Tuesday, September 2, 2014

World Rogaine Championship

We have been looking forward to the World Championship Rogaine in South Dakota since we found out about it a couple years ago.  We really enjoy the 24-hour rogaine format (teams collect as many points as they can, in any order, within the time limit).  And it was great to share part of the weekend with Kip and Dave, plus our friends Steve and Murph and their teammate Andy.

Which is why I was pretty disappointed that my knee didn't hold up for both GUR races the previous weekend.  Not only did it make me slow for the finals race there, it put the rogaine into question.  I found I could climb hills and walk just fine, so we decided to start the event at a moderate pace.  Perhaps we could speed-walk our way over some percentage of the course and hopefully my knee wouldn't cause us to have to stop before we were ready.

We didn't carry a camera during the race, so we made up for it a little by taking a bunch of pictures beforehand.

The lines for map distribution:

Team Vignette horsing around:

Sort of getting serious as the start approaches:

Back to the event... the race map was huge.  The scale (33K:1) at least made the amount of paper manageable, but we could see there was quite a bit of distance across the map.  Even if we were in top form I was pretty sure we wouldn't have a chance to clear all the points.  OK, how to maximize what we might be able to do?

We decided to start to the northeast where the points were grouped most tightly.  There were several high-value controls available there.  Going counter-clockwise, that would put us in the northwest corner of the map overnight.  Plenty of contour lines in that area, which hopefully would help with navigation in the dark.  Then we would be west of the finish line in the morning with plenty of options for additional points to finish up the loop.

John is feeling strong these days, so we opted to stay out on the course for the whole 24 hours instead of coming back to pick up nighttime clothes and lights and food.  He carried the bulk of our supplies and kept up with me easily, setting an excellent pace through the off-trail travel.

It was fun watching all the groups of racers prepare to set off - and GO!  Large bunches of runners took off in all directions.  We crossed the main road and walked up the road with one of those bunches.  #23 was a quick out-and-back with lots of greeting people who were going the other way through the tall grass.

A bit more road travel, then we struck off across a large field toward a hillside.  Private property was marked in olive green, and we did our best to avoid it throughout the event.  In this case we stayed away from a house but it was OK to cross their field nearby.  From the corner of the field we took aim at a reentrant.

The woods were not so friendly.  Lots of brush, downed trees, stuff to push through.  Not the most promising start.  The reentrant was shallow but easy to see in daylight.  We climbed it to find #61.  We saw only one team in the area, an immediate change from the masses at the previous control.  This course gave us lots of options, to be sure!

Not the same spot, but similar-looking woods and grass:

Up and over to a shallow saddle, then a traverse along the side of a hill.  The vegetation wasn't getting better, and I slowed way down on the "climb over stuff" parts.  I wasn't in the best of moods, but John was doing great and happily he navigated us right to #79.  I was still a bit snippy as we worked our way to the next saddle.

I started to realize that my knee was holding up just fine.  We had already reached 3 controls with no problems, and except for the speed-walk on the road at the start we were moving about as fast as we would have anyway.  This made me happy.  We went over the saddle and followed cow trails down the other side.  Thank you cows!  We converged on #82 with several other teams and then took off in different directions.  I think I heard someone mention "Grand Central Station."

Another control, another hour - every one of each of them was cause for a tiny celebration.  My mood improved dramatically when I started thinking in those terms.

Not to mention, the terrain was WAY easier compared to the rogaine we did in Nova Scotia earlier this year, regardless of a bit of deadfall here and there...

#71 had me a bit concerned, as it was placed in a small reentrant on the side of a large hill.  We found a boundary fence that was on the map, climbed to a saddle, and then took a detour (on purpose) around the top of the ridge.  Once we were in the next saddle we started dropping down, nailing the control right on.

We headed down to a dirt road and followed it around to find an unmarked road heading generally toward #70.  I pace counted and John watched the compass, and soon we were jogging down to the control in a shallow reentrant.  Going back to the road, we suddenly realized we were doing an out-and-back and could have dropped our packs (a whistle was the only gear we were required to carry full-time).  We wouldn't miss another one of those opportunities.

Back around and then down another road to the north of #105.  This control was in a clearing with few contour lines nearby, so we were playing it safe.  That worked out and we found the control without issue (our first 100-pointer!).  Heading southeast from there we found several more clearings (unmapped) that might have been confusing if we had approached #105 from a different direction.

