Thursday, June 3, 2010

Big Muddy Rogaine

(warning: long race report follows - scroll down to see a couple of photos)

John doesn't ask for much. When he got excited about a 24-hour orienteering event (called a rogaine) in Oregon, and it fit within our schedule, and it didn't cost much to get there from Denver, it was an easy decision to make it happen. So there we were with 80 other teams, in a field out in the middle of nowhere about 3 hours east of Portland. At 9 a.m. the first "go" was sounded, and we took off... for the car.

We had 2 hours to work with our maps and figure out a strategy. And did we ever need a strategy. There were 58 controls out there, scattered every which way across the maps. Maps with lots of 40-foot contours (matching the high rolling terrain that we saw when we drove in). We started connecting controls together in strings, eventually deciding on a shorter loop for Saturday afternoon and a long loop for overnight/Sunday morning. With a few low-value points around the hash house (start/finish) left for the end if we had time.

At 11 a.m., the race started for real. We joined a crowd of teams aiming for #79 in a reentrant close to the start. After locating the control, electronically punching it, and recording our team #/time/next control on the "intention sheet", we were on our way. John talked me into a direct route to the next control instead of going back to the road. Looking down at the road way down there, I decided it was a good thing to try. It was pretty easy to travel off-road, just contouring around a hill on some animal tracks. We looked around - everyone else had gone in a different direction and we were suddenly on our own. One of the more interesting aspects of a rogaine!

We took aim at #31 and then #66 in the hills, finding both without problems. Several elk appeared in the field (cool!), the only ones we would see the whole time. The ups and downs were not trivial, and I wondered whether we had spent enough time staring at contour lines when we put our route together. Contouring around hillsides seemed to work OK, although I did tie my shoes tighter in the hopes of preventing too much foot-sliding and subsequent blisters.

Eventually we developed a strategy where John would do the e-punch/intention sheet while I looked at the next section on the map. I'd explain what I was thinking and point at the terrain (because we could almost always see the topography really well in this open area). Then John would take off and do the route-finding to get us there. And I would try to keep up. There were lots of drainages, small features, occasional trees down, and some vegetation along the way, so John's work was much appreciated and we moved a lot more quickly when I followed him vs. trying to lead the way.

We contoured over to #49, spending just an extra minute or so finding the reentrant that it was in, and then moved on toward #40. There was a water depot here, and we had started light on water, on purpose, so we refilled our Camelbak bladders. A bit of a road run and then a field took us over to #67. Still we had not seen any other teams.

The next section took us through two major drainage systems and a herd of cows. The cows started mooing, I guess warning each other, because over the next hill the next set of cows was also mooing. One particularly loud cow could only say "Muh", which was so funny to me that I started repeating it. "Muh!"

We had spotted the spur with a rocky outcropping from a long ways away, but once we got there we searched too high initially. John finally moved down the nose and found #50. Heading south from there, we aimed for Sugarloaf Butte, across some vague contours with lots of little ups and downs. We were glad we could see the butte and wondered how difficult this stuff was going to get once the sun went down.

#77 was just below the butte (and we were pretty excited that only a couple of controls were at the TOPS of the major peaks). One team had been here already, but we had already been the first ones at more controls than normal, which was fun. Or maybe it meant that other teams had better strategies.

Our next traverse was rocky and slower, so we jumped to the top of the next little hilltop for easier travel when we got the chance. Coming over the top, I thought I saw a reentrant to the right. John followed the vegetation boundary because the control was supposedly in the "white" (open) area of the map instead of in the green (wooded) area. He thought he saw the control next to a brushpile, so we ran downhill for a ways. No control.

We regrouped and started back uphill. No control. Finally I convinced John to come look at the reentrant, and he found #83 in the trees. Lesson learned: The contours were working. The vegetation boundaries, not so much. We had wasted maybe 10 minutes, bummer.

We started running down, down a long hill. Looking down, we could see a clearing and a little building - with a control flag on it! Several controls surprised us by being visible from quite a distance. A couple teams were walking up the long hill, and we were happy to be going in other direction.

After punching #57, we followed a creek to #65 by a spring. More creek-following, along a little trail that crossed it a few times. We were able to keep jumping over the water and keep our shoes dry. With all the sideways traversing we were doing, it would help not to have our feet sliding in wet shoes.

I worked way too hard to get us exactly close to #47, then it practically leapt out in front of us. Time for a long climb! We had decided on the direction of this loop in order to make the navigation easy to the next control. Basically a long climb up to the saddle, then the control should be right on the other side.

