Several months ago, Luke added a contacts link to the website so people could ask questions a bit less publicly. Since then, we’ve gotten questions about race nutrition, saddle-sore prevention and even route planning for rogaines. Believe it or not, we even get a compliment every now and then. This one is my personal favorite: “I’ve read almost your whole blog and even though I might be dumber after reading some parts of it, it’s jam-packed with good tips and hints.” I guess that’s a compliment, right?
Not too long ago, we got this one:
I’m a reporter at The Pitch newspaper in Kansas City. I’m interested in writing something about adventure racing, and I came upon your hilarious race reports. I’m looking for a team to hang around with during an upcoming race (likely the Bonk Hard Chill), and I’m convinced Team Virtus is it. If you’re doing that race (and live/train somewhere near Kansas City) would you be up for letting me write about you, your preparation and experience in the race? Please give me a call or e-mail if you’re game, I think it could be a lot of fun.
Thanks a lot.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this came as quite a surprise. We’re always ready to take a newby out on the trail, but we certainly never planned on having one from a major newspaper. Due to health complications, (Luke being sick all the time and me being a lardass), we were actually planning to skip The Chill this year and turn our focus towards something later in the season. But now that we had a big-time news reporter wanting to “hang around with us” after “coming upon our race reports”, (Ben…you animal), things had to change and they had to change quickly. After performing a quick background check on Ben to prove he was real, we started making preparations to tackle this year’s Chill as a 3 headed monster.
Then there was the real question…What if Ben’s a douchebag? I mean, what if this guy comes down here and writes a story about us being morons? We’ve always made fun of ourselves, so what if this was an outsider’s attempt to poke fun as well? What then? Do we beat his ass? Do we leave him for dead out in the woods?…..What? We’d just have to wait and see.
Lodging was going to be interesting. Luke had made arrangments for us to stay in one of the rustic cabins at ” The Outpost.” We’d be bunking there with Ben, a photographer named Brooke Vandever, and fellow racer Travis Hammons of Offroad Medics Racing fame. Aside from a 3-second conversation before the Berryman last year, we only knew Travis through blogs and facebook, so you might say we had a cabin full of strangers out there. Luke and I got there early in the day and set up camp. We brought literally every stitch of outdoor clothing we owned, so Ben would be able to find something that suited him. The cabin walls were lined with every shirt, hydration pack and pair of shorts we owned…it was all there.
Next, we headed to race HQ to meet up with our new homies. When we met Ben, it was immediately clear that he was our kind of guy; He was completely unprepared, unaware of the pain that lay before him, and he was COMPLETELY pumped to be doing an adventure race. Holy shit, was this guy excited. Just look at him taking notes at the pre-race meeting:
Dan from Oz Cycles raffled off an $800 canoe, and the guy who won it acted like someone just handed him a pack of gum. I think any one of us would have raised the roof, but whatever. Maybe next time. Dan briefed us on the paddling leg, and made sure everyone knew they would “get their feet wet.” Then he talked about how quickly the water was moving from all the recent snow-melt, and cautioned that it would be very easy to tip the boat.
This was not good news for us. After the meeting, we spoke with Jason, (Bonk Hard race director), about having Ben with us in the boat. We were signed up as a 2-man team and he was merely going to be spectating, so obviously we weren’t trying to gain some sort of advantage. Our primary concern was for Ben’s saftey. Jason and Dan made it clear there was a definite possibility of tipping, but Ben was completely undeterred. He reassured us that he had “Played a lot of canoeing on the Nintendo Wii, so we would be fine.”
