14 October 2014

Race Report: 2014 Burnin at the Bluff 12hr solo

Me on my first lap ever at Council Bluff Lake. Changing one of about 5 flats. Photo by Stephen Venters.
My first time at Burnin at the Bluff in 2010, I couldn't finish a lap faster than 2 hours. Multiple pinch flats and a serious lack of bike-handling talent humbled me on the 12.5-mile singletrack loop of Council Bluff Lake. Luckily I had saints (Todd Holtmann and John Peiffer) for teammates and they forgave my inexperience by throwing down some much faster lap times and we finished 4th coed team that year.
Me and Wendy at Burnin 2012. I was barely sober enough to climb the podium.
I wasn't able to race in 2011, but in 2012 I woman-ed up on Friday night and jumped into the 12hr solo category against Wendy Davis. My fastest lap that year was a 1:39, but I was able to eek out the victory with 5 laps after building a 15ish minute lead. I distinctly remember slowly walking up one of the punchier climbs on the route, eating peanut butter crackers and wanting to cry. When I was able to finish with 5 laps, my body was wrecked and I attempted to fix it with Wild Turkey American Honey...not recommended!
Bootlegger's Burnin 2013. Photo by Sneat Pinkles.
I also wasn't able to race in 2013 because of some adventure racing conflict. That turned out to be okay since Council Bluff Lake is part of Mark Twain National Forest which was closed for the government shut-down. Bootlegger's Burnin was still held, but not as many people showed and they all thought emptying kegs of PBR was more important than churning out laps of CBL. They were only being polite - it's rude to expect someone to haul full kegs back to STL. Just your friendly neighborhood mountain bikers trying to make everyone's weekend a little easier.
OT100MTB podium. Photo by Melisa Link.
And that brings us to 2014, the year of the inaugural OT100MTB where Kate Wilson beat me so convincingly in the 100-mile women's race that I didn't even want to toe the line at Burnin and potentially lose again. I was one text message away from joining an all-women's team and only being responsible for 3 speedy laps instead of more-than-3 steady laps. But after talking to my Team Noah Foundation teammates, I realized I couldn't just slink away from one tough loss. I had to re-evaluate my race logistics, strategy, and most importantly, mental focus. It's not like I made any huge mistakes at OT100MTB, but after carefully dissecting every mile of my ride, I found a few things that I could improve on to help Burnin go well.
Starting line of Burnin 2014. Photo by Patrick Kirkes.
So I showed up at Council Bluff Lake on Saturday morning with a plan. Execute my race, smart and steady, and be ready to go to the well when the race demanded it. And I did plan on digging deep - I had raced for 29 hours the weekend prior at USARA Adventure Racing Nationals, finishing 5th overall with my Alpine Shop teammates Jeff and David. But I had taken it extremely easy the days in between and I knew that if I kept my brain in the right place, my legs would show up with an honest effort.

I set up my pit beneath a glorious Alpine Shop pop-up tent and got the SegSlayer all ready to go. The morning was cool but not freezing and no rain - perfect racing conditions. I had heard reports that the singletrack was in terrific shape despite constant rains on Friday and I couldn't wait to get on it myself. We all lined up for the long Le Mans start and I landed on the front row. I have no idea why. It's not like I planned on or even WANTED to be at the front of the race. But David and Peat and Dwayne were there so I just stood like I belonged. We sang the national anthem, lit some smoke bombs, and then took off for the run to our bikes.
Did someone have chili for breakfast? Photo by Kelly Skinner.
LAP 1, 1:30 (includes Le Mans run start)
Clackity-clack-clack-clackity-clack! That is the sound of getting passed by more than half the field at Burnin, and I am not bothered in the least. I don't want the pressure of people riding close behind me on the singletrack, so I just jog, find my bike which is exactly where I left it (not always the case at Burnin), jump on, and ride off down the hill. I note that Kate is ahead of me but she soon zooms out of my field of vision and I let her go. I've been really nervous all morning and now that the race has started, I can't shake the tension like I normally do. And I handle my bike like crap when I'm nervous. This isn't good. I know I just need to get a few miles under my belt so I try not to beat myself up too badly when I put a foot down in the easy sections. I finally make it to the campground climb that signals the end of each lap, and happily spin up it to find out my fate...how far ahead is Kate? As I ride through the pit area, I get reports from various people, ranging from 1 to 10 minutes. Not very helpful. But thankfully Carrie is there under the Alpine Shop tent, ready to help me with my stuff and with a reliable split - 3 minutes from when Kate left. I just grab some extra calories for my bento and ride out for Lap 2.

LAP 2, 1:28
I am encouraged that despite my shaky bike handling, the gap up to Kate isn’t disastrous. Back on the trail, I focus on how lucky I am to be riding one of my all-time favorite pieces of singletrack in nearly perfect conditions. And, I get to do this ALL DAY!! I think about my journey from total newbie to somewhat accomplished racer, and try to remind myself that no matter what happens at the end of 12 hours, I’ve come so far already. One of the many things that Team Noah Foundation has helped me focus on is the journey. Results are good but our evolution as people and as a community is what we’re all here for. I reflect on the many teammates I’ve raced with both mountain biking and adventure racing, how much I’ve learned from them, and how much their teaching fills me with gratitude and joy. I know this sounds incredibly sappy but it really was my mental state on Lap 2. Just before I get to the rock garden (near mile 8.5 out of 12.5), Heather (racing 6hr solo) catches up to me and we both clean the rock garden (victory!!!) and onto the dam. Heather hustles by and for a minute I just let her go. And then I remember how good of a technical rider she is and how much I could gain by following her wheel. So I sprint back up to her and am rewarded with 4 miles of fast, clean riding. Her pace is just one tick above mine, but her lines are immaculate and by following them, we absolutely fly through the remaining singletrack. We climb up the the campground together and once we get to the top, I tell Heather thanks as she stops at her pit. I also see Kate just leaving her pit so I know the gap is down to a minute or so. Great news!
Top of the campground climb on Lap 1. Photo by John Gomes.
LAP 3, 1:31
I ditch my vest, change into lighter gloves, and swap bottles before heading out on Lap 3. The previous lap helped me find my singletrack swagga and now I know that Kate is within reach. But we still have many laps ahead of us and I am in no rush to catch her as long as the gap stays manageable. Finally, just after the rock garden, I catch sight of her crossing the dam and am encouraged. I see no benefit to passing her now so I just ride 10-60 seconds back for the remaining 4 miles. I think I get close enough a few times that she figured out I was there, but not sure. In any case, it doesn't really matter since my left groin muscle cramps as we climb up to the campground. No bueno! I'm discouraged but not devastated, again this is still early in the day and I have plenty of time to fix this. I take it super easy on my legs and am able to get some encouragement from speedy Nad Snurb as he passes me on the right-hander switchback. Go 1993 Bulls! Once in the pit, I am focused on getting some salt. I double up on nuun tablets in my bottle and get some e-caps from Tara who set up her tent next to mine. Saved, thanks lady!!

