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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The calm before the storm: Thunder Rolls part 1

The race began with a 1.5 mile midnight hike through a river, stumbling and slipping over rocks and logs we couldn't see beneath the churned up water.  The subsequent bike leg brought us to a parking lot where we put in canoes just before dawn for the beginning of my unhappiest 7 hours ever in an adventure race.  And even when I was crying in the canoe or, later, struggling up steep hillsides through thickets of nettle, or clambering through mud in tree-clogged reentrants, or learning yet again that trees do not make good fireman poles, I never once wished I was anywhere else.

There's something special about Thunder Rolls.  It could be the race director who'll give you a heartfelt hug and then celebrate making you cry.  Or the legion of amazing volunteers who get as little sleep as the racers do.  Or maybe it's the fantastic facilities of YMCA Camp Benson: pre- and post-race dinners, hot showers,  and an air-conditioned cabin for after the race? Yes, please! Then there's the terrain of the region: multiple rivers, towering bluffs, punishing gravel roads, and ridiculously steep hillsides.  Of course it's a combination of these things, all of which lay before us as we stood at the start line.

Chuck: Kate is so right (Man, I love the sound of that!), there is something totally special about Thunder Rolls and Camp Benson.  The feeling of welcoming and excitement created by the volunteers, other racers, and the camp itself make this the most fun and challenging race of the entire year.  The only thing she may have forgot to mention about the terrain are the acres of lush, head-high, hand-cultivated, and genetically-enhanced nettle that Gerry has imported from some secret lab just for our enjoyment.


Gerry counted down the time and then sent us off to the spot where we'd start our 1.5 mile coasteering leg.  The path was marked, which made it all the funnier when perennial front-runners Alpine Shop came running up behind us, having missed a turn.  It was reminiscent of my very first 24 hour race, when Luke snapped a picture of us leading Tecnu (3rd place at Worlds this year).

That's us in front of Tecnu.  What this picture fails to show is that they'd lost their passport and had run back to find it.  It also fails to show that they eventually won the whole thing.  But what's important is that it shows us in the lead. :)
 Of course Alpine Shop too passed us quickly (though you'll have to read Emily's report to see how their race went) and soon enough we too were stepping into the river.

Chuck and Keith coasteering
For the most part the water wasn't too deep, though there was one section where I chose the wrong line and had to do a little swimming.  Looking up and seeing Chuck carefully holding the waterproof map case about his head as he walked a slightly shallower section, I suddenly had a sinking feeling as I remembered I was carrying our race book (with all the information and CP clues) in a ziploc baggie.  A used ziploc baggie.  Thankfully it held up and our book emerged unscathed.  Our friend Donovan wasn't so lucky.

These were his maps. (Photo credit: Donovan Day)
We found the three river CPs without much trouble, though it seems a lot harder to judge distance in a river than on land, and we were all really happy to finally be able to climb out of the water and head to the bike drop.

We had a relatively quick (for us) transition.  Being in dry socks and shoes was wonderful, and we pedaled off in search of CPs and, eventually, the canoe put-in.  I really struggled as we hit the first hills; I haven't spent much time on a bike the past couple months, and it showed.  Eventually my breathing got under control, and then the bike leg was pretty enjoyable.  Chuck was flawless with the navigation, and before long we were turning on to the "bridge out" road that would lead us to our first bike CP.

It always makes me laugh, the kinds of places we end up in adventure races.
As we pedaled, the surface transitioned from smooth gravel to the sketchy, rutted variety and dead-ended at a tree-lined grassy path that looked more like a stop on a haunted hayride than a road.  It didn't look right.  Chuck checked the maps while Keith scouted ahead briefly, reporting back that it ended in a field.  We were turning around to see where we could have missed a turn when another team rode toward us.  Chuck and their navigator conferred, the other team confirming that there was nowhere else to have gone, and we all decided to try going forward.

Sure enough, we found that the road did go on through the trees just past where Keith had stopped.  It's easy to forget that our regular definition of road isn't adequate for AR purposes, where "road" can indicate pavement, gravel, farm roads, jeep roads, forest service roads, and the like.  I still remember riding trails with Chuck and Travis during the CAC, struggling on the singletrack and hanging on by a thread to reach the road they promised ahead, only to dump out on to uneven, rocky, uphill doubletrack  It was not a happy moment.

I didn't mind this road at all, especially when the barriers blocking off the bridge reflected in our headlamps.  Success!

We lifted our bikes over the tree blocking the "road", and Keith led us onto the bridge.  Where he promptly stepped on a nail that poked right through his shoe and into his foot.  My heart sank for him; here he'd almost missed the race, and now he'd hurt himself.  I was afraid he was going to drop and leave me and Chuck to finish unranked, but instead he toughed it out and only mentioned his foot when one of us asked him about it. He was pretty darn quiet for a while though.

Not sure why this bridge needs repairs...looks good to me.
I wasn't too worried about stepping on a nail since, unlike Keith, I had hard-soled bike shoes on; however, I was a little afraid of rolling a tire over one and opted to carry my bike across.  We punched the passport, got the heck off that bridge, and rode on.  There were some big hills, at least a couple of which I had to walk, but we found our next CPs without incident and before we knew it we were pulling into the canoe put-in, staffed by our Tardy Rooster friends Dave and Leisha.

We laid down our bikes and shut off the lights.  Volunteers would be transporting them to the canoe take-out, so we could leave our bike shoes clipped to the pedals but had to take our helmets.  Chuck grabbed our paddles and paddle bag (I grabbed the paddles just fine, but left the paddle bag!  Somehow in the transition shuffle I left it laying in the grass still full of all the food and water we had planned to use for the second half of the race), while Keith, being the the first one ready since he didn't need to change shoes, set to finding a canoe.

Having found that spending too long in bike shorts can be bad news, I opted to change into pants before the paddle, hoping that maybe my shorts (still soaked from my coasteering swim) would dry while we were in the canoe.  That, as it turned out, was not to happen.  In fact, almost dripping in the pre-dawn humidity, we were the driest we'd be for the next 18 hours.  "Make sure to look your boat over carefully," Dave warned us.  "One of them has already come back because it had a hole in it."

Thankfully, our hull was intact. Unfortunately, other parts were not, which we learned shortly after shoving off into the darkness sometime around 5:30 a.m.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thunder Rolls 2014: Prelude to the storm

This was to be my third time at the Thunder Rolls 24 hour adventure race and my first time there without Team Virtus. My teammates weren’t able to race this one due to life and important hair appointments and the like, but luckily Robin was busy being a good mom on race weekend, leaving Chuck in need of a partner.  When our Team Godzilla teammate Keith joined in, I was delighted to finally (for the first time ever) be the youngest on the team and jokingly suggested a team name of Age Before Beauty.  

While my regular team is...um...punctuality-impaired, I knew I couldn’t count on Keith and Chuck to show up late and made sure everything was ready in time for us to meet up at my house on 10 a.m. Friday morning.  Sure enough, Chuck pulled up right at 10, but even after we’d loaded all of my gear Keith was still missing. This was particularly concerning in light of the last email we'd received from him.

Chuck assumed he was joking; as you can see, I was a little worried.

We were both worried by 10:20 or so and were scrambling around trying to get Keith's number from a friend when I realized I had it.  No answer, so I left a message: "Ummm, Keith? Chuck and I are a little worried because we're here loaded up for Thunder Rolls and you're not. Maybe you're just running behind, so give us a call and reassure us."

Since that number hadn't helped, we started trying to track down his work number, and after a bit I tried calling him back again. This time he answered. "It's today?? I took off next Friday! I thought it was next week."

"Well," Chuck observed and I passed on, "The race doesn't start until midnight. You can still get there."

"Nope," Keith said flatly.  He was disappointed and apologized to us, but we were bummed for him. He was missing out on everything; we were just losing a teammate (and now I was going to have to be the one to take care of the passport) but could still race. 

We'd stopped for lunch about an hour and a half down the road when I got a message from Keith. He'd changed his mind and was going to make it happen, but he wouldn't get to camp until 8 or so.  A three person team once again, we finished eating and headed north.

Arriving at Camp Benson is like coming home to a family reunion.  Lots of teams keep coming back, so you get to know each other; plus, having volunteered at adventure camp for the past two years, I've become good friends with most of the volunteers.  There were lots of hugs and hellos as we got checked in, dragged all of our gear to our cabin to find that we were roomies with our Lupine AR buddies.

Paula and me before the race
The weather was hot and ridiculously humid, so we opted to skip the ascending practice. We've both got some experience, and we decided we'd be better off saving our energy for the actual race ascent.  Instead, we got our packs together and were feeling weirdly prepared way early.  Chuck and I left our bikes at the nearby bike drop as soon as it opened and got back to camp in plenty of time to enjoy the pasta dinner.  To be honest, as we drove back into camp I did have a brief moment thinking, "I do not belong here," before pushing it aside and going to meet our friends.

Eating with our friends Donovan, Todd, and Brian
We were so busy hanging out and talking that we missed the very beginning of the pre-race meeting. Luckily, we got there before any important information was given out.  Gerry handed out the race books and gave us an overview of the course.  My favorite part was his explanation of one of the bike CPs: "You're going to go past a sign that says 'Bridge Closed', and it is closed, but you can get through. It's been on a list to get fixed for like 7 years, and it's falling apart. There are some places you could fall through, but don't worry...it's not the most dangerous thing you'll be doing tonight."  

Reassuring words, indeed.

Looking over the course, I saw some things I wasn't crazy about.  Starting with coasteering meant our feet would immediately be wet; a 22-mile canoe leg -- that's a big portion of my least favorite discipline; the placement of ascending at the end of the race, when our legs and arms would be fried; and a mandatory trip down the luge, which I've managed to avoid for two years.  Yikes.

I might have been feeling slightly intimidated.
Chuck got the maps while I secured us a spot at one of the tables, and we set to plotting points. I love getting to read the coordinates and be part of the route planning process because then it gives me a good idea of how the course fits together.  As I read coordinates, though, I couldn't stop yawning.  I'd been up since 6 a.m., was getting ready to race for 24 hours, and I was already tired.  Awesome.

We got our route figured out and did some strategizing; meanwhile Keith showed up and got all of his stuff taken care of, taking a little teasing from people who'd heard of his mix-up. "Oh, you're the guy who thought it was next week?"  I'm sure that coming in late he felt a little at sea, but he handled it like a champ. We were all ready in time to lie down and rest for a little bit. I closed my eyes but never did manage to sleep, and before long it was ready to line up for the start.  

Me, Chuck, and Keith
We stood at the start line, 24 hours of racing ahead of us, and then Gerry's countdown ended and it was go time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

San Diego or bust (day 1)

Day 1:

We left town at 4 a.m. on July 17.  I hadn't made it to bed the night before, my sleep a casualty of procrastination plus Jacob's last baseball game. Of course he had an 8:00 game the night before we left! I chased Jeff to bed around midnight so that at least one of us could safely drive the first shift.  I actually think I could have managed for a few hours, but once he claimed the driver's seat I was out, waking up four hours later around Kansas City.

Daniel teaching Jacob how to play Magic.
We'd planned our first day to be a long one, hoping to knock out as many miles as possible so we could get to the fun stuff sooner.  Daniel's presence was a triple bonus: it was great to spend some time with him, we had three drivers, and he and Jacob spent a lot of time playing cards together or playing Pokemon.

Colorado: not quite as colorful as Jacob's outfit.
Highlights were reminiscing about Dirty Kanza as we passed through the Flint Hills and entering Colorado. The low point was nearly running out of gas in BFE.  I looked over as we passed through Eads, CO, (population 622) and observed, "We're pretty low on gas." This is much more typically a Kate issue than a Jeff issue; my car spends most of its miles in the bottom half of the fuel gauge.  With our readout giving us about 30 miles til empty, we looked down the road for a gas station and saw...nothing.

We continued on our way west hoping for better luck in the next town, but the atlas showed that town was even smaller.  Some nervous googling showed that there was, indeed, a gas station in Eads, and since we were pretty much screwed if the next town didn't have gas, we turned around.  The fuel gauge read 6 miles til empty when we pulled into the address yp.com had listed.  There may have been a gas station there 20 years ago, but there certainly isn't anymore.

Jeff asked a trucker in the lot if there were any gas stations in town.  "No, this is it.  This is the old west, man...you gotta be prepared."

Thankfully there was a gift shop/information booth next door, where the proprietor directed us towards a gas station about a mile away.  Saved! Our tank didn't go below half full for the rest of the trip.

Home, sweet home on night 1.
We pulled into the Pueblo KOA after about 15 hours on the road, spent some time on the jumping pillow (where Daniel's favorite activity was to bounce me off of it), had dinner, and then headed to bed.  Our next days would be long, but they'd be a much higher fun:driving ratio and only one or two more near disasters.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Somewhere to rest my weary head.

Well, hello there! I haven't actually forgotten that I had a blog, but we went on vacation and when we came back life was too busy to sit down and write all about it.  Actually, with school starting up and such, life is still too busy to sit down and write, but I miss it.  That's good news to all of you who aren't speed readers because maybe it means my vacation posts will be a little shorter than usual.  Maybe.  :)

We left for our trip on a Thursday, and we started planning it in earnest on that Monday.  While the procrastination caused me all kinds of stress, I had nothing to worry about because things came together beautifully.  Our destination was Nathan's boot camp graduation at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, a short 1,875 mile drive from our house --that is, if you went the most direct route.  We did not.

We couldn't afford to fly the four of us, so in order to break up the long drive we made it a vacation road trip, stopping at lots of cool places on the way out (and a few on the way back).  To minimize costs, we did some tent camping, stayed with family and friends, ate most of our meals out of a cooler.  Never a big fan of lunch meat, I may never touch it again.

The camping was my plan; Jeff was a little bit more skeptical.  We got a pop-up camper when Jacob was a baby and never looked back.  The camper's been parked for a couple years, though, and neither one of us wanted to tow it through the mountains. That left our tent, which thankfully was still in decent shape, plenty big for the four of us to sleep in, and (as it turned out) still rain resistant.  And it gave us the opportunity to sleep in some pretty cool places, which brings us to the point of today's post: where we stayed our nights on vacation.

Thursday (departure day): Pueblo, CO, KOA.

With 13 hours of drive time on our first day, we opted for something easy.  Staying in a cabin meant all we had to do was throw our sleeping bags onto the mattresses at the end of a long day and have little to pack up the next morning.  Plus, many KOAs have that jumping pillow you see in the last picture.  Jacob loves them, Daniel loves tormenting me by bouncing me off of them, and they provide a good opportunity to burn off excess energy after sitting in the car all day.

I'd so hoped to be able to meet up with Jill, Kathy, Terzah, and Cynthia during this trip, but in the end it just made more sense for us to take a more southerly route through Colorado.  Next time!!

Friday: Morefield Campground, Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Mesa verde
That's our tent in the foreground
Not particularly cheap at $35 for a primitive tent site (no electric or water on the site, but there were showers and bathrooms available a short walk away), it was hard to beat Morefield's location 4 miles inside the gates of Mesa Verde.  This was also our first campground to give us very strict guidelines on what could be in the tent (basically, us and our bedding) and what could not (food, water, toiletries) due to bears in the area.  You either had to lock up your coolers and food tubs in the car or in the bear bins located around the campground.  We didn't have any bear problems, but Jeff did think maybe he saw one running away from our campsite when he got up early in the morning for more blankets.

None of us slept well this night, a combination of the cold, attempting to balance on overfilled (cheap) sleeping mats, and who knows what else.  It was a long night.

Mesa verde
View behind our campsite...you can see some of the tents in the other loop.
  Saturday: Devil's Garden Campground, Arches National Park (Utah)

Not a bad view for $20.
In a stroke of luck, we got the very last campsite available inside Arches National Park. Another primitive site with bathrooms and running water a short walk away (but no showers), this one was almost half the cost of our Mesa Verde site.  We got no bear warnings, but Utah was WAY hotter than Colorado. Thankfully the temperatures cooled once the sun went down and we got a decent night's sleep before rising early for a hike before heading off to our next stop.

Putting the kid to work the next day
Trying to keep our luggage to a minimum, we didn't bring many extras in the gear department.  We had sleeping bags and sleeping mats for everyone, a couple extra blankets, and a couple lights. No cooking equipment or other camping gear.  This definitely made packing up easier.

Sunday: Zion Lodge, Zion National Park (Utah)

Crazy scenic
This wasn't a bargain-priced overnight at all, except for the fact that my father-in-law, having stayed at Zion Lodge and loved it, sprung for a night there for us.

We were on the second floor, in back
 I can't even begin to tell you how lovely it was to sleep in a bed after a couple nights on sub-par sleeping mats.


 By the time we got our stuff into the room and finished eating, it was dark outside. We just chilled in the room, slept hard, and did our hiking the next day.

Monday: Mardi Gras Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

Somewhere on an SD card is a shot of our room and a few pictures of the pool.  You aren't missing that much.  Suffice it to say that when booking.com congratulates you, "You've booked the cheapest room in the hotel!!" it doesn't entirely feel like a compliment. That said, the room was spacious and clean, the pool was nice, and we left Vegas without being killed in our beds or bringing along bedbugs, so I was happy.

Tuesday-Thursday: Orange, CA

Thank God for family.  Because Comic Con was in San Diego the same weekend as Nathan's graduation from Marine Corps boot camp, by the time I got around to making reservation hotels like Motel 6 were running around $200/night. Hell no.  Instead we stayed with two of Jeff's uncles and drove the 1-1.5 hours to San Diego on Thursday and Friday.

Friday: Tucson, AZ

Thank God for old friends.  I actually have several family members with places in the Phoenix area, but it didn't work out for us to stay with any of them.  Luckily I was able to message my friend Kelly, my best friend from 3rd grade (when she moved to my town) until 7th grade (when she moved to Arizona) and still one of those lifelong friends you can see/talk to once every 5 years and still fall right back into the friendship. We rolled up their driveway around 11 pm and crashed in their guest room after little more than a "hi".

Saturday: Mt. Graham, Stafford, AZ

Home, sweet home for the night
 We stayed on Mt. Graham with Kelly, her husband, and their daughter.  Since James works at the Large Binocular Telescope on the mountain, they're pretty much regulars here.

Jacob and Grace spent a long of time working on this fort uphill from our site.
 The fort building opportunities shot Mt. Graham towards the top of Jacob's vacation ranking of our various destinations.  He would've spent every waking moment working on that fort, but he was thwarted by the approaching storm and lightning.

The second bear-warning site of our trip; no bears to be seen, though.
This was one of my favorite stops of the trip too, and not just because the temperature above 9,000 feet was a good 25-30 degrees cooler than down mountain.  I loved the pine forest; I loved the fact that we had the entire campground loop to ourselves.  I did not love the white-knuckle switchbacks on the road or the long stretch of Kanza-esque gravel (driven in our aging minivan).

Sunday: Holbrook KOA, Holbrook AZ

Another KOA, another cabin, and while KOAs typically have nice features like pools or the jumping pillow at our top picture, we basically rolled in, ate supper, showered, and went to bed.

Monday (Tuesday morning): Elk City KOA, Elk City, OK

It may have been daylight when we hit Holbrook; we'd already eased into the next day by the time we reached Oklahoma.  After some touring in the Holbrook area, we pointed ourselves towards home with three potential stops (all KOAs, which make up in proximity to the highway what they lack in atmosphere), knowing we'd have to commit to a destination before the offices closed if we wanted to stay into a cabin.  We settled on Elk City, our furthest option, and they just left the cabin unlocked for us with the key inside.  Our return to the midwest featured bugs, something we'd seen little of since leaving home thirteen days earlier.  I hadn't missed them at all.

Tuesday: home!

In all, we traveled for 13 days, driving a total of 4,700 miles.  Not necessarily a restful vacation, but a really great trip. I'd love to do another long road trip, maybe with a slightly more forgiving schedule, and take my bike(s) along for the ride. Maybe next year...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tour d'oh(nut)

The Tour de Donut was the first bike race -- in fact, the first race -- I ever entered.  Way back in 2009, I lined up astride my hybrid bike, moderately terrified to be at the start line in a pack of ~1200 bicycles.  It's the first race in which I scored an age group win, scoring second place in the donut adjusted category (you get 5 minutes off your time for each donut you eat) the next year.

I spent a few years banking on donuts to get me to the podium before deciding that the chance (never again realized) of a donut-adjusted podium wasn't worth feeling sick for the rest of the day (and all those calories ingested in vain), and last year I took second place in my AG outright, one of my only podium finishes that wasn't directly related to a small number of entrants.

I approached this year's race with intentions of repeating my AG performance.  I even recruited a friend to be my domestique (a crew which grew to three by race day).  Last year I'd had to find wheels to draft off of; this year I brought my own.  Between this and finally lining up quite a bit closer to the front than usual, I had high hopes for victory.  Of course, one aspect of my race plan that was lacking was actual training beyond what I'd done in preparation for Dirty Kanza, and my morning nerves reflected the fact that I'd ridden maybe three times since May, none of these on my road bike.

I have no game face.
I drove to Staunton with my stomach in knots, met up with my friends Jim and Michelle, ran back to my car approximately 14 times to get things I'd forgotten, and eventually met up with Larry, Bill, and Dave, who I'd planned to ride with behind.

Bill, Larry, Dave
We set off through town at a decent pace, and while the race is supposed to begin with a neutral roll-out at about 15 mph, we were going faster than that and barely in sight of the lead group.  I didn't really have any intentions of being a part of that front pack...seems like there are always crashes up there.  I don't have a lot of practice riding in a pack, and I was happy to let things play out in front in the beginning while I was safely out of the way.

Larry set a strong pace once we were out of town, and I was chasing to catch back on.  Some friends of the guys dropped a chain on their tandem right around the first hill, so Bill peeled back to help them out.  We flew down the hill, and I was happy with how I felt on the way up the other side; the first hill in any race is usually the hardest for me.  Once back on the flats, I shifted into a harder gear and immediately dropped my chain.  Damn.

"Larry, I dropped my chain!" I yelled ahead as I pulled to the side.  I saw him stopped on the side of the road as I put the chain back in place and started off again.  Immediately I heard a clunk.  Seriously? I looked down and realized my front derailleur was hanging loose on my chain.

Bad news. :( It's supposed to be attached to the frame just to the left of the water bottle. You can see the whitish spots where the clamp broke off.

As I stood staring at my bike in dismay, Bill pulled up.  "What's wrong, kiddo?" I showed him my bike, and he told me, "You'd have to break your chain to get that off." Normally I carry bike tools, not because I know how to use them, but just in case I have a problem and they can help someone nice enough to stop and help me.  Unfortunately, I'd left my house in a hurry after being up since 5 helping Jeff set up for day two of our yard sale, and all I had with me was a spare tube.

Bill gave me the number for the SAG crew and rode off, and Larry had already gone (I found out later that, seeing me get started again after replacing my chain, he'd started as well, soft-pedaling until I caught up.  When two biggish groups passed him, he caught sight of a blue jersey and thought he'd missed me, chasing to catch up only to discover that it wasn't me. Our biggest failing here was not having a plan for what to do if there was a mechanical or we got separated).

As luck had it, there was a group of friends spectating the race about 50 feet from where my bike broke, and they offered me a drink and a ride back. I took the sweet tea but told them I'd just call the SAG crew.  I made the call and watched as rider after rider passed, some asking if I was ok.  "Yeah, I broke my derailleur," I'd answer sadly as they rode away.  I'm used to riding with friends who can fix my problems, so this was definitely a reminder that I really need to acquire some bike mechanic skills.

The guys spectating the race kept looking at the bike.  "I think if we undid this screw we could take [the derailleur] off," Jeff said, sending his son back to the house for some tools.  He'd taken care of that and was looking over where the cable attached when the SAG guys arrived, having had to follow the back of the pack to my spot, and quickly removed the cable, leaving me unable to shift in the front but still having the range of gears in the back.

They set the chain in the small ring and cautioned me to stay out of my hardest gears lest the chain jump to my big (harder) ring.  I did listen, but not well enough, and within a few shifts I hit one that felt different.  I noticed a little later that...oops, I was in my big ring now.  Well, if I needed to walk some hills, so be it. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I've walked a hill.

By the time the SAG guys finished with me, I was officially in last place.  I was disappointed to have my race derailed so early, but I was also a little relieved.  All that self-imposed pressure was gone; now I could just enjoy the ride.  Well, sort of.  Any kind of win was out of reach, but I still wanted to finish as well as I could, and my location at the very back of the pack (out of sight of the pack, actually) gave me plenty of carrots.

At registration we had the option of selecting whether we were competitive or non-competitive; you received a black or red number depending on your selection.  I began picking off riders within the first mile back and steadily passed through a sea of red numbers.  While it was really fun to pass so many people, my position at the back left me alone strategy-wise: there was no one fast enough to draft off of.  I was stuck doing all of my own work, and I put in a hard effort.  My first 5 miles (counting the time I was broken down and waiting for help) took me 42 minutes and worked out to be a 7 mph average pace; the next two 5-mile intervals took 14 minutes each, a 20 mph average pace.

My speed dropped slightly for the next 5 miles, down to 18.6 mph.  Not sure what was up with that since this segment actually had a slight downhill trend.  Maybe I was just getting tired. I was definitely getting hungry; along with the rest of my poor preparations for the morning, I'd neglected to bring anything with me beyond water and was starting to think about that second donut stop.  Only four more miles til the donut stop, and then just another 10 miles to the finish.  I'd finally started to see occasional black numbers, which was a slight boost.

After a fairly flat 15 mile stretch, miles 20-25 feature more hills.  I was a little worried how that would go with my bike stuck in the big chainring but was happy to realize that the rolling hills gave me plenty of momentum to sail through them with a minimum of struggle.  I still opted to stop for a donut at mile 24, reasoning that my time was already screwed and hey, I needed fuel.

In retrospect, I regret stopping because that 5-mile segment was my slowest since my mechanical and that leisurely donut stop cost me about 6 minutes. In addition to lack of training, I also tend to be more competitive about my performance after the fact than during.  What the heck, it doesn't really matter! VS Damn, that cost me 6 minutes! I maybe need to work on that.

Moving on...I maintained a donut-powered 17.6 mph average for miles 25-30 despite the biggest hill of the day (again assisted by a slight downhill leading into it).  I felt like I was crawling up the long grind, but eventually I hit the top.  I also found a temporary partner but after a minute or two of resting in his draft looked at my Garmin, saw a pace in the 16s, and realized it was time to move on.  Incidentally, his donuts kicked in later in the race and he passed me back.

When I finally caught up with Jim and Michelle, who'd started in the wave 15 minutes after me but passed me while I was waiting for SAG, I was delighted to finally have some company.  "Hey strangers!" I called out.  As we rode I told them about the roadside repairs and mentioned how "fun" it was climbing hills while stuck in my big ring.  Jim wasn't having any of that: "Just makes you stronger!"

The last 4 miles of the race have a couple of steeper climbs, nothing terrible, but you feel them at the end of a race.  I was a little worried that I'd end up walking them, but on a downhill just before them my chain randomly dropped off. I stopped, frustration mixing with resigned amusement: this bike hates me...I guess I'm meant to ride this race by myself.  Since I was about to hit the last hills, though, I took the opportunity to make things a little easier on myself and smugly placed my chain on the small ring.  At least now the hills will be a little easier.

Two miles from the finish, the course completes a big lollipop and passes a road we'd previously turned on, the one where my derailleur had broken.  I saw one of the men from the group who'd taken me in and waved happily at him.  One of the women who'd also been there recognized me and yelled out, "I know you!! Goooo Kate!!" It was really nice to see them towards the end of a race that had nearly been derailed so early.

So, I finished.  My total moving time of 1:51 was much better than the official 2:21 on the clock, but neither are what I wanted from the day.  Still, maintaining a 18.4 mph average (moving time...my official race average was like 14.4) with no one to draft off of tells me that I'd have done significantly better if my mechanical hadn't broken up my little pack of teammates.  That's at least a small satisfaction.

What did I learn from the day?

  • When recruiting teammates, don't forget to make a plan for when/if things fall apart.  
  • Organize my stuff the night before because I can't be trusted to remember what I need the on race morning. (OK, that's a reminder...I already knew that one)
  • I really, really need to acquire some bike repair skills. (another reminder)
  • I should be spending a lot more time in the big ring because it turns out it's not too hard for me after all 
  • No matter how your race goes, margaritas, pulled pork, and hanging out with friends make for a good finish.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Stubborn Mule 30-hr AR

Thanks to schedules and such, my adventure racing schedule was looking pretty empty this year, so when my friend Kelly posted a link to the Stubborn Mule AR in Wisconsin I was all in. I was really excited to tackle another long race; so far, 24 hour races are my favorite, and it seems like there are fewer and fewer of them around us. I was keeping a bit of a secret in the week leading up to race, though.

That's me icing my knee.
After running trails 10 days before the race, I woke up barely able to walk on my knee and only with a pronounced limp. That boded well for a 30 hour race. If I hadn't already paid for the race, I probably would have dropped, and if we were only a 2-person team I'd have thought hard about trying to find a replacement.

As it was, if I started racing and my knee bothered me too much, the guys could continue on as a 2-person team.  Plus, I have a history of feeling really shitty right up til race time and then being fine as soon as it starts. Plus, I'm always limping sooner or later, so how much would it matter if I started out with a limp.  PLUS, I really wanted to race.  On Monday, I was still pretty worried.  By Thursday, I was cautiously optimistic, which was a good thing because we were leaving Friday morning.

Kelly and Matt picked me up around 11 or so, and we headed north to Wisconsin.  Our drive was featured multiple checks of the Wisconsin-area radar interspersed with laughter over the GPS's repeated helpful instructions: "In 2 miles, keep going straight." The sketchy weather forecast was borne out by a steady downpour as we neared the start location in Tomahawk, so we ended up getting hotel rooms instead of camping as planned.  I actually didn't have much to do to get ready, so I managed about 4 hours of sleep before the 3:15 wake up. That may be a new record, and it vastly surpasses my pre-DK sleep of 0 hours.

Race check-in started a 4:30 a.m., and there were quite a few points to plot before the race started at 6.  This is the first time I've experienced getting maps and plotting the day of the race, and it was pretty stressful, even for me and I wasn't involved in the maps.  While Kelly and Matt plotted points, I did what I could to get our stuff together, and that hour and a half passed WAY too quickly.  We got some last minute instructions and a pre-plotted map for the initial stage of the race, took a group picture, and were off!

Team challenge and land nav (6 CPs) 5.5 miles

Typically, in adventure racing and orienteering racers are given a passport which you punch to prove that you've been to certain checkpoints.  One interesting thing about this race was that for quite a few of the CPs you proved you'd been there by answering questions on the map or race instructions.

Not for the first section, but it shows what I mean. Our race instructions were pretty battered by the finish.
We started off this segment with a run...and kept running.  This wasn't super good news for my knee or my haven't-really-been-running legs/lungs/everything else.  Kelly said early on to just speak up whenever somebody wanted to walk, but while it wasn't pleasant it was manageable, and I really didn't want to be that person asking to walk 5 minutes into a race.  Once I was warmed up it got a little better, and the first brief walking interludes were actually more uncomfortable for my knee than the running.  That said, when we eventually started walking, I wasn't disappointed.

Kelly: While I couldn’t tell Kate was injured I could sense she was reluctant to run much beyond the first mile or two.  Maybe it was when she said, “We are NOT going to run this entire race are we?”  Phrased as a question I don’t believe it snapped her long race with without complaining streak.  I am pretty sure that is when I told them my story of my very first adventure race when I dragged my bonking race partner “Downhill Bill” for a 12 hour finish.  

I think I actually asked that in the car.  I was getting very nervous with all the talk about Matt's 50K and wondering just what I was in for.

ATV trail between (or maybe over) a lake (or lakes). Beautiful morning.
Further down the trail.
Love the trees. The race, in Wisconsin's Northwoods, was really scenic.
If you read my blog or my race reports, you know how much I love adventure racing.  I'd been looking forward to this race for months, and we were finally there.  I wanted to be there, and yet, as we were running from point to point, in my head I was already calculating how much time was left in the race ("29 hours left" is not a positive thought in this frame of mind) and asking myself, Why do I think this is fun? I've been racing long enough to know that typically, if you hang in there, things will get better.  Granted, I was in a negative mindset before anything bad happened, but if the only thing you need to improve is your thinking, that's a pretty good place to be.

We got 5 out of the 6 initial CPs, skipping one that needed to be plotted using headings from two other points when we weren't entirely sure how to do that (thanks to Boom Boom Pow for trying to help on that), and then checked back in at the race HQ (now TA1).  We didn't need a passport yet because we were going to "punch" by answering questions on our race instructions like for the first trek, but we needed to finish marking up the maps and doing some route planning.  Once that was finished, we headed off on our first bike leg.

Bike (3 CPs) 15* miles

My hero
This bike leg was pretty much all pavement, with a little chip and seal and maybe some really smooth gravel.  Despite its gigantic tires, my mountain bike flies on paved roads.  It's a thing of beauty.  Another thing of beauty? The saddle my husband put on the bike after last weekend's disastrous race at Indian Camp Creek.

I always joke that if I marry again it'll be to a bike mechanic, but Jeff is pretty handy with replacing saddles, putting on water bottle cages, and adjusting saddle height.  In the background of the picture you can see my cross bike, which I brought in to use as a reference for how high my saddle should be (+2 inches) and how far back it should be (less far than it had been).  Between the different saddle and the adjustments, I was far more comfortable on my mountain bike, even with the heavy AR pack I carried.  Too bad it took me four months to get around to making those changes.

We got off to a fast start on the bikes, and I was delighted to not be running anymore.  We made quick work of the first few roads, and were about to make our next turn when I spoke up.  "Isn't Hwy 8 off limits?"

The guys didn't think so. I was pretty sure of what I thought I'd heard at the pre-race meeting, but I hadn't actually read the race instructions because the guys had been using them to plot the course, so I wasn't bet your life positive or anything. Kelly looked at the map and it wasn't marked off as off limits (there were some off-limits roads we'd had to copy/mark off from a master map), and it was the only route choice that made sense for where the CP was located. Because of those factors and the fact that neither of the guys had heard what I thought I had about Hwy 8, we went ahead and made the turn.

A little bit down the road we passed a silver pickup truck sitting on the side of the road, and as we rode by I noticed the driver was wearing a blue shirt like the race shirt.  I was pretty sure he was a volunteer.  A little further down the road, there was the silver pickup parked in front of us again. This time he got out.  "I have two things to tell you," he said, "One, you're off-course. And two, you're on highway 8 and you shouldn't be."

When we showed him the maps, it turned out we had CP7 (where we were headed) misplotted, which is why the off-limits Hwy 8 looked like the right way to go.  (Also, since I made a point of saying it wasn't marked off on the maps, I want to clarify that it does say in the instructions that it's off-limits.  We just managed to miss that when I brought it up before making the turn.) Since we were near CP8, we went ahead and got that one and then just moved on towards CP9.

Kelly: This was a major screw up on my part and could have cost us a race if we didn’t have such an understanding race director.  We had CP 7 and 8 plotted correctly but in my haste to pick our route had missed the fact that there was a country road that went directly to CP 7 and then on down to CP 8 on Hwy 8.  I had planned our route down the highway then out a legal major road to CP 7 then on down the country road to 8 but we changed maps right at the same location so I copied the route from CP 8 on the second map.  When we started the bike section I figured I’d be able to hit 7 and then move on to 8 without much trouble.  Getting on the bike I was just cranking down the road and blew past our turn for CP 7 and turned on Hwy 8 when Kate raised the red flag.  I had remembered them saying we could cross Highway 8 legally and use a snowmobile trail on the other side so we crossed and….no trail.  In the end I should have listened to Kate, slowed down and got my head straight.  

I think the lesson here is always listen to Kate, unless I'm wrong, which is probably more often.

Matt riding down gravel almost smooth enough to be pavement.
Matt and Kelly getting ahead of me while I document our race. :)

Although Matt has barely ridden a bike lately, he did great.  Kelly hadn't eaten breakfast in the rush to get to the race start and then to plot all those points, and he was definitely feeling it towards the end of the bike leg, but he soldiered through and we rolled into TA2 at Treehaven in good time.

Kelly: I was really not feeling well after this bike section which was probably due to a lack of breakfast, but I also noticed late in the ride that my front disc brake was rubbing somehow and may have contributed to my early bonk. Not cool….especially after telling the story of Downhill Bill.

* The race instructions say the bike leg was 15 miles, but I don't know how our off-course detour changed the distance we rode.  My guess is that we rode fewer than 15 miles, but without looking at the maps I don't know.

Land Nav (11 CPs) 6.3 miles

About to start the trek. (Photo credit: 180 Adventure)
My foot was bothering me a little bit in my bike shoe, so I was glad to be getting off my bike for a while.  In my book it's a measure of a good AR when the legs are broken up in a way that you change disciplines just as you're getting sick of the one you're on and Stubborn Mule pretty much nailed that.  Before we started on the trek I took a minute to change from my bike shorts to my trekking pants: as much as I prefer racing in shorts, pants cut way down on the thorn scratches/stinging nettle encounters, plus I'd treated my pants with permethrin (on the advice of the pre-race update and the voice of experience from Boom Boom Pow) and was looking forward to avoiding ticks, mosquitoes, and whatever bugs lurked in the woods. Plus everything just feels a little better when not encased in bike shorts for the whole race.

This was a really pretty area, but you'll have to take my word for it because I realized after leaving the TA that my camera was still in my bike bag, just far enough back that I wasn't interested in making the return trip.  Matt did the nav for this section, and he was dead on.  It's a good thing, too, because while the trails were nicely cleared doubletrack, any bushwhacking was through thick brush.  The off-trail hiking was complicated by the fact that a knee-height layer of thick-leafed plants obscured all of the branches, holes, and general forest debris lying on the ground.

We'd decided to attack the far points first and then hit the closer ones on our way back.  Route planning had to avoid some areas of private property.  At least one of the CPs was in an area so thick that you had to push small trees and branches out of your way for every step forward. Somehow Matt led us directly to the CP, thank goodness, because we could have searched forever out there. Definitely not one of those cases where you can look around and spot the flag if you're somewhat near.  Partway through Kelly had Matt give me the passport, and while at first I wasn't thrilled, it ended up being a good thing because suddenly I was the one spotting a few of the CPs.  While I hadn't been exactly dragging, it still picked me up some.

Kelly: I was pretty impressed with Matt’s nav on this section.  Kate did a great job spotting two or three flags in a row.  I on the other hand was starting to feel the heat of the day.  I was glad the bugs weren’t bad at the time as I unzipped my shirt half way and pulled the waist of the shirt up to my chest so that I looked like a deranged Jamaican dancer.

It was quite a look, and one more reason to regret having left my camera at the TA.

The forecast high was something like 81 degrees, and I don't know how warm it ended up getting, but it felt HOT (and that's with me coming from temps in the mid-90's around here). With about an hour left in the trek, I emptied my Camelbak and was really glad I'd stuck an extra water bottle in my pack.  We were all really feeling the effects of the heat and being in motion for 8 hours, and that's when we went looking for CP11.  The clue was stream, and while we didn't find the CP, the cold stream water gave us a new lease on life.  Kelly soaked his head, then filled his water bottle and sprayed us.  It felt amazing.

This is where I finally came back to life.  A combination of food and cool water had done the trick.  I was back in the game.  The area was just gorgeous with tall pines, birch and plenty of water. 

I think we'd all have welcomed a rain shower during this stretch, which makes later events slightly ironic. Timing really is everything.

We headed back to the TA after finding 10/11 CPs in around 4 hours.  Not bad.  My one disappointment from that section is that we never saw a bear, though we did see bear scat with muskrat bones in it. At least one racer did see a bear, and volunteers clearing the course the next day found a very clear bear print.

Photo credit: 180 Adventure
Back at the TA, we refilled our bladders and water bottles, got changed back into bike gear, applied some much needed sunscreen, and took off on our next bike leg.

Bike (4CPs) 15-27 miles
If you look at the tree top directly over Kelly's right shoulder, you can
see how the wind is blowing.
This bike leg was pretty fun, mostly pavement, and I was delighted to be off my feet again.  We started out in full sun with a pretty stiff wind (not Kanza 2013 windy, but it was noticeable).  Kind of like at this year's DK, though, at least it helped keep you cool.

We found the first two CPs of this leg with no problems.  I did fall a bit behind the guys at one point, a pretty good downhill followed by a flat section and then another downhill, when I wanted to see if I could coast the entire section without pedaling at all.  (One of many many reasons in addition to lack of fitness that I'm not cut out for an elite team.)  And yes, I could. :)

Maybe halfway through the bike leg, we encountered a pretty good rain shower.  We rode through it for a little while until some thunder and lightning started.  At that point, Matt, who's not a fan of lightning, found a spot where we could shelter from the rain and wait out the lightning.  I hadn't noticed any mosquitoes all day, but they found us here.  One of the tricks to avoiding them must be to keep moving. Once the lightning moved on, we did too.

As we neared the town of Rhinelander, somehow we got off track.  I *think* the roads have had some changes since the map data was collected, and that threw us off. Matt noticed pretty quickly after our turn that something seemed wrong, but after looking over the maps and everything seeming like we'd made the right turn, Kelly and I pushed to keep going.  In retrospect, we probably should have looked even more carefully, because JMatt was right. Anyway, we ended up some distance out of our way, finally stopping at a Hardees for shakes and directions.  These mid-race stops for "extra nutrition" are starting to become a tradition; however, the boy at Hardees was far less invested in helping us make a quick transition than the waitress at the brewery during Goomna.

The USGS maps were dated 1986 so the bypass we were on was not on there.  But the shakes and directions put us back on track.  Probably added another 3 miles to the route.

I don't know how many miles we logged on this leg. I think the low end of the mileage range might be if you skipped the CPs along the way (total guess); if that's true, I think we rode in excess of the 27 miles at the high end of the range.  It certainly felt that way; as much as I hate paddling I was thankful that I'd be off my feet and bike.  It was a long bike leg, made longer by our detour, and we pulled into TA4 around 7 p.m.

Paddle section 1 (5 CPs) 11 miles and land nav (3 CPs 1.2k)

This first paddle leg was 5.5 miles up the Wisconsin River and then back down, with a stop for 3 optional trekking CPs.  Because we had to be past the rapids in the second paddling section before dark, we basically had to short course ourselves and skip this paddle section.  We'd already pretty much come to this conclusion before getting there.  Knowing how much I don't love paddling you can imagine that I wasn't heartbroken, and you'd be correct.  While we were there, Kelly did a bike polo challenge to get us one bonus CP, and then we moved on to the next leg of the race.

Paddle section 2 (1 CP) 12 miles and land nav (9 CPs) 4.5 miles

We had to portage the canoe (a super nice royalex one) around the dam at the TA before starting the paddle, and by "we", I mean the guys carried the canoe while I brought down our PFDs, packs, and the drop bag we'd sent to the canoe put in.  We left our bikes to be transported downriver but had to take our helmets/shoes with us in the canoe.  It was about 7:30 (12.5 hours into the race, or not quite halfway through, if you're counting...which I was) by the time we were on the water, and the volunteers had warned us that most teams were taking 2 hours to get to the rapids, a time frame which had us hitting them after dark.

Matt in the front
Because the canoes only had two seats and we weren't allowed to sit on the thwarts, the lucky middle person (me) had to figure something out. We'd meant to pick up a beach ball to partially inflate and then use as a seat but had forgotten to do so.  Instead, I put my pack in a big dry bag and sat on it, not ideal but workable.  I don't think any of us were comfortable.  It's so nice to be off your feet, but as soon as you sit down leg cramps start to hit.   I know Matt's legs were really giving him fits in the front of the canoe, but there was nothing for us to do but paddle through.

I'm smiling because I'm not paddling...
Matt and I had kayak paddles, while Kelly had a canoe paddle in the back.  This was my first time using a kayak paddle in a canoe, and I was not skilled at all.  In short order I'd managed to completely soak myself; thank goodness it was warm out! Kelly gave us some pointers about staying in sync with each other, and we made good time down the Wisconsin River, which is really beautiful.

Kelly does not hate paddling. This nut has done the MR340 (a 340 mile canoe/kayak race) more than once!
The paddling leg was definitely the biggest test of my "no complaining during races" tradition.  I was pretty uncomfortable with my legs awkwardly sprawled in front of my pack and under the thwarts, I was paddling more with my arms than my torso, which Kelly did his best to coach me through, and I was paddling around the widest part of the canoe.  I thought back to something I read once in Emily's blog about how most of the things that bother you in a race will stop hurting once you're finished and did my best to keep doing my part to get us downriver (with a few breaks for photo ops).

