Note: this report was written by Kate. Commentary by Jim is in red with any responses in blue.
This past Saturday marked my second crack at finishing the Berryman Adventure race’s 12 hour course. Once again racing with my brother as Team Hangover (a joke from a previous race), our main goal was to finish the race within the time constraints after coming in late and being disqualified last year. Of course, beating our friend Chuck and his son Jacob, who were also competing in the 12-hr race, would have been pretty sweet, but no one expected that.
Berryman was very much a family affair for me this year. Not only was I racing again with my brother, but my son Nathan was with us as well, having been convinced (coerced) to volunteer. Other than Jim and my sister-in-law Kristy, no one in my family takes much interest in my racing, so it was really cool to have Nathan along to see what it’s all about. (And, you know, to give me the race discount he earns for volunteering. :D)
While the race started at Council Bluff Lake, racer check-in was at Bass Resort. None of that meant much to me until we got down to Bass, checked in, and then headed to Council Bluff to meet up with our friends at the campground. Turns out it was a 45-minute drive between venues, and we had to go back to Bass for the racer meeting. We definitely would have been better off going to the campground first.
It was nice to be registered early, and to know where everything was going to take place, but the hour and a half driving from Bass to the Council Bluffs Camp Ground and back was a bit much. As a matter of fact it nearly made me miss my spaghetti dinner.
That would not be good; you wouldn’t like us when we’re hungry.
All that back and forth driving (possibly compounded by the fact that I socialized rather than helping my brother and son set up) left us arriving back at the campground around 10, and I still didn’t have my food together in my pack. I tried messing with it when we got back, but after a while it was clear that I was just randomly grabbing stuff in the dark, and I decided that Jim was right and we were better off packing in the morning light. We all headed to bed and ended up getting 6+ hours of sleep. That’s almost unheard of before a race, and it’s impossible to emphasize just how wonderful it was.
Following the Pre-race meting, we sat down to plot check points. Kate had to repeat them 2 and three times before they sank in and I could plot them. I knew I was done for the night. I would not have trusted myself to pack anything as tired as I was.
Last minute preparations (Photo credit: Lori Vohsen)
We got up the next morning, threw things together, and said goodbye to Nathan, whose volunteer assignment was on a canoe beach with our friend Emma; they had a long day ahead of them, too, scheduled from 1 until midnight.
Adventure race…reunion…you decide
|Representing our Virtus colors.|
|With my AR friend Kim|
|My brother Jim and I|
Getting to race HQ right before the pre-race instructions were given, we were rushed enough that we just had a couple minutes to say hi and take pre-race pictures, so I never felt like I was organized. Ready or not, all of the sudden we were singing the National Anthem and then running uphill towards the first checkpoint.
|Early in the first trek|
Because the 12 and 24 hour courses started with the same 5 checkpoints, we saw Bob/Travis and Orange Lederhosen around the first two points. They were moving a little faster than we were, and we were making a decided effort to follow our own course (and by “our own”, please understand that I have only the faintest clue about navigation and have to rely on my brother’s ability), so we didn’t see them again until the first transition area (TA). We had originally planned to attack checkpoint three from the road, but once we were moving Jim decided to go with following the high ground in the woods (which, actually, had been my suggestion, so maybe Luke and Bob’s navigational prowess combined with WTFAR‘s “up is good” is finally rubbing off on me). This turned out to be a great decision as we leapfrogged over several teams who’d taken the road.
I like to run the roads and head into the woods from clearly defined points along the road so I know where I am, but once we were on top of the ridge line, the traveling was much easier, and I hated the thought of climbing down and then back up the hills.
Heading up the road to attack checkpoint 4, we passed a group of guys who recognized me from reading my blog about last year’s race. That’s always fun to hear. 🙂 Jim kept in good contact with the map, following our course as we moved, and periodically he’d stop to check our direction and make sure we were going the right way. It was driving me a little crazy to keep stopping, but I kept my mouth shut because I know my tendency is to charge off headlong…usually in the wrong direction. His technique worked, because we found #4 with no problems and then hit the transition area at checkpoint 5 feeling fairly confident. Granted, there were a lot of bikes already gone, but as long as we kept making steady progress and avoiding/minimizing mistakes, we were sure to make up ground. We had the whole day in front of us.
