19 March 2014

Race Report: 2014 Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR

The first adventure race of the year is always exciting. For Alpine Shop, we'd already done a few individual races together, plus mash-ups with Bushwhacker and Tecnu, but there is something special about getting the team all on the same start line at the same time. Plus, we now had Doug back from injury, recovered from a separated shoulder suffered before Castlewood 8hr. Needless to say, our spirits were extremely high as we met at our favorite commuter lot, loaded up 5 bikes on the Sona-van (Jeff, David, Doug, me and Carrie who was racing with Momentum/Alpine) and hit the road to Lake of the Ozarks, MO for the Bonk Hard Chill 12hr Adventure Race
Okay, this is from LAST year's Chill, but I just love our team selfie so much, I had to include it this year too.
We stopped at our favorite Mexican place in Sullivan for late lunch. We sang a few verses of The Quark Song. Jeff told us his new favorite knock knock joke. Yes, it is good to be back with the Alpiners. We roll into the host hotel, Tan-Tar-A Resort, and spend some time unpacking/piddling with bikes and gear before going to the pre-race meeting at 8pm. Gary makes things short and sweet, handing out maps almost right away and we head back to our room to plot points and eat pizza. 

Race morning we're up at 0530 and it seems everyone slept just fine. I change into my race kit and, rrrrrrrrrrip! The seam on the inside right leg tears, leaving a big hole in a rather unfortunate place. Oh, this is not good! Visions of extreme chafing run through my head as I explain the problem to the guys, and the fact that I didn't bring spare tri shorts. David doesn't see what the big deal is. Doug offers to fix it with duct tape. Jeff suggests asking other racers for spare shorts, or switching with him. He also tells me that most likely, once we start racing, I won't even notice. So I decide to tape the hole closed, then wear tights for the whole race, and hope that nothing chafes too badly. 
Huddling before the start.
It's colder than we thought outside and we are all struggling to stay warm as we drop off our bikes in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, at a spot that we visited during the 2012 Chill when I raced as a 2P female team with Sunny. WHOA! Then it's over to the Race HQ at Mother Nature's Riverfront Retreat. We have some extra time to get ready, so I play a little soccer with 35 Down, one of our main rivals today, but they're a fun bunch of people that I'm stoked to kick it with. Then it's time to line up for the National Anthem, and then Gary says GO!

Start map, 1:10k.
Before you start reading this race report, here's a little choose-your-own-adventure-race game: Click on the "Start map" above and then decide what you would do in this situation: You're start at the triangle with PFDs and paddles. Your team can split up to collect passport and canoes, locations marked on the map. Then choose to either put in at the close-by river access and paddle to CP1, or portage everything about 900 meters (and over a 130' hill) to CP1. What would you do? Who would do what? Leave your decision in the comments if you want.
Not us, but this is what we looked like coming into CP1.
Here's how Alpine Shop does it (after much obsessing Friday night, seriously we talked about different scenarios for a few hours before deciding on this one): Everyone starts wearing their PFD already, and the paddles already assembled. I run to the passport pick-up and grab the passport, while the boys run to the canoes and tape the paddles inside, and the three of them start carrying the two boats up the road. I run back to meet them, and then Jeff and I take one boat while David and Doug take the other. We each hoist the boat onto our shoulders to make it easier to carry, and hike up and over the hill, then down to CP1. We punch our passport, put into the Niangua River, and start paddling in about 5th place. 

