USARA National Championships - French Lick, IN - November 5-6, 2004

After a 12 hour drive, we arrived on Thursday afternoon at the French Lick Springs Resort in Indiana, where all the action would go down for the 30 hour, 3-man teams race. We busied ourselves with last minute gear arranging and team strategery, and Justin decided to try his hand as a seamstress by inventing some garbage bag pants for the mandatory gear list waterproof bottoms. After a bit of parading around, we convinced him that the plastic and duct tape masterpiece was better served left in the hotel room. Onto the gear check, pasta dinner and pre-race meeting – all maps would be handed out at 5am – woohoo we get some sleep! The evening saw us messing with more gear (my teammates are hardcore gear-junkies – I just stand around and watch as they harrange and agonize over how light they can get their packs). 11pm – lights out!

3:30am alarm (anxious Scooter urging us onward), down to the TA at 3:45; to our surprise there was NOBODY there… We didn’t even know where the TA was supposed to be exactly. We saw a bunch of “expo” tents setup, and finally saw another racer and asked “Is this the TA?” Racer: “I hope so, because this is where we setup our tent.” Light bulb! Doh! All the “expo” tents were actually team tents... We were pretty humbled, and I wondered how our little rag-tag team would hold up against these professionals. We set down our little tarp, dwarfed by the tents, chairs, and gear of other teams, and laid out our gear, nervous about this national race we were about to start.

5am maps! Scooter and Justin plot points – what is this?! A wrong UTM coordinate? Scooter and Justin were right on and realized the error in seconds. Happy to have a job, I ran downstairs to the race officials, got the correct point, and tried to help the team by running around getting food, getting gear ready, and trying to shake the feeling that I was in way over my head.

6:45 down to the TA, last minute scramble, then run to starting line – 150 other racers!
6:55 everyone sings the national anthem – sends shivers down my spine. Standing at the start line, the team feels lopsided and too small – Erl is on the wrong side of the spectator fences – how are we going to race without him?
6:58 – 2 mins to go! Molly and Erl cheering us on from the sidelines, and we have a big team hug, and say “Let’s have fun!” “Let’s have a great race!” And scream/shout with adrenaline racing, eager to jump in and see how this little MN team can play with the big boys.

7am – gun! The race is split into 3 sections: run-paddle-run, then bike-paddle-bike and finish with bike-orienteer-triad (1 on bike, 1 on scooter, 1 on foot).

Section1: run-paddle-run
We start off with a moderate mid-pack run to CP1, not wanting to expend too much energy on this 2 mile beginning run. Many teams are all out sprinting, and we already see teams having issues, as one group high-tails it back to the hotel to grab a forgotten passport (doh!). On our way to a hilltop for CP1, there are signs with arrows pointing the way, and Justin asks loudly “Which way do we go?” No reply from other teams – they are all too serious at this point and don’t enjoy his levity. We are still in mid-pack at this point, and run down a big hill to the Baden hotel – quick in and out for CP2, then to the 3-man plastic canoes, which we found out were EXTREMELY tippy! A 12 mile paddle, cold water, and 7 log jams, where we saw numerous teams flip their canoes in the rapid current – brrr! As paddling isn’t our strong point, we got passed by a handful of teams, but managed to make up some spots by kicking ass over the log jams. At one log jam, there were 5 teams backed up, waiting to get around the jam at the easiest point on the left side. Justin makes a split-second call to go right, and urges us “Ramming Speed!” So we hit the logs, and then got out to pull our canoe along, while precariously balancing on the floating logs (and garbage), at times sinking down to our necks in the frigid water. There were a few eventful portages, including scraping the canoe over a barbed-wire fence, but we arrived unscathed (the same can’t be said of our canoe) at the finish, and portage to Erl and Molly, who proceed to take pictures as we shiver and shake from the cold, trying to transition from the paddle to the run. At this point we are in about 20th place. A few teams only made it this far into the race before the dreaded DNF, wracked with hypothermia due to the 35 degree weather. Onto the Adventure Run. This included 4 trekking checkpoints, roughly 5 miles, which Justin navigated to like he had placed the points himself. No problems here, and we ran back to the TA in high spirits to check in.

Section2: bike-paddle-bike
We ran to our little tarp, swapped shoes, grabbed food, water, and were off on the bikes. On road for a few CPs, where Justin’s route choice proved to be genius again – found the shortest route with the least hills (probably because he knew he would be hauling my ass up some steep ones later). Then the bike leg took us off-road, around a huge lake for a few CPs. I was being cautious, and held my speed in check, not wanting to crash and risk anything that would endanger our chances at finishing, like a broken bike. No such luck - I crashed anyway, going down a steep little hill with a sneaky 90 degree turn in the middle. Bam! On the ground hard – I rang my bell pretty good and got a little freaked out, but the guys were way ahead of me so I got right back in the saddle.

We finished the mtn bike section, then a few more miles on road to the second (and thankfully last) paddle section. During the 8-10 mile paddle, we got passed by 4 teams, getting 2 CPs. Our spirits were a bit lagging, being passed and wrestling with the boat that ALWAYS wanted to turn right, so Justin thought it would be fun for us to talk like pirates.
To other teams.
“Ahoy Maties!” “Shiver me timbers!”
Scooter was having none of it, in a bit of agony over an old shoulder injury, and the other teams mostly tried to get away from us asap. However, this didn’t deter Justin, and I joined in with my parrot imitation (which I think is GREAT, but it didn’t draw rave reviews from my teammates). With the finish in-site, we put in a huge last effort to the shore, still struggling with our forever right-turning boat. A quick TA and back on the bikes for a road ride, back to CP 5/10/14. We checked in and then tried to quickly get on a separate mtn bike section, but were foiled by Johnny Law. A police SUV was blocking the way to the trail – Justin and Scooter whizzed by him, but I got stopped and harassed – he wanted to see our permits (what?!), eventually I raced off, realizing he couldn’t follow us in the SUV, and had no chance of catching us on foot, given the beer and doughnut diet he obviously stuck to religiously. Onto the trail – really muddy – Scooter fell, I fell, Justin fell. Finished this section of mud and muck, and then on-road again back to CP 14. We realized the sun was setting and bust ass to finish in daylight – 7.5 more miles of mtn biking to CP 19, then road ride back to the TA. All in all, about 30 miles of mtn biking, and 30 miles of road biking. We are in 13th place, and happy to be there!

