**NOTE: This race report was written by me (Luke) with commentary added by Kate in Blue, Chuck in Green, and Brian in Red. If I feel like it, I might even add a response or two in Purple.
At one point, we thought we were going to have 6 Virtusans and a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot-er going to the premiere Adventure Race in the Midwest – nay, the nation – nay, the world! – The Thunder Rolls 24-hour AR. We were planning on showing up en masse to dominate all our competitors.
That was the plan, but I’m sure we’ve all heard this line from Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (And before any of you literary snobs chime in to tell me it was originally “/
When it came time to sign up for the race, we were down to Kate, Chuck, Brian from WTFAR, and myself. Brian needed to leave the race early to help his dad celebrate his 70th birthday party. So Kate and Chuck raced as Team Virtus, and Brian and I paired up as the formidable Team WTFAR-Tus (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Adventure Racing + Virtus = WTFAR-Tus). We signed up as solos, though, so when he had to split, I could continue on with Kate and Chuck to suffer and enjoy the rest of the race.
Even though we were signed up as solos, we only took one passport since we were a team. In our hearts and minds we were racing togehter as Team WTFAR-Tus. We were racing as teammates. We were racing as brothers.
Brian: You guys need to understand, I wouldn’t be a top notch mediocre adventure racer if it wasn’t for Team Virtus. I remember fondly the cold January day where I sat in my comfy chair with a blanket and coffee reading their first adventures of rappelling at Camp Gerry. My hands got sweaty from fear as I moved from paragraph to paragraph but finally I came to the conclusion if those idiots could become the Midwest’s greatest team then maybe I could at least survive. And now I’m racing WITH them? I’d compare it to being a kid who got to invite Batman, He-Man, Daisy Duke, Fat Elvis, and a Dino bot to his birthday party. So yeah, I was stoked.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Part Where We Drive to the Race
Part of the fun of a big race is the road trip. I can’t begin to tell you how many stories and jokes we have from previous road trips alone. For example, on one long road trip we learned that “Twister” is one of Robby “The Darkness” Brown’s all-time favorite movies. Seriously.
So I was stoked that Kate and Chuck were willing to wait for me to get off work at 9:00 so I could meet up with Chuck and then pick up Kate along the way. We piled into Chuck’s Adventure Jeep and much laughing and farting ensued. Unfortunately, Brian had to ride up to the Adventure Racing paradise that is Camp Benson by himself.
Chuck: At some point during the drive Luke spotted the big Gerber knife on the rollbar and had to check it out. The sheath has a tight fit, so you really gotta pull to get it out. I don’t even want to know how close it came to stabbing me in the neck when it popped loose.
Luke: The Adventure Jeep is a badass vehicle and that knife makes it even more so. And yes, I may have almost stabbed both Chuck and Kate once or twice.
Brian: SuperChuck…the most interesting adventure racer in the world.
On any road trip, we try to honor Bob’s rule of “No Chain Restaurants” whether he’s not with us or not, and in this case he most certainly was not with us since his brother was getting married (a valid excuse – family first, right?). Bob’s dining rule has resulted in some hilariously bad dining experiences as well as some really good ones. Fate was smiling down on us, though, when Chuck spotted a sign for Crossroads Diner.
This little diner didn’t look like much from the outside, and the interior followed suit. Even with Kate at our table, we brought the average age of the diners down substantially. Chuck and I ordered their specialty: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with Fries. Kate, however, ordered a cheeseburger with onion straws, and then she decided to be a pain in the ass and substitute onion rings for her fries.
Ho-lee shit! We were not disappointed. Our tenderloins and Kate’s onion rings were hand-breaded in their delicious proprietary, super secret breading, and the portions were effing huge! Take a look:
Chuck: That picture is a lie. The tenderloin looked so much bigger in real life. I swear it was the size of an elephant ear.
Brian: I had lunch at Wendys, thanks for asking.
It was so freakin’ good! Seriously. If you’re ever near Mt. Olive, Illinois, you should stop. Just be aware that the bathroom doors are wicked-narrow. For real.
The Part Where We Prepare Ourselves
We arrived at Camp Benson, and Brian, who arrived before us, was nowhere to be seen. I really thought he’d be there waiting to greet us with a giant bear hug or something, but I was mistaken.
We checked in and got our schwag bag which was literally a bag this year – a cool littler cooler/duffle bag with Zanfel and BOETJE’S MUSTARD OMG OMG!!! and a few other things.
Chuck: And did you hear Gerry say they now have a bourbon barrel aged Boetje’s Mustard?! We HAVE to find some!
Luke: Yup! We need to make a sammich with the Boetje’s Bourbon Mustard and pair it with your homemade whiskey, Chuck!
Then we headed down to our cabin assuming we’d find Brian taking a nap or doing push-ups or something. No such luck. But we soon found him as we were walking back to the main lodge for the pre-race pasta dinner.
Brian: I was sitting by my car preparing my gear patiently waiting for my teammate’s to arrive. I wish they would create some sort of typing device that one could use to send a message to someone else that could arrive almost instantly. That way I would have know they had arrived. I guess the technology just isn’t there yet…
It had been WAY too long since we’d seen BVW (or as we started calling him, The Beev – another gem from the road trip), and it was great to see his model-like face and rockin’ body. We stuffed our faces as we laughed our asses off catching up with each other and seeing many of our AR friends. Then it was time for the pre-race meeting out in the new amphitheater.
After Gerry Voelliger finished scaring the shit out of us with tales of how epic and real the rappel and the rest of the course were, we got our maps and began to plot our points and stategerize our impending
Being the Den Mother she is, Kate was nice enough to write the clue for each checkpoint in the corresponding box on our passports. Kate read the UTM coordinates to Chuck who plotted them. Brian did likewise for me. And then we all planned our route together.
After a final bathroom stop, we got all our maps gathered up and headed out of the lodge.
It was time to head out to the Adventure Jeep and get our shit together. The race was starting at midnight which left just a couple hours to get ready.
The Part Where I Was an Ungrateful Dick
I found myself alone by the Adventure Jeep, going through my gear and figuring out what I’d need to take with me at the start of the race. I’m not sure where Chuck and Kate were, but The Beev had gone to his car to get his kayak paddles.
Out of the darkness, BVW appears and hands me a wad of black fabric.
“What’s this?” I said.
“Open it,” said he.
I unroll the fabric to see the inside of a black hoodie.
“What is it?” I said.
“Turn it around,” said he.
I turn it around to see that it is Brian’s North Face hoodie from 2012 The Thunder Rolls. Now before I tell you this next part, let me preface it by telling you how much I LOVED my hoodie from that year.
Yes, I said I loved my hoodie as in past tense. As in, I no longer have it because while I was pacing my brother at the Leadville 100, I loaned it to another runner who was freezing her ass off. She gave it to someone at the next aid station, but I never saw it again. It was my absolute favorite hoodie in the world from one of my favorite race experiences of all time.
It killed me to lose it. My wife and mom tried to surprise me by finding a replacement for me. They actually scoured the web and contacted Leadville HQ to see if it had turned up. They even contacted Gerry to see if he had any extras or possibly knew how to get another one. But alas, there was no way to get my hoodie back.
It’s actually been a long-running joke. Every time Kate or Bob wear their hoodie, they ask me about mine. And each time, a small part of me dies. And now Brian was in on the joke, flaunting his hoodie in front of me.
“Ha ha, you asshole. Yeah, yeah. I don’t have mine anymore. Good one,” I said.
“No, you idiot! I’m giving it to you!”
Well, I felt like an ass. I couldn’t accept this unbelievable gift, though. I tried to give it back, but he wasn’t having any of it. And since he’s the size of Sasquatch, I couldn’t force him to take it back.
“It doesn’t fit me anyway,” he said (which I’m pretty sure is a lie). “Besides, I appreciate your friendship.”
With those words, I was left speechless – a rarity indeed. I should have said a lot of things, but nothing came to mind. I hope I said, “Thanks,” but I’m not sure I did. Like I said, I didn’t know what to say. And we were scrambling to get all our shit together, so if I didn’t show my gratitude at the time, I’m doing so now.
Brian, thank you. Seriously. Thank you.
Brian: (Cue the sappy music…) You lost your hoodie being a good human, it was the least I could do. You’re welcome my friend… And now you can point out how big of assholes Bob and Kate are/were for taunting you so much.
Kate: And now you’ve spoiled one of our favorite ways of tormenting Luke, which makes you the asshole. Thanks a lot.
Luke: Yeah. What a bunch of jerks. I’d never make fun of them for something. And thanks again, man!
The Part Where We Start: Biking, Coasteering, & Fixed Ropes
With our PFD’s, paddles, and other appropriate gear loaded onto the truck to be taken to the canoe put-in, we lined up in the back of the pack at the starting line – you know, to give some of the other teams a chance to get ahead of us.
The pre-race group photo was taken, the National Anthem was played, and the race started with a short ride down to the river for some Coasteering to find the first 5 CP’s in any order.
Brian had put a new chain on his bike just before the race. He did not, however, change the cassette which caused his gears to jump all over the place. This would be an ongoing issue throughout the race, and it’s a mistake none of us will make again in the near future.
We rode a mile or so down to the river. There was a steep, rocky section where I almost ran over someone half-walking on one foot, half-riding with the other, so I had to stop and walk my bike for the last section.
Kate: I’d wanted to be in the back of the group at the start just so we didn’t have to be in the middle of a pack of people all crushing onto the doubletrack at the same time; instead, we ended up behind the people who felt the least comfortable riding it.
Brian and I caught up to Kate and Chuck, and we entered the river. We decided to first go to the farthest checkpoint away, perhaps grabbing the CP in the cave if there weren’t too many teams there. With just one team exiting the cave as we approached, we headed into the cave.
I snapped a few photos of the others entering the cave, but none of them turned out. I climbed into the cave just in time to see BVW’s powerful ass backing out of a side crevice. Kate had sent him down that small chute to make sure the CP wasn’t in there as it was one year.
Kate: I was trying to be nice and save him the extra walking if the CP turned out to be close, but I should have known Gerry wouldn’t put it there two years in a row.
I love this cave. It’s cold, and the water at the bottom is even colder. The bats are super cool, unless they repeatedly hit you in the face like they did to Brian. For some reason they were attracted to him. Maybe it was the bat pheromones we secretly sprayed on him before the race. Or maybe it’s just because he’s so damn handsome.
Brian: I took two bats off the helmet, and when the second one hit, my head lamp flipped down onto my face, making me think I had a bat stuck to my face. I screamed like a scared baby…I mean, damn, that bat was lucky I didn’t turn it into bat and urine stew.
At a couple points, the cave was quite narrow, forcing Brian to crawl (insert Kate’s short-joke about me here). The cave is pretty deep (200 feet? 300 feet?), and it’s just so damn cool. One of my favorite parts of any race.
It turns out the CP was almost all the way in the very back of the cave. We squeezed past Chuck and Kate in one of the not quite as narrow parts of the cave after they punched their passport so we could punch ours.
Brian: Please note the 2012 tshirt commerating my glorious victory over THE Bob Jenkins in our tetherball match. He may have destroyed me in every match since, but at least I have a cool shirt from my lone victory. Man, that guy can tetherball.
Luke: That’s not exactly how I remember it, but since you gave me your hoodie, this is how I’ll remember it from now on.
After the cave, we headed over to the Ascending CP. On the way, we grabbed CP 4 which was up a little ways in a creek bed. Chuck was spot on finding this one.
From CP4, we headed over to CP 5 for the ascent. There was quite a line. In hindsight, we would have been better off going to get the other ones and then coming back to this one, but we decided to wait. I think we waited in line for 45 minutes or so.
Brian and I already had our harnesses on so we’d be ready. Chuck and Kate waited to put theirs on, assuming (correctly) that they’d have time to do so while waiting in line.
