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Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 in review

2015 was a good year full of lots of racing. Though the adventure racing outlook was initially bleak thanks to the departure/hiatus of BonkHard, plenty of other organizers stepped up to fill my calendar. While the bike has always been my first love, my running shoes took a definite back seat this year with only two foot races.  Some themes from previous years continued, most notably my failure to train enough to support my racing and my habit of racing so much that I start to get a little burned out, but those are issues I'm working to address.  I had one first place finish and one DNF, and these were neither my highest nor lowest points of the year; I'm still way more about the experience than the result.

By the numbers

Miles: running- 443, biking - 2,544
Most miles in a month: bike - 590 (May), running - 70 (November)
Least miles in a month: running - 23.5 (May, no coincidence there), bike - 83.1 (February)

Coldest race weather: A 55 mile gravel race in 14*
Hottest race weather: A 16 hour adventure race in 95*

Running: 2 (both trail)
Bike: 9 (6 gravel, 3 mountain bike)
Adventure: 7 (3 24 hours or more)
Orienteering meets: 5

States I raced in: 7 (Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas)

New to me races: Rocheport Roubaix, Physically Strong 8-HR, Creve Couer Heartbreaker (MTB), 24 Hours of Cumming, Hellbender 16hr AR, Tomahawk Challenge 24hr AR, BT Epic (MTB)

Repeat races: SHITR, Tour of Hermann, Cedar Cross, Hairy Hundred, Dirty Kanza, Stubborn Mule 30 HR AR, Indian Camp Creek 9 hour (MTB), the Fig 12hr AR, Castlewood 8hr AR, Pere Marquette trail race, adventure camp, Thunder Rolls

Best race experience: Dirty Kanza hike-a-bike
Worst race experience: BT Epic trainwreck



After going back and forth about it for around 6 months (turns out I'm almost as slow to commit as my husband was), I joined Momentum Racing at the beginning of the year, but only after making sure things like "I'll always adventure race as a Virtus girl" and "I'm not really focused on winning bike races" were cool. Being a prime subscriber of Virtus's "Fun is better than fast" motto, I wasn't sure how I'd fit in on a team that thinks fast is fun, but it turns out there was plenty of room for me.

I ran my first trail race of the year (also my last running race until December) at the "Turd Annual" ShITR (Shivering Icy Trail Run), a nighttime trail half marathon organized by my friends at ROCK Racing. Starting out the year on trend, I was totally untrained for the distance but had a great time catching up with my friend Aaron as we covered the trails at a pretty chill pace.  Later in the month was my very favorite January tradition, the Team Virtus MLK weekend at Berryman, where I had my first sub-freezing camping experience and learned that I have some things to learn about cold weather camping.
Mandatory photo op by the ice before things started to thaw.
 Unfortunately the cold temperatures didn't hold out for the whole day, so we had to bail on the increasingly soft trails about halfway through and ride gravel back to the party. Still an awesome ride with friends, followed up by more Virtus time at the Joe Dirt gravel ride the following day.

With Bob and Luke on the Joe Dirt loop
Also of note was that I registered for my fourth Dirty Kanza. Despite celebrating "I never have to do this again!" after finally finishing in 2013, it turns out I wasn't quite ready to be done with that race.


The month started with an awesome gravel ride with Bob in the Massas Creek area near Warrenton. While neither of us thought to download the course to our Garmins (we're definitely not the team grownups), Bob got it figured out and we enjoyed a straight up fun ride in a beautiful area. The temperature was a balmy 31*, but there were plenty of hills to keep us warm.

Massas creek

In contrast, Rocheport Roubaix's starting temperature of 14* made for a long, cold 55 mile gravel race. I'd been pretty confident about riding in that weather after adventure racing in similar temps, but I totally underestimated how much colder I'd feel on the more exposed gravel roads.

Frozen water bottles, frozen camelbak hose, frozen water coolers...
Really #$*&^ cold. I've never been so cold for so long. It was definitely a character-building day of the type 2 variety of fun.


My first adventure race of the year was the Physically Strong 8 hour, which was particularly exciting because it was my sister-in-law's first AR. We got Chuck to join us and then coaxed Patrick out of retirement to complete our team.  It was a blast getting to share my favorite sport with another family member and some of my favorite people.

I'd say she took to it pretty well!
I got to volunteer again at adventure camp, which is basically a family reunion where you get to spread the AR gospel to people who actually want to hear it.  If MLK weekend is my favorite part of January, camp is my most anticipated event in March (except this year, when it's April 1-3).

