On a beautiful day in January, Team Vignette assembled in the cool morning air at Lake Bastrop South
Shore Park for the ninth annual Too Cool Big Chill 18 hour adventure race. This turned out to be a very exciting
race as the race directors put a fresh spin on an event that has been in the same area for many years.
I have been there 8 of the 9 times (out sick with the Flu one year). This was one of the first years in
many when I have not been joined by either Marcy or Kip for this race. Our team for this event was
myself (David Bogle), Jason Mittman, Julie Standing and Doug Cousineau. We certainly had a strong
team assembled but we were missing our prime land navigators, so my nervousness was a
bit higher than normal for this race. This race started in a different fashion as compared to the last few
times and ended with Julie finally refusing to do something in an adventure race! For those folks that
don't know Julie, she is the toughest person I know (men and women included). She has suffered some
pretty serious damage during adventure races with me, and has always continued on to keep racing harder than
ever. I have seen her get a stick jammed up her nose (FAR!), a torn bicep, and take many very nasty
falls on the mountain bike. OK more on her "drawing the line" later.
In the last few years, the race directors have bussed us away from the starting line to a mystery location. This year we would start at South Shore Park along with all the other racers. There was also a sprint race, and a 12 hour race going on at the same time. This must be quite a challenge for the race directors, but they pulled it off quite well. It was in the low 40's at start time, but the day was beautiful with light winds and was going to get up to about 70 degrees. The race started with a short navigation exercise around South Shore park. All the CPs were pre-plotted on a park map. The kicker was, at each location we were to collect a strip of paper containing a piece of information. Included with our map was a large grid with several paragraphs of information and a large matrix of names and information. The challenge was to gather all the CP clues and then solve the puzzle. This was a large logic puzzle that can be solved by a process of elimination based on all the written information. We ran quite well on this opening leg and were the first team back with all the clues. The team was anxious to solve the puzzle as fast as possible. We spent a few minutes looking over all the information and I quickly came to the conclusion it would be much better to take the 15 minute wrong answer penalty and keep racing. Of course this would be a big gamble if the race was close but knowing how hard these can be to solve with all the variables in the problem, I feel good about the decision. We were gone before any team had even returned with their clues.
Next up for us was a paddle. Lake Bastrop has been notorious for many years of racing as having bad winds and big waves. This year the paddle was first thing in the morning and the lake was super smooth. We plotted all the points which were scattered about on the north end of the lake. We got out fast with Doug and Julie paddling together and Jason and I in the other canoe. Doug and Julie were real paddling machines, so Jason and I were working pretty hard to keep up with them. Then came my first (of several), big nav mistakes. I should know this lake after paddling on it so many times, but I turned us too soon into a large side lake which cost us 5-10 minutes of extra paddling. Amazingly, no other boats were coming along. This made me feel better about skipping the logic puzzle. From there, we hit all the CPs just fine as most of them were at the end of coves and small channels. Being the first boat through the course is always a bit frustrating to all the fishermen who get out to these prime spots early in the morning and then we come plowing through there with our paddles splashing all over the place. One boat would not let us pass on one side, but I understood. On our way back from the far points we started seeing lots of other teams. Team Phat Free was the first team we came across, and since we know them well we gave some big shout outs. As we returned on the paddle heading south, it was clear the wind had picked up some as we now had a headwind, but minimal compared to some of the rough years of past races.
Back in TA, we were given our next set of instructions and literally a "bag" of maps. This would start out as an urban section where we raced around downtown Bastrop to find various places. There wasn't the typical UTM plotting to do here. Instead we had to scan all the brochures to find hints to the locations we seeked. Fortunately, I knew several of the places from reading the clues, so that helped speed things up. We split up the maps, and I called out what we were looking for. Once we got several answers, it confirmed the decision to head out Hoffman road into town as there was a cemetery that we needed to visit first. Once there, we found the monument to the Babies of War. We snapped a picture as proof of our arrival and moved on before others saw us. From there we headed to the arcade to collect 25 game tickets. In years past, this was super simple as kids are always eager to sell tickets for a few dollars of more gaming money, but today it was early and there was not a single person in the arcade. We quickly grabbed $5 of coins and we all went to playing. Doug and I concentrated on pounding down the head of some sort of creature as they popped up. After 1 game we were rewarded with 9 tickets, so we dumped more money in and kept playing. It was not long before we had enough tickets and headed out. We then headed to the visitor's center for a picture with the fire engine. After that we headed to the Bastrop Brewery where we were given a puzzle to solve. We had to figure out how to balance a bunch of nails all on the head of a single nail. Instead of me describing it, just have a look here on how it's done. We got this very quickly and were out of there. From there we headed up to the Orgain House for a quick picture. Up next to Bastrop Street to find a yellow sign about chickens. Somewhere early on, we picked up a copy of the Bastrop Advertiser newspaper which contained a puzzle for us. This puzzle was to use the ring of letters and build a bunch of words from it. The clue that took us the longest to figure out was the Alta Vista Cemetery. It was funny, as this was actually on our topo map. This one was on the other side of Highway 71 which had me concerned as that was not an obvious place for us to go until I also remembered we had 2 points plotted on our topo map south of Highway 71 in an area known as Tahitian Village. I just hate this area as it is super confusing. The topo map does not contain most of the roads out there. Fortunately we had a map of the area in our pack... but somewhere along the way, we lost it. We made it to the cemetery just fine and took a picture of a tombstone which was sponsored by Coke apparently. From here, we had two more points plotted on our topo map. These had me very concerned. We left to the south and picked up a powerline and started biking in the right direction. We stopped two times to check out some draws before we realized that the powerline we were biking on, was not on our map. Once we figured that out, we got to the right area and found the CP no problem. Our struggles here cost us about 20 minutes, but still no one came flying past us. There were lots of options to bike this area, so naturally, we were all concerned that a couple teams might have flew ahead of us. We next had to bike over to Bastrop State Park for an Orienteering section. At some point in this section, Julie rocketed off the front of our biking pace line about the same time I was ready to make a turn. Jason had to chase her down to get her to turn around. This prompted Jason to formulate a plan to keep her from doing this again.