PADDLE 1, CPs 1-4, 9mi, 1:54
Paddling 1-2-3-4.
Beautiful morning for a paddle! Photo by SuperKate.
We put in on the steamy Niangua River and get to the task of paddling. I'm actually pretty excited for my first paddle of 2014 since I've been working on getting physically stronger and want to see if that training will translate into faster paddling. But first, I have to get my hands to thaw out after their blood flow was cut off during the portage. That's harder than it sounds because temperatures are hovering around 30F, cold enough for the spray to freeze on my paddle shaft, and I'm not wearing warm enough gloves. But Jeff, always the encourager, reminds me to flex/unflex my fingers with each paddle stroke, and that combined with a few well-timed sunny sections gradually brings my hands back to life. We pass a 4P male team, 9 Balls, early in the paddle and as we say hi, they tell me they read this blog! Awesome! Maybe some time you guys can do a guest post about the origin of your team name? Also, who is this team and what's going on?
Doug and David at the put-in.
We reach just about the only route choice in this section, an island near Baker Bluff that we was discussed during the pre-race meeting. Gary (race director) told everyone that the river-right channel is more open but requires a short portage, and the river-left channel is more technical but can be paddled through. Actually, Gary didn't use the words "more technical", he just told us that the locals call the river-left channel "The Gauntlet". David and Jeff are really good boat handlers so of course we pick "The Gauntlet". It's actually not that bad, a few sharp S-curves but we are rewarded with dry feet and a closer view of Team Fusion and 35 Down ahead of us. Sweet!
Doug and David lead me and Jeff (and Toporadicals) into CP4.
We get an even closer view of 35 Down just as we are approaching CP3. We come around a slight bend in the river and see 2 of their teammates standing in the river, boat sideways. They've tipped on a really shallow gravel bar! Thankfully they didn't get submerged but we still feel really bad about how cold they must be feeling. We make sure everyone's got enough clothes before paddling on and punching CP3. We do this about the same time as a 2P male team, Toporadicals, and then we stick together for the rest of the paddle. At the take-out in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, it's really hard to force our legs to work again, but it's awesome to see SuperKate as the race volunteer! We fly through a gear check and then get to run!
Jeff and me bringing the boat up to the truck.
TREK 1A, CPs 5-7, 1mi, 0:21
Jeff, me, Doug, and David run into CP7/TA.
We drop the PFDs but carry our personal (princess) paddles on this next section, a tiny trek up to the bike drop where we get to visit some cool features of Ha Ha Tonka State Park. CP5 is on top of a fake island, and as we run up the trail we pass Fusion and Toporadicals on their descent. High fives abound! The trail up top is rather technical, and I laugh to myself as I think "just another day in the life of an adventure racer - running a techy trail with a fully-assembled kayak paddle". It gets even better as we bushwhack down the side of the fake island and straight into a mud bog. David does a total faceplant, but the paddle actually helps him extract himself from the mud! CP6 is at the base of a million stairs that we climb to the top of the bluff for a short run into CP7/TA, where we arrive in 3rd place! Race volunteers hand us a new passport and a new clue sheet with 23 CPs to plot for "The Big Trek". We all have our jobs in TA: Jeff calls UTM coordinates, I plot, David route-plans, and Doug gets food/water/gear ready for everyone. 
Me plotting, David route planning, Jeff calling coordinates.
Doug getting the trekking passport ready.
TREK 1B, CPs 1-23 on new passport, 15km redline, 3:37
Rogaine trek, we went clockwise.
We race out of TA with a solid game plan: run hard, nav clean. We pick off two nearby trailside CPs (11 and 12) in quick succession and then head up to CP13. On the way to CP7, we spot the new green jerseys of 35 Down just leaving the cave entrance. This is a scenario we don't like so much: being on a similar route as another fast team, so we fret a little bit about how hard we're going to have to run to get separation. But then, mysteriously, 35 Down disappears to the west as we continue north to CP1. We're a little confused, but we think they're getting CP11 still, and are relieved to be by ourselves in the woods. We press onward to CPs 1, 5, and 2, and then make a last-minute decision to go straight to 3 (instead of getting 8 on the way, we'll get it later instead), then 10 and 9. I had a lot of fun running with Tecnu in California, but there really is nothing like trekking with my own teammates in the wide open Missouri woods. I'm so proud to call these guys teammates. Go Alpine Shop!

