Race: June 2005 Endorphin Fix
Team Members: Josh Hubacher, Kyle Fedler, Mickey McNeil, David Vesper
Team Name: Team Bendon Publishing
It had been nearly two years since Team Bendon Publishing/Vultures had last raced an overnight adventure race. Kyle was recovering from a leg injury and David was busy making more babies. This year’s team consisted of the core members of Kyle Fedler and David Vesper along with two new members of the team. Josh Hubacher flew in from Colorado to challenge the mountains of West Virginia, having raced only 1 short adventure race almost 5 years ago with David. The team was rounded out by veteran adventure racer Mickey McNeil, fresh off an excellent finish at the Florida Coast-to-Coast, a three day sweat-fest across the Florida peninsula. Given the fact that the team had not raced together before and that Kyle and David had not raced in anything over 4 hours in the previous season, the outcome was a real question mark. The primary goal was to finish and race strong, but in the back of our minds, David and I really hoped to qualify for nationals in Tampa, Florida. To do so, we would need to finish in the top 3 co-ed teams.
Stage 1: 6 mile Run
The race began, as usual, at midnight. The 2005 Fix promised to be one of the hottest ones on record, with temperatures on Saturday reaching the 90s. At midnight it was in the high 70s. The first leg involved a 6 mile run on trails to the bikes. In the middle of the run was a grueling ½ mile climb straight up the Rocky trail, a leg-burning, energy-sapping trail that consisted partly of a long series of steep steps.
As the gun sounded on the 2005 Fix, the pace was brutal, with all of the competitive teams racing to get an early lead. We pushed quite hard, despite the fact that Mickey was having early stomach problems. We got to the bikes somewhere in the top 10 and made an excellent transition.
Stage 2: 37 mile bike ride
The bike leg involved a 37 mile ride to the kayak put-in. The ride began rather uneventfully, but soon turned into a frustrating experience for me (Kyle). My rack system, which had promised to take some weight off of my long-injured leg failed to work properly and my gear (along with the gear I was carrying for Mickey) kept coming sliding off. Four times I had to stop to try to fix the problem. Eventually I simply gave up and hastily loaded all of the gear into my bulging Solomon pack. To make matters worse, the saddlebag which I had paid all of $5 for, broke. (I guess you just can’t get a good $5 saddle bag anymore.)
As the ride progressed, more and more teams got clustered together near the front of the pack, until there were nearly 25 riders making their way through the dark on the rutted, wash-board roads of West Virginia. At one point, for 3-4 miles the “road” (what most of the world would call a Jeep trail, at best) descended steeply. It was an amazing feeling to be in a peloton of nearly 25 riders who were blazing at breakneck speed down narrow fireroads with huge drops on one side. You could look back and just see this line of lights whipping down the narrow road as far as the eye could see.
On this section, we were putting time on most of the other teams on the downhills, as the result of some amazing downhilling by Mickey McNeil. Unfortunately, many of the teams caught and/or passed us on the climbs. Eventually the group of teams began to separate. we pulled into the kayak put-in at 5:30 a.m. We expected to be somewhere from 10th to 15th place, since we had arrived at CP2 in 10th and had been caught by a number of teams. To our surprise and as the result of some nifty navigating by David, we were third, trailing only soloist Chip Whitworth and Team Hooked on the Outdoors (Paul Cox, Matt Schaltenbrand, Michelle Hobson, Tim Abbot), both of whom we had briefly pacelined with at one point in the leg. Soon thereafter, two-person male team Mason Dixon (Jeremy Kuhlen and Jonathan Neely) along with Soloist Mark Lattanzi arrived, followed by Team Rock-n-Roll Cycles (Luther Papenfus, Sara Pragluski, Tom Smith, Bill Butcher.) These 6 teams would be the first to cross the finish line, although not in this exact order. Unlike previous years where teams would receive bonus time for making it to the put-in early, this year we were told early and often that no bonus would be given, other than the fact that teams would put into the river in the order they arrived. We expected that this decision would help us this year, since Hooked and Whitworth had arrived 20 or so minutes prior. As it turned out, it did not make any difference to us in the overall standings. However, had bonus times been given, Hooked would probably have won.
Stage 3: 22 mile paddle down the New River
After an efficient transition, Ronnie announced at 5:50 a.m. that teams could begin to put in. This year we would be in inflatable two-person kayaks (duckies). Unlike duckies we had used in previous races, these were really first-class. Given that the duckies are self-bailing, we were a bit worried about how cold the water might be. This fear was unfounded as the water was warm and turned out to be quite refreshing.
