Wild Adventure Race, 24-Hour - Biwabik, MN - Sept. 21-22, 2007

When Bizo took the time to show Erl and me the maps, I knew we were in trouble. A mere 30 minutes into a 24 hour race and our team could not find CP2. We had established an early lead, arriving in the vicinity of CP2 about 10 minutes ahead of all the other teams. However, after an hour, we were all still here, 12 teams searching through the same forest for the same checkpoint that just wasn’t there.

Only an hour before, we were finalizing our gear, plotting our route on the first set of maps, and preparing for the impending start of the WILD 24 hour adventure race in Biwabik, MN. Race director Dan Williams bussed all 18 teams to a remote start on the shore of a large lake, and had managed to also arrange 50 degree temperatures with high winds and thunderstorms. Pre-race saw many people huddled in the only shelter available - under the big moving truck that was used to haul our bikes. Nobody managed to stay dry, so at the 3:10pm start of the race, we were all soaking wet and shivering with cold. Despite our shaking, my team WEDALI stripped down to our racing tights and short sleeve shirts in anticipation of the fast road and trail running that was to come. As teams gathered at the starting line, I looked around for Biz. Ellen: “Scooter, where is Biz?” Scooter: “He went to find a bathroom.” Ellen: “Are you kidding me?!” We had less than 2 minutes to the start of the race, and both our navigator and the maps were MIA. As avid adventure racers, we are practiced in the art of outdoor elimination, with the minor exception of the time I chose to use poison ivy as toilet paper. Leaves of three – seriously – let them be. Finally, with less than 1 minute to race start, Biz hops out of his parents’ van just as it comes tearing around the corner, wearing a big smile and expounding on the fact that he feels 3 pounds lighter.

With that behind us, we started out the race at a moderate run on gravel and paved roads, and after a few miles headed onto a trail and quickly picked up CP1 which was just off the trail near the lake shore. A quick trail run and we were then caught up in the futile search for CP2. Discouraged that we had lost our early lead, we heard that the 2 person team of Chris and Veronica had found CP2. They had generously passed along the location of the CP to the MNOC team, who let us know as well. A number of teams all went to CP2, punched it, and then on our run to CP3, we told all of the other teams we encountered where to find it, as we were sure it was misplaced.

Now that we had the CP, we were all eager to haul ass to make up some lost time. We had no idea how many other teams had gotten CP2, and how far ahead they could have gotten. Running to CP3, we passed another team, and then Chris and Veronica. At CP3 on a hilltop we passed another team on our way to CP4, and were still trying to make up time. We ran back on trails and roads to TA1, arriving at 5:51pm, miraculously in 1st place. We quickly transitioned to boats, donning extra layers as it was cold and windy on the big lake. We managed to push off the shore before another team showed up. On the water, we faced whitecaps and winds so strong that they almost pushed us backwards. The rough water crashed into our boats many times, flooding the floor so that Erl was sitting in a deep pool of freezing water in no time. Luckily, the paddle was short, and we grabbed CPs 5 and 6, and then headed back to the boat launch to dock the boats and find CP7 on a hilltop. Once we stopped paddling we immediately started shivering, and Biz decided to take a slightly longer route, which stayed on dryer land and avoided the swampy bog. In no time, Biz navigated to the CP, and chose to take the shortest route back to the boats. We ran into MNOC on their way to the checkpoint, and it spurred us to move quickly back into our boats. Race officials informed us that due to the rough conditions, CPs 9 and 10 on the lake were canceled. We pushed off again into the roiling lake, and by this time there were a number of other teams on the water. Our boats again filled with water, and the paddling was slow-going into the wind. At 7:45pm we were back at the boat landing, thankful to be done with the paddle section. We quickly cleaned and deflated the boats, and prepared for the biking section, taking a total of 20 minutes in transition. MNOC hit the shore just as we were leaving the transition area, less than 10 minutes behind us.

