28 July 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 1)

NOTE: This is the first in a series of posts about Cowboy Tough multi-day adventure race. I (Emily) worked together with my teammate Mike to write most of the text, and then Mike added in his own comedic flair in red italics. Enjoy!
Expedition racing: what we think we do.
In the Midwest, adventure racing thrives on 8- to 24-hour events. We are lucky to have a number of excellent race directors and a community of teams ranging from highly competitive to highly recreational, and we all coexist happily in our weekend adventures. But for some athletes, the allure of a multi-day race is strong and for that we dream of one of the handful of expedition-style adventure races in North America:

These multi-day, or “expedition” races come along with a whole new set of rules. Generally, when things go wrong in a 24hr race, teams can suck it up and still get themselves to the finish line. Maybe they have more blisters than normal, maybe they are thirstier than normal, but...IN GENERAL...they survive with some bonus suffering.  (Anyone that knows me well, knows that I excel in the bonus suffering, and for me it’s usually avoidable and unnecessary…)
Expedition racing: what we really do.
In expedition racing, a seemingly small mistake on Day 1 has thousands of minutes to compound itself and significantly slow teams down over the course of the entire race. It may even cause them to drop out. It’s an entirely new ball game!

Race Decision
It’s not entirely clear who was the first person to bring up the possibility of doing an expedition race in 2014.  Regardless, someone did, and by late fall of 2013, we had four people interested in taking the plunge.  Mike Garrison (2012 UNE) and Rachel Furman (2011 RTNX and 2012 UNE) from Bushwhacker, Emily Korsch from Alpine Shop and Andrei Karpoff from GearJunkie/WEDALI (both expedition rookies) committed to the challenge.  If you are a regular on the Midwestern adventure racing scene, you’ll recognize these team names as fierce rivals. But believe it or not, the individual team members actually get along really well when not trying to rip each others’ legs off. For our as-of-yet unconfirmed expedition race, we would be suffering WITH each other instead of forcing suffering ON each other.
Start line of Cowboy Tough 2013.
Mike was initially was highly motivated to return to Untamed New England (UNE) in 2014 based on the great experience a couple of years ago, however scheduling for that race was not agreeable for everyone. We looked at the other 4 races available, and Cowboy Tough (CT) became the obvious choice. The race format presented itself as more of a 3.5 day “stage” race instead of 3.5 days straight of racing. This race design was more appealing for the expedition rookies (Andrei and Emily). Plus, none of us had adventure raced in Wyoming before, although Andrei had done several orienteering events in and around Laramie.  (Once the decision was made I was actually really happy with it.  I’m not sure how many more of these long races I’ll be doing so it was exciting to know that I’d be racing somewhere new.  In addition to that this one was almost in my parents’ home in Jackson.)

The team finally got registered (THAT was a hefty check to write!) at the end of March and was ready to go. Almost.  
With a few days to go we realized that we didn’t have a team name (details, details). A flurry of emails and attempts at clever creativity (Al’s Bush Shop for Whackers, Part Deux, anyone?) brought us to WABAR.  (WEDALI Alpine Shop Bushwhacker Adventure Racing).  Although not exactly creative OR clever, it was a straightforward representation of this conglomeration of teams that have spent years beating each other up. Unfortunately, WABAR would also create far more pronunciation issues than could have possibly been foreseen. (WAY-bar? wah-BAR? wubber? heron?) That last one is a joke so far inside that there are probably all of 4 people in the world that will get it.  And two of them are writing this report...

So, with that decision made, Team WABAR (officially pronounced WAH-bar, thanks for asking) began preparing for the 2014 Cowboy Tough Expedition Adventure Race.

Race Lead Up
Training weekend in STL. Middle of the night, somewhere in Mark Twain National Forest.
With the team coming from all corners of the globe (er...Midwest) it was going to be bit of a trick doing a ton of group training.  Attackpoint was a handy motivator through competitive training psychology, aka training guilt.  In addition to this, the team managed one long weekend group training session in St. Louis, and one 30 hour race in Northern Wisconsin, the Stubborn Mule.
Finish line of Stubborn Mule 30hr AR!
The training weekend was a blast and gave the team confidence that yes, they would in fact be able to get along for 5-6 days together.  Stubborn Mule went really well, with the team not only working out the kinks, but notching a first place finish. All in all, not a bad prep for CT.

Tuesday, Pre-Race
For three of us, arrival in Casper on Tuesday was uneventful.  For Rachel not so much.  Her flight got cancelled because of a huge thunderstorm, which Emily, Mike and Andrei witnessed while eating delicious food at the Western Grill (multi-course dinners for CHEAP!!, highly recommended, multiple gravy options, lots of trains).
You don't want to fly a plane through that?
So Rachel wouldn’t get in until Wednesday morning, but it was no big deal since we still had plenty of time to piddle*.

Wednesday, Pre-Race
Our hotel room, even before Rachel got there.
Andrei. Is. MasterChef!
We got a full night’s sleep on Tuesday, then woke up Wednesday with a laundry list of pre-race chores: pick up Rachel and her gear from airport, sort food, pack bins, organize team gear, run through mandatory gear and skills checks with Rev3, make a last-minute Wal-Mart run, gear bomb every single square inch of our hotel room including the balcony, etc etc etc. The first thing with any actual importance we did was officially register for the race at 11:00am and pick up our race maps, all twenty pounds of them.
Rev3 provided 11 huge maps, along with 5 supplemental maps, PLUS a guide book for South Pass City, PLUS a clue sheet and rules of travel. The map bundle was impressive, and since race rules allowed outside maps, we added some additional maps from the Wyoming Gazetteer* that would cut down on bike map flippage by 87%. We just used the word “map” four times in one sentence. Can you guess what we think the most important part of adventure racing is? *Despite a ridiculously large scale (I alternated between referring to it as 1:500k an 1:”earth”) this map was quite a convenience for overall course planning and the longer bike sections where we would cross just over three 1:24k maps.  Diagonally.  Yeah.  Thanks KP, I owe you one.  Although you might have to slow down a bit if you ever want me to deliver on that.

