Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Happy "Big Chill" Birthday, John!

Dave asked if we would race Too Cool's Big Chill adventure race with him, and we were like, Heck Yeah!  We clarified that we had not done any paddling or biking recently and were unlikely to be well-trained for that part.  We actually did paddle our inflatable boat on Lake Palestine a couple times and I biked around Frankston.  Dave and Jason (who worked hard to get healthy enough so he could also join us) made it clear that none of us was too worried about going fast.  We just wanted to finish and have a good time.

Plus it was John's birthday, at least for the majority of the race, and we were happy to be running around the woods as a team to celebrate.

The night before the race was dang chilly (by Texas standards), and there was a layer of frost on the boats and bikes.  The forecast said that if we could survive the start, the rest of the race would get a lot better.  We bundled up, and John took his larger pack so we could shed clothes as we went.

John got a "birthday mention" at the pre-race meeting - Happy Birthday!  I'm not sure he was that keen on all the attention, but we did have fun singing to him.

Biking start, brrr!  At least it was a long, gentle uphill out of Buescher State Park, heading on the park road toward Bastrop.  We were the first team to get our checkpoint plotted and saddle up.  A couple teams rode past us on the road, good morning!  A few miles later we reached the bike drop and noticed a large wooden structure towering above us.  Camp Wilderness Ridge has a large climbing wall/zipline thing, and we were about to get familiar with it.

We opted to start with the high ropes course and follow up with the trekking section (we could do them in either order, to reduce a backup at the ropes).  As soon as a couple of us got geared up, there was an opening on the climbing wall and John started up, followed by Jason.

I asked the guy manning the belay whether Dave was allowed to help pull me up, but the guy said he would help me.  So I had to do all my own climbing, but at least when I came off the wall (which was often), I could sit in my harness to get re-situated.  I suck at climbing walls.  I got near the top eventually, couldn't figure out what to grab onto to pull myself onto the top platform, and asked for a little help.  Jason and the volunteer there got me seated and untangled, then I sat to calm down and assess what was next.

Oh, so we're going down via zipline.  OK then.  The tower rocked every time a racer stepped off the edge to zip down, so I was fine with getting going on the getting down so I didn't have to hang out and "enjoy" that sensation any longer than necessary.  Hey John - I love you!  A bit of a scream, then the fun part of flying down the zipline and the funner part of reaching solid ground again.

Glad we got that over with early!  My toes and fingers were also no longer cold, that was a plus.  We jogged down the road toward the trekking loop.  We were in the middle of the burned out section of park from the Bastrop forest fires a couple years ago.  It was so odd being able to see the entire topography, the dead trees, the new growth starting from the ground.  Surreal.

The first checkpoint in a drainage was easy, then we followed it down to cross a larger drainage and hop over the next spur.  I surveyed the next bit of landscape and pointed at the spur where I suspected the next CP was located.  That worked, and we continued up to the next ridge.  We were back and forth with a couple teams here, including Julie and Doug and two racers from Colorado.  One guy from Julie and Doug's team wished John "Happy Birthday!" every time he saw him, that was funny.

John and Dave found the little pond and our next checkpoint, then we aimed cross-country to the 4th one, in a drainage system.  Crossing the steep drainages, climbing over and under vegetation, it was short but excellent Barkley training.  I volunteered to punch all the trekking CP's so I could get a little extra training in, and my team was more than happy to let me have that honor even though John would have been faster at it.

John tends to pick up trash when he finds it out in the middle of nowhere, and amazingly he ran across this "gift" that must have dropped out of the sky just for him!  We took a picture after we got home - had to document this timely find:

We could not have planned a better present if we had tried!

No issues to the 4th CP, soon we were back on the road and jogging back to the bikes.  The sun was out, it was warming up, what a beautiful day!  I was in high spirits and having a great time.

We didn't even get too cold in the next bike section through the park to Bastrop.  The long uphills were a bit of work and the steep downhills were short.  We dropped our bikes near the rodeo grounds and got our instructions for the urban section - fun!

