Big Blue! (With pictures!)

Finally! After a year in the making, we were ready for our event of the year as we traveled to Lake Tahoe for the Big Blue Series championship, September 20.

Training went well leading up to the event, and I think we were feeling pretty prepared as we loaded up for Tahoe. “Loading up” is right! For a “minimalist” sport, you sure need a lot of gear!

Morgen drove over from Missoula on Tuesday evening, and we transferred his stuff to the (already full) Durango/trailer, which was loaded down with Dave’s stuff, Lisa’s stuff, the communal stuff and all the bikes. To top it off, we stopped in Spokane on the way out of town, and picked up Jeni’s stuff, just to make sure we didn’t have any extra room left… we wouldn’t want to be unprepared!

We headed out of town about 10:30 p.m., starting the LONG drive toward Tahoe. We (well, actually Dave, as Morgen was asleep by about 10:33 :)) headed out WEST through the Tri-cities, catching I-84 back EAST toward Boise, and eventually 395 south. We got as far as Ontario, Oregon by about 4:30 am, before pulling over at a rest area for a couple of hours of shut eye. We were back on the road by 7:30, and after being up for at least 20 minutes, Morg drifted off for a short 8 hour nap as Dave finished up the drive.

We arrived in Tahoe at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, and got the gear unpacked in preparation for the rest of the team’s arrival later that evening. We did a brief recon of the Northstar start/finish area, just to confirm that yes, the mountain is REALLY high, and we can say, without hesitation, that the reports were correct.

Andy, Jeni, Sheena and her husband Jeremy arrived around 8:30 Wednesday night, and after a quick stop at the grocery, 5/6ths of the team were here!

Our house was great, BTW… Dave found it on (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and it was such an awesome addition to the trip! 4 bedrooms – 2 baths, slept 12, newly refurbished, full kitchen, hot tub, pool table, less than 5 miles from Northstar… the list goes on. And all of this for $250/night!

Thursday, Dave went to the airport to pick up Lisa at 1:00, and after that, the race prep got seriously underway! We headed up to the hills and did about 2 hours of biking on the roads and trails we expected to use for the race. We explored the “Fiberboard Freeway,” the Western States Race trail, and the trails of the Burton State park, which turned out to be integral in the race.

Jeremy, now recruited as our Support Team, picked us up as we exited the park, and we headed home for dinner. One of the cool things about the house was because we had a great kitchen, we were able to shop for our own protein. Dave cooked the dinners, we shared a “communal” starch, salad etc, and everyone had their own choice of meat. It worked very well. The hottub was fired up, and it was a relaxing evening with the team all together.

Friday morning, we all headed to Northstar and spent 3.5 hours helping them get the venue set up for the race, and get a few massages.

 Friday afternoon and evening, we did a few errands, got our gear ready, and loaded up for the morning. Our kayaks arrived around 8:45, and Dave, Andy and Jeremy went down to the kayak staging area at Carnelian bay to unload and stage the boats.

Vince Pao from Team Aquan provided the boats and gear, and they worked great! Vince is a member of the Racing With Giants team, and has been a great mentor for us. We are so thankful for his help, as well as the assistance of his team-mate Thomas Bastis, who “hooked us up” with our AMAZING new IRulegear, got us in touch with Vince, and spent a great deal of time helping us prepare for the race. Thank you, guys! We couldn’t have done as well without you!

BTW, the I Rule gear was awesome! It is heavy duty stuff, specifically designed for AR and endurance racers. It is super comfortable, quality gear. I would highly recommend trying it out. You can contact Thomas at Because we ordered for our whole team, we were able to get a discount, which I’m sure we can get for additional members who want this great stuff, and want to match the team!

One of the things we did better this race was that we were COMPLETELY prepared for the race by Friday evening; bikes loaded, packs ready, clothes laid out, bottles filled, etc. On Saturday, all we had to do was get dressed, and head out the door. This made for a much less stressful morning.

Jeni, Morgen, Andy and Dave were participating in the Long race, and Lisa and Sheena were representing the FARTS in the Sprint race, which was to start at 11:00 a.m., so we were going to be competing on 2 fronts, simultaneously, requiring a little extra logistics. Thank you Jeremy for the driving and support work!

Race day dawned (sort of… it was still dark!) clear, cold, and, yes, a bit windy, which would really play a major role later in the day. We unloaded at Northstar, and did the last minute necessities, which basically included going to the restroom 27 times in the next ninety minutes.

