TAT CN Header

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Will ride for food

As recent events prove, one of my main motivations to get on my bike is a mid-ride meal. Stopping halfway through to sit down and eat makes it easier to mentally break the miles in half. Riding 42 miles to lunch and then back again sounds so much gentler than an 85 mile ride; the return mileage never really enters into my head...until we turn back, anyway.  The power of food was much in evidence over the past two weekends, as was the quick-change nature of St. Louis-area weather.

A Long Way for Lunch

First up was the third annual "long way to lunch" ride from the St. Charles area to Hermann, MO. Nine riders, including several of Momentum teammates, two of Mickey's adventure racing teammates, and one unaffiliated friend made the trip. Four foolhardy souls began in St. Charles, and of these, only two ended up completing the entire 130 mile round trip. The rest of us chose starting points further along the trail. Mine once again was Matson, giving me an 85 mile day if I finished.

Despite returning the ride to its November roots (or maybe because of it...our November weather during the first ride was unseasonably warm), we had fantastic riding temps. The morning started out chilly, but by 8:34 when the group reached me, temps had already risen to nearly 50 on the way to a mid-60's day.  Perfect for a ride!

I barely said my hello's before Mickey shot off for Augusta, determined to stay on his predicted timetable (eye roll: engineers!) at least until we picked up the last two riders.  I spent the seven miles between trailheads struggling to keep up and wishing I, too, had just started further down the trail.

Once we were all together the need to stay on schedule diminished, but we had a pretty good spread between the speedy front and the caboose (where I spent much of the day).  Scott and Robert were along for (I think) their longest gravel ride yet, having started with Mickey and Mike in St. Charles.

Robert had upped the challenge factor by riding his mountain bike with a fully loaded pack for a little AR training since he'll be doing his first adventure race at the upcoming Castlewood 8-hour.  This meant that a) I could keep up with him and b) I could spend a large portion of the ride talking with him and Scott about how awesome adventure racing is and how much he's going to love it.

Regrouping in Marthasville, where Robert's awesome wife Cassie, who had volunteered to provide SAG support, met us.
We took a quick-ish break at the Marthasville trailhead and then continued onwards. As is tradition on the lunch ride, we were facing a decent headwind, but I took comfort in the anticipated return-trip tailwind.  After the Marthasville stop, I finally started feeling like my legs had a little more pep and was able to maintain a faster pace.

Quick regroup
We had just passed the Massas/Massie Creek bridge (the name depending on which side of the creek you're on when you read the sign) when I felt the telltale thump of a flat tire. Grrr. After years of trouble free riding (a new set each year) on my beloved, bomb-proof Continental Travel Contacts, I've been plagued by flats after double flatting at 24 Hours of Cumming (a race report still waiting to be written). Every flat has been on the front tire, which I have checked (after the first flat), the bike shop checked (after the second), and Mickey checked (after the third). 

I'd been riding with Sean, and he offered to change the tire, but since I really didn't know him I didn't want to be that girl who couldn't change her own tire, so he just provided helpful commentary through "the slowest tire change in history". I did let him finish putting the tire back on the rim, and then Mike and Mickey ended up airing it up, so it was hardly a solo effort.

Shortly after finishing up my tire we came across Scott and Robert, who were performing first aid on Robert's rear cassette. Once the roadside repairs were completed, we all rode into McKittrick and onto the highway for the last 2 miles. Rather than ride over the Missouri River bridge in the traffic lanes, Mickey turned onto the side trail that led to the pedestrian/bike lane. 

I took a more cross-country route and beat him onto the bridge, laughing at my victory and expecting him to catch me at any moment, but when I turned onto the restaurant's street I was alone. Mike caught up and told me that Sean had flatted and Mickey had ridden back to help out, so we waited at the corner to make sure the guys knew where to go.

Lunch! At last!
Lunch was good, other than the disappointing revelation that Wings-A-Blazin' no longer serves margaritas. I'm voting for the Mexican restaurant next year.  We enjoyed a leisurely, conversation-filled meal before begrudgingly (on my part, at least) heading back.

The long-awaited tailwind was absent; instead, we had a noticeable head/crosswind. I had felt better than I'd expected to on the way to Hermann but had the opposite experience on the way back, spending most of my time drafting Melanie and Sean, counting down the miles back to Matson and wondering why I hadn't picked a closer starting point. 

Breezy conditions aside, it was a gorgeous day for a ride, and I was glad I hadn't let the cool morning scare me away. I arrived back at Matson glad to get off my bike but feeling like I could have continued on if I'd had to. Not bad considering this was my longest ride (distance, anyway, not time) since August 8.

A Shorter Way for Brunch

A week later several of the same group reconvened on the Katy, wearing considerably more clothes. Some of my Momentum teammates had planned to ride to Dutzow for pancakes and then back again. Mmmmm...pancakes.   Mickey and I had originally intended to go mountain biking as prep for the upcoming Castlewood 8-Hour, but recent rains scuttled those plans.  Instead we used the pancake ride to test out his new tow system and log a few more miles.

Temps were below freezing as I headed towards the Page bridge parking lot, and I was hoping they'd stay that way so the Katy would be hard and rideable.    They didn't, and it wasn't.  The trail surface was soft and spongy, and any drafting was accompanied by varying amounts of gravel spray to the face.  

We met up with Jeff, Melanie, and Joe about 7 miles in, and everyone else parked further on and then rode back to meet our group.  Even in sub-optimal conditions it was nice to get to catch up with my gravel friends, some of whom I've barely seen since Dirty Kanza (and my consistent training) ended.  

Just past Matson ("seems like I was just here"), I got another flat tire (the fifth since August 8, if you're counting), but we finally found the culprit: a small piece of a staple had lodged in the tire and was j-u-s-t poking out if you held the tire inside out and looked really closely. Without tweezers or pliers it took a long time to get it out, but my awesome teammates persisted and hopefully now I can look forward to riding my gravel bike without any more flat tire interruptions.

Everyone was pretty cold as we got going again; the temperature was fine as long as you were moving -- in fact, most of us were probably slightly over-dressed, not having had the opportunity yet to refine our cold-weather gear choices -- but too chilly to stand around comfortably.  

This section of the Katy includes some really beautiful scenery right up against the bluffs as well as the more exposed Nona section, which is mostly just fields and wind and, on this day, mushy trail. As I slogged along, I longingly eyed the paved surface of Augusta Bottoms road.  Catching up with the group ahead of me, I cast my vote for riding pavement back where possible, only to be told that had already been decided.  Yes!

We filled up the bike parking. :)
The Dutzow Deli was a welcome mid-ride oasis, and their pancakes and hot chocolate did not disappoint. 

Most people were more focused on their food than the photo op.

The trip back, featuring a glorious paved stretch instead of the soggy Nona segment and minus and flat tire issues, seemed much faster. We lost about half of our group when they stopped at Augusta Brewery for a drink or two; while I'm almost always up for an excuse to stop, Augusta came too quickly for me to want a break there, and I still had a turkey waiting at home to be cooked.  Doug, Anne, Sean, Mickey, and I continued on, taking a quick side trip to check out the scenic view near Klondike Park.

The trail is back to the bleak, sepia tones of winter.
As we waved goodbye to the others at the Research Parkway trailhead, I felt the familiar regret at my poor (read: farther away) choice of starting point, but with another detour onto pavement for the dreaded Greens Bottom section the remainder of the ride went pretty quickly and I actually felt pretty good making the climb back up to the parking lot.

Back to back long ride weekends, and I don't even have a big gravel race on the horizon! This Thanksgiving, among other things, I'm thankful for fun teammates and good company to pass the miles.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Fig 12-hr adventure race

Chuck and I had such a good time last year at the Fig that we knew we'd be back even though Stephanie of Flying Squirrel Adventures, who had quickly become one of our favorite race directors, was handing over the reins of the race to 361 Adventures.  And after a long (and awesome) AR season we're both tired of long car trips, so on the way to Kentucky we agreed that if 361 didn't do a Stephanie-ish job with the race we would mark the Fig off of our 2016 schedule. (Spoiler alert: we're totally going back next year.)