We marched toward a nearby hill.  It took a while to even see signs of the hill, but eventually the terrain started upward.  More crap underfoot, particularly some hidden logs beneath tall grass, requiring some care in foot placement.  We achieved the summit and found #78 on the other side.  Nice view!

A photo from the race website that might be this control:

More vegetation on the way down, thank goodness we eventually found an open clearing for some relief.  More downhill that might not have been as bad?  Then a road and a water stop.  We were ahead of our 4-hour estimate to this spot, so that was encouraging as an opening segment.

We added water to our Camelbak bladders, started down the road, made a quick return to pick up John's map that he had accidentally left there, then were off for real.  We figured we were doing well on time, so we decided to go for all 5 controls in the next section (we had drawn it up a couple of ways).

Starting with a climb up to #36, easy enough.  Over a saddle and down a mining road, I wished I could run all of the downhill but alternated speed-walking with a gentle jog.  So far so good on the knee (but who knows when it might decide it had had enough).  Another hour, another control!

We cut across to the next road, getting our feet slightly wet in the marshy field.  For the most part our feet stayed dry (or quickly dried) during the event, so that was helpful.

A similar-looking field with a creek through it:

#68 was a quick up and down a reentrant, then we started a hike up a long road climb.  Here we ran across some CNYO folks, Eric and Mary, that was fun saying hi!

Near the top we dropped our packs for an out-and-back run to #52, then returned to pick them up again.  That was great!  We like those.  #50 involved following a somewhat subtle/wide spur down a few contours while I pace counted and John followed a bearing.  We were hoping not to miss this one, and happily we didn't.

Down to a road, around and up a short haul to #45.  Right before we got there, I spotted an elk that was running away in a manner of "what are ALL THESE PEOPLE doing here?!"  I sputtered to John - "Look!  Look!  Look right!  Elk!" and he saw it too.  Very cool.  We had seen at least 2 other teams leaving this area, so I have no idea what the elk was doing hanging around.  Maybe he kept hoping each team would be the last.  It might have been a long night for that fellow.

The drop down to the next road was super steep and I was more than glad we were going down and not up the thing.

Down the road, up and over a nose and down to the next creek.  #54 was between two sets of private (out of bounds) property, so we were glad to see a fence marking the corner we were looking for to avoid it.  No problem finding #54.

A short section that included some clambering over trees occasionally, then a road run (well, a gentle jog) up to a reentrant and #29.  There were several 20-pointers in the northern part of the map that we might have skipped except we were detouring around private property anyway so they weren't much out of the way.

Next was a nice, big, long climb up the side of a hill.  Near the top we saw Eric and Mary again - hi! - and then control #67.  From there it was a short amble over to our next water stop.  The water stations were spaced out perfectly for our afternoon adventures.  I knew that our next one was further away, so we filled everything up.

We were doing well on time, happy that we would have daylight for our jaunt around Custer Peak for the next few controls.  Our slow-ish start (compared to normal rogaines where we push hard to maximize distance covered in daylight) meant we were feeling pretty good too.

#38 was a short down and back up, then we were on the road again.  We passed a spring (it was even labeled).  It would have been nice to have the springs on our map, for water planning purposes.

We crossed over the bottom of a reentrant and started climbing a narrow spur.  This went on longer than expected, but it didn't seem like there was any way to mess this one up.  Sure enough, #73 was above us, no problem.

I had thought we might contour around the side of the hill to avoid dropping down too much (elevation we would have to climb back up again), so we did that for a while.  Until we saw the road, and the contouring was rather slow going, so we went down to it.  My feet thanked me.  My climbing legs were still doing well.

We passed the road up to the top of Custer Peak, and I told John I wished we could go up there.  He replied that, well, we could.  I clarified that I wished we had a race-related reason to go up there.  Must be good views!

More dirt road, then a short/steep climb up to the top of a knoll for #104.  There were a bunch of teams here!  The most we saw in one place except at the very first point.  We had left our packs at the bottom, but wished we had brought them up when we saw an unmapped road coming from the north with another team walking up it.

Back down to the packs, an easy glide down the hill, my knee still holding up well and me still taking it easy on the downhills.  We left the packs one more time for an out-and-back to #77, taking headlamps with us just in case.  They weren't necessary, but darkness was getting close.

We cut across to the road below #83, which is where I spent a few minutes walking while redoing gear for the coming night (lights instead of hat, e.g.).  John had a bead on the nav, so I followed him up into the field.  There were a bunch of tracks from previous teams, so we started following those.  However, we didn't find the reentrant we were looking for.

