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Monday, September 29, 2014

The one that got away (The 2014 Berryman Adventure Race)

I love adventure racing. Love it. Love being out in the woods all day, love doing stupid-long races. Love paddling  mountain biking and trekking through the woods and following the map my navigator through the middle of nowhere to reach that orange and white flag. I even love poison ivy coming home with scratches, scrapes, and bruises, the sick souvenirs of war stories I can tell over and over again.  Love race reports and pictures, evil race directors and wonderful volunteers. Love the fantastic AR community and the way that the top teams are super cool and friendly even when you're nowhere near their class.

Most of all, I love my teammates. I have the best, most fun teammates in the world. And I've been very lucky, in cases where my regular teammates aren't able to race, to have had the chance to race with some other great people, most recently competing as "Age Before Beauty" with my buddy Chuck of ROCK Racing.  We raced together last month at Thunder Rolls, where a combination of my lack of fitness and a sucktastic canoe left me in "just get through it" mode for the second half of the race.  I showed up for Berryman 6 pounds lighter and with a month of solid training behind me, and we agreed to try to stay in "race mode" and see how well we could do.

Our trainwreck of a pre-race day was topped off by my worst night of sleep since the night before Dirty Kanza; I checked the clock at least once an hour.  The silver lining, of course, is that it's pretty easy to get up early when you aren't sleeping anyway.  We were in and out of the bike drop before it got insanely packed and back at race HQ in plenty of time to beat the morning rush to the porta johns and then stress over food.

"I'm not sure I have enough."

"Well, it's only twelve hours..." (Actually 16, but who's counting?)


Just before 7 a.m. the pack gathered before the BonkHard arch, Gary said go, and we ran down the first sketchy, rock-strewn trail of the day.  Worried about face-planting, I kept my eyes glued to the ground, seeing my typical trail run view: Chuck's heels.  In what seemed like no time we were at the first CP.  I jogged past it, congratulating Chuck, "Way to go!" and waited for a moment before I realized that I was the one with the passport and needed to punch before we moved on.


We popped out onto a gravel road and headed uphill.  The rising sun was shining through a light fog, just a beautiful morning.  Runners ahead of us faded into the mist...it was such a cool adventure racing sight.

Guess you'll have to take my word for it. Race mode is not conducive to good pictures.
As we jogged uphill, we passed one of the other two-person co-ed teams ("That's Going to Leave a Mark"), and they started running too.  They were to become a familiar sight for much of the day.  Chuck found our attack point for the next checkpoint, and we dove back into the woods, clambering through underbrush reminiscent of Thunder Rolls before gratefully moving into clearer area. Our nav was clean, and I was pretty excited to run into the always-speedy Off the Front team on our way to the pond checkpoint.  From there we cut through the woods, across a field, ran down a gravel road, and then cut into another field towards the silo checkpoint.

Ground gargoyles

The field was flat and we could see TGTLAM ahead of us, so we started running towards the silo.  We'd been told that our feet were going to get wet during that canoe leg, but our shoes were dew-soaked before we'd gone a few yards.  "Watch out for ground gargolyes," Chuck warned as we ran through the grass.

For what? He's half deaf, but I was the one who wasn't hearing right.  "Watch out for groundhog holes."

Chuck: Maybe more than half deaf, but luckily I have awesome teammates who are always more than willing to make sure I don't miss out (listening to the pre-race instructions, sitting on the right side for mapping, translating conversations with other teams, re-telling jokes with the volunteers, repeating bike leg stories) over and over and over with never a complaint.

It's very nice of Chuck to put such a positive spin on the fact that I tend to repeat myself.

That made more sense but wasn't nearly as entertaining.  We joked as we ran, "Watch out for ground gargoyles.  They will mess you up!"  And another recurring theme for the day: "Ground gargoyles are assholes!"
berryman silo 2
Photo credit: BonkHard Racing
We were closing in on our competition, but the field seemed to go on for-ev-er, as evidenced by the fact that I couldn't muster a smile for the camera.

berryman silo 8
"Are we there yet?" (Told you it was a pretty morning!)
The checkpoint was INSIDE the silo, a climb made even more fun by not being smart enough to take off my pack.

Good times...
We punched the passport and then ran off in search of the canoe put-in, where we saw our friends Dave and Amanda for the first time and got the news that the first canoeing CP was now a trekking one (apparently the canoes were late, so Gary had to make an on-the-fly course adjustment). After getting that last one, we headed back to get our canoe.

