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“Fast” Fun at the Wakarusa Off Road Challenge 2011

Last year I had an absolute blast at the Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge in Lawrence, KS.  I didn’t exactly do that well, but it was a super-fun race and a fantastic weekend with my family (you can read about last year’s experience right here).  I couldn’t convince anyone else to go last year, but I just had to bring some of my homies this year.  So I teamed up with my friend, Phil Wehmeyer of Snail Trail infamy, and fellow Virtusan Rusty Sapp decided to do the race as a solo.  All of our families joined us for a weekend of camping as well which turned a great race into an even greater weekend.

Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge

The rest of Team Virtus was unfortunately unable to attend, and they really missed out on a ridiculously fun race.  Bob had a family weekend planned, Robby was too busy poring through his vintage film collection, Darin was studying for an exam, Drew was hungover, Casey still refuses to move to MO, and Adam… Well, Adam was fired for not having a legitimate excuse.

We all arrived at Clinton State Park at different times.  After setting up the camper and bidding everyone good night, we went to bed around 11:30 PM.  Getting up the next morning at 5:45 AM with 4 kids wasn’t very much fun, but all things considered, the morning went smoothly.  We made our way into Lawrence, parked the vehicles, and went to register and stage our canoe (for Phil and myself), kayak (for Rusty), and our bikes.

The Sapps at the Wakarusa Challenge

Addie workin' hard to support her hubby.

As we were on our way to the boat ramp, we ran into our friends Susy and Connie (aka The Golden Girls) who were volunteering at the race.  It was great to see their smiling faces.  Before we got back from the boat ramp, my daughter Mabel lost a tooth.  Well… Let me rephrase that.  She had a loose tooth that was barely hanging on.  When Sydney, Phil’s daughter, heard about the loose tooth, she offered to pull it.  Mabel declined her offer, but then Sydney grabbed Mabes, jammed her hand in her mouth and the tooth popped right out.  Apparently we missed all the excitement.

Mabel's missing tooth

Despite being assaulted and all of the blood, Mabel was pumped about loosing a tooth.

Mabel was worried that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t find her since we were camping out of state.  And here is Della’s reaction to the whole ordeal:

Cross-eyed Della

Della: "I'm never telling Sydney that I have a loose tooth."

We warmed up a little but not enough… When am I going to learn that lesson?  During the pre-race meeting, I had to make one last run to the Port-a-Potty.  I told Phil to listen closely so I wouldn’t miss any key details.  Then we all got ready to start, and we positioned ourselves in the front of the middle part of the mass start.

Start of the 2011 Wakarusa Off Road Challenge

No, that's not me running up to the starting line. I finished taking care of business with time to spare.

Jason said go.  We went.  And we went out too fast.  Well, it was too fast for me.  Phil is faster than I am on foot, and I know he wanted to push the pace early so we wouldn’t get caught behind slower riders going into the single track.  The first mile was on an old Rail Trail called the Levee Trail (I think), and I’d say we were running around a 7:30 mile or so.  Rusty was running right behind me up until we turned into the single track for the run back to our bikes.  Right before we headed into the woods, Rusty passed us, and I started to hurt.  If I stayed at this pace, my race was going to fall apart quickly.  So I backed off.

People began to pass us as we began the 1.2 -ish mile trail run back to the transition area (TA).  Phil thought I was right behind him, so he kept going at a pace too fast for me.  Eventually he realized that it was some other dude in a white hat behind him, and he then waited for me to catch up.  I was definitely not feeling the run.  My cardio felt fine,  but my legs were just laughing at me.  They simply felt dead (pretty much like they did last year).  Maybe I should have warmed up more.  We finished the 2.2 mile run roughly 20 minutes, and Rusty finished it in roughly 18 minutes.

As Phil and I trotted over to our bikes, our families cheered us on.  It was great to have a cheering sections again.  Rusty had already hopped on his bike and was out of sight.

