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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving buffet

I was lucky enough to have three Thanksgiving dinners this year. The first, last Monday, was the one that I prepared together with my students and shared with their third grade book buddies. It's a classroom tradition that I love. Thanksgiving day was spent at my mother-in-law's house, and then the Saturday after Thanksgiving we went to my mom's for one more feast.

That's a lot of food, but the buffet I'm referring to is the variety of activities used to (hopefully) burn off all those holiday calories.  Thanks to my wonderful school schedule, I had a 5-day weekend and intentions of making the most of it.

Wednesday: Stayed home with Jacob, who's recovering from the flu. Went to the gym after Survivor and lifted weights. I'm about halfway through Stage 2 of The New Rules of Lifting for Women, the book I keep coming back to every time I re-start strength training.  I've never made it past the first stage, so this is uncharted territory.  I can definitely see some physical changes, and the numbers show I'm getting stronger. Pretty cool.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Big Woods! #trailrunning #snow #personalturkeytrot
Reusing my Thanksgiving day blog post picture. I'm environmentally friendly like that.
Thursday: 3 mile trail run in town. Since my regular training partners live in the St. Louis area, it's pretty rare for me to not drive an hour for a run.  It was a nice chance to have such a short trip, though it didn't give me time to finish my coffee before starting.

Friday: Jeff got his shopping done Thursday night, and while I'm theoretically opposed to shopping on Thanksgiving Day, it left me free to ride on Black Friday or, as I dubbed it, Black RIDEday.  Or Bike Friday. Whatever. I was just really happy to be on my bike again; with all the Skippo training and such it seems like there has been precious little time to enjoy the sport I really love.

Having fun (and needing to adjust my helmet) around 10 miles in
Mickey and I had planned to ride 70 miles on a gravel/road route we'd ridden this spring, but when the snow hadn't completely gone away we opted for less traveled trails and roads.  So we started on the Katy Trail, rode across the icy Page bridge to Creve Coeur park and circled the lake, then rode back across the still-icy bridge.  I made it most of the way back across before my wheels slid out on an icy patch and I fell.  No damage other than a sore hip.


From there we hopped back on the Katy and out towards Weldon Springs, where some of my favorite local gravel is.  Of course, to get there you have to ride through my least favorite section of the Katy, made even more fun by a noticeable headwind and soft trail. I think it was around here that I mentioned I now only wanted to ride until around noon (giving us about 4 hours and definitely not 70 miles).  I was very slow, much slower than the conditions warranted, and though I'm no longer a big fan of pavement I was really looking forward to getting onto the new (paved) Research Parkway trail.

The pavement was only slightly better, and now my hip was starting to hurt. I wasn't sure if the problem was that it's been a while since I've been on my cross bike or if it was sore from the fall.  If you're thinking to yourself, Wow, Kate sounds super whiny and not a fun riding partner at all, you're absolutely right.  We decided to skip Busch Wildlife and ride back down the Katy to St. Charles, where we were parked.

There were three basic options: turn around and ride the Research Parkway trail back to the Katy (shortest route, paved, and featuring a sweet downhill to the trail), take the Quarry trail (middle route, gravel, probably overgrown), or ride the Hamburg down to the Katy (longest route, on soft gravel). For reasons that escape me, we picked option C, and once we hit the mushy Hamburg my day went downhill: riding into the wind, legs that were beginning to cramp, and (very unlike me) no ibuprofen or even salty snacks along.

Mickey was riding ahead, like usual, and I was dragging along behind, finally doing the math and realizing that we were taking the long way back (and I'm the one who said taking Hamburg was OK, I just hadn't thought it through until we were actually ON Hamburg), possibly the crankiest I've ever been on a bike, complaining out loud as I pedaled.  Seeing my face when I caught up with him waiting at the turn to the Katy, Mickey asked, "Am I about to see Grumpy Kate?"

"Oh, she's here.  You're about to meet Tantrum Kate."

We got back onto the Katy, where the wind was now at our backs, but I failed to convince myself that the tailwind was helping, and my legs just hurt more and more.  "Bikes are stupid," I told Mickey, "and my legs hurt."

"Suck it up, princess."

Riding back towards St. Charles on the Katy Trail. I pretty much hated everything about bikes and biking at this point but was trying hard to appreciate what a pretty day it was and how lucky I was to be out on my bike.
I resentfully counted off the miles we'd have saved if we'd taken the Research Parkway trail (4 miles), briefly perking up when some friends rode past in a paceline and then sinking back into despair once they were gone.  There are only about 17 miles between Weldon Spring and St. Charles, but my normal self-encouragement (It's just 17 miles, anyone can ride 17 miles!) was failing as my cramping legs tormented me.

Mickey rode back my way.  "You know what would be fun?" I asked. "If you rode your bike really fast back to the car and then came to pick me up."

As I posted later that day on Facebook, it's a good training partner who knows when to give you shit about your complaining and when to go get the car.

"I'll indulge your weakness, but I'm also going to gloat."
I still had to ride 11 or so miles back, but the ride saved me 6ish miles and gave me hope. Otherwise I probably would have been lying next to the trail crying.  I ended up with 49.8 miles, quite a bit short of the planned 70, but I was ok with that. I've never felt so bad on a ride with so little reason.  I still don't know what the problem was, because even before the leg cramps started I was definitely not myself. Maybe I just needed a break, but I wasn't going to get it on Saturday.


The Saturday after Thanksgiving is always the St. Louis Orienteering Club's Turkey-O. Two years ago, Jeff, Jacob, and I did the 3 hour meet; last year I raced with Bob and Mickey.  This year Bob was off bikepacking, but Mickey and I raced together. The meet was in Grafton, IL, and I was pretty happy to be orienteering on the Illinois side for a change.
See if you can see my markings, some red and some black. I had trouble reading the numbers I'd put next to them, too.
Once the clock started on our three-hour race, we had to copy the controls (or checkpoints) onto what Emily describes/quotes as a "weird scale map "zoomed in 1:24k, sorta like 1:7500'."  I had a really hard time even seeing all of the control markings on the master map, but eventually we were pretty sure we had them all and set off.

We started with the western section of the map, jogging across the parking lot and reaching the first CP before I'd expected to.  I really struggled with figuring out where we were on the map for the first couple points, maybe a combination of the funky scale, the fact that we were jogging some here and there, and the fact that Mickey, like everyone I race with, is way faster with maps than I am.

If we were just racing to race, that would be cool with me: I'm perfectly happy to follow along behind my navigator, and the main reason I've worked on improving my own nav skills is just to be able to give input when it's needed.  Since my goal for the day was practice, though, I needed to slow down.  I told Mickey if he wanted to go fast I would be fine on my own, but we stuck together and he suggested I navigate us to the next point. Which I did successfully. :)

I was far slower, as you can tell from how far away this picture was taken.
From there on out we pretty much shared navigational duties and pretty much went straight to everything.  We climbed up and down a lot of hills. Tucked in at the top of the bluffs along the Mississippi River, this course featured some serious elevation and steep hills.  There were a few times I just sat down and slid, figuring I was going to end up on my butt accidentally if I didn't start out there.


