Last year I had an absolute blast at the Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge in Lawrence, KS. I didn’t exactly do that well, but it was a super-fun race and a fantastic weekend with my family (you can read about last year’s experience right here). I couldn’t convince anyone else to go last year, but I just had to bring some of my homies this year. So I teamed up with my friend, Phil Wehmeyer of Snail Trail infamy, and fellow Virtusan Rusty Sapp decided to do the race as a solo. All of our families joined us for a weekend of camping as well which turned a great race into an even greater weekend.
The rest of Team Virtus was unfortunately unable to attend, and they really missed out on a ridiculously fun race. Bob had a family weekend planned, Robby was too busy poring through his vintage film collection, Darin was studying for an exam, Drew was hungover, Casey still refuses to move to MO, and Adam… Well, Adam was fired for not having a legitimate excuse.
We all arrived at Clinton State Park at different times. After setting up the camper and bidding everyone good night, we went to bed around 11:30 PM. Getting up the next morning at 5:45 AM with 4 kids wasn’t very much fun, but all things considered, the morning went smoothly. We made our way into Lawrence, parked the vehicles, and went to register and stage our canoe (for Phil and myself), kayak (for Rusty), and our bikes.
As we were on our way to the boat ramp, we ran into our friends Susy and Connie (aka The Golden Girls) who were volunteering at the race. It was great to see their smiling faces. Before we got back from the boat ramp, my daughter Mabel lost a tooth. Well… Let me rephrase that. She had a loose tooth that was barely hanging on. When Sydney, Phil’s daughter, heard about the loose tooth, she offered to pull it. Mabel declined her offer, but then Sydney grabbed Mabes, jammed her hand in her mouth and the tooth popped right out. Apparently we missed all the excitement.
Mabel was worried that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t find her since we were camping out of state. And here is Della’s reaction to the whole ordeal:
We warmed up a little but not enough… When am I going to learn that lesson? During the pre-race meeting, I had to make one last run to the Port-a-Potty. I told Phil to listen closely so I wouldn’t miss any key details. Then we all got ready to start, and we positioned ourselves in the front of the middle part of the mass start.
Jason said go. We went. And we went out too fast. Well, it was too fast for me. Phil is faster than I am on foot, and I know he wanted to push the pace early so we wouldn’t get caught behind slower riders going into the single track. The first mile was on an old Rail Trail called the Levee Trail (I think), and I’d say we were running around a 7:30 mile or so. Rusty was running right behind me up until we turned into the single track for the run back to our bikes. Right before we headed into the woods, Rusty passed us, and I started to hurt. If I stayed at this pace, my race was going to fall apart quickly. So I backed off.
People began to pass us as we began the 1.2 -ish mile trail run back to the transition area (TA). Phil thought I was right behind him, so he kept going at a pace too fast for me. Eventually he realized that it was some other dude in a white hat behind him, and he then waited for me to catch up. I was definitely not feeling the run. My cardio felt fine, but my legs were just laughing at me. They simply felt dead (pretty much like they did last year). Maybe I should have warmed up more. We finished the 2.2 mile run roughly 20 minutes, and Rusty finished it in roughly 18 minutes.
As Phil and I trotted over to our bikes, our families cheered us on. It was great to have a cheering sections again. Rusty had already hopped on his bike and was out of sight.
We transitioned to the bikes and took off on the Levee Trail. Phil was hammering down on the pedals, and I was trying to keep up. My legs were still laughing at me. It was starting to piss me off, to be honest. I know Phil wanted to get in front of as many riders as possible on the Levee Trail while we still had plenty of room to pass. And I know he REALLY wanted to get in front of our friend Noelle and her teammate. We ended up passing a lot of people, including Noelle and her teammate, before hopping onto the single track.
Oh the single track… The sweet, sweet single track. This was BY FAR the best part of the race. My legs stopped laughing at me, we passed a few riders quickly, and then we fell into a groove. The single track at the River Trail in Lawrence is one of the most fun trails I’ve been on. It’s not technical at all, there are no climbs to speak of, but it’s just super-fast, flowy trail with banked turns and berms. I felt like we were flat-out flying! We made it back to the TA, and we finished the 8.5-ish miles (4 of that on the rail trail) in 39 minutes (including our transition time), and Rusty finished it in 39 minutes as well.
