I have this habit of underestimating the difficulty of something after I’ve done it once. For example, since my half marathon I’ve considered anything shorter “only” ten miles, even though every time I train I’m reminded that, like spray foam and wire hangers, the difficulty of a run always expands to fill the available space. Thus, while I was super excited about Team Virtus’s Carnage at the Creek non race, I wasn’t worried about being able to complete it. After all, I’d just come through 28 hours of the LBL Challenge with flying colors.
This misplaced confidence endured despite my status as a solo racer and well-documented navigational woes, facts which in no way dissuaded me from indulging in some friendly smack talk.
My cockiness was in no way commensurate with my skill, but I like to think that’s part of its charm. After all, trash talk you can back up is just bragging, right? I made this bet fully expecting to lose, but then Chuck decided to race and suggested teaming up. Since Chuck is a kickass navigator and his presence would completely change the spirit of our competition (the absolute certainty of me losing), I checked with Todd first to make sure he’d be OK with the change.
Todd didn’t mind, and somehow Chuck’s participation resulted in me becoming entangled in more bets, so I headed west on Friday with a target on my back and a banana cream pie with my name on it. I honestly had lost track of all the wagers I was involved in, but they just added another level of fun to the weekend.
I pulled into Dry Fork Campground excited to get together with friends and meet some internet buddies in person. Never actually meeting Brian and Todd (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) or Dave and Tim (Tardy Rooster) hadn’t prevented me from exchanging friendly taunts across Facebook and blogs. Actually, I guess my only “contact” with Tim(e) had been advocating that he be saddled with Luke’s accidental misspelling as a nickname, but like a foolhardy toddler, SuperKate knows no strangers.
It’s a little intimidating to meet people who know you only by your own (self-created) reputation. I try to be the real me on my blog, but I’m definitely funnier on paper than in person. I wouldn’t say I was worried about it, but it was on my mind. That said, I’m not a good enough actress to pretend to be cool, so they were stuck with the real me, take it or leave it.
I can only imagine the ulcers Bob and Luke developed when they arrived at our planned headquarters at Pine Ridge Campground only to see it overrun by Bushcrafters, but the nearby Dry Fork Campground was a great alternative. Cramming 15ish people into the one remaining site resulted in enforced (and very enjoyable) community…and the irony that our posse of mountain bikers, who would spend much of the next day cursing horses and their riders for the damage they do to our beloved trails, was staying smack in the midst of an equestrian campground.
We stayed up later and drank more heavily than perhaps is wise before a race, but luckily this was a non-race. Hanging out around the fire was a blast. Brian did his best to pin down exactly what my end of the WTF bet would be, and I put plenty of pressure on Chuck by assuring everyone that my choice of partner virtually guaranteed me a victory. There were many stories and much laughter around the campfire until the party broke up around midnight. Turning my phone to airplane mode to save the battery, I caught a rare signal and was able to see Todd’s sweet good luck wishes on my Facebook wall.
I obviously hadn’t had enough to drink because I had a terrible time falling asleep. Instead, I laid in my tent (that’s right, Jill…TENT!) shivering and listening to snoring in stereo, which itself wasn’t so bad, except it reinforced the fact that someone else was able to sleep. I dozed on and off, but at the sounds of the first tent zippers I was wide awake and pondering the eternal question: do I have to pee badly enough to get out of this sleeping bag?
Despite getting a cold-assisted early start to the day, no one was in a big hurry to get moving for our 9:00 start. Luke and Bob headed to the other campground pretty early, and the rest of us slowly got breakfast and gear together. Emma, Derrick, Chuck, Lori, their boys and I were the very last ones to leave the campground, a mere 10 minutes before the pre-non-race meeting. Even so, we weren’t the last ones to arrive at Pine Ridge; that distinction belonged to the boys of WTF, who got lost on their way to the race.
We got our maps and clue sheets, and I wandered around aimlessly while Chuck looked them over and figured out what was what.
I’d have been in so much trouble on my own.
As Luke and Bob went over directions, I looked around and realized I only knew who about half of the people were. Probably my biggest disappointment of the race was not managing to actually meet everyone, which sounds silly, but it’s one of the things I was looking forward to after seeing all the names and comments on the Virtus blog and Facebook page.
Our late arrival precluded social hour, though, and now it was time to non-race.
The race started with a short run to the bikes, and then a marked bike leg to spread everyone out before the trekking leg. My sprint was hampered by Brian’s grip on my pack, though, and I’m sure he gained miliseconds on my there. We jumped onto the bikes and flew towards the trail. We had a 1:30 cut-off to finish the initial bike plus trek, and as we rode Chuck asked me, “Do you have a watch on?” Ummmm…no. And neither did he.
