Category Archives: The Thunder Rolls
**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.
**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!
Note: This report was written by Kate, with commentary added by Luke (in red), Bob (in green), Robby (in purple), and Travis (in orange). Since it’s the final installment of our Thunder Rolls trilogy, if you haven’t caught up yet you should probably take a moment to read up on parts 1 and 2.
Team Virtus had spent most of the race with our two teams — Kate/Luke and Bob/Robby/Travis — sticking together, but around 4:30 (??) we had gone our separate ways. Luke and I stopped running as soon as we were out of view of our teammates but maintained a fast hike because we were determined to get as many CPs as we could. Our primary goal was to clear the bike-o course; if we could do that, we’d evaluate how much time we had left and possibly go for one or two points on the next o-course before heading back.
All of this was heavily dependent on how well the next few hours went, though; the only thing certain was that we were going to leave ourselves plenty of time to get back. In fact, our personal cutoff time to be at the bikes gave us nearly twice the time it should take us to ride back. We were going to play it smart; the last thing either of us wanted was another frantic finish like at LBL. Our plan was solid.
Luke: There was NO way we were going to miss the cut-off. In fact, we modified our plan a couple of times to be extra conservative, thus ensuring we’d have plenty of time to finish the race.
Travis: I love the smiley face on Bob’s shirt. LOL.
The day had gotten pretty hot, and we were thankful that the temperature would soon start dropping from its midday peak. We headed into the woods after a short hike along the road. Following a reentrant to CP20, we found it with no problems. From here we made our way down a trail to a creek and stayed along it to a creek junction where CP19 was located. This was our attack point for the infamous CP17. The intel on CP17 was that it was hard to find. The team I’d run into at the pavilion had told me that they followed the creek from CP19 and that it looked on the map like the CP was on the right, but it was actually on the left. Armed with this knowledge, Luke and I set off up the creek. This walk in the park was… no walk in the park.
Luke: When the creek split, we stayed right as we looked to the left for the CP. We climbed through some SERIOUS shit. We were filthy, sweaty, and disgusting.
On a map, everything looks so cut and dried: Oh, just follow the creekbed until you come to the rock outcropping where the CP is. The reality is anything but. The creek was littered with downed trees, and the reentrant was lined with scrub so deep that you couldn’t see the sides. Looking for the rock outcropping in the clue for the point, all we could see was a wall of green. We hiked up the reentrant, trying higher and lower on the sides with no success.
Luke: I was getting pretty worried. After closer inspection of the map, we (“we” meaning “Luke”) noticed the CP wasn’t in the main reentrant like we originally thought. It was actually in a much smaller reentrant to the south of the main one. The circle that marked the CP on the map obscured the smaller reentrant, and it was difficult to see on the map. Once we figured this out though, we found CP17 pretty easily.
Luke: After conversing with a couple of teams that never found CP17, it was REALLY nice to find it.
From 17 we shot a rough bearing and headed up to the ridgetop and then down the biggest reentrant which led to the spur CP 15 was supposed to be on. We hit the wrong spur first but found it fairly quickly after some searching.
From 15, we headed down the creek and followed it to a park road. Stopping briefly so that Luke could mix up a bottle of E-fuel, we looked at ourselves in amused disgust. Though the temperature had slowly started to drop, the shade of the woods hadn’t provided quite the respite we’d anticipated. The nonexistent breeze combined with the heat and humidity to make our hike seem more like a trek through a tropical jungle. Our clothes were drenched and filthy; my hair was falling out of its braid and plastered to my sweaty skin. On one level I recognized how terrible I must look (and smell!), but I’ve never cared less about my appearance.
Luke: I’m pretty sure we’ve never been more disgusting in a race before. I was literally as wet or wetter than when we had been chest deep in the water heading into the cave earlier in the race. It was gross… And awesome.
Bob: You were pretty disgusting after the Berryman 36 with Drew. And the one with Casey. And then there was that time in the van when my window wouldn’t roll down.
Kate: They’re disgusting any time they’re in a vehicle. It’s like a point of pride with them.
We crossed the road and headed back into the woods and up a reentrant to find CP16. I was particularly happy to punch this one because this is where I’d mispunched CP24, so I was finally able to relax knowing we had them both (as long as I remembered to tell the volunteers back at the finish line about the switch). We climbed back down the reentrant and up to the road.
We could actually see CP18 from the road, so after a quick hop into the trees we were back on pavement and hoping to find a place to fill up with water. The road was long and steep, and I was pretty grateful that we’d left our bikes where we’d initially dropped them; it was hard enough to drag myself uphill. We followed the road to a trail/ridge junction. Luke shot a bearing that took us across a field before we dropped back into the treeline, and we followed a path pretty much right to CP30.
I had felt amazing all day long, but this section is where I started dragging. I’d been eating like crazy throughout the race, and I don’t think I had slacked off; maybe I did or maybe it was just the cumulative effect of 18 hours of racing. Whatever the reason, I was relieved when Luke “took his turn” at being the passport puncher since I’d been doing it all day. Of course, he’d been navigating all day, and I didn’t “take my turn” with the maps, but he had realized before I did that I needed a break. After smooth going all afternoon, the next couple of CPs took a little more searching (“helped” along by my spotting of a couple phantom checkpoints), but we found them. Naturally, we were trekking through fields of stinging nettle, and over and over again I was grateful that (this time) I’d listened to the guys about wearing pants. Because of my short sleeves, though, I spent a lot of time holding my arms out of harm’s way.
Luke: Stinging Nettle is the worst! I HIGHLY recommend some white sun-sleeves for summer racing. However, even with the sleeves, I still got stung.
Travis: Sorry Kate, I kinda feel like a jerk since I had two pairs of the white sun sleeves and I didn’t use either one of them. I don’t know why you didn’t have the other pair, especially since you had made mention about wanting them.
Kate: I think when I mentioned using them Bob spoke up too and maybe you didn’t want to play favorites. Yeah, let’s blame Bob.
Things were going well. Really well. We just had a few more CPs to go. Having cleared all of the points on this loop, Luke set a course back towards our bikes. Because I was still dragging at this point, rather than take Luke’s initial route over some hills we instead followed a trail up to a clearing. We emerged into another field and set a fast hike back to the bikes. We were just discussing whether or not this was a field we remembered from last year when we noticed someone running in our direction. We hadn’t seen another team since shortly after we’d split from our other half, so we waved happily at the runner. As she neared us, we realized it was Sue, one of the volunteers who we’d last seen some 16 (?) hours before at the ascending wall, and boy was she surprised to see us. “What are you doing out here??” she asked.
“Ummm…racing?” The question wasn’t as weird as it seemed to us because there had been some confusion. Having seen the other Virtus team at the finish, a volunteer had reported that we were all in.
Robby: I don’t know how the teams got confused because we were totally different numbers?!?!?!