Bumper boats and the adventure route

After spending 22 miles in a broken canoe seat at Thunder Rolls, my main priority was finding a canoe with two functional seats.  Luckily enough, one was on the ground next to the canoe pile. Score!  We loaded our packs in and shoved off, just behind our competition, who had arrived at the put-in just after us and transitioned faster.  Our pursuit was interrupted by a quick trip into a log on the opposite riverbank.  I was wondering what the heck Chuck was doing until he spoke up: "That wasn't me!" One of the canoes behind us had pushed us to the side.

berryman canoe 2
Traffic jam! That's us in the middle of the mess. (Photo credit: BonkHard Racing)
We got back on track and did our best to move away from the other canoes.  Paddling is probably never going to be my favorite part of adventure racing, but even I had to enjoy the scene around us.  Peaceful river, sun shining through rising fog, and lots of other canoes in sight.  Being right in the mix was really motivating, and I tried to keep up a good paddling pace.

Race mode in a canoe doesn't preclude good pictures unless you take too many and your partner starts hitting you with his paddle.
We worked to close the gap between us and That's Going to Leave a Mark and were approaching striking distance when we came to a crossroads of sorts.  On the left, a fallen tree blocked the river; on the right, racers ahead of us were getting out of their canoes for a short portage.  We decided our best option was to try to cross the log; failing that, we'd jump out of the canoe, pull it across the log, and hop back in.

It was a good plan, right until we ran up on the log and I hopped out on the other side into neck-deep water.  Chuck's side wasn't much better.  Our quick portage became a slow swim towards the gravel so that we could climb back in, much to the amusement of our buddy Bill and his teammate Nathan. "I wish I had a camera!" Bill called back.  I wish he had, too. It would have been a good picture.

 Chuck: A great example of "Bad decisions make the best stories".  I am so glad we took the alternate route.

Sooooo, our strategy wasn't the most productive and we never managed to catch up with the 2-person coed team we were chasing, but it was fun and the cool water felt good.  And despite our creative routing, our first paddle leg was only ten minutes slower than eventual winner Alpine Shop.  We were pretty pleased with that.

berryman canoe 5 takeout1
Coming into the takeout after paddle 1. Photo credit: BonkHard Racing

Which way is North?

The canoe TA was manned by our friends Carrie Sona, Ron from Team Roadkill, and Ron's wife Stephanie.  I usually only see Ron at Berryman races when I'm lost in the woods, so it was a nice change to know where I was when I ran into him.  We told them about our swim and then headed off on the second trekking leg.  There were 16 CPs available here, including three that were worth two points.  We hiked off in search of CP22, not following our "run the roads" plans but setting a fast pace up the first hill.  In fact, we passed TGTLAM there, slowing to talk for a moment and introduce ourselves since apparently we'd be seeing plenty of each other over the day.

We moved ahead to our attack point and then cut off into the woods in search of our reentrant. The angle we were taking didn't really match up to what I remembered from when we'd plotted the map, but usually that just means I don't know what I'm talking about, so I kept quiet. Following our bearing, we came to...nothing...and eventually ended up back on the road we'd come in on.  We headed uphill for a second go at the CP.  I could tell Chuck was bummed, so I tried to cheer him up, but my cheery "Hey, this hill seems familiar!" didn't go over that well.

We got to the top again and reattacked.  Still nothing.  In most races I have no idea what time it is; I just follow along, happily ignorant of the fact that it's 3 a.m. or we've been trekking for 6 hours or whatever.  Chuck usually races on ROCK Racing with Robin, and she's the timekeeper for them.  On this third time he and I have teamed up I finally bought a watch and so was able to tell him, "I'm not pushing either way here, but just so you know we've been looking for the CP for over an hour."

That was enough for us to decide to skip 22 and move on to the next checkpoint.  We didn't go straight there, but we got it, and then we found a couple more (can you tell I don't have the map in front of me?).  CP17 was on a hilltop, and we initially attacked down the wrong ridge (spur?) before realizing we were on the wrong side of the reentrant.  Downhill from us, we could see a 4-man team who'd made the same mistake and then hiked across the reentrant.  Instead of tackling the steep sides, we backtracked until we could cross at a shallower point.  Once on the other side, Chuck led us right to our CP. We then headed back across the trail and walked straight to CP20.

Stopping there, we studied the map to decide which CPs were close enough to snag and still make it back to the canoe TA by our 4:00 cut-off.  We were still there when Bill and Nathan arrived to punch CP20 and then head back to the canoes.  After talking with them, we decided it made more sense to get the one remaining nearby CP (18) and then finish the trek early.  18 didn't come easy, though, and I think it was on our initial (and incorrect) attack that we realized Chuck's compass was totally screwed up (thanks I guess to the magnet on his pack).  That explained a lot about our struggles with the first CP of this trek.

 I tested my compass against a known good one after returning home from the race and found it was pointing about 30 degrees west of north.  I never knew a compass could just go bad.  A google search confirmed it though.  Nothing to do but throw it away and replace it.