Using a map of the "local art venues" we had to figure out several locations around town and head there on foot to take group photos or collect items.  We started by running down the hill to the Sac-N-Pac where I ran ahead to buy a couple cans of pork and beans.  Kip helped us on the phone by finding the Food Pantry and we ran there to drop off the cans and get our photo with the sign. The volunteer would have taken our picture, but John said she could get in it with us instead, so she happily did:

We zigzagged through the streets of Bastrop to this "Black Crow" sculpture near the river:

Then to the museum/visitor center to locate the "Baron of Bastrop" and give Jason all kinds of bunny ears:

We went to the corner where the "Scalping of Will Barger" should be, and John found this metal mural a short way down one street:

We crossed the river to try to locate the Texas Ranger who was "Watching over the West", but our artwork map was pretty vague on the exact location.  The police station seemed a likely spot but that didn't work.  We continued down Old Austin Highway but it was looking more like the shopping center area that it was.  Kip eventually got us straightened out, and if we had read the back of the map closer we might not have had quite so much trouble.  But eventually we got here:

OK, back to town to finish it up!  We found the bronze medallions "dotting the streets of Bastrop" and checked a few in order to find a historical event, a Bastrop location, and a historical figure:

And we knocked heads only a couple times while taking these pictures...

Our final urban CP was collecting 25 tickets from the arcade (or doing a photo booth photo).  Back to the bikes!  Along the way we greeted a few other teams (Hi Sheila and Sheila!) and I ran back into the Sac-N-Pac to grab a hot dog and Coke for Jason who was needing some extra energy.  So close to Buc-ee's yet so far!

It was a quick ride over to the south shore of Lake Bastrop where the boats were staged.  We plotted a few points and then launched canoes.  The lake was so calm!  It was the flattest I had ever seen it.  What a lovely day for a paddle, I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed paddling for once.

We moseyed across to a checkpoint on the north side, then around to another up an inlet to the east.  Other boats were going back and forth, both 12- and 24-hour teams, and it was fun saying Hi! to everyone.  Dave did awesome nav, taking us right to the next point up the powerline cove and then back around to the "island" that is not currently an island.

For this one we needed to hop out of the boats and find the point on land, which we were more than happy to do.  A nice break from sitting and paddling for a couple minutes.  Dave read the contours perfectly, John took off in the right direction and then spotted the CP flagging in the brush, and I pushed through some vegetation to punch the passport.  Nice teamwork.

One more checkpoint in the southern inlet, then it was back to the bikes.  That was the most lovely, relaxing paddle I have even done.  Not your typical Big Chill paddle sufferfest, thank you for that!

Dave was keen on trying to get much of the next bike section done in the daylight, so we tried to hustle a bit out of there.  We started up a road that parallels the bike trail, then reached an intersection with the trail where the road ahead was blocked by a padlocked gate.  So we rode the trail for a ways until a beautiful dirt road appeared on our left going the right direction.  Right on!  We handed our bikes over a fence and cruised up to road 1441.

From there we spotted our next checkpoint on a bridge on the trail, so John jumped over to punch it.  Then we entered the north shore park and Dave led us around on a bit of an overgrown trail to the checkpoint next to a pond.  So far, so good.

On the way out of the park I spotted something I thought John might think was funny - a golf club (a driver, no less) in the grass.  So I pointed at it.  Next thing you know, John is riding down the road with a golf club across his handlebars... another birthday present!

We had a nice pace train going along the road, eventually crossed highway 21, and proceeded into the back side of Bastrop State Park.  Dave has seen this area several times, which is good because John and I have been there only once, and it is confusing as all get-out.  Dave magically led us from dirt road intersection to intersection, always picking the right way.  It looked familiar to me, but it would have taken me a lot longer to figure it out.

While Dave was locating the CP at the big pipeline crossing, John took the opportunity to try out his new golf club on a couple small rocks and launched one up into the trees... this is why we adventure race, because of the unique and unexpected/unplanned experiences we don't get with anything else we do.

Continuing on down the bumpy road, we followed the creek until the trail crossed it.  Easiest CP yet, and it was the one Dave was most concerned about.  Along the way John tried his hand at a bit of bike polo.

We rode out to the big dirt road, down and around to the park road toward the TA.  We were treated to a beautiful sunset, along with a bunch of hills to ride up and down.  It was dark by the time we got back, now that was a long first leg - awesome!

