Okay… Let me say this upfront. This is going to be a loooong race report. For those of you that have read any of my previous race reports, you already know that I’ve never been short on words. And remember, this race was much longer than anything we’ve ever done before. So grab some buttery popcorn and a nice warm blankey, dim the lights, put on some Marvin Gaye and turn off the phone. I’ll wait… Seriously, go do it… Are you ready? You didn’t do any of that, did you? Suit yourself. Okay, Here we go…
THE BERRYMAN REDEMPTION
Around 4:30 on Friday, September 24th, Bob and I drove from Jefferson City down to Leasburg, MO to stage my bike at the bike drop (Bob’s bike drop for the 12 hour race was at a different location). As we pulled down by the river at Ozark Outdoors, we were pleasantly surprised to see our friends, The Golden Girls – Susy and Connie.
It was great to see them again. After racing against them in the first Truman Lake Race and again at the Castlewood Adventure Race back in 2009, we’ve become good virtual buddies through facebook and our blog. For the Berryman Adventure, they were volunteering in style with a couple of beautiful dogs and a sweet RV parked right next to a beautiful river. Now that’s the way to do it, ladies and gentlemen. It was also great to see them because I owed Susy a huge High-Five for winning one of our contests:
After leaving the bike-drop, we headed to Bass’ River Resort in Steelville, MO where we met up with Drew to check-in. He and I had signed up for the 36 hour race to redeem our failure at the very first Berryman Adventure 9 years ago. We filled out the paper work, got our sweet North Face shirts, race numbers, and all that good stuff. Then we made our way over to the part of the evening we simply could not afford to miss. What’s that you ask? The pre-race meeting? Oh, no. Don’t be silly. It was the pasta dinner of course! And we ate our fair share of spaghetti – or at least I did.
At this point, everyone started rolling in – Phil and Corey (of Team Snail Trail fame – or is it infamy?), and Adam (racing with Bob as Team Virtus Part Deuce) all showed up to ingest some pre-race carbs. Cara (Bob’s girlfriend, aka Gomed) and Noelle (Corey’s common-law wife) were there to volunteer as well. So we all had a lovely meal together – tons of spaghetti with meat sauce, salad drowning in dressing, baked chicken, garlic bread, and 2 or 6 delicious brownies.
Just after finishing our meal, we headed over to the pre-race meeting where Jason from Bonk Hard Racing went over the rules and important information that all of the racers, (those doing the 12 hour course and the 36 hour course), would need. We learned that the 36 hour race would be starting at 4:00 AM. Yeah, that’s pretty early. We were also told that we would need to get on a bus at 3:10 AM… Yeah, that’s even earlier.
Jason also told us that there might be a discrepancy regarding checkpoint (CP) #1. This particular CP was on a short UP-river paddling section, and it may or may not have been placed in its correct location. There was some discussion between Jason and the racers as to whether or not we wanted to remove CP 1 from the course. I think both Drew and I were in favor of removing the CP, and just when it sounded like Jason was going to do so, he decided that it would still be a mandatory part of the race. Fantastic.
I’ll be honest… The pre-race meeting didn’t make me feel any better about our chances of finishing the Berryman 36 hour race. If anything, it made me feel worse. I thought about acting like I tripped over a fire-pit hidden in the shadows and faking a race-ending ankle injury (seriously, the thought really did pop into my head), but then I remembered that I had posted the whole “Jumping into the Fire” thing earlier in the week. After writing that we were ready to “jump into the fire” to take this race on, I guess it would look really bad if I “hurt” myself in a fire-pit before the race even started. The irony would just be too much.
We got our maps and clue sheet with the UTM coordinates, and we were all set to plot our points, plan our route, pack our stuff, and go to bed for some much needed rest. Then we ran into a problem. We couldn’t agree on how to plot the points correctly. We were both certain that the other person was completely wrong, but we just couldn’t agree. This never happens with Drew and me. The most we ever disagree on is what kind of beer to drink after the race. After a few minutes, however, we got it all figured out, and it only took 15 or 20 minutes to plot the first 15 CP’s .
Drew and I went to our campsite as Bob, Adam, Corey and Phil all went to drop their bikes off for the 12 hour race. We loaded our packs with all the required gear and enough food to get us back to race HQ, (CP15), for the Transition Area (TA). It was here we would get our new map and clue sheet and we could replenish our food and water.
Back in 2009, Drew’s fuel of choice at the Truman Lake Race was frozen mini-tacos. Unfortunately, Walmart was all out of them. So Drew came up with an even better plan for the Berryman – a 50 pack of McNuggets from McDonald’s. No really. I’m serious. Take a look:
We climbed into the tent around 10:00 PM which had to be a record for us. Usually we’re not in bed before midnight. We were planning on getting up around 2:00 AM to eat and get ready for the bus ride to the start of the race, so we were thinking we might actually get 4 hours of sleep. Sweet!
Uh… Not so much. It took awhile for my mind to settle down, so it was probably around 10:30 when I started dozing off. Then we heard some kids running wild through the trees and brush near our tent. Apparently they had bee-bee guns and were hell-bent on killing every damn frog and spider surrounding our tent. Just as I was about to get up and become that cranky old man who yells at kids, they wandered off.
Okay… So I had to settle back down. At around 11:00 or 11:15, I started nodding off again. And once again…the frog-murdering band of hooligans came back AGAIN (that’s right, I used the word “hooligans.” I told you I was that cranky old man)!
This time, it sounded as if they were standing right outside our tent. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t take it anymore after 20 minutes. I jumped up to go outside just as Drew ripped the window open. The kids heard the zippers and realized they were close to a tent. Drew said, “Yeah, you wanna keep it down?” These are not the words I was planning on using. They were effective, though, as the kids said sorry and moved on. Drew managed to snap a picture of them before they got away:
Now, I don’t blame the kids. It’s the parents that I’m pissed at. If I was a kid and my parents said I could run around the woods at 11:30 at night with a bee-bee gun and a seemingly endless supply of ammo, I would have made the most of it just like these kids did. This entire section of the campground was just for racers and racers’ families, though, so I’m not sure why their parents, as racers themselves or friends/family of racers, thought this would be okay. If you are reading this and these were your kids, I would like to thank you for ruining any chance of uninterrupted sleep that we may have had.
So, I got settled back into my sleeping bag, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I just laid there thinking about what we had gotten ourselves into – AGAIN. I refused to look at my watch and eventually fell asleep. I’m not sure how long I was asleep when Bob got back from his bike drop. He was as quiet as he could possibly be, and I thank him for that. He still woke me up, though. I eventually dozed off again, but I woke up about 15 minutes before our alarm was supposed to go off, so I just laid there until it was time to get up.
We got up, ate some breakfast, and tried to take a morning dukey. No luck. We hoped the urge wouldn’t hit on the bus-ride, because that could get ugly. We drove the van down to the pavilion that would serve as the TA / Finish Line. We then got on the bus that would take us to the canoe put-in at the start of the race.
With eleven 4-person teams and fourteen 2-person teams, there would be 29 canoes on the river. It was going to be a cluster-eff if we all hopped on the river at the same time, so we figured we’d be running a few miles first to spread out the field. There was no way Jason would want us all fighting to get onto the river first. Right? Well, we were wrong.
We all gathered around Jason and Laura for a prayer and then sang the National Anthem. It was around 50 degrees on a foggy river, so we got our glow-sticks out and we were ready to go.
