25 May 2013

Race Report: 2013 Mission 18hr AR

A few weeks ago we received the sad news that the annual Planet Adventure 30hr race in Indiana was cancelled for 2013. That race was supposed to be the final event in my 7-weekend racing bender. Then I'd have a weekend off (Memorial Day weekend), and then I'd go to Kansas for my first crack at DK200. But Planet was not in the stars (ha...) this year for the race organizers, so that left DINO's MISSION 18hr adventure race as my final hurrah before tackling the Flint Hills. And, honestly...I wasn't all that sad. My body has taken a beating these past 2 months, getting pummeled on the weekends and then spending the weekdays frantically trying to recover. I learned a few great lessons about that process, but overall I knew I was creeping closer and closer to the bucket and very scared of falling in before my biggest individual race of the year.

Thankfully, MISSION is a super fun race, and I was once again racing with my crazy strong Alpine Shop teammates, Jeff and David. These guys are just so much fun to race with and I knew they would motivate and inspire me to perform well. In the weeks leading up to the race, we learned that in addition to traditional adventure race disciplines of trekking, mountain biking, paddling, and ropes, we would also have the option to use scooters or roller blades. I borrowed both from local adventure racer Yvonne who used them in several Wild Onion races. We had a few practice sessions on the 'blades and I was kinda freaked out by them. I can skate just fine (after all, a girl from Minnesota should know these things), but sharp turns were a little tricky and stopping was extremely unreliable. We planned to bring both scooters and blades to the race but then I forgot Yvonne's scooter in my basement, whoops. Thankfully, Jeff had 2 decent Razor scooters that we brought in addition to David's badass scooter. Game on.

For anyone aiming to race at USARA Nationals this October 4th, you should probably know some things about race director Brian's style, since he is directing Nationals this year. First, he likes to not distribute maps until the race starts. Second, he likes to start with a short, crazy prologue before maps are handed out. Third, he likes to base the race around a central TA/HQ, having teams complete loops and then return to HQ between each loop or segment. Fourth, he likes to make teams plot CPs and route plan on the fly. This year's MISSION would be a classic example of a DINO race. Another thing that Brian and DINO are known for is taking excellent care of their racers. Our race fees included on-site lodging Friday and Saturday night, and pre- and post-race meals. This made race logistics really easy for us and we really appreciate it!

Jeff, David and I left St. Louis Friday morning and rolled into Camp Pyoca just minutes before pre-race dinner was scheduled to start. That was enough time to check in, get our race packets (passport, numbers, and shirt) and learn about making duct tape bracelets for TeamSOG's Scott Pleban who was seriously injured after being hit by a car on his bike commute. We grabbed a table and chowed down on delicious lasagna and THE MOST AWESOME brownies I've ever had. Right there, my weekend was a success because of those brownies. Thank you, Camp Pyoca chefs!! We had a quick pre-race meeting after dinner and Brian hinted that the course just might be clearable for a fast team. Boom. There is our carrot we need to chase tomorrow. We spend the rest of the evening prepping gear, interrupted a few times by brief rain showers. Finally we're ready to go and head up to the cabin. Everyone else is asleep already so we do our best to quietly get settled. Turns out, that is all in vain because there are two other people in the cabin who SNORE almost the whole night. I seriously got about 2 hours sleep total before our 0445 wake-up call. Suboptimal!

My alarm goes off right on time and in order to make my cabin exit as quick and quiet as possible, I grab all of my stuff and head down to the main dining hall to make breakfast and get dressed there. I head into the basement and turn on the lights - accidentally and abruptly waking up three people who were sleeping! I feel really bad and tell them I'll go upstairs, but they are racing the 18hr as well so they would've been up in a few minutes anyway. Then I hear..."Um, I think I know you. Are you Emily?" That's probably the last thing I ever expected to hear before 0500 on a race morning, but I do acknowledge that my name is in fact Emily and the sleepy questioner turns out to be my twitter friend Dan! Ha! So it's cool to get to know him and his team, Dandies Vegan Marshmallows, as we all fumble through pre-race breakfast and clothes prep. And for some reason, my standard breaky tastes weird and gross, which is highly unusual since none of the ingredients are that perishable. But my taste buds tell me something's turned strange, so I sadly dump it out and put together a makeshift replacement breakfast of Ensure, donuts, and fig newtons. At this point, calories are calories.

I join up with Jeff and David at the van for the rest of pre-race prep and for some reason my mind is very foggy. I find myself way behind schedule and scrambling to get all of my gear together before Brian calls a pre-race meeting at 0555. I hustle up to the meeting place with my teammates and we get the first set of instructions: our maps are located on the opposite shore of Lake Pyoca, approximately 250m away, and each team must send one person to go get them. There are two ways to get there: run around the lake, or paddle across it. Except, anyone who chooses to paddle is not allowed to use an actual paddle...they must use their hands and/or feet for propulsion. THE RACE IS ON!!

PROLOGUE ("paddle" or trek)
Super zoom-in of the map. We started in the triangle. Maps were at "M".
Which way is faster...right, left, or straight?
Can you see the red blinky straight across the lake? That is where Jeff was going.
We have a quick team conference where I offer to just swim the distance, but after 30 seconds we decide that Jeff will paddle. So we sprint down to the beach and I help him get situated on one of the plastic kayaks that are laying there. The first one we pick is very long and awkward, and Jeff has trouble getting it to move. I see a few other racers using tiny one-person kayaks and I suggest that Jeff use that. He agrees, we switch, and pretty soon he is zooming across Lake Pyoca while the majority of the field runs around on a trail. I stand on the dock yelling encouragement for a while and then return to the van to finish my last few gear prep items. David has got the first set of coordinates from Brian and he tells me we're starting on bikes, so I get my and Jeff's bike stuff ready to go. Jeff returns to TA really quickly, we plot the first 8 CPs, and take off on our bikes.
BIKE 1 (CPs 1-8, 56km)
Entire BIKE 1 route. We went counter-clockwise.
This bike leg has two sections: first we will be on paved roads, and then we will hop onto trails, and then finish up with a short paved return to TA. Almost immediately after leaving Camp Pyoca we are joined by Rev3/MK and a 2-person male team that I don't recognize. After a few CPs we are also joined by the Silent Chasers, a 2-person male team made up of our friends Phil and Kevin. Phil recently finished 2nd to me and Biz in the MNOC AR Tune-Up so we know his nav is completely dialed and he will be tough competition today. The lead pack works loosely together in a paceline, and I successfully avoid a near-crash with Cory from Rev3/MK (Jeff and I exclaim our relief with simultaneous, wide-eyed "Good job!"s). There are a few route choices here and there, but none seem to offer more than 30 seconds advantage either way.
We started at the triangle, then biked to CP4...

...then to CP1, CP2, CP3...
...then to CP8, CP6, CP7, CP5, and back to HQ.
After a few hours of roads, we start looking forward to the next section of trails. Rev3/MK blows past a turn to CP8 which puts us in 2nd place (I think the unknown 2p-male team is still leading). We enter the trail system to find it mostly muddy doubletrack, with some sections of gravel. Definitely not as technically challenging as we had hoped, but we make quick work of CP8 and then hop across the road to pick up CPs 6, 7, and 5. The approach to CP6 goes well and we hike the 100m off trail to get to the saddle it's hung on. We get to the saddle, it's very subtle, and there is no CP hanging there. CRAP. This is the situation that all adventure racers have nightmares about - missing CPs. It destroys confidence levels for the entire rest of the race. We thrash around with the 2p-male team and the Silent Chasers, but no luck. Jeff even climbs 12 contour lines up to check a much more topographically obvious saddle, but no dice there either. Very soon, we are joined by several more teams looking for CP6. The lead we had worked hard for has evaporated and we decide to abandon the search and continue to the next CP.
See the northbound jeep road after CP6? We didn't.
We ride a short distance downhill and then bikewhack across the creek to catch the trail on the other side. We find it quickly, but as we're riding it stays low and the map says it is supposed to climb significantly. Uh oh. We have a quick team conference and discover that we are actually on a jeep road instead of the trail that we want. Another CRAP! So we backtrack a little bit and then bikewhack some more uphill to find the marked trail. Now, the thrashing my legs went through at the Tune-Up is put to the test, and I hack through the thorns with gusto while carrying my bike. This is what adventure racing is all about! We finally reach the correct trail and get to start riding again. It's steep, but we know where we are. As we approach CP7, we pass the mystery 2-person male team, who are stopped on the side of the trail with a broken derailleur. I'm somewhat of an expert in fixing those, and we offer to help, but they say they've got the tools they need to make it back to HQ. CP7 is fine, and then we start the longish trail ride to CP5.

