We got our maps an hour before the start and put together a nice strategy for an afternoon loop with much of the tougher nav plus a longer overnight section to the north that included a good bit of road running. We thought we were ready when they said "Go!" at noon, but partway down the first trail John realized he hadn't packed any Spiz baggies. It's always fun retreating to the starting line, but at least he figured it out early and we weren't stuck a long way from TA without anything to eat. That didn't keep me from grumbling a little, eventually filing it away under "Things we will try not to do when it really matters."
Running along the horse trails was nice, as the trails were mostly in good shape with only occasional short sections of mud. We speculated that a downpour would change all of that, and figured it would be good to get as much done as possible before Hurricane Irene moved in. John and I co-navigated to the first checkpoint, adapting to the gentle map contours and learning to stay in the woods whenever possible to avoid crappier vegetation in the open areas.
We had a slight delay in finding the checkpoint while we recalibrated our position, but John did great in figuring it out and soon he was punching checkpoint #69. We were the first ones there, no real surprise since it wasn't an obvious starting point for the southern route.
John led the way through the woods to a creek junction where we saw another team in deep discussion. We had a chat of our own, then located a little bridge and the trail we were looking for. Up the trail to the road, down another road, and we jumped into the woods where some heavy machinery was sitting next to a muddy track.
We wondered if this track was on the map as we followed it into the woods. When my pace count ran out without finding a creek, we figured we must be too high up. Just a little poking around led us to the creek and checkpoint #86.
Back to the road, we ran until we hit an intersection where we went back into the woods and over to a pretty pond. CP #44 was on a peninsula and only required a short bit of bushwhacking to reach it. Watching the time, I wondered if we could keep up the pace of 2 CP's per hour - that's what would be needed to clear the course. It seemed feasible for a while but probably not overnight. The vegetation slowed us down a lot, there was some distance between a few of the CP's, and overall we weren't ready to push hard for 24 hours.
We came back out to the road and made a quick turn down another road to a small trail. While heading up, I suggested to John that we hop over to the next spur and climb through the woods. This worked out great since there was very little undergrowth in that area, and we soon reached checkpoint #76.
From there we tried a bushwhack for 300 meters, but in this case it would have been quicker (and less painful) to run down and around on trails. We had to fight through a bunch of blackberry bushes and other green trash. The only plus side was the chance to try a couple of berries that came within reach of my berry-loving fingers. Some were bitter but some were pretty yummy.
With some relief, we popped out on a trail and followed it over to a marsh. John led the way through some small trees on a bearing toward the checkpoint. It was funny that we couldn't see the CP at all until right before we came upon it - good thing our bearing worked out. We punched #37 and came back out to the trail before some voices rounded the bend behind us.
We could have considered skipping #33, but we were still working on the "clear the course" strategy, which I believe is good practice for us for future events. Plus we had a nice run on trails and then a fun downhill through the woods to find #33 at the bottom where the park boundary hit a creek. Plus we got to cross the creek on a fallen tree, so that was fun.
After trying briefly to find a trail or the park boundary on the other side, we turned our attention to climbing the hill. It was easy-enough going and eventually we found the road at the top. It turned out that we weren't far from a really pretty clear-cut path next to the park boundary, oh well.
We ran down the paved road and over to a side road where there was a "Valet Parking Only" sign that seemed a tad out of place in the middle of nowhere. Not far into the woods on the top of a hill we located CP #43 and a water stop. This was a nice place to refill bottles and drink some water from the big jugs. We greeted a 12-hour team and then followed their footsteps out of there.
We weren't sure about crossing non-park property to get back to the park, but we decided to try it. At the end of the road we found a house, no cars or signs of people, and a trail leading out the back of the field. That worked OK, so we headed up the hill and picked the right fork of 2 trail options. Toward the top the trail was pretty overgrown, and as we were pushing through the vines I felt nettle slide across my arm and legs. Crap! I hate nettle. Hate hate hate
John hit a patch too, so we were suffering together from the stinging as we finished the climb. At least NY nettle isn't as bad (so far) as TX nettle, so it was short-lived suffering. I still hate it though.
