It would be impossible to top our experience at the 2010 Lightning Strikes Adventure Race, but that’s certainly no reason to skip it in 2011. Eager to once again explore the wonders of Camp Benson, Team Virtus decided to compete in this outdoor endeavour put on by Gerry Voelliger and our good friends at Team High Profile Adventure Racing. For those who don’t know, Gerry is a stone cold ladies man….
At registration, Gerry informed us that he’d made arrangements for us to stay in one of the larger, newer cabins. This was great since we had such a large group. This year’s roster included Casey, Austin, Mr. Steve Lamb, Luke, yours truly and Adam Laffoon.
Casey: If you look closely we all were rocking sweet facial hair of some kind. Even my son and my Dad decided to forgo the razor for several weeks leading up to the event. Austin looked like he had been drinking chocolate milk and my Dad looked a bit like a derelict. However, they became true members of TV for their wilingness to conform to the team dress code. Don’t miss Adams wicked Fu Manchu and Bob’s 70′s porno star stache.
After checking in and dropping off our gear, we headed into town for a Team Virtus time- honored tradition:
This was our second assault on the Kountry Kettle, and one that will not be soon forgotten. Despite our lack of elbow room at such a small table, this quickly became a 2-fronted assault. While the rest of us exploited the Kettle’s foolish decision to offer an all-you-can-eat menu of fried meat, Mr. lamb shocked the locals by being the first vegan to walk through their doors. When he asked if there was anything on the menu not fried, dipped in grease or containing meat…you would’ve thought he’d claimed allegiance to Al-Quada. The entire room literally stopped. Praise be to Alla-..I mean, thank God he was wearing a flannel shirt, or someone may have shot him. (Terrorists never wear flannel)
Luke: Two dudes sitting behind us literally stopped eating, put down their forks, turned around, and stared in disbeif. It was hilarious, and it would not be the last time that Dad would shock onlookers.
Casey: You should have seen the guys behind my Dad. They literally froze, forks in midair and became stone cold silent and looked totally lost and confused. Was this little man in red flannel some sort of comedian. THey were waiting for the punch line. If a man walked through the door in white robes and a thorn crown and proclaimed to be the second coming of Christ they would’ve have been less surprised.
Furthering the awkwardness was Austin’s fury with his father. Here, we see him threatening to put a chicken leg up Casey’s ass if we didn’t stop making fun of the way he wears his pants. I’m sure this would have been immediately followed by Casey asking if it was gay to eat a piece of chicken that had been in his own ass. I mean, it is his ass.
Alas, time had worked against us once more and we had to leave the restaurant before fully defiling ourselves. With semi-full bellies and sound minds, we made our way back to camp and got settled in for the first round of lectures.
Luke: On the way back to camp, we narrowly escaped a head-on collision. It was as close as you could get to a disastrous crash without actually crashing. Pretty scary stuff, but Casey did a fine job of maneuvering the minivan.
Bob: I forgot about that. That was some pretty scary shit.
There were lots of familiar faces at camp this year, and it was nice to see everyone again. It was also nice to finally meet the members of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Adventure Racing, otherwise known as WTFAR.
It was later learned that we’d be sharing a bunk-house with these gentlemen. Much to the dismay of all others present, Casey declared a ”no-holds-barred” fart war against WTFAR to establish our dominance. Noone was safe, and I do mean noone.
Luke: The only female in our cabin elected to sleep in her car on the second night… Seriously. The poor girl.
Casey: We may have won the gas war but we lost the pyschological war that went on that night. Team WTF kept our cabin up with a noise that sounded like a groundhog being stepped on and a ferret being choked at the same time. One of the WTF team members makes some very unique sounds when he sleeps. They were sporadic and, according to his team, a usual accurance. How would you guys describe the sounds?
Bob: It sounded to me like a screaming midget tap-dancing on a xylophone.
A gas-induced nausea eventually caused team-mates to turn on one another. Here we see Austin falling victim to the fabled ”sniper-fart”. These are rarely caught on film:
The poor kid never had a chance. And as you can clearly see, Adam had every opportunity to warn him. What an asshole.
Casey: Bob thought Austin might need alittle help with the facial hair requirement and hooked him up. I thought this was very thoughtful of him, but he really only gave it to him as a distraction to get his “sniper” rifle into position. Poor kid…he never saw it coming.
After a foggy night of “shock and awe”, it was time to load up on the buses and head over for paddling/orienteering practice. It was a chilly morning and we knew the river would be cold. This lead to a fair amount of banter about whether or not anyone would hit the water. One thing was for sure, there was no way in hell we were getting in one of those God-forsaken yellow boats.
Due to heavy rain, most of the parking lot near the boat ramp was flooded. This made for a tricky entrance/exit from the water. Last year, we figured out that 3 Virtusans in one canoe is a bad idea. In an effort to prove their dominance, our good friends from WTFAR decided to go for a 3-man dip of their own. Much to their chagrin, they never made it out of the “parking lot”. Luckily, Gerry was there to lend support. And by support, I mean he laughed his ass off and gave them a nickname.
Luke: “Team Parking Lot” seems like a more appropriate nickname than what Gerry nicknamed us at last year’s camp: “The Six Pound Burrito Brothers.” Actually, I guess that nickname fits us pretty well now that I think about it.
Casey: WTF was not the only team that went in that day. However they were the only team to get a cool nickname out of the deal (much like us last year). One of the teams in the other group ended up in a couple of trees. I heard they were strong and very fast paddlers but somehow dumped their boat (I bet it was a yellow one).
The WTF boys were definitely re-living our experience from 2010. They seemed to be taking it well, but we knew from experience that tipping the boat is a confidence destroyer. They’d be nervous on raceday for sure, but if they could hold themselves together they would emerge a stronger team.
Casey: I guess they learned from our experience the previous year, since they dressed on the bus instead of the middle of the parking lot. Either that or they are more modest than TV (and the water wasn’t as cold as it was last year. However, the part of the parking lot that we got dressed in was under water this year so they couldn’t have used it to dress. Team Parking Lot…I love the nickname.
Casey: I have one question for Team WTF…Who went in first?
The rest of us were having a much better year in the canoes. Team Virtus was represented by 3 different 2-man squads this year. Luke and Adam, (Virtus 1), Casey and I, (Virtus 2), and Austin & Mr. Lamb, (J-Virtus). All three boats remained upright for the duration of the practice. We even tried, ( a bit unsuccessfully), to do a little canoe drafting. It’s a lot harder than it looks
I guess Casey and I must’ve been looking pretty good out there, because you can clearly tell in this photo that Robyn Benincasa is TOTALLY checking us out:
Luke: Nice try, Bob, but neither of you guys had a blue jacket. That’s clearly not you in the canoe, so Robyn was NOT checking you out.
Casey: The other way you can tell it is not us…they are in a piece of crap, tippy ass, yellow banana boat. I thought about BS’ing and trying to sell the picture as us until I saw the boat they were in. Hopefully, I’ll never be in one of the yellow bananas P.O.S.’s again.
Bob: Well now…I am embarrassed. Up until this moment I truly believed we were in that boat.
Speaking of Ms. Benincasa, she gave an EXCELLENT presentation at the camp. With multiple videos, photos and stories of her own personal triumphs, she inspired everyone in the room and taught us what it truly means to be part of a team. I think what impresses me the most about Robyn is that while she is such an accomplished athlete, she’s also so humble and normal. She was super-patient with everyone, and I think she even laughed at some of Casey’s jokes.
Luke: Robyn Benincasa was truly amazing. Her talk was one of the many highlights of the weekend. And she is one of the kindest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet. But she only laughed at Casey’s jokes out of pity.
Casey: While all the lectures are infomative and very well put on, I thoroughly enjoyed Robyn’s lecture (yeah, we are on a first name basis now, thanks to all my great jokes she enjoyed, plus she is a fan of Bob’s). I think it was my favorite lecture this year and was surely by anybody, even non-racers. It was very inspirational. I got a lot out of her talk and look forward to someday doing her Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Hike to raise money for her foundation, Project Athena (http://www.projectathena.org/R2R2R_Events.php). Check out this great cause and support it if you have the opportunity to do so, it’s a worhty cause.
After her speech, we made a team-decision to change part of the Virtus code. Carrying another Virtusan’s gear will no longer be something we do to give each other shit. Teamwork is teamwork, and you never know when you might need someone else to carry your pack for a while. Little did we know how quickly this new rule would come into play.
Luke: After Robyn showed a video of a Japanes AR team carrying a teammate with a knee injury across 30 + miles including a razor’s edge ridge top with death on either side just to finish the race, we decided that we could help each other a little more without ripping on each other. Teamwork, baby!
Casey: I agree. You team is there to help you and you shouldn’t be ridiculed for accepting their help when you need it. I have always felt this way and have even given my teammates the “gift” of carrying my pack at past races. Robyn taught us that it is a gift you give to your teammates by letting them help you when you are down and need it. Plus, if you race long and hard enough you will eventually need help from you teammates at some point. I guess you could consider me a “pleasure-giver”. I now ask my teammates to “give it back”.