I ended March with the Death by Gravel in Steelville, MO. There's no day it would have been an easy ride for me, but following up my February bike mileage low of 83 miles with 94 miles of gravel and around 9,000 feet of climbing made for a humbling (though scenic) day in the saddle.

It's a beautiful area.
My Momentum teammates, all vastly stronger on the bike than me, were awesome company and never made me feel bad about being the weak link.  The day was hard on my ego but a much-needed kick in the butt to get serious about training.


March may have ended on a rough note, but it was almost immediately followed by spring break and much happier bike miles. With Momentum I logged a fun metric century on the Katy complete with a mid-ride stop for pancakes and followed it up two days later on the Berryman trail with Luke, Amanda, and Dave.

Photo credit: Dan Singer
Another April highlight was the Tour of Hermann, a 2-day trip over (if you finish all 5 stages) 200 miles of hilly gravel goodness. I rode all 100 miles the first day and did the first 50-mile stage on the second with Virtus before deciding I wasn't really interested in riding another 50 alone. Finishing feeling confident that I had another 50 in me was very encouraging, though.


With a bike race almost every single weekend, May saw a lot of time in the saddle.  Mickey had convinced me to "race" Cedar Cross (instead of treating it like a social ride like usual), leading to a much unhappier race experience but a considerably faster finish time.  Because I have a short memory, two weeks later I did the same thing at Hairy Hundred, except that since Mickey was in pre-Dirty Kanza taper mode he stuck with me and "coached" (aka didn't let me stop) me to my first-ever first place finish (also aided by the real first-place girl's missed turn).

Mickey's pics
Coolest prize ever.
The weekend before Dirty Kanza, my neglected mountain bike convinced me to take it to the Creve Coeur Heartbreaker, where I rode a very conservative race and, most notably, inadvertently posed for  a series of photos that are simultaneously the most and least flattering pictures of me on a bike ever.

Looking both pretty and ridiculous. The fact that the picture is so flattering makes the idiotic helmet a little heartbreaking.
Photo credit: Mike Dawson
And then there was Dirty Kanza. Any PR hopes I may have entertained were washed away by the steady rains that hit Kansas in the lead-up to the race and talk of a three-mile hike-a-bike through peanut butter mud.  By the time I lined up at the start line I seriously doubted I'd make it to the first cut-off. The dire mud warnings were no exaggeration, but it turns out that while I'm not that fast riding a bike I'm pretty darn good at carrying one.

Not me, but you get the idea. Photo credit: Jason Kulma
It was hard enough that I was pretty comfortable in the knowledge that I'd miss the cut-off and "have" to quit, but instead I made it in plenty of time and had to go on.  After riding the majority of the first half alone I met back up with my friend Matt who'd saved my race the previous year after I lost a water bottle and ran dry and whose company this year made the second half of the race much more enjoyable.  That second DK finish was hard-earned as, according to Jim, it should be.


June featured my typical post-DK training slump, interrupted only by the Stubborn Mule 30 hour AR. Out of four bike rides logged that month (four!! I did that many races in May!), two were during the race. The 10-hour drive to Cable, WI, was a drag, but it was totally worth it to ride some of the fun-nest singletrack I've ever ridden. I also got to experience being totally lost in the woods with no idea how to get back to the road, but thankfully Chuck was able to sort things out pretty quickly.  We had a strong race and finished first in our division.

Finished with the paddle after more than 24 hours of racing and only one trekking leg between us and the finish.
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen

My racing life blended nicely with my family life this month, as both Mickey and Chuck and Lori's son Jacob joined our team for the annual mud volleyball tournament in Hannibal, MO. They played awesome and our team had a good year, which definitely helped justify their places in my life in Jeff's eyes.


As if I hadn't just spend enough time with Chuck and Jacob, then we all went mountain biking riding at Council Bluff with Bob.  Despite not being on a mountain bike in something like 3 years, Jacob proceeded to ride circles around me. Or would have, if I'd been anywhere near him. Kids!

Council Bluff was just a warmup for the Hellbender 16 hour AR, which the four of us were racing together.  And by "warmup" I mean that if the heat was bad at Council Bluff (it was! I think we spent as much time in the lake as on the bikes that day. Except for Bob, who did both at the same time), it was significantly worse racing all day in 95*. On the other hand, the temperature definitely sweetened my first experience tipping a canoe in a race.