I guess we were the only team left in this section, and volunteers were taking the flags down from this area. As soon as she saw us, Sue got right on the phone with the other volunteers clearing the course, making sure that nobody tore down the CPs we were still chasing. Hiking away, we were almost giddy with relief. What were the chances that we ran into Sue out there? If we’d gone with our original route, we’d have missed her. How terrible would it have been if we were out there looking for CPs that had been pulled down? By blind luck, we’d avoided disaster and were still in the game. We had some light left, and just a few more checkpoints to clear the bike-o. We had this.
Luke: Phew! We caught a HUGE break there. We left Sue with high hopes of getting all of the CP’s we wanted to get before making it back to the finish line with plenty of time left.
Back at our bikes, we opted not to change into bike shoes. We were only riding a couple miles of paved road, and we knew we’d want trail shoes for the trek to our remaining CPs. We were willing to trade a little bit of pedaling efficiency rather than waste time repeatedly changing shoes or suffer by trekking in our bike shoes (no fun). In what seemed like minutes we were riding into our next attack point, where we ran into our friends from Orange Lederhosen …being lectured by a conservation police officer?
If you’re lucky enough to know these guys, it might not surprise you that they’d be on the wrong side of the law, but their “crime” was a little ridiculous. As we rode up, she was informing them that this part of the park was closed, that they had to know that because there were signs up all over saying the park closed at sunset (7:46 that evening). Being as it was a good four minutes past that at the time, we were in clear violation of the park rules. We’d been in the park for several hours, almost all of that time was off-trail and away from signs, and even if we’d noticed the signs, we’d have ignored them. We had the expectation that, since the race was there, we had permission to be there…an expectation shared by the race director and his permit.
Luke: As soon as this “cop” said that “sunset was at 7:46 today” I knew we were in trouble. She clearly has limited power and authority, so she has to really abuse the little bit she actually has. I mean, come on! Who actually looks up the exact time the sun sets? And who in their right mind would write a ticket a few minutes past this time?!? It was absolutely ridiculous! I was dumbfounded.
I clarified, “So just the South section is closed?” This wouldn’t be a big deal because we’d already cleared this section. Instead, everything except the campground section was closed. This cut us off from our two remaining CPs in the North section and our planned route back to the finish. Just like that, the officer had squashed our hopes of clearing the bike-o. We stood there in furious disbelief, but as she turned her attention back to the Lederhosen boys and started writing them a warning ticket, Luke and I decided to slip away before she gave any more thought to us.
Luke: I went from being dumbfounded to pissed in a hurry. But I didn’t want to have to fight a bullshit ticket from 6 hours away, and I DEFINTITELY didn’t want to pay a bullshit fine for a bullshit ticket written by a stupid, bullshit rent-a-cop. Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails! This was a crushing blow.
We rode away in angry silence. We’ve weathered plenty of adversity in races — a fight between teammates, mechanicals, debilitating leg cramps, a yellow jacket attack, missing meds, and terrible ascents to name a few — and those kind of things are all part of the package. This was different. This was something from outside the race interfering. This wasn’t fair (stomps foot and pouts). One of the cool things about adventure racing is that you don’t necessarily have to be fast; strategy and perseverance come into play, and sometimes if you don’t quit, you end surprising everyone by a come from behind division win. Now, despite our good plan, successful navigation, and carefully budgeted time, the “don’t quit” option was gone. There were still three CPs we could get in the campground section, but I think for a while we could both have easily said fuck it, let’s just go back. But we didn’t.
Luke: I haven’t felt this low in a race since the Phantom Cut-Off fiasco, but this was different. The Phantom Cut-Off was because of an incompetent, asshole race director. This time, our hopes were crushed by an overzealous, idiot conservation “cop.” And Kage is right. I easily could have said, “Fuck it. I’m done.” But that’s not the Virtus Hhhhway.
We got the closest two remaining checkpoints, stopped to talk to another team, and then crossed paths again with the Lederhosens as we rode towards CP 34, the transition area. There, the volunteers told us Gerry was directing teams to take the short way back (our intended path) – because most teams would not make it back in time going the long way. Being as we’d just encountered an officer who had told us in no uncertain terms that we weren’t allowed to be in that part of the park — and that as an oldest child and a teacher I’m a born rule-follower — that didn’t work for me. (And the “cop” had already seen us and spoke with us, so we were pretty sure she wouldn’t just let us off with a written warning if she caught us “breaking the law” again.) In the end, we were directed to take the longer route back to the finish line. The volunteers warned us that teams were averaging 3.5 hours for the trip back, which was particularly unfortunate because we had less time than that before the midnight cutoff.
Since we had never planned to take this route back, we hadn’t plotted it on our map. While Luke painstakingly made out the numbers on our sweaty, smeared race booklet, I ate, drank, and waited. I’ve learned that hurrying your navigator doesn’t save time when it causes them to make mistakes, so tried to keep my impatience at a minimum. I’ve also learned how important it is to take care of your teammates — heaven knows they’re always checking if I’m eating and drinking — but somehow I never thought to check to see if Luke needed anything or make sure he ate something. This would prove to be a significant oversight.
Luke: I was so focused on plotting and planning our route (which was difficult since there were 5 or 6 maps involved), that I guess I forgot to eat or drink anything other than half of a Monster energy drink.
We rolled out of the TA at 9:15. Two hours and forty-five minutes to ride a route that was apparently taking many teams considerably longer. Oh, the irony…despite our good intentions we were once again racing our bikes to avoid missing a cut-off. We turned onto the highway in front of the park, and I immediately felt exposed and nervous. I don’t so much mind riding my bike on gravel in the dark because cars are few and far between; riding a busier road at night is scary because, despite our headlights and red blinky taillights, drivers really aren’t looking out for bikes in the dark (full disclosure: despite my big fear here, I think maybe only one car actually passed us on this road). As is typical with these guys I race with, always putting themselves between me and danger whether it’s an oncoming dog or potential traffic, Luke rode behind me on the highway.
Pedaling fast, because I really was scared here, I was for once having a little trouble with the chivalry. He has four young children, two of my kids are grown adults…if one of us is going to get killed it should probably be me…he’s so much younger than I am… Yeah, what can I say? My internal monologues can be a little dramatic. (I wasn’t being chivalrous, I was trying to draft off you.) Thankfully, we made it onto the gravel without incident, except that as I flew down the road I realized I’d lost Luke, who’d had to stop to roll up the pant leg that kept catching in his chain.
Back together, we made our way to the first CP on the bike leg back. Luke checked the maps while I punched our passport. Another team was there at the same point, confused about a course change that they apparently hadn’t heard in the race meeting, so Luke got them straightened up about that. As they rode off, his headlamp started flashing, so I pointed my light so he could get the batteries changed. Because I’m always the slowest team member on the bike, I started riding while Luke finished putting his old batteries away. “I’m going to go ahead since you’re going to pass me in a minute anyway!”