Chuck:  The drive is a little over six hours, so it's not terrible.  But somehow I always feel betrayed by the additional hour caused when crossing the CST to EST time change in Indiana.


We arrived a few minutes after check-in was scheduled to end (shocking, I know) but were still able to pick up our race number and swag bags. Without enough time to get pizza at Miguel's, we grabbed dinner at Subway instead. I was starving, so I ordered a personal pizza and a 6" flatbread sandwich. I ended up being full after the pizza, so the sandwich made a delicious pre-race breakfast.

The pre-race meeting was short and sweet, which was awesome.  Before passing out the maps, Dallas gave a brief outline of the race:
  • Starting on bike.
  • Sections could be done in any order, CPs could be punched in any order, and you could return to sections if you wanted.
  • To be official finishers, you had to visit all TAs: 1/4 (the northern section bike drop) and 2/3, which were the paddle put-in/take-out.
  • CPs had to be found by the mode specified.
  • Bikes could only be dropped at TA1/4 or CP1.
  • Coordinates for two additional CPs would be given at TA3.
I'll admit that my heart sank a little at the "in any order" part; I like to be told what I'm supposed to do and when (in a race, anyway).  As it turned out, the race offered the perfect combination of structure and decision-making. Basically, there was a northern section and a southern section. The northern section held all of the mandatory TAs and the bulk of the trekking points, all of which were located near trails due to Forest Service requirements/strong suggestions. The southern section had all of the biking CPs and 5 trekking CPs that required bushwhacking as well as careful route finding to avoid getting cliffed out.

My initial instinct was to knock out what seemed like the faster southern section. Chuck's first thought was to start north.  After talking about it briefly we opted for his plan. All of the mandatory TAs were in the north; rather than overextend ourselves early and then spend the rest of the race chasing cutoffs (a la Hellbender), we decided we were better off tackling the north and then knowing what we had time for in the south.

Because the maps (which, incidentally, were printed on waterproof paper as was the race book -- so awesome) were preplotted except for the two points we'd plot on course, all we had to do was route planning before heading back to the hotel to prep gear and food. This was surprisingly painless, and with no bike or gear drop to worry about and about a 5ish minute drive to the 7 a.m. start, we hit the beds by 10 or so for an unheard of 7ish hours of sleep.

The start was downhill from the eventual finish line, so we decided to park at the top and ride down. Having Chuck's van in the closest possible spot to the finish line more than outweighed the slight inconvenience of having to leave behind our jackets and shiver a little before the start. We coasted down, collected our passport, searched in vain for an unlocked bathroom, and even had time for a pre-race team picture on a suspension bridge (yea) before rolling up to the start line with 100+ new friends-to-be.
As my friend Lindsay noted, that's a very nervous smile on my face. 
Bike 1: ~7.4 miles to TA1

We started with a paved climb out of the park and then zipped down the highway, making a quick stop 3ish miles into the race at a rest area for that elusive bathroom before crossing under the Mountain Parkway and beginning to climb. Right away Chuck began previewing what was coming next for me, perhaps hoping to stave off my inevitable sense of betrayal when the course doesn't align with my mental delusions picture of it: "We've got a climb coming up...and then a serious climb after that."

We could see someone walking their bike uphill ahead of us, which always makes me happy because then if I have to walk I won't be the first or only one, but though we gained over 500 feet in less than two miles it was all gradual enough to be (almost) fun.  After my implosion at BT Epic, this was a big relief.

Chuck:  The pines and big rock features we wound our way through were scenic enough to take your mind off the actual climb.

TA1 bike drop (which would also be TA4 when we returned to it after the trek)
Trek 1: ~11 mi, CP 9-12 to TA2 

Setting off on the first trek
We had opted to tackle the first trekking section in a roughly counterclockwise manner and set off on a fast hike down the trail, where we were soon passed by a running Mike Garrison (who had surely already knocked out several CPs and called back that we should feel free to ignore him if he told us we were in the wrong place again).  Seeing how quickly he was out of our sight made me wish I'd been spending more time running, especially on trails. As it was, though the trail was relatively smooth I didn't feel very confident in my footing and was content to hike.

It wasn't all super smooth...; that said, plenty of the trail looked like it did in the above picture of Chuck.
Before long more running teams passed us, one of which doubled back just as Chuck was looking at the map to decide whether we'd reached our attack point for CP9, We all quickly located the CP, punched, and continued down the trail towards CP10.  The morning was slightly cool and overcast, perfect race weather, and the scenery was just beautiful. All day long we passed non-racers who were out hiking and camping -- the area is obviously popular for good reason.

Chuck:  We really did have perfect weather!  Especially compared to last years pre-race flooding and race day snow and cold rain.

Right after I took this picture, Chuck slipped and fell, tossing the map aside to catch himself. After he picked it up, he mentioned how glad he was that he didn't inadvertently throw it into some chasm.
We encountered one such group as we approached a spot where the trail crossed a good-sized creek a few times. We'd carefully picked our way across rocks for the first couple crossings, but lacking their trekking poles decided wet feet were better than attempting the slippery log they used. "Oh well," Chuck remarked, "We had two hours of dry feet."

We found CP10 without incident and then made our way across our second suspension bridge of the day (yea), running into Terry and Julia, parents of solo Mike from Tomahawk, on the other side. They had come along for the day to spectate as he raced with his daughter, and seeing their friendly faces at several points in the race was always a treat.

Pretty, for a deathtrap...
From the bridge we once again hit pavement, doing our only running of the race on the downhills and spotting the canoe put-in as we passed on our way to CP 11-12. We were SO hoping to see Mike paddling by so we could yell down, "You're going the wrong way!!" but alas, no such luck. The trail leading towards our next two CPs was sloppier than the previous ones, but we made good time and quickly knocked off CP12. 11 required a very scenic out-and-back along the base of and then climbing up along huge stone cliffs. Once again we passed families and groups, including a pair of guys who were probably in their 70's out for a hike.  Luke would be sure to say something about how nice it must have been to see some of my contemporaries, but it was awesome to see so many people enjoying the outdoors.

On the way to CP11

Chuck kept this arch from falling down. 

CP11 apparently gave a lot of teams some trouble, but we don't know if it would have stymied us because as we approached it a 2-man team gave us some pointers on where to go.  We walked right up to it and punched, catching back up with a couple teams we hadn't seen since CP10.  From there, all we had to do was retrace our steps, giving back the 500 feet we'd just climbed, and get ourselves to TA2 and the canoes.

The view on the way back from CP11. I wasn't interested in getting any closer to the edge.  Fun fact: I couldn't find my trekking pants while I was packing (turns out they were hanging in the garage, still not washed from the Tomahawk Challenge) and so had to wear a pair of Target brand pants that one of my older boys had discarded years ago.

Random bit of trail conversation:
Chuck: Hey those new pants don't have zip-off legs
Kate: No, but I don't usually have much use for zip-offs.  I like them so far.
Chuck:  Other than the fact they make your ass look huge.
Kate:  They Do Not!  I checked in the mirror before I left!
Chuck:  LOL! Who does that!?

Commenting on the commentary: Who does that? Girls! As an aside, after looking at the pictures taken when I was in the front, they really did make my butt look big. Goodbye, hand-me-down pants!
It was so beautiful out there.

Paddle: ~ 3 mi, TA2, CP 13, TA3

I always dread the paddle, more so this year after tipping in two of my last three ARs, but my dread was tempered by the fact that it was such a short paddle. On the other hand, boats weren't included in the race fees, so the $40 canoe rental worked out to around $13/mi. The dearth of navigable water is just a fact of adventure racing in the Red River Gorge area, though, and most races I'd be glad to pay $40 to skip the paddle.

Chuck does not dread paddling.
While short on distance (and, in several areas, low on water), the paddle was high on scenery. and after 11 miles on our feet we were both happy to sit down. We had a few spots we had to portage and one moment where I thought we might tip, but otherwise it was a smooth trip downriver to the TA.

As much as people seem to think I just pull out the camera so I don't have to paddle, Chuck is actually the one who kept telling me to take pictures.

Chuck:  Its true!  that was a very scenic little river.  I would've loved to have more paddling miles.
Trek 2: ~ 8 mi, CP A, B, 6

At TA3 were were offered hot chocolate (yea!), candy (yea!), and coordinates for two "bonus" CPs. We'd anticipated their general location thanks to the overlay on the map (no point in having trails marked special in an area with no CPs) and pre-decided we'd be better off skipping the huge climb involved. Chuck changed his mind after plotting them, though.  "They're pretty close, and I bet it's a great view. I know it may not be the best race strategy, but I'd like to see them."

We're more about the "adventure" than the "race", so I was open to it, Besides, I wasn't sure it was bad race strategy. Maybe it made more sense for us to tackle the trekking points, which were generally in the same area, than chase the bike CPs, which required a decent ride and included points in the vicinity of last year's bike leg.  That had been its own special kind of adventure, but I wasn't eager to slop my barely recovered leg through potential mud puddles.

As we turned onto the road towards Raven Rock, we saw Lupine heading back towards us, having decided their time was better spent going after the bike CPs...basically the opposite of our strategy (full disclosure: they ended with 4 more CPs than we did, but since I don't know which ones they got and when, it's hard to compare). The path started out nice and flat, then hooked around to the left. As we made our turn, we looked up the trail and then laughed, "Oh man, look at that hill!"

We thought this was a hill.  We were so wrong.
"That hill" was nothing compared to the rest of the uphill trek. The trail, which followed the remains of an old, paved road, switchbacked relentlessly skyward, sometimes steep and sometimes steeper. Everyone who passed us going downhill assured us that the view was worth the climb, but that's a lot easier to say when your lungs aren't on fire.  Even with all the vertical, is was a very pretty hike, though the mossy chunks of dilapidated asphalt were slippery enough that you always had to watch your footing.

Our goal was the top of that cliff in front of me...no big deal.
The trail grew steeper as we neared the top, but the sight of the top gave our burning legs the energy to carry us onward.  Ascending the path between two huge rock outcroppings, I cheered, "We're there!" only to reach that level spot, turn to my left, and stare up an impossibly steep road bed.  We were not, in fact, there.

Just remember that pictures never show just how steep hills are. It was even worse than it looks.
This last stretch before the peak rose so steeply that it seemed almost possible to hold your hand in front of you and touch the road (not quite that bad, but not that far from it), and yet you could still see the yellow striping marking the centerline. I couldn't imagine attempting to drive a car up there, let alone building the road.  Everyone was right, though. The view from the top was pretty incredible.
(For another description of the ascent to Raven Rock, complete with some interesting local history, check out this blog post.)
We'd come from the road you see on the left.
Gorgeous fall views

Retracing our steps was a slower-than-I'd-expected process, mostly due to the way I gingerly picked my way down the steep hill while a 2-woman team with trekking poles jogged past us.  Chuck mentioned that he'd pay $1,000 for a pair of trekking poles right then, but he had no takers.  While the downhill was awfully hard on the knees, thankfully it wasn't as slippery as I'd expected.

Once we made it back to the bottom, we hiked back out onto the road.  Our fast hike was no competition to the teams that alternated hiking with running, and a couple of them passed us in this section (and were likely already ahead of us points-wise). The road took us to the trailhead towards CP6, and for a while we enjoyed a pretty level trail alongside a creek.  The trail actually wove back and forth over the creek multiple times, and it seemed like every bridge was built differently. That made a nice diversion from our sore feet.

One of the many varied bridges.
If I remember right, up to CP6 the trail didn't do much climbing, but immediately after punching we headed what felt like straight up.  We weren't that far from CP7 and 8 and were debating whether it made more sense to go after those or head straight back from 6 to the TA and see what we could do on the southern section of the course.  We had until the trail split to decide, and the trail just kept climbing...and climbing... Chuck warned that we'd have more hills if we wanted to try for 7 and 8.  Our sore feet and burning legs unanimously voted to head back to the TA and our bikes.

Yeah, yeah, it's scenic. Now where's the &;#&;!@ TA
Since the TA was located on top of a big ridegline, we still had plenty of climbing to do, including one stretch of trail that required literal climbing.  I came around a turn in the trail to face a rock ledge that was the trail.  I turned back and looked at Chuck in despair.


The trail
All complaining aside, I was glad we were tackling this section going up; I think I'd have been a little scared trying to go down it.  Once we finished climbing up rocks, the trail leveled out into a beautiful, tree-lined path that we followed back to the TA.

Glorious flat trail at the top!
Bike 2: ~23 mi, CP 16, 15, 1

We made a pretty quick transition at TA1/4 and hopped onto our bikes for the first time since about 8 a.m.  If there's anything more glorious than getting off your feet after hours of trekking, it's getting off your feet after hours of trekking and coasting downhill for 4 miles.

Chuck:  This was where we discovered the rear Fox suspension shock on my mtn bike had lost pressure and collapsed.  Unfortunately it decided to blow the seal during a race.  Fortunately it was a race without single-track.  All we could do to compensate was raise the seat post to the highest position that seemed safe, then peddle along like I was riding a little kids bike.

Granted, I took the hill a little slower than Chuck. While my downhill courage has definitely improved, that's on straight roads. Winding our way back through the curves we'd climbed that morning, wheeeeee! lost the competition with what if the brakes fail?

Traffic wasn't an issue until the road straightened out, and then it seemed like every car in Kentucky was following us down.  Throughout our time on the bike drivers were unfailingly careful, but the lead car in our little caravan was reluctant to pass us, even when the road ahead was clear, and a good-sized line built up behind her.  Thankfully she eventually came around, and after an uncomfortable few minutes while numerous cars passed us, we had the road to ourselves.

Our plan was to go after the closest bike CPs, both of which were located just off of paved roads, and then spend any remaining time on CPs 1-5.  Shortly after we passed the turn to the finish line on our way to CP1, I realized I should have timed how long it took us from that road to CP1, so I checked my watch and made what I hoped was a safe estimate about the part I'd missed.

Chuck:  Kate does a great job with timekeeping sections like this, allowing me to stay focused on our nav.

We quickly found the gravel road leading up towards the trekking CPs (1-5) -- about a 15 minute ride from the finish line if I'd guessed correctly -- and then continued on towards the bike points.  One was at Cliffview Resort, where we'd ridden their amazing, long zipline in last year's race, and the other was at a building at...another place. Thinking we needed to go to Cliffview first, I filed away the other clue and assumed we'd figure it out when we needed to.  The ride to Cliffview took longer than I remembered (story of my life), and on the way we passed a campground called "Land of Arches".

We reached the entrance to Cliffview shortly after that, and Chuck looked at the map, trying to decide if the half-building behind the sign could be the location of our CP15, which we should have passed on the way to Cliffview.  Pulling out the race book, I read the clue: "Land of Arches: building".  Oops.  Luckily you could get points in any order, so we quickly punched CP16 at Cliffview and then returned to Land of Arches for CP15.

After punching, we took a couple minutes to pull out our jackets for the ride back to CPs 1-5. Most of the ride there had been uphill, and we expected a fast but chilly ride back in the growing darkness. Our return trip went quickly, and I was very, very glad to have a brand new, very bright taillight.  In most ARs I've done, the majority of the bike legs take place on lightly traveled gravel or doubletrack roads. We'd had to skip that part of the Fig's bike leg and instead were riding through the dark on a fairly busy two-lane highway.  Once again all of the drivers were very respectful with their passes, but I've read too many stories in the past year about bike-car accidents to feel comfortable.

