Finishing up my unintentionally-extended time off… I flew from Pittsburgh directly to Kansas City, where my teammates Nathan and Brian (aka, the toporadicals) had promised to pick me up! I’d never raced with Nathan and Brian before, but we met while setting up a night orienteering course. They’re a pretty experienced AR team, looking to get into the ‘competitive’ coed category, so the invited me to race with them (after some prodding/discussion with local AR heroes Carrie and Emily, I think).
Before the race, though, I had to get to the race… with delay after delay of my connecting flight in Charlotte, I was prepared to give up. I was only hoping the guys would be willing to give me a ride home from the KC airport whenever I eventually did get there. They, however, had a 4 hour drive TO Kansas City to strategize, then plenty of time while I was frantically texting and trying to get on standby on any plane I could find. True adventure racers, they had contingencies for about 12 different scenarios (we had to figure out how to get to the pre-race meeting, in addition to picking me up from the airport and then going back to the hotel to plot and hopefully get some sleep).
By some miracle, around 5:30 a plane showed up at the gate that was supposed to be for my flight… and we got on board! And flew to Kansas City! My planned 3:00 arrival time became 8:00, but there was still a hint of light in the sky and it was Friday, so the pre-race freakout could begin. We drove the additional 2 hours to check-in a pick up maps. Rather, Brian drove, and Nathan strategized. The WHOLE WAY. Now, I know I like to prepare before races, and I was so excited to even be on the ground that I was ready to just chill. But Nathan had checked out the course from previous years and was making guesses as to where things would go, then verifying access and locations on google maps. Every team I’ve ever raced on, we try to do well, but we’re mostly there to have fun and finish. This was SERIOUS STRATEGY. As I would learn, Nathan and Brian are extremely passionate and give that level of detailed attention to every part of the race.
We showed up to the pre-race check-in at some cabins near the start to pick up our maps, and regret making hotel reservations too late to book a cabin (they were awesome). Then it was back about 30 min to the hotel near the interstate, while Nathan plotted and planned our morning route.
With all that planning, we still ended up staying up until about 1:00 AM discussing route choices and fine-tuning our gear setup. Unlike the Bonk Hard races I’ve done in the past, this one had a very light gear list. Along the lines of “enough water”, “enough food”, and “first aid supplies” (no counting band-aids or safety pins here). That meant, for a 12 hour, my pack was surprisingly light. The race was structured with a few options to try to separate the pack: 1 navigation and 1 bike section from HQ, which teams could pick to do in any order (bike CPs only on the bike, hike CPs only on the hike, but bike vs hike decision). Like most people, we decided to hike first, hitting a quick CP just out of town (CP5) then heading up through brambles to CPs 2-4 along the lake. There had been a few updates to the clue sheet which we marked, but since we missed the check-in meeting we didn’t hear about the change of clue on CP 1 (to be marked 38, again due to changes) from ‘pond’ to ‘creekbed’. So we were confused when we wandered around, didn’t find anything near a pond, but followed the map a little more closely to a very sneakily hidden punch on a tree in a creek bed. Lesson 1: pay attention to the map, not the clues (well, it should have been lesson one. Unfortunately we needed a few more reminders before we actually learned that one).
After collecting the hike points and booking it back to HQ, we quickly swapped into bike shoes and headed out! As we were riding away, I realized I hadn’t grabbed by hike shoes. Whoops! For some reason, I just thought I could leave them there. Luckily, we would be heading back through HQ before the longer bike to TA2, so there was really no time lost. We knocked out the first bike section quickly, occasionally linking up with the tow system to keep everyone together. Back at HQ, I grabbed my shoes and we rolled out!
Lesson 2: pay attention to the map, not the clues. We rolled out of town feeling strong. Around a little bend and downhill, we heard Nathan shout to stop – there was a punch, hidden right over a creek. Thinking we were doing well finding the somewhat hard to ID punches, we tried to cut across a field to CP 7. This, however, was some serious bike-whacking. The clue said the CP would be off a trail, but there was no trail to be found. We finally popped back out on a road, and realized we’d punched incorrectly – we didn’t go quite far enough to hit the right CP but instead had found one staged for a later leg of the race. Oops. That realization helped us get back on track, and we quickly found the correct trail (read – there was a little bit of singletrack involved!!! YAAAY!) and punched the correct creek CP along with the one on the trail. We hammered through the rest of the bike down to TA2.
Once at TA2, we were given a map with more points to plot along with a pre-plotted map. We plotted and planned a route down to the canoe put-in, then figured I’d have time (as the middle seat in the canoe) to work out our route from there. We hit 3 trek points from TA2, then hopped back on our bikes towards TA3 and the canoes!
