Note: This report was written by Kate with commentary from Adam in red (well, it’ll be added when he gets it to me. For whatever reason people with two jobs don’t have a lot of spare time) and Jeff in green.
Ever since the 2011 Deuce, Team Virtus’s annual non-race has been a can’t-miss event for me. Non-competitive and low/no-cost non races can introduce new people to the sport and give others a chance to practice/develop their skills in a more relaxed and cheaper setting than a formal race. The Deuce was my first ever adventure race, and Luke (who barely knew me at the time) was kind enough to shadow me throughout the day, introduce me to basically everything I know about orienteering, and make sure I didn’t die in the woods. By the end of the day, my theoretical love for adventure racing was confirmed by experience.
|Why no, I never do get tired of using this picture from the Deuce.|
April 2012 saw the rise of the CAC (Carnage at the Creek) non race and a much larger field than the previous year. It included a weekend of camping, many AR friends, and a partnership with my buddy Chuck of ROCK Racing. Chuck’s an awesome navigator, and when we teamed up with Travis after the bike prologue their combined map skills made quick work of the orienteering. While they didn’t literally carry me, basically all I had to do was follow along, keep up, and not row the boat under any circumstances.
|Perfectly willing to do my share but banished to the back of the boat for rowing incompetence.|
I was so determined to be at this year’s CAC2 that I actually postponed my 40th birthday celebration in favor of the race and left straight from work. I was both excited about all of the fun people I’d get to see over the weekend and nervous about the anticipated “learning experience”. You see, in my first two non-races, I had the benefit of experienced navigators, but this year Adam and I had decided to race together despite the fact that neither of us has much orienteering skill. We were fully aware it was a bit of a recipe for disaster.
|We’re so screwed…|
One of the cool things about this year’s race was that some really skilled adventure racers joined the party. First Emily Korsch, who’s got a growing stack of AR wins under her belt, volunteered to attend and race with anybody who wanted some help and then one of her teammates decided to join the fun:
At first I just left it alone because I’m a team member and figured I should leave the rock stars for our guests, but later I started to comment that Adam and I would love to have help if no one else spoke up. I never sent it, daunted by the prospect of exposing just how weak I am to somebody of that caliber. I do my best to be up-front on the blog about my weaknesses, but it’s one thing to admit it online and another to actually demonstrate it in front of someone who has a clue. No, Adam and I would just make do on our own. Maybe we’d even surprise ourselves.
After an easy 2.5 hour drive, I pulled into the campground and was treated to the sight of a rare double moon. As befits a non-race, I parked in a non-spot, and my wonderful friends pulled up their pants and helped me carry my stuff and get my tent set up. Already having enjoyed a super healthy dinner of gas station pizza, I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out by the campfire as other racers arrived. The weather was perfect for camping, and I had was a fantastic, fun, often hilarious night visiting with old friends and new: Luke and Becca; Bob and Cara; Robby; Travis, Crystal and family; Brian and Todd of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot; Tardy Rooster Dave and this year’s AR newbie, Woody; Blue Moon Dave; Derrick and Emma from Orange Lederhosen; Team Roadkill’s Ron along with his friend Louis; Emily; Jeff and Carrie; Team Torti’s Fletcher; and finally Kim, who drove over 4 hours to be there.
|Luke, Becca, Robby, Fletcher|
|Louis, Woody, Derrick, Dave|
|Carrie, Jeff, Fletcher, Dave, Emily, Louis|
Since Adam wasn’t arriving until morning, I took a fair amount of crap suggesting that he wouldn’t show up and I’d have to race alone. Jeff mentioned that he was looking for a teammate and we could race together, so Adam and I ended up lucking into a third (and immediately MVP) teammate. I was both delighted (because our chances of dying in the woods were drastically reduced) and nervous (because non-racing with a member of Alpine Shop is kind of like having Michael Jordan join you for your pickup game). I warned Jeff that we’d be really slow, but he was super cool and assured me that he was just there to help us out.