I was working on a slow and steady wins the race theory. After we ran in the wrong direction last year, causing us to run out of time and DQ, I wanted to be sure that we knew where we were all the time this year.
Getting our passport punched at the TA (Photo credit: Lori Vohsen)
Lori and Emma were there watching and cheering, and the 24-hour teams were leaving from the same transition area in canoes, so we got to see Orange Lederhosen and Bob and Travis paddle off as we rode off on our first bike leg. This one was only a few miles long, all pavement and gravel. Making mistakes on the bike sucks, because you can quickly get way off track if you miss a turn, but once again, Jim kept track of our progress on the map, calling off what was coming next and keeping our navigation clean. Before long we were pulling into the next transition area and getting our next set of points to plot for the rogaine section.
The funny thing is that I was so focused on the map on this leg, that I sometimes lost track of what we had ridden past. I had to ask Kate “did we just make a right turn.” Without Kate paying attention to where we were on the ground, we would have been completely lost.
That’s true, but it was really helpful for me to know what was coming and what to look for, and hopefully it takes some of the pressure off the navigator’s shoulders when he isn’t the only one taking some responsibility for the route.
We had received the majority of our coordinates the previous evening with our map, but two sections had to be plotted on the course. The 11 points of the rogaine section (a series of orienteering points that can be found in any order, unlike the majority of the course which had to be found in order) were the first of these. This was our longest transition, about 30 minutes. 11 points out of 27-ish…the rogaine was a huge chunk of our race, and a strong showing here would put us in good standing. “See you in about an hour and a half!” I jokingly called to the volunteer as we strolled off. “Not at that pace!” he shot back.
Talking smack to Dan, the volunteer at the check point, made the transition much quicker.
I was eager to make good time on the nice, flat road that conveniently mirrored our path to CP 12, but almost immediately Jim stopped so he could check the map. “This road doesn’t go in the right direction…I think we need to go into the woods.” I wanted to just keep moving, but last year the very first point of the rogaine crushed our orienteering spirits as we struggled in vain for over an hour to find it before giving up on it, a victim to our use of a road which, it turned out, wasn’t depicted on the maps. (“Road”, in the Mark Twain National Forest, being a very loose term which can include pavement, gravel, and jeep tracks.) Remembering that lesson, I kept my mouth shut and let him figure things out.
One of the lessons learned last year was to be sure that the roads we wanted to travel, were on the correct heading. When I looked at the compass this road did not appear to go the right way, and given our experience last year with roads not necessarily running where the map indicated they would, I was gun shy.
Turns out he was right, and he led us straight through the woods to checkpoint 12. What a great feeling! We knocked off numbers 11 and 8 in quick order and then started on CP7. We had a couple of missteps, but these only increased our confidence. Following a creekbed to the checkpoint, we noticed a trail that ran alongside it. Very happy to have such easy traveling, we picked up our pace.
I was wondering to myself if the trail showed on the map when Jim spoke up: “We’re going the wrong way.” He’d found the trail on the map…just not where we thought we were. We’d headed down the wrong creek. This was another lesson we’d learned the hard way last year: that nice trail might not be a gift of the AR gods, who aren’t known for being generous. It’s just as likely a siren song to lure you in the wrong direction. Once again we’d successfully avoided being tripped up by one of last year’s missteps.
Even after catching our mistake we still had some work to do to find the CP. The powerline we were going to follow was so thickly wooded that it would have been miserable. Instead, we climbed up a steep hill to walk a parallel ridgeline and eventually ran into a trail. We saw several other teams who’d been looking in vain for the same checkpoint. Jim was pretty sure we needed to go further, but the other teams said they’d come from that direction and hadn’t found it. Remembering another hard-learned lesson from last year — don’t follow other teams — we stuck to our plans and found the CP exactly where Jim had thought it would be.
|Yea! Adventure racing is fun!|
We’d just knocked off four checkpoints in just over an hour. Our navigation had been solid so far, and we’d quickly caught our mistakes before they took us too far off course. Obviously we had learned a lot from last year’s problems, and it looked like clearing the rogaine course at least was within reach. I wouldn’t say we were jubilant, but we were feeling really good. And then it all went to hell.