I rode in the direction he’d told me, pretty quickly coming alongside the other team and then, though I was sure they’d be zooming right by me again in a minute, passing them. We never saw them again. The hill seemed to go on forever, but I felt weirdly good for the first part, almost like I was riding on flat ground. Eventually it didn’t feel good at all, but we still managed to ride the whole thing.
Luke: This hill was effing ridiculous! It… Just… Kept… Going… I was proud to see Kate fly by the other team and completely smash them up that hill, but I soon realized that I was starting to fall behind and really starting to hurt.
Luke’s navigation was dead on, and we found the next CP with no problems. I had to climb a little hill at the intersection to punch the passport, and Luke looked over the maps. Orange Lederhosen pulled up as we were about to roll out. With a downhill ahead of me, I left before Luke. The guys are all way braver on hills than I am, so any head start would just lessen the amount of time he’d be waiting at the bottom for me. The Lederhosens caught up with us again during this section, and we all pulled over at one point so that Luke and Derrick could look over the maps and make sure we were going the right way. Course confirmed, we started back again, climbing yet another ridiculous hill. At one point Sheldon and I were riding towards the front, but then they were gone and it was just Luke and me again. And then it was just me.
Because my bike handling sucks, I have a hard time checking behind me to see who’s there, and I didn’t realize that Luke was gone. Bob and I always have to laugh in races, because while we’re dying at the end Luke and Casey just seem to get stronger. You’d almost hate them if they weren’t dragging your ass to the finish. Given this past experience, I kept expecting Luke to come flying up, but looking behind me on a hill his light was way back, so I got off and started walking, waiting at the top. When he got there, he looked grumpy, and I assumed he was irritated with me for getting ahead like that…which was a dick move, or would have been if it had been intentional. It wasn’t, of course, but I should have been more aware of where my teammate was.
Luke: I wasn’t pissed at Kate at all. In fact, I was proud of how strong she had been all race and especially proud of how super-strong she was on this last bike leg. I was just hurting and trying not to puke. I had nothing left in my legs, and I couldn’t eat or drink. It sucked. Plain and simple. And she’s too modest to say how much stronger than me she was this late in the race. She was an animal! Seriously. I’ve never seen her stronger.
Kate: He’s right. It was crazy and wonderful. I have no idea where it came from…maybe it was the Pop-Tarts.
I think I assumed he’d had to fix his pant leg again or wrestle with the maps, but after this pattern repeated itself a couple more times I finally realized there was something wrong. “Are you ok?” I asked.
“I’m bonking bad,” he answered.
Now I felt like a total asshole. Here I’d been, happily (ok not happily…those hills sucked) riding along, not realizing that my partner was hurting. And now that I did know, I didn’t know what to do. Food was making him sick, so he could barely force anything down; I didn’t think I could ride with both of our packs on, so that wasn’t an option. We were so short on time that we couldn’t afford to sit down and regroup, and I can’t cheerlead someone out of a bonk. In retrospect, it might have helped a little to switch bikes so that Luke could ride the one with the smoother tires, but trading his nice 29er for my heavy 26er might not have been any better. The only thing I could do is what I should have been doing all along: stick with my teammate. So that’s what we did, riding hill after hill until finally we made it to the finish line, 9 minutes past the cutoff.
Luke: Even with me bonking and being the weak link, we managed to finish that bike leg in just under 3 hours. Not bad in hindsight, but as we turned onto the final road leading to the finish line at Camp Benson, it was crushing to see my watch hit 12:00 and know that we had missed the cut-off.
I know Luke had a hard time mustering a smile for the camera, but unranked finish or not, I loved every moment of this race. We had some major ups and downs, but we came through them all as a team. And speaking of team, despite their threats to be sound asleep when we got back, our awesome teammates were there cheering as we arrived, taking our bikes and bringing us food (and even going back to the cabin so I could have diet soda instead of regular…thanks Travis!).
Luke: I was still trying not to puke, but I too loved everything about this race (other than super-“cop” of course). Aside from my bonk at the end, I think it was one of the strongest performances we’ve had. And big thanks to the rest of our team who took great care of us at the finish line.
Travis: Being there for you friends or team mates is what Team Virtus is all about, and that is why I am proud to be a part of this team. I sat anxiously awaiting your arrival, watching my clock, chewing my fingernails, no nevermind that is gross, pulling my hair out, or not. I just wanted to see you guys make the time cut-off that I knew you were working so hard for.
24 hours and 9 minutes of racing together and we were still on speaking terms. 🙂 Because Luke and I finished after the midnight cutoff, we weren’t ranked in the standings. We missed 20 CPs; the team that won our division finished way before us missed 18. Had we been able to get the 2 CPs in the forbidden North section and then picked up the one in the campground section we skipped AND gotten back to the finish on time by taking our planned route back, we’d have won our division. Sometimes you aim high and miss, but I still couldn’t be prouder of our race.
Luke: As my Dad has always said: “If the dog hadn’t stopped to take a shit, he’d have caught the rabbit.” Normally, I believe that statement, but not in this case. Our plan would have worked, but because of circumstances beyond our control, our plan had to be altered. So in this case I’ll modify it to this: “If the dog hadn’t been unjustly harassed and threatened by an egomaniacal, power-hungry, overzealous rent-a-“cop”, then he definitely would have caught the rabbit.”
On the other hand, not all of our team was struck down by the midnight cutoff. Because other teams in their division finished late, Bob, Robby, and Travis took third place! Now, my mom would say we’re all winners, but Luke and I don’t have a fancy piece of paper to prove it.
Luke: Nice work, fellas! Way to represent the team! Strength and Honor!
Bob: Oh, the irony. I’ll never forget Robby’s reaction. “What!?!? Oh, shit! Do we get a certificate or something?” It was hilarious. We had a lot of fun celebrating our “victory” and drinking as many free cans of Samuel Adams’ delicious Oktoberfest beer. And that, my friends, is a level 10 smile on MC Hammons’s face.
Robby: My reaction may have been influenced a bit by the Samuel Adams, but I was super pumped!
Travis: I don’t remember who came and told us that we had won third place, but I had seen our name on the board earlier and just assumed that it was some kind of cruel joke, -50 checkpoints yeah right that is not a third place ranking, but I guess it was.
Robby: The WINNING team’s trek back was a lot more uneventful. When we split ways, we were done. BUT we still had the bike leg back to camp. We spun up the hills and I struggled on my SS. Bob and Travis climbed those with ease and I did have to walk a bit on one of the long steep hills. As we were a few miles from camp we came upon a team hanging by the mile high corn. We stopped to check on them and one guy was seriously hurting. He couldn’t eat or drink and was doubled over and moaning in pain. Travis went right to work with his medical skills and got him in the shade. We found a rag in one of our packs and got it soaked in water which went right around the guys neck and head. We all offered him drinks and food and I think he finally choaked down some gatorade or something. After getting the guy better and having them call for sag, we made the few mile trek back to camp.
