Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The last Big Chill

We used to do more adventure races, many of them in Texas, and especially Too Cool Racing's events.  When we heard that Too Cool was putting on one last Big Chill race (the 20th edition) almost exactly on John's 60th birthday, it sounded like something we needed to do.

After all, we were there 10 years ago.

So we borrowed a bike rack and drove to Lake Somerville in central Texas for the weekend.  Dave was happy to join us, but sadly our friend Jason got Covid the week before and had to stay home  :(  We missed you, Jason!

Hello from Team Vignette (one more time racing together!)

Photo credits to Jillian Cook, David Bogle, and Danny Ballard

One of the most delightful aspects of the trip was getting to see friends and fellow racers we haven't seen in quite some time.  Getting prepped for the race was a balancing act between talking with everyone and making sure our gear was in order.  Even better, John's parents drove down from East Texas to experience an adventure race first-hand.  Thanks for being there, Jenny and Jerry!

Dave also wrote a race report - double documentation!  (And more pictures plus the maps - thanks Dave!)

The race started with a quick run around a park loop, with a brief pause to pick up a poker chip (manned by our friend Danny) along the way.  Tom and John got assigned chip pickup duty:

We trotted back to the TA and turned in the poker chip in exchange for our first punch card.  The first leg involved biking on roads (close to our AirBnB lodging, as it turned out) and pausing to find checkpoints along creeks and near the lake shore.  Despite a lack of bike training for me and especially for John, we managed to hit this one pretty hard and maintain some semblance of speed.

Race temperatures worked out great - only slightly chilly standing around before the start, then perfect weather for racing in tights and long sleeves, never too hot. 

The downside to the weather was the wind, which only affected the paddle leg.  But boy, did it affect it.  I wasn't really keen on sitting in the middle seat of a Kevlar canoe in the middle of a windy lake.  We put on rain jackets and pants to stay warm and went down to the boat ramp to get this over with...

 At least the launch was into some reeds for a ways so we didn't have any immediate waves:

Once we broke out of the reeds, we had to deal with a side wind.  Not great.  We've certainly had worse conditions so we had some idea how to stay balanced (even though it's more difficult with 3 people in the boat).  We watched a couple other boats ahead of us and I tried to sort out what I was seeing vs. the map.  Finally I figured out where we had come from (behind a map fold) and realized we had a fairly wide crossing ahead of us.

The closest paddle checkpoint was on the south shore, and the wind was blowing from the north, while we were paddling east.  We decided to tack northeast instead and aim for the boat drop on the north shore.  There were several trekking checkpoints on the north side and we really wanted to get those.

Once we made it over to the north shore, we tucked behind a jut-out and found much calmer waters.  That made it easy to reach the boat drop, phew.  We could see other teams getting the first paddle point and heading further east to the far points, but it didn't look like much fun.

Glad to be out of the boat for the time being, we chatted briefly with Art and then started out on foot.  The checkpoints were scattered along trails and roads, with one off-trail option to cut off distance.  Mostly straightforward nav.  Dave has been dealing with knee issues, so we alternated walking and running.

Along the way we discussed the big upcoming trekking leg, the last two short legs (with quite a few checkpoints between them), and the 3 paddle checkpoints on the south side of the lake.  Was it worth attempting to do the entire paddle or should we just return to TA?  We knew we could easily fly downwind to the other shore, but then what?  Sideways waves all the way back?

Since that didn't sound like fun, we took the "skip it" option and started talking about the best way to get back.  The protected north shore was obviously a good place to start.  Once we rounded the jut-out, we aimed northwest to get back into protected waters for as long as possible.  Then we turned south and scooted directly across and downwind to the TA.

Yay, we made it!

Time to get out of all those waterproof clothes and go for a walk.  We grabbed water and more snacks (hello wonderful crew!) and then started up the road.

The next nav question was how to get one of the trek checkpoints.  It was along a trail, but the trail ended at a creek and apparently the bridge was out.  Earlier in the week the area was hit with big rains, enough to refill a once-low lake and make all the creeks rise.  Art and Robyn told the teams to not even try to cross them.

OK, then how best to reach the checkpoint?  There was a small road that ended not far from it, so we figured we could try jumping in from there and bushwhacking down.  When we reached a "no trespassing" sign, we paused.  A truck drove up - good timing! - and we talked to one of the landowners who told us it wasn't possible to do what we were thinking (private property and all that).

