Category Archives: Paddling
**NOTE: This race report was written by me (Luke) with commentary added by Kate in Blue, Chuck in Green, and Brian (I renamed myself Captain Jack for this tale) in Red. If I feel like it, I might even add a response or two in Purple. And if you need to get caught up, go read Part 1 first.
The Part Where We Tried to Start the Paddling Leg
We rolled in and dropped our bikes at the TA where saw the smiling faces of some of the best volunteers in the AR biz. We dropped our bikes and grabbed an ice cold Red Bull before grabbing our paddling gear: paddles, PFD’s, throw bags, and glow sticks (which were no longer needed since the sun was already quite high in the sky).
Kate: Daytime paddles that are supposed to be nighttime paddles are something of a Team Virtus specialty at Thunder Rolls.
We walked over to the canoes and picked out what we hoped were good ones. That’s when we decided we might need some sun block. None of us had packed any, though, but thankfully our friend and super-volunteer Brandy had some. Brian went back to the TA to get some, and we applied the cream liberally as Chuck and Kate hopped in their canoe.
As they headed out onto the calm water of the cove, I realized I had forgotten my maps. Once again, we had to go all the way back to the TA to get our maps. Finally ready to start paddling, we started to climb into the canoe as Kate and Chuck paddled back toward us. It turns out they, too, had forgotten their maps at the TA. If only someone had just told them they were going back for maps. Oh, wait…
Captain Jack Sparrow (aka Captain Handsome): I had to move my legs in a fast motion repeatedly in order to go back and get the maps. It’s a new fad. I believe it’s jogging or yogging. It might be a soft j. I’m not sure, but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild….and to be honest, I didn’t like it much.
Kate: Sadly, we hadn’t heard him mention the maps because I was too busy giving Brian shit about taking the time to put on sunscreen.
Chuck: There is a picture of us somewhere laughing so ridiculously hard that we could hardly paddle back in.
One final trip back to the TA to get Chuck’s maps, and we were all ready to actually begin the paddling leg… at long last. And we wonder why we take so long in the TA.
The Part Where We Actually Paddle
Now I’m used to manning the back of the canoe, but Brian stepped up and took control of the stern as I sat in the bow. We’ve never paddled together before, and it showed. We zig-zagged all over that damn cove as Kate and Chuck made a beeline for the Mighty Mississippi.
We literally hit the lily pads on both sides of the cove several times before making it to the main river, and by then Kate and Chuck were well ahead of us. Being a wee bit heavier than Kate and Chuck only helped them pull away faster.
Captain Sparrow: Where I’m from, we just call it the front and the back of the boat. Much easier than all those other fancy terms.
Kate: We assumed they’d be way faster than us, having two strong men in their canoe and not being hampered by my noodle arms, but we hadn’t thought about the weight difference or the fact that Chuck and I have paddled quite a bit together now.
Luke: Kate doesn’t give herself enough credit. She no longer has noodle arms, and she’s become a much stronger paddler. Just ask Chuck.
Chuck: Seriously. She could slay the MR340 and set a new record time.
Kate: Only if by “slay” you mean “experience a psychotic break and murder everyone involved”.
Captain: Before this tale gets too far along, I want to press the pause button so I can reflect quickly on a few of my past experiences in these canoes. I’ve flipped one in a flooded parking lot, I’ve spent a whole race squatting in the middle of one so that we wouldn’t flip, I’ve been out on the Mississippi in one when the waves were so high we had to stop racing, and I also spent a whole race just last year paddling through a thunder and lightning “What Does WTFAR taste like when BBQ’d”-fest. The adventures have been mighty in these plastic yellow bananas, so I was looking forward to what this year’s race had in store for us.
Luke: In retrospect, maybe I never should’ve gotten in one of those things with you.
We knew that Brian would probably have to skip a few CP’s on the paddling leg to make it to his father’s 70th birthday party in time, so we decided to go for the farthermost CP’s across and upriver a couple miles away. Then we’d reevaluate to see how many other CP’s we would have time for (in hindsight it’s laughable we thought we could get more).
As calm as the cove was, the main river was anything but. The wind had picked up in a big way, and there were serious whitecaps out there. The wind came from the side, so the waves were nearly tipping us anytime we got sideways to them. We had to angle our canoe in such a way that we were going in the general direction of our intended CP while pointing the canoe into the waves. It was terrible out there.
It was weird, though. There were shallow areas with seaweed-like plants and tall lily pads where the river was very calm. While these sections were much less rough, paddling through them wasn’t much fun since our paddles kept getting caught in the plants with seaweed and algae spraying both of us, and there was a lot of drag since Brian and I aren’t exactly built like your typical endurance athlete. At one point we simply got stuck in the muck. I hopped out and dragged us through the shin-deep sludge as Brian used his Sasquatch strength to push us forward. All this effort to just continue paddling back into the really rough stuff. It was really, really tough paddling.
Captain: Let me really paint the picture for you…we’re out paddling in the middle of what appears to be an ocean. Water as far as the eye can see with a few random islands here and there. You’d think that the water would be so deep that you could find Atlantis down at the bottom depths of the darkness, but instead we’re literally sitting in inches of water. Unfortunately for us, we’re both naturally already in wintery-thick mode for the hibernating season, and our large asses made that canoe draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag. And then all of the sudden…we’re stuck. Not moving. Done. Finished. Probably going to eaten by birds. As Luke mentioned, I started stabbing the muck and trying to find a way to push us forward. It was.not.working. And then…it happened. Luke jumps out of the canoe INTO THE MISSISSIPPI FREAKING RIVER. Think about that, those of you who aren’t insane adventure racers like Luke. He got out of a the canoe in the middle of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. He should have plummeted down to Davey Jones locker to visit a Krakken or the Loch Ness monster, but oh yeah, we’re in inches of water. He quickly grabs onto the handle on the front of the canoe, and with his mighty hairy Wolverine strength lifts the canoe and starts dragging my Sasquatch girth towards the “deep end”. There was no Sasquatchian strength on my part. It was just this small thick man walking on water pulling a large thick man in a giant banana. You know, just typical every day stuff you see at the local Crossfit gym. Adventure racing….you gotta love it.