We finished knowing that we were out of the money a long time ago, but I was very proud of how far we came given the days events. We brought Bob back from the dead. We stayed together as a team and made decisions together. We picked each other up and got stronger throughout the day. I was proud of what we had become, proud of the obsticales we overcame, and proud of how we perservered.
Bob: I felt pretty bad about my performance on the ascending wall, but I think it’s worth mentioning again that no one ever gave me shit about it. The only negative comments were the ones in my head, and I’m infinitely grateful for that. I’m also grateful for how tolerant and forgiving you were as far as carrying my stuff and taking it easy while I got back up to speed.
Kate: That’s what a team does!
Travis: This race definitely had its highs and lows, but I am proud of what we did accomplish. Bob overcame a giant obstacle and pushed on to complete a lot more of the race than most people would have after the ascending incident. Robby did an awesome job on his first 24 hr race, and Luke and Kate pushed to the very end just as they wanted to do. And Robby and I both had our first rappel and ascent.I wouldn’t change a thing except to be a little stronger and faster. I do wish that as a whole team we would have gotten to do a little more navigation on foot, but unfortunately that did not happen. Oh and one more thing……. The morning following the race I came to a rather sad realization. I was gathering up my gear to pack into the Virtus van and emptied my camelbak which still had water in it. No big deal considering that everyone filled up whenever necessary, except for one thing: I never refilled mine. I went the entire race on less than 100 oz of water, one bike bottle of Gatorade and a monster energy drink. In hindsight a critical mistake that somehow went unnoticed by me and my teammates. You have to stay hydrated to feel good and I did not. But every race has a lesson to learn, sometimes it is one you have already learned before.
We all slept in as much as possible the next morning and then loaded up for home. I know I was a little sad. After a year of anticipation and excitement, it was over. Another 365 days of waiting seemed like way too long, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’d go back and do that race again tomorrow, with the exact same people, if it was possible. And since it’s not, at least there are only 6 more months til Adventure Camp!
Travis: Dirty Kanza is the only other race that by the next day I was already counting down the time till next year, until this race. I have every intention of going back next year, and maybe even adventure camp. I already said something to Crystal about it, she did sound slightly interested. =)
Robby: The rumor mill is that the Virtus Ladies may make an appearance at the Adventure Camp?!?!?! Time will tell….
Luke: Big thanks to Gerry Voelliger and ALL of the amazing volunteers for putting on one of the hardest, most memorable races I’ve ever done. The Thunder Rolls is a race that should be on everyone’s calendar every year. Don’t miss it!
**Editor’s note: if you haven’t read part 1 yet, go get caught up. It’s ok…we’ll wait….Ready? This race report was written by Kate with commentary by Luke in red, Bob in green, Robby in purple, and Travis in orange. Any of my replies are in blue.**
It was a subdued group that left the ascending area. Remember that because this is an expedition-style race, a team’s last consecutive CP determines their score (as long as they beat the cutoff). The rules stated that everyone must ascend. Since neither Bob nor Travis (who’d stayed with him) had done so, we knew there was a possibility that their race, standings-wise, was already over. Regardless, we were almost certainly in last place at this point, but none of us cared. Our only concern was for our friend. Bob was exhausted and shivering, even bundled in his jacket, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be inside his head at that point. “Demoralized” would be putting a positive spin on his mental state. He wanted nothing so much as to quit, which, of course, is why we couldn’t let him.
Robby: Don’t I just feel like an ass for doing the ascend! I knew Travis was taking care of Bob and he is far more experienced with patient care than I am. Just to be clear that right after I ascended, I rushed to Bob’s side.
Luke: I was happy to see that Robby ascended. How often do you get the opportunity to ascend a huge cliff at 2:00 AM? Bob was in good hands.
Travis: Robby did the right thing by going ahead with the ascend. I just was doing what comes naturally to me and that was taking care of the man that was down.
Bob: I wouldn’t have known or cared either way. I’ve never been so happy to be laying on a pile of rocks in all my life.
Bob has this line that has stuck with me through a lot of difficult times: “Just remember how good the story wouldn’t be if it ended ‘It got hard and then we quit.'” I’m sure he appreciated having it turned against him, but to quit now would mean that the failed ascent was the story of the race, not just one bad chapter. Things looked bleak to be sure, but 24 hours is a long time, and anything can happen.
Bob: I needed an attitude adjustment pretty bad. Going balls-deep in a cold creek wasn’t exactly the cure, but it was an excellent distraction.
Looking to avoid bigger climbs while Bob recharged, we spent a lot of time walking in the river. That’s ok, we were starting our coasteering leg early. Walking hills might have made it easier for Bob to warm up, though. The night had cooled off, and every time we paused for a map check his shivering went up a notch. He looked miserable.
CP 6 was in a cave. The guys ahead of me seemed to climb up the wet rocks with no problem, but I kept slipping back until Bob put his knee up for me to use as a step. This year the CP was tucked in a side channel instead of way at the back of the cave like last year. One by one we ducked bats and squeezed through the narrow passageway to punch our wristbands and then slipped back out into the water.
Robby: This was an AWESOME CP. I started to explore the cave further by myself, but my light started blinking low battery. This freaked me out going back by myself while others punched their wristbands, so I only went back 100 ft or so. Still, TOTALLY AWESOME!
It seemed like we spent a lot of time in the water on our way to CP 7, and that was because we’d missed it.
Travis: The entrance to the reentrant was none too obvious, but with Luke and I both watching our maps we probably should not have walked right by it the first time. Of course right around this time there was another team that passed us. I wonder where they went because it seems that they went up on the bank across from CP 8.
We realized our mistake right near CP8, which was up a cool, slippery rock creek bed. CP 7 was up (in a Gerry race, almost everything is UP) a re-entrant jammed with fallen tree trunks and branches. This section reminded me of a jungle gym, and I had a blast climbing my way up. I had so much fun that I climbed down that way too, while the guys opted for a steep downhill instead.
Robby: I really struggled on the felled-tree-climbing-uphill-jungle-gym. Kate flew through the tree and I could hear the smile on her face. I was sweating and out of breath. I was glad to get to the top in one piece and coming down was a blast. It was very VERY steep and I basically slid down the hill on my wet ass.
We looped back again, passed the turn for CP8, and were now officially in the coasteering section. Since we’d spent much of the last couple hours in the water, it wasn’t much of a change. Walking in a river at night is always tricky, but I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as last year when the water was deeper, the submerged rocks made the footing fairly treacherous, and almost all of us fell into the water more than once. This year seemed smoother. Still, after a couple hours we were all sick of walking in water and especially of having our shoes full of sand and rocks. I was starting to get a headache, so I was relieved when the sky lightened just enough that I could take off my headlamp. In fact, I was still holding it in my hand when I fell.