Mike and Andrei plotting our course on one of the eleven table-sized maps.
Race prep stuff can be pretty boring to both write and read so we’ll just gloss over it a bit. Emily and Rachel built bikes while Andrei and Mike plotted all of the optional CPs. Then we all went to the pre-race meeting. Then we finalized our gear bins and loaded them onto the Rev3 Mobile TA along with our bikes. Then we ordered pizza and worked on our maps some more (and more and more.  I kind of underestimated the amount of time it would take to plan the course, estimate distance and fold 11 huge ass pieces of weatherproof paper). Finally we got to sleep with our alarms set for EARLY!! The stage was set for 2014 Cowboy Tough!
Andrei, Rachel, Emily, Mike. Photo by either Awesome Chris Radcliffe or Legendary Randy Erickson.
*For the record, in the context of WABAR to “piddle” means to fuss with gear, not to take a leak.  Emily is an expert piddler, a skill she learned from her Alpine Shop teammates. Seriously, she is really really good at this.  I swear at one point I watched her move specific pieces of gear around on the hotel room table kind of like a street peddler with that cup and ball games.  “Now you see the CO2 cartridge, now you don’t!”

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14 July 2014

Race Report: 2014 Stubborn Mule 30hr Adventure Race

Hi, horse.
I haven't really shared that much about my life prior to adventure racing. Sure, there's a brief bio on the obligatory "About Me" page, but nothing really that in depth. Well one thing you should know about me is I grew up riding horses. From about 4th or 5th grade until senior year of high school, I was a full-on horse addict (and honestly, still am). I worked at a horse barn in exchange for riding lessons, and after a few years of that my parents bought me my very own horse. Her name was (is!) Flyer and she was (is!) one of the biggest influences on my life growing up. I have TONS of Flyer stories since I spent about every waking, non-school, and non-soccer minute at the barn, but the main thing that's relevant here is she was (is!) opinionated. Stubborn, you might say. And her ears, while certainly within a normal horsey size range, were (are!) a bit large. So on her bad days, of which there were plenty, she got called a mule quite a bit. 
When I found out there was an adventure race called Stubborn Mule, I HAD to do it. Had. To.
It took me a couple years to get the right combination of teammates and vacation time (the race is in northern Wisconsin, a big drive from STL) sorted, but when WABAR came together, we decided we needed a prep race before Cowboy Tough. A 30hr? 2 weeks out from the big dance? Perfect. Stubborn Mule, here we come!
Me, Rachel, Mike, Andrei before the race.
Rachel drove up to STL on Friday and we carpooled north though Illinois and Wisconsin, stopping only for gas and pizza. Andrei met us in Tomahawk, a town close to the Race HQ, and shortly afterwards Mike rolled in from Indy. 180 Adventure, led by Race Director Paula, doesn't have ANY pre-race activities on Friday night so we just spent time catching up and getting our gear ready. Race morning was EARLY, somewhere in the 0300s, because we had to leave the hotel by about 4am to make it to Race HQ by 0430 for map distribution. Once we got to Lake Nokomis City Hall, it was all-hands-on-deck to get the maps plotted and prepped. Rachel called the first batch of UTMs for Mike to plot while Andrei and I got bikes ready. Then I sat in for Rachel as she went to the pre-race meeting. We barely had everything plotted, much less routes planned, when race staff came through calling everyone to the start at 0600. Ah! We were all feeling frantic, rushed, and with NO IDEA what our next 30 hours looked like, but that's just the name of the game adventure racing. We did our best to remember what had and hadn't been accomplished with our bikes, and prepared for an opening trek.

TREK 1, Lake Nokomis, CPs 1-6, 5.5mi
Just before the race started at Lake Nokomis City Hall. Garrison and I still frantically reviewing the map.
Paula gathers everyone for a group photo and then starts the race. Even once she says "GO!", Mike and Andrei take a couple extra seconds to double check our route before running down the road. The majority of the field is ahead of us, but we know that keeping our heads on straight is worth the extra time at the beginning of a 30hr race. With our route decided, we check off the road run and then dive into the Wisconsin woods for the first CP. After the nasty woods of Plot, Pedal, Paddle last weekend, this vegetation is positively divine. Relatively open, no briars, and the pine branches feel like puppy kisses! We all exclaim in delight at their friendliness. We attack the first two CPs with a crowd of teams, and it takes a bit for Mike to get fully into the map, but once we are rolling then the middle two CPs come easily. The final two CPs are on the Hiawatha Trail, a converted rail bed (i.e. rails-to-trails, i.e. flat and open), so we ramp up the pace and immediately start sweating buckets - it's humid up here!
Andrei, me, Mike, Rachel running on the Hiawatha Trail.
Photo by Polly LaMontagne.
We run back into Race HQ/Start Line/Finish Line/TA1 and turn in our completed map. Turns out we are in 2nd place in the 30hr race, about 10 minutes behind ENDRacing/Yogaslackers. Despite being behind, we have several things to accomplish in TA that didn't get done before the race started - tows attached to bikes, extra air in tires, maps properly folded, etc. It takes us another 10 minutes to get out of there, but again it's time well spent to set us up for a productive race.