From CP7, we had a choice: take the road around and attack CP9 from higher ground (longer route) or shoot a bearing and go straight between points (shorter route that required us to traverse some steep terrain). Already tired from all the up and down climbing to this point, I voted for the road — race smarter, not harder — when Jim realized we could head back down to the Ozark Trail, hike about a kilometer to a creek, and then attack from the creek bed.
|Ozark Trail (maybe)|
After all the ridiculously steep hills we’d climbed, a km on the smooth, level trail seemed like nothing. In a surprisingly short time we hit the creek and angled slightly up in search of the reentrant where our point should be…and walked…and walked…and walked… We came across a couple really shallow “reentrants” (I was unconvinced that they qualified) that looked to Jim like possibilities, but there was nothing there. Because I don’t carry the map or wear a watch (or bring much to the team whatsoever), I try to keep the “are we there yet”s to a minimum, but it seemed like we’d been walking for way longer than the half kilometer the map had indicated.
Finally I asked, “Do you think we’ve been going too far?” It’s hard to judge distance over more difficult terrain, though, and we’d been walking along a rocky slide slope. That was a really good time…looking for the checkpoint flag, avoiding breaking an ankle on the prolific baby heads, and (thanks to Thunder Rolls-inspired paranoia) watching for yellow jacket nests. You needed about 3 sets of eyes. Attributing the perceived distance to fatigue and lousy footing, we continued on, moving higher in the hopes that terrain features would be more evident from above.
We spent well over an hour searching for it before admitting, “This is our checkpoint 4”, referring to last year’s nightmare CP. Giving up, we headed uphill and ran into a couple of guys searching for CP 7 (you know, the one we’d found ages ago?). Boy, are they lost! I thought, probably a little too smugly for someone in the same position, and Jim explained to them that they were in totally the wrong area. “No, there’s the powerline,” one of them said, and by gosh, he was right. I think we both wanted to cry a little. How on earth could we be so off track, basically back where we’d started?
After being so solid thus far, this was very humbling.
Looking at the map after the race, it’s clear that we had come up the wrong creek bed, and had we paid any attention to the terrain on the way there it would have been obvious. This is where we get into trouble, though…not where it’s hard, but where it should be easy: take the trail to the creek, turn left at the creek. Those are such major and accurately mapped terrain features that we relax and neglect to pay attention to things like…Did we go far enough yet? Have we passed the two big reentrants on either side of the trail yet? Why is this creek bottom so low and open when the map clearly shows it to be steep and narrow? If we’d been following the map like Jim did on that first bike leg, we never would have made the mistake, and we certainly wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to make what we were seeing match our map. And, unfortunately, we weren’t finished screwing up.
Knowing more or less where we were thanks to the powerline, Jim suggested that we shoot straight east from our current location. This way we should reach the road on the top of the next ridgeline over and be able to follow it to point 10. It occurred to me that this might not be a solid plan since we didn’t know exactly where we were, but I didn’t bring that up. This is an area where I need to step up more. I occasionally have a route suggestion, but I’m so regularly confused by the map that I generally assume that any concerns are due to my ignorance, and I don’t want to be second-guessing my navigator. Rather than speak up, all I said was, “Remember how we opted to take the trail to the creek rather than go directly across all those hills? Now we get to do both.”
|One of the many steep hills we had to climb.|
We headed downhill, back towards the creek we’d spent so much time near already, and were standing there contemplating our next move when we heard a voice across from us: “We’re lost.” Scared the crap out of me. A couple was sitting across the creek, and we hadn’t noticed them at all. Turns out they’d done the same basic thing we had. We commiserated for a moment and then continued on our way. I’ll spare you a long narration of the rest of our rogaine. Basically, we wandered southeast forever in search of DD so we could figure out where the hell we were. Eventually we came out on a gravel road — NOT DD. Jim had a guess of where we were and thought we’d run into DD if we went left.
Kate will spare you the narration of this leg, but I won’t. I was frustrated about our mistakes up to this point, but then we got to the top of the next ridge and did not find the road that I expected. I was completely confused, questioning everything and grasping at straws, so I thought we should just climb over one more ridge, and see if the road or something identifiable would show up. Now that I’m not in the woods, the logic escapes me too. When this didn’t work out, we followed the ridgeline which ran in a South East direction, since there was no way that we could get out of the area to the east without crossing Highway DD. At least this plan worked.