LAP 4, 1:31
Fully restocked on nutrition, I roll out with a turkey sandwich in hand and a goal to fix these cramps ASAP before the race gets serious. Ironically, I purchased "low-sodium" turkey for my sandwich and am laughing at myself for that "healthy" decision. Anyway, I eat the entire thing before hitting the singletrack and then it's pure bliss once again. Gino catches me early and I give him a quick recap of the race so far before he zooms past. Strove Frodeman does it a few minutes later. I swear, these fast guys doing single laps seem like fighter jets compared to my 12hr pace. It's actually really inspiring to me and I try to visualize myself floating over the babyheads and shredding through the loose turns like they do. Zoom zoom! I catch back up to Kate at the rock garden (seems to be a theme here) but again don't want to try to pass her until I'm sure that my legs are good to go. So we ride loosely together for the rest of the lap until the start of the campground climb. Kate has gotten a little bit ahead of me and as I ride up, I notice she's standing still, off her bike, and a curious pssssssssst noise is coming from one of the tires. Oh no! A flat! I stop and offer to help but Kate says she has everything she needs. I don't need to be told twice to keep riding. But my "sprint" uphill is really comical since I still haven't quite fixed the cramping in my legs yet. So it's more like a slow-motion spin into the campground. I circle the field just as Aaro the announcer is calling time on the 6hr race and I am super-stoked to finish my 4 laps in 6hrs flat. 2 years ago it was my "stretch" goal to reel off four 1:30 laps in a row and now I've done it as a part of a much bigger race. This fills me with confidence as I execute another quick pit with the help of Maria and hit the road for another lap.

LAP 5, 1:34
I didn't anticipate being in the lead of the women's 12hr race on Lap 5, but these are the cards the race is currently dealing, and I know I have to double down my effort here to have any hope later of staying in front. I was leading the women's race at OT100MTB until mile 87 and lost it because I wasn't riding as smart as I possibly could. So now I try to take all of the lessons I learned from that day and put them to use. Climb hard, but not too hard. Ride clean through the every tiny tech section that I possibly can. And on the downhills, RECOVER instead of push. I chat this out loud to myself everytime the trail turns down. Hands loose, shoulders loose, legs loose, deep breaths. Heart full, eyes clear...or something like that. Actually my mental soundtrack was rockin all day thanks to Bronze Radio Return's Further On and Up, On & Over. Seriously, this band is so inspiring, check them out. Adding to the party in my brain is Dwayne and Peat who have finally lapped me, guess where, just before the rock garden!! I am pretty pumped to hold them off for 50+ miles, and they have news that Kate has successfully fixed her tire and is riding again. Woohoo! As I spin up the campground climb my legs seem to hold strong and Maria and Jeff help me in the pit.

LAP 6, 1:37
As I ride off on Lap 6, I can't help but compare my mental and physical state from 2012. That year, I was completely crushed by 5 laps and couldn't imagine a sixth, let alone the SEVEN that Jen Goldstein rode to win the women's 12hr. Now, I'm still feeling reasonably strong, although my hands have started to go numb. I have a love/hate relationship with hand numbness. First, I like it because it means I've been riding a long time. Then, I dislike it because it hurts. Then, I like it because it means I brake less so I go "faster". Then, I dislike it because I get scared about braking less. Then, I like it because it forces me out of my comfort zone. So. There you have it. A peek into EK's racebrain. Oh yeah, and the real EK passes me just before the paved boat launch with surprising news that the 1993 Bulls are not living up to their destiny. And that's really all I can remember about Lap 6, just trying to stay strong but not too strong, take a few glances backward but not too many because "winning is that way".

LAP 7, 1:43
I make it back to the pit around 6:00pm with the sun slowly setting so it's time to add lights to my bike and helmet. I felt like this took me a long time to deal with at OT100MTB so today I've prepped a second helmet with a Stella 300, and my Seca 750 is already on my bars, I just have to plug in a battery and I'm off! Maria helps me again with a quick pit and soon the dusk is settling over Council Bluff Lake. On the doubletrack leading into Enough Boat Ramp I start to turn on lights, and it takes me a few miles to get used to the transition. I crash pretty hard on one of the uphills just after Enough, and land on the downhill side of the trail with my bike on top of me. I feel panic rising in my heart, fearing that Kate will catch me while I'm tangled up on the side of the trail. I try to calm myself down and get going again, which is hard but I manage. I'm alternating between moments of joy and moments of despair. I remind myself to keep digging deep to make up for the apathy I battled (or rather...didn't battle) at OT100MTB. Throughout the rest of the lap, several lights catch me and for each one, I'm praying that the voice behind it is male. Lucky enough for me, they all are, including a repeat visit from Gino who tells me I sound much happier than earlier in the race. And he's right! It's hard to keep track of landmarks from earlier in the day, but the sharp right-hand turn that signals the start of the campground climb is hard to miss. All the way up hill I'm doing mental math...do I have time for another lap? Does Kate?