Rusty Biking at the Wakarusa Challenge

Rusty was smokin' us!

We transitioned to the bikes and took off on the Levee Trail.  Phil was hammering down on the pedals, and I was trying to keep up.  My legs were still laughing at me.  It was starting to piss me off, to be honest.  I know Phil wanted to get in front of as many riders as possible on the Levee Trail while we still had plenty of room to pass.  And I know he REALLY wanted to get in front of our friend Noelle and her teammate.  We ended up passing a lot of people, including Noelle and her teammate, before hopping onto the single track.

Oh the single track… The sweet, sweet single track.  This was BY FAR the best part of the race.  My legs stopped laughing at me, we passed a few riders quickly, and then we fell into a groove.  The single track at the River Trail in Lawrence is one of the most fun trails I’ve been on.  It’s not technical at all, there are no climbs to speak of, but it’s just super-fast, flowy trail with banked turns and berms.  I felt like we were flat-out flying!  We made it back to the TA, and we finished the 8.5-ish miles (4 of that on the rail trail) in 39 minutes (including our transition time), and Rusty finished it in 39 minutes as well.

We immediately headed back out onto the single track for some more fun on the bikes.  The next 8.5 miles or so of single track were just as fun as the first bike leg.  I seriously can’t tell you how much fun it was.  I felt like I was actually a fast rider for once in my life, if that tells you anything.  The trail is so fun, that we’re planning a Team Virtus trip to Lawrence to ride, camp, and do whatever else may happen when all of us get together.  But you know what they say about Kansas… What happens in Kansas… No wait… No one says that about Kansas, do they?

Phil and I rode by the fams again on our way to the TA.  We quickly transitioned and headed for the canoe.  We had no idea where Rusty was, but the Virtus Wives assured us that he was only a few minutes in front of us.  We later found out that we finished the second bike leg (all of it on single track) in 42 minutes, as did Rusty.  So he was roughly 2 minutes ahead of us.

Transition Area at Wakarusa Off Road Challenge

Holy Crap! That single track was fun!

We were both smiling and giggling like little school-girls over how much fun the bike legs were.  We jogged over to our canoe, put our PFD’s on, grabbed our paddles, and then the race got even better!  As we were carrying the canoe down to the river, we ran into the one and only Derrick Boos from Orange Lederhosen who was volunteering.  He offered us a beer which we gladly accepted.  Could this race get any better?  Perfect weather, great single track, and free beer?  We later learned that we were the only two to accept Derrick’s gracious offer of free beer.  That’s just hard to believe.  Very disappointing.

Beer and Canoes at Wakarusa Challenge

Phil was clearly very happy, and I was too busy to smile... I was thirsty!

Last year’s paddling leg was awful.  I was alone, kneeling in the middle of a 17 foot aluminum canoe with a too-short kayak paddle.  I posted one of the slowest paddling times last year.  This year was much better.  We had two in the canoe so I could actually sit on the seat in the stern, I borrowed Bob’s paddle that was much longer, and we had two people paddling which makes a big difference.

Paddling the Kansas River at Wakarusa Challenge

This is Rusty taking off on the paddling leg a few minutes ahead of us.

We made decent time on the river.  We only got passed by a guy in a racing kayak within the first 2o seconds of getting on the water.  We passed a team or two, but by the time we reached the take out at Mud Creek, there were a handful of kayaks and canoes behind us.  We also thought we could see Rusty a short distance in front of us.

Sure enough, it was Rusty about 50 yards ahead of us taking his kayak out of the water.  He finished the 4.2 mile paddling leg in 53 minutes, and we finished it in 51 minutes.  So, if you’ve been following along, we were all pretty much right where we started – all together again.  But that didn’t last long.  By the time we carried our canoe to the top of the boat ramp and took off our PFD’s, Rusty was out of sight again.

