To err is human. To recover from errors is adventure racing.
I went out to play at Camp Eagle last weekend. Too Cool Racing was putting on yet another awesome 24-hour race, full of fun and challenges, and I didn't want to miss it. So we got together a team of me, my brother Kip, our good friend Dave, and our now-good-friend Matt from Louisiana who we met on Friday. My husband John is working through a shoulder separation issue and couldn't race, so thankfully Matt agreed to join us instead. I must say, excepting John's error in February of trying to fly by launching off his bike seat, we made no mistakes in our pre-race preparation.
The race started at the front gate of the camp. They handed out folded pieces of paper that appeared to have some UTM's on it, so we readied our pen, plotter, and map. And... go! We ran for a spot on the pavement to plot, Kip quickly determined we needed to get up the road to the windmill, we did a spot-check of the UTM numbers and we on our way. We chased a couple teams until we got to the steep hill, then did a speed walk while MOAT ran on by.
A bit more walking and running got us to the top where Dave jumped into a big water tank to search for a tennis ball with the number "11" (our team number) on it. Kip climbed up to walk around the outside and help him spot it, while I tried to peer over the edge and be useful. Dave found the ball, tossed it to me, and we were on our way back to the TA. Once there, Kip tossed the ball to Robyn and we got our instruction sheet for leg 2.
Off to the bike trails! First we took a little detour, missing a left turn right out of TA. It gave us a chance to greet MOAT again before they disappeared, as they recovered from briefly bypassing the same little flags. We rode the trail by the river and then headed up the hill via multiple switchbacks. I was riding (vs. running) more of the terrain than in previous races, and I was feeling pretty good about my new bike until I stepped out of the powergrips. When I tried to put my feet back in, I realized I had the wrong shoes on - shoes with a wider toe guard that didn't fit well in the powergrips. Argh. I was stuck riding without a connection to the pedals most of the time. The only thing that kept me from going bonkers was the fact that I love this bike. But I still got off and ran more than I might have if I had a more stable connection to the bike.
Up the hill, around the back, along the top, past the cross, down a little bit, and then we were on a new section of trail. I am not a fan of new sections of trails. It was rather narrow and didn't work very hard at avoiding rocks. I did some running, trying to keep from slowing everyone down too much, although Dave and Matt continually had to wait for me. Sorry guys. Once back on the old trails I felt better. Then Matt got a flat tire, so we stopped briefly to replace the tube.
At this point I realized my biggest error of the morning - underestimating how long the first two legs would take and not eating in TA or bringing an Ensure for the bike leg. It didn't affect the bike section too badly, but I was behind on calories for a while, and that's not a great way to start a race. Especially a race that would demand quite a bit of effort.
So we biked on, finished the trails, climbed the big hill again, and found CP1 by the windmill. Two and a half hours to CP1, that's about right. More dirt roads, and then we hit a screaming downhill with a few rocks thrown in. I think there was a guy videotaping there, but I had a death grip on the brakes and a death stare on the road in front of me so I'm not sure. But at least I rode it to the bottom!
After several dips and climbs in the trail, we finished with a bit of singletrack and headed back to TA. Time for some Gookinaid and Ensure. Kip plotted the next 5 points for our upcoming trekking leg and then it was time to go. The first point was in a cave, that sounded exciting. We climbed up the big hill and started down the other side to see Team Outcasts checking out the hillside across from us.
Our first pass across the area didn't yield a cave, so we went to the nearest creek intersection, pace counted up one creek while Kip followed the creek bends on the map, then headed up the hill. Matt located the cave and called us over. We all had to punch our wristbands at this CP, and it seemed from the small little hole in the ground that we'd have to take turns. But we discovered that the hole led to a big cavern, so we gathered down there together and used Matt's headlamp to find the punch. At least, once I took my sunglasses off I was able to find it. Neat CP!
