Sunflower 24-Hour Adventure Race - Lawrence, KS - March 24, 2007
The ride down to Lawrence, Kansas from Albert Lea, Minnesota is a long slog southward on I-35. We have about 6-7 hours of driving ahead of us. Even though I know the ride through Iowa is about as exciting as being a spectator at an adventure race, I’m as giddy as if I had just shaved another 2 ounces off my pack. My enthusiasm is not well contained and I can tell Molly, Ellen, Erl, and Scooter are all jumpy as well. We pack JDeere with haste.
I don’t think there are too many people other than these four mates that I would rather sit in a gear-filled car with for a day’s worth of driving. It’s always a party. Besides, I usually time travel (take a nap) into the future about an hour each way, so it’s not as bad for me. Sorry Erl. I can’t wait to get there….
Erl takes the wheel of our trusty, green steed. Scooter rides shotgun. Molly sits in the hot seat with Ellen on her right and me on her left. Our conversation is hearty and humorous. On the way, Molly and I rally the troops to sing the “Hey Ohs” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song. We only know about six words from the song. Scooter covers his ears.
I feel relaxed and ready for time travel. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
We reach the hotel and bump into Andrea and kids on the elevator. Jason is out buying iodine tablets, like Scooter didn’t bring three bottles for each team. We start taking our gear into the hotel and Jason arrives [Molly and I met up with Jason & Co. at the Possum Trot O-meet in December, but most of us haven’t seen him since he cheered us on at Nationals in California last November]. He and Andrea drove from Iowa to meet us at the race. We have adopted the IowaActive.com-ers as WEDALI-ites. They’re an awesome pair, with three kids that will either be professional athletes or supermodels. Andrea gets the A+ award for taking care of the kiddos to let Jason race with us.
Gear check and registration go as planned. The guys from the Sunflower shop are funny as they check through our gear. They will race tomorrow as well – their first adventure race ever. Awesome.
We head back to our rooms to futz with gear. It always takes as long as the amount of time you have.
Down to the pre-race meeting. Race Directors Jason and Laura Elsenraat hand out some good schwag. Laura reads off numbers out of the bag in numerical order. Shake that thing up! WEDALI is cut loose without any free stuff. Bummer. The meeting is well run. We get our maps towards the end and have information on what we think is about the first half of the course. Scooter, Jason, and I plot points and establish possible routes. Erl, Molly, and Ellen prepare gear after having gone grocery shopping earlier. Scooter wants to be in bed in an hour. It takes us three and a half. Oops….
Up at 4am, Erl, Scooter, Molly, and Jason take our bikes to the drop off location. Ellen and I move tubs down to the sidewalk. JDeere arrives and we all drive to the main transition area (TA) at Centennial Park clown-car style. We sing the Chili Pepper’s “Hey Ohs” another time - Glorious. We setup our gear between the porta-potty and the check in/out location - strategic for sure. It’s still dark and we stuff our faces with food before jumping on the bus at 6am to take us to the start location. The temps are a bit chilly, maybe around 55 degrees, but the wind makes them feel colder. A light dew covers the grass.
Off the bus, teams make final preparations (“finding lost items in the woods”) before heading to the start line on the south side of Perry Lake. Team WEDALI hug. All 40 teams sing the national anthem and Race Director Jason starts the race at 7:08am. The sun is just starting to come up.
Teams run south, up and over the Perry Lake dam to the open field. Some teams opt for a two track trail up on a ridge while others travel in the prairie grass. The first checkpoint is located in the marshes below the dam. Our route choice isn’t the greatest, as we dive chest deep into a long, narrow pond. Things are looking up though, as we spot CP1 slightly north of our location. We try to be covert, as many teams have headed too far south. Jason and Erl grab the Checkpoint 1 (CP1) and look good for the camera. We finish the 1.5 mile jaunt to the boats and put in at the Delaware River at CP2. The paddle is decent on the Delaware. I feel bad for teams rocking canoe paddles, as the kayakers seem to have a much easier go of it. We can see the top teams ahead of us, but can’t seem to catch them. After the Delaware merges with the Kansas River, things get shallow and pushing our boat over sandbars begins to get old after a few miles. If only Scooter would lose some weight! More than once I tried to jump in the boat a little too late and found myself hanging off the back of the canoe with my legs just kicking water. Ha! What fun.
Off the water we find ourselves in 6th place at CP3. Not too bad considering the lakes haven’t unfrozen in Minnesota yet. We gather our wet packs and prepare for the jaunt down the levee trails. This is a relatively flat trail with crushed rock and we set a solid pace. The other teams are quick and we can see one or two of them running up ahead. We make it to the bike drop and dump our paddling gear at CP4.