On top of our canoe success, we also enjoyed much better results on the practice orienteering leg this year. I can’t speak for the other guys, but Casey and I had a great time and found most of the CP’s before time ran out. We even took a few minutes at the scenic overlook to get a few pictures.
I’m not sure the entire O-section was the same as last year, but there were definitely some of the same CP’s. This was actually a good thing, since we were able to gauge our progress from 2010. There were definite improvements, especially for Casey.
Casey: Our orienteering was spot on all day. We used great attack points and were using handrails and collecting features. We had a great game plan all day and we never lost contact with the map. If you were with us you would have caught Bob and I “aiming off” every chance we could get that day in the woods.
Luke: This was Adam’s first experience with orienteering, so I showed him the basics. He did really well. In fact, he didn’t do anything to get fired from the team. It was very disappointing. So he was once again fired for disappointing us.
After the paddling and orienteering practice sessions were over, we loaded onto the buses and headed back to camp for ropes practice. My main concern was the ascending wall. I had bumbled my way through it through it once before, but was really hoping for some tutoring from one of the volunteers.
Our first order of business was to enjoy a nice zip-line. I’m not sure of the specific height, but it was a tall one. Here we see Mr. Lamb preparing to take his first leap of faith for the day. There’s just something about walking off the edge of a cliff…
Rappelling was much more fun without the crippling fear we experienced last year. Look at the absence of fear on Luke’s face. This is a stark contrast from the man we saw here last year.
Casey: How were we so scared and nervous last year with the ropes and a kid and senior citizen had no problem this year? Was it that they knew people who had actually did the ropes the previous year and were still living? Or was it that they were better at masking their fears than we were (no Jimmy Legs)? This year defiinitely was more enjoyable than last year (not quite as much of an adrenaline boost though). We had an opportunity to practice many faucets of ropes that you see at various races. We had a blast again this year.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves standing at the ascending wall. There were several ropes available, and there was also a rescue ladder set up for us to attempt. Austin rushed over to the ladder and started to make his way up. I don’t know what the other guys were thinking, but I was a bit intimidated. The ladder was very narrow and completely unsupported. It was one of those ladders they drop out of helicopters in the movies. Undeterred, Austin twisted and spun his way to the top. We were all VERY impressed.
Next up was Mr. lamb. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I haven’t just called him “Steve”. Well, there’s a very good reason for that. You see, Mr. Lamb is what we like to call… a “Badass”. A veteran distance runner, vegan and father to 3 Lamb-boys, Mr. Lamb is no stranger to pain. He grabbed that ladder, tied into the safety rope and FLEW to the top. He made that ladder his bitch in a way you could only understand if you’d seen it with your own eyes. Later he claimed to have struggled a bit, but from where I was standing it looked like he did stuff like this everyday. It was impressive to say the least.
Luke: I had been a little worried about how my Dad would hold up at camp (although I never told him this). After seeing how he dominated the ladder, though, I knew he was going to rock everything that Gerry would throw at him. It was impressive, and a lot of people noticed. I’m always proud to be his son, and this is just one of the infinite number of reasons.
Casey: I was impressed by my Dad’s performance thoughout the entire camp, especially at the ladder. He owned it. Once my son and my Dad killed the ladder, I had to go up. I had no choice. I was next in line and had to do it . I wanted to do it sometime at the camp but maybe after a little regular ascending first. I thought the ladder would be harder than it looked and I thought it looked hard. I had to get to the top…three generations of Lambs owned that ladder that day (perhaps the middle generation did so the least).
The rest of us made it up the ladder too, but with a lot more effort and a lot less grace. Personally, I was scared shitless the entire time I was on the ladder. It’s scary because you have no option but to keep going up. The safety rope won’t let you come back down, and it’s not like anyone would be stupid enough to unhook the safety rope. It was a bit harrowing, but at the end of the day I think we’re all glad we did it.
Moving on to the ascending wall, my stomach was in knots. Rope ascension is one of those things that requires a certain amount of finesse; You can’t just horse your way up the rope, your whole body has to move in sequence. I’d done it before, but was VERY exhausted once at the top. Today would be different, as I had the good fortune of receiving one-on-one instruction from Robyn Benincasa. She took a few moments to explain things in a way that I could understand and sent me up the cliff. With Robyn coaching from the ground, I made my way up the rope. I can’t even tell you how relieved I was to be ascending with confidence. I was so thrilled with my success that I rappelled down and ascended once more. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when there’s a woman there to tell you what to do.
Casey: I was coached by Robyn as well. She did a great job coaching me on the technique and keeping me relaxed and focused. They taught a different techinque than we learned last fall at the Thunder Rolls. This was a single leg ascent as apposed to a double leg that we learned last year. I felt this technique was much more intuitive and easier to apply on the spot. I felt confindent by the time we were done ascending. We actually raced up the wall the second time.
The ropes practice was a smashing success for all those present. We even had the good fortune to see a not-so-golden-looking Golden Girl making her way up one of the ascents.
And who could forget running into our bunk-mates and esteemed “We’ve swam in the Mississippi River” colleaugues…WTFAR.
It would have been impossible to have a bad day out there. We had great weather, an awesome playground and great people all around us.
Casey: When we were doing the Tyrolean Traverse across the river Austin jumped too far from the bank and landed flat on his back on the ground. After several bounces he got up and tried a couple of more times, more bounces, and eventually made it out over the water. I think we have a video of this somewhere. I’ll try to tind it and link it to this report for your viewing pleasure.
Time flew by and we found ourselves heading to lunch. Who could have known we’d stumble across a tetherball pole? Soon everyone had stories about how good they were at tetherball “back in the day.” I think you kow what happened next..
Then it got serious..
ROUND 3: TV vs. WTFAR
This was truly a battle for the ages. After losing the fart war and tipping their canoe, WTFAR wanted to yet again pit themselves against TV, this time in a tetherball challenge. The Virtus code prevents us from declining a tetherball challenge, so the battle was on. We swatted the ball back and forth for countless seconds as our team-meates looked on in paralyzing suspense. With his towering height and longer arms, things were looking grim until I hit this little gem.
Casey: For the record I was not included in tetherball activities. I guess nobody, not even my teammates wanted any of the Anchorman on the tetherball court. I once hospitalized 2 opponents over the course of a single tourney back in my semi-pro tetherball days. I was actually ranked in the world in the Clydesdale Division.
After that, it was time to head back inside for the pre-race pasta feed and enjoy a few more lectures. After a long day of outdoor fun, sleep would come easy. And that was a good thing, because we knew all too well…Gerry Voelliger was going to hurt us tomorrow.
Casey: Much like we were last year, Team WTF was anxious about the paddlign leg of the next days race. They somehow had to stay upright and dry. We encouraged them and assured that it was now out of their systems. I especially enjoyed hearing Bob explain his running the banks of the river during the paddle leg to Team WTF. I think they decided against it.
***NOTE: Be sure to read the race report from the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race. Check it out right here.***
**NOTE** This write-up is presented to you as a collaborative effort; I (Casey) wrote this report, and Luke and Bob added their comments.
The original write-up is given in black text, Bob’s comments are presented to you in green, and Luke’s commentary is given in yellow.
Finally, after much waiting and anticipation, it was time to start learning about ropes and rappelling. After all, this was a major reason why we were here. We wanted to learn the basics of rappelling, Tyrolean traversing, zip lining, and any other rope skill you might encounter at a 24 or 48 hour adventurer race. Our lack of knowledge has prohibited us from doing certain races because of a rope or rappelling sections. We wanted to become proficient enough and comfortable enough with these skills so that we could enter these races at our discretion.
The day could only get better right? There’s no way this afternoon could go worse than the morning’s paddle on the Mississippi did (we’ll tell you about that in another post). Well, we hoped not, and we were praying that Team Virtus would have a better showing. Our plan to redeem ourselves involved overcoming any fears we had (some had more than others) and working hard to acquire the rope and rappelling skills that we so desperately wanted to learn. A good showing here and we would have a little momentum built up heading into tomorrow’s 8-hour adventure race. A bad showing and we might decide to enter the 4 hour race instead.
If you haven’t heard yet, earlier in the day we somehow managed to tip our canoe only 30 yards from the bank on the Mississippi. What was the rappelling equivalent to that debacle? …Refusal to go over the edge? … A 50 foot fall? …Wetting ones’ pants while on your way down? …death? I wasn’t sure, and I hoped that we wouldn’t soon be finding out. We were all excited and, to be perfectly honest, a little bit nervous as well.
Good or bad we were going to have our first chance to try out all of our new gear. We each had purchased all of the required gear for the camp including: a UIAA approved climbing harness (Black Diamond Alpine Bod Harness for Luke and Bob, and the Black Diamond Momentum Harness for me ), 3 locking carabiners (aka biners, pronounced “beaners”), 2-12” sewn slings, an ATC or a figure 8 Device, and 2-60” 8mm thick lengths of accessory cord. We now had the proper gear, but we still lacked the knowledge to properly use it. Hell, some of the gear we had never even seen before, we had no idea of how to use it or even what it might be used for. Although clueless, we were hoping to have a fun, safe, and informative afternoon.