And that’s when it happened…
There was no warning. There was no sound. There was just a smell. A smell so foul, we heard Sasquatch himself shriek in horror as he ran away. Poor Chuck got the worst of it. And I actually caught the moment on film. Well, I guess I caught it on a memory card since film is pretty much dead, but I digress. Back to the stench…
Here we see the the exact moment when it happened:
It hit Chuck first since his face was so near the source – with his mouth open and everything.
“Oh my God! What the hell is that,” Chuck said in disgust.
Then it hit Brian. “Holy shit! That’s worse than Bob Jenkins’s ass!”
In this next photo you can see the reaction to the awful event – Chuck is trying to stay upright without passing out, and Brian is unsure if he should breath through his nose and smell it or through his mouth and taste it:
Chuck: We’ll never get her to admit it, but I bet this stealth attack was a carefully planned and well-played act of revenge. God knows she owes us.
Luke: This is true. She definitely owes us, but this one made up a lot of ground. Let’s never let her eat onion rings before a race again.
Brian: Wow. Sometimes the nicest people do the nastiest things (allegedly). My nostrils still burn thinking of that.
It was finally our turn, and although the ascent was by no means easy (unless your name is Wes Black who literally flew up on the rope next to me faster than anyone I’ve ever seen – literally), but it wasn’t awful either. Kate went up first followed by Chuck, myself, and then Brian.
At the top, Kate realized she had forgotten to put her Town Hall inside her the walls of her war village and our war was about to start. She checked her phone to see if she had a signal, and she made it right with no time to spare. It turns out we lost that war, but we survived to fight another day. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t had the pleasure and shear joy of playing Clash of Clans with your team. No, it’s not dorky. It’s the coolest thing in the world. Jenkins Clan 4EVA!!!
Brian made short work of the ascending, and we headed out. In hindsight, we should have given Brian a few minutes to recover here. He said he was fine, but the rest of us had anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes of rest at the top. Having never raced with Brian, I didn’t insist that we stop, and I should have. Sorry, Brian!
Brian: I did NOT make quick work of that ascend. Those guys were high on Kate’s fart. My form sucks, I went all arms and tired out quickly. Luckily we weren’t on the straight overhang rope, so I had a few rocky outcroppings to rest on. The first one I stopped at looked like it had poison ivy all over it. I sighed, said f#$k it, and rested on it anyway. My gross ooze covered arm now reminds me of that stupid decision. And…I should have taken them up on the rest offer. Moving 500 lbs of ass up a rope is hard work, and I struggled for 15-20 minutes after that as my team took off like jackrabbits.
Luke: I don’t think we’ve ever been called jackrabbits before. I’m all arms too when ascending. This is something I need to work on.
Anywho… We found our way back down to the river and soon reached the rappel. Again, in hindsight we should have gone and gotten CP 1 before rappelling, but we didn’t. We ended up waiting in line for the rappel for another 45 min or so, but that’s what happens sometimes when you’re not one of the faster teams.
I’m really glad we did this rappel at night. We had to walk across a knife’s edge (clipped into a safety line of course) just to get to the small table top where we would begin the rappel. It would have been much more terrifying in the daylight with the ability to see how far the sheer drop off on each side was.
Chuck went down first, and then it was my turn. It’s always reassuring to have LE and April helping out on the rappel, and then to have G Scott at the very top was even more reassuring. We literally trust these people with our lives, and not only are they superb instructors, they are super awesome people.
As I sat on the table top with G Scott, he said, “Oh boy. You have a Figure 8.”
“You’re going to have to listen to me very carefully and do exactly as I say,” he said.
*WTF?! I’m going to die! Why didn’t I bring my ATC instead of this stupid Figure 8?! Why?! WHY?!*
“You need to make sure you keep tension on both sides of the rope or this rope will come up over the top of the Figure 8 and you’ll get bound up.”
*Okay, so I might not die. I’ll just get stuck on the rope. That’s not so bad, I guess. Phew.*
To say I paid very close attention to G Scott’s fine instructions is an understatement. It would be like saying the Green Bay Packers only sort of suck when in reality they suck more than any other team ever in the history of sports.
Kate: I didn’t hear the conversation, but I heard G Scott’s tone and its seriousness threw me; it’s how he always sounds when talking me through my fear of heights, and I know Luke isn’t nearly as scared as I am.
Brian: I had a figure 8 too, so my story mirrors Luke. I thought I was going to die. Especially as I crawled my Sasquatch body to the edge and then spun around on my stomach while having G Scott repeat everything numerous times because my wife tells me I never listen and I thought I should REALLY pay attention in this case. So scary and fun.
Like always, once I sat back into my harness and felt the rope hold my fat ass, I was fine, and the rappel was a lot of fun. We got to see our friends and super-volunteers, Dave and Leisha Huntley, on a small ledge near the bottom before we continued downward into the river.
Kate and Brian came on down with no problems, and then it was up a beautiful creek bed to find CP 1 before heading back on our bikes to the TA at Camp Benson where we changed into dry clothes and headed out on our bikes again.
The Part Where We Bike and Everyone “Helps”
Dry socks and shoes felt wonderful, but the air was cool. It was hard to regulate our body temperature. The climbs would leave us sweaty, and the downhills would leave us chilled.
The hills were particularly fun for Brian who was had only 1 or 2 gears that wouldn’t skip and jump all over the place. Remember that part earlier about him changing his chain but not the cassette? Well, now he was paying the price. But he never complained, and he kept up just fine. He’s basically a stud.
Brian: I’m so bike stupid. I was always a bit behind the whole ride, but tried to stay with them the best I could. It was mildly disappointing as I had trained pretty hard on the bike.
Luke: You kept up just fine. Especially considering your chain issue.
We got the first CP or two with no problems. One of them was under a bridge:
We did make one navigational error on the bike that put us at an off-limits highway. It would have been much faster and easier to break the rules and take the highway, and I doubt anyone would have ever known. But we would have known, and that’s not the Virtus hhhhway. We race with strength AND honor even when it sucks to do so. So we headed back around the long way, losing 30 – 40-ish minutes in the process.
Another CP or two and the sky was juuuuust beginning to brighten. It was roughly 5:30-ish AM. We had all been up around 24 hours or more at this point, and we could definitely feel the sleepiness setting in. The sun rising always acts as a pick-me-up and brightens our spirits, though.
As we rolled up to a 4-way intersection, I realized my front tire was going flat. So we pulled over to swap the tube with a new one. Now this is where Team Virtus/WTFAR-Tus really shines. We work together as a team to get shit done in a hurry. Everyone has a job, and everyone does it quickly and efficiently. We are like a well-oiled machine with no wasted time or energy. To see us work together is a thing of beauty.
In their defense, they did offer to help. But honestly, there’s not much anyone else could have done to make things go faster. And I’m a grown man who changes his own damn tires! The only thing that would have made it go any faster is if I hadn’t taken the time to snap these photos, but it was too good to pass up.
Kate: I never fell asleep because I kept having to add clothes, but just lying down and closing my eyes for a few minutes was glorious, and I’d much rather have a picture of myself sleeping on the side of the road than a really unflattering picture of me allegedly farting in my teammate’s face. Oh, wait…
Chuck: I remember asking if Luke needed any help….and that was all. I was totally asleep and didn’t even know he came over to borrow the frame pump off my bike.
Brian: my favorite part of the race.
A couple cars went by us here. They probably didn’t know what to think. It’s 6:00 AM on a Saturday, three people are sprawled out in the road and ditch, and a chubby guy (me) has his back to the road doing what appears to be something lewd and lascivious as he pumped his tire up. It probably looked a lot like this:
With the sun up, three-quarters of our team well rested, and a fresh tube in my tire, we rode onward. We entered the French Bluff Natural Area which held the closest thing to single track that we’d see in this race. The map looked easy enough that Brian said even his usual teammate Todd could find the CP’s.
To prove how “easy” these CP’s would be, Brian (our least experienced navigator) took the helm and led us through the trails. While the map looked innocent enough, the hills were tough (especially that first one), and the terrain was rough. But Brian did a stellar job as the lead navigator.
Kate: I’m pretty excited to have graduated to non-least-experienced navigator, even if it’s only when Brian is with us.
Brian: I don’t nav, I carry things & paddle.
It was tough but fun riding. The rocky downhill was especially fun (Yes!!). We left French Bluff and rode between some corn and soybean fields on a flat, gravel road.
Brian: I suck at single track and rocky sandy downhills, its the WTFAR way. I stayed WAAAAAY behind everyone and managed not to die on the way down.
We planned on stopping at the campground to fill up with water and unload some feces. As we approached the campground we met Team Alpine Shop as they were heading back out on their bikes having already completed the paddle. We asked how it was to which they simply replied: “It was hard.”
Oh shit. If the paddle was hard for one of the top teams in the nation, then we were screwed. We knew it was going to be rough, but none of us were prepared for what was about to happen out there on the Mississippi River. *shudders*
Stay tuned for Part 2… More to come!
I’ve heard that racing with your spouse can ruin a marriage. I’ve heard horror stories of couples nearly killing each other out there. But I’ve never had doubts about my marriage, and the High Profile Adventure Camp only made me realize how fucking lucky I actually am to be married to Becca. The weekend in Mount Carroll, IL only confirmed that my wife is indeed my soul mate… even though she literally wished she was with another man at one point, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The original plan for Team Virtus was to all go to camp together and bring our significant others. It was to be an epic battle (and party) with all of us there. Unfortunately, this thing we call life got in the way. Work, children’s sporting events, medical procedures, and perhaps a touch of Antisocial Behavior Disorder kept many Virtusans and their partners from attending camp. But nothing would stop Adam, Michelle, Becca, and I from going. (EDIT: There was one more Virtusan there. Kate, as she pointed out in the comments below, was also there. She volunteered, and she kicked ass as the camp’s social media guru and helped clear the orienteering course.)
We saw a lot of our AR friends as we made our way through the painless check- in at Camp Benson, and we got our fantastic swag bags (worth well over $100 at least). Then we hauled all our gear down to our
orgy love shack cabin before heading back up to the lodge for burgers followed by Gerry Voelliger’s opening talk on all things Adventure Racing.
After Gerry’s talk, I headed over for the advanced orienteering lecture (although I am anything but advanced). Adam stayed with Michelle and Becca for the beginner orienteering talk, and our friend and camp volunteer Dave Huntley promised he’d help out if Becca needed it. Big thanks to him.
It was great sitting next to our friend Scott Frederickson from Team Bushwhacker at the advanced orienteering lecture. He chimed in with some great pointers a few times, and anything I didn’t quite understand was easily explained by Scott.
After the lectures, we hiked back down to the cabin for some
group love shut-eye. The flatulence was somewhat disappointing without our friends from WTFAR there and no Bob Jenkins, but Michelle almost made up for their absence. She can really rip ’em!
The next morning we practiced our orienteering skills at Palisades State Park. Unfortunately, the Mississippi was partially frozen over, so there would be no paddling practice for us. That’s probably a good thing since Gerry still uses this damn photo of us from our first year at camp in his opening lecture. That also meant we had more time to practice our navigation and, later, fixed ropes.
We decided we’d stay in a group of four for the orienteering practice. We headed straight up – and I mean straight UP – to our first checkpoint. On the way, we had to stop off at one of our favorite views, a spot we’ve visited every time we’ve gone to camp.
We were mostly successful, although I led us astray on one point that other teams swore was not there. So of course Adam and I had to try and find it. That was stupid. We spoke with our friend and camp volunteer Kim Heintz later, and we figured out where we went wrong. Even though I’ve been doing this for over 10 years, I still have lots to learn and a ton of room for improvement.
Although we didn’t have a perfect run of CPs, I thought we were all having a blast. But then, as we were hiking, Becca turned to me and said:
“I wish Bob Jenkins was here. He’s way more entertaining.”
