Sunday, April 7, 2024

Chattanooga Epic 10 Hour Adventure Race

This race is put on by Warrior Races.  There was also a 30 hour race.  I chose this one to come out from under Lisa Randall's wing and race it solo.  I had only done 2 other adventure races, both with Lisa, who was the navigator. Even though I am familiar with the Chattanooga area, I was more nervous going into this event than I was when I took the SAT! Normally I sleep well the night before a race; well, not this one. I had even gone down the Thursday prior and ridden the last few miles of the course to the finish, along the River Walk just to bolster my confidence.

River Walk

For the 10 hour race, an experiment was being performed by the race director.  We were allowed to use GPS as an aid.  This was in hopes of encouraging newbies to come out and give adventure racing a go.  A phone was a mandatory gear requirement, so I brought mine along.  I did not use it for anything other than taking pictures.  

We were given the race schematic a few days prior.  I love this kind of homework.  By using this I was able to prepare my gear choices.  I did have a paddle bag, in which I placed paddles, PFD, and a dry bag full of extra shoes, socks, base layer, and hydration pack for the trek and bike.

We were bussed to the start, near Suck Creek, and the race began at 8 am.  Starting temperature was 39 degrees, but felt much cooler with the wind coming off the river.  I was wearing a heavy weight wool baselayer, my Rescue Racing cycling kit, and rain jacket/pants.  I had chemical warmers in my gloves and shoes.  I was perfectly comfortable, temperature-wise, with all these layers.

I was second in the water, but by the time I hit the first CP, half the field had passed me.  I equate paddling to the swimming portion of a triathlon ... it sucks!  I felt like my kayak had a "flat."  No one else passed me as I made my way to CP2.  As I was reaching up to punch my card, my left calf knotted up in a major cramp!  Which lasted 4-5 minutes, as I continued on in the paddle.  Good Gawd, what brought that on!  I cannot remember the last time I cramped in a race.

The paddle take out was near the Pot Point Cabin and the beginning of the Ritchie Hollow Trail.  I stripped off my rain gear and changed into my trekking shoes. I got out my map for this portion and marked the CP's.  Then I took off.  CP3 was a drainage.  I elected to attack from the road and climbed mostly on all four's to reach it.

From there I continue to climb upward until I hit the trail.  All together it was about a 100 meter climb straight the F up!  I was no further than 100 meters when I realized that my satellite tracker was on my PFD.  F me!  Not wanting to beg forgiveness later and also to play by the rules, I ran back down the trail to the paddle take out and grabbed it.  Then retraced my steps back up to the CP.  I climbed that MF'ing drainage twice ... ouch! That rookie mistake cost me 12 minutes.

I was now almost in dead last place.  But I was ok with that, heck I even embraced this extra challenge.  I mean, the weather was warming up, the sun was out, and I was playing in the woods.  What more could a girl ask for? 

Ritchie Hollow Trail took me to the next CP, Blowing Wind Falls.  Stunning!  I punched my card and continued my way up the mountain, passing teams left and right.  I even did a little bushwhacking, trying to gain back those minutes I lost.  Not sure if that was the right idea, but I had fun doing it.

Checkpoint 4

Once I grabbed CP5, I took a time check. I decided to skip CP 6 (Ransom Overlook), as I figured it would take 25 minutes. Next I hit CP7, then CP9, bushwhacked (more like butt slid) down to the trail and did an out and back to grab CP8 at Snooper's Rock.

CP8 doesn't get any better!

From there I ran along the Pot Point Loop Trail and then back down Richie Hollow.  Oof!  I don't know what was worse:  running up it or down it.  The volunteer at the paddle TA told me I was the 4th one to get back on the water.  Holy smokes, I made up a lot of time.  Guess I can run and navigate.

After stowing my gear and cramming a bag of potato chips down my gullet, I hopped back in the kayak for the 4 mile paddle to the base of Raccoon.  Tortuous with the head wind.  I never thought I would see the large steel circular object (hydroelectric turbine?) near the boat ramp.  It still took another 10 minutes to get there.  

Susie and Jim were there to greet me. I took a few minutes to organize, pee, change shoes, mark the bike CP's on the map, and refill my CamelBak.  I rode up the pavement, and did an out and back to grab CP14 on Live Wire 2.


I then climbed up Live Wire 1, which at this point, my legs were definitely feeling the prior trek and all the elevation gain and scrambling.  CP18 was "top of large boulders" in the Chunky free riide area.  Hell, all of Chunky has large boulders!  It did help that the foliage wasn't full out and I spotted it from afar.

I continued in a CCW direction, grabbing the one at the Switchyard fence line next. It was attached to the fence with large warning signs (high voltage).  Plastic is not a conductor, right 😬?  After I nabbed CP17 at the overlook on Small Intestine, I did a little bike whacking to avoid riding this trail in its entirety. 