We pulled out my compass, but it was acting unreliable as well.  Awesome.  We backtracked and reattacked down another spur, this time using the sun to set our bearing.  Even after Chuck showed me the map and explained what we were doing, I was totally unconvinced that we were going the right way.  He's the navigator, though, so I followed along, lagging slightly behind, holding my compass and watching it lazily move around as I walked in a straight line.  It wasn't until we saw our 2-p coed nemeses hiking towards us that I started to have some confidence in our route, and that's why I told Chuck that he should be the one to punch the passport.

I'm sorry I doubted you!
We took a minute here so that I could dump all the junk out of my shoes and Chuck could take some pictures of the view.  We were pretty high up, which was a shame because the canoe TA wasn't that far away...except that it was way down.  Planning to hike back down that looooong spur, we peeked over the edge.  "Hmmmm...I think we could make it..."

This really doesn't do justice to how steep it was.
The hillside was steep and covered with loose rocks ("These rocks are assholes!") that wanted to roll under your feet, but we picked our way down without breaking any hips in the process.  From there, it was a fairly short hike across a flat floodplain-type area to the canoes.  There was only one problem, which we both realized at the same time: "Nettle!"  Luckily there wasn't much of it, so we contemplated the pleasure of stepping on the plant and the prospect of making nettle wine.  We made it back to the TA 9 minutes ahead of That's Going to Leave a Mark, so if they went straight to the TA from CP18 our route had been much faster; on the other hand, we assumed they'd gotten more CPs on the trek and were ahead of us on points.  All the same, there was a lot of race left.

berryman trek 2 canoe 2 pi2
I love this picture.
Our friends greeted our return: "Super Kate!! ...and Chuck!" The temperature had definitely climbed and we were both light on water, so we were glad to refill at the TA while discussing our team name, specifically which of us was "Age" and which was "Beauty" (obviously Chuck).  I took a moment to soak my shirt in the river before we started (glorious), and then "we" shoved back off onto the river.

River Idol

berryman trek 2 canoe 2 pi4
There's no chivalry in AR, and I'm cool with that.
Unlike the more crowded first paddle leg, this time we were pretty much alone on the river.  Anybody who races with me is subjected to stories about previous races and teammates, so as we paddled I remarked, "This is where Luke would start singing, but I can't think of a song."

With that, Chuck broke into "Hotel California", and we spent the next while paddling happily down the river singing badly as we stumbled over the lyrics.  Having no other canoes in sight made it hard to keep the same kind of focus we'd had earlier, but I was still thankful that no other ears were maimed by our serenade.

There were a couple of short portages on this leg (with no "adventure option") as well as one CP, and we handled them efficiently and without incident.  We eventually passed one other 2-person coed team, and though the team we'd been seeing all day long was closing in, we stayed ahead of them into the TA which (for maybe the first time EVER), came before we were expecting it.

berryman canoe2 out1
Photo credit: BonkHard Racing

We hit the canoe take-out at 4 p.m. exactly, nine hours into the race.  We punched our passport and then hiked the km uphill to the bike drop. I think this is the longest I've ever gone in a race before getting to the bikes.  Once there, the volunteers gave us a new set of coordinates to plot for the bike leg back to the race HQ.  Big thanks to Dead Bronco Society for lending us a highlighter to mark our way!

berryman bike 3
Photo credit: BonkHard
After plotting our points, Chuck looked over the map while I changed into bike shorts, filled camelbaks, and stuffed food from our drop bag into my pack.  We split a nasty Monster drink, and then we checked out of the TA, happy to finally be on our bikes.

Blind date bike trails

berryman bike 7
Possibly the only time in  history I've started on the trail ahead of one of the guys. And it lasted for about 30 seconds before we switched so I could see Chuck ride things before I did.
So here's how I explained these bike trails: you know how you're all excited for a date, and then the guy shows up and he's an asshole? The trails were similarly disappointing.  These were not our buff, groomed St. Louis area singletrack. They were rough, rocky horse trails, and I was really nervous and uncomfortable on them.  Ride, get off and walk a big hill, ride, get off and lift your bike over a fallen tree. Repeat.  I took a lousy line not far in and flatted my front tire badly enough that it wouldn't seal up and we had to put a tube in, and while we were there airing it up the Dead Broncos rode up and thanked us for stopping right by the CP.

The what?? We'd been so preoccupied by the flat that we hadn't noticed the flag hanging just off the trail.  That's two we owed those guys! After punching our passport, we moved further down the trail so as not to make it any easier on anyone else.  I never really got any trail mojo and was walking up a hill when Chris and Joanne passed us for good, looking far better than I did.  I mentioned not loving the trails, and she told me that that's how most of their trails were.  I guess in that respect our nice trails are a mixed blessing.