We biked the hilly roads up to the Orienteering checkin station to find Rhonda Cook (The race director's wife). She started giving us instructions, telling us this is a timed section that we had two hours to complete. If we were late, we would lose checkpoints. We were also told we were allowed to split up to find these CP's. That was interesting. 3 out of 4 of us are fine with navigating, so that was great. Julie was none too happy to hear this. She is easily in the best shape, so we wanted to use her speed with her on her own leg. After a minute of convincing, she agreed. We picked out an easy point next to the only lake in Bastrop State Park. I gave her detailed instructions on how to run the roads to the lake. Jason and Doug each took two points, and I took three points. I think those two guys were smart and they gave me the one titled "overlook" as it is the highest point in Bastrop state park. We all headed out and we agreed we would all rendezvous back at the start of the O section once we got our points. Fortunately, we all nailed our points and got back. I was last to arrive, so the rest of the guys were there waiting for me. No rest for me this time. Next we simply biked back to the race TA in South Shore park. Jason was either getting a bit tired or he decided he would keep Julie from running off again, so super Julie hooked him up on a tow system and pulled him in, along with leading the paceline on the road. I had forgotten to pack food for this leg, so as soon as I got back to TA I wolfed down a yummy bag of Spiz!
Next up was another bike leg. This one looked pretty long on the map. I estimated it would be a good three hours. We all loaded up bike lights even though it was still early. We were heading to an area that I knew was going to be confusing. Many roads are actually not on the map, and the ones on the map often weren't drawn accurately. The bike leg started with trail biking north up to North Shore Park, where we collected one CP on a bridge near the park. From there we hit some nice pavement for 5-6 miles, so Julie did her thing and led the paceline and towed Jason so he could conserve his legs for all the trail miles to come. We hit the outskirts of Bastrop State Park and the adventure of unmapped terrain began. At least I knew to expect this, so I paid ultra close attention to maps. First was an easy point on a gate (meant to lead us into the park on an official route). Next was a point at a pond. I recall visiting this pond in years past. We found it with no real trouble. Next up was a point that was at a road intersection which plotted in the middle of nowhere on our map, so obviously, there were roads going to this point. From the pond point, a road was heading in that direction so we naturally took it. At a couple of splits, we took wrong turns, but it was quickly obvious we were heading the wrong direction. I must say, this would have been a bit more difficult in the dark when you cannot see contours very well. The next points were all found just fine and then we were back to a real road. I suspect there was an old road or trail that could have led us directly to the last point in the area, but we did not see it. It was easily accessible from the road we were on, so we got the point labeled Alum Creek gate. We ran into a local and asked his advice on road conditions back to Bastrop State Park. A couple years ago there was a massive forest fire in all of Bastrop and it destroyed huge parts of this rural area. Our local expert advised us that the direct route we planned to take was in terrible shape, so we opted for a slightly longer route on paved roads. We had one last CP to get in Bastrop State Park before returning to the TA. We biked past the start of the Orienteering section that we left several hours ago. There were teams heading out on the Orienteering and folks obviously standing around awaiting the return of their teammates. We punched the final CP of this leg then rode the several miles back to the TA to get our next set of instructions. This leg took us right around three hours. It was all non stop biking.
