09 March 2014

Non-Race Report: 2014 BAAR BRAWL 24hr Adventure

Before finding a home with Alpine Shop Adventure Racing, I've been fortunate enough to jump on to several other adventure racing teams for races throughout the Midwest. And since joining the Alpine Shop family, I've connected with different teams here and there to participate in some really great mash-up events. This weekend was probably the biggest mash-up of them all: a chance to race with Kyle and Garret from Team Tecnu, current USARA National Champs and ARWS World bronze medalists
Tecnu and Alpine Shop pizza night!
http://instagram.com/p/i5NMlaLPQp/
The whole thing started, ironically enough, in St. Louis. In January. Kyle was visiting Missouri for work and we had time to head out to Babler State Park for some orienteering practice. As we worked our way around the snowy red course, Kyle mentioned, "You know, you should really come out to California in March for this training race we have, it's called the BRAWL." Honestly, I thought that was a nice thing to say, but I didn't really believe it was a legit invitation. I think I gave him a half-laugh and kept right on navigating. And then towards the end of January, my work awarded bonuses, I found myself wondering how much flights to San Francisco cost, and all of a sudden I had invited myself and my bike out to the west coast. I learned that the BRAWL is held in fine non-race tradition, and I would be joining a 5-person team: Kyle and Garret of course, along with Jason and Abby from Idaho!  
Garret and Kyle of Team Tecnu.
Photo by Aaron Johnson http://mowglimedia.net/
Any race week carries a certain amount of stress, but this one was more worrisome than usual for me. I'd been dealing with a nerve issue in my left foot since POCAR and hadn't put in hardly any run miles in the last 6 weeks aside from my birthday party. Trying to decide on a shoe/insole solution, plus the stress of packing gear AND a bike for flying, plus my teammates' impressive race résumés, didn't give me my normal pre-race confidence. But then one of my favorite jerks validated my bike-packing job, in the process giving me a healthy dose of superior attitude, plus a ride to the airport in the one and only 'stro. Frontier checked the SegSlayer in for only $25 and I was on my way.
Abby and Kyle working on maps. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=987944120139&set=pcb.627719220609627&type=1&theater
Kyle picked me up at the airport and we went immediately to Garret's place, our non-HQ, where I met Abby and Jason. They both had such a chill demeanor that I knew it was going to be an awesome weekend. Garret cooked us up a feast and we talked race goals before messing around with gear before bedtime. We knew the first bike leg was less than 30 miles, so I planned to do that without a pack to save a little weight. Race morning was quick and easy, we loaded everything up and hit the road to Fairfax around 0600, which was really like sleeping in for me still in Central Time Zone. The non-race was non-starting at a small park, so we gathered around the non-race director for a few last minute non-announcements, distribution of the non-passport, and revelation of the first 12 non-checkpoints. We copied them onto our maps and then it was time to non-start!

BIKE 1, 0810-1300, 26mi, +4750' (~3hr ride time)
Bike 1. Start at Deer Park, B1-B2-B3, finish at TA1/Randall Parking Lot.
We take off with 20ish other adventure non-racers and are immediately climbing up some doubletrack/fire road. The pace/climb is fast for me, but also no different than any other 24hr AR I've started. I know it usually takes my body a while to start firing on all cylinders so I just try to settle in as best I can. Plus, it's always hard to work out a good team pace with new teammates. We make quick stops to check the map at some of the trail junctions so I use those mini-breaks to catch my breath.