Soon it seemed like we had gone too far, so we reversed direction until we were sure we had reached the eastern spur of the hill.  But we weren't sure how high up we were, so we retreated to the road to try again.  It was now pretty much dark.  We thought the gate on the road matched where the private property boundary corner lay to the north, so we were aiming from that spot.

Up we go again, higher than the previous tracks this time.  Still no reentrant.  So the property boundary theory must be wrong.  At about the right elevation (best we could estimate based on pace counting and feel), we started west.  Shining our bright flashlights all around, we stayed at the same elevation and soon I spotted the reflector from the control.  Bingo!  We had lost a little time with a retreat and re-approach but our recovery was good.

Back down to the road, we cut down through the woods from a bend.  We followed a bearing that should have kept us just out of private property, but we never saw a fence (it would have been a nice handrail).  We found a road at the bottom, but oddly enough it was on the wrong side of the creek.

It was going the right direction, so we followed it down to an intersection and a bridge, with a house nearby.  We were pretty confused about the location of the creek compared to the roads, but at least the intersections started making sense.  We followed another road, got confused again by an unmarked side road, then gamely continued up until my pace count said we should hop across the drainage next to us.  We were happy to find a side drainage across the way, even happier to find #49 in it.  Phew, I had been rather worried about that one.

We had been told that there were going to be roads that weren't marked on the map, but we didn't expect some of them to be so major.  We're used to finding double-track and logging roads that aren't mapped, but not large, maintained gravel roads.  It was a bit disconcerting since we started finding them mostly in the dark.

We continued to pay careful attention to the pace count and direction, not trusting the road markings on the map.  No issues with #24, up and over a wide spur into a shallow drainage.

Heading over to the next ridge we found the large powerlines that were on the map, along with a bunch of dirt roads that seemed to be going in the right direction.  We did some traversing but eventually had to climb up a steep bank to find the road on top of the ridge.

This worked great and we ran downhill a ways until we both suddenly realized that we didn't know exactly where we were on the long spur.  Too much zigzagging for a good pace count.  The map showed the road ending, and you would think by now we would have learned not to believe it.  We found an intersection instead.  We continued downhill to the north, but soon figured out we must have gone too far.

So we cut down into the drainage to the left, finding the top of it but no control.  Further down we found an intersection with another drainage.  Ah, too far down!  No problem, we'll just climb up the other drainage until we hit #86.  Easier said than done.  What a bunch of crap in there, slow going.

We hoped the woods would clear out around the control, but instead we somehow managed to spot the reflector amid a bunch of thick woods.  It would have been so easy to bypass it in the dark.  Lucky save!

After clawing our way back to the top (and the road that was probably the one coming off the intersection), we were very thankful we had located the control and didn't have to go back down THAT to look again.

The drainage on the other side was a lot easier to follow - it even had a little road next to it.  While we appreciated it whenever we found a little road going the right way, I wondered whether it was fair that some teams would find them and others would miss them and be stuck pushing through the woods.

Even more amazing, there was a big (unmapped) road along the bottom of the valley.  We were sure finding our share of unmapped roads in the dark.  I pace-counted as we walked along, but we still might have walked past #66 if my bright flashlight had not lit up the control reflector in the bushes.  Another lucky find.

The next point wasn't quite as smooth.  We went back down the road, aiming for a large reentrant for climbing up to the next ridge, one that should take us really close to #94.  Instead, we found a smaller reentrant that petered out, and as we climbed the hillside we got drawn too far south.

The top of the ridge wasn't the easiest to travel along, but at least we knew we had a backstop (the end of the ridge and a steep drop-off to the north).  It just seemed like quite a long way, made much longer by a swarm of bugs that would NOT leave my head alone.  I already had to limit the time my headlamp was turned on because of bugs swarming, relying on my flashlight most of the night.  But these bugs didn't care that my headlamp was turned off.  Nasty creatures!  I followed John and complained about them, wishing for a good wind.

Finally we found the end of the ridge.  The spur to the right led to #94.  Back along the ridge to a side spur, dropping down and down.  The bugs were thankfully gone so I could focus on finding a way down through the rocks while John mixed up a SPIZ behind me.

We crossed what I now realize was the Mickelson bike trail, then continued down through the woods.  We popped out right at the water stop, nice!  The volunteer here was great, chatting with us while we filled up on water.  We put on an inadvertent show when John accidentally pointed the water hose at my legs with the nozzle still on, causing me to yelp.  Luckily he missed the backpack sitting on my lap...