Once at the top, I check in with the timing tent to see if they have any idea what the gap is back to Kate. They say it's around 10-15 minutes, but then I realize I have no idea how much time I gave up crashing. Anything can happen here at Burnin and I'm in a tough spot. All laps have to be completed by 9:30pm or they don't count. It's 7:45pm and if I have to do another lap, it will take a near-perfect ride to finish before the cutoff. I would really, really rather not ride it if I don't have to. So, I prepare for an 8th lap at the Alpine Shop tent, drinking an Ensure and filling my bottle with Coke, while Maria stands guard at the singletrack exit to see if Kate is close behind. The clock ticks down, each second inching closer to being done. Finally, with only 1h25m remaining, we haven't seen Kate, so I walk back over to the timing tent to tell them I'm done. 
If you don't crash at least once, you're not riding hard enough. Photo by The Claw.
They congratulate me unofficially on the win and then point out that my left knee is bleeding! I hadn't even realized it. Struckman digs out his first aid kit and The Claw hands me a delicious pumpkin beer as we work on cleaning out my disgusting wound. Fortunately, it's not terribly deep, just bloody, so I eventually just pack it with iodine swabs, slap a bandaid on it, and call it good. I have a few minutes to change into dry clothes and even have a beer before the awards ceremony! It's awesome to see the final riders come through, and to see Peat and Dwayne ride to the finish together after their 9-lap odyssey. Peat takes the win with a wheelie across the line in true Peat fashion.

So I can't find a picture of the 12hr women's podium, but it was me and Kate rockin the straw bales! 
Photo credit secret to protect the innocent.
And then, against all advice from The Voice Of Reason, we burned said straw bales. Maybe Scooter and I found some boxes to throw on the bonfire as well. We were just trying to be helpful - burning boxes is lot easier than hauling them to the dumpster. Maybe a flamingo or two was included in there too, but I can't say for certain. Once the fire had died (or had it?) we migrated to Campsite C and proceeded to demolish their buffet of perfectly charred corn, and potatoes, and red pepper hummus. Oh my, it was delicious. Just ask Carrie.
And then, with a rather quiet, tame, and strangely coherent walk back to my campsite, Burnin was over. The road leading into this race was hard for me. I needed to lean on the strength of my Team Noah Foundation and Alpine Shop teammates for the courage to even sign up, and for the skills and mental focus needed to have my best race. And, in a way that maybe only makes sense to me, I needed Kate to win the OT100MTB so I could have the day I had at Burnin. A few days after the race, both she and Peat thought that I had broken the women's 12hr solo record, and it was Kate who dug up the evidence on the Interwebz. Turns out we both smashed Jen's previous best of 7 laps in 12:36 (Kate in 11:15 and me in 10:53). Now records in mountain biking are a little silly because they are so dependent on trail conditions, but I am still so proud of what we both accomplished at Burnin 2014. Dwayne is always about the journey and I can tell you that laps around Council Bluff Lake is one of the best journeys you can ever hope to take.

RESULTS: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fy1x5frj3276mbl/BATB%202014%2012%20Hour%20Solo%20Mens%20and%20Womens%20Results.pdf?dl=0 AND https://www.facebook.com/2TGLLC
MY STRAVA: http://www.strava.com/activities/206644103
JEN GOLDSTEIN'S RECORD: http://www.mylaps.com/en/classification/1724211?perClass=1
PATRICK KIRKES PHOTOS: https://www.facebook.com/patrick.kirkes/media_set?set=a.10201757961590183.1073741833.1815502498&type=3
JOHN GOMES PHOTOS: https://www.facebook.com/john.gomes.77736310/media_set?set=a.1550064728557556.1073741843.100006621314385&type=1
KELLY SKINNER PHOTOS: https://www.facebook.com/kelly.skinner.779/media_set?set=a.216347128381882.67307.100000197886693&type=1

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08 August 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 3)

NOTE: This is the third in a series of posts about Cowboy Tough multi-day adventure race. I (Emily) worked together with my teammate Mike to write most of the text, and then Mike added in his own comedic flair in red italics. Enjoy!
Part 1
Part 2

View of the rappel wall from our sleeping spot.
Instead of being woken up by alarms, we’re rustled awake by the huge gusts of wind rushing through Sinks Canyon State Park. They’re strong enough to make Emily wonder if the rappel will still go as scheduled. But as our alarms start chirping at 0515, the winds start to die down somewhat as sunshine creeps into the campground. We've gotten about 2.5 hours of “rest”, and if we’re lucky most of that has been actual sleep. We hustle through prep for Day 2: getting food in our bellies, caffeine in our system, packs packed, teeth brushed (The value of good dental hygiene cannot be understated.), bathrooms destroyed (Andrei’s nugget of wisdom on this morning was to start every day of an expedition race with a good poop, something he picked up from the GearJunkie himself, Papa Regenold.  Good advice I must say.), and the mandatory quarter safely zipped in the correct shorts pocket.

Mark, the race director, calls all prepared teams to the center of the campground for Day 2’s official start. Since everyone made it into camp at various times last night, we all sleepily look around to see who’s answered the call for Day 2. Not surprisingly, Tecnu and Columbia look fresh and ready to go. The Yogis are there too, along with our friends Journey Racing and Silent Chasers. Mark reads off his list of starters and Emily doesn't hear WABAR’s number called, so after he’s done she shouts out “AND THREE-OH-SEVEN TOO!”. It’s a very, very proud moment for her and the team - after going through all of the challenges of yesterday, we have recovered* and are ready to throw down again with the top teams of Cowboy Tough. Bring it on! In this case “recovered” is a relative term and likely meant different things for each of us.  For me it merely meant that my legs were no longer cramping.  They were however more than a little sore from all that extra work they did while seizing up on me the day before.  All things considered though, I was feeling ready to go.