All that stood between us and a glorious middle-of-the-pack finish was 4.1 miles of trail running.  My legs began laughing at me again. (Stupid legs!)  It wasn’t nearly as bad as last year, though, since I didn’t have to kneel in the middle of the canoe this time.  I tried to keep up with Phil, but it wasn’t going to happen.  He let me lead then, and we tried to keep a coed team within reach.

We eventually passed the team in front of us, but then I really started hurting the last mile of the race.  My nipples were becoming seriously chaffed.  I didn’t want to ruin my awesome jersey with bloody nipples, so I unzipped it almost completely.  I apologize  to anyone that may have seen my nearly shirtless body.  I hope the blindness didn’t last too long.

Phil kept pushing me, and we were only passed by 3 or 4 teams right at the end. I was really glad to be done.  As I crossed the finish line, I saw our friend Josh Perkins from Team Wahoo running toward us.  He was grinning like a mad man.  Was he going to hug me?!?!  Nope…

Finish Line at Wakarusa Off Road Challenge

That's Josh in all black running at us like a lunatic.

Josh was not handing out hugs at all.  He completely douched me in the face with ice-cold water.  It was quite a shock, yet curiously satisfying.

Splashed at Wakarusa

The aftermath of getting "Wahooed."

Phil felt left out, so Josh then nailed Phil in the face with some Gatorade for good measure.  We finished the 4.1 mile trail run in 43 minutes, and Rusty finished it in 41 minutes.  Our official finishing time was 3:15:35 – which was good enough for 11th place out of 32 two-person male teams and 38th out of 89 teams and solos overall.  Rusty finished in 3:13:30 – good enough for 21st out of 33 solo males and 33rd out of 89 overall.

We feasted on pizza and soda, provided by Bonk Hard Racing.  We hung around and chatted with Josh and Jason from Wahoo, Derrick and Emma from Lederhosen, and our wives of course.  Our kids were busy building a shelter out of sticks.

Big thanks to Jason and Laura of Bonk Hard Racing and to all of the volunteers.  This was a great race that went off without a hitch just like all of the Bonk Hard events (a nice breath of fresh air after the Lionheart Adventure Race Fiasco – report coming soon, I swear!), and we all had an amazingly great time.  I said it last year, and I’ll say it again.  YOU HAVE TO DO THIS RACE NEXT YEAR!!!

We all went back to Clinton State Park, showered up, and spent the rest of the weekend camping with great friends.  I’ll leave you with some random photos from the weekend so you can see how much fun you missed.


Phil and Shelly

Becca and Luke at Wakarusa

My waaaaay better half and me

Finishing the Wakarusa Challenge

Look at our faces. I promise we had more fun than you.

Boat Ramp at Wakarusa

Rusty heading down to the river.

Lyd at Wakarusa

Lydia - Flower Power

Ote at Wakarusa

Otis was a filthy mess by the end of the day.

Skills Park at Clinton State Park

Kole, Rusty, and Sean (all Chicago Bears fans) at the Bike Skills Trail in Clinton State Park. I GOTTA go there next time.

Seriously… Make plans now to do this race next year.  I’m looking at YOU Bob, Adam, Drew, Darin, Robby, Casey, Kate, Travis, and anyone else that has actually read this far.

The Waka Waka Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge with Some Camping Thrown In

On September 10th, the family and I headed out to Lawrence, KS for the first ever Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge.  I would be doing the race as a solo since no one else could go with me.  It was to be a final preparatory race for the Berryman Adventure, and then we were planning on spending some quality family time camping the rest of the weekend.

Fozzie Bear is the unofficial mascot of the Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge

I have made Fozzie Bear the unofficial mascot of the Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge

Becca took off from work early, we loaded the van up, strapped the canoe on top (solos had to bring their own boat), and hooked up our pop-up camper.  We picked the girls up from school a little early, and we headed out on the 3 hour drive.


loaded van

The kids were pumped!

The weather was supposed to be almost perfect: Chance of thunderstorms on Friday night, but sunny and warm-but-not-too-warm the rest of the weekend.  It was beautifully sunny on the way to Lawrence, so I knew it wasn’t going to rain on us.

