Monthly Archives: April 2010

2010 Go! St. Louis Marathon

26.2 miles….what had I signed up for?  At least that’s what I was thinking the eve before the Marathon.  I went to bed that evening with a knot in my stomach and wasn’t quite sure if it was the nerves or all of the pasta I had eaten a few hours before.  I lay in bed that night nervous about the events that were to take place in less than 6 hours.  Anyone who has raced before, be it an adventure race, mountain bike race, road race, etc. you know the kind of nerves I’m talking about.  Not the feeling of will I finish, rather the feeling….man….I really hope I take a dump before this thing starts!!!

As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling I began to try to visualize the events that were going to occur.  I tried to visualize racing at my pace and not going out too fast and staying relaxed, but most of all…not to let anyone dressed in a costume or joggling pass me.  I finally fell asleep at some point and then woke up to a cell phone alarm, watch alarm, and hotel wake up call.  Needless to say, my better half wasn’t exactly pleased.  Hey, the last thing you want to do is miss a race because you overslept and have six months of training go down the drain.

5:00 a.m. came pretty early and I went thru my pre-race routine.  After several minutes of walking around and stretching, my fears and worries the evening before became less prominent and I could now rest a little easier.  Jodi and I left the hotel around 6:00 a.m. and began our walk to the start line area.  It was still dark outside, however we were met by the biggest flag I had ever seen draped across the roadway with the St. Louis Arch in the background.

Armed with my newly purchased Spibelt I was ready to join the elite club of Marathoners.  (Just a quick word about Spibelt..great product that I would highly recommend to any runner of races of any distances.  Not only can you carry items as large as an iPhone, you can carry multiple gel packs as well as attach your race number to the belt without having to put holes in your running shirt.) I made my way to the start line which was the largest start area I had ever seen.  There were so many pre race activities going on you could have easily missed the race by going to the beer tent and listening to the live band.

The race was to start at 7:00 a.m. sharp and I wanted to position myself in between the 8 minute and 9 minute mile race group so as too not start out to fast. I kissed Jodi farewell, hopefully not for the last time, and made my way to the runners only section of the race.  I warmed up with about a 10 minute jog and then weaved my way between the thousands of runners waiting for the start.

With old glory flying in the distance and the smell of various muscle creams in the air the National Anthem was sang and the countdown to the start began.  Let me say with 15,000 people lined up within a few city blocks, the start was as congested as rush hour traffic in Manhattan.  I wasn’t sure if I needed to keep my elbows up or not. I started with a quick walk, a slow jog and then was quickly met with a sudden stop where everyone literally ran into the back of one another.  I then saw clothing flying everywhere and was beginning to wonder if I was in the right run group or not.  The morning air was a bit chilly and runners shed some of their layers which lined the streets.  I later learned that a group collected the clothing and donated their collection to various charities. After about a minute the pack began to speed up and as I crossed under the start line gate I was finally able to stretch out my legs.  There was about a 3 minute delay from the time of the start to when I actually crossed the start line.  The chip timer on my shoe activated once I ran under the start line and my journey began.

I was fortunate prior to the race to be able to speak with my friend Will Harlan.  Will is an accomplished Ultra Marathon Runner and editor in chief of  Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.

Will advised me to not go out too fast and to run my race regardless of how fast or slow everyone else was running.  He advised to drink at every water stop and mix in energy gels and drinks as I had in training.  Most importantly he told me to relax and to save some for miles 20-26 because the race does not actually begin until you hit mile twenty.  I had no idea how soon I would realize this all to be true.

People were running in a frenzy.  I remembered what Will had said and settled in to a comfortable 8:35 pace.  I ran at this pace for the next several miles and came upon my first water station.  I quickly took a cup of water and tried sipping it slowly.  Water quickly shot up my nose and I left a little DNA somewhere along the course.  There really is no easy way to sip water on the run.  I found it easier to slow down, even to a quick walk, sip the water and then be on my way.