Ouch. That one hurt. I tried to hide the tears, but everyone knew I was crushed. She’d rather be with my BFF than her own husband? Damn! That just killed me.
Becca claims that she thought she was boring me and that I’d rather have Bob with me instead of her. Don’t get me wrong. Bob always makes everything fun, but there was no one else I’d rather have by my side than Becca. (Cue the sappy music all you want, but it’s true.)
Becca and Michelle are brand new to adventure racing and orienteering, so it was good practice for them as well. They even lead us to one of the CPs without any help. For real! Check it out:
Being new to adventure racing, Becca tried to avoid using the woods as a bathroom (maybe we should get her a Go Girl?). She tried to hold it, but eventually had to succumb to nature’s call. Adam was a gentleman and turned the other way as Becca went behind a tree to take care of business. About 30 yards down the trail – literally – we found an outhouse which Michelle gladly used.
After another CP or two, it was time to go back to the Virtus Van and head back to Camp Benson. We stopped at McDonald’s on the way back, because there was a line at Subway. Believe it or not, we were running behind – shocker, I know! – so we opted for the quicker and much greasier burgers and fries than to wait in line at Subway.
Back at camp, Gerry gave the Ropes Safety Talk which terrified me the first year we went to camp. Then the one and only Robyn Benincasa gave a brief talk about paddling followed by some great, quick-hitters on AR gear, strategy, navigation, nutrition, and more. It was a short but jam-packed session as the knowledge bombs kept raining down on us.
And then it was time for the fixed ropes practice: rappelling, zip lining, tryolean traversing, and ascending (we skipped the rock climbing to practice more of the skills we’d encounter at the race the next day).
The first time I ever rappelled was at High Profile Adventure Camp, and I was flat-out petrified. I was nauseated and sweating profusely. I wanted to chicken out badly, but I didn’t. Even today, I get a little nervous, so I was expecting Becca and Michelle to be quite scared. Well, they weren’t.
After watching my wife give birth to our four amazing kids and pass kidney stones as easily as Bob passes gas, I already know she is way tougher than I’ll ever be. Watching her crush all of the fixed ropes proves she’s braver than I’ll ever be as well.
Rather than bore you with words, I’ll just show you how much fun we had on the ropes.
Michelle opted to conserve her energy for the race in the morning, so she decided to skip the Tryolean Traverse. It’s not too bad for the first half since you’re going slightly “downhill.” But then you have to pull yourself the rest of the way, fighting gravity. It can be very tiring.
Later that evening, Robyn Benincasa gave her world-class talk on what makes winners win, what makes a good team, and what makes a good leader. This talk alone is worth the price of admission.
Then Gerry gave the pre-race briefing, and we got our maps. The Lightning Strikes report will come out soon – sometime within the next two years.
As you can probably tell, we had an amazingly good time the first day and a half. The High Profile Adventure Camp is hands down the best way for beginners to get started in adventure racing, and it’s also a great place where veterans of the sport can continue learning and expanding their skills.
For what you get – the top-notch instruction, the lodging, the awesome swag bag, some food, the super safe environment, the fun, the adventure, the laughs, and then a 4- or 8-hour adventure race – it is an absolute steal. You’re crazy if you don’t go at least once.
We’ll definitely be back (a fourth time for me), and hopefully we’ll have more Virtusans and spouses with us.
Note: This race report was written by Kate, with commentary by Luke in red, Bob in green, Robby in purple, and Travis in orange. My responses (if there are any) will be in blue because it’s my favorite color and I’m a bit of a diva like that. OK then…on with the show…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but not for all of us at the same time. If it’s true that a story of struggle and adversity is more compelling than one that dances from high point to high point, then you’re in for a treat. We may have set off for the weekend entertaining thoughts of glorious triumph (or at least a happy romp through Gerry’s house of pain), but we should’ve known it couldn’t be ALL rainbows and unicorns. After all, this was Thunder Rolls.
This year, Team Virtus fielded two squads for the 24 hour version of the Thunder Rolls adventure race: Luke and I on one, and Bob, Robby (making his first appearance in a 24 hour race), and Travis on the other. Even with two teams, though, the plan was always to stick together. ..once we got there, anyway. I made it to Camp Benson around 11:30, in plenty of time to visit with my volunteering buddy Brandy and snag a bottom bunk in the cabin. The guys rolled in a couple hours later, and once we were all registered and settled in the cabin, the first order of business was to get down to the ropes practice area. Travis and Robby would be rappelling and ascending for their first time, and I wanted to get in some practice.
Because we got to the ropes nice and early, there wasn’t much of a line (which is still plenty of time for me to get nervous). Our friends Dave and Woody were there so that Woody too could make his first rappel, and soon after we got there Chad and WTFAR’s Brian wandered down. We had a nice little reunion waiting for the ropes volunteers to have everything ready, Woody rappelled, and then it was our turn.
First Robby and then Travis made their first rappels and looked smooth and comfortable.
Luke: I must admit, I was both impressed and a little disappointed: Impressed with how easy they made it look, and disappointed that neither of them almost shit their pants like Bob and I did on our first first rappel a few years ago.
Robby: I was scared shitless, but didn’t want anyone to know I was frightened. Once I figured out what I was doing then it was pretty easy. The most scariest part was when the rock ended and I was left dangling.
Travis: The whole rappel and ascend were the two things that I was truly concerned about. But once I coached myself over the edge and got started down it was only mildly terrifying. Even with full finger gloves I was holding on with my left hand so tight that it was burning as I went down.
I was up next, and my reputation for cowardice preceded me as John remembered, “You’re not too crazy about heights, right?” Somehow backing up over that edge is way scarier in practice than in a race, but I managed it more quickly this time than at camp.
Bob came down next, and then it was time for us to ascend back up.
Robby: She actually did hit me. To bad we didn’t get a picture of me grabbing her leg. 🙂
Robby and Travis looked like old hands on their first try. Though I’d expected to be pretty comfortable after my additional practice back in March, I had a harder time than anticipated and needed coaching from John to get over the edge. The experience left me very nervous about the ascent in the race, particularly after my disastrous attempt last year. Since the line was so long, Luke and Bob opted to hike to the top rather than take time away from people who were getting their first ropes experience.
Travis: Once I got started I felt pretty comfortable going up, of course Bob may or may not have copped a feel of my ass in an attmept to boost me up the rope. And I was trying to catch up with Kate. =)
We said hi to Chuck and Robin at the top and then headed off to take our bikes to the bike drop. After about 15 trips back to the cabin for forgotten items, we finally crammed 6 of us and 5 bikes into the Virtus van for a hilarious (for most of us) and uncomfortable (for Brian and Bob) trip to Savanna.
We were able to leave our bike shoes and a stash of food and water with the bikes, eliminating the need to carry them with us for the first part of the race. By the time we got back, it was time for the pre-race dinner: pasta, salad, and bread sticks served family style on the table.
Finally it was the time we’d been waiting for: getting the maps and hearing about the course.
There weren’t many points to plot, so Luke took care of ours by himself (probably a good thing because my contacts had gone into open rebellion against my eyes and I could barely see) while Bob, Travis, and Robby went over their map.
The basic structure of the race was like this:
1. Midnight start with a short run to pick up the pre-plotted maps for our initial o-section, which would include both the rappel and ascend. The early ropes were kind of a good news/bad news situation. I was much happier to get ascending out of the way before I was exhausted from the race, but it also created the potential for a big bottleneck of teams waiting.
Robby: I was very nervous about the ropes sections after hearing Gerry ask how many had practiced. Then he said “That ain’t shit!”
Travis: My heart definetly sank after Gerry made the comment about the practice not being shit compared to what was coming in the race.
2. Coasteering leg (hiking down the river)
3. Short run (walk) to the canoes
4. Canoeing the Plum River (paddles, pfds, and food staged here)
5. Bike leg (bike shoes, water, and food staged here, climbing and paddling gear could be dropped here)
6. Bike-o at Palisades Park. You could ride your bikes on the park roads to get closer to attack the CPs on foot.
7. More orienteering on foot
8. Advanced course (it was pretty clear from the maps that we wouldn’t be experiencing this)
9. Mandatory bike route back
There was a lot of discussion about whether or not to bring extra shoes to change into after the coasteering leg. We could send dry shoes with our paddling gear and then change after we finished the canoeing. I kept going back and forth about what I wanted to do until Bob told Travis, “I’m taking my shoes because that’s what Luke is doing, and every time I don’t listen to him I’m wrong.” That decided me; there were three times in last year’s Thunder Rolls that I didn’t listen to Luke’s advice, and I regretted each one.
Luke: I think the main point here is I’m always right. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve made WAY more mistakes than everyone else.
Travis: I figured that Luke was probably right, but I also figured that my shoes would dry by the time I needed them, I did not take into account how much sand would in my shoes though.
Weirdly, we were all packed and ready in time to lie down for a little bit, if not actually sleep, and there was no last-minute rush (unless you count Bob and I having to lug Luke’s gear up to the start line). We dropped off our paddling gear, took some last-minute pictures, sang the National Anthem, and then at exactly midnight the race started and we wished Orange Lederhosen’s Kyle a happy birthday as we dashed off to pick up our map.
Thunder Rolls is primarily an expedition-style race, meaning you have to get each checkpoint (CP) in order and if you miss one, you’re done; scores are based on the last consecutive CP punched. This first section was a rogaine, though, where the points could be found in any order. Anticipating a logjam at the ropes, we’d discussed tackling the other points first, hoping to make some forward progress while other teams were waiting in line and then arrive at the ropes once the crowd died down. Looking at the map, we rethought this plan: it looked like a lot of doubling back would be required.
Our nav was spot-on for CPs 1 and 2. There was a bit of a line at the rappel (CP3), so we skipped ahead to CP5 which wasn’t too far away. Following a ridge that narrowed as we got closer to the CP, we came to what appeared to be the end of the ridge…but didn’t find the flag. There were steep drop-offs on three sides, and we could see lights below. Noticing that there was another rock outcropping just a bit further ahead, we made our way out to that one with some careful climbing. We ended up getting there about the same time as Alpine Shop and Wedali, and even though they’d already found an additional two CPs it was still really cool to be at the same spot as two top teams. Usually that only happens at the pre-race meeting.
Robby and I had the passports for our respective teams, and it was sketchy getting to the CP. We had to hang onto trees and swing out on the rocks because the flag was on the very top tree facing out. I was trying very hard not to think about how high and how exposed we were; it makes me a little sick to my stomach to think back about it now.
Robby: I was actually quite scared.
Luke: I believe there was a CP here at one of the Lightning Strikes races where we had to clip into a rope just to get on top of it before we could rappel. At TR2013 we had no ropes whatsoever.
Next up was the rappel, where thankfully the line had died down. We got our harnesses on and basically got right onto a line. Luke went first so he could belay me (for some reason no one trusts me to belay anymore) and made quick work of the rappel; then it was my turn. I gingerly backed over the edge to LE’s coaching and before I knew it I was standing in the river. This was my fifth rappel ever, and for the first time I loved it. I think all of my previous rappels have involved overhangs where my feet weren’t touching the rock. This time, Luke and I had a straight shot down a wall and I could just kind of walk my way down.
Over to our right Bob was belaying for Robby and then Travis.
Robby: I wasn’t very nervous here. For some reason, not being able to see the ground helped. The descent was a lot faster then practice though. It was pretty cool coming down in the river.
Travis: I was still pretty nervous about going down, but maybe that was just because the rope seemed like it had a lot of stretch in it as I leaned back to go over the edge. Or maybe because when you are rappeling your life is basically in your own hands.
