see, but the cows are kind of in the middle of the picture.

By the time we got back to the car I was freezing cold and really glad to be finished.  Had we followed our original plan, we'd have only been about halfway done.  Definitely a good call to stop early, and one that I wouldn't have been smart enough to make.  Sometimes I let myself off way too easy, and sometimes I'm so wrapped up in not being a quitter or complainer that I stay committed when maybe I should question what I'm doing.

My first order of business after climbing off of my bike was to get into dry socks and shoes, but I couldn't do it.  My shoe covers were literally frozen solid, and with my numb hands I couldn't pull them off of my shoes. Thankfully Mickey took pity on me and pulled them enough that I could take them off; otherwise I'd have had to let them thaw in the car.

All in all, while it wasn't the ride we had planned, I'm glad we went.  Even if our feet turned to ice cubes, it was a great day and is going to be a fantastic route...when the temperatures warm up.  Mickey (may have) learned to listen to my occasional voice of experience, I learned that blindly toughing it out isn't always the best choice, and we picked up a few additional pointers: