Once a source of "Not all you want to know about Texas Adventure Racing," but now just some "leisure" adventure through the eyes of "The K-SPoT"

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bushwhacked, Beguiled, Bewildered, Buffetted, and Bussed by the Big Chill

rise and shine!"Ready...Go!" No familiar sound of a herd of adventure racers charging to hunt down the first checkpoint of the race. Only silence and some snickering. This is how the 2007 edition of the Big Chill started in earnest. But there is a prequel to this story. Earlier in the week, Thursday to be exact, I went to HART training to get my last workout in before the race. Our team, Hammer Nutrition, had just done a wet and cold training day at Bastrop the weekend before, mostly to familiarize Nikki to the terrain since this was her first time to the area. Jackie was first not racing with us because she had been drafted by Michael Mey, Monty, and Angus(not sure how that happened), then she had to drop completely out of the race because of injury. Interestingly, that same team was now racing in the 12hr version (the one we were racing) instead of the 24hr, with Pricilla Reese. All this time, we were having trouble fielding a 4th for our team, so Rick volunteered his time and graciously raced with us. Out of retirement (again), he would try and help us defend our 12hr title in the same fashion we did last year--slow but steady.

field trip?At training we had discussed the new development in the race--we were instructed to drop off our bikes at Rocky Hill before the start of the race, meaning that we would somehow have to get from Bastrop Park to RHR to do the biking. This was a bit perplexing because, straightshot, it would be about a 15mi trek, and that was not including any possible side trips to CPs. For the 12hr, I could not see this happening--Too Cool is, ummm, too cool to do that. Plus, that would take up most of the race just trying to get to our bikes. So, I also remembered the recent addition to the required gear list: a buff or bandana. That's when it popped into my head: they're gonna transport us, blindfolded, to someplace closer to RHR and then we will have to navigate our way to our bikes! Crazy!

where are you taking us, mister bus driver?Flash forward to the race briefing. At the end of the pre-race meeting, Robyn tells us to report back to the scoring tent in a few minutes with our buffs, UTM plotter and a writing utensil. Oh, its gonna happen! Then when we reconvened, they instructed us to hike over to a set of 3 awaiting school buses and to blindfold ourselves with the buffs when we got in. I laughed, especially when I saw the buses, with all the windows covered up with butcher paper! I love these guys! So we slowly filed in the bus, everyone from what I could tell were in great spirits. As soon as the doors closed and the buses started to move, I started my watch and counted the turns. About 18mins later, the bus came to a stop. I had estimated that we had passed Rocky Hill Ranch and were in some subdivision off of 153. We took off our blindfolds and jumped off of the yellow buses wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. Right away we all started opening up the maps and race instructions. From plotting the CPs I knew right away we were heading into RHR, but not knowing where exactly we were in this subdivision, I had to go in general directions first to get my bearing.

chaos!"Ready...Go!" I snickered and so did Robyn. I kept at studying the map--I remembered teachings from Talamini of not to immediately run aimlessly until you have a true gameplan. So I started to walk west and then it became a slow jog. From the layout of the streets in real life compared to the black and white topo, I knew where we were now. There were two real routes you could take from the starting intersection, but both were about the same length...in fact, the route I took was about 0.03mi shorter, according to TOPO. :) So about half a mile into the jog, we joined up with teams that went the other way. CP1 was not that far away--it was next to a barbed-wire fence--this was our entry point to RHR. CP2 was down the east fenceline trail and then down a pipeline easement to a draw. Got it. Teams were still clustered together, but we all started to split from here, as it was a longer run down to the bike TA close to the entrance of RHR. From here we took the jeep trail while some teams took the Miracle Mile. Both eventually met up near Fat Chuck's Demise and then from there it was a straight shot down to TA. Nothing too eventfull here, just trying not to twist any ankles while scrambling down the rock gardens of Fat Chuck.