Chuck:  And my rear blinky light was dim enough to say it was nonexistant.  Too bad no one offered me replacement batteries for it during our pre-race prep the night before.

The road leading to CP1 was more of a fire road than gravel, and it began with a steep little section that, in the wrong gear after cruising downhill for several miles, I had to walk up. Once we hit the first switchback the incline gentled a bit and I was able to hop back on the bike and ride most of the climb, which was a welcome surprise after how poorly I rode at BT Epic (and further evidence that I'd derailed myself there with huge nutritional failure).

We reached the top, punched CP1, and decided we didn't have enough time to try for any of the others.  I was a little nervous about the trip back downhill, but it went smoothly and we were quickly back onto the paved road back to the finish.  With all of the cars on the road, we opted to turn off and ride through the campground (where, fun fact, Jeff and I stayed one very chilly March night before we were married) rather than remain on the highway any longer and rode into the finish with around 20 minutes to spare.

The post-race dinner was delicious: salad, bread, and two kinds of lasagna. We ate and caught up with how the Toporadicals' race went; we were especially interested in how they did because they'd started in the southern section of the course.  Once all teams were back, Dallas announced the winners in each division in one of the most efficient post-race meetings ever.

We ended up 6/12 in our division and 41/63 overall. Typically even when we're (I'm) slower, we can make up time with good navigation and route choice, but with so many checkpoints being located near trails due to the Forest Service, the race definitely favored teams who were fast. One of my favorite things to do on the drive home from a race is to go over decisions we made and try to see where we could have improved.  Driving back from Kentucky, Chuck and I both agreed that the only way we could have done better was just to be faster (which is basically exactly what we said last year...maybe this is the year that lesson finally kicks in for me!).  And we agreed that we'll have to go back again, hopefully with some more Virtus/friend of Virtus teammates. Even in new hands, the Fig is way too good of a race to skip.

Full results
All of our pictures from the race

Thursday, October 29, 2015

BT Epic

The BT Epic is a mountain bike race featuring 50 primarily singletrack miles centered around Missouri's Berryman Trail. It's one of "the" big races of the year around here, but I've never been able to do it. BonkHard Racing's Perfect 10 orienteering race, which I love, was always the weekend before, leaving BT Epic weekend for our family Halloween party. Without Perfect 10 this year, I convinced Jeff to schedule the party a week earlier so I could finally race BT Epic.

I had a very encouraging race at the Indian Camp Creek 9-hour MTB race back at the beginning of September (maybe one of those days I'll get around to writing about it), riding 57 miles over the course of about 7.5 hours. The ICCP trails are significantly easier than Berryman, but I felt strong enough at the end of the day to feel like my training was in the right place. Racing in the Tomahawk Challenge 24-hour AR the next weekend, though, I just felt tired. Not so much body tired as mentally tired, reminiscent of the burnout I was feeling back in January. Time to dial it back a little bit.

The rest of September was pretty light, and I've spent most of October recovering from my leg gash and the subsequent infection (I'm still on antibiotics) as well as making costumes for our family Halloween party. As a result, I rolled up to the BT Epic start line with a whopping 20 bike miles for October and probably around 100 total since the Indian Camp Creek race. My training log was definitely on the hungry side.

I woke up on race morning at 1:30 a.m. and couldn't fall back asleep, so I had no problem being on time to meet Chuck and Lori for the drive to Bass' River Resort. Once we got through the line at the gate and paid our day-use fees, check-in was smooth and we had ample time to get everything set for the race.

The one picture I took at BT Epic, which is a shame because the whole course was a panorama of singletrack winding through glorious autumn scenery. Even when I was suffering (most of the race) I could appreciate how lucky I was to be there, see that, and
The start line as viewed from the way back
We lined up in the back and had a nice view of the leaders shooting away as we followed at a more leisurely pace. The first few miles was a bit of a trip down memory lane as we passed the start of my first Berryman Adventure Race and climbed the same gravel hill that was my AR baptism. Before long we were being waved onto the Ozark Trail by some of the awesome volunteers from the day.

And it was soooo fun! Other than one steep, chunky downhill section and a hill that we pushed up, the trail was mostly smooth, swoopy goodness. Though the forecast had threatened various amounts of rain in the week leading up to the race, we ended up with near-perfect weather: overcast and cool.  My typical beginning-of-ride mtb jitters were absent, and once we turned onto the Berryman Trail I was on familiar ground. I had a blast chasing Chuck's wheel into the first aid station, which we reached in about 1:10.  Looking at my Garmin I thought that maybe Chuck's goal of sub-7 hours was possible. Maybe we could even beat it...

All smiles coming into the aid station.
Photo credit: Josh Brown
The first thing I saw as we pulled into the CP was my teammate Mary sitting next to the water table with her knees covered in blood from a crash. I stopped to talk to her briefly, but she had friends with her and with nothing else I could do I gave her a quick hug and moved on. As we rode the short stretch of pavement to the the trail, I realized that I hadn't eaten during that first 10 miles, so I had a few bites of Payday bar and drank some of my Carborocket before we started climbing. That was pretty much the end of the smiles for the day.

I'd ridden the Berryman loop not quite a month earlier, on a (super nice) borrowed bike, and while my handling and descending sucked on the unfamiliar bike, I felt really strong on the climbs. Like good enough to ask a friend to let me ride in front of him, which is a rare thing for me to do.  I'm sure the fact that my bike weighed less than my purse helped, but it wasn't just the bike.

BT Epic was the opposite. Back on my own bike, I had fun on the downhills and, if I wasn't exactly confident on technical sections, at least I didn't give up on them before reaching them. Riding uphill, though...I could barely do it.  I was redlined on climbs that I've ridden without issue in the past. Now, I had assumed I'd struggle during the race -- I've only ridden the distance on singletrack once, and Berryman is a tough trail -- but I never expected to fall apart 10 miles in.

I ended up walking a lot of uphills, and my pace was pretty pathetic for many stretches that I rode. I was bewildered by the unanticipated weakness, which did nothing good for my mental state. Chuck, who was riding well and could easily have beaten 7 hours on his own, instead stuck with me as a bunch of people passed us and never once made me feel bad about it. "Hey, we just get more time on the trail!"

Obviously one issue was that I hadn't eaten enough, so I tried to eat my way out of the nutritional hole I'd dug and to appreciate the amazing conditions of the day: great weather, beautiful autumn scenery all around us, and glorious, buff trail.  Even while I was imagining all the garage space we'd have after I gave away all my bikes, part of me was still grateful to be riding my bike outside on such a day.

We pulled into the CP at Berryman Campground before I really expected to. Between starting the loop from a different spot than usual and the reroutes along the trail, I was never quite sure where we were along the trail. Mark waved us over to where he'd parked with our drop bags; I filled up my water, finished off my first Carborocket bottle and replaced it with a full one, and ate a rice bar. Mark was full of encouragement: "Lots of downhill on the Berryman, then a short stretch of Ozark Trail until you're back at Bass."

"Yeah, and the Three Sisters," Chuck said, referring to a series of hills also called the Three Bitches, if that gives you any idea of how fun they are.

"We're just calling that 'a short stretch of Ozark Trail'," laughed Mark. Jake, one of the race directors, came over while we were there and asked how things were going. His enthusiasm for the race and the trail were obvious, and he was all kinds of encouraging.

The race course continued to follow the Berryman trail from the campground until the turn-off to the OT. I was most familiar with this stretch because all of my previous rides here had started at the campground. I loved the fun, flowy downhill sections but continued to struggle on anything remotely uphill.

My teammate Melanie, reprising her role as "girl who rides way stronger than Kate", passed us around the 26 mile mark as I walked up yet another hill. I saw her coming and called out, "You're doing awesome!" She was, and while I was happy for her it broke my heart a little when she passed me. I'd actually worried a little before the race how her day would go because I wasn't sure how much mountain biking she did; obviously I'd been concerned about the wrong person.