We're riding along, making the best of the sloppy trail conditions, when we comment on the machine tracks that are everywhere. It seems like there's a logging operation going on. Soon, we see Phil and Kevin up ahead, except they are riding back towards us. What?? That's strange. They stop, we stop, and Phil and David put their heads together to talk about the map. Turns out we missed the trail we need and instead we're on an unmapped logging road. This is sort of bad, but it could have been much much worse if Phil hadn't stopped to tell us. We follow the Silent Chasers back along the road and together we find the correct trail we need for CP5. It's cut almost straight down at least 20 contour lines. I'm riding completely behind my saddle and I think I can smell my brake pads. Eeeeeeeeeeek!!! But we all make it safely to the bottom, and to CP5. Then we have a slight route choice back to camp...the Silent Chasers go right, we go left. Which will be faster? Ours is a screaming paved descent that almost shoots me off the side of a cliff. Who said Indiana was flat??

We roll back into the main TA at Camp Pyoca, about 45-60 minutes later than we thought we would, only a minute or two behind the Silent Chasers. We collect the UTMs for the next segment and Brian issues us a caveat...CP10 is not open yet. It is the ropes course, and we are instructed to visit it when we get back to TA in about, oh, 4-5 hours. This is a concern for us because ropes courses, while extremely fun, can be a huge bottleneck in an AR. Right at this moment, if the ropes were open, there would be a short-to-nonexistent line because we are in the lead pack. Who knows what the line will be like when we get back to camp! But, we have no choice so we plot the next CPs and learn that we can use our wheeled-objects-of-choice to get there. The camp road has me scared to use 'blades (hilly and very few places to bail) so we decide to use scooters. Get ready for hilarity!!

Now I'm using pink highlighter to show our route from HQ to CP11.
Nerd alert!!!
We grab out scooters (2 Razors and 1 Xootr) and run with them out of TA on the hilly camp road. We pass Silent Chasers sitting on the grass putting on their 'blades, and Rev3/MK is already blading a short distance ahead of us. We catch up with them at the main road, and then are able to pass them as we move through town. We are grinning about the choice of scooters here - the road is bone-jarring chip-n-seal and the scooters are clearly faster. I start on a Razor but David soon switches with me since the Xootr is way faster. There is a 6" strip of smooth pavement on the edge of the road and we all use that to our advantage - something we would have been unable to do on 'blades. I can only imagine what a spectacle this is for the town of Brownstown (pop. 2,986). Adults. In spandex. With bike helmets. On scooters. Oh lordy. Nerd alert!!!

PADDLE 1A (2.5k up + 5k down) 
+ PADDLE 1B (CP14, 10k down)
Love those banana boats!
We scooter into the next CP in 1st place and are given more CPs to plot for the paddle. We have to paddle upstream first, which looks like a big challenge since the East Fork White River is high and the water looks fast. So we pile ourselves, packs, and scooters into the plastic banana boat and get to work. Silent Chasers and Rev3/MK are close behind! The great thing about this upstream paddle is that it's almost exactly like paddling upstream on the Meramec, a place where Jeff and David have practiced hundreds of times (me only once). Jeff is an expert at hiding from the current and he takes an extremely efficient route to CP12 located 2.5k upstream. We quickly punch and turn around for the next section, a 5k downstream paddle to an intermediate take-out for CP13. We see Silent Chasers and Rev3/MK on the water and they all look strong. We have to hustle!! Water is flying everywhere since all three of us have kayak paddles and pretty soon I'm soaked. It's also cloudy and a bit cold. David is feeling the chill here too so we let him take a break to put on a jacket. I'm elated to see the intermediate take-out because that means we have a 3k out-n-back scootering leg to jump-start the circulation and eat something. The take-out is on a slippery "beach" but Jeff and David manhandle the boat while I put on a jacket and get the scooters ready to go. We make our way up to the road and pretty soon I stop shivering.
CP11, CP12, then take out at the arrow, scooter to CP13, scooter back to the boats, paddle to CP14.
Fort Vallonia
We scootered into Fort Vallonia. I wonder what the early settlers would have thought of that?
The road condition here is way better than the first one and we make good time to Fort Vallonia (side note: At Fort Vallonia Days, you have the exciting opportunity to eat donkey bellies. Who knew?). We find the punch, share a Reese's Crispy Crunchy bar, and then scooter back to our boat. As we're returning to our plastic banana, we see another boat parked next to it. But no racers. We are completely mystified since CP13 is a direct out-n-back and we saw NO ONE. What is going on?!? But there's no time to speculate since we have another 10k of downstream paddling to complete. Rev3/MK approaches the take-out just as we are leaving, keeping the pressure on high. The rest of the paddle goes smoothly, now that we're a little warmer. Brian warned us of several river blockages that were broken up by the recent flooding, so we play a game of "Is this the blockage? Is this it? Oh, this one's definitely it." to pass the time. Very soon, we see a covered bridge up ahead, which signals the end of this paddle section and time for more scootering!!

Take-out at CP14, then scooter to CP15.
There are some race photographers at the take-out and they, like most of the people who've encountered the race, think it's hilarious to see us scootering out of TA. We are laughing at ourselves too, but honestly the scooters (especially the Xootr) have won us over as a rather efficient way to travel. And pleasant, even. SO much less stressful than the 'blades. For this final 6.5k section, the road is in great shape and is mostly flat. We try to sail along as efficiently as possible, swapping scooters here and there to give everyone a break. Pretty soon we are rolling into CP15, a manned CP and TA where we are given our next set of instructions and UTMs.
Let us scooter into the light!
TREK 1 (CPs 16-25, 14km redline, 17km actual route)
Entire TREK 1, starting at CP15 and finishing back at Camp Pyoca (upper right corner).
We have 10 trekking CPs to plot, and we are absolutely chomping at the bit to start trekking. It feels like late in the race to start the actual navigation, and we're excited to play to our strength in the woods. We chow down on Wheat Thins Sticks and pepperoni as we carefully plot our course. Right as we're finishing up, the Silent Chasers coolly 'blade into the parking lot, putting the pressure on us once again. We skedaddle out of there, taking a creative route across the spillway and into the woods of Jackson-Washington State Forest.
First part of TREK 1. 
The CP locations on this trekking leg are scary. Sure, there is a ton of relief in this area, but Brian has placed the CPs on minor features that are similar to a Red- or Blue-level orienteering course. We carefully attack CP16 as a team, meticulously counting paces and reentrants, then finally fanning out when we get "in the circle" to be sure we spot the punch. We almost needn't have worried - David has brought us exactly to the correct spot and we punch with ease. The next CP is equally as tough, and here we discover the quirkiness of the map. It seems that the big features are not all mapped equally - only some of the large reentrants are showing up, while some others of similar size are completely unmapped. This is very difficult to deal with because we can't predict with certainty which features we can use for navigation. David's compass suddenly becomes extremely important. Somewhat shaken by this new and unpleasant discovery, we attack CP18 too early and have to fabricate an around-route to get to the correct spot. But the correction is simple and soon we are back on track.

