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