Monday, June 5, 2017

Spread Your Wings AR (subtitle: Stupid and Stubborn)

A fun one!  And the reason we're still in Texas even though it's heating up around here.  We love Too Cool adventure races and I was stoked to be able to return to Camp Eagle to race after quite a few years of missing out.  I talked Dave into each of us trying it solo, I'm not sure that was the brightest idea I've ever had, but I certainly learned a few things in the process.

We had a few points to plot before the start of the race, no time to really think about anything we had plotted, then it was 9 a.m. and we were lining up.  We'd have 12 hours to try to clear the course or get as many points as we could.

To spread everyone out, the race started with a run up to the famous windmill.  I suspect it was Art that took this picture - thank you Art!

[Photos courtesy of Too Cool Racing]

It was my only visit to this windmill for the race, but I didn't stop to look around - everyone had to jump in the tank and collect a poker chip from the bottom of the pool.  Wow, that water is blue and beautiful, the best looking tank water I've ever seen.  Nice and cool too.  And deep - up to my neck.

I had taken off my shoes and socks to keep them dry-ish, which turned out to be a good decision because I could use my toes to feel around the bottom.  I wandered over to the far area, knowing that a few fast runners had already probably taken any nearby chips.  Motherlode, a bunch of red and blue circles on the bottom, and still visible since no one was (yet) over there stirring up the dirt.

I targeted one to step on, then grabbed it between my toes and finagled it high enough to grab without having to dunk my head underwater (thank you yoga).  Good thing this was early in the race or that might have caused some major leg cramps later on.

Back out of the pool, shoes on, back down the trail.  We followed a different path back, this one marked with little orange flags.  It was a fun run down, following flags, under the Megazip, back to camp.  In return for the chip I got my first passport.

The next section had 5 checkpoints that were also fun little events around the camp.  I descended the stairs to find paddleboards and instructions to paddle out and around a buoy, come back and do it again.  There wasn't a photographer there at the time, but I looked something like this, kneeling and propelling the board.  I enjoy paddleboarding, not sure why I don't do it more often.


Next, up the hill to the BMX bike track where I had to don elbow and knee pads and take a little bike twice around the downhill track.  Can I raise up the seat?  No, you're supposed to stand on the pedals.  Can I run with the bike?  No, you have to bike down.  At least it had a brake.  The bumps were fun, I got the hang of it, and the 2nd lap was more "whee!"

Returning the bike, I handed it off to Bing and Tammy.  Bing wanted to know if it was a good bike?  Um, I've never done this before, I have no idea!  Crazily, that was a couple minutes before Tammy took a spill and banged up her elbow and shoulder, ouch!  I hope I didn't give you a bad bike!

Oblivious to this event, I was further up the hill at the shooting range.  The main challenge was seeing through the goggles that fogged up immediately.  I got a kick out of hearing the instructor talking through the ear protectors/headphones, and I had flashbacks to camp a long time ago when I learned how to shoot a 22.  4 shots and I took down the target, fun!

Next over the mine maze, which was new to me.  I was pretty excited to be doing all these activities I had been reading about in race reports over the years.  I did miss the fact that I was supposed to be looking for the checkpoint INSIDE the maze, so while I did a decent job working my way through it, I had to go back in the last tunnel to find it - ah, so that's what that glow stick over there is for!  Silly me.

Here's someone else coming out of the final tunnel of the maze:


The headlamp did come in handy for that part - now, what did the instructions say about the next checkpoint?


Oh, I see, pick up a sled and carry it to the top - wow, that was a super awesome fast slide, woo hoo!

Another racer making it to the bottom:


Well, that's it for photos for a while.  Either keep reading or skip to the bottom...

Time for a long, long bike/trek leg.  Everyone brought a bunch of water and water treatment pills (there were tanks at all the windmills to fill up).  Happily it was cloudy for several hours so it wasn't yet super hot, but it would get there later.

I rode down the road, across the river, through a couple gates, then up a dirt track to the area of CP's 13 and 14.  The odometer came in handy for figuring out where to drop the bike.  It will soon become obvious that I am not good at bike navigation.  Dave is awesome at this, so there usually isn't any reason for me to practice.  Watching the terrain AND watching the rocks/trail AND watching the odometer and thinking about the map - not easy.

Anyway, at least I started out OK.  I climbed the hill to the left, staying a bit south to avoid an angular drainage, and ran across the ridge to #13 in the saddle.  I could see racers pushing their bikes up the hill across the way and I already knew that I would not be doing that.