BIKE 1, to Treehaven, CPs 7-9, 15mi

Biking from Race HQ to TA2.
Once we've finally got out bikes sorted, we pedal out of Race HQ/Start Line/Finish Line/TA1 and onto the backroads of northern Wisconsin. There are a couple CPs on the way, and one short stint on a sandy ATV trail, but the rest is smooth and fast pavement riding. We keep the pace uptempo to try and close the gap to ENDRacing/Yogaslackers. There are a few other 12hr teams in front of us as well, some that we pass, and some that we don't. Mike keeps the nav super clean and pretty soon we're rolling into TA2 at Treehaven, a forest preserve operated by UWSP. ENDRacing/Yogaslackers are just leaving TA, and we are happy that their gap hasn't grown!

TREK 2, Treehaven, CPs 10-21, 6.5mi

Map for Trek 2.
This trek has 12 CPs we can get in any order, along with a few prominent chunks of Private Property to avoid. Andrei and Mike settle on a route (roughly clockwise) and we run off down a wide multi-use trail. There is an entire network of trails throughout this area, most of which are NOT on our USGS map. But, there are wayfinding signs at almost every junction so we use a few of those to double-check our location. The terrain here is fairly subtle and Mike is doing a killer job with the nav. We are hitting pretty much everything straight on, communicating well on the all-punches, and running the grassy trails when we can. Things get a little interesting after CP17, where we have to run down to the road to avoid PP on the way to CP11. The ground turns to marsh and then there's a stream, which Mike discovers is wadable even after you slide down its muddy bank! We all keep our packs dry as we wade belly-deep across the chilly stream, emerging refreshed and even more stoked on Wisconsin terrain. On the road run we see our friend Phil (aka Silent Chaser, racing solo) tackling the loop in the opposite direction and share intel that the stream is crossable. Then it's back into the woods for CPs 11, 10, and 12 and the remaining jog to TA. We're all feeling really great about our trek and turns out we are the first team back to TA!
WABAR leaving TA3.
BIKE 2, thru Rhinelander, CPs 22-25, 27mi
From TA3 (lower left corner) up thru Rhinelander (upper right corner) and then back down to TA4 (middle of map).
Now we've got a large-ish bike leg that will take us north, through the town of Rhinelander, and then back south to the paddle put-in. The nav is straight-forward, the roads are paved, and the headwind is manageable by working together in a paceline. There are a few "question" CPs which are not orienteering flags and punches, but questions that we must answer to prove that we visited each location. Race Directors do this sort of stuff when CPs are in public areas to prevent flag theft. The questions are all obvious and we have no trouble answering them. Once we get to Rhinelander, the nav becomes confusing for a minute since there is a major bridge not shown (probably built after the map was made) but we know our general direction to find a statue of Rhinelander's mascot, the mythical Hodag, and count its teeth for CP24. From there we ride along the western bank of the Wisconsin River, all the way to Hat Dam.


Bike polo/croquet!
We roll into the TA to find it hopping with 12hr teams, but we are the first 30hr team to arriv! Hoo-ray! The race staff give us a map for some additional CPs at the northern end of the paddle, PLUS a special challenge...BIKE POLO! Or rather, bike croquet. When races are going well, as this one is, I LOVE special challenges and immediately volunteer. We have to guide a ball through a croquet course without "dabbing" or knocking the wickets over, and are given a 10min time limit. I knock the ball around for my required 10min, making it through 6 out of the 10 wickets, and without dabbing once! In the meantime, Andrei, Rachel, and Mike have been prepping maps and canoes, so once I'm done I help portage everything up the dam to the river for put-in.

PADDLE 1, WI River, CPs 26-29, 5.5mi

Paddle upstream from TA4 to CP30
We discover a brisk tailwind at our backs for the upstream paddle to Rhinelander. It's a bit of a conundrum - paddling upstream usually means sticking close to shore to avoid the current, but to take advantage of the tailwind we want to be in the main channel. We decide to stay in the middle of the river since it's pretty easy going there. I'm in the front of Mike's boat, and Andrei is in the front of Rachel's. She is still getting used to steering with a double-blade paddle, but after a few kilometers they get the hang of it and we all cruise upriver. I'm doing the nav and we arrive at the inlet for CP26 earlier than I thought as it seems like the tailwind is helping us a lot. We answer the question for CP26 and then continue to nab 27-29 cleanly. Then we have a decision to make - where to take-out for the mini-trek? I decide to take us all the way to CP30, which is the obvious take-out spot, but in hindsight not really the most efficient. We beach the canoes in a small clearing and take several extra minutes in transition. I declare that we're "luxury racing" since we spend time putting bug spray on, hiding bottles of Coke in the river to chill for our return, and generally faffing about before setting off into the woods.

TREK 3, CPs 30-33, 1.2k

No pants required!
The next 4 CPs are a short-n-sweet trek which we attack clockwise. The terrain here is immensely interesting and intricate, way more than the USGS contours show, and we all speculate out loud it would be a terrific place for an orienteering sprint. In all of our dilly-dallying at the take-out, we decided against wearing pants and it's the best feeling ever, getting to run through the open woods without fear of getting slashed to death by briars! We return to our boats in high spirits, greeting by cold-ish Cokes from the river and Gatorades from our paddle bag. I love adventure racing!

