07 December 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 4)

NOTE: This is the fourth 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
Part 2
Part 3


After more hours of sleep (six!!) than some of us get during a normal weeknight, we are woken up by our 0500 alarms. We gather round our bins for breakfast and get ready for the day. Because we were a bit rushed with only 45min of morning prep yesterday, we each agreed on 60min today and it seems to be the perfect amount. We prepped all of our bikes last night (changed Mike’s flat tire, filled bottles and bentos) and they are hanging in Rev3’s Mobile TA. We dress ourselves for the day and then put our packs inside our bins and load those into the Mobile TA as well. Day 3 begins with whitewater rafting, and we aren’t allowed to have our packs in the rafts with us. Rev3 will drive them to the take-out instead. We gather around Mark for an 0600 start with the usual suspects: Tecnu, Columbia, YogaSlackers, Journey, Silent Chasers, and I think a few other teams. Mark shouts GO! and we all race off! This of course meant running, which had not been my friend to this point in the race.  However, whether it was due to early morning adrenaline or all the food and sleep, I was feeling pretty darn good.

TREK 1, CP37, 2mi
The start of Day 3. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
The first order of business is to get ourselves to the whitewater rafting put-in on the Big Horn River. It’s located very close to our railroad trestle shortcut from last night, just a few downhill kilometers on a paved road. We’re running at a good clip and making sure that we’re all ready for the day. Someone mentions the “Start of Day” punch requirement and Rachel stops dead in her tracks. “You guys, I didn’t punch Start of Day, were we supposed to?”

Our stomachs drop. We start tentatively jogging forward again and spewing questions at each other. We downloaded the ePunch last night, does that count? Is the Start of Day punch mandatory or just a formality? We checked in verbally with Mark, is that enough? Wouldn’t Rev3 know that we’re gone and mark our time down anyway? After a few seconds, we realize this is a risk we simply cannot take, especially when fixing it would take only 10ish minutes of extra running. Emily offers to run back to TA with the ePunch, and Rachel hands it off. The trailing teams give her plenty of confused looks but when she holds up the ePunch stick (no extra breath for words), they seem to understand.

Back in TA, Emily locates Rev3 staffer Greg who has the Start of Day control, punches, and rejoins the team who is waiting on the road. We retrace our steps downhill and Mike strategizes on how to make up for our few lost minutes. This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, but we’ve been told by Rev3 that they will only launch rafts when they’re filled with 8 racers. This means we’ve got to make it to the put-in with another team to avoid being stranded. With the front of the pack long gone ahead of us, we could be facing a long delay if there aren’t another 4 racers ready to paddle when we get to the put-in. Luckily, we spot two teams spread out ahead of us, so we run hard to place ourselves in the middle of them as we arrive at the put-in, thus guaranteeing ourselves spots on a raft leaving immediately. Crisis averted...
I put it a considerable amount of mental effort doing the math on this one.  Rachel was beside herself with anxiety because of the possibility of getting stuck at the put-in for quite some time.  After doing the math (a number of times) I assured her that we were good to go based on all the numbers I had counted.

We now return to the twist that everyone is expecting thanks to Emily’s ominous usage of the ellipsis…

PADDLE 1, CP37, 15mi
Map of the WW paddle, northbound on the Big Horn River.
...or so we thought. (See?  Ellipsis = plot twist!)  Once we check in at the put-in, the raft company informs us they will only release boats two at a time for safety. This means with need SIXTEEN racers ready to paddle, instead of 8.  (At this point I was pretty pissed at all that extra thinking I had just done.  I mean come on, that was at least an extra .75 calories I burned!) We look around. There are only 12 of us. We have to wait for 4 other racers before we can leave.

