Race: USARA Nationals

Team: Mike’s Hike and Bike, comprised of Steve Hagan, Darryl McCauley, and Kerry Gross

Date:October14-15, 2016

Location: Columbia County, GA (and some South Carolina points)

Time on Course: 27:10:56

Results: 13th place coed division

Distance covered: ~78 miles (~31 miles of paddling, ~35 miles of biking, ~12 miles of trekking)

Though the post race interview with Columbia County’s news tells most of the story (i.e. amazing, awesome, super, and cool), here’s a quick outline of our race:

Friday, October 14th – Race Day

5:00 am – Wake up

5:30 am – Hot food for breakfast

6:00 am – Leave for Savannah Rapids

6:30 am – Maps and plotting

We get a packet with race rules, a list of UTM plots and clues, one BIG race map, and a bunch of smaller supplemental maps. Darryl and Steve plot UTMs while I familiarize myself with the supplemental maps of a frisbee golf course, a modified bike route, and an o-course. After looking at all the maps and the race rules, we’re pretty sure that if we can clear the opening massive paddle section we’ll be able to clear the whole course. That would be a first for all of us!

7:45 am – Busses and strategizing

9:00 am – Race start

The race begins with a quick jog around the International Disk Golf Center to pick up 12 CPs. It’s a huge point bounty and we make good time with my map reading, Steve’s spotting, and Darryl’s check point punching.

9:30 am – Transition to paddling

2016-10-14-transitionto-boat

We head out into Clarks Hill Lake with Darryl in the back with his wing paddle, Steve in the middle navigating, and myself in the front to paddle and jump out for CPs. While some of our competition decide to portage and avoid a solid headwind, we stick to our pre-race strategy of bagging CPs 1, 2, and 3 before turning west for CP 4. The boat doesn’t exactly glide across the water; but we’re making pretty good time.

After a long paddle, we’re happy to have a little bit of a trek to CP 4. Back in the boat on our way to CPs 5 and 6, we pass other teams doing the paddle loop in the opposite direction. Heckling provides a nice distraction from aching arms. Each time we get up for the little treks we realize just how stiff we’re becoming.

The paddle back to CP 7 is exhaustingly uneventful. We struggle a bit to orient ourselves on the land map, but eventually we get there and find the flag. Then, a short paddle to CP 8 is just long enough to put all our arms on the struggle bus. Fortunately, the end of an 18 mile paddle section is in sight. Just one little walk up a hill and back down to our boats and across the neck of the lake to our bikes. Except when we come back down the hill to our boat, our boat isn’t there. But another team is. They kindly tell us our boat is in the next cove over. Right where we left it.

Lesson learned: Take a bearing back to the boat, not just up to the check point.

3:00 pm – Off the water, onto the bikes!

We make the 4:00 cut off for heading out on our bikes and are feeling very confident about our abilities to clear the course! CPs 9 through 12 are easily found as they are mostly just waypoints between Wildwood Park and Mistletoe State Park. The only difficulty arises when we hit Mistletoe State Park and head the less efficient direction around a loop trail.

Lesson learned: Note the land changes to the map holder; don’t keep constructive doubts to oneself.

4:45 pm – Drop the bikes for a quick trek

In Mistletoe State Park we have our first stretch of orienteering. I thought Steve might take on the land navigation, but he passes the map off to me and we’re off and running. Or, well, off and moving, at least. We head north down Campground road and dive in to the right, past a punch CP for a different course and on to our first target: CP 13.

Throughout the section, I tried to use the mapped trails as paths to and from the CPs. This strategy proved to be more of a headache than it was worth. In the case of both CP 14 and 15 there was no clear point of departure from the trail, so we wasted a lot of time on guesswork when we could have been bushwhacking a straight line.

Lesson learned: Mapped paths don’t necessarily mean more efficient orienteering. Take bearings and bushwhack for certainty.

6:45 pm – Biking back to Wildwood

As the sun is setting we have a beautiful ride through a logged section straight out of the Lorax, Truffula trees and all.

8:00 pm – Another trek

Well ahead of the 11 pm cutoff for trekking, we’re feeling great about our ability to clear the course. It’s our first night navigation together and the toughest orienteering we’ve faced yet, so I try to build consensus on our route before we set off. Unfortunately, in practice this turns into bullheaded indecision. Eventually I decide on a plan that I think will work best and we’re off moving again.

Lesson learned: As navigator, be firm and decisive. Ask for input when it’s needed. Find strategies for keeping teammates in the map which do not waste time on indecision.

Given that it’s nighttime and the plotted paths haven’t proved to be terribly helpful, we stick to straight, methodical, bearing walking. Darryl takes the lead on keeping us on a straight, directional path and Steve and I fan out to either side as CP spotters. A few times we make it to our backstop and find the CP on the second pass rather than the first. All in all, it’s an uneventful, pleasant, nighttime walk with a big moon.

About 11:00 pm – Bike the Bartram Trail

No navigation to worry about, just a fun 15 mile single track ride to the head of the Savannah River. Sometimes our paddles (which are in our backpacks) snag on low branches. Luckily, that’s our only trouble. Other teams are having serious mechanical issues, we offer assistance, but they seem to have things under control.

About 2:00 am – TA 2 and the last trekking section

Back off our bikes we take a long transition. There is coffee and a box of goo and some brief respite from our bikes. I take the small map and decide on a clockwise route. The first four points are painful bushwhacking through puckerbrush and up our first hills of the race. We’ve honed our team night navigation and things are moving pretty well. Right up until they aren’t.