We could see Chuck and Kate up ahead, but from our angle, it looked like they were headed into a dead end of lily pads and the bank of the river. So we went around all that. This was a big mistake. We ended up WAY north of where we had intended, partly because of the vicious wind and partly because I suck with the river maps.
Kate: From my angle it looked like a dead end, too. I don’t remember the wind being terrible on the paddle to the Elk River, probably because it was so much worse on our return trip. We did barely drag through some shallow areas, and Chuck kept tormenting me by slapping the river with his paddle to make the Asian carp — which I hate — jump out of the water. I was so paranoid that one of them was going to jump into our canoe.
Chuck: The bearing we were following looked like a wall of jungle to me too. I had no confidence that we weren’t heading into a dead end, but when the Suunto MC-2 says ‘go that way’ … we go that way, and somehow always seem to luck out.
Luke: And perhaps it was rougher for us since we took the loooooong way to the Elk River. That and we outweigh you guys by just a few pounds.
Eventually, and with a tip from a couple of fishermen, we found the Elk River. And oh what sweet, sweet relief the calm waters of the Elk River provided. It was a nice break from the Mississippi, and we soon found the CP. There was no sign of Chuck and Kate, though.
Captain Jack: That fisherman thought we were idiots. Yeah, he’s out there in one of them there motor boats like a lazy loser, and we’re using all muscle. Who’s the REAL idiot?
Kate: The Elk River was heaven compared to the Mississippi. We found both CPs without much drama, and though running into some of the 12-hour teams was a little demoralizing we also saw a couple other 24-hour teams too. One of them was Chad’s team, who told us they’d seen Luke and Brian downriver, the first word we’d had of them since we’d gotten separated.
Knowing the paddle back across the Mississippi was going to suck and since it had taken so long to get just one CP, we decided to head straight back to the TA so that Brian could go to the party on time. Again, this was foolish thinking.
Captain: We got some really good Clash of Clans discussions during our romantic ride on the Elk.
Luke: Clash of Clans 4 Eva!!!
Even though we were paddling downriver, we couldn’t tell. We were going pretty much directly into the wind, and it was serious work to make slow progress. It was terrible but sort of in a good way. Brian and I even remarked that as terrible as it was, we were glad to be out there suffering together. It was kind of awesome in a way.
And then the wind and waves got even worse. At one point I swear the waves were coming at us from 3 different directions, and we almost tipped several times. Our bungholes were at pucker-level 10, and it was a fight to stay upright.
It was scary. Not as in we were going to die scary, but as in if we tip, we might not make it off the river for several hours.
Captain: Luke is insane, it was totally die scary. There was not a lot of talking going on at all. Due to the fact we’re brothers from a different mother, we quickly developed a series of grunts and groans to signal what was going on. Mostly, nothing. Once in a while Luke would bark out “RIGHT BRIAN!, RIGHT BRIAN!” even though I was already madly paddled on the right. It was freaking insane.
At one point we tried to go more east-west to…I don’t really know why…and we were immediately sideways and riding a giant wave. At that moment we looked EXACTLY like George Clooney and Mark Walberg in “The Perfect Storm”, not giving up and attempting to overcome the world’s most gnarly of waves. It was so much like the movie that in fact that in the middle of the wave Clooney and Walberg were already in negotations to play US in “The Perfect Storm Too”. But luckily we used our powers of Spongebob and Gerry training to work out of that horrible idea. So, so puckery…
Luke: The idea behind turning east-west was to get the waves and wind to our backs. It turns out that was a really shitty idea.
Kate: Conditions were difficult enough that the safety kayak returned to shore and Gerry “loves to make you suffer” Voelliger cancelled the paddle for
lucky later-arriving teams.
Captain: And oh yeah…even though that was all pretty insane and nuts, I paddled with a sense of calm because each time it got a little hairy I knew my main man up front had it all figured out.
Luke: I’m glad you had such blind faith in me. That was really stupid of you, though, because I wasn’t sure we were gonna make it.
Then we found ourselves next to a small island with lots of pelicans and seagulls on it. It was pretty cool actually, but it seemed like we were next to that damn island for 45 minutes. Remember, we were paddling “down” river.
After paddling hard for 15 minutes and only gaining 10 yards, Brian broke the silence and said, “So, uh… Luke. What’s the plan here?”
I said, “I’m just trying to stay upright and keep moving forward, man!”
I looked ahead a bit and saw a couple of downed trees in the river a hundred yards ahead or so, and I said, “Let’s aim for those trees and hope they provide even a little bit of shelter from this bullshit!”
Having a specific goal to shoot for seemed to help a little, but the trees provided no shelter from the wind and waves. Eventually, we made it to one of the shallow, calmer parts of the river. As we unpuckered for a bit, we paddled slowly through the “seaweed” and algae, throwing the vegetation all over ourselves. We dragged a few times, but we never got stuck.
Captain: It was at this point that I was delirious from paddling and was pretty sure the slowly waving weeds, just barely under the surface of the water were going to reach up and yank us down into our watery grave. That and those stupid carp that kept slapping the surface and scaring the crap out of us.
Slogging through another couple of rough patches left us with one final rough section before we could coast down the sweet, calm cove to the TA. We almost tipped another time or two before reaching the cove, but we managed to make it… finally.
Paddling down the cove made us realize how much we had improved as a paddling team in just a few hours. On the way out, we zig-zagged all over the damn place, but on the way back in, even though we were physically and mentally exhausted, we paddled straight as an arrow – a huge improvement from when we started – to the shore as the volunteers cheered.
