It was time for the 8th annual Too Cool Racing "Big Chill" adventure race. Team Vignette has fielded a team in every Big Chill so far, and this year would be no exception. Our 2012 team consisted of David Bogle, Julie Standing, Chris McWatters, and myself. We were looking forward to having Chris on our team since none of us had ever raced with him before. He's a super-fast runner, so we knew we certainly wouldn't be waiting on him during the trek legs.
The temperatures were a bit warmer than usual for January in Bastrop, but it was going to remain overcast and windy for most of the day, so it still felt chilly. Race directors Art and Robyn handed out the UTM coordinates for the first leg 15 minutes before the race start, which is unusual (as they typically like to make us plot while the race clock is ticking). So we plotted the nine points on our map, and then all the 18-hour teams boarded a bus that would drive us to the start of the race.
The points for the first leg were in the wilderness surrounding Buescher State Park, so obviously the bus would be taking us that way. While on the bus teams were handed a short trivia test, and we were told we had two minutes to fill it out. We knew some of the answers, but had to guess on about half of them. Art collected all the tests and graded them as the bus drove us closer to our destination.
So the unique start for this year's race was that the bus would drive up Ann Powel Road, and the order that teams would disembark from the bus was determined by how well they did on the trivia test. Neat! Since we'd already plotted the points for the first leg we already knew which way we'd be running... we just didn't know how far we'd have to run to get there.
Leg 1 - "Backwoods Hunt" - Trek
The bus stopped near the southern end of Ann Powel Road and Art announced the teams that would get off there. This first group had done the worst on the trivia quiz, and so they would have to run the farthest. Fortunately our team had done well enough that we weren't in this group. The released teams started running north along the road, and the bus quickly passed them. The bus then stopped at a middle point to let out the teams that had scored in the middle on the test... and it turns out that that's the group we were in. Alrighty, then, time to get running. We hopped out of the bus and started sprinting up the road, trying to warm up and get ahead of the rest of the field.
The bus passed us and then stopped to let off the teams that had aced the test. I think there were only two teams in the smarty-pants group. So they led the way to Park Road 1C, and then as we continued north our team eventually overtook them and we gained the lead. We'd decided to get the farthest checkpoint first and work our way back to the bike drop, mostly so that we could run along the road for a couple of miles to get warm.
We turned right onto Old Antioch Road, then took a left onto a trail that brought us close to CP 3. We left the trail and went into the drainage, and we'd picked a good spot to do so because CP 3 was right there in the draw just ahead of us. Chris punched the passport and we headed back along the trail, happy that we'd managed to get the first checkpoint without any teams seeing where we'd jumped off the trail. As we headed back down Old Antioch Road we high-fived all the teams that were heading towards CP 3.
When we hit Road 1C again we bushwhacked west. Down across a draw, then up over a spur, then down into another draw... and there was CP 4. So far, so good. I knew the next point would be tricky because the area around it has several places of similar contours, and it was hard to clearly see much of the area through the trees. Plus it was on a knoll, which is a lot easier to miss than a draw. So we proceeded slowly through the forest and tried to keep track of our location on the map. It didn't help, as we never saw CP 5. That's OK, as "Plan B" was to just go down the hill past CP 5, find the park boundary fence, and use that as our new attack location. This didn't work so well either, as I misjudged where we were on the map when we hit the fence, and figured we were in a different draw than we actually were. D'oh! Once we discovered this it was time to recalibrate again, and implement "Plan C"... follow the park boundary fence down to the actual correct draw, and then follow the spur up to the point.
So we finally found CP 5. I'd known it was going to be a tough one but certainly didn't think I'd mess it up that badly. Shake it off! As we left CP 5 we passed by Team Hart All Day who was heading up towards it... it looked like they had chosen to get the northern points on this leg in the opposite order than everyone else. Fortunately CP 6 was easy enough, we just headed down and south from CP 5 until we were in the next draw and found it. We then followed the fence from CP 6 towards CP 2. There were a lot of nice big contours to climb up and down along the way. We descended into the huge draw, but we didn't see CP 2 at the intersection as we were expecting. We sent folks along the draw in all three directions from the intersection for a bit, but nobody saw the checkpoint or any other intersections. That's odd. The contours on the map were so clear in this area that we couldn't really be mistaking this spot for any other place. And then, we finally looked up... and there was CP 2, about twenty feet above the draw intersection that we'd been standing in and wandering around for the past five minutes!