Before we tipped it, though, we got to carry it. For half a mile. Good times.
Photo credit: Rolla Multi-Sport Club
The lowlight of July had to be the day I learned what GORC means when they tell you "officially, there is only one section of Ozark Trail called Trace Creek. GORC divides this into North and South sections, mainly for maintenance purposes." If you, as I did, read that and don't think anything of it, let me translate: Because North and South Trace is an unofficial division, there are no signs indicating which is which, and if you [as I did] leave your trail maps at home ["Oh, well, it's an out and back trail...how lost can we get?"] you may unknowingly end up on South Trace instead of the vastly better North Trace. And while that in itself isn't a huge big deal, you're going to feel really bad if your riding partner breaks his collarbone crashing on the wrong trail and spends the next couple months having to sit out races and miss training.

In case you thought all that ^^ was hypothetical.

I'd been eyeing the 24 Hours of Cumming gravel race since its inception last year, and when I realized Cumming, IA, is about 20 minutes from my brother's new house I knew it was a sign. I registered for the race, hoping that its 400K over 24 hours would be a big enough challenge to scare me out of my annual post-DK slump. Sadly, this was not the case, and I drove to Iowa having ridden less than 200K over the entire previous month.  Not Shockingly, I failed miserably. In retrospect, I think I started the race dehydrated and compounded this by miscalculating on how much water I took for the first 100K loop, but I started with a pretty non-tough outlook ("We'll see how it goes...") and generally unprepared (I brought two extra tubes, total). I limped through 97 miles before dropping after my second flat of the day.

I was pretty disgusted with myself afterwards; however, I fought flats in that same tire for the next 3 months before finally finding a piece of a staple embedded in the tread, so had I stayed in I was probably looking at many more flat tires.  And it gave Jim, who served as my crew, the opportunity to get a glimpse of the race on his way to pick me up on the side of the road; when he got there, he told me, "I didn't realize just how alone you are out there." Also, while I totally let myself down, I did get to visit my brother and his family as well as finally meet Steve Fuller and Sarah Cooper, who I've blog-stalked for a long time, as well as the very cool and inspiring Steve Cannon. And Iowa is beautiful. I'll be back.
#24HOC abridged edition. 4 dogs (3 friendly, 1 scary), 4 deer, 2 big birds, 1 tiny snake, 1 bobcat, countless screaming downhills and climbs, 1 minor panic attack when a car passed me and then pulled over on the road and waited for me to go by, lots a rea

Of course, the very best part of August is always heading back north to Camp Benson and the Thunder Rolls 24 hr AR, Chuck, Luke, Brian of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot AR, and I were all racing together, and there was basically no way that race could be anything less than awesome. Granted, Mother Nature did her best to blow us off the Mississippi River on a very scary paddling leg, but even with her interference the race was a blast.
Helping Luke change his flat tire.

Over Labor Day weekend I raced in the Indian Camp Creek 9 hr mountain bike race. This event and I have a complicated history, including an initial outing where a miscommunication ended up in me having to ride an extra, very very unhappy, nighttime lap, and a second go when major saddle issues forced me out way early. This time around, I rode 56 miles and stopped feeling like I could definitely ride more; I had around an hour and a half left and ended up regretting stopping early, but I was being conservative with the next weekend's Tomahawk Challenge looming. And I still won second place because there were only two of us in the division.

2nd place in the Indian Camp Creek 9-hour. There were only two of us, but you can only race who shows up. Temps in the 90's made for challenging conditions, but a 20lb bag of ice helped. My longest ride of any kind in the past month and all on singletrack

Tomahawk Challenge was Chuck's and my final 24hr race of the year, and it was a fantastic first-year event. Well, other than the fact that we tipped our canoe crossing an old dam in the Wabash River and spent the next 13 hours wet and shivering. That experience made me even more appreciative of the safety people on hand who kept an eye on us and retrieved my food as it floated away from our swamped canoe as well as the volunteers who had hot chocolate and a fire at the boat take-out.


October was not a peak month. I finally got to take a mountain bike clinic I've been eyeing all year, only to slice my leg open in a dumb pedal accident almost as soon as we started the level 2 instruction.
See Kate. See Kate ride flat pedals. See Kate's foot slip. See Kate get stitches. See Kate go back to clipless pedals. #mtbfail #mtb #scars
It looked every bit as bad as it looks here; thankfully it didn't hurt nearly as bad as it looks.

The gash itself was far less trouble than the resulting 3 weeks battling infection, but if you're going to get hurt this is my suggestion. It was a hassle to deal with, but other than being really nervous about re-injuring myself I didn't have to miss out on much.