The Part Where We Hug it Out
We hit dry land where I crawled out of the canoe and dragged the boat up so Brian could get out. We’d done it. No, we didn’t get all the CP’s. In fact, we only got 1, but by George we effing earned it! But paddled through some of the roughest paddling I’ve been in during an Adventure Race, and we managed to not flip the canoe. And for the first time in Brian’s AR career, he never had to witness any PaDdLinG MaDNeSs (even though it would have been warranted this time).
With our feet on dry land again, we turned to each other. Our eyes met as we both let out a sigh of relief, and then we embraced. It was not a sexually charged embrace (this time), but it was more than just bro-hug. It was a special moment that only Brian and I shared… in front of all the volunteers.
(Side Rant: Yes, I purchased the above photo as a digital download. I did not steal it or use it without permission because I am not a douchebag – at least I try really hard to not be a douchebag. I like supporting good people who do good work, and John is definitely one helluva guy doing great work. Yes, it’s not much. I only threw a couple of bucks his way, but I feel a lot better about doing that than ripping him off. You should support him and other artists like him too. Rant over.)
Captain: That bro hug was real. What a cool and fantastic adventure in a sport where thick mildly handsome pseudo athletes can be admired around the world by tens of fans….ok, seriously, what a great life adventure with a man I’m glad to call a friend.
It would have been fun to share the misery with Kate and Chuck. But they wanted to be like good at the paddling thing or something. Whatever.
Luke: “Mildly handsome pseudo athlete.” I need to put that on my business card.
We had been on the water for 4 hours or so, and it was later than we had hoped to get Brian on the road. A couple phone calls later, and after another hug and a teary goodbye, Brian found himself shuttled first class back to Camp Benson.
I hated to see Brian go. Even with the shitty conditions out on the river, we were all having a blast racing together. We should have teamed up for a race a long time ago, and we’ll definitely do it again as soon as possible.
I’ll let Brian describe his ride back to Camp Benson and his subsequent drive to his dad’s birthday party:
Captain: I had a nice bumpy nap in the back of that bad boy.
The Part Where We Reunite
And then there was nothing for me to do but wait for Kate and Chuck. Well, I worried a little about them too. And I chatted with my friends volunteering at the TA. And I might have eaten a couple delicious cookies courtesy of Mrs. Tardy Rooster herself, Leisha Huntley. And perhaps, I managed to catch a quick catnap, but I’m not sure.
A few of the 12-hour teams came paddling in, and each time I hoped it was Kate and Chuck arriving safely. Several teams had swamped, and 3 or 4 teams called for a ride on the Iowa side of the river. None of those teams were Chuck and Kate, though.
I’ll let Kate describe the rest of their time on the river. Take it away, Kate!
Kate: After leaving the Elk River, Chuck and I had to canoe downriver towards our next CP. Just as Luke described, “downriver” felt like a difficult upstream paddle because we were heading almost directly into the ridiculous wind, chopping through whitecaps and paddling as hard as we could just to make any kind of forward progress. We, too, hugged the islands and marshy patches where possible; we still had to fight the wind, but the water was calmer there.
As we struggled against the wind and flopped down over whitecap after whitecap, my paddle strokes were powered mostly by the fervent hope that we’d reach the boat ramp where the next CP was located and see race volunteers there to tell us that due to unsafe conditions the remainder of the paddle was cancelled and they would drive us back to the bike drop. (Spoiler alert: Nope.)
The wind was so strong on the river that we both had to paddle constantly, so neither of us had eaten in the past couple of hours. We beached at the boat ramp, dumped the water that had splashed in during our voyage, ate some food, dispensed some helpful safety advice to the 5 year old wandering the river bank alone, and generally steeled ourselves to get back into the canoe. Oh, and sent Luke a text so he knew we were still alive.
Chuck: Watching Kate switch from BA adventure racer to Mom mode was pretty funny considering we just survived one of our scariest paddles to date. “Where are your parents at?”, “Be careful by that water.”, “Oh, that is a nice frog!”.
Luke: Getting that text was a huge relief.
Once we’d stalled as long as possible, we set off on our return trip. Both the canoe take-out and our last CP were back across the river, which is like 25 miles wide at that point (OK, maybe not, but it felt that way) Chuck: (5K). Compounding the distance was the fact that we had to angle away from our destination in order to account for the way the wind was pushing us. Now instead of waves splashing over the nose of our canoe they were hitting us broadside, and we both worried about tipping. The one perk of the sub-optimal conditions was the near-total lack of other river traffic — we’ve spent plenty of paddles being buffeted by the wakes of pontoon boats and jet-skis — the downside of this being that no one was on the river to help us if we tipped.
Chuck: Self-rescue would have been a long-term affair maybe even bordering on impossible.
Eventually we made it to our final CP and all that remained was to paddle upriver (but with the wind at our backs) to the inlet we’d left several hours before. It was then that Chuck made a near-fatal error.
Chuck: “Suck it River! We beat you!”
“Shut up!” I told him, “Why are you talking like that before we’re safe on land?? He didn’t mean it, river.” Moments later we struck a submerged log; the canoe shuddered but then righted itself. Chuck held back any further smack talk, and the rest of our paddle was uneventful.
After paddling for roughly 7 hours, Chuck and Kate arrived to our cheers. They looked about as relieved as Brian and I did when we arrived. It was damn good to see them.
Chuck: I actually hate that this picture looks so calm and peaceful. As far as I know NOBODY got a picture out in the wind on the main channel. It was just to scary to stop paddling for the few seconds it would have taken.
Chuck and Kate didn’t take very long in the TA. They unloaded their paddling gear, grabbed some food, filled up with water, and we were ready to hop back on the bikes.
The Part Where We Bike to and Do the O-Section
After that un-Virtus-like quick transition, we were back on the bikes. The temperature had risen along with the humidity. Fortunately, the wind that was so brutal on the river was now at our backs.
This bike leg was uneventful as we nabbed all the CP’s pretty easily, and we soon found ourselves at that TA for the O-Section. There were a few very good teams on their way out of the woods when we arrived. They looked a little defeated, to be honest.