Lessons started the next morning as we were able to go over maps with Jeff, see the kinds of things he writes on his maps, and discuss our route.
|Kate, Adam, Jeff|
Jeff also showed me their bike tow (basically a strap connected to the back of his bike that someone behind him could grab to help maintain a consistent team pace). While I’ve never had a desire to use one, I resolved to try it. If we were going to get the opportunity to race with a rock star teammate, we needed to take advantage of everything we could learn!
Bikes had to be loaded onto a trailer to be shuttled to the transition area (TA), and we would have to drive to the race start. Since CAC2 didn’t start until 9:00, getting up was a pretty relaxed affair. Still, between being responsible for transferring the checkpoints to our map from the master map (something which made me deeply thankful that my normal AR job is to read coordinates to Luke), discussing route choice with Jeff, and doing my fair share of visiting, I was even more disorganized than usual and made numerous trips back to my tent. I really don’t like wearing pants and usually wear shorts and tall socks for adventure racers, but after several warnings from Bob I threw my trekking pants into my pack. The race started with a very short trekking leg followed by a bike; I’d just put on the pants before the long trek. Feeling as ready as I was going to be, I grabbed a ride to the start in Aaron’s van and tried not to worry too much about my bike swinging from the tetherball pole.
|Yeah, that’s mine. Maybe I should’ve loaded it early.|
Thankfully, all the bikes made it intact and I could relax for some prerace pictures.
|Kim drove more than 4 hours to guest race with those crazy boys from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and I’m pretty sure she laughed for the entire race. Love those guys!|
|Me with Kim, who’s moving even further away (boo) and giving me yet another awesome friend to visit in CO (yea!).
|Now that’s a fun looking group!
Back row: Woody, Dave H., Young Ben, Todd, Fletcher, Travis, Dave B. Jeff, Brian, me, Adam, Louis, Kim
Front row: Derrick, Dan, Robby, Emily, Emma, Ron
Luke made a last minute announcement: “It’s now 9:41, so by Team Virtus time we’re actually 19 minutes early. That means the cut-off is pushed back 45 minutes.” Cut-off? What cut-off? This was news to me. One of these day’s I’m actually going to pay attention at a pre-race meeting. There might have been a countdown, nobody sang the National Anthem (which was a terrible oversight except for the fact they’d probably have made me do it), and then we took off running down the road. Well, I tried to run, but some clown was holding onto my pack. Eventually I got free (or he let go), and we were off!
Leg 1 (trek): Find the passport:
The race began with a short (~.5 mile?) run down the road into a park area called the Carrington Pits to follow the map to collect our passport. Adam, Jeff, and I had agreed that Jeff would navigate and we’d follow along on the map. I had the map first, though following along on it while running was a challenge (also while walking, biking, trekking, and standing still, but that’s another story). Near the lead, we followed a trail while keeping the water to our right like on the maps. This worked out pretty well until I noticed a small lake to our left as well. “That water over there is making me nervous,” I told the guys, “Why don’t I see it on the map?”
It turned out I didn’t see it because we’d turned and actually gone between pits instead of staying to the right of all of them. What should have been a 10 minute jaunt to grab the passport became a 45-minute odyssey through Brer Rabbit’s briar patch, culminating in Jeff wading through knee deep water to get our passport.
Jeff: My boys remember the water being somewhat over my knees.
Leg 2: Bike (10 miles)
Back on track, we ran back to the bike drop, getting there in 4th (??) place, and transitioned. This process was slowed by the fact that Adam’s front wheel had mysteriously “fallen off”.
|Hmmm…how did that happen?|
Jeff was ready way ahead of us; while Adam fixed his bike, we looked at the maps. I don’t have a map holder on my bike or even a way to hold my map case around my neck, so I did my best to memorize the turns (there weren’t many) and then tucked the map case into the front strap of my pack. We took off down the gravel road, and as soon as we hit the first incline I opted to try out the towing system (strictly in the interests of science and certainly not because I’m slow ;-D).