Me and Garret riding out from B1 on a very wet "scratch trail". Photo by Aaron Johnson.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100960627850883&set=pcb.627737533941129&type=1&theater
We're a 5-person team, but we've also got a welcome tag-a-long: Tecnu's master photographer, Aaron Johnson of Mowgli Media. Aaron's a super-stud biker and he's zooming around taking pics of our group. This, coupled with the incredible terrain we've only begun to ride through, hits me with an intense wave of the stoke: I'm riding my bike! in California! with some seriously badass adventure racers! This is awesome! We keep climbing on a combination of fire roads interspersed with some pavement and are totally crushing it. The first CP takes some hunting and pecking in a grove of trees but we use the detailed clue description to find it. Then it's a nice descent down to the Bon Tempe Lake dam, where we start another big climb up to the top of Pine Mountain. We are able to get into a better towing groove here, with everyone working together to attack the fire road as the clouds clear up and the sun lights up the Marin hills. 
Jason, Kyle, Garret, Abby, and me climbing up Pine Mtn. SO RAD! Photo by Aaron Johnson.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100960628245093&set=pcb.627737533941129&type=1&theater
On the top of Pine Mountain we have a really thick bushwhack, find the CP, and then continue on our bikes to B3 near the Alpine Lake dam. We have a screaming-fast fire road descent (Old Vee Rd) that seems to get progressively steeper. I'm not historically a great descender, but I've been working on it a lot in the past few months and somehow everything is clicking for me today. I send grateful thoughts to both Jeff and Dwayne for taking so much time to patiently coach me on this skill. Kyle and I make it to the bottom and turn left at the junction (Kent Pump Rd). We ride easy for a little bit to let everyone catch up, except they don't. Maybe they didn't know which way to turn at the junction and are waiting for us? So Kyle rides back to get them as I take a break and eat a snack, soaking up the lush, sunny forest all around me. But after a few minutes I can tell that things aren't right so I start riding backwards too, meeting Aaron on the way with some bad news "Abby crashed and probably broke her collarbone." WHAT! This is terrible news and I instantly feel horrible for my newly acquired teammate. Just a few meters away from the bottom of the descent, we find our crew kneeling around Abby, who is sporting a seriously badass cut on her ear and a decidedly out-of-place clavicle. Kyle does his WFR checks as I fire up ye olde cell phone, silently relieved I brought one that actually works. We stabilize Abby's arm with extra jackets and prepare to hike out the remaining 2ish miles to the road, where hopefully we can get someone with a car to meet us for further extraction.
Jason cleaning up Abby's cut at Alpine Lake Dam while Kyle supervises. Photo by RVG.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202250383435328&set=gm.627670460614503&type=1&theater
I hike out with my and Abby's bikes, while Jason and Kyle make a riding escort beside her. All things considered, it's not a bad way to take in the California landscape - these are some incredibly vibrant trees lining the steep ravine. We keep the conversation light and Abby stays incredibly tough, encouraging us to keep non-racing even if she can't. Once we hit the road, we are greeted by DART-nuun's Ryan, who is relay non-racing with his wife and planning to check in with her here. He offers to take Jason and Abby back to Deer Park while Kyle, Garret, Aaron, and I continue on. We take our time making sure everything is okay and then bid our new teammates a sad goodbye. Heal up fast Abby!

Elevation profile of BIKE 1.
Me and Garret shredding Bolinas Ridge. Photo by Aaron Johnson.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100960627965653&set=pcb.627737533941129&type=1&theater
The next few miles are a paved ascent up to the Bolinas Ridge trail. Once we get up to the top, I am totally blown away by the awesome fire road that greets us. It's very wide, very rolling, and with very majestic woods on both sides that occasionally thin out to reveal more expansive views. I am finally feeling warmed up and my legs are ready to ride hard. The four of us don't do a whole lot of talking, we just ride and I continue pouring trust into the SegSlayer and it responds mightily. I love my bike! I love this trail! The descent down into Randall parking lot is even better. I am in a total zen state of riding hard but not out of control - pushing my handling just a little bit but able to collect the bike back to me just before the switchbacks. And what's at the bottom of the descent? BABY COWS!!! Cuteness overload. I can't stop smiling.
One of my favorite descents of all time. Photo by Aaron Johnson.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100960627641303&set=pcb.627737533941129&type=1&theater
We are greeted by a big yellow box truck which is serving as TA1. We fill Andrew, the non-race director, in on our missing teammates and transition into trekking gear. For me, that means putting on a pack for the first time today and crossing my fingers that my men's Brooks Cascadias plus Superfeet insoles will keep my toe happy for the next 28 miles. We leave our super-photographer Aaron to continue his ride, and pick up local ultrarunner-in-training Christian (who doesn't ride bikes but still wanted to participate). Time to run!

TREK 1, 1300-1930, 28mi, +4900'
Map from Trek 1. 
The four of us jog out of TA and immediately my focus is inward, on my toe. I feel some sharp twinges here and there, but nothing that is worse than than a few days ago, and after a few hundred meters it's clear that the pace is causing me more pain than my digit. These boys are fast! I chalk it up to my slow-starting/lack of run fitness and just focus on weathering the storm. I know there will be opportunities to rest later so for now I'm all in. The first section of the trek is on easy trails so we just run along and enjoy the good weather. There are a few other hikers on the trail and I try to give everyone a good Midwestern greeting. If you look at the map, my first inclination would have been to go redline from TA1 to T1 to T3, but Kyle and Garret know better; the land around here has super thick vegetation, and tons of steep relief, and is therefore slow. The trails, on the other hand, are non-technical and lightning fast. So we stick to trail routes for just about everything, and use unmapped/unofficial trails to get to T3. 
Elevation profile of the trekking leg.
T3 is a small point/hilltop right next to the ocean. This is the closest we've been to the water all day and we're all freaking out about how gorgeous it is. Growing up next to Lake Superior, I appreciate water as far as the eye can see, but that's a lake, and this is an ocean, big waves and oceany air and the sun just starting to slide into its afternoon slant. This is a special moment and when we reach the hilltop, we're rewarded with views of the Farallon Islands, which are 50k away and Kyle tells us can only be seen during ideal weather conditions. This is really, really cool.
The Farallon Islands on the horizon.
We hate to leave the beauty of T3, but we've got several miles to go still. On the way to T2, we have a small map mis-interpretation: we miss the intended trail junction to take us down to the beach and a later, corrective bushwhack is not possible. We have to backtrack a little bit but finally make it down to the sand. I am totally blissed out - the view from T3 was incredible and now getting up close and personal with the ocean is awesome. I am feeling totally dwarfed by the immensity of the environment but also very physically capable of moving through it. It's a powerful combination of emotions and I think something that all adventure racers strive for in our training and racing. I'm very, very lucky, humbled, and inspired to be experiencing this right now. All of the stress of getting myself and my gear to California is instantly worth it.

