It was dark at when Chuck and I rolled into TA2, a road/trail junction near the One Horse Gap area. It had taken us 5.5 hours to cover the 24 miles of the previous bike leg, a whopping 4.5 mph average. Granted, much of that time had been spent stopped, staring blankly at maps, or riding really slowly as we doubted our course; and yes, we'd actually covered more than 24 miles thanks to our reroute. At that pace, the remaining 38 miles would take us nearly nine of our remaining ten hours.
We'd considered trying for at least one of the Trek 2 points if there was one relatively close, but Mike's Hike and Bike came in from their trek while we were figuring out the route for the remaining legs. Hearing that the No Sleep team was still on the second trek, they commented how hard it would be in the night. That wasn't particularly encouraging given the difficulty we'd had in the early morning darkness, and none of the points were very close. The last nail in the trek 2 coffin was hearing that the next bike leg, a mere 14 miles, had taken perennial powerhouse (and eventual winner) Alpine Shop three hours. In the daylight. It seemed quite clear that our best move was to get back on the bikes.
One of the awesome things about adventure racing is the opportunity to change disciplines. As I referenced earlier, another bike leg sounds fantastic when you're tired of being on your feet. Pedal for hours and even paddling a canoe starts to sound appealing.
Photo credit: Chris Radcliffe
Luke: At one point, the chafage got bad enough that Bob walked behind us with his shorts pulled down to his knees. He was "letting it all hang out", so to speak.
Bob: I feel like I should mention...I was the guy who never showered in gym class, electing to smell like a jockstrap over standing around in a shower-room with my business out in the street. Fast forward 20 years and here I am walking in the woods waiting for my junk to burst into flames. I enjoy a brief reprieve while I'm "airing it out"...
There's plenty more to the story, and that whole race report is totally worth reading, but suffice it to say I now totally got it. Not quite enough to walk around pants-less, but enough to think about it.
Bike to TA3/Shelter House (CPs 24-26 in order) -- 14 miles
We pulled out of TA2 just ahead of Mike's Hike and Bike. Fearing I was going to have to walk up the big hill we'd ridden down on the way in, I'd hoped they would leave first so as not to witness my shame, but I ended up riding the whole thing. Our teams leapfrogged back and forth for much of this bike leg, one team passing while the other stopped to check maps and then vice versa.
We all initially made the same wrong turn and then reset and arrived at the correct road at about the same time. Chuck and I plunged ahead while Mike's rode a little further on the main road to make sure they were at the right spot. We'd been warned about how gnarly this stretch -- appropriately named "Bushwhack Road" -- would be, and it was as bad as advertised.
Initially, I wasn't impressed. I mean, it was basically an overgrown doubletrack dirt road, super rocky but no worse than the cemetery road Chuck and I had summitted earlier in the day. Plus, it was basically flat. We found checkpoint 24 (road/trail junction) with no problem, and then Chuck estimated what our mileage should be when we reached the turn to CP25.
"Wait, didn't we rule out 25?" I asked. After looking at the long, steep out and back required to get to that checkpoint, I'd been advocating to skip it since the pre-race meeting.
|See...not highlighted, because we weren't going there. Like I said, a lot of climbing.|
I was pondering how much easier the road was than we'd been warned when we hit the first mud puddle. The first of many. Some we were able to ride through or around, but others spread the width of the road and were 10 feet long. We did a lot of walking, slopping through or carrying our bikes around soupy mud that smelled progressively worse with each puddle. I mourned my new brakes with every scrapey rotation of my filthy wheels. At one point, as we were all off the bikes again, I told Steve from Mike's Hike and Bike that after this leg they should change their name to "Mike's Hike-a-Bike".
|Really shitty picture of Chuck carrying his bike through the mud puddle. I'm standing in water, and you can see the reflection of his blinky light in the water up where he is, too. (10:15 p.m.)|
Now, had we been thinking, we might have paused to consider the likelihood that we, in the darkness, were crushing the time that our elite friends had logged on this inhospitable stretch during the daylight. For some reason, most likely because it was close to 11 p.m. and we'd been racing for nearly 24 hours and it was a lovely thing to believe, this never occurred to us.
Slightly ahead of us, we saw Mike's HAB made a right turn off the road, which had finally gotten less muddy and terrible. "Why would they do that?" Chuck asked, looking at the map. "Oh! This must be our turn!"
We passed a sign listing names, and the words "War Bluff" caught my eye; that sounded familiar for some reason. I was so happy that we were almost done with this bike leg that I didn't even mind the way the road kept going up...and up...and wow, this is really steep. It was hard to even push our bikes up, and clearly the Mike's team had the same thought because we came across their bikes lying on the side of the road.
I was confused. Why would they leave their bikes behind if we were on our way back to the real roads? Chuck clearly had the same thought and started looking again at the map. I mentioned the sign at the turn, and he said, "Wait, it said 'War Bluff'?...This is the trail to CP25!"
Grrrr, another freaking nav error! Everybody makes a mistake once in a while, but this was getting ridiculous. I was getting really frustrated with myself. I just wasn't able to get into my normal focus/map immersion zone for this race. I kept wandering back through Jeep scenarios and senseless internal dialogue "What will we do about the Jeep - rent a car. rent a truck, call a tow, call Lori, hitch a ride". "Oh shit, were we were supposed to turn there?" Luckily I have an awesome teammate who hunched over the maps and helped talk us through these rough spots with honest encouragement and not a bit of blame.
If we were relying on my nav skills we'd be lost forever, so there's no judgement from me.