The climb started steeply and never leveled off. I was happy that my legs were moving well, especially after recovering from the Jemez 50-miler last weekend. I still felt a bit slow going uphill, but I'm not sure if that's not just because John is pretty fast. He had time to whip out the camera for a couple of shots:

Eventually we topped out (and I was glad we had gone UP that thing instead of sliding our way down). John ran down to punch #101 next to a big bunch of rocks. Our first 100-pointer! We put a priority on getting both of those plus all of the 70's and 80's.

A bit of a traverse and then a shorter climb (thank goodness) got us to #76. A couple teams here were going the other way. Looking back, it was easy to see where #101 was located. So it wouldn't have been a difficulty with the nav - just possibly the descent on the other side - if we had reversed that loop.

We were rewarded with a long run down a trail. Sweet!

It felt great running downhill, even though it was a tad steep in places. We found #56 at the bottom. John mixed up a Spiz for us to drink while I led the way toward Horse Heaven Mine. A road took us to #64 and another water drop where we got enough liquid to get us back to the hash house.

Back offroad, we went over a small saddle and found #44 near the bottom of a spur. I thought it might be lower than it was, but luckily I looked higher up the hill and spotted it hanging from a tree. Some downhill cross-country brought us back to the road. We had added these two points (#64 and #44) to this loop toward the end of our strategizing, and we were glad we did. We had plenty of time that afternoon, and it would have been further out of our way to get them the next morning instead.

A bit more road, #68 on a little hilltop, and then down the other side to the Muddy Creek. This creek had a decent amount of water in it, but we could still find a dry way across. We hit #36 at an old mine, then found a way across some willows (and Muddy Creek again) to #37. A bit more road running, and we were back at the hash house. That loop took only 6 hours, which pleasantly surprised us.

I grabbed some cookies, drank an Ensure, and then was tempted by a can of seltzer water. That turned out to be a mistake. John moved his gear to the "nighttime pack" (with warm clothes, the rest of our Spiz baggies, and lights), and we walked out to start the long loop. My stomach wasn't too happy with the volume of stuff I had just given it, so we had to keep walking for a while. John towed me up the main road, and I eventually recovered. That was stupid!

We climbed up a side road and angled into the trees toward the next control. A team of two fast-looking guys was right behind us, except they stayed on the road longer. That turned out to be correct, and we reached #46 at about the same time. We chatted a bit, and one of them mentioned that he figured several teams would clear the course and it would come down to a question of total time.

That was news to us. The event directors had told us that no one would likely clear the course. The e-punches would hold only 50 locations, and they didn't think we'd need a backup. Hmm. We had already decided to skip #51 because it was in the middle of a couple drainage systems, not real close to any other point, and not obvious how to fit it into our route. We were OK with skipping #41 (even worse for fewer points), but the 50-pointer was bugging me.

After that team departed, John looked at me and we stopped to reconsider. We wanted to get through some of the tougher upcoming nav before dark. Detouring over to #51 might make the subsequent nav harder. But it was now or never for that control - we certainly weren't coming back here later. We finally decided to stick to our plan and skip the control. I wasn't sure whether we would regret it or not.

Moving on... John led us uphill, climbing and contouring, trying to avoid little drainages (more down and up) vs. going too high up the hillside and having to traverse a steep slope. He did a nice job, and we popped out on a flat area. #80 was just a little further, and another team was approaching from the opposite direction. This part of the map turned into a popular evening location.

Our westernmost point was only one kilometer away and at the same elevation. Normally this would be good news. However, "at the same elevation" in this case meant traversing a steep hillside. It turned out to be the toughest traverse of the whole race. There were no cow paths or game trails that we could find. And it got rockier and harder to find good footing. Tall grass would hide the rocks, making it a surprise whenever we stepped on one. I guess I shouldn't have continued to be so surprised, as there was a rock under every footstep. My feet were in some pain and I was frustrated by the time we reached #71.

At the time I thought it was mean of John to take this photo, but now I think it's funny:

We hiked over the nose of the hilltop above us, then around toward a doubletrack trail to find the next water depot. It had been nice not having to carry too much water up to these higher reaches of the course. A Canadian team stopped by and dropped their packs there for an out-and-back to the next control. We were also doing an out-and-back, so we thought this was a great idea.