That’s what we did, and not too far down the road we ran into team Roadkill going the opposite direction. We’d run into them a couple times at last year’s Berryman; in fact, they’d even been in one of my pictures from last year’s report. “It’s Kate!” one of them said, “We have to get a picture!” So we talked for a moment, got a picture together, and then we continued on our way. This chance encounter really lifted my waning spirits. Moments later, Chuck and Jacob came into view. They’d also struggled on the O-course, though doing better than us, and Chuck had twisted his ankle pretty badly. Jim confirmed with Chuck where we were, and though we had no idea how we ended up so far from where we wanted to be, it was nice to be back in touch with the map.
Lessons learned (again) at Berryman:
1) Even when you know where you’re going, pay attention while you’re going (just like Jim did on the bike). Had we done this, it would have been clear that we were at the wrong creek.
2) If it seems like it was too short, it probably was. Check. Check again.
3) If the terrain features don’t match the map, it’s probably not the map that’s wrong.
4) Don’t wander around in the woods for hours in search of a CP. Get back to a known location and re-attack.
5) You can’t navigate from a question mark. You need to know where you are to get to where you’re going.
6) Don’t let a simple mistake snowball into a 3-hour odyssey of defeat.
Chuck and Jacob were jogging back to the TA because they didn’t want to miss the canoe leg, and Jim and I briefly discussed our plan of action. There were a couple of orienteering checkpoints not too far away, so we could possibly go for that, but Jim was leaning towards heading back also. Though there was no time limit on the rogaine, we had several deadlines looming: we had to be out of the canoes by 7:00 or lose all of our canoe CPs (a possibility of 5), we had to finish the race by 9:30 without penalty (loss of 1 CP per minute after that), and we had to finish by 10:00 without being DQ’d (again).
By this time, I was just ready to be done with the O course. My confidence was shot.
While our overarching goal was to officially finish this year, Jim was really focused on that whole get off the water by 7:00 thing. I had a different take on it: we could stay on the O course, get some more points, then bike to the canoe beach. If nothing else, we could get our punches at the TA (one for arriving, one for leaving) as well as maybe the closest one on the lake. If we had to skip the paddle altogether, well, I might actually be happier, especially after Gary’s dire warnings about the underwater forest just waiting to capsize us: “I’ll be very surprised if several teams don’t dump their canoes…more than once.” Yeah, that sounded awesome. While we wouldn’t get instructions for the remainder of the race until we were finished with the canoes, we anticipated a bike back to the race finish. Guessing the directions would lead us around the scary lake trail, I wouldn’t have been heartbroken to do a more direct (road) bike back as well. So. basically, I was mentally advocating to take the “adventure” out of our adventure race.
All that aside, Jim was pretty (completely) fried from our navigational struggles and had lost some confidence. He was ready to bag the rogaine and head for the bikes. Since I’m in no way able to take over the navigation and was pretty sick of aimlessly climbing hills, I was fine with heading back. Chuck and Jacob left at a jog, and Jacob peer pressured me into running, too. Though my knee and foot had been bothering me all day long, they didn’t hurt any worse running. We kept pace with them until we reached an incline. “Let’s walk when we get to the hill,” I suggested to Jim, but when Chuck and Jacob slowed to a walk there I amended it to, “OK, let’s walk AFTER we pass them!”
|Passing them on the run was pretty fun, but even better was snapping photographic evidence of them behind us. 🙂|
After a rough end to the rogaine, it was really nice to have some fun with a couple of friends. It really helped me get my head back together.
We hustled back into the TA and made pretty quick work of the 2 CPs to be plotted for the next bike leg, a short gravel section followed by some miles on the singletrack of the Ozark Trail. Though I usually don’t like to ride new trails for the first time during a race, I felt moderately comfortable about the OT since we’d already spent some time hiking on it. There was a lot of fairly gradual downhill that was a real blessing to my tired legs, and it was fun to spend most of my time riding rather than walking stuff that was too tricky for me.
