Tearing down a non-race course is a lot like picking up all the wrapping paper after Christmas morning. It’s depressing to know you’re gonna have to wait a year before you get to do it again. This year, though, has been very different. One might even go so far as to say it’s been awesome.
A few days ago, I loaded up my pack and set out to tear down the Western half of the CAC2 Orienteering course. The following is my account of this truly badass day.
9 am: Woke up and checked to see if anyone I had invited was going to show up. No dice; this would be a solo venture.
10 am: Driving down Highway J, I see a bald eagle swoop down and pick up some roadkill. I nearly wrecked my truck watching it happen. This was surely a sign that today was going to be awesome.
12:05 pm: Parked the truck at the end of County Rd 354, hit the woods and started hiking North. I could already hear the water ripping down Cedar Creek. Before long, I was crossing a small feeder creek and started finding beaver chews. I love finding this kind of stuff.
About 20 minutes later, I arrive where the CP flag should be.. and it isn’t there. With CP flags being $9 a piece, this was disappointing, for sure. I decided to sit on the cliff and look around. Sure enough, I spotted the flag about 100 feet downhill from where it was originally placed.
After gathering the next two flags, I decided to slide down the hill and follow the creek Northward for a bit. I started noticing a bunch of Blue Heron cranes flying around, and when I stopped to watch them I realized I was in the middle of their nesting grounds. Blue Herons are known to make their nests in large Sycamore trees, so I sat under one and watched them fly in and out of their nests. It was very cool to watch these giant birds swooping around. They make the oddest sounds..
This was now uncharted territory along Cedar Creek, and since I’d forgotten to bring my map I wasn’t sure if I was still on public ground. The houses on the bluffs above would make me an easy target for someone wanting to shoot a tresspasser so I made my way into the wooded area away from the creek. Ascending the bluff, I found yet another clifftop with the most scenic view I’ve found to date. Check this photo out:
Getting to the top of that cliff was tricky; it’s overgrown with cedars and some kind of vines. But once I got there, I found a pretty cool slab of rock right at the edge where a person could sit and take in the view. Dangerous for sure, but a pretty awesome feeling to be that close to the edge.
I hung out there for a bit before heading back into the woods. When I cut back into the woodline, I noticed something below that demanded closer inspection:
The photo doesn’t do a good job of showing the steepness of the hill going down to the waterfall. I can assure you that it was at least mildly perilous. This is definitely one of my new favorite places.
This trip was just getting better and better. My plan had been to hike North along the creek until the second time it turned Northeast, then packraft my way back to the truck. I was almost sad when the creek turned, but I was super excited to get in the water. Making my way toward the water, I found this rock formation with a giant gorge in either side.
The terrain was too tricky to get a photo at the top, but I did snap this one from the bottom. If you look where I’m pointing, you’ll see two small caves at the base of the rock. I assume they connect in the middle, but we’ll have to verify that on an exploration trip very soon..
And now it was time for the fun part. I inflated my packraft and the $5 inflatable surfboard I was using for an inflatable floor. I put all of my stuff in a “waterproof” bag, (waterproof, my ass), and roped it to the back of the boat so it wouldn’t weigh me down. Then it was time for the fun part.
I found a nice calm pool where the water wasn’t moving too quickly and shoved off. At first, the water was relatively calm…almost relaxing. In several places, like the one pictured below, there are small trickles of water feeding the creek.
90% of the time, this creek is mostly dry. I’ve only ever seen it floatable after sustained heavy rains and/or flooding. And since the water level is never really constant, you just never know what the conditions will be like. Up until this point, there were very few strainers and only a small rapid or two.
The boat was doing well, my drybag was still floating and I had somehow managed to not drop my camera in the creek. I had no idea what time of day it was anymore, and that’s how I know I’m having a good day.
Little did I know the “drybag” was filling with water and all of my fresh clothes for after the float would be soaked. Coming around a bend in the creek, I could hear the rapids ahead and saw that I had to make a decision.
After that, things started happening a lot faster. A few quick rapids later I found myself dodging this little strainer.
I realize the video quality isnt the best, but you have to understand I was holding the camera in my mouth. By now I was full of confidence and ready for the next volley of rapids. This next video shows you why I bought a packraft in the first place. I’m sure these rapids would be no big deal in a whitewater kayak or maybe even a canoe, but in a small inflatable boat….excitement abounds.