We popped out onto a gravel road and took that around to the next CP.  It was SO nice to be riding fast! We overshot our turn at first but then back tracked and hopped onto the fire road that would take us back to the trails for the checkpoint, meeting Joanne and Chris as they came from the other direction.  "Ahhh, took the easy way?" they teased.  "Route choice, baby!" we laughed.

This checkpoint was a manned one, so we got to run into Dave and Amanda again.  They punched our passport, checked to make sure we had red blinky taillights on our bikes, and then sent us on our way, warning of trails ahead that would make me look forward to Greensfelder (the local trails that most intimidate me).  Not happy news.  The next section of trail wasn't bad at all, much of it grassy doubletrack or smoother dirt, but Dave's warning stuck with me.

We found CP30(?), which was the same as one of our paddling CPs, then pushed our bikes up a gigantic steep hill.  I was dying.  Partway up, Chuck slowed down, took my bike, and pushed both bikes so I could catch my breath.  We got CP31 near a field, then headed back onto the singletrack; I think this section was some of the nicest of the day, swoopy and smooth, much more fun to ride than the rest.  We punched CP32 just off the trail, and then I had a suggestion.  I'd been watching the growing dusk with trepidation; I was struggling enough on the trails in the light, and I'm not a fan of riding even nice trail in the dark.

"What if we skip 33, just get 34, and then head into race HQ? We know there are going to be some points on the road in the next section; I'll be faster on the road in the dark than on the trails."  After some discussion, that's what we decided to do. I had somehow overlooked the fact that we actually had two more CPs before race HQ, and one important fact we both missed, despite the fact that we had it marked specially on both the passport and the map, was that CP33 was worth 2 points, a detail of some importance, as it turned out.

34 and 35 didn't come super easy, but the trails weren't the issue, we just initially overshot them both. I wasn't crushing the singletrack, but I wasn't nearly as nervous as I'd been before.  It always takes me a while to get comfortable on trails; I wish I'd just been more patient with myself rather than letting my initial nervousness get into my head and suggesting a change in our race plan based on fear rather than strategy.

Even though I didn't have a death grip on my handlebars anymore, I was still really happy to ride into race HQ at nearly 8:00, finally finished with that bike leg.  Gary greeted us: "What did you think of the trails?"

"Sub-awesome," I replied.

thumbs down photo: thumbs down thumbsdown.jpg
Cherry picking checkpoints

Carrie took our passport and gave us a new map and clue sheet for the next section of the race. We grabbed some food to eat while plotting.  A quick scan of the clue sheet had us editing the remainder of the course: a mountain biking section on the same type of trails we'd just ridden (nope!); a trekking section (maybe); and a road section (we'll see). All of the points were optional; you just had to get them in number order (so if you got CP 4, there was no going back for 1-3).

Instead of taking the time to plot everything, we kind of roughly figured out where some of the points were.  We ended up deciding to ride roads to CP7 (worth 2 points), then ride to the trekking TA, which was also worth two points (one checking in, one checking out).  Because we had no intentions of any more foot travel, we left the additional weight of our trail shoes back at the Jeep and headed, somewhat grudgingly, back into the race.

The route to CP7 was primarily pavement, and after a long day of racing it was a joy to ride.  There were some hills, but the rolling terrain gave you plenty of momentum to aid the climbs.  We initially missed our turn, but Chuck caught the mistake, and then his sharp eyes picked out the CP hidden back in a little creek area off the road.  A relatively quick ride led us to the trek TA, manned by Team Roadkill's Shawn, which we hit at about 9:30, about the same time that Alpine Shop was preparing to ride away.

berryman passport 2 2
Quick and dirty plotting
We didn't have to be back at the finish until 11:00, and the ride wasn't too far, so we looked over our map and discussed what we should do.  We were right here at the trek, but neither of us was enthused about the prospect of trekking in our bike shoes, and of course our trail shoes were back at the finish line.  There was at least one bike CP we could make it to, but we knew that all of the other 2-person coed teams had decided not to go out on the second section of the race at all.  Ultimately, we decided to go back rather than go for it and risk a mechanical or navigational issue (and here, too, it was me pushing to play it safe).  Even stopping along the road for quite a while to talk to Bill and Nathan on their way out, we still back at the finish line by 10:06, nearly an hour before the race ended.

berryman finish 2
15 hours of racing and still smiling...we really did have a great day.

We waited around to see how the race played out, so we got to see the top three teams come in and cheer as Alpine Shop, Bushwhacker/Wedali, and Kuat took the top three spots.  And then we listened as Joanne and Chris, the 2-person team who we'd seen all day long, took first in our division and two other teams took second and third.  We were disappointed, having hoped to place, but still happy with our race.  It wasn't until the splits came out that we realized how close we'd come to the podium.

