October 15, 2009

Land Between the Lakes - 2009

Team ROCK Racing learned some serious lessons in the inaugural LBL challenge; our first 12 hr adventure race in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. I’ll record these lessons in the next few paragraphs describing the experience.

We entered the race with the goal of Finishing, Doing our Best, and Learning where we needed to improve. In the weeks leading up to the race, there were some posted updates about mundane thing like ice storms, national disaster area, forest service cleanups, recommended protective gear, and recommended spare bike parts. Its funny how easily underestimated internet postings can be. It all became real while driving into the race area Friday afternoon. The sheer quantity of downed timber and destroyed tree tops was beyond anything we had imagined.

Check in was fast and efficient, the race shirts are excellent. The pre-race meeting started at 8. And after dire warnings from the forest service and race staff, the maps and clue sheets were passed out. An hour of plotting UTM coordinates and we were feeling confident enough to only partially highlight and plan the next day’s route. LESSON 1 – an extra 20 minutes here can save hours of pain and backtracking. ALWAYS plan the route to the greatest level of detail possible.

The next morning our excellent spousal support and photography crew (Lori and Rob) drive us to the 6:00 am bike drop we had plotted the night before, then back to race HQ for the 7:00 start. The race started with the national anthem (nice touch, I’m glad they do this), and the first leg of the trek. We ran off to checkpoint 1 and 2, and found 3 for the beginning of the canoe leg without a problem. Was surprised to find that we were in 2nd place for two-person teams!

The canoe leg was 7 miles and the orienteering was dead easy, but somehow we started getting passed by one team after another. We pulled harder, changed up our strokes, blamed the paddles, blamed the canoe, lack of specific training, the wind, and ourselves, and still we gave up positions. One thing was obvious….LESSON 2 - we’ve got some more learning to do, and two bladed paddles are the only way to go.

Checkpoint 6 was transition from the canoe. Our families were wondering what happened to that 2nd place team as all the canoes were coming in ahead of us. We finally made it in and took off on the run, downing sandwiches while moving. Checkpoint 7 through 15 could be done in any order, it was also the most challenging part of the orienteering. We found checkpoint 14 around the backside of a graveyard, so heading back to the trail we decided it was time for more food. I pulled out the Ziploc of iced oatmeal cookies I had been carrying. They were so good. LESSON 3 – Always bring iced oatmeal cookies.

It was during that search for the next checkpoint that another lesson presented itself. We had stepped over well disguised barb wire fences that had been partially crushed by all the downed trees several times already. One fence happened to be about 8 inches above the ground…I stepped over, took about two more steps, and hear: “Thud!”, Robin never seen the wire, tripped, and fell hard. She picked herself up and kept on moving hardly missing a stride. LESSON 4 – if you’re gonna have a co-ed team, you gotta have a bad-ass girl.

We got hung up for a little while on ‘lucky 13’. But we later found that several other teams had problems there too. We pulled off an excellent shortcut and passed two teams nailing the last two checkpoints before bike transition. I sucked the last water out of my 100 oz camelback on the way to the bike (checkpoint 16), leg cramps had started already so my teammate shared some Enduralyte capsules and water from her Camelbak. LESSON 5 – Good teammates are priceless.

We were expecting to refill camelbacks at the transition and gear check but were told no water was available. So we were down to one bottle each left on the bike during the morning drop. Gear check had us digging through our packs to display required gear to the volunteers. I could not find the bottle of Iodine tablets, dug through everything a 2nd time, no bottle, dumped everything on the ground, no bottle. I announced that I did not have the bottle, and would have to take the hit for missing gear. Luckily, Robin was not ready to take a hit and had me dump out the dry bag…BAM…iodine bottle. LESSON 6 – Good teammates are priceless….I know that was 5, but this one is worth adding twice.

The bike leg started off with no water, legs scratched and bleeding from all the bushwhacking, bright sun, and close to 70 degrees. On the way to the first checkpoint we rode a big downhill to a creek with a low water bridge. It had about 6 inches of water running over the top. We hit it pretty fast and got a good ice cold rinsing, it felt great. This was going to be our fast section, we guessed three more hours. The orienteering was dead easy, all points right along obvious roads and trails. We nailed 17 quickly, on the backside of a small pond. We rode some monster hills to 18. Remember Lesson 1? Go read it again, because this is where we get burned. I had folded the map obscuring the right road, we ended up dead-ending on the Trace (restricted highway). We burned an extra hour recovering the route. Not only did we lose the time, but it was time without food or water, re-riding those big hills. It took a LOT of gas out of the tank. We caught up to several teams at 18, and kind of joined with them, for the ride to 19.

I don’t know if I have the words to explain this…but, if you’ve been ‘there’ you’ll know what I mean. Somewhere between dehydration, bonking, and following the group mentality, we ended up miles too far east on the wrong road. I had seen the right place to turn, blew it off, seen the power lines, even commented on them, but blew them off too. We were even far enough gone to turn into a field because we both ‘saw’ the highway. Ha, the other teams even followed us in there! We finally called a stop, reoriented the map with the compass and discovered the error. Another ½ hour to recover the route and punch checkpoint 19.

The ride to 20 gets us in even deeper. Another wrong turn, and we need water BAD. Robin filled water bottles in a creek while I read the iodine instructions. Here I am two days later with no known intestinal parasites so I suppose the tablets worked as advertised. Recharged with water we rode some great single-track trails to checkpoint 20. LESSON 7 – Drink every 20 minutes, eat every hour.

We found checkpoint 20 and a gathering of 3 or 4 teams discussing options. It was too late in the day to complete all 23 pts and make the cutoff. We decide to ride on and make a decision after the boat ramp. We passed several more teams on the ride and climbed the hill leading away from the boat ramp, we caught a couple more teams in discussion at the top of the climb. We stopped to see what was up. They swore we were on the wrong road, it was almost like they were in a panic. I was convinced it was the right one. Another team rode up. The consensus of all the teams debating was that there was no time to finish, so we should all take a DNF and get rides home with the fisherman leaving the ramp. As they argued, Robin and I quickly decided that we would ride our bikes under that finish line even if it took all night. Robin announced to the group “We’re riding in.” and while the other teams continued arguing and flagging down fisherman, we rolled out. LESSON 8 – Teams must share the same goal.

At the top of the big climb to the highway, we turned on our lights, and checked the time. 28 minutes to the 13 hour cut-off and a DQ. It was pitch dark, cold again, we decided to burn this ride with everything we had left. We did the down-hills in an aero crouch, the flats in the big chain-ring, and the climbs with whatever was left. Sounds funny talking about mtn bikes being fast, but I swear we were really moving. Somehow, I don’t know how, but I started feeling great during this part of the ride. Adrenaline from the final push? Happy to be so close to the end? Whatever it was, we came in across the finish to our kids and spouses, applause, bells ringing (or did I imagine those), and cameras flashing, at 7:51. Nine minutes before cutoff and DQ. LESSON 9 – Not only must Teams share the same goals - they gotta back ‘em up.

So after reading all these LESSONS you may be wondering if I would want to do this again…. Hell yes! We loved it. We ended up with a 10th place finish for the 2009 race. Oh,,,I gotta add these last few things which may not be big enough to call lessons…but always remember to bring: Smartwool socks (they soak up blood really well), enduralyte capsules, bug spray (never did mention the ticks, did I?), and sunscreen.