where the heck are we?!We got down, in pretty good shape I was thinking. Rick fetched our next set of instructions, which were to do the big lap at RHR and pick up CPs along the way. It was a MARKED course, so it should have been straightforward for everyone. With a relatively good transition, we were off...so we thought. "Unbelievable," I muttered. My front tire was squishy, too squishy to be ridden. So we had to now switch out the tube, losing valuable time. We fumbled a bit as the CO2 cartridges were not cooperating. Finally, we got the new tube inflated and we were off. The trails were a bit muddy, but not as bad as I thought it would be--usually the first section, before Fat Chuck's is the worse, caked-mud wise. We got up, using the EZ Way Up route with no real problems. Then it was Karaway. In no time we were at CP3, where Deb was taking down our team number (she was at CP1 too!) Then we continued to Off The Lip and then something odd happened. As we were following the marked course, which had CLEARLY marked off part of Off The Lip, making you take Frontal Lobotomy, we saw at least three teams turn back. They were explaining something to the effect that we are not supposed to go this way and we had to go through the marked taping. Huh?!? The way I interpreted what Robyn said was to follow the marked course. Anyway, I told our team to keep going. They were obviously taking the shorter route, but I didn't care--we were racing our race, the way I thought was correct. The trail was marked off again at the Bottle In Front of Me turnoff, so we again took the obviously longer route, because that's what my interpretation of the rules were.

walking at the speed of light!We finally got to Art and CP4. Then it was off to the Longhorn Loop, Tris Cross, and Omar's Hollow. That's when we saw one of the three teams that short-cutted. They did the right thing, objectively in my eyes at the time, and went back and did the marked course. That was a pleasant surprise. I smiled as they cruised past us again. When we emerged from Omar's Hollow we were enthusiastically greeted by Kip at CP5. We saw a whole bunch of bikes parked there, so I figured, not seeing the leg instructions, we had to stop too and do a trek leg. That's when Kip said we didn't have to and that was just for the 24hr teams. Sweeet! So we kept on going, rounding the farther reaches of RHR. Then we saw a disturbing sight. Monty's team was parked on the side and they obviously were having bike problems and it didn't look good. RHR was up to its old self, satiating its hunger for derailleurs! From then on, we knew we had to take care of our bikes, especially when the trail got really boggy. We turned the corner and headed down Ave of the Pines, back to TA. As we were about to hit the Miracle Mile, it was taped off and we had to instead go down a trail called "Why Not?" I'll tell you why not: MUD! Man, I had never done this trail before but it was obvious that it hadn't been packed down like the other trails yet--it was a slog fest! And here RHR had taken down another team--this time it was the Iron Chef et al. The Warship and Rick had already started taking turns telling us when it was too muddy to ride and to instead get off of our bikes and just walk through the mess. I think that's what ultimately saved our bikes. It seemed like we had to get off every 100ft or so, but we weren't going to risk it.

preparing to ride (walk) Rocky (muddy) Hill RanchFinally we were on familiar trail--I recognized those rocks on the twisty Miracle Mile! But, wait, we weren't done. The rest of the team were about to fly down the Hard Boil...until I spotted green flagging down the Black Trak. Crap. Nice. I remembered there were a couple climbs that would probably impossible to climb with all the mud, and that wasn't counting the Wall! Oh well, we did it. After the wall, it was fun time! Downhill baby! We were done with the mudfest! We got back to RHR TA and proceeded to pack everything...and I mean everthing! We had also taken our bike lights with us and now we were definitely wondering why we did that--those things are heavy! Being the patriarch of the group, Rick insisted to carry everything...probably even the kitchen sink if we had brought one to TA! That made for a very heavy backpack. After I had finished the plotting and we put away all of our gear, we headed out towards Beuscher Park. It was slow going since we had 10s of pounds strapped to our back. It was obvious that Rick was harboring way too much of the team's load, so we took the bike lights from him and volunteered the Warship. A few miles into the park, the Warship surprisingly says, "my butt hurts!" That's how heavy those bike lights were!

