Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Getting stoked in Virginia

A rogaine!  One of our favorite events.  Dave found one that we were all interested in, a 24-hour "collect as many points as you can" orienteering race in Virginia.  We were excited to explore a new area and spend some time with Kip and Dave over the weekend.

Not just Dave, but Famous Dave:

An attempt at a pre-race photo, actually a screen shot from the video that John accidentally took:

In case you want to play along on the maps, here is the southeast portion (the start/finish is at the lower right with the plus-sign):



And southwest:

I really need to try to condense this report so I can knock it out today, we'll see how that works out...

One nice aspect of this particular race was that we could start anytime between 7 am and 11 am on Saturday (with each team's time limit being 24 hours later).  We got our maps at 7, did a much quicker route planning session than usual, and managed to depart at 8:16 am.  Kip and Dave beat us out of camp, leaving at 8 am.  We all figured we'd be most effective in daylight on day 1, so we were trying to maximize that.

We jogged down the road and collected #34 and 51 without issue.  Back on the road, we went north, missed the road split-off to the right (?), passed a house with barking dogs, and found the trail that led toward #36.  We briefly debated which order to do our "inner loop" and settled on clockwise.  So we crossed the creek to find the trail that climbed up to #80.

No issues finding the checkpoint, except that the black flies were already starting to find me.  I think I have a bug attractor beacon in my hat.  Or maybe in my head.  Dang bugs.

The trail supposedly continued on, well it wasn't much of a trail but John was able to follow it through various bunches of mountain laurel.  He wasn't, however, able to keep his glasses on his head while ducking through the branches, and by the time he realized it we were unable to locate them.  Bummer.  We continued along the ridge and my pace-counting worked great for figuring out where to turn downhill.  We selected the right reentrant to drop down to the creek intersection and then followed a spur up to #46.

The creek walk down toward #64 was a bit of a pain, crossing logs and the creek multiple times.  I got my feet a bit wet here and there.  John thought to ask if I wanted a trekking pole, why yes, that would be great!  Very helpful on the more-challenging terrain.

We found #64 then continued downstream.  The banks opened up more and travel was somewhat faster.  We met Glen heading the other way, nice to see someone else out here.  Picking the right reentrant up to #65 required paying attention, but we hit it right on.  I calibrated my altimeter here in anticipation of needing it at #36.  Oh, and altimeters were legal at this race, not a normal rogaine thing.  It was good to get some practice with it since it's not a normal piece of gear for the types and locations of races that we usually do.

We tried contouring around to the trail, ended up mostly climbing instead, following rock piles and occasionally climbing through some large stones.  Eventually we realized it would have been better to drop back to the creek and go around that way, but it was too late by that point.

Finally the trail!  We ran down and veered off based on the altimeter reading.  After spending some time looking for any sign of a spur, pushing through bushes, and trying to cross-reference based on altitude and distance from the trail, we finally went downhill to find out we had been looking about 30 meters too low.  Resetting the altimeter (again), we climbed up to the right spot and found the point immediately.  It wasn't totally wasted time - we learned something about fleeting altimeter calibrations.

Trail, road, #61 - and treats!  5 controls (we weren't told in advance which ones) had treats, and this one had peanut M&M's.  Thank you Mark (the race director)!

#96 was across a stream next to a nice lake.  Folks were out there fishing and stuff, I'm sure getting a bit of additional amusement watching people wading across the muddy stream all day.

We enjoyed the trail up the next valley as a nice change from creek-walking.  #55 was straightforward, we dropped our packs (carrying a baggie of required gear) and climbed up to #74, and continued along the trail.  It was nice while it lasted.

Time for another long drainage slog.  We located #33 just up a steep little spur, then followed footprints toward #75.  Climbing up the side drainage, we ran into Mark and Dave and had a bit of conversation about steepness and deep leaves and slippery rocks.  Big climb to #75, phew!

Back down and then another big climb up to the top of the ridge on the other side.  This one reminded me so much of the Barkley - straight up, super-steep, mostly clear path up a leaf-covered hillside with occasional trees to aim for (and lean on).  Good training.

