The 3rd Annual Jay Challenge, July 2004
Stages bring performances to mind, not necessarily sacrificial sports events. Leave it to Dan DeRosier to meet this challenge… and raise the bar along with the help of Mother Nature.
Dan DeRosier was little more than a name and an email address to those of us at NEARA. He generously offered us 2 free entries to raffle, one male and one female, but as I quickly learned with Dan, there is always a catch. Both winners had to be a Jay Challenger. In short this meant each person had to commit to all three stages of the event, where entrants have the option of doing any one, two or three events.
Dan strategically planned his race starting with a 25 mile paddle across Lake Memphremagog on Friday, followed by a mountain ‘marathon’ on Saturday – which must have been miscalculated during the conversion from miles to kilometers because the typical 26.2 miles had an additional 1.8 tacked on for good measure. With 53 miles of racing under the belt, there remained a 64 mile mountain bike course… and he meant mountain.
My goal was to finish. I did not profile any competitors and the only two racers I knew were Mike Morris, my adventure race teammate who I could only dream of pacing. And Anna DeBastile, a seasoned Adventure racer and Jay vet, who I targeted for my mentor. I was optimistic about the paddle with more training than I had ever done and combined with borrowing Dan’s fast SRS Dart racing kayak. The run was my forte, I knew that I would enjoy the course and looked forward to the day off from pounding the hand and arms. Mountain biking is fun, though I literally have technical difficulties like PBS.
Thursday night I met up with Mike after the pre-paddle dinner to hear about the new 5 am start. Dan bumped it by 3 hours due to an afternoon storm warning. I was already in sleep deprivation from the week which was followed by neighboring Hasidic chanting that night which kept me up until midnight. I only managed 3 hours of shut eye and the race hadn’t even begun.
The convoy of racers with boats in tow crossed the Canadian boarder at 4am. I can only image what was going through the guard’s heads as we approached. Next thing I knew I was at the waters edge subtly, yeah right, watching other racers enter their boats. That was my crash course on how to enter a boat without a dock. Next was how to paddle a race boat. Third and final was a refresher on a wet exit.
Flexibility comes in handy when you’ve capsized a racing kayak with a skirt that will not release. If I could have seen myself I’m sure I would have been hysterically laughing… or crying. I had been forewarned not once, but several times as Dan so eloquently put it, “it’s a tippy boat.” Those words rang through my head for the next 8 hours after I stuffed myself back into the seat-less, skirt-less boat.
I started to paddle hard to catch the pack still in sight. The craft was fast and couldn’t have gotten much lighter… that is, until it started to rain. As I caught some racers, the sleep monsters caught me. Four hours into the race and after the third time I almost flipped because my paddle splash startled me back to consciousness, I decided to head to shore to get food, water and a cat nap. No alarm necessary… rain induced shivers are the smelling salts of adventure racing!
I hadn’t been racing long enough to be hallucination. Was it a premonition? Seven hours into the race a person in a yellow slicker stood at the end of a dock while the heavens continue to let loose. Thinking it was the mid-way point I paddled within inquisitive proximity with surrender under debate and she said, “You’re close, only 6 miles.” I was ecstatic to realize that, although last, I was going to finish… Stage 1.
Navigating purely by compass through the torrential rain I knew six miles was only one more hour. As if coming out of a dream, just as the sellout of the church on the hill appeared, the storm cleared. The sound of the recon motorboat approached from behind and the final chills went through me, it was towing the now-empty three crafts I had passed earlier in the race.
Greeting with a warm welcome on the dock I looked at Dan with a smile and said, “…that is nothing like an Epic.” I was happy, still a Jay Challenge contender and day one of 3 behind me.
Saturday morning I was well-rested and ready to race. The mountain marathon started with a 5 mile ‘warm up’ to the base of Jay Peak followed by the ascent, descent and another 20 miles of trail. Despite the torrential Friday rains, Dan announced the retention of the river crossing - confirmed by cheers. Morris recommended pacing ourselves early on as he reflected on the 7 Sisters Race. Advice is always one of those tricky variables to any equation… do with it what you will and wait for 20-20 hind sight.
