Bonk Hard Chill
February 11th, 2006
>> View Full report on our site including the maps
Hectic winter schedules and conflicting commitments left this half of Team WMS nearly out of contention for participating in any adventure races this winter. However, true to form - Mike and I managed to free our respective schedules and make a rash, last minute decision three days prior to the race to make the trip down to Lake of the Ozarks State Park for the first annual Bonk Hard Chill. Had we thought this through sufficiently? Probably not. Had we sufficiently trained for an 18-hour winter adventure race? Absolutely not. Were our wives and friends correct in their assessment that we were idiots for wanting trek, bike, and, most nerve-wracking, canoe in the middle of winter? Perhaps so.
Nevertheless we found ourselves rolling into the land of go-cart tracks, cigarette boats, silicone implants, and walnut bowls on Friday, February 10, 2006. As a side note - are walnut bowls made from the wood of walnut trees, or are they actually tiny bowls made from the walnut itself? It's a question that's haunted many a traveler to the Ozarks or Branson as you pass endless billboards advertising this local specialty craft.
Registration was held a local church in Osage Beach and as we pulled into the parking lot there was a fleet of cars with bike racks sporting everything from your everyday hybrid to best of class full-suspension cross country bikes. There were some serious teams here for the race. We chatted with our race directors, Jason and Laura, checked in, ran through a cursory gear check, signed the USARA waivers, and mingled with a few other teams that were making their way through the process. We left the church, dropped off gear at the hotel (yes, we stayed in a hotel rather than camp for this one…), took a spin around the park to get a lay of the land, and stopped by the "BAMF Compound" - three or four teams snuggled comfortably in one of the park's small cabins, where we talked to John, Nancy, Jeff, Johny, John, Amanda, Kelly, Kevin, Airin, and Sara, and then headed back to the church for dinner.
For dinner we were treated to a spread of salad, bread, lasagna, spaghetti, and cookies. It was a great opportunity to fuel up and meet some of the other teams. In all honesty, we've met some great people since we got involved in this sport. You generally don't find the level of pretense or arrogance that you run into in other sports so it's always nice to sit down to a pre-race dinner and share thoughts, strategies, and concerns about the race and get an honest answer from the other teams, however experienced they may be. We talked to our WMS teammate Tiffany who had joined forces with John Maynard for this race to race under the Blue Hills name, as well as Tracy and Ryan from Blue Hills Adventures whose races we've enjoyed in the past, and also had a minute to chat with Daron Bennett - navigator and scribe of the always entertaining chronicles of the Flying Monkeys - whom we hadn't seen since the Berryman Adventure.
When we finished dinner we still had over an hour to kill before the pre-race dinner so we went back to the hotel to relax. When we re-joined the group back at the church the auditorium was nearly full - we had to sit on a table at the back of the room - over 50 teams had shown up for this race.
Jason and Laura welcomed everyone and thanked us for coming, discussed their upcoming race schedule including the intimidating yet exciting Mighty Mo Challenge, and handed out a host of door prizes provided by the sponsors. After the usual overview of race rules Laura announced that the race would start at 7:00 am and maps/checkpoints would be handed out before leaving the pre-race meeting. Many teams had speculated about the start time and I heard guesses of anywhere from midnight to 5:00 am, but to be honest I was happy about a 7:00 am start. Being the less-than-sufficiently experienced nighttime navigators that we are, I felt that we'd be better off starting in sunlight and getting warmed up, bolstering our confidence by knocking out most of the checkpoints under the light of day, and finishing out the race under the light of a nearly full moon if necessary. There were to be two rogaine-like (get the CPs in any order) sections of trekking legs with one of them being completed in the midst of the paddling leg - interesting opportunities for testing our route planning and decision-making skills. Everyone said goodnight and headed back to their respective "base camps" to begin the arduous task of plotting 32 checkpoints.
