ALSO NOTE: all times and distances are approximate.
After 2 days of recovery from Berryman, Andrei and I hit the road on Wednesday afternoon for the drive to West Virginia. We make it all the way to Charleston, WV before running out of steam so we sleep there for the night. In the morning, we pick up our boogie boards from the Charleston Wal-Mart (I ordered them online and had them shipped there), along with a few other race purchases and then get back on the road for the ~1hr drive to ACE Adventure Resort. We pull in about 1pm and nothing really is happening, so we take a short hike around the resort and do a little gear prep. About 2pm, the rest of the Minnesota contingent (GearJunkie/WEDALI, Blind Squirrels, and Gnome Hunter) arrive in Oak Hill (the closest town) so we meet up with them at the hotel and start the real gear prep. We have to check in our bikes and 2 duffles of river gear tonight so it's time to make sure everything we need is in the proper place. Once we think we've got everything sorted, it's back to ACE for check-in at 6p. We turn in our medical forms and in return are loaded down with an armload of swag from Eco Bottles, Tasc, and Swiftwick. We also have to demonstrate our throw bag skills, and when I head over to that station I am surprised to meet Mark Lattanzi, one of the course designers and friend of my blog buddy Abby. Mark is probably a little weirded out by my enthusiastic greeting but nonetheless he helps me get my throw bag skills in order. After that, we collect a rented wetsuit for Andrei and get the bikes set up. Then disaster strikes...my Stella 300 won't turn on. It's been wet out all day (in fact the bikes have been getting rained on since we arrived at ACE) but that's no excuse for a $250 light to suddenly bug out. I disassemble the lamp and try to sort things out, and get it to turn on but only intermittently. Andrei checks things out and gets the same result. This is stressful. I mess around with it a little more until it's time to go to the pre-race meeting at 8.30p.
|Ronny answers questions at the pre-race meeting. Photo by Stephen Regenold.|
Back at the hotel, we are consumed with putting food into plastic baggies, putting the plastic baggies into larger plastic baggies, and then putting the large plastic baggies into our packs. I'm bringing 5500 calories of pretzels, cola gummies, jerky, croissants, oreos, almond butter/banana sandwiches, Probars, chocolate espresso beans, nutter butters, and Charleston Chews (for local flavor). There are 666 calories of CarboRocket waiting for me on my bike, and we have some more food stashed (legally) in Duffle 2. We disassemble Stella and try to dry her out as best we can, hoping that in the morning she will be less cranky. I also decide to wear my new Swiftwick Vibe Twos for the race instead of my planned wool socks. It's a bit of a risky decision but I know my feet will be wet the entire time, and at Berryman Biz suggested I try a pair of thinner socks (along with my standard application of Hydropel) to reduce maceration. I'm asleep by 12:30a or so.
|Me and Andrei working on maps. Photo by Dave Swanson.|
RAFT 1 (CP 1, 10 miles, 10:35a - 12:30p)
|Gauley River Map. Source.|
|Not our boat, but I'm sure we looked the same. Photo by Vladimir Bukalo.|
TREK 1 (CPs 2-6, 15ish miles, 12:30p-6:00??p)
|CP1 (raft take-out) to CP2 (telephone pole). All travel on gravel roads/doubletrack.|
|Can I just brag for a minute about my badass friends??|
Here's GearJunkie/WEDALI hauling out of CP1.
Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
BIKE 1 (CPs 7-8, 12mi, 6:00p-8:00p??)
Within a few hundred meters on the bike, things are good. "I'm money, Dre!" I exclaim since my knee is feeling normal and I'm ready to rock. While we were walking on the last section, I was also busy stuffing my face with calories so now my energy levels are high and I'm ready to crush the bike. We cruise down the gravel road in pursuit of a 4-person team just ahead, Endeavor Adventure Racing, who hails from Florida. They hit the singletrack ahead of us as we retrieve our stash of food from CP5, and then we catch back up a few kms later. I feel really guilty for riding this stretch of trail in these super wet conditions (oh yeah, it's still raining). It's obvious some group has put a lot of work into bench cutting and armoring and we are rutting it up like crazy. But there's no other option so we keep pedaling. CP7 is an obvious house-size boulder just like Ronny promised it would be. We pop out onto some pavement that takes us down down down to the New River where we cross underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. It's dusky, and quite foggy, but we can still see some of the trestle and it's just beautiful. Thanks, Odyssey, for routing us through here! Then, we face a long climb up the other side of the gorge. We stop to put on lights and then hop onto another piece of trail and continue our climb all the way to CP8. We have a few navigation errors here in picking the correct trails but we fix them all pretty easily.