Getting to CP18 required getting shredded by the briar thickets.  CP 12 was along Grindstone Ridge.  Once I acquired CP11 on Megawatt, I did another time check.  Trying to go for the one on High Voltage would be risky, as I would be cutting it super close to the 6pm time cut off.  So I opted NOT to go for it, which would give me a nice buffer to get to the finish.  At this point, I wish my brain would have realized that had I bike whacked up to CP11, and then continued to bike whack in a southeasterly direction, I could have cut off about 0.6 miles of trail. 

At the end of Megawatt, I hit the connector to the Laurel Point Road and then made my way to Electric Avenue Trail, where I grabbed CP13.  I now had 90 minutes to get to the finish.  I made my way down to Elder Mountain Road, took a right, blasted down off the mountain, and took a right on Isbill Road.  This led me to Kelly's Ferry Road, where I picked up CP19 at the I-26 overpass.  Turning left on Cummings Road, I made my way over to Old Wauhatchie Pike.  Mind you, I am trying to read a 1:24,000 map, mounted to my handle bars, while I am pedaling at 10-15mph, with old eyes.  There are no road names, as my route is now in the bottom right-hand corner of the map ... almost damned well off the map!  I had to stop a few times to get my bearings.  But finally I was convinced I was on course.  Seeing CP 20 confirmed and made me smile!

Old Wauhatchie Pike

Knowing confidently where I was, I was able to push harder.  Grabbing CP21, I made my way through throngs of people enjoying a beautiful spring day on the river walk.  I came through the finish at 9:25, 35 minutes to spare.  

19 out of 21 checkpoints.  Confidence boosted like a Space X rocket!  I was first Solo Woman.  I also ended up (I think) 2nd overall.  There were 2 teams who cleared the course.  Brad Cobb and Scott Brannon smashed it with a time of 8:51, despite their hairy descent off the escarpment at Prentice Cooper.  Now I really know why they make us wear tracking devices ... to find the bodies 😆

The Oswald father/son duo also cleared the course, but came in over time, so were deducted 2 CP's, I think.  This would put me ahead of them, based on time.  After talking to them at the post race meal, their first goal is always to clear, even if it penalizes them.  Now that is a goal that I hope to one day achieve, but within the time allotment.

I felt that this race was a good one to dip my toe into the solo category.  Now that I have gained some confidence, my next goal will be to enter a solo race where I am not as familiar with the territory.  I also like the 10 hour length, but hope to one day step up to the 24-30 hour distance.  Just gotta find one that doesn't have 20+ miles of paddling all at once.  I hate paddling!

I want to give Jim Farmer a huge thumbs up for a great and challenging course that allowed us to choose our own adventure. I cannot even begin to imagine the number of hours and miles biked and walked to lay out this course.  Thanks to Susie for allowing him to do this and staying sane.  The volunteers were awesome and upbeat!  And to Warrior Racing for getting me hooked ... I hope that this navigation thing will stave off dementia, as adventure racing is mentally challenging.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Blankets 10 Mile Trail Race


Blankets was the second race in the Mountain Goat Adventures Trail Run Series. The turnout was light for this event with only 12 women.  Lisa had said that her numbers for the running races have been dwindling over the past few years.   

The weather was great with sunny skies and 46 degrees at the start.  I was coming off the Fried Clay 200k the weekend before, so my expectations were not high, but I was still determined to put forth as strong an effort as my legs would give me.

At 8 am, we were off.  The course did a CCW loop on the Van Michael trail to start.  I ended up just behind Belinda, who was also in my age group.  Adele, who I battled with at Garland, was behind me a few seconds.  After the first mile, I passed  Belinda on an uphill.  I used Sally McCrae's strategy of "pass, gap, and bury" by picking up the pace for the next couple of minutes, so that I had the best opportunity of not letting her latch back on.

Adele caught up to me around mile 2.  I could tell that she was faster on the descents, and told her to let me know if she needed on by.  I could tell my legs were not as sparkly as they had been at Garland.  By the time VMT flattened out and we hit Mosquito Flats, Adele passed me.  I tried to go with her, but the legs said no.  

I was able to keep her in my sights as we hit the South Loop.  I could tell by the 7th mile that I was slowly dying.  And Adele faded off into the distance.  Somewhere in the 9th mile I was descending at a pretty good clip, trying to reel Adele back into sight, when my right foot hit a root and I began to Superman.  I had almost saved it, but then another root grabbed my left foot, and I hit the ground hard.  Fortunately it was a tuck and roll, but I tweaked my right MCL, which I had torn this time last year.

My ego was bruised more than my body, but I cautiously finished out the last 1 1/2 miles. That last bit on Mosquito Flats trail was flat, but the most painful.  Not my knee, but my legs were spent and I could not get them to turn over.

