If you haven’t read part 1 yet, go get caught up. It’s ok…I’ll wait….
It was a subdued group that left the ascending area. We were almost certainly in last place at this point, but none of us cared. Our only concern was for our friend. Bob was exhausted and shivering, even bundled in his jacket, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be inside his head at that point. “Demoralized” would be a positive spin on his mental state. He wanted nothing so much as to quit, which, of course, is why we couldn’t let him.
Bob has this line that has stuck with me through a lot of difficult times: “Just remember how good the story wouldn’t be if it ended ‘It got hard and then we quit.'” I’m sure he appreciated having it turned against him, but to quit now would mean that the failed ascent was the story of the race, not just one bad chapter. Things looked bleak to be sure, but 24 hours is a long time, and anything can happen.
Looking to avoid bigger climbs while Bob recharged, we spent a lot of time walking in the river. That’s ok, we were starting our coasteering leg early. Walking hills might have made it easier for Bob to warm up, though. The night had cooled off, and every time we paused for a map check his shivering went up a notch. He looked miserable.
CP 6 was in a cave. The guys ahead of me seemed to climb up the wet rocks with no problem, but I kept slipping back until Bob put his knee up for me to use as a step. This year the CP was tucked in a side channel instead of way at the back of the cave like last year. One by one we ducked bats and squeezed through the narrow passageway to punch our wristbands and then slipped back out into the water.
It seemed like we spent a lot of time in the water on our way to CP 7, and that was because we’d missed it. Realizing our mistake right near CP8, which was up a cool, slippery rock creek bed, we grabbed that point and then retraced our steps. CP 7 was up (in a Gerry race, almost everything is UP) a re-entrant jammed with fallen tree trunks and branches. This section reminded me of a jungle gym, and I had a blast climbing my way up. I had so much fun that I climbed down that way too, while the guys opted for a steep downhill instead.
Robby: I really struggled on the felled-tree-climbing-uphill-jungle-gym. Kate flew through the tree and I could hear the smile on her face. I was sweating and out of breath. I was glad to get to the top in one piece and coming down was a blast. It was very VERY steep and I basically slid down the hill on my wet ass.
We looped back again, passed the turn for CP8, and were now officially in the coasteering section. Since we’d spent much of the last couple hours in the water, it wasn’t much of a change. Walking in a river at night is always tricky, but I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as last year when the water was deeper, the submerged rocks made the footing fairly treacherous, and almost all of us fell into the water more than once. This year seemed smoother. Still, after a couple hours we were all sick of not being able to see where to put our feet and especially of having our shoes full of sand and rocks. I was getting a headache, so I was relieved when the sky lightened just enough that I could take off my headlamp. In fact, I was still holding it in my hand when I fell.
I just tripped really, but I haven’t had much range of motion in my left knee since falling in Kansas last year and my knee bent all the way closed. Wow, did it hurt. I tried to stand up quickly but fell back into the water. Luke, who was closest, ran back to help me out of the water. We all just stood there for a minute until I realized that my knee, though sore, could still bear weight. I took some ibuprofen and we got going again.
Robby: All I heard was “Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!!!!” and when I turned around Kate was in the water. She really tried standing, but fell back in and just laid there till Luke came to her aid.
Luke: I saw Kage fall, and when she hopped right back up only to have her knee buckle under her, I thought our race was over. Good thing she’s been taking calcium supplements.
Travis: Just prior to Kate falling was also when Bob took a misstep and tumbled down the edge of the bank. Once I saw Kate go down all I could think was ” What else could go wrong?” It seemed that we were doomed for something to end our race.
My pace definitely dropped here because I was limping and afraid of tripping again. The guys offered to carry my pack, but I felt better holding onto the straps. Still, there were quite a few times I gladly accepted one of their arms to steady me, even if I did me feel like a grandma being helped across the street by a boy scout.
After a little bit Luke asked how my knee was doing, and I told him, “OK. Sore.” We have this joke that I never complain, and he offered, “Do you want to complain? I won’t listen.” I considered it for a moment and then decided not to, figuring I might need to complain later. 🙂
We were all happy to get to CP9, where we could finally get out of the water. After taking some time to get some food we had a mile or so to go to the canoe put-in. It was flat road, and originally I had envisioned jogging between points. I now hoped no one else had that brilliant idea. Since they didn’t, we had a nice sunrise stroll between fields.