I’m sure you could hear a *little bit* of fear in my voice on that one, but I assure you.. the fear was totally eclipsed by the excitement of that moment. Moments like those are the ones that make all your cares disappear. Your entire world is right there in the boat, there are no wandering thoughts of bills, careers or anything. All you think about is the spray in your face, the paddle in your hands and the ice cold water marinating your testicles….and I suppose you think about the friends you wish were there to share the experience.
Here at Team Virtus HQ, we’re counting down the moments until this year’s “The Thunder Rolls” Adventure Race. I can’t speak for the other guys, but every time I even think about this race I get more excited than Boy George at a shoe sale. This thing is going to be life-changing.
A major part of being ready for an event like this is being comfortable using the required gear. As if biking, hiking, paddling, rock climbing, rappeling, orienteering and rock climbing weren’t complicated enough, The Thunder Rolls promoters have presented us with a new challenge: The Pack raft.
Packrafts are inflatable “boats” designed to be used on-the-fly. They’re kept in your pack or strapped to your bike until a section of impassable water is reached. At that time, the boat is inflated and paddled to the other side. Once across, the boat is deflated and re-packed. It’s a great concept, as virtually noone wants to drag a kayak through the woods “just in case”.
Luke took the liberty of being the first to purchase a packraft. He bought the Sevylor Trail Boat, seen below.
The Trail Boat is fairly inexpensive, but many of the product reviews portray it as being inadequate in terms of toughness. Product testing is a big deal when most of your team is comprised of men over 200 pounds, so preparations were made and I was dispatched to evalaute the sea-worthiness of our new toy.
I couldn’t wait. I had been hearing tall tales of a fabled access point to a “certain” piece of swift water in Boone county. The spot was less than 20 minutes from my house, and when I hear stories like that I tend to think they’re bullsh*t.
When I finally found it I couldn’t believe my eyes:
Nice view of the water too.
I loaded up my gear and started hiking. Since I was alone and had no way to stage a vehicle, I decided to hike upstream a few miles and then float back. I found a deer trail and followed it through the woods. It was a good hike with minimal thorns, and after a while I found this:
I think this is supposed to be called a “natural arch” since you can see all the way through it. The thing that impressed me the most was that I found no graffiti or garbage. Maybe it’s because the arch was positioned at the very top of a vertical cliff?
Awesome stuff, and I found a few more rock formations similar to the first one. I saw a few eagles along the way and had a great time. Despite all this, I couldn’t wait any longer to get on the water, so I climbed down off the ridge and made my way toward the water.
That’s when the real learning began. The closer I got to the water, the thicker the vegetation got and the looser the ground became. It wasn’t exactly dangerous, but it was definitely a pain in the ass. I guess when the water recedes, the soil is rich and promotes rapid growth of thorns and scrub-brush.
- PFD –check
- Golite pack –check
- Wallet and camera in the drybag –check
- Helmet –check
- Fresh cheekload of Redman –check
- Sense of adventure –CHECK!!
Next thing ya know I’m in the water and cruising downstram. I was using a single blade collapsible canoe paddle–don’t ever do that. Almost immediately I stowed the paddle and piloted the boat with my hands. What a great time! The water was moving fast, the scenery was awesome and it was all over before it started. It only made sense to do it again, right?
The second hike upriver, I went along the other side of the bank. I will never do that again. I went through some Stinging Nettles or something, and my legs hurt so bad I couldn’t believe it. Lesson learned, tromping through the brush wearing shorts is a fool’s game.
Hiking along, I came to one of the fingers that feeds into the creek. It was about 30 feet across with no sign of being crossable on foot.
Hmm, Good thing I’ve got a pack raft.
I put it in the water and made it across with no problems. After slashing my way through what seemed like an eternity of thorns and nettles, I decided this little hike needed to be overwith. The stinging in my legs was too much to ignore, so I made a bee-line for the water to float back…. That’s when I stumbled across this:
WHAT THE (insert profanity here)?!?!?
I’ve been tromping through razor wire for an hour right next to a manicured trail?? Man, I-was-pissed….but glad to find a trail. I followed it until it ended and then bushwacked to the water. I made my way into another of the creek’s fingers and followed it to the actual creek. Along the way it got a bit…..brushy.
After that it was all smooth sailing. A great day in the woods and on the water, no “real” injuries and a very positive experience. I hadn’t truly tested the “Trail Boat” yet, but preliminary testing had shown this vessel to at least be entertaining. My second trip in the boat will be detailed later, and as a precursor to that experience I’ll just go ahead and say we are currently exploring other options for the Team Virtus packraft of choice.