BT Epic was in keeping with the non-peak theme for October. I've never had more confidence and less physical ability than in this race, where I totally blew my nutrition and spent 40 miles falling apart on anything remotely uphill. Chuck is a saint, because while my implosion screwed his goals for the race, he stuck by me and was as patient and encouraging as could be.

Taken at the end of the 10 miles of fun preceding the 40 miles of misery.
Photo credit: Josh Brown


Chuck and I headed back to Kentucky for the Fig 12hr AR, one of our favorite races from 2014. It was in new hands this year, but 361 Adventures provided the same kind of fantastic race experience as Flying Squirrel Adventures had. The Red River Gorge area is amazing, and what it lacks in singletrack and navigable waterways it makes up for with challenging terrain and incredible beauty.

Chuck during our initial trek.


My last AR of the year was another race that had changed hands, as Alpine Shop took over the Castlewood 8hr, This was my first time actually racing with Mickey, and what we lacked in canoeing ability we made up for with teamwork. I'd totally race with him again, but not before we both gain some paddling expertise.

*Not actually going in opposite directions.*
And my racing year ended the same way it began, with a trail race. I came into this year's Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run with possibly my lowest expectations ever and had a far better race than expected. I was about 6 minutes off my PR, but on a day I'd expected to hike if not DNF, that was a win. Even better, the day may have rekindled my love for running.

Running and smiling...it's been a while since both happened at the same time.
Photo credit: Robin Rongey

All in all, it was a very good year. My thanks to everyone who was a part of it, most especially my teammates, my awesome crew(s) Emma (DK) and Jim (24HOC), and all of the race directors and volunteers who've poured their time into these wonderful sports we love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

PMETR 2015

I wasn't going to register for the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run this year. True, it's long been one of my favorite races. And yes, it's held at one of my favorite parks.  And it is a virtual who's who of the STL area running scene. But that "running" part was the hitch. I haven't done much of that this year. In fact, I'd guess that I did less running in 2015 than I've done any year since my first 5K. On the other hand, out of the four previous times I've run Pere Marquette, I've only twice shown up feeling even moderately trained for it. It's amazing I can even walk after shooting myself in the foot so frequently.

I picked things up as Pere Marquette approached, running 9 whole times in November, though this was mostly my attempt to not die chasing after Mickey at Castlewood.  Then I twisted my knee a couple of weeks ago and have spent the time since resting, limping, and worrying about missing first Castlewood and then, after aggravating my knee this past week at school, PMETR.

On Friday I was still having trouble on stairs and decided racing would be stupid. I wasn't trained for the race, anyway, and with intentions of starting to train consistently, I didn't want to hurt my knee worse and prolong the recovery.  That settled it. I'd DNS the race, sleep in, and enjoy the bizarrely gorgeous weather (ummm...67 degrees in December?) on my mountain bike.

Except then I saw a post about the race swag: a cooler/stool combo. I wanted it, and if I was making the hour-long drive to Marquette Park I might as well attempt the race and see how things went.  And that's how I ended up at the start line on Saturday morning, assuring everyone I knew that I was probably going to run a mile or so and hike back down.

I started at the very back of my wave and just ran easy as I waited for my knee to stop hurting. Instead, I ran until the trail began to climb and then hiked the first, relatively gentle, uphill. A few people from waves behind me began to pass, but it wasn't the onslaught I'd anticipated, and I passed quite a few people once the trail leveled out and I started running again.

In the first half mile..."hey, I'm still running!"
Photo credit: Robin Rongey
And kept running.

Well, until the big hills. I walked those, but the knee pain never kicked in. My lack of running fitness was sadly evident on the flat sections, and I was super conservative on the downhills; still, I was delighted to be running at all. I spent a few miles running with my Momentum teammate Nathan and his sister, Sarah. Their easy camaraderie made me really miss getting to race with my brother Jim, and they were fun to talk with as we ran.

Laughing at what a chicken I was on the hill.
Photo credit: Robin Rongey
JB was waiting at the mile 6 road crossing, finished with his own race and ready to continue our tradition of running the last couple of miles together. "What can I do to motivate you?" he asked.

"Nothing!" I told him, "I don't want to be motivated at all. I'm going to run this at whatever pace feels good and you can just keep me company."  That's how it went until the last half mile or so. I was easing down the last hill at a glacial pace when a woman flew down from behind me. Once I was down the rutted, rocky section of the hill, I picked up my speed again. "Are you going to catch her?" JB asked.