PADDLE 2A, WI River, no CPs, 5.5mi

Paddle downstream from CP30 to TA4, then portage over dam.
Refreshed and rejuvenated, we get back in the boats for the return trip down the Wisconsin River. Not long after we start paddling again, we see three people running silently on the shoreline - it's Rib Mountain Racing, still trekking but likely not all that far behind us. Luxury racing goes out the window as we focus on paddling strong! The wind is gusting in our faces, but we still opt for the main channel to try and wring any advantage that we can out of the downstream current. We also see ENDRacing/Yogaslackers paddling upstream so we know that we've got to keep the pressure on if we want to maintain our lead. Rachel and Andrei are working really well together and our boats are about equal speed, which will be fantastic for Cowboy Tough. Pretty soon, the Hat Dam appears in front of us and we portage everything up and over the spillway, put back in below the dam, and continue paddling.

PADDLE 2B, WI River, CPs 34-35, 7mi

Paddling downstream from WP1 to CP35
We put in somewhere around 5pm, and the remaining paddle is one of the most enjoyable I have ever experienced, hands down. The downstream current sweeps us along gently, the sun is just easing into the golden hour, and the river is absolutely beautiful with alternating trees and marshy reeds lining the banks. There are enough rocks and riffles to keep the paddling interesting, and we just generally enjoy ourselves on the way to CP34. Shortly after 34, there is a section of Class II/III rapids that we've been warned about and are grateful to hit in the daylight. The direct route is Class III and the around-route is Class II, and we all agree that the around-route, aka "the easy route", is the way to go. Both boats make it through just fine and we continue on the unbelievably scenic Wisconsin River to CP35. I can't emphasize how much I enjoyed this section of the race - it was definitely my favorite!
Another teams' boats and gear at CP35.

TREK 4, CPs 36-43, 4.5mi

We beached the canoes at CP35 and ran CCW.
We hit the unmanned take-out with a decent amount of daylight and are excited to knock out some CPs without headlamps. We hustle through transition, not knowing if Rib Mountain or ENDRacing/Yogaslackers have made up any time on us. We go roughly counter-clockwise on this loop, dealing with trails that magically appear and disappear through the thicker (but still largely briar-free!!) woods. CPs 37, 38, and 39 go well enough, but on the way to CP43 we are confronted with a huge clear-cut area with discarded logs everywhere. It's open but really difficult travel (very easy to slip down through the logs and wrench a knee). We make our way carefully through the clear-cut and see our friend Phil again at CP43. It appears he beached early to pick up these two northern CPs and then will continue paddling. Smart! We have to cross more clear-cut on the way to CP41, 42 goes well, and then we have a bugger of a time with CP36. There are trails and actual roads winding through this area, but they aren't mapped so we decide to attack off the contour features instead, bypassing a very obvious trail from the gasline maintenance building. It's just barely light enough to see without headlamps as we bash southward in the bottom of the shallow reentrant. We're scared of overshooting the flag in the thick undergrowth so the going is very slow. We have a couple false alarms where the terrain seems to match exactly as it should with no flag, so we continue making our way slowly down the reentrant. And then we re-encounter the gasline maintenance building trail, and the CP36 hung neatly on the side of it. Blast! We just lost a bunch of time bushwhacking when a trail run would have taken 5 minutes. But it's our last CP of this leg so we can regroup as we run back to the canoes. On the way we spot Rib Mountain Racing, as well as a solo racer wearing a full mosquito suit so he looks like a bear. Back at the canoes, we're not sure if Rib Mountain went clockwise or counterclockwise, so they could be right behind us! We throw everything in the boats, attach our glowsticks, and get moving.

PADDLE 3, WI River, no CPs, 5mi

Paddling from CP35 to TA7/take-out.
There aren't any CPs on this paddle and only one potential tricky nav junction, so we turn our lights off and paddle mostly in the dark, just listening for any rapids. On a few occasions we mis-judge the riverbanks and run into reed beds, but they're easy enough to correct. The wind is still gusting around and we feel it especially on the final few kilometers into TA7. But by then we're almost done and it's easy to stay motivated when we see the volunteers' glowsticks at the final take-out. 

Is this not a beautiful river?!?! Granted, at this point in the race it was dark, but just loooooook!

BIKE 3A, to Washburn, CP44, 20mi

Bike from the take-out to Washburn
Our bikes have been transported here by race staff so we get set to go. It seems to take us FOREVER to pack up up our paddle bag, get everyone's lights sorted, extra food either consumed or thrown out, maps marked up and properly folded, etc. But we finally roll out without a Rib Mountain sighting so we are feeling okay about our lead. The ride to TA8 is straightforward and mostly northbound, meaning we have a generous tailwind to push us along. The ride absolutely flies by and before I know it we're pulling into Perch Lake (I thought the signs said Peach Lake for the longest time) to get ready for the next two legs.

BIKE 3B, Washburn/Perch Lake singletrack, 3 CPs, 6mi

The singletrack loop at Washburn
TA 8/9 is a beautiful park structure with an indoor space and attached pavilion. Just as we go inside, we hear a rushing of wind and a crashing of rain. Downpour! We are happy to be momentarily indoors, but that comfort will be short-lived as the race staff gives us a park trail map with instructions to ride the dedicated bike singletrack in a loop until we find 3 CP flags. This kind of riding is nerve-wracking because we are always scared we'll miss the flag in a flukey sort of way, so we hope everything as obvious as it seems. We head out into the dark rainstorm with our bikes, ready to tackle the challenge. 

