I hope everyone is enjoying the fact that Spring has finally (cross your fingers!) sprung, and is getting in some good training… we certainly have over the past 10 days or so!
Backing up a week and a half to Friday April 10, I was out with Keith doing some training… first, a bit of kayaking, followed by a couple of laps of Tubbs Hill, and then a quick, hilly bike loop, including the massive Potlatch Hill scheduled. On the second lap of Tubbs, wearing the wrong shoes, and with no ankle braces on (Note to self: “Idiot!), I hit an uneven spot wrong, and rolled my (already bad!) left ankle over 90 degrees… yup… the malleolus (cool name for the ankle bone) was touching the ground. Keith was right behind me and he yelled “Holy S**t!” when he saw it.
Of course we were also at the farthest possible point away from our transition zone (the parking lot). Acting responsibly and with admirable restraint to avoid further injury, I sent Keith on ahead while I cussed and rolled around, and then got up, and under doctor’s orders, completed the run, jumped on a bike and did a 15 mile trail ride. See? Perfectly reasonable!
Now, considering that the next day my ankle was swollen to the size of a large orange and I couldn’t walk, and I had a race in a week, I must admit that on second thoughts, I possibly could have chosen a different therapeutic technique…
Sunday wasn’t much better. I did get out for a bike ride Monday, determined that my training wouldn’t suffer more than it was already with all the Adventure Sports Week administrative preparation, and it was okay on the bike, but running was an absolutely not on the menu.
By Thursday, most of my inner circle were mentioning, in that special tone, that I “really need to be careful, and not overdo it…”, which, when translated, means “what the hell do you think you’re doing planning to race in 2 days on a bad ankle in a tough race? Are you more insane than everyone thinks?”
Now, my only saving grace was that my original partner Christine was still not fully recovered from her knee injury, and I wasn’t able to bribe another girl into slowing down and racing with me… they all wanted to go too fast for an old, injured guy who was generally too slow to begin with, so I was going to be racing “solo,” which means either “lonely,” or “has bad breath,” in AR circles.
When Friday finally arrived, I had listened carefully to all my counselors and phyisicians, and with thanks to all of my concerned friends, relatives and smirking teammates, I did the reasonable, responsible thing and ignored them all. So, off to Montana we went for the revamped Grizzlyman Adventure Race – check out www.grizzlymanrace.com for some of the fun.
Andy, Jeni and I loaded up our gear and started the trip after the mandatory last minute, “can’t do without” stop at REI, and my stop to get my kayak for the weekend… LOTS more on that coming up!
Now, Jeni and Andy had raced the inaugural race last year when we were hosting Regionals, and so, naturally had to pair up to hopefully repeat their 2008 successes. I was on only one leg, so naturally, the race was on like Donkey Kong! (and for those who don’t know us, there’s not a competitive bone in our bodies, especially between Andrew and myself; it’s practically a Buddhist retreat when we get together we’re so laid back… anyone buying this load of Automaker bailout?
We were staying at an absoutely wonderful resort called “Paws Up,” which besides its amazing amenties, service and beautiful furnishings, had the delightful added bonus of being yards from the Start/Finish line, and had showers, a kitchen, satellite TV, a hot tub, a washer/dryer, and more, more, more!
Because we had our own kitchen, we stopped at Albertson’s and purchased our own fish, veggies, breakfast etc for the weekend, and then checked in for the race.
They were kind enough to give us our maps and UTMs at check in, allowing us several hours to plot and set our courses, but before that, we wanted to hit the river to give Andy a chance to do some whitewater, and Dave a chance to play with his new, fast, wobbly hard shell… ah ha, you say, the excitement is making you all atingle? Yeah, me too.” Huh?” you ask? Okay, let’s back up a couple of weeks…
In preparation for the race, Morgen, Jeni and I had paddled this stretch of river a couple of times, but this time, there were a couple of “minor” changes, such as the fact that the river was running VERY high and fast (Class IIIish), and Dave, despite his love for all things paddling, and his extensive experience on whitewater, had only run it in a (relatively) stable, two-person inflatable.
Well, for those who might not have risked life and limb in a skinny boat on a deep, fast, rocky, rapids-filled river, a (relatively) stable two person inflatable, and a skinny, wobbly fast, one person Prijon 10 footer aren’t exactly the same animal.