We don't see another team until we are leaving CP8 (after attacking it from the south) and they look like they're maybe just starting out since they're still all wearing jackets. All of us have been stripping layers off like mad since the frosty paddle ("Doug, can you put this in my pack?" has been on repeat all morning) and we are thrilled to be running hard in the sunshine. We take a low route to CP14 and CP16, then up high to CP17 and CP20. On the climb up to CP23 we see the 4P male Extreme Electrical Race Team bashing through the woods in the opposite direction, and then our very own Carrie who is racing with Momentum/Alpine! We are all really excited to see her and she tells us that they haven't seen any other teams coming from our direction. This might mean we are in the lead! On the ridge run to CP22 I get a little excited by our progress and trip over a branch, executing a perfect faceplant into the leaves. Brilliant! But thankfully nothing injured so we keep running. CP19 throws David a curveball with the different spurs, we go up the one next to our intended route, but once on top of the ridge he figures things out and we attack CP19 with only a few minutes lost. Then we've just got 3 more left, CP21, CP18, and CP15, all in a straight line back to TA. We knock those out feeling really strong and proud of ourselves for trekking well so early in the season, on an unseasonably hot day as well.
Running back to TA after our trekking loop.
Running into TA, we're thrilled to hear that we're the first team back with all of the CPs. Everyone drained their bladder during the trek so we refill, drink some super-hot Monster, eat melted Oreos, pack up the paddles, and hit the road on our bikes.

BIKE 1A, CPs 8-14, 26mi, 2:16
Biking from TA/CP7 clockwise back to CP14.
We first ride to CP8, where we turn in our trekking passport to the race volunteer and he confirms that we're first on the bikes. This is great news of course and we make a plan to ride strong but not killer on the way back, since we know there is a huge climb in the last mile on Tunnel Dam Gardens Rd. We drove that was to get to Race HQ this morning, and we rode it last year during the OGRE. We first go and get CP9 as an out-n-back, and are able to establish our gap is more than 2 miles. More great news! Some not-so-great news is that I'm not feeling particularly speedy, and neither is Jeff. So David tows me and Doug drafts for Jeff until we're both feeling better. Then we just continue to ride as a team through the rest of the course. I've raced with a bunch of different people in the last 2 years, and I can say that no other team tows more than Alpine Shop does. And I'm not really sure why - for this bike leg we weren't riding excessively hard but still turned in the fastest split by about 30 minutes. That's not meant as a boast, it's meant as advice for other teams: work together more! Our friends at Bushwhacker wrote a great how-to article about making your own bike tow, and they included some great insight: 
The key for successful towing, is that neither person, whether it is the tower or the towee, should put in any more effort than they were putting in if they weren't towing.  The effort should remain the same, but the overall speed will be faster than the slow person, and slower than the fast person.
I could go on and on about the benefits of towing, but this is a race report, so I'll get back on track. The rest of the ride is really smooth. We crush a couple hills, enjoy the scenery from the top of Tunnel Dam Garden Road (really GORGEOUS!!), fly down and grunt up the last hill, and then get set to punch CP14. It's at a gate just 500m from the finish, except as we approach we see a car and 2 race volunteers waiting for us. This can't be good...

BIKE 1B, CPs 15-20, 1mi, 0:24
David and Jeff receiving the bonus map.
It really does say bonus!! Start at CP14, collect CP15-20 in order on bikes. Bikewhacking allowed.
...instead of riding straight into the finish line, we're met by SuperKate (again!!) and another volunteer who have a special present for us: a bonus map! It shows 5 more CPs all on ATV trails around the Race HQ. At first, we're not that excited. But then SuperKate offers us one of her famous cookies, and Jeff does what he does best: rallies the troops. We all let some air out of our tires and get ready to shred! And honestly, once we're on the trails, it's really fun. David leads us cleanly around the bonus loop and by the end we're all grinning again. 