I paced myself the entire way up Jay Peak and summated with Anna. Now my strength kicked in… running down hill. I passed a few racers and then hit the remnants of yesterday’s storm: mud and more mud. The course itself was spectacular – not an ounce of pavement! Wooded trails, meandering countryside and orienteering-esque flagged routes. Early on I saw the river and was excited in anticipation of dry shoes. It was the only TA (transition area) in the whole run. I asked a volunteer on a 4-wheeler and he said that this was not ‘The’ river crossing. His comment triggered flashbacks to the Boston marathon. To this day I sill can’t tell you which of the many hills in Chestnut Hill was the infamous Heart-break hill. Likewise, after the third river crossing thoughts of dry shoes eventually dissolved.
The unexpected coaster-ing (running through rivers) section was invigorating! Pricklers, downed trees, slippery rocks, current and, of course, a touch of bush-whacking. After 2 hours back on the trail I was shocked to hear, “Hey, Klafin,” unmistakably Morris’ voice. “What the hell are you doing behind me?!?” A composed yet frustrated Morris had gotten lost with a few others. Within a few minutes we arrived at ‘The’ river crossing with a Tyrolean traverse. All seven of us loaded the line, crossed using the submerged guide and mounted the bank by a makeshift ladder.
The remainder of the race was uneventful with the exception of Dan running down the power line towards me filling in a gap of flags followed by a picture-snapping Chris hunkered in a mud pit, of all the places! About 20 minutes later I heard music, but wrote it off to a past delusional experience I had in Apex when I heard foreign radio broadcasts in the middle of the woods. As soon as it faded, the next corner introduced the same rhythm only louder. Around the next bend I saw a pool… I started to head to it for a quick poach until I realized that I was a matter of meters from the finish! The cheers were wonderfully motivating as were the two boys who asked for my autograph – there’s a first for everything.
My savior for the mountain bike was Meadow’s message that night! Two days down, one to go.
By mid-morning Sunday I knew Jay Peak intimately… first through the rubber on my shoes, now through the rubber on my tires. We hit pavement after the descent and soon after were routed onto a fairly technical trail that was exponentially more difficult with the added mud-slogging. The first quarter of the race was mostly on steep class 4 roads with fast and furious descents, of which I later learned that Mike Morris, the ultimate Jay Challenger winner, was a victim and survivor of a crash… now brakeless!
About six hours into the race I greeted a volunteer at an intersection. About 30 minutes later, having a flashback to the Blair Witch movie, I saw the same volunteer at an upcoming junction. Little did I realize that I had just completed a figure eight… fortunately it was the intended course. At that point my senses when into overdrive which led me to my next fabrication… a huge rock at the end of the field that had a snout – and with all that mud it was destined to be named Pig Rock. Laughing aloud, I rode on.
Gummy bears are a girl’s best friend… especially when she’s ridden over 50 miles. To my surprise I rode most of the paved treachery, but was on foot as I approached the volunteers as the back of the pack brought it home. Back in the saddle I was soon greeted with the semblance of an Oregon mudslide. By this point I was fairly talented in riding through mud, though each slog accomplished in the saddle was still a mini-victory that kept me going!
With the mileage counting down in the back of my head, I had the first flash that squelched my excitement about finishing both the mountain bike race and the whole Jay Challenge. Those final minutes were going to prove to be the most difficult of the entire race… there was no coasting to the finish in Dan’s race. There were markers up when we arrived on Thursday that I had not yet seen. Now it all came clear. The one lodge we had not yet used as a start or finish had markers on the steep slope in front. Yes, you could ski this with a touch of snow on it, and from our incoming direction we did not have the luxury of going down that lawn. In the final road crossing I caught a rider and was ready to dismount until I clearly hear Morris yelling, “Beat him Klafin, beat him!”
“You can go,” my chivalrous neighbor politely stated. It simply amazes me how some people, specifically my newest riding comrade; maintain their composure after 68 challenging miles, while others lose it in 68 seconds. Preceded by a little chuckle I responded, “Thanks. Go ahead, I have nothing left.” With everything I could conjure up I rode up that evil hill, silently cursing every stroke. Having waited for hours, the WickedPissah boys and groupies were there to congratulate me. Lisa, continuing to prove her bravery, congratulated me with a hug. Having been going non-stop for more than three days herself, she then grabbed my bike and hosed it off! Dan is a race genius, as well as, a very lucky man.
As age and wisdom are related, time and the Jay Challenge experience will continue to cast shadows larger that the past. Dan has proven to create a most unique epic racing experience from the inside out.
Race on, -Jen