I slammed an ice-cold Red Bull as we looked over the maps quickly. We were running short on time since we needed to be off the O-course by 8:00 pm. We came up with a plan where we would grab one of the “easy” CPs and then reevaluate our situation to decide if we’d go for another CP or two.
Kate: Chuck briefly suggested we run on the road sections. I was not in favor of this plan.
We found the little shed in the woods we were looking for, and we shot a bearing to the CP.
Kate: Luke and I were very helpful, if by “helpful” you mean “busy taking selfies“.
Luke: It was so nice having Chuck do the navigating here. My selfie-skills are much improved.
It took us a little longer than we had anticipated, but Chuck did not lead us astray. Kate and I have faced a Thunder Rolls cutoff before, and it can be quite formidable. So we decided to err on the side of caution and head back to the TA with just one of the O-Section CPs.
We hiked back to the TA, making sure we stayed out of the cornfields per Gerry’s instructions. And apparently, adventure racing tends to make Kate’s hands grow abnormally long:
I drank another Red Bull back at the TA – what can I say, I was sleepy by this point. My nether regions were really chafed and sore, and I contemplated riding that final bike leg back to Camp Benson without my bike bibs. Kate was considering the same thing. I opted to put my bibs back on, but I’m not sure if it helped or made things worse.
After a mile or two, it didn’t matter since I didn’t do much sitting on the saddle anyway. I fell into a rhythm of standing and pedaling for 3 hard strokes followed by coasting as long as possible before pedaling again. I got pretty good at it, maintaining the same speed as Chuck and Kate without sitting on the saddle much to save my ass – literally. Despite the chafing and general fatigue, we made way better time than we had anticipated, dropped our bikes at the camp’s pavilion, and headed back down to the Wakarusa River for one last Coasteering leg.
Kate: Unless you really effed up that bike leg, the state park-mandated cutoff for the O section pretty much guaranteed that you were going to be back at Camp Benson and finished with the final coasteering leg well before the race ended at midnight.
Chuck: I would’ve loved to spend more time in that O-section. Sucks that the state park people wont let us race in there after dark.
Coasteering like this can be a lot of fun, and when the race started it was just that. However, 20+ hours into a race made it sub-awesome, to say the least. And Gerry, being the sadistic bastard he is, designed the last coasteering section in such a way to force you to trudge through the water much longer than you wanted to.
Kate: I think this year’s coasteering legs were the best (least unpleasant) of my four Thunder Rolls experiences. Whether because of the stretch of river or just dumb luck, we seemed to miss out on all of the big submerged rocks that seem to trip you up in the dark.
Luke: And for whatever reason, there was much less flesh-shredding sand and grit in my shoes this year.
I’m pretty sure we didn’t take any photos during this section because we just wanted to be done. We were all much quieter too – especially Kate who has been know to be a bit chatty from time to time.
There was a 2-person coed team who tagged along behind us for this section. I think they had had enough and just didn’t want to have to think anymore. This is something I totally understand.
Kate: I was mad for a long time that they were following us and didn’t trust myself to talk without saying something bitchy. Instead I stalked ahead, fueled by righteous anger. Chuck and Luke both talked to the other team a little, and once I realized where they were mentally I relaxed a little and finally started having fun again when, on my way back from punching our final CP, I ended up chest-deep in the river:
We finally got the last few CPs and humped it back up to the finish line. The team that tagged along with us fell back so we could finish ahead of them which was an honorable thing to do. As we reached the finish line, I peeled off to the side to let Chuck and Kate finish together. I was DQ’d anyway since my passport left with Brian.
I guess if I’d have turned in a passport, I wouldn’t be officially listed as a DNF in the final results. But Brian and I were supposed to be signed up as a 2-person team instead of solos anyway, and I came into the race expecting to DNF. If you’re familiar with us at all, though, you know we don’t put much stock in the final standings. We come for the experience – kicking ass is just a bonus.
Captain: Hey everybody! I missed talking to you. At this point in their race I had already eaten a ton of food at my dad’s party, explained the fantastic sport of adventure racing to my family while they looked at me like I was insane (especially the rappelling part) and was now asleep and drooling on myself on my parents couch….
I do regret not getting a finishing – or is it Did Not Finishing – photo with Gerry. We took a team photo before grabbing some delicious pizza and cold beer.
The only thing that would have made finishing better is if Brian could’ve been there with us.
Kate: Indeed. Such a great day.
BVW: You three are great. Let’s do this again?
Luke: We absolutely need to do this again!
He was with us in spirit, though, so we had John snap a quick photo of us with our entire team:
After eating, drinking, and chatting with fellow racers, we showered and went to bed. Sleep never feels as good as it does after a long, hard race.
One of us, who shall remain nameless, chatted deep into the wee hours of the morning. She stayed up so late that she slept through most of the goodbyes and had to be roused from her bunk so we could pack up and go home.
Kate: Whoever that was, she missed out on saying goodbye to everyone but Gerry, and since the socialization is pretty much her favorite part of races, she was disappointed about that (but well-rested).
Once the nameless sleepyhead was finally out of bed, she packed her things up and we left our beloved Camp Benson. Per tradition, we hit the Kountry Kettle for some gravified breakfast. Again, Brian was missed. In his honor, I ate twice as much as I normally would have (which is a lot).
Big thanks goes out to Gerry and all of his crew from High Profile Adventure Racing, and an equally large thank you must go to the amazing volunteers who made the race not only possible but a smashing success. And thanks to Brian for racing with us even though he knew he had to cut the race short. We seriously need to do it again as soon as possible.
Until next time, may your adventures be epic. And your breakfasts covered in gravy.
My friends, the hour is nearly upon us. In just 3 short weeks, Team Virtus will return to Camp Benson in hopes of defending the Tetherball heavyweight crown. ESPN has yet to return my calls, but I’m sure there will be online coverage.