One advantage to racing solo was that I could decide to put down the bike and run whenever I felt like it.  All my "run first, bike if I have to" teammates aren't in the mix right now, so as long as I'm with the "bike first, run if I have to" teammates I really need to try to stay on the bike.  Good practice.

But not today!  I happily hiked up the road on the other side and jogged past the windmill.

There's no good excuse for what happened next.  I passed up the draw that I should have explored, misread the contours to the east, came back west to figure it out, went back east, found the fence that happily gave me all the information I (badly) needed, and worked back to find CP #14 down the hill a little ways.  Geez, I lost some time on that one for no good reason.  Not feeling too smart right about now.

Oh well, at least I can run down the hill!  Darby flew by on her bike (nice riding), then Doug rode past, except Doug was on the ground when I came over the next rise.  And that, my friends, is why I don't try to ride down these things.  I helped him collect a bottle and made sure he was OK.  Back to the bottom and my bike, back out to the main creek.

At the creek crossing I left the bike again and went in to find #12.  It looked easy.  At least I wasn't the only one who had trouble with this one.  As I was admiring the beautiful rocks and lovely riverbed, I strolled past where the checkpoint was hidden.  When I turned around and started back I could see it.  Then I had to find it again.  This bike/trek leg was not my finest hour(s).

I rode by a house and up a drainage to the south.  Luckily I took a measurement and an odometer reading for this one, because all the rocks on the trail took all my attention after that.  When I got to the right distance it didn't seem like there had been enough side draws already, but apparently I was watching in front of me instead of all around.  Two bikes were waiting in the same location, and we were all correct - CP #8 was just up a little ways.  Phew.

Tammy and Bing were coming toward me down the hill and it was good to see that Tammy was still out here.  She was riding great, which was amazing after seeing her swollen elbow later - way to stick with it, lady!

I also saw Chad and Ashley in here again (after seeing them back around #14 and #8 too).  Hi y'all!  I was catching up to them going up the next big hill, but they went south first and I decided to try the northern point.  I rode up to the windmill, made a note of the solar panel that helps pump water into the tank, almost started down the wrong way (stop, stop!), but then corrected myself with a compass check.

Leaving the bike, I could see #6 from a long way away, that was nice.  Back to the trail, south to another windmill.  The trail continued on even though it wasn't mapped in that direction, but a big puddle persuaded me to leave the bike and go for a walk over to the checkpoint.  It seemed like a good time to eat something and get some good drinks of water.  I paid close attention to the distance and found #7 down in the draw.

I had been looking all along the ridge for any unmapped road or a way down to the east, but made the mistake of not doing that once I was over by the checkpoint.  John told me later that the road continued on further and there was a way down along the fenceline.  Dang it, that would have been a brilliant move.  Of course, having dropped my bike I was already not thinking in the right mindset.  Stupid.

Instead I ran back to the bike and biked all the way back, down, and around to the next drainage system.  It was mostly easy riding but certainly took some time.

Side note - I almost wanted to drop my bike in the middle of this area and run to all the points, but the distance to the furthest point (with trails leading to it) dissuaded me.  Plus, I'm supposed to be training on the bike.

Anyway, I also apparently missed a half-decent cut-through to access the next trail and instead rode around some extra distance.  Reviewing maps with people who ran the course on foot (Kip and John who did the rogaine) was illuminating and slightly frustrating!

At least I found #11 with zero issues, taking a good attack angle toward a side draw.  Ashley said hello (hi again!) from down below, then Chad and a couple other guys came down the draw toward me so I figured I was going the right way.

So it was that a group of us converged in the area of CP #10.  Unfortunately, the trail on the map didn't match the main trail on the ground, and the spot I was looking for to start my odometer reading never happened.  And I hadn't noted the odometer reading at the previous known location, my bad.  The trail didn't look right and the trail intersection I was looking was completely non-obvious.

It took me too long to realize my mistake and then I knew it was trouble.  I created even more trouble for myself by trying to figure it out all by myself.  When another team came riding down the hill, I thought "ah ha!  This must be that trail intersection I was looking for" and took off on foot to the south.

The smarter folks stayed and worked out the correct conclusion that we were at the spot where the southernmost trail came down the hill.  By the time I had rectified my position based on a drainage intersection and come back, most of them were gone.  Except a 3-person team that also tried going south, I felt kinda bad that I might have drawn them in that direction.