At 7:00, we were given our maps and instructions, and we plotted our CPs, drew our routes, and tried to decide which way we were going. After the prerace briefing at 7:40, final restroom visits and last minute gear checks, the clock struck 8:00, and the Long race was on!

It was interesting, as about 50% of the teams weren’t ready to go at 8:00, and raced to catch up. This didn’t take too long, as the first leg of the race was to bike UP the very big mountain. Let me tell you, it was a start that separated the men from the boys, so to speak. With the altitude, it always takes a few minutes for the lungs to “burn out the junk” and get ready to go, and we weren’t given much of a lead in. It was pretty much a twenty minute slog up the gravelly, rocky side of a major ski hill. There aren’t too many races that have experienced racers walking their bikes within minutes of the start, but we saw it Saturday.

We had been working on our towing systems, and we all had rigs attached to our bikes, which came in handy, let me tell ya! Dave was able to tow Jeni up the first mountain, and then we hit the single track/fire road on our way down to the lake. This was a pretty bouncy trek, as it was rough, fast and rocky. Dave cartwheeled once, but we made it basically unscathed to the kayaks. Our biking has really improved, and we were within the top 20 or 30 into the kayak transition area, but after a pretty “smooth” (not) transition, we were like, 60th…

Yes, our “BtK” (Bike to Kayak) transition kind of sucked (again). Between forgetting to put on out kayak jackets UNDER life vests/jerseys (duh, Dave and Morg) to almost drowning our boats before we got into the water, let’s just say we have a little room for improvement in getting into the paddle.

In all fairness, this was a tough entry, as the aforementioned wind was much in evidence, and with it, the waves were, in short, “active.” One of the techniques recommended in getting through the surf is to paddle out quick, and then put your kayak skirt on after you’ve cleared the surf zone. let me tell you, on Saturday, the entire lake was a surf zone! Morgen and I put our boat in the water, and before we even got in two waves later, we had to pull the boat out and tip it over, as we were full of water. Finally, we decided to put our skirts on first, and fight our way through the waves, and it worked better, though we were now about a 1/2 mile or more behind the leaders.

You may recall how much fun we had in the Ocean Blue kayak with the 8 foot swells? Well, Saturday’s was worse! It was a TOUGH paddle. It was about 8 miles, with 3 foot waves crashing over the front of the kayak in random patterns, a 20 – 25 mph side wind, and a LONG way to go. Overall, I’d have to say, with some degree of certainly, that kayaking is not my favorite of the disciplines…

The good news was, however, that our technique had improved, and we actually started gaining on the folks ahead of us, and miracle of miracles, we started passing folks by the time we got to the turnaround. By the time we finished the (really tough) return paddle against the wind, we were back in the thick of the race!

Our KtB transition was MUCH better, and after 3:33, we were back on the bikes, slowly warming up and heading (da da daaa) uphill…

After about a 6 mile ride along the lake highway (yes, uphill again), we found our way to CP 2, the orienteering course. This was a new item for us, and proved to be both fun and frustrating at the same time.

Basically, we had 2 hours to gain at least 65 points by finding various markers hidden within the vast wilderness of the Burton Creek State Park while on foot. After a slightly slow start, we got in the hang of it, and all of our running training started to pay off, as got not only our required points, but a few bonus points as well. And then… Dave made his 2nd major navigational blunder in 2 races. After finding our last required point, instead of “bushwacking” back to the transition, we tried to be smart, and take the trail, which, unfortunately, led downhill… REALLY downhill, and then, we had to run back, yes, you’ve got it, UPhill… this cost us about 40 minutes.

Finally, it seemed, after hours, we got back on the bikes and headed for home, with only one little obstacle remaining… finding 3 CPs on and over the 10,000 foot mountain that was in our way.

The next couple of hours were primarily spent biking upwards on a combination of single track and logging roads, with a 500 foot up-the-side-of-a-mountain trek thrown in for good measure. This is where our towing and hill riding training really paid off, as we were able to link up, and the FART Train headed over Mt. Pluto! We had one more minor nav issue, as Dave’s entire rear water bottle cage fell off, and we ended up careening straight down the gondola ski run at high speed to the finish.

We crossed the line in 9:50, the first 4 person co-ed team across the line, with no injuries, and with all body parts intact!

 Now, the stories converge…

While we were out trying not to drown in the lake, the Sprint race started at 11:00, and Sheena and Lisa were off and running!

The Sprint had a really cool start, as they girls got to ride up the gondola and chairlift with their bikes, and the race started near the top of the mountain with a mile run UP (notice a trend here?) to the top of the hill and back down to their bikes. The girls then singletracked down to the lake for their kayak leg.