And it's a big challenge - this trail would probably be better served by full-suspension bikes with 5 inches of travel! There are rock gardens everywhere, and with the rain making everything slick, we opt to hike-a-bike quite a bit. It's supremely slow-going, and we creep our way around the rain-soaked singletrack loop. The first CP comes easily enough, and then it's quite a bit of time before we find the second and third. But we finish up on an easier part of the loop and return back to TA 8/9 with our bikes and bodies intact.

TREK 5, Washburn, CPs 45-70, 8mi

This is what 25 CPs looks like.
Back to the TA still well before daylight, we receive the map for "the big trek". Not exactly long at 8 miles, but with 25 CPs!! Plus, this leg is rogaine-style so we can pick our route, but also have to keep track and make sure that we don't skip any of the closely-packed controls. We decide to head southwest first, trying to take advantage of some of the trails shown on the map. The first two CPs go well enough with Mike leading us redline through the soaking wet woods straight to the flags. The rest of the southern controls are a fight. The subtle, thick terrain combined with the flakey trails and pre-dawn darkness combine to slow our pace considerably. We are able to sweep the south section just as dawn is breaking, but it took us at least an hour longer than planned and, if the rest of the controls go this way, we will have a hard time sweeping the entire course. It seems unthinkable, but we do some math and give ourselves time cut-offs to get back to TA 8/9. We are slightly discouraged starting northern section, but the first several CPs come quickly and we get back in a rhythm. Sweep route is back on the table. Woohoo! 

But that doesn't mean we're done. There's still plenty of tricky terrain to cover. It seems that no climbs are over 200 feet, but everything is so subtle and there are depressions everywhere. Just go zoom in on that map! It's crazy! And combine that with an entire network of unmapped ski trails! Just after daybreak, we are jogging on one of the trails as it bends sharply left. Mike's in the lead, makes the turn, and then comes sprinting back at us hissing "THERE'S A BEAR!!". We all retreat a few meters and discuss what to do. We know running away isn't good, plus we have to go forward to the next control, so we all flap our arms around and start yelling at the bear. As we turn left, there's some rustling in the woods, but the bear decides to stay put, and we continue on our way, yelling and flapping for a solid 10 minutes afterwards.

As we work our way through the trek, we pull together as a team really well. Whenever Mike has issues, he works with Andrei to sort out an attack plan, I keep track of clues, and Rachel keeps us speedy on the punches. We keep ticking off CPs roughly counter-clockwise in the northern section until we're on the last one. Of course it's a bugger and gives us trouble, but we eventually sort it out. No one's exactly comfortable at this point, we've all got issues; I'm dealing with chafing that I don't normally experience, but then again I haven't raced over 24hrs, mostly soaking wet, in a while. But we hold things together and jog back to TA8/9 excited to bike to the finish. 
Somewhere on the trek, Mike got a black eye. I did not punch him.
And yes we are both stuffing our faces with food.

BIKE 4, to Lake Nokomis, CPs 71-72, 15mi

Bike from TA9 (upper right corner) to Finish Line/Race HQ (middle left).
In the last TA, we are back to "luxury racing" mode. There is leftover food from the 12hr race so we make ourselves chicken sandwiches and chow down. I use a REAL bathroom, with TP even! We take time thanking the volunteers, who have been informed and extremely encouraging all day. Since all of the previous biking has been on pavement, we're looking forward to an easy 15 mile cruise back to the finish line. Once we get out of TA, we have a nav error but Andrei picks it up and gets us back on the right road. We have some pavement but soon we turn onto a wet and sandy gravel road. The going is slow as we grind our way through the loose surface. Of COURSE Paula would save the hardest biking for last! We go back-and-forth with a solo male racer for both CP71 and CP72 and no one wants to ask him if he's got all the checkpoints. With our soggy final trek, it's entirely possible that someone could have scooted in front of us. In the end, Mike hatches a plan to sprint to the finish, so when he picks his spot, I jump on tow and we all boogie past the solo racer. Our gap holds to the finish line at Lake Nokomis City Hall and we are done!
me, Andrei, Rachel, Mike at the finish line!
Stubborn Mule race staff check our passport and wristbands and tell us we're the only team to clear the course so far. Sweet! We do a first round of gear sorting before driving to the off-site showers. There is a short line so we actually miss the awards ceremony back at City Hall, but when we get back, Paula makes sure that we are awarded some super awesome schwag - shirts from NAARS, jackets from USARA, plus things from the prize table and some discount cards. Amazing!! We spend the rest of the afternoon eating, quizzing Phil (Silent Chaser) about Cowboy Tough, and napping in the lawn of City Hall. Eventually we have to pack up our cars and make a very loooooong drive back to our respective states.
We are WABAR!
I can't say enough how much I enjoyed 180 Adventure's Stubborn Mule 30hr. This race got EVERYTHING right. Beautiful course design, flawless logistics, terrific volunteers, and best of all...ALL CPs IN THE RIGHT SPOT, all 72 of them!! And did I mention that the boats we got to use were the nicest I have ever seen in an adventure race? They were awesome! I had a blast racing with my WABAR teammates as we ironed out the last kinks before Cowboy Tough in a few short weeks. Look for us there!

