**NOTE: This race report was written by me (Luke) with commentary added by Kate in Blue, Chuck in Green, and Brian (I renamed myself Captain Jack for this tale) in Red. If I feel like it, I might even add a response or two in Purple. And if you need to get caught up, go read Part 1 first.
The Part Where We Tried to Start the Paddling Leg
We rolled in and dropped our bikes at the TA where saw the smiling faces of some of the best volunteers in the AR biz. We dropped our bikes and grabbed an ice cold Red Bull before grabbing our paddling gear: paddles, PFD’s, throw bags, and glow sticks (which were no longer needed since the sun was already quite high in the sky).
Kate: Daytime paddles that are supposed to be nighttime paddles are something of a Team Virtus specialty at Thunder Rolls.
We walked over to the canoes and picked out what we hoped were good ones. That’s when we decided we might need some sun block. None of us had packed any, though, but thankfully our friend and super-volunteer Brandy had some. Brian went back to the TA to get some, and we applied the cream liberally as Chuck and Kate hopped in their canoe.
As they headed out onto the calm water of the cove, I realized I had forgotten my maps. Once again, we had to go all the way back to the TA to get our maps. Finally ready to start paddling, we started to climb into the canoe as Kate and Chuck paddled back toward us. It turns out they, too, had forgotten their maps at the TA. If only someone had just told them they were going back for maps. Oh, wait…
Captain Jack Sparrow (aka Captain Handsome): I had to move my legs in a fast motion repeatedly in order to go back and get the maps. It’s a new fad. I believe it’s jogging or yogging. It might be a soft j. I’m not sure, but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild….and to be honest, I didn’t like it much.
Kate: Sadly, we hadn’t heard him mention the maps because I was too busy giving Brian shit about taking the time to put on sunscreen.
Chuck: There is a picture of us somewhere laughing so ridiculously hard that we could hardly paddle back in.
One final trip back to the TA to get Chuck’s maps, and we were all ready to actually begin the paddling leg… at long last. And we wonder why we take so long in the TA.
The Part Where We Actually Paddle
Now I’m used to manning the back of the canoe, but Brian stepped up and took control of the stern as I sat in the bow. We’ve never paddled together before, and it showed. We zig-zagged all over that damn cove as Kate and Chuck made a beeline for the Mighty Mississippi.
We literally hit the lily pads on both sides of the cove several times before making it to the main river, and by then Kate and Chuck were well ahead of us. Being a wee bit heavier than Kate and Chuck only helped them pull away faster.
Captain Sparrow: Where I’m from, we just call it the front and the back of the boat. Much easier than all those other fancy terms.
Kate: We assumed they’d be way faster than us, having two strong men in their canoe and not being hampered by my noodle arms, but we hadn’t thought about the weight difference or the fact that Chuck and I have paddled quite a bit together now.
Luke: Kate doesn’t give herself enough credit. She no longer has noodle arms, and she’s become a much stronger paddler. Just ask Chuck.
Chuck: Seriously. She could slay the MR340 and set a new record time.
Kate: Only if by “slay” you mean “experience a psychotic break and murder everyone involved”.
Captain: Before this tale gets too far along, I want to press the pause button so I can reflect quickly on a few of my past experiences in these canoes. I’ve flipped one in a flooded parking lot, I’ve spent a whole race squatting in the middle of one so that we wouldn’t flip, I’ve been out on the Mississippi in one when the waves were so high we had to stop racing, and I also spent a whole race just last year paddling through a thunder and lightning “What Does WTFAR taste like when BBQ’d”-fest. The adventures have been mighty in these plastic yellow bananas, so I was looking forward to what this year’s race had in store for us.
Luke: In retrospect, maybe I never should’ve gotten in one of those things with you.
We knew that Brian would probably have to skip a few CP’s on the paddling leg to make it to his father’s 70th birthday party in time, so we decided to go for the farthermost CP’s across and upriver a couple miles away. Then we’d reevaluate to see how many other CP’s we would have time for (in hindsight it’s laughable we thought we could get more).