I was in tears when I caught up to where Chuck had stopped for me. Poor Chuck...not only did he spend the day waiting as I dragged behind, now he had to deal with crying too.  As I joked in all seriousness later to some friends, babysitting me that day was a full-time job. Instead of rolling his eyes, though, he gave me a hug, joked me out of my tears, and reminded me that I'd spent the last month dealing with infection and antibiotics. I don't know how much impact the medical stuff really had, but the idea consoled me during the race.

Eventually we turned back onto the Ozark Trail and rode (walked) up a fire road to the mile 32 water station where we saw the smiling faces of Josh and his wife Shannon as well as Jake again.  I'm not sure I returned any smiles at that point, but it was good to see friendly faces and very nice to see one of the race directors there even though we were basically the back of the race. Maybe he was just there to help them tear down once the last people were through, but at the time it just felt like he was out encouraging everybody.

We rode a few miles of gravel from the water stop and then hopped back onto trail that I remembered from sweeping the OT 100 last year.  Maybe I'd eaten enough food, or maybe we just rode a lot of downhill (or maybe I'm forgetting the bad spots), but I remember this section as one of those points I liked riding my bike again. As I told Chuck, it was almost fun enough to make up for the hills that we knew were coming.

I rode more of the first sister than I had anticipated and decent amounts of the next two. While I'd love to do better, I don't remember this section as being demoralizing. I've never been able to ride them all, so the fact that I walked was just something to work on -- way less upsetting than my new inability to ride up easier hills I've ridden several times before.

After summitting the third sister, we cruised back down to Bass for the final 8-mile loop. I'd wanted to quit there for about 25 miles, but I could hardly destroy Chuck's pace and then cut out early. Besides, it was "only" 8 more miles, and a big chunk of that was gravel. How bad could it be?

We didn't need anything, so we decided we'd just roll past the campground and finish this thing.  Lori snapped away as we rode by, and for once I couldn't even muster a smile for the camera. I just wanted to be done.  Mark too was waiting before the start of the long, paved climb in case we needed anything from our drop bags (yet another awesome person looking out for me...he'd been registered for the race but sprained his ankle. Instead of staying home. he made the drive to Bass and offered his services as crew for anyone who needed it. Since we took him up on the offer, that left him waiting by the road for a long time that he could have been socializing and enjoying race beer.). We said no thank you and started up the hill.

The climb out of Bass on Butts Road may be paved, but it still sucks, and if you end up walking you're doing it in public because people are driving up and down the road...people who've already finished the race.  Chuck had done a lot of unnecessary (for him) walking to keep me company, but I didn't want him to have to do that here and urged him to just wait for me at the turn.  I rode more than I'd expected to but still walked a chunk of it. The only thing more humiliating than walking up a paved hill is doing it with stronger, faster people witnessing it as they drive by, but everyone who did was nice and encouraging, and I managed not to cry until I got to the top and was out of view.

We rode what seemed like a long way on gravel.  I hadn't looked closely at the route before the race, but in my head we basically rode out on gravel, turned onto the singletrack, and then coasted downhill to the finish. This, as it turns out, was not the case.

See that last 8 miles? 

Every downhill that didn't lead to the finish line was a betrayal. I couldn't even enjoy them because I was too busy mourning the upcoming climbs, and my definition of "climb" meant almost anything that wasn't downhill. By this point even I didn't like myself, and it's a measure of Chuck's vast patience and good nature that he didn't leave me to finish the race alone.

The best thing about finishing a race 3rd last is there's a huge cheering section at the finish line. And getting a post-race hug from this guy is good stuff.
One of the things that makes mountain biking so cool? When one of the top finishers is there to give a hug to one of the last finishers. Peat killed the race on a singlespeed.
Finally we reached the gravel road crossing that signaled the final stretch of trail and rode down to the finish line. With the after party right there, we had tons of people and lots of cheering for our triumphant finish, and it was a lot of fun to catch up on how everyone else's race had gone.  Mine...well, as I told my friend Rachel (2nd overall for women!), it was about 10 miles of fun and 40 miles of misery, but I guess sticking out 40 miles of wanting to quit is something.

The race took us 8 hours and 38 minutes total, with 7:22 ride time. I was third last overall and last of all female finishers. Before the start I'd have told you I would be happy just to finish, but it's taken me a few days to get to that point. I went home bitterly disappointed in how I'd done, not so much the time as in my total lack of endurance. Honestly, I think the time is pretty remarkable considering how badly I rode.

So what was the problem? There are several potential issues.

  • Training: I rode a total of 20 miles in the three weeks before the race and less than 100 since September 6. 
  • Nutrition: I didn't eat for the first hour and didn't eat enough the rest of the day. I had a baggie of dried mango, a Payday bar, a Mounds bar, a vanilla GU, 1.5 bottles of Carborocket (about 480 calories), and 2 rice bars.
  • Pace: I'm typically the queen of going out conservative and then staying steady. This time I went out harder than usual and maybe that's why I paid for it later.
  • I've been fighting a serious infection for a month.
  • I've been on antibiotics for a month. Some of what I've read on the internet since Saturday suggests a link between antibiotic use and detrimental effect on athletic performance. 

I'd love to blame it all on the last two, but no matter what impact the infection and medication had, there's no question that the other three contributed, and they're all thankfully things I can work on for next year. Because of course I'm going back next year.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


My very first mountain biking experience featured a fall that resulted in surgery to repair a badly dislocated thumb. This was the beginning of both an lasting love affair with mountain biking and an enduring trend, one where all of my worst crashes are on decidedly non-epic terrain.

True story
It's likely that the main reason for that relates to my lack of confidence on more technical trails and my willingness to walk anything remotely scary. I'd be a better rider if I could just turn off the fear center in my brain, but failing that I signed up for a mountain bike skills clinic. Two of them actually: a beginner clinic in the morning and an intermediate one in the afternoon.

We had to lower our saddles as far as possible and put flat pedals on our bikes instead of the clipless pedals I normally use. I (read: Jeff) put on the set we'd just taken off of Jacob's bike. They're actually a great set of pedals, but at least once every ride he'd bash his leg with them and throw a fit. I replaced them with the cheapest set of plastic pedals my LBS had, conveniently leaving me with a spare set for Sunday's clinic.
Not necessarily the pedals but very similar
I've ridden clipped in for a few years now, so being on flats and having to stand the whole time was a very weird sensation. The beginners clinic focused on things like vision, braking, body positioning and movement, front wheel lifts, and cornering. It basically confirmed what I already knew, which is that you (I) can have ridden lots of miles of singletrack without being very good at mountain biking.

I was excited and nervous about the intermediate clinic, which focused on higher-level skills like rear wheel lifts (which I can do clipped in but had no idea how that worked on flat pedals) and going off drops.  We had a few new people in the afternoon, so we spent the first few minutes reviewing the skills we'd practiced in the morning, all of which felt more natural this time around.  Then it was time to learn about rear wheel lifts.

Jay broke it down into steps for us, demonstrated it a couple times, then had us try.  Basically (and I'm explaining it poorly, but I'm no MTB coach) you have to push down on the bars, pull up, point your toes down in the pedals, and kind of do a donkey kick with both feet. I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a dubious/nervous look on their face. "Remember," he told us, "even an inch off the ground is a win."

"Not crashing is a win in my book," I mumbled.

I didn't crash.

On my first attempt, I rode into the practice area, did the push/pull with the bars, and pushed both feet back.  Somehow my right foot slipped and went behind the pedal, raking my shin against the pins on its way to the ground.

I had enough time to reflect that Jacob had been right about those pedals hurting before looking down at my leg. The pedal had opened up a big gash in my shin and blood was already running down to my sock. I turned to look at my friend Brianna, and I'm not sure what my face actually looked like, but in my brain it was something like "Holy shit. Look what just happened."