We'd tied with the 3rd place team on points, falling behind them because they had finished sooner.   First and second had one more point than we did.  Had we gotten any other CP we'd have been in third, and had we not skipped CP33 (worth 2 points) we'd have finished in first.  We made our decisions as a team, but don't think it doesn't sting that it was my idea to skip the checkpoint that cost us the race.

So close, but yet so far...

If the compass hadn't gone wonky we probably would have gotten a couple more CPs on the second trek...
If I hadn't been so wimpy we would have had an additional two points from CP33 on the bike...
If we'd plotted all of the points for the second map we might have noticed one of the mountain bike points that was relatively easy to reach...
If we'd brought our trail shoes we could have gone for a trekking point...
If we'd gone for those last bike CPs after the trekking TA...

Of course, there are also the if's like "if we had a mechanical..." or "if we crashed..." or "if we got lost..." that could skew the end result to a DNF instead of 4th place.  That's the thing with AR; you never know.  For example, Alpine Shop came off the second trek an hour down to the other top teams and battled back, despite the fact that Jeff was overheating. Watching him ride away from the trekking TA was a lesson in mental toughness and what it takes to be a winner.

Coming in fourth and narrowly missing the podium was a good lesson too.  One about not giving into my own wimpiness and learning that playing it safe isn't always the right choice.  The repeat lesson, though, is the best one: knowing that ultimately, the joy is in the race and not the finish. We had a great time racing together, and I can't wait until the next one.

Luckily, I don't have all that long to wait.  November 1, Age Before Beauty will make one more AR appearance, this time at the FIG/Red River Gorge American Classic, a 12-hour race in Kentucky.

TLC book tour: My Thinning Years

When Lisa with TLC Book Tours emailed asking if I'd be interested in reviewing this book, I almost said no because it's not a typical subject for me.  Then I thought again about the fact that one of the thing I love about books is their ability to take you new places.

Having now read My Thinning Years, I can say that I'm glad that I only experienced Jon Croteau's reality through his book. He relates his experiences growing up in a household with a stridently homophobic father, a man who sounds like he would have been a difficult parent to anyone but was a nightmare for a gay son.

Even once he was out of his parents' house, Croteau continued to struggle with his sexual identity, having largely internalized his father's homophobia. His book details how he coped (or didn't cope) and the processes by which he finally was able to accept himself.

As a straight person, this book gave me a lot of insight into how difficult not just coming out to others but also to oneself could be. As a parent, it was a sobering reminder of just how much power we have to harm our children.

You can learn more about My Thinning Years on Goodreads or buy it on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Berryman eve (pre-race nonsense)

I'd intended to work a half-day on the Friday before Berryman; that would still give me plenty of time to meet Chuck and drive to our campsite in plenty of time to set up before race check-in and the pre-race meeting.  When I ended up scoring my favorite sub, though, I went ahead an took the whole day.  That gave me time to color my hair Thursday night (priorities!) instead of packing and still only be about 30 minutes late meeting up.  (Incidentally, when I mentioned to Jacob how much better I felt with my hair all brown again, he replied, "You have a big gray patch right up front!" Unfortunately he's right, which is obvious in a few of the race pictures. Whatever.)

So we made it to the campground, said hi to a couple other teams at check-in, and proceeded to set up on the wrong campsite. Because we are adventure racers who can't follow a simple campground map.  Doh.

Red is where we were supposed to camp; green is where we did camp. Incidentally, I liked the assigned site better.
Actually, the problem wasn't our map skills (or lack thereof). Chuck misheard the lady who checked us in, while I heard her correctly but assumed that I was wrong, not the last time we'd have that issue over the weekend.

I had brought my backpacking tent, much-loved for its ease of set-up, and was optimistic that the dirt surface would make staking the tent easier than a couple weeks ago at the OT100 race.  I was quickly disabused of this notion with the first stake.  My tent rested on dirt-covered gravel. Luckily Chuck had a hatchet that we could use to drive in our stakes.

What could possibly go wrong?
We drove the 20 minutes to race check-in, which was super fast, and then headed off in search of FOOD.  We were torn between Mexican and BBQ. Chuck made me pick, so to the surprise of no one who's ever raced with me, Yelp helped us find Sweetwater BBQ.

That's what I'm talking about!
There was no rush since we'd checked in around 5 and the pre-race meeting didn't start until 8. We camped out at our table and drank way too much soda while looking over the bike drop/gear drop information and trying to guess how the course would run.  We headed towards the meeting a little after 7, plenty of time to make the 10-ish minute drive and be early enough to socialize.

Or so we thought.