I really enjoyed the single track, and it was great to be off of our feet and feel like we were making some progress.
|Getting onto the Ozark Trail (bikes, this time)|
We had our one bike issue of the race crossing DD on the Ozark Trail when Jim’s rear tire blew. He ended up having to boot it with a gel pack since the sidewall of his new tire was gashed. Luckily, it held up for the remainder of the race, but it cost us over 20 minutes. We’ll never be mistaken for anyone’s pit crew.
|Displaying the fancy tire boot|
We got our two bike CPs with no problems, and all too soon we were turning on to the Council Bluff trail. Luckily, the section we had to ride back to the boat ramp TA was on what’s apparently the easier side of the lake. There were a couple of spots I had to walk, but it wasn’t too terrifying.
I definitely want to make it back and ride the Council Bluff trail some day without a pack or having completed 8 hours of trekking and riding. It was a beautiful ride with a nice combination of comfortable and technical riding.
I’ll admit to vague hopes of maybe getting to the canoes too late to make it worth going out, but we were there by 5:00, plenty of time to grab a couple of CPs without missing the 7:00 deadline to be off the water. A bigger concern for me, though, was the knowledge that the sun would be setting before long. Anticipating a final bike leg around the lake on the Council Bluff trail, I was very apprehensive about riding it in the dark. After all, two out of my last three night rides have ended in crashes and tears. Jim was having none of this whiny baby stuff, though, so we carried our canoe to the water and shoved off.
Council Bluff is a man-made lake, and I guess they just flooded it over whatever trees were there, so part of the paddle was through a semi-submerged forest of skeletal trunks. Even more worrisome were the trees that didn’t show above the waterline but lurked in wait of passing canoes. We found the first CP without incident, and here we had one of the funnier (to me) exchanges of the race.
Jim and I get along really well, and this wasn’t our first race together. We’ve run a marathon together and raced Berryman last year as well. We’re both fairly low-key and much more at the race for a good time than in search of a win. Apparently another trait we share is a sense of humor that disappears with fatigue. For me, this means taking progressively longer to get a joke or process things. For Jim at Berryman, it meant he was taking jokes seriously. We’d already had a few exchanges where he’d been irritated by something said in jest when we paddled up to the next CP.
|Pretty cool spot for a checkpoint|
Sitting in the bow of the canoe, I grabbed the tree branch to steady us while Jim pulled out the passport and handed it to me. Seeing me struggle to hold onto the branch, the passport, and the punch, Jim asked, “Is there any way you can swing the canoe over so I can grab the tree?”
“What’s the point?” I asked, preparing to punch the passport.
“The point is so we don’t float away!” he snapped.
“No, what’s the point that I’m punching??”
We managed to get one more paddling CP after that, and we might have managed one more in the time we had left but our lake navigation wasn’t super smooth and we opted to conserve daylight for the last bike leg. I was pretty nervous about running into a submerged tree and tipping; in fact, the only thing I wanted to do less than ride the Council Bluff trail at night was to go swimming first. Thankfully Jim was very patient about my constant “There’s a stump in front of us…there’s a stump to the left…there’s one right there!! Paddle left…I mean right!!” and did a great job steering us through the minefield. We made it back to the TA around 6:20 and got our last two points to plot.
My frustration with navigation was showing, and I was struggling with a positive attitude. I felt really stupid once I finally understood what Kate was talking about, and made it a point to
relax and insert a pause before responding to any comments. In truth, I wasn’t very patient with the stump watch, but I knew that Kate was concerned about getting wet, and I was
going to be equally concerned about the night ride on the single track where Kate is much stronger than me, so I kept my mouth shut as to not look like a complete ass then and later.
I’m not sure where he gets me being stronger on the singletrack than him, because he easily kept up with me on the OT. I may have slightly sharper technical skills (maybe) due to all my riding at extremely slow speeds, but he’s got way more courage and confidence than I do.
|Thrilled to be finished with the canoe.(Photo credit: Lori Vohsen)|
|Plotting the last couple points at the TA.|
As expected, the final bike leg followed the trail around the lake, most of a 13-mile loop. The sun was sinking, and we had three hours before we started losing a CP a minute. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I didn’t want to ride it. I probably sound like a big wimp, but when even my bike friends who are always encouraging me and telling me I can do way more than I think are warning me, “Yeah, Council Bluff is tough,” that doesn’t inspire confidence. I was all about riding straight back to the finish line, but Jim didn’t agree: “The guys would never let me race with you again if we did that.”
I am just a Virtus strap hanger, and I knew that the Virtusans would motivate Kate to do her all. I could not see being the guy who let her get by with less than her best. How would I look Luke in the eyes? Oh wait, he was not at the race anyway.