We put in at “Round Up” on the Blackfoot River, and within about, oh, 12 feet or so, I knew that I was going to be in for some “fun and games,” otherwise known as “terror and possibly death” during our practice run. The worst thing was that Chip, our intrepid kayak guru, was going to charge an extra drop fee if a relative had to bring my kayak back…
The word that comes to mind to describe the next few miles was “pucker factor,” and that was for the poor souls watching from shore!
As it turns out, I lived through the first couple of miles of the river, and was actually getting a bit cocky about my obviously natural, God-given “abilities,” when Murphy (of Murphy’s Law Fame) made his way onto the river to join the party… the problem was that my kayak was only big enough for one, so one of us was going to have to get out. That one turned out to be me.
With about 1/3 of a mile to go before our take out point, I made my biggest paddling error to date; as it turns out, whitewater paddling has its own set of techniques for sudden steering emergencies, such as when a giant rock rudely appears in front of your boat, leaving you seconds from impalement. It also turns out that I wasn’t aware of these little secrets, and they weren’t included in the “God-given” package.
It seems that if you turn sharply to avoid a rock, and let the nose of your boat get to shore, the faster current in the middle of the river grabs the back end of the boat and encourages it to hurry downstream at ever-increasing rates of speed, with you following along sideways, if you’re lucky.
Oh, did I mention the large, until-now-hypothetical, giant, man-eating rock that had suddenly popped up feet in front of me? Yeah, well, hypotheticallness went out the window, and I hit it. Sideways. Hard.
Physics dictates that if you’re moving sideways at a large rock, and your boat suddenly stops, you, the now useless paddler will continue downstream, usually leaving the boat in the process.
So, one minute I was paddling blithely along, and the next I was doing a headstand (literally) on previously mentioned large (and now, I found out, HARD) rock, with my paddle between my legs, and my boat, now being piloted by Murphy, already several yards downstream, and accelerating, to the faint sounds of Irish laughter.
Somehow I noticed this as I was contemplating my rapidly approaching “demise-by-drowning,” trying not to drop my Aquabond paddle in the process, all while trying to keep my bleeding head above water, with increasing difficulty.
Thankfully, Jeni and Andy were about 50 yards downstream, and were rapidly shifting into “save his ass because he’s got the car keys in his paddle jacket pocket” mode…
The next few moments were truly, with no exaggeration, the scariest I have experienced in my AR career. I was even having difficulty getting my feet downstream, My paddle suit was now filled with water, and with the speed of the water, my next landfall was going to be in Idaho, on my way to the Pacific Ocean.
Thankfully, Jeni and Andy managed to intercept my run to the sea, and while I held on to the back of their kayak, we were even able to rescue my happily bobbing boat, drag it to shore, dump it (with a fair degree of difficulty) and haul it up to the road, coincidentally within a few feet of the take out point.
Emergency abated, adrenaline shakes in full attendance, we dried off, and headed back to our briefing meeting (where I was laughed at, for some unknown reason,,, AR racers sure do have a strange sense of humor… 🙂 Most popular comment was “Damn! Cool!”). After learning about possibly transferring blood-borne diseases while climbing barbed wire (O’m not kidding!), we loaded up to stage out kayak and bike gear, and then headed back to Paws Up to get our maps done while I cooked dinner and stopped my rapid breathing.
After the normal pre-race ritual of rushing around madly getting our gear in order, we went to bed at about 1:00 a.m., planning on a 7:00 a.m. wakeup for final prep for the 9:00 a.m. start.
Of course, we were all up and going by 6:15, doing final prep, map checks and breakfast. We headed over to the start at 8:30, where excitement was running high.
At 9:00, the shotgun went off (literally… this WAS Montana, after all) and we were off and running (literally) 3 miles to the kayak transition. Oh, Joy.
I may have forgot to mention that I had been suffering from a slightly tweaked ankle? Well, that first uneven run was the first trial, and to my pleasant surprise, it was no more than excruciatingly painful… it looked like I might survive after all.
My strategy for race day ankle prep had been the result of weeks of detailed research using the most high tech modalities available to Adventure Racers: Duct Tape.
Yup, I duct taped it up right over my sock. Tossed on an ankle brace, and The North Face “Rucky Chuckys” and I was off.