"No, but I'm not going to let anyone else pass me," I told him, but he wasn't letting me off that easily and urged me to chase her down. More because I didn't have the energy to argue than anything else, I sped up and started closing in on her.  We raced down the last flat half mile to the finish line, and I was about to pass her as we hit the parking lot. A friend of hers at the finish called out a warning, and she moved over just enough that I couldn't get around.

Laughing, I eased up and she crossed ahead of me.  We congratulated each other on the other side of the finish line and I got a glimpse of her race bib. She was in wave 14, which started about 4:30 before mine did, so I'd beaten her anyway. Well, officially. As fast as she came down the hill, I think it's more likely that she started later than she was supposed to; still, it makes for a good story.

Most of the time I finish Pere Marquette swearing to come back next year better trained. That's my intention again this year, but I wasn't unhappy with this year's experience. Yes, I was nearly 7 minutes off my PR, but my expectations going into it were so low that I was thrilled just to finish, and I was still 40 minutes faster than my slowest time on the course. Overall, it was a good race, certainly better than I deserved, and for maybe the first time ever I felt better and less injured after a race than before it.  Now to start on that whole consistent training thing...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alpine Shop Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race

Note: commentary provided by Mickey in pink, in honor of our illustrious race director. 

In the previous 5 years I've volunteered twice and raced the Castlewood 8-Hour on three different teams, with only one repeat teammate (Bob, who raced on both Team Virtus squads I was on). This year's race added a new teammate to the list. Mickey and I have talked for a while about racing together, and it finally worked out for Castlewood. We entered the race as Type II Fun, a name that encompassed both our different AR teams as well as the experience I anticipated racing with someone so much stronger and more competitive than me.

If you don't want to bother reading the linked article (which is worth your time), type 2 fun is "God-awful when you're doing it but totally worth it once you're done".  Some prime examples for me would be Cedar Cross and Hairy Hundred.  Not coincidentally, the blame for both of these rests on Mickey, who convinced me to race them both instead of my typical "social ride" MO. I've long suspected that he has some weird "My Fair Lady" intentions towards me, only instead of turning me into a lady he hopes to convert me to someone competitive.

Mickey:  I’m not sure which would be more difficult, turning you into someone competitive or a turning you into a lady. 

Kate: I can be plenty ladylike; it's just not particularly relevant to AR. 

While both those race experiences were largely God-awful, having strong finishes (and actually winning Hairy Hundred) was fun enough to make me open to racing an AR with someone who cares more about winning than having fun.  I even started training.

And then, a week before Castlewood, I twisted my knee badly at an orienteering meet and spent the subsequent days with a significant limp. On Wednesday I messaged Mickey and warned him, "If you're wanting to RACE this race we need to start looking for a new partner for you." I didn't want to skip the race, but I really didn't want to spend it limping behind a frustrated teammate. Thankfully, he turned me down, and by Friday I was cautiously optimistic about my knee.

Mickey picked up our maps Friday night and we did our plotting at his house. We got an overview of the course and all of the checkpoints as well as maps and coordinates for the paddle and bike legs. What we didn't get was maps for the trekking legs that book-ended the race, and while we didn't know where the paddle was going to start it looked like we could expect a 6ish mile trek to get there. Once we finished our plotting, I headed across town to meet the Virtus guys at Bob's house, nominated as our weekend HQ due to its proximity to the race start.

No pre-Castlewood preparations are complete without a stop at Dewey's pizza.
I had to meet Mickey at 5:30 so we could be at the bike drop right when it opened and then hit the Wyman center before the somewhat limited close parking spots were taken. The first person we saw in the parking lot was my friend Josh, who was volunteering. Arriving over an hour before the pre-race meeting gave us time for vital last-minute preparations like giving Mickey basically all of my stuff to carry and then talking to everyone I knew.

Pre-race team picture
Photo credit: Dan Singer
RD Emily started the pre-race meeting right at 7:15, reviewing some rules and details and then dropping the bombshell that we all needed to go down to the road and get on the buses to the start. What?? Now the distance between the race HQ and the paddle start made a lot more sense.

Surprise! Heading to the buses on a frosty morning.
Photo credit: Dan Singer
Passports and maps for the first trek were handed out as soon as we all piled off the buses at the Pacific Palisades boat ramp. After some last-minute instructions and the National Anthem, the race was on.

Photo credit: Dan Singer

Trek 1: Points 1-7 any order, ~1.7 mi, 31 min.