This was such a deep draw that the land banks around it were very high. We'd only been looking in the draw itself, not up on the banks, because when the clue says "draw" Too Cool typically puts the points in the draw. So the clue did throw us off a bit, but on the other hand, we should have been looking around more thoroughly when we first hit the intersection thinking it was the right spot. Chris clambered up the steep bank to punch CP 2 and we tried to sneak out of there quickly as we heard other teams approaching.
We headed southeast and up, and popped out on the road right by the Research Center. We took the trail for a bit, which went generally parallel to the draw for our next checkpoint. I didn't trust the accuracy of the trail on the map to take it all the way to CP 8, so I had us get off early and follow the draw so we wouldn't overshoot it. We ran into Team Werewolves at this point, who obviously hadn't messed up CP 5 as badly as I did. Both our teams followed the draw to CP 8 and we punched it together. Then we headed south and caught the trail again, while the Werewolves continued through the woods. We were able to run pretty fast along the trail, and so we didn't see the Werewolves again after that.
The trail merged with a gas pipeline clearing, and we continued running along it. We passed a runner who out doing some sort of ultra marathon training event, though I'm sure the only reason we were able to pass him is that he'd been running for much longer than us at this point.
We caught up to Team Masters of the Universe on the pipeline just about when it was time to leave and bushwhack to the next point. Both of our teams agreed that we needed to head up the draw, so up we went. The draw split and we took the right fork, just as was shown on the map. Then the draw petered out, and split again, and the immediate contours of the area were much too shallow to show up on the map. The clue said draw, and so we kind of followed up both shallow forks, and Chris found CP 1 up the left fork. He tried to reconvene with us and not give away the discovery to the other team, but the Masters of the Universe saw right through our treachery and headed up the left fork to also get it.
We were hoping to get out of there quickly so as not to lead them to any more points. In the rush to do so, I made another bone-headed mistake... When we popped out onto the pipeline, I assumed it was actually a different line that we were looking for, and had us run along it. After traveling over way too many contour lines I finally looked at my compass and realized we were running west when we should be running south. Oops, about-face, gang! We followed to east-west pipeline back to the north-south powerline where we should have been all along, and got back on track.
We dropped off the powerline into another draw and found CP 7. Then we managed to find a little trail that lead the way out from CP 7 down to the road that went around Buescher Lake. There was one remaining trek point, on the other side of the lake. We weren't sure which way was the quickest to go around but decided to try the counter-clockwise route. We did a little bushwhack by the north end of the lake to cut off some distance, and then continued along the road to the southwestern point. We hit the lake shoreline and found CP 9.
From here we could see that the lake shore by the dam was wide open for running, so we continued counter-clockwise along the shoreline. We passed the finish line for the ultra marathon training event, and then finally made it to the bike drop. Whew! Unsurprisingly Team Masters of the Universe was already there, getting reading for the next bike leg. Surprisingly, we were the second team back, which I hadn't expected since it felt like I'd made about a half hour's worth of mistakes out there. Well, it's always nice to find out that things aren't quite as bad as you feared.
Leg 2 - "Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig" - Bike
Dave and I quickly plotted the points for the next leg. Looks like we'd be skipping Rocky Hill Ranch altogether this year, and biking fairly directly back to Lake Bastrop. We would mostly be staying off the usual route along Park Road 1C, and instead be following country roads to the north. This was probably to keep us out of the areas that had been damaged by wildfires a few months ago.
As we started biking north we saw Team Masters of the Universe had instead started off biking south, towards the park entrance. We weren't sure what to make of that, but that route didn't make any sense to us so we didn't waste time worrying about what they were doing. We zipped along 1C for a bit, retracing our steps from when we'd run up this road at the start of the race three hours earlier. We did the same turn onto Old Antioch Road, and made our way north. Julie and Chris were our strongest bikers so they took turns towing and breaking the wind for the team, while Dave navigated. There was a bit of a chilly headwind to deal with.