TREK 1, CPs 22-23, 2mi
Start of Day 2. We slept at EOD01/SOD02. Then we ran to CP22 (The Sinks), then to an unmapped cave, then to CP23 (The Rise), then to ropes at CP24.
We all take off packless to CP22 at “The Sinks”, a unique feature of the state park where the Popo Agie River disappears underground. Then we run to “The Cave” which just looks like a boulder field. But race staff direct Andrei to the tiny hole in the ground and he gets the privilege of spelunking the 500-600’ for the underground punch. The rest of us WABARians get to chat with the other teams who are waiting as well. We’re super proud to let everyone know that yes, we did indeed clear the course yesterday! Once Andrei emerges from the cave (“what was it like, Andrei?” “it was a hole in the ground with a man at the end of it” Andrei is nothing if not concise and to the point with his assessments) we run to “The Rise” where the Popo Agie river comes back above ground and we use the mandatory gear quarter to feed some really large fish. Then we check into the start of the rappel which is directly across the road from our campground.

Top of the rappel. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
At this point in the morning, we’re in 4th behind Tecnu, Columbia, and YogaSlackers. Since there are only three rappel lines set up, we take our time climbing the 200’ or so up to the top. Once we’re there, we only have to wait a few minutes for Tecnu to clear their line before we can start. Emily volunteers to go first and makes it to the bottom with no issues. Then Rachel, then Andrei, and pretty soon Mike’s flying down the rope and we’re all running back into TA.
View of TA from the top of the rappel, taken by Tecnu. You can see our bins still laying out!
We didn't really plan out our gear very well so we have to get back into our bins before leaving on our bikes. It’s a really slow TA, but we finally load everything up just before 8am. (I for one had actually completely forgotten the requirement to leave TA by 8am.  Phil from Silent Chasers mentioned the 8am timeline, which was a friendly reminder, although at the time he brought it up we did happen to be at the TOP of the rappel…)

BIKE 1, CPs 25-26, 25mi
We rode from CP24 to CP25. 
With Emily’s crank re-attached to her bike, we fly out of Sinks Canyon on a very smooth paved descent. We’ve got a quick punch at CP25, and then it’s into Lander for CP26 at Wild Iris Sports. Yesterday, if we couldn’t get Emily’s crank fixed, we had planned to stop here for professional assistance, but that is no longer necessary which is great because the shop’s not even open yet! It’s probably a good thing the shop’s closed, since Mike would have probably gone shopping for a new, lighter bike, costing valuable race time.  (Yup, I was totally ready to trade my 31lb beast in for whatever they had under 23lb.) We also get to say hi to one of our favorite volunteers, Emma from Orange Lederhosen!
Emily took a quick break from the paceline to take pictures.
Being a team of Midwesterners, we’re pretty stoked anytime the road doesn’t pitch up more than 100 feet. Once we’re outside of Lander, we organize into our paceline and start crushing out the 25 mostly-flat miles to Riverton. While riding on pavement is pretty boring for adventure racers, at least it goes by quickly! We are sharing the shoulder with road cyclists on the Tour de Wyoming and they all give us funny looks as we cruise past them. I’m sure they didn’t exactly appreciate getting passed by teams of people on mountain bikes with big packs, but they are all mostly polite about it. Emily’s especially excited to have a functioning bike again so she puts in a couple hard pulls as we make our way down the road.  (Ok, I’m not letting this one go.  I was third or fourth in the paceline but I could TOTALLY read her body language perfectly.  She saw a pack of three roadies ahead (a half mile or more) and there would be no stopping until she mowed them down.  Which she did.)
Ride from Lander to Riverton
The only navigation challenge to this leg is very specific left-hand turn onto Rendezvous Road. Mike’s watching the maps carefully, but the intersections don’t appear to be signed as we fly down the highway. Suddenly, Mike yells “there it is!”*, except Rachel and Andrei don’t hear him over the traffic noise and continue riding past the turn. This is not good. Emily and Mike start yelling for Rachel and Andrei to turn around, but it’s no use. Emily sprints after her teammates and finally gets their attention.

*Full disclosure, I totally thought I missed the turn and was improvising.  I knew the road would take us to Riverton, which would take us where we needed to go.  It wasn't until AFTER the turn that Andrei mentioned that he saw a sign for Rendezvous Rd.  Had I played it a little cooler I probably could have done a more convincing job of selling the fact that I made no mistake.

We all regroup into our paceline after making the turn, but Emily can’t hang on, even with the draft. She yells again for a tow and Mike (or was it Andrei?) helps her out. “Are you okay?” Mike asks. “I’ll be fine in a bit, I just blew up a little,” Emily replies. She sits in the draft for the remaining miles into Riverton, where we have to piece together some sketchy map info with race instructions to “look for the Maverick’s gas station and turn right”. We tentatively ride through the town looking for the 1853 Historical Site. Just when we’re convinced we’re in the wrong spot, Andrei spots a faded sign and we ride into the CP.

We are greeted by Zach from Rev3 who points us to a shady grove where the special challenge is set up. We’re met by a dude named “Numbers” dressed in what we assume to be historically accurate buckskin. He gives us a quick lesson on how to throw a tomahawk and says that we all have to stick a throw before we’re awarded the punch. And as a bonus, the CP staff have fun historical accessories for us to wear while throwing the ‘hawks. Let’s play dress-up!
Numbers showing us how it's done. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.

Mike cowboys up and sticks his throw on the FIRST TRY. There is a reason we call him “The Garrison”. Rachel and Emily are next after a few tosses, and Andrei gets his to stick as well. Sweet! The Rev3 staff also tell us that we’re in 4th overall so far behind Tecnu, Columbia, and YogaSlackers. Even sweeter! We hop back onto our bikes for more flat paved road riding.

BIKE 2, CP28, 20mi
Ride from Riverton to Boysen Reservoir SP.
The second bike leg is very much like the first one - flat and paved! We feel that as Midwesterners we are especially well-trained to handle these conditions so push a little harder than “luxury racing” pace. Zach told us it was a 14mi ride, but our pre-race map analysis said 20mi, and when we reach the 14mi marker there is no lake in sight. But guess what...Emily’s crank is loose AGAIN! How did this happen? We stop precariously on the side of the highway to perform another too-small-and-soft plastic tire lever fix. Same as yesterday, it works, but only for a mile this time. The team decides to put Emily in the back of the paceline, and on tow, and just have her coast into TA. And, because of the favorable road conditions, she doesn’t hardly have to pedal to maintain 15+ mph. That’s what teamwork and drafting will do!