Having no more stringent navigator duties all day than selecting the pre-set destinations Chuck had already entered, I was once more happily along for the ride as we left my new favorite restaurant and pulled back onto I-44...and completely unprepared when he asked where we were going.  I shuffled through the papers Chuck had printed out (sensing a theme here?) until I found the page that listed our destination.  We made it to the right road and watched addresses like in the good old pre-GPS days, only to pass where number 1001 should be without any sign of a middle school.


Since we'd passed a football game, we thought maybe the middle school was behind the field...no such luck. Then we decided maybe we just hadn't driven far enough and drove back down the original road again.  Meanwhile, I entered the address into my Google maps, and my phone told us our destination was in the opposite direction.  "Turn right..." Siri ordered us.  And then, at the bottom of the hill, "Turn right on Smith street [not its real name]."  Oops, we passed it.

"Turn left on ____ street."    Couldn't make the last-minute turn with traffic behind us.

"Go 2.3 miles and then turn right on ____ street, [you morons]."  Siri was definitely starting to take a tone with us.

"That's it!" Chuck said, "I'm turning around."

"Turn left on Smith Street."  This time we made our turn, up a treacherous looking gravel hill that made us happy we were in the Jeep.  And at the top? We found ourselves right next to the perfectly good paved road the phone had directed us to turn off of.

To the left, the good road. To the right, the shitty parallel one the GPS had given us.
By this point, my face hurt from laughing so hard.  And if you want a good sign of what a good guy Chuck is, he was laughing, too, despite the fact that it's entirely possible that our navigational woes were compounded (or caused) by the fact that I was texting and facebooking with friends while I was supposed to be figuring out where to go.  My phone, by the way, sent us back where we'd been twice, and there was still no pre-race meeting there.

Finally I pulled out the directions we'd gotten at race check-in, which unsurprisingly led us right to our destination.  In plenty of time, I might add, to say hello to Team Roadkill's Ron and Shawn before taking our seats in the auditorium.  After BonkHard called the names of every other person but me in the auditorium to come up and get swag, we got our maps and clue sheets and Gary gave us the rundown on the course and, thanks to the lovely warm temperatures, exempted us from carrying the fleece on our mandatory gear list.  Joy! Mine is bulky and takes up too much room in my already stuffed pack.

After the meeting we took advantage of some tables in the hallway and did all of our plotting at the school instead of taking it back to the campground picnic table (or, more likely, a McDonald's table).  Usually I read and Chuck plots, but towards the end he stopped suddenly and flipped the map around.  "Your turn to plot!"  I was not enthused.  He's actually the one who taught me to plot points before my very first Berryman, but I'd never actually done it.

Until now.
Since the points were on the river, I guess he figured I couldn't screw it up too badly.  The school maintenance staff kicked us out before we got a chance to plan our our route, so we headed to McDonald's after all, only to find it packed with post-football game teenagers.  No thanks.  Instead we made us of street lights and the adventure Jeep.


Mapping finished, we headed back to the campground to ready our packs and get some sleep before the next morning's 5:30 a.m. bike drop.  If the days' events didn't inspire much confidence in our navigation, they at least boded well for our likelihood of having a good time, no matter what.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Berryman again

I'm prone to post-race depression, but it hasn't struck as fiercely as usual this year thanks to the way my races have lined up like stepping stones across the summer months: June, Dirty Kanza and Stubborn Mule; July, my less than stellar Tour de Donut, followed by two weeks of vacation; August, Thunder Rolls; and finally, this weekend's Berryman Adventure Race.  There are a lot of good memories packed into this year already.

Berryman is the patient zero of my AR love story; it's where I first heard of adventure racing in 2010, following a casual friend's team (well, casual friend at the time; now he's one of my core adventure friends) and first hearing of Team Virtus via the wonders of online tracking.  It's where my brother and I did our first AR in 2011, stretching a 12-hour race into nearly 15, being disqualified for missing the time cutoff,  and spawning so many stories about "Jim and I" that my teammates now refer to us as "Gemini".  We returned the following year to finally become official finishers, re-learning some tough lessons along the way.

Travis photobombing "my brother Jim and I"
I've never raced a Berryman with Team Virtus, and I've never raced the 24 (or 36) hour version.  This year will be no exception.  Chuck and I are reprising our roles as "Age Before Beauty" (minus Keith, and we're both clear on the event date :D), and Bonkhard is only offering one option, a 16-hour race.  Practically a sprint. ;-)

I'm excited. The weather looks to be fantastic, I have an awesome teammate, and I've been training more regularly than my norm.  I'd like to tell you where you can look for updates, but cell signals are so iffy down there that probably the first update will be me facebooking the next day.  Whatever...it'll just make you look forward to my blog post that much more, right?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Weekend update

Sandwiched between last weekend's friend-filled trip to southern Missouri and next weekend's return to the Berryman Adventure Race (sadly only a 16 hour instead of a 24), I stayed much closer to home this weekend.  Closer to home, but not actually at home much.