After we punch CP18, my stomach is growling but I discover that both of the hip pockets on my pack are empty. I swing my pack around to my front and check the main compartment while still trekking. Only my mandatory gear is in there. I am officially out of calories. How embarrassing! Um....guys? Do you have any extra food? Yes, yes they do. Jeff and David stock me up for the rest of the trek with mini Almond Joys, Wheat Thins Sticks, Clif gels, and pepperoni. With a delightfully full belly, we attack CP19 and then run on the same road as this morning to CP20.

For some strange reason, CP20 is tricky for us. We canvass the area and are not finding the reentrant we want. As we are searching, the Silent Chasers live up to their name and show up like AR ninjas right behind us. I keep an eye on them as they proceed to march straight into the CP. Phil tips me off that they've indeed found it and I call over to Jeff and David. We punch CP20, and now we are chasing the Silent Chasers Leaders. Getting passed really lights a fire in my belly and my strongest instinct is to hurry up and catch them. Jeff and David rein me in and we stick to our own pace up a super steep hill. We stick to our own game plan for CPs 21 and 22, where Jeff climbs the fire tower only to not find the punch. Another missing one? We are in disbelief, but the public location of a fire tower is prime territory for punch theft so we memorize some graffiti to prove we were there and continue on. CPs 23 and 24 go well, and then we take a super safe route to CP25 because it's located in extremely subtle terrain. As usual, David works his map whispering magic and we hike straight into it. Well done Mr. Frei!!

We run back to Camp Pyoca, certain that the Silent Chasers now have a healthy lead, and for that matter Rev3/MK might be ahead of us too. We get our passport punched at the scoring table and they tell us we're in first. WHAT??! Crazy, but also incredibly motivating this far into the race. We get our next set of bike UTMs and instructions, and now it's time for ropes!

ROPES 1 (CP10)
There is some confusion amongst the race and camp staff about whether or not the ropes course is open. We explain our situation, and after some debate, we finally determine that the course IS OPEN, and we need to do that before hitting the next biking leg. We decide to plot the biking points we have, complete the TA, and then hit the ropes course on our way out onto BIKE 2. We fly through transition without seeing Silent Chasers or Rev3/MK. This is a good sign! As we ride over to the ropes, there isn't a staff member in sight. We have a slight panic attack that we got bad information earlier, so we start hollering "Hello? Hello? Anyone here?" Turns out the ropes course we are doing is hidden a little ways back in the forest, and the camp staff are indeed there eagerly awaiting our arrival. And best of all...no lines! Sweet! We throw on our safety gear (harnesses, helmets, lobster claws) and it takes me back to my days of working the high ropes course at TPOC - I love this stuff! David starts first with the 30' tubular cargo net climb, then me, then Jeff. I'm halfway up the net when I hear hollering from the camp staff - apparently David is taking a highly unconventional approach to the first element. It's hard to explain. I really wish I had pictures of this. You'll have to check back later, hopefully DINO posts them!!

David absolutely FLIES through each element, I think there are at least 10. He's through the final zipline before I'm even halfway done, and below us I see Silent Chasers and Rev3/MK have arrived. The race is ON! I get stuck on the swings element - I lose momentum in the middle and can't reach the next swing. Jeff has to swing over to me and give me a kick so I can grab it. Thanks, teammate! I finally make it through the course and we high-tail it out of there as it starts to rain, with 2nd and 3rd place breathing down our necks.

BIKE 2 (CPs 27-29, 22km)
Entire BIKE 2 loop. We went clockwise.
We hit the road on a mission to keep the lead at MISSION. The sun is starting to set, and it has just started raining. We're doing our best to stay in a paceline even with water flying everywhere. We choose a clockwise route that is mostly paved to start, and then will finish with a gravel jeep road back into TA. The first two CPs are on bridges and we have a little trouble spotting the marker. Each one only takes a minute or so to locate but at this point in the race, every second counts. The rain lets up before the second bridge and a beautiful rainbow emerges - what a great omen! As we're on the way to CP27 (gate), David starts looking at the map more closely and proposes a paved around-route back to TA instead of our initially-planned gravel road. We discuss this, doing some quick mental calculations (stay in school kids!!) and decide to take the pavement after punching CP27. We pass Silent Chasers (with much whooping and hollering) who are going the opposite way as us and guess that we have about a 15-minute lead. We're firing on all cylinders as we race back to TA for more instructions. Once we arrive there, we find out we are still in the lead and there's only one more segment left - a 4-point trek. Bring it on! We transition super fast and race out of TA before spotting anyone else. This is starting to look good!

TREK 2 (CPs 31-34, 7.5km redline, 9.5km our route)
TREK 3, the final one! We DID NOT revisit CP25 here...went 34, 33, 32, 31.
In transition before the final trek!
As the sun is disappearing over the horizon, we're jogging out of Camp Pyoca for the last time. We take the roads down to Jackson-Washington State Forest and attack what David thinks is the hardest CP of the entire race - CP34. It's located on a large spur that is flanked by other, similarly-oriented large spurs. Choose the wrong one, and it will mean a lot of additional climb and time to fix. We carefully make our way through the woods to the creek at the base of the spur line. David consults the map, and we start climbing. And climbing, and climbing, and...there is the CP. Boom. Right where it is supposed to be. Buoyed by David's success, we strike off in pursuit of CP33, located on one of the only named peaks on the map..."Pinnacle". When we were plotting this back in TA, we all let out a huge "whoa" when we saw this CP. It's a hill that means business.

Fortunately, we discover an unmapped jeep trail following the ridgeline we need. It helps us make great time and keeps the nav simple now that the sun has set and we've switched on our headlamps. As we're jogging along the jeep trail, we see a set of headlamps up ahead. Could this be the Chasers or Rev3/MK?? We nervously approach them and it turns out to be Madcap Racing, a coed team who had massive bike mechanicals earlier today so they're on the trek for fun. So awesome! We chat with them for a little bit and learn that Ashley sang the National Anthem at LBL...this girl's got pipes! After exchanging nav tips and "good luck"s, we jog up the trail and straight into CP33. Despite our elevation, there's not much to see from Pinnacle since everything's dark. We set off in search of CP32 which turns out to be very tricky. We exceed our pace count but David's good nav sense keeps us going for a few extra meters, and suddenly, we are staring at the CP. Only one more CP left, it's really close to camp, we haven't seen any other teams, and we have plenty of time before the midnight final cutoff. Things are looking good.

The trekking to CP31 is tough. The area is full of undergrowth, thorns, and deadfall, and we are making extremely slow progress. It's hard to judge our progress on the map since the features in this area are all very small and similar. Eventually, we lose track of our spot on the map and hold a quick team conference to come up with a relocation plan.. Throughout this entire trek, we've been listening to the stock car races from nearby Brownstown Speedway (shown on the map as "County Fairgrounds"). As we study the map, we notice that the track is almost directly in line with CP31, so we decide to follow the sounds of the racecars through the woods until we hit either the lake or the road. We are all in agreement and not 500m after we start moving again, streetlights come into view and we are able to relocate ourselves definitively on the camp road (orange highlight in the picture). From there, it's a quick jog over to CP31's spur, but once we're there, we can't spot the CP. Madcap Racing (the team we met in the woods earlier) told us they got CP31, so we know it's here somewhere, but it's extremely nervewracking to search for it. Jeff suddenly starts sprinting away from me and David, hollering that he found it, but then stops when he thinks he just saw a weird leaf reflection (these things happen in the woods with bright headlamps). But just to be thorough, he scans the area a bit more and PING!!! CP31!!!!!! We are all very relieved and happy, it's just a short run back to the road and then into the finish line.

