Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summit County 24 Hour Adventure Race

Some people may think it odd, but the day after my much-loved dog Mushka died, I headed up to Summit County to do a 24 hour adventure race. I was sad and teary-eyed, but I figured I'd be worse sitting around the house moping about Mushka. Plus, I had made a commitment to my teammates on Git Some and I would leave them in a lurch if I abandoned the race one day before it. Had Mushka been hanging on with hours or days left, I certainly would not have gone. But staying home would not bring her back, so I went. Life goes on.

This race the team was me, Derec, Lee and a new guy, Mark who was a friend of Oat's. At race registration we picked up our maps and the Check Point (CP) coordinates for the first and third legs of the race. We would get the other CP coordinates once the race was ongoing. Since the weather looked iffy, we headed to a Starbucks, grabbed some coffee and began plotting the points we had. We would start out the race paddling on Dillon Reservoir, run through an orienteering course on foot, trek practically up to Peak 9, in-line skate and finish on the bikes.

Derec plotting CPs

David, still nursing his bum ankle, came out to support us and help out the race promoter. We headed to the house of a friend of David's; that guy seems to know someone in every mountain town! There we organized our gear and ate before the midnight race start on Friday night. While David (who is a trained chef) prepared our pasta dinner, a gear explosion occurred on the front lawn. Race boxes were emptied and then filled with gear organized to fit the race format. Dinner was yummy. Once we felt sated and organized, we attempted to relax.

Lee, Mark, me and Derec just before the race start at midnight

At the race course, we got into our paddling gear and running shoes. We would be running from the Frisco Nordic Center, race start-finish-headquarters, about 1.5 miles to the boat ramp. Running in a wetsuit and dry top while wearing a PFD and a pack is not so much fun. The bike path seemed to go on forever, but finally we came to the boats and the first CP. I got in one of the inflatable duckies with Mark. None of us had paddled with Mark before, but he's a white water kayaker and strong according to Oat, so we figured he'd be OK.

Our next CP was couple of miles away to the north. The water CPs were all on the shoreline and marked with a glowstick, but you can't see those things until you are almost on them. I am always amazed by the guys and gals who can navigate at night on the water. At first though, there were so many boats all together that navigating was only a problem for the first boat. And that was not us! Mark and I were struggling. We couldn't seem to keep a straight line and we had no power. We were almost dead last at the first water CP. Then Mark asked to switch paddles and we figured out the problem. He had his white water paddle! In contrast to the long shafts and blades on a flat water paddle, white water paddles have short shafts and stubby blades. No wonder Mark was ineffective in steering and applying pressure with that paddle! After we switched, we went a bit faster. But I soon began to get sharp pain shooting down my arms from using Mark's paddle, which had a very thick shaft; too thick for me to get my little hands around. So, we wasted more time switching paddles with Lee and Derec's boat, giving poor Derec the stubby little white water paddle.

This went better as we paddled all the way across Dillon Reservoir and most of the way up the Snake River Arm, seven miles or so away. At this CP (CP3), we decided to switch Lee into my boat and put Mark in the front of the other boat, since he was worked from all the extra effort early on. Lee and I paddle well together and we were all able to go even faster. We paddled back out of the Snake River Arm and headed south all the way to the southern end of the reservoir east of the peninsula. This was another six or seven miles away. The skies cleared and the stars and half-moon illuminated our way as we continued to pass other boats, including teams that usually beat us. We talked some trash and felt really good about how we were making up for the start of the paddle. When we came up to CP4, we were in third place! Git Some!

CP4 in the bag, we paddled up around the peninsula and back down to the marina (CP5). We were all alone now, with the first two boats out of sight, so there was some tricky navigating to be done. Derec and Lee did great and lead us straight in to the marina. Ugh - we had to run all the way back to the Nordic Center! But this time, we were freezing cold instead of hot and sweaty. It's funny how you can be pretty comfortable paddling, but as soon as you stop, your body temperature drops like a rock. Fortunately, the Nordic Center/CP6 had a heated bathroom where I could change out of my wet kayak clothes into my trekking clothes. Dry clothes do wonders after being cold and wet.

We were given the coordinates for the orienteering course and the guys plotted them. Then we headed out on foot for the orienteering course at around 4:40 am. There were 30 controls (CPs in an O-course) for us to find. Any missed CPs would cost a 10 minute penalty. So, if a control would take more than 10 minutes to find, it wasn't worth the effort. While plotting the controls, the guys had devised a strategy for which ones to get first.

Me and Derec coming in from the trekking O-course

O-courses are super fun. It's like being a kid again playing Treasure Hunt in the woods. It was dark when we started out, so we used our HID bike lights and held them in our hands to shine on an area we thought a control would be. The control flags are reflective and shine back brightly in the beam of an HID.We ran in the woods and through areas recently cleared of pine beetle infested trees; it was sad. We ran on a trail on the edge of Dillon Reservoir as the sun came up, casting a pink glow to the sky that was reflected in the perfect calm of the water. It was so beautiful that I tripped on something as I was distracted by the beauty. I went down hard, banging up my knee and hip. Yes - I crashed in a race on the running section! We bagged all 30 controls and ran back to the Nordic Center/Transition Area for CP7.

