20 February 2012

Race Report: Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR

I leave work early on Friday and drive over to Sunny's house, where we load gear & bikes into the minivan and head south to Osage Beach, MO. The drive is easy and we chat about science!, things to expect tomorrow (this will be Sunny's second AR ever), and triathlon. We get into Osage Beach about 6pm and head straight to Quail's Nest hotel to meet up with Alpine Shop for dinner. The six of us also join another St. Louis team, Testemax (can you guess what division they are in?), for dinner at Lil Rizzo's. I am delighted there is pizza on the menu (my new favorite pre-race dinner, tried and tested at the Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr, PMETR, and Possum Trot). We have a really fun dinner and we finish up with just enough time to complete pre-race check-in at Oz Cycles & Kayaks. From there we head to the pre-race meeting just around the corner. Gary and Ellen Thompson, the new owners of Bonk Hard Racing, give a short overview of the course instructions and hand out a TON of schwag. Then we receive maps and are dismissed at 8.45pm. There is a little bit of plotting to do so we return to the hotel and get to work.

Sunny and I plot the first 29 CPs of the race and then go about route selection/planning. My newly-purchased map wheel has some issues, but she fixes it so we can nerdily measure distances of some different bike routes.  We have 2 mystery checkpoints on the clue sheet, but they are located between known CPs near Bridal Cave, which is coincidentally one of the race's sponsors, so we are reasonably sure that the mystery event will involve the famous cavern. Cool! After the maps are done, we focus on packing and deliberate over clothing tomorrow - the forecast is calling for temperatures in the 40s and a slight chance of rain. We finally get to sleep about midnight and I surprisingly don't have that many anxiety dreams!

We wake up about 4.15am and get all of our stuff packed in the van. Quail's Nest has graciously opened their breakfast area at 4am so we have hot water for oatmeal and coffee. We drive to the bike drop, and find a good spot for the bikes to wait for our return. Then it's off to the race HQ for final packing, peeing, and socializing before the race starts.

TREK 1 (CP1-5, 4mi, 0:36)
The first trek, starting at HQ and then CP1-5.
Gary shouts "go!" at 6.30a on the nose and 112 racers take off through the field in the half-light of dawn. Sunny and I settle in just behind Alpine Shop. My headlamp is bouncing around too much under my bike helmet so I turn it off and pull it down around my neck, trusting the pack to nav us to CP1. They do, and as we make our way to CP2 we scream downhill and onto the road for a short bit. Sunny gets her first taste of dragging my ass around Missouri (a common theme for the day) as we hook up the tow for the short run into CP2. From there we tow uphill to CP3, then run across the saddle to CP4, then bust down the hill to D road for the longish run into CP5. Here I go back on tow and we cruise. I hear someone yelling behind us but I think it's Alpine Shop heckling, so I just wave and keep going. Turns out one of my pack pockets is unzipped and a gel has fallen out, and the Kuat team behind us picks it up and yelled that they were bringing it up to us. In the meantime, a bottle of Ensure falls out as well, which I feel, and immediately stop...with the tow still connected and without telling Sunny. She gets yanked back, a strap on her pack breaks and the tow snaps back into my elbow, ouch! But at least I have all of my calories which the Kuat team so nicely brings up to us. Thanks guys! We continue the run into CP5 without incident.

TRANSITION 1 (trek to paddle)
We arrive in TA1 in about 3rd/4th place, punch, select a boat (they all look mostly the same to my untrained eye so we pick one with seat cushions), put in, assemble paddles, and shove off. We're not fast here but there were no big issues, which I was worried about because neither of us have assembled paddles in a race situation. Success!

PADDLE 1 (CP 6, 2.5mi, 0:50)
The paddling legs. Put in at CP5. Bridal Cave is just north of CP6/9. Take-out at CP11.
We are paddling on Lake of the Ozarks so the current is negligible. Neither of us have any considerable steering experience, so we decided pre-race to put me in the back. And my lack of experience shows - steering a canoe is hard! It feels like I am correcting almost every stroke, and my corrections are often too big so we zig-zag our way up the lake in a pretty laughable manner. Fortunately, we are both amused instead of enraged at our boat's crazy route, so we just try to keep making somewhat forward progress despite the bitter headwind gusts. I know we are going slow, but Alpine Shop hasn't passed us yet, so I trick myself into thinking "it's not that bad". We see the sign for Bridal Cave as we near CP6, so our pre-race speculations about the mystery event involving that feature are all but confirmed.