CP 10 was on a cemetery fence. We stopped to punch the point, switch to the next map, and shove a bite of food into our mouths, and then we were off again. Several miles later we hit CP 11 at a bend in the road and we repeated the process. Then we hit highway 21, which is a nice wide paved road, and we were suddenly not heading into the wind anymore, so we were flying. It didn't take long until it was time to head through a subdivision to the north. It was kind of surreal seeing all the burnt trees as we made our way to CP 12 by a culvert. Then we got on 1441, which took us to the North Shore Park on Lake Bastrop.
There was one checkpoint in the park we had to find before continuing, on a pond. We weren't sure if we could bike our way there or if we'd have to bushwhack on foot. Fortunately we saw a small trail that went the right way, so we didn't have to fight through the vines for once. We punched CP 13 and then got on the trail that connects the two parks on the lake. CP 14 was along the trail on Big Buck Bridge, and then CP 15 was at Big Oak Bridge. And then we rolled back into the main transition area at South Shore Park.
Leg 3 - "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" - Paddle
We'd managed to take the lead in the race, and hoped that we'd be able to keep it. There were five points on the next paddle leg, which would have us travel over pretty much all of Lake Bastrop. The wind made for some waves from the north, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some previous years at this event. We knew that the wind was forecast to die down as the day progressed, so we decided to get the southern point first on the theory that the waves would be slightly smaller by the time we turned back to the north.
Dave and I prefer single-blade paddles, so we were together in one canoe. Julie and Chris were using double-blades in the other. We launched our boats and then almost immediately Julie and Chris capsized. I guess they weren't used to paddling with each other, yet! Fortunately we were still close to shore so it wasn't too difficult to rescue them. They weren't very happy about being soaked while in the chilling wind, though! Well, the best way to warm up is to paddle hard, so we did.
We got CP 20 in the southern inlet, and then headed north. We headed in a counter-clockwise direction around the lakeshore. The only other boats on the lake at the moment were teams doing the 12 hour version of the race, and local fishermen. CP 18 was in a small inlet that was hard to see at first, but once we'd curved our way around the bend, there it was. We had to pass a boat of fishermen to make our way up the next inlet to the hidden bridge, where we found CP 17.
That was it for the northeast part of the lake, so next we headed for the northwest section for CP 19. We finally came across some other 18 hour teams on the lake at this point. However, since they were doing the paddling points in the opposite direction from us we knew that we were still well ahead of them. We couldn't paddle quite all the way to the bridge so I had to get out of the boat to punch CP 19, but it was nice to stretch out my legs a bit.
Time for the home-stretch paddle, with the wind at our backs for a change as we headed south. Our final point was CP 16 just past the dam, and then it was back to transition. We managed to get the boats out of the water without anyone going for another swim. Debbie Richardson was there with a camera, and she was nice enough to capture a photo montage of the action:
Leg 4 - "Mix & Match" - Trek
For our next leg we had to visit 6 points on foot. They were all fairly close to TA, and mostly along the main park trails. The points were even preplotted for us on a park map. A quick and easy leg, then... perfect for warming up again after the wet and windy paddle. We were required to write down the words we found at each checkpoint (for later use), which turned out to be the names of the sponsors of the event.
We must have misplaced this map after the race because I can't find it now, so I can't give you a detailed account of what order we visited them. But that hardly matters much as it was an uneventful leg, just a nice 40 minute jog through the woods. In some order, we found CP 21 at Twin Bridges, CP 22 at a bench, CP 23 at Big Oak Bridge, CP 24 at Lewis Point Trail, CP 25 at a trail head, and CP 26 at Lewis Point Commons. And then we headed back to the start.
Leg 5 - "Head Downtown" - Bike
Our next leg just had us biking to downtown Bastrop and heading to Fisherman's Park for more instructions. We packed our lights because we figured it would likely be dark before we returned, and headed out. It doesn't take long to get to Bastrop, so soon we were at Fisherman's Park and we found race volunteer Richard McCormick, who gave us our next leg.