TREK 2/SWIFTWICK TT (CPs 9-10, 4k, 8:00pm-9:00pm)
As we roll into CP8, we are greeted by a party. An honest-to-goodness party hosted by Swiftwick and their employees. They have lights, music, hot chocolate, coffee, and candy for us. It's awesome. This part of the race is a special running TT - the times will be recorded and the fastest teams for this section only will receive prizes at the awards banquet. Normally, I would brush off this incentive in favor of not burning matches for later in the race, but Andrei and I are both eager to feel like we're racing (because we really haven't been up until now) so we decide to go for it. A quick change into trekking shoes and we are sprinting down the trail. There is one junction to deal with and, unfortunately, we misinterpret the map and pick the wrong trail. Andrei realizes it quickly, however, and we bushwhack a short distance back onto the intended trail and haul towards CP9. My knee is feeling much better which is another incentive to boogie - let's try to get as much distance covered as possible before it starts hurting again. We punch CP9, make an about-face, and run back to the Swiftwick party. I'm checking my watch as we cruise down the trail and we make it back in 37:06. We think that's a winning time for our division but we won't know until after the race. Regardless, it feels awesome to run again and our spirits are high. I visit with the Swiftwick crew after we finish and they convince me to ditch my standard PI arm warmers in favor of some brand-new Swiftwick ones...I don't need much convincing!! I proudly put on my new (dry!) gear and rejoin Andrei at the bikes, where we also meet Blind Squirrels finishing up their TT. For some reason, our TA is really slow (my socializing doesn't help either) and we finally are forced to leave the Swiftwick party.
BIKE 2 (CPs 11-17, 21 miles of LeCroy/Dalton/Adena singletrack, 9:00pm-1:00am??)
|LeCroy trailhead at "O", then ride the light blue trail to "L" then ride the dark blue (Dalton) trail back to "L", then ride the green (Adena) trail back to "L", then leave at "N".|
After dinner, it's back on the bikes for, guess what, more singletrack! There isn't much to this section except riding along, conserving battery when possible and keep eating. We flip flop with a couple more teams here but everything is straightforward as we approach the next section, the Orienteering Relay. We are really excited for this since both of us are good navigators, which is a strength not many other teams have.
TREK 3/ORIENTEERING RELAY (CPs 18 & A-H, 1:00am - 4:30am)
I wish wish wish that I had a map to post here. Any orienteer would look at it and think "easy". Even at night, totally doable. But that is not what happened. Read on...We cruise into CP17 and are greeted again by the friendly face of Chris!! I can't emphasize enough how nice it is to see smiles from people you know while racing. We each get a small map that has 8 CPs, A-H. We decide to each take 3 and then regroup back at TA...whoever gets back first will leave a signal (move my gloves from ground to inside helmet) and go back out for the remaining 2. Obviously I get the easiest 3 (C, E, and F) which all look attackable from the trail, and Andrei goes after A, B, and D. I go after CP C first and overshoot the trail bend right away. Whoops. But, I realize my mistake and retrace my steps, arriving back at the trail bend and start flashing my headlamp around, expecting to ping the reflective tape on the CP with ease. Nothing. I check the map again, it's plotted almost directly on the trail, I'm in the right spot, but no CP. I start mowing my way through the brush to try and find this stupid thing. A couple other racers are coming back uphill, towards the trail, and I play the girl card, asking for help locating CP C. They tell me it's hung much lower than the map indicates, and I just need to keep descending the spur. I follow their advice, and pretty soon my light picks up the CP. Boom. Goal 1 of 3 obtained.