I just tripped really, but I haven’t had much range of motion in my left knee since falling in Kansas last year and my knee bent all the way closed. Wow, did it hurt. I tried to stand up quickly but fell back into the water. Luke, who was closest, ran back to help me out of the water. We all just stood there for a minute until I realized that my knee, though sore, could still bear weight. I took some ibuprofen and we got going again. My pace definitely dropped here because I was limping and afraid of tripping again. The guys offered to carry my pack, but I felt better holding onto the straps. Still, there were quite a few times I gladly accepted one of their arms to steady me, even if I did me feel like a grandma being helped across the street by a boy scout.
Robby: All I heard was “Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!!!!” and when I turned around Kate was in the water. She really tried standing, but fell back in and just laid there till Luke came to her aid.
Luke: I saw Kage fall, and when she hopped right back up only to have her knee buckle under her, I thought our race was over. Good thing she’s been taking calcium supplements.
Travis: Just prior to Kate falling was also when Bob took a misstep and tumbled down the edge of the bank. Once I saw Kate go down all I could think was ” What else could go wrong?” It seemed that we were doomed for something to end our race.
We were all happy to get to CP9, where we could finally get out of the water. After taking some time to get some food we had a mile or so to go to the canoe put-in. It was flat road, and originally I had envisioned jogging between points. I now hoped no one else had that brilliant idea. Since they didn’t, we had a nice sunrise stroll between fields and a discussion about what corn silk looks like with a nice visual from Luke.
Robby: I got really cold through this section. Thanks to Bob for letting me wear his arm warmers.
Luke: At least the carpet matched the drapes. 🙂
WTFAR’s Brian was volunteering at the canoes, and since he’s twelve feet tall we could see him in the distance and waved wildly. As we neared, his bell-like voice rang out in the morning air: “Where the hell have you been????” His confirmation that we were, in fact, in last place was a little demoralizing, but the double-stuffed oreos in his hand perked us up, as did the opportunity to dump all the crap out of our shoes. We ate, grabbed one of the 7-ton canoes, and put in to the Plum River.
Luke: It was really great to see Brian’s smiling face. And it was even greater when he handed me not double-stuff Oreos, but MEGA STUF Oreos! Sooooo damn good!
Travis: It was amazing how seeing Brian’s big dumb face could somehow brighten all of our spirits. LOL.
We turned around to have a good view of Bob, Robby, and Travis as they tipped their canoe, but they totally let us down with an incident-free launch.
Luke: Very disappointing indeed. Brian could have gotten some great shots of them dumping their canoe.
Travis: With our combined experience there was no way we were dumping our boat, especially not in front of everyone.
Bob: I’m still amazed at our paddling success.
We had been warned that we’d hate the canoe leg and had envisioned dragging our boat for miles through rocky water. Instead, the paddle was delightful.
Luke: After the coasteering section where the river was very low, I was absolutely dreading the paddling leg. No offense to Kage, but her upper body strength isn’t exactly one of her, well…strengths. (So true.) I figured I’d be dragging the canoe for 9 miles by myself. I was stoked to see a floatable river.
There were all kinds of branches, snags, and trees down in the water, so I imagine navigating these obstacles was a bit trickier at night. For us it was downright fun and broke up the monotony of the three-hour tour. Approaching the first big tangle, we paused to consider our options. The first of the twelve-hour teams passed us at this point, one opting to portage (getting their boat over the steep bank looked way hard) and the other attempting to get into the water to push their boat through…and discovering it was fairly deep. Neither alternative looked particularly appealing, so we opted to plow through and actually ended up beating the portage team to the other side. Score one for laziness!
Luke and I paddled on, expecting the three guys in our other canoe to easily catch us, but we didn’t take into account that their fully loaded canoe wasn’t going to skim over some of the blockages like ours. Though we occasionally got updates on them from passing canoes (all of them 12-hour racers), we never saw them again until the take-out. We soldiered on, Luke deftly steering our canoe around obstacles despite my less than clear and decisive directions: “…um…left?….um…there’s a….log?…on our….oops, sorry…yeah, that was it…”
Luke: The more we paddled, the more confident Kate became calling out directions, and even though we were paddling at a nice, leisurely pace, we became a pretty efficient team.
The longer we paddled, the more determined we became not to get out of our canoe until the end of the leg, a sentiment bolstered by the development of our “seated portage” technique…basically taking obstacles at speed, scooting over them using synchronized hip thrusting, and pushing or clawing our way forward when necessary. We laughed a lot. Eventually, however, the seated portage met a logjam it couldn’t overcome.
Luke: Kate originally called our hip-thrust-and-push-and-claw-maneuver a “self portage.” When I pointed out that all portages in an adventure race are in fact done by ourselves, we decided to go with the more accurate “seated portage.” Our seated portage worked wonderfully. That is until we hit this:
Though it doesn’t show in the picture, a lot of teams portaged along the bank to the left. The bank was sloped, with shin-deep mud and a tree over which the canoe would have to be lifted. Seems like I’m always the vote against portaging, and this was no exception. A team in front of us tried climbing out of their boat to push it through the tangle of downed trees and promptly sank in past their shoulders. Another team managed to get their canoe across by standing on some of the logs, and this is the strategy that got my vote.
Luke wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this plan, but despite his clear doubt my teammate was willing to give it a try. I had no idea how we’d actually do it without tipping and couldn’t have gotten out of the canoe without Luke steadying it, but we both managed to climb onto the log pile. Then it was just a matter of picking our way across floating logs, standing on the stable ones and steadying ourselves on branches as we pushed and dragged the canoe over the blockage. It was ridiculously fun, and we were ridiculously proud of ourselves as we paddled away without capsizing. This goes down as my favorite canoe leg of any adventure race.
Luke: I would have voted to portage around it, but I am easily swayed. Going through the trees instead of around definitely sounded more fun, and it didn’t disappoint. Some logs would sink when we stepped on them, others would spin. It was a blast!
Travis: Our paddling leg was definitely not as enjoyable as Luke and Kate’s. After they slid through the first big log jam we attempted to take the same route only to discover that our boat was running a little lower in the water than theirs. Bob jumped out to help guide us and discovered that the water was about chest deep. Bob seemed to instantly feel rejuvenated after entering the water and happily pulled us through as well as another boat of 12-hour racers, they eventually went on to win their division and set a new course record. Bob then climbed back in for a while, but the rest of paddle involved him getting out a few more times, and our boat getting hung up on what seemed to be every log in the river. We couldn’t seem to float over anything without getting stuck. While our portage was not as cool as our team mates at this biggest log jam of all, we did successfully avoid the majority of the mud while sliding our boat over the logs. Pretty much every corner after this Bob would say ” Hey I think I see a bridge, no never mind I guess not,” and so forth.
Bob: There was just something about that river water that got my head turned back around. Pushing and pulling boats through the logjams was a total blast, but it was not without its dangers. More than once, my feet would get tangled in the branches under the water. I bet I was in and out out of the boat half a dozen times, but we never tipped. There were a few times we probably should have, though…we were doing some pretty stupid shit out there.