Even though the water was warm and kayaks were excellent, the first hour of the paddle was a frustrating experience for Team Bendon Publishing. Josh and Mickey had never paddled together before (having only met for the first time the night before) and were having major problems keeping the kayak in a straight line. David and Kyle were forced to wait for them repeatedly. After an hour or so of very slow going, I used by prerogative as team captain and made the decision to try shifting the teams, putting Josh and I together. Josh, however, indicated that he was getting the hang of it. As it turned out, he was right. From that point on, Mickey and Josh just got better and better, until by the end they were as fast, or faster, than David and me. The paddle was a real high point in the race. It was a relaxing and enjoyable four hours, as the weather was warm but not too hot, since the sun had not yet reached into the New River Gorge, thus keeping temperatures quite comfortable. Dave was entertaining himself by peeing in his bike shorts and laughing at me because, as bad as I needed to go, I couldn’t overcome 40 years of training that had taught me not to pee in my pants. Eventually I hung off the side of the boat. Oh, the joys of adventure racing.
Both boats were “surprised” by Surprise rapid (a class III) but both came through smiling, laughing and wet. It was a good thing that we had just tied down all our gear, only minutes before the rapid, since it shot our boat and dry bags several feet into the air. We got out of the boats in third place, only because Mason Dixon repeatedly stopped to wait for soloist Mark Lattanzi (who did an amazing job of keeping up with most of the kayaks, despite only having one set of arms doing the paddling.)
Stage 3: Run—19 mile Rappel
We had another quick transition, as Mason Dixon and Lattanzi pulled in just minutes behind us. As it turns out, these quick transitions would make a major difference in the overall standings. As we climbed up the long, steep road to the Kaymore Mine Trail, Jessie, Don, and the rest of the gang passed us going the other way. They quickly doubled back and parked at the trail-head. A few more minutes and they would have missed us completely. They provided much-appreciated emotional support.
We made a quick stop to refill water bladders in the creek at the trailhead and then began the long run to Fayette Station. We knew that this was an important leg, as it is one of the last places were teams can make considerable time by running the flats and downs. Within a few minutes of entering the trail, we began running anything that wasn’t up-hill. I took the lead, towing Mickey, who did a great job of staying right with me. Dave was not feeling very well on this section, but he never said a word and just kept going and going. Josh, as always, was just a quiet powerhouse. We passed the Kaymore mines which were blowing cold air like a huge air conditioner in the middle of the woods. It was so tempting to just stop and sit down, as the day was getting very warm. But we knew that every minute counted.
We eventually hit the road down to Fayette Station and ran down the road till we crossed the river. There we changed socks and took a well-earned breather. The next section is always my least-favorite in the Fix: the long, hot, endless climb up to the entrance to the Endless Wall. It was as bad as I remembered but we finally made the next CP and entered the bottom of the wall. We quickly came to a T in the trail and we took the familiar right-hand trail that takes you along the bottom of the wall. As it turns out, the left-hand trail takes you immediately to the top of the wall. Had we taken that, we would have saved almost 30 minutes. For the next hour we scrambled and bouldered over the “trail” that runs along the bottom of the Endless wall. We eventually came to the first set of ladders that takes you to the trail along the top. Dave bravely went first, climbing two ladders and a rope to reach the top. Mickey and I followed suit, with Josh giving a much-appreciated leg-up at the bottom.
Reaching the top was one of the happiest moments of my race life, as the top trail was smooth and much easier than going along the bottom. It saved us an amazing amount of energy and time.
We came out on the powerline above Ramshead Rock and began looking for CP 6. This was our one poor navigational choice. What should have been 5 minutes of easy trail walking turned into about 40 minutes of bushwacking. This meant that just as we got to CP6, Mason Dixon and soloist Mark Lattanzi also got there.
>From there they decided to follow the powerline back to the rappel,
while we took the easier but longer way back along the road. Had we been able to run just a little, this would have been a wise choice. However the previous 40 minutes of bushwacking had left us dehydrated and nearly out of water, so we arrived just minutes behind them at the rappel. Those minutes meant much more since we were forced to queue up behind them and wait until they were off-rope before we could descend, thus costing us maybe 20 minutes.
At this point, I started feeling pretty sick. I was very dehydrated and the sun was beating down on the top of Ramshead Rock, making a 90+ degree day feel like 100. I knew that if I could just get some water in me I would be fine, but my camelback had been dry for a while and there was not going to be any water for at least an hour, half way to Winona.
Dave went down first, since he was the most comfortable with tying and using a prussic. Josh followed and then I went and then Mickey. (Of course Dave couldn’t resist messing with me a little while I was on-line, tightening my rope so I couldn’t descend. I was not in the mood, as I was spending a great deal of energy trying not to throw up all over Dave’s head.) That said, it is always a breath-taking and inspiring view from the top of Ramshead rock, down into the New River Gorge, a thousand feet below.