FINISH 8:46 total time

Finish line!
Hugs and smiles.
We finish with a signature Bonk Hard Racing cowbell serenade! We're really stoked on the day: we ran a great race, we're the first team back, and we feel like 2014 is off to a great start. As usual, Gary wants to hear about route choice, so we unfurl the map and chat about where we went. After a few minutes, he asks non-chalantly, "What did you think about CPs 4 and 6 on the big trek?" 
Did we really just do that?
We all look at the map, and then look at each other, and there's a collective sinking of hearts. CRAP. We didn't GO to CP4 or CP6. They're hung a little to the west of the rest of the controls on the trek, and we just didn't see them when we were route planning in TA. Because we were plotting on the clock, we didn't do our usual double-check of counting all the CPs on our route. There's no time for blame, we just make sure there's no chance to go back and get them (it would be a long-ass ride that no one feels like doing, plus it's against the rules since we turned in our trekking passport already), and then decide that our fate is not in our hands anymore. CP4 was worth 2 points, so we finish with 47 out of 50 possible points. The only thing left to see is the finishing times of other teams, and how far down in the standings we'll fall.
David and me post-race. With the map, natch.
We're bummed, obviously, but the hot post-race barbeque and on-site showers go a long way in raising our spirits. We all pig out, clean up, and then hang out to cheer on the rest of the teams. It's Team Fusion across the line next, and they have all of the controls, so they win! Congrats Fusion!! 35 Down finishes next and we're really glad to see them recover from their canoe incident with a stellar race. The top 5 are rounded out with everyone's favorite Tiny Trail Ninjas, Toporadicals, and our early-paddle race buddies 9 Balls!  We land in 6th place with our error but by now it's all water under the bridge. It's great to hear race stories from all of the teams, and it makes me really appreciate the adventure race community we have in the Midwest. We have some stellar navigators and athletes who take adventure racing seriously, along with a great group of newbies who are just getting into the sport, and we're lucky to have terrific competition whenever we race with Bonk Hard.
Hanging out with Team Fusion after the race! Well done team!
Full results: http://bonkhardracing.com/chill/chill-results.asp
Official photos: http://bonkhardracing.com/chill/chill-photos.asp
SuperKate's photos: https://www.facebook.com/kate.geisen/media_set?set=a.10152053885503882.1073741856.531103881&type=1
Toporadicals: http://brianrodenbeck.blogspot.com/2014/03/bonkhard-chill-adventure-race.html
SuperKate: http://kate-my-mind.blogspot.com/2014/03/going-solo-bonkhard-chill-volunteer.html
9 Balls: http://houseofkerrs.blogspot.com/2014/03/bonk-hard-chill.html

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09 March 2014

Non-Race Report: 2014 BAAR BRAWL 24hr Adventure

Before finding a home with Alpine Shop Adventure Racing, I've been fortunate enough to jump on to several other adventure racing teams for races throughout the Midwest. And since joining the Alpine Shop family, I've connected with different teams here and there to participate in some really great mash-up events. This weekend was probably the biggest mash-up of them all: a chance to race with Kyle and Garret from Team Tecnu, current USARA National Champs and ARWS World bronze medalists
Tecnu and Alpine Shop pizza night!
The whole thing started, ironically enough, in St. Louis. In January. Kyle was visiting Missouri for work and we had time to head out to Babler State Park for some orienteering practice. As we worked our way around the snowy red course, Kyle mentioned, "You know, you should really come out to California in March for this training race we have, it's called the BRAWL." Honestly, I thought that was a nice thing to say, but I didn't really believe it was a legit invitation. I think I gave him a half-laugh and kept right on navigating. And then towards the end of January, my work awarded bonuses, I found myself wondering how much flights to San Francisco cost, and all of a sudden I had invited myself and my bike out to the west coast. I learned that the BRAWL is held in fine non-race tradition, and I would be joining a 5-person team: Kyle and Garret of course, along with Jason and Abby from Idaho!  
Garret and Kyle of Team Tecnu.
Photo by Aaron Johnson http://mowglimedia.net/
Any race week carries a certain amount of stress, but this one was more worrisome than usual for me. I'd been dealing with a nerve issue in my left foot since POCAR and hadn't put in hardly any run miles in the last 6 weeks aside from my birthday party. Trying to decide on a shoe/insole solution, plus the stress of packing gear AND a bike for flying, plus my teammates' impressive race résumés, didn't give me my normal pre-race confidence. But then one of my favorite jerks validated my bike-packing job, in the process giving me a healthy dose of superior attitude, plus a ride to the airport in the one and only 'stro. Frontier checked the SegSlayer in for only $25 and I was on my way.
Abby and Kyle working on maps. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=987944120139&set=pcb.627719220609627&type=1&theater
Kyle picked me up at the airport and we went immediately to Garret's place, our non-HQ, where I met Abby and Jason. They both had such a chill demeanor that I knew it was going to be an awesome weekend. Garret cooked us up a feast and we talked race goals before messing around with gear before bedtime. We knew the first bike leg was less than 30 miles, so I planned to do that without a pack to save a little weight. Race morning was quick and easy, we loaded everything up and hit the road to Fairfax around 0600, which was really like sleeping in for me still in Central Time Zone. The non-race was non-starting at a small park, so we gathered around the non-race director for a few last minute non-announcements, distribution of the non-passport, and revelation of the first 12 non-checkpoints. We copied them onto our maps and then it was time to non-start!