It was also pretty darn scenic.
As we worked on the center section of the map, we had to start making some decisions about the best route choice. I voted against a couple of points that would force us to climb way down and then right back up again, which for me was the best choice. I know that I couldn't have gotten the points and back to the finish in time.

As it turned out, we didn't quite get back to the finish in time anyway. With 7 minutes left to go, we climbed a big spur but didn't go far enough down initially to find the CP.  Finally we knew we had to head down quickly and we'd punch it if we saw it...which we did, just lower than we'd anticipated. We punched that last point and hurried towards the finish, coming in two minutes late and losing 4 CPs as a penalty, dropping from 19 points to 15 and close to last place.  But....everybody was a winner at the Turkey-O, thanks to prizes donated by 180s.

My momma is a cookie artist. #secondthanksgiving #sugarcookies
One of my mom's delicious (and beautiful) sugar cookies
So I got 8 miles of trail running/hiking, good orienteering practice, a sweet new pair of gloves, and I made it to my mom's in time for my final family Thanksgiving dinner.


I was supposed to meet Chuck to run 8 miles on the trails. It was probably the last nice weather of the year.  I slept instead.  I'm bummed to have missed the warm weather, the pre-Pere Marquette training, and the good company, but it was definitely the right decision for my overtired body...and for getting the house cleaned up for my son's 22nd birthday party.

I'm totally not ready to go back to work tomorrow, but I definitely enjoyed my time off. I hope everybody else had a great Thanksgiving, too!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Not my day job

Last weekend I traded my running gear for heels and dress clothes in order to officiate my sister-in-law's wedding.  Long-time readers might remember that I played the same role a couple of years ago for my cousin, but the fact that this was a repeat performance of sorts did nothing to lessen my nerves (nor did the fact that the groom's brother, who's a for-real minister as opposed to the internet-ordained type, ended up being able to attend...great, now I was being judged by a professional!).

Getting ready to officiate my SIL's wedding. #latergram #wedding #onlineordination #notmydayjob
Pre-wedding selfie, really wishing for a glass of wine instead of a can of soda.
Thankfully I had the basic ceremony outline saved from last time. My sister-in-law went through it and highlighted the parts she wanted in her wedding, but I also wanted something that spoke to them personally.  In the end, I'm pretty happy with what I came up with:

When J. called me a couple months ago and asked me to marry her, I was a little confused, because I'm already married to her brother. When she clarified that she wanted me to marry her to C., though, I was thrilled because I've been there as their relationship has grown and seen how happy they make each other.
It's so easy in some ways to get married as a young adult. It's all joy and certainty of forever and excitement of starting your life together, and though you're surrounded by family and friends your relationship is really about the two of you and the life you'll create together.  Starting over as an adult is hard, when you've loved and lost, when you've given your heart and been let down.  You know the risk in a way that you didn't understand in your starry-eyed youth. Starting over with a ready-made family is hard, whether you're looking for someone who is good enough to trust with your kids or measuring up to not just the expectations of your love but also the more skeptical eyes of her children.
And so today really is a triumph of love. When two people can say to each other, "I know the risk and you are worth it."  And as excited as J. and C. have been for their wedding, I think J's kids have been just as excited.  When you've won over not just one heart, but seven people, that's something special.
I made her cry, and her daughter cry, so I guess that's a good thing. And if it's not, maybe no one else will be asking for my ministerial services, and that's ok too. :)

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Where is the line that separates a nap from sleeping through the holiday? I may have crossed it today at my mother-in-law's, falling into a tryptophan coma after lunch and waking up after it was dark.  Oops.  It sure felt good, though.

I wasn't a slug all day.  After about 45 minutes of stalling in bed and considering how much better it would be to stay home and make pancakes, I dragged myself out to our local trails for the tri club's annual Thanksgiving Day trail run.  I just wasn't feeling a turkey trot this year; maybe Skippo still has me turned off on racing.  An easy run in the woods was a better plan, and since I was about 15 minutes late I had the trails mostly to myself.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Big Woods! #trailrunning #snow #personalturkeytrot
The snow is what decided me on running vs. sleeping in.

Other than long naps and the opportunity and ability to be active, I have lots of other things to be thankful for, most currently:

1. Tamiflu (and the insurance benefits that cut its cost from $300 to $25). Jacob came down with the flu last week, and while he felt pretty lousy, the Tamiflu cut his symptoms WAY back.

2. Having two of my kids (and my sweet daughter-in-law) with me today, and getting a phone call from Nathan.

3. The family that invited Nathan and some of his friends to their house for the holiday.

4. 5-day weekends...

5. ...that are full of fun, active plans.

6. One more family Thanksgiving, this one at my mom's on Saturday.

I hope that you've all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with people you love doing things you love!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Castlewood 8-Hour

Note: Written by me with commentary added from Luke (in red), Bob (in green), and Robby (in my usual blue).

2014 has been a busy year.  Since June, I've done 6 adventure races.  None of them, however, had been with my regular team...until Castlewood.  Luke, Bob, Robby and I registered for the race in a 4-person coed division heavy with strong veteran teams and newer teams full of fast people. Castlewood is billed as one of Bonkhard's easier races, with less-complicated navigation on trails and roads that are familiar to most St. Louis area athletes.  We definitely stack up better in longer, more nav-heavy races, but we went with plans to run the best race we could and with full knowledge that we were destined for the fun podium.

The good times started at race check-in on Friday night, where we enjoyed some cold beverages while shopping at Alpine Shop and laughed our asses off every time Luke took his hat off.

The new hairdo was the result of losing a bet.  It doesn't quite approach the gold speedo, but it was pretty entertaining.
Luke: I'll bet you that I never take another bet.

This year's pre-race maps required no plotting of points, leaving us free to eat some delicious Dewey's pizza, get our packs organized, hang out, and still get about 5 hours of sleep.

Bike drop
Photo credit: Stacey Hagen
After last year's race starting temperature of about 11 degrees, Bonkhard decided to move the traditionally December race back a few weeks into November.  The weather was indeed warmer than 2013, but with temps in the low 20's it was hardly balmy.  In fact, it's quite possible that hell was freezing over as well as the St. Louis area, because Team Virtus dropped our bikes at Castlewood State Park, stopped at Starbucks, and still rolled into race HQ with over 30 minutes to spare.  I believe that's a first.

Luke: This was literally the earliest I've ever been to the start of a race. It felt very weird. I'm not sure I liked it.

We socialized, took care of last-minute bathroom stops, and got some team pictures in our new kits. These are the first new jerseys since before I joined the team -- in fact, "my" team jersey is actually Luke's spare one that he lent me for LBL and then let me keep -- so we were all stoked to not be sporting our hopelessly stained, chronically stinky white jerseys, and I was especially happy to be wearing a top that was cut for a girl.

