Thunder Rolls, part 3

(No snappy title for this one.)

With Keith's foot bandaged, my tears dried, and packs restocked from the forgotten canoe bag that race volunteers had kindly delivered with the bikes (thank you!), we pedaled away from the canoe takeout. I was delighted to be back on my bike though disheartened by how fried my legs were from the canoe. We only had about a mile to ride to the next TA (transition area), but it included a pretty big (though paved) hill. Keith motored to the top; Chuck had to walk*, so I walked too in the interests of team solidarity.

*That may not be entirely true. In fact:

Yeah, I definitely had to walk first.
As we rode, we noticed some damage from the storm that had swept through while we were on the river.

The tree in the background had been hit by lightning; apparently it was still smoking when some other teams came by. Crazy...or, in the words of RD Gerry, "perfect race weather"!
The roads in the park are a little confusing on the map, so we had to stop and think things through. John, the race photographer, caught our little pow-wow as he drove past.

Taking a moment to pose orient ourselves. Photo credit: John Morris
 A combination of re-reading the race book, looking over the map, and common sense led us exactly the way Chuck had intended before he started second-guessing himself.  Before long, we were riding into the TA and greeting our friend Chad and his daughter Maddie, who were volunteering there.

Chad gave us the map for the trek. The official cut-off time to be back at the TA was 8:00, but we had a self-imposed a 7:00 time limit in order to make sure we could finish the last o section/ropes back at camp.  Knowing this, we planned to go for the first 5 or so CPs and then evaluate.  We chugged Red Bulls, changed into trail shoes, and trudged off. Chuck jokingly said I was going to do all the nav for this section; I laughed, but since I probably feel more confident in Palisades than anywhere else I didn't rule it out.

For the time being, just lifting my legs was enough.  The guys were definitely moving faster than I was. Chuck led us to the first two CPs, up and down a powerline cut where I've spent waaaay too much time over the past few years.

Throwback to Thunder Rolls 2012 (Photo credit: Luke Lamb)

...and this year. Certainly no shortage of vegetation.
Because so many other teams had been through the area on the same route that we were taking, there was a pretty well-defined trail beaten down. That was kind of nice when tromping through the thick vegetation but less so when trying to get down some of the steep slopes without breaking a hip.  Figuring I'd end there one way or the other, I just started out on my butt. 
Apparently there was something poison ivy-ish on that slope. Ask me how I know.
After those first two CPs, I asked if I could take the map.  Right there is a clear sign that we weren't really in race mode at that point so much as enjoy the day mode.  My Palisades confidence is based on success during winter orienteering, when the lack of vegetation makes terrain much more obvious to novices like me; I had a much more difficult time with all the greenery, and in fact Keith is the one who spotted "my" first CP.  That was a little discouraging.  Relying heavily on Chuck, I sort of got us to the next one and then planned out our route to a third, which was located at the edge of a field.
Seeing the large swath of light brown on the map, I'd pictured a nice, open pasture. Instead it was corn. The visibility was awesome.
Keith was slightly ahead of us as I followed our progress on the map, watching for the point where we needed to cross through the corn.  Finding it, we called to him to turn.  We beat him to the other side and found the CP; since he wasn't there yet, we called to him again and told him which way to come.  He must've gotten all turned around in the corn, because he didn't show up.  We waited a little bit and then walked back into the corn, calling his name.


Nothing. A look across the field longways showed that it extended...well, a really long way.  If he'd somehow taken the wrong direction around the field, we were in for a heck of a wait.  I imagined calling Gerry: "We've lost our teammate in the corn!"  Chuck envisioned missing the cut-off and being disqualified.


We were so relieved when we heard a response.  "Come towards our voices!" we called and then -- the piece that had been missing before -- kept calling to him until he found us.  Together again, we punched our passport and headed for the hills.

Actually, we headed for the TA.  The next CP looked like it could put us over our self-imposed deadline, so we played it safe and ended up back at the bike drop in time to see Alpine Shop cruise in after clearing the entire orienteering course.  Machines!

