Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Race Report - The Big Chill 2009

Production Company: Too Cool Racing
Date: 1/23/10
Location: Bastrop, TX
Length: 24 hour
Team Name: Team Superbad

This was my first 24 hour race, and my second adventure race with my brother, Eric. He invited me to race with his team, Team Superbad, and I agreed, despite their being NAMED AFTER A MOVIE. "But it's more than just a name, it's the way we race!" they are very fond of saying. The team consisted of Eric, myself, one of Eric's coworkers, Tex, and Tex's cousin's husband, Rick, who calls Tex "bro." I was confused about their relationship for the first 7 hours. A ridiculous number of setbacks prior to the race did nothing to dampen our commitment to completing the race - in races 12 hours or more, simply finishing the race (determined by criteria which vary race to race) is a often monumental achievement.

To start with, Eric had decided to handle registration. We were to pay him back when we met up. He was waiting on a check from the Treasury Department, however, and although promptness is emphasized in the military, it is not so much important to the people that pay the military. So he ended up having to wait until 9pm the night before the race to register the team. Yikes! Not a week before the race, he was out on a long trailride and managed to destroy the entire drivetrain of his 29er with a well placed rock. So he was downgraded to a loaner 26er that he was unaccustomed to riding (although he was still wicked fast on it). Also, on the ride up from San Antonio to Bastrop, his brand-spanking-new kayak that had never even seen water yet, broke free of the ties that bound it and flew up out of the back of the truck, flipped once, and landed in the middle of the lane, in the middle of US I-35. Everyone in the truck gasped in slow-motion, and the entire interstate screeched to a halt. They jumped out, ran it over to the shoulder, and zipped the truck off the road. No one was hurt, but they were certain the boat was no longer a boat (able to float). Miraculously, the boat had very few minor scratches and the only real damage was to the rudder, which was no longer a rudder (able to steer). Eric climbed into the kayak and sat on the shoulder of I-35 while the rest of the truck went to get replacement straps.

The majority of Friday was spent scouring Austin for replacement rudder parts, and in the end, Austin Canoe and Kayak hooked us up like we were old friends. Great place.

Saturday morning there was a massive pre-race meeting. The race had three lengths offered: 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24. There were only 10 teams registered for the 24 hour race, and shortly after the meeting we loaded up onto a school bus, with our paddling gear, and anything else we would need to be away from our transition area/support crew for up to 10 hours. TEN HOURS. Oh craps.

On the bus, we were given our first challenge. Each team had a 3 or 4 page trivia quiz all relating to things that included "big" and "chill". The best score would be allowed a head start in the race. As insurance for our almost certainly needed headstart, we spent a long time on the tie-breaker question: list as many synonyms for "cold" as you can. This ended up garnering us the coveted head start and once we arrived at McKinney Roughs Nature Park, we were off! Using a xeroxed map of the park with 3 checkpoints listed, we raced off to find the trail heads. The trails were nice packed gravel and dirt, but were poorly marked. It took us about 15 minutes to find a spot that we could verify on the map. But then it was just a matter of trail running, with packs, life-vests (PFDs), and kayak paddles. Eric, Rick and I were trucking along at a pretty good pace (I was minding a quarter-shaped blister on the instep of my left foot), but Tex was much slower. We quickly realized we would have to move at a much slower pace than anticipated because Tex's knee had already started bothering him. Bad news. We intended to find 2 of the 3 checkpoints and skip the 3rd to remain in the front of the pack of teams, but due to the nefarious layout of the park and the checkpoints, we ended up hitting all three checkpoints. Then we raced along the river to where our boats had been deposited for us. A quick changing of shoes, sucking down of energy gels, and we were water-borne!

By this point we had run about 4 or 5 miles of sometimes rough terrain and were enthusiastic about getting to sit down. Eric's kayak was a missile in the water, but my SFA rental Ocean kayak (sit-on-top) was a floating parachute. Rick and I exhausted ourselves keeping up with Eric and Tex, but the weather was perfect (60 degrees) and the sun was hidden. An all female team, Fig-Lig slowly approached us from behind and passed us about 10 miles down the river. We passed them later on, and then were passed again, and we decided that these tough ladies were going to be our main competition. By the time we reached our designated take-out point, we'd been on the river for between 4 and 4 /12 hours, and kayaked 25 miles. We were bushed! The steep muddy bank we were required to push/pull our boats up was a nightmare, and we had gotten cold from being wet.

Depositing our boat along the others, it was clear that we were only ahead of maybe 2 teams. The other guys didn't think twice about this, but it was a blow to my morale. We HAD to catch Fig-Lig, who we'd seen pulling their boats out as we rounded the last bend of the river. A quick glance at the map of the rest of leg 1 showed only 1 checkpoint remaining, on a bridge somewhere between us and Bastrop State Park, where our transition area was. We decided to skip the point and follow a set of train tracks back to the town, then take roads back to the park. Lo and behold, off in the distance, Fig-Lig had had the same idea! This was a bit puzzling though because railroad tracks are difficult to run on for any real distance - the cross timbers are awkwardly spaced and irregular. Upon approaching a small RR bridge, we saw why they had chosen this way - the last checkpoint! Lucky us! Morale boosted, all checkpoints found, we picked up the pace and ran the last 4 miles to the park.

