Michigan Coast to Coast Expedition AR - Lake Michigan to Lake Huron - June 2-5, 2005

Back in December of 2004, my ambitious team decided to step it up and go for a 3-day adventure race. We signed up for the Michigan C2C, which was a distant 6 months away – sounded like a great idea at the time. Two weeks before the race, we were worried about not having enough training, getting our support crew together, obtaining all of our mandatory gear (and backup gear, and backup-backup gear), and logistics of taking a week off work. We managed to get it all together, and wound up in Frankfort, MI ready for a Wednesday morning gear check where we got all our race maps, and spent the rest of the day and night plotting UTMs, planning our route, and getting all our gear organized (a never-ending task).

Thursday 7am start
The idea of the race was to go across Michigan from west to east under our own power. So at 6:45am, all 43 teams of 4 lined up on the shores of Lake Michigan with our feet in the water, posing for pictures and trying to calm the pre-race jitters. Our little team from MN had no idea what to expect, having only raced 36-hour races before, and hoping for a mid-pack finish. Personally, I was worried that we would have trouble meeting the time cutoffs for certain stages. How was I going to hold up for 72 hours with almost no sleep?

3..2..1! The countdown to start, and 172 racers charged up the sandy beach and onto main street for a quick mile sprint to the shores of a small lake, where we blew up our 4 individual pack rafts for a fast paddle to the other side where our support crew was waiting to transition us to bikes. The weather was 70 and sunny, no rain in sight, we were feeling great, so far so good!

Stage 1: bike 65 miles, zip line
After a quick transition, (modesty was already thrown to the wind as we shucked off wet clothes in the middle of a public park), we hopped onto the bikes for a fast 10 mile road ride on pavement and hard packed gravel. There were a number of other teams around us, as we were all charging up and down some big hills, friendly camaraderie between teams, and the feeling that we were all in this epic adventure together. Onto single and double-track trails to find CP1 – we were the third team to check in, with a mass pack just seconds behind us. Our path to CP2 was a bit more roundabout, and included a bushwhack with our bikes, a few route choices that were later reconsidered, and a whole lot of slow sand to slog through. We arrived mid-pack, and then had a neck-deep river crossing with our bikes held high. Sand, sand and more sand. Who knew Michigan was so sandy? I think I fell at least 5 times trying to get the hang of not fishtailing or spinning out my tires. CP3 was a blur – all I remember was sand - and then we were onto more paved and gravel roads (hallelujah!). I was never so happy to see pavement, as I was getting pretty beat up on the singletrack sand business.

About 1.5 miles before the zip line at CP4, we saw 2 teams just ahead of us, as they turned onto some double-track (read: sand). Justin, our trusty navigator, turns to us and says, “2 teams ahead of us, want to go for it?” Any rope section is notorious for long lines and backups, so we kicked it down and hammered past the 2 teams, beating them in the knick of time to get in line first. Woohoo. Checked in, flew across a river on a great zip line with our bikes, and then biked about 10 more miles to CP5/TA1. By this time it was about 1pm, hot and sunny, and our support crew was all setup with food, cold drinks, and clean gear – what a great motivator! We managed to make up some time on the bikes, mostly due to great navigation and route choice, and checked into the TA in 12th place.
Random thoughts from Stage 1:
· Probably should have trained at least once riding in sand.
· I think my saddle is permanently embedded in my rear.
· Getting saddle sore (read: serious chafing) within the first 4 hours of a 72-hour race is an ominous start.

Stage 2: trek 35 miles, bike 8 miles
We loaded up on drinks, food, clean gear, and lots of hugs at the TA, and were off on a fast pace to CP6. We were all feeling good, so we ran most of the 35 miles, and passed 3 teams within the first 2 miles. We picked up CPs 6 and 7 with no problems, and then moved into the aptly named Big Devil Swamp to pickup CP8. What a mess – the only way to get there was basically to shoot a bearing and follow it for miles through the thickly wooded scrubby swamp. It was very slow going, picking our way through the brush and trying not to lose our shoes in the muck. A bit of coasteering and swamp-crashing, and we were out onto dry land again, running on more gravel roads to CPs 9 and 10, which Justin navigated to expertly. One of the highlights of this section happened after the third time we stopped to filter water, and we were all wishing we had something other than iodine-flavored warm water from some questionable sources. We were running on a gravel road with a few houses, and spied a couple in their front yard, and we pondered whether we should ask them for some water. Just then, the woman in her front yard yelled to us, ”Do you need some water?” Miraculous. We jogged into their yard where we filled up on the coldest, sweetest well water I have ever tasted. The 10 minutes we spent there was well worth it, sitting in the shade, refilling our bottles and bladders, and telling them a little bit about this crazy sport of adventure racing. A quick picture with them and the family dog (who had his own lawn chair), and we were on our way, spirits lifted and ready to go.