That’s not to say I didn’t spend the last hour of the paddle watching for the take-out, and Brian’s smiling face waiting for us was a sight for sore eyes.
We lugged our ridiculously heavy canoe up to the road, drank some cold Monster, ate, changed into shorts (and dry socks!! So glorious after 11 hours of wet feet) for the bike leg, and waited for the rest of our team. They didn’t look too cheerful when they arrived. “You guys shouldn’t have waited for us,” Travis told me as they carried their canoe, and my heart sank a little. I wanted them to be having as much fun as I was.
Luke: The other guys definitely looked a little worse for wear. Like Kage, I had hoped their paddle was as fun as ours was, but it obviously wasn’t. Having 3 guys in one canoe makes for a rough paddling leg.
Travis: I was anything but happy at this point. Aside from Bob and Robby’s company that paddle leg was a suckfest on a shit river of logs and mud! I think the three of us knew at this point that Luke and Kate were feeling much stronger and could probably make much better progress through the course without us, but they didn’t care. Team Virtus sticks together and that is what I love about this team. In retrospect I also now know that I was already well into a downward spiral, making a critical mistake that continued throughout the day.
Bob: A quick sidenote for future portagers of yellow canoes: With a 2-piece paddle, Robby and I put the paddle-shaft through the pull handle and were able to share the weight of the boat. Also, dried mangoes are frickin’ delicious.
And I was having a blast. Sitting at the TA visiting and relaxing, I asked what time it was. Hearing it was 11-something I was delighted. “We still have over twelve hours of the race left!” I was dead serious, but Robby looked at me like I was a little crazy and Travis looked like he was considering which knife to use on me first.
Travis: I assure you, I am not a violent person, but for some reason my team thinks that I might just kill one of them someday.
People hear “24-hour race” and they think oh my gosh, that’s such a long time…and it is, but it really isn’t even the half of it. With Gerry’s races starting at midnight, you’ve probably been awake since five or six the previous morning. After getting to camp, there’s ropes practice and bike drops. Then there’s dinner and a pre-race meeting, maps and routes to figure out and gear to organize. If you’re lucky you might get to lie down for an hour, but basically by the time you’re finished with a 24-hour race, you’ve probably been going for nearly 44 hours straight. So while we were “only” about 12 hours into the race, we’d all been awake for much longer.
The bike leg was pretty uneventful other than missing a turn and riding a mile or two out of our way, but at least the day was beautiful, if warm, and before long we were pulling into Mississippi Palisades State Park and having a little pow-wow to discuss the remainder of the race.
Luke: I apologize for missing the turn. It looked like a driveway instead of a road to me, and we just blew by it.
Travis: I felt terrible when we realized we had missed a turn, mostly because I saw the road when we went by it and remembered that our turn should not be too far out of town. But I was too busy having my own little pity party to be following along on my map like I should have been.
Luke asked what everyone was wanting to do. I think Travis and Robby were ready for whatever but were leaning towards “whatever” not being a super long time. I wanted to hit the finish line at 11:59, knowing we’d done everything we could. I think this was the first time the possibility of splitting up was mentioned, but we opted to do a loop of CPs and then re-evaluate how everyone was feeling.
Travis: I was feeling very poorly at this point, but nobody ever wants to be the one that says lets just head on in and call it a day.
Kate: And I’m totally the pot calling the kettle black here, because I do the same thing, but we all need to be better about communicating with each other when we aren’t feeling well so that the team can help out whoever’s down.
We rode further into the park, left our bikes at a picnic area, explained adventure racing to a couple hanging out there, and then Bob took over on the maps. The topsoil in the park is so soft and loose that the many teams who’d already passed that way had created trails towards the CP. Determined to do his own navigation rather than follow in others’ footsteps, Bob took alternate paths where possible. I wasn’t a big fan of walking through nettle just on principle, but that’s why Bob’s navigation improves with each outing and I’m still lost on an orienteering map. Robby was following along on a map too and seemed to have a pretty good handle on where we were going. Me, I just followed my teammates like a lost puppy.
Luke: Robby is definitely getting a handle on navigation. It won’t be long before he’s our lead navigator. Bob rocked this section of the O-course.
Travis: Yes Robby definitely seemed to be understanding more about the navigation. I am glad I gave him the maps so he could follow along. And yes Bob rocked this section, though I think he was a little disappointed at the amount of traffic that had already been through the woods.
Bob: There had definitely been too many people through there for me to assume any kind of credit for finding those flags..except for the last one. That was all me, baby.
Kate: This team definitely loves the word definitely.
I think we found 5 CPs together in this section, with no navigational problems that I can remember but a lot of steep hills. By the last of these CPs, we were running low on water, and I’d been waiting a long time to use a real bathroom. Looking down the hillside we could see the park road and had hopes of facilities waiting at the bottom. While the guys waited in the shade, I jogged to a nearby pavilion to find the holy grail trifecta: flush toilets, air conditioned bathrooms, and cold water. As I filled my camelbak after using the facilities, a team I’d met at registration showed up. These guys had only recently heard of adventure racing; this was their first AR ever, and they were in for the 24 hour. Jumping in with two feet…our kind of people. 🙂 I talked to them for a little bit, and they gave me some pointers on the hard-to-find CP 17.
Our two teams decided to split at this point. Robby’s extra batteries resurrected my camera, we all filled up on water and wished each other well, and then we were off. As we turned away, Luke whispered, “Let’s run,” and we dashed across the field laughing our asses off as our teammates’ groans and calls of “Assholes!” rang in our ears.
Luke: I think this was pretty much the only running we did, but it still makes me laugh just thinking about it.
Travis: It was kinda a show off move of running when leaving us behind, but at that point the three of us were just glad we weren’t the ones doing it.
Luke: It was completely a show-off move, and I assure you it was only for dramatic effect. We stopped running as soon as we were out of sight.
Will Luke and Kate clear the o-course and stage a come-from-behind victory? What will Bob, Robby, and Travis do after the two teams separate? Will Kate and Luke’s dick move of running away cause Travis to finally snap and make a skin suit out of Bob? Did anyone on the team get watermelon at CP34? Tune in next time for answers to these and other burning questions.
Note: This race report was written by Kate, with commentary by Luke in red, Bob in green, Robby in purple, and Travis in orange. My responses (if there are any) will be in blue because it’s my favorite color and I’m a bit of a diva like that. OK then…on with the show…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but not for all of us at the same time. If it’s true that a story of struggle and adversity is more compelling than one that dances from high point to high point, then you’re in for a treat. We may have set off for the weekend entertaining thoughts of glorious triumph (or at least a happy romp through Gerry’s house of pain), but we should’ve known it couldn’t be ALL rainbows and unicorns. After all, this was Thunder Rolls.
