The Big Chill Race Report – 24 hour division
By: David Bogle – Team Backpacker
January 27-28, 2007
(Yes, the report takes as long as the race did, sorry, I just write too much)
This was TooCoolracing.com third edition of the Big Chill 24 hour adventure race. With wind chill temperatures in the low 20’s overnight, the race lived up to its name. This adventure begins with the first Texas race for Team Backpacker with all of its true core members. We have raced plenty in Texas over the last several years, but for one reason or another, we always have at least one sub in the team. For this race, I was joined by Jeff Diamond, Darius Sampey, and Kristi Darby. This was Kristi’s first 24 hour race and she was rather nervous going into things. The longest she had ever raced was 10 hours. Kristi is a super athlete, so I had no worries going into the race. As it turned out for this race, we had tons of support help, everyone brought a spouse and I also brought along my adventure racing support addicted parents. The race directors (Robyn and Art) always add new and unique twists to their races and this one would be no different. Having raced over in this area a couple of times, I had a pretty good idea of areas that we would visit (there is only one body of water, so that was obvious). The first big twist to all this was that we were required to pre-drop bikes about 16 miles away. There are back roads to get this park, but it is a long way which had everyone guessing how this would work. A simple 16 mile road run, would be rather boring in an Adventure Race, but how would we get there? Speculation ran rampant, but as time got closer, I was convinced they were going to just bus us over to the bikes as a surprise at the start.
Pre race meeting was 7:30 am morning of race. We were all instructed to show up at the start with our buff’s in hand and all our racing gear. We were told to board waiting buses staged down the street for a ride to the “mystery” starting location.
Figure 1: Buses with darkened windows ready to take us to the mystery start
Once on the buses, we were blindfolded with the buffs. All of the windows were covered in paper, to discourage any peeking. It was also lightly raining outside, so any peeking that did happen was very limited (there was a peeking monitor watching folks closely at the front of the bus). I tried to mentally keep track of how far we had gone and which direction. It appeared we were bused in the general area of the bike drop. Once we stopped, we were handed maps, and allowed to remove blindfolds. We all exited the bus, were given our basic instructions, then allowed to open our maps, the race was on, well sort of. We were all standing in an area that no-one recognized, on an old dirt road. Someone was overheard saying “I have never started a race already lost”. We opened maps and started plotting points; unfortunately they did not tell us where they had dropped us or what our initial travel direction should be. So, team Backpacker put their strong navigation skills to use and spotted Marcy and John from Team Vignette bolting off to the west. They are some excellent navigators and have great local knowledge, so using our power navigation skills, we set off in hot pursuit. They were really trying to run hard to keep other pesky teams from following, but we are hard to shake. I think a couple other teams ended up jumping on and following us in a short time. After running for several minutes, I was able to place us on a map. We were in a residential development area west of the bike drop. Our fist couple of CP’s were located in a mountain biking ranch where the bikes were at. We had to get those points on foot. I failed to see all the maps provided in our race map pack. Two of my maps were stuck together, so I did not have the park trail map showing the tons of bike trails. We hit the first CP, right behind Vignette, and then we lost sight of them as they set off cross country. I had a similar strategy since I did not realize I had trail maps. We got to the second point and saw a dozen other teams punching the point. I was a bit frustrated how all these teams blew past us (we were bushwacking and all of them knew the trails to take). We got the CP punch at the same time as Vignette oddly enough. Now we simply had to get to our bikes which were staged several miles south of us. At that point Jeff asked how come I was not using the trail map like the other times. A quick search of my maps and I discovered the mistake. We picked up to a good run pace and headed on trails back to the bikes. We saw all the normal competitors that we know to keep an eye on during the run back. We actually got to the bikes pretty quickly, likely in the top 5. There were actually 2 races going on at the same time, a 24 hour division and a 12 hour division. It was hard to tell who was racing what race, and we had no idea if we were doing the same course or an alternate courses. Once we arrived at bikes, we were given more maps and another clue sheet with more points to plot. We were to ride most all of the 17 mile trail system in a certain order and there would be manned checkpoints at surprise locations (to keep people from cutting off trail sections). Several teams got out a good bit ahead of us by the time everyone got their gear on (we did not have any speedy transitions in this race). We did manage to get out ahead of Team Outcast and Team Werewolves (The 2 teams that always are top contenders). We made pretty good progress on some sloppy bike trails. This area had tons of rain in the previous week, so the trails were muddy, and all the creek crossings were full of water. We traded places with teams on the trails. People are always so anxious at the beginning of races with all the adrenaline flowing. We passed some teams and were passed by some teams to only switch spots again a few minutes later.
