**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.
**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: Be sure to check out Bob’s report from the High Profile Adventure Camp leading up to this race. You can find it right here. Now onto the race report.***
The night before the race, we sat and listened to adventure racing stories as told by Robin Benincasa. As we listened, I wondered what would be bestowed upon us the next day. Because up to this point, the only bad experience I had encountered was sharing a small cabin with 10 other guys and a girl (I felt really sorry for her). There was definitely some epic flatulence going on. At approximately 11 o’clock we got our maps and it was back to the cabin to plan a route, load our bikes and get our gear together because the 5:30 bike drop was coming whether we liked it or not.
Fast forward about 4 and a half hours and it was time to get up. Yea, there isn’t anything like knowing you’re only going to get a few hours of sleep just to get up and do 8 hours of endurance racing, not to mention the gas war that took place between WTF and Team Virtus.
At 5:30, Luke and Bob headed to the bike drop as I continued to drag my ass around getting ready for the race. I constantly questioned if I had too much or too little gear. Not knowing what to expect, I relied on the sage wisdom of the rest of my team to guide me. With the 7:00 start time inching ever closer, I stuck with what I had and made my way to the dining hall.
Before the start of the race we posed for a few pictures, two of which were with camp director Gerry Voelliger and Robin Benincasa.
With the start of the race looming, it was time to get our heads together and our butts to the back of the pack, so as to avoid the carnage that was about to ensue.
As the countdown from 10 started, you could feel the excitement. Once we started, we had to run a couple hundred yards to get the canoes and carry them about a half a mile to the river. Pretty much only one thing went into the selection of our crafts and that was no-yellow-canoes. I for one did not feel like swimming this early in the morning. You know, come to think of it I didn’t want to do any swimming…period.
Casey: I was so glad that we were able to secure a canoe that was not a tippy-ass yellow banana.
Luke: I hate those damn, yellow boats!
Bob: Echo that. It was hard not to laugh when we’d see other people going in. Check out this photo, you can actually see the water starting to pour over the side.
We carried our canoes for what seemed like hours, but I’m sure that had more to do with the lack of sleep than the actual weight.
We “strategically” placed our canoe next to the river in a spot that would make for an easy put-in if we arrived at the same time as a few other teams. After that, we were on foot for the first 3 checkpoints.
As we wandered off into the woods to search for the first of 24 checkpoints, we exchanged witty banter and talked of what the day would bring. At this point in the race as I’m sure you can imagine there were some bottlenecks at the checkpoints.
With the superior navigation skills of our fearless leader, we made haste through the first 3 checkpoints with no concern except for the paddling I knew would be coming soon.
Luke: Technically, we were racing as two teams of two. So, I’m not sure to whom you are referring when you say “our fearless leader.” I really hope you’re not describing Casey in such a manner.
Up until the day before, I had only been in a canoe on a float trip and I mean, really, who actually paddles or, for that matter gives a damn if their canoe flips on a float trip? The day before the race, we were only in a flooded area of the Mississippi and there weren’t any rapids or real danger of the canoe tipping. Somewhere in the depths of my soul, I had a feeling that today would be a whole different ballgame. When we got back to the canoe put-in, We could tell by the number of remaining canoes that we were somewhere in the middle of the pack. This was good news, but there was still a lot of racing left. As we launched our canoe, we were immediately held up because about 40 yards from the launch a team flipped.
Once we actually started, things went pretty smoothly and we cruised down the river. We ended up passing 5 or 6 teams, one of which was our counterpart.
Casey: You got by us when we “T-boned” another canoe that got wedged between a couple of trees in the only paddable section of the river. We managed not to tip them or us and the bump actually helped them straighten out a bit. Once you passed us we gave you some space to avoid another “T-bone” (first time I ever passed up a T-bone in my life). You guys somehow got around another canoe and we just couldn’t find the room to pass them until near the end of the paddle leg.
Luke: First of all, what does “Paddable” mean? Secondly, it’s a race, dude. You don’t wait for room to pass. You MAKE room to pass. That’s what Adam and I did.
We had to be moving at a pretty good clip. At one point, as we were coming up on a bridge we started talking about how much farther it was to the takeout, but just past the bridge we could see other teams taking their canoes out of the water. We both said there’s no way this is the end, but a guy standing up on the bridge heard us and confirmed that it was. We were amazed by how quickly it went and the best part is that we stayed upright the whole way.
We did have to get our feet wet to get the canoe out of the water but we knew dry socks were waiting at the transition spot. We changed our shoes and put on socks as we waited for what seemed forever (it was only a few minutes) for Bob and Casey.
Casey: Look at Bob’s newly aquired (this camp) canoe securring technique. It was so stable I was able to walk upright in the canoe without any fear of a swim. We’ll definitely use this technique at future races as we get on and off the water. Nice job Bob.
After they pulled their canoe ashore and changed socks, it was on to the first bike leg.
Casey: If you look in the back ground you can see the “pace center” reducing the TA time as he sprints to the CP while his team takes their time getting on fresh new socks. Our TA times were much better this year.
Bob: They’re probably distracted by the gaping flesh wound on my knee. Holy shit, I’m hardcore
Luke: The way I remember it, Adam and I had already punched our passport because we had plenty of time while you guys were waiting for teams to let you pass them on the river.
Now this is where we expected to make up time. We knew we were going to be weak at paddling because it’s not something we practice but biking was different. We weren’t in a line like we knew we should be but we were four across, taking up the entire road. It wasn’t until Robin Benincasa and one of the race directors come up behind us and was giving us crap about not being in a pace line that we decided to take things a little more seriously. So we got in line and it was Luke leading, then myself, Bob and Casey. Now, I’m not sure what Luke had been eating or what kind of training he had been doing but this shit was ridiculous. We hit speeds of 18 to 20 mph going down the road.
Bob: Luke definitely had a rocket up his ass that day. His nutrition must’ve been spot-on.
Luke: That’s not exactly how I remember it, but hey… It sounds good, so we’ll go with it.
I don’t remember how far we had gone, but we came to a bridge and it was time to “lose some water,” so to speak. Bob and I parked our bikes along the railing and after I relieved myself I took a drink from my water bottle. When I went to put it back in the cage, it fell between the railing and into the river. Now, I had just put dry socks on less than an hour ago and now I had about 30 seconds to decide whether or not they would stay dry, because the current wasn’t exactly still. Now, I know you’re thinking “it’s just a water bottle,” and I could easily get another one, but I didn’t want to lose it. I dashed down to the side of the creek and of course it’s not going to come right up by the side…no, my new Smartwool socks were going to be put to the test that day. I waded into water about mid-calf deep and snatched the bottle as my teammates showed support by laughing and snapping a photo.
Casey: I am not a statistician, but I am willing to bet the odds of Adam somehow missing his cage as he put his water bottle away and having the bottle slip through the railing and land in the water is pretty low. I have to admit that I did laugh at his misfortune but I assure you it was in good fun.
- Luke: Adam took the “Leave No Trace” rule to heart. If it was me, that bottle would have stayed in the creek.
- Crisis averted and we were back on the road. Cruising along at insane speeds again, we arrived at the next transition spot in a hurry. Time to do some hiking.
As we started off on foot we knew we the easiest route to follow would be the road and look for the first re-entry. Easy enough, right?
Bob: Really? Cuz that looks a lot like MY team-mate Luke kneeling on the ground.
Luke: Indeed, that is me kneeling on the ground. Why am I kneeling, you ask? Because I had to get into my first aid kit to get pain killers out. For who, you ask? That would be Bob.
Well, as fate would have it, (and because Bob and/or Casey distracted Luke), we walked by the first reentrant and entered in the second and walked about 15 minutes before we figured out that we were going the wrong way. After back tracking to get checkpoint 9 it was smooth sailing, once again thanks to Luke’s superior navigation skills (I am legally required to say that or I get fired from the team). We only had to hike up and down several hills to get seven more checkpoints before it was back to the bikes.
Luke: I still feel bad about that mistake. It was such a stupid, rookie mistake to be lulled into complacency when you think something should be easy to find. My apologies to the team. At least it was the only navigational error that day, and at least we caught it relatively early.
Once we were on the bikes again we had to ride back to the transition spot at the end of the paddling leg and get our pfd’s and paddles.
We left with our paddles and life jackets and immediately had to go up a hill.
Once we started riding, it was only a few miles back to camp but we were much slower than we had been on the previous bike leg. We made it back and ditched the bikes and headed to the cave. The water in the creek was cold, as you can see here.
Crossing the creek proved to be harder than it looked. There were some hidden rocks, one of which I found and tripped over and ended up falling face first in the creek.
Luke: Even though this was my second trip into this cave, it was still just as amazing. I freakin’ love this cave!
Each team-member’s wristband had to be punched in addition to the passports, so that meant everyone had to go in. I don’t know why anyone would want to skip out on seeing the inside of a sweet cave like this one. There were several bats on the walls. Some were covered in frost, and others were…well, you can judge for yourself.
We made our way through the cave, even though in some spots it was a pretty tight fit. We headed from the cave to collect a couple more checkpoints before we went to the ropes.
When we got to the ropes we checked how much time we had and we had well over an hour. We had 4 more checkpoints to get and they were pretty close together. The first section of ropes was rappelling and it went pretty quick, even though there were several teams there at the same time.
Casey: This was the firs time anybody rappelled and ascended this cliff. It was great. However, due to the fact that rappelling is a bit faster than ascending, we ended up standing around in cold, knee-deep water as we awaited our turn to ascend.
Bob: It was pretty cool to hang out with the volunteers and some of the other racers, but after a while I really started to feel like we might miss the cutoff.
Luke: Yeah, it was tough knowing that the minutes were ticking by as we waited for our turn. But that’s just part of racing. If we want to avoid bottlenecks, we need to get there first! I was a little worried though. Since we missed clearing the course last year by 1 CP, I REALLY, REALLY wanted to clear the course this year.
Next was the ascending wall, and it was here that the pace slowed considerably. Priority was given to the teams that had their harnesses setup correctly, but that didn’t help us because it seemed like everyone knew what they were doing. The minutes seemed to tick by quickly as we waited to ascend. Once it was our turn, we climbed as fast as our legs would allow.
Casey: We lost some time on the ascend section. This was not because of our lack of ascending skill. I thought our technique was as good as anybody elses and we were as fast or faster than most other teams. We lost some time because we were 2 teams of 2 travelling together as a team of four. We ended up getting separate ropes but we didn’t start at the same time so we lost some time since we had to wait for 3 separate ascensions instead of only 2. I think it was definitely worth the 5-10 minutes we lost here to race together as a whole team. Maybe we made up some of the lost time by using a 4 person paceline during the bike leg.
Luke: What he said.
Although I can’t speak for everyone, my ascending form was considerably worse than the day before in practice.
Bob: I definitely didn’t feel like I had a strong ascent. I made good time, but took several stops. I was just about exhausted at that point. Overall, I think we had a major improvement over last year, especially since we didn’t even ascend last year:).
We all made it OK and went to checkpoint 23. It was on a little waterfall which was pretty cool. It looks much better in person.
Casey: I was the last off the ropes on the ascension and we took off running to CP 23 as soon as I was unclipped. As we ran, I was taking my gloves off, fixing my harness, putting my pack on, and trying to catch my breath. I finally recovered and was all straightened out as we were leaving CP 23. I think I gave Luke a “gift” and let him hold my pack as we walked/ran to CP 23 as I messed with my harness. Thanks Luke (or I guess you should be thanking me).
Luke: Uh… Thanks?
We only had one more checkpoint and it was to the finish line. The only thing standing in our way of clearing the course was the zip line. We were all hoping it would be higher and faster than the zip-line the day before, and much to our delight we weren’t disappointed. It was a lot faster than the previous day, which unfortunately made it difficult to land on your feet at the bottom.
Casey: This zip line was awesome. It was long and fast. I planned to land on my feet gracefully but I somehow got turned around on my way down and landed on my side and butt. I bounced a couple of times and slid in the dirt, eventually coming to a stop. The people who zip-lined after me had to deal with the little ditch I left behind. I quickly hand-over-handed myself to the end of the rope, hung a leg over the zip line, unclipped and watched my teammates come down. Adam’s landing was the landing I had planned. He landed on both feet and jogged to a stop. It looked like he had done it a hundred times. Nicely done Adam, you’re back on the team. I nominate Adam as the new team captain.
Luke: I agree with letting Adam back on the team and even making him captain, BUT… He let me make a navigational error earlier in this race, so he is once again fired.
We all made it safely and we had plenty of time to make it to the finish line. We hiked up the hill toward the camp and jogged to the finish line.
We crossed the line to the applause of the other teams and spectators and posed for a few more photos like this one.
Bob: That garlic bread was the bomb.
Luke: Agreed. At our next non-race, we need hot garlic bread at the finish line.
We cleared the course with 5 minutes to spare. Much to our delight, there was plenty of food left at the finish line. All things considered, we were feeling pretty good with just having cleared the course. We noshed on corn dogs with Boetje’s mustard, which is phenomenal, and we were all amazed when Robyn Benincasa recognized our very own Bob Jenkins from the movie “Race Across the Sky”.
Bob: I’m still working on a book deal for that one.
Of course, in hindsight, there are things that we could be better at : more efficient paddling, quicker transition times, and not dropping water bottles into the river. We all crossed the finish line together but the posted results had Virtus Team 1 finishing 3 minutes behind Virtus Team 2. I’m still not sure how the hell that works. All in all everyone had a fantastic time and we are looking forward to next year.