While hydrating on Gatorade interspersed with a Boulevard Pale Ale or two, Mike took to plotting checkpoints as I double-checked coordinates. Once we were sure that we had all the CPs in their correct locations we started trying to plot out a course. For the most part the route would be relatively straightforward. It was the first, and to a lesser extent, the second, rogaine orienteering legs where some decision-making would be critical. For the first rogaine section we had the option of exiting the canoe at two separate locations and getting the trekking CPs on foot. Our initial impression was that it would be quicker for us to paddle to the second take out point (XP2/CP11), snagging CP12 from the water along the way, and then get all of the rogaine CPs from the second canoe take-out. From there we would return to the canoe to proceed to CP 13 and then into the final take-out on the way back to the TA. We went back and forth over route decisions a few times before organizing gear for the next morning and calling it a night.
5:00 am. Watch beeps, phone beeps, wake-up call rings. Flip on the TV to see that it's a crisp but not unbearable 24 degrees outside. Winds are relatively calm, which is good, considering that we'll be on the water within an hour of starting the race. Pack the backpacks, double-checked the required gear list, do a once-over on the bikes, stopped by the lobby and gobbled down a few hundred calories worth of bagels, waffles, bananas, orange juice, and coffee before heading back to the room to load the car.
By the time we got the gear loaded and made the trip into the park to the TA it was close to 6:30. Mike went to check us in and get our passports while I did what I could to organize gear. In light of the temperature, the fact that we would only be returning to the TA once, and the fact that we would not have to do any plotting at the TA, everyone kept most of their gear in their cars rather than setup the usual squatter's camp of tents and tarps associated with an adventure race transition area. We got the bikes ready, made sure that water and food were easily accessible for our return, and considered clothing options. I had on a synthetic base layer, a long-sleeve jersey, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker - it felt fine now but I knew that I'd heat up quickly. However, in anticipation of being on the water in less than an hour it seemed a safe bet.
Because the initial run/trek leg was relatively short we opted to take our kayak paddles with us rather than use the provided canoe paddles. Many other teams did the same. We strapped them to our packs and headed to TA for the start. Jason and Laura said a few words, the national anthem was played, and a few moments later - we were off.
Over 100 racers took off in a jog toward CP1 - a checkpoint on a bluff en route to CP2 and then the paddle leg. There's really no such thing as a "sprint" start in races of this length, but there were certainly teams that seemed to jump way out in front right off the bat. The swishing of nylon pants, backpacks, kayak paddles, and various other gear provided an entertaining rhythm track to accompany our group job. We headed off the main road onto a dirt road / horse trail quickly. The pack narrowed out a little and we wound in and around the woods heading toward the lake. As we neared the turn that would wind down to the lower portion of the trail a number of teams broke off of the trail toward the top of the bluff. That had been our plan as well - to avoid climbing back up the bluff from the trail we shot across the top of the bluff, climbed down a bit to snag CP1, and then headed down the hill (read: slid on our ) toward the trail below.
As we descended the steep hill, there were a few teams reaching the point below the CP and starting to make their way up the steep terrain - the bluff-top run had been a good choice. We jumped on the trail below and took a northeasterly heading toward CP2 - a trail intersection. We reached the CP rather quickly, punched our passport, and followed the teams ahead of us along the dry creek bed toward CP3 - the canoe put in. The field was getting a bit more spread out by this time and the nearest teams were roughly 100 meters ahead and behind us. We wound through the woods, eventually intersecting a road, and turned due south. Roughly a kilometer later we made a sharp turn to the west and crossed a precarious bridge with missing planks - you really had to watch your step or you could have lost a leg in one of the wide gaps where boards were missing.
Immediately following the bridge we left the road, descended a hill, and reached CP3 where we removed and assembled our kayak paddles, donned life vests, tossed our packs in the canoes, and set out on the smooth water. It was eerily quiet, but a beautiful morning to be on the water. The sun was low in the sky, there was hardly any wind, and the water was still smooth as glass. We paddled out of the narrows into increasingly wider areas of the Grandglaze arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. We could see the lead teams - perhaps a half a kilometer or so ahead, and we tried to keep a stable paddling rhythm. It be became quickly evident that being the "tail gunner" of the canoe has its downside - despite his care in trying to make every stoke as careful as possible, the inevitable spray landed on my lap or in the bottom of the canoe. It was a little worrisome considering the temperature, but thus far I wasn't feeling any ill effects.