In private, Luke and I spoke at length about what would likely happen on raceday, and we agreed to be ready for some swimming. If Ben wanted the real adventure racing experience, we had to give it to him. He didn’t drive all this way just to stand on the bank. If we got dunked, we’d just deal with it. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
Finally, it was time to take care of some serious business….crushing pre-race carbs at Applebee’s. Ben had lots of questions, so it gave us all a chance to get to know one another. I think we censored ourselves for about 30 seconds and Ben wasted no time reciprocating the sarcasm and profanity… it was clear we were all going to get along just fine. As the conversation wore on, we delved deeper into the intricacies of cycling. It’s always fun to explain the concept of chamois butter to someone new, and it’s even more fun when you get photographic proof of the moment:
I think it’s worth pointing out that Ben grew a beard specifically for this race. We told him it was required gear, and he would blend in better with the other raceers if he had facial hair. It wasn’t the strongest beard I’ve ever seen, but he did alright.
Fast forward an hour or two later and we’re all at the cabin. Luke and I plotted a few points as Ben watched.
Eventually, Luke handed over the UTM tool so Ben could learn a little bit. As it turns out, Ben is a quick learner. He had plotting figured out in about 2 minutes, which annoyed me just a little bit. The jerk could have at least acted like it was difficult, ya know?
It was starting to get late, so Luke resumed plotting the points while I helped Ben figure out what kind of gear he was going to wear tomorrow. I was delighted to find out that Ben had never worn a pair of bike shorts. After assuring him that spandex was indeed normal cycling apparel, he was given a very clean pair of shorts and set forth to try them on.
While Ben was up in the loft, we reviewed his notes.. and even added something:
I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but there was a LOT of crude humor directed at Ben that night. Even by Casey’s standards, we gave him a lot of shit. He took it like a champ, though, and did a good job returning the banter.
Morning came early, and we were running behind as usual. We hit the commode and got Ben ready for action. Here we see him loading up on pain pills before the race even starts. Smart man.
The national anthem was played and we were sent on our way. Luke and I wanted to start out slow, but Ben wasn’t having any of that shit. He was eager to be in the fray, so he took off running… for a minute. We had to make some pace adjustments after his adrenaline rush calmed down, but soon we were holding a decent pace.
I like that photo because you can see how badly we’re already getting our asses kicked. Seriously, checkout the ENTIRE race field at the other end of the vridge. Contrarily, (big word), I like the photo below because you can tell we don’t care:
For a guy who doesnt work out much, Ben has the ability to walk very fast. So fast, in fact, that I had to shed some layers pretty early in the day. I made the mistake of asking Luke to carry my pack for a moment…
The pace was brisk and the conversation intelligent. Seems like we were at that first CP in no time:
A few more miles of hiking and chatting found us at the canoe transition. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I wondered how the day would go after we got dunked. Choosing a canoe was easy since there was only one left, so we threw our things together and set out onto the water. I remember being relieved that we were in metal canoes, not those tippy yellow pieces of shit.
We gave Ben two very specific, very serious instructions: Stay centered and do NOT grab the sides of the boat, not matter what.
I don’t think it took very long for Ben to figure out that Wii canoeing and real canoeing are very different. I personally have a lot to learn about river canoeing, but it’s something I love to do. Ben really seemed to be enjoying himself, and so far things were going very well. The water was swift in some areas, and with the 3 of us in the boat it didn’t take much for waves to crash over the front. It wouldn’t be long before Ben had a very cold, wet ass.
At times, the going got pretty rough. Anytime we bounced off an underwater rock or tree, it was always immediately followed by Ben calling out “I am centered!! I am centered!!” It was both hilarious and reassuring.
This paddling leg is one I’ll never forget. I remember coming to a section where we had to decide to either turn right and pass thru a tangle of roots and sticks, or duck under a large tree that had fallen across the creek. The obvious choice was to pass thru the rocks, since it was much safer. Fate had other ideas, though, and the current sucked us to the left .
We bumped a rock: “I AM CENTERED!!”
The current pushed us further left until we were on a beeline for the felled tree. The way I saw it, we were screwed. I began to psychologically prepare myself for the cold water.
Ben : I AM CENTERED!!