This year, Team Virtus fielded two squads for the 24 hour version of the Thunder Rolls adventure race: Luke and I on one, and Bob, Robby (making his first appearance in a 24 hour race), and Travis on the other. Even with two teams, though, the plan was always to stick together. ..once we got there, anyway. I made it to Camp Benson around 11:30, in plenty of time to visit with my volunteering buddy Brandy and snag a bottom bunk in the cabin. The guys rolled in a couple hours later, and once we were all registered and settled in the cabin, the first order of business was to get down to the ropes practice area. Travis and Robby would be rappelling and ascending for their first time, and I wanted to get in some practice.
Because we got to the ropes nice and early, there wasn’t much of a line (which is still plenty of time for me to get nervous). Our friends Dave and Woody were there so that Woody too could make his first rappel, and soon after we got there Chad and WTFAR’s Brian wandered down. We had a nice little reunion waiting for the ropes volunteers to have everything ready, Woody rappelled, and then it was our turn.
First Robby and then Travis made their first rappels and looked smooth and comfortable.
Luke: I must admit, I was both impressed and a little disappointed: Impressed with how easy they made it look, and disappointed that neither of them almost shit their pants like Bob and I did on our first first rappel a few years ago.
Robby: I was scared shitless, but didn’t want anyone to know I was frightened. Once I figured out what I was doing then it was pretty easy. The most scariest part was when the rock ended and I was left dangling.
Travis: The whole rappel and ascend were the two things that I was truly concerned about. But once I coached myself over the edge and got started down it was only mildly terrifying. Even with full finger gloves I was holding on with my left hand so tight that it was burning as I went down.
I was up next, and my reputation for cowardice preceded me as John remembered, “You’re not too crazy about heights, right?” Somehow backing up over that edge is way scarier in practice than in a race, but I managed it more quickly this time than at camp.
Bob came down next, and then it was time for us to ascend back up.
Robby: She actually did hit me. To bad we didn’t get a picture of me grabbing her leg. 🙂
Robby and Travis looked like old hands on their first try. Though I’d expected to be pretty comfortable after my additional practice back in March, I had a harder time than anticipated and needed coaching from John to get over the edge. The experience left me very nervous about the ascent in the race, particularly after my disastrous attempt last year. Since the line was so long, Luke and Bob opted to hike to the top rather than take time away from people who were getting their first ropes experience.
Travis: Once I got started I felt pretty comfortable going up, of course Bob may or may not have copped a feel of my ass in an attmept to boost me up the rope. And I was trying to catch up with Kate. =)
We said hi to Chuck and Robin at the top and then headed off to take our bikes to the bike drop. After about 15 trips back to the cabin for forgotten items, we finally crammed 6 of us and 5 bikes into the Virtus van for a hilarious (for most of us) and uncomfortable (for Brian and Bob) trip to Savanna.
We were able to leave our bike shoes and a stash of food and water with the bikes, eliminating the need to carry them with us for the first part of the race. By the time we got back, it was time for the pre-race dinner: pasta, salad, and bread sticks served family style on the table.
Finally it was the time we’d been waiting for: getting the maps and hearing about the course.
There weren’t many points to plot, so Luke took care of ours by himself (probably a good thing because my contacts had gone into open rebellion against my eyes and I could barely see) while Bob, Travis, and Robby went over their map.
The basic structure of the race was like this:
1. Midnight start with a short run to pick up the pre-plotted maps for our initial o-section, which would include both the rappel and ascend. The early ropes were kind of a good news/bad news situation. I was much happier to get ascending out of the way before I was exhausted from the race, but it also created the potential for a big bottleneck of teams waiting.
Robby: I was very nervous about the ropes sections after hearing Gerry ask how many had practiced. Then he said “That ain’t shit!”
Travis: My heart definetly sank after Gerry made the comment about the practice not being shit compared to what was coming in the race.
2. Coasteering leg (hiking down the river)
3. Short run (walk) to the canoes
4. Canoeing the Plum River (paddles, pfds, and food staged here)
5. Bike leg (bike shoes, water, and food staged here, climbing and paddling gear could be dropped here)
6. Bike-o at Palisades Park. You could ride your bikes on the park roads to get closer to attack the CPs on foot.
7. More orienteering on foot
8. Advanced course (it was pretty clear from the maps that we wouldn’t be experiencing this)
9. Mandatory bike route back
There was a lot of discussion about whether or not to bring extra shoes to change into after the coasteering leg. We could send dry shoes with our paddling gear and then change after we finished the canoeing. I kept going back and forth about what I wanted to do until Bob told Travis, “I’m taking my shoes because that’s what Luke is doing, and every time I don’t listen to him I’m wrong.” That decided me; there were three times in last year’s Thunder Rolls that I didn’t listen to Luke’s advice, and I regretted each one.
Luke: I think the main point here is I’m always right. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve made WAY more mistakes than everyone else.
Travis: I figured that Luke was probably right, but I also figured that my shoes would dry by the time I needed them, I did not take into account how much sand would in my shoes though.
Weirdly, we were all packed and ready in time to lie down for a little bit, if not actually sleep, and there was no last-minute rush (unless you count Bob and I having to lug Luke’s gear up to the start line). We dropped off our paddling gear, took some last-minute pictures, sang the National Anthem, and then at exactly midnight the race started and we wished Orange Lederhosen’s Kyle a happy birthday as we dashed off to pick up our map.
Thunder Rolls is primarily an expedition-style race, meaning you have to get each checkpoint (CP) in order and if you miss one, you’re done; scores are based on the last consecutive CP punched. This first section was a rogaine, though, where the points could be found in any order. Anticipating a logjam at the ropes, we’d discussed tackling the other points first, hoping to make some forward progress while other teams were waiting in line and then arrive at the ropes once the crowd died down. Looking at the map, we rethought this plan: it looked like a lot of doubling back would be required.
Our nav was spot-on for CPs 1 and 2. There was a bit of a line at the rappel (CP3), so we skipped ahead to CP5 which wasn’t too far away. Following a ridge that narrowed as we got closer to the CP, we came to what appeared to be the end of the ridge…but didn’t find the flag. There were steep drop-offs on three sides, and we could see lights below. Noticing that there was another rock outcropping just a bit further ahead, we made our way out to that one with some careful climbing. We ended up getting there about the same time as Alpine Shop and Wedali, and even though they’d already found an additional two CPs it was still really cool to be at the same spot as two top teams. Usually that only happens at the pre-race meeting.
Robby and I had the passports for our respective teams, and it was sketchy getting to the CP. We had to hang onto trees and swing out on the rocks because the flag was on the very top tree facing out. I was trying very hard not to think about how high and how exposed we were; it makes me a little sick to my stomach to think back about it now.
Robby: I was actually quite scared.
Luke: I believe there was a CP here at one of the Lightning Strikes races where we had to clip into a rope just to get on top of it before we could rappel. At TR2013 we had no ropes whatsoever.