Guess we'll go around and figure out that checkpoint on our way back.  Sometimes our ingenious shortcuts don't work out, but it's (usually) worth a try.  So we returned to the main road and hoofed it down another road toward the trail system.

Along the way the road crossed over the creek, and the creek looked really low and calm.  Hmm, maybe something to keep in mind for the return trip.  For now, it was time to circumnavigate the large Flag Pond.

We found the doubletrack leading to the trails and started picking off CP's.  Dave was still moving great, a mix of running and walking at a solid clip.  I had volunteered for "punch card duty" on this leg - although that was before I knew one of the checkpoints was water-based.  Here's Robyn hanging the control before the race.  Apparently this tree was on the shoreline before the recent big rains:

Another checkpoint was noted as being up in a tree so we sent John over to climb it.  Sadly for John, the punch was accessible from the ground:

This seemed like a good location to sit for a couple minutes and eat something:

After an out-and-back to the far CP, we continued our Tour de Flag Pond and found a new structure (Dave has been here a couple times and hadn't seen it before).  Fun location for a checkpoint:

We walked for a bit with a local fisherman and chatted about his adventures with friends.  The guy got in his boat on the canal outlet from the lake, and I'm guessing Dave might have enjoyed a ride back but we continued on by foot and Dave never complained.

Well, we've got to finish up this leg with CP21 on the other side of the creek.  Just in case the creek was actually crossable (somewhere other than over the road bridge) we jogged over to take a look.  It would have cut off some distance if that had worked.

The creek itself didn't look bad, just lazy and brown.  The problem turned out to be the steep and deep muddy banks on both sides.  Getting down would have been slippery (and probably uncontrolled) and getting up the other side looked really messy and challenging.  Fine, we'll go around!

Back to the road, over the bridge, and then along the side of the hill until we reached the bank on the other side of the creek from where we recently were.  From there the trail was easy to follow, just twisty back-and-forth and up-and-down.

The good thing about it was that once we got the last trek checkpoint, we were soon following the course of the next bike leg.  We put eyes on a couple of those checkpoints and also had a chance to see the trail while it was still daylight.  There were muddy and wet sections, also some places we'd be able to ride faster.  For me especially, this scouting would prove helpful.

We saw several teams out on the next bike leg, a couple who were on their way to clearing the course and others who had skipped some points.  No idea where we stood in the pack but it didn't matter - we were there for fun, of course!

Once we got back to TA (not long after sunset) and back on the bike, I had less fun but I'm guessing Dave and John were a lot happier.  Dave took over the nav and we started hitting CP's right and left.  It works out when John and Dave can pause to punch the card while I catch up and pass them briefly, and then let them by when they ride back to me.  Mostly I was just pleased that I rode the whole first section without getting off.

That changed when we rode south for the last couple bike points in a new area.  That trail was horrendously muddy.  If I'd known that, I would have left my bike at the trailhead and run (much faster for me at least).  We reached an intersection where we expected to find a checkpoint but it wasn't there.  Thinking that it might be missing, we took this picture to show we were there:

Then we heard from another team that it was actually further along.  If we'd paid attention to the park trail map instead of just the topo map, we might have figured it out.  Instead there was some biking back and forth, finally punching both remaining bike CP's.

And finally we were back out on the paved park road, glad to be out of the mud!

We hustled back to the TA and did a quick transition to the final trekking section.  It was short but had 5 checkpoints, a leg we didn't want to miss.  Dave said he wasn't used to racing the clock to finish within a time limit, while John and I have had plenty of rogaine orienteering experience recently.  I was pretty confident we could collect all 5.  Dave was motivated to do some running to make sure.  Works for me!

We took off, me still wearing my helmet and bright headlamp and not carrying a Fenix hand light - not my normal night nav setup, to be sure.  No matter, we worked well as a team and ran around the nearby trails to get those checkpoints.

A quick picture of the one on the peninsula, where the punch was missing (and the moon was rising):

We hustled to the last overlook and then back to TA.  Made it with 13 minutes to spare, yay!

It turned out that skipping those 3 paddle points was the best decision we made all race.  It gave us time to (barely) finish all of the remaining legs.  Sometimes you get lucky - by maximizing the number of CP's we were able to collect plus minimizing our time on the windy lake.

Top co-ed team and 4th overall, pretty good for some "vintage" racers!  Art and Robyn seem to agree, or maybe they just like messing with us:

Thank you Art and Robyn for all the wonderful, fun, challenging races you have put on over the years!  We were so pleased to participate in the final Big Chill, it was another good one.

Some other somewhat-related pictures...