As calm as the cove was, the main river was anything but. The wind had picked up in a big way, and there were serious whitecaps out there. The wind came from the side, so the waves were nearly tipping us anytime we got sideways to them. We had to angle our canoe in such a way that we were going in the general direction of our intended CP while pointing the canoe into the waves. It was terrible out there.
It was weird, though. There were shallow areas with seaweed-like plants and tall lily pads where the river was very calm. While these sections were much less rough, paddling through them wasn’t much fun since our paddles kept getting caught in the plants with seaweed and algae spraying both of us, and there was a lot of drag since Brian and I aren’t exactly built like your typical endurance athlete. At one point we simply got stuck in the muck. I hopped out and dragged us through the shin-deep sludge as Brian used his Sasquatch strength to push us forward. All this effort to just continue paddling back into the really rough stuff. It was really, really tough paddling.
Captain: Let me really paint the picture for you…we’re out paddling in the middle of what appears to be an ocean. Water as far as the eye can see with a few random islands here and there. You’d think that the water would be so deep that you could find Atlantis down at the bottom depths of the darkness, but instead we’re literally sitting in inches of water. Unfortunately for us, we’re both naturally already in wintery-thick mode for the hibernating season, and our large asses made that canoe draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag. And then all of the sudden…we’re stuck. Not moving. Done. Finished. Probably going to eaten by birds. As Luke mentioned, I started stabbing the muck and trying to find a way to push us forward. It was.not.working. And then…it happened. Luke jumps out of the canoe INTO THE MISSISSIPPI FREAKING RIVER. Think about that, those of you who aren’t insane adventure racers like Luke. He got out of a the canoe in the middle of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. He should have plummeted down to Davey Jones locker to visit a Krakken or the Loch Ness monster, but oh yeah, we’re in inches of water. He quickly grabs onto the handle on the front of the canoe, and with his mighty hairy Wolverine strength lifts the canoe and starts dragging my Sasquatch girth towards the “deep end”. There was no Sasquatchian strength on my part. It was just this small thick man walking on water pulling a large thick man in a giant banana. You know, just typical every day stuff you see at the local Crossfit gym. Adventure racing….you gotta love it.
We could see Chuck and Kate up ahead, but from our angle, it looked like they were headed into a dead end of lily pads and the bank of the river. So we went around all that. This was a big mistake. We ended up WAY north of where we had intended, partly because of the vicious wind and partly because I suck with the river maps.
Kate: From my angle it looked like a dead end, too. I don’t remember the wind being terrible on the paddle to the Elk River, probably because it was so much worse on our return trip. We did barely drag through some shallow areas, and Chuck kept tormenting me by slapping the river with his paddle to make the Asian carp — which I hate — jump out of the water. I was so paranoid that one of them was going to jump into our canoe.
Chuck: The bearing we were following looked like a wall of jungle to me too. I had no confidence that we weren’t heading into a dead end, but when the Suunto MC-2 says ‘go that way’ … we go that way, and somehow always seem to luck out.
Luke: And perhaps it was rougher for us since we took the loooooong way to the Elk River. That and we outweigh you guys by just a few pounds.
Eventually, and with a tip from a couple of fishermen, we found the Elk River. And oh what sweet, sweet relief the calm waters of the Elk River provided. It was a nice break from the Mississippi, and we soon found the CP. There was no sign of Chuck and Kate, though.
Captain Jack: That fisherman thought we were idiots. Yeah, he’s out there in one of them there motor boats like a lazy loser, and we’re using all muscle. Who’s the REAL idiot?
Kate: The Elk River was heaven compared to the Mississippi. We found both CPs without much drama, and though running into some of the 12-hour teams was a little demoralizing we also saw a couple other 24-hour teams too. One of them was Chad’s team, who told us they’d seen Luke and Brian downriver, the first word we’d had of them since we’d gotten separated.