Luke, Robby, me, Bob
We stalled until the last minute and then went out to the start line shortly before 8:00.  Gary made some last minute announcements, none of which I heard, the National Anthem played, and it was go time.  We had managed to line up at the very back of the pack, so a huge group of racers quickly opened a gap on us as we jogged down the sidewalk and onto a paved trail that was very familiar from January's Frozen Feet half marathon.

Trek 1: 1.5 mi, CP 1-3 in order, 27 min.

Despite all the running I've been doing this fall, I was by far the weakest runner on the team as we started out.  The first mile or so of most runs feels like death; add a loaded pack and the accumulated fatigue of racing three straight weekends, and while my head was all about the race, my legs were more ambivalent about the day's plans.

That's a direct quote. 
Plus all of the sudden my waist strap was too tight on my pack and I couldn't buckle it. Between losing my keys (which turned out to be in my back pocket) and then my race packet and new gloves (which I'd left lying on a counter while looking for my keys) the night before and then my inability to deal with a pack I've been racing with for three years, I was a little bit of a train wreck.  Whatever.

Note the crowd behind us.
CPs 1 and 2 were right on the trail. The route to 2 was an out-and-back, which was both great fun (getting to high five all kinds of friends on their way back) and a little depressing (wow, everyone in the race is ahead of us). The actual checkpoint was a huge bottleneck because one of the two punches was broken and a huge clump of racers was lined up to punch. Frustrating, but it probably helped us catch up to some of the teams that had gotten so far ahead of us on the run.  From 2 it was a short run back down the trail to the canoe put-in and a bonus map.  My camelbak hose was lightly frozen by CP2,but I stuck it inside my jersey for a little bit and it was never an issue again.

Bob: CP2 only had one (broken) punch. Talk about frustrating. The only thing I hate more than running is running for no reason. Rather than wait for the line to die down, I used a safety pin to mimic the punch pattern onto our passport. We passed a few teams this way but also got gapped by everyone in front of us. 

Paddle 1: 4.4 mi, CP 4-5 in order, 1 hr.

Bob and Robby took one canoe; Luke and I were in the other. Another bottleneck on the way down to the river with teams going single file.  We waited in line for a bit and then kind of pushed our way through on the right after Bob mentioned there was room for two canoes.

Bob: That bottleneck was legendary and had me fired up a little. It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but if the punch station would've been another 30 feet down the bank I don't think there would have been a problem.

Just after putting in on the Meramec
I'm never a fan of paddling, and being on the river in sub-freezing temperatures makes me particularly nervous, but our canoe leg went without incident.  We did get to see two bald eagles spectating the race from a tree (picture below), but it took me a minute to get out my camera, so the picture isn't great. It was really cool to see them, though.

They're in the tree in the middle.
We played a little bumper boats with one of Team Velcro's canoes leaving CP4 (gravel bar) and their guy inadvertently soaked Luke's left leg.  A little further down the river, Robby didn't pull his paddle all the way out of the water and splashed Luke's right side.  Robby was slightly horrified and offered to let Luke splash him back; instead, Luke just spent the rest of the day reminding him about it.  Much more satisfying.

Luke: It was definitely more satisfying to keep reminding Robby how badly he douched me with water. The look of horror on his face when it happened was priceless.

Bob: I saw the whole thing. Paddle hit the water moving forward and the wave hit you square in the back. Damn good thing the PFD was there, lol. I don't think I've ever seen Robby that mortified.

Robby: I was mortified when I did that. It was definitely an accident and I wanted to crawl into a hole and die! I think Luke's exact words were, "Why would you do that to me??" I still feel horrible and apologized about 20 times...including when we parted ways at my house. Paddling is not my favorite.

Bonus trek: 3.6 mi, CP 37-42 any order, 1:25

At CP5 (gravel bar), we beached our canoe on a veritable parking lot of boats for the bonus trekking leg.  All of the points were pre-plotted on a 1:10,000 scale orienteering map, quite a shift from the 1:25,000 map we'd just been on.  Alpine Shop was just finishing their trek, so we got to cheer for them as we started.

A clump of racers came off the river at the same time, so when they turned right, we opted to go left towards 39. We got that with no trouble and then headed towards 40, which was smack in the middle of a featureless floodplain with the clue of "grassy area".  We were making good time running the nice, open trail when Luke stopped us: "This doesn't feel right."  He'd been looking for a mapped trail that hadn't materialized; we did some bushwhacking, heading towards where the trail should be, but when that wasn't successful we doubled back to a known point and then reassessed.

Navigating on a pancake.
The trail indicated by the dashed line straight to CP40 didn't exist anymore.
With only one contour line and apparently no trail to help us with our attack on 40, we ended up deciding to go after 41 and 42, both set on more distinctive features, and then shoot a bearing to 40.  We checked off the two trailside CPs and then headed in search of the elusive CP40.  We were slightly off but found it, and then Luke led us directly to 38, which was also plotted in the middle of a grassy area.  Bonus trek complete, we hiked through head-high brush to the canoes.

Luke: I clearly need to work on my nav in flat areas. This was very tricky, and I feel horrible for screwing up.

Bob: Shit happens. Your recovery was fantastic, so I count that as a positive. And things would've gone much worse if anyone else was navving. I personally suck at flatland nav.

Robby: I remember how awesome it was that we got to see a deer speeding by us at 90 to nothing. Had we not gone off track we probably would not have gotten to witness that.  Going through the brush was awesome! 

Luke in the lead, followed by me and then Robby and Bob
Paddle 2: 2 mi, CP6, 29 min.

We hopped back into two of the few remaining canoes and paddled off again.  The breeze had picked up a little, and temps were pretty chilly if you weren't in the sun.  Still a beautiful day and good company.  We ended at the beach at Castlewood where Patrick and I were stationed the year we volunteered together.  I got to say hi to some of my Team Rev friends who were manning the checkpoint.  After passing our gear check, we wheeled our bikes off the beach to transition into bike shoes, etc.  Bob had picked up some blueberry pancake-wrapped sausages at QT that morning, and they made for a nice treat even if he'd neglected to keep them warm for us. ;-)

Robby and Bob about to finish their paddle.
Luke: And eating phallic food mid-race is always fun.

Bob: Those things are delicious hot, cold, raceday, or any day. I had forgotten they were in my feedbag, so it was a very welcome surprise.

Robby: I passed on the blueberry pancake-sausage but did accept a chocolate covered pretzel from Kate. 

Bike 1: 6 mi., CP 7-14 in order, 1:03

ARs often feature relatively little singletrack, but this year was a nice change from that general rule. We set off to pick up CP 7 along the river before climbing Grotpeter.  Having just spent a great deal of time on some of these trails at last week's Skippo, I was very familiar with what we were about to ride up, but I don't think I've actually ridden the trail in a few years and it went way better than I expected.  I was strong on the climbs and less tentative than normal. Not sure where that came from, but I like it.