Happy birthday John!  (with Louisiana King Cake to celebrate, his parents in the mirror and a fire extinguisher at the ready)

One of two roadrunner statues we saw on our drive to/from Texas:

And the other one (in New Mexico) - love it!

And finally, a picture to summarize how much we enjoyed hanging out with friends and family, thank you Danny, Jillian, and everyone else who was there!

Monday, February 19, 2024

Relay Around Tucson

When I heard about the RAT (Relay Around Tucson) I was intrigued.  It's a race on The Loop bike path, which I know well (at least in our neighborhood).  A team of up to 10 would take turns running segments of the path, starting at Rillito racetrack, making a loop around the entire city, and ending up where they began.

I've always liked the idea of a group relay (maybe eventually something longer like Ragnar or Hood-to-Coast).  Sounds like a fun time with friends interspersed with a bit of running in interesting places.

So we put the idea to the Tucson Orienteering Club, and when we got a bunch of interest, we suddenly had a team - yay!  We called ourselves "O Rats!"

Photo credits include Alan Craig, Yvonne Poe, and Cristina Luis, plus Damion Alexander on bike - thank you all!

Gathering at the start with some semblance of a plan for the day:

Alan is ready to tackle the first, and coldest, leg of the race:

Go RATs!

Looking good, Alan!

Early on we noticed Team Shrek, with their fun Shrek-wear and face paint:

They were definitely in the running for best costumes:

Alan approaching the first exchange, with the Catalinas on the horizon:

A successful hand-off of our team wristband to Charles:

The rest of us drove a couple more vehicles than necessary for the first part of the race, as we didn't realize that most of us were prepared to spend the entire day following along and cheering on our teammates.  Eventually we got ourselves into one vehicle as a couple people had to leave to be productive or something.

It turned out to be a huge amount of fun driving around together, hanging out and getting to know each other, watching the runners, helping each teammate get ready, and enjoying the beautiful weather:

Charles ran two of the shorter (back-to-back) legs and we popped in at the second exchange to cheer as he cruised past:

Which didn't leave Gavin much time to prepare for the start of his run.  He was only slightly late getting the wristband from Charles, then he made up for it with a big effort along the Santa Cruz river (so many underpasses!)

Meanwhile I scrambled to get myself ready.  My teammates kept me updated on Gavin's faster-than-expected progress, even letting me know exactly how much time I had to get in and back out of the porta-potty...

Gavin approached the exchange with the slap-on wrist band at the ready:

Just for kicks, I posed with an outstretched arm, ready for Gavin's perfect hand-off:

And a couple of our teammates documented the event, too funny:

The reflective vest was required for my leg because of several road crossings.  It helped being familiar with these so I could look ahead and judge when the walk signals might start and end.  I hit 2 out of 3 of them with no waiting, that was a minor accomplishment.

Damion the bike photographer came by on the Ajo Way section, Hi Damion!  Hey, can you ride ahead and punch the "walk" button at the next intersection?  Many thanks!

Finally done with most of the street crossings, time to focus on just running as well as I could.  Our team was setting a precedent of "solid effort" and it was good motivation to run like I was racing.

One of the funniest things about the relay was the RaceJoy app that most of us had downloaded onto our phones.  It would track each runner so the next person in line could be ready to go on time.  Even better, we could send inspirational greetings to our teammates.  Once we discovered the extent of those options, the entertainment really began.

There were all kinds of canned "way to go!" and "looking good!" cheers available, plus some odd ones and many with hilarious sounds.  My favorites involved a Scottish accent.  Also, you could type in custom messages and a monotone female voice would read them off to the runner.  Gavin started sending Wikipedia facts about random things for no particular reason.

I only wished I had turned my phone volume up louder so I could hear them better while running, but I sure could tell that my phone was getting pinged a LOT and it made me laugh.  For every runner on our team that got this treatment, they would turn around and start texting harder to the next person, so by the end of the race we were amusing ourselves and admiring each other's creativity.

I was pleased to be able to pass a few other teams, including Team Shrek.  I was also glad to be finished with those 6.9 miles, time to hand off to speedy Billie - go Billie go!

Damion rode alongside her for a ways (they knew each other already) and she showed off her athleticism:

Superman posed for photos while we were waiting at the next exchange:

John getting ready while the rest of us clown around (and send encouragement to Billie's phone):

This was a well-designed relay exchange, complete with a chute to make you feel fast and all official-like:

John ran off for his 5.2-mile leg that turned north across the desert, and the rest of us drove around to the other end.  Hey, it's a fellow Rivian adventure person, with an excellent license plate to boot!