It was over a couple kilometers to the next checkpoint, and I think we made it a little longer than necessary. There's a spot in the middle of the map that confused us in the dark last year, and we hadn't figured it out yet at this point in the race. Wait 'til later! But for now, we headed down a draw and popped out at the windmill at the bottom, so we were pleased to know where we were. We made note of the water coming out of the windmill pump.
On our way up to CP3 we saw a team coming out of the woods. We had a trend going on the whole race where we kept seeing other teams around us, which wasn't a normal experience. Usually teams got fairly spread out fairly quickly, but not this race. Well, except for MOAT I/II, who disappeared completely after that tiny glitch at the start of the bike leg.
We found CP3 at the end of the hilltop. On our way back down we discussed the water situation. We were starting to realize that we had misunderestimated the length of this leg and the heat of the day. Like good little acclimators, we had been sucking down the fluids. But we had started the leg with 60-70 oz of water apiece, and that wasn't going to be enough. So we headed for the windmill and got some water before continuing on. Another team was there filling their Camelbak bladders.
We headed north up the road, watching the team ahead of us climbing the hill. After a brief foray into the woods to pick up CP4 at the top of a cliff, we climbed up the road in the same direction. Kip located a turn to the left that could have been easy to miss, and then we were on our way towards another windmill. This one was disappointing - no water for head dowsing.
From there we continued north, jumped a fence, and walked until we found a nice road going down into the next valley. The road was so nice compared to the cedar crap around us that we stayed with it even though it wasn't exactly a direct shot to our destination. It came to the bottom and followed the creek bed, even providing a side road directly to CP5. Nice.
A couple times we tried to pick up the pace a run a bit, but by this time I was getting pretty hot. My heart rate was higher than normal, and running was a stretch. We settled for a fast walk. When we found the next hill to climb toward CP6, the steep grade started taking a toll on me. I knew I'd have to work hard up every hill for the rest of the day and find a way to recover. Speed was not going to be our forte this time.
After crossing the bike trail a couple times and traversing the ridge, we located CP6 at the cross. From there it was a quick downhill trek back to TA. And cold drinks! Oh wait, the team wants to do the water sports first. So we grabbed some Heed and water from the Too Coolers and headed over to the river.
Summary of leg 4: I hate, hate the iceberg. Here was my first inkling that this race discriminates against short people. Matt provided some triathlon swimming inspiration for me, so that part (swimming to two buoys) seemed to go better than last year. And my legs were just itching to cramp up on me - easy now, stay with me!
Now for the cold drinks! Normally I race without a cooler or ice, but this time I was happy to borrow some space in Dave's cooler. Thanks Dave! I started chugging cold Gookinaid between each leg, and that seemed to help keep me from too much heat-related trouble. That and the fact that I was royally slowing down our team today.
We looked at the clue sheet for leg 5 - a ride and tie, ouch. Normally we have a dedicated runner in John. Matt offered to be a primary runner, and he turned out to be an excellent one. Kip also started out running, and Dave and I took our bikes.
Up the steep hill, again. Dave gave Kip a lift down the hill on the dirt road. Matt punched CP11 at the overlook, then we cut across to the trail below us. I attempted to ride some of it, but my shoes continued to give me problems. My slowness didn't affect us quite as much through here, although I couldn't always keep up with our two runners. We found CP12 (bike drop) at the U-turn in the trail, left the bikes and helmets, and went up the creek toward CP13.
As we started heading up a draw toward the checkpoint, we ran into Sarah from Team Outcasts. She mentioned something about the CP being easy to find because you could hear the zipline. Ah yes, the zipline in the middle of nowhere. We hiked up toward the platform, with Team Outcasts just ahead of us. We were wondering why Sarah wasn't with them, and mentioned to the volunteer that our whole team was present. The guy said he would mark us down as having arrived at the same time. Thinking that meant that that our race clock would be stopped (since why else would you consider that to be fair?), we didn't argue.
