November 1, 2011

2011 Checkpoint Tracker Championship Race

Team ROCK racing was looking forward to this race all year.  We had adventure raced in LBL several times before and are somewhat familiar with this great wilderness area.  The race was being produced by Bonk Hard.  They are top-notch race directors, so we knew this was going to be the race of the year.  We signed up the first day registration was open.

About a month before the race the UPS guy showed up at my house with a box from Swiftwick.  It contained two pairs of socks, and two pairs of arm-warmers.  All registered racers got the gift box.  Very cool.
Unfortunately the best made plans go astray.  Robin was injured during the Warrior Dash only 4 days before the race start.  She begged, pleaded, and probably threatened the doctors, but bone breaks of that significance are not something to mess with.  She would not be able to compete.  Her injury story is here.

Luckily, my wife had spent most of the summer cycling and was in great shape for her first adventure race.  The original plan was for her to continue training the rest of the year and make the Castlewood-8hr her first race.  But, we made some last minute changes and Lori was on the team. (Lori added race comments throughout the report in red). We loaded up the adventure van and made the drive to KY with Robin following in her own car.  She decided that even if she couldn’t race, she wasn’t going to miss all the fun.  So she was going to be a race volunteer. You can read her Championship Non-Race report here.

We checked in at race HQ and then checked into the Lake Barkley State Park Lodge.  This place was perfect for a race HQ.  Nice rooms, a restaurant, workout rooms, racquetball, and Wi-Fi.  My kids would be able to keep themselves entertained and fed while the parents raced.   
p.s.  they are teenagers, it's not like we left toddlers running around, unattended to get into trouble... oh, yeah, they're teenagers, nevermind...
One of the women at check-in mentioned something about driving to the race start, so we delayed unloading bikes and gear.  Pre-race dinner was scheduled to begin at 5.  I’ve learned at other races to never be late for food.  So we got to the dining room right at 5 and checked out the awesome looking buffet as we found a place to sit.  I looked around the room some and seen lots of racers I recognized.  Then at the table next to us I saw Ian Adamson, the world famous adventure racer!  This was going to be a great event.  The food turned out to be fantastic.  Best pre-race food I ever had, and plenty of it!
Chuck forgot the most important part of the meal...dessert!  They had apple and cherry cobbler w/ icecream, yum... 

After eating way too much, we went to the pre-race meeting. Robin said it was ok to eat 2 desserts because I was racing tomorrow. It started at 8 and I got there early too.  I think this is the only time I’ve remembered to bring a paper and pencil with me.  So I made a few notes like: 
Red trails at Energy Lake are not correct.
We are allowed to portage at CP35.
The Trace highway is off-limits except to cross
Jason answered all of the racer questions and ran through the race rules and gave us some safety cautions.  Then he called for team captains to come up to the front and get maps and cluesheets.  We picked up two 1-24,000 maps and a cluesheet with 37 checkpoints.  As other racers were still picking up maps, I was checking mine out.  Whoa, this was going to be a long paddle.  Then I spotted a 10hr limit on the second orienteering leg.  That is the longest one I’ve ever seen.  At least it wasn’t all reentrants like last month’s Berryman.
Now I have been to some of the pre-race meetings before, but never as a participant.  Always tying to figure out where Chuck and Robin were going to be and try to get some good pictures of them.  That's what I know how to do, try to find them at one checkpoint or another and take pictures.  As I sat there looking at all the checkpoints, I was really wondering how I was going to survive?  I can do this.  He knows how slow I am going in, so no surprise there.  I just had to stay awake and on  my feet and just keep moving.  No problem, right?  I can do this... I was hoping that I would soon believe what I was telling myself.  It helped as other racers who knew what had happened and how I got there, would offer words of encouragement.  They said I would be fine... 
Jason told us we’d be getting more maps and checkpoints at the bike transition.  We were told to be ready on the start line at 6:45, with a race start at 7:00.  The race crew and volunteers would transport our bikes to the TA at CP37 for us after the race started.  We left the pre-race meeting and went back to the room to do last minute gear checks and plot maps.

I showed Lori the plotting method that works so well and we made quick work of plotting the points.  Then we busted out the highlighters and planned the route we would use to attack the individual points.  Once we started plotting the big second O-section it was obvious that we would not get all the points.  I plotted a route to about 14 of the 22 points, taking in the most concentrated areas and easiest to get.  The canoe points would be easy to find, but there was a lot of distance between them, not much route choice there.   Once all the maps were plotted and folded up in the map-case, we tried to get some sleep.
Both (haha yeah I know) alarms went off right as planned.  I hugged my kids and told them not to burn the place down or anything while we were gone, and drove down to the start line at the lake Barkley State Park Beach.
I was starting to get a little nervous, I mean I knew I would return because Chuck had to have a partner with him to finish.  I was fairly certain that he would not leave me in the woods.  I mean he would drag my body back across the finish line if he had to.  DNF really isn't in his vocabulary... 
We parked bikes and gear in the designated area and went over to the start area. 