Oh yeah, and we’re also going to do a 24 hour race called the Thunder Rolls. Last time we tried this race, we did the 12 hour version and it was the hardest race I’ve ever done..by far. The scenery was amazing, but it’s hard to forget the endless thorns, stinging nettle and being blinded from some kind of pollen in my eyes. That race kicked our ass in every way.
Not to mention the longest, most awkward paddling leg of all time…followed by the longest, most horrific upstream pack-rafting leg in adventure racing history.
But, we did get some pretty awesome North Face hoodies, some free Zanfel and a bottle of Boetje’s Mustard. Not to mention drunken dancing at a Rat Baxter concert with some of the local elderly ladies (read the Thunder Rolls Race Report here). I’d say that warrants a return visit, wouldn’t you? The good news is that Luke and Kate are in excellent shape, and I’m only about 40 pounds fatter than I was when we did the 12 hour race. That should balance us out pretty well, right?
Hey, at least we won’t be competing in the same division as Team Bushwacker, (Scott Fredrickson, y’all!!), or Alpine Shop…Oh wait, yeah we are
Look out, Kountry Kettle. We’re coming for you.
***NOTE: This race report was written by Luke and is presented in black text. Casey added some comments and are presented to you in Red, Bob’s comments are in Green, and Kage’s comments are in Navy Blue. Luke added a response or two in Purple. If you need to get caught up, you can read part 1 here and part 2 here.***
Paddle Leg #1 – 1:13 PM Saturday Afternoon – 5 Hours 43 Minutes Racing
Somehow, through all the mistakes and mishaps, we managed to make it to the TA at CP8. We ditched the bikes and our bike gear, and we readied ourselves for the paddling leg. We all grabbed a bite to eat as we donned our PFD’s and put our paddles together. We only had 3 kayak paddles, and since Kage had little to no experience using one, we decided we’d let her just use a canoe paddle.
After a fairly quick transition (although we could have been faster), we carried the canoes down to the lake. Kage got stuck in a canoe with me, and Bob and Casey filled up another one (Bob: Is this a fat reference?). With storms in the forecast and clouds in the sky, we were a little worried that the water was going to be pretty rough. We were pleasantly surprised when we shoved off and headed out on a silky smooth lake. This was going to be easy.
On this paddling leg, we had to get 3 CP’s (9, 10, & 11) in any order before heading back to the TA. We decided to get CP10 first since it was closest, and then we would either portage the canoes across a peninsula to get CP11 before getting CP9 on an island OR we would paddle around the peninsula to get CP9 followed by CP11 if the portage looked too gnarly.
The paddling was easy and we made good time… until we left the bay. Once we were out of the shelter of the bay, the lake was much rougher. It wasn’t the worst I’ve paddled on, but it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk either.
Bob: The pictures do absolutely no justice to the size of the waves. Coming back to the canoe takeout, Casey and I had several waves crash right over the front and sides of the boat. I was soaked to my ass….balls first.
We stayed close to the coast and found CP10 easily. There was a team here, “For the Run of It” I believe, that was convinced this was CP11. I was 99.99% sure that we were at CP10, but a small seed of doubt had been planted in my brain. With the rocky start to the race and several navigational blunders, I started to second guess myself. We couldn’t afford another mistake.
We decided to paddle on and not portage the canoes since the brush and trees looked pretty thick. I also knew that Kage was dreading portaging a canoe, but I’m sure she would have done just fine. I mean, we all know that she has more upper body strength than Bob does, but then again, that’s not saying much.
Anyway, we decided to paddle to the island to get CP9. On the way to the small island, I kept looking toward the coast. The little seed of doubt about CP10 began to grow. Did we somehow paddle too far and miss CP10? Was that actually CP11 instead? I looked at the map, and I tried to convince myself that there was no possible way that could have happened. There was, however, a bit of doubt remaining in my mind.
The water was getting more choppy and the wind picked up as we made it to the island. It looked like it was raining to our east, but other than a few errant raindrops, we had managed to avoid the inclement weather. We beached the canoes and Bob punched the passport.
Bob: Actually, I was just trying to look like Scott Fredrickson. If he had a beard, we’d look exactly alike.
We paddled into the small bay to get CP11, and I was once again worried that I had led our team astray since that other team was so sure that what we thought was CP10 was CP11. I was still 99% sure I knew where we were, but it was a huge relief when we paddled right to the CP and confirmed that we had indeed gotten it right.
At this point, we could have portaged across the peninsula or paddled around it again. I know Bob really wanted to portage, but the rest of us voted to paddle around it. In hindsight, I think it would have been faster to portage, but I guess we’ll never know.
Kate: In retrospect, I feel bad that I argued against portaging. Wimpy move, especially since we didn’t have bikes in the canoes or anything. Next time, tell me to man up.
Casey: I was on the fence and would have been fine with the portage. It didn’t look too far but I think we made the right decision. I have a feeling the portage would have taken us longer.
Bob: I think it would’ve been faster. By the time we would’ve gotten there, the trail would have already been blazed.
Luke: Like I said, we’ll never know.
As we paddled around the peninsula, the waves seemed to have gotten MUCH bigger. It was really rough out there. It was so rough, in fact, that we had to make sure we didn’t get sideways to the waves. We had to hit the waves straight on or risk being tipped. Hitting the waves head-on was a rough ride, though, and Bob said that several times they took on water over the bow of the canoe as they came crashing down over each wave.
Kate: I was definitely nervous during this part of the paddle, especially being as someone had already almost tipped the canoe in calm water.
Bob: I’m so glad Luke lost the bet.
Kate: Still stinging from that upper body strength comment, huh?
Casey: It was pretty rough out there. Bob and I had a hard time not pulling away from the other canoe (we had 2 kayak paddles) with the rough waters. We’d try to coast and wait for them, and we’d get tossed around and had to paddle to keep our bow into the waves. We eventually decided to paddle a little ahead and get into the cove and wait for them there. We kept an eye on them and hoped they’d join us safely in a few minutes.