Everyone saw what was about to happen and we all reacted in our own way. I leaned straight back and stared upward, waiting to pass under the tree. Ben froze up, unable to react. Luke saw this and jumped forward, shoving Ben’s head down to safety and then ducked under the tree himself, narrowly escaping decapitation. It was all over in the blink of an eye…crisis averted.
We were certain Ben had just shit in his pants (Actually, they were my pants). He was clapping his hands, pumping his fists in the air, shouting profanity and doing all kinds of other celebratory business. Mere inches had saved him from the icy embrace of the river, but here he was… (mostly) dry and safe.
If you don’t count all the times we had to get out and push the canoe through 2 inches of water, the rest of the paddling leg went without incident. Ben stayed centered, and our asses stayed dry.
Then it was time to get on our bikes and ride….right after eating this sandwich.
We’re not officially sponsored by the Brickhouse Deli, but they gave me a free lunch combo and a bunch of free bottles of water when I told them we’d do some free advertising for them on the blog. I eat there at least 3 times a week because the food is awesome and they make their customers feel like family. Steve, (the owner), is also the guy who makes our coveted Beaverstix.
We got Ben situated and taught him a few things before takeoff… like how to shift gears.
I think the biggest problem we had was keeping Ben’s enthusiasm under control. He had 2 speeds: Fast and stop. It became obvious that the bike wouldn’t be his strong-suit, so we tried coaching him into walking the hills.
We made it to the top of a fairly large hill, and we noticed that Ben was a little pale. It started with a tiny burp, then a muffled gurgling sound. Next thing you know, there’s a gallon of red gatorade geysering its way out of Ben’s face. This was epic vomiting at its very finest. If we had known him better, we would’ve laughed our asses off because we’ve all been there. Out of respect, we didn’t even take a photo until after the show was over.
Still undeterred, Ben soldiered on to the next checkpoint. Neither of us had known he was pushing himself so hard, so we took a few moments to stress the importance of inter-team communication. After reviewing the map, we collectively decided that trying to ride the rest of the bike leg wasn’t in Ben’s best interests. He had shown promise as a foot-bound racer, so we decided to head back to the TA and begin the trekking leg.
Along the way, I had some technical diffuculties of my own:
After a few easy hills, we came to the top of a long gravel downhill. I told Ben to let himself get a little bit of speed and enjoy the hill…staying off the brakes. It was pretty much a straight line to the bottom, so what could go wrong? I let go of the brakes myself and enjoyed the descent. When the road leveled out, I turned to check on Ben. He was hauling ass, but clearly out of his element. I saw the rear wheel fishtail for a moment, and then the handlebars spun around.
We all know what happens next.
I’d say Ben was humming along at around 20 mph when he hit the ground. I saw him land on his chest, then saw his helmet bounce off the ground. He bounced once more and then tumbled into the ditch. Groans of pain quickly followed as he rolled to a stop. That shit had to hurt. Luke and I got there as fast as we could to make sure he was alright. He was scuffed up pretty good, nursing his shoulder and bleeding from the elbow. The look on his face spoke volumes, he’d had enough of this for one day, maybe for one lifetime. He took his helmet off and let if fall to the ground.
- Ben “got it”. He understood the true essence of adventure racing.
- When he said “we”, he was including himself as a member of the team. He was no longer an outsider taking notes; He was a bearded man walking in the rain, soaked and chilled to the bone but willing to press onward. Not to win… not for accolades… but to prove to himself and us that he could persevere. He was doing it for the team.
It literally rained buckets on us. We were walking on what should have been the final bike leg. I couldn’t stop thinking about how quickly I could have ridden 10 miles of gravel. We were passed by droves of racers riding their bikes, and most of them asked why we were walking. When we told them of Ben’s decision to walk the last 13 miles instead of quitting, most of them said we were crazy, or hardcore or something to that effect. I don’t think any of us felt hardcore at all; we just felt wet, cold and ready to be done.