Dave and Art's kids were extra-super-excited to greet us back to TA!  Wow, that's awfully nice.  Turns out Art was waiting to cut John's birthday cake (cake!) until we arrived, so that did explain much of the kids' enthusiasm.

What a cake!  Thank you Art and Robyn!

My own excitement over cake!

And John's reaction at tasting it - it was really good cake (and I'm pretty sure that wasn't just because most everything tastes good when you're doing a race in the middle of the night).

Birthday Boy:

OK, time to focus again (cake!).  We gathered in Jason's truck and plotted some CP's for the next trekking section, then walked/jogged up the park road toward the new Buescher Park trail system.  Near the top of the hill we dropped down into a drainage.

"Dropped down" sounds easy, but it was more like "fought and clawed down".  This was the worst set of vegetation in the whole race.  We were trying to follow a small drainage down to a larger one, but it was slightly easier travel on one side of it.  Somehow John kept track of the little drainage through all the crap and the rest of us just tried to follow along.  Gabe's team joined us for the bushwhack adventure.  We reached the bigger drainage and turned left, amazingly right at the checkpoint.  I didn't want to jinx our nav, but it was working well so far.

More "Barkley Training" up the other side of the drainage.  My teammates joked that soon they would be ready for the Barkley too, if that kept up.  Sure, come join me in Tennessee!  :)

After much wrassling of vines and branches, we finally stumbled out onto a trail.  This seemed like such a better alternative to cross-country travel at that point, we had to follow it even though it wound around instead of taking a straight line to the next point.  We paused at a CP flag along the trail but quickly verified that it wasn't the one we were looking for.

At the next drainage, our team and Gabe's team scrambled around a little and located the checkpoint flag.  From there we elected to stay on the trail (we love trails) all the way around to the backside of our next target.  Gabe's team did something different and their plan was faster, but we were content with the longer, easier attack plan.

We met a 12-hour team biking on the trails, then climbed up to a ridge to find the CP on a spur.  The vegetation was not nearly as bad through here, that was more pleasant.  And Jason kept finding John's arm warmers after he dropped them, maybe John just wanted more gifts.  One final CP in a steep-sided ditch, more good slide in/climb out training for me, and then we were back on the road and chugging along back to TA.

More cake!  Yum...

Quick special test leg!  We were going to paddle to 2 CP's on the little park lake, except we couldn't use any real paddles.  We had to devise something else to use to propel the boats.  Hey John, can you help us with that?  We ended up using 2x6 boards (John at least was nice enough to give me a 2x4 instead) that were rather unwieldy.  And heavy.  But they did move the boats.  I was mostly concerned with not dropping mine in the water such that I'd have to get my gloves wet retrieving them.  I was completely dry all day and preferred to stay that way if possible.

Out on the calm lake in the middle of the night.  If we hadn't been trying to manhandle some makeshift paddles we might have really enjoyed it.

We saw Gabe's team coming back from an inlet, checking in trees and bushes.  They said they had not found the CP.  We had noticed a reflector off to the left but it was so obviously not in the right place that we temporarily ignored it and did our own search of the inlet, along the bank and in the trees.  No CP.

Returning to the lake, we rowed over to the reflector and found the checkpoint (with the UTM's that matched the sheet but not the map) so we punched it.  Crossing the lake we easily found the second one, then with a bit more grunting and moaning on my part we worked our way back to the TA shore.  Phew!

Art told us we would have our time equalized with Gabe's team since we both spent time looking for the misplaced CP, works for us.  The next teams would have the correct info, and they were far enough back that overall we didn't expect it to matter.  Hope not, anyway!

We plotted another set of CP's in the same area as the previous trek and I proceeded to completely mangle the plotting and overwriting of the previous leg.  Luckily they gave us a clean bike map to work with, so I transferred an approximation of the CP locations onto it.  We biked back up the hill and rode around the nice trails.  I like those trails a lot - fun, not too hard, and the type I could get reasonably (relatively) fast on if I worked at it.

The CP's were all next to the trail or under bridges so no nav challenge, just easy riding.  On the way back John picked up a grocery store bag lying on the road (we had been passing it all day) and discovered a cookie inside!  Almost another birthday present, except apparently it wasn't edible.  So close.  More cake, then!