Casey: If I remember correctly Bob and I were TV #2 weren’t we? Here’s how it went down…I clearly remember a dead sprint from the zipline by Bob and I. We looked back and TV #1 was casually strolling towards the finish line, like they were in a park on a Sunday afternoon. Bob and I then kicked it up to an even higher gear and flew across the finish line in a big blur of manliness. After a couple of minutes, once we caught our breaths and our heart rates dropped back to their resting rates of 5o BPM, we walked back towards the zip line. This is where we reunited with you guys and crossed the finish line together (and took the picture above). If you remember, when we found you guys back by the top of the ravine, you were in pretty bad shape. Luke even told us we should go ahead without him, he didn’t think he was going to be able to finish this one. With some encouraging words and threats of being kicked off the team we were able to coerce you guys across the finish line. I think Bob even offered to carry your pack but you refused him the “gift”. You are therefore fired from the team for depriving Bob of that gift.
Luke: 1. Casey’s comment is pure fiction. 2. Casey has no firing/hiring authority on the team. 3. It was a great race with a great team, and I had an absolute blast. On behalf of Team Virtus, I’d like to say thanks to Gerry and all of the volunteers as well as the great staff at Camp Benson, and a big thanks to Robyn Benincasa for her coaching and inspiring stories.
As Bob and I were running on the Katy Trail this morning (although Bob was a half an hour late because he “sent me an email changing the time to 6:30 instead of 6:00” that I never received), we talked about how the Katy may be underwater within the next few weeks as the Missouri River rises. We then discussed how we should paddle on the Katy Trail if it does indeed become flooded. Bob even came up with a great name for the event: “Rails to Sails.” Pretty good, huh?
Talking about paddling during the impending flood made me think of the time we had way too much fun paddling a flooded Cedar Creek. In case you missed it, below is the video. Check it out:
The last time we paddled Cedar Creek, we ended up walking a few extra miles since we (Bob) left the keys at the canoe put-in. To read all about it, you can go here (seriously, it’s worth a read). It was an incredibly fun day (even with the mishap regarding the keys), and we really need to get back out there for some more paddling fun. And Robby has promised us that he would join us next time, and NOTHING will stop him.
Until next time, Toot-a-Loo.
**NOTE** This race report is presented to you as a collaborative effort; Bob, Luke and I (Casey) pieced this one together as a group so we could each give our own impression of this event. After many edits, re-edits, and more edits, we are happy to finally present it to you.
The original write-up is given in standard text by myself, Luke’s comments are presented to you in red, and Bob’s commentary is given in yellow. I added a response or two in blue.
As I sit and stare at my computer screen, I can’t decide where to start with the recounting of this race. Do I detail the injuries and training issues we had leading up to race day? No, that would bore both of you to death. Should I talk about our inability to decide between the 12 or 24 hour race? Maybe I should discuss my 14 hour drive from upstate NY to Oregon, IL and the luxurious accommodations at a $45.00 a night motel in Elkhart, Indiana?
Or the strange display of Indian (or to be politically correct – Native American) teepees they found in a small town along the way.
Too many possibilities…so I guess I’ll open with how excited we were to be doing this race. It was finally here. You see we’d been looking forward to this particular race ever since we finished Team High Profile’s 8 Hour Lightning Strikes Adventure Race, (LSAR) back in April. Our Camp Benson experience had literally changed our lives and become the new metric by which all future races will be measured. It was by far the best race we’d ever done and it was only an 8 hour race. A 12 or 24 hour race by the same race director would have to be pretty epic, right (or should I say “REAL”)?
We could only hope The Thunder Rolls 12 Hour Adventure Race (btw, we finally decided on the 12 hour) would be a 12 hour version of the 8 hour race we had experienced earlier in the year. It was nearly unfathomable, but if anyone could pull it off, Gerry Voelliger was the guy.
After checking in and getting our mind-boggling schwag bags, (worth nearly the cost of the race), we headed to the communal campsite to set up Team Virtus Camp, (TVC). Luke and I set up our Hennessey Hammocks between four trees at the back of the campsite. We asked Bob if he needed help assembling the enormous tent we had for him. He informed us that he was sure that it wasn’t going to rain, and that he was too masculine for a tent anyway. He had plans to sleep out under the stars like a “real man”. I think he was planning on channeling his inner Bear Grylls or some Winnebago Indian (Native American) spirits to be more prepared for race day. If him sleeping without a tent would help us do better in tomorrow’s race…I was all for it.
I should have known better than to leave my fine buttocks exposed while tying my shoes:
Since the ascending wall was open for practice, we changed into some race gear, hopped on our bikes, and headed over there to learn how to ascend. Ascending was the only discipline we failed to attend at the LSAR Camp, we just ran out of time. I figured ascending would be much harder than it looked…. And I thought it looked pretty difficult. We waited in line, watching people scamper to the top of the climbing tower some 30 – 40 feet above us.
It was obvious that some of these racers had ascended before, flying up the rope like they’re going to be in the next Mission Impossible movie. Others swung back and forth, struggling with the task but eventually got to the top. I was afraid I was going to look like one of these guys and flip-flopping my way up the wall..
After some instruction from one of the volunteers, I walked to the wall and began what turned out to be a physically exhausting and mentally taxing exercise. I tried to ascend as gracefully as possible, but I can tell you, without any doubt in my mind, failed… I was anything but graceful. I looked like young Sasquatch trying to “F” a football.
I went this way and that, back and forth. As I struggled, I received pointers from the staff and even began figuring some things out for myself. About half way up, it started to click and somehow I was really doing it. I felt less like a horny Sasquatch and more like a Ninja Warrior as I worked my way to the top.
Soon, I was at the top pulling myself up and over the edge. I did it. I had ascended one third of what we’d have to ascend tomorrow during the race. I actually felt really comfortable by the end of my climb and was confident that I would be able to safely (but maybe not really fast) ascend during the race tomorrow.
Next up was Luke, who had apparently done this before at some point in his life (or maybe in a past life). He looked like a pro climbing up the rope in short quick steps, barely breaking a sweat. It turns out Luke is a natural ascender. (What a jerk!) That was Greeeat!, he could go first during the race.
Luke: I may have made it up more quickly than you, but I also had the benefit of learning from your mistakes and listening to the great volunteers as they coached you. I’m sure it would have been the other way around if I had gone first.
Bob went last and was definitely more Sasquatch than Ninja Warrior. He took quite a while getting up the rope and nearly exhausted himself. Initially he was pulling himself up with all arms. Bob was trying to horse his way up the rope and was taking these huge, three foot vertical increment steps each time his leg went up.