None of us are happy about this new information, Rachel especially. We reassure her that this was a team mistake, that we are all responsible for communicating about punching requirements, especially in the hurried morning hours. There is no way she is at fault. Still, she takes the mistake to heart and we all need a little chill time as we keep glancing back at the road, silently willing another team to show up and allow us to get on the water.
First two boats on the Big Horn. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
It is a tense 10 minutes, but finally we spot 4 racers jogging down to the put in, and start cheering for them. Hoo-ray! We are paired up with Wind River Country Racing***, a team of 3 girls and 1 guy, all from Wyoming. The raft company gets us suited up in helmets and PFD’s and we launch onto the Big Horn River in two 8-person rafts, each with a guide using oars. Our guide is named Whitey and he tells us stories about the river as we make our way downstream. There is a big Class IV rapid near the beginning that we hit cleanly. Then we have a bunch of flatter water that requires good paddling. Rachel takes charge, calling out a “one! two! one! two!” cadence so everyone can match paddle strokes. After just a few minutes, Whitey pipes up with “okay, everyone, good job, now let’s take a rest break.” Rachel turns around and absolutely GLARES at him. And then, in the nicest way possible, she says, “Um, well, we really need to get this done quickly, I don’t think we really need rest breaks, so, let’s just keep paddling. One! Two! One! Two!”
A rapid on the Big Horn. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
We keep paddling. Whitey calls for a few more rest breaks, and each time is met with refusal from WABAR (mostly because we know Rachel would disown us if we gave in). We all share the chore of counting the “one! two! one! two!” cadence for as long as possible, (Oh how I resisted this, but when I gave in I ended up getting into a routine and I’m pretty sure (other than possibly Rachel) I kept up the count longer than anyone else.  I heard “one, two” in my head for days if not weeks after the race), and the Wind River Country racers help too. We swap positions here and there to ease tired muscles. Finally, the last Class IV rapid is staring us in the face and Whitey guides us through cleanly again. Then the take-out is just another mile or so downstream and we all work together to haul the raft up on shore. The Rev3 truck is waiting for us and we quickly change clothes for what we consider to be the queen stage of this race: a 90-mile bike ride. With no shade. Mike is thrilled. (Yes, thrilled.  Ecstatic. Euphoric.  Rapturous even…)

In order to keep this from being a repeat of Day 1’s sufferfest, we make a few changes. Mike’s wearing Emily’s white GJ/WEDALI shirt to help him keep cool. We’ve got a TON of water on us - everyone with full bladders, full bike bottles, and a few extra bottles in our packs as well. Emily’s got the magic 10mm hex wrench in her pack to avoid further crank issues. Okay! Let’s go!

***SIDE NOTE FROM EMILY: I'm glad I waited so long to post this day's race report because a cool thing happened recently. I work at the Alpine Shop in St. Louis, an outdoor retailer, and we had a visit from NOLS a few weeks ago. I coordinate those sorts of visits so when the NOLS rep arrived, I was there to help get her table set up. She greeted me with, "My name is Marina and I think I've paddled with you before!" Turns out she was a member of the Wind River Country team!!! Cray-cray!!! We shared a bunch of stories that night in between customers visiting the table. Adventure racing is awesome even after the race is over!

BIKE 1, CPs 39-40, 38mi
WABAR ready to start riding. Photo by Mark Harris.
We hop on our bikes and immediately, Emily knows something’s not right. NOT AGAIN!!! She pedals, gets off, squints at her frame, checks her crank, pedals again, still not right, what in the world? Finally, she gets it - her crank arms are tightened, but they are not oriented properly. When she disassembled her crank at yesterday’s TA, she retightened everything in “10-and-6” position instead of the correct “12-and-6” alignment. But it’s a quick fix with the proper wrench, and soon enough we’ve made our first turn onto some delicious Wyoming gravel.
Bike 1, eastbound, on the 1:gajillion Gazetteer map.
We start the long task of picking off teams that got to start ahead of us on the rafting section. First we catch up with fellow Midwesterners Jon and Eric from Unplugged Adventures. We chat for a bit and then keep rolling on. There isn’t a whole lot of traffic on these roads which is great for us. We do run into one truck, however, whose driver stops, gets out, and waits for us to ride by him looking none-too-happy. Mike, Andrei, and Rachel cruise casually by as the old-time cowboy tries to talk to them. Emily tries to be a friendly Midwesterner and stops for a quick chat, cringing at the scolding that’s sure to come. Sure enough, the rancher starts complaining about our “bike friends up that-a-way” riding too close to his cows and scaring them as they were being herded down the road. “You know, when them cows git scared like that they git stressed, and that makes it so they won’t git pregnant. We’re scheduled to inseminate all them today and now I’m gonna lose a buncha money,” the rancher kvetches. Emily doesn’t really know how to respond except “I’m really sorry and we’ll try to tell the other racers not to upset your cows,” and hustles back up to her teammates. (I have nothing to add here other than stating that anyone that knows Emily will not be the LEAST bit surprised to hear this little story.)
90 miles of pure Wyoming gravel today. 

A few more miles down the road, and we spot the race staff tent for CP39. Rev3 has provided a 2.5gal water drop here for each team, but as we approach, we each realize we’ve got WAYYYY too much water on board. No one needs a refill, and we actually dump out about 1L that we don’t think we’ll need until the next known water stop at CP41. It’s too bad that we’ve already carried the extra weight this far, and we hope that we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot by dumping “excess” water at this point.
Mike and Andrei dumping water early in the ride. 