We figured we were close to finishing based on the stuff we had already done, but Too Cool Racing had other plans for us. We were given another paper full of coordinates indicating we would be doing a trek. I plotted the points which were all located in Bastrop State Park. It was getting close to dark, so we all made sure to grab lights and warm clothes, as it was going to be in the 30's at night. One unique feature of this race is that the race organizes a donation for the local food bank, so if a team brings in 20 cans of food, we can skip any one CP in the race. This is pretty valuable and we were still holding onto our skip. We could have used it earlier to save some time, but we all agreed to keep it in case we had trouble finding a CP near the end, or use it on something late in the race if someone was feeling bad. It is a couple of miles on road to get to the park, and Jason was pretty tired after the long bike leg, so we were all a bit worried. He wolfed down a pot of Ramen noodles that he said would make him feel better. I hope Jason does not have to confess to Oprah in the future about these noodles as they really worked miracles on him. We started out with jogging then walking a bit. Every time we were ready to jog, Jason was ready, so we ended up running most of the way. This was key as it was close to dusk and one point had me a little nervous and I really wanted to hit it before dark if possible. I have done some Orienteering Meets in Bastrop state park in the past (before the fire), and there are some very confusing contours in a few areas. We hit the first point perfectly, and headed to the point that spooked me the most. Thankfully we hit it dead on and got out of there just as darkness hit. We now had two more points. One was at the same small lake that Julie had been to earlier in the orienteering section just farther north. We set out trekking in the sloppy conditions around the pond and found the point as expected in a small side draw. There remained only one point on this leg. It was about a kilometer away up a long draw. We had a discussion on this point, as I felt this might be a very good skip point based on time. I was fairly confident we could find it, but it could take a while as travel in this park is very slow due to the effects of the fire. There are tons of dead burned trees to deal with. We all agreed we should go and try and get this point as we were not far from it, and we knew at this stage we likely had a 45 minute lead on the next team based on the leader board information at the last transition. We followed the creek we were in, looking for the correct draw to head up. There were many, and some were small while others were large, which made it confusing in the dark. We finally headed up a draw that seemed promising. The 2 draws that we narrowed it down to both headed the same direction and were about the same size. As we proceeded into the draw, we came across a prominent side draw that the wrong draw would have, so that confirmed we were in the wrong draw. No big problem as all we had to do was hop out of this one and head over to the next draw. Once there, we continued a few more minutes and found the final point. Now we just had to get back to the transition area. Fortunately we could just head generally west and we would eventually hit Highway 21 which would lead us back to TA. We were actually able to jog some of the woods as we found quite a few clear paths to follow. On Highway 21 we elected to run along the shoulder which was a bit scary, but it was not far. Jason had made a total recovery after eating his "noodles", so we ran all the way back to TA to check in. We were told we still had 2 legs left, which was a little surprising to us, but even better, we were now more than a whole leg ahead of the next team.
Oh yeah, getting closer to the end of the race, and I have not yet divulged where Julie drew the line with us in adventure racing. You're going to have to wait a little longer, sorry. Our next leg was another paddle leg. This was different than what we are used to. We have not had to night paddle in a while, mainly because we are usually near the front of the pack so we get it done before dark. This year, Too Cool purposely wanted teams to paddle in the dark. The wonderful part was, the lake was smooth as glass and the sky was perfectly clear. I am still convinced that most of today's population does not realize how many stars can be seen in the night sky if you get away from a big city. I was distracted several times just gazing upwards looking at the spectacular night sky. There were 3 points all very close to the boat launch, and all easy to find, so no real good option for a skip point here. We knew we had one leg left, so maybe we would be able to use it then. We knocked out the paddle super fast and were back in TA before long. No other team had started the Bastrop Park trek section yet, so we were in great position heading into the last leg.
The checkin for the final leg was a bit confusing and not what we had expected. It turns out that we would be doing a relay of sorts. We would have to go out one at a time to find checkpoints. There were 4 CP's out in South Shore park. They were close and easy, far and easy, close and hard, and far and hard. The difficulty level refers to how tough it would be to find each one. The instructions said all team members must get at least one point. Julie was not happy in reading this. She does not like to navigate, she just likes to show her physical dominance over all her male team mates during races. I told her not to worry, she can have one of the easy points. This is where she drew the line. She said she would NOT be going out on this leg. We were to use the skip point and she would be taking it. Well, it turns out super Julie is a bit afraid of being alone in the dark woods. There, I finally can outdo Julie at something! We checked with the race directors to make sure we could use our skip point here. They agreed we could so it all worked out. We took a few minutes to decide on who did what and to understand the rules. There were wristbands and sign out sheets involved. We were in no real rush to get started, but it was cold outside, so no one wanted to stand around. Doug shot off first to find the far easy point. Now, we were standing around, so I decided to pack up all our gear. I had my boats loaded on the truck and all my gear picked up by the time Doug returned. This was awesome, to be picked up before race ever ended. I went next and got the close hard point. There were a whole group of 12 hour racers looking for the point I was after, so I was nice and led them all to it. Last up was Jason who ran down the close easy point. And then we were done.
It was a very fun race with lots of new twists to this event. Art and Robyn exceeded my expectations for sure on a race in its 9th year. Since we had already packed up and I had to leave for another trip early in the morning, we all headed to grab a shower and get some sleep.
Back to Team Vignette's main page