Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Bitter Pill AR

We woke up to a chilly 45F outside, at 2:30 in the morning. By 3am we were in the car and headed to Stowe, where we had to be by 3:45 to load the buses that would take us to our undisclosed starting location. The buses headed south through Waterbury VT, and just after crossing I-89 and the Winooski river, they pulled into a parking lot. I made a mad dash for the paddles - as a short female, there aren't too many canoe paddles that are short enough for me, and the long ones would tire out my weak shoulders (did I mention I have elbow tendonitis and haven't rollerskied or done any arm strength all summer?), so I really wanted to find a paddle that fit me. I successfully found a paddle, and then there was the race briefing. Basically he went over the rules we'd already read, and Jon and Adrian were trying to guess which way we'd start out running.

At 5:00AM, we flipped the maps, and started running towards the river, along the paved road. Other teams were running through the grass, but we were hoping to keep our feet dry by taking the slightly longer route. After about 10 minutes of jogging we got to TA1, where the canoes were waiting, and although we were the second team on the water, we quickly pulled into the lead. I wasn't paddling yet, I had the maps open and was reading through what we'd expect today, trying to be as clear as possible what was coming up. Adrian is a phenomenal paddler, mostly because he is a natural at reading the river, so we were always in the right spot at the right time. Jon provided a lot of power, and I just tried not to be a deadweight in the middle of the boat, paddling weakly. It was a pretty long paddle, with a short portage in the middle around a dam, but we spiked all three controls along the river, and by TA2 we'd put 12 minutes on the next team.

We switched to bikes there, and at this point it was almost 8am, so things were warming up nicely. Throw a 1000ft climb into the mix and we were sweating pretty heavily, stripping layers and gulping water, although I left the legwarmers on, in anticipation of the promised fields of nettles during the trek. It was a short bike, just upriver on the flats for a bit and then we turned south, and climbed to the base of Camels Hump Mt, on Honey Hollow Rd. At the top of the ridge was TA3/4, where we'd be starting and finishing the trek. We moved really well through the woods, two experienced adventure racers and an orienteer, running down the hills and using a quick hike to get up them. There was another 2000ft of vertical achieved during this leg, but with Jon manning the altimeter watch (not only legal, but recommended), Adrian with the map, and myself with a compass bearing to back him up, we were the definition of a smooth-running navigational machine, because redundancy is awesome.

We spiked all the controls and made it back to the TA after 1:50, which is considerably faster than any of the other teams. But now our two strongest disciplines as a team were done, and we were on to the mandatory hike-a-bike. The race organizer had gotten permission to use part of the Catamount trail, but there are no bikes allowed on that trail, so we had to push them. It was pretty hard to be pushing my bike along some sweet singletrack that clearly the locals were riding, but rules are rules, and bending them would mean a disqualification. After about 4km of uphill slogging, we got to the saddle, near where we'd hit a junction and be able to ride our bikes, but first we headed off to pick up two time bonus checkpoints. Each was worth 30min, so if we could complete the little loop in under an hour, we'd come out ahead. Alas, we took 1:10, thanks to some elbows-and-knees scrambling up a cliff under those high-altitude-scrubby pines. We found the trail on the south side of the knob as we headed down, but that was a pretty intense climb. Then I made a navigational error on the way back to the bikes, and managed to convince Adrian that I was right, so we lost more time. I think we could have finished that loop in :45, but it just wasn't to be.

Finally back on the bikes, we knew we were almost done. A short bike leg, then the swim, then a downhill bike leg and we'd be done. We bombed down the south side of that ridge, and then faced another 1000ft climb to get another time bonus checkpoint - this one worth an hour. It took 20min to climb up to it, and I was starting to have doubts as to whether I could turn the pedals one more rotation when we finally crested the hill. Had there been one more climb like that I would have needed towing, but from here on out it was downhill. Coming down that beast was a bit terrifying, but all three of us made it down and to the swim TA intact.

I'll admit I dragged my feet a bit in the swim TA. We had to swim across a lake and back, and the lake was super mucky, with aquatic vegetation all the way up to the surface, and that slimy green stuff with bubbles in it floating around in matts. Gross! We had to swim with our packs, so we put them in garbage bags and pushed them in front of us as we swam. I was thoroughly grossed out by the slimy bubbly farts, and made it quite clear how grossed out I was, but I swam through it anyway. Adrian was the fastest swimmer, so he had the punchcard (they call them passports in this sport), and Jon and I just sort of paddled along trying to stay within 100ft of Adrian. It only took 9 minutes, but the swim felt like forever. I pulled on most of my dry-ish warm clothes afterwards, and we headed down the hill to the finish, in a comfortable 20min lead - we'd seen the second place team starting up the road to the time bonus control as we came down, which meant it wasn't likely they'd catch us.

We held our lead, coming in a couple minutes before the first all-male 3-person team, and about half an hour ahead of the second 3-person coed team. Results. It looks like we had pretty slow transitions, which makes sense given how relaxed they felt, but with a race that plays to our strengths, i.e. a long paddle and somewhat hard nav, we didn't have to worry about that. Had there been more biking, I think we would have been hurting. As a prize, we got a free entry to AR nationals, and a free entry to the Frigid Infliction, neither of which any of us want to attend. Would have been better to be second place, they at least got cool merchandise prizes. But it was a fun day, and the clean navigation, lack of hypothermia, and relaxed attitude of Adrian and Jon really made it a good way to spend a day outside. Given that we never had to really push to stay ahead of any teams, it was all fairly low intensity, which means I feel good right now, definitely more tired from having to get up at 2:30am than from the physical stuff. Its a nice feeling! I can see why they call it the bitter pill... 12 hours is just an entry drug to those longer races. Uh oh.


Anonymous said...

SnotRocketeers: there was a 1 hour time bonus for which optional checkpoint? I thought there were only two extra cp's worth 30min each? Good job out there!!


Alex said...

The 1hr bonus CP was not on the maps initially - when we came back from the trek, they said that everyone had finished the paddle too fast due to high water, so they'd added another extra control to our map. It was at the top of John's Hollow Brook or something like that, gotten on bike before the swim.

Nice work on your part as well!

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