Race report from ENDRacing/Yogaslackers: http://www.breathemag.ca/race-reports/adventure-racing/stubborn-mule-30-hour-tomahawk-wi
awesome photos from 180 Adventure's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/180Adventure
Results and split times: http://www.180adventure.com/2014-30-hr-smar-results/
Race Report from SuperKate: http://kate-my-mind.blogspot.com/2014/07/stubborn-mule-30-hr-ar.html
Photos from Polly LaMontagne:  https://plus.google.com/photos/108239720344118533314/albums/6034631786739861713/6034632094534376498?authkey=CIya0-vo1ZvNygE&pid=6034632094534376498&oid=108239720344118533314 Pin It

02 July 2014

Race Report: 2014 Plot Pedal Paddle 18hr AR

Last year, team Alpine Shop discovered a hidden gem of Midwestern adventure racing: the Plot Pedal Paddle Night Race in northern Illinois. Our friends/rivals from Bushwhacker tipped us off about this fun event, and we were joined by our other friends/rivals GearJunkie/WEDALI for a good ol-fashioned adventure racing throw down. David and I led for much of the race, but Justin, Andrei, and Amy of GearJunkie/WEDALI emerged victorious, claiming the victory with a late-race charge. So this year, David and I were excited to bring Jeff along to compete in the extended version of PPP - an 18hr race starting at 6pm Saturday. It's a unique feeling to wake up in your own bed Saturday morning, first thinking "I get to adventure race today!" and then realizing "I'm not going to sleep again til Sunday night". I packed up my stuff, drove over to Jeff's to meet David and load the Sona-van, and then the three of us headed north to Dixon.
The start! Where's Alpine Shop? Still packing...
We left with plenty of time to get to Camp Reynoldswood before the pre-race meeting at 4pm, but somehow time got away from us during a leisurely lunch stop and multiple pee breaks. Suddenly it was 3pm and we were still on Interstate 39! We drove as fast as possible on the county roads and pulled into Race HQ a few minutes after the 4pm meeting start. Suboptimal! We slid into the meeting and Dawn from Team Dragon AZ helped us fill out paperwork as Matt led the meeting. We frantically signed our lives away while also jotting down random notes about the course. Maps were handed out shortly after, 4 sheets of 11x17 paper plus a passport and clue sheet. The three of us took stock of everything we had to do before the start in 90 minutes. Plot maps, route plan, waterproof maps, drop paddle gear off, prep bikes, fill bottles, drive bikes to bike drop, change clothes, prep feet, plan food, prep packs with mandatory gear and food...oh my. First things first, we ordered ourselves a pizza to make sure we started out with full bellies. Then we plotted CPs on the map which was rather frustrating because there were several typos in the course booklet which had to be corrected verbally. This was a problem last year too! Once we got all the CPs plotted, I got my bike ready (lights, bottles, food) while Jeff and David planned our route, then they drove all 3 bikes to the bike drop while I laminated maps and got my pack ready. It was chaos, but also reinforced the team trust we've developed; as much as we like to do pre-race prep together, it was okay to break it all up because we know each other's preferences by now. I really had no idea what the course was so I just threw a bunch of food in my pack and hoped it would be enough. I finished getting myself ready at about 5:59pm, grabbed the second-to-last slice of pizza and shoved it in my mouth as I was running down to the start line. Jeff and David were running there, too. We met up and about a minute later, Matt and Dawn shouted "GO!".

TREK 1, CPs 1-10, 3.5k redline

Trek 1: CPs 1-10 in order.
We take off on the opening trek and my mind is still spinning with pre-race details. Less than 500m in, I realize I don't have a headlamp with me. David says he's got an extra one in his pack and that we should be looping back through HQ before sunset so I can grab it out of my bin then. Relief! We punch CP1 and CP2 with a slew of teams, and then by CP3 is just ourselves with Toporadicals (2-boy team from St. Louis, aka T-rad) and Michigan Racing Addicts (3-person coed, aka MRA). MRA seems to overshoot the sneakily-hung flag, and we are able to get a short lead along with T-rad. We race together with the boys from St. Louis through CP6, get a small gap on them at CP7, and then pull away at CP9. We run into CP10 in first place, which is also the bike drop. I'm thrilled to see the SegSlayer waiting patiently for me as we swap shoes in a hurry and fly out of there without seeing another team. 

BIKE 1, no CPs, 2k back to HQ
It's a super-short ride back to HQ. Jeff remembered to top off David's and my tires before the race, but not his own, so his handling is a little squirrely on the pavement, but he adjusts well.


We get back to Race HQ and drop our bikes. Still in bike shoes, we run the few hundred meters over to CP11 where Team Dragon AZ has set up a rope across a steep ravine. It's part-traverse, part-zipline and Jeff goes first with no issues, except the punch is on the other side and the passport is still in his pack. David is already set up on the rope so I grab the passport for my turn, which is what I'm holding in my mouth in the video. For us, the ropes were a little pointless since once we're done, we run back to HQ using a bridge to cross the same ravine. But I know for some people ropes are an adventure race highlight, and we didn't have to wait in line, so we're all good. Once I'm done, I join Jeff and David at our bikes where we all take care of things we forgot to do before the start - Jeff puts air in his tires, David puts in his contacts, and I dig my headlamp out of my bin. Okay. Now. Let's race!