Sunny Clouds before a Storm

Clouds forming in the distance...

We tried to make it to Sunflower Outdoors by 6:00 to register for the race, but we had to park 3 or 4 blocks away because of the pop-up.  So I just missed registration as I got there to see Jason and Laura from Bonk Hard Racing packing everything up.  No big deal.  I would just have to get up a little earlier the next morning to register before the race.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then drove 20 more minutes to Clinton State Park as the sun set.  We stopped at a store to buy some firewood, and the cashier said that there was a tornado warning in the area.  That’s just great.

We rolled into camp in the dark, and the wind began to pick up.  Shortly after getting the pop-up set up and all of our gear inside, I turned on the radio and heard the tornado warning for myself.  Unfortunately, the kids also heard it.  Then the rain started coming down as the wind grew stronger.  Now, wind and rain in a small pop-up can feel and sound like a hurricane, so my girls were beginning to freak out on Becca and me (Otis was chillin’ as usual).


Otis Laughing

Look closely and you'll notice that Otis looks a lot like his shirt


As the storm grew in strength, we tried calming the girls down by assuring them that we could always go to the bathroom/shower house to wait out the storm.  Then the skies unleashed their furious rage.  The driving rain pummeled the camper, and it felt like the punishing wind would tip us over any second.  I could see that even Becca was beginning to freak out a little.  Of course Otis was still as cool as a cucumber.

We decided to play it safe, so we all donned our jackets and made our way across the street to the bathroom/shower house.  We were completely soaked by the time we got there only to realize that there was no roof.  Well, there was a partial roof over the bathroom stalls, but it was basically an open-air building.  So much for our promise of shelter.

By now the girls were almost hysterical.  We were all wet and cold, and the storm was only getting worse.  We ran back across the street and hopped into the van.  We drove around the campground looking for a shelter… anything with a roof.  No luck.  Fortunately, the storm, although fierce, was short-lived.  As it died down, we headed back to the camper with the girls completely shivering and Otis just grinning.

We dried off and changed clothes, and the girls calmed down.  The storm had passed, and it became pretty muggy in the camper.  We opened up the windows, took our shirts off (except for Otis and Becca), and we played some highly competitive Go Fish.


Playing Cards Camping

The calm AFTER the storm

So I had to get up early, and much to my surprise, everyone wanted to forgo sleeping in to go and watch my race.  Very cool.  Other than a 5k, the fam had never really been to one of my races.  Let’s face it… Adventure Racing is not a great spectator sport.  This race, however, would allow them to see me come through the transition area a few times, and it wasn’t going to be an all-day race.  So we woke up early and made it to the race to register and stage my canoe and bike.

Becca and her ducklings

Is that Becca and the kids or Konrad Lorenz and geese?

Konrad Lorenz Imprinting Geese

Oh, THIS is Konrad Lorenz and his imprinted geese

It was a beautiful morning, and Jason assured us that the trail was in great shape.  After dropping my canoe off (and realizing that I was the ONLY solo with a 17 foot canoe – Hey, it’s all I had) and getting my bike staged, I gave the kids and the wife a hug and a kiss.

Me and the kids at Wakarusa Challenge

It was great having the kids there

I really wanted to intimidate all of the other racers to give myself a competitive edge.  As we all lined up on the Levee Trail, I wanted to look fast so I busted this out:


Fast Luke at the Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge

Is that the Flash?


I’m pretty sure my plan didn’t work.  Not only did I not strike fear into the hearts of anyone, but I don’t think anyone even noticed me.  It didn’t matter.  I was just here to have fun and to get an idea of how ready I was for the Berryman Adventure.

I saw a team of two young guys with matching green tank tops and feather Duck hats on.  Now, I’ve learned long ago that it’s never a good idea to pick someone out of the pack that you just have to beat, but in the back of my mind I told myself that it would really be nice to beat those guys.