Knowing the paddle back across the Mississippi was going to suck and since it had taken so long to get just one CP, we decided to head straight back to the TA so that Brian could go to the party on time. Again, this was foolish thinking.
Captain: We got some really good Clash of Clans discussions during our romantic ride on the Elk.
Luke: Clash of Clans 4 Eva!!!
Even though we were paddling downriver, we couldn’t tell. We were going pretty much directly into the wind, and it was serious work to make slow progress. It was terrible but sort of in a good way. Brian and I even remarked that as terrible as it was, we were glad to be out there suffering together. It was kind of awesome in a way.
And then the wind and waves got even worse. At one point I swear the waves were coming at us from 3 different directions, and we almost tipped several times. Our bungholes were at pucker-level 10, and it was a fight to stay upright.
It was scary. Not as in we were going to die scary, but as in if we tip, we might not make it off the river for several hours.
Captain: Luke is insane, it was totally die scary. There was not a lot of talking going on at all. Due to the fact we’re brothers from a different mother, we quickly developed a series of grunts and groans to signal what was going on. Mostly, nothing. Once in a while Luke would bark out “RIGHT BRIAN!, RIGHT BRIAN!” even though I was already madly paddled on the right. It was freaking insane.
At one point we tried to go more east-west to…I don’t really know why…and we were immediately sideways and riding a giant wave. At that moment we looked EXACTLY like George Clooney and Mark Walberg in “The Perfect Storm”, not giving up and attempting to overcome the world’s most gnarly of waves. It was so much like the movie that in fact that in the middle of the wave Clooney and Walberg were already in negotations to play US in “The Perfect Storm Too”. But luckily we used our powers of Spongebob and Gerry training to work out of that horrible idea. So, so puckery…
Luke: The idea behind turning east-west was to get the waves and wind to our backs. It turns out that was a really shitty idea.
Kate: Conditions were difficult enough that the safety kayak returned to shore and Gerry “loves to make you suffer” Voelliger cancelled the paddle for
lucky later-arriving teams.
Captain: And oh yeah…even though that was all pretty insane and nuts, I paddled with a sense of calm because each time it got a little hairy I knew my main man up front had it all figured out.
Luke: I’m glad you had such blind faith in me. That was really stupid of you, though, because I wasn’t sure we were gonna make it.
Then we found ourselves next to a small island with lots of pelicans and seagulls on it. It was pretty cool actually, but it seemed like we were next to that damn island for 45 minutes. Remember, we were paddling “down” river.
After paddling hard for 15 minutes and only gaining 10 yards, Brian broke the silence and said, “So, uh… Luke. What’s the plan here?”
I said, “I’m just trying to stay upright and keep moving forward, man!”
I looked ahead a bit and saw a couple of downed trees in the river a hundred yards ahead or so, and I said, “Let’s aim for those trees and hope they provide even a little bit of shelter from this bullshit!”
Having a specific goal to shoot for seemed to help a little, but the trees provided no shelter from the wind and waves. Eventually, we made it to one of the shallow, calmer parts of the river. As we unpuckered for a bit, we paddled slowly through the “seaweed” and algae, throwing the vegetation all over ourselves. We dragged a few times, but we never got stuck.
Captain: It was at this point that I was delirious from paddling and was pretty sure the slowly waving weeds, just barely under the surface of the water were going to reach up and yank us down into our watery grave. That and those stupid carp that kept slapping the surface and scaring the crap out of us.
Slogging through another couple of rough patches left us with one final rough section before we could coast down the sweet, calm cove to the TA. We almost tipped another time or two before reaching the cove, but we managed to make it… finally.
Paddling down the cove made us realize how much we had improved as a paddling team in just a few hours. On the way out, we zig-zagged all over the damn place, but on the way back in, even though we were physically and mentally exhausted, we paddled straight as an arrow – a huge improvement from when we started – to the shore as the volunteers cheered.