Back to my bike, where a short walk up a wide-open draw led me to #10.  Stupid, stupid.

I pushed my bike up another long hill and rode over to the final checkpoint of this leg.  I misread the vegetation up top and assumed it indicated a side draw, but I never found it on the way down into the main draw.  Luckily I could see across to the other side where there was an obvious side draw so I knew to turn left at the bottom.  100 meters to CP #9, only a slight error on that one, thank goodness.  I was feeling fairly chagrined by now about this whole thing.

Back up the hill, I was soaked with sweat by now.  I ran the bike down a rocky descent, then mounted up for the long ride back.  The sun was finally out, and it was getting H-O-T.  The ride was mostly downhill, allowing me to recover a bit.  "Recover" was a word I was using in my head a lot that day!  Make a mistake, recover, get hot, recover.

I paused briefly at the rappel site but saw a bunch of people there so I decided to wait for another leg to try it.  We had a window between 3 and 8 pm to do the sherpa line/rappel, no need to wait in line for it right now.

Back at the TA, it was a shock to hear that I was the 2nd person back from that long leg.  It felt like I was 2nd-to-last.  Within a few minutes other teams started pouring in, looks like a close race for a bunch of us.  Dave was maybe an hour ahead of everyone at this point, doing much cleaner navigation and I'm sure he was biking as strongly as he always does.

I headed for our dorm room to cool down (and recover, of course).  I'm sure I lost time every time I did this, but the air conditioning was a huge help.  Also the cool Spiz and iced coconut water.  I dropped most everything for the next leg, a short paddle on the river going through camp.

Trotting on over to the boat put-in, I set up a solo kayak and motored across the river for #15.  Chad and Ashley started upstream first, so I had someone to follow for the dam portage.  Going to the right seemed to work OK for them.  I didn't so much enjoy pulling my boat up the bank and around the dam, but I made it with only a couple rest breaks.

Bing and Tammy were approaching from behind, and we all made it through the shallow rocks to punch #16 in quick succession.  On the way back there were more teams coming toward us, a couple of 2-guy teams if I remember right.  I made it back around the dam portage, this time in the downhill direction so it wasn't too bad.

Chad, Ashley, Bing, Tammy, and I all docked at the take-out at the same time, that was pretty funny.  My calves started trying to cramp, not so funny.  I let the other folks get out first while I let my legs relax.  Darby helped me bring my solo boat up the hill as she and Doug were about to get in one of the doubles - many thanks, Darby!

Chad and Ashley trekked off toward the ropes course, while I followed Bing and Tammy back toward the TA.  I figured the next leg would be slightly better for doing the ropes, as I could bike right up to it.  Back to the room to cool down and drink some more.  I wasn't looking forward to the next section, biking on the trails around camp.

But first, I pedaled over to the ropes area and had it mostly to myself.  The volunteers helped me gear up (harness, helmet, lobster claws) and pointed me toward the sherpa line.  I made quick work of that, although it was longer than I had remembered from a few years ago.  I was really glad we weren't doing some of the other ropes-related activities I saw along the wall.

Hiking up to the top of the cliff, phew! there's the sun again!  I wilted a little bit.  Happily the rappel was back in the shade and I got to recover again.  The whole ropes loop took some time but it was physically easy.  I was thinking I might have a chance to clear the course, if I could really run the final trekking leg.  So it was good to get the ropes part out of the way.  I didn't even consider skipping it, which was probably stupid.

Another racer at the top of the rappel, with an excellent view (that I always ignore when I'm about to dangle from a rope, but I can admire it now from afar):


Back on the bike, I rode to #22 at the cable bridge.  I was following a couple guys and they were riding better than I was, but when we hit the Armadillo trail I started running with my bike and they let me go on ahead.  Wow, this trail is even worse than I had remembered.

We found the bike drop sign and left the bikes for a trek up to the cave.  One of the guys and I dropped down into the cave, wow, it's nice and cool down here!  I was psyched to be doing all of the tasks myself today, usually my teammates jump in to complete them because they are a lot faster at it than I am.

Here's the cave entrance, kind of a tight fit but it opens up down below, thankfully:


The other racer and I helped each other out (I punched his passport and he gave me a hand getting out), a nice cooperative effort.

I jogged down to the bike, taking a minute to really look at the map and finally come up with a solid strategy.  Ah, I see, I could trek most of this leg (I verified it was a "bike/trek") and just use the bike to get from one side to the other.  Heck, I don't know why I brought my bike even this far.  Except I apparently needed my helmet, good thing I had it in that case.