I was pretty sure I was going to need stitches. Jay bandaged me up and asked if I had someone who could take me to the doctor. I texted Jeff, who was an hour away, a picture and then called my Virtus teammate Bob, who lives about 10 minutes from Castlewood, to ask if he could  take me to an urgent care.   Then, once I was all checked in, he rode his bike back to the park to pick up my car. I have awesome friends. 

Waiting at urgent care
I was a little nervous about just pulling up to some random immediate care facility, but it turned out the doctor on duty was a general surgeon. She was super nice and explained to me that usually with shin lacerations unless muscle/tendon was involved they'd just clean it really well and bandage it up. Then she unwrapped my leg: "....but in your case, you've bought yourself some stitches!"  

A whole lot of lidocaine and a bunch of stitches later and I was on my way home. The stitches come out in another few days and I'll probably be pretty gun-shy about banging my shin on anything for a while, but I'm in the clear for the mountain bike race scheduled for the end of October, so I'm happy. I've had several friends this year who've had injuries serious enough to force them onto the sidelines for months at a time. All I'm out is a little blood, a $75 copay, and a couple of hours in a waiting room, and in return I get a nice scar and a good cautionary tale of the dangers of mountain biking...in a flat field...less than 50 feet from the parking lot.

On a related note, I can make you a good deal on a pair of slightly used platform pedals.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tomahawk Challenge 24 hour AR

Note: Written by me, commentary by Chuck in green.

This year's Tomahawk Challenge was an inaugural event, but you'd never know it from how smoothly and well the race was run.  Extras like free camping at the start/finish area and free pre- and post-race meals were an added value, but perhaps best of all in a school year where I've already had to take two personal days, the location was close enough that I could leave for the race after work.

Check-in was held at the Ribeyre Center in downtown New Harmony, a very cool historic town near the Illinois-Indiana border. Once we'd taken care of that, Chuck and I headed to Harmonie State Park to set up camp. BOR was already there, so once tents were set up and we'd discussed Chuck's and my awesomely (and exhaustingly) full race schedule we all headed back into town, stopping at a cool brewery Larry had scoped out while waiting for the rest of his team.

Hello, super creepy circus poster.
Photo credit: Scott Shaw
We headed back to the Ribeyre Center in time for lasagna and salad, followed by a giveaway where mine was the first name called, much to the chagrin of the Navy guy who'd earlier taken umbrage to my Marine mom t-shirt.

Yea free stuff!!

Race director John going over race details
Photo credit: Heather Kluch
One notable thing I took away from the pre-race meeting was an appreciation for the huge amount of local support for the race. Several county emergency management agencies were involved, and representatives from two of them were even at the meeting.

It's a map! It's a blanket! It's a tent! #multifunction #ar #adventureracing #teamvirtusAR
Chuck modeling our gigantic map/tent/emergency blanket/tablecloth

Finally it was time to get our maps and race instructions and see just what the next day would hold.  I went up to collect them and returned with a gigantic map and...coordinates for 12 checkpoints.  We would go into the race, not blind, but exceedingly nearsighted, our only glimpse of the race being the instructions for the initial trek.

That left the majority of the race as one big question mark.  Of course, we could make some good guesses. We had a bike drop at a boat ramp some 20 miles south of our start, and the trek would take us about 12 miles north, ending next to the Wabash River. Obviously we would be paddling on the second leg; it was less clear whether we'd have any mid-paddle trekking and, if so, how long it would take. I'm happiest when the entire race is set out before me and I know what to expect, so this myopic view was an enduring frustration for me throughout the race.

On the other hand, the minimal pre-race plotting left plenty of time to get back to camp and load up our packs.  For once, I was in bed by around 10, giving me almost 6 hours of pre-race sleep, an unheard-of luxury that helped soothe the indignity of the 4 a.m. wake-up call necessary to get to the bike drop and back with a comfortable time cushion.

It's a good thing we'd left early, because I realized  at the bike drop that my rear blinky wasn't working. Neither of us had the right kind of batteries (or anywhere to buy them at 5 a.m.), but Chuck dug through his gear tub, dragged out an ancient red blinky, and lucked into the right batteries. It provided enough illumination to make me technically legal but questionably safe, so I stuck an extra glow stick in my pack to supplement the mandatory light.  We were back at the race start in plenty of time for last-minute preparations.

Getting ready to start. I have no idea why we stood so close to the front.
John sent off the 8-hour racers first and then called us forward for last-minute instructions, specifically where we could find our passports. I'd spent the week before Tomahawk nursing a sore tailbone from a crash at last weekend's mountain bike race (one of several blog posts still waiting to be written) and swore up and down that I was doing zero running, but in the excitement of the race start Chuck and I ended up doing more running than expected.

Trek 1: Checkpoints 1-12, in order

Passport secured, we opted to run the longer, flatter road route instead of retracing the shorter trail through a reentrant. While I was all for this idea at the time, in retrospect our route was only more effective if we ran the whole time, and I'm most definitely not in running shape.  We arrived at our attack point for CP 1 just as Checkpoint Badgers were emerging, and rather than shoot a bearing towards the CP we just dove into the woods where they came out.

We had some trouble locating CP1, coming very close; in fact, Chuck had just said "I bet it's just over that spur," before we headed uphill instead. We need to learn to trust our his instincts, because some time later we finally found the point, just where he'd said it would be.  Not an illustrious start, but it seems like the first CP always plays hard to get, and spotting them was complicated in this race by the markers used.

(Not CP1) Photo credit: Heather Kluch
Those round PVC tubes definitely didn't jump out at you the way the typical CP bags do, especially during daylight hours in the woods, when every sun-dappled tree mimicked the look from a distance.

Rather than ease our navigational woes, CP2 continued our downward spiral. We found the correct reentrant pretty quickly and proceeded to climb up and down it several times, unable to close in on the checkpoint. At one point Lupine and a couple of solo racers passed us, going in the same direction we'd come from, but we didn't follow.  We should have: after over an hour of fruitless searching, we gave up, while they eventually spotted the marker hanging from a tree.

Root cave

Chuck:  These CP's were really hard for me to see.  My inability to spot them would haunt us all day.  Compared to the typical orienteering controls with the bold square shape and triangle orange/white pattern, these tubes took on the shape of every sapling and tree branch in the forest.  Even this early in the morning I was looking forward to sunset with the hopes that the reflective tape would make them more visible.

We didn't go straight to CP3, running into BOR in the vicinity as we all scoured the hillsides for the root cave it was plotted in. Chuck spotted it and slid down to punch our passport.  What a great spot for a checkpoint! I love it when races take me to cool places I wouldn't otherwise see.

We trekked away from CP4 in the company of the same solo racer we'd seen around the previous two checkpoints. Since it seemed obvious we were moving at the same pace and likely to see a lot of each other on the course, we introduced ourselves and killed time on the way towards 4 (failed dam/dry pond) by getting to know Mike.

Chuck also practiced his tightrope-walking skills while I recorded my more daring teammate from the safe, safe ground.
After a lifetime of working around airplanes, Chuck's hearing isn't the best, and this deficit was much in evidence during the race. As we approached the spot where CP4 was plotted and began to look around, I told him, "There's a dam...I'm going to check up there since that was mentioned in the clue."
Moments later Chuck got the first "yeah, I just said that" look of the race when he looked up and exclaimed, "Hey, that looks like a dam!"

Chuck:  SO true, and unfortunately it gets worse every year.  My teammates are constantly accomodating my shortcoming by repeating things to keep me involved in conversations and up-to-date on all the race instructions I don't hear.  They even go out of the way making adjustments to walk, run or ride on my right side or change positions to look in my face while talking.  They even find ways to make what must sometimes be an annoyance into a humorous exchange. Thank You again to my amazing teammates for accepting this about me!

Kate: He's worth it, plus it's not like I can get pissed and walk away...I don't know where I'm going!