The last point of the trek is up a reentrant and there’s no good place from which to attack. On the first pass, we try finding the right reentrant from the bottom of a big gully. We think we’ve found the right one, but I caution our team to take it slow and check bearings along the whole path. Unfortunately, we get overtaken by a pack of other teams and the headlight feeding frenzy sweeps away the slow caution I tried to instill.

Lesson learned: Stick with your team plan, avoid the headlight feeding frenzy.

Finally, we regroup and have no real good idea where we are. I look behind us and see a radio tower that I can also find on the map. We decide to rough guess where we are based on the direction to the radio tower and make another pass. This is a totally unfruitful waste of a half an hour, but we exacerbate the time loss by wandering around at the top of an unknown reentrant. Finally, Steve nudges me enough to make a firm decision and we head back to a known point to attack the point.

Lesson learned: (For the millionth time) go from somewhere you know.

While my stomach is having it’s morning disagreement with the world, Steve and Darryl shoot a straight bearing from the road to the point. All I can contribute for the moment is hanging on for the ride. Finally we find the CP, my stomach stops roiling, and we’re on our way out of the prickers and back to the TA.

6:30 am – Long transition to paddle

Back at the head of the Savannah River we visit a real bathroom, find some Pringles, and gather our paddle stuff.

7:00 am – Paddle to Savannah Rapids

We’re a quiet crew as the sun is rising on the river. As the miles flow on our arms tire and our legs stiffen; but there’s nowhere to go but forward. We snag a CP off a railroad bridge and then slide to the shallow side of an island for the next CP. It’s the most direct route, but feels a lot like paddling through a rice paddy. Or, how I guess paddling through a rice paddy would feel, had I ever paddled through one. After the island CP we portage past a power dam and then have just a very short stretch to the final put out.

11:00 am – Last biking

A monstrous portage up the bank of the Savannah River ends our time with our heavy, plastic, yellow, three-seater canoe. I can’t say I’m sad to leave it behind. The finish arch is a welcome sight, but we still have some urban mountain biking to do before we can finish for real.

We take off at pace on our bikes and find the first CP without a problem. Still riding hard, we dive into some urban mountain bike trails. Without a map we plunge recklessly headlong into a new system. Having not taken stock of our surroundings, finding the trail CP takes far longer than it should have. Finally, though, we do. And, shortly thereafter we also find a map of the area on a city trail sign.

At my behest, we finally align our map with the city map and know where the last point of the race can be found. Back at pace, we push hard out to the end of the urban canal trail system and back to the finish line.

12:12 pm – Finish

2016-10-14-finish

The takeaway:

  • Take bearing everywhere, even to the boat
  • Note land changes out loud for the benefit of the navigator
  • Skip trails and bushwhack in straight lines for efficiency
  • As navigator, take input, but also be firm and decisive
  • Avoid headlight feeding frenzies as much as possible
  • (For the millionth time) Attack from places you really know

Heading to Maine

A leisurely drive from Indiana through Ohio, West Virginia, and into Pennsylvania brought me to Bald Eagle State Park for a night of camping and a morning of gravel riding. The ridge and valley geography made for spectacular climbing and a pretty neat morning view.

View into ridges and valleys in Bald Eagle State Park, PA.
View into ridges and valleys in Bald Eagle State Park, PA.

From Pennsylvania I headed north to Cooperstown for an excellent Fourth of July with the family. Riding the roads in farm country was as beautiful as the Windows XP background (you know the one I’m talking about), with the extra bonus of being real life. Plus, having company for some rides meant the scenery could have been hideous and I still would have loved it!

An evening jaunt up Elephant's Head, Camden, ME.
An evening jaunt up Elephant’s Head, Camden, ME.

I made it home to Camden along with some beautiful summer weather. Never having explored fully the terrain in my own back yard, it was great to find some new places. Dad even finally showed me Elephant’s Head (after enduring a fun little bushwhacking in the area).

Toughening Rugged Road Style

After a couple weeks riding, running, hiking, and swimming around Maine I was off again to meet up with the Rugged Road for team training in Vermont. We had signed up for the Bitter Pill Adventure Race in Bolton Valley without ever having met, so we figured it might be a good idea to do that before racing together.

On Friday evening, we jumped in a canoe for a short jaunt around Curtis Pond in Maple Corner. Though Thorin and I were at ease in the back and the front of the boat, respectively, Lance’s knees were not so thrilled with the seating options in the middle. Kneeling at the bottom of the boat. A makeshift middle seat was deemed necessary for the race.

Burke

Saturday took us to Burke Mountain and Kingdom Trails for some group riding. We met up with a couple of Thorin’s college buddies and rode until our legs said no more. (Well, to be honest, my legs had said no more long before we stopped. A final ride up Moose Alley brought a private meltdown or two; but we all survived to take a soak in the Passumsic River.)

Lance and Thorin Navigate

On Sunday, we tested our team navigational skills on an improvised route around Burke Mountain. Delighted to find all the features right where we expected them, we wrapped up the weekend with a little strategizing for the race to come. On the list of needs were a new seat for the middle of the canoe and tow systems for running and riding (because I am decidedly slower than my speedy new teammates).

Maine Summer Adventure Race

As a fun summer adventure, Dad and I signed up for the Maine Summer Adventure Race. After some cajoling, I managed to convince him that he was more than capable of completing the 8 hour race. And I was right!

The day started out with a quick on-foot orienteering section to separate the group. We got a bit turned around for the second CP; but we once we were sorting it was quick moving onto our bikes. A novel set of location trivia questions along the road (do you know how much it cost to build the Jefferson Cattle Pound?) brought us to a boat put-in on Damariscotta Lake.

