When I last left off part 2 of the race report, our two teams had decided to go separate ways. Luke and I had just run laughing away from our teammates, the last running we would do at the race. We slowed as soon as we were out of view, but Luke and I maintained a fast hike because we were determined to get as many CPs as we could. Our main goal was to clear the bike-o course; if we could do that, we’d evaluate how much time we had left and possibly go for one or two points on the next o-course before heading back. All of this was heavily dependent on how well the next few hours went; the only thing certain was that we were going to leave ourselves plenty of time to get back. 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.
The day had gotten pretty hot, and we were thankful that the temperature would soon start dropping from its midday peak. Headed into the woods after a short hike along the road, we followed a reentrant to CP20. From here we made our way down a trail to a creek and stayed along it until the creek to a creek junction where CP19 was located. This was our attack point for the infamous CP17. The intel on CP17 was that it was hard to find. The team I’d run into at the pavilion had given me some pointers on where they’d found it, and armed with this knowledge, Luke and I set off up the creek. This walk in the park was…no walk in the park.
On a map, everything looks so cut and dried. Oh, just follow that creekbed until you come to the rock outcropping where the CP is. The reality is anything but. The creekbed was littered with downed trees, and the reentrant was lined with scrub so thick and deep that you couldn’t see the sides. Looking for the rock outcropping in the clue, all we could see was green. We hiked up the reentrant, trying higher and lower on the sides with no success. Then Luke noticed that there was a smaller side reentrant partially obscured by the circle marking the CP on the map and realized that we needed to be there. Once he figured that out, we found 17 pretty easily.
Luke: After conversing with a couple of teams that never got CP17, it was REALLY nice to find it.
From 17 we shot a rough bearing and headed up to the ridgetop and then down the biggest reentrant which led to the spur CP 15 was supposed to be on. We hit the wrong spur first but found it fairly quickly after some searching.
From 15, we headed down the creek and followed it to a park road. Stopping briefly so that Luke could mix up a bottle of E-fuel, we looked at ourselves in amused disgust. Though the temperature had slowly started to drop, the shade of the woods hadn’t provided quite the respite we’d anticipated. The nonexistent breeze combined with heat and humidity to make our hike seem more like a trek through a tropical jungle. Our clothes were drenched and filthy; my hair was falling out of its braid and plastered to my sweaty skin. On one level I recognized how terrible I must look (and smell!), but I’ve never cared less about my appearance.
Luke: I’m pretty sure we’ve never been more disgusting in a race before. I was literally as wet or wetter than when we had been chest deep in the water heading into the cave earlier in the race. It was gross… And awesome.
We crossed the road and headed back into the woods and up a reentrant to find CP16. I was particularly happy to punch this one because this is where I’d mispunched CP24, so I was finally able to relax knowing we had them both (as long as I remembered to tell the volunteers back at the finish line about the switch). We climbed back down the reentrant and up to the road.
We could actually see CP18 from the road, so after a quick hop into the trees we were back on pavement and hoping to find a place to fill up with water. The road was long and steep, and I was pretty grateful that we’d just left our bikes where we’d initially dropped them; it was enough to drag myself uphill. We followed the road to a trail/ridge junction. Luke shot a bearing that took us across a field before we dropped back into the treeline, and we followed a path pretty much right to CP30.
I had felt amazing all day long, and this section is where I started dragging. I’d been eating like crazy all day, and I don’t think I had slacked off, but maybe I did or maybe it was just the cumulative effect of 18 hours of racing. Whatever the reason, I was relieved when Luke “took his turn” at being the passport puncher since I’d been doing it all day. Of course, he’d been navigating all day, and I didn’t take over the maps, but he had realized before I did that I needed a break. After smooth going all afternoon, the next couple of CPs took a little more searching (“helped” along by my spotting of a couple phantom checkpoints), but we found them. Naturally, we were trekking through fields of stinging nettle, and over and over again I was grateful that (this time) I’d listened to the guys about wearing pants. Not having long sleeves, though, I spent a lot of time holding my hands out of the way.
Luke: Stinging Nettle is the worst! I HIGHLY recommend some white sun-sleeves for summer racing. However, even with the sleeves, I still got stung.