If it seems like there are a lot of paddling pictures, that's because you can't paddle and take pictures at the same time and my arms were hurting. ;-)
 It took us 45 minutes to get to the rapids, so we were moving pretty well despite our fully loaded canoe.  Matt did a great job calling out lines, and Kelly did a fantastic job navigating us through the best spots, but it was a little scary at times.  We stayed calm, kept paddling, and somehow managed to remain upright.

In the interests of getting off the river before it was too dark, we ended up skipping all of the land nav points except for the one at the recommended canoe drop that we could paddle up to and punch quickly.  In retrospect, skipping this nav section was probably a mistake.  Even if we'd only gotten a couple of the CPs it would have broken up the paddle leg and given us a chance to stretch our legs, which might have changed the way things played out downriver.  Lacking that hindsight, we punched that one CP and moved on.

Kelly: A stretch might have been nice but I’m still glad we didn’t stop there.  The river after the trek section had quite a few rocks and stuff to navigate and hitting it after dark was not my idea of fun.  

Further downriver we started seeing lightning in the distance. This had Matt's storm Spidey sense tingling, and it was making me pretty nervous as well.  I don't mind getting rained on, but I wasn't crazy about being on the river with lightning in the sky.  Kelly assured us it was really far away, but we all redoubled our efforts, and we made it to the take out at TA 5 sometime before midnight, taking the volunteers by surprise because they hadn't expected to see any teams for a while (because most teams stopped and did the land nav section).

I’ve done a bit of canoe racing and will have to say this was the fastest I’ve ever done any adventure race paddle section.  We were cranking.

We were SO thrilled to finally make it off the river, but our joy was tempered by Matt's announcement at the TA: "I'm done. My legs are cramping too bad.  You guys can go on without me, but I'm finished."

I won't lie. Rather than dismay, my first reaction was a small surge of hope that we could all quit, quickly eclipsed by the knowledge that I'd given up at Indian Camp Creek and it doesn't take too many such instances for quitting to become a pattern rather than an aberration.  If Kelly was still in, so was I.

Matt and Kelly went to plan out the route for our next bike leg while I got what I needed from the canoe drop bag and put everything else by the truck to be transported back to race HQ.  Taking off my soaked pants and changing into dry socks and shoes was wonderful. Boom Boom Pow had come off the river not long after we had, also skipping the trek, so I talked to them for a little bit before finding Kelly and Matt.  Once they had everything figured out, we set off again.

I pulled Matt up with me to go figure out his ride back to race HQ and go over maps for the rest of the race.  I was hoping to buy a little time and maybe he would feel better and maybe change his mind but no luck.  A bunch of 12 hour racers hanging out at a bar/grill at the takeout ended up dropping him off.  

Bike (1 CP) 20 miles

Though my ride satisfaction was greatly improved by the better saddle, I'd reached the point in the race where nothing was going to feel that good.  We initially missed a turn, but Kelly was on it and corrected before we'd gone a block out of our way.  Down to two of us, I tried to take a little more responsibility for helping with navigation and checked with him on what to expect and what turns to look for.

We were riding on primarily gravel/sand roads, and the rain we'd had so far had probably helped by packing down the surface.  Several of the roads had a bunch of twists and turns, often changing from one name to another and then back again, which got a little confusing...especially after racing for 18 hours.  We got to one intersection and Kelly sighed (or maybe cursed), "I don't know where we are..[my heart sank]...oh...we're here!" Thank goodness all the mailboxes we were facing reminded him of the question for CP44 ("How many mailboxes are on the NE corner?" It was 9, in case you're curious.)

Same old map issues.  Some of the road names had changed.  I was following along and staying in contact with the map but it had been a while since we’d seen a road that matched so when we finally got the intersection and road name didn’t match yet again I might have said a derogatory word in vain. Then I saw the mail boxes.

At 12:30, the rain started again. "I think we need to get on our rain jackets," Kelly said.  Before I'd even set my pack down the shower intensified to a downpour, and I still had to dig out the rain jacket I'd brilliantly packed in the bottom of my loaded pack.  I was freezing and drenched, but once I got the jacket on and started moving, and least the water soaking my clothes warmed up.

Standing in the pouring rain, at 12:30 a.m., 18.5 hours down/11.5 to go (but who's counting).  Nothing to do but laugh and start riding again.  That's what AR is all about.

The next hour or so until we reached the TA was the biggest struggle I've ever fought against sleep in a race. I was surprised to have such a hard time because I'd done three previous 24-hour races as well as 19 hours at Dirty Kanza without any issues, and at this point we were only around 19 hours in.  I'd even gotten four hours of sleep the previous night, which is a lot before a long race.  Whatever the reason, I couldn't hold a straight line to save my life, and a couple times when Kelly stopped to check the maps I probably only needed one more minute to fall asleep standing up.  I kept thinking, I know it's raining, but if I could just lie down on the ground and nap for a few minutes...

Reaching TA 6 and seeing that it was inside a building was a wonderful relief.  One of the volunteers (a 12 year old boy who'd done the 12 hour race with his family and then stayed to volunteer overnight with his dad...too cool!) came out to tell us there was soda and food inside.  Heaven!

Chicken Salad Sandwich….saved my life.

Also inside were our friends from Boom Boom Pow...super nice to see their faces.  We turned in our answer to the CP question, and when the volunteer started to tell us about the map for the mountain biking section, I told him, "We're not doing that!"

You might notice a pattern where I try to get out of things that I don't like to do (paddling), and mountain biking at night in the rain is high on that list.  When the rain started, I'd suggested to Kelly that maybe we could skip the mountain biking leg because it was only 3 CPs and it was sure to be muddy.  I'm not sure he was all on board with that plan, but he was willing to humor me and go along with it.  Jeri and Stacy couldn't believe we were going to skip the mountain biking, and they had a persuasive argument.

Their logic for doing the MTB leg was that even "if" it sucked, the CPs were right along the trail and would be easy to find, unlike trying to do the next trekking leg looking for points off-trail in the dark. We could do the mountain biking, then hang out at the TA until it started to get light.  As much as I didn't like it (and didn't want to sit on my bike again), I knew they were right, and we were reluctantly getting ready to set off on the next leg when WABAR came in from mountain biking.

"How was it?"


Awesome. If those AR machines found it hard, it was sure to be a real treat for us. A couple of us were still bundled up in our rain jackets, and Andrei warned us that he'd ridden in long sleeves and was still feeling too warm, so we lost the jackets...thank goodness, because once we were on the trails we were plenty warm.

Mountain biking (3 CPs) 6 miles

I am a huge chicken, and the reason I'm so forthcoming about that is so that when I'm humiliated by my wimpiness at least I don't have the added embarrassment of not living up to some false badass image that I've cultivated.  And much of the mountain bike leg was pretty humiliating.

One positive was that the trail was such a mix of dirt and sand that we didn't encounter the kind of mud and ruts we'd have to deal with riding local trails in such wet weather.  There were several sections I'd have been walking even in dry, daylight conditions, but overall I think it would probably be a really fun trail.   I really struggled at night, though.  Early on, I didn't even have a chance to slide on wet rocks and roots because I kept bailing.  I walked a lot.  Everyone else was way more comfortable than I was, so I was constantly behind and near tears.  I didn't like myself very much; what a big baby.

Six miles isn't much on a bike -- or on foot, for that matter -- but distance expands on singletrack, and we were out there for a long time.  About halfway through it started raining again, but the trails (and we) were already so wet that it wasn't much of a change. I never felt super comfortable, but at some point I realized I was riding more than I was walking, and occasionally it was even a little bit fun.