Miles 1-3 took us by Busch Stadium as well as the Anheuser Busch brewery.  The smell of hops and barley was thick in the air and was quite refreshing.  I couldn’t wait to partake of one later at the finish line.  The streets were consistently lined with people cheering for all runners and were very motivating.  The first several miles are always the toughest for me.  It takes my legs a long time to wake up and get settled in for the long haul.  After mile 3 I began to feel comfortable and struck up several conversations with several runners.  The sun was shining brightly and it was quickly heating up the pavement.  I continued to drink at every station and upon reaching mile 8, I heard someone yell “grab him he is going down”.  I looked over my shoulder and saw a runner go as stiff as a board and drop to the pavement.  I could see that his race bib was orange and blue which designated him as a half marathoner (13.1 miles).  Several runners quickly grabbed him and paramedics were on scene within seconds.  I felt so bad for the guy, he only had about 4.5 miles to go.  I was hoping that was not going to be me in a few miles and began wondering if only doing up to 18 miles in a long run was going to be enough.

Mile 10 came rather quickly and it was the turn around point for the Half Marathon.  I knew in the back of my mind I had the option of turning around at this point and running the half versus the full, but I felt really good at this point and was determined to finish what I had started.

Mile 13 came quickly and I was still feeling pretty good.  I reached the halfway point in 1 hour and 52 minutes, which put me at about an 8:32 per mile pace.  I was running at the pace I had set out to run.  I wasn’t sure if it was the training or the holy water that was sprinkled on us by a priest at around mile 6.

Mile 13 brought on Forest Park which was new to me.  I had only been to the Zoo and never seen this side of Forest Park.  It was a lot hillier than what I had expected and I began to feel my legs around mile 15-16.  I was running with another runner who told me I looked strong and would have no problems finishing.  I could see that he was struggling a bit and I offered the best words of encouragement I could.  We kept putting one foot in front of the other and around mile 17 he fell back and I continued to run at my pace.

Mile 18 was hell on earth.  Somewhere in between mile 17 and 18 my calf’s began to cramp.  I could feel it coming on, but there was nothing more I could do. I drank at every water station and ate several Hammer Gels.  As I began to cramp I saw another Marathoner that I knew from my home town and could see that he was in distress.  His quads were on fire and every muscle in his legs were shredded.  He was obviously dehydrated and cramping so bad he could barely put one leg in front of the other.  I slowed my pace and spoke with him and he told me I looked strong and should continue to run.  I told him I was cramping too and offered as much encouragement as I could muster.  He pushed me onward and I continued to put one foot in front of the other, all be it not at an 8:34 pace.  (It should be noted that he finished the Marathon in well under 5 hours…outstanding job man…outstanding!!)

Mile 20 came like the plague.  I had never hit a wall so hard in my life.  I was at a slow jog and was met with the largest cramp in my left calf I had ever seen.  It looked as if I had some type of creature underneath my skin as a large lump was moving up my leg and into my calf.  My left leg seized and I reached for my calf trying not to hit the pavement.  I stopped and worked out the lumps as best I could.  Was this it…….had I not listened to Will and hit the wall.

I had definitely hit the wall, but remembered what he had said.  The race doesn’t start until you hit mile 20.  I now knew what he meant.  I pushed forward walking as quickly as I could and jogging when I could.  I felt a gritty white substance all over my arms and face that looked like powder.  I quickly realized it was salt and I was not sweating very much….definite dehydration.  I was at about mile 22 at this point and I saw a young man standing on the corner holding a sign that said “Your feet hurt so bad because you are kicking so much ass!!!”.  That seemed to be all the motivation I needed at the time.  I began to run as best I could and reached mile 24.

The cramps continued and mile 24 came with a large hill.  It was crazy to see so many people struggling at this point.  One would think that with only 2.2 miles left you could put everything behind you and run faster.  I was struggling mentally at this point and a woman in the crowd looked at me and said “don’t walk now honey, you only have 2 miles to go”.  I know she was trying to help, but my mind was in a frenzy of emotions and I was struggling to hold it together.  That’s when I saw a HOTTIE !!!!

Mile 25 was what I call the hot mile, not only because it was about 75 degrees outside, but because as I reached the 25 mile marker I saw the hottest blonde I had ever seen yelling my name.  That’s when I realized it was my wife and by the look on her face she could tell I was struggling.  She looked at me and in typical Jodi fashion she said, “Don’t you quit on me now, you get your ass to that finish line !!!”  Being the obedient husband that I am I obliged and trudged forward as best I could.

Now I have never fashioned myself as a quitter and could see that everyone else was struggling as well.  There was a mixture of Half Marathoners as well as Marathoners and everyone was hurting.  I could see the finish line and caught my second wind.  With 385 yards left (.2 miles) I caught my second wind and ran as fast as I could to the finish.