Leaves on the trail made me a little nervous and I had a hard time looking down the trail instead of right in front of my wheel.  I'm still considerably slower than the guys on flats and especially on downhills, which just makes me appreciate how patient they have been in racing with me -- as slow as I am now, I was WAY worse a couple years ago, and they've been nothing but encouraging and supportive. All of the CPs were right along the trail, so just a matter of following the trail on the map and picking them off. Very fun bike leg!

Luke: Kate is sooooo much better on the bike. And those trails were super fun!

We pulled into TA at 14 and got to see Jim-Dave (who's a super nice guy but can't seem to remember my name for anything) and his awesome daughter Amber as well as our buddy Dave.  After punching our passport (but only after), they gave us the map and coordinates for the next trekking leg and informed us of a 3:00 cutoff for the trek. We had three (I believe) points to plot. Luke and Bob took care of that while I ate, got water for us, and socialized.

Trek 3: 3.7 mi, CP 15-22 any order, 1:46

We attacked the course in a clockwise manner, starting with a climb up Lone Wolf, where after running, hiking off-trail, and biking all day without incident I managed to fall on a gravel trail.  Luke was dead-on with the nav here.  We leaned heavily on bushwhacking rather than trails, and it was fun to have an opinion when he gave us options.  I felt strong climbing hills, much better than at the beginning of the day when it was all I could do to jog down the sidewalk.

Bob: Saying you felt strong on the hills is quite the understatement. I was blown away by your climbing strength, especially after the slow start we had that morning. The change in intensity was undeniable.

Lots of cheating going on this leg, from teams sending runners to teams running down off-limits roads. Probably largely because this race draws so many new teams in who maybe don't really understand the rules, but it's frustrating to see.

Luke: I can only hope there wasn't intentional cheating going on. That would be even more disappointing.

Cleared the trek and back again to CP14, which was now CP22 (I think), where the guys gave us the maps for the bike leg to the finish. 5:00 cutoff in order to finish without losing points, and Robby's watch battery died. I'd brought my race watch along for the weekend only to leave it at Bob's house.  Brilliant.

Luke: When I first saw this map I didn't think we'd have time to get all the checkpoints. With no mistakes, though, we finished with time to spare before the cutoff, which was very nice.

Bike 2: 15.1 mi; CP 23-25 in order, CP 26, 29, 31-34 any order; 1:58

A light snow/sleet mix began to fall as we rode away from the TA, making Bob very happy. Unfortunately, just after leaving the TA I noticed my front wheel was losing air. That's been something of a pattern this year and makes three straight ARs where my front wheel flatted (Berryman, which was thanks to a really bad line over a really rocky trail, a slow leak at the Fig, and now a slow leak again); time to do some maintenance, I guess (or make Chuck a batch of chocolate chip cookies and beg him for help).  We stopped to change it, which was awesome given the fact that we were on a tight schedule. Thankfully Bob took care of it way faster than I could have.

Luke: Hey now, Robby and I helped, too. We took pictures and made jokes and stuff.

Robby: I just supplied the air for the tube. 

Bob: I don't think I've ever had that much trouble getting a tire off the rim. All the old sealant in there was like glue.

CPs 23-25 were all along the road, and we hit them with no problems. I felt great on the bike, a little too great. I was in the lead just trying to hold a good pace and ended up pushing it too much. I can't judge pace without a bike computer, and I can't turn around (without running off the road) to keep track of people behind me.  Both are areas to work on.  Pretty good climb up to 25, which we started with a female team that was really ready to be finished.

Bob: Another slight understatement regarding pace. I was busting my ass to hold your wheel. It's a good thing you're so huge and easy to draft behind.

Robby: You geared people have it so easy! I was spinning pretty hard to keep up. Those paved hills are killer on a SS.

From 25 there were decisions to be made. We almost certainly didn't have time to get all of the remaining CPs, so we had to choose between a primarily road route or one with singletrack, and we had to shuffle through several maps to figure it out.  Being familiar with the trails, Bob and I knew the singletrack was fast and flat, and it looked like that direction would give us more points and options than the road route. That's what the team ended up deciding to do, and other than going a little bit out of our way to get to the singletrack we hit CPs 31-33 cleanly.  The flat trails were a blast, and I've got to get Jacob out there with me; I know he'd love it.

Luke: I loved these trails! So much fun.

Bob: The frozen sleet and snow at the end was awesome.

Robby: Those trails are the cat's meow! I had a blast! This was the highlight of the day for me.

January's half marathon came in handy again on the way back as we basically retraced the end of that race as we rode back to the finish.  We took a quick detour to get CP29, hit 34 on the way to the finish, and rolled through the BonkHard arch at 4:43.

Robby: Kate and I also made a perfect phone transition (after checking the time because my watch had stopped) while heading back. I wish I could've seen Bob and Luke's faces when it happened! AND Kate is a bunny hopping fool! She has improved SO MUCH!

With two cameras taking pictures, it was hard to know where to look. We have about 7 finish line pics and none with everyone looking at the same camera.
Photo credit: Mary Welter
It was a nice surprise to see our friend Patrick as we crossed the finish line. Big thanks to him for hanging out for a while after spending a LONG time waiting around for us to finish!

In the end, we finished 8/8 in our division, 48/65 overall. It wasn't the strongest showing, but we were most certainly at the top of the fun podium, and if it came down to a choice between overall standings and having a good time with my friends, I'd most definitely pick the latter. Luckily, that's a given with Team Virtus.

Luke: I couldn't agree more. It was a great day with my best friends. The final placing doesn't even matter to me. 

Bob: Maybe someday I'll care about where we place, but I hope not. This was a great course and a nearly perfect day. And did I mention that all of this happened within 15 minutes of my house? 

Kate: Only a thousand times or so.

Robby: I thought we did great all day long. I haven't done many adventure races in my short racing period, but I trust my life with you guys! Starting and finishing anything is an accomplishment in itself.

A note about clothes for future reference: Temps ranged from low 20's to...I don't know what the high was. The forecast high was high 30's/low 40's.  I initially wore two pair of socks: a tall,thin wool pair and a slightly thicker FITS brand pair (had to lose the wool socks before the bike leg because the band was making my leg sore); bike shorts under my running tights, a long-sleeved tech shirt, my team jersey, a fleece hat, think liner gloves, and a buff around my neck.

In my pack I had the required fleece shirt and waterproof pants and jacket as well as a warm pair of lobster gloves for the paddle and if the temps dropped enough.  I wore what I started in probably 80% of the day, putting on the fleece jacket for the paddle and whenever we were at transitions so I didn't get too chilled.  Overall that worked fine, but I was pretty cold on the road section of the second bike leg.  I never got sweaty, though, so I was successful preventing that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Fig XII (Red River Gorge American Classic)

How do you write a report about a race where nothing went wrong? A day absent of drama and figurative low points? Begin, I suppose, at the beginning, which turns out to be in the aftermath of Thunder Rolls.