The first leg of the race was a 2.2 mile run.  The first mile was on the flat Levee Trail, and then we had to pop into the woods and run back to the transition area (TA) on the north side of the River Trail.  When the gun went off, we started out jogging.  I got caught behind some slower runners, but it wasn’t too long before everyone spread out enough to go my own pace.

I’ll be honest with you.  I didn’t feel very strong.  I’m not sure what it was, but my legs just felt a little dead.  It wasn’t terrible.  I just felt a little sluggish.  The first mile was uneventful.  When I got onto the trail, it was a lot more fun.  I was passed by a few people (including the duck brothers), and I managed to pass a few people as well.  I was holding my own, and I was able to stay right behind the duck bros.  I finished the first running leg in 21 minutes – tied for 18th out of 30 solo men.  Not bad, but I was hoping for better.

First Run at Wakarusa

Finishing the first running leg

Happy to be done running for the moment, I was ready to get on the bike.  I could hear the family cheering for me, and it was really great.  I loved it.  I waved to them and asked them how it was going, and then I made my way over to my bike as they told me I was doing a good job.  I transitioned as quickly as I could and headed out onto the Levee Trail again.

Bike Leg at Wakarusa

"Ride Daddy, Ride!"

The biking leg consisted of 17.2 miles.  For this race we had to ride nearly 4 miles on the flat, open Levee Trail before hopping onto the south side of the River Trail which is all single track.  We had to ride the south side of the trail back to the TA and then immediately get back onto the north side of the River Trail and ride the entire loop before coming back to the TA.

I got passed by two riders on the Levee Trail as the wind made it a little more difficult for someone of my stature (aka – husky).  However, that would be the last time I got passed on the bike, and I passed many people here including the Duck Bros.  So I thought that maybe I had a shot at beating them after all.

If you’ve never ridden these trails, you should do so if you’re ever in or near Lawrence.  No, they are not technical at all, and there is not a lot of elevation change.  But these trails are FAST and FUN!  There are so many banked turns and berms that you almost never have to use your brakes.

Being somewhat of a slow runner, I got behind some inexperienced riders.  You could tell that many racers had never, or almost never, ridden off-road before.  Although it was difficult to get around some of the newbies, I thought it was great that they were out there racing.  They may have been way out of their comfort zones, but that’s what it’s all about, right?

My first lap on the bike (~4 miles on the Levee Trail and ~4 miles of single track) took 45 minutes including my transition.  This was good enough to have me tied for the 22nd (out of 30) fastest time for this leg.  Again, not bad but not great.  So I decided to push it a little bit on the next lap.  My second lap (~8 miles – all on single track) also took 45 minutes – tied for 9th fastest time out of 30 solo males for the second lap on the bike.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.  That was much better.

I made it back to the TA where I once again heard the cheers from the Lamb fam.  I dropped my bike off and put my trail shoes back on.  I headed down a short distance to the canoe put-in.  I slapped on my PFD, grabbed my white-water kayak paddle that was way too short for my canoe (Hey, it’s all I had), lifted the heavy, aluminum canoe, and made my way to the Kansas River.

Canoe at Wakarusa

I need a kayak

This is where my race sort of fell apart.  After a decent biking leg, my paddle down the Kansas River was S-L-O-W.  I had to kneel in the middle of my canoe for the entire 4.2 mile paddle.  My paddle was much too short for being in the middle of the boat, but I did the best I could.  I got passed by 15 – 20 teams and solos (I quit counting at 10 because it was bumming me out).

Aside from being slow, the paddle was uneventful except for one soloist in a kayak somehow going for a swim.  I never heard how or why he tipped the kayak, but seeing that the volunteers were there in a motor boat to help him, I passed him.  It wasn’t long before he was once again in front of me, though (stupid kayaks!).