Because we had realized that we could exit at one or both of the canoe take-outs (XP1 & XP2) we made the decision to paddle to XP1, get CPs 4, 5, & 8 from there, and then continue on to the second canoe take-out to get the remaining CPs on the rogaine leg. It took us nearly an hour of paddling to reach XP1 and by the time we reached it my legs, and to a lesser extent, my hands, were feeling the effects of the cold. Further, the small pools of water in the bottom of the canoe had saturated my feet a bit - I tried to get a pair of SealSkinz prior to the race but considering that this was a last minute decision I was unable to do so and was therefore paddling in winter conditions in my usual Smartwool race socks. It remained to be seen whether that was a bad decision or not, but so far I was still feeling OK. I was smart enough to bring a pair of neoprene paddling gloves, which tuned out to be a smart decision.
We hit the beach at XP1 and there were eight canoes beached there already. As we pulled in Jeff and Johny from BAMF pulled up along side our canoe. We donned our packs, checked the map, and quickly set out toward CP4 - Ozark Caverns. As we left the beach we stepped in some deep, wet mud right off the bat - not something I was looking to do this early in the race, but we quickly spotted the trail to our left, broke out of the brush onto the trail, and took off at a moderate pace toward the CP. We had to cross one more creek before reaching the visitor center at the Caverns, which we were careful to do without getting our feet wet. The CP was hanging at the visitor center - we punched, then checked the map for the route to the next CP. We discussed our options briefly with Jeff and Johny and we all concluded that a direct bearing to the west was the best approach. We would hit a creek, or eventually a road, then head due north to find the reentrant where CP5 was located.
We started up the hill and once we crested the hill it and ran into a horse trail at which point it seemed like the best option would be to stay on top of the hill and head north toward the CP. We all took off on a run to the north, keeping an eye out for a reentrant to our left. At one point I heard a cacophony of expletives behind me and I turned to see Mike doing a barrel roll across the dirt. He had apparently tripped on a rock or tree stump, which sent him tumbling, but recovered quickly and was now back on his feet. A few seconds later, however, I heard Mike behind me, "What the hell? I'm soaked!" When I turned I realized that he had lost the bite valve on his hydration tube and water was pouring down his front side. It must have come off in the fall. This has happened to me on bike rides and other less critical moments, but definitely a lesson learned - next time use waterproof tape to secure bite valves to hose. We retraced our steps back up the trail while Jeff and Johny continued toward the CP. After a couple of minutes of searching along the trail we found the bite-valve. What could have been a major catastrophe this early in the race - a loss of Mike's convenient water supply for the day - was averted.
We continued down the trail, investigating a couple of apparent reentrants to the west of the trail - none appeared to be as large as the one on the map. We heard a couple of people down in one of the washouts to our left but Mike noticed a gradual descent and then climb in the terrain that seemed to match the location of the reentrant on the map so we kept going. Sure enough, we hit a major reentrant and found the CP5 shortly thereafter.
With the CP punched we shot a bearing to the northeast - our plan was to take a direct bearing to hit the bluff just south of CP8 and then head north to hit the CP. We crossed through a kilometer or so of relatively light forest and underbrush, took down a (partially frozen) nutrition bar and some Cytomax, and eventually spotted the lake to the northeast. As we reached the bluff we veered north along the bluff, passing a few teams heading south. We found CP8 just to the north as planned, punched, and then set off due south along the bluff on our way back to the canoe.
As we hopped in the canoe and pushed out there were a number of other teams just reaching XP1 but there were an equal number of teams heading back out into the lake on their way to the second canoe take-out. We set off on a steady pace once again - this leg appeared to be roughly half the distance of our first paddle leg so we anticipated roughly half an hour of paddling before we reached CP12 on the lakeshore. Again we made up some time and passed one or two teams, eventually winding around to the west and finding CP 12 just off the shore on a point directly across from the canoe take-out at XP2/CP11. Mike jumped out of the canoe and bolted up the hill to punch CP12 and then returned just as quickly as we pushed out and started paddling toward XP2. "You don't want to know how my legs felt on that run," was his comment as he jumped back into the canoe. The cold temperatures and sedentary leg muscles in the canoe were taking their toll on one's ability to get moving on foot.
We reached the take-out at XP2 where we had to stop for a gear check and punch our passport (this was also CP11) before we could continue. One of my pairs of fleece gloves had been soaked - they were in the mesh pocket on my backpack and had apparently rolled into water on the bottom of the canoe. Lesson learned number two - never do a paddle leg in a winter adventure race without a dry bag or good trash bag to keep your gear dry while on the water. Luckily, I had another pair of warm, dry gloves back at transition to pickup after the paddle leg assuming that I could make it back to transition without losing feeling in my hands, a task that was getting harder by the minute.
From XP2 we took off on a counter-clockwise tour through CPs 9, 7, 6, and 10, before returning to the canoe put-in. We headed out from the take-out up a steep winding road looking for a transmission right-of-way that was marked on the map. We found the right-of-way and set off through the thick brush along the right-of-way due west toward a creek that would lead us to CP9. After a steep descent along the right-of-way we ran into the creek, turned southeast, and followed the creek toward CP9. The CP appeared to be at the bottom of a reentrant and shortly thereafter we spotted it hanging from a tree. We decided to take the dry creek bed along the reentrant due south where we believed it would intersect a bike trail. We wound up running into another transmission line right-of-way along the way that was heading southeast and decided to take that until we hit the trail.
When we intersected the bike trail we set out on the trail due west keeping our eye out for a rather major reentrant and creek bed. After a while we crossed a rather large washout that appeared to be the one that we were looking for so we headed northwest, down the reentrant until we found CP7 at the bottom. From CP7 we setout once again on a westerly heading looking for a right-of-way or clearing to get a straight shot south to the road on which we would find CP6. We didn't find a right of way that we had identified on the map, so we took a bearing and headed straight south until we hit the road. We turned due west on the road and headed downhill - the clue was "tunnel" and shortly thereafter we crossed a small drainage tunnel going under the road. Mike jumped down one side of the tunnel and I the other, but I didn't want o believe that Jason was devious enough to shove a control marker up into a six-inch diameter drainage pipe - this had to be the wrong "tunnel." Sure enough, after consulting the map and looking at the terrain it looked like we needed to descend farther along the road before reaching the correct tunnel.
A hundred meters or so down the road we reached the actual tunnel and found the CP hanging below the road. CP punched, we weighed the bush versus road decision once again - do we follow the creek bed for a couple of kilometers or do we take the road, and then a trail, to CP 10? Given our snail-like pace along creek beds of late we opted for the road and set out on a jog along the road keeping a close eye on turns and terrain. We were looking for a creek that appeared to be bordered by a trail and found it after jogging for a kilometer or so. We took off on the trail along the creek bed and at one point the trail seemed to disappear but looked as if re-appeared on the opposite side of the creek. We hopped across the creek and continued north along the trail. We crossed one or two creek intersections (our clue for CP10) but didn't see the marker yet. We continued further north, eventually winding up on top of a bluff overlooking the creek. We spotted another, larger, creek crossing and descended along the bluff (same -slide technique as earlier, now well honed) to the creek, winding along the creek bed north for another 100 meters before running directly into the CP.
Our plan from CP10 back to the canoe put-in was to follow the creek northward until we intersected the transmission line that we had followed earlier, take that due east until we hit the road, and then take the road back to the canoe. We found the transmission line easily enough, but the brush below was nearly impassible. We kept getting caught up on giant thorn bushes and the brush was so thick that we routinely lost sight of the transmission line. We sidestepped a tad to the north and the brush seemed to thin out so we just took a westerly heading and kept going. After a bit we crossed the steep hills leading down into and across the original creek bed that we followed to CP9. After climbing the opposite side and continuing through the brush for another few hundred meters we ran into the road just to the south of the transmission line - that's how thick the brush had been at one point - we had crossed back under the transmission line and had not even seen it!
We hurried back down the road, got our PFDs back on, hopped in, and setout toward CP13 - our last CP on the lake. By this time it was after 11:00 and the winds were starting to pick up. As if on cue, quarter sized snowflakes started coming down as we started our chilly paddle back toward transition. As we closed in on CP13 there were a couple other teams paddling in formation with us. We beached the canoe at CP13, Mike ran the 150 meters to the control, punched, and ran back to the canoe. It was getting really cold. Hydration hose was frozen solid by now so I quickly shoved it down my shirt to thaw out.
We pushed the last kilometer of paddling back to the TA to simply stay warm - the snow was falling rapidly, fingers, toes, faces, and knees were getting cold and I was looking forward to changing out some gear at TA. We hit the boat access at CP14 and carried our canoes (which, at this point, seemed to weigh hundreds of pounds) up the slick ramp to the trailer before setting out toward the transition.
It was a little over a kilometer to the TA and we weren't moving very fast at this point, carrying paddles, some wet gear, and trying to warm back up from that frigid last leg of the paddle. As we reached the TA and checked in (this was CP15), we saw a handful of teams preparing their bikes, sitting in cars heating up, eating, and everything in between. We turned on the car, stripped off some wet gear and replaced it with dry gear, inhaled some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (heaven!), Gatorade, Pringles, and coffee. We wanted to bust through transition quickly but the rejuvenating powers of heat and food were powerful enough that we hardly noticed when we looked at our watches and realized that we had been there for nearly a half an hour.
We quickly looked over the maps - it appeared as if the CPs for the first half of the bike leg were all on, or near, the main bike trails in that area of the park. We re-loaded food and water, got the maps ready, and set out from the TA toward CP16. CP16 happened to be the same CP as CP2, which we hit early in the morning. We followed the same trail as our initial trek leg but this time took the steep, rocky descent along the trail rather than going over the bluff as we had done on foot. The trail had some loose rock and gravel and at times the going was a little precarious for two relative amateurs on technical trails. We reached CP16 rather quickly and set out along the narrow trail to the northwest.
The trail at this point was very hilly, relatively rocky, and not a trail where we are able to blow through with a ton of speed. There were a handful of steep uphills that required us to push our bikes. We ran into John and Amanda from BAMF and leapfrogged with them along the trail for a while. Oddly, my initial measurement along the path to CP17 was roughly three kilometers from CP16, but as that distance came and went the trail continued to curve around the terrain, up and down more washout areas. We knew that the CP was located on a trail/creek intersection, and we had crossed one, but it looked like the next one we should cross should be the location of CP16. We ran into another team that also thought that we had gone much further than we should have - either the trail was more windy than indicated on the park trail map, or we had gone too far. We voted to continue until the next creek crossing and were confident that we would hit a road if we had gone too far. Sure enough, we ran into CP17 at the next creek bed (nearly twice the distance originally estimated), quickly punched our passport, and continued on along the trail.
We crossed a dirt road that was on the map - it looked like we had a kilometer or so to go until we reached CP18 ("hilltop"). We continued to wind up and down hills, but nothing like the ones that we had just left. As we reached CP18 in a clearing on a trail intersection, the snow was really coming down. It was light, and it wasn't sticking to the ground, but it cast an odd yet beautiful atmosphere over the scenery.
At CP18 there was another team that appeared to have come from a different direction and headed off toward a road, but according to our planned route there was a trail that went directly south to CP19 so we opted to stay on the trail. We continued to wind downhill eventually crossing a road, which was correct according to our map, and kept going on a southerly direction. After a few minutes we ran into the CP. Or was it our CP? Ours was supposed to be at a parking lot and this was a bridge. Sure enough - we had somehow managed to run into CP22, not CP19. The trail that we were on somehow wound southeast rather than due south - this trail was most definitely not on our map. We were less than a kilometer off course, and directly on a road, but unfortunately the road from CP22 back up to CP19 was one very steep climb - by the time we reached CP19 a few minutes later everyone was panting from the steep climb.
Back on course, we quickly punched CP19 and once again set out due south along a gravel road that would take us directly to CP20. It was a long, sometimes steep, descent to CP20 and we passed a number of teams riding and walking their bikes back up the hill in the opposite direction. Our initial plan was to stay on this path after CP20 and continue to CP21, but after seeing this path we felt that it would be quicker to come back up the hill, cut across a short trail to the west to hit CP21 and so that is what we did.
When we reached the bottom of the hill and punched CP20 we all turned around and started back up the hill. It was rideable, but the going was definitely slow. As we reached the top of the hill we took a quick water and food break and then continued north until we spotted the trail to the west. We quickly reached CP21 where a number of teams were gathered. It seemed odd that we were over six hours into the race and teams were bunched up again in groups, but I guess that the bike leg allowed teams that had fallen behind on the paddle to catch up and now there were 8-10 teams that all seemed to be within a few minutes of each other.
We hopped back on the trail and set out from CP21 to CP22 (déjà vu…), punched our passport, climbed the embankment to the road, and set off on the "roads" portion of the bike leg. The next CP (CP23) was nearly six kilometers to the west at Camp Pin Oak. I was happy to be on roads for a while, having taken a beating on some of today's single-track, but that optimism was short lived as we found ourselves climbing and descending some massive (at least by my definition) Ozarkian hills. It seemed like every time we crested a hill, a larger one or longer one loomed in the distance. We must have climbed five or six large hills on the way to CP23 - each one testing my lactate threshold. To top it off, Mike's rear derailleur had started acting up and he was unable to get into his lowest gears - he was practically standing on his pedals to make it up moderate hills. Not good.
As we wound our way around the hills and into Camp Pin Oak there were a number of teams heading out from CP23 and a few wandering around aimlessly, tied at the elbows - this has to be a mystery event. As we dropped our bikes we saw Johny and Jeff - Jeff's commented that we would be here for a while….
We checked in with the volunteer and it was explained to us that the mystery event involved searching every cabin at Camp Pin Oak to find three checkpoints with our assigned letter ("A"). They could be in any cabin and in any location in the cabin, but we had to search every cabin as far as the eye could see (not the cabins over the hill toward the water line). Oh, and we were wrapped in some bondage gear around the elbows to make it ever more interesting. This should be fun.
We went into the first cabin and tossed mattresses, looked under beds, on top of cabinets - nothing. Next two - same thing. This was going to take a while and we had no idea how many cabins were on the property. After the next cabin we ran into two other teams equally as frustrated. We had not been told that we could not join forces with other teams, so the three of us decided to operate in leapfrog fashion - each team checking every third cabin. This must have gone on for over 10-12 cabins before we found the first cabin with a letter - it was a regular control marker hanging in the closet in the cabin - at least we now knew what we were looking for.
We kept going on for what seemed like an endless line of cabins into the horizon before we eventually found two letters for each of the three teams (we had "A" and the other two teams had "B" and "C", respectively). We continued along the north line of cabins back toward the main building but found nothing. There were three more cabins to the east of the main building and, sure enough, each had one of our letters - done!
We checked in, punched our passport, enviously eyed the teams warming up by the big stone fireplace, but chose to set back out on the bikes. Dusk was starting to set in and we wanted to be off the bikes by the time it got dark but it didn't look like we were going to make it. From CP23 we rode back out of Camp Pin Oak, then turned north on another road to the north looking for CP24, which was located on a pond just north of the road. After another long and somewhat demanding climb we spotted the CP just off the road beside a pond. We punched and checked the maps for the route to CP25.
It was from this spot that we had a few choices. First, to take the main roads back to the south, east, and then north to CP25 - a hilly, six-kilometer ride. Alternatively, bushwhack with the bikes due east until we intersect the gravel road - roughly 1.5 kilometers. Lastly, there appeared to be a road just a couple hundred meters due north - from there we could ride east until intersecting the gravel road, then south to CP25. From our point of view this was clearly the preferred option. We took a bearing and set out with three teams following in our path. We intersected what appeared to be a bike trail shortly thereafter and rode on that for roughly 100 meters before we ran into a low-lying barbed-wire fence. This seemed odd, and from the markings on the map it appeared that this could take us through some private property but our only "out-of-bounds" rule had been Highway 42, which was still a kilometer or two to the north. At the time we didn't think much of it - we all hopped the fence and jumped back onto our bikes for the ride eastward toward the road.
A few meters later we found what appeared to be a gravel road, but almost just as soon, we realized that it was not a road. It was a driveway. Not only had we stumbled upon private property, but we had also stumbled upon what looked like a 1970's-era movie or television lot. The first thing we noticed was the trailer and the numerous vehicles conveniently resting on cinder blocks in the yard. Then we saw the large, pole-mounted rebel flag flowing 40 feet off the ground. Great. We were hoping to see Uncle Jesse and Cooter exit the trailer, as a little comedy would have been a nice diversion. Instead, we were treated with a scene straight out of Deliverance.