We finally spot the Boysen Reservoir and, on the eastern bank, the Rev3 Mobile TA. We cruise right up to it and start transitioning to paddle mode. Out of pure luck, JR the medic is working at this TA so Emily asks him to borrow his 10mm hex wrench again. This time, he says, “Just keep it!” which is infinitely helpful since we have a huge bike ride tomorrow. We all change out of our bike shorts and into bottoms more comfortable for paddling and trekking. Then Emily invokes the spirit of her Alpine Shop teammates Jeff and David as she picks out 2 canoes for the team with working seat backs and minimal bottom warping. Then we assemble paddles and put in!

PADDLE 1, CP29, 6mi
Day 2’s course continues to be tailored to “Things That Midwestern Adventure Racers Are Good At” since we have a 6mi lake paddle in canoes. And it’s HOT. We set up with Emily and Mike in one boat, Andrei and Rachel in another, and Emily navving. We’ve been warned about strong afternoon winds but for now the air above Boysen SP Reservoir is hot and still. The first 6 miles are rather uneventful and soon enough we are nearing our take-out spot for a 3-point optional trek.
Andrei and Rachel's boat on the first paddle leg.
TREK 2, CPs 30-33, 2mi
3-point O'
We take out on a sandy beach with exactly zero shade options. We all make sure we’ve got enough water, even for this shorty trek, since the terrain doesn’t have any shade, either. As we jog off, we discover the ground to be unlike anything we’ve ever trekked on - dried sand with embedded round rocks, and the occasional cactus. It seems like we’re running across a lake bed with no water, except it’s not flat. All of the clues to these optional CPs are “high point” so we soon find ourselves trekking uphill on assorted game trails for each of our punches. Once we’ve got everything, we find a two-track to take us back to the boats.
so hot right now.
We’re all roasting in the exposed heat so we take our sweet time getting back in the boats - Andrei breaks out his Magic Sack and everyone gets new water in their bladders, and we all go for a swim as well.
Andrei takes a swim.
PADDLE 2, CPs 34-36, 9mi
More paddling! The map color mis-match was obvious and Rachel called it "the deep end"
On one hand, we are thankful the winds have not picked up yet because it makes the paddling easy. But on the other hand, we are absolutely broiling in the still, hot air. We dodge tube-pulling-speedboats on the way to CP34 which is located very close to a popular beach/camping spot. Emily is tentative on the attack but as we get closer to the shore, Andrei and Rachel spot the flag and paddle in for the punch. The water levels are a few meters higher than shown on the map, which is a bit tricky, especially considering CP35 is hung on a very specific point of land amid several other points of land.
Mike and Emily paddling.
We paddle around CP34’s peninsula and past some real live bow-hunters on the way to CP35. As we paddle, multiple points of land emerge on our right side. Emily has a hard time matching them with the elevated water levels and we end up attacking CP35 too early. After a few minutes of paddling around looking for the flag, she cries uncle and flings the map back at Mike for him to make everything better. Mike takes a few glances at the map, a few looks at the terrain, and tells us to paddle out of the cove we’re in and continue on northward for a few more hundred meters before we get to CP35. Another 15-20 minutes lost, but at least it’s easily fixable and, since we’re paddling, doesn't add a single meter of climb!
Andrei paddling.
Emily takes the maps back after CP35, but all we have is a long, north-northwesterly paddle to the take-out/TA. The clear sighting conditions mean that features in the distance are highly visible, and for some reason that throws her off her nav game in a big way. Full and somewhat snarky disclosure here:
Adventure races always rely heavily on map-and-compass navigation, but within that skillset there is a range of technical proficiency. Navigationally, the easiest stuff is just like following a road map, and the hardest stuff uses no roads or trails at all, just identifying (sometimes very subtle) terrain features and moving between them, aka orienteering. In the Midwest, our 24hr adventure races tend to use more orienteering than most expedition races, and as a result our navigators are very good. We've had races where teams from outside the region compete and struggle with the orienteering, complaining that it’s “micro-nav”. We smile and say, “Aw, that’s cute!” and then run off to the next control.
Well, here, on the reservoir, the features are so big, so far away, and so visible, that it’s more like “macro-nav” and now we’re the team that’s struggling. Or rather, Emily just can’t pull her brain out of detail mode and into big-picture mode. After about five map checks in ten minutes, Mike asks for the map back and says “Just paddle already!”. Emily obliges, happy to have just enjoy the scenery instead of micro-anazylzing it. Without terrain to focus on, we turn our attention to the clock. We've got about 6 miles left of this paddle, and then a 7ish mile trek, and then that’s it. Done for Day 2. The sun is still annoyingly high in the sky, and we think that if we hustle we might be able to finish the trek before it gets dark, and then have a TON of time off the clock to eat and sleep. That is a tantalizing carrot to chase so we paddle with renewed vigor.

We pull into a beautiful sheltered cove for the take-out and haul our boats uphill with plenty of daylight left for the trek. Our transition is relaxed and includes a few moments of chat with Tecnu and Columbia (who are already finished for the day), sharing intel that the nav shouldn't be too hard. Sweet! Let’s do this!

