Saturday, September 30, 2017

Cowboy Tough - leg 3 (packraft)

(Photos by Kaori Funahashi and John Beard)

On to the Snake River!  I had been cautiously optimistic about this leg, which for me for a water section translates to "downright giddy".  I was really glad I had done the previous float trip to get an idea what to expect.  The river moves quickly but doesn't present a lot of obvious challenges (at least where we'd be paddling), so maybe it would even be fun.

Leg 3 - "Best packraft leg ever"
[19 packraft miles, class I-II river, no gain and supposedly 1000' loss (not really though), no portaging allowed]

John beat us to the transition area and got a photo of the paddle bags awaiting team arrivals:

He watched the lead teams fly through transition, pumping up their rafts and jumping quickly on the water.  Maybe a video of that would be helpful for us for future reference.  Teams starting down the Snake River in their rafts:

A little while later we arrived and Leslie got us checked in:

Hey look, a bridge across to the island, that's so helpful!  We had brought booties to wear during the paddle in the hopes of keeping our shoes dry, and we didn't need to dig them out quite yet:

Staking out a spot in the shade where we proceeded to strew stuff all over the place:

John had plenty of time to look around, get a photo of the mural under the bridge, ...

... get a photo of the overall scene:

Basically what I'm saying is that our transition was slow.  32 minutes from arrival to departure.  Which I guess isn't completely awful considering how much we had to do, but many teams were a good bit faster.

Part of the time was spent treating water to fill the bladders.  We were playing with the Sawyers filter system, and the part where you use the bags to push water through the filter takes a few minutes:

Inflating the rafts, getting stuff into dry bags, putting on PFD's and knee pads, loading up the sausages (the middle inflated tube in the rafts), trying to make sure the important items would stay dry before our overnight trek coming up.  We were happy to see that all our shoes plus the giant paddle bag fit into the sausages for easy storage.

Finally just about ready to push off:

And we're off!  See you in a couple hours, John!

One last view of the Tetons from the put-in bridge - very pretty:

The map of the river going south from CP01, showing all the braids and interesting "route choices" along the way:

I remembered many of the splits in the river and where to aim, which made me a lot more comfortable than I might have been.  We would have figured most of them out anyway, but I enjoyed having more confidence in the choices we were making and what we might find around each bend.

There were a couple larger obstacles like this submerged tree, but they were easy to see and avoid:

These "on the river" photos are from my float trip, pictures I studied before the race to try to remember the main splits.  E.g. go right at this spot:

This stand of trees was one of the landmarks I was aiming for:

Some of the river splits had equally deep channels so it didn't matter if we didn't go the same way as on the float.  In other cases there was shallow water in the alternate braid, meaning if we ended up here we'd be getting out of the rafts to walk them back to deeper water:

The best part of this packraft leg during the race was seeing a bald eagle - yay for bald eagles!  A big reason to smile.

From the float trip:

The current was moving quickly, which was great for getting us down the river without too much effort.  It also meant sometimes we had to make decisions a bit in advance to be in the right position.  It was nice to mostly know those decisions (as much as I could recall them) to minimize the hard paddling anytime we had to correct.

I was enjoying myself, hopefully not annoying Dave too much with my yelling directions this way and that when some of them were probably super obvious.

We reached an interesting split, where previously I'd been down the right fork.  When we neared this spot, Dave and I discussed it because it looked like the left fork was the main river flow.  OK, let's try to the left then (it had also been several weeks since my float and the river level had dropped a decent amount so things might have changed).

Except we didn't decide quickly enough, getting pulled to the right anyway.  No worries!  Except for a submerged tree limb sticking out from the bank...

We paddled hard and avoided it, but somehow managed to get turned around backwards so we got to see this wave up close and while pointing upstream:

Well that was exciting!  At least I knew exactly where I wanted to go from there - down that side channel where our lead float raft was heading in this photo.  The funny thing is that when we did this during the float, the guide said "huh, I've never been down this one before".  But it popped out back in the main channel just fine, so we repeated it in our packrafts:

More map, showing more braids as we continued down the Snake:

A little bit more excitement, Dave and I managed to slide into a long tree across part of the river, happily we didn't hit it fast and it was bare of bark and easy to push off as we worked the raft around the end of it.  It was a fun river, keeping us on our toes.

