September 23, 2009

Berryman Adventure - 2009

Berryman Adventure 2009 - Race Report

The Berryman Adventure was the 3rd twelve hour race for ROCK Racing. We had heard the stories and read some race reports from previous years, so we expected it was going to be the toughest challenge so far. We weren’t disappointed.

We arrived Friday afternoon as planned, got through race check-in and set up campsites at the Big Spring group campground that had been pre-arranged by the Bonk Hard Racing. The pre-race meeting was a short drive away in Van Buren on a Current River sandbar in front of The Landing. We were given three pre-plotted maps, a clue sheet, and directions to a bike drop. The bikes had to be dropped at 9:30pm, se we had time to get back to camp after the meeting, load them up and drive south and west about 35 minutes. Bike drop completed, we came back to mark up the maps with our planned routes between the checkpoints. Needless to say, what looks good on the map the night before doesn’t always work out during the race.

Jason (Bonk Hard race director) had warned us to be on the busses before 5:30, so we climbed aboard at 5:15 Saturday morning, took some time during the hour-long ride to fold maps and get them to fit perfectly in the map case. The busses dropped all the racers off at a small parking lot near the boat ramp on the Eleven Point River. The race started at 7am with a short orienteering leg. Funny thing we seen during the early part of this leg: A couple of guys were down in the river, knee deep running along the bank we were travelling. We were wondering why get soaked shoes so early? We found the three checkpoints, but had trouble on number 2, and ate up a big chunk of time running up a Jeep road to confirm our location. At each race it always seems to take me a couple checkpoints to get the ‘feel’ for the map and area. Maybe with more AR experience I will start getting that feeling right away and not waste so much time on the early checkpoints.

Checkpoint 4 was the boat ramp, Robin checked us in, punched the passport and we carried our canoe to the river. Surprise! This was the first race that we had a downstream canoe leg. Our paddling was great, went through several shallow areas, rapids, log jams, and picked the best route around the islands without a problem. Bonk Hard supplied us with nice canoes, plastic Old Towns, no leaks, and comfy seats. We hydrated and ate turkey sandwiches; I dropped part of mine in the canoe bottom, and ate it anyway with some extra sandy grit. Checkpoint 5 was at the canoe takeout. It was hidden around a tight bend in the river, but we swung in easily, punched the passport and started the biggest trekking leg.

There was a long climb up out of the river valley which we hiked instead of running thinking we had a long day still ahead of us. Once over the top we started running a couple miles of gravel road. We had planned our turnoff from the gravel to be about .3 mile past an intersecting road. Robin did her time/pace/distance calculations and stopped us at the right place in the road, I shot the bearing and we climbed down the rocky, wooded hill right on top of checkpoint 6. We noticed some of our limited race experience paying off now. We had both chosen to wear thin nylon zip-off pants, and were nicely protected from thorns. A team near us had worn bike shorts; they were all cut up and had shredded their shins. We crossed the creek and climbed back out of the deep valley to the Ozark Trail. We did this whole trail section on the run, passing several teams. I tripped and fell hard on a mid-trail rock just as we were passing another team. One of their guys stuck out a hand and pulled me back on my feet. Adventure Racers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. We finally got to the bend in the trail we had been looking for. I told Robin to time/pace us for 1800m, she nailed it again, and we turned off the trail at the perfect spot and punched 7.

Back to the Ozark Trail for a couple more miles of running and we came to a decision point. Follow the trail (and our pre-race plan) up a long climb to the top of the ridge and drop down to 8, or run up a creek to 8. We saw two other teams head up the creek. We decided to stick to the plan and follow the trail. This turned out to be a mistake, the trail was steeper, longer, and had more switchbacks than the map showed. We got to the top of the ridge in time to see several teams we had previously passed already heading away for 9. We climbed down, punched 8, and then climbed right back up the brutally steep and loose hillside to start chasing the other teams.