TRANSITION 2 (paddle to mystery)
Just as we reach the TA2 take-out, Alpine Shop comes cruising up and tells us they misplotted CP4 on the first trek. So that's why we were ahead on the paddle. Bummer. But we beach the boat and receive instructions from the volunteers to proceed uphill CP7 through the Bridal Cave gift shop. Maybe the mystery event is a Price Is Right-style shopping challenge?

MYSTERY 1 (CP7-9, .5?mi, 0:16)
Packs waiting outside Bridal Cave.
We run uphill, through the gift shop, and out the other side into a gear check - we are instructed to don helmets and headlamps and then leave all other gear outside the cave. Leaving the map with my stuff causes a short moment of anxiety for me, but I do as I'm told. We run into the cave and start winding our way through the passages, some of which are tight! It's comparatively warm inside and that helps take the chill of the headwind-riddled paddle. CP8 is located in one of the cool-looking grottos of Bridal Cave, but honestly I only take a quick peak because we are hustling. After we punch it's back out the same way we came, and I'm thankful we are in the lead pack of teams because this could get congested later.

TRANSITION 3 (mystery to paddle)
We climb back into the boats for the return trip down-lake, plus a little extra distance to CP11. The put-in goes smoothly!

PADDLE 2 (CP10-11, 5mi, 1:11)
We are encouraged by the thought of having the wind at our backs for the remaining paddle. While this does make us a little less cold, it doesn't help my steering abilities one bit. I'm just not very good at it! We have a few sections where we are in sync and moving straight, but they are few and far between. Sunny is exceedingly gracious and positive throughout the paddle - it's clear that neither of us enjoy being slow, but  we both know it won't do any good to get mad, so we just keep paddling. I am so happy when the take-out appears.

TRANSITION 4 (paddle to trek)
We are cheered on at the take-out by awesome volunteer Rachel from Bushwhacker (sitting out the race with an injury). The process of putting the canoe away and disassembling paddles takes a few minutes but is again smoother than expected. I realize I can't find my running tow (must have left it at CP7??) but I try not to worry about it.

TREK 2 (CP12-14, 1.5mi, 0:29)
Trek 2. The 316 stairs are just after CP12.
We have a short run to CP12 along park trails. The main race map (from mytopo) for this section is crowded, and I switch to a park map that we were issued in the race packet. It is okay, but I end up following the park signage instead for CPs 12 and 13. We get to run alongside a really cool-looking water body (I think the visible part of the Natural Spring) and then climb all 316 steps of an enormous staircase (similar to the stairs at Castlewood) up to the Natural Bridge rock feature. From there it's a quick run to CP14, site of the morning's bike drop.

TRANSITION 5 (trek to bike)
We arrive at TA5 closer to the middle of the pack than I would have liked. We lost quite a few spots on the paddle. But, I am hoping that Sunny's exceptional fitness to will move us up if I can keep the nav clean. We successfully add our trekking shoes to our packs (which have paddles too) and are able to ride without too much interference from the load.