|Night run. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.|
We get back to TA and Ben disappears. I never got to thank him for his bigtime help..so if you read this Ben, thanks buddy!! I go back to my bike and am astounded to see the gloves still sitting on the pavement. I've been out for 90 minutes and Andrei still isn't back? What? I am really discouraged with my nav at this point and mope around TA, replacing my headlamp batteries and eating a snack. In about 5 minutes, Andrei magically appears at our bikes and brings similarly sad news...he has punched only 1 CP. Tough! But, we're so close (distance-wise) to the remaining 2 (G and H) that we decide to attack them together, then see where we land. We run down the trail (knee has miraculously held together so far) and attack H...nothing. We regroup onto the trail, and run into Ryan from Blind Squirrels who has found both of them and he gives us some pointers. We use his intel to then successfully punch both G and H in about 45 minutes, and then go back to to CP E. I'm really skeptical that we'll get it, but Andrei is motivated so I support him. He attacks just like I did, from a slight trail bend, but finds the same steep hillside with no discernible reentrants. He gets caught up in briars so instructs me to check out the next "reentrant" to the west and see what I can see. I see nothing, but Andrei stays low and encourages me to keep climbing, so I do. And climb, and climb, and.....MONEY. The bag is hung on top of the earthen bank, but I again find a way to shimmy up a rootstock and punch. The descent back to the trail is pretty dangerous and I slide for a lot of it. But, we have our 6 out of 8 CPs and decide to get out of this place before the bad nav mojo takes over our race.
BIKE 4 (CPs 23, 24, 25, 28, 11km??, 4:30am-8:15am)
|Another team leaving a TA. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.|
Now we face a long descent to the New River for the riverboarding put-in. Can I re-emphasize, it's LONG. And steep...about 900' of drop. Adnrei uses the adjective "brutal". We start flying down the hill when I think that it's going to be really hard to bike back up this thing (race rules state we have to finish on our bikes). I suggest to Andrei that we drop our bikes up on top of this bluff and run down to the put-in. He thinks that is breaking race rules. I can't remember any announcement to specifically allow this kind of bike drop, so I agree with Andrei and we continue to fly down the hillside. My brakes wear out at some point and it gets scary...I am lucky to find a few level-ish spots in the road to drag my bike to a stop. I readjust the brake pads and continue rolling. We reach the riverboard put-in (CP36) just a few minutes before 8am, plenty of time to transition and get on the water.
RIVERBOARD 1 (CPs 36-37, 6.5mi, 8:15am-11:30am)
We quickly locate our gear bags at CP36 and get set changing into wetsuits, topping off our boards with air, and (surprise) eating. Andrei packed both of us a monstrous turkey-and-cheese sandwich and it tastes super delicious. There are a bunch of other teams in TA as well. Pretty soon we are kitted up and we head over to the river for a put-in about 8:10am. The water is pleasantly warm. I'm excited to try something I've never done, but I'm worried that our boards will be slow, or the rapids will be scary. But there's no other way to make it to CP37 so off we go.
|Start of the riverboard on the New River, near Thurmond. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.|
|Biz (GearJunkie/WEDALI) at his finest. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.|
There aren't any big rapids left after that, and we are both struggling with the slow progress. Better boards and longer fins would have helped but it's obviously too late for that now. We are excited to see the take-out and Andrei puts in a last-minute sprint to get out of the water. There are lots of teams still here too, including one dealing with a severely hypothermic member. It's scary to see but the volunteers seem to have things under control. Just as we are exiting the water, our friends the Blind Squirrels approach the shoreline, and it's another happy reunion! We also see Phil and Hilary from Michigan Racing Addicts, a team we have been leap-frogging with all day. They are super nice and share a Snickers with me and Andrei, yum! Chris from MN is also volunteering at this TA and she brings us chocolate chip cookies, nomnomnom. We check our watch and it's 11:30am...exactly three hours until we will cross the finish line. Our plan is to run back to the bikes at CP36 (riverboard put-in), collecting 5 CPs along the way. We give ourselves 2 hours to get to CP36 and 1 hour to get to the finish. Let's move!