A long paddling section in a unwieldy double canoe was a low point for team Two Dozen Dozens. Though I think any day outside is a good day, Dad wasn’t so much in agreement as our second hour on the water rolled into a third. While the paddling was pretty successful in terms of CPs, it was nice to be back on our bikes and “on to the fun stuff.”

We rounded out the day with some trail riding (“finally”) and some tricky orienteering. Who knew having so many trails and so few mountainous features could be so difficult? With smiles and some relief, we finished with 6 minutes to spare. I think Dad will even race again. Right, Dad?

First 4,000 Footers

Before heading to Vermont for the Bitter Pill, Mom treated me to an overnight in the AMC Mitzpah Spring Hut. We started at the Crawford Depot and took the Crawford Path up towards Mt. Pierce. Along the way we passed crew packing out trash fro the Mitzpah Hut. The hike only took an hour or so, and I wasn’t quite ready to call it a day. After some cajoling, mom okayed hiking out and back across the ridge to Mt. Eisenhower before summiting Pierce on the way to the hut.

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A delicious meal, a cozy bunk, and an early sleep were welcome features of our night at the Mitzpah Hut. In the morning, we quickly head out just after breakfast and are greeted with a gorgeous, empty trail. It’s a spectacular, crisp morning on the AT. We take stock of the views from Mt. Jackson and Mt. Webster and then head back down to the Crawford Depot. We get back to our cars at about lunchtime after a spectacular 24 hours with my first three 4,000 foot peaks!

Bitter Pill

Early August arrived at it was time for our Rugged Road team to test our toughness at the 12-hour Bitter Pill. The night before the race we checked in, dropped off our bikes, and took our requisite silly picture. 

Team Rugged Road is ready to race. (Photo courtesy of GMARA)
Team Rugged Road is ready to race. (Photo courtesy of GMARA)

We arrived on the morning of race day and were promptly shuttled to Waterbury for the race start. Just as the sun was adding color back to the world, we began with a portage down to the Winooski River. We were first onto the water and, with a makeshift middle seat constructed from webbing and roof rack clips, we were sitting pretty. Though three hours of river paddling on a low river is tough work, we were fortunate to have an agile Lance in the center of our boat to pull us through rocky shallows and snag CPs along the way.

Lance rock sliding from snagging a CP. (Photo courtesy of GMARA.)
Lance rock sliding from snagging a CP. (Photo courtesy of GMARA.)

Once off the water and onto the bike we made more gains and were quickly out of sight of everybody. With smooth sailing through CPs on a tough section of hike-a-bike climbing, we were cautiously optimistic about our chances for the rest of the day.

We're off and running into a tricky, tricky O-course section. (Photo courtesy of GMARA.)
We’re off and running into a tricky, tricky O-course section. (Photo courtesy of GMARA.)

And then we were met with some seriously tough on-foot orienteering. With thousands of feet of steep climbing and conflicting navigational strategies, the first two hours on foot could best be described as dismal. Eventually, we found our groove by ditching land navigation in favor of pure straight line bearing. Stressed about time, we picked up the pace and ran like plodding elephants through the woods.

Back onto our bikes, we were left with an uphill ride to the Bolton Valley lodge. Along the way we grabbed the last two mandatory CPs and considered adding on the final time bonuses. Figuring we still had a hearty time lead (with the aid of Lance’s towing of me and my weary riding legs) we ditched the time bonuses in favor of a fast finish. Unfortunately, this gamble did not pay off with a full race win; but we did do well enough to clinch the $400 coed premier division sponsorship berth to USARA Nationals in October.

Blueberry Picking

Back in Maine, blueberries were hitting their peak ripeness. As a result, my training runs turned exclusively uphill so I could end at the top of the Camden Snow Bowl or Bald Mountain and fill my tupperware tubs with berries.

A blueberry picking bonanza. (Photo courtesy of Ken Gross.)
A blueberry picking bonanza. (Photo courtesy of Ken Gross.)

My time in Maine ended with a new 29er replacing my old, beat up 26 inch Jamis. A big shout out to Brian at Sidecountry Sports for making such a sweet ride possible. Now all I want to do is crush hills all day.

Bike leans in Brown County State Park, IN.
Bike leans in Brown County State Park, IN.

Ironmaning

As a crowning achievement of the summer, I finished a self-supported ironman.

Self-Supported Ironman:

Swim (77 laps on a meter pool): 1:06

Bike (111 miles out to Clay City and back): 7:38

Run (26.2 miles): 4:42

Transitions and other route delays: 1:06

Total: 14:32

Now it’s recuperating and resting before USARA Nationals next week!

Disclaimer: this post has some language which is not suitable reading for people who dislike occasional f-bombs.

Race: Happy Mutant Adventure Race Series – Olmitz Miner 24 Hour Race

Team: Media Perdida, comprised of Abby Yates and Kerry Gross

Date: May 29-30, 2016

Location:Ottumwa, IA and surrounding area

Time on Course:28 hours

Results:1st place 24 hour race (as is what happens when you’re the only 24 hour finishing team)

Distance covered:100 +/- miles (~70 biking and ~20 trekking)

Friday May 27 – Start of the race weekend

Friday dawns and I realize just how much still needs to get done before we can have a successful race weekend. So I finish (by which I mean start and finish) packing my gear, run some errands, and head up to Abby’s for team packing and strategizing. When I get there, she’s busy tuning up her bike and putting together a great new distance calculator from our friend Mike at Mike’s Hike and Bike. I take this time to build a new bike map holder. It’s wooden and everything, clearly we’re moving up in the AR world.