I finished with a time of 1:34:34.  Good enough for 1st A/G and 2nd O/A.  Afterwards, I had an enjoyable visit with Graham, who was out volunteering.  We talked all things bikes, BDR's, jobs, and getting wiser.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Fried Clay 200K

I was not too thrilled about racing this one, as John and I drove down in the rain, and then listened to it rain most of the night while in our hotel room.  I had heard horror stories about how the red clay roads turn to pottery mud and can render your bike useless in a couple of pedal strokes. But, as one of the many Marji mottos go, "Finish what you start."  

At least the rain had stopped by morning, the temperature was a warm 55 degrees, little to no rain was forecast for the day, and John loaned me his rear fender, so that my new kit would not be ruined by flying red mud. Pat Patterson, the mastermind behind this event, looked more like he belonged in an 80's hair band, than creating a gravel event. I loved his pre-race meeting.  He said, "The single track is fucked up. But for those of you who do the full course, you all will have bragging rights and be bad asses forever. You now have 45 seconds before the race starts; aw, fuck it, start now!"

I started mid-pack, but quickly made my way up to the front.  The roads were not bad at all; more water spray than mud, but I still kept my distance from the wheels in front.  The group was still rather large and I wanted to keep the mud off my glasses, and be able to avoid any sketchy riders.  For the most part, the roads were firm, but there were occasional sections where it felt like I was riding on a sponge. I glanced back occasionally to see if I could get a glimpse of John, who had started further back.  Eventually, a few smaller groups formed, and I stayed in the second one, not wanting to go that hard that soon.

By the time we hit the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge around mile 15, my group had thinned down to just 3 or 4, including Jen Coleslaw.  The last time I had seen her was at the Vista 5 or 6 years ago.  I have always admired her bike pack racing tenacity. She was riding strong, and I offered to share some pulls.

Piedmont Wildlife Refuge

There were 3 creek crossings in this section.  I attempted to ride through the first, but the waters were muddy, and I did not see the large rock that kicked my front wheel out from under me.  Fortunately, my cat-like reflexes saved me from a total submersion.  Needless to say, I walked the others.

Water was knee deep.

John caught up to me at the second creek crossing.  He said he was surprised to see me, thinking I would be much further ahead.  He ought to know me by now;  that while I am not the fastest one, I am the one who tends to slow down the least.

For the next 19 miles, Jen, John, myself, and a couple of other fellas rode together through the Piedmont and then onto some drier dirt and a nice stretch of pavement.

📷: John, the man who has 13,000 photos on his IPhone

AT mile 35, the single track began.  It was nice and flowy ... for the first 1/2 mile.  Then the shitshow began.  The trail quickly turned into a chocolate peanut butter smoothie.  John and I lost Jen through the beginning miles of trail.

The River Trail

Knowing I did not want to destroy my bike or end up carrying an extra 5-10 pounds of mud on it, I got off quickly and began the hike-a-bike.  Fortunately, there had been a recent controlled burn and there were areas of it adjacent to the trail that I could ride. It turned into more of a cyclocross race here; I must have dismounted and remounted a hundred times.  

There were also many downed trees and in some places so thick with deadfall that I had a hard time seeing the trail and so relied on my GPX track to stay on course.  

Shoe-sucking mud

Multiple creek crossings tested my slick n slide skills as well as the strength of my ACL's.  Somewhere in all this mess, I slowly pulled away from John. All total, I would say that I walked 3-4 miles of the 15 miles of single track.  I did end up catching the first place woman about 2/3 of the way through as she appeared to be struggling on the HAB ascents.  

A rideable section

I passed her on one of the uphills, but then later I went off course on a steep descent.  As I was making my way back to connect with the correct trail, she, Caitlin, caught up to me, but continued on the wrong trail, despite me saying to her that I thought we were off course.  

The last few miles I thought would never end, but approaching some hikers on the trail, I knew the muddy misery was almost over.  But in true FU fashion, the trail crossed a road and then disappeared.  I pushed up a wide trail, only to discover I was off course ... again.  Another racer came upon me, and together we were able to find the correct trail, under leaves.  This led to FS 1127, which was a beautiful grassy double track.

FS 1127

Until it wasn't. It turned into gravel soup, a freshly graded road with deep gravel and waterlogged dirt, that went straight up!  The two guys ahead of me pushed, but I refused to give in to the HAB ... yep, I was so over taking my bike for a walk or giving it a piggyback ride. After 2 hours and 45 minutes, I was relieved to be back on nice gravel/dirt roads again.

I rode by the town of Juliette and continued another 20 miles to the neutral aid station at Hadaway Hunt Camp.  This section saw me at my lowest point of the race.  I suppose it was due to the huge expenditure of energy in the single track.  The only thing that kept me pushing hard was the fact that Caitlin was somewhere behind me.

River Road, hero dirt finally!