After my normal “smooth” kayak transition (this time, I was using a dry suit, Michelin Man-sized PFD, football helmet, GPS, airbags and close-ground helicopter support… I also tied my paddle and boat to my wrists to make sure we arrived at the TA at approximately the same time) I set out into the river, determinded to play it cautious and safe… drowning would result in possible disqualification, according to the race rules.
I made it all the way to the first rapids, about twenty feet downstream, before the first adventure happened: My spray skirt (likley improperly installed by the operator) flew off, and I began to take on water in fairly exciting quantities. Let me share that 6 inches of river water in the bottom of a little kayak has derogatory effects on its manouvering capabilities…
About 1/2 way down the 5 mile course, paddling what was now basically a submarine, I was forced to beach and dump my kayak, resulting in an impressive final showing, leaving me about 20 minutes behind the leaders… ah… I love kayaking! When I arrived (why am I always glad to be done with the boats?) Jeni and Andy were already dressed, had eaten lunch, taken a nap and were heading out onto the trekking/running/orienteering section of the course (well, okay, no nap or lunch, but after making sure that I was alive and they still had a ride home, they left me in the dirt, and set out, maps and compasses in their hot little hands.
Now, I do have to say that a drysuit makes the transitions a bit easier, so I wasn’t any further behind when I grabbed my new “Black Diamond” trekking poles and headed for the hills. Aye, verily, I speak the truth.
River level was about 2950 feet… CP 1 was at 5280. Straight up. The Mountain Goats wore climbing harnesses.
About 1/2 way up the hill, I caught up to J & A, and we finished the CP together. CP 2 was down into the valley, and back up to another little hill… this one at 4970. CP 3, you ask? Why not. This beauty was a few miles away, and staggered in at a quaint 5800 feet… through snow.
Why stop now. when there was another mountain in sight? CP 4 was down, down, down, then just when we were having fun, meandered back up to 6200 feet, through LOTS of snow. The other detail conspicuaosly absent was a set of well maintained trails, leading from one CP to the other.
All kidding aside, the views were awesome, the challenge was perfect, and all in all, the start to the day was “epic,” to use an overdone expression.
Now, when navigating to the top of a mountain, you can’t be truly lost, as you can more or less keep going up until you run out of hill, but heading down to a distant check point at a 30 t0 35 degree grade, through 3 feet or so of snow is a bit of a different kettle of fish. Now the real navigation started.
Somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd checkpoint, A&J and I had parted ways, and somehow I snuck ahead, gaining a slight advantage heading down the mountain toward CP 5.
Using a bearing on a distant mountain top, I was able to come out within 150 yards of CP5, which was our first random gear check. From there, we had to negotiate a series of ridges and valleys to CP 6, and then continue down to the final running CP before making the 2 mile run back to the original TA for the biking section.
I was feeling pretty good going into the bike, and had made up a lot of ground on other racers, so I left the run-bike TA in about the middle of the pack, despite my kayaking adventures.
The weather had warmed up to about 70 degrees, making it a warm day for racing, and to keep in the spirit of the “Tour of the Neighborhood Peaks,” we headed up hill. And up hill.
3 hours later, all bike CPs claimed, I made my only Nav error of the day, taking one path too soon on my way back to the finish, and ending up riding up hill for 8 minutes to a dead end before realizing the error of my ways and making to the finish.
As it turns out, even with my little misadventures, I finished 4th as a solo, in a time of just over 9 hours.
Jeni and Andy came across the line to some of the loudest cheers of the day, just 35 seconds before the 10 hour “official” cutoff, finishing 5th as a co-ed team.
We showered, went to the awards dinner at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest. They had a great raffle, nice food, good swag… all in all, this is a terrific race, and I highly recommend it to all AR enthusiasts! They also have an accompanying “sprint” race. After the festivities, we headed back for some much needed and deserved hot tubbing and relaxation, and a day of recovery, right? Well, almost.
I’m not sure if I have mentioned, but I am taking Mountain School, and one of the little outings happened to be this weekend at Stevens Peak, coincidentally only 2.5 hours away on the Idaho-Montana border. It was also a mandatory outing if you wanted to successfully graduate, so instead of sleeping in, I got up at what I thought was 3:30, and headed up to join my class on day 2 of the climbing (the did mostly self arrests etc on Saturday, which I had learned from Matt Wilson).