>From the rappel, we made our way toward Winona, stopping at the bottom
to re-fill our water bottles. We took a fairly long pit-stop here to refuel, re-hydrate, and collect ourselves for the final leg. We knew that Team Rock-n-Roll Cycles was close on our heels, but the effects of the heat and dehydration were slowing us down considerably. It was a strategic decision to take the extra time to get ourselves ready for the final bike leg. It was at this point that Josh’s purifying water bottle really came in handy, as we were able to drink as much water as we wanted without having to wait for the Iodine to kick in. As an added bonus, the water didn’t taste like Iodine. I also took this opportunity to eat the last ½ of my last burrito. Dave and I both agree that had we had 10 burritos we could and would have eaten them all. They were amazing! Next race: Fewer granola bars and more burritos! Despite the water and burritos, it would be a huge understatement to say that we were all looking forward to a cold drink at the famous Winona Pool Hall. It is the only store on the route and, in past years, a source of both amusement and refreshment. But as we made our way into Winona, we were told by some colorful, beer-drinking locals that the pool hall had been closed for almost a year. We were crest-fallen. This didn’t stop our intrepid navigator, as Dave began to ask any local that he saw if they had a Coke to sell. But apparently people in West Virginia have not yet learned about the refreshing joys of soft-drinks, as he was repeatedly told that all they had was beer. (“I stopped drinking coca-cola when I was 16” was the quote of the race from a 70 year-old man sitting on his porch.)
Stage 4: Bike 18 miles to Finish
We had been fantasizing about cold drinks for many a mile, so the closure of the pool hall was a real body blow. But we had no time to waste. We had to make a quick transition since Team Rock n Roll Cycles came into CP 8 just a few minutes behind us and Mason Dixon and soloist Mark Lattanzi were just leaving as we pulled in.
The ride out of Winona begins with a brutal climb. To be totally honest, I had been expecting that Mickey would need to walk some of it. But she demonstrated her amazing tenacity, as she would throughout the entire last leg, by making it all the way up. This is also where Dave began what a biking animal he is. He began pushing Mickey from behind on the steepest parts of the climb. While both Josh and I occasionally relieved him on this backbreaking task, Dave did the lion’s share.
Once at the top of the climb, there is a mercifully flat section of several miles where we were able to recover. From that point onward, the course is a relentless series of climbs and descents. We continued to push forward as fast as the team could move.
Finally we reached Corgliss (?) road, a section of West Virginia road that was surely constructed by Satan himself. It goes up and up and up. And just when you think you have reached the top, it spanks you with another climb.
It was about this time that the relentless pace began to take its toll. Half-way through the final leg, Josh began interpreting our words of encouragement that we were “almost there” to mean that the finish was right around the next corner. Therefore he stopped eating and drinking. When the finish turned out to be hours away, his failure to refuel and re-hydrate began to be felt, both emotionally and physically. To make matters worse, Mickey’s stomach once again started acting up and she began to dry heave.
The long descent down Simpson Road was a brief respite but we still had 5-6 miles on Hwy 41/19 and into Camp Washington Carver. We attempted a paceline but the team was too ragged to keep it for long. It might well go down in history as the world’s worst paceline. (Team Discovery has nothing to fear.)
Finally we reached the entrance to Camp Washington Carver. It was at this point that the wheels really started falling off. Mickey was throwing up and dry heaving every 15-20 seconds and Josh was feeling the effects of not having eaten anything for the past several hours. What would normally be a 5-10 minute ride to the finish took us nearly 30 minutes. I kept looking back, expecting to see Rock n Roll Cycles at any minute. Finally we reached the parking lot and managed to ride the last 50 yards to the finish without being caught. It was a heroic effort on the part of Mickey and Josh who pushed through incredible agony to make it to the finish. As it turned out, their effort was rewarded, as Team Rock n Roll Cycles arrived only 7 minutes behind us. Despite how bad Josh and Mickey felt, we had stayed just about even with some very good cyclists on the very last leg (as Rock n Roll Cycles had left a mere 5-10 minutes behind us).
We crossed the finish line at 10:25 p.m., 22 and ½ hours after starting. We wound up in 2nd place in our division as we expected, losing to a very strong Hooked on the Outdoors Team. But there were outcomes we didn’t expect. First, we were fourth overall, rather than fifth, as we had assumed. Soloist Chip Whitworth, who had been racing with Hooked most of the day, had arrived in first place. However, in an outstanding display of sportsmanship and moral integrity, he admitted that he had briefly traveled on a forbidden road after getting turned around on the final leg. As such he was disqualified. (Let me say that his example of honesty and sportsmanship will be remembered long after the names of the winners are forgotten. Way to go Chip!) Second, we were a mere 30 minutes behind Hooked, as they had also gotten lost on the final leg. This meant that Mason Dixon (Jeremy Kahlen and Jonathan Neely) and soloist Mark Lattanzi tied for first, with Hooked 15 minutes back and Bendon Publishing 45 minutes back of the leaders. This was surely a disappointment for Hooked who raced extremely well and led until the last hour. The members of Mason Dixon had encouraged Mark Lattanzi to go on ahead in the final leg, but Mark refused, citing their willingness to wait for him on the river. Again, another fine show of sportsmanship and teamwork by both teams.
Team Bendon Publishing was proud to have accomplished their goal of qualifying for nationals by finishing second in the co-ed division.
Once again, Odyssey put on a thoroughly professional race. It was run smoothly and efficiently and the course was challenging without being unnecessarily complicated. The volunteers and staff of Odyssey are first rate.
By Kyle Fedler
Team Bendon Publishing