Basically, a towing system (explanation and good basic picture at this link) is some type of line attached to the front bike with a loop on the end of it for the tow-ee to grab. My team has discussed towing in the past, but I wasn’t excited about the idea for a couple of reasons.
1. I’m a big chicken and don’t want to be dragged along at faster speeds than I’m comfortable with.
2. It hurt my pride. Looking at it as being towed because you’re the weakest person is a little bit of a blow. I started changing my mind after reading Robyn Benincasa’s book, where she talks about sharing strengths. Does it make sense for the strongest member of the team to be sailing along easily while someone else is killing themselves to keep up? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone’s effort was more similar? And theoretically, I’m not always the weak person, but even if I am, it’s not about pride, it’s about what’s best for the team. Does it make sense for me to kill myself to do it alone or is it better for the team for me to let someone help me so I’m not dragging later in the race?
Jeff told us that Alpine Shop tows all the time, not just one person but the whole team. And not when someone is struggling but BEFORE someone is struggling. What Robyn and Jeff said made sense. That helped with the pride issue, and it was easy enough to grab and release the tow strap that my fear stayed out of the way. Well, on the road anyway; it’ll be a long time before I’d be comfortable on the singletrack.
|Scene from the first bike leg|
The weather was beautiful, but there was a pretty good headwind blowing. You’d drag yourself to the top of a hill, but instead of sweet relief from climbing you’d have wind pushing against you all over again at the top. Between the wind and the hills, I quickly became a big fan of towing systems. Not only was it a big help, but every time that tow strap started to stretch out more it made me push a little harder so that Jeff wasn’t having to drag my slow butt up the hill. I did feel a little guilty because I was getting help while Adam was dealing with limited and slipping gears, but he turned down the chance to give being towed a chance and I hated for it to go to waste. 🙂 Shortly after getting CP1, we passed Fletcher changing a tire, and soon after that Adam got a flat. Jeff helped him change it, and then we sailed into the TA that Adam’s girlfriend Michelle was manning (womanning).
Leg 3: Trek (~11 miles)
The maps showed a fairly long trekking leg ahead of us, but unlike last year we wouldn’t be doing it pushing our bikes. Heeding Bob and Luke’s advice too late, I finally put on my trekking pants over the scratches from the passport hunt…better late than never. I was heading for the marked trail leading from the TA when Jeff walked to the road next to it. And that’s why I’m not the navigator.
|When I say “road”, this is what I mean mostly.|
Adam spent the first part of the trek picking Jeff’s brain about nutrition, while I was all about how long have you been adventure racing, how did you get started, etc. In addition to being interrogated, Jeff also kept up a steady narration of how we could tell where we were on the map, and I did my best to follow along on my map. I can look at a map and say, “OK, we need to go west along this ridge until we get to the second reentrant”, but I still have a hard time matching what I see on the map with the actual terrain in front of me, so Jeff’s descriptions were super valuable to me.
On the way to our first CP we passed an old swing hanging from a branch. “We should take a picture there,” I remarked as we passed.
“Yeah,” agreed Adam as we continued walking, “Luke and Bob probably put it there for that We really should.”
“Umm…” Jeff said, “Do you want to go back and take the picture?”
|Of course we did!|
“Hey, you don’t get pictures like this racing with Alpine Shop!” I laughed, “You’re getting the real Team Virtus experience.”
