Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Team Fat Otter popped my cherry

I love to learn the hard way.

Last Sunday night, I was checking some emails from the CAARA list. I was drooling over different races the way an eleven-year-old boy looks at porn: I wasn't sure what to do with it, but I knew I wanted it.

Sean happened to see one about the Sweaty Otter 24-hour race. She was a sexy race, with smoky woods, great hills, and curvy routes... not to mention required toys (climbing harnesses!). We briefly entertained the idea of signing up ("Hey, maybe Stephanie would want to do it, too!") but laughed it off a bit. Later on I mentioned it to Stephanie ("Oh, yay!") and we all started to think about it seriously. We registered on Wednesday night. The race was Saturday, with registration starting at 6am.

Rookie mistake #1: Giving ourselves two days prep for a race.

Our house (Stephanie was staying with us) looked like the site of a death match between REI, the grocery store, and Farm and Fleet. We had half a dozen copies of the gear list all over the house as we scrambled to get everything together. We didn't have any UTM plotting devices, so we ordered some from two different sources (MapTools.com and BackpackingLight.com) in the hopes that one would show up in time. No dice on that. What is it with these outfitters not having next-day air mail as an option?

Friday finally came. All three of us had to work (due to the limited notice), so we weren't on the road until about 5:30. Sean had a job in Watertown, so he had to take the truck & trailer separately. Steph and I had to turn around twice for things we had forgotten. We had to get to Madison before REI closed to get 2' sewn slings (we were short three), so we were off in a rush.

We got the slings and headed towards the park. We all decided to get a room in West Bend and try to get a little rest. The room (apparently the only one left in West Bend) reeked of cigareete smoke.

The morning of the race, Sean woke up and said, "Mmmm... let's get some biscuits and gravy." I almost puked right there. The motel had a waffle iron, but my old buddy nausea was hangin' with me, so I had some OJ and called it good. We met another team (Knome Hunters Too) and they gave us directions to the highway.

The race.

Registration was similar to other multisport/endurance races with packets and such. Rod from Fat Otter loaned us a UTM device which eased our minds a little.

The race started at 11:00 am sharp with a three-mile trail run designed to (effectively) break up the field a bit. Stephanie can easily run a 7-and-a-half minute mile, but alas, I cannot. We fell pretty far back right off the bat. Of note: there was a bright red thong hanging on one of the bushes on the run course.

After the run we were given our maps. The race was divided into ten "sections". Section 1 was a road ride to New Fane for a singletrack loop for the first checkpoint (CP). From there was a road ride to Mauthe Lake for Section 2- a nav course with six CPs. After Mauthe Lake we were back to transition 1 (TA1- the car). We did our version of planning and figured the first two sections would be "quick".

We headed out on some county roads with me & Stephanie in the lead. This is particularly stupid because SEAN IS THE NAVIGATOR. We got to Hwy67 ("off limits") and realized that we had headed north instead of south, adding about 7 road miles to our journey.

Rookie mistake #2: Not following the navigator.

Hammer had to loan us a bunch of gear, including his Bianchi Super Grizzly MTB for Sean. Stephanie had just purchased a new Diamondback 29er, which she rode for the first time during the race.

We lucked out with Stephanie's ride. (The guys at Healthy Habits sure know how to fit a bike!) Hammer's bike seat was visibly too low for Sean, so when we got to New Fane we raised his seat. This helped and all was well until the Bianchi started to ghost shift. We got it into a solid gear and hopped on to some pretty fun singletrack (Sean: "I could do this all day!").

We knew we were dead last at this point and decided that we would just chill out and try to survive. The Bianchi started to ghost shift again, so we had to put it in a gear suitable for the uphills, which forced Sean to spin out on downhills and flats. Pretty frustrating.

Rookie mistake #3: Going into a race on a new and/or foreign bike.

We finally got over to Mauthe lake and got our nav maps. Stephanie and I immediatley started plotting the UTMs on the giant map. When we finished, Sean held up a smaller, more specific map: "What's this?" Three of the six UTMs were already plotted! We checked our work and headed out--after spending more than an hour in transition.

Rookie mistake #4: Not looking through all of a packet before plotting UTMs.

Sean is a great navigator, but we made a few mistakes here, too... see rookie mistake #2. There was a lot of second guessing. At one point we were following an elevation line on the map, thinking it was the path we were walking on.

We finally finished up the nav course and got back over to TA1 after dark, exhausted and thirsty. The intention was to eat, but I was feeling nauseous. I asked Rod if that was normal. Rod: "Ooh. Only if you haven't been eating enough." Dammit! We were so sure that we would be back to TA1 right away, I hadn't brought along enough food!

Rookie mistake #5: Assuming that anything will be "quick".

We headed out to the slack line, which was fun for Sean & Stephanie. We then rode over to the Tower, where one of the checkpoints was at the top. This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen, seriously. The three-story tower has no roof, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sky was a shade of dark that can only happen in the Wisconsin woods. There was a meteor shower, presenting falling stars every few minutes. The was a light breeze. It was a live planetarium, just for us.

