Baptism By Mud
Patrick's first adventure race was the 36-hour Berryman Adventure Race...on a team made of completely of AR newbies. My brother Jim and I also began with Berryman, and though it was only the 12 hour version, the race director commented, "Why you'd want to start with a race called 'a real ass-kicker', I don't know." Berryman was, indeed, a bit of baptism by fire. I really tried to do better by my sister-in-law.
BonkHard's surprise absence from the AR calendar this year left us scrambling for a replacement, and the Physically Strong Adventure Race seemed to fit our purposes: only 8 hours, light required gear list, not too far of a drive, and no schedule conflicts. The benefits outweighed the limited window for training and March's notoriously unreliable weather, and the addition of Patrick and Chuck greatly decreased our chances of getting lost forever in the wilds of Mendon, IL.
Race check-in was Friday night at Saukenauk Scout Reservation, the Boy Scout camp hosting the race as a fundraiser. Free lodging was available in cabins on-site; we'd jumped at the accommodations but been less than thrilled when pre-race communication indicated that scout regulations required men and women to be housed separately. Chuck arrived first and texted us to say that the cabins were "like 3 miles apart", which I wrongly assumed was an exaggeration. While this wasn't a huge problem for our team since we'd brought two vehicles, that's typically not the case and could have been a headache.
We took our coordinates and 1:15,000 USGS map into nearby Quincy to get dinner and do our plotting and route planning. I lived there for a few years during college; apparently it's changed in the subsequent 20 years because I didn't recognize anything. Patrick got a lot of mileage out of my past residency; one of the recurring themes of the race was his insistence that I'd grown up in Quincy.
He was the instigator of another such theme as well. Somehow on the drive to dinner the topic of "The Diarrhea Song" came up.
Apparently he and one of his daughters have some bizarre fondness for the song (one not shared by his long-suffering wife, Beth). "It has a lot more verses than you realize," he told us. "I bet tomorrow we'll come up with all kinds of adventure race-related ones."
After eating some sub-standard Mexican food and mapping our race, we left our bikes at the bike drop and went to our separate cabins. For the boys, this entailed walking about 50 feet. Kristy and I had a three-mile drive but were much closer to the start line the next day. After a long night of not much sleep, we met back up around 5:30 a.m. for a light breakfast and pre-race meeting before the 6:30 start.
|Pre-race team picture...and yes, Kristy really is almost that short.|
Trek 1: We started on foot with a run to the bike drop, and while Chuck had originally planned to run up the road he made a game-day decision to cut through the woods when almost everyone else did. We initially started down the wrong road before correcting our course and crossing the swinging bridge over the camp lake. This was very much not my favorite part of the race.
|Taking a picture while attempting not to pee my pants in fear and while accusing all of my teammates of intentionally making the bridge bounce...I can multitask with the best of 'em!|
Once we were safely across the bridge of terror, we had a short run/walk along some seriously muddy camp roads to the bike drop where (hallelujah!) there were other bikes there besides ours. We added a little air to Kristy's low front tire and headed off on the first bike leg.
Bike 1: There were two basic route options: flatter (but potentially mushy) gravel or hilly but partly paved. We opted for paved after the soul-sucking ride Chuck and I had last weekend on soggy gravel. When you're riding on some gravel and your bowels start to unravel...
|Kristy still smiling after the hilly section|
|Snack break at CP2|
CP2 was basically an out-and-back, so we retraced our bike tracks, seeing the strong bike team of "Orienteering to the Bar" as well as our friends Dave and Jules as we headed back to the turn out to CP3. We rode a couple big hills up to a beautiful cabin in the woods and our first bonus event, the tomahawk throw.
|Patrick throwing while Chuck observes.|
We easily found our way back to camp, but navigating the camp roads was a bit more problematic. Pedaling presented some challenges...