Next up was the rappel, where thankfully the line had died down. We got our harnesses on and basically got right onto a line. Luke went first so he could belay me (for some reason no one trusts me to belay anymore) and made quick work of the rappel; then it was my turn. I gingerly backed over the edge to LE’s coaching and before I knew it I was standing in the river. This was my fifth rappel ever, and for the first time I loved it. I think all of my previous rappels have involved overhangs where my feet weren’t touching the rock. This time, Luke and I had a straight shot down a wall and I could just kind of walk my way down.
Over to our right Bob was belaying for Robby and then Travis.
Robby: I wasn’t very nervous here. For some reason, not being able to see the ground helped. The descent was a lot faster then practice though. It was pretty cool coming down in the river.
Travis: I was still pretty nervous about going down, but maybe that was just because the rope seemed like it had a lot of stretch in it as I leaned back to go over the edge. Or maybe because when you are rappeling your life is basically in your own hands.
The guys looked like they’d been doing this for years. Once we were all down, it was time to go around the corner to the ascending wall. There was a pretty good line waiting, and as luck would have it right in front of us were our friends (and cabinmates) Kim, Donovan, Chad, Chuck, and Robin. I felt pretty good that we were sticking right with them, especially since we actually were one CP up on them all at this time. And then I looked at the ascending wall and felt even better: “That’s it?”
Now, make no mistake…it was a big cliff, but it didn’t seem all that much bigger than the practice wall and I’d been anticipating something twice that size like last year. I knew I would still have a hard time, but I was really relieved that it wasn’t worse. When a rope came open, Bob, Robby, and Travis went first since there were three of them to get up their rope.
Bob started up line 4, and almost immediately things seemed off. He was struggling to make any progress. Ascending is exhausting when it is going well, and it’s debilitating when it isn’t. Now, Bob isn’t a pro climber or anything, but he knows what he’s doing. Remember, this is the guy who coached me up the wall at last year’s race when I had pretty much accepted that I was going to spend the rest of my life hanging off the cliff…and then zipped the rest of the way up with a smile while I collapsed at the top.
Now, it sucks to struggle at something, but there’s a whole added layer of frustration and confusion when you’re suddenly sucking at something you can do. And the icing on the shit cake was that this was all happening very publicly, in front of volunteers and other racers who were still in line, amid good-natured teasing and coaching that tapered off as it became clear that Bob’s predicament wasn’t at all funny.
Meanwhile, I had started up rope one, calling encouragement to Bob as I went up, and my ascent was going really well. It was the best of times and worst of times all at once. Everything was clicking, I was making good progress…and the irony was agonizing. My friend — my hero — was in the midst of one of the worst moments of his life, and I couldn’t do anything to help him.
I’ll let Bob take it from here…
I had decided to ascend before Travis and Robby in hopes of showing them that ascending wasn’t that hard. Sure, it’s exhausting..but as long as you think about what you’re doing and keep good form you’re ok. I had, after all, been successful at this before. The volunteer got me set up, and I started moving up the rope. I think I made it about ten feet up before I realized something, no.. everything was wrong. Ropes were twisted, ascenders wouldn’t move, muscles burned. What just happened?
Kate: Must’ve been a shit rope.
Travis: Even though I had pretty much zero prior experience I recognized right away that something did not look right. Whenever Bob would stop to rest it looked as if he let go of the rope that he would just flip upside down.
I’ve always prided myself on being level-headed, so I stopped for a moment to assess what was wrong. I tried to sit in the harness, but couldn’t stop myself from falling backward. Nothing made sense. I tried untwisting the straps to get things moving properly, but that didn’t work either. It was frustrating, and I was burning a ton of energy. We’d done so well to get to this point, and any gap we had on other teams was dwindling away quickly.
I tried to wrap my brain around what was happening, but came up with nothing. There were a lot of jokes and advice coming from the racers below, and I knew it was all well-intentioned humor, but the negativity just consumed me. I pushed and pulled and did everything I could think of to get up that rope, but it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. Chad climbed past me and tried to help…no dice. Minutes later, some other guy ascended past me and accidentally teabagged me…how appropriate.
I couldn’t begin to describe the level of shame, self loathing and exhaustion I felt on that rope. I’ve never tried that hard to do something and failed. Ever. I lost all my grip strength, so I had to hold the rope with the bends of my elbows. I tried to take my pack off, but it was twisted into my harness. The rock face was about 8 feet away, completely out of reach. The harness pinched the meat on my ass until it burned like fire, and I couldn’t feel my junk anymore…it was totally asleep. This was the lowest I’ve felt in many, many years. I don’t know how long I hung there, but I can tell you it was a long damn time.
When the other racers had come and gone, I was left to my own thoughts; none of them were good. As I wallowed in my gloom, Ron was suddenly on the rope beside me. Unaware that I’d completely given up, he was trying to coach me into ascending. We tried, but I was just completely spent. I’m not ashamed (anymore) to say I begged him to get me off the rope. To say I’d been humbled is a drastic understatement. Ron worked hard to get a rappel device set up, but even with that, I was too weak to get the ascender unhooked. I was no help at all.
Ron made the call to cut the loop. I didn’t give a shit anymore. If he’d have handed me the knife and told me to cut the rope and hope for the best, I was game. Robby and Travis held a tight belay on the rope below me and Ron did the knife-work. When the loop finally gave way, they lowered me to the ground and I just laid there in a heap. I think it was Travis who pulled my harness off.
Travis: Ron had called down for us to belay Bob, of course neither me or Robby really knew what we needed to do. So we just both got ahold and pulled down on the rope in hopes that Bob wasn’t going to come screaming down at us when the sling was cut. Once we got him down my only concern was getting his pack and harness off and restoring blood flow to his lower extremities. I knew he felt terrible and I knew that without some help there was no way he was going to get up off the ground anytime soon.
I didn’t want to quit, I was quitting. Of this, there was no doubt. I couldn’t breathe right, my stomach was spinning, I couldn’t lift my arms…continuing was simply not an option. I had completely ruined this race for the entire group.
Guilt. Shame. Failure. Inadequacy. Embarrassment. Pick a synonym for pathetic and multiply it by a thousand.
And now Ron and Luke are talking about how “there’s still a lot of racing left to do.” I would’ve laughed if I had the energy. Clearly these people don’t know what’s happening here. If I’d had my way, I would’ve been on an evac-chopper headed back to Holts Summit.
I knew I was about to puke, so I got to my knees. After a fair amount of burping and some “visualization coaching” from Luke, the vomit finally came. Several times, actually.
Finally done with that, Luke handed me a bottle of something to drink.
It was delicious, so I guessed that was a good sign.
Then they got me to my feet, and Travis shouldered my gear. I knew I’d never make it, but the rest of the team wasn’t taking “quit” for an answer and I owed to them to give it a shot. We were just gonna have to see how things played out. We lined up and made our way back onto the course.
Read on for Part 2…