As we approach the scoring table, we spot Rev3/MK already inside, relaxing on folding chairs. Our stomachs flip over. Rev3/MK must have had a superb trek to overcome our time advantage, so we head inside to congratulate them. As we enter the doorway, we hear cheers and shouts instead. "Here come the winners!" says Brian the Race Director. What? We won? We find out Rev3/MK returned to TA without all of the final trekking CPs, so if our passport passes inspection, we've won. We wait a few tense minutes and are then, after 17 hours and 10 minutes of racing, are confirmed the winners of the 2013 MISSION 18hr Adventure Race. Huzzah!

POST-RACE (17:10 total time, 35 CPs - cleared the course)
We are really, really happy to come away with the win here at MISSION. We wait for Silent Chasers to come in and hear their struggle with the nighttime navigation. Phil and Kevin helped us SO MUCH on the course, it's heartbreaking to hear that the good karma they shared didn't come back to them at night. Rev3/MK also pushed the pace all day and it's fun to share stories with them. Best of all, Camp Pyoca has SHOWERS in the same building as the scoring table. And they are HOT. After cleaning up, all we have to do is go upstairs and the buffet line is full of my absolute favorite post-race food...BAKED POTATOES!!!!! I am in total heaven. We are able to catch up with our new friends from Dandies Vegan Marshmallows who won their division and were 5th overall. Awesome job guys!! I guess that me waking them up early didn't hurt one bit.

We are especially thrilled to win this race because it means Alpine Shop's ticket is punched to USARA Nationals in October. This is always a goal for the team and it's great to have accomplished it early in the season. Thanks again to the folks at Alpine Shop for their awesome sponsorship of the team - we couldn't do it without you! Thanks to Brian and his DINO staff for a fun and challenging race with plenty of variety - I've never scootered in an adventure race before and I'm sure the entire town of Brownstown is also thanking you for the spectacle. And thanks to Jeff and David for being the special teammates that they always are - helping me out with calories, towing, and entertainment all day long. Pin It

14 May 2013

Race Report: 2013 Cedar Cross

It was the Friday night before the Cedar Cross, a 112-mile mixed-surfaces ride through mid-Missouri. I was thinking it would take me about 10 hours. And the strange thing was...riding my bike for that long seemed just about normal. With all of my training for Dirty Kanza this year, a 10-hour day in the saddle seemed about par for the course. I knew what I would be wearing. I knew what would be in my bottles. I knew what would be in my pockets. Packing everything took no time at all, because I'd done it several times already this year. And that made me feel good. Bring it on, Bob Jenkins.

LEG 1: 0-47 MILES
Leg #1: From the start to the Drop Bags at mile 47.
I meet up with my Alpine Shop teammates Jeff and David at our second-favorite commuter lot in St. Louis at 0500 for the drive over to Jefferson City. For some reason the drive takes a little longer than expected so we roll into the designated parking lot about 0715 for the 0800 start. After socializing a tad bit too long while signing in, we're all a little frantic in our final prep. I for sure don't want to miss the National Anthem, so I grab my gloves and finish getting ready while Kayne Kirchner shreds. What an awesome (and very Bob-ish) way to start a race. David and Jeff still aren't here yet, so even though the race is starting, I soft-pedal at the back of the pack waiting for them to catch up. They do, and I hop on their wheel for a 20mph draft. They pull me to the first tiny little climb, and then I back off that effort because it's waayyyy to high for a 10-hour day.
The start! I'm in the back in the red jacket. Photo: Christina L
I spin up the first big climb at my own pace, happy that it's not raining and the temperature's reasonable. Since I have a sorta important adventure race next weekend, my strategy today is to just ride steady and stay comfortable all day. I'm hoping that will keep me competitive among the women that are here, but for now I have no idea of my position in the field due to our crazy start.
Riding in the field! Photo: Michael Raine Kauk
Cedar Cross is known for being a mixed-surface ride. This means we're primarily going to be on gravel, but there is some pavement, and...SINGLETRACK! And some riding through a field. The first section of singletrack/fields happens about mile 15 and I am so excited for it. I am pretty confident the Skirmishturkey will gobble it up (haha), but I can't wait to experience it for real. And my expectations are fully met: the Warbird handles great in the greasy slimy field, and even better on the muddy rocky singletrack that follows. This bike can really do it all. I'm totally grinning as I bomb down the technical singletrack in conditions that would be challenging even on a mountain bike. The Warbird, paired with 700x40mm Ritchey Speedmax Cross tires, lives up to its marketing as a mud-shedding freak.

So I pop out of the first section of singletrack in an awesome state of mind. Next we have a bunch of gravel miles to crush, and I do that mostly solo. Sure, there are some riders ahead and behind me, but I'm not riding "with" anyone. And it's kinda nice. My feet are really cold but otherwise I'm feeling great and just happy to be on my bike.
My drivetrain after Rutherford Bridge.
The next singletrack section (#2) is even more fun than the previous one. Less rocks, more flow, and more creek crossings keep me and the 'bird on our toes. I pass my buddies Aaron and Jim here. I'm actually looking forward to the Jeff Yielding Staircase of Pain because it will give my feet some circulation and hopefully they will warm up. It does help a little but they're still pretty frigid. They stay that way even through singletrack section #3, otherwise known as "the Rutherford Bridge climb", otherwise known as "this part WILL suck". There are some volunteers to meet us just before the bridge and I say hi to Team Virtus friend Christina as she hands me a bottle of water and a donut!!! Amazing!!! Rutherford Bridge is really cool, and the climb afterwards does kinda suck because all of the mud makes parts unrideable. But the Warbird is easy to push too, so pretty soon I'm at the top and cruising along. A few miles later, I link up with another rider, Rob, on a singlespeed rigid Niner for the last few miles before the drop bag checkpoint at mile 47. We chat a little and just generally pass the time as the miles progress. Just a short distance out from the checkpoint, we meet up with my friend Dave from the CAC! We are actually on the same road we used at the CAC so it's very familiar territory.

As we roll into the checkpoint, I am greeted with the news that I'm first female! Actually other people had told me that earlier today but I never really believed them until the news was corroborated several times over. I dig my drop bag out of the truck and get to work refilling bottles and pockets. I have more food than I plan on needing but I take it all with me anyways. Team Fohty is there with the beer bus so I also have some beer to try and help my feet warm up. It definitely helps. I rally some of the guys that are hanging around the checkpoint and we roll out as a group of 4.

LEG 2: 47-87 MILES
Leg #2: From the Drop Bags at mile 47 to the Katy at mile 87.
Very quickly after we leave the drop bags, our group of 4 becomes a group of 3 as one guy zooms away, leaving me, Rob (SS rigid Niner guy) and Keaton (SS Schwinn guy). We ride along in a loose pack, usually with me at the back but I catch up the the guys when they have to stop to check the cue sheet. I have mine conveniently mounted on my bars (practicing for DK).
Want to crack 100mph with your own legs? This Donhou was created for that exact purpose
100 mph bike!
Now, I need to tell you about Keaton's Schwinn. It's pretty ridiculous, but Keaton turned out to be a strong, eternally optimistic riding buddy whom I very much appreciated  in the final miles of the ride. But his bike. Ohhhh his bike. It's an old Schwinn, vintage, if you will. It's also a singlespeed, and his gearing is something crazy like 48x22. Dear readers, that is HUGE for a 10-hour gravel ride. Most guys out there are riding something like 36x17, 36x15, or in one strong dude's case, 40x18. So for Keaton to be geared at 48xanything is basically like riding the 100mph track bike with the 108-tooth crank seen above. And then there are his pedals - they are platforms. He's wearing worn-out skateboarding shoes. And Banana Republic khakis. He looks so anti-bike racer that Rob mistook him for a casual bike commuter for the first 47 miles, and only after we rolled out of the Drop Bag stop together did he realize that Keaton was actually doing the Cedar Cross. It's always humbling to be riding with (or being passed by) people on non-traditional bike setups, much like the guy on the Walmart hybrid that crushed 1.5 loops of Tour of Hermann faster than me. It reminds me that equipment isn't the biggest part of the speed puzzle..your own fitness and mental attitude are. Bikes are cool, but brains and blood are better. Basically.