BIKE 1 (CP15-29, 30mi, 3:04)
The first part of the bike: TA5 is at CP14. CP15 and 16 are doubletrack, then we take the road to CP17/HQ.
The first 2 CPs are close to TA5 and are on some grassy doubletrack trails. We collect those quickly, and in the company of a few other teams. From there on it's all road riding, a combination of paved and gravel and plenty of hills sprinkled in for good measure. We return to race HQ for CP17, where we get to drop our paddles! From 17 it's a longish ride to CP18 and 19, and from there we have been given route choice options. Our chosen route is 20-23-24-22-21-25-26-27-28-29/TA6. Sunny continues to be an excellent passport-keeper and Emily's-ass-dragger; I put myself on tow as much as possible (especially up hills) so we can share energy and keep moving quickly as a team. The navigation is very simple, but I try to stay in contact with the map by announcing estimated distances and landmarks, which keeps us focused. We are joined on our route by the Kuat boys again, and they make great racing companions. Not all teams are enjoyable to race alongside and we are lucky these dudes are both fast and fun.
The majority of the biking leg was on roads.
There are lots of great sights on the ride as well: a sad-looking discarded stuffed unicorn, a house using towels for curtains, several barking dogs, a mailbox riddled with bullet holes, a mailbox completely smashed in, a yard using beercans for landscaping, etc. Despite these interesting features, the ride is rather tame and Sunny expresses her dismay at the lack of epic-ness so far. I agree with her, and hopefully the last part of the race (which we don't have maps for yet) will make up for it!
Sunny and me leaving CP25/gear check.
At CP25, we have a gear check with a 5 items, and we are rewarded with Little Debbie snacks and Lays chips, mmmmmm chocolate moon pie! On the last hill before CP29, Sunny is towing again when she announces that her legs are toast, which makes me really happy because my biggest worry coming into the race is I wouldn't be fast enough to challenge her fitness. But, thanks to her terrific teamwork and immense towing efforts we are both equally tired! Sunny, thanks again for dragging my ass all over Missouri!

TRANSITION 6 (plotting & bike to trek)
We cruise into TA6 exceedingly ready to start running. We have moved back up into 5th/6th place and we both consider the trekking to be our strongest discipline if I can keep the nav clean. We have 8 CPs to plot so Sunny calls UTM coordinates and I mark the map. Then I route-plan as she transcribes some of the points onto a supplemental park map (the blue one) we were given in our map packets. We decide on 33-35-37-36-34-30-31-32-F and hustle out of the TA before other teams can latch on.

TREK 3 (CP30-37, 7mi, 2:54)
The last trekking leg, CP30-37. I wrote our order in black on the side of the map.
As we head out onto this main trekking section, my goals are to find good running (open woods and roads/trails) to maximize our speediness and also keep the nav clean instead of rushing. This might mean taking a few extra walking breaks to stay in contact with the map, but from my limited AR experience, solid navigation with a steady pace will always win over speedy mistakes. Right away, I get a chance to enact that philosophy as we find ourselves in a huge sinkhole (with a very prominent cliff face) that I don't see on my 1:24000 map. This is extremely worrying to me, but thankfully Sunny's blue map (which is a smaller scale) has it labeled better and we figure out what's going in in a few minutes. We hit 33 cleanly and take a combination trail/woods route to CP35. This route takes us through some woods that have been burned (for underbrush management) and it quickly becomes my new favorite terrain - the woods are open and the burnt residue lends a very Hunger Games-esque feeling. Cresting the big saddle on the way to 35 is awesome - we can see many different, complex ridge/reentrant systems and it's an orienteer's dream!

After we hit CP35 cleanly, I start to get confused about the trail system and exactly where we are on the map. The night before, we  transposed the Turkey Run trail from a park map onto the 1:24000 map I'm holding, but the trail is hard to find and I'm also struggling with the scale. I don't have much experience running on 1:24000 so it takes some time to get my distance perception calibrated. We take lots of walk breaks here as we use both maps to figure out just where exactly we are on the trail. Finally we figure out a reasonable location and are able to pick up the pace. A few hundred meters later, we find a park sign with a "You Are Here" sticker which matches what we thought...relief! It's time then to crash down a big reentrant and climb another one to CP37.
Around CP37, we pick up a tail. We shake them with a new route between CP36 and CP34 (shown i n dashed dark line)
As we approach CP37, we cross paths with a 2p male team. I do not recognize them and this makes me antsy - I really don't care for navigating with other teams in sight. They try to ask us what our route is - I ignore the question and Sunny answers with a generic "yes" and we keep moving. We've already revealed the correct reentrant for CP37 and I hope that we are able to shake them quickly. They stick with us to CP36 and we are both stopped by an unmapped barbed wire fence while hiking up a steep spur. They graciously hold the fence down so we both can slip through, and we locate CP36 about the same time. My intended route after this was to descend back down the spur continue to CP34 (shown in orange highlighter in the picture), but we find an unmapped jeep road at the top and I make the decision to re-route us up-and-over to CP34 (shown in dark dashed pen line in the picture). It means a little extra climb, but has several advantages - we will avoid repassing the barbed wire fence, and we can run the road to try and separate us from the other team. So we hit the gas and run up the doubletrack, and the other team drops back. We continue to push the pace (except for one thorny section where we both whimper a lot) as we loop around a reentrant and attack CP34 from above. We can still hear the other team thrashing around in the woods so we try to be extra quiet and speedy to get away from them for good. The long leg to CP30 goes great, and Sunny tells me a few stories from her days racing as a professional triathlete, including being drug-tested alongside Leanda Cave and Samantha McGlone. Yup, she is FAST.