We had run most of the 27 miles up to this point, and I was lagging behind my team, so we implemented the patented double towline. This involved 4 carabineers, 2 lengths of stretch cord, and 2 very motivated teammates to pull me! As always I was so impressed by the strength of my teammates, to help each other out when someone needed a boost, to remain positive and encouraging, and above all, to keep laughing. By now it was getting dark, and we were still running and feeling good, on our way to CP11 where we could finally get off our feet and onto our bikes. We wound up going a few extra miles finding the best route to CP11, as the maps detailed roads that didn’t actually exist. After a short detour, we were back on track, and rolled into CP11 and onto the bikes. We were all pretty tired at this point, and our support crew had left apples and motivational notes for us in our bike gear. We biked 8 miles on sand and gravel, got CP12 on some backcountry road that I vaguely recollect, and checked into TA2/CP13 in 4th place. 4th place! Dang – we can only hope to hang onto this spot, there is so much race left. We were all tired, having raced for 19 hours non-stop. We pulled into the TA and our support crew greeted us with burgers, pizza, cold drinks, coffee, and another change of gear. I donned every piece of warm clothing that I owned, and we headed out to the canoe put-in on the Au Sable River.
Random thoughts from Stage 2:
· Mmm gummy worms never tasted so good
· The little floaties in stagnant water add a nice texture

Stage 3: paddle 49 miles
Epic. The word kept going through my mind near the end of each of the first 3 stages. The lengths of each discipline were so much longer than I had done before. By the time we got done biking, I never wanted to see my bike again. By the time we got done on the trek to pick up our bikes, I was so happy to be off my feet and thankful for the chance to sit down on my bike. By the time we got done with the 49-mile paddle, I was ready to throw my kayak paddle into the drink and never look back.

We started on the paddle at around 2 in the morning – the closest team was about 4 hours behind us. We were tired and cold and moving slowly – paddling is not our strong point as a team. Justin was having trouble seeing the maps straight and handed them to Scooter, and we all tried to stay awake during the monotonous paddle section – something about it just lulls you to sleep. A few hours into the paddle, we pulled over and slept for about 15 to 30 minutes. It was so cold we woke up freezing and ready to paddle again. As the sun came up, we still hadn’t hit CP14. As the hours wore on, we ditched layers of clothes, and started seeing sleep-deprived hallucinations on the shore – people cheering us on, photographers, bridges, and CPs. Finally we hit CP14, where I was ready for a rest, but my team urged us onward – we could eat and rest in the canoes, taking advantage of the current to push us along. Finally we got to CP15/TA3, tired and hungry with aching arms, shoulders and backs. As we were getting our gear ready for the next stage, about 4 teams landed at the TA just minutes behind us. Our hold on 4th place looked tenuous at best at this point. What a great motivator to get us on the bikes and keep moving!
Random thoughts from Stage 3:
· Bork Bork Bork (think Muppets Swedish chef)
· The prologue from the start of this race seems like a lifetime away.
· Both Justin and I have the distinct feeling that there is another person racing on the team. We know we are a 4 person team, but when we look around, we only see 3 people. We keep forgetting to count ourselves.

Stage 4: bike 16 miles, orienteer 9 miles, bike 10 miles
Mile 1: oh my god my butt hurts so bad from this bike seat I don’t know if I can handle it. My shoulders are in knots from carrying this pack – I can barely look from side to side to watch for cars, my teammates, or various imaginary people lining the course.
Mile 2: Sand, sand and more sand. I am cursing my lack of training, and feeling frustrated that I can’t move faster in this stuff.
Mile 10: Please please please be the checkpoint ahead.
Mile 16: We pull into the bike drop at CP16, and our trusty support crew is there with our gear, ready to take our bikes and give us some moral support which we desperately needed.
We started off on the orienteering section – CPs A through E. I was feeling great, excited to keep on with this race, as crazy as it was. By now it was about 2pm on Friday and we had been racing for 31 hours. Our strategy was to get the O course done in daylight, which would afford a huge advantage over teams that got there just a few hours later than us. Justin and Scooter rocked the O section and we actually got the fastest split for the O course. I, however, was doing anything but rocking the course. CP A was great – Justin zeroed in on the map, figured out the terrain, and set off at a run to get it. CP B he was on again – I was having a bit more trouble keeping up on the run through the bushwhack, and was on tow. My feet, specifically my toes, were really starting to hurt and slow me down. CPs C and D I just started to go downhill – the combination of pain, lack of food, and sleep deprivation was taking its toll. CP E was my melting point – we fanned out and were looking for the last CP, or at least my teammates were – I was more so wandering around aimlessly in the woods on the verge of tears, thinking that there was no way I could make it. Scooter found the CP, and we were back on trails, me on double tow and trying to keep it together for my team. I quietly asked if we could sleep when we got to the next TA, and my teammates replied that if I could just hold out until the packraft section, they would tow me on it while I crashed. We ran to CP17 to pick up our bikes, ate some sandwiches, and hopped onto the road for a fast 10-mile road ride to CP18/TA4. We sat down to hot plates of chicken pasta, more drinks, slamming caffeine, and another change of gear. I took off my bike shoes to assess the damage. Not good. Not good at all. (warning: skip the next few lines if you are at all squeamish). 5 of my toenails were in bad shape, having huge blood blisters underneath the nail, all of them dead by now. I gritted my teeth and shoved a needle underneath the nails in order to alleviate the pressure. Massive amounts of Hydropel, clean socks and some relatively dry shoes and I was ready to go. Erl was also having some blister issues, but was toughing it out in characteristic silence. Onward!
Random thoughts from Stage 4:
· I could never in a million years do this by myself, without my team.
· I never noticed before how much Scooter’s backpack looks like the face of Mr. Potato Head.
· This is the best heaping plate of chicken pasta that I have ever eaten.

