On the drive up to Dixon, IL, I remarked to David (in between his naps) that it seemed like a bunch of musicians were getting together at a little dive bar for a good ol' jam session. We love competing against each other, but we also love just hanging out with these awesome adventure racing people. And sure enough, right when we pulled in to Race HQ at Camp Reynoldswood, we saw Biz, Andrei, and Amy of WEDALI strolling through the parking lot. Let the chatting begin! I raced with Biz and Andrei a few times last year and these guys are just awesome. It was great to see them and re-meet Amy, a new addition to the team whom I'd only briefly met at the GearJunkie Christmas party. We're gabbing away and up drives the Bushwhacker car, stuffed to the gills with Rachel, Fredrik, Scott, and gear! Let's jam!
|Me and David prepping race maps. Photo by John Morris.
We assemble back up at the dining hall for the race start. As we're preparing to sing the national anthem, I have a sudden panic that I forgot the cluesheet. I frantically check my pack, nothing. Now, a cluesheet isn't mandatory gear, but it can be extremely helpful during the race if we think we've misplotted something. So I sprint back to the car, racking my brain to remember where I might have stashed it. I rip through my stuff and breathe a huge sigh of relief when I find the cluesheet still in my map box. Whew! Then I sprint back to the dining hall to find the herd of racers divided into two groups. Dawn, the RD, tells me to stand on the sidewalk so that's what I do. While I was gone, evidently the RDs asked each team's "fastest runner" to step forward to supposedly participate in a prologue activity. However, now they're turning the tables and picking the prologue participants from the "non-fastest runner" pool! Ha!! Actually I don't mind being picked because yes, David is faster than me, but if there's no nav involved I'm not that much slower. So our team sits in a good position with either of us running. Us runners are given instructions to "cross the parking lot to G. Scott's blinky light, turn right, follow the doubletrack making only left turns, collect your helmets, and then return the same way you came." Seems simple enough. I repeat the instructions to myself as we count down...
PROLOGUE (2mi, no CPs)
|Dawn lining us slow runners up for the start. I'm at the far left. Photo by John Morris.
TREK 1 (3.5k redline, CPs 1-4)
|Trek 1. CPs 1-4 in order.
BIKE 1 (24? mi, CPs 5-14)
|Starting Bike 1. Photo by John Morris.
|Started biking at CP4 (Start/Finish). Then rode 5-9.
|How did WEDALI take a different route and catch us between CP11 and CP12?
|See the gnarly downhill after CP13? That's where I almost met my demise.
PADDLE 1 (9mi, CPs 15-19)
|I have no idea where our official race map is so here is a google maps approximation.
On the previous biking leg, David asked me how I felt about nav-ing the paddle leg. It's a strategic move since it's less disruptive for the front person to stop paddling (to check the map) than it is for the back person. We've actually tried this strategy before at the Bonk Hard Chill, but that was in daytime. However, I've been feeling confident in my nav recently, and I know we need every advantage possible to pull out a win tonight. So I agreed and now I have the map in my hands. It takes a few minutes to figure out the best lighting strategy - the supermoon is bright but it's intermittently hidden behind clouds. But when I switch on my Stella 300, hoards of bugs attack me, and it's difficult to see the far-off treelines. So David suggests I use an extra glowstick to read the basic features of the map, and then as we get closer to the CP I use the Stella to read the fine details.
And getting closer to the first CP is a huge challenge. We're paddling upstream against a very strong current. Fortunately, we've been practicing our upstream paddling in preparation for the Hardwater 50k, but it's still a monumental task just to make 100m of progress. We just keep putting one paddle blade in front of the other and as we get closer to the mid-river islands I narrate our route so we pick the correct channel. We finally make it to the east end of our island, and David drops me off to go get CP15. However, in my excitement of nav-ing, I've attacked the island too early (on the northeast shore instead of the mid-east shore) so I have to do a lot of extra thrashing to find the flag. Meanwhile, David scans the shoreline. After what seems like hours, my headlamp finally pings the reflective tape on the flag and I wade through waist-high stinging nettle for the punch. As I emerge back out to the shoreline, I see WEDALI approaching. David picks me up and I try to make loud conversation that I didn't find the flag, but I'm sure we're not fooling anyone since we leave the area as quickly as possible.
|The supermoon over Race HQ. Photo by John Morris.