As we sat waiting, we noticed on the volunteer's clipboard that he was recording only the arrival time of each time. We asked him, he said that's all he was told to record. So we were still on the clock. There's an error we won't make again! To compound the problem, a couple racers had issues with the setup of the zipline. When you stop sliding, you have to grab a second line to pull yourself the rest of the way across. But the pull line was quite taut, necessitating a "grab-on-the-fly" as you slide or some strange bouncing action to try to reach it. One guy got so stuck that both ropes were stopped so a volunteer could slide out and help him.
On the other end, you were required to climb onto the platform, ring a cowbell, and then traverse back across. One of the ropes appeared to be more difficult to reach the platform from. One female racer tried really hard but couldn't make it, even sliding back down the cable to the middle. Her teammate eventually got on the platform, unclipped, and went to help her.
Watching all this was either frustrating, amusing, or concerning, depending on the person. We started looking for a length of cord to loop over the upper line to help pull it down. Someone on Team Werewolves came up with his spare towline and carabiner, and he let us use it after they finished on the ropes. I chose the left-hand traverse line, as it seemed easier to reach the opposite platform. When it was finally our turn, I went first in case I got stuck, so the rest of my team could at least continue on the other line (the volunteers were giving both lines to each team).
In the end, because of all that watching and planning, my traverse went fine. Just a good bit of work on the hand-over-hand part, then there was this nice tree to help me onto the far platform. And I got some help getting back on the return platform. Thank goodness that's over. Dave followed me on the left line, Matt and his long legs made short work of the right line, Kip finished us off, we passed the towline on to the next team waiting, and we were outta there.
Back at the bikes, we jumped on and started down the trail. Partway down Matt remembered that he hadn't picked up his helmet from the bike drop. He wasn't so much concerned about the helmet as needing something for another bike leg. Dave suggested we could find one to borrow, not to worry. So we continued on, down to the river and over the bridge where we punched CP14.
Dave caught sight of a gaping hole in the fence by the road, so we gladly walked the two bikes up to it. Kip and I started alternating riding/running like an actual real ride-and-tie. Matt continued to run strong. Soon we were back to the TA and cold drinks! We also managed to borrow a helmet for Matt, since we were pretty sure we would need one again.
Our team (well, most of us) was very excited that the next leg was a paddle. I would have been more excited except that it was more of an exercise in portaging than paddling, but at least we were on the water and able to cool off. After approximately 327 portages (and I must be off on that number since we did each one twice), a bit of swimmer-dodging, and some other-team-greeting on the water, we were done. I was now officially exhausted.
It was getting later into the afternoon and the shadows were lengthening. We were about to head into one big shadow at the ropes wall. As we biked toward the start of the climb, Team Werewolves also left the TA in the same direction. We chatted with them a bit, put on our harnesses, and then followed some slightly confusing flagging and flags to the base on the wall.
Here we were allowed one rope per team, with one person belaying from the bottom. Dave started up the rope ladder/rock climb first, and it soon became apparent that the rope ladder wasn't easy. The rest of the team helped by pulling on the belay rope and soon Dave was at the top. It then became apparent that returning the belay rope back through the ATC on Kip's harness was also not easy. He got quite a workout with that.
The discrimination against short people continued with the rope ladder - who makes a ladder with rungs that far apart? Matt held the bottom to make it more stable while I muscled up the best I could. The rock climbing part was easy, especially with some pull from the belay rope. Dave and I waited, chatting with Ashley, while the rest of our team got up the ropes. Then it was off to the "sherpa wall" lobster claw dance.
We climbed up the hill on the other end, came back around, punched the CP at the overlook since it seemed like the circle was in the same place as CP11, and then punched again at the correct spot at the top of the rappel ropes. Matt did great on his first rappel and soon all of us were at the bottom, ready to ride back to TA. That was a fun leg!