We eventually made it back to the TA after roughly 2 hours of paddling, but the last half of that paddling leg wasn’t exactly fun. Well, that’s not true. It was actually a lot of fun… now that it’s over. We were definitely glad to be getting off the lake without tipping.
Kate: Thanks for putting in that really flattering picture of me. Now I’ll never be selected for America’s Next Top Model. Jerk.
Luke: Kage, there can’t be a more flattering shot than a woman carrying a canoe in the middle of a 24+ hour adventure race. Right?
Casey: I guess we didn’t get any pictures when it was really rough, we were too busy trying to survive. The pictures we have don’t do it justice. However, according to people who raced LBL last year, it was nowhere near as rough as it was last year. Last year, they cut the paddle short because it was too rough and too many people were dumping their canoes (they were the yellow P.O.S. canoes, however).
We transitioned to the bikes for a short ride (roughly 2 miles) to the big orienteering leg of the race. We were really looking forward to getting to our first food drop, too. As we pulled up to CP13 and the start of the O-course, we were shocked that there were so many bikes still there.
Food Drop #1 / CP 13 – 3:56 PM Saturday Afternoon – 8 Hours 26 Minutes Racing
As we rode down the gravel road to the manned-checkpoint, we could see a team of four getting ready to get back on the bikes. It turned out to be Team Tecnu, one of the best teams in the country. Oh, crap! If it took a team of their caliber that long to finish the O-course, it must be pretty damn tough. We dropped our bikes, swapped our bike shoes for trail shoes, and started to go through our food bag as Tecnu took off on their bikes.
Then another team came out of the woods. It was Wedali. Double crap! Another top team was just now finishing the orienteering section. And then as we were going through our food, switching from biking gear to trekking gear, and just taking way too long at the TA, another team came out of the woods: One of the two Bushwhacker teams. What… the… hell?!?!
Casey: Thanks for putting in that really flattering picture of Bob and me. Now we’ll never be selected for America’s Next Top Model. Jerk!
Luke: Casey, there can’t be a more flattering of two husky dudes with half-beards. Right?
Clearly, this orienteering leg was a big, fat female dog, if you know what I mean. As we ate some food, restocked our packs, and got ready for the O-course, I studied the map. It was pretty clear that we were not going to clear the course. So the question then became how many CP’s we should try to get before the 9:00 PM (?) cutoff. Should we use all of that time to get as many CP’s as we can? Or should we just grab a couple of the close ones in the daylight and come back to the bikes and hope we can use that time to get more CP’s later in the race?
Since the top teams obviously had some issues with the orienteering course, I figured we just might have some issues as well – especially once it got dark. So I wanted to get 3 or 4 CP’s, skip the rest, and make our way back to the bikes before dark and hope that saving a couple of hours would help us later in the race. Casey disagreed. He’s the kind of guy that never wants to concede anything until absolutely necessary, and he always wants to push the envelope, for better or worse. So we planned on getting a couple of CP’s and then we would reevaluate.
Bob: You forgot to mention that he does it all with a million-dollar smile, dazzling facial hair and an endless supply of mind-bending flatus.
Casey: I think you should use all the time you have to get as many CP’s as possible, especially if you don’t know what is coming later in the race. I don’t like to ASS -U-ME anything. You know you have these CP’s to get and can’t assume there will be more later (undisclosed at this time). I would hate to leave early, saving time for later, only to find out that there were no more CP’s and finish with time to spare and CP’s left un-punched. Hell, I want to get all the CP’s every race.
Luke: Every team needs a guy like you, Casey. You always push us to do more than we think we can, and that’s a very good thing. Sometimes, however, it’s better to skip CP’s early to get more later. It’s a tough decision sometimes, though, because (like you said), you just don’t know what the rest of the race has in store for you.
As we were finishing up our (way too long) transition, the other Team Bushwhacker came out of the woods, our friends Scott and Frederick. We asked how it was out there, and they said it was pretty rough. That’s not what we wanted to hear. We said good-bye and good luck, and then headed into the woods. A few minutes later, we crossed paths with Team Alpine Shop, another top contender, as they were just finishing the orienteering leg.
Man, it was going to be a rough O-course.
To Be Continued…
Get excited, everybody. The CAC is only a few short days away! What’s the CAC, you ask? Well, if you don’t know what the CAC is, then you really need to get out more. You can get caught up here, here, and here. All caught up? Great. Let’s continue.
Bob and I have been working really hard on the CAC. Day in and day out, we’ve been slaving over this CAC. Why? Well, to bring you the best non-racing experience ever, of course!
Scouting for and planning the course for this year’s adventure non-race has been a ton of fun. Setting the course up, however, has been a struggle. It took us just a wee bit longer than we thought it would. Bob and I were in the woods for seven days straight just placing all the CP’s in the correct locations. We battled heat, rain, cold, hunger, thirst, wild animals, and each other over the last week. Don’t believe me? Well look at this:
Now do you believe me? After all the hard work and several near-death experiences, we only have a few control markers left to hang, and we’ll take care of those in the next day or two. And in case you missed it on our facebook page, the control markers will look like this:
After we were finally done, Bob and I finally got to reward ourselves with a long-awaited packrafting trip down storm-swollen Cedar Creek. It was the perfect ending to a long, hard CAC preparation expedition.
What else could possibly make the CAC better? How ’bout a potluck? Rumor has it that Todd from the Hoosier Daddies is going to bring some brats, Kage is bringing some cookies, and we’ll be providing some baked potatoes and toppings. If you wanna bring a dish too, that’d be fantastic, but definitely not mandatory.
Anyway, I hope you’ve been training hard. This just might be the best adventure non-race of all time, and I’m not exaggerating at all. It’s going to be amazing.