We punch cleanly and set out for CP31. The route is tricky because it is mostly flat, but I am checking off features in my mind and everything looks good. The checkpoint is hung in the middle of a reentrant system and as we descend into it, there is no checkpoint. We canvass the area and still come up short. Crap...things were going so well! Where are we?! I focus intently on the map and determine the system we are in is oriented north/south, and the system we want is east/west. There are 2 north/south system on the map and I'm pretty sure we're in the southern one, but to be safe I want to retrace our steps back to the powerline to 100% relocate. Sunny suggests that we just go directly to the next system over (which will be faster), and I agree to try it. What follows is one of my proudest orienteering achievements to date - relocating on a tough map without being 100% sure where we are. So we carefully climb out of the north/south system and head northeast to the next system over. We enter and start checking the spurs, and I SPOT THE CHECKPOINT! I have never been so relieved. Sunny punches and get out of there, only 2 more short legs to go!
The route from 30-31. Orange is my intended route, blue dashes is the actual route.
The approach to CP32 goes well and I am again relieved to hit this cleanly. Now it's only the run to the finish, and we have a route selection: road or woods. This road is approved for running (Hwy D is not) but race-brain makes me forget that fact so I route us up a huge hill and through the woods to sneak in on the finish line from behind. There aren't many people there, which is a good sign, but the Bonk Hard crew raises their signature ruckus to celebrate our finish. They check over our passport, verifying that everything is punched correctly, and announce that we are FOURTH OVERALL!!!

Sunny and me! Yes, she is sitting and I am standing.
I am really, really satisfied with this result. Our final racing time is 9 hours 20 minutes. Full results here. Alpine Shop took the win in 8 hours 25 minutes. They are already changed into dry clothes but come over to congratulate us (and I'm pretty sure Doug is celebrating that I brought Sunny back alive). We have about 15 minutes of the standard map-pointing ritual (one of my favorite parts of navigating) and then I need to warm up too. We change into dry clothes and dig into the classy BBQ buffet post-race meal. Have I mentioned BBQ is one of my favorite foods? DELICIOUS! While Sunny and I are eating, Alpine Shop decides to drive back to CP29 to retrieve their bikes and they agree to pick up ours as well. How's that for class! Not only do they race the pants off us, they pick up our bikes at the finish!! While we are waiting, Sunny and I stroll through the old CC track in the field as a form of cool-down. We hang out at the finish line as more and more teams come in, each one receiving lots of cow bell and hollering from Bonk Hard Racing and other competitors. We stay at the finish line until the awards ceremony is over (I win a pair of Pearl Izumi shoe covers! Score!) and then say our final goodbyes and load up the mini-van for the drive back to STL, chauffeured by Doug! 

I can't say enough how happy I am with this race. It was my first try at being the 100% navigator, and it was Sunny's second ever adventure race. We were the only 2-person female team entered but we represented well, beating 39 other teams! Sunny is a most excellent teammate - her fitness is a huge asset, but her positive attitude ensured our success. I have seen other teams implode in anger when one person can't steer a boat, or when they get lost in the woods, but we stayed committed to the team's success and that is how we ended up close to the front.  Pin It


  1. It was a great pleasure racing with you Emily! Couldn't have picked a better teammate for this adventure. You were world class out there.

  2. Great job out there!! You guys rocked it. Congratulations on that 4th overall and some strong navigation!