01 August 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 2)

NOTE: This is the second 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!
Part 1

Cowboy Tough race morning starts like just about any other race morning: with an early wake-up call. Emily called first shower so she hits the hotel room’s bathroom and stays in there long enough for Andrei to wonder out loud if she is taking swimming lessons. Fortunately everyone else is sufficiently prepared to exit the hotel room with plenty of time for a cup of coffee before loading the pre-race coach bus at 0500.

Mike’s initial plan to dump all of his stuff in his own car is scrapped due to having lost the car keys in the voluminous gear bomb the previous evening, so his stuff goes in Andrei’s car.  It should be noted that the keys were IMMEDIATELY found right where they were supposed to be after the race.
We're on a bus!
WABAR grabs seats in the middle of Bus 2 and we are soon joined by other teams including Tecnu and Columbia. The bus ride starts out chipper as we put final touches on our gear prep: custom-inked race jerseys are made, breakfasts are consumed, and sunscreen is applied. After that, we just close our eyes and put our feet up as the Wyoming countryside rolls by. After every single race this year being wet in some way or another (usually torrential rains) it was exciting to watch the sun rise in a bright blue sky over the sage.  Then I started to worry about the sun rising over my head, and the troubling probability of dehydration and cramping... Someone (maybe me) asks “Do you know what I’m going to miss this race?”, I quickly and emphatically say “shade”.
tap tap, this thing on?
After about a 3hr ride, the roads fade from pavement to gravel, and we know we’re getting close. Sure enough, we edge over the next hill and are greeted by the huge Rev3 semi-truck and a glittering field of bikes, smack in the middle of South Pass City. Despite the word “City” in its name, I’m not sure that there are any actual residents. But there is a working bathroom which becomes the most popular attraction once we debark, despite the frequent visits of racers (Tecnu, we’re looking at you) to the bus bathrooms en route. We find our WABAR bikes, all laid out close together, and make final preparations for the race start. Then Mark, Cowboy Tough Race Director, gathers all teams in the “center” of “town” for some final words and the starting blast from an air horn.

PROLOGUE/TREK 1, CPs 1-5, 4mi??
Maps for the prologue/trek.

Teams immediately scatter in all directions. We can obtain 3 of the 5 CPs in any order so we take off west towards CP5 at the JJ Marin Stamp Mill. We are running loosely with YogaSlackers (4p coed) and Silent Chasers (2p male) and our three teams scatter apart even further when the trail disintegrates uphill. Mike keeps us heading straight west and eventually the Yogis catch back up and lead us into the control with the ‘Chasers not far behind. Turns out our route was slightly inefficient but only on the order of 10m extra climb...and who’s counting?  (Me, I’m counting.  Both because I don’t want ANY extra climb, and because I know I’ll catch hell from teammates that figure out I cost them extra climb and distance.)
Rachel entering the mill. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
Back into “town”, we run/speed hike uphill to CP1 at the Carissa Mine Mill, then southeast to CP3 on the Volksmarch Trail. Once we’ve visited these two locations and collected a core sample and “gold” nugget from them, we’re free to head back into town to exchange these items for “race supplies”. Turns out that back in South Pass City, a rock core sample buys each team member a piece of salt water taffy at the General Store, and a “gold” nugget buys each team member a shot of iced tea Wyoming WHISKEY. We each down our shots and use the taffy as a chaser while running to our bikes, the prologue now complete.  Rachel SO wanted to not do a shot here.  She has highly communicative body language and facial expressions.  But, when Emily “cowgirled up” and grabbed her shot, she knew she had not choice but to follow suit. Atta girl, Rach!

BIKE 1, CP6, 10mi
Riding with Journey Racing and Silent Chasers on the way to CP6.
Once we’ve got our trekking shoes safely stowed in our packs, we ride out of South Pass City and onto a 10-mile gravel road biking leg. Journey Racing (4p coed) and Silent Chasers are right around us too so the 10 of us ride in a loose pack to CP6. Break out the perma-grins, we’re racing in WYOMING!!! In addition to the stunning views, we are reminded that this is in fact Wyoming and Wyoming is in fact NOT flat when the road turns up IMMEDIATELY.  Ouch.