Another bright spot was that the bike riding discomfort was minimal because we were off our saddles so much, and I was no longer sleepy at all. Yea fear! We found the first CP really soon, but the second and third took for-ev-er.  After what seemed like a really long time (because it was) we made our way back to the TA, where the volunteers now had a fire burning in the outdoor fireplace. Hurray! That meant semi-dry clothes for the bike back!

This bike leg was epic.  I was miserable, wet, dark, hot…and we were riding way over our heads.  I loved it.  I had purchased Matt and I some 1700 lumen helmet mounted bike lights before the race and kept mine on low for the entire road section.  Since Matt dropped after the canoe I had grabbed his battery just in case and decided to use my light on bright for the singletrack section.  If my battery petered out I still had his unused one to last me an hour or so to sun up.  So I go blazing into this trail loving my light.  It looked more like a light sabe than a bike light.  About ¾ of the way through my light drops down a level and I switch batteries. Nothing.  Battery is dead.  Probably got wet in the paddle section and was completely done.  Matt would have been hating life if he had decided to go on.  For me, I turned on my backup handbar light and added my regular running headlamp and squinted my way through the last of the trail. Lesson learned.  Conserve.

Obviously I wasn't the only one to have that idea.
 We hung out for a while at the TA until it got light, Kelly grabbing a quick nap on the floor while I failed to fall asleep on a bench, and then we headed out on our final trekking leg.  I think it was around 6 a.m., and our plan was to get whatever we could and then be back at the TA by 9:30 or so to make sure we had plenty of time for the ride back to the finish.

Who ever thought that a cold concrete floor would sleep so good.  It actually felt good on my back after paddling and biking.

Land nav (26 CPs) 8 miles

We once again ended up on the heels of Boom Boom Pow as we all went in search of the first CP.  We got split up as we went one way and they went the other.  We ended up finding it first and then went after our next point. Kelly followed his compass to the ridge...no CP.  We walked more.  Nothing.  "I'm not sure where we are..."

When one navigator is struggling, that's the point where it helps to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and help get things back on track.  Unfortunately, I'm not that someone. My navigation skills have gotten far better, but thinking things through on a map still takes me a long time, and I had barely seen the map all day.  I wanted to help but figured it would probably just make things worse; what could be more fun than one sleep-deprived person trying to walk another sleep-deprived person through where they might be on the map, right?  Instead I just followed along and tried to be encouraging.

We walked a LOT.  Up and down hills, across side slopes.  I wasn't sure what we were doing, but my policy has always been don't second-guess the navigator because I surely couldn't do a better job.  Finally, Kelly turned one way, looked at his compass; turned another way, looked at his compass; turned again, looked, exclaimed, "This compass is [screwed up] (PG edit :D)"

Ahhh, this is a problem I could help with: "Here, use mine!"

He got started and then told me, "This one is messed up, too."

The look on her face when I questioned her compass was like “Oh no you didn’t!"

My compass has never had any issues before, and I thought it was a little weird that two compasses were malfunctioning.  "Do you have any magnets on you?"

Sure enough, Kelly's new pack had a magnet on the front strap to hold his camelbak mouthpiece, and it was interfering with the compass.  That darn new pack had sent us scurrying in circles!  Once we'd figured out the problem, Kelly got us to a road, and we trekked back to the TA.  By the time we got there, it was 8:30, and neither of us really had the heart to go struggle for any more trekking points.  We went to check back in with the volunteers and get credit for our whopping one CP...which is where I realized I'd lost the passport.

I'd zipped (or obviously, thought I'd zipped) the passport into my pants pocket after punching the CP we found, but after digging repeatedly through every pocket I had to accept that I'd lost it.  I felt terrible about it; I mean, it was only one CP, but still! We'd spent so much time on the trek with nothing to show for it. Thankfully Kelly was very cool about it.  I was warming myself by the fire getting ready to head back to the finish line when the END Racing/Yogaslackers team (check out their video and race report!) came in from the trek and asked a team sitting at a table, "Did you lose a passport?"

Hope began to rise. I asked, "Is it team 144?"  Yes, yes it was.  Even though it was just one CP, at least we had credit for it. :)  Thank you SO much to them.  Our heroes!

I was actually thought she might have lost the passport on purpose to make me feel better about leading us all over creation.  Luckily she lost it near the checkpoint because where we went afterwards, I can guarantee you no other team followed.

Bike (2 CPs) 15 miles

Except for the mountain biking section, all of the biking to this point had been on pavement or nice packed gravel roads, so this last 15 miles should be a piece of cake...at least as much of a piece of cake as possible when the last thing you want to do is sit on a bike.

Yeah, not so much.  These roads were primarily sand (with just enough rocks to keep my hardtail bashing my rear on a regular basis), saturated to the point that they were no longer packed firm but getting soft and mushy.  That made for some fun riding.  On top of that, any time you stopped, the mosquitoes swarmed, as I discovered when I stopped to stuff my jacket into my pack. I spent more time swatting bugs than putting away the jacket, finally leaving my pack partway open so I could get moving again.  The permethrin coating my clothes seemed to have lost its effectiveness (that said, I don't think I had more than one mosquito bite from the weekend, so I guess it was more effective than it seemed on that final bike leg).  I was so thankful we hadn't had to deal with bug swarms on the previous day as well.

After we'd found the first CP, we were riding up a hill when Kelly groaned, "Flat tire!!"  Normally that's just an inconvenience, but with the mosquito situation it was pretty awful.  I put my jacket back on, slathered on more bug repellent, and made like the Tasmanian devil swatting at bugs while leaving Kelly to take care of his tire (perhaps not my best "team" moment").  He dealt with the mosquitoes by walking back and forth while he pumped up the tire, and before too long we were rolling again.

That was the fastest I’ve ever changed a tire and it still felt like forever.  THE MOST MISERABLE I’VE EVER BEEN IN A RACE.  And if cursing doesn’t count as complaining…I never complained. 

Cursing most definitely doesn't count as complaining; it's just stating a fact emphatically.  

We just had to grind out the rest of the bike leg (longest 15 miles ever), and finally hitting pavement was sweet relief. I was delighted to hit the road that the HQ was on but somewhat less overjoyed at the fact that the road just kept going and going with no finish line in sight.  By the time we passed the volunteer taking photos, I was over the whole bike thing and so happy when she told us, "Almost there!"  Of course, at that point "almost there" really needed to mean "around the corner", and when it wasn't my mood took a bipolar dip.  I was pretty much ready to sit down on the road and let someone come pick me up when Kelly said, "There it is!" and suddenly all was right with the world again.

Finishers! (Photo credit: 180 Adventure) 

The Stubborn Mule was tough, probably the toughest race I've done, though on the surface it really doesn't seem like it should have been. The area was beautiful, the volunteers were plentiful and amazing, the course was well-designed, and the race offers a long course in a time when it seems like there are fewer and fewer of them around.  I'd definitely recommend it, and though my thoughts at the finish line were more on the lines of "never again", I'd even go back and race it again. 

Big thanks to Kelly and Matt for letting me race with them. Racing with a new team is always a little daunting...you aren't sure how team dynamics will be or if you can keep up (on the run and mountain bike, that was most definitely a no), but I had a good time.  They got a bigger dose of "quiet Kate" than most people experience, but who knows...that may have been a plus in their book!

Definitely one of the tougher ones I’ve done.  Had a great time on and off the course with Matt and Kate.  Kate is a true ambassador of the sport and had a kind word for everyone she met. (Quiet Kate my Ass)  I can be a bit growly at times on a race course (especially if/when I screw up) but it was cool to have a super cool group to race with that just enjoyed the day and did what we could and sometimes a little more than we could.  I do hope to come back and race this one again next year.  Maybe we can talk some more Team Virtus into a road trip.  I really enjoyed it.