The CP was indeed on the dam, the first time in the race we'd gone directly to our target. "It's so much more fun when we find them right away," I told him, "let's just do that for the rest of the day." We must have done just that for CP5 and 6, because I don't remember anything about them, and then came CP7 ("tip of spur").

When doing our route planning, Chuck and I had different thoughts on our approach to 7. He'd planning to shoot a bearing from an intersection; I voted to avoid climbing up and down across reentrants by following the spur to its end.  That's what we ended up doing until we reached the end of the spur and...no marker. We scoured the lower section of the spur. Nothing.

The elusive CP7

Thinking maybe we'd come down the wrong spur somehow we trekked further up the creek, climbing up and down and across at least two more spurs as we went out and back. The whole time we did this I was kicking myself for bringing up this failed strategy. Finally we retraced our steps back to where Chuck had originally planned to attack, shot a bearing, and walked straight to...the same spot we'd been nearly an hour before.

This time BOR was also scouring the area for the marker, and despite seven of us climbing all over the end of the spur we couldn't find it. In fact, we were just about to give up on yet another CP when Chuck spotted it across a tiny reentrant from where we'd been standing. Huge relief, but so frustrating to have lost so much time when we'd been right there so long ago.

Me in the front on the left, getting as far away as I could.
The group of us all trekked towards the next CP, an abandoned cabin just off the road. Chuck was briefly distracted by a bloated animal corpse that, like the 9 year old boy he is on the inside, he wanted to pop. I wanted no part of that disgustingness, a sentiment Amanda shared (one more reason it's nice to have more women in AR!).

Chuck at the cabin

Chuck:  After having been denied a good attempt to pop the possum, I made sure there was time for a quick exploration of the cabin interior while Kate, Mike, and BOR punched passports.

The cabin was easy to find (and another cool spot for a checkpoint). We continued on together, having to backtrack when the old road shown on a map led, in actuality, through a soybean field. Hard to believe that maps that were last updated nearly 100 years ago weren't entirely current. Though we thought the "road" was possibly legal, we weren't positive and thought whatever farmer had planted the field might not be super happy about a crowd of adventure racers tromping through his crops. Instead we retraced our steps and took a road route.

We all attacked (CP9) from the same point, but when we didn't immediately see the point Chuck, Mike, and I trekked up the creek a bit...and then a bit more, running into Bushwhacker who was already on their canoe leg and looking in vain for a hilltop.  There was some confusion as to who was dramatically in the wrong place, but in the end it wasn't us. They moved on in search of their hilltop, and we retraced our steps back to where we'd first come in off the road, once again finding the CP right where we'd originally thought it should be before we'd headed in the wrong direction.

BOR was long gone by that point, but we met up again coming from (them)/going to (us) CP10 (hilltop). Neil warned us to stay (right?? Left??), which we did, finding the marker with zero drama and then doubling back to head into town for our next CP. We took a trail that led directly behind the labyrinth where the next marker was hidden, reaching it just as BOR was emerging.

Heading out after finally having punched the passport.
What a cool spot for a checkpoint, right?? And also, annoying. When you're in a race the last thing you want to do is traipse through a maze looking for a piece of PVC tubing. Luckily Mike spotted it, so all I had to do was figure out how to get where he was, a feat I barely accomplished. Visual-spatial stuff is not my strong point.

Chuck:  But it was very entertaining watching Kate run through the multiple concentric rings while I took pictures.

We refilled our camelbaks at the nearby spigot and then followed the sidewalk into town, catching BOR where they'd stopped outside of the Ribeyre Center (and real bathrooms). We walked towards CP12 just long enough for Amanda and I to squash the boys' dreams of a mid-race beer stop, and then as we reached the golf cart path that would lead to the Wabash River, our final trekking point, and eventually the canoe put-in, BOR inexplicably turned off.

Confused but sure of our route, we stuck with our plan, quickly finding CP12 and then the TA, where we were given the "bad news" that we had to skip CP13, an upriver paddle that we'd anticipated and already decided to avoid, passed a gear check, and were given the coordinates for several paddling points. Always eager to cut out whatever paddling time possible and concerned because of the strong Bushwhacker team's problems finding 14, I voted to skip any points that looked tricky -- basically anything that required getting out of the canoe.  Much like my running prohibition, however, that plan quickly changed.

Paddle leg: CPs 13 14-19 in order (though you certainly wouldn't want to do it any other way)

Despite our head start at the TA, BOR arrived, plotted more quickly than we had, and were on our heels as we put in on the nasty mud of the Wabash River.  In no time Chuck had spotted the creek that was the attack point for CP14, which we found with no problem: all you had to do was climb up a gigantic hill.  We passed BOR on the way back to our canoes and hastened to CP15 (reentrant).

Looking back out the reentrant towards the river.
The marker was easy to find. Back at the canoe, we nervously eyed the rapids just past the reentrant. A water safety boat and several volunteers were stationed there, which was only a slight comfort; I'd have been far happier if they hadn't been necessary, but in the end I greatly appreciated their presence.  As we shoved off, I looked back at our friends with a "we who are about to die salute you" expression on my face, and Scott solemnly wished us good luck.

We tried to set a strong cadence as we splashed through on the left side, but the boat tipped and we went over. Our packs were strapped to the canoe, but our paddle bag and a ziploc with almost all of my race food for the next several hours floated away while I watched in despair. The strong current and slick bottom made it nearly impossible to stand up, so we did our best to swim the canoe towards the river bank.

It took ages to get the canoe to a spot where we could stand and dump out all of the water, and once we got it as drained as possible we hopped back in and paddled back out, thankfully past the rapids.  The safety boat motored toward us, a volunteer inside tossing me the paddle bag and MY FOOD once they were close enough. We were saved! I'd been sick feeling to lose all of that food. It had been really careless to leave the food out unsecured, but I'd thought having it easily accessible would make it more likely for me to eat during the paddle. This ended up not being the case.

I'd packed with the same lack of forethought that led me to leave nearly all of my calories lying on the seat of the canoe, so while I had a very thin baselayer shirt and several pairs of socks in waterproof baggies, the rest of my cool weather gear (waterproof jacket, gloves, and a fleece hat) were loose in my pack and therefore completely soaked. The weather forecast showed lows in the 40's after dark, but I tend to run pretty hot and felt confident I had enough clothes...which I did until everything I was wearing got soaked.

Luckily the sun was still out, giving us hopes of drying out during the rest of the paddle. Chuck was exhilarated by the whole experience. "That was awesome!" he kept repeating.  I didn't want to be a buzzkill, but I'd found it significantly less awesome.

CP16 was on Mink Island, and Chuck led us straight up the wide, dry creek to our point.  Though I'd felt relatively comfortable while paddling, I couldn't stop shivering as we hiked across the shady island. It was another of the many times that, despite not having looked at the map in hours myself, I was convinced he was wrong...and it was another of the many times I was glad I just kept my doubts to myself because he was totally right. Within a few minutes we were back in our canoe and on to another gear check at CP17 (boat ramp), where we told the volunteer that Mike and BOR were close behind us and explained that BOR stood for "Boring Old Racers".

Chuck:  I planted that "Boring Old Racers" seed with hopes that the volunteers would pass it along when BOR got to the CP, but we never heard anything afterwards, so I guess it didn't get passed along.

CP18 was on another island, the first of two on the map. We found the island pretty quickly but the point itself was hard to find. Chuck thought that maybe the island had been cut apart by the river in the time since it was mapped, so we moved on to the next section, where with some teamwork with Kiss My Compass, a 3-man team, we were able to park our canoe and scramble up the steep embankment to the CP.

That long skinny island is now two islands.
We paddled off just ahead of the guys, expecting them to pass us at any moment since we'd been chasing (and failing to catch them) all day, only staying close because they'd had to stop a time or two to dump their leaking canoe. They never caught us, though, and we worried the rest of our paddle that something had happened to them.