So much for skipping that one. I think I took the news pretty well. We completed the trek to the top, and even in the darkness it was clearly a really cool spot. I'd love to see it in the daylight, especially if I got a ride to the top.
The climb was bad, but even worse was the dispiriting realization that, rather than being almost finished, we were only about halfway through this bike leg. Thankfully, the ride down was much easier than the push up. Before long we were back out on the road, which, even more thankfully, was exponentially better from that point on. We hit CP26 (bridge) on our way and then, after one missed turn, rolled into TA3 in Golconda at around 12:30 a.m.
We'd already decided to skip the paddle, instead taking a leisurely break from our saddles, changing into dry socks, and enjoying some Ramen noodles while lying on the ground. Mike's HAB was just putting in when we arrived and returned just as we left, so we certainly had time to go out and get at least one paddle CP. In retrospect, it seems kind of lame that we didn't, especially since we heard the creek paddle was pretty easy, but at the time it felt really good to just rest a little.
Bike to TA4/Goose Bay Shelter (CP 31-33 in order) -- 24 miles
As lovely as our break had been, getting back on the bikes was a fresh hell. My sweaty shorts pressed against my raw skin, making everything sting and burn. I stood on the pedals as much as possible, but this made every time I had to sit hurt anew. The trick was to just settle in and take it -- after a while the pain would dull -- but this was easier said than done. We walked the first hill out of town just because I couldn't bear sitting on the saddle, and once we got back on the bikes every shift in position was accompanied by whimpering and wincing.
Eventually I took some ibuprofen, and while that eased the pain it created a new problem. No longer tortured into wakefulness by the electrifying sensation of a power sander to my genitalia, I fought to keep my eyes open. Every time we stopped for a map check or to re-fold maps I'd lie my head on my handlebars, desperate for a moment or two of sleep. And every time, just as I closed my eyes Chuck would ask me a question or need me to hold a map.
Of course, Chuck had slept even less than I had the previous morning and had the additional mental strain of navigating and all day long. If anyone deserved a nap, it was him.
He steered us through the bike leg, and things went well until we arrived at the corner where we'd plotted CP31 and couldn't find the flag anywhere. We made a turn and rode a little further...it totally matched what we should see after the CP. We backed up and retraced our steps. Everything checked out. We returned to our corner and rode the opposite direction. Everything pointed to us being in the correct spot...everything except the absence of the control flag. Meanwhile, neighborhood dogs were going crazy barking as we rode back and forth.
We returned to the corner to look again, running into Mike's HAB there. Chuck asked if they had 31 plotted there, and they did. We went off again to look for the flag. "What are you looking for?" their navigator asked.
"There is no flag. This is one of the clue CPs."
Further evidence of just how tired we had gotten. In fact. I seem to remember a conversation about shadow squirrels and inflatable mylar lambs during this bike leg?
I have no memory of the mylar lamb comment, which was apparently mine.
I was the one with the clue sheet (buried in my pack). It was my job to know and remember this kind of detail, and I'd totally forgotten about it. Huge fail. Thank goodness we ran into them, or we'd have missed getting credit for that point even though we were there. As it was, we probably lost a half hour or more.
|We had to write the answer to the questions on the passport.|
Smooth nav aside, this bike leg wasn't without minor drama. About to turn onto a gravel road out in the country at 3 a.m., we pulled aside as a car swerved around a corner and stopped. An obviously drunk guy was very interested in what we were doing in the middle of the night. "We're bike racing!" Chuck told him, not even attempting to explain adventure racing to that audience.
Haha. That guy had his excitement level cranked to maximum.
Next up, we passed the house party/bonfire where our buddy and his equally drunk girlfriend had probably been. "Hey, come have some beers with us!" someone called. Normally we'd be up for a drink stop, but this time we declined the invitation and rode on. There were some fun, slightly sketchy downhills, and then we were rolling on a lovely, level road into the forest, into the park, and back into the TA at 5:04 a.m. Our Alpine Shop friends had just come back in minutes before, having nearly cleared the course.
There were an additional 10 points to plot, but with less than an hour before the race end we figured we wouldn't have time to do any trekking by the time we finished plotting. And, really, we were both very OK with that. 29 hours of racing was plenty for us.
The first order of business was to shower and get out of our race clothes, so we made the short trek over to the campground showers, where at least the girls' room had unlimited hot water (and a super high shower head, which was a big treat. Usually they hit me at about shoulder height). Apparently the guys' showers only ran for a few minutes before they had to push a button to start the water again.
We got back just in time for a delicious breakfast of French toast, fruit, and sausage, and then awards were announced. Not surprisingly, Alpine Shop had won the overall race. Also not surprisingly (because we were the only team in it), we took first place in our division. But out of 7 teams who started, we were one of only 4 official finishers. Not being fast, you really had to race smart (and be lucky...no health issues, no mechanicals) for that, and we were proud of our race management.
|1st place 2p coed|
Reading over all of these race report installments, I'm afraid it doesn't come across how much I loved this race. We had a terrible pre-race and probably struggled more on our nav than in any other race we've done together. I was nervous on the cliffs in the darkness, terrified on the rappel, and so uncomfortable on my bike for the last half of the race, but physically I felt strong, which was a huge lift after struggling so much at Thunder Rolls. I had a blast and saw so many cool, beautiful places. If you weren't there, you really missed out. No Sleep puts on a first-rate event. I'm already excited for next year's race.
Yes! like Kate said, even with all of our struggles this was a fantastic event. I definitely want to do it again.