Things were going well. Really well. We just had a few more CPs to go and were pretty stoked about our success. Having cleared all of the points on this loop, Luke set a course back towards our bikes. Because I was still dragging at this point, we ended up following a trail up to a clearing rather than take Luke’s initial route over some hills. We emerged into meadow and set a fast hike back to the bikes. We were just discussing whether or not this was a field we remembered from last year when we saw someone running in our direction. We hadn’t seen another team since shortly after we’d split from our other half, so we waved happily at the runner. As she neared us, we realized it was Sue, one of the volunteers who we’d last seen some 16 (?) hours before at the ascending wall, and boy was she surprised to see us. “What are you doing out here??” she asked.
The question wasn’t as weird as it initially seemed. There had been some confusion because, having seen the other Virtus team at the finish, a volunteer had reported that we were all in. Not knowing there was a team left in this section, volunteers were taking the flags down from this area. As soon as she saw us, Sue got right on the phone with the others clearing the course, making sure that nobody tore down the CPs we were still chasing. Hiking away, we were almost giddy with relief. What were the chances that we ran into Sue out there? If we’d gone with our original route, we’d have missed her. How terrible would it have been if we were out there looking for CPs that had been pulled down? By blind luck, we’d avoided disaster and were still in the game.
Luke: Phew! We caught a HUGE break there. We left Sue with high hopes of getting all of the CP’s we wanted to get before making it back to the finish line with plenty of time left.
Back at our bikes, we opted not to change into bike shoes. We were only riding a couple miles of paved road, and we knew we’d want trail shoes for the trek to our remaining CPs. We were willing to give up a little bit of pedaling efficiency rather than waste time repeatedly changing shoes or suffer by trekking in our bike shoes (no fun). In what seemed like minutes we were riding into our next attack point, where we ran into our friends from Orange Lederhosen …being lectured by a conservation police officer?
If you’re lucky enough to know these guys, it might not surprise you that they’d be on the wrong side of the law, but their “crime” was ridiculous. As we rode up, she was informing them that this part of the park was closed, that they had to know that because there were signs up all over saying the park closed at sunset (7:46 that evening). Being as it was a good four minutes past that at the time, we were all in clear violation of the park rules. We’d all been in the park for several hours, almost all of that time was off-trail and away from signs, and even if we’d noticed the signs, we’d have ignored them. We had the expectation that, since the race was there, we had permission to be there…an expectation shared by the race director and his permit.
Luke: As soon as this “cop” said that “sunset was at 7:46 today” I knew we were in trouble. She clearly has limited power and authority, so she has to really abuse the little bit she actually has. I mean, come on! Who actually looks up the exact time the sun sets? And who in their right mind would write a ticket a few minutes past this time?!? It was absolutely ridiculous! I was dumbfounded.
I clarified, “So just the South section is closed?” This wouldn’t be a big deal because we’d already cleared this section. Unfortunately, everything except the campground section was closed. This cut us off from our two remaining CPs in the North section and our planned route back to the finish. Just like that, the officer had squashed our hopes of clearing the bike-o. We stood there in furious disbelief, but as she turned her attention back to the Lederhosen boys and started writing them a warning ticket, Luke and I decided to slip away before she gave any more thought to us.
Luke: I went from being dumbfounded to pissed in a hurry. But I didn’t want to have to fight a bullshit ticket from 6 hours away, and I DEFINTITELY didn’t want to pay a bullshit fine for a bullshit ticket written by a stupid, bullshit rent-a-cop. Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails! This was a crushing blow.
We rode away in angry silence. We’ve weathered plenty of adversity in races — a fight between teammates, mechanicals, debilitating leg cramps, a yellow jacket attack, missing meds, and terrible ascents to name a few — things that are all part of the package. This was different. This was outside interference. This was…I feel like a first grader saying it, but this wasn’t fair. One of the cool things about adventure racing is that you don’t necessarily have to be fast; strategy and perseverance come into play, and sometimes if you don’t quit, you can finish ahead of teams who may have been faster but chose to end their race earlier. Now, despite our good plan, successful navigation, and carefully budgeted time, the “don’t quit” option was gone. There were still three CPs we could get in the campground section, but I think for a while we could both have easily said fuck it, let’s just go back.
Luke: I haven’t felt this low in a race since the Phantom Cut-Off fiasco, but this was different. The Phantom Cut-Off was because of an incompetent, asshole race director. This time, our hopes were crushed by an overzealous, idiot conservation “cop.” And Kage is right. I easily could have said, “Fuck it. I’m done.” But that’s not the Virtus Hhhhway.