Through Juliette, the course detoured off of JH Aldridge Drive onto Williams Street for a 1/4 mile.  Why we did not just stay on Aldridge for that short bit, I don't know, but I almost got eaten by a German Shepherd.  Fortunately his owner was outside and recalled him.  I did not need that adrenalin hit!

I don't remember much about this 20 mile section, save for the Little Rock Wildlife Road, which was beautiful and that I got off track a little here and had to back track.  Coming into the town of Round Oak, I knew the aid station was close.  A few minutes later and I was pulling into a most welcome sight.  I knew I had to be quick, as I had no clue how close Caitlin was.  I pee'd, reapplied Chamois Butt'r, refilled my Camelbak and 1 bottle, threw my trash away, and then quickly downed a Coke and a bag of chips.

Pat told me I was indeed the first woman in.  But as I was wiping the mud off my sunglasses, in rolled Caitlin.  Pat yelled out to her, "Your belt is about to leave."  Meaning me!  I high tailed it out of there and was super fortunate to latch on to Sandals.  Now this fella was the essence of the "spirit of gravel."  With a braided ponytail and Chaco sandals, he pulled not only me, but 3 other racers 13 miles.  And he was strong like bull!  Even in his draft, I was suffering.  But I knew that I would suffer even more if I got dropped.  

Sandals was a game changer.

Finally he pulled off and allowed me and the others to pull.  I told him that I owed him a 6-pack after that effort.  I am a woman of my word, Chris.  If we cross paths in the future, I will see to it. For the next 26 miles, we took turns pulling.  Our group lost Chris a few miles later and then another one halfway through.  We were down to 3:  Ian, Emory, and I. But then on a red clay road we picked up Marcos.

Ellis Church Road

We did encounter 2-3 miles of sticky red clay that had not quite dried out from the previous days' rains.  It was touch and go for awhile as we had to carefully pick our lines and avoid the build up of mud on our wheels that would inevitably shut down forward progress.

At some point, Emory dropped something on the ground and went back to pick it up.  Everyone then stopped at a crossroads to wait.  Knowing Caitlin was trying her best to chase me down, I had to keep pushing.  A few miles later, I turned onto a grassy double track forest road.  This 3 mile section I was on the struggle bus, as it was a constant up and down on thick gravel.  

Just 10 more miles.  I rode like a scalded dog, visualizing Caitlin bearing down on me.  Every little climb, I stood and hammered as hard as I could.  I would recover on the descents and then repeat the effort back up the next hill. Once I was on Firetower Road and saw Dumas Road off to my left, which we had turned upon during the beginning of the race, I could smell the barn.  I turned myself inside out those last 2 miles.  The Checking Station sign was a sight for sore eyes!

I achieved the Win with a time of 10:46 and an elevation gain of 9500 feet.  I managed a 7th O/A.  It was definitely a race of attrition, with more than half the field either opting out of the single track, or short-coursing it after being beat down by the single track.  I am so glad I was in the right place at the right time and able to get in with a good group of guys to push the pace after the neutral aid station.  Had it not been for that, I do believe Caitlin would have caught me, as she finished only 9 minutes behind me.

Thankfully my bike's paint job and bearings survived this mud fest.  But my legs took a thrashing from all the bushwhacking during the single track.

John finished 21st O/A, finishing up a little after dusk. All told, there were 44 finishers, out of 150 that signed up, and 100 that started.

I have a championship belt being mailed to me, fashioned after a WWE style championship belt.  That ought to be interesting. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Garland Mountain Trail Run

Once again, I escaped the wrath of the weather gods.  The morning was a warm 53 degrees, and despite the rain on Friday, the course was in great shape ... hero dirt.  This was the first one in the Mountain Goat Adventures Trail Race Series, 10.5 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain.  It was nice to have a proper warm up, compared to last year's bitter cold temperatures, where I used the cab of my truck to do some squats, lunges, and other mobility/warm-up exercises.

I opted to just go with a 10 ounce hand held bottle.  I was hoping for a sub 1:45 time.  I had not done much run training leading up to this, hoping my cycling fitness and expedition race would be enough. I was wearing Brooks Caldera's; they had worked great during the Sea to Sea, and felt more comfortable and stable than the Hoka's I had been using.

At 8:30 am, Lisa blew the horn, and I was off.  I entered the single track with the front runners.  My legs felt sparkly and I flew through mile 1.  A woman passed me towards the end of that mile, but I was ok with letting her go.  Seeing my heart rate at 168, I knew I could not hold that for 10 miles, and so I settled a bit.

The first 5 miles came and went without much effort, so it seemed.  I was happy with my heart rate in the upper 150's, pushing into the 160's on the climbs.  I had been having difficulty getting my heart rate up on the bike recently and was concerned (enough to get a referral for a cardiologist in May), but after seeing how well it was doing on the run, I am pretty convinced that I was just carrying a lot of fatigue after the Huracan and Sea To Sea.