Then, we finally look at the gear list. Some thoughts on that: we need a trowel? What’s Benzoin? Do you have butterfly bandages?After a trip or two to the store, we eventually have everything sorted out. With all the requisite gear in hand, Abby and I run through possible race combinations (maybe we’ll bike and then paddle and then trek, or maybe we’ll paddle first and then trek and then bike). With the possibilities in mind, we pack and double check our packed race gear. Then we’re as ready as we can be for our first team 24 hour race!

Saturday May 28 – Trip to Ottumwa

The drive from Indiana is pleasant. Or, well, as pleasant as sitting for six hours can be. Abby and I talk strategy and make plans for how we could alleviate frustrations discovered in our 12 hour training. Central to our strategy is a new bike towing system (so I won’t cruise ahead turning Abby’s legs to jello as she busts ass to keep up) and an exertion rating system (so we will both be more willing to say when we are struggling). Strategizing complete, we listen to Tina Fey’s Bossypants and giggle the rest of the way to Ottumwa.

In Ottumwa, we easily find our planned camping area — in a lovely park right in the middle of downtown, how often does that happen!? — and work out the car stiffness as we set up our tents. Content with our sleeping arrangements, we shake out our legs with a brief run and team bike ride. A happy peddle along the Des Moines river shows us that the tow system will, indeed, work wonders for our bike section(s). Hooray!

Sunday May 29 – Start of race day!

6:00 am – Rise and shine

7:00 am – Hit the Hyvee for coffee and ice for the cooler

8:00 am – Get to the check in and start organizing

9:30 am – Race meeting and map plotting

Toby, the awesome race director for the Happy Mutant Adventure Race Series, comes in from the 72-hour race TA he’s been manning, gives us a brief pre-race spiel, and passes out the UTM coordinates and 6 maps we’ll be needing for the race. It turns out there are only two teams racing in the 24 hour race (ourselves as Media Perdida and Cliff, a solo racer), so the plan is to drop us in with the 72 hour teams and race alongside them (with a few CPs cut out) all the way back to Ottumwa. Despite the lack of 24 hour competitors and a paddling section, we’re psyched about getting to be with the 72 hour racers.

2016-5-29 Route Planning 2

 

10:30 – Drive to Start

Points plotted, we load into Toby’s car for the drive to the course start. Along the way, we plan our bike routes, fold our maps, and get to know Cliff and Toby.

11:30 – Race Start

And we’re off! The first few points go well. The first is an easy pickoff at the top of a spur and the next is partway down a reentrant. Then things get ugly. To get to our next point, we need to head down a reentrant that’s heading southeast. Abby asks if south is fine, and I said, sure, that would work. We get to a creek and head left and things seem fine. Until we get to a spur that we think we should be heading up and it’s headed southwest. Which is bad. Very bad. (Joe Jackson). Because the one we want points southeast. This prompts an epic mental freak out on my end.

Thoughts like “how the fuck could that be headed southwest?” and “where the fuck are we?” and then just a panicked “gahhhh” take over my brain. Some of these thoughts might have even come out of my mouth, I’m not sure. (Though I’m sure Abby remembers.)  This is the first time in my life I’ve ever looked at a map and really not known where we could have possibly gone wrong. And that is truly scary.

So, I take a deep breath and sit on my heels for a second to calm down. That done, I am finally calm enough to think through our actions. And, “Aha!” When Abby asked if south was okay, I had said yes without considering what that implied about our route. Things were still fine where we were – we just hadn’t gone nearly far enough. The creek we took a left onto was the first, not the second, left turn we needed to make. And with that, we are back in business!

Lesson(s) learned: Part 1 – Don’t ignore the little signs about where you’re headed. Part 2 – take it slow and be patient during the early stages of the race, it might take a while to get your head into the map

About 3:00 pm – TA 1

After clearing the first trekking portion, Abby and I make it back to the TA for a quick change into bike gear. The day is still heating up, so a cold soda (thanks Toby!) and a water refill are much appreciated.

About 3:20 pm – Bike Leg 1

On our bikes we get our first taste what dominates the road systems in Iowa: gravel. (Granted I’ve only sampled a little less than a hundred miles, but still, gravel for days.) For me, there’s not a lot to note from this ride. It is pretty. And there is gravel. And the roads are straight.

NOTE: Since the finish of the race, though, Abby has told me that this was one of her high points in the race. She actually enjoyed the grinding time! This is really good news because bike sections haven’t always been a pleasure. I’m glad to hear the tow system is working its magic by keeping us close enough for drafting and giving Abby a couple mph boost up constantly rolling hills.

Lesson learned: sharing one’s strength with teammates is really, truly important. (As an often lone wolf, I imagine I’ll learn this one over and over.)

About 6:30 pm – TA 2

We get to the TA and start mentally organizing for the night section. We know that it’s going to be long, but we’re not quite sure how long. There are 10 possible CPs between us and the next TA. Ditching the bike stuff, we unpack lights, maps, and food from our race box. Running a quick double check of our night gear shows we’re up and running.

7:02 pm – trekking leg 2

Looking at the map, we know that the points generally move in a north easterly direction. We suppose they were planned to get in numerical order, but decide to take a slightly different route for the first few points. And these first few points are a struggle. One point we have plotted on a spur, but read the clue as a creek/tree/reentrant. After tramping around in a couple creeks for more time than was probably wise, we finally do find the point. On a spur. Which, it turns out, is what the clue says, too.

After this frustration we get to the best part of the race. At the top of a ridge we find very short corn, lightening bugs, and a sky so bright (for night) that we don’t need our lights. Aiming towards shadowy trees we enjoy the beauty of being outdoors. Moving from the beautiful trek, we grab a couple more points and figure out a really successful night nav strategy. Moving along with Abby up from walking the line and breaking trail and me behind constantly checking map and bearing, we feel like we’re making good time.