TREK 2, CPs 7-10, 6mi (optional)
1:24k map for the second trek, we went clockwise.
Mike navs us straight into CP6 which is a bike drop and a short, optional trekking loop. Since our goal is to clear all mandatory and optional CPs, we transition quickly and get out onto the trek shortly after Journey. We know the Journey athletes are all Colorado natives (and, thus, better acclimatized to the altitude) so we’re content to let them race ahead as we take a more conservative jogging pace.
I'd say that's pretty open land.
The trek is mostly on mapped double-track and Mike starts his theme of spotting CP flags from 1km away.  (The sight lines for this race were crazy good.  I’m pretty sure we spotted a CP on day 3 wll over 1km away…) We even get to run through some delightfully shady aspen groves on the way to CP10. Once we’ve got all 4 CPs punched, it’s just a straight shot back to the bikes and we use the time to take some photos. In our normal 24hr races, none of us would hardly ever consider slowing for photo breaks, but since we’re “luxury racing” this week, we get to snap away.

BIKE 2, CPs 11-13, 25mi
Map for CP11 to CP12, we were riding northwestish.
Back on the bikes, we roll out in the company of Journey and Silent Chasers. There are some gravel miles to start, but they eventually transition into pavement as we continue to hold our smart-n-steady pace. Emily’s legs seem to be on board but her bike is not - her shifting has been rattling around since the start and she’s messing with the barrel adjusters, trying to find a happy medium cable tension. Andrei on the other hand quickly learns how much attachment force is required for gear on his bike as his light/batteries seem to explode on a speedy (and really bumpy) downhill.  Luckily no permanent damage is done to rider or gear. Finally a balance is struck and we get on the ride.
Hangin with Journey, Todd the flagman, and some road cyclist.
A few miles later, our route takes us through a flagged construction zone where we have to stop for several minutes to wait for oncoming traffic to clear through the single drive lane. In a “normal” 24hr race, this would absolutely drive us CRAZY, but in our “luxury racing” mode, we just take the time to have a snack, take some photos, and chat with Todd the flagman. We also learn that one of the previous teams was not very nice to Todd so we try to make up for that by offering to share race snacks - he declines. Once we’re released from the construction zone, we fly downhill and then back up into the first big climb of the day.
Hi mama cow! Hi baby cow!
The climb is HOT and deceptively gradual. Rachel, on her new carbon Air9, absolutely flies uphill with Andrei close behind. Emily and Mike take a slower steadier approach.  They also use the very friendly Cow #315 as an excuse to stop for a breather and capitalize on a photo op.
This photo was supposed to show the vast valley below us. I clearly need to work on my group selfie skillz.
Eventually all make it up the first climb/hill/mountain/pass (we’re from the Midwest, they’re all the same to us) and fly down the backside. This is pure biking bliss! We coast into CP12, punch, and are happily on our way again. That’s when things get tough.
Map for CP12 to CP13, aka the deth march.
Our troubles begin with what seems to be continued issues with Emily’s cable tension. The adjustment she made earlier is not holding, causing major annoyance and missed shifts. We cross a few hike-a-creeks, and she decides to use the break from riding to conduct a thorough investigation. The results? Oh, nothing major, just HER DRIVE-SIDE CRANK IS FALLING OFF. This is total bad news bears for Day 1 of a multi-day race. Further, the crank requires a 10mm hex wrench to fix, and the biggest we’re carrying is an 8mm. Mild panic ensues. We ask a few other teams in the immediate vicinity of the creek crossing for help, they all kindly check their multi-tools, but no one has the correct wrench.
Right about where our troubles started.
Finally Mike puts his enginerding degree to use (thank you 6 years at Rose Hulman) and figures out how to use Emily’s tire lever as makeshift 10mm, but the soft plastic can only put so much tension on the crank bolt. Each fix lasts a half-mile at best, and we have 12 more miles to go before TA/CP13. This could be a long day, but at least we have plenty of material for “that’s what she said” jokes about the too-soft tire lever that doesn't fit into the hole.
hike that bike!
Fortunately/unfortunately, the next 12 miles have some steep climbs that are more efficiently travelled as hike-a-bikes, an activity that requires ZERO use of the crank! Huzzah! Except it’s still really hard work to push our bikes, especially if your bike weighs as much as Mike’s does. His legs are the first to let us know with a full-on lockdown CRAMP. (Yes, I am now in the same athletic category as LeBron, (ha). Reduced to athletic ineptitude by cramps.  As in, “ooh, check out all those muscle fibers” cramps. Worse than I've had in a LONG time.)