We followed the ridge up to #76, then went north down to the original drainage system.  I remember this descent distinctly - the first half covered in fairly thick mountain laurel (or at least I thought it was "thick" at the time), the second half steep and slippery and slow, and the whole time I was tormented by black flies.  Why do they want to be in my eyes and mouth and ears, why?  What is their motivation?  Dammit flies, find another hobby.

I was in a rather foul mood when we reached the bottom.  At some point in the afternoon John asked if I was having fun?  "Off and on" was my answer, and it mostly related to the presence and absence of the stupid flies.  The challenging terrain and my slowness on it was secondary, but the flies took the top spot of my Aggravation List.

There were a couple small parallel reentrants around #56 but we didn't waste too much time finding the control.  John refilled his Camelbak in the creek and we continued onward.  Going up-valley was better, as I could move faster and there was a head-breeze part of the time to thwart most of the flies.

More solid nav and we were at #38.  The punch was missing, actually the whole flag seemed like it had been mauled by some kind of animal (?).  It was a good reason to get out the camera (which I obviously almost never do, especially since we aren't usually carrying one, but the phone was required gear this time).  We thought it would be nice to prove we were there.  So we have a picture of us (John) in the middle of a rogaine for once!  It's not anything special, just slightly historic:

If you're looking for more photos, go ahead and skip to the bottom on the post.

If you're still interested in this story, continue reading.

When did this become a "choose your own adventure?"  Anyway... we were happy to be almost done with the long afternoon of walking along/in/over rocky creeks.  Be careful what you wish for.  #81 was found, then we decided to head up the spur and climb, climb, climb.  We knew all along that this would be the "big one", the climb out of the valley toward the highest ridge on the course.

Initially it was just steep.  No problem, John handed me my 2nd trekking pole, and we got to work.  I estimated how long it might take based on the elevation gain ahead of us (over 400 meters).  As we got further up, the vegetation got thicker.  OK, this might take a bit longer.

And then it started getting thick.  We were hoping it was an isolated patch of mountain laurel.  No such luck.  John did a marvelous job of finding ways through it, pushing through branches and finding clear patches here and there.  It got worse.  My forearms got tired of pushing branches back and getting whacked now and again.

Various thoughts - this is only temporary.  Not sure how temporary.  My time estimate needs to be pushed back again.  No, don't look at the altimeter, it's not calibrated and will either give false hope or disappointment.  Ow.  Don't hurt yourself because no one wants to be involved in an extraction here.

John found a balloon!  It was a deflated Mylar balloon, not the first one he has picked up in the middle of a race.  The first one read "Happy Birthday" - and he found it on his birthday.  I kid you not.  This one said "I Love You" which was also apropos.  I saw it and yelled "I love you!"  I continued to tell him "I love you!" all the way up the mountain.  Sometimes it came out less enthusiastically and sometimes plaintively, so I'm not sure he believed me every time.

We were getting higher, but there were still ridges higher than us nearby.  Egads, this is crazy.  John climbed a tree to determine whether there might be better options in either direction?  Nope, this is it, that's all there is.  Hey, at least it's not as bad as the E2C last year!  OK, now it's getting that bad.  At least we aren't pushing through thorns.  Ow, there's one.  OK, not too many thorns.

John says, "we can crawl under these bushes" - um, OK.  There was a small tunnel, created either by a small animal or the teams ahead of us who got desperate.  I've apparently lost my crawling ability since my tot-hood.  John waited patiently while I snailed my way through.  At least most of the black flies didn't follow through the worst of it, but they continued to hound me in between.

More bushes, more crawling, oh for heaven's sake.  John found a walkie-talking at the end of one of the low tunnels so he carried it with him for the rest of the race, that was funny.  Finally an open area!  Nice break.  More bushwhacking.  Finally it mostly cleared up and we - were - at - the - top!!  I actually started singing "Hallelujah!"  King of Kings - and Lord of Lords...