Leg 6 - "Up River" - Paddle
This leg was an interesting surprise, as we would be paddling again. Though obviously not with our own boats and paddles, as they were back in transition at the lake. Instead, Cook's Canoes provided each team with paddles and a single canoe, and we had to paddle up the Colorado River. Well that's different.
Too bad the river was so shallow, though. Progress was slow as we kept bottoming out. We would take turns getting out and dragging the boat by wading upstream. It was pretty difficult to have all four of us efficiently paddle in the two-seater canoe, anyways, so for much of the upstream part I just ran alongside the shore to lighten the boat. After about a kilometer of miserable shallows the river finally became more paddleable, and we made our way to Bob Bryant Pier. CP 27 was supposed to be here, but we looked all around the pier and couldn't find it. Some amused locals verified that we were indeed at Bob Bryant Pier. They said they hadn't seen a checkpoint around there, but there were a lot of kids in the area so perhaps it had been stolen. Well, the clue stated the point should be at the pier, so it was pretty easy for us to conclude that it didn't look like it was still there.
We headed further upstream for the next point, CP 28. There was some flagging at another pier indicating where we should park our canoe and get out for a special test. Also Art and his kids were there, so that was another hint that we might be in the right spot. We told Art that CP 27 was missing, and then we followed a flagged path up to the building. A sign outside the building said we needed to look around inside for five clues before continuing. So we went in and started looking.
It was a large room, with lots of framed pictures on the walls, but nothing struck us as obviously being a clue. So we started looking behind the pictures, and taking things off the walls and such, trying to figure out what it was we were supposed to be looking for. The lady who was watching us do the special test got a bit concerned that we were going to dismantle the whole building, so she put a stop to it by pretty much pointing out to us that there was a box of black lights outside the entrance to the building, and perhaps we'd want to use those? Ah, well yes, we would. We hadn't seen the black lights when we'd come into the place, or Dave and I would have surely figured out the trick right off... as we'd just done a similar "use the black lights to find the clues" special test at the Great Urban Race championships two months earlier.
Black lights in hand, we shut the door to the room and turned off the lights. Sure enough, as we scanned around the room we were able to find five words written in ultraviolet ink. "Water", "chestnut", "child", "hero", and "axe". We knew we would need these words later to solve CP 30, but not sure how. I figured that it would all make sense when we got the additional information at CP 30. Then someone recognized that "Water" and "Chestnut" were both street names in downtown Bastrop, so we figured that CP 30 would be at that street intersection. Good enough for us, let's get out of here!
We paddled back downstream. As we came to Bob Bryant Pier again we saw Art hanging out a new punch for CP 27. We asked him if we actually had to punch it since we'd already parked there earlier and walked around looking for it. He had no pity for us, though, and he made us paddle up again to get the newly placed punch.
We continued downriver to the shallow section. Fortunately heading downstream made this part much easier than before, as we were able to body-rock our boat over the low points without having to stop and get out, for the most part. We past by a couple other teams clawing their way upstream, going about as slowly as we had when we did that earlier. Finally we were back at the ramp for Fisherman's Park, so we carried the canoe up and got our next set of instructions.
Leg 7 - "Urban Scavenger Hunt" - Trek
It was now time for a little jog around downtown Bastrop to collect some points on foot. Instead of plotting the points by UTM coordinates we had to figure out their locations using street addresses and clues and such. They gave us a bunch of maps and informational pamphlets to determine the locations of the points. We searched through all the information as a team and managed to get a pretty good idea of where everything mapped out. It was at least good enough to get started moving.
First we would visit CP 32 at the Sugar Shack. From the Fisherman's Park we would have to backtrack on land slightly to get on the big bridge over the river that leads to the Shack. I came up with the alternate plan of just wading directly across the river, since our feet were already wet anyways. Nobody objected, so we splashed our way across the Colorado. Fortunately it never got more than knee high, so it was a good shortcut. Well, OK, so then we had to cross a cow field on the other side with some very curious cows staring us down, but it was still a good shortcut.