Things are not looking good for WABAR. We adjust for this by slowing the pace, having Mike and Rachel switch bikes for pushing (the carbon Air9 is so much lighter than the Moots YBB Rohloff), or just having Rachel take both bikes. She is a machine! We also take some rest breaks wherever we can find a patch of shade, (which isn't all that often) or a cool creek crossing (equally infrequent but SOOO much more effective for getting that body temp down!).
Push it! Push it real good!
Our progress is painfully (in more ways than one) slow along the Indian Trail fire road/doubletrack. We get a few glimpses of hope with some killer downhills, but they do very little to help overall team speed. We are just in trudge mode, simple as that.

Fortunately, 12 miles of trudge mode eventually come to an end with the sight of a beautiful Rev3 pop-up tent. We’ve made it to TA/CP13!!! Never have we felt more relieved to get off our bikes and onto the race’s biggest trekking leg. We take a luxury racing transition - new foot lube for everyone, new socks and shorts for those who remembered to bring them, garbage emptied from random pack pockets, new layers of sunscreen, all done in the shade of a pit toilet at 8500’. Adventure racing at its finest!

TREK 3, CPs 14-21, 14mi
Final trek for Day 1. travelling roughly clockwise.
The trek starts out with 4 optional CPs (14-17) which take us around a few lakes and ponds. We pass several teams at CP14 as they are restocking on water, and all of us still have plenty (which was actually a mistake, we carried WAY too much water on our backs during the bike ride).  I respectfully and unequivocally disagree in every way imaginable on this point.  I in fact brought barely enough but drank WAY TOO LITTLE on the way up.  But that’s just me.  I don’t have the near dromedary-like hydration efficiency that the ladies seemed to.
Andrei and Mike starting "the big trek".
Rachel starting "the big trek"
Emily starting "the big trek"
Once we’re well past CP14, the non-dromedary boys realize that actually they DO need to re-stock on water, so we are on the lookout for a source. We find the 4p male team GUTS taking a break near a clear running stream so we decide to join them and refill. Andrei has brought along a GearJunkie test item, the Katadyn Gravity Filter, which we have affectionately named “Andrei’s Magic Sack”. The filter really is magic, it purifies about 1L of water per minute WITHOUT any waiting time like tablets have. Before the race, Emily was skeptical about the extra weight, but after seeing the sack in action, she’s sold. 
Andrei and his magic sack.
The navigation gets a little challenging for CPs 15 and 16, which is great for us because MAPS MAPS MAPS MAPS. We attack what we believe to be the highest CP on course, CP17 around 9100’. As we’re making our way uphill, we hear branches snapping behind us and it’s Journey Racing! No way! We’re totally stoked to be hanging with the ColoRADians on the higher elevation stuff, where us poor flatlanders should be puking and crying. We hold a slim lead on the descent from 17 which involves a really awesome hop through a boulder field, and then Journey moves ahead on the ensuing road run and punches CP18 first.
Not only does Rachel punch faster than the speed of light, she takes awesome CP selfies!
CP18 is a manned CP, and as we punch we chat with the Rev3 staff briefly. Eric sends us off with a “hope to see you again soon!” which we think is cute and keep running in the same direction as Journey. We run through the campground looking for a trailhead, and Emily takes the time to say hi to a couple horses that are hanging out there. Mike is looking frustratedly at the map, and soon after we see Journey disappear into the woods, he exclaims “That SONOFAB!TCH!”, turns completely around, and starts running “EZ pace” back to CP18. Turns out the trailhead we needed was directly behind the Rev3 staff, and we didn't even see it. We exchange a sarcastic “thanks” with Eric as we see them again (which is returned with some light-hearted laughter and “good jobs”), and vow to not get distracted by other teams again.
Adventure racing does not suck.
What's up Journey Racing!?!?!!!
After a short time, Journey recovers from their identical mistake at CP18 and catches back up to us again on the trail. We all hike together for a while on the uphill, but once the trail turns downhill, the Journey-ers are GONE. No worries for WABAR, we’re committed to our pace and just focused on staying steady. We take a short break at CP19 (Sheep Bridge) to re-lube feet and get our lights sorted in the increasing dusk. The sun sets on our way to CP20 (falls overlook), but Mike keeps the trail navigation dialed and thanks to a map consult with Andrei, we pick the correct access route for the CP and are greeted by Legendary Randy and Awesome Chris. We didn't expect to see them so there isn't much good video interaction. Sorry!
Screenshot from Legendary Randy's vid.
As we’re leaving CP20, we see the lights of another team coming toward us and it turns out to be Journey again! It’s fun to keep flip-flopping with them as we make our way through the course in the dark. From the falls, we just have a few more kms of downhill trail running until the next TA.

