With just over an hour and a half left to reach the finish line, we ended a 2.5 hour hike between the last orienteering section and the bikes and flew through our quickest transition of the race. At least 15 miles separated us from a penalty-free finish, and we desperately wanted to hang on to all of our hard-won checkpoints. No time for modesty, I ignored the volunteer watching us from his car, tugged my borrowed jersey as far down as it would go, and traded my trekking pants for bike shorts. 26.5 hours into the race, we jumped onto our bikes and sprinted down the gravel road in the hopes of beating an 11:30 deadline.
LBL was a challenge from the minute the guys and I arrived at our arranged meeting place, exactly on time.
A quick call confirmed the fear that struck me when I read “Cracker Barrel?” It turns out that there are two Interstate 64 exit 9’s between Jefferson City and Fairview Heights, both with a Cracker Barrel. The guys were at one in Missouri, and I was sitting at the one in Illinois. 45 minutes later we were all together and heading down the road.
The weather forecast, which had been progressively more ominous in the week leading up to the race was certainly born out during our drive.
|Beautiful day, huh?|
There were times it was raining so hard you could barely see. I was dreading the thought of riding singletrack or being on the lake in a storm and consoling myself with the thought of what a good story it would make in the end. Eventually the weather cleared, and after a few stops along the way we met up with Casey at Paris Landing State Park in Tennessee. We checked in and got our race packets; I was delighted with my race shirt and the fact that we wouldn’t start until 7:30 a.m. the next day. Not only would we at least get some sleep, but we’d also be finishing in daylight.
After hitting up the all-you-can-eat buffet, where I turned in a disappointing performance of one plate of spaghetti (and 1.5 desserts), we headed back to the room to start getting our gear together.
|It looked like a gear bomb exploded|
Walking down to the racer meeting, I felt a little sick to my stomach (not, surprisingly, due to the excessive Virtus farting which fell a bit short of the dire warnings I’d received). Was I really doing this? After all the waiting, it was practically here, and I was definitely nervous. Once I got the maps (being a consistent loser of the “not it” game), thought, I was reassured by the amount of trekking we’d be doing. As much as I love the bike, a bike-heavy course, especially on singletrack, would make me more of a liability. Between the good news about the race and catching a tube of Zanfel off of Casey’s head (ummm, sorry about that), I left the race meeting feeling much better.
|Photo credit: BLD Jenkins|
I helped Luke plot points while Casey and Bob got gear together and put the lights on the bikes. It was nice to get to help with the map so that I had an idea of what we’d be doing the next day, and I learned a lot watching Luke plan out route choices and use a map wheel to figure approximate distances we’d travel. Really, I learned a lot throughout the race as the guys worked out attack points, figured out where we were when we were off track, and talked over different approaches. I’m still a long way from seeing the map the way they do.
Points plotted, it was back to the room to finish loading our packs and drop bags. Because the area is so remote and devoid of services, we had two separate gear drops where we could restock our food and water, which was wonderful. Figuring out what all to send in the drop bag, though, was harder. I’m so not used to making sure I have enough calories; usually the problem is the opposite.
|Wearing my beard so I can fit in. (L-R) Kate, Bob, Casey, Luke|
I had offered to take the floor since I was the one who threw off the whole bed situation, but the guys wouldn’t let me. Even with my very comfortable bed, though, I had a hard time falling asleep. It wasn’t just the snoring; my mind was racing with the weirdest combination of trepidation and confidence. On one hand, I have two successful adventure races (and one fantastic non-race) behind me, and I know I’m strong; on the other, I had no idea how I’d do racing for 24+ hours. Eventually I nodded off, and the 5:00 alarm came way too soon.
|Team Virtus ready for LBL. Notice Casey and Bob each sporting 1/2 beard.|
As we stood at the start line singing the National Anthem, I had the familiar realization that I had no idea where we were going from there. Luckily, I wasn’t the one navigating. At the start, we jogged down the road past the cameras and then settled into a fast walk onto the trails.
Trek 1: ~5 miles
|It was an absolutely beautiful morning. Photo credit: Bob “Renaissance Man” Jenkins|
If the weather gods smiled on us early, the AR gods were not so kind. Barely 7 minutes into the first trekking leg, Casey’s legs started cramping up. He’s had problems with this in the past and had actually considered pulling himself out of the race so a flare-up wouldn’t spoil things for the team. The problem had seemed to resolve itself, though, so its early resurgence was a blow to him, and while the rest of us were cool with taking a very easy pace until the cramps worked themselves out, I can’t say that I’d have been any less stressed out than Casey was if I was in his situation…and I had some similar moments later in the race myself.
|Bob punches the passport|
Remembering how much better I felt during labor when someone was talking to me, I set out to distract Casey from his hurting legs. It was kind of a win-win situation if it worked: while I’ve had a lot of time to get to know Luke and Bob over the past year, I’d barely exchanged more than “nice to meet you” with Casey until this weekend, so it was good to get to know him better as well as hopefully making him feel better. An easy pace and some ibuprofen seemed to do the trick, and the leg cramps began to lessen. We got the first three CPs without much trouble and then missed a turn on the way to 4. Taking an alternate route did make for some good photo ops, though.
|Lake Barkley in the background, but honestly I’m just posting this because I like the way my legs look.|
|Adventure racing makes you hungry!|
By the time we made it to the bike transition, there was only one other set of bikes still there. We talked to the volunteers, who were absolutely wonderful, and got into our bike gear.
Bike 1: ~ 8 miles
This bike leg was primarily singletrack, and due to all the recent rain in the area there were some really muddy spots. There was a hill and a creek crossing I had to walk, and I was definitely slower than the guys, but it was fun.
This is such a great team to ride with, totally supportive and encouraging without being patronizing. Someone almost always rides behind me so I’m not dropped, and when I hit a sideways log wrong and flew off my bike, I’m pretty sure Casey made sure I was OK before laughing. In fact, I don’t remember him laughing, though it probably looked pretty funny. It was a good fall; I landed on my hip and rolled–didn’t even end up with a bruise.
While Casey’s cramps had ceased to be a big issue during the trek, we didn’t do ourselves any favors on the first bike CP. That creek crossing I walked? Bob and Casey had stopped there to take pictures of Luke and I riding across, I walked through it, and Luke rode it…and somehow all of us missed the fact that the CP was right there. This cost us some additional time as we rode further past and then stopped to decide if we’d gone too far; it also cost Bob some skin lost when he fell onto Casey’s bike.
I don’t know if it was the mud on the trails or what, but my bike–the bike I had just had tuned up so I wouldn’t have any bike issues during the race!!–was misshifting all over the place on hills. It made it difficult to get any kind of momentum going. Very frustrating. Bob switched bikes with me to see if he could get mine adjusted better, and when he took his bike back and went to raise his seat again, the seat post clamp wouldn’t work right. Despite taking some time to fiddle with it, the best we could manage still left him on a seat far too low to be comfortable. Every time I thought about it for the rest of the race, I blamed myself.
To recap: we’d already suffered cramps, navigational missteps, and two mechanicals. I was thrilled to be racing as part of Team Virtus and was having a great time despite the problems, but I worried that they might regret bringing me. Rather than being an asset to the team, I was starting to wonder if I was more of a bad-luck charm…and it wasn’t even noon yet.
….to be continued….
(see the “He said” version of the race on the Team Virtus page.)