Since we consistently struggle with the first CP and had seen CP2 from the bus, we opted to go for the sure thing. We ran down the road and smoothly pinged 2, 3, and 1; being much faster and pushier, Mickey handled punching the passport as well as the nav.  He handed off the map to me at CP1, and I followed the trail navigated  to CP4 before giving the map back. I could have done the nav here, but my map processing is SO SLOW -- fine for practice, not so good for a race.

We cut through the woods next to a reentrant and quickly punched CP"6". I was slightly confused because the clue was bridge and it didn't look like a bridge, but I basically shrugged and assumed it was some kind of pier. Of course, another clue that we might have been in the wrong place was that our "bridge" wasn't actually next to any water; also, had we looked the CP number was actually attached to the bag as well. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of evidence for both of us to realize something was off.

Instead, we cut across the reentrant, and here again things seemed wrong but I assumed that my cursory glance at the map hadn't given me sufficient information.  After a couple of minutes Mickey mentioned it didn't look right, so we stopped to look over the map again and realized our mistake. We hopped back onto the trail, ran past 4, cut through 5 again (checking the tag to confirm its identity), and then took a slightly roundabout route to 6. Whew, we'd made that harder than it needed to be. 

Mickey:  Totally my bad.  I got in too big of a hurry, and we paid the price.  I also didn’t realize the CPs had the numbers on them until we re-checked CP5 on our way back through.

We ran back to the TA, punched 7, and grabbed our canoe, PFDs, and paddles, putting in on the Meramec River at about 8:42.

Lessons: If something doesn't seem quite right, speak up. Incidentally, this is not the first time I've learned this lesson.1

Paddle: Points 8-11, ~7.3 mi, 1:24 

I never look forward to paddling but was actively dreading this canoe leg because over my past four ARs my canoe has tipped every other time...and this was the next "other time"...and it's December.   We cautiously situated ourselves in the canoe, and then Erl pushed us off. From the beginning it wasn't a confidence-inspiring paddle; we were frighteningly tippy and slalomed back and forth across the river. Over the course of the seven mile leg we ran into another boat at least 10 times; despite the fact that our main victims know me, I'm pretty sure they were legitimately pissed off by the time we reached the take-out.

Mickey:  I still have no idea why we were so tippy.  In retrospect, it would have probably been smarter to have me in front providing power since I don’t think I was any better with steering than you would have been.

I'm fine with an experienced paddler who can tell me what to do, but I don't actually know how to steer or anything. Since I'm always in the front, I didn't even have any words of wisdom to pass on as far as "this is what Chuck/Luke/Bob does..." It was a gorgeous morning, but I spent it terrified we were going to tip.

Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
Chuck, Bob, and Lori were stationed at a gravel beach between CPs 8 and 9 with a roaring fire and whiskey. Luke and Robby had beaten us there and were hanging out on the beach when we paddled by. They were outraged by my failure to stop and drink whiskey with them like I'd promised back when I assumed they'd be a mandatory stop; however, Mickey and I had established before the race that socializing was for after, not during, and I was holding up my end of that bargain. I also really, really wanted to get off the river.

Photo credit: Chuck Vohsen
My Virtus teammates are still pondering my punishment for skipping this stop.
Mickey:  This was definitely the right call.  The way we were paddling, the extra beach/launch would have been seriously pushing our luck, as far as staying dry.

Kate: And I'm pretty sure it was only through dumb luck we avoided tipping. 

Despite a long stop on the beach, Luke and Robby easily caught us and reached the take-out first. In fact, out of 70 teams on the river, only 7 were slower than us.

Could not have been happier to be off the river.
Photo credit: Travis Irwin
Lesson: At least one person in the canoe really needs to know what they're doing2. Like with navigation, I think paddling is something I'm going to have to suck it up and actually work on, because I don't ever want to be an a situation with two novice paddlers in a canoe again. Ironically, of Alpine Shop's AR101 series, the paddling overview was the only one neither of us attended.

Bike: Points 12 - 22, ~10 mi, 1:29 

I've been sold on the bike tow ever since Alpine Shop's Jeff Sona guest-raced with Adam and me at CAC23, but for some reason we (Virtus) have never followed through and used one in a race. Mickey had made a couple different bike tows this year, and we've spent a pretty good amount of time "testing them out" (particularly on rides when I'm wearing down).  The tow was a definite part of our race strategy, and I was thankful for it right away, as we climbed 300 feet from the canoe take-out. The combination of a pretty efficient transition and Mickey's strong bike skills helped us to pass a bunch of teams.