Chuck usually races with Robin. They’re a well-established and successful team, and since they’ve been partners since around 2007 they have their routine down. Chuck navigates while Robin is in charge of time and tracking distance. I brought none of these skills to the table, not even a watch. On the other hand, our initial trip onto the trails wasn’t marred by my typical beginning-of-ride tentativeness.
I chased Chuck down the singletrack and into one of the fields I remembered from last year’s race. Still not a fan of riding through fields, I was working hard to keep up with my partner and not at all looking at where we were going. I managed to pass Brian with an evil laugh right before riding through a cow gate…and promptly toppling over right in front of him. To his credit, while he laughed he did not ride over me as threatened on the internet.
The singletrack past the cow gate got rough, and I managed to fall over yet another time. This early in the race, and we were already pushing and lifting bikes…this could be a long day. As we made our way across a creek and prepared to push our bikes up the steep hill I remembered from last year’s race, Bob came running up behind us: “You guys are seriously way off course.”
It sounded like a mean prank, but it was unfortunately true. The thing about a marked course is that you actually have to follow the markings, and when the lead rider missed one, I think everyone else rode pell-mell after him. Unluckily for the leaders, they flew through the area before Bob could catch them and had to figure out the mistake on their own. We got back on track and climbed over the first barbed wire fence of the day.
Much of the race was held in the Mark Twain National Forest, and since cattle are allowed to graze in the pastures there, we had numerous fences to cross during the day…not to mention plenty of cow patties to avoid.
The next stretch of singletrack was worlds better than our off-course route, but it was still a challenge for me. I walked some of the trickier spots (and some that weren’t so tricky, but the wimpiness that had been absent earlier had found me). Behind me on the trail I heard Adam call, “That better not be a Virtus jersey slowing things down!”
“Yeah, but I flatted on it,” he answered. Not just a flat, but he gashed the sidewall of his tire. While he set about putting a tube in the tire, I pulled out a GU for him to use to boot the tire. It was my first experience with peanut butter GU, and I was definitely taking one for the team, because I’m not a fan. We watched almost the entire pack pass us up while Chuck changed the tire, a much quicker process thanks to an extra CO2 cartridge courtesy of Josh from Team Wahoo.
Tire fixed, we headed back onto the trail again, and I began what was to become a daylong conversation with myself. Robin could ride this…Robin wouldn’t be walking this…Robin would be faster…I bet Chuck forgot how slow I am on the bike…he must be really glad I couldn’t do that race next month… I’m a word class ignorer, but somehow I can’t tune out that little voice in my head. The last stretch was smooth and fun, and I was very glad to hear voices ahead of us in the woods signaling that we were almost back.
We pulled back into the campground at 10:04, 54 minutes after we’d left and right in the middle of the pack. Of course, some of that pack had ridden significantly farther than we had, but still. It was going to be a long race.
We made a quick transition to the trek and ran out of the campground. Yeah, ran. Chuck made me run. I need to work on getting my pack adjusted better so it isn’t bouncing around, but I was happy to be moving faster and catching up with some of the people ahead of us. We passed Steven, who was out on his first (I think) experience navigating solo, and then we caught up with Travis, Adam, and the WTF boys at the pasture.
Travis was moving at about the same speed that we were, so we ended up hanging together. He and Chuck were right on with their navigation, and I was asking questions so that I was hopefully learning something. “What’s our plan?” “What are we looking for?” “So is that a ridge?” Steven caught up with us in the pasture. He was struggling with the map and asked if he could kind of hang with us. The whole time he did, he was asking questions and following where we were on the map, so he was doing just what he needs to do to get better. It doesn’t teach you much of anything to follow blindly along (Kate).
Rather than bushwhack through the forest, we stuck to the fields as long as possible. It was nice catching up with Chuck and Travis, getting to know Steven a little, and meeting Kelly Sumner of Offroad Fixation, who I knew by reputation only. We cut from the fields into the woods towards our first trekking CP.The area we were racing in is just beautiful. Not necessarily a lot of epic views (though there were some of those), but beautiful nonetheless, and I know that the guys picked out some highlights for us to see.
While Chuck and I were officially racing as a 2-person co-ed team, we actually had a third racer accompanying us. My nephew’s first grade class is reading Flat Stanley, and he had sent his Flat Stanley across town to me. Rather than tell his class about their own town, I decided to take Stanley adventure racing.
Our next trek through the fields took us past a bunch of cows. There were several calves chasing each other around. It was really cute, and I mentioned that they reminded me of puppies playing together. Travis disagreed, “You don’t spend much time on farms, do you, Kate?”
We headed back across the pasture until we reached the pond from last year’s mystery event, and then we climbed more barbed wire into the forest again.
The only time we hit a minor snag in our navigation was looking for the waterfall CP. We came at it from above and had a great time scrambling down the steep sides into the creekbed and then pulled up before we found our spot. That meant clambering back up and hiking along the top before we finally found the right spot and making our way back down.