TREK 4, CPs 1-10, 6mi
Trail map for the last 10 CPs. These were also plotted on our USGS.
Rev3 has designed the course so that each day ends with 10 optional trekking CPs, on a rogaine-style course of about 10km. We run into the start of this optional section with lots of time to get all of the CPs, which is our goal. The medics give us a quick check (“Everyone feeling good?” “Yes!” “Okay see ya later!”) and we’re off on the final leg of Day 1, with Silent Chasers shortly ahead and Journey Racing nipping at our heels.

This leg is entirely within Sinks Canyon State Park at around 6500’. Most of the CPs are on or close-to trails, making the navigation not terribly difficult, but everything’s always a little harder in the dark. Once we find the correct trail to start on, we ping through the CPs at a steady pace. We catch up with our friends the Silent Chasers and work together for a few CPs, then we’re on our own for the two most physical CPs, 5 and 4. Rachel absolutely destroys the climbs on a mission to punch speedily as the rest of us struggle to keep up.
Obviously from earlier in the day, but always fun to post pics of your teammates trekking in their underwear.
Somewhere along the way Mike realizes that our route choice, although not horrible, was not the most efficient one possible.  Although it did allow us some social time with the Silent Chaser boys, it unfortunately cost us a few minutes. Towards the end, Emily’s knees start hurting a lot so she digs out her trekking poles for joint preservation, and shares one with Mike, who is starting to feel some hot spots.  Being Day 1, it’s always best to be over-conservative on things like this rather than “tough it out”. We clear all 10 CPs and then enjoy a nice gradual downhill road run into the End of Day 1 TA.

On the easy run into TA, we talk through exactly what we’re going to do to maximize our sleeping time. We arrive around 2:15am, and commit to waking up by 5:15am to be ready for the 6:00am start of Day 2. We all work together to unload our bins from the Mobile TA and find a comfortable place to sleep on some playground mulch. Emily runs around to every awake person asking for a 10mm hex wrench, and eventually finds one from JR the medic. Salvation!

We all snuggle into our sleep systems (Which for me unfortunately consists of a down jacket and a space blanket with my bare feet exposed to the air (that part was on purpose).  Better than nothing I suppose.) and try to catch a few hours’ rest under the beautiful night sky. Day 1, CLEARED!

I don’t have much multi-day race experience AT ALL.  This was my second one.  But, I have to say it was WAY easier to sleep “off the clock” knowing we couldn't start racing for a few more hours.  I didn't sleep great, but at this point any little bit of rest helps.

Rev3 album from Day 1: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.744762595564813.1073741863.148981488476263&type=3

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