WTFAR’s Brian was volunteering at the canoes, and since he’s twelve feet tall we could see him in the distance and waved wildly. As we neared, his bell-like voice rang out in the morning air: “Where the hell have you been????” His confirmation that we were, in fact, in last place was a little demoralizing, but the double-stuffed oreos in his hand perked us up, as did the opportunity to dump all the crap out of our shoes. We ate, grabbed one of the 7-ton canoes, and put in to the Plum River.
We turned around to have a good view of Bob, Robby, and Travis as they tipped their canoe, but they totally let us down with an incident-free launch.
We had been warned that we’d hate the canoe leg and had envisioned dragging our boat for miles through rocky water. Instead, the paddle was delightful.
Luke: After the coasteering section where the river was very low, I was absolutely dreading the paddling leg. No offense to Kage, but her upper body strength isn’t exactly one of her, well…strengths. (So true.) I figured I’d be dragging the canoe for 9 miles by myself. I was stoked to see a floatable river.
There were all kinds of branches, snags, and trees down in the water, so I imagine navigating these obstacles was a bit trickier at night. For us it was downright fun and broke up the monotony of the three-hour tour. Approaching the first big tangle, we paused to consider our options. The first of the twelve-hour teams passed us at this point, one opting to portage (getting their boat over the steep bank looked way hard) and the other attempting to get into the water to push their boat through…and discovering it was fairly deep. Neither alternative looked particularly appealing, so we opted to plow through and actually ended up beating the portage team to the other side. Score one for laziness!
Luke and I paddled on, expecting the three guys in our other canoe to easily catch us, but we didn’t take into account that their fully loaded canoe wasn’t going to skim over some of the blockages like ours. Though we occasionally got updates on them from passing canoes (all of them 12-hour racers), we never saw them again until the take-out. We soldiered on, Luke deftly steering our canoe around obstacles despite my less than clear and decisive directions: “…um…left?….um…there’s a….log?…on our….oops, sorry…yeah, that was it…”
Luke: The more we paddled, the more confident Kate became calling out directions, and even though we were paddling at a nice, leisurely pace, we became a pretty efficient team.
The longer we paddled, the more determined we became not to get out of our canoe until the end of the leg, a sentiment bolstered by the development of our “seated portage” technique…basically taking obstacles at speed, scooting over them using synchronized hip thrusting, and pushing or clawing our way forward when necessary. We laughed a lot. Eventually, however, the seated portage met a logjam it couldn’t overcome.
Luke: Kate originally called our hip-thrust-and-push-and-claw-maneuver a “self portage.” When I pointed out that all portages in an adventure race are in fact done by ourselves, we decided to go with the more accurate “seated portage.” Our seated portage worked wonderfully. That is until we hit this:
Though it doesn’t show in the picture, a lot of teams portaged along the bank to the left. The bank was sloped, with shin-deep mud and a tree over which the canoe would have to be lifted. Seems like I’m always the vote against portaging, and this was no exception. A team in front of us tried climbing out of their boat to push it through the tangle of downed trees and promptly sank in past their shoulders. Another team managed to get their canoe across by standing on some of the logs, and this is the strategy that got my vote.
Luke wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this plan, but despite his clear doubt my teammate was willing to give it a try. I had no idea how we’d actually do it without tipping and couldn’t have gotten out of the canoe without Luke steadying it, but we both managed to climb onto the log pile. Then it was just a matter of picking our way across floating logs, standing on the stable ones and steadying ourselves on branches as we pushed and dragged the canoe over the blockage. It was ridiculously fun, and we were ridiculously proud of ourselves as we paddled away without capsizing. This goes down as my favorite canoe leg of any adventure race.
Luke: I would have voted to portage around it, but I am easily swayed. Going through the trees instead of around definitely sounded more fun, and it didn’t disappoint. Some logs would sink when we stepped on them, others would spin. It was a blast!
That’s not to say I didn’t spend the last hour of the paddle watching for the take-out, and Brian’s smiling face waiting for us was a sight for sore eyes.
We lugged our ridiculously heavy canoe up to the road, drank some cold Monster, ate, changed into shorts (and dry socks!! So glorious after 11 hours of wet feet) for the bike leg, and waited for the rest of our team. The other guys didn’t have nearly as fun of a paddle as we had; having three guys and their gear in one canoe kept them from floating over much of what we were able to cross with relative ease. Most logjams had required Bob to climb out and push or drag the canoe. They didn’t look too cheerful when they arrived. “You guys shouldn’t have waited for us,” Travis told me as they carried their canoe, and my heart sank a little. I wanted them to be having as much fun as I was.