The guys looked like they’d been doing this for years. Once we were all down, it was time to go around the corner to the ascending wall. There was a pretty good line waiting, and as luck would have it right in front of us were our friends (and cabinmates) Kim, Donovan, Chad, Chuck, and Robin. I felt pretty good that we were sticking right with them, especially since we actually were one CP up on them all at this time. And then I looked at the ascending wall and felt even better: “That’s it?”
Now, make no mistake…it was a big cliff, but it didn’t seem all that much bigger than the practice wall and I’d been anticipating something twice that size like last year. I knew I would still have a hard time, but I was really relieved that it wasn’t worse. When a rope came open, Bob, Robby, and Travis went first since there were three of them to get up their rope.
Bob started up line 4, and almost immediately things seemed off. He was struggling to make any progress. Ascending is exhausting when it is going well, and it’s debilitating when it isn’t. Now, Bob isn’t a pro climber or anything, but he knows what he’s doing. Remember, this is the guy who coached me up the wall at last year’s race when I had pretty much accepted that I was going to spend the rest of my life hanging off the cliff…and then zipped the rest of the way up with a smile while I collapsed at the top.
Now, it sucks to struggle at something, but there’s a whole added layer of frustration and confusion when you’re suddenly sucking at something you can do. And the icing on the shit cake was that this was all happening very publicly, in front of volunteers and other racers who were still in line, amid good-natured teasing and coaching that tapered off as it became clear that Bob’s predicament wasn’t at all funny.
Meanwhile, I had started up rope one, calling encouragement to Bob as I went up, and my ascent was going really well. It was the best of times and worst of times all at once. Everything was clicking, I was making good progress…and the irony was agonizing. My friend — my hero — was in the midst of one of the worst moments of his life, and I couldn’t do anything to help him.
I’ll let Bob take it from here…
I had decided to ascend before Travis and Robby in hopes of showing them that ascending wasn’t that hard. Sure, it’s exhausting..but as long as you think about what you’re doing and keep good form you’re ok. I had, after all, been successful at this before. The volunteer got me set up, and I started moving up the rope. I think I made it about ten feet up before I realized something, no.. everything was wrong. Ropes were twisted, ascenders wouldn’t move, muscles burned. What just happened?
Kate: Must’ve been a shit rope.
Travis: Even though I had pretty much zero prior experience I recognized right away that something did not look right. Whenever Bob would stop to rest it looked as if he let go of the rope that he would just flip upside down.
I’ve always prided myself on being level-headed, so I stopped for a moment to assess what was wrong. I tried to sit in the harness, but couldn’t stop myself from falling backward. Nothing made sense. I tried untwisting the straps to get things moving properly, but that didn’t work either. It was frustrating, and I was burning a ton of energy. We’d done so well to get to this point, and any gap we had on other teams was dwindling away quickly.
I tried to wrap my brain around what was happening, but came up with nothing. There were a lot of jokes and advice coming from the racers below, and I knew it was all well-intentioned humor, but the negativity just consumed me. I pushed and pulled and did everything I could think of to get up that rope, but it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. Chad climbed past me and tried to help…no dice. Minutes later, some other guy ascended past me and accidentally teabagged me…how appropriate.
I couldn’t begin to describe the level of shame, self loathing and exhaustion I felt on that rope. I’ve never tried that hard to do something and failed. Ever. I lost all my grip strength, so I had to hold the rope with the bends of my elbows. I tried to take my pack off, but it was twisted into my harness. The rock face was about 8 feet away, completely out of reach. The harness pinched the meat on my ass until it burned like fire, and I couldn’t feel my junk anymore…it was totally asleep. This was the lowest I’ve felt in many, many years. I don’t know how long I hung there, but I can tell you it was a long damn time.
When the other racers had come and gone, I was left to my own thoughts; none of them were good. As I wallowed in my gloom, Ron was suddenly on the rope beside me. Unaware that I’d completely given up, he was trying to coach me into ascending. We tried, but I was just completely spent. I’m not ashamed (anymore) to say I begged him to get me off the rope. To say I’d been humbled is a drastic understatement. Ron worked hard to get a rappel device set up, but even with that, I was too weak to get the ascender unhooked. I was no help at all.
Ron made the call to cut the loop. I didn’t give a shit anymore. If he’d have handed me the knife and told me to cut the rope and hope for the best, I was game. Robby and Travis held a tight belay on the rope below me and Ron did the knife-work. When the loop finally gave way, they lowered me to the ground and I just laid there in a heap. I think it was Travis who pulled my harness off.
Travis: Ron had called down for us to belay Bob, of course neither me or Robby really knew what we needed to do. So we just both got ahold and pulled down on the rope in hopes that Bob wasn’t going to come screaming down at us when the sling was cut. Once we got him down my only concern was getting his pack and harness off and restoring blood flow to his lower extremities. I knew he felt terrible and I knew that without some help there was no way he was going to get up off the ground anytime soon.
I didn’t want to quit, I was quitting. Of this, there was no doubt. I couldn’t breathe right, my stomach was spinning, I couldn’t lift my arms…continuing was simply not an option. I had completely ruined this race for the entire group.
Guilt. Shame. Failure. Inadequacy. Embarrassment. Pick a synonym for pathetic and multiply it by a thousand.
And now Ron and Luke are talking about how “there’s still a lot of racing left to do.” I would’ve laughed if I had the energy. Clearly these people don’t know what’s happening here. If I’d had my way, I would’ve been on an evac-chopper headed back to Holts Summit.
I knew I was about to puke, so I got to my knees. After a fair amount of burping and some “visualization coaching” from Luke, the vomit finally came. Several times, actually.
Finally done with that, Luke handed me a bottle of something to drink.
It was delicious, so I guessed that was a good sign.
Then they got me to my feet, and Travis shouldered my gear. I knew I’d never make it, but the rest of the team wasn’t taking “quit” for an answer and I owed to them to give it a shot. We were just gonna have to see how things played out. We lined up and made our way back onto the course.
Read on for Part 2…
***Editor’s Note: This Thunder Rolls Race Report was written by Luke. Commentary was added by Bob in Green and Kage in Blue, and Luke added a few responses in Red. We hope you enjoy.***
***Note #2: If you haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games, then you may not get a few of these references. Don’t worry, though. Whether you’re familiar with The Hunger Games or not, this race report will still be worthy of a Pulitzer-Prize… or at the very least, my mom will say it’s good.***
Every year the Head Game Maker (Race Director), Gerry Voelliger, requires two or three Tributes (Teammates), either coed or same-gender, from each District to participate in the Thunder Games. At the reaping in each District, names are drawn to decide who will race with whom. When Adam’s name was announced as the first Tribute, everyone was shocked. He was just so frail and helpless, everyone knew he wouldn’t make it. The Games would eat him alive, destroying the delicate, little flower that is Adam. I couldn’t take it, so I screamed, “I volunteer! Take me instead of Adam! I volunteer!”
As I staggered forward numbly, I heard the names of the other two Tributes. Kage and Bob were also selected for this year’s Thunder Games. The three of us, the chosen ones, were the Tributes representing District 69, the Virtus District, for the 10th annual Thunder Games (Thunder Rolls Adventure Race).
The Trip to the Capitol
We planned on leaving the Seam (Jefferson City) around 7:00 – 7:30, and Bob was ready when I met him at his house. In fact, he had time to squeeze in a vigorous workout in preparation for The Games.
Each Tribute is allowed to take one Token with them into The Thunder Games. The Token is supposed to represent and remind them of home. Bob’s choice was easy, but I was still humbled and honored when he chose to take a gift that I had given him.
We were running late, but when we arrived at Kage’s place in the Hob (St. Louis), she was nowhere to be found. I guess she was trying to make a last minute trade of small game for some much needed supplies (glow sticks). After waiting roughly 4 hours (Kage: I actually pulled in right after they did, but the look on their faces was priceless), Kage finally graced us with her presence, and we made our way to the Capitol (Mount Caroll, IL).
On the way to the Capitol, Kage kept crying and blowing her nose. She must have been worried about leaving her family behind (actually her allergies had flared up in a BIG way). She looked absolutely miserable, but we knew she’d be fine once the race started.
Upon arrival, we checked in with the amazing Peacekeepers (volunteers), and we received our awesome schwag bags. The North Face Hoodie and the Boetje’s mustard are my favorite!
Training Session in Front of the Gamemakers (AKA – Ascending Practice)
We met up with fellow Tributes from District 68 (Iowa), Todd and Brian from WTFAR and Dave from Tardy Rooster, who were staying in the same cabin as us. They had already formed an alliance that would prove to be strong, and they became WTFARTR (pronounced WootFarter).
Kage had never rappelled before. She had never ascended before. In fact, she had never really done anything with fixed ropes before. Fortunately, we were allowed to practice ascending before the pre-race meeting. Our Mentor (Robyn Benincasa) told us that we needed to get our game faces on. We had to show no fear, and we really needed to impress the Gamemakers.
Bob and Kage each hopped on a rope, and they made short work of the 40 – 50 foot ascent. After just a little bit of instruction, Kage seemed to grasp ascending quite well. Then I shimmied my way up to join them. It was physically challenging for all of us, but we were ready.
Kage: I had been really nervous about the ropes sections of the course, and this practice really set me at ease. Huge thanks to the volunteers there!
Opening Ceremonies (Pre-Race Meal/Meeting/Route Planning)
We all ate one last meal together, and it was delicious. As we enjoyed the food, we looked around at all of the other Tributes. The Careers were all there, Wedali, Alpine Shop, and Bushwhacker. They looked at ease, but we knew they had been trained to destroy us all.
Head Gamemaker, Gerry Voelliger, introduced himself and then informed us of all we would need to know. He is notorious for his sadistic ways, and everyone knows that he gets joy out of the Tributes’ suffering.
We received our maps, and Kage and I plotted our course while Bob worked on last-minute survival skills… Um… Actually he took a shower… before doing a 24-hour adventure race… instead of taking a nap…
Bob: I didn’t want to get the Speedo dirty.
Kage: There were a few points that didn’t seem right when Luke plotted them, and I was worried that I’d screwed up the coordinates I was reading because I was so hopped up on Benadryl. Then Gerry came in to make some adjustments to the clue sheet and everything made sense. Whew.
We plotted the points, planned our route, and packed our gear. We got our other gear, food, and clothes packed up, and we took them to the Cornucopia (Bike Drop). We then sat down for a few minutes before it was time.
Entering the Arena / Leg 1 – Coasteering
With high hopes, we donned our packs and headlamps and then made our way to the starting line. After one last dukie-break, it was time to line up for a group photo. We all wondered which of us would not make it back in one piece.
As the clock struck midnght, Gerry yelled, “Go!” And Go we did. In fact, we started faster than we normally do. We normally either start out at a walk or we only run far enough to be out of range of the cameras before we walk. Not this time, though. We started running, and we didn’t stop right away. In fact we just kept running.
We weren’t setting any records, but I was feeling pretty good about our pace. The Careers were way out of sight of course, but for us, it was a good start. As we got into Mount Carroll, we entered a park. It was then and only then when we slowed to a walk. WTFARTR was right with us, and there were even a few teams behind us.
Bob: While I typically enjoy the isolation associated with being in last place, it felt really good to be among other teams. I thought we held a respectable pace and I was surprised we didn’t pass more people during this part of the race. I think we should do this running thing more often.
Kage: I wanted to die a little bit here, but there was no way I was going to be the one who was the first to quit running. I blame the Benadryl and certainly not my lack of training.
The next section was a Coasteering section where we had to stay within the banks of the Wakarusa River. The depth of the river ranged from ankle-deep to neck-deep, and in one or two places the water was over our heads. So we basically had to hike/wade/swim down the river at 12:30 AM with full packs on. And it… was… awesome! It might be one of my favorite legs of any race we’ve ever done.
Bob: Echo that. I remember swimming next to Todd and we were both laughing hysterically. This part of the race was just plain awesome.
Kage: Loved it!