BIKE 1, 0810-1300, 26mi, +4750' (~3hr ride time)
Bike 1. Start at Deer Park, B1-B2-B3, finish at TA1/Randall Parking Lot.
We take off with 20ish other adventure non-racers and are immediately climbing up some doubletrack/fire road. The pace/climb is fast for me, but also no different than any other 24hr AR I've started. I know it usually takes my body a while to start firing on all cylinders so I just try to settle in as best I can. Plus, it's always hard to work out a good team pace with new teammates. We make quick stops to check the map at some of the trail junctions so I use those mini-breaks to catch my breath.

Me and Garret riding out from B1 on a very wet "scratch trail". Photo by Aaron Johnson.
We're a 5-person team, but we've also got a welcome tag-a-long: Tecnu's master photographer, Aaron Johnson of Mowgli Media. Aaron's a super-stud biker and he's zooming around taking pics of our group. This, coupled with the incredible terrain we've only begun to ride through, hits me with an intense wave of the stoke: I'm riding my bike! in California! with some seriously badass adventure racers! This is awesome! We keep climbing on a combination of fire roads interspersed with some pavement and are totally crushing it. The first CP takes some hunting and pecking in a grove of trees but we use the detailed clue description to find it. Then it's a nice descent down to the Bon Tempe Lake dam, where we start another big climb up to the top of Pine Mountain. We are able to get into a better towing groove here, with everyone working together to attack the fire road as the clouds clear up and the sun lights up the Marin hills. 
Jason, Kyle, Garret, Abby, and me climbing up Pine Mtn. SO RAD! Photo by Aaron Johnson.
On the top of Pine Mountain we have a really thick bushwhack, find the CP, and then continue on our bikes to B3 near the Alpine Lake dam. We have a screaming-fast fire road descent (Old Vee Rd) that seems to get progressively steeper. I'm not historically a great descender, but I've been working on it a lot in the past few months and somehow everything is clicking for me today. I send grateful thoughts to both Jeff and Dwayne for taking so much time to patiently coach me on this skill. Kyle and I make it to the bottom and turn left at the junction (Kent Pump Rd). We ride easy for a little bit to let everyone catch up, except they don't. Maybe they didn't know which way to turn at the junction and are waiting for us? So Kyle rides back to get them as I take a break and eat a snack, soaking up the lush, sunny forest all around me. But after a few minutes I can tell that things aren't right so I start riding backwards too, meeting Aaron on the way with some bad news "Abby crashed and probably broke her collarbone." WHAT! This is terrible news and I instantly feel horrible for my newly acquired teammate. Just a few meters away from the bottom of the descent, we find our crew kneeling around Abby, who is sporting a seriously badass cut on her ear and a decidedly out-of-place clavicle. Kyle does his WFR checks as I fire up ye olde cell phone, silently relieved I brought one that actually works. We stabilize Abby's arm with extra jackets and prepare to hike out the remaining 2ish miles to the road, where hopefully we can get someone with a car to meet us for further extraction.
Jason cleaning up Abby's cut at Alpine Lake Dam while Kyle supervises. Photo by RVG.
I hike out with my and Abby's bikes, while Jason and Kyle make a riding escort beside her. All things considered, it's not a bad way to take in the California landscape - these are some incredibly vibrant trees lining the steep ravine. We keep the conversation light and Abby stays incredibly tough, encouraging us to keep non-racing even if she can't. Once we hit the road, we are greeted by DART-nuun's Ryan, who is relay non-racing with his wife and planning to check in with her here. He offers to take Jason and Abby back to Deer Park while Kyle, Garret, Aaron, and I continue on. We take our time making sure everything is okay and then bid our new teammates a sad goodbye. Heal up fast Abby!