At the 3’rd bike CP, we were to leave our bikes and trek to 3 points. There was one team ahead of us (team Star). We were about 3 minutes behind them. We headed out quickly to get moving on foot. Team Werewolves arrived as we departed. We hit these 3 points dead on and passed Team Star during the leg. We ran in to Werewolves in the woods, gave a few high fives then went on our way. We must have taken different routes to the next points as we did not see them any more. Back on the bikes, we were the first team out (the 12 hour teams skipped this land nav section). Back on bikes, we were to ride more trail per our instructions and go back to the bike transition area where we started. The instructions said to ride the prescribed trails, so we did, but there were more options that would have been much faster to get back. These trails were trashing our bike drive trains pretty bad. The mud – sand combination had Kristi and my bikes really suffering. We managed to get back to the bike drop area first. We were given more points to plot. It looked to be a 15 - 20 mile bike ride back to the original start location. There were several CP’s to gather along the way. The bike ride back was tough in spots as the winds were blowing pretty good and much of the ride was on some muddy roads that slowed us down. The weather was just great. It had warmed up to 60 F and was sunny. This was a gorgeous day for racing (but not paddling as we later found out).
About ¾ of the way through the bike ride, we were to drop our bikes at a designated bike drop down a large power line. From there we had to trek to 3 points. One of the points was the ropes course, which consisted of a Tyrolean traverse. We chose to do ropes last. We hit these 3 cp’s very easily. It is sure a confidence builder to go straight to all the checkpoints. At the ropes, we had a large cheering crowd of spouses and friends. This was Kristi’s first time on the ropes and she really seemed to have a blast. After we did the ropes, it was a trek back to the bikes.
Figure 2: on the ropes
I recall seeing our buddies from Outast on this trek back to the bikes. This leg turned out to be much longer than we had all anticipated. Kristi and I ran out of water, but fortunately Jeff and Darius had enough to spare. I had tried getting water at Beucher state park (we passed through it on bikes), but the water tasted just terrible. Back on bikes we made our way back to the main TA at the original starting line. We were welcomed back by all our family for our first real transition in this race. We filled up fluids and food and headed out for our next small leg of this race.
It was time to head out on our scooters. We had the option to do this leg on rollerblades, a 2 wheel scooter or on foot. We chose scooters because that is what cool kids do (well at least I like them, but the rest of my team is not so crazy for the scooters). This was a 3 to 4 mile trip around Bastrop state park to obtain answers to a variety of questions. This park is rather hilly which made for some high speed scootering. I have a speedometer on my scooter and I recorded 31.5 mph as the max speed. That is pretty quick on a scooter! After finishing the scooter leg, no other 24 hour teams had come in yet, which meant we had at least a 40 minute lead. Wow, this was amazing with all the good competition that shows up to these races. We checked in with race headquarters and were given our next leg of the race.