We went through a few small standing waves, getting some water in the raft here and there.  It was great having a big sponge so Dave could remove a lot of it from the not-self-bailing raft.  We took turns paddling and eating/drinking, enjoying the lovely weather and not being too hot (or cold) that afternoon.

In one of the last river splits, our rafts somehow ended up in different parts of the current.  Dave and I decided to go right, but that wasn't enough time for Tom and Leslie to follow.  Oops, well, we had talked about this possibility and planned to meet (or wait) downstream where the river braids came back together.

We initially thought that our boat had made the poorer choice because of a bit of shallow water, but soon we were back in deep water and moving well again.  Leslie and Tom showed up further downstream, telling a tale of finding a little whirlpool on their route!  They said it spun them around and made it hard to get out of.  They weren't sure they were going to stay in their raft, but they did, happily!

I snapped a shot of this little bugger during my float trip, maybe Tom and Leslie ran into something like this:

One section of unavoidable standing waves across the whole river, no problem, just a fun ride (and a bit of water over the bow):

John was waiting at the next bridge to get some photos of us coming by:

I had been warning the team about this huge submerged rock (since our float raft actually hit it in a slightly concerning way, and that was a much bigger raft), but it was easy to avoid and not an issue (also a picture of the bridge where John was watching for us):

Coming around the bend, past the take-out from my previous float:

The last several miles were billed as "the easiest part of the river" by my float guide - very few obstacles and no braids to deal with:

A scouting photo from the next bridge down - looks like we might need to actually paddle some:

I love this photo that Kaori took from the next bridge - Leslie had spotted the photographers and told us we should work on our best form for the cameras, but I couldn't help looking up and grinning:

I was having a great time, except toward the end when I really needed to pee.  We were almost there, it would be a shame to waste time stopping now.  But it was all I could think about for the final few minutes on the water.

View of the takeout on the gravel bar across the river (river left).  Photo taken from where I thought the takeout would be, on river right:

John had arrived to document the next phase of our journey - yay, John, that was fun!

Pulling up on the beach:

First stop = the bushes.  OK, now I can focus.  That still didn't help speed up this transition, especially since I was trying to keep from getting sand all over everything.  That was a losing battle and just slowing me down.  John was not impressed with our team's ability to organize our stuff.  We should probably practice this more.

Rolling up one packraft:

Treating water for the next section - and we needed a lot, so we wanted to get this part right.  At least I was using an inline filter and Leslie was using iodine tablets, so the Sawyers bag process took only half as long as it might have.

Lugging everything up the steep, muddy bank:

Trying to keep up with the team:

The paddle bag went onto a truck and we continued further up the road to find our first gearbox (in the process forgetting to leave the packraft repair kit in the paddle bag and having to return once more to this truck):

Leslie punching the checkpoint to officially put us into leg 4:

Total time after leg 3 = 5:53:13 (including both packraft transitions), back to 46th place (probably mostly due to those transitions).  Near the back of the pack, but at least we're not last!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Cowboy Tough - legs 1 and 2 (trek)

(Photos by Randy Ericksen and John Beard)

Finally, my race report from Cameco Cowboy Tough in August!  Standard warning as for all my race reports, this will probably run long and have tons of details.  In this case, like the race itself, it will have multiple parts and take several days to write and read.

For anyone wanting a more readable and entertaining and much-more-reasonable length version, here's a link to the report by my teammate Dave:

58 international adventure racing teams gathered at Teton Village near Jackson, WY for the start of the Cameco Cowboy Tough world championships - most of us had a long road to get here, but we were all excited to get started!

And... go!

