March 30, 2012

High Profile Adventure Camp 2012

What does an adventure racer do for fun when he/she has a free weekend? If you answered, “go to adventure camp” you would be correct. Before I get too deep into this post, I want to say one thing, if you ever get a chance to attend the High Profile Adventure Camp….DO IT. It is the most fun you will have in your entire life.

Chuck, Lori and I registered for the HP Adventure Camp and Lightning Strikes 8 hour Adventure race back in January because we had an open weekend, but then the LBL Adventure Race was moved from the 31st to the 24th and since we were already committed to HPAC, we were going to have to skip LBL. For me it was a blessing, because the tracks n treads race, that I am the race director of was scheduled for the 31st and I was going to miss LBL. So now Chuck would miss LBL too and I wouldn’t end up being the green eyed giant, all jealous because he was going to LBL without me.

So off to HPAC it was, Chuck and Lori drove from home in Missouri and I drove from Illinois. The camp was held at Camp Benson in Mt Carroll, IL, it was a 4 hour drive for me and 5 hours for Chuck and Lori. Camp Benson is a YMCA camp and we were a little leery of what it would be like, we had visions of the horrid camps in all the Disney movies. We arrived around the same time and checked in, then went to our cabin. The cabins had 16 bunks, so we had 13 other roommates, more on that to come later.

Chuck: Camp Benson is a few miles from the Mississippi River and the Mississippi Pallisades State Park. It is awesome area of Illinois with great topography, cliffs, rocks, caves, and small rivers.

The cabins were brand new and really great, clean with nice beds, air and heat, plus our cabin was only 50 yards from the bath house. After checking out the cabin we checked out the area around the camp, it was beautiful and the weather was perfect, not too hot or cold and dry, but also perfect for ticks and poison ivy, and I ended up taking both home with me.

Chuck: I ended up with poison ivy too. Good thing Zanfel was a sponsor for the camp and generously gave all participants a full size tube! Even better than that, the CEO of Zanfel came to the camp and hung out all weekend. This company is a great supporter of the sport we love.

Soon it was time for some presentations, so we headed to the lodge, Gerry the race director gave us an overview of the weekend and told us that adventure racing was all about sleep deprivation and we would get plenty of that. Oh and we did too. Gerry is one of the best adventure race directors and his courses are very challenging, you will never find a CP out in the open. If you do one of his races, plan on crawling under logs, into caves, and finding a sink hole or two. Robyn Benincasa, the World Champion Adventure Racer and San Diego Firefighter was there and she was fantastic. If you weren’t sure about adventure racing, after hearing her speak, you would be running to sign up for a race. She was so down to earth, approachable, inspiring and had the best stories to tell. I can see why she is so good at what she does. If I’m ever in a fire, I want her to rescue me, because I know I would get out alive. Of course Chuck has been in love with Robyn for years, I think he spent the entire trip trying to figure out how to get a hug from her. She is his friend on Facebook, he told me and Lori that about a million times in the 3 days we were at camp.

Lori: I managed to get the first hug from her… Chuck was so jealous, but more on that later…

Chuck: Mission accomplished! Can’t fake a smile like this

On Saturday we were bussed to the Palisades where we practiced orienteering and get this, Lori and I did all of it, with hardly no help from Chuck. We did let Chuck lead while crossing the RR tracks though, we had to stop him from trying to crawl under, he just had to try to get in the lead.

Lori: I kept waiting for him to see an open rail car and do a swan dive through it with the ole tuck and roll on the other side… I looked at Robin and told her I’m not following him if he does it.

I’m still the worst at orienteering, Lori is much better than me, but I was way better than I have ever been. I even told Chuck he was going the wrong direction when he was trying to test me. Maybe I should insert the lyrics from the Toby Keith song here, “I’m not as good as I used to be, but I’m way better than I have ever been”.

Lori: here’s where Robin deserves some credit, I may be able to read the map but I am no good at judging distance which she does really well.

Next we did some paddling and Robyn B gave us pointers on how to do it, they really helped too, we did much better than usual, the only problem was we had 3 in the canoe and so we kept hitting each other with our paddles and of course Chuck got both me and Lori soaking wet. I’m not sure, but I think Chuck was smacking me in the head with his paddle on purpose and just telling me it was because the canoe was too small for 3 people.

