There is something so incredibly hopeful about a race bin filled with
clean, dry, organized gear. As I was loading my bin into my trunk, the
thought struck me that the night before a race is much like the night
before the first day of school. New clothes all pressed and laid out,
book bag with the crisp empty pages of notebooks waiting to be filled,
pencils not yet sharpened; everything neat and tidy. You can’t
fall asleep that night, eager with anticipation about seeing your friends,
meeting new teachers, nervous about the new adventures ahead. I was
already looking ahead to Friday night and the pre-race meeting where
we would hook up with our fellow racers and friends, and learn more
about the race to come.
As I was making race-day pizza, finishing laundry, and messing about
with gear, my thoughts turned to my teammates. Scooter would have everything
laid out on his meticulously organized dining room floor, going through
the gear list 7 times to ensure he had doubles of everything. Biz was
probably just getting home, late from a soccer game, clowning around
with Molly as they filled their small space with gear, up late into
the night packing. Erl would have everything packed and ready, worrying
about his recent achilles tendonitis flare up and how it would affect
him during the race.
Saturday – race day:
4:30am - we arrived at the TA, setup our gear, and tried to stay warm.
The weather was going to play a big factor in this race, as it was low
40s and raining. We didn’t get any maps at the pre-race meeting
the night before, so the course was still a mystery.
5:45am - all 29 teams lined up at the start/finish pavilion, and awaited
instructions from race director Dan. We would begin with a team challenge,
and then get our maps and start with a paddling section. We had a team
hug at the start line, wished Molly and her Jiffy Lube team luck, and
6am – Go! The short team challenge is to sprint to a playground
slide and back to the pavilion where we split up, the navigator copying
points onto our maps, and the rest of the team getting the boats ready.
I can’t believe how quickly everyone is running from the start
– we push Justin ahead so that he can be one of the first to look
at the maps, and we jog to the TA and put the boats into the Mississippi,
along with a few other teams. We managed to pull away from the pack
during this 4 mile paddle, to get CPs 1, 2, and 5 (3 and 4 were removed
due to high water levels that would have turned this leg into a 4 to
5 hour suffer-fest). There was a 2 person male team that caught and
passed us near CP5. Justin spotted a quick portage that would cut off
a considerable amount of paddling – we took this route and wound
up coming in first off the water.
Back to the TA and transition to bikes, where we also got our second
set of maps. It was still cold and raining, so we put on a few extra
layers and picked up a few CPs in the 10 mile bike to TA2. We dropped
our bikes here and moved onto the orienteering section. Lynn was volunteering
here, so we said a quick hello, and ran into the woods. Justin and Scooter
had their navigation system working well, and picked up cps 6-10 in
short order. We ran back to TA2, where many other teams had now arrived.
We got our instructions for the next leg – 40 miles of biking
on what was intended to be gravel and singletrack. Due to all the rain,
many of the roads were a big muddy, sandy mess – very slow going.
There was a mandatory route to follow for these bike cps – 11
thru 15 – that had us on minimum maintenance roads, slogging through
mud and muck, and pushing our bikes up a newly sanded/graveled road
that claimed at least 1 derailleur and a few chains from other teams.
At this point we had left TA2 first, and felt pretty good about the
race. As we approached CP11, we saw another team ahead of us. What?
How did that happen? If everyone was on the mandatory route, how did
they pass us? We were a bit confused and wondered about route choice
– maybe they passed us during the orienteering section. We saw
a few more teams ahead of us, and I had a chance to talk with another
racer while pushing our bikes up a steep sandy hill. Turns out they
hadn’t done the orienteering section yet – apparently some
teams got turned around on the directions and were doing the biking
leg first. We pulled away from the teams, and started hammering on the
bike. Red Wing is fairly hilly, and it seemed we kept hitting roller
after roller – with some big grinders in the mix. All of this
rain, cold, wind and changing effort was taking a toll – Scooter
was having problems regulating body temperature and was having a tough
go of it. I needed help up some of the hills – we could just imagine
Dan Williams picking this route specifically because of the huge, steep
hills. I later learned that the initial course had us going the opposite
way on this 40 mile loop, but that was deemed too much downhill, so
they reversed the course to make sure we had a good workout.
We passed a few teams heading out on the bike as we were heading to
the singletrack – everyone a bit slow and cold but making progress.
We hit the singletrack and had a fun 5 miles on the dirt tracks through
the woods. We arrived at CP16 on top of a bluff overlooking Red Wing,
and then screamed down steep switchbacks on the way to the TA for our
final set of maps and instructions.
We transitioned to trekking and climbing, and ran a quick mile to Barn’s
Bluff where we picked up CPs 17 and 18, and moved onto the 150 rappel.
We were all excited about the rappel, as the ropes sections are usually
one of the most fun parts of the course. Erl was the last to head down
the cliff, and about 100 feet down some loose rocks fell from up above
and hit him in the forearm. As we were unhooking him from the rope,
we checked out the cut – it was pretty deep and bleeding at a
good rate. The ropes volunteer asked if we wanted him to give us a ride
to the finish line (or hospital), but Erl said “no way, we are
finishing this race!” We dug out our first aid kit, bandaged him
up, and ran down the bluff and back to the TA for a first place finish
at 2:30pm. Luckily Lynn was at the finish, assessed Erl’s laceration,
and took him straight to the emergency room. They put Erl back together
again with 7 staples.
Molly’s team finished about 45 minutes behind us, and then more
teams started arriving. The weather turned warm and pleasant for a few
hours, and we sat around reliving the race and going over route choice.
A freak hail storm hit at around 4pm, but by then the BBQ and awards
banquet had started, with most teams in from the course. Our team took
first place, and we felt good about our first official race of the season.
All of our training over the winter had paid off, and we still felt
strong and ready to go after the race, eager to kickoff the 2006 racing