That wasn't our only concern. Chuck kept obsessing about the bike leg: "I just wish we knew how long it was going to take!" I was confused by his worry; after all, we'd driven 21ish miles from the start/finish to the bike drop that morning. It couldn't be much longer than that. And we had plenty of time.  I said as much to him, and he replied, "But we only have 5 hours left and we aren't to the TA yet!"  For some reason, probably residual Thunder Rolls hangover, he had a midnight start/finish in his head.

"Chuck," I said, "It's 7:00. We have twelve hours left!"

Chuck:  Ha!  Thunder rolls hangover indeed.  

Railroad bridge just past Grand Chain Island, where CP18 had been located
That settled, Chuck felt much better about our time frame.  Though we'd originally planned to skip the final paddling CP, which required an out-and-back paddle on a creek that fed into the river, we decided it was worth the extra time in the canoe. Our land nav hadn't been stellar, but we'd nailed all of the paddle points; it seemed silly to pass on what seemed to be a sure thing just because I don't like paddling.

The sun finished setting as we paddled up the creek, and I spent the rest of the paddle straining my eyes to watch for any strainers or other obstacles in the water, really REALLY not wanting to do any nighttime swimming. The paddle seemed to take forever, though it was broken up by the dulcet tones of a solo racer whistling and singing "Eye of the Tiger" and he paddled back towards us and, later, our second Checkpoint Badger sighting of the race.

We easily found the marker hanging under the railroad bridge, its reflective tape making it far easier to spot at nighttime than during the day, and then paddled back towards the river, finally reaching it and making our way towards the next transition area, the bike drop we'd visited some 15 hours earlier.  By this point, the temperatures had cooled and I was shivering in earnest.  "You know what would be awesome?" I asked Chuck. "If they had hot chocolate!...and a fire!"

Sure enough, in the kind of glorious dream-come-true scenario that's the closest I'll ever come to winning the lottery, both ingredients of my hypothermic fantasy were at the TA. I chugged hot chocolate while huddling close to the fire; the only thing that could have been better is if Mark Wahlberg was there warming me with his body heat while wrapping us both in a puffy jacket...

...uhhhh...where was I? Oh, yeah...fire. Hot chocolate. Yet more points to be plotted, these ones for the bike leg to the TA back at the state park. And the opportunity to take off my sodden jersey and replace it with a dry shirt. Even though my chamois felt like a wet diaper and my pants were still damp, my upper body was much happier.

Bike 1: Checkpoints 20-25 (in order)

BOR had come in slightly after we had and made another lightning-fast transition, so we all rolled out at about the same time, though they quickly left us behind. Somehow, despite all the bike riding I do, it takes me a long time to get comfortable riding in the dark, so I really slowed us down.  We picked off CPs 20-24 with no problems, Chuck's stellar nav keeping us in the mix with several teams who'd left the TA ahead of us.

Like on the paddle, we went for every possible bike point, knowing we'd be far faster on wheels than on the anticipated trekking leg back at Harmonie.  Most were super easy, though CP25, down a rutted, slippery, mud/sand road was a little stressful in the full-on wimp mode I'd found myself in. From there we took gravel and forest roads and then rode a park road uphill forever back to the TA, where we were greeted with fire, more hot chocolate (though, sadly, still no Mark Wahlberg)...and more coordinates to plot.

Around 12:20 a.m.
Finally, more than 17 hours into the race, we had a full view of the course.  5 trekking points in the state park, several bike points on singletrack (including one CP featuring ropes), more bike points to an orienteering course at Indian Mound Farm, where we'd trekked earlier in the day, and then bike points back to the finish line.

Though we plotted all of the coordinates we were given, we quickly decided to skip the trek.  Bike points would be faster and easier, a much better use of our time than another trek. I was pretty thumbs-down on the ropes CP, and there were another couple on singletrack that looked like they featured a lot of climbing.  Instead we decided to tackle the a bike/trek combo, the four closest singletrack points, and then see what kind of time we had left. If we had enough time, we could go for a couple of bike points along the road.  The downside of this was that I'd be spending the remainder of the race in my soggy chamois instead of being able to put on all dry clothes.

I was able to trade my wet trekking pants for dry running tights, and I added a thicker base layer shirt under my waterproof jacket, but that was the extent of warm clothes I had available. After a pretty leisurely transition (an hour-ish), we climbed back onto our bikes again.

Trek 2: checkpoints 26-30

Bike 2: checkpoints 31-33 in order; may leave bikes to trek to points

CP31 was at an old cemetery reminiscent of ones we've visited during different iterations of the SHITR, approached by horse trails that were somewhere between singletrack and doubletrack.  That was easily found, and then we headed to 32, which I believe was at a trail/creek intersection, another easy mark.  From there, we pushed our bikes up some super shitty trail before getting back onto grassy doubletrack. Nearing 33, we saw BOR coming in the other direction, having given up after struggling to find it.

They backtracked with us to give it one more go, dropping the point after the six of us were still unable to find it. Not having looked as long, Chuck and I were reluctant to give it up, but we had to admit defeat after additional fruitless searching.

Bike 2b: checkpoints 34-?; no bikewhacking

Checkpoints 34 and 35 were along the beginner singletrack (comically explained in the park brochure as "suitable for beginners", while the intermediate trails were -- you guessed it -- "appropriate for intermediate level riders") in Harmonie State Park. As we rolled onto the singletrack I initially thought how nice it would be for my 11 year old, smooth and flowy with little elevation change, but I quickly revised my opinion as it wound like the tentacles of an octopus along the edge of a reentrant.

Chuck called back, "These are awesome trails!!", an opinion I didn't share. While on one level I could recognize how fun the trails should be, I was totally fixated on the gaping chasm of death to my left (full disclosure: I have no idea how deep it actually was; it was dark and I was afraid to look to my side for fear of plunging in.).  Every single other person I talked to about those trails loved them, so I think I'm pretty safe in assuming that I'm the only one who crept along like a petrified snail. There was so much winding back and forth that I started to feel like we were in some kind of bizarre Hotel California trail system, continually riding the same piece of trail without ever reaching our destination.

Eventually we reached the CP, and the trip to CP35 seemed a bit shorter.  Looking at the map for our next singletrack segment, it seemed clear that we could cut a significant amount of distance from our ride by approaching the trails from a parking area.  We quickly located the trail entrance for CP36 and it was a short ride to the marker. Then we backtracked to the road to look for the trailhead on the other side of the parking area.

This one took a little bit longer to find, but again we were successful.  These trails had a bit more elevation change, and while my mental game was pretty nonexistent my body felt good.  Chuck, on the other hand, was starting to feel bonky, so he chugged an Ensure at CP37 and we took it easy as we retraced our steps to the road.

Back on the road we looked over our maps. We had less than two hours remaining.  The other singletrack points looked like a lot of riding to get there, but there was one CP down some of the gravel park roads that we felt comfortable going for and the possibility of one more that was farther away.

Without the likelihood of certain death of the singletrack to hone my focus, I started really struggling with sleepiness as we rode the pavement towards CP41. I felt so good riding...if I could just pedal with my eyes closed I could continue forever.  One of Chuck's Foosh mints helped wake me up (yea, caffeine!), and we made it to the CP without incident.

Looking at our map after punching the passport neither of us felt confident about our ability to get one more CP without missing the cutoff and being penalized, so we called it and rode back towards the finish line, coming in just before 6 a.m., thanking the race directors, and gratefully climbing into our respective tents and sleeping bags to finally, after nearly 12 hours in wet clothes, get warm and dry.

We got up and hour or so later to eat pancakes and sausage, pack up, and catch up with all of our friends. The awards ceremony featured no surprises. Perennial powerhouse Alpine Shop took first overall, and Bushwhacker came in second and Lupine third. In our division, AC/BDAR won first place, and Chuck and I took second.


Big thanks to the race directors and all of the volunteers for all the work and planning. What a fun, well-run race. We had a blast!

Chuck:  This one is definitely going on the 'gotta-do' list for next year!