Friday, July 30, 2010

Dusk 2 Dawn Adventure Race 2010

by: Chuck Vohsen & Robin Rongey

After a fantasitc finish at the Dusk 2 Dawn Adventure race I planned to write a race report, but since my teammate Chuck said he would do it, I decided to just add his report with my edits to the Mountain Girl Blog.

Robin and I have teamed up for about 10 adventure races now, they have all been in the 8 to 12 hour range. For the first few races our goal was just to finish, the next couple we wanted to finish and get all the checkpoints, and the last couple we’ve wanted to finish and place well. We’ve been accomplishing this progression of goals well enough that we have been itching to try some longer races. But I had never tried night time navigation and, well, I had self-doubts and plenty of what-ifs. We had been looking for the right opportunity to say ‘WTF’ and just go do it. So when Bonk Hard Racing put the Dusk 2 Dawn race on the 2010 calendar, we decided it was the perfect interim step to take before a 24 hr. We registered before we could find an excuse to talk ourselves out of it.
Bonk Hard sent an email update the week of the race to warn of some road construction in the area and to let us know there would be a pre-race bike drop. We had figured on a four and a half hour drive to Perry State Park, so we left with enough time for detours and bike drop before the pre-race meeting. The email also said something about high-water and flooded boat ramps. I’m sure Robin would have planned differently if she had known that all the park bathrooms were underwater. She looked like this for most of the race:
We were about a half-hour away from the park when we drove through a monster thunderstorm, wind, rain, and lightning. Most cars on the highway were pulling to the side to wait it out. We drove on laughing at the idea of canoeing on a dark reservoir with this storm pushing it into whitecaps and navigating by lightning strikes. (not the funny laugh, this was the nervous ‘we are going to die’ laugh). Luckily, we drove north out of the rain. We checked in at race HQ, picked up our race shirts, and instructions for the bike drop. The drop was across a bridge on the east side of the reservoir. We drove over and picked a picnic table to lean our bikes on, and taking advantage of previous race experience, we also left a gallon of water there. We spent a few minutes looking over a posted map of the trails in the area, and started guessing what the format of the race would be. Using the clues we had seen (canoes at HQ, bike drop at the start of singletrack, and previous racing experience) we talked out the plan a few different ways. Talked it over more, changed it again, and finally decided we had outsmarted Bonk Hard this time and knew the race format ahead of time. We would go on a short trek, then canoe to the bike, ride the singletrack, then some more trekking, and bike back to the finish. It was comforting and confidence building to know all this ahead of time.

We were entirely wrong. Jason called everyone over for the pre-race meeting and the first thing he says “Guess you’ve all seen the bus by now and know you will be driven out to the race start”. So much for outsmarting Bonk Hard, haha, we should know better. He told us that a lot of his original course was now underwater so he had changed it to match the flood conditions. He went over the usual rules and time cut-offs. Pre-plotted maps were passed out and half the teams climbed on the bus to the start, the other half waited for the bus to return. We spent our wait time productively and went over the maps plotting a course with highlighter, and making notes.

The bus ride was only about 10 minutes. It took us a few miles east of the bike drop. I was glad we waited for the second bus, we got that good planning time in, while teams on the first bus had to stand around in a field. Some of them looked anxious from waiting around by the time we arrived. Laura led us all in a prayer, Jason lined us up and said “Be safe, have fun, and GO”. We would trek to 9 checkpoints before biking.

The mass start run turned south down a little used road which deteriorated the further we ran, by the time we turned off to bushwhack over to the trail, it had just about disappeared. We ran trail all the way to the first checkpoint picking the right turns at a few trail junctions. Robin always takes the passport and keeps track of time. So she punched #1 and we were quickly off for CP2, deciding to take the slightly longer trail, instead of bushwhacking cross country. The trail could be run, so it was going to be faster, bushwhacking would be shorter, but much slower. We ran around a corner and came face-to-face with Ken and Chris and their TesteMax team. Ken is a fantastic navigator. First thing I thought was, I must be going the wrong direction. But they asked about CP1, we told them we already got it right up the trail behind us. I figured I must have gotten lucky and hit it just right.

It was getting dark enough on the way to CP2 that I turned my Black Diamond headlamp on. For CP2 we had to cross from the northern trail to a southern trail down the slope from us which ran along the lakeshore. We found a deserted connector two-track road the same time as another 2 person team, so both our teams ran together down the connector, I was the first one down, and found the trail ended in floodwater. We talked it over then ran back up the sloping road until we found the right spot to cross 100 meters of thick brush, their navigator leading part of the way, and I led for part of the way. There were so many spider webs, it was almost hard to believe. Every few steps another web would wrap around your head. We found CP2 on the trail right where we expected. We split off from the other team and started the run for CP3.

