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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
Training over, dry clothes emerge from dry cars, even though I’m raring to go for 12 more!
Strategy meeting over a delicious B-Town diner breakfast. Well, Abby had breakfast, I opted for a more lunch-like patty melt.
- Always take bearings
- Attack from places you know
- Use handrails and backstops