We jogged out and hit #70 on a rocky hilltop and returned to get some water. A few folks were refilling and it was fun talking with them. Then we were on our way again, down another road as the sun was making its way toward the horizon. We did another out-and-back up to #84 on a pretty hilltop with great views:

We raced downhill, followed a reentrant further downward, and came upon #59 just as the sun was leaving it. We had been hoping to be in this area before dark, so we were happy to have succeeded. It motivated us to keep moving quickly (which was a relative term by this point) to work through these drainage systems before complete darkness set in.

Then John discovered that he had left two Spiz baggies on the ground at the last water depot. D'oh! We had carried only just enough for the whole 24 hours, so we adjusted for it later by letting me have the last two whole servings while John used Gu during the final several hours.

A climb and a bit of contouring led to a nice flat run toward #61. We could still see the terrain below us, which was really nice for setting up our plan toward the next control. John did great in getting us in the area that I pointed toward, and we were excited to find a little path down the next reentrant. That made it easy to run down, and we found #60 around the corner between two springs.

From there we were headed toward a rather imposing high point called Black Rock. It was nice to be able to see it from a distance, especially with the high rock cliffs ringing the west side. John took aim at the ridge to the east/south, and we actually climbed up even earlier to reduce the work on contouring around. We had to drop down just a bit once we got to the top of the ridge, but that was fine.

It got dark. John put me on tow and we worked our way upward. I was focused on the footing, making sure I got my foot placements right on all the rocks, when suddenly we were at the top. Cool! John punched #72 and we could just barely see the last of the sunset to the west. All around us we started seeing bright lights from other teams in the distance, like fireflies signalling to each other. Very cool.

We worked our way down a rocky slope to the east, crossed a saddle, and climbed up a gentle hill. This would be our first control fully in the dark. I had to focus more on the map and the contours, but we didn't have any problems finding #62.

The next section was really interesting. We wanted to follow a spur/ridgeline way downhill, and it made several twists and turns along the way, with little hilltop "bumps" to make things fun. We worked the compasses and the pace-counting to stay on track and found every landmark along the way - little hilltops, and especially one little saddle near the end.

From there we climbed a small oval-shaped hilltop which was really close to the control. We looked down to see a light below us. Unfortunately, we were drawn in that direction instead of staying on the compass bearing that I wanted. The terrain started not making sense, so we regrouped and decided we were just slightly south. The light continued southward, obviously belonging to a team that had already found the point and was leaving via the drainage system. Oops. Silly us.

John spotted #100 across the way to the north, yay! From there we backtracked up the spur/ridgeline for about a kilometer and then started east. We overshot #52 very slightly, but we could see the outline of the next hilltop right in front of us, so we turned around and found the control. A full moon was rising, and although it was low in the sky and behind clouds, the backlighting of the horizon made for a nice silhouette of nearby peaks.

We followed a drainage downhill for a while, climbed over a little saddle, and stopped at a nice overlook of the next drainage. Between a good view of the next peak plus a compass bearing, we dropped down right below #78. Nice one.

Heading north next required climbing through several creeks and reentrants. It was slower going, between the night navigation and having to watch our foot placements more closely in the dark. The slower pace actually helped my legs, which had started to tire.

We descended into a big drainage and followed a creek up toward the next control at a "Pioneer Gravesite?" There was certainly a nice variety of control descriptions! Buildings, a mine, springs, saddles, rock spires, knolls... but this one was the most interesting. The creek was also the most wonderful for walking - wide and sandy, and no vegetation to work around. We found #63 (but no obvious gravesite) and turned around to sadly exit the beautiful little creek.

We ran down a road, refilled at a water stop, and found #73 in a nearby reentrant. Looking across the main road we could see a huge ridge. I was trying not to think about it too much, because we were about to climb it... all 1000 feet of it.

So we got started. It was a slow, methodical ascent, and I focused on trying to keep a pace I could sustain for a while. John found a nice spur to climb, which helped. He mentioned that he had spotted some barrel cactus - really? Then I saw it too. It seemed out of place in the wet Pacific Northwest, but I'm pretty sure we weren't hallucinating it. In any case, it seemed prudent to avoid it just in case it was real. No need to play around with cactus in our toes.

The spur abruptly ran out, leaving us with only one option - climb straight up. There were plenty of grass tufts and clumps to provide footholds (and occasionally handholds). My breathing got more labored. But eventually we made it, yay! Once again I was thankful we had (accidentally) decided to go UP a steep slope instead of down. Especially in the dark.