Figure 3: end of scooter leg
This leg was going to be a trekking and paddling combination leg. There were several points to be obtained while paddling on Lake Bastrop and several trekking points. The wind had been blowing all day and from the forecast, it was suppose to continue to build the later it got. We were allowed to get all of the points on this leg in any order, so I chose to get the trekking points first. Getting those in daylight should be a bit easier. We set off on foot heading for the trekking points. We saw team Vignette coming back in on bikes as we headed out. We hit the land trekking points dead on and headed for the lake. Upon arriving at the lake, we confirmed the winds were still blowing by all the chop on the water. With the high winds expected and the cold temps after dark, we all packed some extra clothing and space blankets in the event of a wet exit from the boats. We could get the points in any order on this leg. With the way the winds were blowing, I chose a route to try to minimize the winds by collecting points in a clockwise fashion. As we headed out on the lake, the race director told us that Team Vignette was right on our heals (I assumed they chose to paddle first, and trek second). There really was no getting protection from the wind as much of the shoreline was off limits due to damns, and a power plant water intake system. We did see a couple of the 12 hour teams on the lake at the same time as us. They were too far away to chat with or identify so we just paddled on. Once on the water, we could see Vignette behind us but it looked like they were heading in the opposite order of us. We hit all the points with no problems. As the sun went down, it started to get pretty chilly so we donned some wind jackets. We had all bought paddling pogies (like big mittens that go around your hand and paddle) to try out for this race. They worked perfectly in all the wind and water spray, in fact, my hands got hot in these things. At the final point, we saw some lights up ahead which turned out to be Team Vignette. They were working to get their boat under a tree which had fallen across a narrow part of the waterway we were in. They were having trouble, so we tried going around the tree up against the shore and seemed to have good luck with that. We both arrived at the CP at the same time and being the great guys that Vignette are, they offered to punch our passport while doing theirs. It was dark now, and the wind seemed to be getting stronger by the minute, but the good news was that for the last leg of this paddle, we should be in predominately tailwind. We parted ways with Vignette and headed for the boat take out. The open water of the lake got super rough. A tail wind with big waves can often be a much tougher paddling situation than an actual headwind. Our ride back was extremely fast as we surfed down many a wave. It was rather tough to keep the boat in line with the tail wind. If the wind and waves managed to push us sideways we would surely be capsized, so it was a rather tense bit of very hard paddling to get back. Back at the boat take out there was a team just putting into the water. It turned out to be Werewolves. Once we got our boats out of the water, several other teams began to arrive. We saw the race director Art who was very concerned about all of the wind and waves that were now out on the lake. I told him, we were glad to now be off of that rough lake. Shortly after we left another team capsized in the swells right off of shore and for safety reasons, the race director had to close the paddling course to other teams. It is very unfortunate for teams to have to be “short coursed”, but this was done for safety reasons. The forecast for the night was down to freezing and if teams were dumped in the water in those temperatures, bad things can happen. Several hours later we learned that only 2 of the 4 person 24 hour teams made it to the paddle course before it was closed (Werewolves and Backpacker). This now meant that as long as we got the remaining CP’s in the race, we should have at least a second place finish. A nice feeling, but in adventure racing anything can happen so I am sure many of the other teams that missed the paddling cut off were disappointed. We were rather chilled coming off of the paddle, so once we thawed a little, we chose to jog a bit back to TA where the terrain permitted.
Back in TA, we were given our next leg which would be a bike and trek combination. We would bike as close as we wanted to the CP and then trek to it from there. After our first bike leg, our bikes were really in bad shape. Fortunately our support crew was able to clean off some of the mud and re-lube the drive train for us, so all of our bikes actually worked this time around (our support crew rocks!). This looked to be pretty straight forward, but you never really know. There was also Pizza at the TA on this trip. Pizza is just pretty darn awesome when racing! I wolfed down a couple of slices and put more in my pack for later. I told my wife and kids goodnight as they were all heading off to bed. I think my friend and fellow racer Julie Standing scolded me in this TA as I came back in with lots of water still left in my pack. I have a tendency to stop drinking at times when racing which is a real bad thing to do. I apologized and promised to drink a bunch on the next leg. It was dark now and we were getting tired, but we did well on the first few points. At one point down near the end of one of the powerlines, we ran into team Race the Rockies, a group all the way from Canada! We wasted about 5 minutes looking for this point, as I thought it was on the opposite side of the trail from where it actually was. We had one point left to get now. The straight shot to this one was about 2 km straight through the woods down a fence line. We contemplated trying to just bushwack with our bikes through the woods down this fence line as fence lines are often cleared to work on fences, but since this could be risky, we chose to just backtrack and ride trails and roads to the final point. Looking back, this was a good choice as it was fairly easy riding. We did later run down this fence line, much of it was clear, but we would have pushed our bikes more than ridden them. We got the final CP and headed back to TA. We figured we would have one more leg to this race.
As we suspected, we were given final instructions for a trekking leg. There were 7 points on this leg and I warned our team that a couple of these could be quite tricky. This park has some very tricky areas which in my opinion are tough to navigate around. Our TA boss (Bob), had set up a splendid TA for us a day earlier which included tarps on all sides to block wind and a gas heater to take the chill out of the air. It was sure tough to want to leave this TA and head back out into the cold.