Aug. 29:

Chuck's regular partner Robin had family commitments that kept her from doing the race. I was available, but our schedules worked against us.

Chuck was busy, I was busy, and we tabled the Fig talk until Berryman weekend.  My acceptance of not going hadn't kept me from stalking the race website and noticing that this was going to be the final year for the Fig*.  When Chuck mentioned how cool the zipline sounded and how he was going to have to do the race next year, I had to tell him there wouldn't be a race next year.  He may have called me a bad influence, but the upshot was that we were registered the week after Berryman.  (*As it turns out, it was the final year for Flying Squirrel Adventures to put on the Fig but  it will still go on with 361 Adventures taking over the reins.)

SuperChuck:  I haven't had a bad influence since high school!  Just wait til my Mom finds out.

The funny thing was that Chuck's main reason for wanting to do the race was the thing I dreaded the most.  I have a well-documented fear of heights and have managed to avoid the zipline at adventure camp for the past two years.  Why, WHY was I signing up for a race that would force me to do something I was scared of? The only possible answer is that I have a problem.

SuperChuck:  You do have a problem, and I know how to exploit it :)... Remember "Wanna do something stupid?" at the Skippo?

The weather forecast made a nice distraction from my zipline worries as it got progressively worse in the week before the race.  Snow on November 1? I'd been running in shorts and a tank just the week before!

Last winter gave me plenty of cold weather experience, but I hadn't had a chance to drag out much of my warmer gear yet this year and hadn't worked my way back to feeling comfortable with suboptimal temperatures.  That said, between Stubborn Mule and Thunder Rolls I've spent enough time in the rain this year to know that I certainly won't melt.

We made decent time to Slade, KY, the only hiccups being a poor initial choice for lunch, Louisville rush-hour traffic, and the little matter of driving into a new time zone.  Surprise: Kentucky is an hour
ahead of Illinois and Missouri.

"Fine" food? Possibly fine as in "acceptable" or OK, but we opted to eat elsewhere.

We missed check-in but arrived in time for the pre-race meeting, where race director Stephanie reminded us several times that we'd be "zipping across the canyon" (it's important that you imagine an ominous, echoing tone for that phrase) on the "longest, fastest zipline" at the resort.  My stomach felt sicker each time she said it.  There was actually an alternate route, but both teammates had to stick together and no way was I going to make Chuck miss the zipline. Besides, the alternate route sounded tough.  Laziness trumps terror.

We were able to check in after attending the pre-race meeting and signing our lives away on the zipline waivers.  Then we grabbed a delicious pizza (and significantly raised the average age) at Miguel's  and drove back to the motel to put lights on the bikes and get our gear ready for the bike drop. Neither of us had brought a tub, so we stuffed my dry bag with food, spare socks, and an extra pair of shoes for me. In what's becoming a typical Kate and Chuck pre-race tradition, we had a little hiccup finding the bike drop but set up pretty quickly and then headed back to finish getting our packs ready and make a final decision on clothes.

After much agonizing, I settled on tights over bike shorts with my adventure pants on top for wind protection (forecast was wind speeds in the teens).  I wore a long-sleeved tech shirt, a buff around my neck, and a fleece hat, all topped by my waterproof jacket. Because the mandatory gear list was pretty minimal, I had space in my pack for a fleece jacket as well as some extra socks and gloves.  The clothing combination ended up being perfect for the day's conditions.

SuperChuck:  After no agonizing at all I wore my standard AR stuff and it worked out fine.

Even after staging our bikes and gear on Friday night, we still had to make an early-morning run to Mill Creek Lake after realizing we hadn't put our bike number on.  Luckily I didn't have any trouble getting up; I'd slept well until around 3:30 or 4, when headlights flashing across the window kept inspiring panic: Why are they up? Is it late? Where are they going? Is the parking lot going to be full? Will we have a place to park? 

We arrived at the Activity Center in plenty of time to get a hot breakfast and relax until maps were passed out at 6 a.m.  The maps were a little intimidating.  Usually lots of contour is helpful in navigation, but this was elevation overload.

There were so many lines that sometimes you really had to concentrate to realize if you were going up or down.
We had a 8 CPs to plot as well as two TAs (transition areas) and the start line; then we did our route planning.  The first 14 CPs were mandatory; once we had all of those, we'd get coordinates for the remaining ten.  Here's a look at what we knew at the start of the race:

Leg 1 - trekking - get CPs 1-3, all located on named features in Natural Bridge State Park, in order, then run to TA1 at Mill Creek Lake.  CP2 was located under the eponymous (I was pretty sure that was the right word, but I had to look it up to be certain) bridge, leaving me very relieved that I wouldn't have to cross it.  As it turned out, I was quite wrong about that.
Daytime picture from Flying Squirrel Adventures. Jeff and I had been to this park before we were married, and despite the fact that the bridge is wide enough to drive a car across, I was terrified walking across it.
Leg 2  - paddling - get CPs 4 and 5 in any order, then return to TA.  Best paddling leg EVER. Super short, on a nice, calm lake. This gave me one less thing to dread.

Dread?  There's no dread in paddling!  Seriously, Kate is a great paddler! So stop dreading paddle legs!

Leg 3  - biking - get CPs 6-10 in order and then proceed to TA2 at Cliffview Resort.  Yay, biking! I love biking, and it's a good thing because it was a fairly long bike leg.

Leg 4 - trekking and ziplining - a total of 6 CPs worth 4 points. Upon arrival at Cliffview, teams would be assigned either the trekking loop or the ziplining loop first. This was one was Stephanie had designed the course to avoid bottlenecks at the zipline.  The trekking loop was CPs 11-13.  When you did the ziplining loop, you traded your main passport for a smaller one. The three CPs punched on the zipline passport were traded for CP14 on the big passport.

Once teams completed the Cliffview trek and the zipline loop, they were given coordinates for the remainder of the race.  While we didn't know the location of the CPs, we knew the basics:

Leg 5 - biking - CPs 15-16 optional/any order, proceed to TA3 (same as TA1 at Mill Creek Lake)

Leg 6 - paddling/trekking - CPs 17-25 optional/any order - could be reached by paddling and/or trekking. When finished with these points, you must pick up your bike from TA and bike to finish.

"We're adventure racing! In the snow!"
At 6:45, Stephanie chased us out to hike through blowing snow flurries to the race start.  Volunteers passed out passports, and I safely zipped ours into a pants pocket.  The race started promptly at 7, and we started running up...and up. Before long, our pace shifted to trudging up step after step after step in the morning darkness.

Leg 1: Trekking  (~5.5k, ~1:15)   CP1 was located at Lover's Leap, which according to my GPS tracker was the very highest point in the entire race.  We climbed approximately 150,000 stairs on our way there, literally climbing up the side of a cliff.  While the darkness may have eased my fear by preventing me from seeing how high we were, I was nervous about slipping on the wet wood and stone steps and clung to the railing with both hands, soaking my gloves in the process.