Soon we were back at TA and picking up our last set of checkpoints.  A trek to Rocky Hill!  It would have been nice to be able to ride over there and lock up the bikes for a longer set of nav points, but apparently a bit of a road run/walk was in the cards instead.

Off we went... one CP in a drainage along the way first.  John was getting used to saying "Go get it, Marcy!" so I could go punch the passport.  I was really enjoying it too.  I was having a super fun time the whole day and night, it was great having the energy to be the "do extra stuff" person for the team for once.

We ran along the road with occasional walk breaks.  It was a dark, starry night, mostly calm and quiet with an occasional punctuation by a large loud truck driving by.

Rocky Hill is a place I'm familiar with, but it has been a few years so I was hoping I remembered enough of it and that not too much had changed.  The area near the entrance looked a bit different but we found the road up to the camping spot without trouble.  We were aiming up roads toward "The Wall".  John paused at a small drainage that I didn't think was right, but then he spotted a reflective marked in it.  OK then, I guess that's it!

Except it was a CP tube from a different race, no punch or Too Cool markings.  That was pretty funny, and I got a little more training in.  When we found the drainage (the big one) that I was looking for, the real CP was down in it and my confidence in my RHR nav was restored.

We followed the east fenceline trail up Fat Chuck's to the corner, then bushwhacked a ways down and across a couple trails to the next checkpoint.  The trails seemed like a better way back up, so we followed one until we popped out again on top.  Gabe's team was coming the other way at the time so we knew we didn't have a chance of catching them.  No worries.

Two more Rocky Hill CP's (plus a third that we used our Skip Point on), no problems following the pipeline and the west fence to locate them with me and John working together on the nav.  Time to head back, down the rocky trails, back to the road.  The Colorado team was running toward us, looking good!  We had enough energy for a speed-walk, with John towing Jason back as Dave and I ran occasionally in order to keep up.

One last CP in a drainage on the other leg of the park road loop, easy peasy.  Right about then we all spotted a shooting star.  Cool.  I didn't wish for anything, only said a bit of "Thanks" for a really enjoyable, fun day.  Just over 18 hours, 2nd place - and we're done!

Enjoying the Kind bar treats the next morning:

Big THANK YOU to Art and Robyn for another awesome Too Cool adventure!  To Dave and Jason for spending many fun hours with us and being perfect teammates.  To Mother Nature for the beautiful weather.

And - Happy Birthday John!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bandera 100K for training

The last time I ran Bandera was before we moved to Albany for three years, and I was excited to get back on the course, running in the desert for the first time in a while.  I don't often repeat the same race year after year, preferring to try different things and especially with all of our roaming around the country.  The timing and location and challenge of Bandera make it something easy to return to, at least when we're based out of Texas.

This year I originally signed up for this one (along with Hellgate) as an early season test of fitness, with an eye toward the world rogaine championship next summer.

Then this happened...

...and all of sudden I got a "condolences" letter and now I have 3 months (make that 2.5, gak!) to prepare for the most difficult, crazy, impossible, I'm not sure what else to call it, event.

So we'll be heading for the mountains just as soon as we can get back out of Texas.  In the meantime, Bandera turned into "hill repeats" for me, a 62-mile training run with short but steep climbs.  I decided to push the uphills for as long as I could, recover on the flats/downhills, and see what happened.  This is completely reverse my normal mode of ultra running.

As a result, the first couple sections went really well.  I stayed with some fast folks and didn't have to work hard to pass anyone on the downhills.  Climbing was fast and fun.  However, it didn't take long for everything to become work.  It was way too early in the race for that.  Within a couple hours I knew that it was going to be a long day.

It was a long, slow, downhill slide from there.  I made it around the finish of the first loop (out of 2) and sat in the shade while John helped fill my bottle and grab my iPod from the truck.  He had run the 25K and said he had fun for parts of it.  It was also great to see many people we haven't seen in several years, so he enjoyed being able to hang out during the day and talk with them.  I talked with Dave for a couple minutes and he had an excellent 50K run.

OK, time to get going.  No more pushing up anything, just working to get through it.  It was rather warm in the middle of the day, but at least the humidity was low and there was some wind here and there.  I half expected any one of my nagging little issues to blow up and become a problem, but nothing did.  No excuses, nothing's easy, just keep moving.