At the Sugar Shack we had to take our picture with the Nutcracker, and the folks inside wouldn't tell us where to find it. We looked about inside the shop for a bit, and then someone had the presence of mind to check the porch outside. Yep, right by the entrance was a huge Nutcracker that we'd all walked right by and didn't notice! Anyways, here's our picture wearing the fake mustaches they gave us:
The fake mustaches were fun, but the previous year's race had been better, when they handed us candy instead. Race directors, take note: You can never go wrong by giving your racers candy!
Next we jogged across the bridge. We were heading towards CP 30, which was at the intersection of Chestnut and Water streets. We knew CP 29 was somewhere along Chestnut as well, at 601 Chestnut, but we couldn't tell from the map where 601 would be. We went a block past Alley B before we realized we needed to turn around and head down the alley, where we found CP 29, the Yacht Club:
Onwards, to the Water Street intersection. Sure enough, the five hidden clue words we'd found in the dark at CP 28 (the street names, plus "child", "hero", "axe") now all made sense, as there was a statue of a fireman here, holding an axe and a child:
We had to look up a classified ad in a local Bastrop paper to uncover the location of CP 31. We needed a picture of an old baseball team, which we'd find in Fireman's Park. We cut diagonally southwest across the city blocks until we made it to the park, and the picture was right in our path, so it was nice and easy to find:
The last point for this leg was the Chester and Mary Trigg Erhard house. We found the house easily enough, but then we couldn't find any sort of identifying sign or plaque to take our picture with. After wandering around the house on the sidewalk in the dark for a bit, we finally spotted the large identifying stone embedded in the sidewalk under our feet:
We headed back to Fisherman's Park to get our pictures checked. All of our pictures were declared good... hooray. That meant we still had an unused "skip point" that we could redeem on whichever point we didn't feel like getting on the final leg. (Team received a free skip point if they donated five cans of food per teammate... which is a nice way Too Cool helps support the Bastrop community.) The volunteers told us it was time to bike back to the main transition. We biked through downtown, trying to dodge the traffic and the red lights, and then made our way back to South Shore Park. Becky Sampson took this picture of me as I checked us in before the final leg:
Leg 8 - "A Walk in the Woods" - Trek
Before we received the UTM coordinates for the final points we had to solve a word search puzzle. The search terms were the words that we'd found earlier back on Leg 4, so we dug through our old papers until we found out where we'd written them down. The puzzle was quick and easy, so soon enough we were finished and had earned the right to start the final leg.
There were two points to the north, and then another cluster of three points to the south and east. It wasn't really obvious which point was the best to use as our skip point... as they were all clustered pretty close together. So we just chose to skip one of the group of three that was off on its own, trail-wise. It was actually closer in absolute distance, but you'd have to go out of your way on trails to get to it. And we'd bushwhacked through that area on a previous race enough to know that it generally wasn't worth trying to take a direct bearing between the trails if you could help it.
We jogged north to the dam and Dave guided us to the first two points. They were located not far from the bike trail that we'd been on earlier that day. Then it was time to run back by the TA on our way to the remaining points. I started feeling pretty wonky as we were heading to the last two points. Hard to describe what the problem was... it wasn't one of the typical energy, electrolyte, or dehydration bonks that we're all familiar with. I just kind of felt dizzy and nauseous and didn't really want to run. So Chris graciously volunteered to tow me, and I kept jogging as much as I could while Dave did all the navigation.
Fortunately Dave's nav was spot on, so we didn't have to spend any more time out there than necessary. We hustled our way back to the finish line. We didn't think any other teams could have caught up to us at this point, but it doesn't hurt to be sure. We made it back, and... yes, success, we'd managed to win the thing. I was quite relieved, and happy to just sit down and eat and drink for a bit while my body regained its equilibrium from whatever had been troubling it.
Soon I was feeling better, and after eating a bit we showered and changed into some non-racing clothes. Too Cool had some great trophies and prizes for us for winning the thing, which was nice. We finished the race in 13 hours and 8 minutes, and the next closest team behind us was Masters of the Universe who came in at 14 hours and 28 minutes.
So, it was a very satisfying day. A great race, along with great teammates to race with. Art and Robyn do a fantastic job of keeping this race fresh by always throwing in new unexpected twists each year... it's never the same race twice!
And it turns out that the race made the local Bastrop paper. And they published a great photograph of Chris McWatters, to boot!
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