The Part Where We Hug it Out
We hit dry land where I crawled out of the canoe and dragged the boat up so Brian could get out. We’d done it. No, we didn’t get all the CP’s. In fact, we only got 1, but by George we effing earned it! But paddled through some of the roughest paddling I’ve been in during an Adventure Race, and we managed to not flip the canoe. And for the first time in Brian’s AR career, he never had to witness any PaDdLinG MaDNeSs (even though it would have been warranted this time).
With our feet on dry land again, we turned to each other. Our eyes met as we both let out a sigh of relief, and then we embraced. It was not a sexually charged embrace (this time), but it was more than just bro-hug. It was a special moment that only Brian and I shared… in front of all the volunteers.
(Side Rant: Yes, I purchased the above photo as a digital download. I did not steal it or use it without permission because I am not a douchebag – at least I try really hard to not be a douchebag. I like supporting good people who do good work, and John is definitely one helluva guy doing great work. Yes, it’s not much. I only threw a couple of bucks his way, but I feel a lot better about doing that than ripping him off. You should support him and other artists like him too. Rant over.)
Captain: That bro hug was real. What a cool and fantastic adventure in a sport where thick mildly handsome pseudo athletes can be admired around the world by tens of fans….ok, seriously, what a great life adventure with a man I’m glad to call a friend.
It would have been fun to share the misery with Kate and Chuck. But they wanted to be like good at the paddling thing or something. Whatever.
Luke: “Mildly handsome pseudo athlete.” I need to put that on my business card.
We had been on the water for 4 hours or so, and it was later than we had hoped to get Brian on the road. A couple phone calls later, and after another hug and a teary goodbye, Brian found himself shuttled first class back to Camp Benson.
I hated to see Brian go. Even with the shitty conditions out on the river, we were all having a blast racing together. We should have teamed up for a race a long time ago, and we’ll definitely do it again as soon as possible.
I’ll let Brian describe his ride back to Camp Benson and his subsequent drive to his dad’s birthday party:
Captain: I had a nice bumpy nap in the back of that bad boy.
The Part Where We Reunite
And then there was nothing for me to do but wait for Kate and Chuck. Well, I worried a little about them too. And I chatted with my friends volunteering at the TA. And I might have eaten a couple delicious cookies courtesy of Mrs. Tardy Rooster herself, Leisha Huntley. And perhaps, I managed to catch a quick catnap, but I’m not sure.
A few of the 12-hour teams came paddling in, and each time I hoped it was Kate and Chuck arriving safely. Several teams had swamped, and 3 or 4 teams called for a ride on the Iowa side of the river. None of those teams were Chuck and Kate, though.
I’ll let Kate describe the rest of their time on the river. Take it away, Kate!
Kate: After leaving the Elk River, Chuck and I had to canoe downriver towards our next CP. Just as Luke described, “downriver” felt like a difficult upstream paddle because we were heading almost directly into the ridiculous wind, chopping through whitecaps and paddling as hard as we could just to make any kind of forward progress. We, too, hugged the islands and marshy patches where possible; we still had to fight the wind, but the water was calmer there.
As we struggled against the wind and flopped down over whitecap after whitecap, my paddle strokes were powered mostly by the fervent hope that we’d reach the boat ramp where the next CP was located and see race volunteers there to tell us that due to unsafe conditions the remainder of the paddle was cancelled and they would drive us back to the bike drop. (Spoiler alert: Nope.)
The wind was so strong on the river that we both had to paddle constantly, so neither of us had eaten in the past couple of hours. We beached at the boat ramp, dumped the water that had splashed in during our voyage, ate some food, dispensed some helpful safety advice to the 5 year old wandering the river bank alone, and generally steeled ourselves to get back into the canoe. Oh, and sent Luke a text so he knew we were still alive.
Chuck: Watching Kate switch from BA adventure racer to Mom mode was pretty funny considering we just survived one of our scariest paddles to date. “Where are your parents at?”, “Be careful by that water.”, “Oh, that is a nice frog!”.