This was a quick transition, since we wore the same clothes we did on the O-course. We just grabbed some more food, reloaded on water and made sure to put a jacket in our packs. I also grabbed my new trekking poles. David saw us off on the big trek at 7:40 am.

Team Git Some taking off for the big trek

We ascended Miner's Creek Trail, and I mean ascended. The trail started out in the forest and trended southwest toward the Ten Mile Peaks. It was super steep in many sections; I began to appreciate my trekking poles. We found CP8 at a trail junction and then motored on south, the trail continuing up along the east side of the Ten Mile Peaks. We popped out of the forest onto alpine tundra and were treated to spectacular views. Derec felt like singing Sound of Music songs!

We saw another team behind us and gaining on us slowly but surely. It was Team Go Lite, a fast, sponsored team that usually beats us. Mark was leading and I was just behind him. Except for my sore hip that felt out of whack from my tumble, I felt great. Derec was having trouble with his feet though, which had gotten wet and were feeling hot, a sign of impending blisters.

We stayed ahead of Go Lite as we crossed over the saddle between Peak 5 and Peak 6. The trail rolled up and down. We ran the downhills, which were rocky and sketchy; now I was really happy I had the trekking poles! Miles and miles of mountainous views lay all around us. The tundra was smattered with wildflowers of all colors; white Bistort, purple Mountain Bluebells, purple and yellow Columbine, red Indian Paintbrush, many different colors of asters and lots of flowers I cannot identify. As we trekked through this stunning landscape, we realized we may not have found the best route to the CP, but at least we had found the prettiest!

After the saddle, we descended back into the forest briefly to a trail intersection. We debated which way to go and then headed onto the one that went back up again. More climbing, of course. We hoped that Go Lite would make a mistake and go the wrong way, but no such luck. As we popped out above the tree line again, they came up to us and then passed us. Getting passed is no fun, and our spirits sank for a bit. We soldiered on and could see Go Lite ahead of us for awhile as the trail dipped and rose. We finally came to CP9 just downslope and east of Peak 9 where the trail intersected a jeep road. We stopped to rest a bit, eat and for Derec to dry his feet out a bit. His skin was turning to mush and I'm sure it was getting pretty painful for him to trek at this point.

We got going again, heading down the jeep road to the ski runs of Breckenridge. We were required to stay on trail during the trek (i.e., no bushwhacking) but we were allowed to use the ski runs once we encountered them. We followed the jeep road as it switchbacked, wishing we could cut through. Finally, we came upon the ski runs. We took Cashier at first and then switched over to Columbia. These were blue runs and they are a lot steeper without snow than they seem with snow! It's difficult traveling down steep ski runs on foot. Unlike a trail that trends downhill with meanders and changes in grade, ski runs have a consistent, unrelenting grade down. Now I was super happy I had the trekking poles. All of us were experiencing sore toes (from our feet banging into the front of our shoes) and achy knees. Downhill is hard on your body!

It was weird coming down from the back country to civilization at the Breck base. There were all these tourists walking around, staring at us as we appeared in their clean, comfy world. Who were those grungy, half-crazed looking people?!?!?? We ran through the ski resort base town and then onto sidewalks until we arrived at CP10 at the City Market in Breck. We arrived about two hours after we had originally thought we would, greeted by a fantastic cheering squad. Mark's wife and a friend were there with cold beverages and sandwiches. Seeing them picked up our mood and we changed into our roller blading gear as we shoved food into our mouths. The clouds had been building up toward the end of our trek and now it looked like the heavens were going to open up. We saw lightening in the distance and a strong cold wind bore down on us. Downdraft. Just as we shoved off on our in-line skate section, it opened up, the rain coming down hard!

Roller blading is not my thing. Roller blading in the rain has never been my thing. I was nervous about the bike path surface being slick so at first I bladed slowly. Then, I became more confident and we all picked up speed. We bladed faster than I ever did in my practice sessions. The whole section was only about 1o miles long and it was over faster than I expected (thank god!). We arrived back at the transition area and CP11 under dry skies.

I was pooped. Although I felt good on it and I was moving at a good speed on the trek, it had taken a lot out of me. The paddle had also been hard. At the transition, I was worried about what I had left in my legs for the bike section. David helped us get fueled up and rehydrated.

Me and Derec staying warm in the car before the bike leg

I changed into dry clothes and stayed warm in Derec's car while Lee plotted the bike CPs.

Lee plotting bike CPs while Mark looks on

Feeling very spent, David sent us off for the final chapter of this race somewhere around 4:00 pm. We had been on the move for more than 16 hours without stopping.