An example of the water stops with the big tanks:

Time to get moving again.  We debated running around to #59 on roads, but I convinced John we could take a more direct route up to a trail (still avoiding long runs in favor of my knee).  It was a steep but short bank to climb up from the road, then a big field that was wet with dew.  The trail was easy to find, as was the drainage leading up to #59, plenty of tracks to follow in the grass there.

Up to the next trail and a long walk/jog up to the jump-off spot for #26.  Easy little climb, no problems finding it.  I led the way southwest from there until we found another road.  We started down it but it was going way downhill, not what we wanted.  Back up and through more woods to the real (mapped) road.

John fixed a SPIZ, this time adding a Via (little coffee packet) to make it a SPAZ (TM West and Jeff).  It was our first time trying this combo, and it was most excellent.

The right road was easy to follow, also the wide ridge around to #75.  We were careful on this one because it was over a kilometer on a wide, flat ridge, but ended up finding #75 in a saddle with no trouble.

We debated the best route to #101.  I had initially drawn it as detouring to the road to the east, while John was thinking about continuing on the ridge to the south.  We opted for something in between, dropping down into the drainage system below us.  We were really hoping for a nice big road at the bottom like the one leading to #66.

No such luck.  In fact, quite the opposite.  The drainage had a lot of vegetation and got worse as we went down it.  We pushed through and climbed around stuff for a while until John got the good idea of looking for a road on the slope above us.  Usually when he spots something that might be a road, it's not really (he has gotten better at keeping his excitement level lower at the prospect).  But this time he was right - a nice dirt path that might have been an old logging road.  Other teams had been through here, probably also tired of the crap down in the drainage and looking for an alternative.

We happily skipped along, making good time until the road ended.  Ah well, my pace count put us near the confluence we were looking for anyway.  We should go try to find it, since we needed to count from there to find the way up to #101.

So commenced our "Hour of Deadfall".  It might not have been an hour, but it was many, many minutes for almost no progress.  I tried really hard to keep up a pace count as we climbed over log pile after log pile.  John kept working on finding a better way, but there really wasn't any in the vicinity.  I started singing, "It's a Jungle Gym Out There"

We tried to figure out the direction of the water flow in the creek, but the water kept going underground (probably didn't like the deadfall either).  At one point it seemed like it might be going backward?  Then a few minutes later I checked the compass and we discovered that we were going almost directly east, when we wanted to go southwest.  Ah ha, that would explain the direction of the water before - we had just passed the confluence and ended up in the wrong branch.

No matter, just go over this (log-infested) spur to the right branch, then continue up another 300 meters.  More clambering and climbing, moving so slowly while trying to be careful with all of our foot placements on the slick logs.  What a mess.

Just as quickly as it had started, the deadfall was gone.  Suddenly we were moving!  Yay!  I finished up the pace count, we climbed the hill, found a small reentrant, and climbed it to see the reflector from #101 beckoning to us.  Wow, that was a tough one.  We were glad we didn't mess it up too much.  Besides maybe the route choice... but how could we know?

We climbed up to a road with John setting a good pace and me still managing to keep up through the off-trail travel.  We ran/walked on the road for a ways, my knee still holding up OK with the moderate pace, and came down to a larger road.  We picked a spot to climb again, looking for the north side of a large multi-featured drainage.  We managed this pretty well in the dark, coming to the top at the saddle we were shooting for (aiming off left).  It was a short hop over to the next saddle and #72.  Another control, another hour, I'm excited to be doing well overnight!

We followed a spur around and then dropped down to #34 near the bottom of a narrow reentrant.  From there, previous teams had cut a wide trail through the grass in the field so we had no problems finding the bottom of the next reentrant.  We got a bit complacent with the tracks, passing up a side drainage and having to backtrack a little to #84.

It was starting to get a bit light, helping us see the hilltop to the south.  The climb up sapped some of my energy for the first time.  We came to the road on the other side and took a short break, with me lying down for a couple minutes.  This might have been where John compiled our second SPAZ.

OK, it's getting light out, let's move.  A road and then the side of a hill and we were at #62.  A slightly slower pace and my legs recovered well enough.  We dropped down the other side and started a long march up a valley on a small road.  Compared to a couple other teams around us, we were moving just fine.  The group of us topped out at a saddle and descended a steeper slope to find #102 at the bottom.