just go watch this: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10203415439651471&set=o.606090086105874&type=2&theater

We check off T2 (a huge tire) and then continue running on the beach to Wildcat Campground. There, we re-up on water from a spigot and join with 2 other non-racers for the climb up to T4. It takes a few attacks to find the correct knoll, but we do, and then drop back down to the coast for T5. Then it's back up the bluff for some easy trail running before one more descent back to the ocean for T6. It's supposed to be in a sea cave, and we scramble all over the shoreline for the correct cave, but with no luck. It's not a huge deal through since the natural rock formations are just like a mid-race playground, so fun! T7 is a short but spicy out-n-back - not that far from the trail but hung a few hundred feet up a spur! Christian is in his European element and scampers straight up. Kyle follows closely behind as Garret and I take it much easier. We dropped our packs for this one so it doesn't show up on the elevation profile, blast! Once we've snagged T7, we start to make our way back inland, which requires a big climb up and over Mt. Wittenberg. Along the way, the sun sets so we all get our lights sorted and continue making excellent time on the non-technical trails.

We pass through the 26.2mile marker in about 6 hours which is pretty great time for trekking in an adventure race. Sure, most of our travel has been on runnable trails or open beach, but we are still moving at a great clip. The summit of Mt. Wittenburg is woodsy and Kyle assures us that we aren't missing out on any views because it's dark - the forest obscures any vast landscape. Once we make the top, all that's left is a looong descent to T9 and nearby TA2. We run all of this and by the end, my legs are begging for some flat ground. No cramps or anything, just "I'd rather not run downhill any more". We have a little bit of trail confusion getting to T9, and instead of running through a signed horse pasture, we go around to find the demonstration Miwok village. And then it's only a kilometer to TA2! We try a shortcut through a swamp but it doesn't pan out, and then a local (cop? non-cop?) chooses to creepily follow us in his car for a few hundred meters on the road. I know that most of the time, this stuff is harmless, but it still weirds me out a little when vehicles hover around while we're racing. In the end, they ask if we're okay, which of course we are, and then they drive off right as we run into Bear Valley/Olema campground, greeted by our favorite big yellow truck! 


TA 2, 1930-2000, eating burritos
We had some burritos delivered here by a friend of Kyle's, and they are delicious. Garret and I split one while Kyle gets maps (the scale is 1:BRAWL-thousand!) for the final biking section set to go. Normally we'd be in and out of TA in just a few minutes, but the relaxed atmosphere of the non-race has us taking our time getting lights and bikes sorted. We even took a picture, with a burrito of course! 
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=987944778819&set=gm.627719220609627&type=1&theater
BIKE 2, 2030-0420, 42mi, +8600'

http://www.strava.com/activities/117359085
I roll out of TA2 with a full belly and a considerable relaxation of non-race intensity. The uncharacteristically long TA has totally chilled me out, plus the knowledge that my toe has made it through the trek removes a lot of apprehension I had at the start. But it's immediately clear that we still have a lot of work to do - the ride starts out with a longish paved climb back up to a different section of Bolinas Ridge and I just can NOT get my legs to turn over. I'm dragging big time, I think because my body is trying to digest all of that burrito instead of powering my legs. Garret gives me a little bit of towing but he's dealing with a groin strain, and Kyle is consumed with the map, so it's up to the Missouri girl to tackle the California hills mostly solo. And it's a struggle!  
Elevation profile of Bike 2.
For the next couple hours, I am focused on getting my fueling back on track and becoming a productive teammate. I drink a ton of water to counteract the salty burrito and find myself running low on liquids earlier than planned. Thankfully, the we nail the first two CPs on Bolinas Ridge and then get to enjoy an awesome descent to Peters Dam. We have a little bit of confusion about how to get our bikes down to the spillway (jumping is not an option), but we figure it out after a few minutes, check the monument for the expansion date, and then keep riding up to San Geronimo Ridge Rd. After a few miles we take a lefty onto a really fun trail. It's benchcut into a pretty steep hillside, but it's awesome to fly down a few hundred feet, punch CP7, contour around, and then climb back up to San Geronimo where we're greeted by a green octopus painted on a brown post (CP8). Then we climb up to the top of Green Hill for CP9, and towards Fairfax for CP10. Somewhere either before or after CP10, we have a major navigational conference. There are lots ot trail junctions in the area and we're not exaaaaaactly sure which one we're on as we descend towards Fairfax. Well, Kyle was pretty sure until the trail we're on started to resemble the historic Repack Trail, which is definitely NOT where we want to be. The boys do a lot of checking of local landmarks and decide that we're okay, so we continue descending. Once we hit Sir Francis Drake Blvd (a major road), we know we're in the right spot and what's even better, we have a big climb ahead of us!