Dragon called out, “Baby steps, Bob!” trying to make him take smaller strides. I shouted out something like, “Baby Steps, Gil.” Which Luke appreciated and acknowledged with a smile (it was a reference to the cinema classic, What About Bob). I guess I didn’t think to make the connection between Bob Jenkins and Bob Wiley, the title character of the movie. I instead used Bob Wiley’s pet goldfish’s name. For the rest of the climb the instructors kept yelling out instructions for “Gil”. Bob seemed a little confused as to why everybody was calling him “Gil”.
Bob: Yeah, I might have been panicking for a minute there. And the whole time I’m blathering up the wall I’m looking around trying to figure out who this “Gil” person is…I began to think I wasn’t even going to make it 10 feet up that wall, but those volunteers REALLY helped.
Gil was much smoother and moving quickly by the time he reached the top of the tower.
We were now capable of a vertical ascend. Maybe not quickly or with grace, but Team Virtus would be able to get to the top of the 100+ foot cliff in tomorrow’s race.
We headed back to TVC and then over to the mess hall for a spaghetti dinner put on by the Boy Scouts. We had plenty to eat and drink, and attended the pre-race meeting shortly thereafter. Gerry and company told us all the rules and regulations, and briefed us on the really cool, cutting edge “Radio Navigation” section that was going to be a part of the 24 hour race. It sounded very challenging and fun. We were beginning to regret our decision to register for the 12 hour race instead of the 24.
I also heard Gerry say something about wearing long pants or gaiters for this part of the course. I guess I wasn’t really listening that closely to this part since we were doing the 12 hour race and I thought he was talking to just the 24 hour racers.
At the end of the race meeting we received our maps. Our plan was to let Luke (our best navigator) work over the maps while Bob and I ran the bikes to the bike drop. Let me tell you, it was a haul, taking us well over an hour to get the task done. When we returned, we found an ashen-faced Luke sitting half asleep where we had left him. He said he was nauseated and having “intestinal issues” and it was bad enough that if we had signed up for the 24 hour race he would’ve strongly considered withdrawing. That would have left Bob and I to race as a team of two, so once again we were glad to be doing the 12 instead of the 24. This gave Luke another 6 hours to get over his illness and hopefully be well enough to race.
We headed back to TVC for some sleep. Luke and I climbed into our hammocks and Bob slid into his open air sleeping bag on my extra air mattress.
It took me awhile to get comfortable in my new hammock. I was as excited as Ralphie Parker waiting to unwrap his new B.B. gun on Christmas morning for the following morning to finally get here. This excitement coupled with the general commotion of the communal camp left me unable to sleep. I lay there staring at the night sky, pondering the adventure that awaited us the next day.
Luke: I have to break in here. He didn’t just lay there. He tossed and turned, bounced and shimmied, shook, rattled and rolled in that damn hammock. You know what you get when you have a 240 pound man doing that in a nylon hammock right next to you? Waaaaaay too much damn noise! Next time, I’ll position my hammock on the other side of camp.
Bob: For real, it sounded like someone was wearing silk pants and dry humping a leather couch. What were you doing in there?
I was about to drift to sleep when I heard…
…Indian chanting and drums in the distance??
Was I somehow dreaming or awakening from a dream and still hearing this strange music in my head? I sat up in my hammock and pinched myself. No, I wasn’t dreaming and the music was getting louder. Not only was it loud, but it wasn’t stopping. I had no idea what time it was or why an Indian (Native American) Dance of some sort was in progress next to our sleeping quarters.
Then I heard Gerry on a loudspeaker barking out instructions and it then fell into place and began to make sense; It was nearing midnight and the 24 hour racers were lining up to start their race. There was a countdown and a loud “Go” followed by a bunch of yells. They were off.
Now that their race had started I was looking forward to some peace and quiet. That wasn’t going to happen, though. We were all wide awake, listening to the continuous chanting and drums. It continued and continued. Was it going to play all night until the start of our 12 hour race? Good God, I hoped not. I got out of my hammock, took a leak in the brush, and climbed back into my hammock.
Eventually the music was silenced and I fell asleep… for a while.
I was sleeping like a baby when I heard Luke yell out loud and very aggressively, (and I quote), “What the fuck do you want!” This was followed by a few more expletives and confusion on Luke’s part.
Next, I heard buck naked Bob ask where the bug spray was. I think the more appropriate question would’ve been, “Where the hell are Bob’s clothes?” Bob said he was getting eaten alive by bugs. Through a sleep induced fog, Luke thought for a moment and eventually told Bob that the DEET was in the van. He asked Bob if he wanted the keys, but Bob said no, he’d make due until morning. Then he crawled his naked ass back into his sleeping bag and we all went back to sleep.
Luke: Sorry, Bob. When I’m awakened from a dead sleep, I tend to have no idea what’s going on. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. And please put some pants on next time for the love of God!
Bob: If sleeping without pants is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. That being said, I will never forget bugspray again. That was horrible.
We got about four hours of sleep before being awakened by a cacophony of cell phone alarms going off. Within minutes we heard the familiar drums and chanting start up again. This time we didn’t mind the music, we knew it was for us and our race would be starting very soon. Luke informed us that he was feeling much better and thought he’d be able to race. Team Virtus was full strength and we anticipated a great race.
Team Virtus ate a quick breakfast; dropped a deuce (there was no line at the pit toilets) and headed towards the starting line. We quickly grabbed our gear out of the vans and made some last minute adjustments. After a group pre-race picture or two, all the teams bunched up at the starting line. There was a quick count down followed by a loud “Go” and we were off. Another life changing experience had just begun, whether we realized it or not. We took off at a medium paced jog and followed the crowd down the road.
We jogged most of the way down the road to Control Point 1 (CP 1) where we punched our card and picked up our canoes. Unfortunately for us, these were the same boats that we had to use for the LSAR earlier in the year. The same boats that had lead to our now infamous swim in the Mississippi and subsequent strip show on its bank. I am sure this is a nice boat for 2 normal sized paddlers, but we had 3 “rugbyesque” paddlers plus gear that weighed well over 750 pounds. We were all thinking the same thing, but no one said it…..yet.
We picked out a boat that called to us, lifted it over our heads and headed down the trail for the 1.5 mile+ portage to the banks of the Rock River.
About half way there Luke’s intestinal issue resurfaced. Bob and I put the canoe down as Luke ran into the forest to commune with nature. We were passed by 4 or 5 teams while Luke took care of his business, but he eventually rejoined us on the trail. He wasn’t feeling real well, but wanted to continue. Bob and I lifted the boat back up and headed to the river bank.
Once we got there, we punched our card at CP 2 and noticed there was no boat ramp. We had to climb down a steep bank with the canoe and launch from the bank. As we put the boat in the water we had a discussion as to who would sit in the middle of the canoe. We had decided, based on our 2 previous paddles in these canoes that the person in the middle would not paddle due to the instability of a canoe with such a load.