Well, Murphy, obviously miffed about not sinking my boat during the race, showed he was not a morning person… it turns out the alarm clock in my room and “real” time were about 30 mintes off, so I was a 1/2 hour late out of the gate. Add to that that the parking area was a mile further away from the trailhead than normal, due to the snow, and suddenly I was about 50 – 55 minutes behind schedule.
Now, I had planned on arriving at the trailhead about 45 minutes early to allow myself a relatively easy 2.5 hour hike in and still give me time for some oatmeal before gearing up and heading up to the summit on a rope team.
This pipe dream out the window, I had to bust my hiney up the hill, carrying a 50 – 55 pound pack, up a very challenging climb in just over 2 hours. Even in the summer, it took 2:20…
I got there right as they were announcing the teams, and, of course, I was put on the first team out. Everyone else was already geared up, and there I was, pretty tired from the race and the climb in, and no break.
In a completely humble and truthful confession, I have to say that that climb in, especially the final huge headwall, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I bonked, still 500 vertical feet or so from the summit, trying to kick steps into knee/thigh deep snow, with a heavy pack, and I was as close to being “done” as I can remember… If someone else had been there, I would have just let them bag me and tag me, and have the forest service pick my carcass up come spring, which is still at least 2 months away up there… there was still 10 feet or more of snow on the slopes.
I finally resorted to self-bribes, such as “10 steps, and I could have a 5 second break…” which I did for the final 20 minutes, until I crested the blessed ridgeline, and did my best to trot into camp.
I was also pretty dehydrated from the race, and a little low on electrolytes, as I was feeling a bit crampy… I sat down to put my crampons on, and so fast it made my head spin, it seemed like every muscle in my body siezed up with massive cramps. I couldn’t even bend to do my crampons because my abs cramped up.
The only thing I could do right them was stand up, and one of the instructors actually had to help me with my crampons as I tried to cram in some calories and some fluids. I headed up after my all ready assembled rope team, and we worked on our rope team skills, team arrests etc. for a couple of hours before heading toward the distant summit.
I have included a link so you can see some of the amazing photos:
Mtn School ’09 – Stevens
We were the first team to the summit, and on the way back down, we got to glissade (en Francais for “Slide on your butt”) down several hundred feet of great snow.
We broke camp, and did the long hike out, which presents challenges of its own, especially if you have bad ankles/knees. I, along with most everyone else, was pretty glad to finally reach the parking lot and be able to ditch the pack, and get out of the mountaineering boots.
We gathered as a group for dinner at the famous “Snake Pit” restaurant in Enaville, and then I headed home for a blissful shower and bed, trying to replenish fluids and electorlytes.
Monday was a much more recreational day, having a chance to play a free game of golf followed by a great dinner at Beverley’s in the CDA resort – www.cdaresort.com – (Thanks, Andy!!).
Tuesday, I felt almost normal, though I could tell I had done some work, so what do we do? We go out for “a little training run.”
Yup. Relaxed, easy pace, a few miles, recovery on our minds… hah! Surprise!!
15.5 miles over VERY hilly terrain and almost race pace let me know that my legs and mineral levels needed another day for recovery. The last couple of miles were brutally hard, especially the downhills, but we finished up in style, smiling and faking it the whole way. I’m not sure if you remember, but AT and I do tend to puch each other a bit, all to “help each other be all that we can be…”
I was/am beat. I have to admit that at this moment, I would say I maybe overdid it a bit, all things considered, but as my idol Forrest Gump said, “Toughness is as toughness does…” or maybe it was “stupid is as stupid does,” which, no doubt, some of you will say equates to the same thing in this case.
Stairs into the house were a problem, but hopefully tomorrow I’ll feel good enough to get out and bike a bit, though I’ll likely give running a day or two off.
All in all, an awesome week, if you can overlook the ankle, kayak, cramps etc, and looking back, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it again!
So much of the growth we experience in this sport (and life?) we learn from the challenges and difficulties we face; “Adversity introduces you to yourself.”
It’s through facing this adversity that we find out what out limits are, often only to realize that we are capable of more than we thought. If we don’t push our limits, how do we ever grow and get better?
Yes, there is often (almost always, actually) some pain involved, but suffering is optional… it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun! As the mountaineers say, “it isn’t always fun, but it beats growing up!”
I wish you all good training, and looki forward to hearing from you/seeing you soon, and to spending some time with you at Adventure Sports Week… tell your friends! 🙂
Good training, all!