I had opted to wear my smallest headlamp for the race ("It's a 7:00 start, it won't be dark long"), and while it's perfectly serviceable for walking around a campsite it's a lousy choice when attempting to run trails with rocks and roots on the top of a cliff.  Lesson learned.  Since we had gear stashed at the bike drop, I could easily have worn my good headlamp first thing and then switched for a smaller one at the TA once it was light (a headlamp was mandatory gear, so I had to have one with me).

Yeah, why didn't we think of stashing lights?  I used my small one too, we would've been way better off with the big PT Apex lights.

Anyway, we made it to CP1, which probably has an amazing view, but it was really high up and dark anyway, so I punched our passport and got the heck away from the edge.  We turned towards the next CP.  Well, Chuck turned. I followed his heels.  "Wanna run some?" he asked.  No, I thought, no, it's dark and snowy and slippery and my light sucks and we're really high up. I don't really want to run.  But what I said was, "Sure."

Big wet flakes were sticking to the trees and leaves.
Somehow our route led us onto the natural bridge I'd been so relieved I wouldn't have to cross.  Knowing what a chicken I am, he slowed down and told me, "Just watch my feet."  It's ridiculous to be as scared as I was, because you would have to go to some serious effort to fall off the bridge, but that's why they're called irrational fears, I guess.

We crossed onto solid ground and then followed the trail along the base of the bridge and through a narrow passageway called Fat Man's Misery.

Stephanie photo
Yet another picture stolen from Flying Squirrel Adventures.
Obviously the above photo was taken during the daytime. It was still dark when we were there, fitting OK with our packs until halfway through when teams started coming back towards us.  That made for very close quarters.  I was pressed up against so many guys in passing that I felt like I owed my husband an apology.  I quickly punched our passport while Chuck looked over the map, and then it was back the way we came, only now we were the ones going against the flow.

Looking back through the crack as dawn approaches.
Photo credit: Chuck Vohsen
We had one more CP to pick up at Balanced Rock and then we hiked down to the road, grabbed a quick bite to eat as we walked, and then ran through the campground towards Mill Creek Lake, where we checked in with the volunteers.  One of the race rules was that you had to sign in whenever you first reached a TA, and as I approached, Stephanie, who I'd introduced myself to briefly that morning, told me, "Kate, sign in here." It always surprises me when race directors, who are busy handling so many details, remember names of people they just met.  We grabbed our paddles and a canoe and put in on the lake.

Snow still on the top trees in front of us.
Leg 2: Paddling (~2.3K, ~:26)   With Chuck's kayak paddles, we flew through the paddling leg and were back at the boat ramp in no time.  After a summer full of less than optimal canoes, the one that we'd rented through the race was wonderful. Our transition was a bit less fantastic.

Though the cold weather wasn't an issue when we were moving, I had a harder time with it while we were getting ready for the bikes. I took off my soaked gloves, ready to trade them for a dry pair after I had my bike shoes on; after tugging on my shoe covers (which were a very good idea) and fighting to get them zipped up, my fingers were numb. I pulled on the gloves and then realized I wasn't wearing my helmet. After struggling for a minute or so to fasten the strap, I finally gave up and turned to Chuck, who'd gotten ready much more quickly: "Help!" With my teammate's assistance, I was FINALLY ready, and we took off downhill out of the parking lot and onto the pavement.

Leg 3: Biking (~4:00, ~43K)  The bike CPs were pretty spread out (about 25 miles total), but the first ones were right off of the roads.  Bridge, check...bridge, check.  I felt great on the bike, really strong. After the second bridge CP I started to feel a little bit of a twinge in my quads and asked Chuck to get out his medicine baggie. Chuck and I have gotten pretty good at catching cramps before they start and taking endurolytes (I think that's what they are).  That's been a real revelation for me. For the longest time I just thought hurting legs were a cost of racing, like that's how your legs feel after running or riding for xx hours.  It's been a pretty great discovery to learn that I don't have to be sore.

Yep Endurolytes.  They work fantastic and have saved me so many times, I almost consider them required gear for any race over a couple hours.

The roads changed from pavement into gravel, and then we came to our turn. Ahead of us a team was walking their bikes up a fairly steep hill.  Not that long ago, that would automatically make me get off my bike too; now I'm likely to see it as a challenge, and I was happy to be able to ride past them and make it up the hill.  We found CP8 (reentrant) off of the gravel road and then, as Chuck said, we were going to have to work a little harder.

Within a minute or two of leaving the CP, we rode up to a fairly deep creek crossing.  We stopped and glanced down the creek to see if there was any good crossing spot.  Seeing none, we carried our bikes across.  "Well," I commented, "the good news is that we don't have to worry about getting our feet wet anymore."

The next hour or so gave us an up close look at all the rain the Red River Gorge area had received in the week before the race.  The roads were a minefield of huge muddy puddles, and we zipped back and forth looking for the best line, sometimes avoiding the water, splashing through when necessary. And it was So. Much. Fun.  I had been very disappointed in myself after being such a baby on the bike leg during September's Berryman Adventure Race and went into the Fig determined to take whatever we got with a good spirit and just accept that "this is what our bike leg is like".  Total success in that department, even when riding (or walking) "roads" that looked more like hog wallows.

Unlike some of our creek bottom roads, this one is actually cut into the slope of a fairly steep hillside, so that's just standing water in the road.
Eventually the road started to dry out, but that's because it started climbing.

Looking up...
Looking back
We pushed our bikes to the top of the hill, where we joined a group of racers staring at their maps and the terrain in confusion.  In addition to the hill we'd just pushed our bikes up, the road made a T in front of us with gravel stretching to the left and right and then a kind of bare area in front of us that looked like it might have been a trail at some point.

It's been a week and a half, but I'm pretty sure we were at the intersection just above and to the left of my fingernail, along the pink line beneath the "F" in field.
The map seemed to indicate that we should go straight ahead, and at least one team standing in our confused pack left their bikes and went exploring in that direction.  Others thought they needed to go to the right.  As Chuck and I puzzled over the map, he was pretty confident that we needed to go left. I could sort of see it on the map (though looking at it again now, I can't figure it out), and he'd been on all day.  We climbed onto our bikes and started riding uphill.

I pulled the compass out before we made that turn to the South, and my confidence went way up when the terrain, compass, and the map all matched up.  Neither one of us would have wanted to repeat any of the giant hills in the area because of a nav error.

No one followed us, but the terrain matched our map as we rode on, and our confidence in our decision grew. And was confirmed when we ran into Cecil, who we'd met near CP3, at CP9. Success! Cecil had taken an alternate route, which though longer avoided the crazy slop we'd ridden in. Definitely a smart route choice.