Bob: Check out that arm-vein!!
Bob was stuck in the middle last race and had been working really hard on his paddling all summer and Luke wasn’t feeling good but still really wanted to paddle. It was my turn to take one for the team. I volunteered to sit in the middle and be ferried to the next CP.
Luke: There was clearly some communication problems here, because I truly did not really feel like paddling. Somehow, though we decided I’d be in the back. Boo.
Casey: I was confused why you would paddle when you were feeling so poorly. I apologize for the miscommunication, I assure you that I would have much rather paddled than have to sit entirely motionless for a lengthy period of time. Lesson learned – communicate better next race.
Bob was in the bow and Luke was in charge of steering the canoe in the stern. I was the baggage in the middle being instructed to sit perfectly still and not move at all. Every time I moved even an inch, Luke would let me have it. Apparently, to Luke it felt like the boat was going to tip whenever I moved the slightest bit, and he made it abundantly clear that I was to remain motionless.
We were passed by many teams during the paddle. Some of them looked like less technical paddlers than we consider ourselves to be, but I guess less technique with a third of the weight leads to a faster boat. The paddle leg went very slowly for us, even though Bob and Luke were paddling hard and putting out a lot of effort. I’m pretty sure we were the only canoe with an actual wake. We passed a small bass boat and they had to turn their bow into the waves our boat was putting off.
Luke: A boat with two tiny female racers raced by us. As we looked over at them, it appeared that they were floating completely on top of the water instead of plowing through it with very little freeboard like we were. When I pointed out to them how they didn’t have enough weight in there boat, they said something like, “We’ll take that extra muscle that you’re not using in the middle there.” I then joked, “You can have him. He’s dead-weight anyway!” Bob and I then teased Casey about how he was just an anchor slowing us down. It seemed like we then came up with Casey’s new nickname at the same moment. From now to eternity, Casey will be known as “Anchor Man.” You can also call him Ron Burgandy if you like. Casey, why did you leave this part out?
Casey: An honest mistake I assure you. I am surprised that you didn’t refer them to a previous write where I apologized for being an anchor due to all my flat tires. Stay classy San Diego.
About 30 minutes into a 2 hour paddle Luke transformed into a PMS’ing Betty White. He started to bitch and complain incessantly. We were exposed to several instant classic one-liners, none of which we’ll mention here :), but if you re near our canoe in a future race listen and I am sure that you will hear a constant barage of these vintage Betty White one-liners that we all learned on the Rock River that day. With all his GI issues and with the boat being so hard to maneuver, Luke was in a bit of an uber lousy mood. I only recently found out how bad of shape Luke was really in. I wish he had COMMUNICATED better and I knew how he was feeling during this part of the race. I would have been a little more empathetic had I known.
We were not allowed to joke or goof around. Any time I moved at all I was told to hold still. I was reduced to sitting in the middle with both hands on the gunnels and my legs jammed under the seat in front of me. My feet and legs cramped, my back was burning, and my ass was asleep but I was afraid to adjust. Luke’s fuse was lit and the wick was quickly burning shorter. I hoped he wasn’t going to be”Betty White” the whole race. I wish I had a Snickers and a tampon to hand to him and tell him, “Hey Betty, you’re not you when you’re hungry and on the rag”. I can joke about it now, but Luke was definitely not Luke at this point.
Luke: Yes, I was a total Debbie Downer (aka – a bitch) for the paddling leg of this race. I felt like doo-doo, I didn’t want to be in the back of the boat, and that friggin’ canoe was impossible to maneuver with all of that weight in it. On top of that, I really thought we were going to tip the canoe every time you took a breath. Normally, I’m not like that, though. I apologize to both of you guys for being such a jerk. I just wanted out of that damn canoe. It was by far the least fun I’ve had in a canoe at any AR I’ve done. Although it’s pretty funny to look back on now, it wasn’t very funny at the time. Thanks for putting up with me, fellas.
Casey: I wish I knew how lousy your were really feeling. I commend you for sucking it up, pushing through it, and finishing the race. Plus, I now Bob or I can be a total jerk at a future race and not worry about it because we now have a “get out of jail free” card. Seriously though, that’s what teams are for and we all have our moments. We only grow together by sharing experiences like these. The race was a blast and you rebounded nicely once we were off the river.
At long last, we reached the takeout and made ready to ride some BIKES!!
Luke was Luke again, and that was a very good thing. We quickly transitioned to the bike portion of the race and headed out. We worked our way from the TA to CP 5 and then to CP 6. CP 6 was located at the Historic John Deere Site (where in 1836 John Deere invented the first plow using a discarded saw blade). From here we picked up the rest of the biking CPs and ended up at the Nachusa Grasslands, where the orienteering leg of the race was to take place.
The grasslands consist of 2800 acres of prairie remnants, restorations, and reconstructions. The Nature Conservancy, (using hundreds of volunteers), has re-created an 1800 Illinois mosaic of prairie, savanna, and wetlands. The volunteers literally lie on their bellies picking weeds and planting seeds one at a time. Grasslands need a “disturbance” once in awhile to flourish. You know… Something like a forest fire or a stampede of buffalo. Well, in this case, we adventure racers acted as the buffalo.
Bob: As we rolled into the transition area, Casey stopped and fell over on his bike cuz he couldn’t get his shoe unclipped. It was priceless…effing priceless. If only we had a photo.
Luke: Yeah, that was so damn funny. He just came to a complete stop and fell right over in the middle of 30 racers or so. Amazing. It’s funny how he seemed to leave that part out.
Casey: I was slowing down, unclipped and stepping off my bike when I was told to park on the other side of the clearing. So, I peddled over there without clipping back in but somehow I unknowingly clipped my one shoe back into the pedal. When I slowed down again, I went to step down only to realize that my foot was stuck in the pedal and I went down like a ton of bricks right in front of everybody. I definitely should have included that. Good memory. I wish he had a picture that we could include in the report, I went down hard.
The prairie looks exactly as it did when Chief Black Hawk made this area his home many years ago. How cool is it to see the grasslands exactly the way they were so many years ago? I thought it was an amazing experience; if you’ve never visited a native grassland, you need to experience it.
We were lucky to have been given this opportunity as part of the race. This orienteering leg of the course took place entirely within the Nachusa Grasslands. As we were transitioning from the bikes to the trekking, Bob decided to wear his Tahoe bike shoes because he didn’t feel like putting his wet trail shoes back on. I questioned his logic, guessing that they would soon be wet too. He said he knew what he was doing, so I let it go. We grabbed a Monster energy drink (free courtesy of the sponsors) and headed out into the grasslands.