We sat through a midday lecture given by Gerry Voelliger regarding proper techniques and safety protocol for what we would be doing all afternoon. Gerry opened the lecture with the following quote from Todd Skinner (a climbing legend): “Success on a mountain is not a matter of how much you know – it’s a matter of how much you are willing to learn.” As I pondered this quote for a few minutes I really took it to heart and instantly knew Team Virtus would have a successful afternoon because we were all willing to learn as much as we possibly could.
Gerry went through the various types of equipment, rope, and gear and then taught us about proper fitting and what everything was supposed to do if it was used properly. We learned the proper lingo and what to call out before starting, during, and when finished doing the various activities. He emphasized the importance of doubling the harness strap back through the buckle to properly secure it. He told us to have a teammate double check every time that the hip strap of your harness is above the hip bones (so if you become inverted you won’t fall out) and that you can only see one side of every buckle on your harness (ensuring that you doubled back each buckle).
One of the volunteers had painted part of her buckle red. When the strap was properly doubled back, you could not see any red. She said something like, “If you see red , then you’re dead.” I thought this was a good tip, but it also scared the hell out of me.
My harness was on so tight my balls fell asleep.
Some of the take-aways from his lecture that that we will never forget are as follows:
1) Double back the straps on every buckle of your harness (I just said this but it is that important).
2) A wet rope is a dangerous rope, due to less friction. Inspect the rope before you climb or rappel.
3) Only use a locking carabiner on rappels. TIP à once you lock the biner you should back it off a ¼ turn to prevent it from freezing up and becoming impossible to unlock.
4) Don’t EVER tie a rope into your belay loop (too much friction with nylon on nylon = heat), but carabiners can be clipped in.
5) Gear loops are not designer to hold bodyweight, do not clip into your gear loops, they are only designed to hold your gear.
6) Never let go of the rope when belaying, keep one hand on the rope at all times. This applies to rappelling as well (never let go with your brake hand).
7) When traversing or zip lining the gates of your two biners should be opposite and opposed in direction.
8) When ascending on a fixed rope with hand ascenders, always maintain 2 points of contact with the rope.
9) When going down a zip line never put a hand on the rope on the downhill side of your carabiner which is attached to the rope. This is a very good way to lose a finger. Tip à Make sure that you keep bare flesh (like your neck) from coming in contact with the rope while you are “zipping” down the line unless you want a wicked, hickey looking rope burn.
Just ask Bob about this. He got a nice little burn on his neck from the final zip line during the race. Or maybe it really was a hickey, and he just didn’t want to explain who gave it to him.
Yeah, that was some pretty painful stuff. I actually heard my neck burning before I felt it. Luckily there was enough cool stuff going on all around me that it was easy to forget about the pain.
10) Wear gloves, a good pair of leather gloves will protect your hands from burns, blisters, cuts, etc.
11) If you kick a rock loose you should yell out, “ROCK!” and if you hear “ROCK!” don’t ever look up or you can get the rock in the face instead of on top of your helmet.
12) Do not step on, straddle, or stand to the side of a weighted rope – EVER.
13) Protect the rope from sharp edges.
14) Do not use a knife near a loaded rope (Did he really have to tell us this one? I’m guessing some idiot was seriously injured or killed in the past by using a knife near a weighted rope or else Gerry wouldn’t have had to tell us this).
As Gerry finished his presentation I looked over at a very ashen faced Luke and could actually see little beads of sweat on his brow. We made eye contact and he gave me a little head nod and attempted a smile to show that he was game. I wasn’t all that nervous before but this put me a little on edge. What if one of use dies? I hoped it wouldn’t be me or my brother.
Yeah, man. I’m not gonna lie. I was seriously a little sick to my stomach. I’m not a big fan of heights, to put it mildly.
I’d never seen Luke that nervous before. He kept rubbing his head and looking around the room, as if he was trying to find a way out of there. I knew he’d push through it when the time came, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to help any if he knew we were nervous too. I decided to act confident, hoping the positive energy would carry over.
After the conclusion of the presentation we all purchased a set of climbing gloves on the spot from Active Endeavors (a sponsor of the race and adventure racing everywhere), who had a shop set up offering any of the gear that you may need during the camp. They even offered a nice discount to all camp participants. Gerry’s lecture had convinced us of the benefit of having a nice pair of climbing gloves (and by the end of the day we all agreed with him and were glad that we purchased our new gloves). We got all of our climbing gear on and were ready to head out into the field to put to use all that we had just learned. The group we were in was instructed to head over to the rappelling section first…GREAT!!!
This was the first ever rappel for Bob and Luke and something I haven’t done since I was in 8th grade, so we all were busy trying to pretend that we weren’t at all scared or concerned with what we were about to do. That’s right we all put on our game faces and buried any fear we might have had deep within our souls. We stood at the back of a slow moving line watching other people prepare to rappel and then slowly disappear over the edge. So far nobody died that we were aware of (or if they did, at least they did so quietly which we appreciated). A camp volunteer came to the end of the line a told us of another shorter, faster moving rappelling line. We quickly headed over to the other line and found two lines were running simultaneously which resulted in the line moving a little faster.
I think Casey is being kind here. I was not hiding how terrified I was. Once again, I was a little queasy, and I was thinking of ways I could bow out gracefully. Casey and Bob were both acting like they had done this a thousand times, and this only made me feel more uneasy.
I believe the hardest part of this whole process was waiting for your turn. If you could have just walked right up, clipped in, and rappelled it would have been so much easier. We waited and waited and then waited some more (or so it seemed). The problem with waiting was the time it gave you plenty of time to really think about and consider what you are about to do and you kept asking yourself the same question over and over again…why?
My answer was because it looks like fun, it’s safe (or else they wouldn’t allow us to do it, right?), we need to know how to rappel for future races, and if I back out now my teammates will never let me live it down. For a brief second I thought about feigning a sudden injury that would keep me from rappelling. Then I decided against it, I had to do this. With this unfaultable logic I waited in line watching other first timers anxiously go over the edge. Eventually, we found ourselves at the front of the line and Bob decided that he’d go first for our team. After several minutes of instruction Bob was properly checked (his harness straps were doubled back and the harness was over his hip bones) and he carefully inserted the rope into his brand new figure 8 with the knowledgeable volunteer observing him to ensure that it was properly done. Then, Bob slowly worked himself back towards the edge of the cliff.
The instructor told Bob how to position his brake hand and told him his other hand was just a guide; if he slipped it would do nothing to stop him. I chimed in, “that he could sure as hell try to stop himself with it.” The guy said it wasn’t possible. Then he told us about a guy last year who slipped and then grabbed the rope above him with both hands (letting go with his brake hand) who had a nice little fall until the belayer stopped him with a fireman’s stop from below. Note to self – don’t let go of the brake hand under any circumstance whatsoever and the other hand is only a guide. Bob called out, “On Rappel”; we heard “Rappel On” called out from below. It was too late to turn back; Bob was at the point of no return. It was time and then…
Then it happened, Bob’s magical rubber leg kicked in. One of his legs started shaking uncontrollably. (I later found out that this happens regularly when he is juiced up and about to do something daring or dangerous). Bob pushed through his rubber leg and backed his butt inch by inch over the edge, finally “sitting” back over the edge. He took a little step or two and then found purchase on a little ledge a couple of feet down and decided to stand upright again.
A look of relief came over Bob’s face and then a look of terror as he realized that he still had a long way to go and would have to “sit” back over the edge all again. With a deep breath and a sigh Bob disappeared over the edge for the last time. We heard no screaming or crashing sounds and assumed that he safely made it to the bottom safely. Then we heard “Off Rappel”. This meant that he was off the rope and it was the next person’s turn.
I’ve seen Bob’s “Jimmy Legs” many times before, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to see his legs quivering. Bob put on one helluva façade, and I really thought he was absolutely fearless. It turns out, as he would later tell me, that he was almost as terrified as I was… almost… but not quite. I think I was clearly the most terrified member of Team Virtus.
Having to “sit back” for the first time was positively terrifying. I had a death grip on the top rope, so tight I could barely unclench my fingers. Stupid rubber leg. I had you guys fooled for a minute there.
Luke was what you’d call a little uneasy and as much as he wanted to rappel he has this thing about heights and not really liking them all that much. Part of Luke’s trepidation was caused by two events that Bob probably missed while he was receiving his rappelling instruction. The first incident involved a hyperactive little dog running around near the edge of the cliff. At one point the dog ran full speed past us and right to the edge of the cliff, stopping only inches from falling to his death. Had the dog tripped of slipped in the leaves, even just a little, it would have been all over for him. While Luke and I were watching Bob prepare to rappel the dog somehow found his was safely to the bottom without us seeing him do so. Then Luke saw the dog at the base of the cliff and thought that he had fallen over the edge. You’d think the thought that a dog surviving a 100+ foot fall would bring ease to Luke. I mean if a little dog didn’t die from the fall a big, strong man should be okay, right? No, somehow it only added fuel to the fear burning deep inside of Luke.