BIKE 2, CPs 12-18, 22mi

First part of bike leg - start at Race HQ (bottom middle of map) and ride NW, then straight N to CP12, then continue N.
We zoom out of Race HQ, through the town of Dixon, and onto some quiet country roads. Immediately we organize into a towing paceline with Jeff at the front. It feels good to finally be racing instead of fretting over pre-race details! The sun is starting to set and the Illinois countryside is just beautiful. We roll north to the town of Woosung, where we had a CP last year, the one hung on the gorilla. This year, we pass by the same gorilla and instead have a CP at the entrance to a rails-to-trails trail.
We are biked north, then east.
We punch CP13 at the entrance to the Joe Stengel Trail and are greeted by a luscious, green-grass-carpeted, deciduous-tree-shaded, gently-graded, wide trail. These are the reasons we love adventure racing - we get to discover cool little gems of outdoor living hidden in the most unlikely of places. I seriously feel like I'm riding through a scene in Alice in Wonderland. Everything is so green, and the setting sun highlights flecks of gold on the trees and grass. And best of all, there are no teams within sight! We motor on down the trail, grabbing CPs 14 and 15 along the way, and then turn east for CPs 16 and 17.
Last part of the bike - riding to "Picknick Shelter O". David's spelling :)
The wind is strangely blowing out of the east so Jeff and David have extra work to do in front of our paceline. They crush it as usual and pretty soon we are rolling into a Baptist Camp for a 5-point trekking leg.

TREK 2, CPs 19-24, 2.5k redline
map for Trek 2 - 5 CPs in order, then return to 18/24. Map stolen from Toporadicals.
As we ride up to the picknick (sic) shelter, Dawn from Team Dragon AZ is there to greet us. She heaps praise on our race so far, saying that we're way ahead of schedule and the other teams. This is really nice to hear, but we've been racing long enough to know that there are a million ways to lose a race, and much fewer ways to win one. So we take the encouragement with trepidation as we get our lights and map ready to go for Trek 2. We run out of TA without another team sighting so we feel good about our lead. It turns out there is an entire network of mowed trails on the Baptist Camp property that are not on our map, and they are very tempting to take because the woods are thick with briars and thorns. We attack CP19 gingerly, getting stabbed and scratched with every step, and also thinking "it's probably hung on a trail somewhere that we don't even know about" but without the trails on our map, we have to be direct. David doesn't like the subtle contours so we bounce back out to the trail, run around to the top of the reentrant, and attack back into the undergrowth. It's extremely slow going, and we are soon greeted by voices and 5 other headlamps - Toporadicals and MRA have caught us! Turns out T-rad has already found CP19 so they tell us to keep going south as they hack their way out of the mess. Jeff eventually locates the control with MRA right on our heels, so together we fight our way out of the nasty woods. 

Now I have to mention something about racing against MRA. Alpine Shop is extremely blessed to have David as our navigator - he can make sense of a map better than most adventure racers in the country. And since there is no explicit rule against following other teams, we sometimes find ourselves having picked up a tail or two during races - teams that can keep up with us physically and just follow David's lead instead of doing their own navigation. NOT SO with MRA. They made their own attack on CP20, striking off into the woods a bit earlier than us, and choosing their own route. Turns out, we overshot the control downhill, and ended up reuniting with MRA at the flag, but approaching from different directions. I was extremely impressed that they stuck to their own game plan, and it was a great route choice too! Good on you MRA!

Our two teams emerge out of the woods together and we pass MRA on the road run to CP21. This clue is "naked tree" and it brings back horrible memories of the "change in forest maturity" clue from MISSION. What the heck does a naked tree look like? No leaves? No bark? Growing next to a stripper pole? Honestly, in the dark, all of the trees look the same and we are not excited about this attack. The woods are only slightly less thick than before so again it's slow going as we thrash around. MRA is with us too, but they are sticking to their own nav which I continue to be impressed by. After a while of flailing, MRA disappears, which can only mean one thing - they've found CP21 and we haven't. Not good. David does his best to relocate on the map, but it takes a while due to the subtle features and thick vegetation. We do our fair bit of wandering. Finally, FINALLY, David pings the CP with his headlamp and we breathe a sigh of relief. CP22 turns out to be relatively close by, and on the way to CP23, T-rad catches up to us after their own struggles at CP20. These woods are eating everyone alive! Back at the TA, Dawn tells us that MRA has about a 30-minute lead on us and T-rad. That is scary and we focus on transitioning swiftly onto our bikes.

BIKE 3, CPs 25-27, 8.5mi
It's a short road ride to the paddle put-in, but we are determined to make up time. I am feeling super motivated so I pull at dirt-crit-effort for as much as I can. Jeff takes over for me about half-way through and we cruise into the paddle put-in having made up 10 minutes on MRA, and T-rad nowhere in sight. This is hugely motivating to us since it was a short bike! We rush through transition, getting our glowsticks and PFDs sorted and pushing off into the Rock River amidst a flurry of bugs.

PADDLE 1, CPs 28-32, 9mi

We put in on the right side of the map (CP27), paddled upstream to CP28, then downstream the rest of the way. Sorry the map is marked weird, there were typos in the race booklet so we had to re-plot 2 points.

Jeff guides us upstream on a flooded Rock River, and we hit CP28 cleanly before turning downstream. CP29 is on a tributary creek but based on the verbal hints given to us a the pre-race meeting, it's easy to find. Then we paddle on to another tributary creek for CP30, with the clue "fallen tree over creek". 
The main river is just south of the map cut-off. 
As we're approaching the tributary creek, we see the glowsticks of MRA emerge from it and continue downstream. Great! We're within striking distance! Jeff takes a split and we turn right to paddle up to the flag, expecting it to be obviously hung like the clue says, in a tree over the creek. The creek makes several shallow bends, and there are some trees fallen over it, but we're not seeing any flags. Oh well, keep paddling! After several minutes of this, we start to get a bad feeling. We should have seen the flag already. I examine the map and note a distinct bridge that would serve as a major catching feature, about 700m north of the CP. Thirty seconds later, we come around a bend and see said bridge. Oh nooooooooo. We just wasted a BUNCH of hard-earned time. We spin the boat around, paddling downstream and this time counting creek bends much more carefully. 

