The 2015 Thunder Rolls Race Report Part 1: The WTFAR-TUS Debut
**NOTE: This race report was written by me (Luke) with commentary added by Kate in Blue, Chuck in Green, and Brian in Red. If I feel like it, I might even add a response or two in Purple.
At one point, we thought we were going to have 6 Virtusans and a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot-er going to the premiere Adventure Race in the Midwest – nay, the nation – nay, the world! – The Thunder Rolls 24-hour AR. We were planning on showing up en masse to dominate all our competitors.
That was the plan, but I’m sure we’ve all heard this line from Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (And before any of you literary snobs chime in to tell me it was originally “/
When it came time to sign up for the race, we were down to Kate, Chuck, Brian from WTFAR, and myself. Brian needed to leave the race early to help his dad celebrate his 70th birthday party. So Kate and Chuck raced as Team Virtus, and Brian and I paired up as the formidable Team WTFAR-Tus (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Adventure Racing + Virtus = WTFAR-Tus). We signed up as solos, though, so when he had to split, I could continue on with Kate and Chuck to suffer and enjoy the rest of the race.
Even though we were signed up as solos, we only took one passport since we were a team. In our hearts and minds we were racing togehter as Team WTFAR-Tus. We were racing as teammates. We were racing as brothers.
Brian: You guys need to understand, I wouldn’t be a top notch mediocre adventure racer if it wasn’t for Team Virtus. I remember fondly the cold January day where I sat in my comfy chair with a blanket and coffee reading their first adventures of rappelling at Camp Gerry. My hands got sweaty from fear as I moved from paragraph to paragraph but finally I came to the conclusion if those idiots could become the Midwest’s greatest team then maybe I could at least survive. And now I’m racing WITH them? I’d compare it to being a kid who got to invite Batman, He-Man, Daisy Duke, Fat Elvis, and a Dino bot to his birthday party. So yeah, I was stoked.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Part Where We Drive to the Race
Part of the fun of a big race is the road trip. I can’t begin to tell you how many stories and jokes we have from previous road trips alone. For example, on one long road trip we learned that “Twister” is one of Robby “The Darkness” Brown’s all-time favorite movies. Seriously.
So I was stoked that Kate and Chuck were willing to wait for me to get off work at 9:00 so I could meet up with Chuck and then pick up Kate along the way. We piled into Chuck’s Adventure Jeep and much laughing and farting ensued. Unfortunately, Brian had to ride up to the Adventure Racing paradise that is Camp Benson by himself.
Chuck: At some point during the drive Luke spotted the big Gerber knife on the rollbar and had to check it out. The sheath has a tight fit, so you really gotta pull to get it out. I don’t even want to know how close it came to stabbing me in the neck when it popped loose.
Luke: The Adventure Jeep is a badass vehicle and that knife makes it even more so. And yes, I may have almost stabbed both Chuck and Kate once or twice.
Brian: SuperChuck…the most interesting adventure racer in the world.
On any road trip, we try to honor Bob’s rule of “No Chain Restaurants” whether he’s not with us or not, and in this case he most certainly was not with us since his brother was getting married (a valid excuse – family first, right?). Bob’s dining rule has resulted in some hilariously bad dining experiences as well as some really good ones. Fate was smiling down on us, though, when Chuck spotted a sign for Crossroads Diner.
This little diner didn’t look like much from the outside, and the interior followed suit. Even with Kate at our table, we brought the average age of the diners down substantially. Chuck and I ordered their specialty: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with Fries. Kate, however, ordered a cheeseburger with onion straws, and then she decided to be a pain in the ass and substitute onion rings for her fries.
Ho-lee shit! We were not disappointed. Our tenderloins and Kate’s onion rings were hand-breaded in their delicious proprietary, super secret breading, and the portions were effing huge! Take a look:
Chuck: That picture is a lie. The tenderloin looked so much bigger in real life. I swear it was the size of an elephant ear.
Brian: I had lunch at Wendys, thanks for asking.
It was so freakin’ good! Seriously. If you’re ever near Mt. Olive, Illinois, you should stop. Just be aware that the bathroom doors are wicked-narrow. For real.
The Part Where We Prepare Ourselves
We arrived at Camp Benson, and Brian, who arrived before us, was nowhere to be seen. I really thought he’d be there waiting to greet us with a giant bear hug or something, but I was mistaken.