We mount our rally racers and get ready for a bit of speedy single track on the River Trails north of Lawrence. These trails are very similar to the Minnesota River Bottoms here in the Twin Cities - fast and flat, very fun, and challenging but not too technical. Scoot gets a rare pinch flat on our way out, but we’re back on the trail in no time. Approximately a 9 mile loop, although some teams take the speedier levee trail back. We guffaw, because we think we’ve read the directions, they must be cheating, and it says to ride the trail in a clockwise fashion. Unfortunately, that’s only from CP4/6 to CP5 and not vice versa. We have plenty of teams pass us on this leg and we feel the sting. Grrrrr.
Back to CP6, we gather out paddles/PFDs and head out on a road bike section, apparently still in 6th place. We bike past CP8 on our way out because we think the road might be faster, but we get caught by a train and end up waiting for a minute or two (it always seems longer though!). Train past, we head out to CP7, do a 180, and head back to CP8. At this point, we can see all the teams around us and we must have dropped a couple spots. Holy crap! On our way back to CP8 we get stopped by a different train on the same set of tracks going in the other direction. That’s just not right! We wait again. I pee in frustration while others eat and drink. Claim CP8 on our way back to Lawrence. Cross over the river and head through a cool neighborhood to grab CP9, which is hidden in a culvert for a stream going under the road. It’s a scenic little spot with flowers. Another team is right behind us, so we head up to the main drag, make buggers of ourselves trying to turn left on a busy thoroughfare of a road, and finally return to Centennial Park and CP10/15/TA1.
We reach the TA still in 6th, approximately 10 minutes behind the leaders. We hurry to get in and out of the TA and manage about a 5 minute transition to our urban run through Lawrence, KS. It’s a fairly nice neighborhood and we try to keep up a good pace, as there are 5 teams within 10 minutes of us and we don’t want to wait for them at the rappel. CP11 take us to the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, which was one of the main sponsors for the race, and our team had to find the checkpoint hidden in their store (We asked if we could shoplift some heavy gear, but they said no). Next we ran south on Mass(achusetts) Street to South Park for CP12. We continue south on Mass Street to Babcock Place, which is the site of the rappel and CP13. There seem to be teams everywhere – up, down, and all around. We run around the backside and jump into the cue for the ropes. We climb the seven stories up and everyone takes there turn dropping the hammer on the way down. I’m happy to have a long fingered glove on. Andrea is there and cheers us on. Woohoo! Next, we run to the Campanile on the Kansas University campus. It’s a bit of a climb back up to this area, but we find it without any problems. We dash back to CP10/15/TA2 and get our next set of instructions.
Our TA gets trashed as gear goes flying – people changing clothes, switching out gear, and preparing to take our paddles out to the last portion of the race at Clinton State Park. Molly and Ellen graciously refill our packs with supplies while Erl hand-feeds Scooter, Jason, and I Pringles while we plot CPs. We leave the TA in 2nd place…. I’m sorry volunteer, did you say 2nd? Yup. No way…. That urban run sure wasn’t the section of the race that I thought we would have passed a few teams, but it seemed to work out for us. No time to dilly-dally though, as we have a ten-mile hammer fest out to Clinton State Park, just west of Lawrence. The trip is uneventful though, as travel is mostly along roads and paved trails (including CP16).
We reach CP17 at the boat launch in Clinton State Park and we can see Dynamic Earth 2, the team ahead of us, already paddling in the water. We try to TA quick to gain some time. On the water, things are a bit choppy. Ok, really choppy - with BIG white caps. It’s difficult just to keep the boat going in the right direction since the waves push and pull us around so much. We make it safely to the Coon Creek boat launch, CP18/22, and head out to do a short O-section. People are struggling a bit, but we try to push the pace. We follow a reentrant uphill to find CP19 and then follow a deer trail out to a two-track to take us to CP20. We see Race Director Jason at the road and he lets us know that Dynamic Earth is only three minutes ahead of us. We’ve made up some time and find them coming out of the woods from CP20 as we are heading in. This is getting exciting for sure! We run the two-track out the rest of the way back to the boats (CP18/21).
Next, we paddle out into the lake, tossing and turning, and make our way towards the protected shore on the other side of the lake. The clouds aren’t looking too chipper and we can hear thunder far off in the distance - no visible lightning, thankfully. Sploosh! Oh crap. The canoe that Erl, Molly and I are riding in just got hit by a monster wave and we took on some serious water. The waves are definitely not letting up. The water is over my feet in the bottom and I can’t steer the boat as well as I used to. Not to mention the fact that we’re sitting a little lower in the water. Did I mention the water temp is in the 40’s? Quick thinking, and Molly dumps a bottle and starts to bail as Erl and I keep heading to shore, while keeping our eye out for another monster wave. We finally get to some calmer water and we’re feeling ok. Molly starts to paddle again and we make it to CP22, the cove checkpoint, as Dynamic earth is leaving their canoe. I can tell Scooter, Ellen, and Jason are all happy to be off the water as well.