Unfortunately, despite some rain earlier in the week, the wet-weather waterfall wasn’t running. Fortunately, unlike some of the other teams, we never saw any snakes. I’ll take that tradeoff.
After that last trekking CP we headed back to the campground and the bikes. There was a 1:40 cut-off to get to the there and a stiff penalty for being late, so while we had a comfortable amount of time left we didn’t want to take any chances. Unfortunately, our chosen route put us at the top of a steep downhill.
Chuck and Travis went first, and then Steven and I followed. It was a lot of fun…once I was safe at the bottom.
Once we were on jeep roads or regular roads, we did some more running. This was definitely the most running I’ve done in an adventure race. As we jogged down the gravel, I kept bargaining with myself about when I could ask Chuck if we could walk again. I really didn’t want to slow him down, and after all, I was the one with the bets on the line. Eventually I suggested, “How about we walk when we get to that sign?”
“I’m good,” Chuck answered. Crap! He’s still feeling good? OK, I guess I’m still running. “I’m good with that plan,” he amended. Whew.
There were still quite a few bikes in the campground when we ran in, but we were pretty surprised when Bob told us we were in second place…behind Todd. “You know,” Bob told us, “Todd’s kind of a machine.”
So I was likely to get a pie in the face, but we were in second place. (Hey, that rhymed!) It was exciting and a little stressful. If you’re in the back, you don’t have to worry about anyone passing you, and anyone you pass is just a nice surprise. We got changed into our bike shoes and helmets and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Having the TA at the campground was doubly nice. First, there was a water pump there so we could refill our camelbacks, but more importantly, there was an outhouse. Despite my mad peeing-outside skills, I still prefer an actual bathroom.
The bike trails leaving the campground were pretty nice. I think I managed to ride most of the way between the campground and the cabin I remembered from last year. There we met a couple who were out hiking, and I took their picture while Chuck and Travis looked over maps. I also grabbed a meal replacement shake out of my pack. I’d eaten a little bit at the TA, but as we rode I quickly realized I hadn’t had enough. Those shakes are a great way to get some calories fast, and they’re especially good in those times you just don’t have the energy to chew.
Even with the extra calories, I struggled on the bike leg. In fact, I felt worse than I did at any time at LBL, and we were only four hours into the race. I’m not sure what the problem was. I definitely was down on sleep in the week leading up to the race, so that couldn’t have helped, or maybe it was just a wimpy day, but I was dragging. I spent a lot of time climbing off my bike for things that I could have ridden…and then I spent a LOT of time off my bike to lift it over obstacles in the trail or push it up some ridiculous hills.
In the lead up to the race, Bob had told me something to the effect that I’d be out there cursing him for sending me up some of these trails. Oh no, I’d responded, You guys are awesome. It’s going to be a blast. In reality, while I wasn’t exactly cursing him I did wonder if he was trying to kill me.
Between my “I’m not Robin” thoughts and walking things I probably could have ridden and carrying/pushing my bike up things I couldn’t have ridden, my head wasn’t a very nice place to be for a while. Chuck noticed the silence and checked up on me: “You doing OK, Kate? You’re pretty quiet…that isn’t typical.” I wasn’t doing great, but there wasn’t much anybody could do about it; it was just something I needed to push through.
Luckily, we came to a spot that injected some much-needed fun back into the race. The trail crossed a flat, rocky creek bottom, and the guys rode down it a little. It looked really cool, so I wanted to get a picture of them riding down the creek, but then Chuck saw an even better place for a photo op. “Hey, it’s like a waterslide!”
“I’ll do it,” I volunteered.
Ironically, I made sure to pull the back of my jersey up to make sure it didn’t get to wet, but it never occurred to me to keep it out of the way on my slide down that big hill. I may never get the stains out.
Then, Chuck went.
It was a great place for a photo op with Flat Stanley, and then we had to pose for some fun pictures.
That was definitely the toughest bike leg I’ve ever done. We were off the bikes so much for obstacles…
…or horsed up trails that it was difficult to get any kind of flow going. And I’m really slow getting restarted, so between the repeated dismounts and the mud that filled my cleats and pedals, I was like a lead weight dragging the team back. The whole time we rode, we were amazed that no one had passed us, and I was really thankful that however frustrated the guys may have been with my slow progress, they were nothing but nice.
There were a couple confusing spots in the trail where we weren’t sure where to go. That’s one of those things that always throws me in orienteering. You look at the map, and it’s clear you have to follow the trail…but then the trail splits and it’s not clear which trail you want. Luckily, the guys took some time to talk it over, pulled out the compasses, and guessed right.
When we finally made it to the road Chuck had been promising me, I looked at it in disbelief. My brain isn’t entirely tuned to the adventure racing channel yet; when I hear road, I still think of STREETS. This was barely a jeep road. Dirt, rocky, rutted, muddy in spots. Not quite the relief I’d been anticipating, but at least I wasn’t pushing my bike up any more rock cliffs.