We checked in and got our schwag bag which was literally a bag this year – a cool littler cooler/duffle bag with Zanfel and BOETJE’S MUSTARD OMG OMG!!! and a few other things.
Chuck: And did you hear Gerry say they now have a bourbon barrel aged Boetje’s Mustard?! We HAVE to find some!
Luke: Yup! We need to make a sammich with the Boetje’s Bourbon Mustard and pair it with your homemade whiskey, Chuck!
Then we headed down to our cabin assuming we’d find Brian taking a nap or doing push-ups or something. No such luck. But we soon found him as we were walking back to the main lodge for the pre-race pasta dinner.
Brian: I was sitting by my car preparing my gear patiently waiting for my teammate’s to arrive. I wish they would create some sort of typing device that one could use to send a message to someone else that could arrive almost instantly. That way I would have know they had arrived. I guess the technology just isn’t there yet…
It had been WAY too long since we’d seen BVW (or as we started calling him, The Beev – another gem from the road trip), and it was great to see his model-like face and rockin’ body. We stuffed our faces as we laughed our asses off catching up with each other and seeing many of our AR friends. Then it was time for the pre-race meeting out in the new amphitheater.
After Gerry Voelliger finished scaring the shit out of us with tales of how epic and real the rappel and the rest of the course were, we got our maps and began to plot our points and stategerize our impending
Being the Den Mother she is, Kate was nice enough to write the clue for each checkpoint in the corresponding box on our passports. Kate read the UTM coordinates to Chuck who plotted them. Brian did likewise for me. And then we all planned our route together.
After a final bathroom stop, we got all our maps gathered up and headed out of the lodge.
It was time to head out to the Adventure Jeep and get our shit together. The race was starting at midnight which left just a couple hours to get ready.
The Part Where I Was an Ungrateful Dick
I found myself alone by the Adventure Jeep, going through my gear and figuring out what I’d need to take with me at the start of the race. I’m not sure where Chuck and Kate were, but The Beev had gone to his car to get his kayak paddles.
Out of the darkness, BVW appears and hands me a wad of black fabric.
“What’s this?” I said.
“Open it,” said he.
I unroll the fabric to see the inside of a black hoodie.
“What is it?” I said.
“Turn it around,” said he.
I turn it around to see that it is Brian’s North Face hoodie from 2012 The Thunder Rolls. Now before I tell you this next part, let me preface it by telling you how much I LOVED my hoodie from that year.
Yes, I said I loved my hoodie as in past tense. As in, I no longer have it because while I was pacing my brother at the Leadville 100, I loaned it to another runner who was freezing her ass off. She gave it to someone at the next aid station, but I never saw it again. It was my absolute favorite hoodie in the world from one of my favorite race experiences of all time.
It killed me to lose it. My wife and mom tried to surprise me by finding a replacement for me. They actually scoured the web and contacted Leadville HQ to see if it had turned up. They even contacted Gerry to see if he had any extras or possibly knew how to get another one. But alas, there was no way to get my hoodie back.
It’s actually been a long-running joke. Every time Kate or Bob wear their hoodie, they ask me about mine. And each time, a small part of me dies. And now Brian was in on the joke, flaunting his hoodie in front of me.
“Ha ha, you asshole. Yeah, yeah. I don’t have mine anymore. Good one,” I said.
“No, you idiot! I’m giving it to you!”
Well, I felt like an ass. I couldn’t accept this unbelievable gift, though. I tried to give it back, but he wasn’t having any of it. And since he’s the size of Sasquatch, I couldn’t force him to take it back.
“It doesn’t fit me anyway,” he said (which I’m pretty sure is a lie). “Besides, I appreciate your friendship.”
With those words, I was left speechless – a rarity indeed. I should have said a lot of things, but nothing came to mind. I hope I said, “Thanks,” but I’m not sure I did. Like I said, I didn’t know what to say. And we were scrambling to get all our shit together, so if I didn’t show my gratitude at the time, I’m doing so now.
Brian, thank you. Seriously. Thank you.
Brian: (Cue the sappy music…) You lost your hoodie being a good human, it was the least I could do. You’re welcome my friend… And now you can point out how big of assholes Bob and Kate are/were for taunting you so much.
Kate: And now you’ve spoiled one of our favorite ways of tormenting Luke, which makes you the asshole. Thanks a lot.