Midway through mile 6, I began to see glimpses of the first place woman, about 200 meters ahead.  Now I had a carrot!  My intentions were to just keep her in sight over the next two miles and then, if I was feeling good, I would attempt an attack around mile 8-9.

Miles 7 and 8 my perceived exertion went up.  But when I saw 1st place walking up a hill midway through mile 8, I embraced the pain and began to push harder.  Even though she was still fast on the descents, I slowly reeled her in.  Then I attacked on the next climb.  As I passed, I gave her some words of encouragement and to come with, but she was unable.  

At the top of the climb, I kicked in the afterburners and pushed it hard, all the way to the finish.  I thought I was going to blow a gasket on that final climb to the finish, but I was determined not to slow to a power hike.  I just kept the legs turning over, looking back only once midway up the climb.  Not seeing her, I cruised on into the finish with a time of 1:38.

I won my AG and took the overall as well, finishing 7 minutes faster than my goal.  I was stoked!

The 10 ounces of Skratch I had was just the right amount, finishing it with 1 mile to go.

Back in December I went to Chattanooga Non-Surgical Orthopedics in Chattanooga to see Dr. Jeff Hall.  At that time I had been dealing with a left patellar tendonitis for the past two years, without success.  I had gone through physical therapy as well as doing some comprehensive strength training and mobility exercises, but to no avail.  

I received a series of 4 PRP/HA (platelet rich plasma and hyaluronic acid) injections into my tendon.  Although my knee joint had no issues, I had that injected as well.  This occurred over an 8 week period. Insurance did not cover it, so it was a $1500 out of pocket expense.  I was super nervous about how effective it would, as that's a lot of money!  Well, I am ecstatic to say that IT FUCKING WORKED!  And FUCK YOU, BCBST for not covering a procedure that has minimal to no complications/adverse effects and was 100% effective.  I am sure that all my PCP visits and PT appointments added up to at least twice that amount that I spent.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Sea To Sea Race Report


I was glad to see 4:45 am on the clock, as I had tossed and turned all night.  I made some hotel room coffee, which tasted like the bottom of my shoe.  Time to board the bus was quickly approaching and I still hadn't made race weight, which has NEVER been a problem.

Lisa and I grabbed the maps, 30 of them, as we boarded the bus for the ride over to St. Marks, the start of the race.  We spent the next 2 hours doing the necessary prep work, marking the CP's and plotting our route. Several times during the 3 1/2 hour ride, I went to the lavatory, but the plumbing was not cooperating.  This caused me some concern, as I am as regular as clockwork.

The start was at Saint Marks River City Park.  I grabbed the satellite tracker, sealed my phone in a tamper-proof bag, and grabbed the map for the initial trek.  With sunny skies and warmth, it was a good day to go into the belly of the beast.

Almost Go Time!

Leg 1: trek, 4 miles, 4/4 CP's

At 10:21 am, we were off.  Lisa was in greyhound mode, and I was having a hard time keeping up.  The CP's were straightforward and we nabbed them in 40 minutes.

From there, Lisa filled up our bottle 1/2 way with sand, and I stowed it away in my pack.  We would carry that little bottle with us to the finish and fill the remaining half up with sand from the east coast beach. More than once that bottle caused me anxiety, digging into my pack to ensure that it was still there.

I needed a tow rope!

Leg 2: paddle, 25 miles, 3/3 CP's

We traveled south down the St. Marks River, fighting a 15 mph headwind.  I was still in my trekking attire (t-shirt and light weight pants) and the sun felt good shining down on us.  Even though I felt strong, a lot of teams slowly passed us.  At first it was a bit frustrating, but I also knew that we would most likely reel them in later, as they seemed to be exerting themselves a lot.

We pulled ashore to collect CP 5, as it was on land about 0.4 miles from the river bank.  There was a "trail," although quite soggy and boggy.  Hopping back in the canoe, we then made for the lighthouse in the distance as that would be where we would round the point and begin to paddle in the Apalachee Bay.  Once we hit the bay, we were met with a serious crosswind and choppy waters. I saw some land on the horizon that was about 1/4 inch tall.  I asked Lisa if she thought that was where we were headed.  She said yep and I thought OMG!  I estimated it to be 14 miles of paddling in this bay where it was a struggle just to keep the boat in a straight line and at a speed of 3 mph.  There must have been a serious current for although we had a cross wind coming hard at us from the south, our boat was being pulled out to sea.  

When we landed on the island to nab CP6, we both put on our midweight base layer and our rain gear.  With the sun getting lower in the sky, the constant winds, and the ocean spray soaking us, we were starting to get chilled.  We still had miles to go and the land on the horizon did not appear to be getting any bigger.  The waves were rough enough to cause a few solo racers in non sea worthy kayaks to capsize and require rescue by canoeists around them and even one fishing boat came to help.  The canoes were getting swamped with water and it required a lot of bailing.  