Chuck: She gave us some great things to work on. Synchronizing the paddling, cadence, and getting a good reach with the paddle and pulling it back out of the water before passing your hips. Pulling out early seemed to be really working great. I can’t wait for a longer race on flat-water to see how this new technique works out

We even did some racing with the group, I don’t like paddling on the Mississippi River, but this was in a cove so it wasn’t bad. We all lined up and took off, I have never seen so much mayhem, canoes were crashing everywhere, we just sat back and watched the carnage.

After a couple hours of paddling we got out of the water, Chuck lounged while Lori and I tried to get dry from the thunderstorm that Chuck created, that got us all wet.

Lori: I think he felt justified because “his friend Robyn B” said the person in front will get wet, that is just how paddling works! It was still early on Saturday and I think the “my friend Robyn” count was already at 423,798 times!

Chuck: What I don’t understand is how the two girls in the front of the canoe can swear the canoe is leaning to the left the whole time, while I know the canoe is leaning right. I don’t know how we didn’t end up in the water.

Lori: it WAS leaning to the LEFT!!

We loaded on the bus and headed back to camp for a fast lunch while watching a presentation on climbing, then we were let loose to go climb. We were so lucky to have great volunteers who helped us with all the different types of climbing. We loved it all, well except for ascending, I’m not sure Lori liked that, but I will let her tell the story, if she wants too.

Lori: let’s just say, me and ascending didn’t get along too well…
So first we repelled off a hundred foot cliff, well maybe it wasn’t that tall, but I’m sticking to that story.

Lori: it was at least a 100’ if not more… or that’s how it felt being tied in a harness for the first time and told to just back slowly over the edge keeping your feet wide! I know I had a death grip on that rope, not realizing that you really had to feed it through the ATC device if you really wanted to go anywhere. I think this one scared me the most. It took several minutes to stop shaking after I finally got down. (Which was REALLY slow when you actually see it in the video, I should have had Robin put my segment on fast forward so it would look better?)

Next we traversed the river and hoped we didn’t end up wet, it went really well for me I made it across really fast and didn’t get wet.

Lori: Robin held a very impressive plank position on the traverse and Chuck flew across like he was going downhill.

Then we climbed, this was the hardest for me, but Chuck and Lori seemed to do fine, I think I need some P90X work.

We then had to get back across the river, so we found a spot that wasn’t quite waist deep and walked across.

Chuck: One thing is guaranteed with all of Gerry’s races: You will get wet!
Next we headed over to the slack line, wondering how many people had fallen in the river that it ran across, I heard that only 3 people had gone in so far that day.
It was really fun and I got across quickly, Chuck almost fell in at the start, but was able to save himself, then Lori came across quickly. I think girls must be better at slack lining.

Lori: Well considering the 3 who fell were boys, I would have to agree that girls are better!

Once off the slack line, we had to use a knotted rope to pull ourselves up a steep hill it was covered with green moss and slick, but we all made it up ok. Oh and Chuck went up last, I think he did that so he could look and Lori and my butt, I don’t know for sure, but I’m just sayin.

Lori: that sounds like him… I remember when he threw change on the ground just to get a better look at this girls… guess that’s another story for another day…

At the top of the hill we zip lined back across the river, but as soon as we hit the middle of the line, we stopped and had to pull ourselves the rest of the way across, at least it was a downhill pull.

Lori: it’s kinda funny, standing on top of this cliff, hooked into your harness and they tell you “just start walking off the edge and don’t stop”. See, you can’t stop because you will lose momentum and not make it all the way down the zip line. The only problem was it seemed natural to walk to the edge and stop!

We were now in new territory, heading to the ascent. None of us had ever ascended before and everyone was saying how hard it was. As we watched a few people got stuck and could not get over the top of the cliff wall, some had to be rescued (guilty) while others just rested for a while and finally made it up.