We followed the top of the hill around to #81 in a saddle. On the other side of the next hill, we found a drainage to follow downwards for a while. Suddenly I thought I heard a low growl. I stopped to listen. Nothing. I continued on - there it was again! I asked John if he had heard anything (no, he hadn't), and I scanned around with my headlamp looking for eyes of any nearby wildlife. Then I heard it again - it was my stomach! OK, that was silly. Sounds like it's time to eat something.

John mixed up a Spiz as we continued downward. We contoured over to #53, and John complimented my nighttime nav. I was being really careful, knowing how difficult it might be to relocate our position if we got lost. It helped that the terrain was mostly open. We had purposely come to this "white" section of the map at night, in hopes that the moonlight might assist with the nav. Well, the moon never did get very high off the horizon. It seemed like it was hardly moving. But at least the nav was still going OK.

We climbed down to Canyon Creek, crossed it, and started up Domogalla Creek. Control #69 was further up the creek than I had expected, but I see now that I probably mistook a red mile indicator with a kilometer marker when I was guessing the distance. We eventually found it and retraced our steps back to the bottom.

From here we were starting on a long, LONG trail/road run around the east side of the map. Down the trail a ways we spotted the next water stop, so we got plenty of liquid for this journey. We found #74 just off the trail at an enclosure. Then we continued down the trail, starting to run here and there when we could.

The sky was getting light when we reached a main road. We hopped across Cherry Creek, following a path of footsteps to the side where the creek was narrow enough to jump. Then it was time to follow the road for a long ways. It was over 3 km to our next control. We ran and speed-walked, talking to keep our brains awake. We jumped off the road to find #82 on a small saddle. Back on the road.

Another couple kilometers of road. By now we were really getting sleepy. We had thought that a road run at night would be good (faster without having to do much nav or watch our footing), but an early-morning road run wasn't so great. Finally we had some actually brain work to do - find the next control.

We crossed the creek and went around a nose toward some reentrants. Well, I went around and John went over. I saw a spur that I thought was it, calling John over. It wasn't it, but at least John was moving in the right direction and he continued uphill to the next spur where he found #54. Now we were waking up.

Back on the road (again), it started to climb and we started looking at our route choices for finishing up the course. At least it gave us something to do. We were headed for the last remaining 80-pointer and we were pretty sure we could also get the last 70-pointer. A smattering of 30's, 40's, and 50's were still within our reach.

We jumped off the road a bit earlier than originally planned, since the direct routes seemed to be working well (and to get us OFF that road quicker). I started walking uphill, while John drifted to the left of my line. At the top we had a quick discussion because John kept trying to go left while I was trying to go right. I thought his brain might still be back on the road somewhere. Or maybe mine was. It wasn't certain yet who was more "with it".

I convinced him we should go north and follow the next drainage up. This turned out to be one drainage too early (which is obvious from looking at the maps after several good nights of sleep), but it was John who figured out we were in the bone-shaped drainage. Oddly, he wanted to keep going left to exit it, while I was trying for a direct bearing northwest. In the next drainage, I stayed up high while he was down low, resulting in a bit of yelling about which way to go. Finally I went north and found #85 right where it should be, with John following close behind.

We agreed that something wasn't quite working as well as it had been for the previous 18 hours, so we regrouped. We went back to our original strategy where I pointed to where we were going and John got us there. That worked great for finding #55 around behind the next butte. We were back on track, happy day.

Circling back to the north side of the butte, we found an old road and open area to take us to #45 in a shallow saddle. Moving north at a faster rate now, we skirted the top of a drainage and climbed to a higher saddle where we could look down into the next valley. It was a long ways down! John picked his way down to a drainage where we found some animal trails. They led nicely downhill, making for easy-enough running to the bottom where we located #75. Done with all the high points, yay!

It was a steep climb up to the next saddle where we could look down and actually see the next control from way up high. Neat. It wasn't so easy to get to it across a steep drainage, but we got there. Now we had another strategy decision. We had left #48 hanging to the north of us, and although there weren't many contours to cross to reach it, it was 1.5 km to get there and the same distance to get back. Our other remaining options were a lot closer and in a nice loop pattern. We had about 2.5 hours left and wanted to maximize our points, so we decided to leave #48 out.

Instead, we got moving downhill down the drainage and around to #42. Another team was there studying their maps, probably asking some of the same questions we were about optimizing the remaining points. We decided we had time for one control that was slightly out of the way, so we ran down to the road and across toward some pretty rock formations. After a bit up a hike uphill (following quite a few footprints) we found #33 at the base of a rock wall.