It was a beautiful day to be out in the woods, and we didn’t have many problems finding the checkpoints. It always amazes me how much is out in the woods that you’d never guess driving by on the road. The guys picked out a lot of cool stuff for us to see, pretty much all of which they found by just going out and exploring.
|Our first CP of the trekking leg is under this bridge|
|Gratuitous beaver shot on the way to the next CP|
The beavers had been hard at work as evidenced by downed trees all over near some ponds. It was the first time I’d seen anything like this except in a book. No actual beavers were spotted.
|Way high up|
Adam and I switched off the map after the first few checkpoints so that he’d get a chance to learn from the master, too. It was kind of disorienting not to be holding the map for a while, but then I got used to it and spent most of the rest of the race in my usual state of happy ignorance.
|On our way to one of the “rock arch” CPs|
For the CP with the “rock arch” clue, we’d guessed it might be low and so didn’t head uphill. Unfortunately, we’d guessed wrong and got to climb this bad boy.
|This does a better job than most pictures of showing slope, but it’s even steeper than it looks.|
At the top, we saw Derrick. And the CP.
After that, I think we were headed to the second rock arch. We had to come down off the hill and cross a reentrant. Jeff, as always, moved up and down the slopes like he was walking on a sidewalk, while I cautiously picked my way down and Adam moved somewhat faster than I did. On the other side of the reentrant we basically went up a wall. “Huh,” Jeff remarked at the top, “That was a little steeper than I realized.”
I’d just been following behind him and hadn’t realized how steep the hill was until I was almost crawling up it using hands and feet. At the same time, it was really humbling to see what a different level Jeff’s on: navigation, of course, but lots of other things, too. Way faster at transitioning, the pace he could move up and downhill, pace in general (at one point as we hiked through a fairly open wooded area I remarked, “You guys would be running here,” and he agreed), he never seemed disorganized (I’m always trying to figure out where things are in my pack)… it was a great look at many areas in which we could improve. And yet, throughout the day, Jeff raced our race at our pace, totally cool and supportive with however we were going.
|Following the creek to our next destination|
After finding the two rock arches (CP 5 and 4, one of which I didn’t take a picture of and have no memory of), we had to bushwhack southeast through the woods until we hit a road. “It always seems to take a long time when you’re hiking through the woods, especially when there aren’t any big terrain features to follow,” Jeff remarked (those aren’t his exact words but get across what he said). Just after we started to get nervous, Jeff popped out onto the road. Success! We initially turned the wrong way but hadn’t gone more than 50 feet before Jeff realized we were off track and got us headed in the right direction. This is another of those times I’d have continued on trying to make the map fit what I was doing. Hopefully some of the lessons I learned from Jeff will stick next time I’m at an O meet or something.
Getting onto the correct road, it was a short trek to our next CP, the Laffoon Stone.
|The Laffoon Stone. Any resemblance to male genitalia is purely intentional.|
Then we crossed over the creek again and hopped onto the trail to CP7, a shelter cave.
|Big bone we saw after the cave|
I recognized Sapp Bluff from CAC2012. The CP flag was even leftover, though last year we had to push our bikes up a hateful hill after dragging them over all kinds of horse-damaged singletrack. Trekking there was much nicer.
|Up on Sapp Bluff…it’s way high.|
Adam and Jeff stood on the edge for a closer look while I hyperventilated (still not a fan of heights). Dan caught up to us as we were starting down, and we all headed in search of CP 9 together. This necessitated crossing Cedar Creek and bushwhacking through another edition of thorns gone wild.
|Crossing Cedar Creek at a low spot.|
The clue was Devil’s Backbone, and our hike brought us out onto a gravel road with a really cool rocky spine outlining it…but no CP. After 45 minutes of fruitless searching we finally accepted the fact that it had probably blown away (in the end, that’s apparently what happened). We had one CP left on the trek and were either near or past the time cut-off, but that’s the beauty of a non-race. Getting non-disqualified is no big deal.
I had taken back the map during our aborted attempt at 9. It took me a while to catch on again, and “Can you show me where we are?” was a repeated refrain. We found 10 with no problem and then set off for the road back. There was a pretty good trek to the road where we were just following the compass, and after a while we started to wonder if we’d somehow gotten off track. Of course, our route led us right through a forest of cedar trees…thank goodness for my hat or I’d have left half of my hair behind in all those grabby little branches!
|Kinda like this picture from 2011.|
One funny thing on this section of the trek…we found a maroon shirt laying in the road (which basically looks like a wide trail). I picked it up wondering if it belonged to one of the other non-racers, then noticed it was cotton. “Probably not ours…none of us would be wearing cotton,” I told the guys. “….Well, except me,” I admitted as they laughed at me. I was wearing cotton, but only because it was turkey season, my only orange shirt was cotton, and I preferred potential chafing to being shot.