I finally made it to the aptly named Mud Creek Boat Ramp in 1 hour and 7 minutes.  This was good enough for dead last – 30th fastest time out of 30 solo males.  Out of all 84 Duos and Soloists combined, only 3 had a slower time and two had an equally slow time.  Not good at all, but I gave it my all and did the best I could with what I had.

As I struggled to carry my canoe up the boat ramp, my legs felt like blocks of concrete from kneeling in a canoe for an hour after running and biking all morning.

Legs of stone

It's hard to run when your legs feel like this

I grabbed a quick drink at the aid station and then “ran” (and by ran I mean trotted slowly) into the woods.  We had to run 4.1 miles on the north trail back to the finish line.

The first mile of that run was pure hell.  I wanted to walk so badly, but I kept telling myself that I could “run” this whole thing no matter how slow I had to go.  Every time I wanted to walk, I told myself that if I walked then there was no way I was going to be able to finish the upcoming 36 hour Berryman Adventure Race.  I guess it worked, because I never walked.

The first mile was ridiculously slow.  By the second mile, my legs were at least functional.  By the third mile, I was actually feeling pretty good, so I picked up the pace a little bit (although it was still ridiculously slow).  Then the 4th mile came, and I almost fell apart.  If the first mile was hell, then the last mile was Hell’s purgatory (if there is such a thing).

That last mile felt like an eternity.  I kept hoping to see the trail bust out of the trees into the grassy field where the finish line was only to be disappointed.  With about a quarter of a mile left, the Duck Bros passed me.  Bummer.  Like I said, though, that is the danger of picking someone that you “have” to beat.  When you don’t, it pretty much sucks – especially when they look like ducks.  The Mighty Ducks ended up beating me by 1 minute.  Kudos to those guys.

I made it to the finish line as my wife and kids were all cheering for me.  That part was great.  It was also great to be done because I was wiped out.  My final 4.1 mile run (including the transition from the paddle) took me 50 minutes – tied for the 19th fastest split in my division.  This was actually better than I thought since I felt like I was slower than I’ve ever been.

Finishing the Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge

I'm hurting here... And thinking, "When does Duck Season open?"

Overall, it was a really fun race.  I must admit, though, it didn’t make me feel any better about my chances at Berryman.  If you read our blog much, which I highly doubt, then you know that the Berryman actually went pretty well for us.

My finishing time was 3 hours and 48 minutes.  I ended up 23rd out of 30 solo males, and I was 46th out of 84 solos and duos overall.  Not bad, but I was honestly hoping to do a little better than that.  On the other hand, it was a great race, and I had a blast.  Official results with split times are right here.

I loved having my family there to watch me and cheer me on.  There was enough pizza and soda provided by Bonk Hard Racing for my kids to have some which was very cool.  After the awards ceremony, we made our way back to our campground.

The rest of the weekend was perfect.  The weather was great.  The campsite was great.  We all had a blast.  I’ll leave you with a few photos of our camping trip to show you how much you missed.  Here you go:

Otis and Della Camping at Clinton State Park

Otis and Della - Otis LOVED playing in the gravel

Mabel, Ote, and Lyd Camping

Mabel, Otis, and Lydia - Otis is happy because he's eating gravel here

Otis crying while camping

Now Ote is pissed because Lydia wouldn't let him eat rocks

Happy Otis

Now he's happy again

Me and my Ote Boat

Me and my Ote Boat

Otis Kiss

He gives the best smooches

The Girls Hiking at Clinton State Park

The girls went for a hike with Becca while Ote and I tended the fire

Becca and Otis

Becca and Otis hangin' out

Roasting Hot Dogs

Wooo Doggies... It's a great day to be alive!

It was really great race and a wonderful weekend with the family.  Thanks to Jason and Laura for putting on a great event.  It was a lot of fun, and I hope to be back next year with more of Team Virtus by my side.  And thanks to my amazing wife and incredible kids for going with me and supporting me.  You guys are way too good to me.

So, that’s it for now.  Until next time… Peace out!

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