Luke: Getting that text was a huge relief.
Once we’d stalled as long as possible, we set off on our return trip. Both the canoe take-out and our last CP were back across the river, which is like 25 miles wide at that point (OK, maybe not, but it felt that way) Chuck: (5K). Compounding the distance was the fact that we had to angle away from our destination in order to account for the way the wind was pushing us. Now instead of waves splashing over the nose of our canoe they were hitting us broadside, and we both worried about tipping. The one perk of the sub-optimal conditions was the near-total lack of other river traffic — we’ve spent plenty of paddles being buffeted by the wakes of pontoon boats and jet-skis — the downside of this being that no one was on the river to help us if we tipped.
Chuck: Self-rescue would have been a long-term affair maybe even bordering on impossible.
Eventually we made it to our final CP and all that remained was to paddle upriver (but with the wind at our backs) to the inlet we’d left several hours before. It was then that Chuck made a near-fatal error.
Chuck: “Suck it River! We beat you!”
“Shut up!” I told him, “Why are you talking like that before we’re safe on land?? He didn’t mean it, river.” Moments later we struck a submerged log; the canoe shuddered but then righted itself. Chuck held back any further smack talk, and the rest of our paddle was uneventful.
After paddling for roughly 7 hours, Chuck and Kate arrived to our cheers. They looked about as relieved as Brian and I did when we arrived. It was damn good to see them.
Chuck: I actually hate that this picture looks so calm and peaceful. As far as I know NOBODY got a picture out in the wind on the main channel. It was just to scary to stop paddling for the few seconds it would have taken.
Chuck and Kate didn’t take very long in the TA. They unloaded their paddling gear, grabbed some food, filled up with water, and we were ready to hop back on the bikes.
The Part Where We Bike to and Do the O-Section
After that un-Virtus-like quick transition, we were back on the bikes. The temperature had risen along with the humidity. Fortunately, the wind that was so brutal on the river was now at our backs.
This bike leg was uneventful as we nabbed all the CP’s pretty easily, and we soon found ourselves at that TA for the O-Section. There were a few very good teams on their way out of the woods when we arrived. They looked a little defeated, to be honest.
I slammed an ice-cold Red Bull as we looked over the maps quickly. We were running short on time since we needed to be off the O-course by 8:00 pm. We came up with a plan where we would grab one of the “easy” CPs and then reevaluate our situation to decide if we’d go for another CP or two.
Kate: Chuck briefly suggested we run on the road sections. I was not in favor of this plan.
We found the little shed in the woods we were looking for, and we shot a bearing to the CP.
Kate: Luke and I were very helpful, if by “helpful” you mean “busy taking selfies“.
Luke: It was so nice having Chuck do the navigating here. My selfie-skills are much improved.
It took us a little longer than we had anticipated, but Chuck did not lead us astray. Kate and I have faced a Thunder Rolls cutoff before, and it can be quite formidable. So we decided to err on the side of caution and head back to the TA with just one of the O-Section CPs.
We hiked back to the TA, making sure we stayed out of the cornfields per Gerry’s instructions. And apparently, adventure racing tends to make Kate’s hands grow abnormally long:
I drank another Red Bull back at the TA – what can I say, I was sleepy by this point. My nether regions were really chafed and sore, and I contemplated riding that final bike leg back to Camp Benson without my bike bibs. Kate was considering the same thing. I opted to put my bibs back on, but I’m not sure if it helped or made things worse.
After a mile or two, it didn’t matter since I didn’t do much sitting on the saddle anyway. I fell into a rhythm of standing and pedaling for 3 hard strokes followed by coasting as long as possible before pedaling again. I got pretty good at it, maintaining the same speed as Chuck and Kate without sitting on the saddle much to save my ass – literally. Despite the chafing and general fatigue, we made way better time than we had anticipated, dropped our bikes at the camp’s pavilion, and headed back down to the Wakarusa River for one last Coasteering leg.