Eventually, though, we made it to the sweet respite of the gravel. We still had plenty of hills, but these were rolling hills and for once I turned off the self-preservation font that my thoughts are typically written in. Scared or not, I was way too tired to deprive myself of the downhill momentum that could carry me up the next hill. Finally, wonder of wonders, we reached the pavement. Because it was a fairly well-traveled road, we rode in a paceline, and I was glad to let Chuck pull me up some of the hills.
We ran into Bob along the road and stopped to talk for a while. He told us again that we were in second after Todd and that we were kicking ass, which I’m sure has never before been said about me in the context of race performance. After talking for a couple minutes, he drove away and we headed to our next CP at a Winery.
The pre-non-race instructions had told us we needed to bring $5, and when I saw that we had a winery checkpoint I was really excited about the thought that the much heralded mystery even might involve a glass (or two) of wine. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Emma was manning that CP and gave us instructions to head to Little Dixie Lake for the <derision>rowboat leg</derision>, about a mile or so away. She also dropped the bomb that we were the first team she’d seen. That meant that Todd was somewhere, somehow behind us.
That meant that I might not get a pie in the face after all.
We cruised into the parking lot at Little Dixie Lake and dropped our bikes and packs at the pavilion. Since there was just one rowboat left and we’d spent most of the day together, Travis, Chuck, and I agreed to share it. The guys started out rowing together but soon decided that it would be easier for one person to row at a time.
While they took their first turns rowing, I did the navigating. Granted, it wasn’t too challenging, but at least I knew what I was doing here. Not one to play the girl card, I stepped up when each of the guys had rowed and insisted on doing my fair share.
http://static.photobucket.com/player.swfI’ve made no secret of my dislike for paddling, but the rowboat is the new redheaded stepchild in my adventure racing family…and I’ve found one more thing I’m no good at. It’s a good thing Chuck took that video early, because I didn’t last more than 5-10 minutes rowing before the guys fired me and exiled me to the front of the boat where I couldn’t do any more damage to our time.
I lounged against the bow of the boat, put my feet up along the sides, and pulled down my tall socks to get some sun on my pasty calves. “Hey, there’s no tanning!” Chuck protested, but he was too busy rowing to do anything about it. As I rode along in comfort, my thoughts turned to the bets I had riding on the non-race.
“I can’t throw a pie in Todd’s face,” I told the guys. “All I did was follow Chuck all day.” Admittedly, I wasn’t sure yet about the WTF donut bet…but I was thinking on the same lines there, too. If I’d raced solo, I’d have been lucky to make it through the first marked bike loop–though as slow as I am, my chances of Bob catching me nice and early would have been very good. I was feeling very magnanimous in my pending victory as we beached the rowboat and I jogged up to our last CP.
And then, as I got back to the rowboat, Todd paddled up…in a kayak.
I’ll admit, my very first thought was That’s not fair! How can we beat him in a kayak?? and my second was that we could take the kayak with us when he went up to get the CP, but then I realized that only a true douchebag would worry about who placed first in a non-race with friends. I wasn’t going to throw a pie at him anyway, the guy can race circles around me, and (now that I wasn’t carrying my bike anymore) I’d had a fantastic day. I got to spend my weekend hanging out and having a blast with some awesome friends. That’s winning enough for me.
But we weren’t the only ones not freaked out about winning. “How about we all tie?” Todd asked, and we all rowed/paddled back together. Todd told us that he’d gotten way off-track on that bike leg a couple different times. That means that he rode way out of his way on the initial bike loop and lost a couple of hours on the second bike leg…and he made it to the boat dock around 25 minutes after we did. That’s pretty impressive.
I don’t know what it is about baked potatoes, but they’re the most delicious thing in the world after a race. Along with the potatoes was rotel dip, turkey, burgers, plenty of drinks, cookies…everything tasted wonderful. We hung out and talked about the non-race and watched other non-racers come in. It really couldn’t have been a nicer day.
I’ll say this, though: I think I was more tired after 9 hours of the CAC than after 28 hours at LBL, and I know I was more sore the next day. It may have been shorter, but the CAC turned out to be hard enough to make up for it. Lesson learned.
Big thanks to the Team Virtus guys, their families, and the volunteers. Being one of the team, I had a glimpse into some of the planning and stress that goes into planning a non-race. A FREE non-race, with food and schwag and camping provided for you. All their work sure paid off for me. It was another great experience. If you were there, you know exactly what I’m talking about…and if you weren’t, well, plan better next year. You don’t want to miss out again.
*Luke not only helped plan the CAC, but he also titled this post with his response to a facebook comment some time ago. Credit where credit is due…thanks Captain Awesome.