It was completely dark now, there was some on and off drizzle falling. The trails were wet and rocky. Robin was trying out some different trail shoes, she was sliding around dangerously. This trail was right along the edge of the lake, and in some places 20 ft above the water. She had to slow her running pace on the steep sections. I was impressed all over again with my Inov8 Roclite 305 shoes. They stick to the slickest rock imaginable.  I'm not the only one in love with these shoes.  Check out Inov-8's blog:

The maps for this race were not the usual 1-24,000 USGS maps, but much smaller 8.5 x 11 color copies with handwritten notes, and questionable scale lines. I assumed the lines for the trek map were 1K spacing. I told Robin to pace us for 2K to CP3. We ran the 2K and the map didn’t look at all right, so we kept running, I was wondering if we missed the CP when I picked up on some terrain features that made us look about halfway there. We kept running and finally found CP3, the same time as several other teams. We decided the map scale must be on 1 mile spacing.

The other teams were kind of milling around trying to decide the best way to CP4. We had punched and left in seconds. The pre-planned, color-coded route we made during the bus wait was paying off. CP4 through CP9 were scattered in an absolute maze of crisscrossing trails. The brush between the trails was loaded with thorns and poison ivy and an amazing number of spider webs. I was really happy with the zip-off long pants and gaiters we had worn. They were hotter, but the protection was priceless. We found CP4, CP5, and CP6 by trail running with bushwhacking shortcuts thrown in. We felt like we were passing other teams, but the maze of trails and headlamps flashing through the trees made it difficult to know for sure. I led us down a wrong turn on the way to CP7, it was a cross trail not shown on the map and I turned us too early. We recovered the original trail and grabbed CP7 and CP8 right away. CP8 was in a creek bed and we ran into TesteMax (not for the last time) as we were climbing up to the bike transition. We gave them an encouraging, “CP is just a little further up the creek” and we took off.

CP9 had a surprise gear check. We had to pull out rain jackets and emergency blankets. We gulped big drinks of water from the gallon jug of water we had left earlier then rode out. We pulled out sandwiches to re-fuel. Let me tell you: Peanut Butter and Honey Stinger on wheat bread is the greatest race food ever invented. CP15 was back at the start/finish, just a short ride away. We would not be back here again until after the canoe leg so we had to make a quick decision on paddles. It would be possible to ride with them in this race, but in the end we couldn’t find a good way to attach them to Robin’s pack. We’ll have to be more prepared for this next time, kayak paddles are a huge advantage. We would have to use whatever paddles were available.
After riding for about a half hour the glow-sticks started bothering me. I can’t explain it. I just had to open my pack and look for them. We were at the nearest point we would be for the rest of the night if we had to go back for them. We stopped and I dug into my pack finding nothing. I started dumping things in the road. I finally found them, three of them. Four are required gear for the canoe leg. Now, this is an example of a good team. We skipped right over trying to find fault or someone to blame, to finding a solution. Thanks teammate! Because this mistake was definitely on me. We decided that the lead we had built up was too good to give up. We took the risky choice and continued without the extra glow-stick. We talked about different scenarios as we rode. Deciding the most likely explanation was: It had fallen out of my pack during the gear check, and in the dark and transition chaos I just didn’t notice.

Another 2 person coed team stopped at the same intersection. I guess they were checking their maps. We overheard part of their conversation during my frantic search: “We can go back for CP19 after we go boating.” This stuck in my memory for several reasons. One, they were in our 2-person coed division. Two, I now know they are missing at least one checkpoint. Three, Boating? Hahaha, I’m going to be digging our canoe around the course as hard as humanly possible. They were going boating, maybe a spot of tea and a nice tennis match too?

The bike was all on gravel/potholed roads. There were a few hills, but none were unreasonable. Jason had to make some bike course changes because of the high water I talked about earlier, but we found all bike CP’s with no problems. They were all at obvious intersections or bends in the road. This is where I have to digress from race reporting for a second to explain something:

Robin is training for a full Ironman. She is about 6 weeks from race-day. This is significant because she is in the BIG part of the training plan right now and is riding about a hundred billion miles a week. So saying she rode this bike section hard and fast is a monumental understatement. (Robin edit: I’m not sure if it is the ironman training or my Trek Top Fuel that made the difference, but what ever it was, I wasn’t complaining)

By the time we were a third of the way through the bike, I was reduced to hanging on her wheel, just trying to survive the killer pace. We passed teams one after the other. Almost unbelievable, but at one point she turns back to me and asked “Am I going fast enough?” Apparently she thought I had put her up front so she wouldn’t fall off the pace. I would have laughed if I could have. I just gasped, “Are you freaking kidding me? I’m dying back here just trying to hang on!”