plotting our way outta RHRThe next couple of cps were easy enough. CP6 was at a powerline/pipeline/road intersection, and CP7 was the all too familiar Antioch Cemetery. We then took Gotier Trace west towards the next bike drop. This road was not as muddy as I had feared--it was adequate travel, especially since it was less hilly than the main road connecting Bastrop and Beuscher Parks. We hit the powerline (the catch) and then proceeded southward to the bike drop. In the distance we could see Robyn watching the bikes and we soon realized only two other teams were ahead of us: Backpacker (24hr) and Dead Reckoning (12hr). I was a bit amazed! Amazed because we were going pretty slow on the bike. So I was happy with our placing--we just had to keep dead on with the nav and we would have a chance. We dismounted, changed into trekking mode and headed west on the park purple trail. After a few hundred meters, I decided to bushwhack down one draw to the other draw where CP8 was supposed to be. And, yes, there it was. We then continued west, following the main draw to CP9, which was also the ropes section. We arrived to where we were supposed to be, but I couldn't see any ropes. It was back to eagle-eye Warship to point it out to me. Man, I love this guy! So we hiked up the side of the draw to the start of the tyrolean traverse and there was Deb again! Weihan clipped in first so that he could help us out as we got close to the other side. Man, I definitely needed the help! Those darn trees that they strategically planted along the course of the traverse didn't help either! When I finally got to the other side, it was Nikki and then Rick. Ross was there on the other side and he was echoing what we had heard earlier--we were only about 15-20 mins behind Tara's team. Not bad for a bunch of walking and cruising on the bike at 5mph!

We punched and then headed for CP10, which was on top of a hill. I used a trailhead that intersected Harmon road as an attack point and went straight up the hill from there. Got it. Now it was back to the bike drop and then back to main TA. We backtracked a bit, taking the purple trail for a short while then veering off to hit the main park road near Gotier Trace. I wanted to skip all the winding about on the trail. As we hit the power line trail again, we saw Dead Reckoning again--we really weren't that far behind. As we were mounting up again, we noticed Ali's bike sans chain. So apparently they had decided to run the bike all the way from RHR! Suprisingly, they weren't the only team to do that! Amazing! So we got back up and headed west on the park road on the way to TA. More hills, but it wouldn't be long until we were back to TA.

The next section was the paddling leg. On the way there, we had one CP to take out. It wasn't too bad. We took a trail that temporarily went the direction we had to go, then we followed a couple of draws to CP11. Warship spots it, we're off to paddle. As we walked to the boat drop, we wondered if we would be able to clear this section before dark. I was hoping so. I was also hoping the wind wasn't too bad on the water--I still have nightmares from my first encounter with the Big Chill two years ago! It was amazing--so many boats were still there docked, unused at that time. We headed out and the wind was stiff, but nothing we couldn't deal with. We churned north on Lake Bastrop and started to wonder if we had made some time on Dead Reckoning. As we rounded the power plant island, we got our answer--they were already heading back. It had seemed that they had made time on us. Crap. Oh well. We went to CP13 first, east of the North Shore Recreation Area. After a bit of slow paddling through the twisty inlet, we spot the CP and punch it. As we headed west into the sunset, which was very stunning at this point, we picked off CP12 which was in another inlet, next to a highway. On the way there, we saw Backpacker again--they were way ahead of everyone at that point!

We surfed our way back to the boat drop and still no one else in the 12hr race behind us! Of course, Deb was there AGAIN to greet us, this time with Drost. It was dark at this time. The wind was still bearable, but this would soon change...we headed back up the road to HWY21 and that's when we started seeing other teams. They all seemed to be clumped together. We had at least an hour head start on them. We took the back trail into the park and in no time we were back at TA. We had one last leg to finish--a rogaine. I love these because they usually directly incorporate the park orienteering map. But not this time--I had to plot them on the topo map and then transfer them onto the photocopied orienteering map. Trouble was, CP18 wasn't quite on the orienteering map, so I had to depend solely on the topo map...this point almost brought me to a complete meltdown.

We started out first with CP16...wait, CP16?!? Of course, I didn't realize this until we got to CP16 (which was down the main park road and then a short bushwhack down a draw)--CP's 14 and 15 were missing! That feeling of dread started to engulf me--did we miss two cps?!?! We had to break out the emergency phone because we thought that the people at the timing tent gave us the wrong sheet. Actually, they had removed one leg, another bike leg, but the timing crew failed to alert us of this. Whew! Okay, I brushed it off and headed to the next cp. This one looked to be tough as it was on a "point". As we were traveling the trail that lead us to this cp, we crossed paths with Dead Reckoning again--we were close! This is where Messer accused us of using steroids...we responded, "only Rick." Even Lisa said that this would be a tough one for us. I just used my terrain association once we got close to the cp. We headed east a bit too early and I knew since our pacecount was cut short that we were on the wrong finger. So I went north a bit and then east again, keeping the draws on either side of us. There is was.

