***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.