I seriously thought that dog was dead. That little pooch was fearless. Here is a clip that portrays how I saw things in my head:
The next event that occurred and almost deterred Luke all together was an incident with another first time rappeller. This guy was just going over the edge when he slipped and then totally disappeared. The guy recovered and safely made his way down but it wasn’t at all comforting to Luke. He now realized that slipping and falling was a real possibility.
I don’t think anyone knows how close I truly was to backing out. My palms were sweating. My heart was beating uncontrollably. My sphincter was contracted with maximum force so that I wouldn’t crap all over myself and my brand new harness. But Bob made it down alive, and I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t at least try it.
Luke stated he was going next or he might not go at all. I don’t think he wanted to be waiting at the top alone and then have to go over the edge without the support of a teammate at the top. Plus, sometimes it is better to just get it over with and end all the anticipation. This was fine by me so I sat back and observed the process again. Luke did a great job of overcoming his strong dislike for heights, manning up, and gettin’ er done. Luke received the same instruction that Bob did and slowly made his way backwards toward the edge. I tried 3 different times to catch a video of him going over the edge but each time I started recording he would have another question for the instructor. I am not sure if he was buying a few more minutes of safety or just wanted to be sure that he understood all the directions.
I handed the camera to the volunteer (who was clipped in) and asked him to lean out and take a picture of Luke as he was descending. Luke “sat” over the edge and slowly let out some line with his brake hand. The volunteer told Luke to stop and snapped a sweet picture of him out over the edge with the river below him. Then Luke disappeared from my view and I heard, “Off Rappel” letting me know that Luke was down safe.
I really thought I was going to die. My mind was screaming, “You FOOL! You don’t have to do this! You have four (Yes, I said four – I’m very potent) young children at home that need their father!” When I finally got myself to actually sit all the way back and actually feel the rope hold me easily, my sphincter loosened a little, and I realized that I could do this. The volunteer (who was awesome by the way) told me to look up and smile, so I did just that. Then I had the time of my life as I rappelled down safely and easily. It was exhilarating, amazing, and sooooooooooooo much fun! And it was a HUGE relief.
Now it was my turn. I had to do this. I was the only present teammate to have ever rappelled before. I was all alone at the top of the cliff, no teammates, no support. Luke was right in not wanting to go last. I took a deep breath, slapped myself in the face and headed to the cliff edge. Quickly, I got some directions from the instructor and decided to quickly “sit” over the edge. I knew the hardest part was getting started and that standing at the top thinking about it could make the issue seem almost insurmountable. I knew it was safe and that if I were to slip and fall the bottom belayer would stop me with a fireman’s belay stop.
I called out “Rappel On”, heard a familiar voice answer “On Rappel” and backed towards the lip of the cliff. I let out some line with my brake hand and leaned back over the edge and I was off. I kicked out and away from the rock face and let the rope gently slide through my brake hand. I repeated this several times as I bounced along the vertical wall to the cliff base. What a blast. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins and I was ready to tackle the world. As I was unclipping myself from the rope I looked over to thank my bottom-belayer and found the source of the familiar voice that I had heard from the top. You might have already guessed it; the voice I had heard was my own brother’s voice, Luke, who to my knowledge had never belayed a rappel before. Well, now he has and he did a great job. Had I known Luke was my backup, my safety valve, while I was still at the top convincing myself it was safe, I would have had one more thing to worry about. But it worked out fine and Luke did a great job. I made it safely to the bottom of the cliff. I finished unclipping myself and then quickly called out, “Off Rappel”. We did it. Team Virtus had successfully rappelled for the first time. We quickly climbed back to the top and made our way towards the Tyrolean Traverse.
I wish we would have taken pictures of us at the bottom of that first rappel. My face had to have been beaming. After lots of fist bumps, high fives, and maybe even a man-hug or two, we were ready to move on.
A volunteer informed us that the quickest way to the Tyrolean traverse was down a larger, more challenging rappel. Not a problem, we were pros by this time and rappelling was old news. We were excited and actually looking forward to this rappel. We all three quickly worked our way down cliff one by one, thoroughly enjoying the experience this time. The hardest part of the day and possibly the camp was that first rappel. During the first rappel we all learned a lesson, which Gerry repeated often during the lecture earlier in the day that made the rest of the day easier and more enjoyable for us… “Trust your equipment”.
Our equipment had now been tested and proved to us that it would work. We now truly internalized and believed what we were trying hard to convince ourselves of before that first rappel…You have to trust your equipment. We now knew how safe rappelling can be when set up correctly and with the proper use of the right gear. Soon we all were at the bottom and headed over towards the traverse.
It amazed me how much easier the second rappel was. Yes, I still had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it was MUCH smaller. It really did feel like we were already pros.
We found out that the traverse was now only going in one direction (towards us) and that we would have to climb back up and go around and down the zip line to get to the other side of the traverse. We thought about using the ascenders but the line was long and not moving really quickly so we decided to climb up the side of the cliff using a fixed rope and head directly to the zip line.
The line for the zip line was long and very slow moving. It turns out that the zip line had somehow “sagged” a little bit over night which resulted in the line being a little slower. To the point that everybody was stopping near the middle of the line and had to pull their selves hand over hand along the rope to reach the end of the line. The distance of this pull depended on how big you were and how hard you pushed off when you left the cliff. I was hoping that Team Virtus would capitalize on our size and strength and zip further than the others and have a minimal pull at the bottom. We watched person after person zip down as we patiently waited in line.
While in line, we had many good conversations with all the great people around us. One team, Jilly and Mitch, talked with us for much of the duration of the wait. Mitch, an experienced rock climber, was a little anxious about the zip line (having never done one before) and considered it a potential highlight of the camp. As we neared the front of the line you could feel the butterflies waking up in your stomach. Luke went first; he wanted to be the first for one of the events. All the friends that we had made during our extended wait began to chant, “Let’s go, Luke, Let’s go” with a couple of claps after each cycle. Luke quickly clipped onto the zip line and was away. He zipped further than most and pulled himself quickly to the end. Next it was my turn…
I approached the end and clipped in. I received no chants. It was silent, I could actually hear crickets. I looked at the people in the line and guilted them into starting up the same chant Luke got but with my name. Now I was getting pumped up and approached the edge with my back facing down the hill. I pushed off as hard as I could and let out a voracious “Whoooooo” of ecstasy as I slid down the rope. I went faster and further than anybody that I had seen so far.
However, I still had to pull myself to the end of the rope. I thought I was at the end so I stopped pulling only to have a volunteer tell me to, “Keep coming”. I tried stop at least 2 more times and received the same instruction, “Keep coming”. I decided to pull until they told me to stop. My butt was literally dragging in the leaves but I continued to pull. Finally the volunteer finally told me, “That’s good, stop”. I stood up, and soon realized why you had to pull yourself so far, in order to give yourself a little “courtesy slack” in the rope and keep your harness from castrating you. I quickly unclipped and got in a good spot to view the zip line as I and waited for Bob to go.
We heard the chant start up from the top and then saw Bob fling out into the ravine and zip towards us. He as moving pretty good but still had to pull himself to the bottom. When he unclipped he had the greatest look on his face. The only way I can describe it was that he was alive; he was living life to the fullest. He was a little flush and pretty amped up as the adrenaline was still flowing through his veins. I am sure that Luke and I had the same look when we finished.
I knew exactly how Bob was feeling…this is what life is about, these types of once in a lifetime experiences that we were sharing right here, right now. How lucky were we to be here, together experiencing this and living this life? We truly were blessed to have the chance to attend this camp and have these experiences. We looked around and had to decide whether we wanted to rock climb or skip that and head for the traverse and then the fixed rope ascend. Bob really wanted to climb, so as a team we decided to give rock climbing a shot.
Bob, once again, was up first. As he was getting ready to climb, Luke was strapping into a daisy chain at the base of the cliff and was going to belay Bob on this climb. I think it was a first for both of them. The climbing route that Bob picked for us to climb was christened “the Shimmy in the Chimney”. It was a decent sized crack in the wall that went all the way up to the top of this little plateau. Bob climbed like a damn mountain goat. He started up one side of the crack, then bridged the gap and used both sides to “shimmy” up a ways only to finally switch off onto the back of the crack and continue up towards his goal.
Near the top Bob got both fingers on this little ledge and did a full body pull up and then quickly found a foot hold. Soon, he was pulling himself out of the chimney and sat on top edge catching his breath. Then he let Luke carefully lower him back down to the ground.
I think Bob would have preferred to have had the volunteer belay him, but he never said anything. And it wasn’t my first belay. I did a little bit of Rock climbing on my NOLS course 10 years ago, so Bob was safe, Right?
I had total confidence in you, man. Plus I was trying to look tough in front of Abbie.