Jason did have us run a little, and by “a little” I mean about 150 yards or so. You can imagine that this short of a distance was not going to spread us out very much. Jason said, “Go!”, and everyone took off like a bat out of hell… except Team Virtus.
That’s right. It only took 2.5 seconds for Team Virtus to find themselves in last place, but let’s be realistic here… It’s a 36 HOUR RACE! That’s 2,160 minutes! We didn’t think taking an extra 60 seconds to walk down to our canoe was going to be the deciding factor. We also didn’t want to have to fight with a bunch of teams once we got on the water. So we were the last team to find a boat. Being the last team down to the beach let us take in a pretty cool site of the many glow-sticks and headlamps sprawled out in front of us.
Although we were the last team down to the canoes, we were not the last team on the water. There were a few teams behind us and a few teams right in front of us as we started our long, 18 mile voyage down the Meramec River. Here’s the map of the paddling leg:
Now, paddling at night can be a little tricky. Paddling at night when there’s a lot of fog is even trickier. We quickly learned that we were better off paddling without our headlamps on. The headlamps’ light just reflected off of the fog, essentially blinding us. Fortunately, the moon was almost full, and we could “pretty much” see where we were going… Sort of… Sometimes…
There were a couple of times where we hit some swift water and bounced off of some rocks and/or trees that we just couldn’t see. We even got lucky a couple of times and accidentally picked a much better line than we might have had we been able to see better. I guess the AR Gods were smiling upon us.
After 2.5 to 3 hours of paddling, the sky began to brighten, and the fog began to burn off slowly. We knew we were getting close to the confluence of the Huzzah and the Meramec Rivers, so we kept our eyes open. We thought we had reached the Huzzah twice, one time even paddling up a small cove thinking it was the Huzzah, before we actually made it to the real confluence.
As we turned up the Huzzah and paddled upriver for a few hundred yards, we saw dozens of boats pulling off to the bank in front of us. We were trying to decide where to pull off of the river when a team came crashing through the woods. It turned out to be Wedali (Checkpoint Tracker has them ranked as the number 1 team in the nation and USARA has them at number 5), so we were pretty sure that they had found CP1, the CP that may or may not have been misplaced. Again, the AR Gods were being most generous to us.
We quickly beached the canoe and hopped out. As we headed into the woods, we heard Wedali shout to all of the teams, “Hey guys, you may want to come down here! The CP is in the woods by an oxbow lake!” Now, they didn’t have to say anything at all to anyone else. In fact, it could have hurt their chances by helping other teams. It didn’t turn out that way since they crushed the course and won it all, but it could have. I really thought it was a classy move by Wedali. Kudos to those guys.
So we headed into the woods, and there were a couple of teams coming back from the general direction we wanted to go. After a pee break, we made our way through the trees, and we eventually found the oxbow lake and the infamous CP.
We got back to the river, and we paddled down the short leg of the Huzzah back to the Meramec. We had another 2.5 to 3 miles to go down the Meramec before we could get out of the canoes. It was an uneventful final stretch of water, and it was much easier in the light of day. We arrived at Ozark Outdoors at around 8:30 (~4.5 hours elapsed time) where we had staged our bikes the night before. We got out of the water, and we were greeted by Susy, Connie, and Cara who were all volunteering at the canoe take-out/bike drop.
They punched our passports for CP2, and they asked if we would like to say anything to our friends and families that might be following us via the online coverage through Checkpoint Tracker. I said, “Hello Lydia, Della, Mabel, and Ote-Boat” (my four kids). I can’t remember if Drew said anything. The online coverage was amazing for spectators as well as racers, but we’ll get into more on that later.
We were grateful to be out of the canoes, but after sitting for so long, our legs were pretty stiff and tight. They would be loosened up soon enough, though. We were ready to embark on our first orienteering trek. There were 9 CP’s that could be reached in any order. We would have to make two loops since some of the CP’s were north of the canoe take-out and some of them were south of the take-out. We decided to head for the larger loop to the north first. To make it easier to follow along, here’s the map:
We headed across the river via the bridge. Then we followed the creek to the northeast until we headed up a reentrant to the west. We cut in too early, though, and we had to move over one more reentrant to find CP3. This only cost us 10 minutes at the most. Not a big deal.
From CP3, we contoured around the spur before heading up the next spur to get CP6. Rather than heading down and back up, we stayed high and moved northeast to the road. We stayed on the road until it teed into another road.
From here we cut into the woods looking for a trail that we thought would take us right by CP7. I made a mistake somehow, and we got off course and headed down the wrong spur. We never picked up the trail, so we knew we had to head west. It wasn’t long before we found the marker.
From CP7, we stayed on top of the ridge and skirted around and down the other ridge to CP9. We missed #9 somehow and had to backtrack just a bit. Again, this wasn’t a huge mistake, and it maybe cost us 10 minutes or so. From CP9 we bushwhacked down the ridge aiming off slightly so we would end up at the creek a little to the north of CP8. That way we would know for sure that we would need to follow the creek to the south to find #8, and that’s exactly what we did.
Since we had already made a couple of small mistakes, we decided to shoot a bearing from CP8 to CP5 just to be sure we hit the right spur. It may have taken a couple of extra minutes to do this, but we nailed this one with no problems at all. Had we gone up the wrong spur, then we might have lost 10 – 15 minutes. In my mind, it was a good decision.
From CP5, we bushwhacked back down to the creek and made our way east/southeast. We went up a major reentrant, but we once again managed to miss the smaller reentrant running into this one. We soon caught our mistake and quickly recovered. Total time lost was again 5 – 10 minutes.
Now, these mistakes don’t seem like much, but they really start adding up – especially over 36 hours. Not only do the mistakes cost you valuable time, but they, perhaps more severely, cost you distance and time on your feet which can come back to haunt you later in the race.
We left CP4, and we were working our way through the woods to get onto a trail that would take us through a campground and onto a road. Somewhere along the way, we ran into our friend, Kelly, from Offroad Fixation. After a short discussion as we continued to hike, Kelly and his teammate left us in their dust.
At the campground we found a bathroom where I finally got my morning dukey taken care of, although it was much, much later than usual.
From the campground there was a drive that lead us to the main road to cross back to the other side of the river for the final two CP’s of this trekking leg. After crossing the river, Drew and I hiked south along the road for quite awhile looking for the right spot to head into the woods.
We started our bushwhack along an unmarked trail/old jeep road. Unfortunately, we had gone too far south. We didn’t realize this at the time, though, and I started bending the map, convincing myself that I was in the right location when I clearly wasn’t. Stupid!
We looked for CP10 for a good 45 minutes or so. We picked up an old, downed fence that we thought was on the map. We tried using that to our advantage with no luck. We got on a gravel/jeep road, so we thought we were close to CP11. We figured we’d get that CP and then go back for CP10 on our way back to the bike drop/canoe take-out.
As we were trying to figure out our best route, Team Torti came down the road. It was nice to see a team of this caliber still out here. They said that CP11 had given them problems, too. They said to go back down the road in the direction from which they had just come, and then take an old jeep road down a big hill, across a creek bed, and then back up a big hill. They said we’d see the CP right next to the jeep road. Yet again, the AR Gods had blessed us with good fortune.
***Side Note: There are many gravel and old jeep roads on the maps that are no longer in existence, and there are many gravel and old jeep roads that are in existence that are not on the map. This makes it very easy to get turned around***
So, thanks to Team Torti, CP11 became easy to find. They were exactly right. After all of that bushwhacking, it was kind of frustrating to know that we simply could have walked on a nice, open jeep road all the way to the CP. A huge thanks goes out the Team Torti. You guys rock!