By this time it was dark, and we were thankful for our new bike lighting systems, especially on the rugged 2-track trails. Our race instructions were to get CPs 11 through 17 on bike, and once we got to CP17 we would get new maps and instructions. We set off for CP11 at a good clip, enjoying the double and single track trails. Biz quickly found the CP which was a shelter near a trail junction, and here the snowmobile trail we had been riding degraded into a swampy muddy mess. We drove onward, plunging our feet and legs into ice cold water, dragging and carrying our bikes. At times there was bog that we could walk on, and it was a definite advantage to be the first team across, as the ground was still relatively firm. Despite that, the “fatties” on our team (Erl and Biz who have 8% body fat between the 2 of them, but are taller/bigger than Scooter and me) still sank into the mucky slop, sometimes up to their chest, but always managing to save the bike.

We got through the swamp, and were back on rideable trail for a few more miles to CP12 at a trail intersection. We continued biking along two-track and gravel roads, stopping for just a few minutes to punch CP13. Justin has a great system to organize the maps while biking, and Scooter and Erl help by watching the mileage, so we rarely had to stop to figure out which turn to take or question where we were. On paved roads especially, we got into an efficient pace-line and pounded out the miles in the dark night. Luckily we were on rarely used roads, so traffic was not a big concern.

On our way to CP14, we had just turned onto a gravel road and had to swap out maps for the next section. A car drove past us, then backed up slowly and the driver’s window rolled down, filling the night with loud rock music. I could see a number of college-age girls, dressed to go out. Hot Driver: “Is there a railroad around here?” Biz, Erl, Scooter: <blank stares> Biz: “There used to be, and now it is a railroad grade – that is the road there.” Scooter: <past his momentary lack of speech> “Are you looking for the kegger?” Hot Driver and Passengers: <giggles> At this point in the conversation I tuned out the actual words, and just observed my 3 male teammates suddenly perk up and have all kinds of things to say, when just minutes before we were all heads down biking, silent and concentrating on the race. Eventually the girls drove off, and I wondered if my teammates realized how ridiculous we probably looked in our racing tights, helmets and headlamps, covered in mud and burrs, riding our bikes around on a Friday night during prime party hours. This did give me an idea on how to distract other teams in future races, and I recalled a previous multi-day, 300 mile race where afterwards all the guys could talk about was the girl in the hot pink shorty-shorts on the first biking section. This was of course hidden under the guise of various concerns over chaffing.

Back on track, we hopped onto a paved bike trail into the town of Tower and located CP14. On our way, we passed by a few small town bars that were in full swing, catching curious drunken stares from stumbling patrons. The miles continued to spin by, and soon we arrived at CP17 after roughly 40 miles of biking. From here it was just a few fast miles to TA2, which we hit at midnight, happy to see volunteers and a warm fire. We dropped our bikes, and received a new set of maps and instructions – we would be trekking for CPs 18-21, and then returning to TA2 for a Mystery Challenge. After plotting the CPs and making some route decisions, we were off at a moderate run on roads and trails for a few miles before we headed into the complex web of ski trails that would weave throughout much of the navigation section. Biz hit CP18 right away, which was in the corner of a parking lot, and we ran a few more miles on trails to CP19 on a hilltop. Still running and in good form, we were making fast time to CP20. Scooter was pace counting and Biz was reading the topo and land features, to figure out where we needed to exit the trail and head into the woods to find the CP. We dove into the thick brush and trees a bit too early, and wound up trudging through the woods, searching for the topography to match the map, and eventually ending up back at the trail. We lost about 30 minutes at this CP, but Biz and Scooter went back to a known point, and started to attack again. This time we hit the woods at exactly the right spot, and simply marched through the trees to the top of the hill for the CP. We worried that another team may have passed us while we were thundering around in the woods, so we kept up a fast run to CP21, and then a few miles back to TA2. We managed to finish the section in 2.5 hours, and when we arrived back at TA2, there were no other teams in from the biking section yet.

