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"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

RTNX: Just Never Give Up

Stage 3: Prince Rupert

taking a nature break with boats strapped to our backSo we quickly claimed our spot again on the ferry. We laid out all our clothes on the vents, hoping that they would be dry by the time we docked at Prince Rupert. I set up my sleeping pad and bag, hoping to get a couple hours of sleep before tending to reorganizing my pack for the final stage. I instead decided,unintentionally, to sleep for most of the ferry ride--apparently I was a bit more tired than I thought. I woke up just in time to see the islands on the horizon. Back to rush mode. Again, it wasn't too bad since we had downsized our packs quite a bit and didn't have to organize much now. We docked and disembarked the ferry at CP22 and waited for our final instructions for the final stage of RTNX. I was actually looking forward to starting up again...only because I didn't know the true pain I was about to go through.

After waiting a bit, Lawrence and the FAR bunch sent us on our way, on a short run over to our boats. The pack had now broken up into three distinct groups: the runners, the joggers, and the walkers. The walkers mostly contained those who had beaten up feet, legs, and/or psyches. We were at the tail end of the jogger group. Slowly we made our way through this group as one by one teams were adopting slower paces, possibly realizing that we still had a ways to go. Team YukonWILD was drifting back, but because of an injury--not sure if it was preexisting or if it just happened on this run, but I knew we would see them again as they would gain ground again on the non-foot portions of the race. First it was singletrack, then through a neighborhood and then alongside railroad tracks. We made it to the boat transition, CP23, in good shape, somewhere midpack. We had to pump up our boats, but one problem--our pump decided to break on us. So I rush to HQ and ask him if they have spares...of course, not with them. So we had to make due until the spare pumps came. Right as we were about to launch out to the water, the spare pump came. Thank goodness since we would need to reinflate our boats somewhere along the line again.

We were paddling nicely, making good time. But it seemed not to be Paul's day. Right in the middle of this first paddle of the last stage, he developed a pretty nasty nosebleed. It was almost hard to watch--his racing singlet was covered in large dots of red all over and it looked like the king of the mountains jersey after a few moments. He tried his darndest to plug it up and eventually it did stop. This paddle was pretty uneventful. I was just trying to ready myself for what was certain to be the Mother Of All Portages...MOAP. Hmmm, doesn't sound scary, but it was. We made it to the mouth of the stream where we needed to get out and portage along a forest road. Yes, the road was on the map and yes we were hoping it would be clear for once. With that optimism, we started the portage with the boats still inflated and lugged the mofos with straps over our shoulders. For some reason I HATED this setup as the strap kept digging into my neck and it was hard to keep the boat in the right rhythm as we walked. To make the conditions even worse, every 50meters there seemed to be a drainage ditch that eroded through the logging road, making travel very, very rough. I also had in my mind that I would rather have the boats deflated and carry one of them on my back than go on with this setup--it was killing me!

look at those smiles!Finally, I had enough. I told the rest of the team that I would rather pack the 60 pounds on my back than go on like this, and thankfully they agreed. It just seemed more efficient. Yes, that meant two people would have to bear 60lbs of plastic boat on their back each, but I figured I've gone on backpacking trips with that much weight before. What I didn't take into account was that on those backpack trips the trails were always clear. Not here. Right before this switch in tactics, we were handed some good luck for once. We were trudging along, again not fully paying attention to our surroundings (me because I was about to blow a blood vessel in my head), when the navigator for YukonWILD started backtracking past us. We immediately stopped and asked what was up. This is when he advised us to look at our map and asked if we liked where we were going. That's when I dropped everything and checked our bearing. Sure enough, we were heading the wrong direction! We were heading east when the trail was supposed to be heading more northeast. We backtracked (quietly, of course) and found the trail we were supposed to be on. SART had saw us go the other way, so they followed and passed as we were rearranged our boat portage system. Dancing Pandas passed us at this same time--they were in front of us before, so I figured they had the same mistake as we did. They were wondering how long it was going to be until we abandoned the inflated kayaks...and it wasn't too soon. Right as we started up again, Phil and I lugging the bastards up the mountain, the brush started to engulf us more and more with every step.