We ran on trails and roads for a ways, eventually coming to a field that we considered crossing. I talked us out of that, having no love for fields with high grass in this area. Up ahead we saw a couple pop out on to the road, and John suggested we go in where they had come out. I talked us out of that too, after seeing all the brush in the woods below. So we climbed up to where there was a trail marked on the map.
We never found the trail and ended up going through the woods anyway. At the bottom we pushed across the tall grass to a lone tree and CP #56. Getting back was much simpler because other teams had beaten down a path in the grass toward the woods. From there we aimed up to the road, coming out pretty much at the exact spot the previous team had. Something to remember...
Back down the road, we climbed a trail to CP #79 at a park boundary, then stayed on a logging road until it turned away from the direction we wanted. We didn't really want to descend just to climb back up, so we contoured around and eventually found a huge field with some mowed trails and a bird watching stand.
We met the same couple from the previous CP on the trail and chatted with them briefly. They asked us about a rock wall, but we had not seen it. We ran on ahead to a side trail and then tried contouring around a hilltop. This area was marked solid white on our map, which should mean that it's mostly easy travel. That was definitely not the case - more pushing through vines and prickers instead. By the time we reached CP #67 by a pond, the same couple was approaching from an obviously smarter direction.
All of us followed a small creek, and then they stopped to rinse off in the water while we continued on to a road. We crossed a main road and ran along a trail toward a powerline pole. The checkpoint clue did warn us that it was in a marshy clearing, so it wasn't a huge surprise that we needed to get our feet wet to reach #49.
The next route choice was interesting. I had assumed we would use park roads and then go cross-country to the checkpoint, but John wanted to try roads and trails that cut across non-park land. Seemed reasonable to try, if only to possibly make things entertaining.
So we started up the main road and turned onto a road around a lake. There was supposed to be a solid trail off that road, but it wasn't there. This was disappointing, as our route choice had been based on that trail. Ah well, too late to turn around. We entered the woods and John did a kind of a zen thing where he found an old, faint doubletrack that eventually reached the park boundary and turned into an old trail. It was exactly what we were looking for, except for the part where it was all overgrown.
We had discovered that John had grabbed 3 Spiz baggies instead of 4 when we had run back to the TA at the beginning, so we knew we would be a little short on nutrition on this loop. That was all the excuse I needed for grabbing blackberries and stuffing them in my mouth whenever I got the chance. I tried to do it on the fly, but was only partial successful with that method.
Eventually the overgrown trail turned into a nice dirt track, coincidentally at the same time we left the park again. We saw a large house in a field, another house over there, and a third in between the two. So we aimed for the woods, trying to stay out of earshot of any potential ornery dogs, and that worked out. We actually found what might be a path for riding horses that someone had mowed, and it led right back to the park. We were so lucky about that - this strategy could really have backfired on us. I didn't expect to get this type of adventure racing experience this weekend!
The only question remaining was exactly where we were once we got back into the main woods. We didn't see any park boundary signs, so we followed a small road briefly until my compass gave me a hint that we might want to try the other direction. We scanned the woods for boundary signs, not sure if we needed to drop down lower, until John spotted the CP flag. Sweet! #66, done.
We ran down through the woods and found an open field that had been hayed. This easy travel was not to be resisted. We crossed the field and found a nice way down to the creek and a not-so-nice scramble up to the road on the other side. We passed a barn and a couple houses, but the only sign of a canine was a dog that slept through our presence. John remarked that this was a nice change from Texas.
Following the road, we found a little trail leading north. Another team greeted us on their way south, always fun to see other folks on the course. CP 48 had some water jugs, so we refilled our bottles enough to get us back to the TA. We knew we would be short on food, but at least I could give my stomach some liquid to keep it busy until it noticed it wasn't getting any actual calories.
Through the woods, we contoured around a hill and eventually found our way to the next road (declining to tie ourselves up in some blackberry brambles and instead going a longer way around). At least I got to scrounge a few more berries. From the road we found another trail heading upward. John handed me a Gu Chomps (or I guess that would be a "Chomp") to chew on for a couple more calories and to give my teeth something to do for a while.
We climbed above the trail to locate CP 63 at the top of the hill and the far western edge of the course. Back down to the trail, we ran a short ways and then cross-countried it to the road below.