Rookie accomplishment #1: Appreciating the moment.

Sean was cramping pretty badly, so we chilled a minute. The temperature was dropping pretty quickly. We were already below 50degF. Stephanie mentioned that she was prone to hypothermia. "If I get wet, it can get really bad." We decided we better keep moving.

The next leg was a longer road ride up to the marsh for the paddle section. It took a long time, and when we got there we were all so cold we had to bust out our emergency blankets and huddle together. When we got our paddle gear bag, we discovered that I had not put the glow sticks in. It was 3:30 in the morning. This would not fly. Stephanie, in charge of team morale and motivation, began scavaging glow sticks from other teams as Sean and I sat and watched team after team coming out of the water... soaking wet.

This was the point when I decided that I had to be the bad guy here. We were severely underprepared and getting in the water at this point-- me undernourished, Sean cramping, and Stephanie prone to hypothermia-- just seemed kind of stupid. We sat in a volunteer's heated truck and discussed the situation. We were done.

We never did the second MTB nav, the zipline, or the bonus nav back by TA1.

Rookie accomplishment #2: Knowing when you're in over your head and being honest with your team.

We rode back to TA1. This was in essence our trail of tears. It took hours. Stephanie kept fluttering back and forth, riding out in front and then circling back to us- until one time she just didn't circle back. Sean and I were maybe halfway when we got off and started to walk. As teams passed us, we asked them to send a vehicle back to get us. At the sign to the Tower, we parked our bikes by the road and climbed into the ditch to try and sleep. My stomach started to cramp really back, and when I looked over at Sean he was shivering at his core. We decided to keep moving. We got picked up by ___ in the truck we had warmed up in hours earlier. I decided that it is a "healing truck". Sean and I passed out on the 15-minute ride back.

I'm glad we did this race. Like most endurance sports, until you have attempted an event, you don't really know what you're trying to do. I thought I had been training. The truth was, I was training for a bike race, or an orienteering event. Not this. I have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

don't be confused, i'm not a navigator

The weekend of Jul 19-20 was the CAARA 2-Day Potluck, a free event designed to help beginners get into the sport of AR. The first day was an optional activity, either a MTB bike, a bike and hike, or a paddle. That evening, there were clinics on paddling, gear, and a storytime about Primal Quest. The final day was a practice race.

I did this event last year and felt that it rocked, so I decided to see if Stephanie wanted to go, too. She was down and we were off.

We got out to the park, which was a small city park in a small city (Spring Valley). There was, however, a pool. We checked in, set up our tents, and headed out for the MTB ride.

Day 1- Ride @ Mattheissen SP

The 'MTB ride' turned out to be a road ride to Mattheissen State Park, where there is some singletrack. The roads to Mattheissen (past Starved Rock) have some hills that would be challenging on a well-equipped road bike, so my heavy GF Tassajara (the AssJar) with knobbies was not necessarily the best tool for this task. I assume Mattheissen's singletrack is pretty sweet in the right conditions, but it had been raining and the trails were greeezy. If I've learned anything from Rage, it's not to shred trails by riding them in the wrong conditions. ("Somebody broke their back building that shit! Don't fuck it up!") We got about fifteen minutes in and decided to turn around. Stopping every ten feet wasn't really that fun anyway.

Now, heading in we were sure to stay on the "main trail", not taking any branches until we got our bearings. Turning around ended up being more challenging, as there were about a thousand feeder trails that we failed to notice. We had no idea which trails we had come off of. Forty-five minutes later we ran into the Hernanns, who had just started in. They told us to stay right and we did and eventually got back out to the sweet, sweet pavement. We had to stop and scrape pounds of mud off our bikes to simply make them operational again.

We ran into a few other folks and the Hernanns, and we all headed back towards Spring Valley- via the ice cream shop in Utica. Adventure racing is tasty!

Day 1 (evening)- Clinics

Not much to say, other than there was a lot of info involved here. A LOT. I won a pair of socks during the ARFE "Racing Green" clinic because I knew that you should pee on a rock in the woods. Gerry Voelliger gave the gear talk and I think may have given some hints for Thunder Rolls. Of course, I have been very wrong about hints before...

The night nav clinic had to be called off because a wicked storm ripped through. Again, super psyched about my Boy Scout-style Eureka pup tent! Handled it like a champ. Forgot a tarp so I had to cut up some garbage bags which worked just fine. I slept without problem during the violent thunderstorm- I was just happy to be dry and lying on the ground.

Day 2- Practice AR

I am fucking psyched about how this thing went. Stephanie and I went into this knowing that neither of us are navigators and we would have to be careful. The pre-race meeting was fast and furious, with me franticly taking notes. There has to be a better way to do that.

The race started with one teammate (Stephanie) running to the other side of a baseball diamond and grabbing one of many papers stuck in the fence. It was a word find, and there were different requirements. We grabbed a "find ten", which turned out to be one of the worst. We were third to last when we finally started out.