Elevation profile of BIKE 1.
Me and Garret shredding Bolinas Ridge. Photo by Aaron Johnson.
The next few miles are a paved ascent up to the Bolinas Ridge trail. Once we get up to the top, I am totally blown away by the awesome fire road that greets us. It's very wide, very rolling, and with very majestic woods on both sides that occasionally thin out to reveal more expansive views. I am finally feeling warmed up and my legs are ready to ride hard. The four of us don't do a whole lot of talking, we just ride and I continue pouring trust into the SegSlayer and it responds mightily. I love my bike! I love this trail! The descent down into Randall parking lot is even better. I am in a total zen state of riding hard but not out of control - pushing my handling just a little bit but able to collect the bike back to me just before the switchbacks. And what's at the bottom of the descent? BABY COWS!!! Cuteness overload. I can't stop smiling.
One of my favorite descents of all time. Photo by Aaron Johnson.
We are greeted by a big yellow box truck which is serving as TA1. We fill Andrew, the non-race director, in on our missing teammates and transition into trekking gear. For me, that means putting on a pack for the first time today and crossing my fingers that my men's Brooks Cascadias plus Superfeet insoles will keep my toe happy for the next 28 miles. We leave our super-photographer Aaron to continue his ride, and pick up local ultrarunner-in-training Christian (who doesn't ride bikes but still wanted to participate). Time to run!

TREK 1, 1300-1930, 28mi, +4900'
Map from Trek 1. 
The four of us jog out of TA and immediately my focus is inward, on my toe. I feel some sharp twinges here and there, but nothing that is worse than than a few days ago, and after a few hundred meters it's clear that the pace is causing me more pain than my digit. These boys are fast! I chalk it up to my slow-starting/lack of run fitness and just focus on weathering the storm. I know there will be opportunities to rest later so for now I'm all in. The first section of the trek is on easy trails so we just run along and enjoy the good weather. There are a few other hikers on the trail and I try to give everyone a good Midwestern greeting. If you look at the map, my first inclination would have been to go redline from TA1 to T1 to T3, but Kyle and Garret know better; the land around here has super thick vegetation, and tons of steep relief, and is therefore slow. The trails, on the other hand, are non-technical and lightning fast. So we stick to trail routes for just about everything, and use unmapped/unofficial trails to get to T3. 
Elevation profile of the trekking leg.
T3 is a small point/hilltop right next to the ocean. This is the closest we've been to the water all day and we're all freaking out about how gorgeous it is. Growing up next to Lake Superior, I appreciate water as far as the eye can see, but that's a lake, and this is an ocean, big waves and oceany air and the sun just starting to slide into its afternoon slant. This is a special moment and when we reach the hilltop, we're rewarded with views of the Farallon Islands, which are 50k away and Kyle tells us can only be seen during ideal weather conditions. This is really, really cool.
The Farallon Islands on the horizon.
We hate to leave the beauty of T3, but we've got several miles to go still. On the way to T2, we have a small map mis-interpretation: we miss the intended trail junction to take us down to the beach and a later, corrective bushwhack is not possible. We have to backtrack a little bit but finally make it down to the sand. I am totally blissed out - the view from T3 was incredible and now getting up close and personal with the ocean is awesome. I am feeling totally dwarfed by the immensity of the environment but also very physically capable of moving through it. It's a powerful combination of emotions and I think something that all adventure racers strive for in our training and racing. I'm very, very lucky, humbled, and inspired to be experiencing this right now. All of the stress of getting myself and my gear to California is instantly worth it.

just go watch this: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10203415439651471&set=o.606090086105874&type=2&theater