So I left my bike there and ran/speed-walked up the creek to #20.  Tammy and Bing were riding the other way, and Bing asked why I didn't have my bike?  I told him that I didn't feel like riding it at that moment  :)

Apparently the other team thought my idea was a good one, because they also left their bikes and trekked up to #20.  Funny!

I ran back to the bike drop, collected the bike and ran it back down to the river.  The ride across the top of camp went fine and soon I was dropping the bike off again on the other side.

I wondered if I might be able to follow the Megazip all the way up to the next checkpoint, but it looked like a lot of vegetation up ahead.  So I found the Boot trail and followed it to the drainage crossing.

There was flagging leading the way up the hill, but I missed the arrow pointing to the Mine Shaft.  Further up I started wondering if I was supposed to be going uphill so far?  What's happening?  Minor freakout, I think my brain was slightly overheated.  Oh, there's the checkpoint up on that platform.  Yay, there's a ladder up to it, no crazy scaling anything today.  I was starting to feel the time pressure, starting to think, hmm, I'm not going to have a lot of time for that last trek leg.

I ran down to the Uganda site and pushed through a ridiculously thick (but short) bit of vegetation to find the trail.  I basically crawled out onto the trail.  I looked up to see a team riding by and they pointed me in the direction of #17.  Thanks guys!

From there I ran the trail around to #19 and back.  I found a much clearer path back down to the jeep road.  Tammy and Bing were heading out on the last trek and they were surprised that I was already coming down from it?  No, I'm still on the bike leg!  And I'm still not on my bike!

I collected the bike and rode back into camp, following orange flags from the very first run down from the windmill.  I was finally done with my bike for the day, and actually pretty satisfied with that section.  No dumb mistakes for once, and I was able to keep pushing the pace even though it was hot.  Somewhere around the paddle section I had begun to transition from "stupid" to the "stubborn" portion of the race for me.  Keep moving efficiently, keep dreaming that there was a chance to clear the course (??).

Back in the room for one last cool-down recovery.  This time I finally turned it around pretty quickly and got out the door.  Time's a wasting!  It's easier to be in "race mode" when you aren't constantly making errors and having to recover.  Too little, too late?  Who knows, gotta go!

I left the room around 7:20 pm, with a 9 pm cutoff time.  One minor error was not confirming that we had a 5 minute grace period after the race cutoff before we'd start losing checkpoints - I thought I remembered hearing that, I really should have paid more attention.  At least I did have a good idea that my watch was 1 minute ahead of the official time.

Regardless, that's not a lot of time to collect all remaining 7 CP's.

Here was some good news - partway through the prior leg, I realized with a start that there was a Tyrolean traverse in the last trekking leg - and I suddenly vividly remembered doing it years ago.  And it was a huge challenge, lots of pulling myself up the rope, and this was with HELP from my team in the form of a long line to help drag me across.  Doing it by myself?  If there was any way I could gracefully avoid this, I would.

Yep, no time for that (probably)!  Let's do the loop in the opposite direction just in case.

Still biting off more than I would be able to chew, I took aim at the checkpoint on the hilltop on the other side of the river.  Reasoning: I didn't want to strand it in case I cleared all the rest of the points (ha!).  So it happened that I got my feet wet walking across the dam, started getting leg cramps in the first steep scramble, and huffed and puffed my way up the dang big hill to the top.

All for one checkpoint.  I'm not sure that was the most efficient use of my time.  Correction - that was definitely not the most efficient use of my time.

Kip later pointed out how he would have approached this area, something I might have at least considered for my descent back to river level, but I was so pressed for time that extra thinking wasn't in the cards, and realistically I probably would have chosen the known route at that point anyway.  No time to take chances.

So, back down the nose of the hill, all the way to the bottom to avoid the steep drop at the end.  My legs were starting to twitch at any opportunity.  Like during the bushwhacking I had to do to get back to the dam, dang it, now is not the time to make things more difficult on myself.

I took aim at the hilltop to the west and walked mostly straight up, with a couple slight veers when a nice trail presented itself here and there.  I had remembered a road on the top of the ridge, yes, finally some good beta stored in the back reaches of my brain.

Good pace counting, OK now go down to the right.  Wait, what? - there was a piece of caution tape and a note about a gun range?  Well, obviously I have to ignore that if I'm going to find #29.