So I spend the next several miles chatting with Rob and Keaton about everything and nothing, all while making steady progress along the course. Around mile 63, we are just rolling through the countryside when we see a tent set up in someone's front yard. There are 2 guys standing there, and a bike, and a Red Wheel Bike Shop banner strung up on the tent. Obviously that means they must be friends of the Cedar Cross, so we stop to check things out. Turns out, one of the guys there is Nick who owns Red Wheel. The other guy is his dad! And Nick's dad is grilling hot dogs...for Cedar Cross riders! How awesome! We all stop for a snack and chat. Nick's dad also has a hose in his front yard which I use to clean the worst of the mud off of the Warbird's drivetrain. We hang out for a little bit, getting updates on the front pack (who passed through 2 hours ago without stopping for hot dogs), and generally taking a break. But pretty soon I get a little antsy so then the 4 of us (me, Rob, Keaton, and Nick) roll out to crush the remaining 50ish miles.

The nuclear reactor with awesome clouds. Photo: Michael Raine Kauk
Not 2 miles after leaving Nick's dad's house, we hear a bad noise from Rob's bike. He suddenly loses momentum and we learn his chain has broken. Too much power, Rob!! He has a couple extra links in his saddle bag, and Nick tells me and Keaton that he will stay with Rob to help him with the repair. I am really grateful for Nick's generosity since I am starting to feel anxious about finishing. We still have a long way to go, and I've spent a lot of time (for me) not making forward progress. So Keaton and I pedal onwards, agreeing to make the stop at Ham's Prairie Gas Station at mile 72 as short as possible - meaning NO HARD SALAMI SANDWICH. We'll be nice and leave some for Luke to enjoy. We are pretty efficient about the stop and continue on our way to the nuclear reactor about mile 80. From there it's a totally badass downhill and then we are on the Katy!

The last 30ish miles. All flat. 
ATTENTION future Cedar Cross riders: this part of the course is extremely challenging. You've just crushed almost 90 miles of gravel, pavement, and singletrack. You've ripped down a huge hill, and are now looking forward to a few easy, flat miles to finish out this ride. WRONG. At this point, you still have ALMOST 30 MILES TO GO. You are barely over 75% done, but your mind wants to think that it's just a short hop, skip, and jump to the finish line. Be warned: it is not any of those things.

Check out the sky. THE SKY. Photo: Michael Raine Kauk
Keaton and I are still riding together and as we start this last section, we comment on this exact fact. We probably have at least 2.5 more hours of riding to go, when it feels like we should be done already. But there's no choice other than to keep making forward progress, so we just ride. We take a few brief stops here and there to fill bottles, and I discover I am completely confused about the cue sheet directions. Never fear though, because I have my Garmin (a 310XT) loaded with the route so I switch over to that screen for this section. It's a lifesaver.

The Garmin directs us off the Katy and onto some flood plain farm roads. These are absolutely stunning. The sun is streaming through gaps in the clouds, there are wildflowers in the fields, the whole area is just rich and vibrant with spring. It's really pleasant, and combined with our easy pace, just a very relaxing way to finish out the ride. 
The final miles. Photo: Michael Raine Kauk
Finally, FINALLY, we can see the Capitol Building on our left, and Highway 54 straight ahead. We have a little bit more confusion with the cue sheet but again the Garmin saves us, reminding me that when Bob Jenkins says "immediate", he really does mean IMMEDIATE LIKE RIGHT NOW DO NOT PEDAL ONE MORE METER. The route ends with a really short, cool section on a muddy service road which takes us under Highway 54 and has me smiling at Bob's determination to get our bikes as dirty as possible. We roll back into the finish line to the cheering of a bunch of folks who already finished!! Oh yeah!!

POST-RACE (10:04 total time)
The Thunderchicken after 112 miles. Love this bike.
I'm really happy with how the Cedar Cross went for me. I kept my effort steady and manageable the whole day, giving me confidence that I will have some legs for next weekend's MISSION 18hr adventure race. I spent some time solo, which I like, and also some time with a buddy, Keaton, who kept a great pace and cheerful conversation. And I also was the first female finisher! I wasn't really chasing that but it's cool that it happened. Bob also found $100 somewhere in his race budget to award as a prize for 1st place female. But my AR teammate Jeff told me that the male winners donated their prize to Team Noah Foundation, so I played copy-cat and did that too. Bettina from Team Noah sent me a pair of socks as a thank-you present. I will wear them proudly! Congrats to all of the Cedar Cross riders out there, that course is NOT EASY!! Also thanks to Bob for terrific organization, including my favorite post-race meal of all time...baked potatoes and beer. Nothing better. See you in 2014!

Me after 112 miles! I was really excited for beer! Photo: Christina L.
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06 May 2013

Race Report: 2013 MNOC AR Tune-Up

I finished up Saturday's Boonecrusher in bad shape. My legs were absolutely fried from a long day of adventure racing. Normally they don't feel quite that bad after a 12hr, but I think racing in my unrecovered-from-OGRE state, it was just a lot to ask of my body. But there was no time to dwell on the past, Sunday was race #2 of my double-header weekend and it would be a serious effort as well.
Me and Biz prepping his bike.
My buddy Andrei came up with the awesome idea for me to race Boonecrusher in Iowa on Saturday, then race the MNOC AR Tune-Up in Minnesota on Sunday. I thought he was crazy but in a good way; it never hurts to improve your race-time-to-drive-time ratio! There was some teammate shuffling a few weeks before the race and I landed on a team with the original WEDALIan, Mr. Biz himself. This was going to be awesomely painful. And I do mean awesome, our team name was Awesome-O-Possum.
Biz playing possum?
I slept pretty well on Saturday night but Sunday morning was another story - legs were already in the hurt locker and all I did was walk down a flight of stairs! But pre-race routines soon took over and, after a few poop stories shared loudly in the hotel breakfast room with Biz, Tom, and Kelly, we knew the day would be fun if nothing else. We dropped bikes at Lake Byllesby where the lovely Mo would guard them fiercely until our return. We were barely on-time to the pre-race meeting at Camp Phillipo, but managed to get our crap together in time to hear race director Mike's final instructions. As I was looking around at all of the other racers, it dawned on me that I was in shorts and everyone else was in pants. Hmmmm, I frantically ran back to my car and put on some tall socks, hoping to keep the inevitable briars from drawing too much blood. Mike distributes maps and gives us all 15 minutes to route plan and strategize. Every CP must be taken in order until the final trek which will be a score-o.

TREK 1 (1mi, 0:09:41)
Mike sends us off and we have a few short-n-sweet CPs to punch before leaving Camp Phillipo. We dash around like a sprint orienteering race and are in close with Tom/Kelly and Andrei/Sveta. There's nothing much to this section besides pack separation and me being really slow operating the manual punches, I'm sure we lost a few seconds at each CP! A couple things to note here: the night before we decided that Biz would take a pack with enough water for both of us, and I would race packless. We chose this to lighten the load on my sore legs (not that Biz's hurt any less, he raced (and won!) Boonecrusher yesterday also, he is just an amazing teammate). Biz was also carrying his bike map board on this trek (you can see in picture above) for the simple reason that we forgot to put it on at the bike drop earlier that morning. So he carried it for this first part of the race. We were also both wearing PFDs because the next leg would be the paddle!