Unfortunately, I have no photos of this leg since my camera isn’t waterproof, Kage’s camera is waterproof but has no flash, and Bob’s camera is waterproof with a flash but he couldn’t find it before leaving District 69. Trust me, though. It was an absolute blast. Fortunately, race photographer, John Morris, was out there to capture this shot:
On the other hand, it kind of sucked, too. It was never easy. Our socks and shoes immediately filled with grit, sand, and rocks. Trying to empty them was a losing battle. The uneven, rocky terrain underfoot wreaked havoc on our ankles, shins, and knees. Every one of us in our 6-person super-group of Team Virtus and WTFARTR fell over at one point, and a couple of us even went completely under. We managed to pass a couple of teams who missed a Checkpoint that was tucked behind some rocks which was nice, but walking through the water just hammered our quads and hip flexors. It was rough.
Regardless… It was one of the highlights of not only this race, but of my adventure racing career. Yes, I enjoyed it (and hated it) that much.
Leg 1 Continued – Orienteering & Rapelling
After CP 4, we were allowed to leave the Wakarusa behind. We grabbed a couple of CP’s, and then WTFARTR got a bit ahead of us on our way up to get another CP at the top of a reentrant at a creek junction. As we were heading up, they were heading back down. Once we punched the passport, I took a look at our map.
The next CP was on top of a narrow ridge. We were already up high, so I thought we should stay high. I thought it was very odd that WTFARTR (in addition to a couple of other teams) had gone back down. Especially since WTFAR’s motto is, “Up is good… except when it’s not.” I figured they must have tried bushwhacking and thought it wasn’t a good option, so I asked my fellow Tributes what they wanted to do. And then something amazing happened. Kage gave an opinion.
Now that may not sound like a big deal, but I think it’s huge. You see, before this race, Kage never really gave her opinion. She always just went along with whatever we decided. Most of the time she never gave an opinion because she didn’t really know enough about the map or the terrain to give an informed decision. And some of the time she probably wasn’t comfortable speaking up for fear of being wrong. Not this time, though.
She piped up right away, “I say we stay high instead of going all the way down just to come all the way back up.” I agreed, but I was still baffled as to why WTFARTR went back down. So I decided to bushwhack just a bit to see if it opened up any. And boy, did it open right up. In fact, there was a perfect little trail that led right to the CP. Good call, Kage!
Kage: I just didn’t want to climb uphill again.
The next CP was in the back of a cave where we all had to be punch our wristbands at the CP (roughly 300 ft back) to prove that the entire team went all the way in. This cave is really cool. It’s very narrow at points, and with teams coming and going, we got up-close and personal with complete strangers as we passed each other. The bats in this cave were like Kamikaze pilots, dive-bombing right in front of our faces or at the backs of our heads. Just a really cool experience.
From here, our next CP was the rappel, and I was REALLY looking forward to this. For those of you that don’t know, Bob lost a bet to me, so he had to wear a Speedo of my choosing for part of this race. We opened up a poll for all of you Virtusites, and even though Bob and Brian tried to cheat the system with Brian voting from 40 different computers for “Biking at Night,” their attempt was thwarted by all of you good, honest people, and “Fixed Ropes” won the vote.
Bob: Hey now, I think if you look back you’ll see that Casey gave the OK for multiple votes as long as they came from different IP addresses.
Luke: He didn’t give the OK, he just said it was possible. It wasn’t cheating, but it wasn’t exactly on the up and up, now was it? It doesn’t matter now. The right choice prevailed.
As Kage and I were putting on our harnesses, Bob was swapping his clothes for the Gold Speedo. There were several teams and a handful of volunteers there to witness this historic event, but we were sad that WTFARTR was going to miss it.
But then we heard some crashing through the woods and then a loud, “Yeeesssss!! We made it in time!” It was Brian, followed by Todd and Dave. They had realized their mistake and then hauled ass to catch up to us. Now all was right in the world. Our good friends would be there to see Bob “shine.” We posed for a photo or twelve, but be warned. Once you see the next few photos, you will never feel the same about Bob Jenkins. You will love him even more (if that’s possible).
Kage: I had seriously mixed feelings. On one hand, the Speedo bet was hilarious and has given us hours of fun. On the other hand, I’d have wanted to die before walking out in front of a bunch of other people in basically no clothes. No matter how uncomfortable Bob might have been, though, he owned it. And laughing about this insanity distracted me from my terror of heights and the knowledge that I was about to rappel for the first time. Thanks, Bob!
Luke: Kage is right. The whole thing was absolutely hilarious, but when it came time for it to actually go down, I was feeling pretty badly about it. Not badly enough to put a stop to it, of course. I mean, a bet’s a bet. Bob was simply superb. He more than owned it. He owned it, took it public and sold shares, and then bought all the shares back again. Bob, you were fantastic! Seriously, no one should EVER punk out on a bet after seeing you live up to this one (and yes, Brian, I still owe you a snack from our bet!).
After laughing our asses off, it was time to throw ourselves off of a cliff. Kage had never rappelled before. As in NEVER. So her first rappel was going to be 100 feet high or so, in the dark, with a free-fall, into a river. The plan was for me to go first so I could belay her at the bottom, she would go second so Bob could give her encouragement from above, and then Goldmember himself would rappel down in the Gold Speedo.
Kage had fingerless biking gloves, and I had full-fingered, leather gloves. I also had a pair of full-fingered biking gloves in my pack that I offered her. She was about to accept my offer when one of the volunteers said she wouldn’t need them. I offered once more, but Kage said she’d be fine. So over the cliff I went.
It was a really fun rappel, and I’m finally able to rappel without getting really nervous. I almost fell into the water at the bottom, but I managed to stay upright. The volunteers at the top and bottom were amazing. As I was unclipping from the rope, they informed me that there was a hornet’s nest somewhere nearby, so Kage’s first rappel would include dangerous insects as well. Nice, huh?
So it was Kage’s turn. I wasn’t up there, but Bob said she seemed like she had done it a hundred times.
Kage: If you really look at that picture, I look like I’m headed to the firing squad. I was really nervous waiting, to the point where my hands were shaking and I was feeling nauseous. Once I was hooked in, though, I was just focused on what I needed to do. I did get a little uncomfortable when I spun away from the wall, but I really wasn’t scared. Very cool experience.
Kage rappelled like a champ. It’s ridiculous how she seems to have absolutely no fear (and I still haven’t heard complain). She’s such a broodmare. During the rappel, I think she got going a bit too fast and nearly burned her fingers. If only she had a really wise and handsome teammate that suggested she wear full-fingered gloves. Hmm…
Kage: Let me officially say it here on the blog: Luke, you were right. I totally should have listened to you.
Luke: Wow. That is my favorite line of this entire race report!
Then it was Bob’s turn to rappel with Kage as his bottom-belay. It was hard to see him at the top of the cliff, but as he came downward, his gold Speedo shone like a beacon in the night. It was a sight to behold, let me tell you. Bob also got going too fast, though. He couldn’t seem to stop himself, and he yelled for a belay from Kage. I told Kage to pull the rope tightly, but it was twisted around another rope. Before we could figure this out, Bob was already in the river.
Kage: I feel bad about that. Sorry Bob!
Luke: It wasn’t your fault. I couldn’t have done anything if it was me doing the belaying. The ropes were twisted.
For a minute or so, Bob stayed in the water. We would later learn that Bob was yelling for us to stop him because the rope was burning his belly. He said the cool water was quite soothing to his smoldering skin, and it offered a brief respite from the searing pain. If you look closely in the photo above, you can see a small, red line on his belly just above his harness. And if you can’t quite make it out, here is a better shot of it:
Even though we had already experienced a full race-worth of fun and pain, we knew we must press on. There was a LOT more racing to do. So onward we pushed.
Will Team Virtus find the next CP? Will they succumb to the Careers? Will Bob continue to wear the Speedo just for fun? Will the Tributes from District 69 survive what the head Gamemaker has planned? Stay tuned to find out.
To Be Continued…
**NOTE** This race report was written by Luke and is presented in black text. Casey added some comments and are presented to you in Orange, Bob’s comments are in Green. Adam’s too good for us to add comments, but his comments would have been in Pink. Luke added a few responses in blue.
I can remember it like it was yesterday… It was Christmas Eve, and I was 8 years old. As I snuggled into my bed, snow silently fell to the ground outside my window, covering the outside world in its frosty-white blanket. The minutes slowly ticked by, inching ever so closely to midnight. It felt like time was standing still. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the night. The anticipation was almost too much to bear.
You see, all of my friends already had Nintendo Entertainment Systems, and it was the only thing I wanted for Christmas. I would have given anything to get a Nintendo. I wanted it soooo badly. In fact, I often had dreams about hanging out at the mall with Mario and Luigi while all my friends stared at us, jealous of my friendship with the two plumber-brothers.
When dawn finally broke, my brothers and I sprinted downstairs and tore into our presents. It was a fantastic Christmas! Santa was very, very good to us. However… We did not find a Nintendo under the tree. I had built this Christmas up in my mind to be the Christmas to end all Christmases. I just knew we were going to get a Nintendo. I just knew it was going to be the best Christmas ever. I never even considered not getting a Nintendo. When the last presents were opened and there was no Nintendo, I was crushed. My heart broke, and my soul blackened ever so slightly. A part of me died on that fateful Christmas morn…
And that’s exactly how I felt at the Lionheart Adventure Race.
We had been building this race up in our minds since we first talked about it a few months ago, and the growing anticipation only added to how awesome this race was going to be. We just knew it was going to be a great race. We just knew we were going to have a blast. We never even considered not finishing an awesome race.
And then we were crushed… Just like that Christmas morning 13 years ago… (Okay, so it was 25 years ago, but who’s counting?)
We were originally planning on doing The Thunder Rolls Adventure Race, but since Casey has traveled 12+ hours to race with the rest of Team Virtus here in the Midwest several times, we decided to broaden our horizons and head East to race a little closer to his home in NY. After much deliberation regarding which race to do, Bob, Adam, and I decided to meet Casey in Ohiopyle, PA for the Lionheart Adventure Race.
All of us prepared for battle with our customary facial hair, but Bob definitely gets a gold star for going all-out this time.
We were incredibly excited for many reasons. We had trained our asses off for this race, especially in the paddling department (something we usually neglect). We were also excited about racing in a new state with more mountainous terrain than we have here in the Midwest. The paddling looked like it was going to be an absolute blast, and there was going to be a 130 foot high rappel! On top of all of that, our brand new team jerseys had arrived in the nick of time to debut them in PA. We had researched previous races in the area as well as the local trails and rivers. Basically, we were probably more prepared for this race than we’ve ever been for any other race. We even had a game plan: Pace ourselves early so we would be strong throughout the entire race, passing those teams that went out too fast. After all, it was a 25-hour race, right? Well, no it wasn’t, but more on that later.
Before Adam, Bob, and I left Jefferson City on Thursday evening around 9:15 PM, we had to scramble a little bit to make sure we had all of the required gear. The gear list had changed a couple of times over the previous week, so Bob reserved a snake bite kit with the race organizers (which wasn’t actually reserved for him, but thankfully, Casey had already picked one up in NY). We also hoped to pick up an “Aqua Strobe Flashing Rescue Light” when we got to Ohiopyle. This just raised our level of excitement even more…
**We might get bitten by a snake!!! We’re going to have to paddle at night!!! Sweet!!!**
Um… Yeah… Just keep reading.
With all of our supplies ready, we loaded the Virtus Van, and we were ready to roll. The drive would take us roughly 13 hours to get there, and, thanks to Bob’s amazingly awesome Mom, we had enough snacks and supplies to make the drive at least 5 times. We took turns snacking, driving, and napping. Thank you , Mrs. Jenkins! You made the road trip a GREAT one, and you rock!