Luke: The other guys definitely looked a little worse for wear. Like Kage, I had hoped their paddle was as fun as ours was, but it obviously wasn’t. Having 3 guys in one canoe makes for a rough paddling leg.
Travis: I was anything but happy at this point. Aside from Bob and Robby’s company that paddle leg was a suckfest on a shit river of logs and mud! I think the three of us knew at this point that Luke and Kate were feeling much stronger and could probably make much better progress through the course without us, but they didn’t care. Team Virtus sticks together and that is what I love about this team. In retrospect I also now know that I was already well into a downward spiral, making a critical mistake that continued throughout the day.
And I was having a blast. Sitting at the TA visiting and relaxing, I asked what time it was. Hearing it was 11-something I was delighted. “We still have over twelve hours of the race left!” I was dead serious, but Robby looked at me like I was a little crazy and Travis looked like he was considering which knife to use on me first.
Travis: I assure you, I am not a violent person, but for some reason my team thinks that I might just kill one of them someday.
People hear “24-hour race” and they think oh my gosh, that’s such a long time…and it is, but it really isn’t even the half of it. Gerry’s races starting at midnight, but you’ve probably been awake since five or six the previous morning. After getting to camp, there’s ropes practice and bike drops. Then there’s dinner and a pre-race meeting, maps and routes to figure out and gear to organize. If you’re lucky you might get to lie down for an hour, but basically by the time you’re finished with a 24-hour race, you’ve probably been going for nearly 44 hours straight. So while we were “only” about 12 hours into the race, we’d all been awake for much longer.
The bike leg was pretty uneventful other than missing a turn and riding a mile or two out of our way, but at least the day was beautiful, if warm, and before long we were pulling into Mississippi Palisades State Park and having a little pow-wow to discuss the remainder of the race.
Luke asked what everyone was wanting to do. Travis and Robby were ready for whatever but were leaning towards “whatever” not being a super long time. I wanted to hit the finish line at 11:59, knowing we’d done everything we could. I think this was the first time the possibility of splitting up was mentioned, but we opted to do a loop of CPs and then re-evaluate how everyone was feeling.
We rode further into the park, left our bikes at a picnic area, explained adventure racing to a couple hanging out there, and then Bob took over on the maps. The topsoil in the park is so soft and loose that the many teams who’d already passed that way had created trails towards the CP. Determined to do his own navigation rather than follow in others’ footsteps, Bob took alternate paths where possible. I wasn’t a big fan of walking through nettle just on principle, but that’s why Bob’s navigation improves with each outing and I’m still lost on an orienteering map. Robby was following along on a map too and seemed to have a pretty good handle on where we were going. Me, I just followed my teammates like a lost puppy.
The guys were nearly flawless all day long on the maps; unfortunately I couldn’t say the same for my passport punching abilities. During this section we had just hiked to a CP when I realized I’d mispunched the previous one. I was so irritated with myself, thinking we’d have to go back and repunch, but instead we just switched their spots and had to remember to tell the race staff when we got back. We actually got to spend quite a bit of time on actual trails here instead of bushwhacking, and with brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts coursing through my veins I had plenty of energy. I remember jogging up a hill being kind of silly and Luke blowing past me right at the top. I’ve got a long way to go before I can outrun him on hills.
I think we found 5 CPs together in this section, with no navigational problems that I can remember but a lot of steep terrain. By the last of these we were running low on water, and I’d been waiting a long time to use a real bathroom. Looking down the hillside we could see the park road and had hopes of facilities waiting at the bottom. While the guys waited in the shade, I jogged to a nearby pavilion to find the holy grail trifecta: flush toilets, air conditioned bathrooms, and cold water. As I filled my camelbak after using the facilities, the newbie team I’d met at registration showed up. I talked to them for a little bit, and they gave me some pointers on the hard-to-find CP 17.
Our two teams decided to split at this point. Robby’s extra batteries resurrected my camera, we all filled up on water and wished each other well, and then we were off. As we turned away, Luke whispered, “Let’s run,” and we dashed across the field laughing our asses off as our teammates’ groans and calls of “Assholes!” rang in our ears.
Luke: I think this was pretty much the only running we did, but it still makes me laugh just thinking about it.
All we had to do was grab as many of the remaining checkpoints as we could and be back to our bikes in time to ride the short course to the finish line. We were determined not to fall prey to “just one more”-itis. In fact, our personal cutoff time to be at the bikes gave us nearly twice the time it should take us to ride back. We were going to play it smart; the last thing either of us wanted was another frantic finish like at LBL. Our plan was solid.