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