This past September I found myself with the opportunity to cross yet another item off of my ever-growing bucket list. I had the opportunity to paddle part of the Colorado River. You see, paddling the Colorado has been something that I had always dreamed of doing. The stretch of river that I have often dreamed of paddling is the epic stretch of the Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon. Such a trip would afford me the chance to experience some serious world-class white water and take in the beauty of the Grand Canyon from the floor looking up to the rim. I have never seen the Grand Canyon from this view-point. I wish this was the story of that paddle but it isn’t. I’ll have to paddle that stretch another time. However, I was not disappointed. My trip took me through the beautiful Black Canyon on the Colorado River. This is the stretch of river that flows from Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam, south towards Lake Mojave which was created by the Davis Dam. We would put in literally at the base of the Hoover Dam on the Nevada side of the river and paddle down river to our take out at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river. As we paddled, Arizona would be river left and Nevada river right for the length of the paddle.
This stretch of the river is slow-moving but still pretty big water. It reminded me of stretches of the Missouri River or Mississippi River that I paddled only moving a little slower, with less under current, and the scenery was a little bit different. Here is one of my favorite photos from the trip…
The water flowing between these two dams maintains a frigid year round temperature in the lower to mid 50° F. This is due to the depth of Lake Mead and the fact that the water the dams releases is released from the bottom of the lake into the river. I would be making this trip with my beautiful wife, Lauren and one of my best friends Manny Garcia and his wife Shauna. My wife has limited canoe and kayak experience but I am pretty sure my friend and his wife had never been in a canoe or a kayak. We decided it was best to join a guided trip down the river with Evolution Expeditions. They would be providing the boats, the paddles, life jackets, lunch, snacks, beverages, guides, and the local knowledge of the river.
The guides picked us up outside our hotel at 5:30 in the morning. From there we had a 45 minute drive through Vegas to the Hacienda Hotel near the Hoover Dam to meet up with the other guide and the rest of our party. We met everybody else on the tour and it seemed like a good group. We all piled into one of the vans and headed to the Hoover Dam to our put in. We talked with the knowledgeable guides and each other and soon had built a sense of camaraderie and knew the day would be a great one.
On the way to the river we saw a big horned sheep on a mountain side up from the road. This was the first time I saw one in the wild and was excited but unable to get a picture due to the speed of travel on a bumpy road we were on. I was assured by the guides that we’d see plenty of them along the river as they regularly came down to water on the Colorado River since we are surrounded by desert. They told us we might get see bald eagles, peregrine falcons, big horn sheep, maybe a rattle snake, and much other wildlife since they rely on the Colorado River for water in this arid region.
We carried the boats down a ramp and over some rocks and into the river. We got a quick how to paddle and what not to do lecture and then we launched our crafts into the Colorado. We took a few minutes to paddle around and familiarize ourselves with the Prion Kayaks. Manny and Shauna were in a tandem as were Lauren and I. Everybody else had opted for solo kayaks. As we paddle around, the guides informed us that our marriages would be tested today since we chose to paddle in tandem or “divorce boats” as they are known in the business. We laughed and made a vow to get along at all costs. We posed for a couple of “dam photos” and soon were headed down river.
Shortly after heading downriver we saw a precariously thin plank walkway that clung to the cliff faces. It was only two planks wide with a little cable hand rail. It was very sketchy, even when it was first built. The planks were constructed in the early 1900’s when a future dam employee walked the planks, crossed the river in a hand basket suspended from a cable, and then walk more planks to check the flow rate and height of the river several times every day to help determine the location of the Hoover Dam. Check out these pictures…
Here are a couple of pictures that I found online but didn’t actually take myself. The first one shows a longer stretch of the walkway and the second one shows the actual gondola that the dude used to cross the river.
We continued down river a bit when we were directed to beach the boats on the right side of the river. We had arrived at our first stop of the trip, the Sauna Cave. This is a man-made cave that was drilled out back when the Hoover Dam was being built. They hit a natural hot spring and the cave is now full of hot water and has a temperature of around 130°F. We stripped down to our bathing suits and got ready to climb up to the cave. As we disrobed I made the joke about going in the cave naked. The people we were with seemed all for it and ready to participate. I quickly backtracked and announced I was keeping my suit on.
After a few minutes of thought, it hit me…the rest of our group was made up of free loving hippies; seriously cool hippies from Alaska. Not the fake hippies you see nowadays but grownup hippies from back in the day. I couldn’t believe I didn’t pick up on it earlier. They were laid back and really cool, down to earth people. Luckily for all, everybody kept their clothes on. We left our lights off and climbed through the hot water to the cave mouth. You could see steam flowing from the cave and feel its hot, moist breath on your skin. We walked single file through the cave, our sense of touch our only guide. The cave bent a bit to the left and soon we were in total darkness. Wet, Hot, Darkness…With a bunch of cool, free-loving hippies. We sat ourselves along the back of the cave and enjoyed the experience.
Soon the rest of our group started to “ouhmmm” all together and chant like a bunch of Tibetan monks. At first it was cool and I even joined in for a bit. But they kept on and on and on with the chanting. I could feel their chants reverberating throughout my entire body. The chants seemed to grow louder the longer it went on. It was cumulative and growing in intensity….Louder, Louder, Louder. My insides were vibrating and I was tingling all over. I get that they were enjoying it and possibly they felt something spiritual by doing this but after 5 or 10 minutes of chanting I was ready to experience the cave in silence. The silence never came and finally it was time to head back to the river. After our sweaty visit to the cave we jumped into the frigid river to cool off. It felt so good and we enjoyed our quick swim before loading back into the kayaks and continuing down river.
Our next stop was going to be at the natural hot springs. Being very excited about the trip, I did extensive research on what we would be seeing and doing on the river that day. During my research, I found that you had to be careful at these specific hot springs because of a rare type of hot water amoeba that lived in the waters. I found this warning:
Warning – Naegleria fowleria, an amoeba common to thermal pools, may be present and could enter through the nose causing a rare infection and death. Do not dive into pools, splash water, or submerge your head.
I was surprised the guides hadn’t mentioned this fact earlier in the trip. There had been a couple of deaths caused by this amoeba already in 2011 (not in Las Vegas but down south in hot, stagnant ponds). As we prepared to hike up the canyon to the hot springs I asked them about the amoeba thing. They played it off and said it was very rare and not likely to happen. But we probably should not dive or submerge our heads in the water. I then asked about the warm waterfall I was just sitting under.