Once leaving CP39, we start catching other teams from this morning’s first wave of boats. This makes us feel really good that our delay getting on the river hasn’t turned into a huge disadvantage. Mike and Emily start to feel the heat so Rachel and Andrei help out with pack carrying and towing. We pass our friends on Journey Racing, as well as a few other two-person male teams as we tick off the Wyoming gravel miles. Pretty soon we’re rolling into CP41, where Rev3 has provided some additional water and gatorade as we transition into our trekking gear. (This is around when I switched into “if it’s liquid, drink it” mode.  I had my normal HEED spiked water but if there was anything that anyone had with electrolytes or sugar in it, down the hatch it went.  Normally this would spell disaster but with my body desperately needing any and all hydration, and with our pace being pretty reasonable, I managed to avoid any major issues.)

TREK 1, CPs 41-43, 6mi
Out-n-back trek in the middle of the big ride.
As we’re changing out of our bike shoes and into our trekking shoes, we see Tecnu returning from the out-n-back trek. It’s always fun to see them on the course, especially when Kyle serenades us with his rendition of “Lollipop”. Columbia is still a few minutes behind them and we see them inbound as we jog outbound. Phil and Kevin from Silent Chasers are also with us as we have a long dusty jog on an exposed gravel road. Things are getting really hot so we trade packs and punch duty, hoping to keep everyone’s effort under control. Garrison navs the 3 controls easily and we even spot YogaSlackers cooling off in a cow pond a few hundred meters away.
On the road. Full sun.
On the way back, Andrei starts to overheat so we dial back the pace a bit and work together to keep him as comfortable as possible. He comes up with an ingenious way to wear his race bib as a shading device (no pic, sorry, but it was glorious) and it works great. Eventually we make our way back to our bikes and eagerly drink our liquid rations - 1 bottle of water and gatorade for each of us - before getting back on our bikes for more gravel grinding.

BIKE 2, CPs 44-46, 50mi
Bike 2, eastbound, on the 1:gajillion Gazetteer map.
That map image above does not do justice to the actual amount of biking that had to be done.  It also isn’t great at showing climb, and downright horrible at showing how FREAKING HOT it was… The Silent Chasers are in TA at the same time so we convince them to combine teams into a 6-person paceline to knock out the miles to CP44, getting both of us closer to water and us closer to YogaSlackers. They agree and pretty soon we are flying along at a pretty fantastic pace. The added company, plus the promise of a full water restock in just a few miles, motivates us all and in no time we roll into CP44. Rev3 staff are there to greet us with extra water, along with several other teams, including the Yogis! We divvy up our allotted 2.5gal (=9.5L) between everyone’s bladders, and then add some extra water that previous teams didn’t use. After Garrison and Andrei do some sprinkler dancing, (sorry, no pictures, but it was yet again glorious) then the four of us roll out just a few minutes behind YogaSlackers.
Riding with Silent Chasers' Phil before organizing the paceline.
After just a few miles of road biking, we spot the Yogis, stopped on the side of the road next to a huge puddle. We roll up to ask what’s wrong, and it turns out someone’s bladder just burst at the seams. What a huge bummer! We don’t have any extras to lend them, so we keep riding, and pretty soon they are moving again too and catch us. It’s a slightly tense dynamic between our two teams at first as we ride in a loose pack, no one quite sure if we’re working together or trying to gain an advantage on the other. (We knew they had a lead on us overall, but no one was quite sure how much.  We also knew that both our teams didn’t feel great, but no idea how “not great”.  Would this be a time where either they could completely put us away, or maybe we could end up putting some time on them and make it a real race for third?) But pretty soon, we all get to chatting and it’s clear that we’re much better off spending these miles socializing, rather than trying to rip each others’ legs off. So we share snacks and gum and even stop at the same mud pit for a pee break and an attempt at bathing (I want to clarify that the pee break and the bathing were in different areas.). Shortly after the mud pit, however, it’s clear that the YogaSlackers have got more gas in the tank than WABAR so they ride off the front as the four of us regroup and refocus on our team.
Dan from YogaSlackers and Mike from WABAR breaking the ice.
Rachel and Emily w the YogaSlackers at a group stop. Photo by Erik Sanders.
Isolated once again in the stark Wyoming terrain, we struggle. Everyone’s ass is hurting, and we’re experiencing food fatigue - no calorie source sounds particularly appealing even though we know we need to keep fueling. Oh and Mike had his umpteenth poop stop and Emily took the opportunity for a selfie. The stop below is from what I believe was my 39th mid race poop.  I’m not sure when it started but the past few years I can barely even race 12 hours without needing to stop for a good natural break.  Very annoying.
You don't want to know what's happening on the other side of that bike.