Leg 8 was a bike/trek, usually an enjoyable prospect. Dave astutely noticed that it would be dark before we finished it, so we gathered lights and food/water before heading out one more time up the steep hill to the windmill. On the way up the hill, a guy ran over and told us that there was a racer in trouble up at the windmill and would we mind riding back to the TA to get some help? That gave us pause, but Matt turned immediately around and sped back for help. Soon a truck passed us on the way up the hill - we wondered why they couldn't have brought Matt back with them. But amazingly quickly, Matt rode back up. Nice job!
There was a good breeze going on the higher elevations, we appreciated that. We stopped briefly at the windmill so Dave could dunk his head in the tank and I could get a couple salt tablets out for Dave and Matt. The ride down to CP18 was pretty easy. Especially since we had seen the checkpoint earlier during the first trek. Once there, we pondered the significance on the scaffolding over the high fence. It seemed to have been placed there for a reason, as Matt pointed out. We couldn't see a road on the other side, and we debated route choices.
In the end, just before Team Outcast rode up, we decided to go over the fence and see what was on the other side. One at the time, the bikes were handed over. I opted to slide under the fence to save a bit of elevation gain. We rode through the pasture and around a tree to discover what used to be a road. I'd now call it "not a road". But it was in the right direction so I guess we better tough it out for a couple kilometers.
I alternated riding over rocks with running over rocks, muttering, "This is not a road." The positive outcome is that we may have finally figured out that area that has confused us a couple times. Maybe we'll remember next year, or maybe we'll just remember that we should have remembered it better.
I'm pretty sure we'll remember that we didn't much like biking on this "not a road." Our reward was a screaming downhill with whoop-de-doos in the middle of it, and thank goodness it was a smooth dirt road. Also - I love me my new disc brakes. We parked at the bottom, hiked up the drainage to CP19 at a spring, and came back down without seeing Team Outcasts or anyone else.
Once we reparked the bikes and started up the hill toward CP20, then other teams started showing up. We went straight up the hill and located the checkpoint without issue, but a side road at the top was rather tempting compared to the cedar we had bushwhacked through to get there. Unfortunately we got sidetracked and still had to bushwhack the long way around when the road didn't help us.
Back at the bikes with a couple teams hot on our heels, we took off at a fast mosey. It was a long ride through the field, back by the windmill we had passed on the first trek, through the gate, along the West Rose Draw (I only know THAT because the map is sitting here in front of me). We played leapfrog with each other (our own teammates, that is) as we took turns deciding we needed our headlamps in order to see. Team Outcasts rode by and we soon followed them around to a gate and CP21.
On the way up the next hill and along the road, neither team seemed to muster much competitive energy. The heat had sapped everyone to some degree. It was pretty funny to be neck-and-neck in the next-to-last leg and not see a lot of killer instinct going around. Both teams rode to CP22 on a fence and turned around toward the big windmill yet again.
The road was a bit rocky, and as much work as I need with technical biking, I need even more with nighttime riding. I was pleasantly surprised that the "bright" setting on my headlamp lit up the dirt roads and made it a relatively straightforward journey. Partway along, we heard a loud "Pssst" up ahead. We passed Team Outcasts and relayed our subdued condolences for having to fix a flat so close to the end of all the biking in the race.
We rode around, found CP23 in the same place we had seen it earlier, rode by the big windmill, and headed on for home. Dave's stomach was starting to give him trouble while riding, so we hopped off and walked a couple of the small rises. I hopped off at the top of the steep hill and walked down among the "boulders" that are probably not as big or scary as I made them out to be. Soon we were back at TA and Dave was relieved to be finished with the biking.
One more leg! We plotted it and were surprised that it wasn't the normal final-leg monster trek, only perhaps 7 km. They told us that MOAT had been gone for 2.5 hours already, so perhaps the navigation would be a bit of a challenge. That sounds right up our alley. Team Werewolves had just left and Team Outcasts rode into TA right as we were finishing up. Not to mention another 2 teams not far behind. Looks like a close one for third place.
As we started across camp toward the river, we saw 8 headlamps bobbing toward us at a high rate of speed. We whistled and cheered for Teams MOAT I and II - awesome! We felt good that we had at least started the last leg before they finished the race, that's something.