We made our way east from CP11, and on our way to CP10 we found another team that looked like they were a little turned around as well. I can’t for the life of me remember which team it was, but it was a team of 4 guys (Team Wahoo, maybe?). Sure enough, they were having problems with CP11, so we told them what Team Torti had told us. It’s always nice to be able to pay it forward.
We got CP10 with no further problems, and we made it back to the bike drop/canoe take-out (now CP12) at around 12:45 (8 hours and 45 minutes total elapsed time, 4 hours and 15 minutes on the trek). It was going to feel good to get on our bikes and off of our feet. My feet and legs were starting to hurt. Susy and Connie punched our passport while Cara made us show her some gear for the gear check. I think we had to show a fleece jacket, a fleece/wool hat, our first aid kit, and maybe our phone, but I can’t remember for sure. They also offered us some delicious candy which we gladly accepted.
We said goodbye to our friends, and we biked out of Ozark Outdoors heading south on the gravel road. We had two more CP’s to get on the bikes before getting back to race HQ and the TA at CP15. It was supposed to be around 11 miles of biking. If you look at the map below, you’ll see that we climbed a pretty damn big hill right off of the bat. You’ll also notice that it would really suck if you happened to miss your first left turn and bomb down the hill by going straight through that intersection. Yeah… Well, that’s exactly what we did.
On the way up that hill, we caught up to two teams, and I think we just got caught up in a “pack mentality.” We didn’t stop to check the map. We just kept pedaling mindlessly, staying in the herd. Stupid. We realized our mistake after we absolutely flew down that monster hill for a good half a mile to a mile.
Going a mile out of your way on the bike isn’t a huge deal, but when you have to climb a huge hill to get back to the spot where you previously were, it kinda sucks. Fortunately, this happened fairly early in the race, and we were both still feeling strong. So we made our way back to the top, and we got back on track. It probably cost us 30 minutes or so.
We hammered down on the pedals, determined to make no more mistakes. Or so we thought. CP13 was at an intersection of the gravel road we were on and an old jeep road coming in from the north. All of the CP’s that were on or near roads and heavily used trails did not have the typical orange and white flags on them. They only had the small orange punch attached to a pole or tree with a steel cable. This makes them much more difficult to spot, and it lessens the chance of any passersby messing with / stealing the markers.
We flew by this CP without ever seeing it. We found the next gravel road coming in from the North, and we couldn’t find the CP. So we did a quick map check, realized our mistake, and we cruised back the way we had come.
We passed another team heading on for CP14. We were bummed to let a team in front of us because of a mistake, but we knew there was plenty of time left in the race to make up for lost ground. It was relatively flat the whole way back to CP13, but we almost passed it again. The old jeep road didn’t look like much. It had 10 inch high grass grown up all over it, and it was blocked off with a steel cable. Looking across from the jeep road, we barely saw the CP punch tied to a fairly hidden street sign. We were pissed that we had previously ridden right passed it.
This mistake only cost us a couple of miles altogether and maybe 20 minutes, but this was back to back mistakes on the bike leg. We punched our passport and headed out for CP14. Here is the map of the final portion of the first bike leg:
When we got to CP14, the team that had just passed us was getting ready to punch their passport. They said, “You looking for 13?” When we said that we had just punched 13, and that this was 14, they were shocked. Fortunately they hadn’t punched their passport in the wrong location yet. They asked where 13 was, and we told them where to find it and how it was kind of hidden. One of them said, “Fuck it. Let’s skip it.” We assured them that it was relatively flat with only a few rolling hills if they wanted to go back. They made the decision to go back as we punched CP14 and headed out for the TA at CP15/Race HQ.
We reached the TA/CP15 around 3:00 PM I think (11 hours total time elapsed, 2 hours 15 min for the bike leg). At the TA, I spoke with Linda from Team Torti. Apparently they had blown by CP13 as well. They had gotten to CP14, realized their mistake, but decided not to go back for 13.
Also at the TA, we got to hear some of the things our friends and family were posting on the live message board at Checkpoint Tracker. We heard things like, “Go Team Virtus! Great Job” and “Keep it up!” It was awesome to hear comments from loved ones. We even gave a shout out to all of our friends and family that were tuning in. I said, “Couple of mistakes but still going strong. Don’t stop believing!” And Drew said, “Erin, please send beer!” And no, Drew was not kidding.
We briefly spoke to Corey’s common-law wife, Noelle, to see how Bob, Adam, Phil, and Corey were doing. She said they were all doing well, and they got to do some rock climbing and a zip line for their mystery event. Drew’s eyes widened. He asked if we were doing anything involving heights, and she just said that we would have a project at our mystery event. Whew! Crisis avoided.
Our plan for the TA was to get the new map and clue sheet, plot the points, and eat as much as possible. Drew used the bathroom and started getting some food down his throat while I plotted the points. I got a bunch of food out, and after slamming an Ensure and taking two bites of a bagel sandwich, I just couldn’t eat anymore. I wasn’t feeling well at all.
We realized we wouldn’t be coming back to the TA until we were through with the race. Knowing this, we packed as much food as we possibly could into our packs, and we filled our hydration bladders and water bottles. Our packs were heavy!
We hopped on our bikes and started heading out around 4:15 or so (about a 1 hour and 15 minute transition). We had another 20 miles or so to go before we pulled into CP20 for the next trekking/orienteering leg. This 20 mile bike included some serious hills and some Berryman Trail/Ozark Trail. It was going to be “fun.”
As we left the TA, we had only gone a half of a mile or less when Drew turned to me and said, “Dude, you look like shit! You’re sweating like crazy and we haven’t even started climbing.” Well, that was reassuring. I felt like shit. I thought I was going to puke. I couldn’t eat or drink anything. Just thinking about eating or drinking almost made me sick. This wasn’t good.
Apparently, after we left the TA, the race volunteers were tallying up how many CP’s every team had gotten. It seems that only a handful of teams had found the infamous CP1, and everyone was shocked that we were one of those teams. Here is how it went down on the Checkpoint Tracker Live Update for our friends and family to see back home:
5:18 Team Virtus has dropped off the leader board for some reason. Investigating.
5:21 Nevermind – They’re back.
5:25 The difference that one CP can make! Earlier this morning Team Virtus found CP1. They’re currently running in 7th place overall! Awesome job guys! Way to stick with it!
Now, we had no clue that we were only 1 of 7 teams to actually find CP1. We just wanted to keep going and get as many CP’s as we could. There is no way we thought we were in the top ten overall. But that’s why the online coverage was so cool. All of our friends and family could see what was going on. I’m sure they were shocked and excited for us.
Okay, back to our race…
Our goal was to be done with all of the singetrack on this bike leg before it was dark. It was going to be close with all of the hills and with me feeling terrible. Some of these hills were killer, but we tried to push the pace a little. I was starting to cramp up, though, since I had been unable to consume anything for the last couple of hours. This really wasn’t good. Usually, once I start cramping, it gets progressively worse until I can’t function. Unfortunately, we still had a loooong way to go. Not good at all.
Here are the maps of the first part of this bike leg:
As we got closer to the single track, though, my stomach was starting to feel a little better. I was able to whip out an e-Fuel and pour it into a water bottle. I slammed the whole thing as we headed down the Berryman Trail to find CP16. We missed it on our first go ’round, and we ran into Team America who had also missed it. They decided to move on to the next CP as Drew and I turned around.