As we approached the front gate of the property, the owner approached quickly and began screaming at us in a semi-intelligible language. He appeared to embody many of the scariest stereotypes held of those who inhabit the southern hills of Missouri - under the influence, paranoid, angry and - most certainly - armed. To play out the cliché even more, a woman exited the trailer and began screaming about us waking the baby. Then, to finish the scene off to perfection, the dog entered the stage. As we reached the gate a Doberman was in full sprint after us. Fortunately, the dog stopped at the gate, and we rode away with a new-found burst of energy, passing yet one more unchained pit bull before reaching the relative safety of the main gravel road. When we later realized that the property was in the middle of a tiny town called Kaiser, we chuckled at the obvious irony.
In retrospect we had crossed private property and fences in many races before and we had not been specifically told in our pre-race meeting to avoid fences or any property near the park roads. On the other hand, in some other races we had been told specifically that we would cross private property (and said rebel-flag-bearing owners had been forewarned of our potential appearance on their land), so in my mind we hadn't broken any rules, either explicit or implied, by crossing the barbed-wire fence - it was clearly the quickest route (at least for us) to the next CP and one that I suspect many other teams chose. But back to the race…
As it turns out, we hit CP25 and were on our way down the road out of the area when one of the teams that had been with us that opted for the bushwhacking route emerged from the forest, so our route had definitely been quicker, at least in this instance with these two teams. We climbed the steep gravel road and retraced many of the hills back to the east that we had ridden in the opposite direction on the way to CP23. More steep hills, up and around hilltops, and eventually we pulled into CP26 where we would drop our bikes for the final rogaine orienteering leg of the race.
The sun was gone and we quickly donned headlamps and checked in at CP26 where we underwent another gear check - this time for headlamps, fire starter logs, and waterproof matches. I was feeling a little nervous at this point because we had been gone from the TA for almost five hours and my water and food was running low. I was trying to space out my food and water to make them last through this last leg of the race and I guess at the time I figured that the trek leg wouldn't take all that long and that we'd be back at the TA soon enough. Had this been a longer race I would have most certainly filtered a liter or two of water into the hydration pack and been more concerned, but with the seemingly straightforward trek leg and short bike to the finish I figured that I had enough fuel left to finish this thing with the current reserves.
As we were checking in at CP26 John and Nancy rolled into the checkpoint. John is a monster on the bike and with the towing rig that he had attached to his bike he was able to leverage his power to push himself and Nancy through the bike leg at a blistering pace, passing numerous teams and catching up to us after being nearly two hours behind after the first trek and paddle legs. Amazing stuff.
At any rate, we decided to do this last trek leg as a joint team effort and quickly set out on the trail. It seemed like a relatively straightforward trek leg - we would take the trail to the southwest and then pickup the CPs along the trail in a counter-clockwise fashion before taking the same trail around to the south back to the CP. We made all the right turns on the outbound leg and ran into CP27 fairly quickly. Mike and I had planned to continue along the trail to the southwest before taking it north to CP31, which was in a large reentrant. John was confident that we could save some time by taking an alternate trail due north and then shooting a westerly bearing from a trail intersection, essentially placing us directly on the reentrant. It seemed like a logical plan, despite my hesitance to bushwhack and shoot bearings through the woods in the dark of night on waning energy (it only takes getting really lost one time to knock your confidence…been there before).
We started north on the trail and after a few minutes ran into Kelly and Kevin from BAMF. They had the same plan as John, but they had been up and down this trail and had not found the trail intersection and as such they did not have an accurate baseline from which to start the bearing to the west. We felt that we hadn't gone far enough, but they were confident that there was not a trail intersection to the north. After a minute or two of discussion we made the call to take a due west heading until we intersected either the reentrant or the trail - either the trail or the creek should act as a catching feature so we couldn't go any farther than that.