We were out all alone and getting close to CP21 when we rode up on a team at the side of the road. One of them was laying flat on their back. We asked if everything was all right. They said sure, just taking a break. It was an unlikely spot for a break, hope no cars came up on them. We picked up CP21 hanging on a fence near the lake’s spillway, and rode east through Thompsonville for CP’B’. Then we went onto the probably the easiest CP of the night, the canoe transition at the Perry Lake boat ramp, and I couldn’t find it.

We rode into the marina with a hard-earned lead. No canoes, bikes or CP in sight. We went up one road and down another, Robin asked some guys outside a bar if they had seen anyone on bikes, “No”. Several other teams rode in looking around too. We all went down road that ended in flood water. Driving down a road like this in daylight is no big deal. It’s a real surprise late at night:

The map detail at this corner of the lake had a Corp. of Engineers symbol covering up all the roads. We burned up most of the lead we gained on the bike and finally found the boat ramp (CP22) in the south-east corner of the dam.

We were given a new map for the canoe leg. It had CP23-CP26. (Robin Edit: When we reached the canoes we were worried about a gear check since we only had 3 glow sticks, but we got lucky, first there was not a gear check and second we found a canoe that had one glow stick still attached, so we grabbed that one now we had 4 glow sticks. I don’t know if it was fate, luck or divine intervention, but just in case I gave the big guy a thank you! before jumping in the canoe.) We were lucky enough to get one kayak paddle from the pile, Robin started out with it. We made it across the lake to CP23 and found out that the checkpoint was missing. It had either blown away in the storm or been taken away by someone. On the crossing to CP24 we traded paddles and it seemed like we were making better time with the kayak paddle in the back. At CP24 Robin jumped out of the canoe into some nasty flooded shoreline with enough floating gunk to look like a horror movie, and punched the passport. Also at CP24 we found out we had been paddling next to team TesteMax again. It’s hard to tell who is around when all you can see are some floating glow-sticks. We decided to practice drafting behind them. It worked beautifully, at times we had to work pretty hard to stay in their wake, but it was so worth it. I think there is a bigger benefit to canoe drafting than even in biking. We drafted them under a highway bridge and all the way to CP25.

We pulled the canoe into the point of land CP25 was on. The spot we pulled into was a logjam of flood debris. I was in back of the canoe and couldn’t see much up front so I asked Robin if there was a way to climb out to get the punch. She said “No, but there is a big snake up here.” Nice and calm. I was curious, so I said “I want to see” and took a paddle stroke forward. Not much thinking about how that one paddle stroke moved me from 12 ft away to 10 ft, also moved Robin from 2 ft away to just inches…..the canoe shot backwards…..”No you don’t!” (Robin edit: I paddle backwards like a madman to get away from that snake) We paddled a few meters west and beached in a more open spot. Robin ran up the hill and punched the passport. We paddled back out of the brushy shoreline to continue drafting TesteMax, only they were gone. They had opened such a huge gap, we never seen them again until the ramp.

We ended up turning off headlamps while on the water, I only clicked it back on occasionally to check the map. Strange as it sounds visibility was better with the lights off. I’m going to call this my second favorite paddle of the races I have done so far. It was cool and kind of mysterious paddling at night, with the moon occasionally breaking through open spots in the clouds.

Back at the ramp we found out Bonk Hard had added CP’s 28, 29, and 30 to our original map, all bike points. We transitioned fast only taking a few seconds. My legs felt like stone blocks, they didn’t want to move. I forced them to go and finally they warmed up again. We rode west across the spillway. It was still dark, and we had been riding for about 3½ hours. This is coincidentally the exact amount of time the rechargeable battery for my NiteRider handlebar light is advertised to last. It went out without a flicker or even a few minutes of dimness. I will need a backup battery for any longer races. This is not a knock on the lights, they were awesome and unbelievably bright!  Robin thought cars were driving up behind us at times.  Nope just my Niterider lights.  My headlamp was still working well, so between that and hanging on Robin’s wheel I was able to stay upright.
We were chasing two teams of red blinking lights up in front of us. We caught a two person team and passed them right before CP28. On the way to CP29 we were down to chasing a 4 person team on a slight climb, when a skunk runs out into the road between them and us. The skunk didn’t even slow down, he made it halfway across the road them turned and ran back to wherever he came from. I told Robin “We must really stink if we are chasing skunks away”.