We went much more slowly this time looking for the reentrant where the CP should have been. We knew we were in the right spot, but we didn’t see a flag anywhere. Then Drew spotted the small punch wrapped around a tree. There was no flag.
We tried to catch Team America before they got too far. Fortunately, CP17 was less than a mile away on the Berryman Trail. We soon saw Team America coming back towards us on the trail. We told them that they had been so close to CP16, and we explained where to look for it. They headed back to get it.
I slammed another full bottle of e-Fuel. My cramps were starting to lessen, thank God. From CP17 to CP18, we had to stay on the Berryman Trail even though it would have been faster and easier to hop out on the road. Those were the rules. So we rode the singletrack, and it was a lot of fun. We had made it through the single track before it got dark, but it wouldn’t be long before the sun went down.
At CP18 I slammed yet another e-Fuel and ate some food. And shortly thereafter, almost magically, my cramps were gone. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I was a firm believer in e-Fuel and e-Gel before this race, but after this experience, I won’t ever do another race without them.
As you can see from the map below, we climbed some nasty hills on our way from CP18 to CP19, but we found 19 with no problems.
It had gotten dark, and the temperature had dropped. It was hard to regulate our body temperature, because it was too cool to ride without long sleeves, yet the hills were big enough to make sleeves almost too hot. So, we would break a sweat on the climbs only to freeze when bombing the downhills.
Anyway, we made it from CP19 to the YMCA camp with no problems, but we had a little trouble finding the manned CP20.
As we rolled into the YMCA camp, there were what seemed like hundreds of flashlights everywhere. Apparently, the kids that were staying at this camp were playing some kind of game with flashlights. They were running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off, and it was pretty disorienting. So we biked up and down the main road of the camp until we eventually saw the small pop up canopy where CP20 was located.
It was here where we were told that we had “a ton” of messages from friends and family that had been posted on Checkpoint Tracker previously in the day. Emily, one of the fantastic volunteers, tried to read as many of these to us as she could while we transitioned form the bikes to the trek. These messages included:
“Outstanding – still going strong!!! Fantastic. We BELIEVE. Keep up the good work. All of us here are pullin’ for you. Awesome!!!” – From my Dad.
“Drew baby, the Miller Lite tastes great!!” – From Erin, Drew’s wife.
“Roll – Virtus – Roll” – From my brother, Zack.
“Go TEAM VIRTUS!!!! Cheering you on from O-town!!! Hang in there….you’re animals…..GRRRR! TEAM VIRTUS, TEAM VIRTUS!!! WOOHOO!!“ – From Cara’s mom (I think).
“GREAT job Team Virtus!!!! Keep up the GREAT Work!!!!! I think I can- I think I can- I KNOW I can!!!! AWESOME!!!! 🙂 We Love You!!!” – From my Mom.
“Let’s go Team Virtus! The kids are doing cheers in the front yard for you! We are toasting to you!” – From Drew’s wife, Erin (who may have a drinking problem).
I cannot express to you how awesome it was to hear these comments. It was about 8:30 PM at this point (16.5 hours total time elapsed, 4.25 hours for the bike leg). It was dark and getting cooler, we were getting tired, and we were hungry and thirsty. To hear such encouragement from loved ones was amazing! Thanks to everyone that commented, and thanks to the great volunteers, Bonk Hard Racing, and Checkpoint Tracker for making it possible. You can still check it all out by going here.
Right before we set out on our trek, we sent out a couple of messages of our own. I said, “Thanks and Love you Becca!” Drew added, “SEND ME A BEER!” Again, he wasn’t joking.
Now it was time to get some trekking done. We received a new passport for the orienteering section where we would have to get 17 CP’s (CP’s 1-18 because CP 3 had been removed from the race). We first had to visit CP1 which was the mystery event. After this, we could hit CP’s 2 – 18 in any order. Here’s the map to make it easier to follow along:
We had no clue what to expect at the mystery event, but we were anxious to get there and see what was up. We were both still feeling really good, and our spirits were still high. We still felt like we could possibly get all of the CP’s and finish this thing.
So we headed south along the road towards CP1. Rather than going all the way around on the road, we bushwhacked a short distance up to the CP. As we were going through the trees, we could here a gas generator and see some bright lights. We figured that we could easily handle this little “project” about which Noelle had told us. We were quite confident since Drew is a big nerd… I mean engineer.
As we came out of the trees, though, we saw this (except it was dark):
The first thing out of Drew’s mouth was, “Noelle’s a fuckin’ liar!” You see, Drew and heights don’t get along all that well.
We walked up to the volunteers to hear our instructions. To get our passport punched for this CP, one of us had to make it to the top and stand up on the top platform. The other person didn’t have to do it, but there would be a 5 minute penalty assessed from the time when the first person came down.
Drew was willing to give it a shot, but he was afraid he would freeze up. Since it was only a 5 minute penalty, we decided I’d go up, and he’d skip it. We didn’t mind taking an extra 5 minute break, and in reality, it probably saved us time.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of heights either, so I asked the volunteer which route was the easiest way up to the top. I’m not ashamed to say that this it the route I took. At this point, I just wanted to get up to the top and back down quickly. I had nothing to prove. So I made it up without any problems. I stood up at the top, and then I was let down safely by the volunteer. It was actually a lot of fun… once I was back on the ground
We got our passport punched before waiting and resting for the 5 minute penalty. Once our time was up, we made our way towards CP2 via the road. Now this is where things started to go south.
We reached what we thought might be the correct intersection, but the “road” coming in from the east didn’t look like much of a road and it looked like a private drive. On top of that, the clue for CP2 was “southeast of road intersection.” So I had either mis-plotted the point, or the clue was wrong. We tucked into the woods to the northeast of the intersection (like I had plotted it) to see if the CP was there. It was really thick, and it was difficult to bushwhack. So, we decided to look to the southeast of the intersection (like the clue said), figuring I had simply mis-plotted the point. It wasn’t there, so we concluded that this was not the intersection we wanted.
We headed farther South on the main road for a little while. As the road began to turn the wrong way, it soon became apparent that this was not right. We headed back to the intersection at which we were previously looking for the CP. We sat down and decided to double check the UTM coordinates to see if I had indeed made a mistake.
As we were doing this, Drew happened to look at the clues again. He said, “Uh, we were reading the clue for CP4 instead of CP2.” Sure enough, we had made a silly little mistake that probably cost us 45 minutes to an hour. At least we were no longer confused. The clue for CP2 was “reentrant” which made much more sense. We headed back into the woods, and we soon found the CP.
From here, we just headed down the road to the next intersection and quickly found CP4. Now it was decision time. Should we head north back to where we started this trek and make a circle of the remaining CP’s from there? Or do we risk finding an easy crossing at the southern end of Sunnen Lake and have to do some backtracking to get all of the CP’s?
Well, we decided to stay south and try to find an easy way across. It was probably about 10:30 now, and this is probably about as long as Drew and I have ever raced (and that was at the very first Berryman where we got our butts kicked). We were both starting to get tired. We also realized that we really should have filled up with water at one of the buildings at the YMCA camp when we had the chance. Stupid.
We headed out on a small gravel road. We followed it, thinking it would eventually lead us across to the other side. Well, we walked. And walked some more. And then we walked some more. It seemed like everywhere we went, the creek/lake only got wider and deeper. We really wasted a lot of time here.
