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.


Neve_r_est said...

Hmm...sounds like fun. And maybe expensive.

When hypothermia "gets pretty bad" aren't you dead?


deb said...

totally... teammate mortality is something i have NO desire to face.

the lowest temp turned out to be around 41degF... and that was when Sean and I were trying to sleep in the ditch.