After driving straight through the night, we finally made it to Ohiopyle around noon. The drive into Ohiopyle was beautiful. However, the terrain was a bit intimidating. The mountains in this area make the Ozarks look like ant hills, but we were ready. We parked the Virtus Van, and we walked along the Yough (pronounced Yawk) River. We were blown away.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat in the small town of Ohioplye while we waited for Casey to arrive (and I’m not exactly sure what it was we were actually drinking in the little pizzeria). After unsuccessfully trying to get a campsite at the state park (apparently PA State Parks won’t let you get a campsite if it’s after Noon – WTH?), we found a little hole-in-the-wall campground (Scarlett Knob Campground) nearby and set up our camp. Shortly thereafter, Casey arrived. After many top-secret Team Virtus hand-shakes, high-fives, and a man-hug or ten, the four of us made our way back into Ohioplye for a quick dip in the river. Hijinks and tomfoolery ensued…
Bob: I like how these photos show the contrast between my manboobs and Luke’s ripped back. Way to rub it in, asshole.
Luke: Dude, I love that photo of you. Your face shows the sheer joy of racing down those natural water slides.
We were a little timid when we first started going down the natural water slides. I mean if you stop to think about it, it probably wasn’t a great idea to be doing this kind of thing the day before a “25-hour” adventure race. It really was a lot of fun, though. However, all good things must come to an end, and we knew it was going to be a long race the next day. We didn’t want anyone getting hurt, so…
We decided to go down the water slides head first for the next hour.
Videos of us having more fun than anyone else can be found here: Luke (notice the bikini girl is terrified of me at the end), Casey, Bob (sorry about the angle, but notice he takes care of his comb-over in the middle of water sliding), and of course Adam (who is fired for dropping my flip-flop that Bob’s mom packed for us). You can also see a first-person-point-of-view video right here. We seriously had a ton of fun.
Bob: Lest we forget that a new Virtus term was coined in those frigid waters… That water was so cold, everyone was “Laffooning”. Heck, I’m Laffooning right now just thinking about it.
Casey: Remember how slick it was upriver from the slides? We were sitting in the river waiting for Luke to catch up and as he passed some teenage girls he lost his footing and went airborne. He was parallel to the ground and about 4 or 5 feet in the air. Luckily he wasn’t hurt. Oh course, we didn’t laugh until we were sure he was alright.
Luke: I’m pretty sure I heard you laughing before I hit the ground.
After our swim, we went to grab a bite to eat at “The Pub”, one of only a couple of places to eat in Ohiopyle. It… Took… For… Ever… The food was good, but we actually had to get it to-go since the pre-race meeting was starting at 8:00 PM sharp. So we took our cajun chicken pasta with us and hurried over to the pavilion for the meeting. At the last minute, however, the meeting had been moved to the next morning. Bummer.
We checked in, grabbed our t-shirts, maps, UTM coordinates, and passport. Then we copied the off-limits roads from the master map.
We went back to our campsite to plot the points and get our gear ready to go. The race meeting was rescheduled for 8:30 AM sharp, and the race would start at 9:00 AM. I’ve never been to a race that started so late… especially a 25-hour race (which was actually turned into a 23-hour race for reasons unknown to us). We all went to bed ridiculously early for the night before an adventure race, and we got a very good night’s sleep, something I’ve never had before an adventure race.
We all woke up around 6:45 feeling refreshed and ready to race. We finished packing our gear boxes and backpacks. For long races, we all prepare in our own way. Adam likes to meditate and visualize himself as an actual member of Team Virtus. Bob likes to stare at photos of his girlfriend for motivation. I prefer to pretend to lose things so Adam and Bob can help me find them (Man, that was hilarious, but you had to be there). And Casey apparently likes to hump the Virtus Van…
Casey: Although the Virtus Van appears to be enjoying the special attention, I was really compressing air from my e-Vent water proof bag.
Luke: Uh-huh. Sure you were. Perv.
We drove to the start of the race, and we made our way to the pre-race meeting… Well, all of us but Casey went to the meeting. He was looking for his camera that he swore one of us had hidden just to mess with him. He didn’t miss much, though, since there really wasn’t much info given out at the meeting. We learned that we had to be back by 8:00 AM the next morning, and we had to stay off the off-limits roads. And that was it. Nothing else was said. Remember this. It becomes important later in the race.
Casey: I thought one of you were screwing with me because you kept laughing every time I asked about it. You guys even said you had hidden it in the glove box at one point (I checked and it wasn’t there). I needed my camera for the race or we wouldn’t have any pictures of Luke. This would lead to fewer hits on the race report since Luke has such a huge following…woof!
We went back to the Virtus Van to get our packs. Casey was still looking for his camera when it was time to go to the starting line. He said he’d catch up, so Bob, Adam and I left without him.
Standing at the starting line, we were ready to go… Well, Casey was still looking for his camera. He finally gave up so he wouldn’t miss the start of the race. He would have made it to the starting line in time too, if he didn’t run to the wrong location. He ran to the pavilion where the pre-race meeting had been held instead of to the starting line on the bridge. What a great start. Once again, Team Virtus starts at the back of the pack. That’s okay. It was all part of our plan.
Casey: I never looked at the map to see where the start was actually located. Luke was navigating and I didn’t think I’d need to know. When I got to the pavilion, nobody was there and the people inside the store had no clue where the start was. I was starting to panic a bit and then I remembered something about a bridge, so I sprinted a good quarter of a mile to the starting line. I got there just as the back of the pack was getting off the bridge. I was breathing heavy and sweat was dripping off my face for the start of the race. Sorry guys, maybe you shouldn’t have hidden my camera.
Bob: You totally cost us the podium.
If you wanna take a look at a map of the area to sort of follow along, here you go. The race started on a footbridge above Hwy 381. We were faced with a 3-mile trek heading north on an old railroad trail (The Great Allegheny Passage) to get checkpoint (CP) 1, and then a 3-mile trek back to the Transition Area (TA) in the parking lot. Since we knew we would be back to the TA shortly, we decided to forgo filling our packs with water and food to lighten our load. In hindsight, this was stupid.
We also knew that a lot of teams would go out hard and run all 6 miles. That was fine with us. We’ve had success in the past by pacing ourselves early while other teams go out too fast and blow up. Our plan was to “power hike” the 6 miles to keep our legs fresh. That lasted about 5 minutes, though. Take a look:
(By the way, leave us a comment if you actually get my reference to marsupials in this video)
Um… Yeah. We started the race with a 100 meter sprint. So what? It was fun, and I clearly won. Other than that, though, we stuck to our plan. It was kind of fun trying to guess which teams were going out too fast too soon as they passed us on their way back to the TA while we were still on our way to CP1. We found the CP with no problems, and we then made our way back to the TA to grab CP2.
I’d like to tell you that we flew through this TA, but I’d be lying. Clearly, this is an area in which we need a lot of work. It took us 35 – 40 minutes to get out of the TA. That’s just pathetic. Part of that was because we needed to fill our bladders and pack more food. In hindsight, it was stupid to not do this before the race started. The little bit of time it saved us on the trek paled in comparison to the time it cost us at the TA. The good news, though, is Casey found his camera in the van. However, he never apologized for blaming us. What a jerk.
Casey: You guys never apologized for hiding it from me. Plus, I apologized a few paragraphs ago.
While at the TA, I got a nice little surprise. As I slipped my foot into my bike shoe, something impaled my foot:
My son, Otis, had somehow left his toy car in my bike shoe. I’d like to think that he did this on purpose to put a smile on my face, but he’s only two. I’m guessing he was just playing, and the car ended up in my shoe on accident. It did bring a big smile to my face regardless of how it got there, but I wish I would have found it later in the race when I would really need something to brighten my spirits.
As I waited for everyone else (Adam) to finish getting ready, I tweeted:
“2 cp’s done. Transitioning to bikes. In last place, but just pacing ourselves. Feeling great!”
Aside from taking too long at the TA, though, everything was going according to plan. The weather was great, we were feeling great, and we were excited to get on our bikes. The next CP looked easy enough to find. We simply had to hop on the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail heading east for a short distance, jump on the Baughman Trail, pick up the Sugarloaf Trail, and find the CP at the “sledding area.”
Unfortunately, we managed to completely miss the trailhead. We must have blown by it while flying on the flat, smooth rail-trail. Fortunately, we caught our mistake quickly… Or so we thought. Rather than backtrack, we decided to bike-whack up the hill. This was another mistake. The bike-whacking was about as easy as proofreading one of Casey’s race reports. Take a look:
So it turns out that we had biked farther on the rail-trail than we had originally thought. We only tried bike-whacking for a few minutes before stopping to reassess the situation. Rather than waste a ton of energy, we decided to head back on the rail-trail to find the trailhead. We found it easily, and I have no idea how we missed it the first time.
We started riding on the Baughman Trail, and it was pretty fun… at first. We somehow managed to completely blow by where the trail turned and went up some steps. Bob was leading, and he was wearing Casey’s GoPro Hero helmet cam. If you’ll watch the video below, you’ll notice that Bob actually looks at the stairs, but then he just keeps going. He thought the stairs just led to some lookout, and he saw a pile of brush in front of him. He thought it would look cool on the video if he rode over the pile of stuff in front of him, so he disregarded the stairs. In hindsight, this pile of sticks was to let riders know that it was the wrong way. Whoops.
To see the video, just go right here.
We can’t blame Bob, though. I was behind Bob, with Adam behind me, and then Casey behind Adam. I saw the stairs, too, but I didn’t really think about it. Adam saw them too, but he didn’t think much of them either. Casey never even saw the stairs, which is amazing in itself. So, it was a collaborative mistake.
Soon the trail petered out into nothing. We realized that we must have missed the turn, so we decided to bike-whack up the hill to get back onto the Baughman Trail. The bike-whacking in this area was MUCH easier than what we attempted before. We quickly found the trail and got back on track.
While the trail was easier than bike-whacking, it was still an S.O.B. of a climb. It seemed to go on… and on… and on… for… ever… We didn’t do much biking on this part of the trail. We lost about a gallon of sweat, though.
It was was hot, the climb was steep, we were hurting, and it was still very early in the race. Not good. We eventually made it to the top of the climb, and we took a short, 5 minute break at a beautiful look-out. Was it worth the climb? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that it was beautiful and No in the sense that this was actually a race, and we didn’t exactly relish how much energy was just exerted. Regardless, it was a very cool spot, and of course we had to take some photos.
Casey: There was one good section that had a bombing downhill that you could ride in stretches. Below is a clip of Bob riding it with a headcam rolling. If you listen really closely you can hear BLD laugh like a little kid. He was really enjoying the moment.
Bob: The video does no justice to that downhill, but you can kinda tell how fast I was going by the way the trees get blurry. That section was reaaally fun.
We made our way over to the “sledding area” to grab CP3. The volunteers here were very cool. I wish I remembered their names, but I’m drawing a blank. Anyway, a big thank you to those two ladies. They were very friendly, and they laughed at all of our bad jokes… Even Casey’s.
We took a little longer here than we normally would. The bike-whacking fiasco followed by that hellacious climb had taken a toll on us. Bob wasn’t feeling very well at all, so we sat down and had a little picnic lunch. Bob asked Casey for some sausage (insert your own joke here), but Casey said he was saving it for later in the race. What a jerk.
We sat in the shade, ate some Honey Stinger Waffles and other food, and drank some e-Fuel as we planned our route on foot to the kayaking put-in. Yes, that means we were dropping our bikes here, which also meant we would have to come back up this S.O.B. of a mountain.
After refueling, we thanked the volunteers, bid them adieu, and headed out on foot. (Didn’t Bob promise to bring the hot chocolate for them upon our return?) It was going to be a 7-ish mile trek to the river mostly on gravel roads. It was a loooong hike, but at least it was almost completely downhill to the river. Many jokes and stories were told, Adam was fired from the team numerous times, and many memories were made. I won’t bore you with all of the details (I know, it’s shocking that I’m trying to keep this short…er). Here are a few photos from our trek:
Casey: We actually bet on whether we’d be paddling in tandem or single inflatable kayaks. I bet it would be single kayaks and Luke thought it would double kayaks. So who really won the bet? You make the call…read on.