PADDLE 1 (2.5mi, 0:20:55)
Starting the paddle.
We arrive at the put-in in 3rd place but there's only a 10-second gap or so to the leaders, Tom and Kelly, aka The Powersnoobs. We both grab the race paddles ("SHORT!") and jump in a boat. The paddle leg was shortened for safety reasons (water temp is very very cold and a capsize would be very dangerous) so we just take a direct line across Lake Byllesby to the bike drop. We work on high cadence, good technique, and Biz keeps us on a terrific line, briefly gaining the lead before being passed at the last minute by the extremely talented paddlers of The Beautiful People.

TREK 2 (2mi, 0:20:46)
Once we have the boat out of the water, we take a few extra seconds to attach Biz's map board to his bike and I get the maps sorted. This trek is on an aerial map, something that is always a bit dicey for navigators. The first CP goes well but we are stumped, along with a few other teams, about the next one. The veg boundaries and trails don't seem to match the map. We spend at least a minute tromping through the sparse fir trees and finally find the flag. Then it's back to our sprint orienteering pace as we try to make up that time for the remaining 3 or 4 CPs. Highlights include a swamp crossing and then me tripping over my feet as we run through a field. Smart!! We make it back to the TA just barely behind The Powersnoobs and get ready to bike!

BIKE 1 (7.5mi, 0:36:28)
It's here that we get to unveil/test our secret race strategy...platform pedals. With the race being so short and with so many transitions, Biz suggested that we use platform pedals to cut down on transition time (and less weight without having to carry bike shoes). I actually remembered to bring pedals this time so we only have to put helmets on and we're GONE. We are chasing The Powersnoobs and are being chased by the rest of the field. We link up with the 'snoobs and then ride the rest of this leg together. There is even time for friendly chat and it's hard to remember that we are supposed to be competing! Biz and I get a short gap on the downhill into Miesville Ravine County Park and are able to punch into the TA first.

TREK 3 (5mi, 1:04:00)
We perform another super-speedy TA courtesy of our platform pedals and run along a doubletrack trail towards the first CP. We know The Powersnoobs' foot speed is superior to ours so we try to push the pace on this flat trail as much as possible. We punch the first CP in front, but only by a few meters. Tom and Kelly catch us on the next climb and we travel together for the next few CPs. The vegetation is THICK and even my tall socks can't stop the raspberries and briars from cutting up my legs. Biz and I turn into bloody messes trying to move quickly through the woods. We trade places here and there with Tom and Kelly, and we are still together at about the half-way point of this trek when we cross the creek that runs through the middle of the park. From there, we all pick our way up a very rocky/bouldery reentrant, but Biz takes a slightly higher route and I follow, where Tom and Kelly stay down low. In an instant, we have lost visual contact, and Biz starts to push the pace up the remainder of the climb. I'm frantically trying to keep up, all the while fighting with the thorns and sharp pokey plants that are growing everywhere. We reach the top of the spur and Biz gives me a quick pep talk, basically saying that this separation could be the crux of the whole race and we NEED TO GO. NOW.

So we take off across the field and it's an all-out effort. Despite carrying the team pack and having raced the same race yesterday, Biz is still fastest so he pushes me while we run across the field. It's a huge help and we are quickly in and out of the next CP. As we leave, again sprinting across the field, we glance over our shoulders and spot The Powersnoobs behind us. Our gap is maybe 30 seconds, and they've probably spotted us and will turn on their very powerful jets any second. TENSE!! I dig deep for another sprint across the field, and Biz pushes me again to keep team speed as high as possible. It's very painful but also exhilarating. We have a mercifully downhill trail back to the TA where we speed pee (me: 8 seconds!) before getting back on the bikes. There is no sign of the 'snoobs as we race out of TA.

BIKE 2 (16mi, 1:17:30)
Biz finishing up the last biking section (I'm directly behind him)
The last biking leg takes us the long way back to Camp Phillipo, and we are fighting a fierce headwind almost the whole way. Or I should say Biz is fighting a fierce headwind and I am hiding in his draft to keep up. I am on tow too. We focus on finishing our bottles and just doing work. The gravel is not easy but we are getting it done. At the top of every hill we check over our shoulders - no sign of Tom and Kelly. After several of these backward glances, we realize that our gap created in the fields has stuck and now we need to shift more attention to eliminating all errors. Standing to pedal the bike is almost impossible for me at this point - my legs can't create a smooth pedal stroke so I am resigned to sitting for the remainder of the ride. As Biz punches the last CP he instructs me to eat something and I shove down the last 200 calories I have with me - a Honey Stinger bar. We are now in the home stretch and it's a good feeling to finally see the entrance to Camp Phillipo!

TREK 4 (3.5mi, 0:51:46)
Biz and I preparing to embark on Trek 4.
We roll into the TA in the lead and it's time for one final push for the last trekking section. As we are transitioning, I hear a few cheers of "Go Emily!" and I look around - it's my parents! They drove down from Duluth to spectate (as well as anyone can spectate an AR) and are snapping photos as we transition. It's really cool to see them, if only for a few seconds, and then we're back in race mode and running off into the woods. The map for this trek is really tricky; it's just a black-and-white copy of the camp map with contour lines, but Mike the race director told everyone that the trails marked are unreliable so we just have to use the topo information. Biz does a great job adjusting to it and the first part of the trek goes really well. My legs are on their last lives but I just focus on quick cadence to keep me moving through the woods. My main priority is to keep turnover high, which naturally lends itself to more agile movements through the brush, downed branches, and rocks. And thorns. There are still plenty of them waiting to draw blood.

The highlight of the trek was descending a spur down to the lake level, and being greeted by a small inlet. We could have run around it, sure, but I'm up for a swim and so is Biz. We find a narrower place to cross and we are able to wade the whole way - the water is only about my belly button level, and it's COLD. Deliciously cold. As we emerge on the other side, my legs feel amazing and I liken the sensation to external Coke. Wheeeeee! We only have a few more CPs at this point, and we still haven't seen any other teams, so I think we're golden. Biz keeps the nav so fresh and so clean clean and soon we have the finish line in our sights.

POST-RACE (4:41:06 final time)
Post-race, legs up!
As we approach the finish banner, we see Tom and Kelly already there. They look relaxed and not at all in race mode. Because we started the last trek before them, and didn't see them in the woods at all, Biz and I are simultaneously confused and humbled that the pulled out such a stellar final trek. I punch the last e-punch to stop our time and then jog over to Kelly to congratulate her and ask how they did it. As it turns out, they are looking so relaxed because they decided to take the final biking leg easy and then not do the final trek. Boonecrusher was weighing heavy on Crusher's legs and she's got some major goals planned for the future. So Awesome-O-Possum is indeed in first place!
My parents have been patiently waiting for us to finish and as we collapse in the shade, my mom unwraps some bars to share, and they are delicious. Thanks Mom! I think they're slightly horrified at the scratches on my legs, but I'm actually pretty proud. I've seen countless orienteers and adventure racers come out of the woods with legs completely bloodied, and (masochistically) I've always wondered what that actually feels like. And now I know. It hurts.

We spend a few more hours just unwinding at the finish line. Someone's got a grill fired up and it's great to see teams who are still racing and teams who are finishing. Minnesota's got a really wonderful AR scene and it's fun to participate in it. Everyone is in really great spirits and appreciative of Mike and Julia's hard work at putting on a really good event. Even though I've already finished a few adventure races this year, I do indeed feel more tuned up than I was before this race! Also, racing with Biz is such an adventure in itself. I feel like I learn so much every time, mostly about the depths to which good teammates will go to help each other. Biz, thanks for being an awesome-o-possum teammate!

Post lunch selfies! My mom took this one. She is way more tech proficient than I am.
And thanks to my parents for making the trip south to hang out with me! After the race, we had lunch in nearby Northfield before we both hit the highway in opposite directions. I know adventure racing is a complex sport, and really hard to spectate, but my parents have always been so supportive, and I am really thankful for that. Love you Mom and Dad!
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03 May 2013

Race Report: 2013 Boonecrusher 12hr AR

Way back in January, I had a panic attack. As I was looking at my 2013 race calendar, there were no adventure races popping up. As I've come to realize that adventure racing is just about my favorite sport in the entire world, this worried me. However, you need a team to compete in adventure races and I didn't have one. So I sent an email to a bunch of people I've raced with before, asking if they would be needing a girl for any of their races in the future.