John finishing his leg and handing off to Yvonne - go Yvonne!

I saw the "mer-people" team posing for a picture and couldn't resist snapping one myself - another excellent group of costumes:

Yvonne handing off to Billie for the start of leg 9, as we continue running faster than any of us had expected:

Billie was our team's secret weapon - fast AND with a ton of endurance.  I could have run a (short) second leg, but nowhere near as quickly as Billie did.

Before we knew it, we were at the final exchange (where we discovered a snack table for the first time - it's probably good we didn't see one of those at earlier exchanges).  Cristina headed down the path in search of the finish line:

Go Cristina!

Our team was in high spirits as we drove back to the place we started:

We had a few minutes to wait, so Billie got to experience the inside of Tug-E's gear tube (I think she could sleep in there):

Somehow we got all focused on the status of Team Shrek, as we had been back-and-forth with them for much of the race.  We figured out how to track their last runner and it looked like maybe they were catching up to Cristina?  For some reason, it became urgent that we stay ahead.  Billie started sending app messages to Cristina to "keep running, stay ahead of Shrek!"

Whether it mattered to Cristina or not, she did run fast enough to reach the finish line before the green team.  Yay for the O Rats!

Woo hoo, we did it!  Also, they gave us some really nice jackets:

A pile of RAT medals:

Damion took one last picture of us before we finally had to go our separate ways.  It sure was a blast y'all!

Friday, February 16, 2024

New Year's in Vegas

Last blog post about 2023, finally!  Time to return to Las Vegas for a couple days (one main reason is detailed below).  We did some reminiscing about past races with friends.  My favorite experiences in any city is time spent doing urban races.  The "good old days", from our perspective.

The theme of this particular visit was something new, however.  There's this Sphere thing there now, and you really can't miss it:

The display is always moving and changing - sometimes it has giant eyeballs:

We briefly looked at ticket prices for an inside-the-sphere experience (ex-sphere-ience?) and decided to watch from the outside instead.

An up-close look at a small fraction of the gagillion LED lights:

You know I rarely take pictures of our food.  This lunch, at Down 2 Earth, was deliciously photo-worthy (and close to a Rivian charging station):

Um, sure... but what about when I make this face?

We walked up and down the Strip, remembering mad dashes in various directions for checkpoints and selfies:

We saw a couple fun shows - Potted Potter (all 7 Harry Potter books condensed into 70 minutes of silliness and lively use of props) and RuPaul's Drag Race (with a lovely host and talented "competitors").  Shows like these are excellent reasons to go into casinos, for those of us who rarely gamble.

Something else new and also tall (maybe not quite as tall as the Sphere though) - she's near the Vegas Arena, and she's quite stunning:

We didn't manage to capture the fountain show at Bellagio...

So instead, here's a picture from 2002:


A global (and rotating) Sphere scene:

Ah, here we are at the "reason for Vegas" - a New Year's Eve show with John Oliver and Seth Meyers!  We heard the announcement for it while listening to the Strike Force Five (explosion!) podcast, and it didn't take long to throw together a little trip to Nevada.

We attempted way too many pictures trying to get a decent selfie on the way into the show, most of which were like this (or worse):

Here's the only shot that halfway works, although even our mimicry was rather lacking:

At least the show itself was really good, hilarious and entertaining, and fun to see John and Seth doing stand-up comedy instead of their TV gigs.  The rest of our trip was good, and this topped it off to made it completely worth it.

A brief interlude while waiting for the midnight fireworks show (which was way past our bedtime, but hey, how often do we get to ring in the new year in Vegas?), so we wandered over to the back Conservatory of the Bellagio.

Admiring the elaborate Nutcracker display:

A giant Clara on a huge couch:


Then it was time to find a place to watch the fireworks.  We'd scoped out a parking garage roof (above where we parked Tug-E, conveniently) and started that way.  With the crowds on the Strip and the road closures, we ended up having to run to make it on time...

Happily, we had at least 34 seconds to spare (we could see the Sphere from our vantage point, for the official countdown):

What an amazing fireworks show!  It was coordinated from the tops of various casinos up and down the Strip, all doing similar (and large) displays of light and sound:

We could see much of it from our parking garage roof (which was also much less crowded than the streets).  A shot from the finale:

Happy 2024, y'all!

And finally, one random picture that I think we took by mistake while clowning around:

Super fun trip!