And found out that this was the runoff from the hot springs and it probably wasn’t a good idea to get the water in or around your nose or ears. Seriously? I was just sitting under the falls and letting it cascade down my head and shoulders. Well, too late now. The damage had already been done. (For the next 3 or 4 weeks I constantly blew my nose and thought I was going to die from amoeba infection, but the fact that you’re reading this proves I did, in fact, survive. Whew!) We hiked up the canyon and waded and sat in numerous hot springs. This was my first time in a hot spring in nature and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The guide told us how the Native Americans used to come here for the healing abilities of the springs and how they were sacred to them hundreds of years ago. I haven’t researched their claims, but the hot springs were surrounded by desert. I am sure the Indians came to the river for water, but to sit in the hot springs when it was 100°F or higher? Maybe? I enjoyed their story and decided not to ruin it by possibly disproving it with some research. To me, it is probable that people once came here for the healing properties of these magical hot springs. Did it heal all of my aliments? No, I am afraid not. But it did feel pretty damn good to sit in the hot springs and relax. If you haven’t enjoyed a natural hot spring, do yourself a favor and visit one.
We hiked back to the river and headed down stream in our “yaks”. We paddled leisurely and enjoyed the spectacular weather and the breath-taking views. Our next stop was at the cliff jump. We had some granola bars for a snack and climbed along a cliff face and out on a ledge. We took turns jumping off of a 30 foot cliff into 50° F water. I’ve cliff-jumped plenty but never into the Colorado RIver. It was a great time. The ice-cold water literally took your breath away on the first jump. It was every bit as cold, if not colder than, the Mississippi in early April.
After having a great time on the cliffs we headed to our next stop and one I was looking forward to all day… lunch. As we paddled to our lunch spot we kept our eyes open for a Big Horn Sheep. They are often sighted along this area as they come down to the river to get water. Due to recent rain and the high availability of water, there were no sheep in this area. I guess I wasn’t going to see a sheep along the river…and then, up ahead in the distance we saw something. Our luck improved, we saw a big horn sheep…
We saw a whole wake of vultures in this horaltic pose. As we neared the beach with the dead sheep, we looked at the hillside and saw 7 or 8 vultures in this pose. It is believed the pose is to dry their wings, heat their bodies, or bake off bacteria. Scientists are still studying the reasons for this pose. I have some thoughts on it…It was in the 90’s so I think the vultures were warm, they had to be dry (we were in the desert), so I guess maybe they decided to bake off bacteria as we got close to the beach where they were feeding. My theory is maybe, just maybe they use this pose to look larger than they are in an attempt to scare off predators or other scavengers (or in this case the big ugly creatures in the kayaks). Whatever the reason it was really neat to see. One started the pose and then they all copied the pose as it spread across the hillside like dominoes being knocked over. I have never seen more than 1 vulture in this pose at a time. It was really cool.
After lunch, we paddled down the river. I think some of our group was ready to get off the river. We had a long stretch of very slow-moving water to paddle before reaching our takeout. We broke this long stretch of paddling up by having water fights with water tubes and our paddles. I literally almost sank Manny and Shauna’s kayak by scooping water with the blade of my paddle and throwing it into their boat. Their inexperience in a kayak and using a kayak paddle was my savior. I had a definite unfair advantage as I threw gallons upon gallons of icy water into their boat. Eventually, Manny called a truce and the Lamb kayak was declared the winner. He then spent the next 10 minutes sucking water out of his boat with his water tube. It was a good time and made this stretch go a little faster for those ready to call it a day (I could have paddled all day and into the night, I was truly enjoying the experience).
Soon we came to a spot that one of the guides pointed out to us. It was the exact spot a famous picture was taken back in 1871 way before either dam was built. He pointed out the top of what once was a large rock in the picture. I remembered seeing the picture online, it was a cool picture, but I figured it would all be underwater now. With the guide’s guidance we tried to capture a photo from the same angle of that old photo. I think we did a pretty good job from memory, check them out…
As we continued down river we saw many interesting caves. This one looks like a monster’s mouth or some creature’s jaw with teeth…
Our last stop happened to be inside a cool cave named, “Emerald Cave”. It got its name because with the right lighting conditions the water is a fabulous, deep, emerald-green color.
The sunlight wasn’t hitting just right for the perfect emerald conditions during our visit. We had a few moments of green and then the sunlight went away and refused to cooperate. I still thought it was really cool looking. We packed all of the tours’ kayaks into the cave (I feared we were in for more “ouhmmming”, but thankfully they refrained) and sat there for a couple of minutes. As we were talking Shauna dropped her fancy designer sunglasses into the emerald abyss. Luckily our guides were prepared. One of them pulled his goggles on and jumped out of his boat and into the cold water. It was crystal clear and we could see all the way to the bottom. After a few dives and some directions from the surface, our guide broke the surface with a huge grin on his face…
Here is one more picture of Emerald Cave as we left…
We continued downriver and enjoyed the scenes. We saw double-crested cormorants, a pair of peregrine falcons, and blue herons. As we neared Willow Beach, we passed Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery. They raise and stock trout in the rivers and lakes in the region. They also raise razorback suckers and bony tail chubs and restock thousands of these fish each summer into their native waters, the Colorado River. We continued down river and spotted our takeout in the distance. We really dug in and sprinted to our takeout. It was a yet another competition that the Lamb boat would win.
We had finished our trip and had a great time on the river. An experience that we will never forget. We had a great time with great guides. They were experienced, knowledgeable, and had great personalities. If you are ever in the area, even just for a short visit you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t make time for this trip. If you are in Las Vegas for business or pleasure take a break from town and head to the river. You will not regret it, and you’ll create memories that will live forever.
Here are a few more pictures that I couldn’t fit into the report. Check them out.