In order to get credit for CP5, someone on the team had to build a fire using natural materials and get it to burn through a string stretched above the fire pit. OTTB build their fire on top of a metal piece and completed the challenge before we did. Chuck ("Sparky") soon had our fire going, too, and we were out of the TA shortly after them.
|Building the fire while we spectate|
|I inched across like I was swaying on a tightrope above the Grand Canyon, while Kristy confidently crossed like she was walking down the street, earning the nickname "Squirrel".|
Orienteering to the Bar was already at the slingshot and finished hitting their five cans with a slingshot before I ever hit one. Actually, every team finished this checkpoint before I ever hit a can, because after a looooooong time of me missing every shot, we gave in and Patrick and Chuck put me out of my misery by finishing the challenge. Kate ("doesn't get a cool scout race nickname"): slingshot failure.
We took a fairly direct route from CP6 to CP7, which left us climbing up and down a lot of steep reentrants...and by "climbing down" I mostly mean sliding...occasionally on purpose.
On the ground right before the reentrant holding CP7, Chuck found a big section of honeycomb.
|The original honey stinger.|
|Between the steep slopes and the soft, muddy ground, crossing the reentrants was tricky at times.|
|Kristy's one worry about the race was coming across a snake, and as we crossed here I wondered if this was where she'd see one.|
|I'd like to attribute this picture to my quick-draw camera skills, but in reality he just waited for me to take it.|
|I need a faster camera.|
When you're jumping over a creek and your pants begin to leak...
|She totally could do it and was promptly upgraded to "Flying Squirrel"|
Our teams met up at the end of the driveway, which led right between a house and a barn. Uncomfortable with strolling past someone's house, we all walked further in search of an attack point that didn't lead us through their yard. OTTB are all familiar faces from the St. Louis bike scene, but I'd never really talked to any of them, and it was particularly nice to exchange Dirty Kanza stories with Tara.
We punched CP10 ahead of them, and then it was time to head back to the camp for the last stretch of the race. Trying to move forward rather than double back, we ended up at a deep reentrant with steep sides. It looked nearly impassable, so when Chuck asked if we wanted to try to battle through the thick brush along the side or cross the reentrant, I told him something like, "I don't want to go across that." He promptly climbed down into the reentrant.
Knowing exactly what had happened, all I could do was laugh and follow him. Chuck's hearing isn't good, particularly in his left ear, and he'd misheard my answer. Crossing that reentrant was no joke, especially near the top of the other side, which formed almost a cornice of dirt. I'm not sure how Chuck got up on his own, because I couldn't have made it without him helping me. We all got across, though, and it was certainly an adventurous route choice.
Checkpoint 11 was the archery challenge, where Chuck quickly scored the 10 points we needed to get our punch and bonus and move on.
|BOR's Scott and Neil getting ready to rappel down.|
As we walked the muddy trail back to the bike TA, I was looking at my watch and doing some math. We had four remaining bike checkpoints: 12 (the climbing wall), 13, 14, and 15. Since all four of us had to climb the tower and the rappel down, we guessed at least a half hour for CP12. Judging from the sloppy conditions of the camp's dirt roads and the short stretch of trail we'd hiked to get to our bikes, there's no way we would have enough time to get all of the remaining checkpoints and still make the cutoff.
Bike 2: With CP13 being pretty far in the opposite direction of the final two, we opted to skip both 12 and 13. We got to ride our bikes a little bit before reaching a muddy hill and pushing again. Kristy, who'd spent the whole race in good spirits but increasing amounts of grim determination over the last hour or so, asked me, "HOW do you guys do this for 24 hours?" I told her it was basically what we'd been doing all day, just keep moving forward until you're done.
When we reached CP14 in no time, my heart sank a little. If this one was that easy, we really should have gone after 13 as well. I thought it was likely that OTTB would be able to leverage their stronger biking to collect the bike points before the cutoff. Getting to 15 took considerably longer, though, and necessitated a lot of bike pushing through mud, and in the end it was clear that the decision we'd made was their right one for our team.We had time to get back to the finish line, but not enough to have gotten either of the other CPs, so if the other teams beat us, it was because they'd raced better and not because we'd chosen poorly.
|Heading towards the finish, the bridge in the background.|
|Post race, we still like each other.|