At this point in the race, any excuse to stop and sit, packless, is a good one.
The wind is unrelenting as we battle our way east, finally collecting CP45 north of Arminto and turning south to Waltman. We see a couple more teams hanging out at a small store on Hwy 20, but it’s only another 10-ish paved miles to CP46 and the end of today’s biking section, so we push through. The pavement really brings our legs to life and we are able to ride fast!
I swear, it FELT like we were hurrying in TA.
We’ve been warned that the next trekking section, in Hell’s Half Acre, is the most navigationally intense section of the entire race. We’re super stoked about that, but also we know we need to maximize the waning daylight hours to have a good split time. Emily hustles everyone through dealing with our bins, and we’re able to run out of TA just as the sun is starting to set.

TREK 2, CPs 1-10, 6mi
Descending the unassuming doubletrack into Hell's Half Acre.
Wow. Just….wow. The terrain of Hell’s Half Acre is other-worldly. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and no way the 1:24k USGS map can come even slightly close to representing the intricate towers, eroded boulders, and seemingly ancient streambeds in this bizarre canyon. Mike soaks it all in as we descend the double-track.
For Rachel, everything is runnable.

The terrain is runnable for Erik from YogaSlackers, too.

Mike relocates.
We decide to attack these 10 CPs in numerical order, and set off for CP1. We see Legendary Randy with his camera set-up (look for us around 3:15 of that video!), which must mean we’re in the right spot...right? We also see YogaSlackers, so we’re definitely in the right spot but...no CP1. The flag could be anywhere behind these intricate rock formations, and Mike scratches his head more than once trying to relocate. He calls for a knife and slashes a postage-stamp size (relatively) swatch out of the table cloth map, trying to help focus his navigation efforts, but we still struggle to find the first CP. After checking just about every miniature rock face/shrub we can find, the flag finally pops out and Rachel punches. OK, more than just quick commentary from me here.  First off, I didn’t even get myself oriented enough to find CP1.  I was trying to think of another way to approach it when Andrei asked to see the map.  One AR skill that I’m pretty decent at is pride swallowing, so I did just that and handed it over.  Within minutes he was oriented and walked right to CP1.  He asked if he could do another and I said “go for it”.  He nailed that one too.  As disappointing as it was to my ego and pride to flop on the part of the race that I had hoped to redeem myself due to my poor physical performance, it was obvious that Andrei was in a zone.  I think he was uncomfortable at first asking if he could nav the rest of this section but I encouraged him to have at it.  And have at it he did!
Map from Hell's Half Acre that Mike slashed out of the main map.
Andrei offers to take over the maps at this point, and Mike happily agrees. That’s the awesomeness of having a team full of navigators - we can hand the maps to just about anyone at any time and we’ll probably go in the right direction. And in this case, Andrei’s feeling strong and highly technical foot navigation is his specialty, so we’re stoked to let him shine. And shine he does - we fly though CPs 2-6, pinging each one accurately and running like it’s a 24hr race, eagerly responding to Andrei’s calls of “chop, chop!” and “hurry up, I already know where the next CP is!”.
Andrei already running to next CP. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
As the sun is setting, we catch up to YogaSlackers at CP6, put on our lights, and put in a big effort to push in front of them. They’re still well ahead of us in the overall standings, but we’re feeling great and want to prove a point that the harder the nav gets, the faster we can go. Even in the dark, Andrei continues crushing the maps, leading us straight to the final 4 CPs. (Andrei needs to be commended for an outstanding effort here.  He absolutely crushed this challenging nav that would make mince meat of a LOT of teams in the dark.  In fact, I believe that we (he) logged the fastest nav time out of ALL teams for this section!) Rachel is super speedy with the punches and we all motivate each other to run back up the final doubletrack into TA. We triumphantly punch the final CP for Day 3 and are rewarded with 2 hotdogs each, cooked by the illustrious Rev3 staff.
Running into the twilight. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
We chat with out Tecnu friends as we chow down, and then do some final piddling with our bins, cleaning out the accumulated trash and preparing our packs for the last day of the race. We get to sleep for one last night under the wide-open Wyoming sky, drifting in and out of dreams as teams continue shuffling through TA.

Rev3 Day 3 Photo Album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.745596178814788.1073741865.148981488476263&type=3
YogaSlackers photo album: https://www.facebook.com/erik.sanders.963/media_set?set=a.10152379715127694&type=1&pnref=story
Tecnu photo album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.687589551276425.1073741858.162254323809953&type=3
Columbia photo album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.679601542125729.1073741873.110888508997038&type=3 Pin It

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