Onto the Mystery Challenge, which turned out to be 6 more trekking checkpoints in the same area we had just left, but this time using an aerial map. Just as we were leaving the TA, a team arrived on bikes. We were relieved to know that we had a bit of a cushion on the pack, but knew it could easily disappear if we had trouble locating any of the checkpoints. We jogged out of the TA, back to the ski trail area we had left, and steadily moved through all of the checkpoints. We had just punched the 6th and final CP of the mystery challenge as we spied another team nearby. Biz hissed to turn off our headlamps. We were literally clawing our way up a very steep embankment, after slogging through the swamp where CP6 had been placed. It was slow going with no light, but we made it to the top, and back onto the trail where the other team had been just moments before. We wondered what team had caught up to us, and how close they were. Post race we learned that it was a team looking for CP19, but since we didn’t know that at the time, we took off on a fast run, eager to complete this section asap. As we were running back to TA2, the sun finally rose, and we were able to see the beautiful changing leaves, and realized how much easier this section would be in the daylight. I had run out of food a few hours previously, and my stomach was rumbling the whole run back. I started begging food off of my teammates, who were happy to share, although their reserves were running low as well. Would we have enough to finish the race?

We arrived at TA2 at 7:20am where we received our next set of maps and instructions. Back on bikes. By this point in the race, I was happy to be off of my feet and sitting on the bike. We put in roughly 20 miles on the trekking section thus far, most of it running. It took awhile to warm up on the bikes, as we were soaked from being in and out of water, and from working up a sweat running. We pounded out a number of miles on pavement, and then we were on 2-track - a mandatory route to TA3. Again, the trails were flooded, and we were shouldering our bikes through the deep areas, but able to ride through some of it. The trail turned very rocky and slow, and we alternated between riding, falling, and hike-a-biking. We made our way onto the road to TA3, and were elated to see Biz’s family among the volunteers, checking in just before 9am. We dropped our bikes and received our final set of maps and instructions.

Woohoo – now for the fun part – the ropes section! We loaded up the packs with our climbing gear, and attempted to make heads or tails of the cryptic instruction on how to find the ropes. Luckily, we had been in this same area at a previous race, so Biz just navigated from the topo maps. At this point I was starving, and Biz graciously gave me his last food unit – a bag of Sport Beans. This gave me the energy to follow the power lines straight up Lookout Mountain, a strenuous climb to the very top of the hill. We found the top of the rappel, however we had to scramble down to get to the start of the traverse. The traverse was fun, and it followed the mountain to the start of the rappel section. A bit tired and still starving, I fumbled with my climbing gear, finally clipped in, and sailed down the 40 foot drop. Within minutes we were all down, and getting ready for the trek out. Race director Dan Williams showed up along with a few volunteers, and pointed us towards the short way back to the TA. He also informed us that the last bike section had been shortened, an update that we were happy to receive due to our complete lack of food. At this point, we had one small GU packet between the 4 of us to reach the finish line.

We ran the trails back to TA3, stuffed our gear into our packs, and hopped on the bikes, heading out at 10:53am. At this point the closest team was a few hours behind us, so unless something catastrophic happened, we would capture 1st place. However, at this point, I wasn’t even concerned with any other teams or where we would place, I was so hungry all I could think about was getting to the finish line not for fame or glory but for the near vicinity of food. Only about 19 miles separated us from the finish line, warm showers, and a huge meal. The first 10 miles of biking was on paved roads, and with the tailwind we were averaging about 23 mph. Visions of sloppy, greasy cheeseburgers and salty fries danced in my head. We turned the corner onto a hard gravel road, and pounded out the last 9 miles to the resort. About 2 miles from the end a long steep hill surprised us, and I had to drop it into granny gear to spin through it. Whew! Now my legs were definitely fried. We enjoyed the beautiful fall colors, and the deep blue glassy calm of the lakes that we passed. Scooter posed the question of why we didn’t get to paddle on THESE lakes instead of the white-cap experience yesterday. A few more twists in the road and we were at the resort – a turn into the ski area and we hit the finish line at 11:53am, with volunteers cheering us in. Co-race director Rebecca had a bottle of champagne for us, but even more appreciated was the soda, which we guzzled in an attempt to fill our growling bellies. We celebrated with a huge, sweaty, smelly team hug, elated to have completed the challenging course.

(C) 2004-2008 WEDALI adventure racing