I finished an audio book about Ben Franklin and started one by Bill Bryson (always so entertaining!) and that kept me preoccupied and moving.  I relaxed and started smiling more at the volunteers at the aid stations.  Eventually the sun went down, it got cool again, and I finally felt pretty good actually.  Not like "running fast" good, just "happy to be there" good.  It was a beautiful night and I was working through a long training run.

I saw many other runners, mostly getting passed here and there, and everyone seemed to be doing well.  A couple women were first-time 100K finishers, nicely done ladies!  My legs stayed tired but they begrudgingly kept on truckin'.  To the finish line!

And that's it!  For once my day was long but my report was (relatively) short.

Now for some bushwhacking up and down the sides of the Greenbelt...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Vicksburg and the drive home

Last post from our cross-country trip!

We made a stop in Vicksburg and ended up spending twice as many hours as anticipated.  Another place to come back to in order to see everything.

Starting at the Vicksburg National Military Park - we drove through part of it, but it would have been a really good place for a bike ride.  Especially on a warm sunny day, it was no wonder we were happy to be walking around.

The Illinois Memorial, one of the larger monuments in the park:

Inside the memorial:

John could sleep here on a nice day, now that the guns are quiet...

 A tunnel dug by Union troops to avoid going over an exposed ridge:

Navy Memorial - a very tall obelisk:

Porter and Farragut:

The USS Cairo, an ironclad that was sunk in the Yazoo River.  The mud preserved the boat and artifacts in it, and much was recovered over 100 years later.  Now on display:

Checking out some original parts interlaced with a framework to demonstrate how it used to look:

Paddle wheels to propel the boat up the river:

View from the back:

Tug and the USS Cairo:

A small museum has items from the ship on display:

No one died during the sinking but they lost most of their stuff.  Many items were found during the recovery - that must have been some interesting diving in a muddy river.

We drove through the town of Vicksburg for a brief stop.  Murals painted on the flood walls by the river:

Flood markers - it's not always easy living next to a big river:

Mural of a train ferry that was used to transport trains across the Mississippi River (before bridges were built), wow!

A riverboat docked at Vicksburg - apparently you can go on a cruise on a steamboat, that's neat!

We had just enough daylight remaining to drive across the top of Louisiana and jog a mile up a trail to the highpoint of the state:

In a bit of a rush and without much daylight left, our photos didn't turn out great.  John attempted a summit pose but all I got was this:

More photos here - highpoint #18!

And with that - I'm caught up!  Time to start doing stuff again...

Chattanooga and Cheaha

We finished up our Lookout Mountain tourist experience by visiting Ruby Falls, an underground waterfall deep in a cave.  An elevator ride and a rather long walk through a narrow cave yielded several interesting sights, along with a neat story about how a man had found it in the first place.

To start off the day, the tail-end of a donkey:

A guy named Leo Lambert was drilling an elevator shaft to set up a tourist operation at a lower (known) cave when he discovered this enclosed passageway.  Exploring it, he found a huge waterfall and a bunch of rock formations.  That must have been quite a day for him!  Both caves were open to the public for a while, but now only the upper one because it is a lot more interesting.

According to our guide, this is the Southern Tennessee Rock Fish (or something to that effect):

The waterfall is spectacular, the largest by far that we have ever seen underground.  They let you see it in "normal" conditions briefly before they start a rather corny light and music show.  It did allow for some colorful photography (and the Christmas music was a nice touch):

65-foot high and pretty amazing!

A pretty pool and more cave formations:

Solar installation at the Ruby Falls building:

On the way back to town we stopped in at the International Museum of Towing and Recovery (just because it was there and we were curious).  They have a room packed full of all kinds of tow trucks, new and old.  For example:

World's Fastest Wrecker - 109 mph at the Talladega track:

A "Toe Truck":

More tow trucks:

And finally, into town for a glimpse of the Chattanooga Choo Choo!

Time to leave Tennessee (for now).  We will be back!  Maybe sooner than expected...

On the way west we took a detour to the top of Alabama at Cheaha State Park:

A couple more photos here:

View from an overlook at more of Alabama:

A photo for Bob:

Almost done with our December 2013 cross-country journey!