It was a great, but looong, hike, and my feet were aching. We had a blast, and we were absolutely stoked to be getting on the river soon. We had watched videos of the Middle Yough River, and it was going to be an absolute blast! We were also going to be using inflatable kayaks, something we’ve never experienced, which only added to the excitement. We simply could not wait. And since we were running very low on food, we were even happier to be getting on the river for a 2-3 hour paddle back to the TA and our supplies.
We found the CP and met the two volunteers. As we punched our passport, one of the volunteers walked up and said to the other volunteer, “So, did you tell them yet?”
**Uh oh… That doesn’t sound good at all.**
Volunteer: “Well unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news for you guys. You can’t get on the river”
Volunteer: “You guys and 5 other teams missed the cutoff and can’t get on the river. You had to be here almost an hour ago at 4:00 PM.”
**Um… What cutoff?!?!**
At this point, I looked around to see if there was a video camera. I seriously thought this was a prank. As we stood there in silence for a few moments, I realized there was no camera, no “gotcha!” moment, and this was no prank. This guy was serious.
There was no mention of a cutoff on the race’s website. There was no mention of a cutoff at the race check-in. There was no mention of a cutoff at the pre-race meeting. There was no mention of a cutoff on the clue sheet. Why was there no mention of a cutoff? Because…
There was NO EFFING CUTOFF!!!
We were absolutely dumbfounded. We informed the volunteers that there was no cutoff, that there must be some kind of mistake. They told us that the State Park does not allow paddling on the river after dark, and there was nothing they could do about it.
**We had 3 and a half + hours of daylight left!!! And WHY did we need to buy an “Aqua Strobe Flashing Rescue Light if we couldn’t paddle after dark!?!?**
We couldn’t believe it. How could this have happened? We didn’t come all the way from MO and NY for this. We just didn’t understand.
Bob was silent.
It was really, REALLY hard to not take out our frustration on these volunteers. I know they had nothing to do with it. They were simply the messengers, and we all know how that saying goes. We tried to plead our case, but their hands were tied.
Bob was silent.
We asked what our options were. They said we could drop out of the race or hike all 7 miles back to our bikes (UPHILL THE ENTIRE WAY), skip the 100+ foot rappel that we were soooo looking forward to, skip going back to the TA where our much-needed food was, and continue on with the race on our bikes.
Bob was still silent.
For those of you that don’t know Bob, there are only two reasons for him to be silent: 1) He’s battling a Prairie-Doggin’ turd so he doesn’t poop in his pants, or 2) He’s really, really, REALLY pissed. All I’ll say is, he had a healthy bowel movement earlier in the day, so he was not in danger of soiling himself. You do the math.
Now, let me break this down for you. We had just been completely blindsided by, what we have now dubbed, a Phantom Cutoff. We were going to miss out on the two things we were most excited about: the kayaking and the rappel. And we were going to have to hike 7 miles uphill and finish the race without refueling. All because we missed the Phantom Cutoff by 1 hour.
Just let all of that soak in for a minute…
For those of you that haven’t raced much, I’ll just tell you that racing with cutoffs is entirely different than racing with no cutoffs. Having a cutoff makes it a “race within the race.” You know you have to be somewhere at a certain time, so you plan everything around that cutoff. In all of the Adventure Races I’ve done over the last 10+ years, I don’t remember ever missing a cutoff. Not one. I’ve dropped out of races before due to injury or being fat and out of shape, but I’ve never missed a cutoff. There is no doubt in my mind that we could have made it to the kayak put-in by 4:00 PM had we actually known there was a cutoff!!!!
Completely deflated, with our heads hung low, we walked over to the park bathroom to fill up with water, relieve ourselves, and discuss what we wanted to do.
I was pissed. I was depressed. I was deflated and dejected. No one wanted to go on the trek from hell with no food. No one wanted to skip the kayaking leg. No one wanted to skip the rappel. But what could we do? I, for one, wanted to quit. I think quitting crossed all of our minds… Even Casey’s.
If you know Team Virtus at all, though, you know we didn’t quit. There is no Strength & Honor in quitting. It was very hard not to quit at the time, though. Since there was nothing we could do, we decided to walk into the tiny town, buy any food we could find with our emergency funds (something you should take on every race), and then start our long, uphill trek back to our bikes, skipping the paddle, the rappel, and the TA.
As we were on our way to tell the volunteers that we had decided to continue with the race, we saw another team walking towards the volunteers. They were all eating ice cream and drinking sodas (which looked ridiculously delicious by the way) that they had purchased in the small town across the river. We informed them of the Phantom Cutoff. And their reaction was on par with ours. Actually, they may have taken the news worse than we did.
As we started walking away while they were discussing their options with the volunteers, the race director pulled up in his truck. So we decided to stick around to see what he had to say.
I believe the racer you see in the photo above said to the race director as he approached, “It would have been nice to know about a fuckin’ cutoff!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Bob was silent.
The RD said that he has organized races in this area for 13 years with very similar courses, and he had “Never seen teams move so slowly and take so long.”
Wow. So it’s our fault. And we’re fat and slow. The nerve of this guy!
When we and the other team tried to tell him that we had enough daylight left to finish the paddle before it was dark, the RD said (and I actually didn’t hear this, but all 3 of my teammates confirmed this), “Well it took Team SOG (affiliated with the RD and the race promotion company) 2 hours, so it would probably take you guys like six hours.”
I’m glad I didn’t hear this. I might have completely lost what little patience I had left. So, not only was missing the cutoff-that-didn’t-exist our fault because we’re fat and slow, but we suck so bad compared to Team SOG that we would take 3 TIMES as long as they did on the water. This RD’s customer service was top-notch. And by top-notch I mean it’s the worst I’ve ever seen in the Adventure Racing community. Man! I get riled up just typing this, and it’s been several months since this happened.
Casey: Team SOG is an elite team and might very well be 3 times faster than we are on land since they actually run during races. However, on water I’m sure they aren’t three times as fast. That is a huge margin of superiority. They’d most likely beat us in a kayak race, but I assure you not by the margin their friend, the RD was assuming. We are big, strong guys and would have crushed the paddle. We paddled a lot this summer, and we were really looking forward to paddling on the Yough River. Apparently, American Adventure Sports cares more about catering to elite teams than the average Joe. If that is their target audience, they should say so from the beginning.
Bob: I feel like I should point out that Team SOG was a very classy crew. They made sure to say hello every time we ran into them, and they always had something positive and encouraging to say. Our beef is definitely not with Team SOG.
We expressed our utter disappointment in missing the paddling leg AND the rappel as well as our concern about not having enough food. We asked if there was anyway to get a ride so we could do the rappel, go to the TA and refuel, and then hike to our bikes and continue on with the race from there as a “short-coursed” team. He thought about it for a moment, and said, “I don’t see why not. It’s about the same distance on foot.” So the Race Director himself gave us the green light, and nothing else was ever said.
Okay, so all was not lost after all. We were still really pissed and feeling down, but at least we were going to get to do the rappel, go to the TA and refuel, and then finish the race to the best of our ability. So we piled in the back of the RD’s truck and the other team piled into one of the volunteers’ trucks for a ride back to the TA.
Bob was still Silent (maybe his new nickname should be Silent Bob).
Bob: I haven’t been that disappointed and angry since I was married. I make a habit to process my emotions before I react to them. I knew if I said anything, it would come out wrong and I’d look like a major jerk. I was convinced noone else had heard the RD’s condescending comments, so I was trying to keep it to myself. Having said that, I’d been looking forward to that paddling leg for months and had trained accordingly. I just couldn’t get past the disappointment.
Casey: I heard his comments and just assumed he was star-struck over his friends, Team SOG. I chose to ignore his insulting comment and assumed he was just an ignorant jerk. Because we are not elite on our feet doesn’t mean we’re inept on the water. We could have floated down the river in tubes in less than 6 hours. Hell, we could have carried our inflatable boats down the cinder path along side of the river in less time than he was assuming it would take us to paddle it.
We made it back to the TA and walked along the rail-trail to the bridge over the Yough River where we would be rappelling. Even though we weren’t in good spirits, we were still pretty excited for the rappel. And it didn’t disappoint.
Casey: It was pretty scary. The volunteer set my ATC up for a lefthanded rappel but my ATC was on the right side of my body. I pointed this out to him, and he told me that I was wrong, it was safe and that I should just go. I looked down at my harness and showed him how the ropes twisted over each other if I rappeled right handed. I was not going to attempt a rappel with this set up, and I called over another volunteer. He agreed with my assessment of the situation and helped me reclip in properly. Once this got straightened out I really enjoyed the rappel off the bridge. It was one of only a few highlights of this race for me.
It was quite an adrenaline rush, and it was just what we needed to kick-start the rest of our race. When we went to punch our passport, we realized that we had left it at the TA. Adam was fired for not reminding us to bring it. We quickly went to get it, came back, and punched the passport.
We re-stocked our packs with food and water, and then we headed out on foot to go pick up our bikes. This time, however, we decided to take the Sugarloaf Trail instead of the Baughman Trail. I was actually against this , but Bob campaigned for the Sugarloaf Trail and I was outvoted. It turned out to be a great decision. We made decent time as we climbed our way up the mountain. Steep in spots, the trail was pretty rocky, but it was much faster than taking the Baughman Trail. I remember all of us commenting that it would be fun to bike down this trail and that we’d be getting off and walking some of the steeper, rockier sections.
We soon made it to our bikes to find the same smiling, friendly volunteers. (They asked about the hot chocolate they were promised. BLD lived up to his name once again). It was now getting dark, and we decided to have a snack before hopping on our bikes. I believe Casey was nice enough to share his sausage with the rest of us at this point (insert another joke here). In all honesty, Casey was right. It would have been too soon to eat such a delicious treat, and it was definitely worth waiting for. I needed more food, though.
Casey: I felt like such a jerk for telling Bob no earlier in the race. I was planning on saving it until we needed something to pick us up. I think it worked out though.
We once again said good bye to the wonderful volunteers, and we headed out on our bikes. I don’t remember exactly where we went, and the order of events may be off slightly. I can’t seem to find my maps (I may have either burned them or wiped my ass with them). I remember riding some fun, but tough, gravel roads for quite a while.
The navigation on the bikes wasn’t difficult, and we eventually found ourselves at the CP where we picked up our maps for the Optional Bike CP’s. After looking at the maps, we decided we would not be getting any of the Optional CP’s. The distances were too great, and the hills were ridiculous.
This turned out to be a good decision. Less than half a mile from the CP, we crossed a creek and heard a horrific sound – metal against metal. We stopped and looked back to find Adam off of his noble steed, looking at the chain. His derailleur had been torn off of his bike. It was bent badly, and no one had an extra hangar anyway. Our only option was to make it a single speed and hope for the best.
Bob had been dealing with a blister for quite some time at this point. Since we had been stopped for quite awhile anyway, we talked him into giving me the gift of letting me help him. I punctured his blister, covered it with a circle of moleskin, followed by a cover of moleskin, followed by some Kinesio-Tex Tape. I learned all of this from the great book, Fixing Your Feet (highly recommended). Thank you, Bob, for such a wonderful gift.
After fixing the bike and working on Bob’s blister, we hopped back on the bikes to head back to the TA. We took the gravel roads, and they were quite hilly. Adam’s single speed was in a pretty big gear, but he was a champ. He never complained, and he kept up quite well. He was so good, in fact, that he was almost re-hired to the team. Almost.