I have a little “gym climbing” (indoor climbing facility) experience and hoped that it would help me out here. I soon learned how much of a difference climbing shoes really make. I regularly use them in the gym and apparently have gotten pretty used to them. Now, in my bulky trail shoes, I couldn’t feel the rock surface with my feet and struggled to get enough purchase what should have been simple toe holds. I decided to use the “shimmy” approach and put one hand and foot on the rock face on one side of the crack and the other hand and foot on the other side. I quickly worked my way up the crack in jumping jack fashion.
Soon, the chasm became narrower and I could no longer use this technique properly, there was just too much of me. I switched and placed my back on one side and my hands and feet on the other (this is where Bob went up the back of the crack and I probably should have done so too) and continued my climb in this fashion, slowly crawling up the crack. I soon got to the pull up ledge, pulled my body up, found a toe hold and then I was on top looking down at my teammates.
Now it was Luke’s turn to climb and mine to belay him. Luke’s climb was almost identical to mine. He used very similar techniques and a similar route. Luke soon crested the top and sat down to take in the view. When he was ready I carefully lowered him down the face of the cliff.
Somehow during his climb he had managed to scratch the heck out of his back. It looked as if Luke tried to wear an angry bobcat as a backpack. We all enjoyed this little chimney and the experience we shared by climbing it. Now it was time to move onto the much anticipated Tyrolean traverse.
I was not going to climb. I figured I have done a little bit of climbing before, and I just didn’t need to do it. In all honesty, I was a little scared again. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it (especially since Bob and Casey had already done it), so I sucked it up and did it. I’m very glad I did.
Tyrolean Traverse (TT)
For those of you unfamiliar with the term below if the Wikipedia’s definition of a Tyrolean traverse:
A Tyrolean traverse is method of crossing through free space between two high points on a rope without a hanging cart or cart equivalent. This is used in a range of mountaineering activities: rock climbing, technical tree climbing, caving and water crossings.
For this TT we were crossing a river. We received some brief instructions on the various TT techniques and were asked if we’d be okay crossing without a volunteer to help us up on the other side. I quickly answered,” Absolutely”, knowing that Luke was going first and that I’d have him over there to help me if I needed it. Luke clipped in and walked to the river’s edge. He then pushed off the bank and into the air fully “trusting” his equipment. He pulled himself across the river and to the other bank. Once there, he had to find purchase on the dirt and root covered river bank. He quickly was able to do so and scurried up into the grass and unclipped himself from the rope.
Bob scurried across in the same fashion. While he was mounting the bank he slipped and almost slid back over the river, but he was able to catch himself and horse himself bodily up and onto the bank.
I brought up the rear mimicking my teammates’ efforts. I too slipped a bit on my way up the bank. We all easily traversed the river suspended from a taut rope by only our harnesses. We kept ourselves completely dry and are now capable of repeating this feat in a race.
From the TT we headed to the ascending portion of the camp. We waited in a slow moving line and decided we had time to make a quick rappel while we waited for the line to dwindle down. Much to our dismay the rappel line near the vertical fixed rope ascend had already been taken down. It was back to waiting in the line. We waited for a bit then heard the words we hoped not to hear. They told us that they only had time for 5 or 6 more people to ascend and then they had to take the ropes down and head out to set up the rest of the ropes for the race tomorrow morning. We were about 12th in line and realized we wouldn’t get to learn the technique at this time and were slightly disappointed.
I was bummed that we missed out on this, but there’s always next year.
Me too, I think the fact that the zip line was moving so slow was what really screwed us up. Like you guys said though, there’s always next time.
Stupid zip line.
However, the disappointment soon dissipated as we headed back to our cabin discussing and reliving the experiences that we had shared all afternoon. We felt as if we had redeemed ourselves a little bit and felt good heading into tomorrow’s race. As a team we had learned all that we had hoped and even a little more.
Team Virtus can now effectively (and more importantly safely) rappel, Tyrolean traverse, zip line, rock climb, belay one another, and have tons of fun while doing it. We agreed right then and there that we were sticking with the 8 hour race, and we were all very excited for all the promise the next day held. But before the race we still had much to do. We had a buffet dinner later that night, then a great lecture on foot health and foot care (given by Olympic kayaker Dr. Jeremy Rodgers), then the race briefing, packing for the race, and after a good’s night sleep and buffet breakfast in the morning the race would finally start.
“Good night’s sleep” might not be the word for it thanks to Casey. Just read the race report right here. It was an amazing day… One I’ll never forget.
**NOTE** This race report is presented to you as a collaborative effort; Casey, Luke and I (Bob) pieced this one together as a group so we could each give our own impression of this event.
The original write-up is given in black text, Casey’s comments are presented to you in red, and Luke’s commentary is given in yellow. I added a response or two in green.
When my alarm went off at 4:43 I was already thinking about that damn canoe.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before the race, mostly I just laid there thinking about how we were going to get through the paddling leg without another capsizing disaster. The last thing anyone wanted was to go for another swim in 40 degree water and have to spend the rest of the day all wet.
There had to be a solution…there had to be redemption.
Furthering my frustration was the fact that I wasn’t exactly in an environment conducive to deep thought. Hell, I don’t think Albert Einstein could have heard himself think in that cabin. 9 grown men, (and Alec), all crammed into one small room were working unconsciously to create a symphony of farts and snoring that was absolutely spell-binding. The guys all just kinda fell into a rhythm…unknowingly breathing in one another’s ass funk and then expelling it in long rattling snores. I didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit.
Add to that, Casey was talking in his sleep…recounting an epic tale of survival about “that one time he fell through the ice while he had a broken rib…” he was obviously somewhere in dreamland delivering a motivational speech before thousands of riveted fans. Every now and then he’d throw in a question about vibrating eggs, but I never really figured that one out.
Lying there in that haze of testosterone, I came to the conclusion that the 3 of us were too much “man” for one canoe. The only solution was for one guy to load his Camelbak as lightly as possible and run next to the water while the other two piloted the boat. Casey and Luke both had way more experience in the boat so it only made sense for me to be the runner. To my thinking, one wet ass was better than 3, so we would just have to make it work.
I had pitched a rough draft of this plan to the guys the night before….Casey and Luke both thought the idea sucked. Deep down I knew they were right, but this idea was the only one we had.
Anyway, back to the story. The first time I hit the snooze button, Casey was already awake and asking Luke questions. Funny thing was….Luke was asleep and so were the rest of the dudes in the cabin.
All at once Luke sits up and whispers, “Why are you yelling at me?!?!?”
I wanted to punch Casey in the face repeatedly. Why in the hell was it so urgent to ask me so many questions before 5:00 AM???
It was race day. Get your lazy butts up and out of bed. It was time to rock and roll. We had to get our bikes to the bike drop by 5:30, then back to breakfast by 6:00 and get all of our gear ready and to the starting line before 7:00. Let’s go Team Virtus…Rise and Shine…It’s Race Time.
Moments later, the alarm went off again and we all sprung to life. There was only a short while to get our gear together, hit the bike-drop and be race-ready before start-time. Luke and I headed for the bike drop while Casey gathered his things and interviewed the other racers. The bike drop was only a few miles from camp so we made good time; there was plenty of time to eat, drop a deuce and make final preparations.
I was left at the camp because only 2 people could ride in Bob’s truck. However, I did get a couple of good interviews and some pictures of me wearing Luke’s and Bob’s gear without any underwear. You should see what I put in their water reservoirs.
Dear God, I hope that’s not true!
Good to know, now I can tell my doctor where I got this strange rash
Strawberry cream cheese….glorious strawberry cream cheese!! I loaded my bagel with gobs of it and the world was right. Damn I love strawberry cream cheese!
Right about the time I was polishing off bagel #2, some guy walks into the room all in a panic and says he’s locked his keys in his car…with all of his gear.
That’s no way to start your day…
So, we headed out to his van to try to break in through the window. I’ve had to break into my own vehicle literally dozens of times, so I was confident we could get into his van. But after 40 minutes of trying unsuccessfully, I handed the coat-hanger to someone else and ran for the starting line. We later heard that he had to call AAA and do the short race. I felt bad for the guy, but sometimes shit happens.
**Here’s a fun fact: Apparently, he had been giving his wife a hard time about locking her keys in her car earlier in the week…His wife was his team-mate…I wonder how that conversation went.**
So there we are, standing at the starting line moments from when the hammer is going to drop. We’re totally organized, hydrated, equipped and ready for action. Fist-bumps and yee-haws out of the way, it was business time. We only had one problem: I was trying not to take a dump in my pants.
We had spent so much time trying to help that guy break into his car that I hadn’t been able to run to the latrine. Now I was paying the price: The 3 plates of spaghetti, a pile of salad and garlic bread from the night before were ready to be out of my body.
Gerry said go.
You’ll notice in the picture that Bob and I were carrying the canoe. I am pretty sure that we carried it most of the way. I haven’t seen any pictures of Luke carrying the canoe. But wait…That’s Luke with the paddles in this picture. He did carry the paddles.