Jason gathered us all up for the National Anthem and a prayer.  All of the Bonk Hard races start like this, very cool.  I’m not sure who did the prayer, but it was great and started like this:  “Dear God, thank you for bringing us all together to this beautiful lake that was created by you and the Army Corp of Engineers….”

Jason had us all line up under the start line, it was about to start.  The photographers came out to get some last minute pictures.  Then, the evil race directors pulled a last minute change on us.  “Everyone grab paddles and PFD’s, then line up again.”  Haha, only in adventure racing!  We grabbed the gear and re-lined up.  We were being sent out for a short fast paddle leg around the beach swim area, then run into the first O-section.
The race started and it was chaos, racers dodging all over to get in the boats and then frantic paddling to make the small loop and get back on the beach. O
Ok, all was going according to plan.  We had not capsized, still fairly dry and made it back to shore! Yeah!  Then it hit me.... I still had 30 hours of this fun to go!

I bet they got some great pictures.  We paddled past Ian Adamson in one of the course marker canoes and I swear he was sitting there laughing at the madness.
Once out of the water we trekked into the O-section and were rewarded by running directly into all three of the CP’s.

Lori was impressed.  Her old man really can find checkpoints.
I really do have to say that I was impressed with his navigational skills.  He led us straight to them as if he had been there before, this is kinda funny because he gets lost in the Mall!

We came out of the woods and found a good canoe.  A couple of them had broken handles, and a couple other had broken seat backs, so it was good to be choosy here.

Navigating on rivers is easy, you just follow the water.  It gets more difficult on lakes, especially big lakes.  From water level, islands can look like a shoreline, and a peninsula can look like an island.  But this was early in the morning with bright sun so we didn’t have any trouble, except for the wind.  10mph and straight on in our face for the whole 8K paddle leg into the LBL wilderness area.  We made good time and only got passed by one 2p male team.  When we were about 500m meters off the western shoreline we crashed into a sandbar.  It was a surprise and seemed totally out of place.
I had noticed another canoe heading south and thought "why are they going that way?"  Once we hit the sandbar that was only under water by about 6 inches it became clear.  I wasn't about to question the master...

We paddled around a little and found a way through the shallow areas without having to get out and push.  Then we crossed energy lake cove to the canoe takeout, we dragged the canoe out of the lake, stamped our CP, and trekked to the TA to begin the second O-section.

The TA for the second O-section was at the guest center for the Energy Lake campground.  They had a lighted building with water and tables and chairs.  Team Virtus was there volunteering, they punched our passport and gave us our time to be back. Those guys were really funny  This section had a 10 hr time limit, we would have to be back by 9:06 tonight or take some wicked penalties.  We headed out and found the first 2 CP’s right where we plotted them.

The attack plan for the third point was to follow a bearing across a wide low area with no contour in the land.  It was kind of risky following a bearing that long, but it was the only reasonable option.  The bearing led us through the thickest brush and thorns we seen the entire race.  After what seemed like forever we climbed up onto the road we were shooting for and turned East.  I was suddenly so hungry.  The kind of hungry you only get during long adventure races.  Lori took my picture when I found a perfect snack.

So right after my snack we another team heading West on the road.  They hadn’t found the CP yet and were convinced that we were too far East.  I had a different opinion, and after comparing maps we separated.  A few years ago this would have really messed with my navigation.  I guess I’ve gotten confident enough now to go my own way.  This time it paid off, we found the CP right where it was plotted about 5 minutes later.

We were close to the next CP when we ran into Bill from Mid Rivers Adventure.  He is a fantastic adventure racer and navigator.  He was racing solo this weekend because his teammate had a last minute injury. 
After gathering a couple more CP’s we started the long trek back toward the TA.  We stopped on the way and picked up CP 13 just after dark.

When we arrived at the TA there were a bunch of teams putting on rain gear, eating and filling water bladders.  We got through transition quickly and trekked down to the canoe put-in.
The canoe was amazing.  LBL is dark, no lights anywhere, the sky was clear, the moon wasn’t up yet, so we could see all 100 billion stars.  The paddle was straight forward, about 6 miles, with two CP’s before the take-out.  We got them both and even managed to stay dry during the short portage.
It was about midnight when we got off the water and started a 2.5 mile trek to the bike transition.  We had to carry our paddles for the next couple legs of the race.  I was a little worried about this part, because they are two-piece paddles.  I strapped them up in my Osprey Talon pack, and it was like they weren’t even there.  They carried perfect.