We had already removed 2 CP's from this loop due to darkness concerns - the vegetation and our legs were not allowed for the speed we normally expect. At this point we were aiming to get back to the hash house, and there happened to be 2 checkpoints along the way and both were worth 80+ points. John told me that his training (or lack thereof) would be a challenge for staying on the course the full 24 hours. He was fine for walking a lot of it, but also concerned that once the hurricane hit we wouldn't so much enjoy (nor have an easy time of staying warm in) a downpour. We decided to get back to the TA and look at adding on a few more points before calling it a night.
We followed a trail down to a creek and then followed the creek upward for a ways. It was a gamble to try to stay along the creek, but happily the vegetation was sparse in this area and we moved OK through the woods. Eventually we found CP 81 a little further than expected, I guess we were weaving a bit back and forth across the creek. And maybe our strides were getting shorter, so the pace counting needed some adjustment.
A bit more creek-following and some slight vegetation-fighting, and we came out on a nice road. It was a long uphill, and John was moving slowly, so I pulled out the towline just for kicks. I've always wanted to try towing someone. I would not have guessed it would be John! I chugged up the hill with John talking about how much fun it was to be on the other end of the line :)
We turned up another road and up to a jump-off spot toward a shallow saddle. The trees were pretty dense and it was hard to see much of any contours. As we were cutting back north to try to figure it out, I spotted something white through the trees. We stared for a second and realized it was the plastic bag covering the intention sheet clipboard for CP #87. Score!
From there it was a short uphill trek onto the road and then a jog back to the hash house. We gathered food and water refills along with our lights and rain jackets. It was just starting to get dark and we could not have timed that any better. The folks running the hash house had some delicious food going, including some super sweet corn, so for the first time in a rogaine we actually sat and ate in the middle of the event. That was pretty funny.
We chatted with folks and I compiled a short-ish loop with another 8 controls for some nighttime nav. Before we got too cold (as we were quite damp from the humid air) we decided we better get moving. We figured we would likely get wet before we finished, but hopefully we'd beat the main storm coming later that morning.
We started down the trail and downhill to a trail intersection, taking a bearing and walking up on CP #89. That was a nice start to the night. It took a minute to push out to the next trail, then we ran/walked north and navigated a couple intersections. My legs were rather stiff, my feet were getting sore, and my whole body was thanking me for the decision not to run for another 14 hours. We talked about using this as an excellent motivator for training correctly for our next 24-hour event.
After finding a road we turned left and started toward CP #88 which was next to a small pond. Some lights appeared ahead of us but we didn't quite see where they had come out, when all of a sudden I heard frogs singing. Hey, that could be a clue! We entered the woods, found a small creek, and stopped to listen again. It sounded like the frogs were upstream, and sure enough, there was a "pond dam" as John called it - a concrete outlet into the stream.
The frogs went silent as we approached, then John spotted the checkpoint reflector which was reflecting in the water - even though he couldn't see the reflector directly. That sentence might be a little awkward to say out loud. We punched CP #88 and then hiked back up to the road.
We headed north on a road and chatted about races and training and how it was fun being out here on a short loop with no pressure. Turning down a trail, we met a team coming our way and they cheerily answered our greetings. A short ways down we found a stream and turned to investigate an old abandoned building that was a bit eerie in the dark, then climbed up the hill just a bit to locate CP #73. So far, so good tonight.
We retreated back to the road and crossed over for another out-and-back. This one was longer and required some bushwhacking and was worth less than half the points of the last one. Hmm. The trail nav took some attention, and I had a moment where I was back in Bastrop State Park on the purple trail. Then we were bushwhacking through blackberry briars and it was a lot closer to Stubblefield in Texas. Lovely.
The park boundary wasn't obvious, neither were the contours nor the creek on the map. Luckily it took only a short bit of floundering before John spotted the checkpoint reflector. That could have been worse. We punched #34 and worked our way prickily back to the trail and jogged out to the road.
After climbing a hill, we turned right and located a side trail leading north. I pace-counted and watched the map, finding a good jump-off spot to lead us to #41 in some pleasant woods. Again retracing our steps, it was time for a long downhill road run to the west. That part was fun! We were both running downhill well and the distance flew by. It was odd seeing houses with TV screens lit up inside - we were at the northern edge of the park. The section we would skip had a decent amount of road running to connect to another section of park around the hamlet of Brookfield.