I’m sure if we were fresh and if the sun was out, we probably could have found an adequate place to cross. Hell, there might even be a nice little bridge somewhere that we just missed (if there is, please don’t ever tell us about it). I was definitely starting to wear down, so we sat down to eat something and think.
Do we just swim across and hope for the best on what looks like a more difficult route? Or do we make the death march back to the north and start from a known location? We really wanted to make a smart decision here, but we were fatigued, hungry, thirsty, pretty much out of water, and it was getting cold. So, we decided to head back the way we had come, head north on the road, and go from there.
This next little section is what I’m going to call the Death March. We started the walk around 11:00 PM. I was exhausted. I have no idea how Drew felt because it’s really hard to read him. He’s like a book full of blank pages. He could’ve been ready and willing to run the whole way back at this point for all I know.
All I know is that for the first time I was starting to think about quitting. All I wanted to do was sleep somewhere warm with my belly full of biscuits and gravy. I think I even told Drew that I would gladly stab him in the thigh if someone offered me some biscuits and gravy (Sorry, Drew). But then I remembered that I had written that stupid, ridiculous blog post about “Jumping into the Fire” or something like that. How terrible would it look if I decided to quit the moment it gets hard after writing a post like that? Why in the hell did I write that damn blog post? Stupid.
So, we started off on what seemed like a never-ending walk. I was lower than low at this point. I don’t believe a word was spoken by either of us for the hour-long walk. At one point I noticed that Drew was ahead of me by about 5 yards or so, and he was on the opposite side of the street. I was behind him on my side of the street with my head down in silent misery.
After describing this to my brother, Zack, he said they called this “cocooning” in the Marines. He said when someone “cocoons” he just kind of shuts down and completely withdraws internally into themselves. I would say I was deep inside my own cocoon at this point. I’m not sure if Drew was. Again, it’s hard to tell with Drew.
A few times along this walk, I believe I actually dozed off as I was walking. It was kind of like trying to stay awake at a meeting or in church. You know you shouldn’t fall asleep, and you try so hard to keep your eyes open. But the next thing you know, your eyelids just get too heavy. You just can’t keep them open anymore no matter how hard you try. Then your head bobs before you quickly snap it back up, pretending that you never fell asleep. Well, that happened to me a few times in mid-stride, and I almost fell down on two occasions. I’m so glad that I was behind Drew, because I’m sure it looked hilarious from behind.
We just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Only two things gave me any comfort during the Death March: 1) Knowing that we would soon be able to fill up our water, and 2) Thinking, “Hey, it could be worse. At least it’s not raining.” Thus far, the weather had been absolutely perfect. We must have pleased the AR Gods.
We finally made it back to the YMCA buildings, and we found a building with a bathroom where we could fill our water. Drew decided to use the bathroom, and I decided to use the sidewalk… as a bed. I couldn’t help myself. I laid down on the concrete and used my pack as a pillow. The next thing I knew, I woke up to the sound of a toilet flushing. Drew came out, saw me laying there, and decided to lay down as well.
Two minutes later, I woke up to what I thought was a rain drop on my cheek. I immediately thought, “If it starts raining, I’m done. I don’t care. I’m not doing this B.S. in the rain.” I looked at my watch, and it was a little after midnight on Sunday morning. I knew that if I closed my eyes again, I might not get up for several hours. I hopped up and woke Drew up. He looked as fresh as if he’d slept a full 8 hours. What a jerk.
We made our way around the northwest corner of the lake, and we then worked our way towards the east camp (we had a small trail map that really helped for the next few CP’s). On our way there, it started raining just a little bit. We soon came into the camp, and we found CP18 behind one of the cabins.
As we punched the passport it started raining a little more. It wasn’t just a sprinkle anymore. I mean it started raining. As we walked toward the pavilion we saw another team of what looked like young kids. I think they were probably 17 or 18, but now that I’m an old man, they all look very young to me. They were hanging out under the pavilion to stay out of the rain.
Drew and I sat down at a picnic table and looked at the map. I couldn’t believe it was raining so hard. I guess our luck had run out, and we must have done something to anger the AR Gods. We wanted to wait out the rain, but after a few minutes, it didn’t seem like it was going to let up.
We knew there was no way we were going to finish in the upper half of teams. In fact, just finishing the race was looking doubtful at this point. We knew that our solid start to the race meant nothing now, and we figured we were probably in last place. It would have been so easy to just pack it in right there. It was dark, cold, and raining, and we had fallen way behind. Quitting wasn’t an option, though, and we both knew it.
We decided to try to clear this orienteering section, and then we would reevaluate. It was sort of like our own private race within the race. Could we get all of the CP’s in this section in the dark, cold rain? We were determined to find out. So, we decided to head back out in the rain. As we ventured off, Drew heard one of the kids say, “Are you serious?”
Looking at the small trail map, we saw that a trail would take us right to CP13, and it was relatively flat once we got down near the water. We made our way down many concrete stairs leading from east camp to the trail at the water’s edge. Once on the trail, we noticed an orange and white flag down by the water. What?!?
We checked our map, and this was clearly not one of our CP’s. Was this CP #3 that had been removed? Surely they would have taken the flag down. Maybe this was a CP for the 12-hour course that we were not supposed to get. We would later find out what this godforsaken CP actually was, but at the time, it was hard to just walk past it. It felt so wrong to leave without punching our passport. But leave is what we did.
CP 13 was supposed to be at the end of a “cove.” We got there, but we didn’t see any flag. I moved on ahead for a little ways when I heard Drew yell, “Got it!” I went back. He had seen a small railing through the trees right at the water’s edge. When he went to check it out, he saw the flag nearby.
From here, we could not take the trail to CP12. So we shot a bearing and headed straight for the CP. This technique is always slower than taking a general bearing and using land features and the map to guide you. But it was especially slow because we could only go 10 or 20 feet at a time due to the poor visibility in the rain. Our headlamps reflected off of the rain which hampered our vision quite a bit. We were dead-on, and we found CP12 with no problems at all. It felt good to nail this one.
The small trail map showed a trail to our southwest that should run right by CP9. We headed that way and picked up the trail. The clue for CP9 was “creek junction,” so we were looking for two creeks or drainages to come together near this trail. Unfortunately, we managed to lose the trail. No worries, though. After 5 or 10 minutes of searching, we found a drainage and soon found the creek junction and the CP.
We stayed on top of the ridge and headed south until we picked the trail back up. From here, we followed the trail to the west, and then we hopped off the trail and easily found CP6 at the “overlook.”
We then got back on the trail and made our way eastward. We hopped off the trail a little too soon, but after 10 or 15 minutes of searching, we realized that we were on the wrong “spur.” As we got back to the trail, another team of 4 came through (I wish I could remember who they were, but I just can’t seem to do so). I believe they were on there way to CP8. They said they knew exactly where to turn off the trail to get CP7, so we followed them. They pointed us down what looked like it used to be a trail at one point. We hiked for longer than I had anticipated, and I was beginning to doubt their instructions. I shouldn’t have doubted them, though, because CP7 was right where they said it would be. So, whoever you were, we thank you.
From CP7, we bushwhacked south across the creek and up to the top of the ridge. We picked up an old jeep road that headed east and farther up the ridge. This was exactly where we wanted to go, so we stayed on the road for a while. As we started to climb, the road veered to the southeast a little. After 100 more yards or so, we broke off of the road and bushwhacked up to the top of the ridge. We nailed this one, too, as we found it within a minute or two.