Trekking through grass that’s over 7 feet tall is an interesting experience to say the least. Believe it or not, it’s not as soft as it looks. It’s viciously sharp and hungry for your exposed flesh.
*NOTE TO FUTURE RACERS* Listen closely when Gerry Voelliger speaks!! If he tells you to wear pants at any time, any place, for any reason…do it. I failed to bring suitable pants (I only had lightweight rain pants that would have been shredded in minutes had I put them on). Somehow my teammates picked up on Gerry’s recommendation but failed to pass it along to me. My legs were soon a burning mess of inflamed and scratched flesh.
We trekked through the first couple of check points without much issue. We enjoyed the experience and unique opportunity to hike through these rare, native grasslands.
At one point, we decided to go into the thicker brush and “bushwhack” to the CP to “save some time”. Not the best decision of the race. It cost us some time hiking up and down consecutive valleys until we found the correct reentrant, and in the end, (since hindsight is always 20/20) we realized we could have followed a groomed path to the CP. Whatever…nothing ventured nothing gained.
Luke: Yeah, that was my call. Sorry about that. I hate when that happens!
From here we headed down the hill and to a road. We decided against the road and took the “shortest distance between two points” route. We were walking through some of the thickest weeds, vines, thorns, and trees that you could imagine. I was following close to Luke when we came out on another road. We turned back and there was no sight of Bob. We called out to him, and he answered that he was all right, but “stuck in some really thick shit.”
We sort of chuckled because we knew what he was walking through. Several minutes passed and still no Bob. Finally, we began to hear brush moving and some swearing, but we still had no visual. Then we saw the tops some 7 foot high grass move. It was like we were being stalked by a velociraptor from Jurassic Park.
Then we caught a quick glimpse of Bob’s head before it quickly disappeared back into the grass. Some more grass crunching, sticks breaking, swearing, and then Bob popped out of the thicket.
Bob: That hurt so bad.
We proceeded to collect the rest of the CPs in the grasslands. We finally wised up a little and took the grass road through the grasslands back to the TA even though it was a little further. We had had enough of pushing through grass, thorns, cattails, and poison ivy (if the volunteers pick weeds and control all that grows in the grasslands, why is there so much poison ivy?).
The tall grass presented us with a problem we’d never encountered before: Some of the pollen, (I guess), was getting in Bob’s eyes and blinding him. His eyes were really bothering him, and it eventually became a big enough problem that something had to be done about it.
We couldn’t have Bob stumbling around the grasslands blindly. But what do you do about this kind of thing? It’s pretty simple, really: You spit clean water in his face.
Bob: Hey, it worked.
Luke: Hey, I was more than happy to do it.
Upon arrival at the TA, we grabbed a couple Monster Energy Drinks (I think Bob ended up drinking all three of our drinks).
We had to pick burdocks and hitchhikers out of our clothes and leg hair as part of preparing for the bike ride. We climbed on our bikes and hauled ass back to camp for the part of the race we were most were looking forward to…the pack rafting leg.
I must preface this section with a little back ground. You see, we have been practicing for this event all summer. Luke and I purchased the Sevylor Trail Boat back in late May or early June. I practiced paddling mine on Canandaigua Lake in New York and Luke and Bob practiced numerous times on lakes and rivers in Missouri. One day in late July, Bob decided to push the limits of the Trail Boat and ran a flooded creek in it. It worked great, right up until he tore a huge gash in the bottom of the boat and sank it.
Bob had planned to replace Luke’s boat and buy himself another Trail Boat for the race. The only problem was that Sevylor no longer made this boat and all vendors were out of stock. You could not purchase a new or used Sevylor Trail Boat anywhere in New York, Missouri, or on the internet. We looked everywhere. What were we going to do? The race was only a few weeks away and we only had 1 one-person pack raft. We looked at other Sevylor rafts as well as some Alpaca Rafts (which would’ve been ideal, but we just could not justify the cost).
That’s when we got lucky and found out about the cool kids at flyweightdesigns.com. They’re a company here in the UNITED STATES that produces the flytepacker. It’s lighter than the Trail boat, tougher than nails and half the price of an Alpacka. I can inflate mine in less than 2 minutes and it deflates in seconds.
Bob: I should also mention that their customer service is phenomenal. I’ve been in contact with them no less than a dozen times and am always impressed with their service. Every time I call them I get to talk to a real person,(usually a feller named Marc), and when I send email I ALWAYS get a quick response. Top notch service without fail, and that’s no bullshit. These guys are the real deal, and their boat is pretty damn good too.
As we rode into the TA from the final Bike CP we were like giddy school girls and seemed to have a surge in our energy levels. We got the rafts out and went to work to inflating them as fast as we possibly could. The Flytepackers were inflated in less than 3 minutes and the Trail Boat in about 10. As we were getting all of our stuff together, we heard a volunteer yell that all 12 hour racers just coming in would be short-coursed to the final trekking leg and forced to skip the packrafting section. I can’t convey to you the disappointment, heartbreak and then anger we felt at this point. I actually thought Bob was going to start crying. He was by far the most excited to test out his new raft. We’d been looking forward to this all summer and had spent a lot of money just for this part of the race.
Bob and Luke were getting ready to deflate the rafts and move on with the race. I told them to wait a second and left our area in the TA area. I walked over to the volunteer area and asked if we were included in the group that was being short-coursed and gave them our race number. They checked the clipboard and told me we were NOT short-coursed and that we could do the pack rafting leg if we wanted to do so.
Did I detect a sadistic smirk on his face or was it just my imagination? I decided he was happy for us because he sensed how badly we wanted to raft.
I ran back to the TA and told my dejected teammates we weren’t being short-coursed and we could do the pack raft leg “if we wanted to”.
“If” we wanted to do the pack raft leg? Of course we want to pack raft!! That’s what we came here for!! We grabbed our crap and took off West toward the river.
This is where things started turning sour. You see, we never took the time to walk to the river front at the camp prior to the race. So when we left the TA, we headed off into some campsites and were nowhere near the river. I suggested heading back to the TA to find a trail leading to the river, but Luke and Bob voted against it. They were afraid if we went back, we wouldn’t be allowed to start the pack raft leg. I went along with the team’s decision knowing the river still had to be west of our current location and it couldn’t be much further. We found a little trail heading west and took it.
This trail quickly became very challenging as we started to climb over piles of brick and block debris. How was this trail to the river front? I had a hard time visualizing little boy scouts walking down this trail. I’m pretty sure we were in a ditch that had been used to dump all the building refuse over the years.
Luke: As much as I hate to admit it, we should have listened to Casey here. On the other hand, I’d like to point out the remnants of a chocolate energy bar on Casey’s lip in the above photo as he’s strangling me. Gross!
Casey: I always think it is prudent to save a little for later. How could you not tell me there was chocolate on my mouth? We’re teammates and brothers; we don’t shake hands we hug. You can tell me when I have some crap on my mouth.