I was really concerned about being able to do the ascent.  My body had come around somewhat from the paddle, but my arms and legs were still pretty wiped out.  I was having visions of myself marooned on the wall and forcing my team to DNF, so the rumor that the ascending wall had been closed down due to a return of the hornets was most welcome. We had a 10-mile ride back to camp where that rumor was confirmed, much to my delight.

Coming back to camp and passing the start/finish was hard.  Once you were "home" it seemed like you should be finished.  Instead we had racing to do.  The volunteers had to shoo me away from my socializing (I told you I was out of competitive mode) so we could finish the race.

The last section was a bike-o, where we rode our bikes near the CPs and then trekked to them.  Basically that meant riding as far as it made sense and then walking the rest of the way.  There were a couple land CPs on the way to the ropes. With the ascending wall closed 

we just punched the passport at the bottom and then climbed up for the rappel. I was not excited.  I don't know what my problem is: I've rappelled several times; I totally trust the volunteers and my equipment; I even enjoyed the rappel at last year's race; even so, I was terrified standing at the top.  Maybe part of the problem is that I've made no secret of my fear of heights and was around friends and felt no need to pretend.  Whatever. All I know is that if someone had told me I could skip the rappel and still be an official finisher, I probably would have, and I hate being the kind of person who lets fear get in their way.  "Luckily" there was no reprieve, so down I went.

You can't really see my face, but it wasn't a happy one.
As I inched my way down, I managed to swing both legs into a big horizontal crack in the rock, bashing my knee against the sharp edge and letting out a few choice words.  Unlike last year when I loved the rappel, this time I was just glad to have my feet on the ground.  In contrast, Keith had a blast on his first ever rappel, and Chuck did great too.
Chuck (and Keith ahead of him) climbing into the cave during the river section.
Ropes over, all that remained were three (I think) checkpoints that required us to get back into the water. Almost 24 hours after the race began, we were back where we started: hiking through the river after dark.We ended up kind of teaming up with a 2-man team, found the CPs without incident, grabbed the final CP at the luge, and headed in to the finish at around 10:30.

My very first move as soon as the finishing photos were taken was to change clothes.  Having my feet in dry socks and shoes for the first time in nearly 24 hours felt amazing. The rest of the evening was spent eating and socializing. One of the best things about Thunder Rolls (really, it's almost all best things.  Best things and nettle) is having the Camp Benson cabins for after the race.  Spending the night at camp means no rush to get to a hotel room or start home (unless you're Keith, who showered and left immediately after the race, but he's crazy); instead, everyone gets to hang around, visit, and talk about their races.  It's a big part of what makes this race feel so much like family.

Family who I'll see again in just over 5 more months at High Profile Adventure Camp.  And you should, too.  Your only regret will be waiting this long to go.


  1. Part of me wants to get completely lost and defeated at a race like this (as I most certainly would be) just for the thrill of it - until I consider being miserable, cold, and wet for the majority of the time.

    1. The trick is finding a good navigator so you aren't lost. Really the only time I was miserable and defeated was in the canoe. But yeah, we were basically soaked all day. At least it wasn't 100 degrees. :)

  2. I always wonder about races and lightning. It seems so dangerous to not stop the race but I also get why there is such an urge to continue. But it's crazy to take that risk. I wouldn't want to be the RD who had someone killed by lightning in my race. But having said that I have continued races with lightning which I know is nuts.
    You did the wall. Yay! Love the hornets! I wonder if there is a way they would close my swim this weekend.
    You have such a great group of racers. Love how much you enjoy it.
    I am also having a great year at school. (responding now to your FB post) I hate to mention it too much and jinx it but it is going so well!

  3. Awesome race Kate! You always make it sound like so much fun, except for the poison ivy, oh, and the canoe leg. I'm glad for you that the climbing ropes were closed. Climbing those after racing for so long would have been awful.

    Nice job!

  4. Wow, what an adventure! I really admire you for this. Thanks for always sharing these with us. I really get a lot of motivation from your reports.

  5. Man you do some tough stuff!! I had to laugh at the butt- slide. :)
    As far as lightening goes.. that's pretty dangerous. We don't get a lot here, thankfully.
    I totally relate to changing your clothes post-race. There are few things more important to me after a run than a shower and a change! At least when I am cold, wet or muddy!
    Adventure camp? That sounds fun!


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