Somewhere around 1 am, though, we hit another low point. The romp through stinging nettles is getting to me, and Abby is struggling, too, with what we call “the stupids.” In hindsight, this is really dehydration and lack of calories.

Lesson learned: don’t get behind on food and water. It’s really a problem for the brain.

Soon, it’s 3 am. If we want to make the 24 hour cut off we should book it on the roads back to the next TA. That would put us on our bikes in time to make it to the finish in Ottumwa by 11:30 am. However, given that we’re one of two 24 hour teams and there’s this whole beautifully difficult orienteering portion still set up, we decide to forgo the true 24 cut off.

Decision made, we move on to find some more CPs. A mile or so jog on gravel, lit by awesome cloud to cloud lightening, brings us to our next jumping off point back into the woods. We head off the road and find more stinging nettles. And then we find a huge river bank. And then more stinging nettles. And then another riverbank. And we decide that the hour plus that it’s going to take to get this one CP is just not worth it. Back through the nettles and rivers we go in search of greener pastures.

Now it’s about 4 am and I’m dealt a rough patch. A literal shit storm takes over my life and I’m grouchy as a result. Fortunately, with Abby at the lead we manage to pick up a couple more CPs as the sun is rising.

It’s a beautiful morning in Iowa! A few clouds mean there’s a colorful sunrise and we enjoy the trekking. We struggle on a couple points, pretty sure we’re in the right spot but unable to find the flag. At the end we learn that one of the flags was missing. The other, we just missed. Probably because there was about 100 ft of reentrant we did not search.

Lesson learned: Attack all the way through a feature to find the CP. Ad hoc or piecemeal searching is much less efficient.

Despite these misses, we pick up the last two points before the TA. That feels good. Even though it’s getting hot and muggy, we’re all smiles as we jog

9:22 am -TA 3

It’s hot and there’s no water here. We do the best we can to make shade next to a volunteer’s truck. Taking off wet shoes and socks reveals seriously ugly feet. Like pruney ghost feet with black nails. (I’m writing this three days after the race and I’m still working on getting feeling back in my left big toe. It’s like the slowest frostbite recovery ever.)

Lesson learned: change into dry socks every chance you get. It won’t solve all the problems. But some of them, hopefully.

9:48 am – last bike leg:

We head off down a b-level road, hoping it’s not filled with tire-sucking mud like the 72 hour racers found a day or so earlier. We’re in luck! A short while later we’re out on gravel for a seriously long grind (more than 45 miles) with about 7 CPs on the way. In general, most of the ride is uneventful. It’s really hot we don’t have much water left, but the tow system is helping us make good time.

About halfway through the ride we hit Lovilia, IA. In Lovilia we find the most welcome sight: a Casey’s general store. With pizza (for Abby), a sandwich (for me), and plenty of water to fill up our camelbacks, we’re much happier campers back on the road.

As we ride the second half of the route back to Ottumwa we start crossing paths with Team Tecnu. It’s fun to get passed by a top national team only to make a turn later on and have them behind us again!

The biggest decision of note on the ride is one that results in us walking down a creek with our bikes and then a totally uncomfortable ride down railroad tracks. How that occurs is like this: 1) We get a CP at the intersection at the top of a dirt road with a dead end sign. 2) The next CP is at a junction of a road and train tracks. These train tracks can be found at the end of this dead end road, so I think maybe we should take the tracks. (The only alternate route would take us off the map – probably only for a few feet, but we can’t be sure.) 3) We (well, me, I can’t pin this one on Abby at all) decide the dead end road must be right way to go. 4) Arriving at the foreshadowed dead end we find a steep embankment down to a creek; but that’s no problem to us adventurers, the RR tracks are just across the creek! 5) Naturally, rather than turn back to find a different route, we pass the bikes down to the creek, convinced we’ll find an easy way up onto the river. 6) No easy route is found, so we push the bikes down the creek, just as a long freight train passes on the tracks up above. 7) Abby lobbies for walking the creek for the next kilometer and a half. I don’t love this option, thinking the RR tracks would be faster. 8) When we reach a spot where the water reaches waist-height we decide the time is ripe to get onto the tracks. The ride is bumpy. Like so uncomfortably bumpy it feels like riding on train track ties. Oh wait. That’s what we were doing.

Lesson learned: don’t be afraid of a little backtracking. Especially if it means avoiding riding on railroad tracks.

3:30 pm – Race finish!

We’re smiling and feeling accomplished. After a beer, a burger, a shower, and awards we’re still feeling accomplished, but also mostly ready for bed. Thanks Toby and the Happy Mutant Adventure Race Series crew for putting on such a great race!

2016-5-30 Finish

Tuesday May 31 – drive back to Indiana

Reflecting on the race, Abby and I still feel happily successful. The tow system worked great, our navigation went fairly well, and we managed to have separate rough times of the race. Looking forward, we’ve decided to use a different exertion rating system – the 10-point scale we determined pre-race was just too unwieldy. Perhaps the well-known Zone rating system will work better? We’ll see!

The takeaway:

  • Don’t ignore the little location clues.
  • Ease into the race while the navigator gets on the map.
  • Help your teammates, it’s for the good of everyone.
  • Eat food. Drink water. Don’t get stupidly stupid.
  • Attack all the way through features to find CPs
  • More dry socks.
  • Backtracking is okay. Riding on RR tracks is not.

Team: Media Perdida, comprised of Abby Yates and Kerry Gross

Date: May 10-11, 2016

Location: Crooked Creek Boat Launch, Brown County, Indiana

Time on Course: 13 hours

Results: Everybody wins training

Distance covered: 45.5 miles (35 biking, 2 trekking, 8.5 paddling)

 

Nineteen days before the Happy Mutant 24 hr race in Iowa, and not having ever orienteered at night before (me) or in a matter of months (Abby), Team Media Perdida decided it’d be best if we got in some night training. It had rained for the previous week, but we didn’t give that a second thought as we planned an ambitious 12 hour trek.