I noticed a direct path toward the next control, so we took a bearing and took off. John helped figure out the last couple of contours, then we climbed up to #35. We were moving now! A nice walk through a flat field, and John led the way up a drainage system to find #38. Only 3, maybe 4, controls left to go.

We headed back to the road and followed a couple teams toward the Mays Reservoir where we all punched #32. There were 50 minutes remaining, and at that moment we were less than 1 km from the hash house. Another team was debating whether to get another point or not. No debate for us, we're going.

We ran across an earthen dam and up through the trees toward a small hilltop below a large hill. Control #43 was behind the hilltop at the base of a talus slope, and I wanted to go left while John wanted to go right. So we did - I got to the back of the hilltop first, but John was closer to the point from his side, so he got there before I did. It also didn't help that there was an additional talus slope on my side that I had to check first...

Figuring for sure that we had time for at least one more, we went through a field and climbed up a spur to #39 on the hilltop. Our e-punch had stopped beeping a couple of controls back, so we were using the manual punch instead. The intention sheets were also there as backup. We may not clear the course, but we definitely filled up our e-punch!

Now it was time for one last big decision. We had about 34 minutes remaining, we were above the hash house and less then 2 km away from it. There was one more possible control, but it was up higher on a hilltop (that we could see, actually) and slightly out of the way. Would we have time? Should we take the chance? If we finished late, every minute past 11 a.m. would cost us 30 points.

We decided to start by contouring in that direction and make a decision after we got closer to both the hash house and the point. We moved quickly through several small reentrants, and each time we came back out the hillside looked closer. Finally we reached the decision point - up or down? We had maybe 25 minutes left. Should we go for it?

Let's go for it!

I've always wanted to try this, so it seemed like a good opportunity. Would we regret it? We would know soon enough!

We ran down the main creek and up the other side, glad that it was relatively shallow and easy to run across. John handed me the tow line and started a hard charge up the hill. I clipped the line to my waist belt and got my legs moving as fast as they would churn. It got steeper and my breathing got louder, and eventually the tow line stretched out more than I normally let it. But John was so strong that it hardly slowed him down.

We popped out at the top, phew! The control was another couple hundred meters away, so we stayed on tow to get there quickly, even crossing a fence together. John aimed for the lone tree on the very tippie top of the highest point in the area, rounding the tree but not seeing the control. Oh, #34 is right over there! We had a plan in place to do the manual punch (John) and fill out the intention sheet (me), then take off toward the hash house.

I wanted to aim for a particular spur that appeared on the map to be the easiest way down. However, we couldn't see it right off as we started our mad dash downward. I told John (aka Legolas) to just pick a route that looked good, as he had been doing all day and night. It was even harder for me (aka Gimli) to follow this time, but I was highly motivated to try.

We bounded down, ending up funneled into a steep drainage. This turned out to be OK, as it was sandy and mostly clear of vegetation. We slid down, hopped from side to side, and kept an eye on the clock. 14 minutes. 12 minutes. 10 minutes. Run, run! We had to climb over a small tree in our path, which had me crying "noooo!" but it really wasn't bad.

Finally we hit the bottom and we could see the hash house across the field. It looked close, but first we had to cross Muddy Creek one last time - no time to find a good way across, just get the feet wet (argh, wet shoes at the finish). Then we hit a little drainage to slog through. Then another one. What the heck?

More running - through high grass, pushing for the end. 8 minutes - looks like we'll make it! We detoured near the portapotties where the grass was beaten down, finally getting to the finish line and finding the "Finish" e-punch with only 7 minutes remaining. Awesome! That was a lot of fun.

Final tally: 3020 points (out of 3180 possible), 54 controls (out of 58), top co-ed team and 5th place overall.

We were happy with our strategy decisions to skip #51 early and #48 later. I think our total score would have been lower if we went for those. And obviously we were very happy that we went for #34 at the end.

Possible ways to improve: Fix a couple of minor nav mistakes, run a little faster in places, don't over-drink at the hash house, consider not returning to the hash house in the middle, and perhaps change our overall strategy to optimize the route? That last one is still hard to say, which I think means the course was well-designed!

Positive results: No foot issues, no major navigation problems (especially at night, which is a nice improvement for us), no early-morning bonking (a huge improvement for me), solid pacing throughout, and great energy at the end. And lots of fun at a great event!

Harvey had a good trip too (shown here with a wind farm along I-84, way in the background:

If this sounds like fun to you, come to Texas for the Too Cool Lone Star Rogaine in September!
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