Not true at all. I carried the canoe as well, and there are photos on the professional photographer’s site to back me up.
I like Strawberry cream cheese.
The first order of business was to run about 3/4 mile to pick up our canoe and then carry it another 1/2 mile down to the river. The boat got heavy quick, so we rotated carrying duties along the way.
After dropping off the boat, paddles and PFD’s we headed into the first orienteering section. There was a super rocky, steep climb to get to the O-section, but the race directors had been gracious enough to place a piece of rope for us to use as we ascended the rocks. Once at the top, Luke guided us flawlessly to the first CP. #1 was creatively placed in an opening on the backside of a rock face.
Actually, I almost took us in the wrong direction when Bob asked if we were sure that CP #1 was not right behind us. After a quick map-check, we found the CP behind us with no problems. Thanks, Bob!
As Bob was punching our passport, another team approached and asked if the Check Point was there and motioned towards Bob. Luke answered, “No, he’s taking a dump.” The team froze in their tracks and asked, “Seriously?” with a disgusted tone in their voice and look on their faces. Luke laughed and said, “No, the check point is right up there.” I found it funny that the other team actually believed one of the “6 Pound Burrito Brothers” (as the race director nicknamed us) would actually take a dump right on the main trail of the race.
It always feels good to get the first checkpoint
And so it went with the entire first orienteering section. Luke was our lead navigator and things were going smoothly. Every now and then Casey and I would chime in to “verify” our route, but Luke lead the way about 98% of the time…and that was fine with us.
The weather was perfect; just chilly enough to wear thermals, but warm enough to shuck your gloves and still be warm. The terrain was beyond description; Massive hills, boulders, rock faces, streams and trees were putting us all on sensory overload.
It wasn’t long before we made it back to the canoe. Nobody really said anything, but we were all thinking the same thing:
“We can not flip the canoe today”
We decided to launch the boat around the bend from where most people had put in. We did this because we heard several teams had tipped on the first curve. With our shaky canoe performance yesterday, why tempt fate? We drug the canoe across the river, up and over the bank and put into the river on the other side of the bend. As we looked up we saw a very disappointed photographer who had been patiently waiting for us to launch our vessel. I imagine he was hoping to get a great action shot of the “6 Pound Burrito Brothers” dumping their canoe. Sorry we disappointed him, but we were hoping and planning on keeping dry.
We got Casey and Luke situated in the boat and I made ready to run the bank. At first the running wasn’t too difficult. I criss-crossed the river at its shallow points and followed beaver trails along the bank. No problem. All the same, it was soon apparent that I was slowing down the team. It was time to get my ass in the boat.
Luke was the point man, I was in the middle and Casey in the back. Normally when we’re in the boat there’s a great deal of story-telling, bullshitting and playful banter. Not on this ride, today it was all business. If one of us took a moment to notice the scenery he didn’t point it out to the others and risk a distraction. We had trees overhanging the water, menacing rocks beneath the surface, and a whole lot of fast-moving white water.
It was some pretty scary shit.
With Luke very much in control, things got off to a smooth start. He called out turning instructions and told us when it was time to duck under trees, bounce over rocks or slam into a rock face.
That’s right, I said we slammed into rock faces.
There was no alternative, really. With all our weight + the weight of our gear, there were several times when we were simply unable to maneuver fast enough to avoid obstacles. Luke would let us know about 5 seconds in advance when we were going to ram something and we just did what we could to hold on. I can’t even tell you how many times I was positive we were going to tip the canoe, but somehow we managed to stay above water.
Casey did a fantastic job in the back of the boat. It was nearly impossible to maneuver the canoe very quickly with all three of us PLUS all of our gear (probably 750 pounds), but Casey did a much better job than I could have done. Good work, man!
You would have done fine. Plus you did a great job “reading” the river and keeping us in the deep water whenever possible. You calling out directions was half the reason we didn’t dump the canoe. Another issue we had to deal with was using kayak paddles instead of canoe paddles. I think they are the way to go and definitely faster, we just need more practice with them as most of our paddling has been done with a canoe paddle.
My only job in the middle of the boat was to stay still and keep balanced. Sounds easy enough, right? Not really. There were at least 2 times when I saw Luke’s body disappear in a spray of water. One time the canoe took a hit from the side and at least a gallon of water rolled over the side of the boat straight into my lap. Unable to help, all I could do was sit there and hold my balance.
At one point, the water was so violent that the race directors set up a place for racers to portage their boats and carry them to the other side of the river bend. When we got to this spot we found Jeremy Rodgers waiting for us, and DAMN it felt good to tell him we hadn’t flipped the canoe….yet. Jeremy told us several teams had capsized on the river today, and one team even managed to flip the boat 6 times.
With that in mind we were back in the boat and on our way to the transition area. Confidence was building… nerves were starting to calm down… and we were beginning to believe we’d make it out of the boat alive.
Naturally, 5 minutes later it all went straight to shit.
After a sharp right turn, the speed of the water more than doubled and we were now on a crash-course with an enormous boulder. Further complicating the situation was the fact that the boulder was directly in front of a tight left turn. Every few seconds we’d hit another underwater rock, jouncing the boat erratically. Despite all this, the boat was still gaining speed.
I literally couldn’t believe how fast we were going. The current was sucking us straight into that boulder faster and faster.
Our reality check had just bounced.
Jaws were clenched and buttholes were puckered water-tight as we tried to psychologically prepare ourselves for the train-wreck unfolding before us.
That water was gonna be cold.
We are so screwed..
Literally at the last second, the right side of the boat hit an underwater rock, shoving us laterally so that we raked the side of the boat against the boulder instead of slamming into it. This was good news, but there was no time to celebrate. We were now face-to-face with a rock wall and there was absolutely no way to avoid it.
Luke called out the warning to stay cool and hold tight, and a split-second later we hit the wall head-on. And when I say we hit the wall, I mean we hit it…we hit that bastard like it owed us money. We slammed it so hard I was thrown from my seat and into the floor of the canoe……but we stayed upright.
We stayed upright?
I don’t think any of us will ever know how that happened. We sat there dumbfounded for a moment before the nervous laughter started and we got back into the current.
That was amazing! Looking back, it was a blast, but it was a little scary at the time. I couldn’t believe we didn’t go in the water!
Bob was definitely on the floor and my lap got wet as water splashed over the sides. It was fun, but I knew all along we wouldn’t tip. We got all of that out of our systems the previous day. I believed that we would complete the entire canoe leg without tipping.
The last mile or 2 of the paddling leg was hard on Luke. The water level had dropped far enough that he had to keep getting out and pulling the canoe while Casey and I “forgot” to push. I think we were punch-drunk from all the near-misses in the boat or something.
Yeah, I’m not sure what happened, but it was hard enough to pull a 600 pound canoe through 6 inches of water when Bob and Casey were pushing with their paddles. After pulling for a minute straight and only moving a foot or two, I looked back to see my teammates taking a leisurely float trip as they took in the beautiful scenery. WTF?!?!?! I “politely” asked if they could possibly find it in their hearts to help me out by pushing a little bit, and they obliged.
We pushed the whole time he was pulling. We only stopped pushing because he stopped pulling to look back. If he was looking back he obviously isn’t pulling with full effort. However, there was one time that Bob told me to quit pushing and let Luke earn this last foot or two. I listened to him and took a 30 second breather. This must have been the time Luke looked back and saw us “taking a leisurely float trip.” Luke – Thanks for jumping out all those times and dragging us to bigger water.
Eventually we rounded a corner and saw the canoe take-out. One last section of whitewater separated us from our mountain bikes. As we began our final left-turn the boat smacked another underwater rock and we literally spun sideways until we were pinned against a log in the current. The boat was pointing the wrong way, and we were all dumbstruck.
“It’s fate”, I thought. We’ve come all this way just to capsize at the damn TA. It only makes sense to have an audience for such an epic last-minute failure. We had seen at least 4 capsized teams along the way who were wet and miserable and now it was our turn to douche it in the river.
Only we didn’t. We righted the boat, beached it and punched the passport. That big yellow boat was a memory now, and anyone who was banking on us capsizing today was just gonna have to suck it.
Dry land never felt so good. We mapped out our bike route and made ready.
There were several people standing around at the TA soaking wet and obviously miserable, so we loaned them some of our dry clothes. One woman in particular was shivering so badly she couldn’t even get her gloves on. We gave her a stocking cap to use for a muff and a facemask to get her core temp back up. There were plenty of other people there to take care of her so we pressed on.
Note**Giving people dry clothes when they’re soaking wet is a quick way to make friends**
By the time I realized anyone needed some help, Bob had already given up much of his warmer clothing to help our our fellow racers. He’s just that kind of a guy. By the time we left the TA, though, we were in last place… literally. DFL! But not for long…
I quickly changed into my bike shoes (not taking time to even put on dry socks) and got ready to go and found my teammates making preparations for the bike leg. They are more experienced racers than I am so I figured they knew what they were doing. Plus, I wasn’t in a huge hurry, and when I realized Bob was helping another team, I figured the AR Gods had smiled on us during the canoe leg and it was the least we could do to help them out. Somehow, even the team we were helping beat us out of the TA by quite a bit. Luke and Bob changed into dry socks and rechecked the map (I was hoping that I wouldn’t regret not changing socks). We were dead nuts last when we left the canoe/MTB TA. Minimizing TA times is definitely one area we can and need to improve on. I guess that comes with more experience and a better game plan. We were there to learn and have fun, not do everything we could to win (that will be next year).