Ridiculous. The road just disappeared and we were now in a thick stand of baby trees. Yes, it was the right decision to hump these boats on our backs, but bulldozing through this thick brush was starting to get to my nerves. Some of the boat was jutting on either side of me so it would always catch on a tree as I tried to squeeze by. This bush was demoralizing...did I mention I had a 60lb boat on my back? We kept on keeping on and we actually caught up to a team: SuburbanRush/Secondwind. This team had one consistent comedian on their team--I think his name was Jordy. As we alternatively took rests from the brutal portage, we kept leap-frogging each other until we eventually started travelling together. It was good to have his wisecracking around as it helped keep my spirits up. The navigation was getting really hairy at this point, as we had to figure out the right way to head down to the water. We pushed on and caught SART when finally saw a saddle that looked pretty promising. SART planned a brute-force approach and tried to head down a pretty steep reentrant that had rushing water. We decided against this and went over the saddle and then began our descent, zig-zagging through the moist, muddy, mossy ground, trying to avoid falling face-first over a rotting log with 60lbs crashing behind me.

Jen and Phil saw it in my face--I had almost had enough. But I figured, what the heck else am I going to do? It was my idea and we can't go any other way. So I just shrugged my shoulders and shuffled along. Darting pain started to surface around my right shin, probably because of all of the downclimbing and I'm sure I MIGHT have rammed it into a log or two along the way. Just as I was going to utter my 157th swear word of the day, there it was: the beach!! We finally made it! It was confirmed as Suburban Rush had made it there just before us and were screaming for joy. This was definitely the toughest thing I have ever done in my life, to date. After about 8-10 hrs of portaging, I was reborn. I was actually glad to hop back into those inflatable thingies! That's when I told everyone there that I was going to buy one of these boats from Geoff, burn it in a pile, and dance around its smoldering carcass. Everyone seemed to like that plan. After a bit of pumping we were off again. The view was spectacular! The Work Channel was so quiet and serene--the water was glass. I was thinking, and so was everyone else, that this is why we adventure race. The view was almost surreal. The snow-capped mountains provided the perfect backdrop to our twilight paddle. It was going to be a long paddle to the next CP, but as I said, I didn't mind at all. No more portaging!

we da newz!We paddled, and paddled, and paddled, the day drawing to a close and soon all we could see were silhouettes and occasional blinking lights. Navigation here was easy--all we had to do was paddle to the source of the channel. We made it to the end of the channel and skirted around until we saw a boat ramp that seemed to be in the right place. Usually there was a welcome wagon of some sort, so when we beached and no one rushed up to greet us, we were a bit skeptical. We sent Phil up to investigate and after a few minutes it was confirmed--we were in the right place. CP24. As soon as we got out of the boat and out of our pfds it suddenly got really cold. It was like the Texas Dare when we finished that hellish paddle and as soon as I took of my lifevest I was shivering uncontrollably. Suburban Rush/Secondwind was still there, drying up by the inviting fire, which we took advantage of. One of the volunteers even cranked up the heater in his truck--I was sweating after sitting there for just a couple of minutes! I must admit this was probably my slowest transition--I hung out too long in the fire and got used to it. Thankfully Paul snapped me out of it and told us to be ready in 5. I pouted a bit, but put on my game face right away and we were off on our bikes in no time.

So the bad part about having your bikes shuttled without a protective box is that it can get banged around a bit. The reason why I know is because after a few miles of riding, my rear dérailleur was acting up. I had to walk up a couple of hills. Even when I didn't shift gears my dérailleur would lock up. I just had to pedal easy from now on...grrrr! This race was just stifling me on the bike whenever possible! I was happy to know that the race volunteers had to drive up this road to get our gear over to the next TA, so I knew the road would be rideable the whole way...at least that's what I hoped. After a few miles of dirt road, we reached Highway 16--sweet! Paved road! Given, this section was a bit boring as we could no longer see the spectacular view (which was, well, spectacular) and it was smooth highway road the whole way. But it wouldn't be that easy, would it? Nope! As we cruised along, the road started to pitch upward a bit and then I started noticing signs advising chains be put on. I recognized these signs from traveling from Spokane to Seattle...over the Snoqualmie Pass! Frick! I had no idea how steep this climb would be, but I knew it would be steep if cars normally need chains to get up when it snows! I started to wonder, what is the Canadian Dept. of Transportations regulations on highway grades? Hmmm, would be nice to know, but it was kinda too late at this point. So the climbing started in earnest and of course Jen shot up to the front. It actually wasn't that bad--we were cranking at a steady, manageable pace, so it was over in no time.