Kip came up with a good plan for getting us across the river toward our first checkpoint. He led us across the dam, which even had notches cut out so we almost didn't have to get our feet wet. Step 2 involved scrambling up a bunch of rocks. Step 3 was to climb up the hill and follow the fence that just happened to be there. I was feeling a lot better now that it wasn't hot anymore, so I led the way. As we climbed and climbed, I called back to Kip once to verify, and he replied, "hill TOP" so I kept going. Sure enough, there at the top on a fence was CP24.
We discussed options for getting back down the hill, debating whether to go the more direct route northwest vs. going back down the hill and around. Kip pushed for taking the route we knew instead of possibly getting cliffed out in the other direction. Since it wasn't much more distance, we agreed it was a good choice. So we turned around, back past some prickly holly plants, down the rocks and across the dam.
Heading to the road we saw lights on the other side of the river and we theorized that it was Team Werewolves. We also saw at least one team doing the paddle leg in the dark. As we worked our way along the bank and eventually inland, soon we were alone again. We "hopped" a giant fence, followed a bike trail, found a dirt road, and located our next reentrant. CP25 was just a little ways down. Three to go!
It was a long climb on a jeep road back to the top of the sprawling mesa yet again. Matt mentioned that he thought he had developed a stress fracture in one of his legs - ouch! As long as he was moving it seemed OK, but it stiffened up whenever we stopped. Hopefully we could keep moving. Dave was developing a more severe stomach issue and was having a bit of trouble with the "keeping moving" part.
At the top of the hill near an intersection, we headed back into the cedar crap to look for the top of a reentrant. My bright light helped me locate CP26, Matt punched it, and we pushed back out to the road. We started seeing teams around us, some on bikes, other racers on foot. Since we could get the points in any order, it was hard to tell where we stood. But we were limited by Dave's speed, so we just continued on the best we could.
The next checkpoint might be a tough one, according to Kip. First off, there was the challenge of finding the correct reentrant. Then the clue was "rock face" which might mean next to some random rock somewhere down the slope. And it was plotted on the north edge of the reentrant. So basically it could be a bit of a random shot.
First we went by the big windmill for the last time (yay!). Then I pace counted and located a road heading northeast along the ridge. The road got a bit squirrelly and the way in to the reentrant was thick with cedar. But we did find the right reentrant without too much difficulty. So that's something.
While Kip and I wandered around along the northern side of it, Dave and Matt headed down to the bottom. Matt called up to us that he had located the CP - all right Matt! On the plus side, the rock face was ginormous. Even though it wasn't exactly where we had plotted it. Oh well, as errors went that day, that one seemed relatively minor.
One to go! We went back out to the "windmill road" and followed it until it started down the steep hill. Along the way we made a brief pit stop so Dave could lighten his load, i.e. leave the contents on his stomach on the side of the road. Matt was limping but still moving gamely. My wet, shriveled feet were starting to get sore. It felt like we were just holding everything together for the very last part of this race, and we better get back soon before it all fell apart on us.
I realized we had shot past the curve we were looking for, so we backtracked a bit to locate the spur. Once there, it was a nice wide-open trek to the top of the hill. There was a strange antenna and some wires just lying there. Odd. Well, that was CP28 - let's finish this up!
We took the long way around to stay on easily traveled trails and roads. Somehow we managed to run the last 10 feet into the TA where there was a crowd waiting to see who was coming in. Did we really manage to come in ahead of everyone except the MOAT teams? Apparently we did! I'm still not sure how. It turned out to be a really close race, too, when the Knights of NI came out of nowhere to finish only 4 minutes behind us. They smoked that last trek!
It was quite the race - fun, interesting, challenging, HOT, and highly competitive. Many thanks to my awesome teammates for putting up with me and for hanging in to the end. Huge thank you to Too Cool Racing and Camp Eagle for another fantastic race. Maybe in a couple days I'll have recovered and I can start training for the next one!
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