CPs 1, 2, 3

We jogged to the first checkpoint (CP) and found it pretty quickly on the top of a hill. We then ran down to CP2 on the river bed, where there was a descending rope (no harnesses required) to a sideways scaling (along the clay riverbed) into a woody area along the river. This may or may not be where I got poison ivy. We were already gaining on some teams. CP 3 was across a shallow section of river. This is where we saw Team Child's Voice, which was reassuring because Milan is a really awesome navigator. We high-fived and wished them luck. We jogged past them on the way to CP4.

CPs 4, 5
CP 4 was actually in the Illinois river attached to a kayak paddled by Neil Johnson (the Tax Guy- Team Critical Path). I did the swim portion and the water was refreshing. CP 5 was back to the start/finish to pick up our bikes. We were keeping a steady pace and transitioned quickly.

CPs 6, 7, 8, 9

The ride to CP 6 was fast and fun, with one wicked hike-a-bike gravel hill. It started on paved roads, but at the bottom of a fast, curvy road it transitioned to gravel pretty quick. I remembered this from last year and warned Stephanie. As we were pushing our bikes up the wicked hill, Chad came by in a truck and said he had to check on someone who wrecked and probably had a separated shoulder. We wished them luck and health and kept pushing on. We had passed another team or two in the bike transition, and thought we were maybe in third place.

CP 6 was the bike drop. Code and Yi Shun were manning the point. When we handed off our bikes I didn't see the other bikes, so I asked Yi Shun, "Where are you putting the bikes?"

Yi Shun: "We don't know yet."
Me: "Are we the first ones here?"
Yi Shun: "Yep."

Stephanie and I looked at each other and headed off. No way! We decided to take the fire roads into CPs 7 (at shed and shelter) and CP 8 (bottom of ravine). I think a lot of teams tried to take the gravel road around the outside (which is what I was proposing) and it proved to be harder. We found these CPs pretty easily. At one point coming out of the ravine, we heard the second place team and tried to hide by laying flat against the side of the ravine. This also might be where I got poison ivy. CP 9 was back to pick up our bikes. Code told us later that we had about a 45-minute lead at this point.

CPs 10, 11

CP 10 was right at the bottom of said wicked hike-a-bike hill, across some tracks. We found it and were on the gravel towards CP11. CP11 was on an old rail trail, right at the intersection with a highway. We slightly overshot the old tracks and turned back to catch it. Later we found out that some teams overshot on purpose in order to ride the roads in lieu of the grassy offroad route that we chose. However, we came out of the woods right on the highway, at the bottom of the trail up to CP11 and got it.

CP12- final CP, also known as the Trail of Tears

We knew we had probably lost a little ground overshooting the trail on CP11 (and stopping to pee- this also may be where I got poison ivy- so much for finding a rock), so we rode fast and furious along the old rail trail. Here I would like to pass along some of the things Chad said in the pre-race meeting: "Do not cross the creek on foot. There is no reason to cross the creek on foot." "Stay to the right." "Look for the spray painted arrow. Follow the spray painted arrow." "You will cross three railroad tressles."

We stayed right, but knew something was up when the trail went into the creek ("Do not cross the creek on foot. There is no reason to cross the creek on foot.") We turned back and checked some of the other possible routes, thinking that maybe the rights we had been taking might not have actually been trail. We headed up a steep incline to a corn field, which (out of respect for the farmer) we spent twenty minutes hike-a-biking around, only to find a sheer dropoff dead end. We headed back and ran into a group of teams also perplexed, including Child's Voice. Instead of staying and brainstorming with a known skilled navigator, we freaked and rode away from them- a total rookie mistake.

If we had stayed on pace, we would have finished this race in around two hours, forty-five minutes.

We got so severely lost on CP12, we finished in just under six hours. Luckily we had 100oz bladders of water and thousands of calories in bars and gels.

We did everything we weren't supposed to do, including crossing the creek on foot. We were six minutes (literally- "Let's give this 10 minutes and then head back") from quitting, when we heard voices coming out of the creek bed: "This is the worst fucking weekend! First my kayak flies off the truck, now you got us lost!"

Stephanie and I look at each other. Other racers!

We found them, and it was Dawn and Matt. They were in the creek (drivetrains submerged) trying to find the elusive tressles, too. We spoke to them and they had seen the spray paint but hadn't taken it ("Stay to the right"). We teamed up with them and they showed us the arrow- which turned out to be the only left on the trail. Stephanie and I had forgotten all about the spray paint.

Nonchalantly, I asked Dawn if they had enough to eat & drink, considering that we were over five hours in.

Dawn: "We had an apple."
Me: "How many apples did you have?"
Dawn: "We split one."

At this point, Stephanie and I both started pulling out gels and bars to give them, forcing them to get some calories.

As we headed out, we all stayed together. We laughed and pointed out that we were all so far behind that they would probably be sending search and rescue soon. A few times Dawn and Matt told us we could go on ahead, but that seemed ridiculous. The only reason we found CP12 was because they showed us the trail. We became a team of four as we headed back into town for the finish.

We finished third to last.