Once we hit the main channel, it's smooth paddling to CP16. The supermoon is out in full force so we can turn our lights back off. That's good news too, because whenever they're on it looks like we're in a blizzard with all of the bugs. Despite my best efforts, I eat several. Not yum. I also cram down about 800 calories of snacks since I started to get really bonky on the upstream paddle. We pass Bushwhacker and Rev3 here and warn them of the gnarly creek. CP16 is smooth. Then I have trouble adjusting the nav for our fast down-river pace and almost miss CP18. But thankfully the catching feature island emerges from the darkness at the last second and we punch cleanly. Then it's back up to CP19, the same as the put-in, to finish this thing off. We're pretty cold in transition, but somehow we've managed to build a 15-20min lead on WEDALI on the paddle, despite my screw-up at CP15. We're thrilled to get back on the bikes and start warming up.
BIKE 2 (2.5mi, CP20)
This is a super-short leg that we complete in a hurry. We go back up the treacherous gravel downhill from before and I'm amazed at the size of the ruts. Another wave of relief floods through me since I was extremely lucky to get out of those unharmed. As we roll into CP20, it's time for a gut-check. We're in the lead. One trek and one bike to go, then a shorty rappel at the finish. We have a lead, but when it's WEDALI in 2nd place and Bushwhacker in 3rd, that basically means nothing. So we have to crush this trek to have a chance at winning. We transition super fast and run off through the field on the start of the O-course.
|David putting shoes on, I'm marking up the map for Trek 2. Photo by John Morris.
The first two CPs are typical of what's to come...some field running and some heinous 'shwhacking. At night, it's super hard to read vegetation so we are forced to take slow, but direct routes through the thick briars. And when the briars thin out, that means we're in a creek bottom so there's stinging nettle! Brilliant! But having the lead inspires us and we press onward. CP23 is especially difficult because we have a long attack on a bearing through these thick woods - David fears we've strayed too far but when we pop into the field, the control flag is almost directly in front of us. Yes. This is where the talented Mr. Frei shines his brightest (although he's pretty shiny most of the time). And speaking of shiny things, the sun has begun to rise so we're able to turn off our headlamps! On the way to CP25, we discover a network of mowed trails in the lower field sections, and happily they head towards our intended direction. We use them as an out-n-back on CP25 and as were running back, I think I spot WEDALI in the distance. My heart skips. We keep running, and I realize it was only a dark branch hanging low over the field. But the apparition keeps us moving forward and we crash through the woods to CP26.
|The "South Trails" were not on our race map, but they were really useful!
BIKE 3 (20? mi, CPs 31-35)
|This biking leg starts at CP30. We took the eastern route to CP32, WEDALI went west.
|After CP32, we went through Grand Detour and then took CP33 as an out-n-back. WEDALI continued west and hit CP34 as an out-n-back.
ROPES (.5mi, CP36)
|Me starting the rap. G. Scott supervising. Photo by John Morris.
The finish of this race is bittersweet. David and I are certainly proud of our result, of being able to compete with WEDALI and Bushwhacker all day, and of working together as a true team. But we are also disappointed to have had a solid lead going into the later stages of the race and then watched it slip away because of a potentially mis-hung CP (I say potentially because we didn't go back out there with the RD to verify...but when two of the top AR navigators agree it's in the wrong spot, there's a pretty good chance it is). But that's adventure racing, and every single team had to deal with that same situation. It's always an honor to race against our friends on WEDALI, Bushwhacker, and Rev3. Our teams continually beat each other up at these Midwestern races and it only makes us all better. The post-race camaraderie is pretty great; we all share stories while cleaning up gear and eating post-race pizza. There are even showers on site so we don't have to climb into cars with stinging nettle oils all over us, or still smelling like mud!
Plot, Pedal, & Paddle is a pretty small race, but I hope everyone realizes what a cool format it is. First of all, with a 12hr night race on Saturday night, there is no need for pre-race hotel costs. You are racing instead of sleeping! Secondly, you can drive to/from the race on Saturday and Sunday, eliminating any need for time off work on Friday (if you have weekends off by default). Finally, night racing is a really important skill for adventure racers in the 24+ hr races, and this event gives teams a chance to practice that skill without the exposure/risk that a 24hr race carries. I've exchanged a few emails with the RDs and they already have a whole bunch of improvements ready for 2014. So I hope to see you there!