We caught the four person team right before CP29. One of them must have been deep in a bonk and was getting a push up the hill from a teammate. This is another sign of a good team, you are in it together, and if someone is struggling you gotta pull together. It was TesteMax again! It is really unusual to see another team more than once in a race. We rode to CP30 which was the finish line. Luckily we had been pre-warned that there would be another map handed to us at the finish.

The final four CP’s were all trekking, starting with a run down the road. It was daylight when we entered the woods at the base of a hill and climbed right onto CP31. We crossed a field to hwy 237 and ran the shoulder until we entered the woods again to punch CP32, back to the road and ran to the next woods entry and punched CP33. Have I mentioned the spider webs already? We nailed every one of these points dead on. I felt good, not only with the navigating, but with the running too. We had to do a long bushwhack for CP34, so I set up the compass and followed the bearing. We were only a few steps into the thick brush when Testemax caught us again. We trekked together to some power lines. The power lines weren’t on the map, but we were on top of the same ridge the CP was on, so we trekked up the power-line ridge and punched the CP about two steps in front of TM. We trekked down a rocky descent onto the road and ran for the finish with TM right on us. They eventually fell off our tail when we hit a climb and we finished at 10:39, just one minute in front of them.

The camera that rode around in the pack with me all night wasn’t quite up to taking finish line pictures. Which sucks because we were wearing cool new Honey Stinger/Trek jerseys. Here is the blurry mess it was able to get:

Jason and Laura from Bonk Hard were there ringing bells and cheering. They congratulated and complimented us on a great race. We found out that we had finished in second place behind team Bushwhacker. It wasn’t long before the pancakes, eggs, bacon, and juice were ready. This HUGE pile of food just disappeared, adventure racers really know how to eat, and Bonk Hard does a great job of feeding us. Being second place for 2 person co-ed meant we were called up to the front for prizes. We went up and got hugs and handshakes from Jason and Laura, along with plenty of sincere “nice job” ,“way to go”, and thumbs up from other teams we have met over the past few years. Jason and Laura told us we were ready for some longer 24hr races now. I think they are right. We are ready.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tour de Donut 2010

I know I’m the mountain girl, but even a mountain girl has to go to the city once in a while. This trip took me to Staunton Illinois as a roadie on a mission to win the Tour de Donut.

The day started out to be sunny and cool, but the humidity was still proving to be a killer. I woke up early, threw all my stuff in the van and loaded my bike, then sat outside in a lawn chair and waited for the others. Jenny arrived first, she planned to follow me to the race then Daryl one of our domestiques for the race pulled in the driveway. We loaded his bike on the van and took off for the race. We were lucky and were able to snag two of the last parking spots in the field close to the start. Mark rolled up on his Lemond and asked if I ever turned on my cell phone. I really did have it on this time, but it was sitting in the cup holder in the van, so I didn’t hear it. So much for me having a phone.

The team at the start

Mark had already run recon at the starting line, he said we had to get our bikes up there soon to hold a place in the front. We hurried to registration and grabbed our numbers and shirts, then rolled our bikes up to the start. Mark and Daryl were our domestiques for the day, we usually have more bodies, but life got in the way and some of the regulars couldn’t make it. Mark has been our domestique for 4 years now and this was Daryl’s first time, both as a domestique and at the Tour de Donut. We spent a few minutes going over the course and explaining his duties.

Mark and Daryl went out for a warm up, while Jenny and I held spots at the starting line. As I looked around there were so many people, we had been able to find a spot about 8 rows back. Usually the front rows go to those people who are experienced racers and know how to handle a bike in a big group, but for some reason as I looked around I found that this was not the case this year. I saw a lot of people with comfort bikes and hybrids in the front rows of the race start. I also saw one guy with his helmet on backwards, I really didn’t want to tell him, but I did snap a picture when he wasn’t looking. This was not a good thing, meaning things could get really dangerous right off the bat with individuals riding who had no experience riding in a group. My feelings were confirmed during the first mile of the race.

When Mark and Daryl finished warming up, Jenny and I went out for a short warm up, and during the warm up we stopped for a picture with the Metro Tri Club, we all 4 are members.

The announcer went over a few concerns and course changes due to road construction. He also stated that in the reroute there were some freshly rocked roads and for everyone to be careful in the gravel. Of course there was over a thousand people are at the starting line, not many really heard the announcements.