So, we had just gotten the last 7 CP’s in roughly 3 hours or so. Other than a few small hiccups here and there, we were doing remarkably well considering it was cold, dark, and raining. Unfortunately, this is the last time I will say anything went well on this orienteering section. It’s about to get ugly.
It was probably around 3:00 AM on Sunday morning, so we had been racing for almost 24 straight hours. We were completely soaked. We were cold. We were hungry. We were exhausted. We were starting to hurt.
We headed up the ridge, and we were going to find the jeep road and then CP8 in the “reentrant/fence.” Well, we found a jeep road, but I’m pretty sure it was not the one on the map now that I look back at it. We tried to find the “reentrant/fence” where CP8 should have been, but had absolutely no luck.
We kept coming to different jeep road intersections that were not on the map. We went back and forth several times without finding the CP. We then tried to go up and down every single jeep road that we came across. We even tried to find CP11 in another “reentrant” while we were traipsing all over the place.
The minutes ticked by… 10 minutes… 30 minutes… 1 hour… The next thing we knew, we had been wandering through the woods for 2 – 3 hours! My feet were hurting, and my mind was absolutely fried. I knew that the sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion would take its toll, but I was not prepared for how much I would be affected mentally. I couldn’t think straight, and, honestly, I didn’t really care.
I had no idea where we were. I mean, I wasn’t even sure we were still on the map at all. I was completely lost. I didn’t know which way to turn. I didn’t know where we had already been. I wasn’t even sure which direction we had come from. I have never been that lost in my life. It was NOT a good feeling. So, I handed the map off to Drew to see if he could do any better.
We kept walking and walking, going up and down the same jeep roads and bushwhacking through the same brush over and over again. it was frustrating. It was time consuming. It was demoralizing. It was pathetic.
The sleep monsters were out to get me. I’m fairly sure that I saw an enormous anaconda coming out of the brush right at my feet. It seriously scared the hell out of me, but Drew either didn’t see it, or it was my mind playing tricks on me. So I kept my mouth shut. I’m also pretty sure that I saw a small prickle of porcupines (yes, a group of porcupines is called a prickle) strolling beside me on the trail. Again, Drew either didn’t see them or I was seriously losing it. So I kept my mouth shut. At this point, if Drew had said he wanted to quit, I would have given him a huge hug and gladly agreed. But Drew kept us moving, and just as we were about to give up hope, we saw some lights ahead.
It was a great feeling to see another team still out here, and it was also good to know that we weren’t completely off the map. It turned out to be Team America, and they were struggling with CP’s 8 and 11 as well. They were doing the O-course in the opposite direction, so they had already gotten CP’s 16, 17, 15, 14, and 10. We worked together for a half an hour or so, but even with the four of us, we couldn’t find CP8 or CP11.
So, we decided to move on. We gave Team America a rundown of how to get CP’s 5, 7, 6, 9, 12, and 13. They gave us the rundown on CP’s 10, 14, 15, 17, and 16. As we parted ways, I was bummed that we weren’t going to get all of the CP’s on this orienteering section.
It was probably around 5:oo or 5:30 at this point, and my feet were killing me. The Terminator, I mean Drew, didn’t seem to be hurting at all, so I kept my mouth shut. We found CP10 easily. It felt soooo good to finally get another CP and to actually know exactly where we were on the map.
Looking at the map, it looks like the next 4 CP’s would be ridiculously easy to find. Well, they weren’t. Maybe it was the dark. Maybe it was because we were soaking wet. Maybe it was because we had been racing for 26+ hours at this point. I’m not sure what it was, but we continued to struggle.
Fortunately, the sky was beginning to slowly brighten as the sun was getting ready to rise. While this brightened our moods dramatically, it didn’t seem to help us with our navigation. We moved on to get CP14, whose clue was “spur.” Couldn’t find it. We doubled back. No luck. We tried going down a different spur. Nope. We never found CP14.
So, we decided to go for CP 15. The clues was “pond.” According to the map, the CP should have been right next to a pond near a 3-way jeep road intersection. When we got to the three-way intersection, we couldn’t find the stupid pond. It was like we were in the damn Twilight Zone. Nothing was making sense. We were tired, wet, hungry, and exhausted. Not being able to find this stupid CP was almost enough to make me say, “Eff this. I’m done.” But I once again remembered my stupid “Jumping into the Fire” post, so I kept my mouth shut.
The sun was up, and it was probably around 8:00 AM by now. We decided to give up on CP’s 14 and 15 and just try to get 17 and 16. As we were heading for CP17, we saw another jeep road intersection that sort of looked what we were looking for to get to CP15. So, in a last-ditch effort, we headed off the jeep road a short distance, and we saw a small opening in the trees and brush. Was that a pond? Yup! And sure enough, the beautiful orange and white flag was there to greet us.
We punched our passport and headed out on the jeep road to get CP17 at a “reentrant.” Well, we never found this stupid CP either. Again, looking at the maps from the comfort of my couch after a full night’s rest, it looks like we should have found these CP’s without any problems. I can assure you, though, that under those circumstances, it was outrageously difficult.
We decided to head down the jeep road and find CP16 on a “ridge.” Guess what. We never found it. We ended up back at CP13, so it’s now clear (although it wasn’t at the time) that we had gone down the wrong ridge. At this point I didn’t really care. My feet hurt badly enough that I didn’t even consider going back to look for it. I think Drew might have even said his feet were hurting, but that may have been another exhaustion induced hallucination on my part.
We followed the trail along the shore of the lake until we came out to the spillway where we could cross over to the other side of the lake. As we reached the manned CP (previously CP20, now CP21), we saw a couple of other teams getting ready to leave on their bikes. I was more than ready to be off of my feet.
It was right at 9:15 when the volunteers punched out passport for CP21. We knew we were in last place overall. It didn’t matter. We just wanted to finish this thing. Apparently there was a cutoff at 10:00 AM. Either this cutoff was put in place during the race, or we never heard the announcement at the pre-race meeting. I guess it was a good decision to not go back for some of those CP’s.
As we were given our final cluesheet with new UTM coordinates to plot, Emily, one of the amazing volunteers, read to us some of the Checkpoint Tracker comments from friends and family. It was incredibly uplifting to hear the encouragement and support from our loved ones.
My dad pretty much summed it up perfectly with this comment: “Now that you have made it through the night and banished all the ‘night demons’ – Bring it Home!!! We are all proud of you!! I am sure that you had to dig deep last night and found strengths you didn’t know you had. What a great accomplishment.” Yeah, he pretty much nailed it. I sent a message back to them: “Last night I was more lost than I’ve ever been.”
We were then informed that our next CP was going to be a mystery event. We needed to build a raft out of 20 pool noodles, 3 pieces of 36″ pvc pipe and as much twine as we needed. Okay, so this is the “project” that Noelle was talking about. So, I guess she’s not a liar. She’s just not very forthcoming with everything she knows.
We were told that once we built the raft, we both would have to paddle across the lake (roughly a quarter of a mile) to get to CP22 on the other side of the lake. Apparently, this is the random CP marker that Drew and I had seen on our way to CP13 roughly 10 hours previously. Then we had to paddle back before we could continue with the race.
All of the teams that were at this CP when we arrived had decided to skip the mystery event, and they had already left on their bikes. So Drew and I had to decide if we wanted to build a raft and paddle it across the lake for one measly CP when the wind was blowing wildly and the temp was probably around 55 degrees. Or we could skip the mystery event and try to get the rest of the CP’s on the final biking and paddling legs.