Their bike leg down was pretty hairy, and even though the girls were careful, they were in great shape when they reached the kayaks. Their paddle was about a mile, and, lucky for them the wind had died down a bit, so they weren’t quite as waterlogged as we were. From there, they raced back over the mountain, and finished with a 2.5 mile run up the mountain and through the village. They finished in 3:31, and when the dust had settled, they were 2nd place! Congratulations, FARTlettes! The girls operated as a great team, and had a terrific time as well. They were able to get a nice massage as they waited for us to stagger back in, and they were waiting for us at the finish.

At the finish, we had some beverages and a little food and shared “war stories” with the other racers. There is a lot of camaraderie in AR, and one of the coolest things is to relive the race, sharing routes, successes and mistakes. We actually did many things right, having taken basically the exact same route as the overall champs, the Dirty Avocados, who also won the 3 person co-ed.

Later that night, we stopped by Jason’s, a local watering hole, for a quick beverage and some soup with several members of the RWG team, and got to watch the video of the race. All in all, it was a pretty darn good day.

But, the weekend wasn’t over yet!

Sunday morning, Sheena, Morgen and Dave drove about 40 minutes down the lake to Emerald Bay, and took part in the inaugural Emerald Bay Trail Run, a cute little 7.75 mile run over hill and dale, along the rough single track of the Rubicon trail from Emerald Bay to Cowhee cove, right along the shore of Lake Tahoe.

It was a BEAUTIFUL run, but was pretty darn challenging, especially after having done the race the day before. There were 4 major hills along the route, with the one at the start being a steep 6/10ths of a mile charmer, and the final little “bump” being a mile long, 500 foot climb from the beach to the top of the hill, before plunging back to the finish at the beach. The distance is about the same as Bloomsday, but it is at least 12 – 15 minutes harder. The winner, Peter Fain, is a nationally ranked ultra distance runner (he prefers the 50k races over the 50 milers, because then “you have the rest of your day left”) finished in 52 minutes, and he would be in the high 30s in Bloomsday, without question. Dave finished up 1st in the 45 – 49 age group, and 18th overall. Morgen was just after that, after making a small nav error, and Sheena was just moments later. All in all, a great showing!

The run was the final event on the Big Blue calendar for the year, so they gave away lots of pretty cool swag, which was great.

We rushed Jeremy and Sheena to the airport in Reno, and the remaining crew went into town for a bit of sightseeing while Dave started our “Victory Dance” dinner. We invited Todd Jackson, director of the Big Blue Adventure Series, his wife Julie, and a professional Xterra athlete named Damien who helped out by filming the race (and was 2nd in the trail run) over for dinner.

It was a good spread, and we shared some great wine and nice conversation. In all, it was a great way to finish up the weekend!

Monday morning, we loaded up, and then we stopped to chat with Todd about details for hosting a race in the CDA area for next year. Andy, Jeni and Lisa headed to the airport, and Dave and Morgen started the little drive home.

We arrived home in CDA about 3:00 a.m., and Morgen loaded up for the rest of the ride to Missoula. We did the unload Tuesday morning, and found out that even though we were the first team across the line, because of our O course error, we ended up in 2nd place. Disappointing, but still not too bad for our first year!

We learned a BUNCH from this race, and combined wih our progress in the past few events, it looks like we will be a real force to be reckoned with in years to come. Dave is planning on taking an Orienteering course this winter, as well as attending Mountain School to try and develop and refine some additional skills for these and possibly even longer races… the goal: no more nav errors!

I want to thank all of you for your participation and support. It has changed my life forever, and for the good! Being part of a team with a goal has been an amazing experience… one that I have no intention of stopping; I was able to get a 20 mile ride up the mountain, a 10 K run and some exercises in yesterday, and hope to get some trail riding in today. I’m already looking at some events to do this winter as training, and Jeni has started trying to build a selection of events for us to choose from for next year… we want to keep building up our numbers so that we have more racers, and also improve our placings in the events we choose.

Keep up the great work, everyone… I’ll be back on the blog posting training, as well as links to other articles and stuff we find so that we can keep in touch over the winter. We are also starting preparations for hosting our own event here in North Idaho next summer, tentatively entitled “The Crux and the Crucible.” It will be a 2 day stage race, where you can do either day, OR both. There will also be a Sprint race, and even possibly an off-road triathlon and a trail run. We’re looking for a good date in August.

One thing is certain, however: we will be back!



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  1. Pingback: race report - FARTs in Tahoe «

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