Sure enough, we find the control hidden in a tree overhanging the creek, just not completely across the creek like we were expecting. Shame on us for not paying closer attention to the map! We punch and get back to business trying to make up time on MRA after our 1.5k mistake. The rest of the paddle is fairly fast. The current is ripping along, and we're working hard to make up time. CP31 is a little sketchy, it's hung slightly on shore but David's eagle eyes spot the flag after a few minutes of searching. We have about 3km left to the finish, and I have to mention it's 3km that I will remember for a long time. Having made two fairly large mistakes (for an 18hr race), we are not feeling very keen on our chances of winning. MRA is a good team and they've proven that they can handle the difficult nav and unfriendly forests that seem to be the hallmark of the course so far. So we decide to take every CP as it comes, focusing on our own race and our own best effort. There is a fair bit of pep talking done by all of us, and by the time we reach the take out we are ready to throw down.

Once we take out, we have about a 900m road portage to the next TA. After our river pep talk, we are ready to totally crush this. Jeff and David flip the boat onto their shoulders, I grab everyone's packs and paddles, and we RUN everything down the road. It is not comfortable, nor easy, but it is our best effort. By the time we reach the TA, the volunteer tells us we're in 2nd place by about 12 minutes. TWELVE MINUTES!!! We are elated to hear the time gap is that small, and hustle through TA and onto the next trek.

TREK 3A, CPs 34-43, 4k redline

Meadow Trek. Take out at CP32, portage to CP33, then trek CP35-42 in order.
The volunteer also gives us a map with 9 CPs (CP34 was not printed so all teams skipped) and instructions to complete the trek in order before returning to TA. We've adjusted our strategy based on the first Baptist Camp trek - now we expect every CP to be a hassle and are ready for it. Ironically, CP35 is a pretty easy road/trail run, but after that it gets hard. Really hard, especially at night and with clues like "thicket" and "cluster of trees". CP36 has us in a grove of thickets, and we check what seems to be ten of them before finding the correct one. CP37 is where we meet up with MRA, again still executing their own game plan. It takes us A LOT of time to find the flag. We attack at least 4 times, finding CP38 in the process but not being able to punch it just yet. It's very tense out there - we see MRA's lights flashing around as we continue to attack CP37 from different locations, without much success. David finally finds the flag after much gnashing of teeth, we punch, hustle back to CP38 for the punch, and then on through the rest of the course.

CP39 is actually my favorite since it's "in a marshy area" and the frogs' voices serenade us as we wade through the knee-deep swamp. It kind of reminds me of Star Wars, #nerdalert, except I'm hoping we avoid any leeches. CPs 40 and 41 go easily enough, except only about half of the roads shown on the map exist in real life, but David battles through and we punch both with relatively little issue. Then we carefully attack CP41 with the clue "in a well", trekking back and forth on a big, unmapped east-west gravel road, before spotting a slight opening in the vegetation that might have once been access to a house, or, perhaps, a well? We follow the overgrown path bang onto the control. Then it's a short, infinitely relieved jog back to the TA for the last trek. We haven't seen anyone in the woods since CP37, and with the difficulty of the navigation, we're guessing that we've gained the lead.

TREK 3B, CPs 44-46, 4mi

Final trek from CP33/43, back through town to the Race HQ.
The volunteer confirms that we're in front and, what's more, NO OTHER TEAMS have come in from the paddle. What happened to T-rad? Something weird must be going on. But we have no idea how close MRA might be to us, so we excitedly run off towards the finish line, 4 miles of mostly road running through Dixon and into Camp Reynoldswood. It's easy terrain, for sure, but the boys push the pace and my hammies start to tighten up. Not comfortable, but nothing that will stop until the finish line, so I grit my teeth and keep up as best as I can. The navigation is easy and Jeff keeps us entertained by stopping and standing in a "No Stopping Or Standing" Zone, and having a chat with some ducks as we wade through another creek. As the sun is starting to light up the morning sky, we run into Camp Reynoldswood and across the finish line in first place!
Finish photo!
I am really, really proud of our effort at Plot Pedal Paddle 18hr. We won, and that's cool because we qualified for USARA Nationals, but what's more important was our mental game. We clawed our way back from two rather egregious mistakes, kept believing in the team, and didn't give up. That is one of the most important things in adventure racing - so many things can go wrong to your team and others, you just can't give up on a race because your behind by a few minutes or even a few hours. You never know what's happening to teams around you so you just focus on executing your own best race. Simple. Do your best. And that's what we did!

I also want to mention one more thing about Toporadicals. They had a major nav error on the paddle, missing CP31 and 32, which resulted in more than 10km of upstream paddling in a flood stage river, a very difficult task. It would have been so easy for them to say "let's just skip those two" and continue on with their race. But no, they decided that they still had enough time to clear the course, so they paddled ALL THE WAY BACK to CP31, then back downstream to CP32, then continued on, clearing the rest of the course. I can't say enough how impressed we were when we saw them at the finish line and heard their story. That is also another great thing about adventure racing, you get to meet incredible determined and tough individuals. Good job, T-rad!

Brian from Toporadicals: http://brianrodenbeck.blogspot.com/2014/06/plot-pedal-paddle-adventure-race-6212014.html
Results and split times: http://teamdragonaz.wix.com/plot-pedal-paddle#!2014-race-results/c9h7

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