Another couple of miles running on the Ozark Trail and I made the navigation mistake that cost us two checkpoints. Hindsight says I should have stuck to the pre-race plan and ran all the way to the creek/trail intersection before shooting the bearing for checkpoint 9. I guess I was anxious about the time lost on 8 and turned us east off the trail too early. We climbed to the top of a ridge and worked back and forth over it several times, talked to a couple other teams doing the same thing. Checkpoint 9 was a tough one to find for some other teams as well. We finally decided to call it quits on 9 (after having learned a painful lesson on this subject the month before at Thunder Rolls). The problem with that was…the only good way to hit checkpoint 10, was with a compass bearing from 9. In the end we missed both checkpoints, and shot a due east bearing through some thick brush and ever-present thorns to hit a gravel road connecting into the bike transition. Two checkpoints missed, we were getting discouraged.

We made it into the bike transition (Checkpoint 11) with 6 hours to go. We discussed the opportunity to run back down into a jeep trail to checkpoint 10 from here, but we had planned for a six hour ride the night before. Combined with the pre-race meeting warning of “Don’t underestimate the bike leg”, we decided to let it go. We were getting very low on water, Robin was completely out, and had been keeping our eyes open for a good creek to refill in. Another team at the transition offered us a almost full gallon jug of water, so we re-filled camelbaks and started the bike leg. Adventure Racers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

We rode to Checkpoint 12 and 13 without any problems, at 13 we had to make another route decision. Ride a long section of Ozark Trail with a steep hike-a-bike dropping down into a valley, or ride a few miles out of the way on gravel road. The pre-race plan was to do the hike-a-bike, but after spending hours on the Ozark Trail we decided that the road would be the wiser choice. Turns out it was a good call, we climbed maybe the biggest hill we had ever ridden, and were chased by three dogs, but we got to 13, punched it, and were off to the next point. We had to pass the dogs again but this time we tossed some leftover corners of sandwiches at them for distraction. The sky got dark, and a storm came up with a lot of wind and blew branches and leaves all over, but it only produced a quick little shower that did little more than cool us off. We found 14 quickly afterward right on the trail and rode to 15.

It was time to adjust the plan again. We had planned to ride road from 16 to 17, but the race instructions said it was required to ride the singletrack trail instead. Another team near us said they rode the same section last year and it was really rough. It was getting late in the day now and we only had about 2 hours before the 13 hour time cutoff. We started riding pretty hard through the singletrack and passed several teams. Robin crashed coming around an S turn, the trail was grown up in some thick weeds and a rock slid out from under her tire, she went off the left side of the bike and landed on a downed tree in a thick patch of stinging nettle. Nettle sucks, always good for 10 minutes of burning and stinging. I hit my rear derailer on a rock so hard I was sure it broke, stopped to check it, and no damage. At 17 we were low on water again, and it was getting close to dark. We switched on bike lights and got the last big drinks of whatever water was left. There was nothing left now but paved road for a speed run back to race HQ.

We made it back to the finish in 12:06, and were bummed about missing the two checkpoints, but glad we had finished inside the time limit and uninjured. Had a few pictures taken, ate a great baked potato, drank a hot cup of coffee, and waited for the post race awards. We spent a few minutes second guessing the decision to leave the bike transition without checkpoint 10. We had finished 54 minutes before the cut-off, so maybe we would have had time to back into from 11. We finally decided that would have meant riding the last section of singletrack in the dark, and we would never have made it back to race HQ inside the time limit.

I ended up wandering around HQ talking to some of the other teams hanging around, and it began to sound like, there were plenty of teams missing checkpoints and quite a few that still hadn’t come in off the course. I started thinking maybe missing two checkpoints wasn’t so bad after all. Not long afterward Jason got up on a picnic table and announced that there would be no award ceremony tonight. There were several teams still out on the course that needed pick-ups, and racer safety was his primary concern. Park Rangers started showing up and someone overheard that the National Park Service was even sending out a helicopter to assist in recovery.

So the adventure ended with a nice hot shower at the Big Spring campground, and two giant bowls of beef stew cooked over charcoal by Robin’s husband in a huge dutch oven, perfect post-race food.

We ended up 21st overall for two-person teams, and if I counted it up right….2nd for coed!