Another team showed up from the west, asking us perhaps the only question we got during the event, something about whether we had come from up the draw (from the east)?  We heard later that there was an interesting cliff in the direction they had come from, so maybe they wanted to know if they should expect more of those.

In any case, we went up the draw and didn't find any impediments.  I was moving a bit slower because my heart rate was a little high and I was trying to bring it down.  We stopped for a bathroom break, then climbed slowly up another road.  John did excellent nav over to #69 on a little spur that was not so obvious on the map.

I told John about my heart rate concern and the fact that it was kind of beating in the front of my chest.  It didn't really feel normal.  We found a log and sat down.  I started monitoring my HR - 90, 86, 86 - I thought it should be coming down since I was sitting, but couldn't get it to relax.  John took a little catnap while I studied the map for options.

There was no obvious route straight back to the finish line, but we also weren't too far away.  We decided to start working our way back, pick up the controls along the way, but not add any more even though we had extra time in the bank.  It was disappointing not to be able to finish strong - I love finishing a rogaine strong.  We suspected the caffeine was the source of the problem, but were also concerned about possibly creating a bigger issue if we went back to our strong pace from the previous 18 hours.

So we got up and walked along the ridge, John doing an excellent job with the nav.  I kept pace counting, just in case.  Flats and downhills felt OK.  I needed to take it slowly up the bit of hill at the end of the ridge.  We found #91 with a marvelous view of the valley below us - wonderful!

Big downhill, no problem.  Once on the road, we talked about walking around back to the hash house (finish line), but it was a long, long way around.  Sounded painful in more ways than one.  We decided to try climbing up the hill toward #90, so John got out the tow rope and we followed a valley upwards.  With the added assist from John I was able to move OK, and soon we were at the control.  That was the last big uphill.  Nice!

We found our way around a hilltop and through some dark groves of trees that had been planted quite some time ago - still all in perfect rows.  A little strange.  The next saddle wasn't very obvious, but the unmapped road looked like it might help.  Well, only a little, then we were on the side of the next hill.

At one point we came to a spur and John asked if I wanted to go around or over?  I said that "over" would be fine (it wasn't much of a climb), so we did.  We came around to a reentrant and started looking for the control.  John thought we might need to keep going forward, but I suggested he check higher up in the reentrant to be sure we weren't missing it.

I sat on a log while he went to go do that, still feeling "off" and wanting to reduce excess exertion.  I checked my compass and it seemed to be "off" also - why is north in that direction?  I looked up to see Custer Peak in the distance.  Hmm... that doesn't make sense either.  So if the compass is right... hey John!  We're on the wrong side of the ridge.

Oops, well now we know where we are.  And it wasn't much out of the way.  Soon we had crested the next local maximum and found #30 right where it should be.

On the way to our final control, my heart rate finally settled down and everything felt normal again.  Phew, whatever that was, I'm not a fan.  I went to a doctor later and he didn't find anything wrong, so it was likely a reaction to the caffeine.  Darn it, the SPAZ was supposed to motivate us to run faster, not slow to a crawl... I guess that experiment failed!

We descended a big spur, aimed toward the right, and found the reentrant with #25.  Last one, just a downhill to the field and then following tracks through the grass to the finish line at around 10:40 am.

Thank you for being such a wonderful teammate, John!  It is so much fun running around in the woods with you, I'll spend the night with you anytime  :)

I wish I could have had a better morning on Sunday.  We had several other controls within reach, included several high-pointers, and we had plenty of time.  Even without speeding up, we would have gained some extra points just by staying at our solid pace and not returning to the finish line until the noon time limit.

On the bright side, I mostly managed a decent speed for the condition of my knee, and the knee held up great.  I believe if I had tried running downhill on the roads that it could have flared up, but happily it was OK with speed-walking, alternating jogging/walking, pushing strong up hills, and going as fast I could through the crappy vegetation.  That (and half-decent navigation, a good route plan, and John carrying lots of stuff for us) got us pretty far - not world class, but not too shabby either.  Motivation to do better!

And also - I don't know that under any circumstances we would have broken into the top 3 in the Mixed Veterans category - Mixed Veterans took 3rd, 5th, and 7th overall.  What is up with that?  Our category used to favor us, well that seems out the window!  We were 6th Mixed Veteran team, 10th Mixed Open, and 35th out of 180 teams overall.

More "on the bright side," I was the 2nd fastest American female, behind the Wedali team  :) 

You know what, not half bad.

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