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 4 hours 8 minutes and 19 seconds.  I had done it….and it was the hardest physical and mental challenge I had every encountered.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in myself.  I really wanted to finish my first marathon in under 4 hours.  It was at that point that the finishers medal was put around my neck and I had realized what I had done.  My overall time didn’t matter….and that I had just joined and elite club.  I had just set a PR (personal record) for 26.2 miles.  I pushed through the worst pain and mental warfare I had ever encountered, which reminds me of a quote….

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired…You’ve always got to make the mind take over and keep going.”
– George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian

I grabbed a water bottle, some cookies, and a banana and met up with Jodi.  A flood of emotions hit me at that point and we shared a special moment with one another.  She had sacrificed just as much as I had during my training for this event.  All of the hours spent away from home hitting the pavement while she stayed at home with the children.  It was her Marathon too and she deserved a medal as well.

The walk back to the hotel was miserable and we had to stop several times along the way, but we managed.  It took several hours for me to recover and after a shower and a nap I was ready to get some real food.  Oh yeah….I didn’t get passed by any jogglers or costumed runners.  Mission accomplished and looking forward to the next one in October !!!

 

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Team Virtus gets Fixed (Ropes that is) at the High Profile Adventure Camp

**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.

Be sure to check out the Lighting Strikes Adventure Race Report as well, and check this out right here to read about our orienteering and infamous “paddling” practice from the camp.

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Fixed Ropes ath High Profile Adventure Camp

Hope Springs Eternal - We just hoped the ropes would hold our fat asses.

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!!!

RAPPELLING

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.

Bob getting ready for his first rappel

"I think I just sharted"

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.

Bob's first rappel at High Profile Adventure Camp

Big exhale of relief

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.

Learning how to rappel

"Holy crap! I'm still alive!"

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.

Casey Rappelling with Luke Belaying

Casey's life was in his little brother's hands

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.

Casey at the top of Rappel #2

Casey at the top of Rappel #2

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.

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.

Casey on the zip line

Casey's body led to more sag on the line than others.

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.

Casey finishing the zip line

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.

Bob at the bottom of the zip line

Bob is so happy... even with a frontal wedgie. And Casey is peeing in the background.

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.

ROCK CLIMBING

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.

Mountain Goat Bob

Bob dominating "Shimmy the Chimney"

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.

Luke Belaying Bob with Abby

Abbie gives Bob the obligatory "Thumbs Up" as he climbs.

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.

Casey going up Shimmy the Chimney

Casey always tells his kids, "Crack Kills."

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.

Luke climbing Shimmy the Chimney

Gratuitous Taint Shot

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.

Bob Tyrolean Traverse

No problem.

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.

Casey Tyrolean Traverse

Casey probably got closer to the water than anyone else at camp.

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.

From Clydesdale Racer to Chippendales Dancer Part IV

Okay, it’s been about a month and a half since I gave an update on my quest to leave the Clydesdale division. Apparently, the accountability blog/contest that I was involved in has come to an abrupt end. Several people dropped out, and the guy behind the website/podcast didn’t want to do it anymore.  There hasn’t been an update in 3 or 4 weeks, but rest assured that I did not quit.  I held up my end of the bargain.  I trained hard and ate according to plan.  I submitted photos and a write-up of my training and diet every week.  For some reason, though, the whole thing fell through.  If you want to see weekly progress pictures of me and read a little bit about my training (and you’re a little weird if you do), you can go here and scroll down to find me.

Since that blog is now defunct, I guess I’ll go back to horrifying all of you, our loyal readers, with monthly updates on my progress.  On January 1st, I weighed a whopping 230 pounds, and I looked like this:

Fat Luke

01/06/10 - Weight was 227

And this…

Fat Luke from the side - 01/06/10

Fat Luke from the side on 1/6/10

I know… I was pretty disgusting wasn’t I?  Please accept my sincere apologies for getting those images stuck in the back of your head all day.