TREK 4 (CPs 38, 22, 21, 19, 20, 6.5miles, 11:30am-2:00pm)
|CP37 (Riverboard take-out) to CP38 to CP22 to CP21 (on edge of map).|
|CP21-19-20 then to the bikes.|
BIKE 5 (1.5mi, 2:00pm-3:00pm)
By the time we mount our bikes, it's already 2:00pm and we have 35 minutes to bike about 1.5 miles. Seems totally doable, right? Not on an unfamiliar map, almost all uphill, and on trails that may or may not exist. We quickly find our trailhead and get to work. We have some confusion with a bridge and abandoned rails, but we think we are still making good progress. Then, a creek. A big one. The map indicates the trail continues on the other side, but we can't see it, plus the creek is raging, at least 3' deep and FAST. What to do? Well, there's nothing much we can do, at this point. We have 15 minutes to bike an enormous hill. It's not going to happen.
The reality of becoming non-finishers starts to settle in as we turn around and retreat back to the gravel road. There's not point in hurrying since once we miss the cutoff, we're done (as opposed to some races who just take away CPs for each minute late). We're both really disappointed and it's hard to know how to handle that as a team. So, I do the same thing I've done for the last three years when I get upset...I ride my bike. It's a grunt even in granny-granny, but the slow sweaty progress seems to help vent. I look back and Andrei is riding too, the arduous grind that's entirely unnecessary but at the same time essential to processing our now unofficial race. We don't talk, each lost in our own exhaustion.
After a while, I feel the need to tell Andrei that I'm not angry. Not at him, not at the team, not at any decisions we made today. OK sure, we made some dumb ones, but we made them as a team and at the time we thought we were right. My hurty knee didn't help matters any. We know what we did wrong and that can only help us in future races. We have a good chat on the way back to HQ and it further cements why Andrei is such a great teammate...he has huge expectations for himself and his teammates, but failure to reach those expectations results in re-thinking the situation, not accusations or blame.
Finally, about 3:00pm, we pull into the finish line and tell Ronny he doesn't have to send a search party after us. The volunteers take our wristbands and passport but don't bother to count it - we are officially done but will be unranked in the results. Our friends from Blind Squirrels and GearJunkie/WEDALI are there to greet us and hear the stories of our day. I'm pretty close to tears but manage to spit out that we had a less-than-stellar day for us, even before the frantic last bike. We ask Ronny about our route choice and he confirms that the trail exists on the other side of that creek, you just have to wade through it and it can get waist-deep. So we weren't totally off our rocker with the route choice, just lacked confidence in the map. I also get to ask Biz and Tom from GearJunkie/WEDALI about their race; we had been getting reports from TAs that they were in a fierce battle with TeamSOG. Their response? "Oh, we had a pretty good day". That's it. But by now I've learned enough WEDALI-speak to know, "a pretty good day" means winning a national championship. Nice job, you guys. So proud of you!!
Now that we're finished, it's a bitter pill to swallow the realities of a disappointing race. Quite simply, we haven't had a lot of practice with it! But there's still tons of gear to be sorted and I can bury my sadness in the busywork of cleaning my bike, laying out our river gear to dry, and picking through uneaten food. It takes a while to round everything up bur eventually it's all in various piles scattered next to my car. There isn't really much time to go back to the hotel so Biz, Andrei, and I use the ACE showers, which would have been better if I'd brought soap with me (didn't realize that until after I got to the bathroom!). But clean/dry clothes do wonders and I'm even able to find a charger for my phone. I have no idea how the online tracking played out so I feel the need to tell my parents that I'm okay even though we didn't officially finish.
|Awards at the post-race banquet. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.|
After the party, my TPOC friend Popeye has driven up from Virginia so I meet him for a beer at ACE. It's cool to see him after so many years away from camp, but he is still the same Popeye and it's nice to chat with someone outside of the AR world for a minute. The moonrise over ACE is beautiful and I enjoy telling him about my day. He helps me pack up my car and then I drive back to the hotel where I share a pizza with the few Minnesotans who are still awake.
|Feet up! in the car on the way home, complete with Swiftwick podium socks (even though we didn't make the podium).|
POST POST RACE
A few days later, we learned that our 19 CPs would have placed us 3rd in 2-person coed and 7th overall. A good lesson...even when it seems like you're behind, just keep racing your own race, who knows how the rest of the teams are doing! Pin It