#92 was well-deserved.

Just as we got to the top, John pointed out that the sun was JUST going over the horizon.  What a nice sunset!  Lovely!

We stumbled down to the big, beautiful trail and sat down to regroup.  Lights, clothes, Spiz, change of socks, and most importantly - a new strategy.  We had seen enough during the day to realize that parts of this course might be really difficult at night.  Anything without a distinctive feature (the small spurs on the side of a hill), challenging mountain laurel, controls without a solid attack point or a long distance away.  You can see the "X's" that I made over some controls on our map while sitting at this spot.

We were ready to work from roads and trails the rest of the night.  I focused on the 90's and on a route that would take us gradually back toward the finish without going too far out of the way.  Obviously we weren't going to clear the course!  How to optimize what is remaining?  I was completely second-guessing our choice of the challenging northeast quadrant for the first half of the race (we were at about the 12-hour mark at that point) but here we were and no sense in fretting over that now.

Hey, it's magic!  The black flies are gone!  More singing  :)

We stood up to get moving before we got too cold.  Hey, it's Glen coming toward us, hi again!  He had missed #81 and taken the drainage all the way up.  He was like "wow, that was crazy steep" and we were like "um, but did you have to push through mountain laurel the whole way?".  Maybe going back down to the drainage and accepting more creek-walking would have been a better way up.  We may never know, and I'm OK with that.

Finally, some real running on a trail.  First time in quite a while today.  We went over the top of Little Bald Knob (which seemed to have a lot of trees for being a Bald Knob) and down to a saddle.  We were concerned about #78 as our first control in the dark, so we were very careful with the altimeter and compass.  We walked right into it - and it was even glowing with reflective tape (most of the CP's didn't have anything reflective on them).  Boom baby.

On the trail again, we ran down toward #88.  This one was tricky (for us) - first there was a lot of vegetation on the spur so we stayed to one side, then there was a large rock slide to climb around on.  John was up higher investigating a cliff (since the clue was "base of cliff on ridge") when Glen showed up and found the control down lower at a pile of rocks.  Thanks Glen, that was very helpful!

Glen took off down the hill and we jogged a bit after him.  We crossed the river, getting our feet wet for real for the first time.  At the road we saw a bunch of campers around Camp Todd, I'm sure they were wondering what the heck.  We found a small trail going uphill to #44, nice gentle climb, then back down to the road and across the bridge.  The way in to #63 had deep leaves to wade through, but I preferred that kind of wading over crossing the river again.  We saw Glen here one last time.

We dropped our packs at the next road intersection and had a lovely run down to #95, that was so pleasant.  There was a nice log to cross to reach the control at a confluence, easy woods to travel through, and so much better terrain than we had been dealing with.  More second-guessing about our overall route plan.

Another nice run back to the packs, then a road walk up the hill to the east.  Wow, this nighttime stuff so far is quite enjoyable.  No flies, much less steep terrain and rocks, I was feeling a lot better.

We did another water refill at a creek and continued on to find #48 next to a pond.  The double-track trail toward #94 had a soft grass surface in the middle, such luxury.  We dropped the packs at the creek crossing and headed up a shallow slope.

Luckily I was already pace-counting and watching the altimeter from the corner, because the trail didn't end like it shows on the map.  It kept going, so we followed it further until I decided we should aim north toward the creek.  I accidentally aimed us right toward the point instead of aiming off like I should have.  We found the creek but we weren't sure which direction to turn.  John tried to the right, then we both decided based on the curves in the creek that it should be to the left.  Oh look, it's right over there.  Almost nailed it right on in the first place.

We retraced our steps and climbed back out to go find #57.  We met a couple guys from St Louis who recounted a similar story re: the bushwhack from #81 to #92 and deciding to stick more to trails overnight.  They had met Kip and Dave earlier in the day, and no, they weren't the owners of the walkie-talkie.  Nice to meet y'all.