Rolling up to CP 13
Photo credit: Kyle Knudten
We quickly knocked off CP12 (gate), 13 (utility pole), and 14 (cemetery sign) and then approached CP15, located under a bridge beneath I-44, around the same time as another team. While they took the road around to the creek, we cut through the grass and stayed up on the bank, a good decision as the bag was hung over the rocks next to the creek.

We pulled our bikes out the other side and, instead of following the creek, cut up to the frontage road above the interstate and rode back down to the creek and CP16. The team we'd followed in the approach to the bridge was still coming through the creek and we climbed out of it and hopped back onto our bikes.

Mickey:  Our route choice here saved us a ton of time and effort.  Teams were really struggling to get their bikes up to the road from the creek at this spot.  Score one for pre-race prep! 

From there, we rode back up the frontage road to CP17, located at an outdoor fireplace behind the Holiday Inn. At the time I thought it was kind of a weird place to put a CP, but reading Emily's RD write-up later I realized the bike leg had been designed to keep racers on the safest possible route. This particular CP took us through the hotel parking lot instead of a major intersection, one example of the kind of thought involved in race planning.

We rode through the Holiday Inn parking lot and started up Allenton Rd, another big climb. I quickly realized I should have taken off my fleece before hitting the hill, so we stopped to shed layers before starting the biggest part of the hill. I was very, very thankful for the tow, which made the climb significantly less terrible.  Once in Greensfelder Park we planned to maximize our use of pavement and gravel, having gotten the lay of the park the night before by comparing our race map to the GORC map of the park trails.

Appreciating the fact that 18 was close enough to the road that I could legally wait for Mickey there and wondering where the nearest bathroom is...
Photo credit: Bobby French
We took the pavement to get close to CP18 and then retraced our steps to attack CP19 from gravel. The gravel road wasn't where we'd expected, so rather than look for it, we bikewhacked to 19 from a nearby radio tower. Success!

Our route to CP20 took us on the first off-road surface of the bike leg, a mostly doubletrack trail along a ridegline. I had plenty of opportunity to practice my log-riding skills as the trail had multiple fallen trees across it. We found the CP without any real issue other than Mickey riding right past it when he saw one of the BOR teams ahead.

He may have towed and navigated and carried all my shit, but Mickey totally didn't perform in the race photographer department. Thank goodness so many awesome photographers were out there to pick up his slack!
We were then supposed to follow a pink-flagged trail towards CP21. This was slightly confusing because there was quite a bit of pink flagging in the woods near that point, but Mickey got us on the right trail and we quickly reached CP21, which was hung in a teepee. From there, we rode down a super fun grassy doubletrack that suddenly turned into a treacherous mudslide. About two swerves in, I climbed off my bike and walked it the rest of the way down, followed by the BOR crew, some of whom were crazy enough to stay in the saddle.  At the bottom of the hill we rode onto Forby Rd and then back up to the Wyman Center, all checking into TA3 at about the same time.

Mickey:  I’m so glad that muddy section was right at the end of the bike leg.  My poor bike was a mess, gunked-up with peanut butter mud.

Kate: I'm so glad I'd brought an additional bike for the weekend so I didn't have to clean mine before Sunday's mountain bike clinic.

Lessons: Towing is awesome, as are efficient route choices

Trek 2: Points 23 - 34, ~5.6 mi, 1:56

Heading off on the final trek.
Photo credit: Stacey Hagen
We opted to run these points counterclockwise. Mickey again asked me if I wanted to do the nav, and I again opted not to for the same reason as before. I've worked hard to improve, but it still takes me a lot of standing and looking at the map and thinking, and I was afraid I'd slow us down too much. As it was, my trekking, particularly any off-trail uphills, really hurt our pace anyway.

Our nav was a real mixed bag here. We went straight to 25 and then headed off in wrong direction but corrected pretty quickly and only lost about 2 min. We ran into Brenden and Steve on our way to CP27 and ended up running most of the trek together. We only needed minor course adjustments to 27, 29, and 31, but then things got a little squirrely.

We are so dumb.
Despite knowing from experience that the Greensfelder trails aren't accurately reflected on the orienteering map (and being warned of this fact by a big red note on the map!), we still relied on them in our approach to 33. We hit the wrong trail on the way to CP33 and ate about 12 minutes going the wrong way and waiting too long to stop and think things through; Mickey had actually mentioned a couple times that we'd been going too long, but Brendan, thinking we were on a different trail, assured him we weren't.