TREK 3, CPs 1-10, 7mi
Last trek of Day 2, CPs 1-10, all optional.
Rachel in one of the reentrants.
We run out of TA having picked up a friend - a Rev3 staffer with a fancy camera. He takes a bunch of photos of us as we punch CP10, making us feel like VIPs. Then we’re on our own for the rest of the optional CPs. Again, the nav isn't too challenging and we have a surprising amount of running on a major 2-lane highway, making travel very quick. We pick off a few CPs in roadside reentrants, then have to cross to its other side and figure out a way across the Big Horn River. We spotted a railroad trestle earlier and speculate that there must be a shortcut across it. It’s an adventure race, right? We run over to the bridge and sure enough, there are two 2x10s forming a walkway across the underside, with a single steel cable for a handhold. Totally doable….right?
Emily on her way across.
Mike goes first and doesn’t even use the cable. Then Andrei goes, slightly more tentatively but moving well. Then Emily goes, trying not to use the cable but it sure comes in handy in a few spots. Then Rachel goes, clearly uncomfortable but focused on getting to the other side. When we’ve all made it, we hear a 4x4 roll up to us and see that it’s Mark the race director. Oh no, did we just do something illegal? He sticks his head out and grins, “Quite the shortcut, eh?!” We laugh. Yes it is!!
Andrei and Mike on the other side. Word is that Tecnu went across the TOP!
We have a couple CPs on the far side of the river, then cross back over using the dam and have to run right back past TA to collect the final two CPs. They use a lot of road running as well and Mike is clearly hurting so Rachel takes his pack. We all are hurting, to be honest, but it is the kind of hurt that doesn't matter how fast you’re going, so we just keep jogging in order to be done more quickly.
Second to last CP on the day. High point, natch.
TA does not suck.
The sun is just starting to set as we reach the End of Day TA. We can’t really believe that we’re done so early! We unload our bins, chatting excitedly about everything we’re going to do at the most luxurious of all luxury racing TAs. First, we go swimming. Swimming! The lake is cool and so refreshing. Then we get to hang out and chat a bunch with other teams, including our half-naked friends on Team Tecnu. Then it’s time for actual sit-down dinner where Mike consumes about 4,000 calories and still feels hungry. Emily does some piddling with her bin, classic, and we all finally go to sleep around 10pm, under another beautiful night sky full of stars.

Rev3 Day 2 photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.745197552187984.1073741864.148981488476263&type=3
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01 August 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 2)

NOTE: This is the second in a series of posts about Cowboy Tough multi-day adventure race. I (Emily) worked together with my teammate Mike to write most of the text, and then Mike added in his own comedic flair in red italics. Enjoy!
Part 1

Cowboy Tough race morning starts like just about any other race morning: with an early wake-up call. Emily called first shower so she hits the hotel room’s bathroom and stays in there long enough for Andrei to wonder out loud if she is taking swimming lessons. Fortunately everyone else is sufficiently prepared to exit the hotel room with plenty of time for a cup of coffee before loading the pre-race coach bus at 0500.

Mike’s initial plan to dump all of his stuff in his own car is scrapped due to having lost the car keys in the voluminous gear bomb the previous evening, so his stuff goes in Andrei’s car.  It should be noted that the keys were IMMEDIATELY found right where they were supposed to be after the race.
We're on a bus!
WABAR grabs seats in the middle of Bus 2 and we are soon joined by other teams including Tecnu and Columbia. The bus ride starts out chipper as we put final touches on our gear prep: custom-inked race jerseys are made, breakfasts are consumed, and sunscreen is applied. After that, we just close our eyes and put our feet up as the Wyoming countryside rolls by. After every single race this year being wet in some way or another (usually torrential rains) it was exciting to watch the sun rise in a bright blue sky over the sage.  Then I started to worry about the sun rising over my head, and the troubling probability of dehydration and cramping... Someone (maybe me) asks “Do you know what I’m going to miss this race?”, I quickly and emphatically say “shade”.
tap tap, this thing on?
After about a 3hr ride, the roads fade from pavement to gravel, and we know we’re getting close. Sure enough, we edge over the next hill and are greeted by the huge Rev3 semi-truck and a glittering field of bikes, smack in the middle of South Pass City. Despite the word “City” in its name, I’m not sure that there are any actual residents. But there is a working bathroom which becomes the most popular attraction once we debark, despite the frequent visits of racers (Tecnu, we’re looking at you) to the bus bathrooms en route. We find our WABAR bikes, all laid out close together, and make final preparations for the race start. Then Mark, Cowboy Tough Race Director, gathers all teams in the “center” of “town” for some final words and the starting blast from an air horn.

PROLOGUE/TREK 1, CPs 1-5, 4mi??
Maps for the prologue/trek.

Teams immediately scatter in all directions. We can obtain 3 of the 5 CPs in any order so we take off west towards CP5 at the JJ Marin Stamp Mill. We are running loosely with YogaSlackers (4p coed) and Silent Chasers (2p male) and our three teams scatter apart even further when the trail disintegrates uphill. Mike keeps us heading straight west and eventually the Yogis catch back up and lead us into the control with the ‘Chasers not far behind. Turns out our route was slightly inefficient but only on the order of 10m extra climb...and who’s counting?  (Me, I’m counting.  Both because I don’t want ANY extra climb, and because I know I’ll catch hell from teammates that figure out I cost them extra climb and distance.)
Rachel entering the mill. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
Back into “town”, we run/speed hike uphill to CP1 at the Carissa Mine Mill, then southeast to CP3 on the Volksmarch Trail. Once we’ve visited these two locations and collected a core sample and “gold” nugget from them, we’re free to head back into town to exchange these items for “race supplies”. Turns out that back in South Pass City, a rock core sample buys each team member a piece of salt water taffy at the General Store, and a “gold” nugget buys each team member a shot of iced tea Wyoming WHISKEY. We each down our shots and use the taffy as a chaser while running to our bikes, the prologue now complete.  Rachel SO wanted to not do a shot here.  She has highly communicative body language and facial expressions.  But, when Emily “cowgirled up” and grabbed her shot, she knew she had not choice but to follow suit. Atta girl, Rach!

BIKE 1, CP6, 10mi
Riding with Journey Racing and Silent Chasers on the way to CP6.
Once we’ve got our trekking shoes safely stowed in our packs, we ride out of South Pass City and onto a 10-mile gravel road biking leg. Journey Racing (4p coed) and Silent Chasers are right around us too so the 10 of us ride in a loose pack to CP6. Break out the perma-grins, we’re racing in WYOMING!!! In addition to the stunning views, we are reminded that this is in fact Wyoming and Wyoming is in fact NOT flat when the road turns up IMMEDIATELY.  Ouch.