Dave answered. He was looking at racing the Boonecrusher 12hr in Iowa with his Gnome Hunters teammates. I responded with a gleeful "Yes!" and was happy to have at least one race on my calendar. Then, Carrie from Alpine Shop got hurt, and all of a sudden I had several more races on the schedule. But I didn't mind, I love adventure racing! Here's the story of my 12 hours as a Gnome Hunter.

I drive up to Boone, IA on Friday afternoon and, after a couple of delays, finally meet my teammates for pre-race pizza at Belluci Pizza House in Boone. Despite my late arrival, the boys were able to pick up maps for tomorrow and get this...they are already DONE plotting and route-planning! So efficient! They give me the scoop on how the race will unfold and we start strategizing about water and paddles. The pizza at Belluci's is really, really good and it's a great omen for the race tomorrow.
The Boonecrusher II: Go for broke or be broken!
We return to the hotel and I start messing with my tires - there is only minimal singletrack tomorrow and I think that I can get by with cx tires (700x35) on my mtb wheels. So I mount the front one up and have a hard time getting it to seat on my Stan's Crest rims. The more I look at it, the more it looks just too skinny, even for gravel, so I switch back to my regular AR mtb tires, after patching several sidewall cuts and discovering the tube I had in there originally won't re-inflate. Hrmph. I use up my spare mtb tube but I only brought 1 (my bad for being unprepared) so tomorrow I'll have a 700c tube as my spare. Not ideal, but hopefully we'll manage. Then we get our gear sorted and I get a Gnome Hunters nickname..."Gear Snuggler"...love it! Every piece of gear needs a good snuggle now and then. Bedtime is 11p which is super early for an AR. Things are looking good! Race morning is way easy with coffee in the hotel and my normal pre-race breaky ready to go. We drive over to Seven Oaks Recreation Center and get everything sorted for the start. The race organizers, 41 North, have got a fantastic number of teams for both their 8hr and 12hr races and Seven Oaks is abuzz with activity.

TREK 1 (13.5k, 1:11)
Point A is the start. Point B is the first CP. 3.6 miles in between. Ouch.
We take off just after 0600 on a 7 mile out-n-back road run. Not the most inspiring of starts to an adventure race, but you've got to break up the field somehow, and running on pavement will do just that. Predictably, our buddies from WEDALI (Biz, Erl, Tom, Kelly) take off in front and then there are a few teams back to us. It's always interesting racing with new teammates, but we seem to all have the same idea about what a reasonable effort is for this first section. This is a great sign. As we approach the turnaround, however, my legs start talking to me. Despite a ridiculously easy week of training/recovery after the OGRE, they just don't have the same snap I'm used to while adventure racing, and I start to get worried about being able to contribute to my team for the entire race. Uh oh. Best I can do for now is keep eating and race on.
A good mantra for just about any endurance event.
We complete the out-and-back and quickly collect 2 more CPs near Seven Oaks before returning to the TA. Before we transition to bikes, we stop at Dave's truck where we've staged full hydration bladders. We knew we wouldn't need much water early in the race and running a road 10k with an extra 6.6 pounds of water weight didn't sound very appealing either. So we carried empty bladders/bottles to satisfy the mandatory gear requirements and are now switching to our full ones for the rest of the race. I think Pete came up with this idea last night and it just shows how experienced the Gnome Hunters are - they are looking for every small advantage to make the race easier and faster for the team.
We are transitioning in the background - look for Pete and Dave's orange packs.
BIKE 1A (7mi)

We hop on the bikes and get rolling onto the singletrack at Seven Oaks. Right away we're faced with a switchbacky climb up and over a very steep ridge, and then another switchbacky descent down its backside. These trails aren't especially rooty/rocky like we have in MO, but they are tight, twisty, and filled with tiny kicker climbs that force you out of the saddle. There is some residual dew/moisture on the dirt so it's almost impossible to get good rear wheel traction while trying to clear these. As a team, we struggle here. It's always hard to ride singletrack with new teammates, and we have a variety of different bikes and comfort levels to adjust to. That, plus the CP numbers aren't exactly making sense so we are a little hesitant in the middle of this section. We catch WEDALI as they are changing a flat, but they soon ride away from us, and we are in the mix with several other 12hr and 8hr teams. Near the end of the trail, Brian endos pretty hard and we all ratchet back the pace to help him recover. We finally pop out of the woods where the trail is covered by erosion/backfill and are a little unsure of where to go next. I look back to see if there are teams on our tails and just happen to spot the last CP flag hanging at the trail exit. That was close! We get the passport punched and then get to ride down the grassy ski hill, thoroughly enjoying the free speed.
I really love it when race photographers catch me walking.
BIKE 1B (10mi, 2:27 total Bike 1A+1B)
I'm not exactly sure of the route, but this is close.
Now it's time to hit the roads for a mixture of pavement and gravel on the way to the next trek. I shove down a ABJ sammy and we organize into a towing paceline to keep team speed high. We have one CP on this leg which requires a tiny bit of trekking. We see WEDALI ahead of us changing another flat, which is a big bummer. We encourage/heckle them a little bit before dashing into the woods for the CP. We find the string but not the flag/punch, so it's clear it must have been stolen. Bummer! We make note of the CP number and hustle back to our bikes. Not 200 meters after starting to ride again, I'm next to Dave when I hear a small explosion. It's the sort of sound you never want to hear when riding a bike, and he immediately stops to check out what the heck just happened. It's not good - his rear derailleur has completely sheared off and is in pieces on the gravel road. Oh boy. I've heard about this happening in races but never actually experienced it. But, from those stories, I know that the only thing we can do is turn Dave's bike into a singlespeed. So, we get to work: break chain, remove RD, check chainring/cog alignment for proper gear selection, measure chain, shorten chain, re-connect chain. If we've done everything right, Dave will now have a functional singlespeed that won't skip gears. We pedal. It seems to work. I am really proud of the team here - this is a major mechanical setback but we just solved it without fuss or drama. And, as it turns out, the gear ratio we were forced into isn't all that bad for riding gravel. In fact, Dave's such a strong cyclist that he continues doing work at the front of our paceline. Stud. We are now well back from the lead in 4th place but as we pull into the next TA, we are ready to get back to racing.

TREK 2 (10k, 2:48)
Obviously the route inside Ledges is way off - I don't really remember where we went.
The yellow sections are where the guys carried my pack.
We tell our tale of woe to the TA staff (hi Emma!) and get set to trek. The first few k's are sandwiched between the Des Moines river and some steep earthen bluffs. The going is wet and sloppy and the mud even sucks my shoe off at one point. But we soldier through and eventually pop out onto a park road in Ledges State Park. We have another 2k or so of road running to the next CP and as we pick up the pace, my legs just refuse. I have no idea what's happened to them but it's not good. The guys notice my slow speed and ask how I'm doing. I admit that I'm hurting and Dave insists on taking my pack. I start to rationalize how I'll be okay, I'll fight through, but he lays down the law, "GIVE IT." That is the right thing to say and I sheepishly hand over the offending pack. And...I feel better. Not great, but able to at least jog on this easy road section and we can keep the team moving. We collect the outermost CP and as we head into the woods I feel refreshed enough to take my pack back. As we move through the woods, I seem to have legs enough for the slower speeds of bushwhacking, but any open running spots I'm clearly lagging. This is very frustrating for me - I wanted to be a contributor to this team and not someone that needed babysitting. But the guys are very understanding and we keep moving. Pete's doing a phenomenal job with the nav, making ZERO mistakes, and Dave and Brian are sharing the load of the passport. We make excellent progress through the woods and I'm determined to enjoy the day, at whatever pace my legs allow. We collect all of the CPs on this section and are then faced with another 2k road run back to the TA. Brian takes my pack this time and carries it kangaroo style as we make our way down the dusty gravel road. Pete decides it's time to share the Legend of the Gnome Hunters and it's a really, really good story - but you'll have to race with Gnome Hunters to hear it!