We check off T2 (a huge tire) and then continue running on the beach to Wildcat Campground. There, we re-up on water from a spigot and join with 2 other non-racers for the climb up to T4. It takes a few attacks to find the correct knoll, but we do, and then drop back down to the coast for T5. Then it's back up the bluff for some easy trail running before one more descent back to the ocean for T6. It's supposed to be in a sea cave, and we scramble all over the shoreline for the correct cave, but with no luck. It's not a huge deal through since the natural rock formations are just like a mid-race playground, so fun! T7 is a short but spicy out-n-back - not that far from the trail but hung a few hundred feet up a spur! Christian is in his European element and scampers straight up. Kyle follows closely behind as Garret and I take it much easier. We dropped our packs for this one so it doesn't show up on the elevation profile, blast! Once we've snagged T7, we start to make our way back inland, which requires a big climb up and over Mt. Wittenberg. Along the way, the sun sets so we all get our lights sorted and continue making excellent time on the non-technical trails.

We pass through the 26.2mile marker in about 6 hours which is pretty great time for trekking in an adventure race. Sure, most of our travel has been on runnable trails or open beach, but we are still moving at a great clip. The summit of Mt. Wittenburg is woodsy and Kyle assures us that we aren't missing out on any views because it's dark - the forest obscures any vast landscape. Once we make the top, all that's left is a looong descent to T9 and nearby TA2. We run all of this and by the end, my legs are begging for some flat ground. No cramps or anything, just "I'd rather not run downhill any more". We have a little bit of trail confusion getting to T9, and instead of running through a signed horse pasture, we go around to find the demonstration Miwok village. And then it's only a kilometer to TA2! We try a shortcut through a swamp but it doesn't pan out, and then a local (cop? non-cop?) chooses to creepily follow us in his car for a few hundred meters on the road. I know that most of the time, this stuff is harmless, but it still weirds me out a little when vehicles hover around while we're racing. In the end, they ask if we're okay, which of course we are, and then they drive off right as we run into Bear Valley/Olema campground, greeted by our favorite big yellow truck! 

TA 2, 1930-2000, eating burritos
We had some burritos delivered here by a friend of Kyle's, and they are delicious. Garret and I split one while Kyle gets maps (the scale is 1:BRAWL-thousand!) for the final biking section set to go. Normally we'd be in and out of TA in just a few minutes, but the relaxed atmosphere of the non-race has us taking our time getting lights and bikes sorted. We even took a picture, with a burrito of course! 
BIKE 2, 2030-0420, 42mi, +8600'

I roll out of TA2 with a full belly and a considerable relaxation of non-race intensity. The uncharacteristically long TA has totally chilled me out, plus the knowledge that my toe has made it through the trek removes a lot of apprehension I had at the start. But it's immediately clear that we still have a lot of work to do - the ride starts out with a longish paved climb back up to a different section of Bolinas Ridge and I just can NOT get my legs to turn over. I'm dragging big time, I think because my body is trying to digest all of that burrito instead of powering my legs. Garret gives me a little bit of towing but he's dealing with a groin strain, and Kyle is consumed with the map, so it's up to the Missouri girl to tackle the California hills mostly solo. And it's a struggle!  
Elevation profile of Bike 2.
For the next couple hours, I am focused on getting my fueling back on track and becoming a productive teammate. I drink a ton of water to counteract the salty burrito and find myself running low on liquids earlier than planned. Thankfully, the we nail the first two CPs on Bolinas Ridge and then get to enjoy an awesome descent to Peters Dam. We have a little bit of confusion about how to get our bikes down to the spillway (jumping is not an option), but we figure it out after a few minutes, check the monument for the expansion date, and then keep riding up to San Geronimo Ridge Rd. After a few miles we take a lefty onto a really fun trail. It's benchcut into a pretty steep hillside, but it's awesome to fly down a few hundred feet, punch CP7, contour around, and then climb back up to San Geronimo where we're greeted by a green octopus painted on a brown post (CP8). Then we climb up to the top of Green Hill for CP9, and towards Fairfax for CP10. Somewhere either before or after CP10, we have a major navigational conference. There are lots ot trail junctions in the area and we're not exaaaaaactly sure which one we're on as we descend towards Fairfax. Well, Kyle was pretty sure until the trail we're on started to resemble the historic Repack Trail, which is definitely NOT where we want to be. The boys do a lot of checking of local landmarks and decide that we're okay, so we continue descending. Once we hit Sir Francis Drake Blvd (a major road), we know we're in the right spot and what's even better, we have a big climb ahead of us!