What goes up must come down...we were flying! Thank goodness it was early, early in the morning and there were hardly any cars on the road...then again, I doubt there are many cars on the road at any time during the day up here! We went along happily and again we gained on a couple teams, so Paul seemed to want to break their spirits by speeding past them. In our gusto, we had flown past the turnoff we were supposed to take to the paddle transition. Nice. We didn't realize this until we passed a team that was portaging their boats along the highway. First of all, WTF?!? Apparently, they had had enough of paddling the inflatables and would rather portage them 7 miles then paddle them 5 miles. That was ridiculous in my mind, but heck I wasn't in their shoes. They told us where we had missed it and we turned around, having to go back up a hill we had just zoomed down. Crap. We got back to the turn off and got back on track. CP25 was just another quarter mile away. We didn't get near the fire this time--we focused on getting our paddling gear on. We had a pretty fast transition here and we were off on our last paddle of the race. The sun was rising and despite the persistent flying insects that seemed to escort us most of the way, I was in a good mood. Sleepmonsters started to invade and Phil was obviously having bouts with the dreaded creature. We would be paddling along when all the sudden he would stop. I'd cock my head in an inquisitive manner when again all the sudden he would start paddling again. I started to snicker and watch the on/off technique. We weren't mashing at the time, so I didn't mind--I just tried to enjoy the dawn.

Paul's gear exploded out on the sidewalk!We were told to park the boats before the actual TA point as they didn't want us to battle the Buzte Rapids. Sounded like another excuse to make us portage. So, it was obvious where we were supposed to get out as there were volunteers standing on the shore. They told us that the trail was paved and it wasn't that long of a portage. Well, they got 50% of it right. We hadn't brought our portage straps with us, so we went with our traditional method of carrying the inflated boats. But this time, even though the trail was paved and clear, without the straps it wore out our arms pretty quickly. Then Phil fashioned a clever portaging device out of a paddle--he broke down the paddle into two pieces and used one to get leverage while carrying the boat. We still had to take breaks, but it did lengthen the time between breaks. This friggin trail, as usual, didn't seem to end, when finally the trail opened up into a parking lot where CP26 lay and many boats were already deflated and shoved aside. Suburban Rush/Secondwind was there again. The volunteers here were super friendly and helpful again and that helped energize us for the final push. We left right after SubRush/2nd and were on their heels as we entered the trail leading up to CP27. We were told that the trail entrance would be marked and it was, but we quickly loss track of it once we got into the trees. Guh, more bushwhacking?!? They suggested that we take this so far nonexistent trail up to Mt. Hays. We looked and looked and we couldn't find the trail, so we were looking at possibly going around the mountain to a well-defined road and head up that way. But I was thinking this would take way too long. As we were wandering around, contemplating this route, we literally stumbled upon the trail! We tried to sneak away from the pack of other racers, but they had figured that we found the trail and followed along. We could not match their speed, so they eventually passed us. We powered up the hill. A lot of the trail was wiped away by mudslides, so it made travel a bit slower than usual.