Friday night, for example, was spent at my school's first ever family campout.


On a surprisingly chilly September night (temps into the low 40's overnight), around 100 people camped out on our school field, ate hot dogs and roasted marshmallows, and generally had a really great night. There were a lot of new tents being pitched, so I'd guess a lot of kids (and maybe whole families) were having their first camping experience.  What a neat thing to get to be a part of!

We got there after dark on Friday night bc Jacob had had football practice, and we had to pack up early on Saturday morning to get him home for a soccer game (lost)...

Jacob throwing in the ball.
...and a flag football game (won)...

He got an interception that he ran back for a touchdown and a couple other good catches.
  ...before packing up to go to my father-in-law's for the annual kids' Survivor games.
Like soccer with bats

Shooting the ball with the slingshot...
...for the other kids to catch with lacrosse sticks.
After 4-5 hours of that kind of fun (I'll admit to having a very hard time dragging myself away from Gone Girl to watch/help/participate), we grabbed dinner and headed home, where we were treated to live music from the church carnival next door.

Sunday morning I was up early-ish to meet Mickey for a long run at Castlewood State Park. Glorious, fantastic running weather!

Way harder than it should have been, but what a lovely day to run!
I'd have liked to sleep in, but I'm once again signed up for the Skippo 30K, and as I mentioned yesterday on Facebook, every year I register for this race, barely train, and barely get through it.  Every year I think, If I can finish this without training for it, I wonder how I could do if I DID actually train?

This year I'd like to find out.  To that end, I've been gradually building my long runs on the weekends and doing one or two shorter runs a week.  It's still not what someone dedicated would consider good training, but if I can stay consistent it'll be a big improvement in the previous two years.

Of course, it's been a slow road back to any kind of running fitness.  I'm starting to see some glimpses of it, but I'm certainly not yet at the point where a 13-mile run is no big deal (my primary running goal) or where I could maintain 10 minute miles over the majority of the Skippo course (my stretch race goal).

But hey, the race is still a month and a half away, plenty of time for improvement for a girl who usually realizes mid-October that I'd better start training for that 18 mile race looming over me. Or plenty of time to lose interest, slack on the training, and show up on November 9 for yet another death march for my Skippo mug.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A weekend at the OT100

When Jim Davis started talking about holding a 100-mile, point-to-point mountain bike race entirely on the singletrack of the Ozark Trail, I figured it might well go the way of my ideas.  "Hey, this would be cool....squirrel!"  Instead, he set a date, conscripted his wife into finding a bazillion awesome sponsors and volunteers, spent a crazy amount of time clearing trail, and the inaugural OT100 mountain bike race went down September 6.  I thought for about 47 seconds about registering, but after spending my post-Kanza summer largely off the bike, I opted to stay home.

And then Bob went and volunteered Team Virtus to cover the bike drop and help out at CP4.  With my weekend largely free (though I'd miss Jacob's first football game), the opportunity to hang out with my teammates, cheer on my friends who were racing, and still be a small part of the race were irresistible. As an added benefit, I approached race weekend with zero stress except for the self-inflicted pressure of baking about 20 dozen cookies for the checkpoint.

I may have gone a bit overboard.
Driving to the bike drop was a bit of an adventure.  I managed to screw up the Google maps directions I'd printed out (helpful hint: "continue onto NN" does not mean "take an exceedingly sharp left turn onto NN") and took a highly scenic route.  The area is lacking in reliable cell signal, so my phone was no help, and "gravel road in the middle of BFE" was not specific enough for the GPS.  I finally made my way there with the help of the 13 year old road map lying on the floor of my car.

My hero!
Most of the work at the bike drop was long over by the time I got there, so I just hung out for the rest of the evening.  After admiring the lightning show for a while, I opted to put my tent beneath one of the canopies set up for check-in.  That was a good move: it poured for about 4 hours after we all went to bed, and my tent stayed nice and dry.


We were all up in plenty of time before the buses started dropping off racers for the start, so we basically tried to stay out of the way as everyone took care of last-minute prep.  It was awesome to get to wish my friends luck in person, and it was pretty cool that a couple of people asked me if I was racing.  Despite knowing the race was way over my head, it's still nice that people might expect me to do it.


Jim played the National Anthem, said a few words, and then the racers rolled off to the start while Bob, Travis, and I jumped into the truck to go help stop traffic at the road crossing ~2 miles down the course.  It was pretty amazing how far the pack spread out in just a couple miles.




Loved getting to cheer on some friends as they passed by. After packing up our tents/hammocks and loading the CP4 drop bags into Travis's truck, we all caravanned to the Bixby Country Store for some delicious biscuits and gravy. Breakfast handled, we drove to the Berryman Campground, site of CP4, to set up camp and maybe ride some trails.