We found ourselves back on the Sugarloaf Trail, descending the rocky, hilly trail that we had previously hiked up. It was soooooo much fun. We absolutely flew down this trail, even though it was very rocky, steep and dark. It was one of the highlights (although there weren’t many) of the race. All of the parts we previously talked about getting off of our bikes and walking seemed to fly by us. We didn’t even think about getting off the bikes.
We were having way too much fun. I kept waiting for something bad to happen since this race had not gone as planned. Nothing happened, though. We all made it down safely, and it was one of the best downhill rides I’ve ever done. Well, there was one crash, but it was on a non-technical, flat section. Bob just fell over for no reason at all, and he mashed his junk on his handlebars.
We rode back to the TA, and we stopped briefly to fill up with water and food. We got back on the rail-trail and headed north once again, the same way we started this race on foot so many hours ago. At this point, Adam decided for no reason whatsoever to ask, “Hey, are we sure we have the passport?” For some reason, I had been carrying it (which usually isn’t the case), and when I reached down for it I realized it wasn’t there. Holy crap! Adam saved us a TON of time and heartache. For that he was re-hired to the team… For now.
Bob: As much as I hate to admit it, he really saved our bacon right there. Knowing Adam though, he probably hid the passport before “reminding” us to go back and get it. Tricky guy, that one.
We went back for the passport, and then hopped back on the rail-trail. We passed where we had turned off the trail to get CP1 earlier in the race, and we found the trail leading to Mitchell Trail. We took this trail, and it was brutal. The climb was steep, and it would have been crazy-hard without our bikes. With our bikes, however, it was pure hell. There were steps, rocks, washed-out and over-grown sections, and the incline was ridiculously steep.
We finally made it to the manned-CP where we learned that there was one mandatory CP to get on foot and several optional CPs on foot. The mandatory CP was on top of the rappelling cliffs, but we had to walk down Bruner Rd. to get there. It doesn’t look like much on the map, but this hill was STEEP and long. Bob’s heels and feet (they’ve always been a problem for him) were really starting to hurt, and the downhill walking was not helping. On top of that, Bob was getting some serious chafing on his… uh… “mini-me” if you know what I mean.
At one point, the chafage got bad enough that Bob walked behind us with his shorts pulled down to his knees. He was “letting it all hang out” so to speak. I tried to snap a photo, but Bob was too quick for me. Then, using my cat-like speed and reflexes, I managed to capture a photo of Bob in all of his full-frontal glory. I was like a Photo-Ninja. It was hilarious! Bob was very worried that it would end up on this blog, but I just couldn’t do that to him… or to you. You’re welcome. But here’s a shot of Bob in pain:
Bob: I feel like I should mention my life-long phobia that someone is going to see “Stanley”. I was the guy who never showered in gym class, electing to smell like a jockstrap over standing around in a shower-room with my business out in the street. Fast forward 20 years and here I am walking around in the woods waiting for my junk to burst into flames. I enjoy a brief reprieve while I’m “airing it out”, but then a camera flashes and I hear giggling. My worst fears were realized as I knew there was now a digital photo of my weiner on Luke’s camera. Talk about panic.
We got to the bottom of the hill and found a trail taking us up to the top of the rappelling cliff, but we had some struggles finding the CP. After some searching with several other teams, we eventually found it, though. Actually, I think Adam was the one that found it, thus reaffirming our decision to re-hire him.
We climbed and clawed our way back down the steep slope to the road below. We were all dreading the long climb back up, but it turned out to be waaaay better than the way down. It still sucked, but it was much easier than we had anticipated. I think it was a lot easier on Bob’s heels and knees too.
After making it back to the top, it started to sprinkle a little bit. We decided to take a break, grab a bite to eat, and discuss whether or not we wanted to try to get any of the optional CPs.
Well, it was nice while it lasted. Adam was promptly fired from the team again. Don’t ever let him sing to you under any circumstances. Ever!
Casey wanted to try to clear the course, but that just wasn’t happening. Some of us didn’t even want to try for any of the optional CPs, especially after the rain started to come down much harder. We decided to try for the closest CP, and then we would go for the next one if all went well. However, things did not go well.
Casey: We had time left and heading back before the cutoff without all the CP’s we could get seemed like quitting. Unless somebody was physically injured or if it was unsafe for some reason, I always vote to get one more CP. I am so glad that we made the effort, I felt much better about it.
Luke: True, but sometimes staying out there longer for “just one more” costs you in the final results. I think we could have had 3rd place at another race had we not tried for one more CP.
The rain was really coming down now, and it was hard to see more than a few feet in front of us. We started down the trail towards the CP, and we headed into the woods where we thought we’d find the CP. There were several other teams doing the same thing with no luck.
We rechecked the map, and we decided we needed to go farther down the trail before heading into the woods. We thought we’d find the CP for sure, but when we turned around, Casey was gone. Now, you would think it would be hard to misplace a 240 pound MMA fighter, but apparently it’s pretty easy to do. Especially when said MMA fighter wanders off on his own. Bob, Adam, and I stood around in the cold rain waiting for Casey to come back to us. We tried yelling, but the rain severely dampened our voices. We eventually headed back up the trail where we waited for Casey some more.
Honestly, I was getting a little worried about him. Finally after an hour and 15 minutes… Okay, it was only 5 minutes or so, but it seemed like forever… Casey made his way back to us on the trail. Apparently, Casey thought Adam was right behind him with Bob and me right behind Adam. With the rain drowning out all other noise and the hood of our rain jackets forcing us into tunnel-vision mode, it’s easy to see how this could have happened… Sort of.
Casey: I actually thought they were right there behind me. I was talking to them and felt we were really close to finding the CP. It looked like an obvious trail (it was a very old jeep trail) and I was sure it was heading to the CP. I turned around and saw I was alone. I immediately aborted my search for the CP and backtracked to my teammates. It turns out that I was probably within 25-30 yards of the CP. I stopped just on the other side of a little knoll down trail from the CP. I guess I should have expressed my thoughts better to my teammates. Somehow, getting just this one more CP would have made it better.
Luke: You think you were within 25 – 30 yards of the CP. We’ll never know.
I’m sorry to say we never found the CP, and when we discussed what we should do, Bob and Adam wanted to cut our losses and head back. Of course, Casey wanted to go for the next CP. No one can ever call Casey an underachiever. Annoying as hell and really ugly? Yes. Underachiever? Nope. I was kind of torn. Part of me really wanted to get another CP, but the other part of me knew the navigation in the dark, cold rain was very difficult.
From experience riding the Katy Trail back home, we knew that it could be a real “female dog” to ride when it rains a lot. It can get real soft and mushy, making it nearly impossible to ride. We were afraid that the rail trail here in PA would be the same. We were all wet and tired, and it was getting late. So we decided to skip the rest of the CPs and head back to our bikes.
We got on the bikes and rode down the hill on Bruner Rd. Yes, the same ridiculously long and steep hill that we had previously hiked down and back up. It was raining now, though, and it was very sketchy riding such a steep grade on wet pavement. We flew down it as fast as we dared to, and we hopped back on the old rail-trail. We had roughly 6 miles of flat, cinder trail between us and the finish line. We just hoped the trail was ride-able.
It was in great shape, and we rode as fast as Adam’s single speed would carry him. It turned out to be roughly a 14mph average, which, all things considered, was pretty darn fast. As the sun started to rise, the rain let up, and we made it back to the bridge off of which we had rappelled earlier the day before.
We were now at most a mile from the finish line, but we took a moment to take in the view and reflect on our race. Below us would have been the take-out point for the kayaks, but that just wasn’t meant to be… Because of the STUPID EFFING PHANTOM CUTOFF!!! (Yes, I’m still pissed).
We dropped the bikes off at the TA, and walked as a team across the finish line.
All things considered, we did the best we could do with the cards we were dealt. We could have (and really wanted to) quit when things beyond our control didn’t go our way. We didn’t, though, and that’s what it’s all about. And hey, even though we did the short-course, we were still official finishers, right?
It wasn’t until we were on our way back to MO that we found out we were “Unofficial Finishers” which, In my opinion, is a nice way of saying DID NOT FINISH (DNF). Casey had already made it back to his house in NY, and he looked at the online results. Even though we got permission and a ride from the race director himself without even so much as a mention of being DNF’d, that’s what happened. If we knew we would be DNF’d… Oh, wait… I mean “Unoffical Finishers”, we would have walked back to the bikes like we had originally planned to before the RD showed up.
I just don’t get it. I’ve never before seen a race with less communication than this one. I’ve never been more disappointed in how a race was organized and run than I was with this one. I’ve never been more disgusted with how a race went down than I was with this one.
We each paid $180 to do this race, not to mention the gas, food, and camping costs. We all took time away from our families to do this race. And to have it ruined by a Race Director’s carelessness really sucks. And then to be insulted and blamed by the same RD really sucks. And then to be DNF’d without ever knowing about it was the final straw.
Was it a complete waste of time? Of course not. I had a helluva a good road trip with two of my closest friends. I got to do a race with my brother and friends in some beautiful country. We got some great mountain biking and navigation work in. We had an absolute blast camping after the race (especially watching Bob try to shield the fire with wet pizza boxes – successfully, I might add). We overcame a lot of adversity and became a stronger team.
Oh, and the post-race meal was fantastic. It’s pretty bad when the post-race meal was the best thing put on by the RD.
So there you have it. That was our experience at the Lionheart Adventure Race. The good, the bad, the really, really bad, the total Bull Sh*t, and the ugly. I’d like to thank the volunteers that helped out at this race. You guys rocked! Nothing else to say, though.
But wait!!! There’s a happy ending!!!
No, not regarding the race. The race still sucked. I’m talking about that Christmas morning so many years ago…
As I sat in my living room trying not to show my disappointment while playing with my new toys, My mom said, “Wait a minute. I think I see another present that Santa must have dropped behind the couch.” My head snapped up.
What?!?! Could it be?!?! Was it possible?!?! YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!
Christmas miracles really do happen, and it was definitely a Christmas miracle that day. Although I got the original Nintendo and not the Nintendo 64 (which came out later), if we had a video camera, my reaction would have looked something like this. I literally got blisters on my thumbs from playing my brand new Nintendo. It was simply amazing. And I still remember the code to get to Mike Tyson on “Punch Out” – 007 373 5963.
Casey: I remember this Christmas and Luke was so excited.
Unfortunately, there was no Christmas miracle for Team Virtus at the Lionheart Adventure Race. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I will NEVER… NEVER… NEVER… EVER do any event put on by American Adventure Sports. I could have overlooked the Phantom Cutoff error. Don’t get me wrong. It was a HUUUUGE error, but I know mistakes happen. We could have dealt with that. It was how we were treated after the error that is simply unacceptable.
Bob: The more I think about it, this may have been the most team unifying race we’ve ever done. When you stop and recollect our triumphs over bike mechanicals, foot blisters and weiner phobias, it’s hard not to look back on this whole thing as a very positive experience. Granted, the organizational skills of the RD threw a pretty huge wrench into things, but those are the moments when you really find out what your team is all about.
I, for one, was 100% ready to quit when those guys told us we wouldn’t be paddling. Casey wasn’t having any of that. He MADE us keep going, and while I hated him for it then, I’m grateful for it now. I also wanted to murder his ass when we were walking around in that typhoon trying to find “one more CP,” but now I look back on that experience and laugh.
Casey: Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha. We came together as a team, faced adversity, and showed our true selves by persevering with strength and honor, the Virtus way. This race has ultimately made us a better team.
Luke: While the race itself was a disaster, I agree with Bob and Casey. We became a much stronger team, so it definitely wasn’t a waste of time and money.
So, what do you guys think? Have you ever had a similar experience? Let us hear it. Did we overreact? Are we spoiled divas that expect too much? Or are we justified in how we feel? Seriously, let us know what you think, both positive and negative. Inquiring minds want to know.