Section3: bike-orienteer-triad
Back in the TA, we grab trekking gear, more food, water, and checkout as team Outtek is checking in. It is dark at this point, probably around 8pm or so, and we head out for the 8 – 10 mile road ride to the Farsta/orienteering section, where we drop the bikes, change shoes, grab maps and head out fast on the 1st loop of 2, each with 8 checkpoints. So fast that we didn’t realize there was a key on the map, which gave details about the checkpoint locations... 1st loop: Justin, in usual form, hits all the check points quickly, and we are running on the trails, and doing a fast hike on the bushwhack, feeling really good at this point. We clue into the map key, and make good time to CP5, where Molly and Erl are a welcome site – hunkered down in their sleeping bags, urging us onward. 3 more checkpoints to finish the loop, and then back to the orienteer start to get the second map, hot soup and cider.

2nd loop: we got to revisit 4 of the CPs that we had hit before, so this loop takes less time, maybe 1 ½ hours or so. I am starting to feel the fatigue, and furiously chew some caffeinated gum for a boost. Our little team is chugging along, still joking, but feeling a bit weary. The bushwhacking is taking a mental toll, with all the millions of thorn bushes and vines to fight thru. CP5 to see Molly and Erl again – I can’t believe what a mental/emotional help it is to see those guys again. They tell us we are in 6th place – I can’t believe it – how did we make up 7 spots? Another 30 mins and the boys stop in the woods to check the map. I catch up, and put my hands on their shoulders - they both look up and say “whats up,” and realize I could use a hug – group hug, shouts and slaps on the back energizes me and touches my heart to know these guys care and are looking out for me. Onto CP7 – we are still running the trails at this point (we see most other teams walking), and we pass a team who decides to follow us. Near the CP, we canvass the bush to find the flag. Scooter nails it, but doesn’t want to give it away with the other team so close. Scooter “Justin, I don’t think it is here, ca-caw.” Justin: “Scooter come this way.” Scooter: “I think we are in the wrong place, CA-CAW!” Justin finally catches on that the ca-caw means he got the CP (our secret signal discussed pre-race), and we move on.

At some point, I asked Scooter, who has the amazing male ability to filter out all female voices, what time it was. No response. I wait a respectable few minutes, huffing and puffing along the trail, and then politely ask again. Scooter: “No.” Justin and I try to guess what time it is, while running, but Scooter was not wavering on his resolve to keep us in the dark. Apparently he thought we might get tired if we realized it was 1:30am and we had been racing for over 17 hours. On our way to the last CP of the farsta, we are running down a gravel road, and see a pickup truck with 3 (ostensibly drunk) men pass us slowly, then hit reverse and squeal back towards us. Scooter, “Should we hit the woods?” Justin, “Hell yeah!” We run into the woods. Drunk townies; “Whatch’all doin?” Us; “Racing.” Drunk townies; “Good luck. Want some cold beer?” As tempting as it was, we declined, and finished the second loop shortly. Now for the triad – I switched to bike shoes, the guys grabbed the scooter and we hit the gravel road. Only 8 – 10 miles to the finish! I road my bike, carrying 2 packs and towing whoever was running, and they swapped running and scootering every ½ mile or so. They devised a pretty good system, and we made good time, flying on the downhill, always worried about a team passing us, although we never saw anyone else on this section. The last few miles we decided to kick it up a notch into town:
…we are entering the hotel parking lot…
…see the banners, lights, and people at the end…
…grasping hands 15 feet from the finish line…
…crossing the finish line at 3:16am…
…I still can’t believe it is happening – we finished the race! We check the standings - 6th place?! How did we manage that? More group hugs, a few pictures with huge smiles on our faces, and Joe hangs medals around our necks. I feel better than if I had won the Olympics.

4am decide to leave all the nasty, muddy, stinky gear outside and get some showers and sleep!
9am Molly and Erl back – group hugs and congrats!
10:30 breakfast – damn did we work up some appetites!
12pm outside to deal with gear and chat with other racers. One thing that really strikes me is how many teams just fell apart during the race, especially as the hours ticked by. This is where we really shined – we grew closer and more supportive as the race went on, whereas other teams dissolved into fighting, bickering, and not looking after each other.
6pm banquet! open bar, dinner, slide show, and I challenge Molly to a drinking contest (possibly in my own mind, since she teetotalled with just 1 beer).
7:30 awards – we graciously accept all the great gear, including new bike tires. I am still astounded at our incredible finish, at how strong our team is, and how much we accomplished this year.
8:30 live band Xanado – we are the first people on the dance floor, partly because Erl was so taken with girls in the band, the “sparkly hot chicks.” We have a great time dancing for hours, and show everyone what MN is made of in the limbo contest. The last song of the night is “We are Family,” and Justin grabs Scooter from the sidelines, and we dance in a tight circle, all 5 of us, arms around each other, smiling, singing, laughing, and hugging. The meaning of the song stikes us all; I love these guys like my own brothers and sisters. We are family.

(C) 2004-2007 WEDALI adventure racing