**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.
Chuck and Kate have been the dynamic duo of Team Virtus this year. They’ve raced a lot more than the rest of us, and they’ve done it a lot better than we usually do it. We’re waiting for them to ditch us soon for a better, faster team.
But we know they’ll never leave us. We’re way too much fun. Besides, we have them under contract for 10 years, and at Kate’s age, she’ll likely be in a nursing home by then. So I think they’re stuck with us.
Anyways… They kicked ass at this inaugural adventure race. They encountered root caves, an actual labyrinth, gargantuan maps, and perhaps even a podium finish!!!
You’ll definitely want to head on over to Kate’s blog and read the full report. DO IT RIGHT NOW and thank me later.
**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…
Okay, we’ve kept it a secret for long enough, and now it’s time to spill the beans. The masterminds behind Team Virtus are putting together a mock-adventure race on Jan 1st, 2010. If you’re reading this, then you’re invited. HOWEVER… we make no guarantees. This race could be the worst thing ever created since this was invented (actually… I might order one of those).
We’ve never attempted something like this before, and we clearly don’t know what the hell we’re doing. This might be a total waste of your time. It might be too easy or too hard. It might be boring. It might be stupid. It might not be worth the effort.
On the other hand… It could be an absolute blast!!!
Either way, if you want to come then you need to let us know immediately. We need to know how many people to expect so we can get enough maps printed. You also need to make arrangements for your own canoe/kayak. If you REALLY want to come and can’t beg/borrow/or steal one, then we might be able to rent an extra one for you. But you have to let us know – like yesterday.
And if you’re a beginner, that’s cool. I’d be happy to help you out or even do the course with you to get your feet wet. Since I set up most of the course (don’t yell at me if it sucks!), I’m not really going to do the race for time anyway.
The tentative start time is 9:00 AM on Friday, Jan 1st at or near McCubbins Point, near Osage Beach. You should plan on being there by 8:00 AM, though, so you can plot your points (again if you’re new to this, we can help you) and make sure you’re ready to go.
There are roughly 14 checkpoints to hit, and you can plan on roughly 2-4 miles of paddling, 4-8 miles of trekking, and 12-18 miles of mt. biking. How long should it take you? I have no idea. I’m guessing anywhere from 4 – 7 hours. This is an unsupported, unsanctioned, uninsured event. So participate at your own risk.
Right now, confirmed participants are Bob Jenkins, Casey Lamb, Zack Lamb, Darin Layman (our newest teammate), and myself. If you want to take part in the shenanigans, then you need to post in the comments section and we can figure it out.
And once again, beginners are not only welcome, they are encouraged to come along. It’ll be a great way to get a taste of adventure racing for a small fee – and by a small fee I mean absolutely FREE (unless you need to rent a canoe).
So, who’s got enough strength, power through courage, and bravery (that’s what Virtus means by the way) to join us?