We hit the Drake about 12:30am and Kyle tells us that there's 2 big climbs left: one immediately in front of us, and one on the north side of Lucas Valley, and then a couple little blips on our way back to Deer Park. On the first climb we decide to fill and treat some bottles from a tiny runoff stream next to the road. I have been rationing a little bit since the salty burrito incident so the refill stop is extremely welcome. CP16 gives us a hard time, but we continue on a sweet descent into Lucas Valley. We hit Lucas Valley Rd (another major road) about 1:30am and have an 9-mile quasi-loop to ride (including the last major climb) that includes 3 CPs before an 8-mile/2 CP ride back to Fairfax. 

Garret and I climbing earlier in the day. Photo by Aaron Johnson.

The rest of the ride is pretty straightforward for us. On one of the last 2 climbs, Garret asks me how I'm doing and I happily reply that I'm being destroyed. I fully expected to have my legs ripped off by the steep California terrain and the fast Tecnu boys, and I'm absolutely loving it. On one hand, my early season training has been average/mediocre with not as much running as I would like. But on the other hand, key runs have been replaced with key bike rides where I've been able to not only gain some bike fitness, but also A TON of bike confidence and inspiration from my Alpine Shop and Team Noah teammates. I feel so supported by the St. Louis outdoorsy community and very proud to be representing on the West Coast. It is a really, really good feeling and one I hope to continue to build on in 2014.

My batteries start to go out around 2:30am, and I am nervous about my lighting situation since I accidentally left my spare battery in TA2. I alternate bar and helmet lights for a little bit before asking for help. Thankfully, Kyle has a spare battery in his pack which I throw on my bar light for the rest of the ride (we're all using Light n Motion so everything's compatible). It's a good thing too, since we have a few more steep descents and I am so stoked to let the SegSlayer fly down these things. It's just too much fun! We grab our last CP, number 15, at the top of a cool little trail and then get to enjoy a nice descent back into Fairfax. As we're riding the deserted city streets, we all congratulate each other on a non-race well run. We also send good thoughts to Abby and Jason, since we're really sad that they had to miss out. We will see them soon enough once Abby's clavicle is fully reinforced for the awesomeness she is about to inflict on the adventure racing world!

KP, EK, GB at the non-finish line!
We roll into Deer Park a little after 4:00am and just go straight to Garret's truck since non-races don't have finish lines. But, they DO have a non-race director there to greet us! Thanks, Randy! We all share some beer and non-stories as we clean up best we can for the return trip to San Francisco. It's a very sleepy drive back to the city, but we make it back safely and in time for multiple post-race showers, naps, and breakfasts before my flight out of SFO that afternoon. Talk about a whirlwind trip!

I had no idea what to expect when I decided to fly to California to non-race with one of the top AR teams on the international scene. Even through Kyle and Garret were coming off a much-deserved break after the World Championships (oh have you seen their awesome video?), I knew they would be tough to keep pace with in their backyard. And there are always some nerves when meeting and racing with teammates for the first time. But I am so happy to say that meeting Abby and Jason was awesome, and I really hope I get to race with any or all four of these terrific athletes again.
I was also super stoked to learn from a whole new community of adventure racers in California, and I can positively say that there are no secrets in AR. At its very core, adventure racing is about training your body to cover long distances quickly, using gear that is comfortable for you for long periods of time, and being nice to your teammates. That's it. Simple. And the rewards are great: moving through spectacular terrain, seeing beautiful parts of the world (or even your backyard), and learning about the strength of your own spirit. I love adventure racing!

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