Stage 5: trek 10 miles, zip line, pack raft 6 miles, trek 2 miles
We started out running a few miles in the dark – trails and bushwhacking – to the zip line and CP19 over a river. Wheee! We were running at a good pace, and then the trails were submerged – we were basically running through a huge swamp. The bullfrogs were so loud all around us – I think it must have been mating season. We slogged through that for a few miles to CP20 and started running again when I felt the bottom of my right foot tear open. A stop in the trail, a knife and duct tape and I was good to go. About 20 steps after the minor trail surgery, Justin hesitantly asked, “Is running out of the question?” Giddy-up; let’s do it. We ran the rest of the way CP21, me on double tow and falling asleep, and probably ¾ mile from the checkpoint we had a group hallucination. Erl, Scooter and I all saw people walking around, glow sticks, and even Mrs. Claus (yes, as in Santa). This all turned out to be figments of our imagination, as CP21 had a tent with 2 sleeping people, not one of whom was Mrs. Claus. We put on all of our warm gear, blew up our pack rafts, hooked up our tow lines, and I collapsed into my raft, snoring loudly about 15 seconds after my head hit the inflatable.

Erl, Scooter and Justin continued to paddle, but were so sleepy they decided to hook everyone together. What with the dark night and fog, it would be easy to lose someone with our mental state the way it was. This worked for a while, until Scooter in the lead raft, kept asking Justin, who had the maps, which way to go. For a while, it was “Head east, just keep heading east,” and then it digressed into “I don’t know, I am sleeping.” At this point, the team decided to beach the rafts and get some sleep. Scooter set his watch for 15 minutes, during which everyone slept but him, as he was too keyed up at this point. He decided to set his watch for 15 more minutes, but Erl was opening his space blanket, making tons of racket, cutting into Scooter’s 15 minutes of sleep. Scooter was a bit put-out, but about 2 minutes after Erl was snuggly in his blanket Scooter quietly asked, “Hey does that thing really work?” We were all so deep in sleep that nobody heard the alarm, and we wound up sleeping for about an hour. I woke to the distinct sounds of paddlers in the water close to us – another team was passing us! I jumped up and woke my team, and looked around to see who passed us; I saw nobody and no lights anywhere. Yet another hallucination, but a lucky one at that. By this time it was around 4am and the fog had lifted. I had my second wind, and we unhooked tow lines and started paddling in earnest. We reached the raft take-out in daylight, and ran a quick 2 miles into CP22/TA5, where we were miraculously still in 4th place. Some warm soup and a fast transition to the bikes – only 1 more stage left!
Random thoughts from Stage 5:
· Is that my teammates or me that smells?
· The end is in sight; I think we might actually make it!

Stage 6: bike 10 miles, canoe 13 miles
A fast road ride to the canoe put in, and then we hopped on the Au Sable River for the final paddle. It was a warm, sunny morning, and we were so excited to be nearly done, 4th place almost wrapped up. We dawdled along the river, enjoying the sunny weather, taking pictures, and fantasizing about showers, soft beds, and huge plates of food. I tried to shake off the sleep monster, and as my head cleared, it dawned on me that other teams could be close behind us. With how slow we are on the paddle, they could catch us! We put it into high gear and paddled the rest of the way with everything we had left, not wanting to lose a placing we had worked so hard to maintain. We reached the end of the Au Sable River where it pours into Lake Huron to find some decent waves and big ships tossing us around. Through the Red Bull buoys and onto the shore and we are DONE! 51 hours 40 minutes! 4th place finish, our support crew there to greet us, and a huge team hug to celebrate our race. Now onto that blessed hotel room with hot showers and warm soft beds.

Eat. Sleep. Repeat. This was our schedule for the next few days. We were all pretty strung out and firing on about 3 cylinders, but as the days went by, the realization of what we had accomplished dawned on us. After racing for almost 52 hours, we were happy, healthy, cracking jokes, and brought closer together for our trials and victories in the epic race across Michigan.

(C) 2004-2007 WEDALI adventure racing