PADDLE 1 (9mi, 1:43)
Approximately 9 miles of paddling downriver (south).
Thanks to our excellent navigation and teamwork over the trek, we are now very close to 3rd place (Wild Hares) as we start the paddle. It takes a few minutes to organize our bikes in the boats, but we are soon shoving off and heading downriver. We opted to use the race-provided single-blade paddles here, which are not as fast as the kayak paddles that Wild Hares are using. But I try to use a higher cadence to move the boat along and it seems to go fine. We have some sections where there is a strong headwind but overall  the riverbanks do a good job of shielding us from the worst of it. Towards the end of the paddle, I get into a really low spot. I've eaten all my accessible food (there are still about 300 calories on my bike but they're tough to get to). The constant sun exposure has started to wear on me and I'm feeling a bit bonky. Fortunately, the take-out bridge comes into sight and once I have a visible goal, I can more effectively push myself to the take-out.
Gnome Hunters setting out on the paddle...me, Dave, Brian, Pete.
TREK 3 (5k, 0:55)

As we are in the process of unloading the boats and preparing for this trek, the race staff informs us of something we don't usually think about: a cutoff. Racing with a team this experienced and fit, you'd think we wouldn't be in danger of missing cutoffs in a 12hr race. But, here we are, with only 75 minutes to complete a 5k trek. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, but I'm not operating at 100% speediness, plus the day is getting rather warm. Thankfully, it doesn't look like the nav is too terribly difficult. As we're running out of TA, we see WEDALI returning from the same trek we're starting. They are having trouble changing another flat and we offer them one of our tubes. They tell us that the trek took about an hour so we know we have to hustle to make it back in time.

It's one of those "shut up legs" moments as we try to run as much as possible. I'm positive the guys took my pack for stretches here too but I can't remember where exactly. The bridge we're trekking over is extremely cool - you should go check it out sometime - but at the moment the concrete path is absolute torture to my knees and hips. Due to our elevated vantage point, we're able to see the 2nd place (NSPIRE) and 3rd place (Wild Hares) teams as they return to the TA. I feel like we're in Primal Quest, filming from a helicopter or something. It's really, really cool. Pete continues to rock the maps and we have no troubles punching each CP. Then it's back to the TA a comfortable 21 minutes before the cutoff. Sweet. This gives the team a big morale boost as we hop on bikes to knock out the last three sections of the race.

BIKE 2 (12.5mi, 1:08)

We now have a mostly northbound bike with a few CPs on the way to a 4H camp. Dave continues to rock his singlespeed and I am feeling good enough to take the passport for a few CPs. We focus on keeping a steady pace and are gradually gaining on Wild Hares as we progress through the Iowa countryside. We are all running low on food so we share whatever we've got left to get us to the end of the race.

TREK 4 BIKE 2B (2mi)
We roll into the 4H camp ready to transition to a short trek, but the race staff informs us that this last trek has been changed to a bike, in order to speed teams up. Evidently everyone is taking longer than the race organizers thought. It's not just us! This news is really, really good for me. It means I'm (mostly) done trekking, where I've been the weakest, and can focus on biking where I'm feeling a bit stronger. Plus, I just love riding the SegSlayer. So after filling water bottles, we launch off to collect 3 CPs on the bike. The first one is very auspicious - we spot Wild Hares' bikes, but their team is trekking in the wrong direction. We quickly punch and leave the area, gleeful that we've just moved into 3rd place. On the next CP, we join up with Rib Mountain Racing, which is a conglomerate of the Blind Squirrels (friends from 2012 CPT Nats) and folks from the team formerly known as Green Paw. We work together to locate the CP, deep in a reentrant filled with downfall and boulders. Then we start the attack on the last CP at the camp before we can head for home.....when.....we have a flat. Dave's rear tire is the offending party and it requires a speedy change. However, we only have one 29" tube (mine) because we gave the other one away. And, to make matters worse, mine is a road tube since I had to use my 29" spare last night when I was switching wheels. So first we try to patch Dave's original tube; no dice. Then we try to use the road tube; something is wrong with the valve and it won't hold air. Then I think we tried a re-patched original tube, or maybe we didn't, I can't remember. But eventually we had to use Pete's 26" tube, carefully stretched around Dave's 29" wheel and inflated to rideable-but-still-very-squishy PSI. We spend a lot of time dealing with this debacle and have to ditch the final 2 CPs (one on this "trek" and one more on the impending bike to Seven Oaks). Finally we get ourselves back on the road with under an hour to cover 12 miles. Oooooooweeeee, it's gonna be close.

BIKE 3 (12.5mi, 1:42 total Bike 2B+3)
Now again, I know what you're thinking...12 mph is NOT THAT HARD. Seriously, why were we so worried? Well, in an adventure race, things are just slower than a typical training ride or run. Plus, we've got one teammate riding a bike that's macgyvered to within an inch of its useful life. One more mechanical mishap and we're doomed. So we all get on tow, pulling Dave who is standing to help relieve pressure on his rear wheel. Pete counts off miles. Brian counts off time. The estimates waver as we get passed by a few other teams. First we're good, then we need to pick up the pace, then we need to PICK UP THE PACE. Finally, finally, the driveway to Seven Oaks appears and we have 4 minutes to go. Can we make it? We all bomb down the hill and Dave shows exceptional bravery in letting his bike fly down the incline. I would be a nervous wreck with that tire! But we all make it and then hustle to the finish line. There is a crowd of people and we rush over to the race staff with our passport...did we make it??

The suspense!!
YES! We finish at 5:59pm officially, one minute before the dreaded final cutoff. We get to keep all of our 27 (out of 29) CPs and will be listed as official finishers. We all collapse into a pile on the lawn, exhausted from the final bike effort to make it here on time.

POST-RACE (11:59 total race time)
The post-race vibe at the Boonecrusher is awesome. There are tons of racers hanging out, sharing stories from the long day. The staff presents EACH racer with their OWN pizza, AND cookies, AND chex mix, AND beer or pop or water. These people really know how to welcome their racers home. The weather is pretty great too, and it feels wonderful to stretch out on the grassy lawn, stuff my face with pizza, and hear about how other teams' day went. The story of Dave's rear derailleur has already been making the rounds. It's great to catch up with our buddies from WEDALI who pulled off the overall win. Our final placement is 4th in the 4-person coed division and 4th overall, which puts us out of the running for any prizes. But somehow Erl scores an extra Boonecrusher visor which he gives to me. Thanks!
Pile o' Gnomes!
41 North did an excellent job with the race, especially for only their second year. All of the CPs were located exactly where the maps indicated, and the race used really interesting terrain (well, besides the opening road run). This part of Iowa is so beautiful and full of cool scenery and great woods. Seven Oaks is the perfect place to HQ a race - plenty of indoor space to keep racers comfy in bad weather (which we had none), lots of parking, good singletrack, and also there are SHOWERS!!! The field of teams in the 12hr race was also highly competitive and a great early season test. Kudos to 41 North for a challenging and well-run event!

Finally, thank you to Dave and Pete and Brian for being superb teammates. I was frustrated I couldn't be more of an asset to the team, but they absorbed all of my weakness and kept everyone happy and moving forward. There is a certain language that experienced adventure racers speak, and I could tell they were extremely fluent right away at Friday night dinner. I am proud to say I have Hunted the Gnome alongside some awesome dudes! Pin It