Back at the TA, there was a little party going on with Becca, Michelle, Cara, and Bob all there with food. We got updates on who was in, who had dropped, and who was still out in the woods. Dan transitioned lightning fast and was gone. Jeff was ready in no time, I grabbed a chicken leg and a baked potato, and Adam visited with Michelle. Jeff offered to carry my shoes (he’s the Alpine Shop pack mule), but I turned him down because they were all gross and wet. Of course, so were his shoes. In retrospect, I totally should have handed them over. I don’t know why it’s so hard to take help.
Other than having some uncomfortable chafing from my bike shorts (first time I’ve chafed from bike shorts when I’m NOT riding), though, I felt good as we left the TA on our bikes. We rode about six or so miles to the mystery event, where Luke directed us to cross the creek, scale a steep hill, look at a lego structure, come back, and replicate the structure exactly. I don’t know what happened, but I pretty much fell apart as soon as I started walking uphill. I went from feeling fine to totally weak and a little nauseous (almost like an instantaneous bonk, even though I’d just eaten), and I barely made it to the top of the hill before the guys were ready to come down. In retrospect, I should’ve just stayed at the base.
The last two miles of the non-race were singletrack, starting with crossing the creek again (I walked my bike across) and then a gentle uphill. I didn’t get far before I had to walk. My legs were dead and I was breathing super heavy. I’m always weak on singletrack, but this went beyond lack of technical skill and was straight physical meltdown. I felt bad that the guys had to keep waiting on me, and it was downright embarrassing to have felt good all day and then be such a train wreck with just a couple miles to go. The guys never once rolled their eyes or were anything less than encouraging, and after snagging one last CP at a cool old building, we rode (and walked) the rest of the way in to the finish. A special treat was when we had to lift our bikes over a barbed wire fence that some farmer had built ACROSS THE TRAIL…and then lift them over again when the trail looped back. Thankfully, Jeff and Adam did most of the lifting because I had nothing left at that point.
Jeff: I’m sorry I didn’t know you were in such a bad place at the end. I could have been more helpful.
Kate: Right, in addition to lifting my bike over the fences and coming back to push it up the hill for me. 🙂 Actually, for someone who never shuts up, I don’t communicate that well when I’m feeling bad during a race. That’s something I need to work on. On the other hand, it feels like a bit of a failure of will to let myself fall apart with 2 miles left, like I should have been able to tough it out better.
Someone jokingly asked me later, “The guys pushed you that hard, huh?” but that wasn’t it at all. I was more than fine with the pace; I’m not sure what happened. I actually threw up after we finished, the first time that’s happened to me in any race. Yeah, that’s right…the CAC made me gag.
Once we could hear our friends back at the campground, Jeff, who’d been leading all day, dropped back and let us ride in first. As we neared the finish he asked what our team name was. “Are we Team Virtus?”
“Team Virtus Plus, ” I suggested, but Adam had the best idea: “Let’s tell them we’re Team SONA: Saving Our Newbie Asses.” And he did. Totally. He carried us without even breaking a sweat. I only hope he had as much fun as I did.
HUGE thanks to Bob and Luke for non-race directing, to Becca, Michelle, Crystal, Carrie, and Cara for volunteering, and especially to Adam and Jeff for racing with me. Hanging out with everyone before and after the race was fantastic. If you were there, you know just how awesome it was, and if you weren’t, you should definitely plan better in 2014. The Team Virtus non-race should not be missed. And if Jeff Sona wants to do some more heavy lifting, he’s more than welcome to carry me next year too!