Luke: Yeah. What a bunch of jerks. I’d never make fun of them for something. And thanks again, man!
The Part Where We Start: Biking, Coasteering, & Fixed Ropes
With our PFD’s, paddles, and other appropriate gear loaded onto the truck to be taken to the canoe put-in, we lined up in the back of the pack at the starting line – you know, to give some of the other teams a chance to get ahead of us.
The pre-race group photo was taken, the National Anthem was played, and the race started with a short ride down to the river for some Coasteering to find the first 5 CP’s in any order.
Brian had put a new chain on his bike just before the race. He did not, however, change the cassette which caused his gears to jump all over the place. This would be an ongoing issue throughout the race, and it’s a mistake none of us will make again in the near future.
We rode a mile or so down to the river. There was a steep, rocky section where I almost ran over someone half-walking on one foot, half-riding with the other, so I had to stop and walk my bike for the last section.
Kate: I’d wanted to be in the back of the group at the start just so we didn’t have to be in the middle of a pack of people all crushing onto the doubletrack at the same time; instead, we ended up behind the people who felt the least comfortable riding it.
Brian and I caught up to Kate and Chuck, and we entered the river. We decided to first go to the farthest checkpoint away, perhaps grabbing the CP in the cave if there weren’t too many teams there. With just one team exiting the cave as we approached, we headed into the cave.
I snapped a few photos of the others entering the cave, but none of them turned out. I climbed into the cave just in time to see BVW’s powerful ass backing out of a side crevice. Kate had sent him down that small chute to make sure the CP wasn’t in there as it was one year.
Kate: I was trying to be nice and save him the extra walking if the CP turned out to be close, but I should have known Gerry wouldn’t put it there two years in a row.
I love this cave. It’s cold, and the water at the bottom is even colder. The bats are super cool, unless they repeatedly hit you in the face like they did to Brian. For some reason they were attracted to him. Maybe it was the bat pheromones we secretly sprayed on him before the race. Or maybe it’s just because he’s so damn handsome.
Brian: I took two bats off the helmet, and when the second one hit, my head lamp flipped down onto my face, making me think I had a bat stuck to my face. I screamed like a scared baby…I mean, damn, that bat was lucky I didn’t turn it into bat and urine stew.
At a couple points, the cave was quite narrow, forcing Brian to crawl (insert Kate’s short-joke about me here). The cave is pretty deep (200 feet? 300 feet?), and it’s just so damn cool. One of my favorite parts of any race.
It turns out the CP was almost all the way in the very back of the cave. We squeezed past Chuck and Kate in one of the not quite as narrow parts of the cave after they punched their passport so we could punch ours.
Brian: Please note the 2012 tshirt commerating my glorious victory over THE Bob Jenkins in our tetherball match. He may have destroyed me in every match since, but at least I have a cool shirt from my lone victory. Man, that guy can tetherball.
Luke: That’s not exactly how I remember it, but since you gave me your hoodie, this is how I’ll remember it from now on.
After the cave, we headed over to the Ascending CP. On the way, we grabbed CP 4 which was up a little ways in a creek bed. Chuck was spot on finding this one.
From CP4, we headed over to CP 5 for the ascent. There was quite a line. In hindsight, we would have been better off going to get the other ones and then coming back to this one, but we decided to wait. I think we waited in line for 45 minutes or so.
Brian and I already had our harnesses on so we’d be ready. Chuck and Kate waited to put theirs on, assuming (correctly) that they’d have time to do so while waiting in line.
And that’s when it happened…
There was no warning. There was no sound. There was just a smell. A smell so foul, we heard Sasquatch himself shriek in horror as he ran away. Poor Chuck got the worst of it. And I actually caught the moment on film. Well, I guess I caught it on a memory card since film is pretty much dead, but I digress. Back to the stench…
Here we see the the exact moment when it happened:
It hit Chuck first since his face was so near the source – with his mouth open and everything.
“Oh my God! What the hell is that,” Chuck said in disgust.
Then it hit Brian. “Holy shit! That’s worse than Bob Jenkins’s ass!”
In this next photo you can see the reaction to the awful event – Chuck is trying to stay upright without passing out, and Brian is unsure if he should breath through his nose and smell it or through his mouth and taste it:
Chuck: We’ll never get her to admit it, but I bet this stealth attack was a carefully planned and well-played act of revenge. God knows she owes us.