About halfway through the trek we heard several packs of coyotes howling across the hills to each other.  It was totally cool.  I tried to record them with my camera, but it didn’t come out.  It really made you feel surrounded by the ‘wild’ and helped make the adventure.
The bike TA volunteers were from team Orange Lederhosen.  They had a giant fire going and were keeping busy with all the racers coming through.  We armed up for a few minutes and got the bikes ready to go.  We rolled away from the TA at 1:30.
The long hours and miles were starting to put a hurting on Lori.  She had really toughed this race out so far.  She had been road riding all summer, but had not trained for a race of this length.  She is also pretty new to mtn biking and had never ridden in the dark.  We decided to cut the bike leg short and not risk injury or a DNF out on the LBL single-track.  We were back by the Orange Lederhosen fire by about 3:00am.  We ate some more, warmed up, and Lori got in a short nap.

By this time it was really cold, my bike computer said 37 degrees, and we were still wet from the canoe leg.  I pulled my Icebreaker gloves off to dry them by the fire a little and was surprised by how cold my hands were without them.  They had been keeping me warm even though they were wet from paddling.  Wool is amazing!  We were both wearing Icebreaker base layers too.  It worked so perfectly.  Over 65 degrees and sunny in the afternoon, wet and 37 degrees at night.  That’s a huge temperature difference to expect one baselayer to handle, but the Icebreaker does it excellently.  Lori was wearing an Icebreaker hat and baselayer.  I’m glad her hat was such a bright color, made it easy to keep track of her in the woods.

We rode out in the dark toward the canoe transition.  The paddles rode nicely in the pack again.  I wont be so worried about carrying them in the future.  When we got close to the ramp we could see the fog.  We got off the bikes and stacked then in the designated area.  They would be transported back to the finish by race staff.  We decided that it would not hurt our race results to wait out the fog and dark until the sun came up.  We waited by the fire for about a ½ hour, then there was some light getting into the sky.  We loaded up the canoe, checked the map, and headed out on an East bearing. 
This fog was so thick, we couldn’t even see the side s of the cove we were in.  I’d guess we had about 20ft visibility.  Staying on the East bearing was difficult, each time I checked the compass we were off.   We eventually caught a 2 person female team.  They were trying to find a way through the mid-lake sandbars.  We worked together with them and found a way through without getting out to push.  They were on the same heading as us so we kind of stayed together. 
A four-person team caught us.  They were paddling hard.  It was Bushwacker.  They are awesome racer, so I thought it would be best if we did this foggy lake crossing in a little group.  We paddled really hard to hang on to Bushwacker and the other 2p team.  Lori thought her arms were falling off.  When the sun came through in little patches I spotted the state park marina.  Finally!  After an hour of paddling I found our first landmark.  We lost Bushwhacker, but continued on into the finish line just fine on our own.

Robin was the first one there to get our picture with the foggy background and give a congratulations.  We had our picture taken by this pro photographer, and made out way over to the food.
Game faces
I was glad to see the Bonk Hard baked potatoes under the finish line canopy.  They always taste so good after a long race.  Then the volunteer scooped a couple of spoonfuls of chili in there and I threw a handful of cheese on top.  Man it was great.
After a short afternoon nap we met Robin and my kids for the post-race banquet and award ceremony.  It was top-notch, white table cloths, waiters, waitresses, bartender, and giant buffet.  The food was great.  There was some gear giveaways, that I wasn’t lucky enough to win, but they were great prizes.
Ian Adamson showed some race videos and answered questions.  I learned a few race tips from him that we will have to try out.  Then the CEO of Swiftwick came out and gave away some socks to everyone with a tattoo. This was a great weekend!  Lori completed her first adventure race, my kids didn't destroy the lodge, and ROCK Racing scored some points for the 2011 series.  I can't wait for next year!  They announced that the race will be in West Virginia and will include ropes and white water rafting.


  1. Great Report Chuck, I'm just a little sad I wasn't out there with you, I'm so glad I was there to witness it though. Next year I'm not getting hurt before the race and we will be in great shape since it's right after Ironman!

    Lori, you did a great job, I am so proud to be your friend and so glad you agreed to take one for the team, you are a tough girl. And now I know how tough it is to be the team photographer.

  2. What a great experience for you guys to have together! Way to step up, Lori!!

    I missed the part where you saw Team Virtus, but I saw Lori's comment about them being really funny and I thought, "Hey, Bob was there!"...and then I looked back and saw that's who you were talking about.

    Chuck, knowing Lori, I'm guessing this race report is the ONLY time you're ever referred to as "the master", so you'd better save a copy!