The bike leg was about 98% dirt and gravel roads. The scenery was beautiful, the climbs were steep and the wind was a nightmare. We formed a 3-man paceline to combat the wind and reel in the other teams. There were at least 2 climbs that had us pushing our bikes, but all-in-all I’d have to say that the biking portion of the race wasn’t very difficult. We overcame a handful of teams during this part of the race, and noone passed us. We held a solid pace, and anytime we saw another team we made a point of picking it up and passing them.
Halfway through the bike-leg we stopped for the 2nd section of orienteering. Here, we met several other volunteers and Ron. Ron had given us the orienteering lecture the night before the race. He let us know it’d be in our best interest to skip controls #9 and #10 to make it back in time for the rock climbing section of the race. We weren’t necessarily happy to be skipping checkpoints already, but we appreciated the advice.
I was really bummed and pissed that we were getting short-coursed. I was secretly crushed inside, but I tried not to show it.
I was pissed too. We weren’t given a “cut-off” time for a short course. I began to wonder if it was because we were not thin or because we dumped the canoe the day before. Anyway we weren’t in last and figured everybody else after us would get short coursed too. I am sure that Ron was just looking out for us and didn’t want us to miss all the great climbing and ropes that were to come later in the race. However, I had every intention of getting all the points. I was against skipping any and wanted to push the pace to ensure we cleared all the points. That was my plan which I shortly shared with my teammates. We all quickly agreed that we would not be short coursed and we would get all the CPs in this section.
On our way to CP # 6 we found a couple other teams trying to find the same control. As we searched for the correct re-entrant, the other racers revealed to us that they had not been advised to skip any checkpoints. This was odd, and we came up with all kinds of unflattering theories as to why we’d been short-coursed. The next two teams we encountered (and passed) also hadn’t been short-coursed, and we decided we weren’t either. We were kicking all forms of ass on this section and there was no reason we shouldn’t just keep on truckin’.
Only now, the pressure was on. We’d never live it down if we “de-shortcoursed” ourselves and didn’t get all the controls. Given the remaining amount of time and all the work we still had to do, there was zero room for errors.
So….we didn’t make any. Luke was reading the map like it was the menu at Dragon Kitchen and we hit every one of those checkpoints; we even passed 2 more teams in the last 1/4 jog back to the bikes.
Once again, anyone banking on our failure was going to have to suck it.
We transitioned quickly back onto the bikes and got back on the road. Some of the downhills were incredibly fun and fast. The navigation on this section was near-perfect; we made no mistakes and held a solid pace.
As we were nearing the final bike checkpoint, (which was also the canoe takeout), my bike started shifting gears on its own. The cables had stretched and now I had to be really careful about pushing down too hard on the pedals. We still made good time and found the CP. Once there, we had to load up our PFD’s and paddles to haul them back to the bike-drop. Luke assigned himself to carry the PFD’s and I took the paddles.
It REALLY sucks when your bike starts jumping gears and shifting on its own. I’ve had to finish a race like this, and it is NOT fun. It completely sucks the power out of your legs, yet Bob still dominated the bike leg while carrying 3 paddles in some VICIOUS wind!
I remember it more like, Bob volunteering to carry the paddles since he had experience carrying things on his bike. He loaded up the three paddles on the back of his pack and looked like a dragonfly as he got on his bike. Then Luke grabbed his life jacket for him, and we were off.
It was all that extra energy I had from eating Strawberry cream cheese.
I’m always amazed at the versatility of my camelbak; the paddles fit in the back section securely even despite the wind, and we pedaled the last few miles to the bike drop.
Dropping the bikes was a relief. We weren’t really tired, but pedaling into the wind is only fun for so long. Plus, we were now entering into the final leg of the race and we knew it would be the most fun.
CP 16 was easy enough to find since the clue was zip line. We knew exactly where it was because we had run right past it earlier in the day. Today’s zip-line was significantly longer and steeper than the one we had ridden the day before; There was a series of safety lines skirting the cliff-top just to get hooked up to the thing.
My memory of the zip-line is a bit of a blur, but what I do remember for sure is that when I stepped of the ledge I was hauling ass. The speed was overwhelming, so much so that I didn’t realize the rope was burning the skin off the back of my neck. (I wasn’t leaning back far enough) When I finally felt the burn, I put my hand up to grab the rope and was promptly told not to do so by the men on the ground. Apparently that’s a pretty good way to lose a finger.
Too bad, that would have been waaay cooler than a scar.
The other guys came down the line to the tune of a few “yee-haw’s” and then it was time for us to move on to the moster-sized rappel.
The climb to the rappel was a beast, but we had been up this same climb earlier in the day so we knew a clean route. Once we got to the top of the rappel, Luke went first, then Casey, then me.
Luke had obviously conquered his “deep respect” for heights, as was evident by the way he stepped to the edge, hopped out and rapelled all the way to the bottom. Casey also strolled to the ledge, stepped back and rappeled to the bottom without incident.
I remember standing there watching them and thinking about how things had changed since yesterday. Less than 24 hours ago we had all been scared shitless, legs trembling, death-grips on the top-rope and stank-holes puckered during our first rappel.
Now it was 80% fun and maybe 20% fear. Awesome.
This is so true. I didn’t think I was going to do that first rappel, but after I did, the rest were a LOT easier and a LOT more fun!
Of course, being unafraid sometimes has its disadvantages. I learned this lesson quickly when I took my turn on the rappel; I slipped on the initial step and found myself upside down at the top of a 500-foot rope. People wll think I’m lying, (and that’s fine), but i swear to you that I never freaked out. After everything we’d learned about rappeling and belaying, I knew I was fine. Keeping one hand on the brake-end of the rope, I righted myself and enjoyed a BADASS rappel.
It’s true… Bob didn’t panic at all. He simply got his legs back under him and finished the rappel. I actually slipped on my first step, too, so this was a much trickier rappel. I somehow managed to ca myself with my feet at the last second to save it without going upside down.
Bob was a stud. He was hanging there upside down, very serene and calm. Then he quickly righted himself and finished the rappel. This was a very cool rappel. I went through some branches at the top, and then as I cleared the branches I kicked off the rack faces. I didn’t realize the cliff face was angled in at this point (because I couldn’t see it through the branches) and since I kicked out pretty hard I was hauling ass for about 40 feet before I made contact with the rock face again. It was freaking awesome. I was like G.I. Joe, Rambo, and Chuck Norris all rolled into one—I was G.I. Rambiss.
Or was it “Chuck RamJoe”???
Do you think those pants make my ass look fat?
After a lot of chuckles and some high-fives, it was time to move on to CP 18. Luke and I were clueless as to how we were going to get there, so Casey stepped in and casually said “Why don’t we just go this way?” His route was spot-on, so we took off.
I’m not sure why the map looked so foreign to me at this point. Maybe I was fatigued, but I was struggling with which way to go. Casey seemed to be the only one thinking clearly at this point, and once he pointed out the best way to go, everything clicked back into place on the map for me. Thanks, Casey.
It was my one contribution to the orienteering on this race. The sun shines on a dog’s butt once in a while.
We plodded along next to a creek until we saw the outcropping of rock we were certain housed the CP. The hill was “holy shit” steep, rocky and scary looking. There was no reason for all 3 of us to climb it, and since I had “saved energy” in the canoe all morning we decided I’d go up.
I’m so glad Bob did this. I was not wanting to climb that thing. Thanks, Bob.
I was happy to let Bob do it too. Luke and I waited at the bottom as we watched Bob climb up the steep cliff face like a hungry badger after his favorite snack. He made short work of the hill. Thanks Bob.
It was a fun climb, mostly red dirt with small trees and roots to pull my way up, then as I got closer to the top there was a lot of rock. The CP was in plain sight so I punched the passport and headed down. The hike down was just as fun as the hike up. For the last half of the descent I actually sat on my ass and slid down the hill. It was great.
CP 19 was straight across the creek from 18 in a small cave. Casey located it very quickly and we sent Luke inside to punch the passport.
Part of the reason I found it so quickly was another team was walking away, and a friend winked and nodded his head towards the face of this huge rock. I just followed the direction of his nod and quickly found the little cave that hid CP 19.
CP 20 was the one we had all been waiting for…the real cave. We followed the creek for a bit until we came to what was obviously the cave’s entrance. There was a pile of camelbaks and other gear that people left behind before entering.
Smart move, we did the same.
There was a creek crossing right in front of the cave’s entrance, and it looked like the crossing could be attempted a variety of ways. We watched one guy come across the creek with water up to his chest, and then another guy six feet to the right with water to his mid-thighs. We went with the mid-thigh route.