Arriving at the park, we checked in with the race officials, got our new maps and started plotting points. This was a mountain biking leg, and it was starting to get cold and dark. There were about 5 checkpoints, and the team was getting really tired. Tex's girlfriend Stacey had made chicken soup for everyone and we took about 20 minutes to just sit and rest and eat (i ate hummus and chips). Then we were off! Helmet-mounted headlights blazing, we set out on a trail that would connect the South-shore of the park with the North-shore, skirting the lake. There were a lot of loose, softball sized rocks, and 20 feet long puddles of mud and water. Within 20 minutes we were plastered with mud and you would have had a hard time telling we were on bikes, not mud-monsters. We snagged the first point about 4 miles in and the older guys called a break. Bad sign. We decided to forego the more distant points (3 of them) that looked like they would have to be reached by riding along pipeline easements (where they clear the trees to run underground pipelines). Tex and Eric conceded on the closest one, though and we struck out on a highway (at night) to find a very large powerline easement. It was about a mile away and we unchained the not-locked fence and slipped inside. The riding was sandy and squirrelly, and we ended up hopping a number of chest high, no-trespassing fences, but there were houses with no fences back right up to the easement, so we felt justified. Nearly an hour later and we gave up on the point, having thoroughly exhausted the area. Some local must have taken the flag/punch as a souvenir. Dejected, cold, hungry, and tired, we set out back for the park. Nighttime highway riding is SCARY. Just before the park we decided to look for one more point that was near a radio tower. I tore off running all around the tower, across the street, and decided that it must be across the highway. The rest of the team, exhausted, hurting, and now very grumpy, argued voraciously that the race officials would NEVER make us cross a highway in the dark to get a checkpoint. I chose not to point out that they'd made us ride BICYCLES on a highway at night, and that they obviously thought we were grown-ups and could handle ourselves. In the name of not causing a fight, we left that point unfound.

Returning to the park, we learned that our next leg, #3, was only one checkpoint - but it was on the water. We plotted it and ran down to the shore to find the paddleboats. A frustrating five minutes later, I returned to the race officials (now on the second shift - the first had gone to bed) and inquired of the paddleboats. "you must have misread the directions - you get one of the rental canoes, and Paddle Your Boat to the checkpoint." Oh. I realized it was midnight and that I was in fact, very very tired and starting to miss obvious details. The paddling went kind of slow, but it was very quiet and beautiful. We snagged the point and returned.

Leg #4 was another running leg, but the points were all within the park and on trails - no compass navigation necessary. In fact, aside from plotting the points, we'd had very little REAL navigation the whole race. We took maybe 45 minutes to snag all three checkpoints on this leg and were feeling good. Well not really good, but our spirits were up, mostly due to the stellar navigation Eric provided us with.

Leg #5 was another biking leg, but this time the points were almost all downtown. We snagged one in a little industrial street near the park, then headed downtown. One point was hidden in Fisherman's Park and a 12 hour team had mentioned that the point was "in the back." Eric looked at the clue sheet and announced that the point was in a culvert. Everyone started moseying around, so I took off on my bike and scoured the park as fast as i could. Nothing. Again, from the other end. Nothing. WTF! I found Eric and Tex laying on the grass, mumbling about throwing in the towel and going to bed. I asked Eric for the clue sheet, and low and behold, the clue was NOT "culvert" (that was the next point), it was "old tower". Oh - that huge, obvious, old tower in the center of the park?! Check. Off to the next one, piece of cake. Next one was a breeze too. Back to the park. Up a very steep mile-long hill. Check in with officials. Can't tell how many there are - vision swimming, eyes can't focus. So tired.

Last leg - Bushwacking. Oh craps. This leg had three points, but we decided that we would just try to finish the race - this meant just finding one point. For this race, the rules were that teams were required to stay together, and to find at least one checkpoint on each leg in order to complete that leg. Teams that finished would be ranked by number of checkpoints found, and then by time. We had only to find ONE more checkpoint to finish this BRUTAL test of endurance. So off we went. We walked (yep) down the road that lead to the highway, CROSSED THE HIGHWAY (sigh), and pulled out the compass. Shot a bearing from the intersection to the point, and followed it in. The map was a blow-up of a topographic map, so the scale was all skewed. We estimated the point to be 1/4 mile in, but after a 1/2 mile, Eric and Tex headed back to the highway to rest. I was almost delirious, climbing up slopes, sliding down, dropping the compass, dropping the map, etc etc. Finally I realized I should just follow the creek to the topographic feature that was my target. This was very difficult, but paid off! Rick was with me and we realized Eric had the damn passport. I told Rick to stay put and be very quiet so as not to give away our discovery to the teams also scouring the area for that point. I trucked back to Eric and it felt like hours. Grabbed the passport, ran back to the creek, followed it up, punched the point, and WE WERE DONE! FINISHERS! A long trot back to the park, handed in our passport, and found out that we were not in last place! We beat a team who had quit earlier (hadn't finished), but Fig-Lig was still out there. They had missed some checkpoints earlier too, so if they found just one point on the last leg and came back, we would beat them, but if they found 2, they would win. We knew they had no idea and would probably just get the one, but went to bed uncertain. The race had begun at 8am and we turned in at 4:30am. The next morning we learned that Fig-Lig had in fact just grabbed the one point, and we had come in 8th overall! Whoohoo! I was tired for 3 days.

Can't wait to do it again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nathan its Jen S from purchase.
awesome story, i wanna do this!!!