2016-5-10 Night Training Actual Route

7:00 pm

We confidently set out on the road to Story, with nary a look at our compasses to check our bearing. After riding 25 minutes in the direction we assume is east, we find ourselves passing signs announcing our entrance into Yellowwood forest (due north of our departure location). A little sleuthing at a pond tells us that we are, indeed, north of where we started. Commence backtracking to the start.

Lessons learned: take a bearing before setting off, even if we’re totally confident without it. Perhaps especially if we’re totally confident without it.

 

7:45 pm

Back at the beginning, we find our target road. It runs east down a little hill, straight into the swollen Monroe Lake. A look at the map tells us the road is definitely underwater all the way to Elletsville. Northward we return, shooting for the Tecumseh Trail and some hike-a-biking on our way to the Brown County D-trail and subsequent roads to Story.

 

8:00 pm

We set out on the Tecumseh Trail. At the start, it’s a decent (and totally soggy) double track ride up a spur, followed by some lovely single track riding at the top. After heading down into a ravine we find a creek. And a sign. “End of the Tecumseh Trail.”

Now, our map, trail knowledge, and commitment to the evening training says this is not allowed to be the end of the Tecumseh Trail. So, we ford the creek, jump a few fallen trees and find the remnants of a double track road. More soggy biking and tree hopping up to the top of a ridge line puts us back on track when we reach the Brown County D trail. Hooray!

As we lose the final vestiges of light, we bump and squelch our way along a mud-sucking horse trail. Finally finding pine trees and dry trail at the end of the ridge, we cruise down to a road. It’s foggy and dark, but we know where we are on the map, so we begin the grind to Story.

 

10:00 pm

We arrive at the o-course parking lot in Story! A couple hours later than planned, but what adventure ever really goes according to plan? We ditch the wet biking stuff, eat some food, and set out into the dark. The revised plan is that we will be back at our stuff at 1 am and decide then how to return to Crooked Creek.

After finding CP 19 just off the starting sign, things go smoothly. Abby takes a bearing to CP 18 and we bounce from tree to tree to the marker just off the end of the forest. Then a bearing down the spur puts us near the river junction for CP 20. So far so good.

Next, CP 21 is described as being at the “top of a gully.” Abby takes a bearing a little to the north of it (downhill, if you will), in the hopes we can sweep up and find the post on the first go. We get to the gully, but no dice on sweeping up a bit to find the marker. In our second attempt, Abby heads to the bottom of the gully and I head to what I think is the top and we search as we come back to the middle. Still no dice. So, we head for the top of the hill and decide on one more pass searching from the very top of the hill down to the top of the gully. Finally, we find it!

Lesson learned: if you can’t find it on the first pass, go to a place you really know and start again from there. (If this sounds oddly familiar to a lesson I learned in the Crossroads Rogaine, that’s because it is. Hopefully this time I’ll have learned it for real!)

From CP 21, we head down a spur and up a river to CP 17 without a hitch. At this point, though, it’s about midnight and we’re both a little foggy. The plan to CP 16 doesn’t give us a good handrail or backstop, but we go for it anyway. After a crawl up a ravine we come to the top of a spur, and things feel good until we go down a bit and then back up a bit. Ignoring my gut, we keep going to a steep reentrant. That seems okay, we’re headed for a reentrant to follow. And follow we do, for a really really long time. Too long, according to Abby’s gut, but still we persevere. Finally, it’s very near 1 am (our set cutoff time) and we force ourselves to say goodbye to CP 16.

Down the ravine we go, and out to a riverbed we know will take us out to our bikes (no matter where we are on the ridge). Along the river jaunt we find CP 9! Proving once and for all we were all kinds of off with CP 16.

Lesson learned: when you’re finding things at night, use a handrail. And a backstop. And trust your gut(s).

 

1:20 am

Back at the bikes we talk about options. We could go back the way we came – through the unpleasant horse trails, down the non-trail doubletrack, across the river, up the ravine, and back along the Tecumseh Trail – or we could add 10 miles to our ride and stick to the roads through Brown County. In preference for road over mucky hike-a-biking, we decide for the road route.

It’s an uneventful ride. A category three climb from the Horseman’s entrance to Brown County rewards us with a beautiful, clear, starry sky to rest under. Then we’re off across the relatively flat ridge towards Hesitation Point and then out the west entrance. A fast downhill on 46 puts us back on Clear Creek road and we grind the gravel miles back to our cars.

 

4:00 am

 Back at the cars, we ditch the wet bike stuff once and for all and prepare for some time in the kayaks. Night fatigue has officially set in, but we’re committed to getting as much of our plan in as possible. So, we get the boats off the cars, attach some glow sticks to the boats so we don’t lose each other, and shove off into a super-full Lake Monroe.

Heading out through a corridor of trees standing in water, we check and double check our compass bearings (lesson learned!). Reaching comparatively open water we shut off the headlamps and wait for our eyes to adjust to ambient light. Luckily, the skies are just bright enough to make out outlines of spurs in the distance. Unluckily, the skies are flashing with cloud to cloud lightning.

We head towards shore to consider the likelihood of cloud to ground lightning. No cell service means NOAA isn’t around to weigh in, so we sit in silent observation and ponder. Finally, we decide safe is better than sorry and slowly begin to head back. After about fifteen minutes we realize we haven’t seen flashes for a long time. Hoping that means we’re good to go, we head back out to get as much time on the water as we can.