this is one of the reasons why the course was changed!Up, up, up. Then we saw SubRush/2nd heading back down the trail. Uh oh. Apparently we were supposed to take this trail, but not all the way up. We had just passed a trail junction, the other trail heading to the "chalet"...I guess we should had thought about that a bit longer since the next CP was actually near an old abandoned ski lift. Hindsight. So we backtracked too and along the way picked up Dirty Avocados. BTW, they were the Team 6 calling for help way back on the first day--I hadn't realized that until we were on the ferry heading back to Prince Rupert. Anyway, we kept going and this is where the treacherous wooden planks were ubiquitous along the trail. They had good intentions, but in the moist conditions were death traps. They tempted us along the way when finally one of us would give in and use it as an alternative to sloshing through the mud or soggy ground....then, whack! Someone would take a header, slipping on one of the boards, so we eventually stopped using the boards outright. The trail led up to a clearing where we could see the old chair lift and a boardwalk and a couple of communication towers at the peak of the mountain, so we knew we were close. A jeep road seemed to lead all the way up to the tower, so we decided to take it and see where it went. Bingo! It was a manned CP and again the ATV productions car was there. We took our time here, knowing we were practically done...practically.

So after shooting the breeze a bit with the volunteer, we headed down the dirt road that they used to drive up to CP27. It looked to be easy and straightforward, so we were in high spirits again. I couldn't wait to get to the finish--my feet were getting torn up and every step was like driving my foot down on a rusty, jagged nail. I don't know why the volunteers do this, but they ALWAYS lie to us about distance. Again, they told us we would be down in Prince Rupert in about 40mins, but it took probably double that just to get to some semblance of civilization. The road started to flatten out and we really could smell the barn now, so as painful as it was, we started to jog a bit. Our final navigational error (we had a lot this race) seemed to be the most ridiculous. So, we made it into town and instead of going left down Highway 16, which would be a straight shot to the finish, we went right. Instead of running another mile to the finish, we made it a bonus 4 miles. We knew we weren't in Kansas anymore as we were running through neighborhoods and the people were staring at us like we were crazy. Our fears were confirmed when we flagged down a local and asked her how to get to Mariner's Park. Out of anger, or just frustration, we picked up the pace to a full run. We were now trying our best to ignore the pain--we just wanted to be done. Along the way, this nice, elderly couple pretty much gave us a van escort all the way to the finish--apparently they too were scared that we would take another wrong turn! We turned right on McBride and there was the finishing arch! We were home! As we got within 100m of the finish, we hooked up and crossed as a team. That was such an unexplainable feeling of accomplishment. They handed us a bottle of champagne and, yes, that was the best champagne I've ever tasted!


our wonderful sponsors: AlpineAire-InfernoAfter about 100hrs of racing, we were done...and we weren't ready to kill each other! We hung out at the finish line for a bit, mostly because there was free pizza and cinnamon rolls. We eventually started limping our way to our hotel, but decided to take a taxi. This was one of the funniest part of the race--we had walked, ran, biked, paddled, clawed our way for about 300-400k and at the end had to take a taxi for less than a mile. Actually, it wasn't because we were tired, it was because we were shuffling so slow and we still had a lot to do before closing ceremonies and their planes left early in the morning (I had until later in the afternoon the next day, so I wasn't in so much of a rush). We reclaimed our nasty, funky gear, got cleaned up, and got shuttled to a restaurant down the highway for closing ceremonies. The food was great as usual and the ceremonies were fun--each team was called up to get their award and we had time for final thoughts/comments. I think after Paul was done with his speech we all just said "booyah!" They had dancing scheduled, but we just wanted sleep at about this time--we took the bus back at around midnight. The next morning the team got up and all but me left for the airport. I just ended up napping a bit more before gathering my gear for the final trip back to Houston.

waiting for the bus to the airport :(I must say that it was definitely one of the times of my life--I am so glad I decided to take Paul's invitation to race with such a great team! Thanks for all the HART members, most especially Rick, for their support along the way. Special thanks to Team MOAT for their advice and to Team Dynamic Health, Warship, Jackie, Monty, and Tracie for training with me, be it on overnight treks or ascending and rappelling training. Thanks also to Geoff Fletcher of the University of London, who administered compatibilty and team building exercises for our team, better preparing us for racing as a TEAM. And finally thanks to Frontier Adventure Racing for such a beautiful, challenging, brutal course (yes, guys, you NEED to go up to Canada and do their races!) and AlpineAire-Inferno, our main sponsor, for providing all the food we needed at transition areas, and then some!

Now off to train for the next adventure...PRIMAL QUEST 2008!


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