We decided to plot the remainder of the CP’s on our map. Then we would determine whether or not we could do the mystery event and still finish the race under our own power. We knew that we were in last place, but we didn’t want to get DQ’d for finishing after the 36 hour time cut-off. We had come too far and gone through too much shit to get DQ’d.
At the same time, we knew that we pretty much had to build the raft. I mean, how many times in our lives are we going to get the opportunity to build a raft out of foam pool noodles and paddle it across a lake? Probably just this once. So, we were trying to decide what our best option was.
What if we just biked straight to the canoe put-in without getting any of the biking CP’s? Could we skip the last paddling leg and still make it back in time on the bikes? Did we even still have enough energy left to make it all the way back?
Meanwhile, pretty much all of our family and friends were online checking in on us at this moment. They had already read about the mystery event, and they had even seen some photos of other teams’ rafts at Checkpoint Tracker. They read this update: “Virtus is deciding to build the raft or head out on the bikes.”
As we finished plotting the last few CP’s, Emily started to write down some updates from the online chat room. Then she just handed me the phone as she said, “It’s way too much to write down, so here you go. Your fans want you to do the raft.”
Another volunteer read me the following posts over the phone:
“Nice work Virtus! the end is in sight. plenty of time left to make it in style! Nice work!” – From my brother, Zack
“I say make the raft, plenty of time. You’ll regret it afterwards if you don’t. Plus you have an engineer on the team.” – From my brother, Casey (I think)
“Build the raft, If you build it…they will come” – From “Another Virtusite”
“BUILD-THE-RAFT-BUILD-THE-RAFT-BUILD-THE-RAFT” – From Zack again
Clearly, everyone wanted us to build the raft. We had just finished plotting the rest of the CP’s, and we were still trying to figure out if we had time to do the raft and finish under our own power. We had another 15 miles or so on the bike with a lot of single track PLUS an 11 mile paddle to the finish line.
It was around 9:45 on Sunday morning, so we had 6 hours and 15 minutes to finish this race. We were told that the average time for the noodle raft (building it, paddling across and back, and then taking it apart) was around an hour and a half. So that would have left us with 4 hours and 45 minutes to finish IF we were at least average. The paddle would probably take us 2.5 – 3 hours. That meant that we would need to do the bike leg in around 2 hours.
We figured that we wouldn’t make it to the finish line in time if we did everything. We decided to give ourselves 30 minutes to build a functional raft. If we couldn’t do that, then we’d skip the mystery event and hop on our bikes. If we completed the mystery event, we had planned on skipping the last paddling leg and cutting the bike leg short, only getting a couple of CP’s along our direct route to the finish line.
So the decision had been made to build the raft. However, our friends and family at home were given this message: “They’re still debating! Fatigue induced indecision! Build the dang raft already!” So, of course they had a few more words of wisdom for us:
“Give me an “R”….Give me an “A”….GIve me an “F”….Give me a “T”….What’s that Spell? (RAFT)….Louder….(RAFT)….R-A-F-T….RAFT…RAFT…RAFT –> Build the raft” – From my brother, Casey
“Gooooo Beer-tus. I mean Virtus. Build the dang raft.” – From Drew’s wife, Erin who may or may not have been drinking on a Sunday morning
“BUILD the RAFT so you can get home and drink a cold DRAFT!!!!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo” – From my mom
“Virtus- decide already. the only logical way to decide at a time like this is to flip quarter. Heads- you build, tails,-you get on the bikes. No regrets!” – From my brother, Zack
Obviously, we would have been crucified if we had decided to skip the rafting mystery event. I think Zack had it right when he wrote, “No regrets!” I know that we could have probably completed the last biking and paddling legs if we wanted to skip the mystery event. Skipping the rafting probably would have been the “smart” thing to do as far as race strategy goes. But we’ve never been accused of being smart. It didn’t make any sense to “waste” an hour and a half just to get one CP since we had already missed 5 CP’s. But we knew we would have regretted it forever if we didn’t at least try to build the raft. We didn’t care about our final standings as long as we finished this damn race.
So we started to build the raft around 9:45. It took us literally less than 90 seconds to come up with our raft design. Looking back, it may have been more prudent to take a little more time in the design phase of this project, but we weren’t exactly thinking clearly at this point.
We laid the three PVC pipes down, and then we had two layers of 10 foam noodles laying across them. We used trucker’s hitches to cinch the noodles down tight on the PVC pipes. The whole process, from design to the water, took about 15 minutes.
We put the raft in the water. Drew sat on one side as I sat on the other. Now, I’m no genius, but I’m smart enough to realize that I outweigh Drew by a lot – probably 75 or 80 pounds. So when we sat down, the raft simply tipped over. We tried sitting Drew on the front with me on the back… Same thing happened. I guess I was just too fat for noodle rafting.
As we were about to give up, I had a stroke of genius. I told Drew that I would lay down, thus spreading out my fatness across the entire raft, and then he could ride on top of me and paddle. The look on Drew’s face was priceless as he said, “I’m not really comfortable with that.” We were already wet from the waist down, so we gave it a shot.
I hopped on the raft (face down of course), and the raft didn’t tip or sink. So far so good. Then Drew climbed aboard the S.S. Husky, and again, we stayed upright and balanced. Okay, this might actually work!
Then Drew started paddling. Only having one paddler basically sent us spinning in a circle as Drew could only paddle on one side at a time. After making it only 15 feet or so, we decided to pack it in and hop on the bikes. There was no way we could paddle a quarter of a mile across a windy lake and then back again.
As we turned around, Emily shouted, “No way! You can’t give up!” I started taking small, short-armed strokes as I lay on my stomach to help get us back to shore. All of a sudden, we were paddling in a straight line and moving at a decent pace. “There you go!” shouted Emily. So we turned around again to start the long, arduous paddle across the cold lake.
Unfortunately, after a few minutes of taking little baby strokes, my shoulders and traps started cramping up pretty badly. I would have to take breaks every couple of minutes, so Drew had to bear the brunt of the paddling. He managed to figure out a better paddling technique, taking two power strokes on one side and then two on the other side, to keep us moving in a straight line while I recovered. I’m sure it was exhausting for Drew. I tried to contribute as much as I could, but I think my main contribution was simply not tipping us.
We made it to the other side, and Drew asked if I had the passport to which I replied, “Uh… No. Don’t you?” For a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity, we thought we had left the passport behind. Thank God Drew found it in another pocket! So instead of getting punched in the face for losing the passport, Drew punched the passport. By this time, anyone following us on Checkpoint Tracker had already read all about it. They had even seen the above photo before we made it back across the lake. Now that’s real-time updates!
I know that Drew was pretty much spent, so we tried to reinforce the raft so we could possibly ride side by side again. No luck. In fact, the raft began coming apart. We made the necessary repairs while standing in waist deep water. Once it was repaired, we decided to try having Drew on the bottom so I could do all of the work. I kind of thought that I might crush Drew, but we tried it anyway. As I tried to climb on top, we (or I) tipped the raft, and we went into the water. I went in up to my neck, but Drew went all the way under. Did I mention it was probably around 55 degrees with a strong wind?
Anyway, we went back to having me on the bottom paddling with mini-strokes in between cramps and Drew on top doing all of the work. I’m not sure how Drew managed to keep paddling, but he was a machine. He never complained, and I know that paddling is his least favorite part of a race (and that’s usually in a canoe). I can’t imagine how much he must have loved paddling a noodle/Luke raft.