On our way back to the right way.
Photo credit: Bobby French
We retraced our steps, but continued to stick with the trail until realizing it wasn't taking us where we needed to go and bushwhacking through the woods to the CP. We found 32, 23, and 30 without much drama, but trails gave us trouble again on the way to 28.  We finally got that figured out, only to struggle on the way to 26. We ended up parting ways with Steve and Brendan here when both teams had different ideas about where the CP was (spoiler alert: we were right).  We jogged out to the road, tagged 24 cleanly, and ran into the finish, crossing at 1:41, well in advance of the 4:00 cut-off.

Lessons: Um, if you know the trails aren't right on a map, don't count on them.We'd have greatly benefited from red-lining the course or relying solely on terrain features. 

Mickey:  That was so dumb.  Trusting the trails on that very same map screwed me only a few weeks ago at the TeamBOR SLOC Night-O.  Why I trusted them again, I will never know.  *shaking head* We also spent a lot of time conferring with the other team instead of running our own race. 

We had plenty of room for improvement, to be sure, but this was the first course I've ever cleared, so I was thrilled. Aside from that, the high points of the race for me were the bike leg and teamwork in general. Not only did Mickey tow me on the bike, but he also carried most of my stuff. Basically all I carried was water, food, and some emergency supplies; this made it way easier for me to run. We ran more than what I typically do in races, and I still felt pretty good.  We also did a good job of working together to problem solve our navigational missteps.

The low point, of course, was the paddle. *shudder* My big weakness was uphill trekking, where I really struggled, especially in comparison to my mountain goat teammate. I was also pretty slow going downhill off-trail as well because I was worried about falling and re-injuring my knee. Thankfully it held up pretty well with a combination of ibuprofen and adrenaline.

Mickey:  You really picked a bad time to twist your knee, knucklehead.  I did have a ton of fun racing with you, though.  We’ll definitely have to do it again, but not before we get some paddling instruction!

Kate: I'd mention how I twisted my knee after you led me up the wrong reentrant, but then you'd probably point out that you broke your collarbone when I directed you onto the wrong trail, and we don't really need to go there...though it would be fitting in light of the mistakes we made racing together. For as many ARs as I've done, I didn't do a very good job of leveraging my experience to benefit our team. That said, I had a blast. I never once wanted to push you off a cliff. 

There's a quote that starts something like "there are no new mistakes", and as proof of such I can offer you this annotated bibliography of previous AR learning experiences. Now, Mickey might wish I'd saved him from suffering the same fate, but then I'd just remind him of the wise words of William Jordan (whoever that is): "Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom."

You're welcome.

Berryman 12-hour (2012) "Knowing more or less where we were thanks to the powerline, Jim suggested that we shoot straight east from our current location.  This way we should reach the road on the top of the next ridgeline over and be able to follow it to point 10.  It occurred to me that this might not be a solid plan since we didn't know exactly where we were, but I didn't bring that up.  This is an area where I need to step up more.  I occasionally have a route suggestion, but I'm so regularly confused by the map that I generally assume that any concerns are due to my ignorance, and I don't want to be second-guessing my navigator.  Rather than speak up, all I said was, 'Remember how we opted to take the trail to the creek rather than go directly across all those hills? Now w get to do both.'" [emphasis added]

2Berryman 12-Hour (2011) "Canoeing, as it turns out, is definitely not our strong suit...We were hilariously bad.  Neither of us had been in a canoe in over a year, but how hard can it be?  Drunk people do it all the time.  Maybe the problem is that we hadn't been drinking? Whatever it was, we were swerving all over the river and I think we managed to drag across every single low spot."

3Carnage at the Creek 2 (2013) "Jeff showed me their bike tow (basically a strap connected to the back of his bike that someone behind him could grab to help maintain a consistent team pace).  While I've never had a desire to use one, I resolved to try it.  If we were going to get the opportunity to race with a rock star teammate, we needed to take advantage of everything we could learn! ...Between the wind and the hills, I quickly became a big fan of towing systems.  Not only was it a big help, but every time that tow strap started to stretch out more it made me push a little harder so that Jeff wasn't having to drag my slow butt up the hill."

  4 Berryman 12-Hour (2011) "We started out looking for checkpoint 4, which was somewhere to the left of where it says Berryman Campground on the map.  If we had been navigating more by the compass, we might have had a better chance of finding it; however, we were relying much more on terrain features like roads, trails, elevation, etc.  Now remember, the USGS data on these maps is about 30 years old, and things change.  Thing like, oh, new roads.  We mistakenly went off down a road that wasn't on the map and looked for over an hour for number 4.  With noooo luck.  Finally (and, really, way later than we should have), we decided to cut our losses, get back to the campground so we knew where we were again, and set off for CP 6."

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.