We hit the Drake about 12:30am and Kyle tells us that there's 2 big climbs left: one immediately in front of us, and one on the north side of Lucas Valley, and then a couple little blips on our way back to Deer Park. On the first climb we decide to fill and treat some bottles from a tiny runoff stream next to the road. I have been rationing a little bit since the salty burrito incident so the refill stop is extremely welcome. CP16 gives us a hard time, but we continue on a sweet descent into Lucas Valley. We hit Lucas Valley Rd (another major road) about 1:30am and have an 9-mile quasi-loop to ride (including the last major climb) that includes 3 CPs before an 8-mile/2 CP ride back to Fairfax. 

Garret and I climbing earlier in the day. Photo by Aaron Johnson.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100960627506573&set=pcb.627737533941129&type=1&theater



The rest of the ride is pretty straightforward for us. On one of the last 2 climbs, Garret asks me how I'm doing and I happily reply that I'm being destroyed. I fully expected to have my legs ripped off by the steep California terrain and the fast Tecnu boys, and I'm absolutely loving it. On one hand, my early season training has been average/mediocre with not as much running as I would like. But on the other hand, key runs have been replaced with key bike rides where I've been able to not only gain some bike fitness, but also A TON of bike confidence and inspiration from my Alpine Shop and Team Noah teammates. I feel so supported by the St. Louis outdoorsy community and very proud to be representing on the West Coast. It is a really, really good feeling and one I hope to continue to build on in 2014.


My batteries start to go out around 2:30am, and I am nervous about my lighting situation since I accidentally left my spare battery in TA2. I alternate bar and helmet lights for a little bit before asking for help. Thankfully, Kyle has a spare battery in his pack which I throw on my bar light for the rest of the ride (we're all using Light n Motion so everything's compatible). It's a good thing too, since we have a few more steep descents and I am so stoked to let the SegSlayer fly down these things. It's just too much fun! We grab our last CP, number 15, at the top of a cool little trail and then get to enjoy a nice descent back into Fairfax. As we're riding the deserted city streets, we all congratulate each other on a non-race well run. We also send good thoughts to Abby and Jason, since we're really sad that they had to miss out. We will see them soon enough once Abby's clavicle is fully reinforced for the awesomeness she is about to inflict on the adventure racing world!

KP, EK, GB at the non-finish line!
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=987877773099&set=gm.627646000616949&type=1&theater
We roll into Deer Park a little after 4:00am and just go straight to Garret's truck since non-races don't have finish lines. But, they DO have a non-race director there to greet us! Thanks, Randy! We all share some beer and non-stories as we clean up best we can for the return trip to San Francisco. It's a very sleepy drive back to the city, but we make it back safely and in time for multiple post-race showers, naps, and breakfasts before my flight out of SFO that afternoon. Talk about a whirlwind trip!

POST RACE
I had no idea what to expect when I decided to fly to California to non-race with one of the top AR teams on the international scene. Even through Kyle and Garret were coming off a much-deserved break after the World Championships (oh have you seen their awesome video?), I knew they would be tough to keep pace with in their backyard. And there are always some nerves when meeting and racing with teammates for the first time. But I am so happy to say that meeting Abby and Jason was awesome, and I really hope I get to race with any or all four of these terrific athletes again.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10203398000689478&set=pcb.627930260588523&type=1&theater
I was also super stoked to learn from a whole new community of adventure racers in California, and I can positively say that there are no secrets in AR. At its very core, adventure racing is about training your body to cover long distances quickly, using gear that is comfortable for you for long periods of time, and being nice to your teammates. That's it. Simple. And the rewards are great: moving through spectacular terrain, seeing beautiful parts of the world (or even your backyard), and learning about the strength of your own spirit. I love adventure racing!

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2 comments:

  1. So. Cool!! If you're non non-racing with Team Virtus, I guess Tecnu is the next best thing. ;-) That fire road looks amazing...the whole even sounds fantastic. So stoked for you that you got to go out and non-race with those guys!

    And I totally thought of you today when we passed some horses and then some longhorns.

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  2. hahahaha it was so cool! i was totally pinching myself the entire time. a very memorable weekend. hi horses!

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