My old faithful backpacking tent.

I really need to get myself a hammock,though.
The CP opened at 12:35, though the leaders weren't expected until around 3.  Of course, in typical Virtus fashion we didn't get around to riding until darn close to that.  Since Rte 66 Bicycles was in charge of the CP and didn't seem to need our help, we headed off for a short trail ride.

Cara and Emma!
In a rare treat, Bob's wife Cara and our friend Emma both rode along with us. Travis, perhaps encouraged by my earlier smack talk (which I utterly failed to back up), set a pretty strong pace which I was totally unable to match.  I can keep up pretty well on road or gravel, but on downhill-ish singletrack I'm really limited by my cowardice lack of confidence.  My slower speed was still fast for me, though, and I was having a blast. We all were. Every time we stopped to regroup, we had huge smiles on our faces.  The high point for me was bunny hopping a fallen tree (a small one) and clearing it with both tires, the first time I've managed something like that.

We hadn't been out long when the race leader passed us on the trail. Over 80 miles into the race, Dwayne flew by with a huge smile on his face, looking like he was out for a (fast) pleasure cruise.  Not wanting to be in the way, we cut out on the first fire road we reached, and we got to watch second place fly by from there.


The fire road ride was fun.  It turned into an impromptu intra-team drag race, and though I haven't yet managed to time an attack so that I can maintain my lead, Travis and I hit the gravel at about the same time, wearing the biggest grins ever.

Since nobody needed our help at the CP, we were free to relax for the rest of the day.  Bob had brought his grill/smoker and BBQ'd a ton of meat, and while dinner cooked I bounced between hanging out at our campsite, walking around talking to people who were there crewing or had DNF'd due to mechanicals or injury, and stalking the CP tent on watch for friends who were racing.  I didn't catch all of them, but I got to see quite a few and was blown away by how good they looked after 80 miles of singletrack.  So impressive.

The Sonas, showing they know how to celebrate an anniversary right.
Fast Kate

The rest of the evening was spent eating delicious BBQ and hanging around the fire, enjoying awesome company and perfect camping weather.  And then going to bed, bc we'd all managed around 4 hours of sleep the previous night.



Sunday morning we got up, enjoyed some baggie omelets courtesy of Travis, and very slowly got our stuff together for the sweep ride to the finish line.  When we finally set out, the trail was just as fun as on Saturday.  While I couldn't keep up, I could at least keep the guys in sight.  Seeing the tree I'd bunny hopped the day before, I smiled in anticipation, went for it, and totally blew it.

Bunny hop fail. Cleared it the first day with both wheels, blew it the second day. Btw, this tree looks considerably bigger in the picture than in person. Glad the tree I'm leaning against wasn't 6 inches closer or I'd have had a face full of it. #berryma
The angle makes the tree look bigger than it was.
Not sure exactly what happened, but I ended up hitting the tree, landing weird, and just about getting a face full of the tree in front of me.  I landed pretty hard and just sat there for a little bit.  A week later, I'm still wearing some sweet bruises from that crash.

We got going again, but before too much longer I noticed that bumps were feeling pretty hard in the back.  Flat tire. Boo! I managed to change it myself, with a little help from Travis, and while I was slowly managing that, Dan and Sam both passed us, surprised at how little forward progress we'd made.  My crash and flat had definitely set us back, but we weren't in any hurry anyway, just out enjoying the day and the ride, clearing away the course markings whenever we came to them.

The first 15 miles were pretty awesome. Usually after crashing I get way more tentative. I did walk over some downed trees I probably would have ridden (or attempted to ride) before falling, but overall I didn't suffer a loss of confidence.  I don't remember walking much at all; I felt great and had a blast being out on the trail with Bob and Travis.

Photobombing @bob.jenkins.7505  on the Berryman trail #mtb

Obviously having zero fun.
Even after the turn off of the Berryman Trail onto the Ozark Trail towards Bass the trail was fun...until it wasn't.  Somewhere around mile 15 I kind of forgot how to ride my bike. All of the sudden I was walking things I knew I could ride, things I'd have ridden earlier. Much of my confidence had evaporated without any real reason.  A couple of big climbs towards the end hurt, even walking them, and the guys had to do some major waiting on me.

The big tree across the Ozark Trail lean. #lookatmybikeleaningagainststuff #mtb #bikes #ot100 #ozarktrail #missouri
Pictures make a lovely excuse to stop riding.  Of course, so do huge trees across the trail.
By the time we made it into the finish line at Bass, I was worn out and knew two things for a fact: first, that not racing had absolutely been the right decision; and second, I really want to do this race next year.  In that vein, all I want to do right now is ride my mountain bike, which figures, because with my next big race being a 30K trail race, the bulk of my training time needs to be running.