We headed back out to the main road and still we didn't see anyone coming up behind us. We headed back towards the main part of the park, but instead of taking a right at the stop sign, we continued straight, down the hill, and to the gray trailhead. This was my attackpoint for CP17. From there, we trudged down a draw about 400m and there it was. Woohoo! One left! We bushwhacked straight east to get to the park road again, then headed south. As we were going to jump on the purple trail going east, there was Dead Reckoning again! Man, we were so close! And if this point was like the last 16, this shouldn't take long at all. Boy, was I wrong! My first attempt was from a trail intersection near the top of a hill. I shot it to the draw I thought contained the cp and then followed it down towards the highway. Bad thing was that we should have seen it before we hit the highway, about 150m before we hit the highway. Hmmm, now I was thinking we were in the wrong draw. So after a few minutes of fruitless searching, we headed back to the main trail. This time I shot from the very top of the hill, straight to the cp. Still no dice and we hit the same draw we were in about 30mins ago. Argh. I was starting to get really frustrated--none of the other points gave me this much trouble! Again, we headed back to the top of the hill, this time, I paced south, and then east, figuring the slope of the hill was screwing up our pacecount. Still nothing. I think this is where the cussing ensued. Rick then suggested that we head to the park boundary, close to the highway to make sure I knew where I was. Sure enough, I saw the draw that I thought we were in and in several minutes we were in it again.

I just couldn't understand what was up. I now was thinking (1) the cp was stolen by that pack of kids we saw wandering in the same location as us or (2) I had misplotted. Finally, Rick suggested we stay up higher on the draw and follow each finger in the draw. I was at a loss, so I agreed. At this point my headlamp was dying, so Rick passed me the spare. And as I pointed it skyward, there was CP18. WTF?!? It was not where I thought it should be according to my plot (it was high on a point between draws). I couldn't believe it. As I headed towards it I spotted lights from another team just coming up on the cp. Oh no, did we waste so much time that we had now lost 2nd place?! I told everyone to turn off their headlamps, but it was too late--they saw the CP. And guess what--it was Monty's team. I started thinking, oh my God, did they make up all that time on us?! I asked if this was their last point and they said yes. My heart sunk. But then they asked an odd question, "did you do the paddle?" Hmmm, why would someone ask that? They obviously wanted to put distance on us, so they didn't stay to chat. Besides, I knew we would not win a footrace--heck we hardly ran at all all day! But that's when I saw Art. That's when I asked if they did the paddle. He said no and he also said Pricilla had dropped out--I didn't even notice that! LOL. So, 2nd place was still intact for us.

2nd placeWe were informed of the short-course so we knew there was no longer an impetus for us to rush back to finish. We just walked back in and sure enough we were 2nd. This is crazy considering the caliber and number (18-20) of teams that had decided to race the 12hr! So we were done. What was even better than finishing 2nd at that point was that, Mo, support crew extraordinaire, had already packed all my gear and put the boat on top of Touareg! No joke! All I had to do was change clothes and we were ready to blow that popstand! Before leaving, I scanned the leaderboard and noticed that we had gone from being a scant 15min from Dead Reckoning to finishing about 2hrs behind them. Man, that last CP killed me. Its just that all the cps before that one seemed to have a certain flow and rationale, but that one didnt--it was planted on a nondistinct draw bank that on the map hardly showed at all. Oh well, I guess it could have been worse. We were lucky enough to miss the horrible wind on Lake Bastrop that had capsized Bobby's boat, making them have to drag it 300m to get all of the water out of it. As always, I learned new things at this race. Hopefully I remember them long enough not to repeat the mistakes again at a future race! Great job to all the teams that toughed out this mother!


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