We moved farther down the road after punching our passport and took a moment to use the bathroom, eat a quick bite, and adjust the maps.  Then it was down a big gravel downhill and off in search of CP10.  We ran into pavement (or smooth gravel?) before Chuck expected, and it was a welcome surprise after the challenging roads we'd spent the last couple hours on.  We pushed our bikes up a big hill, catching up with Cecil shortly after the top and riding with him for a while, talking about racing and orienteering, making good time on some cool roads, admiring the scenery as the terrain dropped away on either side.

The guys looking over maps while I take pictures and wait to be told where to go. :)

A team came riding back towards us, concerned that they'd missed a turn.  We all stopped and looked over maps before deciding that we were comfortable with the way we were going.  There were a couple more map check stops before I asked Chuck, "Do you feel like we're going the right way?"  He said he did, so I suggested we move on and quit second-guessing ourselves.

We hadn't gone much further when we came to another intersection. There was a private drive right in front of us, a gravel road to our right, and another gravel road ahead of us and somewhat to the right.  This time we did need to stop and look over the map, and while we were doing so the group behind us rode into the intersection and onto the front/right gravel. "It's this way!" one of the guys called.

We followed after them, but before we'd gone far I saw a private property sign on a tree and called to Chuck.  "Are we on private property?" He yelled ahead to the other group, but they were gone.  We rode ahead, now less sure of our route.  We're used to seeing private property signs along roads, but usually they're set up parallel with the road, indicating the land next to the road is off-limits. This one was faced anyone who was riding down the road. As I looked for more signs to indicate whether we were in the wrong place, I noticed bikes cruising down a gravel road to our right. "Is that where we need to be?"

Awesome save by the co-navigator!

We decided it was and backtracked, hitting one of the scariest downhills I've ridden.  It was gravel, but it was steep; Strava lists the grade of the beginning of the hill as -27.3%.  I've come a long way with my downhill confidence, but my brakes got a serious workout on the way down -- to the point that I could smell them.  When I caught up with Chuck, who had taken the hill much more quickly than I did, he told me, "I could smell my brakes! That's never happened before."

"That's the smell of fear," I replied.

After the downhill, the road ran alongside a creek, and by "alongside" I mean through.  We'd put our bikes through plenty of water and mud already, and it appeared that waterworld theme would be a recurring one.  We rode through and around most of the creek sections, but there was one that we deep enough we opted to carry our bikes.

OK, I carried mine. Chuck can do his own bike maintenance, so he's clearly not as worried about his bottom bracket.
Chuck asked me, "Do you want to get out of the water sooner, or do you want a picture?" It's like he doesn't even know me!
The water was cold, but our feet had been wet for the entire race so far and we hated for our legs to feel left out. This road featured lots more water and mud pools.  By this point we were much less worried about trying to ride around them; instead we just plowed on through as long as they didn't look too deep.  Because I wasn't following along on the map, I was surprised when we popped out at CP10 (north end of dam power pole). I punched our last CP of the bike leg, and then we rode off towards Cliffview Resort, the site of the dreaded zipline.

We had one more huge hill to push our bikes up. Even walking it was kicking my ass, and I watched in awe as another coed team spun their way to the top while everyone else around us walked.  Very impressive.  Once we got to the top, it was smooth pavement and flawless nav until we pulled into TA2 at Cliffview.

Leg 4A: Ziplining and trek (~1:44 including transition)   Confirming my worst fears expectations, we were assigned the zipline loop first when we checked in at TA2.  We traded our main passport for the zipline passport, a supplementary map of Cliffview, and a cup of hot cider (thanks, David!) which was the perfect drink after 5ish hours of cold and wet.

After a slow-ish transition, we hiked down the road in search of the zipline.  Chuck handed me the map and told me I could do the nav for this section, but unlike at Thunder Rolls, I barely glanced at it before shoving it back at him.  It had far less detail than our main maps and all kinds of colors, and looking at it kind of made my head hurt.  We probably would have been better off if we'd taken a minute to orient ourselves on the map before heading out, but instead we did it on the fly (and by "on the fly" I mean while we were walking).  We also relied a little more on the signs at the resort ("zipline" with an arrow pointing to the left), forgetting for the moment that there were numerous ziplines at Cliffview, and so we made a minor nav error before the map really clicked and Chuck locked on where we needed to be.  "We can either go back around up the road or we can bushwhack up this hill."

We picked the shorter, steeper hill and popped out in view of the zipline.  At first glance, it wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated.  I had imagined a high tower to climb and was relieved to see that wasn't the case.

Whew...that isn't so tall after all.
The zipline staff helped us into our harnesses, and I walked nervously to the tower.  Earlier, Chuck had asked me if it would be easier for me to go first or second; I hadn't been sure at the time but once we were actually there I opted to get it over with go first.

Chuck posted this on facebook with the caption "Kate walks calmly to her death".
The tower seemed much higher as I cautiously walked the swinging bridge to the top platform.  You can see that, despite being clipped in to a line, I'm also holding onto the sides with both hands. I turned to Chuck and mouthed, "I hate you."

Getting hooked into the main line. 
I had been really unhappy with how wimpy I was about the rappel this year at Thunder Rolls; I think maybe it's easier for me to show that I'm afraid because my friends know I'm afraid, but somehow that lack of game face makes me give into fear more.  This was another area I was determined to improve on at the Fig, albeit with mixed success.

The guide had me stand on the top step ("You mean, all the way up here?") while he got me all clipped in and then told me I could step off the platform ("You mean just...step off?"). It took me a moment...or two...and then I did, indeed, step off and begin zipping across the canyon.

Goodbye, cruel world!
 I was scared, but I reminded myself to trust my equipment.  And once I was going, I wasn't that scared.  It was actually kind of fun.  I didn't make it quite all the way across, but the guide on the other side was out to me almost as soon as I stopped and towing me back to solid ground.

Next Chuck came zipping across with a big smile on his face.

That was so cool!  Longest fastest zip I've ever done.

Chuck almost all the way across
The guides at Red River Gorge Zipline were wonderful. Friendly, patient, and helpful, they definitely made my first zipline experience a good one, and the scenery there is amazing.  Big thanks to them for the chilly day they spent outside supporting the race!

We got out of our harnesses, punched our passport, and headed off in search of our final two CPs of the zipline loop before Chuck realized he was still wearing his helmet and had to run back and return it.  Then we set off again towards Susanna Arch.

The trails covered some pretty steep terrain.
Chuck approaching Susanna Arch

We might have been able to cut some time off of our race with fewer photo ops. ;-)
 Another 2-person coed team was hot on our heels at this point and eventually passed us around the final zipline CP (rock shelter), asking if we'd done the trekking loop yet.  We, of course, had not, but they had, putting them around an hour ahead of us.  That was disappointing, but there was still plenty of racing to do and anything can happen.  We hiked more steep trails until we hit one of the Cliffview roads and made our way back to TA2 again and traded our zipline passport for CP14 and our main passport.