TREK 2, CPs 7-10, 6mi (optional)
1:24k map for the second trek, we went clockwise.
Mike navs us straight into CP6 which is a bike drop and a short, optional trekking loop. Since our goal is to clear all mandatory and optional CPs, we transition quickly and get out onto the trek shortly after Journey. We know the Journey athletes are all Colorado natives (and, thus, better acclimatized to the altitude) so we’re content to let them race ahead as we take a more conservative jogging pace.
I'd say that's pretty open land.
The trek is mostly on mapped double-track and Mike starts his theme of spotting CP flags from 1km away.  (The sight lines for this race were crazy good.  I’m pretty sure we spotted a CP on day 3 wll over 1km away…) We even get to run through some delightfully shady aspen groves on the way to CP10. Once we’ve got all 4 CPs punched, it’s just a straight shot back to the bikes and we use the time to take some photos. In our normal 24hr races, none of us would hardly ever consider slowing for photo breaks, but since we’re “luxury racing” this week, we get to snap away.

BIKE 2, CPs 11-13, 25mi
Map for CP11 to CP12, we were riding northwestish.
Back on the bikes, we roll out in the company of Journey and Silent Chasers. There are some gravel miles to start, but they eventually transition into pavement as we continue to hold our smart-n-steady pace. Emily’s legs seem to be on board but her bike is not - her shifting has been rattling around since the start and she’s messing with the barrel adjusters, trying to find a happy medium cable tension. Andrei on the other hand quickly learns how much attachment force is required for gear on his bike as his light/batteries seem to explode on a speedy (and really bumpy) downhill.  Luckily no permanent damage is done to rider or gear. Finally a balance is struck and we get on the ride.
Hangin with Journey, Todd the flagman, and some road cyclist.
A few miles later, our route takes us through a flagged construction zone where we have to stop for several minutes to wait for oncoming traffic to clear through the single drive lane. In a “normal” 24hr race, this would absolutely drive us CRAZY, but in our “luxury racing” mode, we just take the time to have a snack, take some photos, and chat with Todd the flagman. We also learn that one of the previous teams was not very nice to Todd so we try to make up for that by offering to share race snacks - he declines. Once we’re released from the construction zone, we fly downhill and then back up into the first big climb of the day.
Hi mama cow! Hi baby cow!
The climb is HOT and deceptively gradual. Rachel, on her new carbon Air9, absolutely flies uphill with Andrei close behind. Emily and Mike take a slower steadier approach.  They also use the very friendly Cow #315 as an excuse to stop for a breather and capitalize on a photo op.
This photo was supposed to show the vast valley below us. I clearly need to work on my group selfie skillz.
Eventually all make it up the first climb/hill/mountain/pass (we’re from the Midwest, they’re all the same to us) and fly down the backside. This is pure biking bliss! We coast into CP12, punch, and are happily on our way again. That’s when things get tough.
Map for CP12 to CP13, aka the deth march.
Our troubles begin with what seems to be continued issues with Emily’s cable tension. The adjustment she made earlier is not holding, causing major annoyance and missed shifts. We cross a few hike-a-creeks, and she decides to use the break from riding to conduct a thorough investigation. The results? Oh, nothing major, just HER DRIVE-SIDE CRANK IS FALLING OFF. This is total bad news bears for Day 1 of a multi-day race. Further, the crank requires a 10mm hex wrench to fix, and the biggest we’re carrying is an 8mm. Mild panic ensues. We ask a few other teams in the immediate vicinity of the creek crossing for help, they all kindly check their multi-tools, but no one has the correct wrench.
Right about where our troubles started.
Finally Mike puts his enginerding degree to use (thank you 6 years at Rose Hulman) and figures out how to use Emily’s tire lever as makeshift 10mm, but the soft plastic can only put so much tension on the crank bolt. Each fix lasts a half-mile at best, and we have 12 more miles to go before TA/CP13. This could be a long day, but at least we have plenty of material for “that’s what she said” jokes about the too-soft tire lever that doesn't fit into the hole.
hike that bike!
Fortunately/unfortunately, the next 12 miles have some steep climbs that are more efficiently travelled as hike-a-bikes, an activity that requires ZERO use of the crank! Huzzah! Except it’s still really hard work to push our bikes, especially if your bike weighs as much as Mike’s does. His legs are the first to let us know with a full-on lockdown CRAMP. (Yes, I am now in the same athletic category as LeBron, (ha). Reduced to athletic ineptitude by cramps.  As in, “ooh, check out all those muscle fibers” cramps. Worse than I've had in a LONG time.)

Things are not looking good for WABAR. We adjust for this by slowing the pace, having Mike and Rachel switch bikes for pushing (the carbon Air9 is so much lighter than the Moots YBB Rohloff), or just having Rachel take both bikes. She is a machine! We also take some rest breaks wherever we can find a patch of shade, (which isn't all that often) or a cool creek crossing (equally infrequent but SOOO much more effective for getting that body temp down!).
Push it! Push it real good!
Our progress is painfully (in more ways than one) slow along the Indian Trail fire road/doubletrack. We get a few glimpses of hope with some killer downhills, but they do very little to help overall team speed. We are just in trudge mode, simple as that.

Fortunately, 12 miles of trudge mode eventually come to an end with the sight of a beautiful Rev3 pop-up tent. We’ve made it to TA/CP13!!! Never have we felt more relieved to get off our bikes and onto the race’s biggest trekking leg. We take a luxury racing transition - new foot lube for everyone, new socks and shorts for those who remembered to bring them, garbage emptied from random pack pockets, new layers of sunscreen, all done in the shade of a pit toilet at 8500’. Adventure racing at its finest!