Team Git Some heading out for the bike leg

I normally like the bike section, since mountain biking is my best discipline. However, my legs felt so leaden when we started out, I was worried the remainder of the race would be awful. We began on bike path and picked up CP 12 on the side of the road. Then we turned onto Tiger road, which turned into gravel road. Of course, we went uphill. I had to ask the guys to slow down, since I was redlining it just to keep up. I felt like I was letting them down. Lee towed me for awhile and then Mark did so to. Finally, when we got onto single track, I began to get my legs back. I think part of this was due to the food I ate at the transition kicking in, but part of it is something in my head. For some reason, I can be completely whooped but able to find the energy to keep going on single track trail. Paved and gravel roads are really tough for me when I'm spent.

We rode up a long climb in the woods after the gravel road ended. I must admit, I'm not completely sure what trails we were all the time. On the east side of Highway 9, we first hit CP16 somewhere off the Middle Fork of the Swan River. We elected to skip CPs 15 and 13; they were not worth the penalties we would incur for missing them.

I was feeling good again and was now following Mark in front, instead of being dragged a long from the back. The rest of the mountain bike section was super fun. We rode some sweet trail, much of which was fairly technical. We bombed down the gravel road I had struggled to come up. The bike section had certain time cut-offs by which teams would be allowed to proceed on to certain CPs. We knew we would miss the first cutoff, which required us to be at CP17, co-located with CP12, by 6:00 pm. Therefore, we would not be permitted to go for CP18. The next cut-off for CP17 was 7:00 pm and this one would allow us to go for CP19. We decided we had time to run out and bag CP14 on the way back to CP17. This was located a few miles off the Dredge Ship Trailhead on Tiger Road. There was some steep, rocky climbing and the guys seemed to be tiring. Well, except for Mark. He was going strong, but at 27, he should be going strong! On the way out to CP14, another team, Eolus, came up upon us. Both of our teams headed back out to Tiger Road together and then back to CP17 .

We made it to CP17 at 6:15 pm and immediately headed up the Gold Hill Trail (the sign said Wheeler Trail, but my teammates say it was the Gold Hill Trail - so I'm confused). This went up and was rocky and techy. Toward the top of Gold Hill it got very steep and I found myself getting woozy when I was pushing the cranks really hard. I decided to walk the really steep parts, as did Derec and Lee. Once over the top, we raced downhill to the intersection of the Gold Hill Trail and the Peaks Trail where CP19 was located. Not less than 30 seconds after we punched the passport at CP19, Eolus showed up. They had ridden up Peaks Trail to the CP and were going to head down the same way to the finish. We knew we had to hustle to beat them across the finish line, so we took off.

I like to go downhill fast and I got my chance here! We descended almost recklessly. Derec's brakes were malfunctioning, but he had to keep riding fast since we didn't have time to stop and fix them. This part of the race was super fun, even though my legs were so tired I could barely keep standing over the saddle. We dumped off the trail onto the bike path, got chased by a large dog and finally screamed across the finish line at about 7:00 pm. Elous and 4CAR came in for a photo finish not more than a minute later.

We were the 2nd team to cross the finish line, but Elous and 4CAR got more CPs than us, so they likely beat us. Boulder Performance Network finished first, but there are outstanding questions about a protest filed against them, so we shall see where we end up - 3rd or 4th overall. Much to our surprise, we beat Go Lite outright. They attempted to get more bike CPs on the east side of Highway 9 and timed it poorly, failing to make the time cutoff. Thus, they were not allowed to go for CP19. Therefore we had the same number of CPs as they did, but since we finished 30 minutes before them, we beat them. This pleased us since they are a very strong, sponsored team that we usually lose to. Plus, they had passed us on the trek so it was nice to get them on the bike.

Derec, me, Mark and Lee, all looking surprisingly fresh after 19 hours of non-stop racing

Here's the map of the CPs. It's hard to get the scale of the distances we covered and the hieghts we climbed if you are not familiar the area. You can't get from one CP by going straight to another CP; you have to take a more circuitous route in order to stay on trails/road or stay on manageable terrain.

We always have things we can improve on, but I felt we raced really well. I'm super pleased about my paddling - it has improved so much since last year! I also felt great about my trekking/running. I have been working on this discipline for the last month or so and I am seeing improvement. I'm also really happy with my team. They are all great guys who have excellent navigational and athletic skills. Plus, I have fun with them (sick joke for this race had something to do with Lee's ginormous left nut; dead babies are old news)!

The race allowed me to not think about Mushka and also gave me long stretches where I was free to let my mind wander back to her and the imprint she had on my life. I'm glad I decided to race! More pictures here!


brg said...

great job Jen! Sounds like you were totally in your element. Very exciting about beating team like GoLite. I tried to follow the action on-line but it was hard for me to figure out what's going based on.

Kim said...

Congrats on a great race Jen!

bbrooke said...

I was supposed to be there for the orienteering course, but I couldn't make it... Congratulations on finishing at the top of the pack!

Tracy said...

yeehaw, jen! good work! sounds like you guys worked really well together, and had fun doing so! and congrats on beating golite!!