Back to work, #57 next to a field, running back to the road and then over to the long trail that heads south toward #97.  The trail was muddy in spots but mostly runnable.  I thought I could follow along easily enough without pace-counting for a while, but started worrying about that partway down.  John offered to help pace-count from where the trail comes back to the creek (we hoped that was the right spot), we had a miscommunication about the number of meters to count from there, and when I asked about it we had gone a short ways past.

Hmm, I wonder how all of that will play out in the dark in the middle of a long trail with no obvious attack point.  We could be in for a long search for #97...

We headed across the creek and over to see what reentrants we could find.  We climbed the first one we came to, made a guess as to which one it was based on the direction and offshoots, and decided that maybe we were in the one just south of the point?  I hope?  We took the left split, climbed a short ways (wow, these hills are so much smaller down here), and hit #97 bang-on.  Lucky!

For fun, we decided to try going to #60 more directly instead of the safer route of descending and going around on the trail/road.  We climbed up, contoured around, and started down a spur.  I figured it was either the right one or the spur on either side of it.  We didn't see a saddle or the control flag, so we decided we must be to the northeast of it.  We crossed over to the next spur and hit #60 right on.  Well, that went well.

Getting down to the road was a little tricky, mostly because I was leading the way while John mixed up a Spiz.  I rely on him so much on off-trail terrain for finding efficient ways to move.  At least I figured out the spot where there was a big step-down hidden on the other side of a mountain laurel bush, and we got through that without incident.

The road was paved and immediately I could tell that my feet were not going to enjoy that.  Ah well, at least we're in the final hours of the event.  We ran down to where the creek crossed the road and then climbed up to #37.  Skittles treats, yay!

I had considered taking the trail along the river to collect several extra points on our way back, but we didn't have a ton of time to work with.  We were pretty sure it would have been doable with some extra push, but decided against it mostly because of all the river crossings in that route.  So we opted for the return on the main road instead.

John was getting sleepy and I wasn't paying enough attention, and we managed to completely bungle finding the reentrant up to #70.  Sloppy pace-counting and erroneously assuming the creek next to the road was the one lower down caused us to climb back up the road to find a reentrant to follow.  Partway up, I glanced at the compass and saw we were going north.  What?  Well fine, let's just continue up (we were almost to the top) and over to the next drainage system.

We did that, coming to the reentrant junction that seemed exactly right.  But there was no control.  Hmm.  Don't understand.  We were fairly sure we had corrected our original mistake, even more sure once we pace-counted out to the road and down to the next intersection.  It turns out the control had been misplaced, and we got credit for it.  It sure added to our time of confusion in that area.

More pavement, feet unhappy but we were still moving OK.  Dawn.  John chewing on some caffeinated nut butter to try to stay awake.

Coming toward #93 we saw big rock faces.  Maybe we'll go around to the bottom of the spur where it's not quite as steep.  We waded through the river and that felt good on my feet.  The spur was not quite as steep, but still very steep.  Barkley steep, I would say.  My legs were finally tired, well, can't argue about that timing.

Once more across the river, more road.  My feet felt so much better, and I knew it was temporary but hoped it would last most of the way back (it did, yay!).  We made good time around to the climb up to #62.  Tootsie Roll treats, yum!  More running on the road in the early morning light, and then we were done.

We could have gone up behind the campground to find #30 (we had a few more minutes available) but declined.  You never know if these things will matter in a rogaine, and it's always the ones you skip right at the end that you regret.  So I suppose we should have tried it, but my feet and legs were pleased that we didn't.

We ended up with 196 points (each control was worth the number of its ten's digit, e.g. #36 was worth 3 points).  This was good enough for the overall win - say what?  We were quite surprised about this, but we'll take it.

We'll also take a very large pizza, thank you very much (it was worth it just for the photo!):

And to finish off, a few photos from the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum on Monday - I just love this place:

Can I have one of these please?

Go Felix!

I just love the shuttles - also note a huge piece of Saturn V in the foreground:

It was a fun and interesting weekend.  Thanks Dave for finding this race and meeting up with us in Virginia for a few days!

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