There were a couple of other things that occurred during our noodle rafting of which I cannot speak. Many jokes were made. We laughed. We cried. We suffered. We both felt like we had just wrestled with a creepy uncle. I will leave this part to your imagination and for Drew and I to treasure privately for the rest of our lives… no matter how much we may want to forget.
We had gotten CP22 on the other side of the lake, and we got our passports punched upon exiting the water at what was now CP23. Building the raft, paddling across, making repairs, going for a swim, paddling back, and disassembling the raft took us about an hour and 20 minutes. Yay! We’re above average!
So it was no a little after 11:00 AM, we were completely soaked and shivering cold, and we had to get on our bikes. By the time we drained all the water out of our jackets and pants and then transitioned to the bikes, it was probably 11:20 or so. With only 4 hours and 40 minutes left before the 36 hour cut-off, we knew that there was no way we could complete the entire biking leg and the paddling leg. So we stuck to our original plan: Skip the paddling leg and bike straight back to the finish line, getting a couple of CP’s along the way.
It was going to be a long, cold bike back to the finish line. I was wet. I was shivering. I was exhausted. My mind was numb. Yet, I was happy. I was pretty sure that we were going to finish the 36 hour Berryman Adventure to redeem our previous failure 9 years ago. Sure, we may be dead last, but that didn’t matter. It never matters to us. That’s not why we do this. Drew was not so sure we were going to make it in time.
So, we headed out on our bikes, and I made another navigational blunder. Somehow, I looked at the map wrong, and we left the YMCA camp going in the wrong direction. We quickly realized my mistake, but only after climbing a monster hill where we had to push our bikes. Fortunately, this hill warmed our frozen bodies. It also gave us a chance to slam a Spike energy drink for the final push.
The caffeine kicked in, and we flew down highway AA to get back on track. We were going so fast that we blew by the turn. Thankfully, we only went a quarter of a mile or less out of our way, and we quickly recovered. Then we blew by CP24 which was at the “powerline/trail” junction. When we saw “private property” signs we knew we’d gone too far. We turned around, found the CP, and punched our passport.
Wow. Three errors on the first CP on this biking leg. Finishing this race suddenly seemed to be in doubt. We headed up the powerline trail. It was kind of fun but mostly painful. We then took gravel roads all the way to CP25 which was formerly CP18. This was our final CP before crossing the finish line.
Rather than take the Berryman Trail, we opted to stay on the gravel road. While single track is more fun, it is also much more physically demanding and time consuming. My caffeine induced energy burst had vanished by this point, and I was really starting to struggle.
I told Drew that I was beginning to crash and burn. Then Drew yelled at me. Okay, he didn’t yell at me, but it’s as close as Drew has ever come to yelling at me. He simply said, “C’mon, man. Don’t crash and burn now.” That’s all he said, but coming from Drew, that’s all he needed to say. I pulled it together and pushed on as best as I could, walking the hills when I needed to.
We kept waiting for the bomber downhill that would lead us to the finish line. We knew we were going to make it, but it seemed like the gravel roads went on FOREVER. Seriously, this is all we saw for the last couple of hours:
And then we suddenly realized we were flying down the final hill. We knew we were going to make it. Redemption was almost ours. It was so close, we could almost taste it… and we were starving! We couldn’t believe it. We were actually going to finish the Effing 36 Hour Berryman Adventure!!!
As we rounded the corner and made our way into the campground, we saw Bob and Cara. Bob looked happier than I felt. He was smiling and laughing, cheering and snapping photos. It was great to see them.
We crossed the finish line to applause from race directors, volunteers, other racers, the Golden Girls and other friends.
I think Bob actually gave me a hug, which is a testament to our friendship since I smelled worse than an egg-salad fart brewing in a pot of rancid rabbit guts. “Congrats!” and high fives were given out copiously. We had done it. We had finished the 36 Hour Berryman Adventure. Redemption was finally ours after getting our asses kicked 9 years ago.
I cannot put into words how I felt as we crossed the finish line. Seriously. Nothing I could write will even come close, so I’m not going to try. Just know this: It was incredible!
Drew grabbed a hot baked potato, and so did I. I added butter and sour cream until you couldn’t even tell there was a potato in there. It was delicious. Then I grabbed another one and ate it in the same fashion. Still delicious. Then Kelly, from Offroad Fixation, gave us a huge cookie. It… was… phenomenal!! Probably the best cookie I’ve ever had. The cookies were made by Krista from Occasional Cookies. Huge thanks to Kelly and Krista. Rumor has it that Krista’s world famous “Power Cookies” were there too, but Alas!… They were all gone before we got there. Maybe next time.
S o, Drew and I missed 12 out of 51 CP’s, and we finished the Berryman Adventure in 33 hours and 55 minutes. There is no way we could have finished the rest of the biking leg and the 11 mile paddle before the time cut-off. It was a good decision to skip the last paddle.
I’d like to thank Jason and Laura from Bonk Hard Racing for putting on a fantastic race. I’d also like to thank Checkpoint Tracker for making the online coverage possible, and a HUGE thanks goes out to all of the great volunteers that made the race possible and also made this race a true spectator sport with all of their timely updates throughout the race. Also, thanks to Bob for sticking around and waiting for us to finish when you could have gone home on Saturday night.
And of course, a huge thanks goes out to my teammate, Drew. It was one hell of a race man! I’ll never forget it.
If you’re still reading this (and let’s face it, if you are then you need to find a job or a hobby), then thanks for sticking with it. I know it was a long report, but like I said, it was a long race. So that was our story. You may click onto something else now. Seriously… That’s all I have to… Wait… What? You want to know how we did? What, finishing this damn thing isn’t enough for you? Okay, then read on…
Jason asked me where my teammate was, and then he told Drew that he needed to talk to him. I thought this was odd, so I just sat there and looked at them, wondering what they were going to talk about. Then Jason told me that he needed me up there as well. Bob had a huge grin on his face and said, “Hmm… I wonder what he wants?” I just figured that he was going to show us the photo of our rafting fiasco and make fun of us.
As I walked up to the front of the pavilion, Jason stuck his hand out to shake our hands and said, “Congratulations on winning the two-person male division of the Berryman Adventure!”
W… T… F…?!?!
I’m all for pulling pranks and giving people a hard time, but this was a pretty sick joke. Then I realized that he wasn’t kidding. The only other time I’ve been more shocked is when I found out we were having twins. We were dumbfounded. How was this possible? We were sure we were in last place.
Well, it turns out that we beat the second place team by one CP. Maybe getting the infamous CP1 was the difference. Or maybe it was finding CP15 after nearly giving up hope. Or maybe it was getting CP22 on the S.S. Husky? I don’t know, but the AR Gods were clearly smiling down upon us once again.
So, we ended up in 1st place out of 9 2-person male teams, 6th out of all 14 2-person teams (coed and all female included), and 11th out of 25 teams overall. Official results can be found right here. Drew and I actually got to pick out a prize fo winning our division.
We both ended up getting a sweet Mountainsmith Zip-top Tote which is part of the Hauler Organizing Storage System. It’s really cool, and I think I might have to get the whole system now (Thanks, Jason!).
All we wanted to do was finish this damn race after getting destroyed 9 years ago. Somehow, we managed to do that, and it was an amazing feeling. Winning our division was just icing on the cake (Mmmm… Cake). Actually, by far the coolest part about winning was when I got home to my wife and kids. The girls asked me (like they do after every race), “Did you win, Daddy?” I think they were almost as shocked as I was when I said “Yes.” Seeing how happy they were almost got me a little choked up. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.