But we didn’t. We got the closest two remaining checkpoints, stopped to talk to another team, and then crossed paths again with the Lederhosens as we rode towards CP 34, the transition area. There, the volunteers told us Gerry was directing teams to take the short way back (our intended path)– because most teams would not make it back in time going the long way. Being as we’d just encountered an officer who had told us in no uncertain terms that we weren’t allowed to be in that part of the park — and that as an oldest child and a teacher I’m a born rule-follower — that didn’t work for me. (And the “cop” had already seen us and spoke with us, so we were pretty sure she wouldn’t just let us off with a written warning if she caught us “breaking the law” again.) In the end, we had to take the longer route back to the finish line. The volunteers warned us that teams were averaging 3.5 hours for the trip back, which was particularly unfortunate because we had less time than that before the midnight cutoff.
Because we had never planned to take this route back, we hadn’t plotted it on our map. While Luke painstakingly made out the numbers on our sweaty, smeared race booklet, I ate, drank, and waited. I’ve learned that hurrying your navigator doesn’t save time when it causes them to make mistakes, so tried to keep my impatience at a minimum. I’ve also learned how important it is to take care of your teammates — heaven knows they’re always asking if I’m eating and drinking — but somehow I never thought to check to see if Luke needed anything or make sure he ate something. This would prove to be a big mistake.
Luke: I was so focused on plotting and planning our route (which was difficult since there were 5 or 6 maps involved), that I guess I forgot to eat or drink anything other than half of a Monster energy drink.
We rolled out of the TA at 9:15. Two hours and forty-five minutes to ride a route that was apparently taking many teams considerably longer. Oh, the irony…despite all our good intentions we were once again racing our bikes to avoid missing a cut-off. We turned onto the highway in front of the park, and I immediately felt exposed and nervous. Riding a road at night is scary because, despite our headlights and red blinky taillights, drivers really aren’t looking out for bikes in the dark (full disclosure: despite my big fear here, I think maybe only one car actually passed us on this road). As is typical with these guys I race with, always putting themselves between me and danger whether it’s an oncoming dog or potential traffic, Luke rode behind me on the highway.
Pedaling fast, because I really was scared here, I was for once having a little trouble with the chivalry. He has four young children, two of my kids are grown adults…if one of us is going to get killed it should probably be me…he’s so much younger than I am… Yeah, what can I say? My internal monologues can be a little dramatic. (I wasn’t being chivalrous, I was trying to draft off you.) Thankfully, we made it onto the gravel without incident, except that as I flew down the road I realized I’d lost Luke, who’d had to stop to roll up the pant leg that kept catching in his chain.
I waited until he caught up, then back together, we made our way to the first CP on the bike leg back. Luke checked the maps while I punched our passport. Another team was there at the same point, confused about a course change that they apparently hadn’t heard in the race meeting, so Luke got them straightened up about that. As they rode off, his headlamp started flashing, so I pointed my light so he could get the batteries changed and then, because I’m always the slowest team member on the bike, I started riding while Luke finished putting his old batteries away. “I’m going to go ahead since you’re going to pass me in a minute anyway!”
I rode in the direction he’d pointed me, pretty quickly coming alongside the other team and then, though I knew they’d be zooming right by me again in a minute, passing them. We never saw them again. The hill seemed to go on forever, but I felt weirdly good for the first part, almost like I was riding on flat ground. Eventually it didn’t feel good at all, but we still managed to ride the whole thing.
Luke: This hill was effing ridiculous! It… Just… Kept… Going… I was proud to see Kate fly by the other team and completely smash them up that hill, but I soon realized that I was starting to fall behind and really starting to hurt.
Luke’s navigation was dead on, and we found the next CP with no problems. I had to climb a little hill at the intersection to punch the passport, and Luke looked over the maps. Orange Lederhosen pulled up as we were about to roll out. With a downhill ahead of me, I again left before Luke. The guys are all way braver on hills than I am, so any head start would just lessen the amount of time he’d be waiting at the bottom for me. The Lederhosens caught up with us again during this section, and we all pulled over at one point so that Luke and Derrick could do a map check. Course confirmed, we started back again, climbing yet another ridiculous hill. At one point Sheldon and I were riding towards the front, but at some point they all disappeared (turns out at some point they’d lost their passport) and it was just Luke and me again. And then it was just me.