We ran south briefly on an actual main road to find a large area for staging horse-riding in the park. CP #82 was at a water spigot. We were still carrying enough water to finish this loop, so we didn't try the spigot. While looking for the trailhead we greeted a couple horses who stared at us trying to figure out why there were people walking around in the middle of the night when most sane folks are home watching TV.
The trail climbed a long ways, and we had a nice walk through the dark woods. The "night loop" consisted of 8 checkpoints, and for every checkpoint so far I would remark, "well, that's 1 checkpoint without rain," and then 2, 3, etc. We had made it up to 6 and it was nearing midnight. All the weather reports had predicted rain in this area starting at midnight. As we skirted various mud puddles full of horse hoof prints, we were continually thankful that it had not started raining yet - this would soon become a super muddy mess.
We greeted another team on their way down the hill. They asked if we were doing the 12-hour course? We told them we were doing the 13-to-14 hour version :) At the top of the hill we found a dirt road and followed it for a ways until we located a side trail angling off to the right. I pace-counted and then we ambled down through the trees looking for a small ditch.
Overhead we started hearing drops of rain landing on leaves - I looked at my watch and it was 12:02 a.m. That's a pretty accurate forecast, right there! We didn't find the ditch and theorized that we had overshot slightly, so we contoured back around. As we crossed a very slight waterway, John suggested it might be the ditch. We climbed a short ways and located CP #72 - nice going, John!
Time to start back toward the car, with one checkpoint along the way. We found a trail on the other side of the road - this trail was already quite wet and muddy, and it had not really started raining yet. The sprinkles overhead went on and off for a while, but we weren't getting wet enough to pull out the jackets.
We ran on the trail for a while, making a 90-degree turn downhill toward a swampy area. There were boards over the worst of it, so that was nice. I pace-counted and we spotted a trail coming in from the left. This was our cue to head to the right into the thicket. We were going only 300 meters, but the clue for checkpoint #46 was quite detailed: "Center of 8x25 Clearing (dry pond, no frogs, dense approach)". It was pretty funny that we actually understood the purpose of the "no frogs" comment, after our earlier experience.
Taking a careful bearing and starting a pace count, John led the way and tried to avoid the worst of the brambles. The crap got worse, but we eventually came to a small clearing. No control. We continued on slowly until the ground started slightly uphill, signaling that we had gone too far. Climbing over downed trees and under bushes and vines, we tried another direction and found another small clearing. In fact, there were several strung together, all right in the (seemingly) correct general area. No control.
The problem was that we couldn't get very far in any one direction before running into walls of vines. And "dense approach" could mean piles of crap surrounding the actual dry pond in most, if not all, directions. And in the dark, we couldn't see for nothing to tell if more of the same was going to get us anything except even more highly scratched up.
We forged ahead until we figured we had gone over the saddle to the north, based on the slight contour change. We tried one more time, skirting the western hill until we found ourselves back in one of the same clearings we had already been stuck in. It's weird when you start recognizing specific branches and trees you've previously scrambled over.
That was enough for me. We called it a night and worked our way back out to the trail. It's not often we give up on a rogaine checkpoint, but this seemed like the appropriate time to do so. We ran down to a road which we followed east, then climbed up a road and trail to the hash house. Sometime around 1:30 am we rolled into camp, turned in our punch card, and sat to enjoy some more corn-on-the-cob.
The rain was starting to pick up as we packed up - must be time to go. We told the race directors "thank you!" and started back home. This turned into something of an adventure in itself, as John had to deal with thick fog for an hour while I slept. I woke up in time for the fog to clear, and drove the rest of the way in pouring rain. We made it home fine, grabbed just a couple items from the car, and ran inside to shower (boy, were we wet and smelly) and crawl into bed. By the next morning the hurricane was in full force - wind and tons of rain, but luckily no serious problems in our neighborhood. As we were heading to a local diner for breakfast, we could not imagine still being out in the woods...
We did what we could, got what we wanted, learned some things, and we'll be better prepared next time (when there probably won't be a hurricane we can use as an excuse).