We finally made it to the mouth of the Aucilla River and the winds died and the water became glassy.  As the sun was setting, we nabbed CP7 on our way to TA1, the Mandalay boat ramp.  We were able to get to the TA just as darkness enveloped us.  Here we ditched the boats, grabbed our bins, found our bikes, and prepared for the third leg. 

It was now 7 pm.  Shivering uncontrollably, I immediately took off my wet paddling clothes, caring less about being naked in a sea of adventure racers and more about getting warm ASAP. Putting my light on my helmet, changing out to a bigger pack, acquiring water and food, and attempting to poop again (no luck) took about 50 minutes. 

Leg 3: bike, 82 miles, 9/9 CP's

We headed out under the cover of darkness, with our lights shining the way.  It felt oh so good to be pedaling. Night time temps were at a pleasant 50 degrees and I managed to stay warm for this leg.

The first few CP's were spread out but easy enough to collect as they were right along the road/trail. It was now approaching midnight and my stomach was taking a turn for the worse.  I was burping a lot, nauseous, and whenever I would eat a bite, it would sit in my stomach like a rock.  This was a new experience for me, and I attribute some of it due to the fact of not being able to have a bowel movement.  So I just stopped ingesting anything, other than some sips of water.

Those CP's ... all lies! 😂

CP13 (dead tree in clear cut) was the first slightly difficult one, but fortunately we had some extra sets of eyes, Lubano Capital Racing (David, Nick, and Cody), and were able to find it without too much time lost.

CP15 (holly tree on a knoll) required a bit of time as there was no "knoll" and about a gazillion holly trees!  Once again we combined efforts with Lubono Capital Racing and eventually found it.  

CP16 (distinct tree) took 25 minutes to find.  I am calling bullshit on this one, as it was NOT a distinct tree.  While there were several gargantuan trees that were distinct, the CP was hanging on this pitiful looking broke ass tree in the middle of heavy underbrush. I swear David must have a sixth sense, being able to communicate with trees, because he found this CP as well as the previous one.

From there we crossed under I-10 and started on the most direct route to CP17 (sinkhole).  The trail soon became non-existent due to the shitshow of blowdowns.  Up until this point, the trail had been cleared of the fallen trees from Hurricane Idalia.  We attempted to bike whack through, but after 10 minutes, had traveled less than 100 meters.  So we turned around and tried another route, taking the powerline easement to the main road and then attacking from the other side.  It still took us and several other teams to find this sinkhole, which was further off the trail than indicated on the map. We spent an hour on this CP, but we did not want to quit, as we had cleared the course so far.

We arrived at TA2 at 6 am.  I turned in my passport and grabbed the one for the next leg.  The smell of hamburgers permeated the air, but the line was too long to wait, so I settled for reconstituting some broccoli cheddar bone broth soup, while I prepared for the next leg.  As I opened up my bin, it began to rain lightly.  I stared blankly into it, waiting for the items I needed to jump out into my hands.  When they did not appear magically, I began a little cussfest, as the rain intensified. I'm sure Lisa was getting a chuckle out of my frustration. I slowly got out the necessary gear, including nutrition, the sight of which made my stomach knot up. Despite my bloated abdomen, now carrying around 2 days of shit, I managed to choke down my bone broth; at least it was warm and savory.

This was probably my lowest moment, as thoughts of  "how the hell can I keep this up for 2 more days," raced through my mind.  Lisa was buzzing around me, ready to go, and waiting on me, as I was having a pity party.  She got rid of my trash, took care of my bike bag, and then took care of my bin, after I was finished getting out what I needed.  We spent about 50 minutes at this transition.

Leg 4: trek, 30 miles, 9/10 CP's

My pack was super heavy, as I had 2.5 liters of water in it, along with food and all my mandatory gear.  It felt like a death march early on.  Why I filled it up so much, I do not know, for we were trekking along the Suwanee River. I was still feeling sorry for myself.  Lisa was crushing it and could have run/shuffled had it not been for me.  I was in no condition to go any faster than a speed walk.

CP18 was down by the river.  As we grabbed that one, Randy Ericksen was trying to get us to cross the river, "It will save you 5 miles," he said.  Only if you were going to stay on the Florida Trail.  We opted to walk the railroad tracks and and then several miles of road, before getting back on the trail. This could have been a runnable section, but I was still feeling ill.  I also felt like I was letting Lisa down. I finally got the poles out of my pack and using these as crutches, was able to pick up the pace a little.

So much deadfall and blowdowns!

The forecast called for scattered showers and a high of 70.  We did encounter some occasional light rain, so would pull out our rain jackets for 5-10 minutes at a time. The day was comfortably warm and I shed my base layer and wore just the Warrior bib.  