We take our paddling equipment with us on this short trek - not sure why, but the directions say so. We head uphill to hit a trail and then bushwhack through to the top of the ridge where it is grassy. A road here takes us to CP23 at the Woodridge Campground. Gear check with the volunteer. We could take the George Latham trail directly to CP24, but we opt to take the grassy ridge in thinking that the trail might be fairly twisty. The view of Clinton Lake is good from CP24 and it appears that things are starting to quiet down a bit. Soon after we head out of CP24, we se Dynamic Earth 2 heading down the trail back towards us. They mention something about a mistake in passing, but we don’t really catch too much of it. We know this lead will probably be brief as these guys are quick on their feet. We make our way back to the boats at CP22 and push off at the same time as Dynamic Earth 2. There are at least 3 boats on the shore without teams also, meaning we’ve got a few right behind us. The paddle back to the Clinton Park boat ramp CP17/25 isn’t very eventful, but we’re all appreciative that things have calmed down a bit on the water.
After 12 hours into the race, we’re still neck and neck with Dynamic Earth 2, and a few teams can be spotted on the water heading our way. Dynamic Earth 2 transitions quickly and WEDALI heads out of CP25 on the Orienteering section at the same time - first left, then right. Yup, they’re with us every step of the way - just wanted to clear that up from the get go. We travel from CP25 to CP26 along a trail that follows the shoreline. CP26 is located in a reentrant adjacent to a beach. Dynamic Earth seems to have a problem briefly, so we try to make a move to put on some distance. Up from the beach area and onto the grassy plains above, we make our way over and down into another reentrant, thick with vegetation. We try to make the quick in and out, but are spotted. Those guys are fast…. We conference on our way to CP28 and decide on some tomfoolery. Team right on our tail = time for a pee break – all 6 of us simultaneous. Not along for that kind of a ride, Dynamic Earth 2 heads further up the trail and out of sight. Not far from the checkpoint, the team realizes the urgency to get in and out. We head down the creek and follow it north to CP28, located on its steep 10-foot muddy bank. Jason and I point the team back out in the general direction we came from and run like the fire through the woods and up the grassy hill to CP29. A quick look over the shoulder without any sight of another team, and we know we’ve put on a minute or two. We run down the opposite side of the grassy hill, trying to gain distance. We look over our shoulder about two minutes down the road, and we can see their shadowy figures beginning to run down the hill after us. We decide to cut into the woods early to grab CP30, located on a trail near the top of a hill. We dash back to the boat ramp, which is CP31/25/17 and transition back to biking while the sun sets behind us. Dynamic Earth 2 arrives at the TA just as we are hopping on our bikes to leave, and there are three other teams already the Orienteering section.
At the start of the mountain biking section, day turns into night and we all turn our headlamps on. CP33 is located in a cove at the bottom of a small reservoir. Bike orienteering through the single track trails at Clinton State park at night becomes a maze of trails most of which are slightly muddy and slicker than snot - gnarly to say the least. Most of us fall over at least once and all of us push our bikes here or there. CP33 is located on a large grassy hilltop called Sanders Mound. We bike back up the trails and exit out onto paved roads to make our way to CP34, which is the traverse. Unfortunately, we show up on the wrong side and must cross the river carrying our bikes to traverse the river with our bikes back to the same side we started on. Oops. Scooter is first to go and guinea pigs the ropes. After struggling for a time, Scoot makes it across, and the ropes guys realize they need to tighten the line. Scooter is drained, but it’s good that he still has five more of us to go so he can rest. Everyone makes their way across the 275-foot traverse, with bike in tow. On our way out of the traverse, a team is heading in and we know we don’t have much time. Our route home takes us south of Lawrence to CP35, located on a bridge and we bike through the city streets of Lawrence to CP36/16. A final dash to the finish, and we arrive in back at race headquarters (CPFinish/15/10) in good spirits at 10:16pm – 15 hours and 8 minutes after the start.
WEDALI team hug time and Race Directors Jason and Laura spray us with bubbly. Alpine Shop passes Dynamic Earth 2 on the mountain biking section and comes in 3rd, 19 minutes after us. Later we find out that Alpine Shop was the team heading into the traverse while we were leaving. Dynamic Earth 2 finishes 4th, 19 minutes after Alpine shop. It’s such a close finish after 15 hours of racing…. We are thrilled to have pulled off the win. We leave our gear at the TA to pick/clean up in the morning and head out in search of food (Hey Oh!) and time travel (Zzzzzzz).
“Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder
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