Because my bike handling sucks, I have a hard time looking behind me to see who’s there, and I didn’t realize that Luke was gone. Bob and I always have to laugh in races, because while we’re dying at the end Luke and Casey just seem to get stronger. You’d almost hate them if they weren’t dragging your ass to the finish. Given this experience, I kept expecting Luke to come flying past, but looking behind me on a hill his light was way back, so I got off and started walking, waiting at the top. When he got there, he looked grumpy, and I assumed he was irritated with me for getting ahead like that…which was a dick move, or would have been if it had been intentional. Regardless, I should have been more aware of where my teammate was.
Luke: I wasn’t pissed at Kate at all. In fact, I was proud of how strong she had been all race and especially proud of how super-strong she was on this last bike leg. I was just hurting and trying not to puke. I had nothing left in my legs, and I couldn’t eat or drink. It sucked. Plain and simple. And she’s too modest to say how much stronger than me she was this late in the race. She was an animal! Seriously. I’ve never seen her stronger.
Kate: He’s right. It was crazy and wonderful. I have no idea where it came from…maybe it was the Pop-Tarts.
I think I assumed he’d had to fix his pant leg again or wrestle with the maps, but after this pattern repeated itself a couple more times I finally realized there was something wrong. “Are you ok?” I asked.
“I’m bonking bad,” he answered.
Now I felt like a total asshole. Here I’d been, happily (ok not happily…those hills sucked) riding along, not realizing that my partner was hurting. And now that I did know, I didn’t know what to do. Eating made him sick, so he could barely force anything down, and I didn’t think I could ride with both of our packs on, so that wasn’t an option. We were so short on time that we couldn’t afford to sit down and regroup, and I can’t cheerlead someone out of a bonk. In retrospect, the only thing that might have helped would have been to switch bikes so that Luke could ride the one with the smoother tires, but trading his nice 29er for my heavy 26er might not have been an improvement. The only thing I could do is what I should have been doing all along: stick with my teammate. So that’s what we did, riding hill after hill until finally we made it to the finish line, 9 minutes past the cutoff.
Luke: Even with me bonking and being the weak link, we managed to finish that bike leg in just under 3 hours. Not bad in hindsight, but as we turned onto the final road leading to the finish line at Camp Benson, it was crushing to see my watch hit 12:00 and know that we had missed the cut-off.
I know Luke had a hard time mustering a smile for the camera, but unranked finish or not, I loved every moment of this race. We had some major ups and downs, but we came through them all as a team. And speaking of team, despite their threats to be sound asleep when we got back, our awesome teammates were there cheering as we arrived, taking our bikes and bringing us food (and even going back to the cabin so I could have diet soda instead of regular…thanks Travis!).
Luke: I was still trying not to puke, but I too loved everything about this race (other than super-”cop” of course). Aside from my bonk at the end, I think it was one of the strongest performances we’ve had. And big thanks to the rest of our team who took great care of us at the finish line.
24 hours and 9 minutes of racing together and we were still on speaking terms. Because Luke and I finished after the midnight cutoff, we weren’t ranked in the standings. We missed 20 CPs; the team that won our division finished way before us missed 18. Had we been able to get the 2 CPs in the forbidden North section and then picked up the one in the campground section we skipped AND gotten back to the finish on time by taking our planned route back, we’d have won our division. Sometimes you aim high and miss, but I still couldn’t be prouder of our race.
Luke: As my Dad has always said: “If the dog hadn’t stopped to take a shit, he’d have caught the rabbit.” Normally, I believe that statement, but not in this case. Our plan would have worked, but because of circumstances beyond our control, our plan had to be altered. So in this case I’ll modify it to this: “If the dog hadn’t been unjustly harassed and threatened by an egomaniacal, power-hungry, overzealous rent-a-”cop”, then he definitely would have caught the rabbit.” But we aren’t holding a grudge. Not at all.
On the other hand, not all of our team was struck down by the midnight cutoff. Because other teams in their division missed the cutoff, Bob, Robby, and Travis took third place! Now, my mom would say we’re all winners, but Luke and I don’t have a fancy piece of paper to prove it.
Luke: Nice work, fellas! Way to represent the team! Strength and Honor!
We all slept in as much as possible the next morning and then loaded up for home. I know I was a little sad. After a year of anticipation and excitement, it was over. Another 365 days of waiting seemed like way too long, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’d go back and do that race again tomorrow, with the exact same people, if it was possible. And since it’s not, at least there are only 6 more months til Adventure Camp!
Luke: Big thanks to Gerry Voelliger and ALL of the amazing volunteers for putting on one of the hardest, most memorable races I’ve ever done. The Thunder Rolls is a race that should be on everyone’s calendar every year. Don’t miss it!