So off we went into the bush - a gaggle of headlamps pushing their way through tree limps and brush. We weren't in the woods long before we spotted, and quickly lost, a few headlamps in the distance. Shortly thereafter we ran into a trail - could this be our trail already? It seemed too quick, and the terrain seemed to slope back up to the west - if this was our trail we should be in a relatively flat with a creek bisecting the low area. We took the trail a bit to the north to get a feel for the terrain - something wasn't quite right and when we ran into another team we found out that they were also looking for CP31. However, their estimate of our current location was on one of the north curves in the trail to the south of this area, not on the far-west trail. Upon looking at the map, matching up our direction with the bearings on the map, it appeared as if we had taken our westerly bearing from the "middle" trail too far south and had simply re-intersected the trail to the south that we had originally been on (and could have stayed on…). At least we knew were we were and knew that this trail would eventually take us to CP31 so off we went.
We kept heading northward looking for the creek crossing that would indicate that we were getting close to our reentrant. We crossed a rickety old bridge and everyone started keeping an eye out. Shortly thereafter we intersected a large reentrant - this had to be it. We all started up the rocky terrain and spotted the flickering of reflective tape on the control from caused by our headlamps. We quickly punched the CP and descended back to the trail. Off we went on the trail, eventually reaching another intersection, veering to the right, and finding CP28. Again the trails were a little difficult to identify in the dark, but we took a bearing and headed out northward along the trail that should take us to CP 29. It was a couple of kilometers but we moved relatively quickly and managed to find CP29 just where it should. We punched, passed a couple of teams that were tackling this section in the opposite direction, and soon thereafter reached CP30 at the intersection of the trail and a creek. That was it - only to return to the bike drop off (CP26 & 32), get on our bikes, and make the short trip to the finish line!
The trek from CP30 back to CP32 seemed to take forever - it was much farther than it appeared on the map, or perhaps it just seemed that way since I was on my last leg nutritionally and water-wise. I had drained my hydration pack much earlier and was sucking down the last of my bottle of Cytomax. I needed liquids soon but from what I could tell we only had a couple of miles on bike to the finish line so I didn't worry about it. I was moving slowly.
When we made it back to CP32 we punched our cards, put our (cold) bike shoes back on, put on helmets, and re-mounted our bikes. I have to say that after over four hours in the saddle earlier in the day (in bike shorts with a chamois that had been wet since the paddle leg much earlier in the day), my hindquarters were less than thrilled to be sitting back atop a bike saddle. Nonetheless, we set out under the light of our bike lights and headlamps toward the finish line.
It was frigidly cold by now and the downhills were painful - the wind in your face, despite my balaclava, was frighteningly piercing as we hit 30 mph+ on the steep hills. Then, just as quickly, you'd start heading back up the next steep hill and overheat in all that cold weather gear as you struggled to crest the next hill. I lost John and Nancy ahead of me, and Mike turned around at one point to make sure that I was still coming, but we slowly made our way toward the finish line. It had to be one of the slowest three-mile bike legs in history.
The sight of the finish line was uplifting - and the sound of Jason and Laura and the other racers and volunteers standing out there in the cold to cheer us on to the finish was as exciting as the background chatter of clanking backpacks and kayak paddles 14 hours and 20 minutes earlier. We had finished our second winter adventure race, managed to get all 32 out of 32 checkpoints, kept all extremities intact (important and otherwise), and crossed the finish line within the required time limit, and had a lot of fun in the process - a grand success in our books.
We were welcomed into the shelter at the TA where we found hot baked potatoes, bagels, water, Red Bull, and even coffee with your favorite alcoholic additive - when's the last time you finished an adventure race with a hot baked potato and a coffee with peppermint schnapps? Very nice touch.
Congrats to all the other teams - we enjoyed meeting some new teams and learning a little bit more about strategizing and planning for these races. Congratulations for Alpine Shop for their outstanding performance yet again - we look forward to following your progress in the exciting Mighty Mo Expedition. Congratulations to Dynamic Earth and Dynamic Earth II for taking the other two podium spots, and congrats to Dynamic Earth II, ThoughtProcess.Net, and Flying Monkeys for taking the top co-ed awards.
Thanks to Jason and Laura and their family and battalion of volunteers - you guys put on a great race and one that we look forward to the "Chill" next year.
See you all out on the trails soon!