We immediately headed back out onto the single track for some more fun on the bikes. The next 8.5 miles or so of single track were just as fun as the first bike leg. I seriously can’t tell you how much fun it was. I felt like I was actually a fast rider for once in my life, if that tells you anything. The trail is so fun, that we’re planning a Team Virtus trip to Lawrence to ride, camp, and do whatever else may happen when all of us get together. But you know what they say about Kansas… What happens in Kansas… No wait… No one says that about Kansas, do they?
Phil and I rode by the fams again on our way to the TA. We quickly transitioned and headed for the canoe. We had no idea where Rusty was, but the Virtus Wives assured us that he was only a few minutes in front of us. We later found out that we finished the second bike leg (all of it on single track) in 42 minutes, as did Rusty. So he was roughly 2 minutes ahead of us.
We were both smiling and giggling like little school-girls over how much fun the bike legs were. We jogged over to our canoe, put our PFD’s on, grabbed our paddles, and then the race got even better! As we were carrying the canoe down to the river, we ran into the one and only Derrick Boos from Orange Lederhosen who was volunteering. He offered us a beer which we gladly accepted. Could this race get any better? Perfect weather, great single track, and free beer? We later learned that we were the only two to accept Derrick’s gracious offer of free beer. That’s just hard to believe. Very disappointing.
Last year’s paddling leg was awful. I was alone, kneeling in the middle of a 17 foot aluminum canoe with a too-short kayak paddle. I posted one of the slowest paddling times last year. This year was much better. We had two in the canoe so I could actually sit on the seat in the stern, I borrowed Bob’s paddle that was much longer, and we had two people paddling which makes a big difference.
We made decent time on the river. We only got passed by a guy in a racing kayak within the first 2o seconds of getting on the water. We passed a team or two, but by the time we reached the take out at Mud Creek, there were a handful of kayaks and canoes behind us. We also thought we could see Rusty a short distance in front of us.
Sure enough, it was Rusty about 50 yards ahead of us taking his kayak out of the water. He finished the 4.2 mile paddling leg in 53 minutes, and we finished it in 51 minutes. So, if you’ve been following along, we were all pretty much right where we started – all together again. But that didn’t last long. By the time we carried our canoe to the top of the boat ramp and took off our PFD’s, Rusty was out of sight again.
All that stood between us and a glorious middle-of-the-pack finish was 4.1 miles of trail running. My legs began laughing at me again. (Stupid legs!) It wasn’t nearly as bad as last year, though, since I didn’t have to kneel in the middle of the canoe this time. I tried to keep up with Phil, but it wasn’t going to happen. He let me lead then, and we tried to keep a coed team within reach.
We eventually passed the team in front of us, but then I really started hurting the last mile of the race. My nipples were becoming seriously chaffed. I didn’t want to ruin my awesome jersey with bloody nipples, so I unzipped it almost completely. I apologize to anyone that may have seen my nearly shirtless body. I hope the blindness didn’t last too long.
Phil kept pushing me, and we were only passed by 3 or 4 teams right at the end. I was really glad to be done. As I crossed the finish line, I saw our friend Josh Perkins from Team Wahoo running toward us. He was grinning like a mad man. Was he going to hug me?!?! Nope…
Josh was not handing out hugs at all. He completely douched me in the face with ice-cold water. It was quite a shock, yet curiously satisfying.
Phil felt left out, so Josh then nailed Phil in the face with some Gatorade for good measure. We finished the 4.1 mile trail run in 43 minutes, and Rusty finished it in 41 minutes. Our official finishing time was 3:15:35 – which was good enough for 11th place out of 32 two-person male teams and 38th out of 89 teams and solos overall. Rusty finished in 3:13:30 – good enough for 21st out of 33 solo males and 33rd out of 89 overall.
We feasted on pizza and soda, provided by Bonk Hard Racing. We hung around and chatted with Josh and Jason from Wahoo, Derrick and Emma from Lederhosen, and our wives of course. Our kids were busy building a shelter out of sticks.
Big thanks to Jason and Laura of Bonk Hard Racing and to all of the volunteers. This was a great race that went off without a hitch just like all of the Bonk Hard events (a nice breath of fresh air after the Lionheart Adventure Race Fiasco – report coming soon, I swear!), and we all had an amazingly great time. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS RACE NEXT YEAR!!!
We all went back to Clinton State Park, showered up, and spent the rest of the weekend camping with great friends. I’ll leave you with some random photos from the weekend so you can see how much fun you missed.
Seriously… Make plans now to do this race next year. I’m looking at YOU Bob, Adam, Drew, Darin, Robby, Casey, Kate, Travis, and anyone else that has actually read this far.