Alpine Shop hosted racer check-in this year. This is one store I never mind going too, they have the coolest gear you could ever want. Like every Bonk Hard event, check-in was fast and efficient. We were each given really nice black fleece blankets with the Castlewood 8 hr logo embroidered on them, but no maps! They told us we would get those on the course. We also had a bike drop to make. We drove out to Eureka and found the pavilion at the Wyman Center near Greensfelder Park where we left the bikes overnight under a bright pavilion with a big stone fireplace on one end.
We got to Castlewood Saturday morning in plenty of time to board the 6am bus. The bus drove about 40 minutes west to a deserted gravel parking lot in Greensfelder Park where we were given a 1:15000 pre-plotted orienteering map. The race director announced that it was 17 degrees on his thermometer. Luckily Robin had some cold weather racing experience (Bonk Hard Chill 2007) so we knew to keep camelbak tubes blown out, and tucked inside jackets to avoid freezing them solid. The race started right at 7:00am with a hilly road run to a park pavilion, where we received our passport.
Checkpoints #1 through #11 could be done in any order, so we picked a mostly circular route with as little backtracking as possible. Checkpoints #1 and #6 were on rock faces, so we got to practice a little climbing. We hit all of the trek checkpoints right on except #4 where I navigated us up the wrong creek. That resulted in about a 15 minute delay and a hill climb over to the next creek valley. Several other groups made the same mistake, and luckily we were able to recover from the mistake faster and gained positions on them. It was a cold morning, but not as bad as I had expected; we had apparently made good decisions on which clothes to wear. I pulled my Smartwool hat off and on to regulate temperature. Somewhere along this trek I had to laugh …Robin had a giant icicle hanging from her hair, it was just swinging around like some Christmas ornament earring. We made our way through the course to #12 which was the same park pavilion where we got the passport. We checked in with the volunteers, and it was here I noticed some racers trying to thaw camelbak tubes over the campfire. We each tried to eat some turkey sandwiches as we headed back out. We ran a trail east along a ridgeline to #13, where the checkpoint punch was hung up against another rocky wall. We followed a creek down the valley and made a big hill climb to a boulder on the backside of the next ridge for #14, it looked like some teams were having trouble with this one, but we got it quickly and gained some advantage on them. We went down into the valley for #15 which was the bike drop pavilion from the night before. We ended up using up 3hrs 17 minutes completing the first trek section. The pre-race instructions had an estimated time of 2 to 6 hrs for this first trek, so we felt like we were making pretty good time.
We were given four new maps at the pavilion. Three of them had to have UTM points plotted. Two map scales were 1:30000, and one was 1:15000. The fourth map was a satellite photo with four pre-plotted points. We took care and used our new method of reading the UTM numbers, with Robin reading and me plotting. The new method worked great, and saved a lot of time over our usual re-reading and double checking the strings of UTM numbers. We will use it anytime we plot in the future. It took us 25 minutes to complete the plotting and transition to the bike leg.
The Gatorade bottles we had left overnight with the bikes were frozen. I stuck my bottle inside my jacket to help it thaw. It eventually thawed enough to get a little fluid out. We had several miles of road riding (the hill climb on Alt Road is amazing!) and collecting checkpoints until we got to the Al Foster trail along the Meramec River. The trail ride was single track but not very technical. We did have to ride a narrow spot between a couple of trees with vines hanging in them. One vine looped Robin’s right grip and she was thrown over the handlebars. She was back up and riding again before I even knew it happened. It was after noon by now and the sun had warmed the trails enough to turn the wet sections into some slick and snotty mud. It got really thick right before checkpoint #21. My Kenda Nevegal tires threw the mud off and maintained traction really well through this gunk. Robin had Michelin tires, she was sliding all over the trail. We eventually had to stop riding to clean the mud build-up off her tires/wheels/frame just to continue riding. She’ll be changing to Kenda as soon as possible. Kenda rules in the mud!
We reached checkpoint #22 at 5:05 after the race start. It was the transition to the canoe. We had received a pre-race update earlier in the week so we were prepared with bungee cords to tie the bikes into the canoe with us. We had done this at previous races and knew the best method was to remove the front wheels, to keep everything inside the canoe and center of gravity as low as possible (this same race last year, a team capsized their canoe). We had about a 1K paddle upstream from the railroad bridge at Sherman, to the first canoe point #23. There was still ice in the back of the shallow cove where we stamped the checkpoint, which was strung up above the water from an overhanging log; Then continued a 4 mile paddle downstream to the Castlewood boat ramp. In our earlier races we always had slow paddling legs, but this time we did not get passed at all and we actually caught and passed another team! The toughest part was carrying the canoe across the wet sandy beach, up the ramp, and across the parking lot. After dropping off the canoe we found out this checkpoint #24 was the gear check. We both had our gear organized well, found it all and got through pretty quickly (the iodine tablet lesson at LBL paid off). It was now 6:30 after race start.
The competitor field had thinned out by now. We rode the trails around Castlewood picking up 4 more checkpoints without seeing any other racers, while hearing occasional sirens and yells from the finish line. We did a time check at #26, and were excited to find that we would finish our first race under the advertised time. We got #27 and #28 with no problem and rode into the finish at 7hrs 31mins elapsed time with all checkpoints completed. We talked to the race officials and found out that we had finished in 7th place for two person co-ed, and placed 39 of 97 teams overall. The pizza party and awards were still several hours away so we left in what felt like the middle of the afternoon. Haha, quite a change from the usual after-dark finishes.