Well, it’s been about 3 and a half months since those photos were taken.  I now weigh 205 pounds for a total of 25 pounds lost so far this year with just 5 more pounds to go before I’m no longer a Clyde!!! I took these photos last week on 4/12/10:

Semi-Fat Luke - Almost out of the Clydesdale Division

4/12/10 - Semi-Fat Luke

Semi-Fat Luke from the Side

Semi-Fat Luke from the Side - 4/12/10

I should be right at 200 pounds for Syllamo’s Revenge on May 1st.  I’ve been training hard, and I’m in waaaaay better shape than I was at the beginning of the year, but I’m still terrified that I’m going to fail at Syllamo’s.  I don’t know if I can ride 50 miles of single track since I’ve never done anything close to that.  I’ll do everything in my power to finish that race before the time cutoff, though. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s a decent start. Since I’m going to meet my goal of leaving the Clydesdale Division by May 1st (if all goes well), my new goal is to hit 195 or less by Memorial Day Weekend.  I’ll keep posting monthly updates to let you know how it’s going (unless we get flooded with hate-mail saying to please remove the obscene photos from the interwebz).

So, how are you doing this year?  Are you reaching your goals?  Maybe you’ve surpassed them already.  If that’s the case, then set new ones.  Or maybe you’ve faltered or had a setback.  So what!  Get back on track and start again! One third of the year is almost gone, and we’ll never get it back – ever.  But you can still make amazing progress with the remaining two thirds of 2010. Seriously, if I can make progress, then anyone can.

Caption Contest Winner(s)!!!

Thank you to everyone that submitted their captions for our contest.  They were all pretty damn funny.  Drew submitted several captions, and they were all hilarious.  However, as a member of Team Virtus, Drew was not eligible to win anything.  He knew this ahead of time, but he wanted to be a smart-ass and post his comments anyway.

So now… For the moment you’ve all been waiting for… The winner is… Actually, we couldn’t decide one just on winner.  So, we picked two.  The TWO winners are…

Susy and Brandon!!!  Congrats guys.  I’ll be emailing you your gift cards for e-Gel and/or e-Fuel shortly.  What were the winning captions, you ask?  Here you go:

When you gotta go, you gotta go

Checkpoint Deuce

This was Susy’s caption.  It’s short, simple, hilarious, and it ties in with Adventure Racing nicely.  Well done, Susy!  The next winning caption goes a little something like this:

When you gotta go, you gotta go

"I'm so freakin lost...I can't find crap with this map!"

If you’ve done more than one adventure race, then you’ve probably been lost at one time or another… Or many, many times.  Brandon’s caption drives that point home.  And it also shows how you can multi-task while racing.  If you have to stop to check the map, you might as well take care of some bidness.  Right?  Good job, Brandon.

So there you have it.  Again, thanks to everyone that submitted entries.  We’ll try to do some more contests in the future.  And be sure to check out e-Gel and e-Fuel.  We love this stuff, and it blows everything else away.

Also, we’ll be posting a couple more write-ups from our adventure camp soon. We just have to edit them a little and add some photos, so be sure to check back in with us for that.

Lightning Strikes Adventure Race

**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.

Also be sure to read our Fixed Ropes and Paddling Fiasco Reports from camp.

******************************************************************

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.

Bob in the Cabin at Camp Benson

Bob wonders what the race will be like... or smelling a fart.

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.

Seriously.

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.

Not cool.

Gerry said go.

We went.

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.

Carrying the Canoes at the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race

Casey and Bob carrying the canoes.

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

Checkpoint 1 at the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race

Checkpoint #1

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.

Mapping the bike route at LSAR

Mapping out the bike route

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.

Gravel Road at LSAR

Luke and Casey riding some gravel

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.

Gravel Road Biking at the Lightning Strikes AR

Bob leading the way on the bike leg.

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.

Biking with Paddles at LSAR

We really need to get paddles that break down into two pieces.

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.

Zip Line at the LSAR

Casey clipping into the safety rope as Bob prepares for the Zip Line.

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.

Casey Rappelling at LSAR

Casey showing us how rappelling is done.

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”???

Top of Rappel at LSAR

Here we see Bob at the top of the 100' rappel.

Upside down Bob at LSAR

And here we see Bob trying to get right-side-up.

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.

Cave Checkpoint at the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race

This was the small cave.

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.

Um..No.

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.

CP 22 at LSAR

Bob at the bottom getting CP 22.

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.

Finishing the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race

Gerry Voelliger, Bob Jenkins, Casey Lamb, and Luke Lamb at the Finish

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?

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