Then it got steeper, thornier, and there was a drop off. We were considering turning back when Bob saw a “fresh footprint”. How the hell did he now it was fresh? I speculated it was somehow related to his self sacrificing actions the previous night. Based on the fact that another team must have gone this way and that it headed west, we decided to push on. Anyway, we had to be closer to the river than we were to the TA at this point. We climbed down a little rocky drop off and it got even worse, more thorns, overhead brush, and then the mosquitoes.
The bugs were so dense you could literally scrape them off your body. I remembered the photos we saw of Ron (one e of the race volunteers and also an instructor form the High Profile Adventure Camp) from when he fell asleep without any bug netting or bug spray. His face was swollen, bloated, and discolored. He hardly looked like himself at all. I wondered if we’d wind up like that. How many mosquito bites can you get before you have an allergic reaction? Has anybody ever died from mosquito bites? Why did we not remember to put on any bug repellent at the TA before we left?
I guess we were in such a hurry and so excited to get in our rafts? We decided to continue west, being chased by the buzzing swarm. Eventually we arrived at the shore and we all ran out into the river in search of relief. The water was refreshingly cool and the bugs couldn’t get to any part that was underwater.
We assumed that we were up river from the CP as we could see a couple of boats heading up river and decided to float down river. In a few minutes we hit the CP and beached our rafts. We quickly punched our card and hopped back into our rafts. It was time to put our sharply honed skills in our pack rafts to use.
We took off paddling at a good pace and made some gains against the current. We had to decide whether to go to the left or right of the islands in the middle of the river. I’m not really sure why we decided to go to the left but we did. Luke was a little ahead of me and Bob was a little behind me.
We worked hard to get across the current near the island so that we could hug the farshoreline, in hope of less current and an easier paddle. Luke made some progress and was a little ahead of me now. I found a tree on the bank that was maybe 7 or 8 feet up river and thought I’d see how long it took me to get there. I paddled and paddled and paddled some more. It took me about 10 minutes.
10 minutes to go less than 10 feet? Are you kidding me? I tried to calculate in my oxygen deprived mind how long the paddle would take at this rate. This was not good.
After another 20 or 30 minutes of aggressive paddling, I came to an area of the river that narrowed because of a fallen tree. I paddled balls out for a good five minutes and moved at most 6 inches. I floated a few feet down river and eddied out behind the fallen tree, catching my breath and transitioning to a more aggressive paddling position (I was now on my knees and closer to the front). With a little prayer and a shout I pushed off the bank to try one more time. I really dug deep, and after much effort I made it to the end of the tree. I hung to the tree, trying to recover and slowly pulled myself a little further up river.
This wasn’t working so I pushed off and began paddling balls to the wall once again. I moved 2 to 3 inches with each stroke and would slip back down river a good inch before I could get the other blade back into the water. So this means that I was netting 1 to 2 inches per stroke. I looked up and realized that I was being passed by a guy and a woman. They were walking in the river pushing their boat and moving faster than I was in an all out paddle. I processed my options and rolled over the edge of my boat and into the water. I too was able to move more quickly employing this technique.
I figured I still had at least half way to go before I reached the next CP. I kept walking and pushing my boat in water ranging from waist to neck deep. The terrain underfoot varied from loose sand to shin-deep river mud. Oh, I forgot to mention the current pushing against my “rugbyesque” torso. It was not fun, but we weren’t the only ones suffering. This part of the course was a real equalizer; Skinny, fat, short and tall…the river was punishing everyone. We saw a LOT of teams give up and head back downstream.
As I walked along I made friends with a happy couple, Josh and Tina, from Team 13 Inches. We chatted and worked together to get upriver. At one point, we formed a 3-person chain and pulled one another across the current. Very good sportsmen, those two…together we made our journey up river and had some great conversation getting to know each other.
We continued to walk up river. I had no idea how far behind me Bob was or how far ahead of me Luke was at this point. I just knew I had to push onward and find my teammates. As I came around the end of the island, I saw Luke sitting in the Trail Boat with his feet up on the side just chilling out in the water, as if he was working on his tan. What a jerk.
I said goodbye to my new friends and made my way into the still water where he was waiting. Luke asked where Bob was. I didn’t know; there was just no way to stick together out in that current. I hadn’t seen him since we were trying to get past the first bottleneck of the river. This was taking us much longer than we anticipated; we had to wonder if skipping the rafting leg may have been the better decision.
Then in the distance we saw a tall, hairless Sasquatch like creature walking upriver humped over his raft. He was shirtless and had his shorts hiked up to his ribcage (a great look for Bob). We waited until he was in shouting distance and then we showered him with encouraging words. Once again, Team Virtus was all together.
We proceeded upriver as a single unit, Bob and I pushing our fancy rafts and Luke paddling his Trail Boat. Finally, we reached the beach and gladly climbed out of the water. What was the reward for all of this effort? A short walk around a bluff and then up over 100 steps to a scenic overlook.
As I climbed the first few stairs my quads began to cramp a bit. I ignored the cramping and pushed up the stairs eager to see the view from the top. I was sure this lookout was the same one I had seen online. This photo is taken looking downstream. See that bend in the water towards the right of the photo? That’s the island we were talking about earlier. Take a moment to look at the current and feel sorry for the poor bastartds in that tiny fleck of a yellow raft on the right.
Finally, we were at the top and took a few minutes to enjoy the vistas. We snapped a few pictures and then headed back down the stairs and to our rafts.
We were looking forward to a leisurely float down river to the takeout. As we pushed off, Luke and I looked back and saw Bob actively engaged in enjoying this experience. All that was missing was a couple of beers in his boat. He had his shoes off and his feet propped up on the edges of his boat. He was fully reclined and relaxing.
We took our time and really enjoyed the beauty of the river for the first time. We knew the race was almost over so we wanted to savor this experience together.
We quickly reached the takeout and climbed to the shore. Why did it take us 90 minutes to go upriver and only 5 minutes to come down? I wished it could have somehow been the other way around. We deflated our boats and headed back to the TA. Once we checked back in and got our final orienteering map we realized that we only had about 25-30 minutes before the end of the race. Luke voted to call it a day but Bob and I wanted to try for one more CP.
Betty… I mean Luke was too exhausted to lead, and felt there was no way we could get to the nearest CP and return to the finish line in the remaining time. I wasn’t really “feeling” the map, but wanted to try for one more CP and new Luke was our best chance of making it happen. He had been point on all day with the navigation.
Luke: Actually, I was pretty crushed at this point. I had dreamed about a good performance at this race for so long that realizing we weren’t going to come close to clearing the course took the wind right out of my sails. I guess that’s why Betty White was back. Well that, and the fact that I was almost positive we couldn’t get another CP in time.