Leg 4B: Cliffview trek  (~:54)   After grabbing our packs, which we'd been allowed to leave behind for the zipline loop, we headed off in search of CPs 11-13. Chuck noticed that a trail towards 11 started behind the TA, so we took that downhill.  I think it was pretty much a straight shot down to the lake, where in taking a shortcut I managed to step into water instead of over it.  Oops.  Oh well, we only had two more CPs before changing back into (wet) bike shoes, and then I had dry shoes back at Mill Creek Lake.

The trek to the next two CPs was pretty unremarkable, and they came more quickly than I'd expected.  The flatter terrain was much easier to cover quickly.  We'd had to climb a bit to get to our final CP, and then had a decision to make. Take the fairly direct way back to the TA, which would involve giving back all the elevation we'd gained and then a long uphill climb out, or take a slightly more roundabout path? We chose option B.

As we hiked along the road, I looked up the hillside next to us and noticed how flat it was at the top, as if there was a road there.  "What's up there?" I asked Chuck. Looking at the map, we saw that the road we were on came close to the road we eventually needed to be on and decided to cut off some distance by bushwhacking up the hill.  We popped out onto the road and hike/jogged back to TA2 for a third time.

Another great call by the co-navigator!  I think this short-cut picked up 20 minutes on another team that had chosen our original route plan out of the creek valley.

Back at the TA we were offered candy and coordinates for the last 10 CPs of the race.  After plotting them, we decided to definitely go for the two bike CPs and highlighted three paddle/trek CPs we thought were in reach timewise.  We got back into our soggy bike shoes and then set off for Mill Creek Lake again.

Leg 5: Bike 2 (~12K, ~1:08) Unlike the previous bike leg, I was dragging. Chuck was much stronger than me here.  I didn't feel bad, I just didn't have a lot of energy and felt really slow.  I think this one was all pavement, and we picked up our two CPs without incident.

Chuck cruising ahead
Clearly I was having no fun at all. 
Leg 6: Paddle/trek (~:50)  We dropped our bikes and changed into our trekking shoes. After spending the day in wet trail and biking shoes, wearing the dry shoes in our gear bag was glorious. We paddled back across the lake for CP17 (south side of boulder).  A team had beached their canoe and were looking along the hillside near a great big boulder.  We almost stopped there, but I asked Chuck, "Is this where you had planned to stop?" When he said no, I suggested that since he'd been on all day we stick with the original plan.  We beached the canoe in a little cove. Teams were roving all over the hillside looking for the correct boulder. We didn't go straight there, but we were pretty direct in our approach, snagged it, and got back to our canoe. The steep hillsides were doing a number on my tired legs, the downhills more so than the uphills, and I was pretty slow.

Back in the canoe, we crossed the lake for CP18 (underground creek) and found it without incident.

Here's a really crappy picture of the entrance to the cave where the CP was.
The ceiling of the cave was covered in hundreds of spiders.  All hanging upside down like bats.  It's like they were just begging for someone to poke 'em with a stick.  As I gave into the temptataion, Kate scrambled out of the cave cussing me and something about Aragog - the giant spider of Harry Potter fame. 

Ha! I forgot all about that until now!

We had tentatively planned to go for CP19, but Monkey's Fist had warned us that they'd been cliffed out on their initial approach and had to hike way around to get it.  We'd committed to being back at the TA and ready to leave at 6:30, and we didn't think we had enough time to get 19 and be back at the finish in time.  Even as we paddled back towards the boat ramp we toyed with going for 19, but we decided not to, and I still think that was the right decision.  In retrospect, there was one CP we probably had time to trek to, but at the time we didn't think so.

Back at the TA, we dumped any non-mandatory gear with our paddles and put on our soggy bike shoes one last time.  We were on our bikes when I looked down at a flat front tire.  Damn! (On the other hand, if it was getting low on our previous bike leg, maybe that would help explain how sluggish I was on the bike, which is a bit of a silver lining.)

I advocated for just airing it up and hoping it could hold out for the couple miles we had left. We had two CO2 cartridges, but after I wasted one (because I'm an idiot) we decided to play it safe and put in a new tube (and by "we", I mean Chuck. I can change a tire, but only the saddest, slowest pit crew would want my help in a race).  Luckily the racers next to us had staged gear in a car and had a bike pump (thanks, Jim!), so we didn't have to use Chuck's CO2.

I can't quit laughing as I read this, remembering Kate threading in the CO2 and watching it instantly discharge, burning her hand in the process.

Bike 3: As we prepared for the second time to head to the finish, the 2-p coed team that had passed us on the Cliffview trek was also leaving. Why were they still here? We knew they almost certainly had gotten more CPs than us since they were at least an hour up on us back at Cliffview...but what if they'd had problems? Nooooo...all I'd wanted was a leisurely ride back to the finish, and now we were going to have to race.

They took the route back through the campground, so we took the road back to the park entrance, flying down the pavement and trying to look down the road to the campground as we approached the hill to the finish line.  No sign of them, but as we climbed that last hill we caught sight of a 2-person team near the top. Despair, they'd beaten us.

But wait...there was a 2-person team just starting the hill below us. Maybe that was them! We pushed hard to the top of the hill, panting, legs unhappy, on the edge of throwing up.  I don't think I've ridden my bike harder since the end of the bike leg at LBL.  We threw our bikes down, ran to punch the final CP, paused for a finish line picture, and rushed into the building to turn in our passport...only to find the 2-p coeds already there.  As it turned out, they had 2 more CPs than us, so our last-minute sprint was unnecessary, but it sure made the end of the race interesting.

It was an excellent finish!  The unexpected sprint up the switchbacks to the finish were like icing on an already perfect cake.

I can't say enough good things about the race. The location was amazing, the course was fun, and the logistics (from my point of view, anyway) were flawless.  CPs were accurately placed, and the disciplines were broken up nicely.  A lot of thought clearly went into the course design to eliminate bottlenecks at the zipline, and the zipline itself was a very cool addition.  Stephanie was a fantastic race director, and every single volunteer we encountered was friendly and helpful, despite the fact that they were sitting around in chilly temperatures.  Stephanie is the race director for USARA Nationals next year, and if I'm not racing there I'll most definitely be volunteering.

As far as our race, I don't have any complaints.  My favorite drive-home activity is to talk about the race and how we could have done better.  We didn't come up with many "should have"s for the Fig.  Maybe a couple of places (like the approach to CP9) where we'd have benefitted from slightly better route choice, but those were only obvious in hindsight.  Faster transitions, for sure. That's definitely an area of weakness for me.  We raced smart and were strong all day long; really, the only way to have been much faster is to be faster.  That's a work in progress, as far as I'm concerned, and it would be hard to have a better day than we did.  I'm already looking forward to next November in the Red River Gorge.

Our results: 
Division: 3/5
Overall: 17/56

Want more?
Full results
Strava link to our course minus the zipline
Team Adventures race report