Very unhappy, I started getting ready to ride when Lori came over to tell us that Chuck and Jacob were going straight back and we could use their (much better) lights if we wanted. It was like I heard angels singing. If Chuck, a certified badass (and Ironman) could ride straight back, I could ride straight back. I think Jim was still not so convinced about this until I asked him to show me where we’d gotten onto the Council Bluff trail on our last bike leg. It was a small fraction of what we had to ride, and it had taken us an hour. I knew, knew that there was no way I could ride the whole loop in time to finish without a penalty. Chuck confirmed that, saying that it usually took them 2.5 hours in the light and that the section on the other side of the lake was much more difficult than what we’d ridden.
For what it’s worth I wasn’t excited about riding the loop around the lake in the dark, but adventure races are about challenging yourself, and if we could do it, I wanted to do it. I did
not want to let ourselves off easy. Why not just ride out get one point and then come back to the finish. However, when I realized that we would be challenged to get back before the cutoff, I was OK with just riding back the most direct route. The last thing I wanted was another DQ, because we overreached.
Oh joy! Not only did I not have to ride the trail, but it was actually the right decision strategically! This was very welcome news. And I definitely want to go ride that trail…just not in a race, and not in the dark. We actually did end up riding tpart of he Council Bluff trail back, just a far shorter, much gentler section than the bike leg called for. We came riding through the finish line at 7:10…OFFICIAL finishers this time!
|All smiles at the finish!|
We ate supper and hung out at the finish line with Chuck, Lori, and their boys, then headed back to the campground when our friends left. After changing clothes, we drove into Potosi to grab sandwiches and hot chocolate for Nathan and Emma, and then went to their checkpoint on another nearby lake. The temperature had dropped big time as soon as the sun went down, and their roaring fire felt fantastic.
I was really proud of Nathan; despite this being his first AR experience, he was like an old hand by the time we got there. Since he was scheduled through midnight and Emma was staying the night with the canoes, we just hung out and waited there for the last couple hours of his shift. Big thanks to Jim for taking me (I didn’t want to try to find my way on my own) because I know he was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed. It was awesome for me; kind of like being able to race AND volunteer. 🙂 I had a bunch of cookies left, so I passed them out to everyone who was coming through the checkpoint. I had a blast being out there, and the coolest thing was that I got to see all my friends who were still racing. Hoosier Daddies, Eyes of the World, Bob and Travis, and No Sleep all came through while we were there. In fact, I sat next to my friend John from No Sleep for several minutes before we realized it….it was a long day.
I wasn’t excited to drive out there, but once we got there it was great. It was awesome to be part of the race for the teams that came through, and hanging out by the fire with everyone made me feel just like another one of the guys.
Once Nathan’s shift was over, we headed back to the campground and into our warm sleeping bags. I set my alarm for 6 a.m. in the hopes of being at the finish line to see my friends come through. Nathan, who couldn’t be bothered to see us off at the start line, was actually going to go to the finish line with me. I like to think that it’s because he’d really gotten into this whole AR thing, but more likely it’s because Gary and Ellen of Bonkhard have a really cute daughter. 🙂 Whatever his reasoning, we ended up sleeping in because Bob and Travis drove into the campground around 5 a.m. “Yea Team Virtus!!!” we called sleepily through our tent, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
Later that morning we watched our friend Emily take another first place with Wedali and our friends Bushwhacker and Alpine Shop receive second and third. A nice surprise was when Eyes of the World finished first in their division as well. The AR world is full of awesome people, and the fact that all of these teams are on a vastly different level than us doesn’t keep them from being super cool to those of us whose victory is just to finish.
|Traditional Team Virtus breakfast…with an empty chair for missing teammates.|
After a stop at the Spare Rib Inn for a delicious breakfast buffet (best thing about a long race: eating whatever I want) and more race talk, we all headed our separate ways…until next time. I had an absolutely wonderful time. Every Bonkhard race is like coming home to family, from Gary and Ellen, the wonderful owners, the wonderful volunteers, and more friends every year. I’m already feeling some post-race depression set in and looking forward to next year’s Berryman. I know it’ll be full of awesome adventure, fantastic friends, and hopefully a few less repeat lessons. 🙂