And what a beautiful time it is! Slowly the light comes up on a foggy Monroe lake, grays turn to greens, and colors tinge the clouds. Abby even perks up a bit, despite the night of grinding. We put in the full paddle we planned and make it back to the cars!

 

8:15 am

Training over, dry clothes emerge from dry cars, even though I’m raring to go for 12 more!

 

9:30 am

Strategy meeting over a delicious B-Town diner breakfast. Well, Abby had breakfast, I opted for a more lunch-like patty melt.

 

The takeaway: 

  • Always take bearings
  • Attack from places you know
  • Use handrails and backstops

Team: Mike’s Hike and Bike, comprised of Kerry Gross

Date: April 20, 2016

Location: Pulaski County State Park, Nancy, Kentucky

Time on Course: 5:47

Results: 3rd overall, 1st solo

Distance covered: 20.3 miles (8.5 biking, 6.3 trekking, 5.5 paddling)

 

Night before the race:

Arrive to Pulaski County Park after dark, take a few circuits of the campground, and then pick a spot to settle in for the night. When I wake up in the morning and look around, I’m pretty happy with the spot I picked! It’s not raining when I get up, but it’s predicted to rain all day, with a chance of thunderstorms starting in the afternoon. I cross my fingers that this doesn’t mess with the paddling portion of the race.

 

2016-4-29 camping spot

 

7:20 am – make it to packet pick up:

Meet Aaron and the Vindura team and pick up my map, clues, passport, and number. A review of the race rules shows the race has three separable legs – biking and trekking, trekking, paddling. From Aaron I learn that the thunderstorms aren’t expected to arrive until after race time, but if they do come during the race nobody else will be allowed out on the paddle course. Also, due to the wet conditions, they plan to start 15 minutes early and give us an extra 30 minutes at the end of the race.

Taking these notes into consideration, I consider the race map. If I start with the biking and trekking, head directly to the paddle on my bike, and then go trekking, the course looks totally clear-able. I’m excited about possibly clearing my first course!

 

8:30 – boat staging:

Still no rain as we head down to the shores of the Cumberland River to stage our boats for the race.

 

9:45 – race start:

Just as a persistent drizzle arrives, we’re off to the races! About half the racers decide to head for the boats first, preventing the possibility of getting short coursed without any boat CPs. I’ve decided to risk that possibility so that I can save time by biking to the water transition and so that the paddle can give my legs a rest during the middle of the race. It seems the other half of the field has agreed with my strategy, as we all make the short jog uphill from the Cumberland River to the first TA.

 

TA1 to TA2 – bike leg #1:

Quickly, I find my bike, switch shoes, attach my trekking shoes to my bag, and helmet up for the first biking leg. To start, it’s a road ride up the Pulaski County Park access road, with a CP along the way and a CP at the very top. Then a fast ride brings me downhill to my first mountain bike trails – they’re surprisingly good (though not super well-marked on our maps)! At a creek intersection, I decide that both my bike and myself should bushwhack towards the next CP, so as to cut off a couple miles of trail riding.

It’s a long way up the creek to find the CP, so I ditch my bike on a ravine shelf and do a little second guessing. Luckily, I see a team also coming up the river, so I figure I’m on the right track. Finally, CP found, I grab my bike and commence hike-a-bike bushwhacking up to the mountain bike trail. It’s far. And when I get there, my bike is making some horrible grinding noises. So bad, I get off and check my frame for cracks. No cracks. Troubling, but not enough to stop my race.

Along the trail I pick up a couple more CPs, then decide to cut off some more trail by slide-a-biking down the other side of the spur. I fantasize about having a rope to tie around my bike.

Lessons learned: Bring a rope on races with biking.

 

TA2 to TA3 – trek leg #1:

Just after running over a snake, I make it to the bike drop. With my wet trekking shoes on and my passport punched, I’m off to pick up five CPs located along a nice river trail. Nothing too tricky here, just some cruisy trail running with some brief bushwhacking for CPs. Wet and fun!

2016-4-30 wet TA

 

TA3 to TA4 – bike leg #2:

Back on the bike, I find a cruisey green trail to take back to the Pulaski County park roads. Along the way there are a couple CPs, which prove to be rather tricky to locate. The first provides no features or handrails, so I get lucky diving down a ravine to where I think it might be. The second is a little more challenging – I know it’s in a ravine, but the twists and turns of the bike trails through me off, so I enter the ravine at the very top. When I  finally find the flag under an overhang, I’m all the way back at the bottom.

Lesson learned: slow down a bit when heading to the unknown, it might help hit tricky CPs right on.

 

TA4 to TA5 – paddling:

The rain has continued, but luckily there is no thunder rumbling when I make it to the paddling transition. I ditch the biking gear in favor of my life jacket and shove off into Cumberland River. This is my first time navigating in a boat by myself, so it takes a while for me to get the map oriented correctly and to gauge distances. When I do, the first CP is easy to find, and the water is so high I can punch from the boat!

It’s still raining as I head on for another stretch of paddling, but I’m thankful the water is calm. With a couple miles of paddling, I pick up two more CPs. Looking at the map, I see two miles of paddling to pick up a distant CP, followed by two more miles of paddling to pick up a close CP and getting back to the TA. Considering my pace, I’m sort of worried about having enough time to clear the upcoming trekking portion. I know it’s probably possible if I push hard – I’m not off my race plan timing at all – the paddling is just draining. Thinking about the tantalizing satisfaction of clearing CPs on foot in rapid succession and an assured within-time finish, I decide to bail on the 2 mile paddle to get the far-off CP.