To ascend you have to use handles that attach to a rope and they have catches on them, so when you move them up the rope they stay and you can pull yourself up. You also have a strap on your foot, so you do 3 motions to move up the rope. You stand, then push your ascender up, then sit and push your leg up. These three motions move you up the rope. There is a bit of technique to it, but once I got it, it was pretty easy. When you get to the top, it’s a bit harder because you have to put your legs on the wall and push away, as you are pushing away, you do what they call a “huck” and huck yourself up. To huck, you push away from the wall with your feet and at the same time move your ascender over the rock face. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it because I don’t have strong arms, but really it’s all in the legs so it was easy for me. I got up pretty quickly and Chuck was right behind me on another rope, Lori had some problems about half way up the rock face. She is being kind, I think my problem started about 3 feet from the bottom… I’m going to let her tell you, because it’s funny to us now, but was rather frustrating to her, she is way too hard on herself though, because she wasn’t the only one having problems on the ascent and this was her first time ever climbing. Plus now she has a really great story to tell, isn’t that what memories are for.

Lori: this story could take awhile to tell but I will try to tell the short version… I only made it up about 10 feet before my legs just started quivering uncontrollably. I told them that I wanted to come back down and that’s when I got the news… THERE IS NO WAY DOWN BUT UP! You think they could have mentioned that before I started?? Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty as I struggled, hanging from a rope on the side of the cliff. There were tears, lots of deep breathes and what I now call my “Team Virtus moment”. As I was trying to get my legs to work again and struggling with coordination issues, somehow my pants were starting to come off! So not only am I stuck, I am mooning all those poor people at the bottom waiting (and waiting… waiting… waiting, you get the idea) to ascend. I am truly sorry that you had to see that and know how difficult it can be to for things to be unseen… I think this helped now that I look back because I was able to pull up my pants, pull down my shirt and finally make it to within 5 feet of the top. I was now exhausted, had nothing left, again uttering the words you should never say… “I can’t do this”. The tears were back and Chuck’s friend Robyn B had done all she could to talk me up the side of the cliff. While all the words she said were great, at that moment, these stood out the most… “do a couple of you guys want to go up top and help me pull her up?” I was never so happy to know that it would soon be over. They pulled and drug my nearly lifeless body across the rocks, and then across the ground. “I’m up, I’m up” I told them, never so grateful to be on TOP of the mountain (ok, so it was only a small cliff, but it seemed like a mountain…). Once there, Robyn B was there to tell me that it was all ok, and gave me a big hug as the tears started flowing Again. Chuck was so jealous; I had received a hug from his hero, who had now become my hero! I would not have made it if it were not for her. She is a great motivator and her voice is very calming. I know that next time I will not let that cliff beat me. I will make sure I do ascending first so that I have no excuses and I will make it to the top!

So I have been having one injury after the next lately and this time it was my knee, just last week my right knee started swelling up and hurting for no reason at all. Of course I didn’t go to the doctor, why would I do that when I have certified myself as an internet doctor. I just looked up my symptoms on Google and found out that I have knee bursitis, well at least that is what the internet said and the internet knows all.

You know where this is going, after about 10 hours of being out having fun, my knee was swollen and I had little range of motion, so I ran to the gas station and got ice, oh and while I was there, I picked up some diet coke for Lori and I, can you believe that they thought adventure racers only drink milk and coffee. I spent the next 5 hours with an ice bag on my knee, but there was no way this knee was going to stop me from racing the next day.

Lori: kinda funny how the whole time I’m hanging off the cliff, Robin had time to hike back to our cabin, take a shower, go get some ice for her knee, diet coke to satisfy our addiction and take a nap! Ok, maybe not all that, I think I did come back to the cabin as she was done in the shower…

So as we listened to Robyn, her presentation was so great, I could have listened to her stories all day, while I ate ibuprofen and iced my knee.

Chuck: She really had some great stories: Raining leaches in Borneo, boat crashes in the surf, oxygen deprivation in the mountains, buying bikes from villagers. One of her stories was about an Aussie or Kiwi dude that would say “she’ll be right” in any extreme situation. Lori and Robin got to hear me use that one about a 100 times the next day.