Luke: This is true. She definitely owes us, but this one made up a lot of ground. Let’s never let her eat onion rings before a race again.
Brian: Wow. Sometimes the nicest people do the nastiest things (allegedly). My nostrils still burn thinking of that.
It was finally our turn, and although the ascent was by no means easy (unless your name is Wes Black who literally flew up on the rope next to me faster than anyone I’ve ever seen – literally), but it wasn’t awful either. Kate went up first followed by Chuck, myself, and then Brian.
At the top, Kate realized she had forgotten to put her Town Hall inside her the walls of her war village and our war was about to start. She checked her phone to see if she had a signal, and she made it right with no time to spare. It turns out we lost that war, but we survived to fight another day. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t had the pleasure and shear joy of playing Clash of Clans with your team. No, it’s not dorky. It’s the coolest thing in the world. Jenkins Clan 4EVA!!!
Brian made short work of the ascending, and we headed out. In hindsight, we should have given Brian a few minutes to recover here. He said he was fine, but the rest of us had anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes of rest at the top. Having never raced with Brian, I didn’t insist that we stop, and I should have. Sorry, Brian!
Brian: I did NOT make quick work of that ascend. Those guys were high on Kate’s fart. My form sucks, I went all arms and tired out quickly. Luckily we weren’t on the straight overhang rope, so I had a few rocky outcroppings to rest on. The first one I stopped at looked like it had poison ivy all over it. I sighed, said f#$k it, and rested on it anyway. My gross ooze covered arm now reminds me of that stupid decision. And…I should have taken them up on the rest offer. Moving 500 lbs of ass up a rope is hard work, and I struggled for 15-20 minutes after that as my team took off like jackrabbits.
Luke: I don’t think we’ve ever been called jackrabbits before. I’m all arms too when ascending. This is something I need to work on.
Anywho… We found our way back down to the river and soon reached the rappel. Again, in hindsight we should have gone and gotten CP 1 before rappelling, but we didn’t. We ended up waiting in line for the rappel for another 45 min or so, but that’s what happens sometimes when you’re not one of the faster teams.
I’m really glad we did this rappel at night. We had to walk across a knife’s edge (clipped into a safety line of course) just to get to the small table top where we would begin the rappel. It would have been much more terrifying in the daylight with the ability to see how far the sheer drop off on each side was.
Chuck went down first, and then it was my turn. It’s always reassuring to have LE and April helping out on the rappel, and then to have G Scott at the very top was even more reassuring. We literally trust these people with our lives, and not only are they superb instructors, they are super awesome people.
As I sat on the table top with G Scott, he said, “Oh boy. You have a Figure 8.”
“You’re going to have to listen to me very carefully and do exactly as I say,” he said.
*WTF?! I’m going to die! Why didn’t I bring my ATC instead of this stupid Figure 8?! Why?! WHY?!*
“You need to make sure you keep tension on both sides of the rope or this rope will come up over the top of the Figure 8 and you’ll get bound up.”
*Okay, so I might not die. I’ll just get stuck on the rope. That’s not so bad, I guess. Phew.*
To say I paid very close attention to G Scott’s fine instructions is an understatement. It would be like saying the Green Bay Packers only sort of suck when in reality they suck more than any other team ever in the history of sports.
Kate: I didn’t hear the conversation, but I heard G Scott’s tone and its seriousness threw me; it’s how he always sounds when talking me through my fear of heights, and I know Luke isn’t nearly as scared as I am.
Brian: I had a figure 8 too, so my story mirrors Luke. I thought I was going to die. Especially as I crawled my Sasquatch body to the edge and then spun around on my stomach while having G Scott repeat everything numerous times because my wife tells me I never listen and I thought I should REALLY pay attention in this case. So scary and fun.
Like always, once I sat back into my harness and felt the rope hold my fat ass, I was fine, and the rappel was a lot of fun. We got to see our friends and super-volunteers, Dave and Leisha Huntley, on a small ledge near the bottom before we continued downward into the river.
Kate and Brian came on down with no problems, and then it was up a beautiful creek bed to find CP 1 before heading back on our bikes to the TA at Camp Benson where we changed into dry clothes and headed out on our bikes again.