As we were walking along a paved road, against traffic, an old dude in a clapped out car came across the lane, and asked us to approach his vehicle.  We did not and kept moving.  So now he is driving in the wrong lane and asked us if we knew about the bees that made milk.  I said, no, to which he responded, "boo-bees."  I replied, "Have a good day, sir," and he finally drove off.  Lisa said he probably didn't have any pants on. 

Soon we entered Holton Creek WMA and found a water spigot, where Lisa filled.  Dumbass me, a glutton for punishment, still had plenty.  This section along the Florida Trail had multiple re routes because of the hurricane.  It was all marked well, but with all the zig and zagging, it definitely increased our mileage.  My feet were beginning to develop hot spots all over, as the re-routes were up and down and off-camber.  At one point I took my shoes and socks off and noticed several blisters forming on my toes, forefoot, and heels.  Not terribly bad, but something I wanted to address at the next TA.  I couldn't understand why, as I have never had an issue with blisters.  I could only surmise that it was due to how wet my feet were staying, what with the paddle, sweating, and the rain we were encountering.

We caught up to Jim and Susie at CP24 (oak at sinkhole). Trekking with them over the next 5 miles or so was quite enjoyable.  It did make the time go by faster and got my mind out of a funk. As we hit CP 26 (foot bridge), we opted to not go for CP25, as we were behind schedule, and that out and back that would have taken 40 minutes. 

After grabbing CP27A, we were envisioning some warm TA food and getting back on the bikes.  The day had been beautiful and we would be able to ride some in the daylight.  But as we approached the cattle pastures, we heard rolls of thunder.  Looking north, the skies were as black as night and the clouds were angry ... like tornadic angry!  "You have got to be fucking kidding me," Lisa and I said in synchrony. 

We made it to CP27B when the heavens opened up.  The once dry roadbed we were walking on soon turned into a creek.  We looked like drowned rats as we hit the TA and immediately went over to the food tent.  It was raining buckets for 40 minutes; it dumped at least an inch.  So we ate; those grilled cheese, egg, and bacon sandwiches were scrumptious! My stomach was finally happy. We each inhaled two.

When the rain abated, I went to retrieve our bins while Lisa snagged some dry space in one of the box trucks that transports our gear.  After a couple rounds through the bins, I could not find ours.  I asked Lisa to come help, as I was probably just overlooking the obvious.  But nope, she couldn't find them either.  I asked a volunteer for assistance.  When she could not find them, she asked if we had put them back on the box truck at the previous TA when we had finished with them.  Oh, crap! We had forgotten to.  

Luckily there was a nice gentleman in a Sprinter van who went and retrieved them for us.  But this would take 30 minutes.  While waiting for our bins, we both hit the porta john.  Neither one of us was successful. 

Once our bins arrived, I opened it up to find that three sets of clothes were drenched ... WTF!  Then I saw the crack in my lid.  As if I did not already have challenges, yet here was another one. Fortunately I piecemealed some warmer gear.  The night was supposed to drop into the 40's, so I put on a heavy wool base layer as well as leg warmers.

We spent 90 minutes at that TA.

Leg 5: Bike, 63 miles, 6/13 CP's

It was 5:30 pm when we left.  The roads, which had been firm and dry were squishy, like riding on a wet sponge.  My energy was good, my spirits had improved, and despite the course conditions, I felt almost invincible. It must have been the real food at the TA.

We collected the first few CP's with ease, but I was kind of surprised about CP30 (Jim Mike hill).  It was really a hill, a solid 100m climb. When we hit the town of White Springs, we initially set out to get CP31A, but after seeing the first 200m, which was all underwater, we turned back and headed to CP37A.  We made it to the low spot, searched a few minutes, couldn't find it, so Lisa said to go deeper.  We climbed over and through a thick palmetto thicket and found it, about 25m deeper than the low spot. 

From there we headed to CP37B.  Since this one was a two-parter, you had to get both A and B to receive one CP credit.  Easy enough and the trails were dry on this side (or so we thought) so we next picked up CP38A(pine at a wall of palm thickets). We approached this from the southwest, along an old abandoned road.  We were having some difficulty finding a pine tree until Lisa pointed to one about 30 meters away, through some dense brush ... O Miss Eagle eyes! 

CP38B was more difficult to find as the trail did not appear to line up with the map, most likely due to the flooding. As we were studying our map, Team Thisability rode by us, hot on the scent of CP38B.  We followed them to where the trail just disappeared ... underwater. I was definitely not keen on getting wet tonight, as the temps were supposed to drop into the 40's.  But the look in Lisa's eyes told me otherwise.  We followed Thisability through the flooded trail and even forded a thigh deep creek crossing.  Riding their wake of water, we nabbed the B portion.  (Looking back at my Strava, we blew right by CP39A, but it might have proven just as difficult, given the flooding situation).