Lori: She was a pleasure to be around and I’m glad I got to meet her; I hope she comes back next year… I am already trying to recruit friends to attend the next adventure camp because I had so much fun! Everyone involved did a great job.
Finally it was time for the pre-race meeting for the Lightning Strikes race the next morning. Oh and of course some more sleep deprivation. Speaking of that, one note, if you come to camp, try to find enough friends that you can have a cabin with them, we had 3 guys in our cabin that would not quit talking at the end of the night. And in the morning, whatever they decided was the wake up time, was everyone’s wake up time. We were not real happy with that, but we went with it, what else could we do when they turn on and the lights and bang around talking loudly. I would say that was the only negative of the weekend, so I’m not complaining.

More to come on the race, we just had too much fun to put it all in one post.

March 6, 2012

The Epic Leap

Leap day only comes around once every four years, so we have to make it count. I know what you’re asking yourself right now, how can I, make this Leap day count for more than just another usual day. Well if you are a ROCK Racing team member you would think of oh so many ways to make Leap day, Epic! Well you would also think of many ways to kill yourself, but this year we chose a safer, I didn’t say safe, I said safer way to make Leap Day, Epic.

Chuck, Patrick and Lori and I decided that the perfect Epic Leap Day adventure would be best held in a kayak. Now if you know me, I’m sure you are saying two things, first Robin hates Kayaking and second Robin does not own a Kayak. You are correct, that’s why my first thought was “I hate kayaking” and my second thought was, “what the heck, it’s a day off work and the weather is going to be beautiful”, maybe, I can borrow a kayak. I am very lucky to have a good friend who owns an awesome kayak, and for some reason he either trust me with it, or he has no idea how bad of a kayaker I am. So no matter what it is, thanks John for letting me borrow the kayak, and next time I ask you to borrow it, please tell me no, because in the end, it will be a bad idea or at least that will be what I will be thinking after another day on the water. It always sounds like a good idea, but never really ends up that way.

So the plan was to take Dardenne Creek to the Mississippi River, and paddle across to Dardenne island. Which by the way has never been done before, at least that we know of and the warning we received by the park rangers, made it seem even more likely that we may not make it. The day was warm in the 60’s, but with 25mph winds gusting to 40mph. We had to carry the kayaks about a quarter mile to the creek then lower them down with a rope and climb in. We made it in the water fine and the trip was excellent, we saw tons of stuff in the water, every kind of ball imaginable, duck decoys, a baseball bat, a TV, a tire, about a million turtles and of course the best find of all, a deer head with a big rack attached. Patrick found the deer head and he yelled to me that he spotted a buck, I thought he meant a dollar, until I turned around and a deer skull was watching me from the front of his kayak. Oh and believe me Chuck and Patrick picked up most of the stuff floating in the river, always trying to outdo each other with the best find of the day.

We made it across the river to the island and spent some time slack lining, well we tried to slack line, some of us were better than others at it. Then we explored the island a little and finally decided to head back. This is where I decided once again that kayaking wasn’t for me. Getting back across the river wasn’t so bad, but when we turned into the creek, we were not only paddling upstream, but we were fighting the wind and for a time it was one long 40mph wind gust. There was a period of time when Lori and I just paddled like mad women and went nowhere, in fact I think we moved backwards. Lori made it through the wind faster than me, she is a much better paddler than me. I fought the wind for what seemed like hours, and got nowhere. I could see, Chuck, Patrick and Lori, up around the bend out of the wind, but could not get to them, finally there was a sort break in the wind and I made it through. My spirit was about to break by then, but I continued to paddled on. At the end of the adventure, I was almost insane trying to land the kayak, but with Patrick’s help I made it to dry land, I almost laid down and kissed the ground.

I decided to use the video and photos taken along the way to make a short movie of the Epic event, so take a look at the fun we had, well some of it was fun you can watch the movie and decide for yourself.

For a more detailed account of the adventure (the book version) see Patrick’s blog: Trail and Error

Oh one last thing, after the event, I must have still been distraught from that crazy effort to paddle through the wind tunnel, because I somehow deleted all the photo and video files off the adventure cam. Lucky for me I have a friend who is a technical genius and he was able to restore my files so that I could make this video. Thank You Jimmy!, I owe you one.

All in all, it really was a great day, even if I really suck at paddling.