Bob is the least experienced navigator on the team (he says he can’t navigate for s**t – his words not mine), but he gamely decided to jump in with both feet and lead for once. He took charge and said “F’ it, I’ll lead.” He looked at the map, took a quick bearing and we were off. Bob was using dead reckoning , putting us on a course straight from point A to point B. (a direct route as the crow flies).
We were in a dead run in a race against the clock, and running isn’t exactly our specialty (yet). As we started into the woods, Betty… er, Luke mentioned we could take the trail around a ravine and get there quicker and easier.
Bob responded with, “Who’s leading!?!”
Bob: I regretted saying that even as it was coming out of my mouth. It was a very tense moment and I felt like someone needed to take charge. There wasn’t time for deliberation, only enough time to make a quick decision and commit to it. I think we all had some out-of-character moments that day.
Luke: Agreed. I shouldn’t have even second-guessed you. You manned-up. We didn’t. ‘Nuf said.
Casey: Yeah, nice job Bob. Way to take charge we really needed somebody to. I should have done it and dropped the ball forcing it onto you. I owe you one. In hind sight, we probably didn’t have enough time to get another point but I felt like we needed to end on a positive note.
So we went his way, up and down a ravine covered with thorns and poison ivy. Then we came out on a trail, so I guess Betty was right but Bob was in charge. We plunged down into another steep ravine lined with even more thorns and poison ivy. As we came out of that mess, we hit another trail and stopped for a clock and map check.
Chances were pretty good that we’d miss the cutoff if we pushed on to get this last CP. Should we chance it? It would definitely be close. Could we push the pace and make it?
I wanted that last CP so badly. It would somehow put a positive finish on a very difficult and challenging race. We could finish strong and on our own terms, but our fear of missing the cutoff was stronger than our desire to get the last CP. As a team, we decided to head back to the finish line and call it a day.
And so we finished on a bit of a low note. We felt dejected and disappointed with our performance. We had trained hard for this race, and we had overcome several injuries just to be here. Our goal was to clear the course and finish as quickly as we could. Well, we finished as quickly as we could, but we didn’t clear the course.
We never made it to the 300 foot zip-line/ascension CP. I wish we could have but I wouldn’t have traded it for the pack raft experience. We finished as a team, learned a lot from this race, and grew closer despite the temper flare-ups. We overcame adversity and a sick teammate’s near-meltdown. After all of this we were still teammates, friends, and brothers.
Luke: And that’s what a true TEAM does. Big thanks to both of you guys for putting up with and carrying me in my darkest moments.
Casey: I am just paying it forward for when you’ll have to do the same for me.
Luke: Wait… Wouldn’t that be paying it in advance?
We looked forward to a nice evening together. After a quick shower and a snack (fresh hot pizza, nuts, and Gatorade provided by the race) we headed to a local watering hole where we met up with ”Peace By inches”, another team we had become friends with during the race.
We were in for a real treat, not only was the food good and the beer cold… they had live entertainment. We got rocked out by the hard core heavy metal band, Rat Baxter. They sang plenty of covers and a couple of originals. They continually rocked too hard and blew the power in the whole bar at least 4 or 5 times. Bob was really into the band and got our whole group into it. We had a blast. At one point the local ladies were out on the dance floor cutting a rug. Our table began chanting Bob…Bob…Bob.
Bob did not let us down, he answered the call. He hopped up and owned the dance floor, shaking his ass like he was gettin’ paid. The ladies were all over him and he can really dance.
He was, however, being closely watched by one of the ladies’ companions. Some crazy ass biker wearing just a black leather vest (if you looked closely you could catch a glimpse of an occasional nipple) had a 10 inch bone handle hunting knife strapped to his side. It looked like Mic Dundee’s knife from the classic movie Crocodile Dundee.
Luke: This sounds completely fabricated, but it’s all true. I was there, and I can confirm all of this.
Bob: The one that sticks out in my memory most is the short one in front of me who’s looking down. I think she had ideas..I’m glad we got out of there when we did.
Luckily, the dance ended uneventfully and we finished our meal and drinks as the band rocked on.
Since our ears were bleeding a bit and our throats were getting sore from trying to talk over the “music”, we decided to relocate to different bar. Here we hung out, relaxed, and exchanged war stories from the day’s race and races gone by. Time flew by, but we wanted to get back to see the last teams from the 24-hour race cross the finish line. We said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to the camp.
We arrived with plenty of race time left to “clap in” the last three 24 hour team across the finish line. While it’s impressive to see the first teams cross the finish line, there’s something to be said for those teams that get by on guts and grit, and persevere just for the experience. You should have seen their faces as they crossed the finish line. They were totally spent physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but there was certainly an aura of pride and accomplishment surrounding them.
There are always plenty of people around to clap in the winners and top teams. However, there are often only race organizers and a few volunteers there to see the last few teams in. We’ve been there. Whenever possible (if we are not the last team) we like to see the last handful of teams cross the finish line. They’re kindred spirits and are just as important to the sport as the top teams are.
Great job by all teams that raced. Thank you to all of the volunteers for making the race a success. Thank you to Team High Profile for putting on such a “REAL” race that challenged us physically as well as mentally. Also, a big thanks to all the sponsors who made it all possible.
Two things I learned from this race that you’ll want to know for future Lightening Strikes Adventure Races and Thunder Rolls Adventure Races are as follows:
1) If Gerry recommends that you wear pants for any reason, at any time, at any place…DO IT! Don’t doubt him, don’t question him, don’t argue, just do it!!!
2) Gerry Vollinger is one sadistic SOB (we love him and could definitely feel his love for us during the upriver pack raft paddle).
Screw you you’re the man, Gerry:)
Casey: Thanks for putting on such a “REAL” race Gerry. It took me a while to really appreciate the experience. We had a great time and a real memorable experience. We are looking forward to the LSAR and the Thunder Rolls next year (or this year – 2011).
Luke: Yup, a big thanks to Gerry and all of the unbelievable volunteers. You guys put on one helluva race! And Gerry, you are a piece of work… in a good way.
I guess no race report is complete without the results, right? Well, as disappointed and demoralized as we were, and with as much BS that we went through together as a team, we actually did much better than we had anticipated. We ended up in 4th place out of 8 teams in the 3-person open division (finishing only 12 minutes behind the 3rd place team), and we finished in 8th place out of 40 teams overall. Apparently, the pack-rafting took its toll on other teams as well. Four teams DNFed, and only two teams cleared the course.
Now that time has passed, I look back at the experience fondly and know that we’ll be back next year for both races. Don’t be discouraged by this report, see it as a challenge and rise up to it. You’ll grow from the experience and after it’s all over and time passes….. you too will look back fondly at the experience and smile. We’ll see you there next year (I guess it’s later this year now, isn’t it?).