Leg 1 - "Where Team Vignette stays back"
[3 miles on foot, 100% trail, 1000' gain and loss, and we didn't need to carry anything with us]

Knowing how excited we'd be, I asked the team if they wouldn't mind staying behind me for the opening rush to let me set a pace I thought I could sustain instead of dashing off up the hill and putting me into oxygen debt immediately.  We mostly succeeded, watching the majority of the teams dash away at the gun:

The ski area summer trails map, with our checkpoints labeled in red circles:

We were required to reach point P01 first, then we could do P02, 03, and 04 in any order, then we had to finish with P05.  And we were required to stay on trails.

The Wildflower trail heading up the hill, a photo from my scouting days:

John hiked up to watch the mob come running up toward him:

An uphill run is a good way to spread out the pack right away:

Differing ideas about whether to take the trail or the dirt road:

I wanted to take the trail, which was mostly just as direct, but eventually decided that that road must also be legal from the "stay on trails rule" standpoint, so we ran the road down on the way back.  Hi John, we're finally racing!

John had gotten permission from the race directors to follow us to various points on the course and take pictures, that was really cool:

Making our way up the trail toward checkpoint P01:

Soon we found the top of the small chairlift and our first checkpoint.  That was easy!  Time to jog on the flatter sections, following trails to make a CCW loop.  It looked like most teams had chosen this direction, which was nice because every team going the other way would have to come past us on a narrow trail.

We'd gotten some last-minute instructions on how to use the e-Punch to avoid multiple punches (and using up its capacity), so Leslie asked a couple questions to verify how it worked.  She wore it around her neck the whole race and we always knew it was safe with her.  It was great having real split times for an expedition race for once.

One checkpoint on the upper trail, one at the far end, then some downhill running along switchbacks to the last one in the loop.  We passed a couple teams along the way, so it was nice to know that we weren't last.

A bit more uphill hiking back to the top of the small chair lift, and then it was all downhill back to Teton Village.  It felt like we hiked/ran a solid pace, not too crazy.  And I made sure to catch the veer back onto singletrack at the end instead of missing that turn like I had during scouting.  Otherwise, the nav was easy.

John got a few pictures of teams returning at the end of leg 1:

From the bus we had seen some wildfire smoke haze hanging over the Tetons, but it wasn't too bad, and the air quality got better as we moved east.  The sky looks pretty good from here - more racers returning to the starting line to collect their packs:

John tried to capture our team on video but missed, so you'll have to be content with a view of us walking away with our packs on:

After leg 1 = 48:30, 46th place out of 58 teams

Leg 2 - Where Team Vignette actually runs
[7 miles on foot, 100% paved trail, no gain and 100' loss, and we had to follow the paved bike path all the way]

Leslie punched the P06 checkpoint and we jogged out of the Village toward the bike path:

On the map we followed the dark line (the road/bikeway) from P06 to checkpoint 01/TA:

John trying to get a picture of us but mostly you can see that it was a nice day out:

We set out at a solid jogging pace, certainly faster than I had expected, but I settled into it and was able to keep up if not talk much.  I wasn't really looking forward to this leg, figuring it to be rather tedious, but it went by quickly enough since we were running.  We got to meet a few teams (passing them, others passing us).  We'd take a walk break occasionally and I paused to drink Spiz a couple times.  Then back to jogging.  There were 1/2 mile markers so we could gauge our progress.

We were told to stay on the right, and most teams we saw were on the right half of the bike path, but apparently that wasn't good enough for a couple of cyclists.  One yelled some loud comments.  The craziest was a woman blaring a car horn on her bike - we didn't realize what it was (thought it was an actual car) until she rode past.  What the heck was that?

Happily, there were also plenty of pleasant people on the path, and even a few cheering us on.  And the rest of Wyoming was a lot friendlier!  And not as loud.

John drove down toward the river put-in and got some shots of the lead teams:

Eventually we showed up:

Almost done our 10 miles of running for the afternoon!

Well, now we're almost done:

Total time after leg 2 = 2:06:49, 41st place

A good start!