The Part Where We Bike and Everyone “Helps”
Dry socks and shoes felt wonderful, but the air was cool. It was hard to regulate our body temperature. The climbs would leave us sweaty, and the downhills would leave us chilled.
The hills were particularly fun for Brian who was had only 1 or 2 gears that wouldn’t skip and jump all over the place. Remember that part earlier about him changing his chain but not the cassette? Well, now he was paying the price. But he never complained, and he kept up just fine. He’s basically a stud.
Brian: I’m so bike stupid. I was always a bit behind the whole ride, but tried to stay with them the best I could. It was mildly disappointing as I had trained pretty hard on the bike.
Luke: You kept up just fine. Especially considering your chain issue.
We got the first CP or two with no problems. One of them was under a bridge:
We did make one navigational error on the bike that put us at an off-limits highway. It would have been much faster and easier to break the rules and take the highway, and I doubt anyone would have ever known. But we would have known, and that’s not the Virtus hhhhway. We race with strength AND honor even when it sucks to do so. So we headed back around the long way, losing 30 – 40-ish minutes in the process.
Another CP or two and the sky was juuuuust beginning to brighten. It was roughly 5:30-ish AM. We had all been up around 24 hours or more at this point, and we could definitely feel the sleepiness setting in. The sun rising always acts as a pick-me-up and brightens our spirits, though.
As we rolled up to a 4-way intersection, I realized my front tire was going flat. So we pulled over to swap the tube with a new one. Now this is where Team Virtus/WTFAR-Tus really shines. We work together as a team to get shit done in a hurry. Everyone has a job, and everyone does it quickly and efficiently. We are like a well-oiled machine with no wasted time or energy. To see us work together is a thing of beauty.
In their defense, they did offer to help. But honestly, there’s not much anyone else could have done to make things go faster. And I’m a grown man who changes his own damn tires! The only thing that would have made it go any faster is if I hadn’t taken the time to snap these photos, but it was too good to pass up.
Kate: I never fell asleep because I kept having to add clothes, but just lying down and closing my eyes for a few minutes was glorious, and I’d much rather have a picture of myself sleeping on the side of the road than a really unflattering picture of me allegedly farting in my teammate’s face. Oh, wait…
Chuck: I remember asking if Luke needed any help….and that was all. I was totally asleep and didn’t even know he came over to borrow the frame pump off my bike.
Brian: my favorite part of the race.
A couple cars went by us here. They probably didn’t know what to think. It’s 6:00 AM on a Saturday, three people are sprawled out in the road and ditch, and a chubby guy (me) has his back to the road doing what appears to be something lewd and lascivious as he pumped his tire up. It probably looked a lot like this:
With the sun up, three-quarters of our team well rested, and a fresh tube in my tire, we rode onward. We entered the French Bluff Natural Area which held the closest thing to single track that we’d see in this race. The map looked easy enough that Brian said even his usual teammate Todd could find the CP’s.
To prove how “easy” these CP’s would be, Brian (our least experienced navigator) took the helm and led us through the trails. While the map looked innocent enough, the hills were tough (especially that first one), and the terrain was rough. But Brian did a stellar job as the lead navigator.
Kate: I’m pretty excited to have graduated to non-least-experienced navigator, even if it’s only when Brian is with us.
Brian: I don’t nav, I carry things & paddle.
It was tough but fun riding. The rocky downhill was especially fun (Yes!!). We left French Bluff and rode between some corn and soybean fields on a flat, gravel road.
Brian: I suck at single track and rocky sandy downhills, its the WTFAR way. I stayed WAAAAAY behind everyone and managed not to die on the way down.
We planned on stopping at the campground to fill up with water and unload some feces. As we approached the campground we met Team Alpine Shop as they were heading back out on their bikes having already completed the paddle. We asked how it was to which they simply replied: “It was hard.”
Oh shit. If the paddle was hard for one of the top teams in the nation, then we were screwed. We knew it was going to be rough, but none of us were prepared for what was about to happen out there on the Mississippi River. *shudders*
Stay tuned for Part 2… More to come!
Posted on August 31, 2015, in Adventure Racing, Bob didn't get to go, Epicnicity---yeah it's a word, Mountain Biking, Race Reports, The Thunder Rolls and tagged Adventure Racing, ascending, Fixed Ropes, mountain biking, Rappelling, The Thunder Rolls, Thunder Rolls AR. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.