Bike CPs, at least on Bonk Hard courses, are typically easy to find. If you’re on the right trail/road, they’re never more than about 10 yards from the trail, and they’re exactly where they’re shown on the map, with proper clues. This race… was a tad different. There were a few CPs that were a ways off the trail and required some serious hiking. We never switched out of bike shoes, but had our first real navigation problems of the day looking for CP16. We ran into probably 10 teams through the course of our searching, and spent over an hour. Any lead we thought we’d gained by that point was abandoned, but we were all very reluctant to punt (especially after investing so long looking). We attacked and re-attacked, and finally decided to give it ‘one more try’. Teaming up with a few solo racers… we FINALLY FOUND IT! I had been ready to leave it, as we were starting to run short on time, but it was exciting to know that it was, in fact, about where it was marked on the map. Just another tricky hiding spot that had to be attacked in just the right direction in order to see the hanging PVC pipe and punch.
After punching 16, we hauled on the bikes down to TA3, efficiently knocking off check points along the way. The map was a little confusing (as they usually are) with roads and reference lines marked similarly. We were never totally sure if a line was a road, or a driveway, or just a marker for the latitude/longitude. We hit the canoes and refilled water bottles, and there was even some Gatorade powder provided by the volunteers. By this point I’d actually drained my camelback and was so thankful to have a refill. We picked a canoe and packed our bags into the large drybag Brian had brought, then shoved it all into the middle of the canoe as a seat for me. It worked great! And was possibly the most comfortable seat in the canoe, minus being a little short (I kept hitting my hands as I paddled… user error). We paddled quickly to the canoe points, even earning some street cred with a well-timed picture of us all in sync. Despite some low water levels and serious sticky mud, we hit everything cleanly and returned back to the TA to find that we were IN FIRST PLACE!!! No other team to come through the paddle had yet cleared the course… we were so stoked. We had one more trek and one more bike to go, so we just had to keep it clean and not have any major mechanicals. I kept repeating – it’s a long race, anything can happen. Even from the beginning with our problems with CP1/38 and CP6, we had to remember to just keep racing and doing our thing. We were all happy to have burned the time at CP16 to find the punch.
The final trek was clean… until it wasn’t. We hit a few points over re-entrants and creek beds, making good time and generally feeling pretty great, excited to be having a fun day in the sun and to be doing well. Then… we got a little turned around coming out of a ‘ravine’ checkpoint and took a road that wasn’t listed on the map (oh, that sounds familiar, right Caroline??). We searched for a long time for what we thought would be a quick and easy checkpoint, until I noticed a 4-way intersection where we definitely were not anticipating one. We checked the compass and realized we’d been spat out on a totally different road, and were searching in the wrong direction. Gah! On the bright side, we were somewhat closer to the one CP far away from everything else. We were also running really, really tight on time. We had about 2 hours left to get the remaining 3ish trek CPs, and THEN get our bikes and collect CPs on the way back to HQ. After the CP16 debacle, we were weary of how long the ‘easy’ return bike CPs would take, but were also excited at the prospect of knowing where we were, and where else we needed to go.
We decided to go ahead at attack the far CP and nailed it completely cleanly. We attempted one more hike CP, but realized quickly that a road shown on the map was no longer a road, but a very faint jeep trail. With time running out, we decided to just punt the rest of the trek points and try to collect what we could on the way back.
As we hiked the final miles back to the TA, we tried to eat and drink as much as possible – I was feeling awesome, but the guys had anticipated a shorter trek and were starting to fade. We shared water and snacks and generally tried to regain some of the momentum we had lost on our nav mishap. As we walked, I highlighted our bike route back to HQ. We were about 20 km away, with basically the most direct route possible including a few more CPs. We knew we wouldn’t be able to get all of them (particularly the ones not exactly on the trail), but the policy for this race was to deduct one checkpoint for every 5 minutes after the time cutoff of 7:30. So, any checkpoint that took us less than 5 minutes to punch would actually be a good choice. I made sure to include as many close CPs as possible, and we had a quick TA, making sure to refill water and take even more Gatorade!
The slog back was a gorgeous gravel ride, with a beautiful sunset illuminating our time cutoff. We picked up a few solo riders, then slowly dropped them as we hooked up on tow and just cranked it in. We wound up just over 30 minutes over the time cutoff, with 6 points deducted from our passport in addition to the 5 points we punted on the last trek and bike sections. Overall, we didn’t do so well. Brian told me later that it’s about the worst they’ve ever done in a race (can’t you tell they’re so excited to keep racing with me?! Haha). But, on the way back, Nathan mentioned with surprise that “even though we did really poorly, I had a great time”. I was shocked – that’s the WHOLE POINT!!! Of course it was a ton of fun, even if you don’t end up winning or even close to winning… and even if you’re nearly the last people on the course (good thing quadzilla over here dropped that solo rider). As I said on our way back – we really won, because we got the most racing for our entry fees. I’m totally excited for the upcoming 24 hour race with the Toporadicals, especially since we now know the race director a little better and know what to expect for CPs. Lots of lessons learned, and it’ll be fun for me to try my first 24 hour race! Oh, and maybe this time I’ll remember to pack my trekking shoes 🙂