Going solo: The BonkHard Chill volunteer report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rough life. ;)

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

Photo credit: Doug Arendt

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

The castle
Lake view from the castle...not to shabby.  The parking lot on the left is where our CP was.
photo 2.JPG
Because there were trekking CPs in this same area, we got to see a few of the later teams as we hiked around.  The day had warmed up into an absolutely glorious day, and in addition to adventure racers the park was filled with families hiking and picnicking.  I felt for the racers, though, because the first warm day is definitely a mixed blessing since no one is really acclimated for heat after our polar vortex winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. I've done plenty of things on my own, but luckily the kids are getting to the point where they want to be involved.

  2. I completely agree with your first paragraph. If I wasn't willing to do things alone my life would be much duller. I have found that sometimes I really like doing things alone.
    BUT I might be nervous camping completely alone. Yay you. And the temperature. Once again you prove your worthiness of Super Kate.
    And getting home at 1 is crazy! Yet who am I to talk. I drove more than 7 hours for a race that didn't happen.......alone. Turned out be some fantastic parts of that weekend though for sure.

  3. Sounds like a good time, except for camping in the cold.

    Handing out the bonus maps probably got the same reaction as telling a kid he has to finish his green beans :-).

  4. I do the vast majority of races on my own....last weekend I went out of town overnight - all on my own. It's not as much "fun", perhaps, but I sort of like not doing my own thing on my own time. I'm so glad you had a great time 1pm though, yikes.

    Some really gorgeous pictures....you make me miss the Midwest (for a few brief minutes while I read your blog :)).

  5. Good point, Jill...going by myself I got to do what *I* wanted to do and didn't have to worry about anyone else's agenda. And I was fine...not lonely at all. It just may have been more fun with company.

  6. In my long life, despite also 20 years in the Navy i never did camping. Your list of adventures now has a point more: camping alone and in the cold.
    The castle is amazing. Have you found any ghost inside?


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