I spent the next few minutes roaming around the top of the draw, trying to see where the draw actually started.  Finally my compass told me I was going north, I had missed it.  So I needed to get further down the slope to figure this out.  Too bad my quads were unhappy about odd movements, like anything related to steep slopes (going down, traversing, climbing, stepping over limbs...).  It was gingerly slow getting down the hill but I was finally rewarded with the checkpoint flag.  It was quite a ways down the hill.

The punch was still hanging on the flag, which was super confusing - surely someone else had visited this one already?  It was the final hour of the race and I was the first one here?  Oh look, there are Bing and Tammy coming down to it - hi y'all!  I guess I was the first one to the CP, but only just barely.

Bing said something about hoping to get back in time.  I knew exactly what he meant.  We were all rapidly running out of time.  The course would not be cleared today, sigh, I finally had to admit that I couldn't do it.

BUT!  Maybe I can get one more checkpoint?  Surely my cramping quads will hold on for one more venture down into a draw?  The good news was that my legs were fine with flat running along the road.  I gave myself 15 minutes to get back to the finish line (hoping that if it took longer, I actually did have an extra 5 minutes that I wasn't for sure counting on).

I'm not sure what drove me to continue on - I guessed that Dave and Tammy/Bing and maybe others were all well ahead of me, but you just never know.  I was hot, dehydrated and cramping, breathing hard, and about out of time.  Stubborn?  Probably.

Solid pace counting brought me quickly to the spot above #28.  Go or no?  Let's do it!  But no messing around this time!  Just go straight down.  Through a layer of vegetation, then there's the drainage.  If only I had learned to be more aggressive starting down the draws earlier.

I still had an issue with this one, in that I didn't see the checkpoint right away and debated whether I had time to go further down the draw.  I moved onto the spur and aimed for the next draw intersection below me - one final look, then I have to bail on this one.

A flash of orange out of the corner of my eye - there it is!  In the next draw over, wow, I think I just got lucky on that one.  No time to ponder, punch it and go.

As I was climbing out (another big climb), taking it easy to stave off the cramps while still trying to move quickly, I remembered having trouble in this area many years ago - popping out on top and taking a wrong turn, going too far before realizing it was the wrong way.

That was the exact right memory flashback, because I popped out and almost started going the wrong way toward the windmill.  It would have been the right compass direction, except I had bypassed a key intersection when I went down into the draw and came back up in a different place.

The best part was that I was saved by the orange flags!  The little markers from the first run, way back when I was wet and carrying a poker chip down the hill that morning, they saved me now.  Turn around!  Run!  Where's the intersection?  There it is - "yes, yes, yes!"  I actually yelled that last part out loud.

Also - very happy to still be running, as long as it was on the road my legs cooperated.  15 minutes.  Run a ways, 12 minutes.  There's the Megazip line, I should make it, I think?  Up a small hill, finally there's the camp.  It was just starting to get dark, not quite enough to break out the headlamp, thank you.  And there's the finish, arriving with 8 minutes to spare.  Phew!  Or - as John might say, why the hurry?

That was pretty exciting.  A lot of it was self-imposed.  Maybe some learning will come of it.  For now, I was relieved to lie down on the cool concrete and stop running.  Racers converged from all over as time expired, and it was great fun to hang out and tell stories about the day.

Kip won the rogaine!  John came in second (finishing with 10 seconds to spare, now that's using all the time allotted).  Well done, y'all!  They had an eventful 8 hours and plenty of tales to tell:


For the long adventure race, Bing and Tammy won overall, congratulations!  Especially since it involved a nasty fall off the BMX bike, a swollen elbow and bruised shoulder, and a bike flat repair; they certainly had their own version of "recovery" that day.

It turned out that I had the same number of checkpoints (26) that they did!  They just finished 7 minutes before I did.  Dave was one checkpoint back at 25, slowing down toward the end with heat issues and perhaps a questionable decision to do the Tyrolean traverse.  After everything that happened, it was an amazingly close race.

Every once in a while I relearn this lesson - stick with it, you never know what will happen.  I figured I lost the race (overall) because I was stupid and won it (solo division) for being stubborn.

Thank you Dave for having a camera to capture this excellent photo:


Post race Waffle House celebration!  It was great fun sharing the weekend with Kip and many friends!


A big THANK YOU to Too Cool Racing for a wonderful and entertaining weekend of adventure racing and a plethora of other great camp activities!

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