The race started right on-time, with near crash in the peleton before we even made it a block from the start. Our team, Jenny and I and our Donut Domestiques, Mark and Daryl stayed together, but came close to going down within the first mile as we encountered another near crash during a quick stop in the peleton again. In my opinion it was due to inexperienced riders getting freaked out by all the people and breaking when they shouldn’t. Daryl locked up his wheels, but stayed up and Jenny said later she really thought she was going to take me out during the incident, but all came out well. Although we were running at about 25 mph on the way out of town there was still about 80 riders in front of us. We finally made the turn onto the country road that would lead us out of town and to the first donut stop.

This is where the fun really started, not far from the turn you cross some RR tracks and soon after that we came upon the first crash. There were bodies and bikes across most of the road and it looked like most of the O’Fallon team was down, as we passed we saw a friend on the ground knocked out and people all around her. I yelled it’s April, Jenny said should be stop, Mark said keep going they have plenty of people there now, we will only be in the way. We decided since her husband Greg was in the lead group, maybe we would cross paths at a donut stop to tell him she was down. Soon we heard the ambulance as it came screaming past us. We also passed a second crash with some guys and their bikes and loose wheels down in the ditch. We continued riding up and down giant hills to get to the first donut stop. I was anxious due to the number of people and speed of the group, if one person does something wrong then we are all in trouble. I was really concentrating on where everyone was and not crossing wheels with anyone. I do fine when I know the group I’m in, but when I ride with people that I’m not sure of their riding skills, I sometimes get worried.

We made it to the first donut stop unscathed, rolled through and were marked zero donuts. We got back on the road and started passing small groups that were falling off the back of main group. We picked up a couple riders and one offered to help do the work up front. I’m not sure he was as fast as Mark and Daryl, but it was nice for them to have a little more rest between pulls. Jenny and I hung on without too much effort, I was really feeling good and we were in the 21-23 mph range. Finally we hit Possum Hill, which is a very steep hill, but lucky for us, it’s rather short, we all made it up together and quickly had the group back in a pace line again. There was a change in the course this year due to a bridge on the course being out. The problem with the change was we hit a few newly graveled roads, which caused us to slow down some. We came past a club member who told us he thought there were 4 girls in front of us. So we picked up the pace a bit. By then we had picked up some more riders, and as we all worked our way through the deep gravel, we saw another crash, this one had a few riders we knew in it, they said they were ok, so we kept going, just as we passed them we heard another crash and looked back, yet another group was down in the gravel. We were thankful we made it through ok. We caught two more guys, who happened to be Metro Tri Club members, one of them was Terry, who also happens to be my nemesis. Terry and I battle it out at every race. As we passed him, I couldn’t help but look over and laugh, he laughed too and I told him to hop on our train. He stayed with our group for the rest of the ride.

We pulled into the second donut stop at almost the same distance as the usual course, we rolled though on our bikes and took another zero on donuts then got back on the road. We quickly rolled up on a couple girls, we strategized and decided to let them work for a while before we passed them. That was a good move when we passed them they were too tired to hang on for long. Soon we were back to the paved road heading back into town and we saw another girl she was riding a Felt, we passed her, but she got on our wheel, I yelled for Jenny to go, she is stronger than me and I didn’t want the Felt girl to pass her and we only a couple miles to go. Mark pulled for Jenny while Daryl pulled for me. As we came into town Felt girl passed me again, Daryl and I pulled to the outside and stayed just behind her, but not close enough to ride her wheel. As we made the next curve I closed in on her, we were together turning onto Main Street and as we sped through the rows of BBQ tents, I passed her again. I could still see Jenny not far ahead, I yelled for her to go. Mark rolled back and I took his wheel and gave it everything I had, we made the second of the last two corners and finally dropped Felt girl. I saw Jenny ride though the finish as I came up the last straightaway into the finish shoot, with Mark in front of me and Daryl right behind.

We were talking to people at the finish and they thought we were one and two, but come to find out there was one more girl in front of us that we didn’t catch, she won, so Jenny took 2nd and I took 3rd overall in the women. Lucky for me I’m old, so I ended up 1st in the 40-50 age group, while Jenny was 2nd in the 30-40 age group. What is even funnier is that I got 3rd for adjusted time in the 40-50 age group and I didn’t eat a donut. Oh, let me correct that, I ate a donut after the race. The donuts were not as good this year, they were some prepackaged donuts not the usual ones that come from the local bakery. I hope they go back to the bakery donuts next year.

It was a great day for me, Jenny and our team of Domestiques, both those that came solely as our domestiques and those that joined along the way. Thanks to Mark, Daryl and all the other boys for working so hard for us. We can’t wait for next year, it will be a 1-2 finish.