Fifteen minutes of paddling brings me to my next planned CP. I get out of my boat, and find it up a little creek. Then, getting cocky in my boat-balance, I try for a quick, running push off into my kayak. Sitting in the bottom of the creek, I’m a little shocked about being wet and not being in my boat. I recover in a moment and I’m back paddling to the TA.

 

TA5 to TA6 – trekking #2:

After a quick bike up hill to the bike drop, I top up my water, get my gear in order, and head off back down the park roads. My path takes me to the camp store (CP punched), then down past some cabins and up to a hilltop (another CP). At the top of the hilltop, I pick up a frisbee golf course and run along a ridge back towards the camp store and the mountain biking trails. As I dive down a steep spur, I pick up another CP. On the road to the mountain bike trails I duck into a culvert for a CP and then turn back up the creek to bushwhack for a couple more CPs along a ridge line. Along the way, I find some deer and a couple turtles! Wildlife sightings I much prefer to running over snakes.

From the top of a spur, I make my way through the undergrowth, out to a park road, and pick up the path to the last CP of the day. Once I find it on a point overlooking the river, I make the short jaunt down through a creekbed and up to the finish shelter.

3:45 – Finished the race, 45 minutes early:

Kicking myself for bailing on the last kayaking paddle, I have frustrated few minutes post race. Once I let the woods bliss set in, though, I calm down a little and cheer in my fellow finishers. In this moment, I am grateful for racing with teammates and trying to be kind to myself as I learn this race’s rather painful lesson.

Lessons learned: Stick to your race plan, don’t chicken out because it’ll be hard work.

 

Thanks to Aaron and the whole Vindura crew for putting on a solid first edition of this race!

The takeaway:

  • Bring a rope to off road hike-a-bike.
  • Slow down in the unknown for greater accuracy.
  • Don’t shy away from hard work.

Team: Media Perdida Goes Sola, comprised of Kerry Gross

Date: April 9, 2016

Location: Morgan Monroe State Forest, Indiana

Time on Course: 5:50

Results: 6th overall, 1st solo

Distance covered: 15 miles (all trekking)

 

First solo race. Tips from Steve are to stay on the map, check and double check bearings before setting off, keep my thumb on the map where I am, and have fun in the woods!

 

7:25 am:

Get to the Cherry Lake Shelter, check in, and get the map. CPs are scattered in all directions from the Start/Finish area, and there are a ton! It’s also a 12 hour team rogaine, so that makes sense. Not having any idea how far I can cover in 6 hours, I plot all the CPs in a clover leaf pattern that brings me back towards the S/F every 15 CPs or so.

 

9:45 am – Race meeting:

At the race meeting I learn that CPs (which range from 24 to 62) are scored for their number. This is a change from the other ARs I’ve done, and not something I took into account in my race plan. A quick look at my map shows that the point values  increase as distance from the S/F increases. Luckily for my original race plan, I have some high value CPs in my first path, so I decide to stick with the plan.

 

10:00 am – Race start:

Besides a little toe frostbite early on, the first three hours go swimmingly. CPs are right where I expect them to be, and there’s no tricky navigation to be had. Until I get to CP 60, which is a hollow in otherwise flat forest. Time for my first no-handrails bearing! I head off in the right direction and land on top of a hollow. Hooray! But the CP is nowhere in sight.

After some increasingly frustrating searching around the area, I realize that I’m 10 minutes past my eating time. Taking a moment for food, I’m feeling more positive already. I check the map again and it looks like there is another hollow due north of the marked CP hollow, so I take a gander that the CP might be in that hollow instead and head north about 100 m. And there’s the CP! We’re on track again.

Lessons learned: When things get frustrating or morale decreases, it’s probably time to eat some food.

 

1:00 pm (3 hours in, halfway through the race):

From the hollow, I clear a ridge and dive into a reentrant for the next CP. All good there. So, I pick up a path running along the bottom of the reentrant and head towards Cherry Lake. The next CP should be on the third spur to my right (north of the trail), but when I get close it’s really tough to tell what types of reentrants and spurs would be visible on my 1:24,000 map. I head up what I think is the correct spur, but make it halfway up and haven’t found anything. I head back to the bottom, check the reentrants on both sides of the spur to see how big they are, figure it’s probably the right spur and head back up. Still no luck. In desperation (and fair certainty I’m on the right spur) I tramp up and down the spur a few more times. Realizing this tactic is not working well, I decide to head back to the bottom and find a place that I really know.

So, I head back down the spur and towards Cherry Lake. When I see the lake in the distance through the trees I figure I know where I am well enough to re-attack (wrong). I head back and up the side of the same spur. Still the CP remains elusive. Disappointed, I head to the top of the spur with the plan of maybe attacking from the top (but knowing, deep down, that it would be better to move on). At the top on the next spur over, I find a trail headed back down to the bottom of the reentrant. I figure, what harm can there be in running the trail to see if I can spot the CP? An hour later, and still no CP found, I finally move on.

Lesson learned: When you can’t find a CP at first, always go back to somewhere you really actually know before re-attacking a CP. Half-assed guessing where you are leads to a lot of wasted time.

The final CPs of the race go smoothly enough. From the failed CP I move along a road and then head down a reentrant for a CP located at a stream junction. A steep scramble up a spur puts me on the trail back towards the S/F with a few CPs on the way. I get one just off the trail, shoot down a reentrant to try to bag another, but slightly miss my mark. With less than an hour left to go, I leave it behind. Along my jog back to the S/F I pick up a final CP by a water tower (but forget to check in, so unfortunately it doesn’t count). I’m out with 10 minutes to spare!

The takeaway:

  • Eat food for morale and clear thinking.
  • Go back to somewhere you really, truly 100% know before reattacking CPs.