TREK 3, CPs 14-21, 14mi
Final trek for Day 1. travelling roughly clockwise.
The trek starts out with 4 optional CPs (14-17) which take us around a few lakes and ponds. We pass several teams at CP14 as they are restocking on water, and all of us still have plenty (which was actually a mistake, we carried WAY too much water on our backs during the bike ride).  I respectfully and unequivocally disagree in every way imaginable on this point.  I in fact brought barely enough but drank WAY TOO LITTLE on the way up.  But that’s just me.  I don’t have the near dromedary-like hydration efficiency that the ladies seemed to.
Andrei and Mike starting "the big trek".
Rachel starting "the big trek"
Emily starting "the big trek"
Once we’re well past CP14, the non-dromedary boys realize that actually they DO need to re-stock on water, so we are on the lookout for a source. We find the 4p male team GUTS taking a break near a clear running stream so we decide to join them and refill. Andrei has brought along a GearJunkie test item, the Katadyn Gravity Filter, which we have affectionately named “Andrei’s Magic Sack”. The filter really is magic, it purifies about 1L of water per minute WITHOUT any waiting time like tablets have. Before the race, Emily was skeptical about the extra weight, but after seeing the sack in action, she’s sold. 
Andrei and his magic sack.
The navigation gets a little challenging for CPs 15 and 16, which is great for us because MAPS MAPS MAPS MAPS. We attack what we believe to be the highest CP on course, CP17 around 9100’. As we’re making our way uphill, we hear branches snapping behind us and it’s Journey Racing! No way! We’re totally stoked to be hanging with the ColoRADians on the higher elevation stuff, where us poor flatlanders should be puking and crying. We hold a slim lead on the descent from 17 which involves a really awesome hop through a boulder field, and then Journey moves ahead on the ensuing road run and punches CP18 first.
Not only does Rachel punch faster than the speed of light, she takes awesome CP selfies!
CP18 is a manned CP, and as we punch we chat with the Rev3 staff briefly. Eric sends us off with a “hope to see you again soon!” which we think is cute and keep running in the same direction as Journey. We run through the campground looking for a trailhead, and Emily takes the time to say hi to a couple horses that are hanging out there. Mike is looking frustratedly at the map, and soon after we see Journey disappear into the woods, he exclaims “That SONOFAB!TCH!”, turns completely around, and starts running “EZ pace” back to CP18. Turns out the trailhead we needed was directly behind the Rev3 staff, and we didn't even see it. We exchange a sarcastic “thanks” with Eric as we see them again (which is returned with some light-hearted laughter and “good jobs”), and vow to not get distracted by other teams again.
Adventure racing does not suck.
What's up Journey Racing!?!?!!!
After a short time, Journey recovers from their identical mistake at CP18 and catches back up to us again on the trail. We all hike together for a while on the uphill, but once the trail turns downhill, the Journey-ers are GONE. No worries for WABAR, we’re committed to our pace and just focused on staying steady. We take a short break at CP19 (Sheep Bridge) to re-lube feet and get our lights sorted in the increasing dusk. The sun sets on our way to CP20 (falls overlook), but Mike keeps the trail navigation dialed and thanks to a map consult with Andrei, we pick the correct access route for the CP and are greeted by Legendary Randy and Awesome Chris. We didn't expect to see them so there isn't much good video interaction. Sorry!
Screenshot from Legendary Randy's vid.
As we’re leaving CP20, we see the lights of another team coming toward us and it turns out to be Journey again! It’s fun to keep flip-flopping with them as we make our way through the course in the dark. From the falls, we just have a few more kms of downhill trail running until the next TA.

TREK 4, CPs 1-10, 6mi
Trail map for the last 10 CPs. These were also plotted on our USGS.
Rev3 has designed the course so that each day ends with 10 optional trekking CPs, on a rogaine-style course of about 10km. We run into the start of this optional section with lots of time to get all of the CPs, which is our goal. The medics give us a quick check (“Everyone feeling good?” “Yes!” “Okay see ya later!”) and we’re off on the final leg of Day 1, with Silent Chasers shortly ahead and Journey Racing nipping at our heels.

This leg is entirely within Sinks Canyon State Park at around 6500’. Most of the CPs are on or close-to trails, making the navigation not terribly difficult, but everything’s always a little harder in the dark. Once we find the correct trail to start on, we ping through the CPs at a steady pace. We catch up with our friends the Silent Chasers and work together for a few CPs, then we’re on our own for the two most physical CPs, 5 and 4. Rachel absolutely destroys the climbs on a mission to punch speedily as the rest of us struggle to keep up.
Obviously from earlier in the day, but always fun to post pics of your teammates trekking in their underwear.
Somewhere along the way Mike realizes that our route choice, although not horrible, was not the most efficient one possible.  Although it did allow us some social time with the Silent Chaser boys, it unfortunately cost us a few minutes. Towards the end, Emily’s knees start hurting a lot so she digs out her trekking poles for joint preservation, and shares one with Mike, who is starting to feel some hot spots.  Being Day 1, it’s always best to be over-conservative on things like this rather than “tough it out”. We clear all 10 CPs and then enjoy a nice gradual downhill road run into the End of Day 1 TA.

On the easy run into TA, we talk through exactly what we’re going to do to maximize our sleeping time. We arrive around 2:15am, and commit to waking up by 5:15am to be ready for the 6:00am start of Day 2. We all work together to unload our bins from the Mobile TA and find a comfortable place to sleep on some playground mulch. Emily runs around to every awake person asking for a 10mm hex wrench, and eventually finds one from JR the medic. Salvation!

We all snuggle into our sleep systems (Which for me unfortunately consists of a down jacket and a space blanket with my bare feet exposed to the air (that part was on purpose).  Better than nothing I suppose.) and try to catch a few hours’ rest under the beautiful night sky. Day 1, CLEARED!

I don’t have much multi-day race experience AT ALL.  This was my second one.  But, I have to say it was WAY easier to sleep “off the clock” knowing we couldn't start racing for a few more hours.  I didn't sleep great, but at this point any little bit of rest helps.

Rev3 album from Day 1: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.744762595564813.1073741863.148981488476263&type=3

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