Figure 4: Our nice enclosed TA area
We all put on plenty of warm clothes and added a few extra to our packs just in case any of us got real cold. We chose to do these points in a clockwise fashion (we were allowed to get points in any order). I don’t recall if there was a real reason for picking this direction, other than clockwise just seemed logical. We set out for the first point which was in an area that I knew was confusing from being at this park for previous races. We attacked the point which was in a large draw. I felt confident we were in the right place and I thought we must have simply passed it up. We chose to head up a side ravine which went north towards a road to re-establish our bearings and confirm our location. Once at the road, we confirmed our position, attacked the point from this direction and went straight to it. It is a valuable lesson which has taken a long time to learn. If you are not sure where you are in the woods, no one is going to come tell you, so make a plan soon to figure out where you are and start over. It seems like it is a waste of time, but wandering around for an hour, is much worse. This setback only cost us 15 to 20 minutes total, which was not too bad. The next CP was a good ways away so we headed out on roads. We did not plan to run any more in this race because we felt we had a sufficient lead and just did not feel like running any more. I suspect total foot travel in this race was up around 30 miles so we got enough exercise for this race (maybe it was shorter, but it sure felt this long).
It was getting late, and everyone was tired, but we all seemed to be in good spirits. Now it was time to attack what I thought might be the most difficult point on this trek. We had a standard topo map and a more detailed orienteering map, but it is often difficult to exactly match things up between the two maps. This point, CP 29, was in a draw as the clue would tell us. I got us to the area, where I thought the point was located. Everything seemed to line up just right, but we could not spot the marker. It is not uncommon for CP markers to be sort of hidden in or behind bushes in a TooCool Race. We continued on well past where we thought the point to be to be safe, then headed back thinking we had passed it. After no luck, we started exploring side draws, but still no point. The foliage in this area was very thick so travel was slow. After more than an hour, we decided to try a different approach. We left the area, went to a gravel pit which was on the map and approached from that direction. We arrived at the same area, so we all looked some more. After a full 2 hours searching, we decided we should give up on the point and move on. As we were leaving, we were joined by team Werewolves. This complicated things quite a bit. We had now lost our 2 hour lead, and if they found the point, and we did not, they would win the race. We decided to just hang out with Werewolves for a while as a safety measure. Their navigators confirmed to me that we all thought we were in the correct spot. Team Backpacker decided to move on. The Werewolves said they were going to search a bit more for the point. We still had 5 cp’s to go get and we knew if Werewolves left very close behind us (and did not find the point), this could turn into a foot race for the finish. We still chose to take our time heading for the next few points. We found the next couple of points right away. At one point, we ran into Team Vignette (2 person team), they were looking strong and still running. We told them of our troubles find cp 29 and we all said goodbyes. (Team Vignette did actually find the point to confirm it was there, but agreed it was a tough one to spot.) As we left the final CP and heading to the finish line, we came across Werewolves heading to the final point. They told us they did not locate CP 29. Werewolves were only a few minutes from the final CP that we had just left, so we figured, we better keep moving along in order to stay ahead to the finish line. We picked a fairly direct and obvious route to the finish line. We crossed the finish line and the nervous waiting began. We were the first full course 4 person team to cross the finish line, but had Werewolves really not found CP 29? Well the wait was not long as team Werewolves came running across the finish line less than 5 minutes behind us. It turns out they had been honest with us in the woods and they too had not found the elusive point. Officially, Team Backpacker had won our division, but Team Vignette had won the race overall by finding the elusive CP 29 and finishing several minutes ahead of both teams. Several other teams also found CP 29 during the race (but those teams were on a short course due to bad weather on the lake). No one wanted to hang around for long at the finish line as it was very cold and now that we stopped racing, we were growing ever colder (wind chills were around 20F outside). I headed off to my folks RV down the street where my mother does what mothers do best and made me some hot soup to dine on post race.
Figure 5: Awards picture of Team Backpacker
Once again, TooCool has put on another very good race in a very fun park. Even though this was their 3’rd year putting on this race, they were able to add enough new elements that the race felt fresh and new. In the end, we all came out of this race injury free. Kristi completed her first 24 hour race in a great fashion and made us all proud (sure Jeff and Darius did fine too, but they have done this a bunch in the past).