We lost a fair amount of time waiting for other teams to make their way out of the cave. Standing at the cave’s entrance, Alec and his partner caught up with us. They asked if they could pass us since they were trying to finish on time.
We were trying to finish too.
Eventually Casey got tired of waiting for the other teams to exit the cave, so he went in. Luke and I decided we better follow him, and Alec and his team-mate weren’t far behind us.
A team that was leaving as we entered the river said that there was room for only 1 team at a time and you had to wait for them to get out before you could go in. The other team was taking forever. I headed in a little way and looked around when I realized that although it was a really narrow passage that there were parts that you could definitely pass one another with a little cooperation from the other team. So I headed in and my teammates followed, plenty of room. I wonder if the other team (that told us we had to wait) was trying to stall us a bit…HMMM.
The cave was amazing. We know that because we were wearing our Princeton-Tec Apex Pro headlamps and we could see every detail of every single thing around us. Those headlamps are ridiculous.
Initially we were walking in what I’d describe as a long triangular tunnel. The floor was relatively flat and the sides tapered upward. We were splashing along through about 2 inches of water when we started to notice we were surrounded by bats. Bats were literally all around us, clinging to the walls… about the size of a midget’s fist and covered in frost. Very cool.
Every now and then we would even see a frog sitting on a ledge about knee-high.
Man, I wish I would’ve taken my camera with me. I left it with my pack on the back of the river so I wouldn’t get it wet, but that cave was amazing!
At one point I told Luke there was a bat right by his head that he should check out. He said that he saw it. I told him I meant on the other side and when he turned around his nose was maybe an inch from a little bat’s frost covered butt. It was awesome to see his startled reaction to being this close to a bat. It was a really neat little cave and we enjoyed the experience (one of the best during the race in my opinion).
If you’ve never been face to face (or nose to ass) with a frost-covered bat, let me tell you – It’s quite an experience!
We walked for about 5 minutes, pressing deeper and deeper into the cave. I hadn’t mentioned anything, but I was going through a little bit of anxiety at this point. I don’t like being underground, it freaks me out. We were required to wear our PFD’s inside the cave, and for good reason. By now the water was coming about halfway up my shin and it wasn’t helping my sanity at all that were having to crawl on hands and knees since the ceiling was so low.
Right about now, Luke turns to me and says, “Dude, how far into the ground do you think we are right now? Have you noticed the water is getting deeper? Holy Shit, if it started raining really hard outside and the river came up….we’d never make it out of here.”
There might have been a little bit of my urine in that cave.
At long last we found the CP, punched our passport and got the hell out of the cave. Indiana Jones couldn’t have done it better.
Now there were only 2 CP’s between us and the finish line. CP 22 was the CP where we had to use ascenders to make it to the top of a cliff, and we hadn’t had time to learn that procedure the previous day. That’s where Alec and his partner were headed. We decided to skip it and head for the finish, we only had about 13 minutes left before the cutoff, and since we didn’t know how to use the ascending tools it was the smart thing to do.
About 100 yds from the finish line we realized CP 21 was really close by, so we decided to go for it. With 11 minutes until the cut-off, we had the CP in plain view, and it may as well have been at the bottom of a well.
It was like some kind of sick joke, we were literally looking straight down a 20 foot drop with zero chance of climbing down safely. Shit, the only way to get down there was to jump, and assuming you could survive the drop without shattering your pelvis you’d still never get back out.
Not in 9 minutes, anyway.
As the clock was ticking (tick, tock, tick, tock) I was considering our options and through the fog of fatigue I could just make out a solution. My mind came up with a great solution to this dilemma. By using the 10 feet of rope Bob was carrying we could lower Luke down into the chasm to get close enough to punch the CP or at least close enough to safely make it down to the CP. Luke was considering this idea when…
There had to be another way. We fanned out to find another route. The clock was ticking and we had come too far and overcame too much to end up with a damn time penalty. As luck would have it, I got lucky and found a descending rope. The time penalty was heavy on my mind, so I grabbed the rope and tore ass down the rocks. It was about a 15 foot drop through some sketchy terrain, but with that rope in my hands I was able to jump over the bigger rocks and use the rope like an “air-brake”.
Too bad nobody saw it. We really need to get that helmet cam.
It was significantly more difficult to get back up the climb, but that rope helped a lot. I got a helping hand from my team-mates at the top and we headed for the finish line.
I really thought there was no way we were going to get that CP. Looking down at that damn CP from the top, I was just standing there dumbfounded. Then I heard Bob’s carabiners clanging from somewhere down below. Then he miraculously appeared from nowhere to punch our passport. Awesome!
Luke and I verbally cheered and applauded once we realized Bob had found a way to get our final CP. I am not sure if Luke applauded for Bob getting the CP or for the fact that I wasn’t going to be lowering him down the chasm to his death. Once again, Bob saves the day. I think Bob might have been this races MVT (Most Valuable Teammate) for Team Virtus.
I agree, Bob was MVT.
Horseshit. I say casey gets MVT for keeping the canoe floating (mostly) in a straight line
Much to the bewilderment of all those present, we crossed the finish line with 5 minutes to spare. We had skipped one checkpoint, only one.
Race Director and High Profile Adventure Camp mastermind Gerry Voelliger was standing near the finish, and I believe his exact words were, “Holy shit, I can’t believe you guys are still alive!!” We asked someone to take our photo at the finish, and Gerry literally SPRINTED to have his picture taken with us. What a guy, he thanked us for coming to the camp and asked if we’d had a good time.
No Gerry, we didn’t have a good time…We had the best time EVER!!
Did I mention that Luke won a free pair of Keen trail shoes? Perhaps I forgot to mention that Casey won a frickin’ amazing messenger bag from Keen as well. Perhaps it would interest you to know that I got a Pro-level discount package from Suunto… and maybe I should mention that Zanfel gave away $8600 worth of their product away as well…
The High Profile Adventure Camp community is as dedicated to customer service as any group I’ve ever even heard about. Every aspect of this camp was top-notch. Each rope-station had at least 2 volunteers working, we were fed quality meals each day from an army of volunteers, provided with 1st class instruction from World-Class Athletes, (ever heard of Jeremy Rodgers?), given loads of awesome schwagg, and it all happened in the most patient, beginner-friendly environment conceivable.
This is so true. Gerry and his crew from High Profile Adventure Racing, LLC were absolutely amazing! The staff at Camp Benson was just as amazing, and it is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever visit. It was seriously one of the best weekends of my life, and it was easily the best race I have ever been a part of.
I agree with my teammates. We learned a ton, had a blast, and grew as a team. The High Profile Adventure Racing crew was a bunch of true professionals and were willing to help you in any way that they could. The day and a half of instruction prior to the race was unbelievable, invaluable, and informative. We learned many new skills in a safe environment and expanded on some skills we already had. We now have the skills that may have prevented us from attempting certain races. The camp was top notch and worth every penny. In fact, I feel like we owe them more for everything they provided. You should try to make next year’s camp; you will not regret your investment. Team Virtus will be there, so come and join us for one of the best weekends of your life.
I’ve been to Ireland, Alaska, the Bahamas, Breckenridge and even Branson Missouri, but I’ve never seen anything like Camp Benson. This was easily my top 3 of the most incredible outdoor experiences of my life. Having more friends and family with us would have been the only thing that could have made it any better, but there’s always next year.
But enough about us, how was your weekend?
If you haven’t heard about this adventure racing camp, then you need to go check it out right now. The 3-day camp will cover topics such as orienteering, canoe and kayak paddling, and fixed ropes (rappelling, zip lines, ascending, traversing). There will also be the longest and highest tyrolean traverse in the Midwest at this camp – over 500 feet long – holy donkey turds!
The paddling portion is taught by Jeremy Rodgers, an elite adventure racer, professional paddler, and a member of the US Canoe and Kayak Team. So I guess he has enough credentials to possibly show me a thing or two. On the other hand, maybe I’ll be able to give him some advice – “Don’t push the water, pull the canoe.” Well, maybe not.
I’m a little nervous about the ropes stuff since I’m not a huge fan of heights. However, if I ever want to do longer races, I’m going to have to learn this stuff sooner or later. It also looks so flippin’ fun… I can’t wait. Check out a couple of pics from last year’s camp:
The camp concludes with a 6 hour adventure race including orienteering, mt. biking, paddling, fixed ropes, and caving. The race, called Lightning Strikes, also happens to be a qualifying race for Nationals. You have to place in the top 3 or 4 as a 3-person coed team, though, which means we won’t be qualifying for Nationals. The Lightning Strikes race is also part of the Checkpoint Tracker Series, which is pretty cool.
All instruction, the 6 hour race, lodging, and some of the meals are all included for a measly 175 bucks. Since most adventure races cost $100 or more anyway, we thought this was a pretty good deal. The camp takes place the last weekend of March in Mount Carroll, Illinois. I can’t wait to go, and we’ll take lots of pictures to post. So… Who else wants to go?