Kate: Unless you really effed up that bike leg, the state park-mandated cutoff for the O section pretty much guaranteed that you were going to be back at Camp Benson and finished with the final coasteering leg well before the race ended at midnight.
Chuck: I would’ve loved to spend more time in that O-section. Sucks that the state park people wont let us race in there after dark.
Coasteering like this can be a lot of fun, and when the race started it was just that. However, 20+ hours into a race made it sub-awesome, to say the least. And Gerry, being the sadistic bastard he is, designed the last coasteering section in such a way to force you to trudge through the water much longer than you wanted to.
Kate: I think this year’s coasteering legs were the best (least unpleasant) of my four Thunder Rolls experiences. Whether because of the stretch of river or just dumb luck, we seemed to miss out on all of the big submerged rocks that seem to trip you up in the dark.
Luke: And for whatever reason, there was much less flesh-shredding sand and grit in my shoes this year.
I’m pretty sure we didn’t take any photos during this section because we just wanted to be done. We were all much quieter too – especially Kate who has been know to be a bit chatty from time to time.
There was a 2-person coed team who tagged along behind us for this section. I think they had had enough and just didn’t want to have to think anymore. This is something I totally understand.
Kate: I was mad for a long time that they were following us and didn’t trust myself to talk without saying something bitchy. Instead I stalked ahead, fueled by righteous anger. Chuck and Luke both talked to the other team a little, and once I realized where they were mentally I relaxed a little and finally started having fun again when, on my way back from punching our final CP, I ended up chest-deep in the river:
We finally got the last few CPs and humped it back up to the finish line. The team that tagged along with us fell back so we could finish ahead of them which was an honorable thing to do. As we reached the finish line, I peeled off to the side to let Chuck and Kate finish together. I was DQ’d anyway since my passport left with Brian.
I guess if I’d have turned in a passport, I wouldn’t be officially listed as a DNF in the final results. But Brian and I were supposed to be signed up as a 2-person team instead of solos anyway, and I came into the race expecting to DNF. If you’re familiar with us at all, though, you know we don’t put much stock in the final standings. We come for the experience – kicking ass is just a bonus.
Captain: Hey everybody! I missed talking to you. At this point in their race I had already eaten a ton of food at my dad’s party, explained the fantastic sport of adventure racing to my family while they looked at me like I was insane (especially the rappelling part) and was now asleep and drooling on myself on my parents couch….
I do regret not getting a finishing – or is it Did Not Finishing – photo with Gerry. We took a team photo before grabbing some delicious pizza and cold beer.
The only thing that would have made finishing better is if Brian could’ve been there with us.
Kate: Indeed. Such a great day.
BVW: You three are great. Let’s do this again?
Luke: We absolutely need to do this again!
He was with us in spirit, though, so we had John snap a quick photo of us with our entire team:
After eating, drinking, and chatting with fellow racers, we showered and went to bed. Sleep never feels as good as it does after a long, hard race.
One of us, who shall remain nameless, chatted deep into the wee hours of the morning. She stayed up so late that she slept through most of the goodbyes and had to be roused from her bunk so we could pack up and go home.
Kate: Whoever that was, she missed out on saying goodbye to everyone but Gerry, and since the socialization is pretty much her favorite part of races, she was disappointed about that (but well-rested).
Once the nameless sleepyhead was finally out of bed, she packed her things up and we left our beloved Camp Benson. Per tradition, we hit the Kountry Kettle for some gravified breakfast. Again, Brian was missed. In his honor, I ate twice as much as I normally would have (which is a lot).
Big thanks goes out to Gerry and all of his crew from High Profile Adventure Racing, and an equally large thank you must go to the amazing volunteers who made the race not only possible but a smashing success. And thanks to Brian for racing with us even though he knew he had to cut the race short. We seriously need to do it again as soon as possible.
Until next time, may your adventures be epic. And your breakfasts covered in gravy.
**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*