We decided to skip the other CP's in this area, as it was 11pm (2 hours behind schedule).  We hopped on the Florida Trail, hit a side road that brought us back out to CR 246 to US441.  We blew right by the turn onto Northeast Burlap; Lisa thought the sign read Bluebird.  We back tracked and got back on course.  As we were traveling down Northeast Molino, I started to see Lisa weaving on the bike.  She said she was falling asleep.  After struggling for a few miles, we stopped along the road to CP40A, she pulled out her puffy, and took a powernap right on the dirt road.

Twenty minutes later we nabbed the CP40A, but minutes later rode right past the retaining ponds.  That was my fault.  Lisa was still fighting the sleep monster and although I saw the body of water, I thought that it was a much smaller one that we should be looking for.  We were 1.5 miles down the road when we discovered my mistake.  Part of me wanted to say screw it, let's just get to the TA.  But the competitor in me did not want all that energy spent in acquiring the A portion to go to waste.  That mistake cost us 30 minutes.

Lisa had to stop 3 more times on the way to the TA, because of falling asleep.  It was weird because it only happened while she was pedaling.  Once she stopped and got off the bike, she was wide awake.  We made it to the TA at 4 am.  We decided to get some sleep here, after we ate some hot TA food and change into dry clothes.  Apparently my stomach could "stomach" the real food better than what I brought. The volunteers were awesome at this hour, treating us like queens, smiling and laughing.  

While I was waiting on my grilled cheese and egg sandwich, Hunter approached me and asked when we were gonna start the O-relay course.  He also told us that we were currently in 3rd place!  Shut the front door!  What a morale boost.  Had I known of my sleep dep superpower before this, I would have gone out and got a couple CP's while Lisa slept.  But I told Hunter we were skipping the relay for a 2 hour sleep and needing to get back out on the next leg to make the future cut-offs.

The race-provided tents were all occupied so we took over the handicap stall of the bathroom, pulled out our bivies and used our packs as pillows. Lisa fell asleep immediately.  Before I laid down, I made another attempt at having a bowel movement.  Five minutes later and with enough grunting and straining to cause a brain aneurysm, out popped a small log, which I swear came out sideways!  Now I have 3 days of 💩 I am carrying around. Thankful all my pants had stretchy waistbands 😂

I think I may have dozed off for a few minutes, but I got cold and woke up not soon after lying down.  At the most I got 15 minutes.  At this point, I should have gone out on the O-relay, but all my biking gear was wet.  Fear of freezing to death on the next leg trumped more CP's, so I used the hand dryer in the bathroom to dry out my gear as well as my trekking shoes ... and eat some more, while Lisa power napped. We spent 3 hours 15 minutes at this TA.

Leg 6:  O-relay, 0/6 CP's


Leg 7: Bike, 50 miles, 3 CP's

We left the TA at 6:30 am.  This next leg was pretty straightforward.  Lisa's 1 hour 40 minutes of sleeping revived her and she was motoring down the spongy sandy roads. I was not quite as sparkly, but spirits were good as I was warm, dry, and well fed.  And then we came to a low spot in the road that was flooded and no walk around.  You have got to be freakin' kidding me! I saw a truck just up the road and prayed that it was heading this way because I was going to ask him for a ride across this ridiculousness.  It turned off before it got to us, so I had to HTFU. It was knee deep and cold.  At least the sun was out and we had bluebird skies, so it was not really too bad, other than my feet and blisters getting wet and staying that way for several hours.

We did enjoy 3 legit descents on this section; the kind where you can just stand and coast and say yipee!  CP43 was a c-store near the town of Macclenney  We did purchase some water as well as sunglasses for Lisa, as she had forgotten hers in the bin and some lip balm for me.

Getting ready to sport her new $3.00 shades

Notice the difference in how we dressed.

The roads through Macclenny and then CR 228 were dangerous.  No shoulder and cars whipping past us at 60-70mph.  Fortunately the wind was in our favor and we made quick work of this section. We arrived at TA #4 at 11:30am. The sun was out and it was warming up nicely.  As I had left my light weight trekking pants in the paddle bag, Lisa let me borrow a pair of hers.  The volunteers were cooking quesadillas, so we ate a couple while transitioning, and grabbed one to go. We laid out all our clothing and shoes to get as dry as possible before changing.  I spent some time drying out my feet and taping my blisters, which were quite painful now. We spent an hour at this TA.

Leg 6: trek, 13 miles, 7/7 CP's

As I was preparing, I happened to see a couple of teams start their trek.  They made their way down an embankment to WTF?!? A creek!  They were holding their packs high above their heads as the water went up past their belly buttons.  Another exasperated "You got to be freakin' kidding me!" moment. I had just taped my blisters and put on dry socks and shoes and you are telling me that I am going to get soaked within the first 10 meters of this trek! A volunteer mentioned that usually this creek is only shin deep, but what with all the rain Florida has been having ... 

Lisa did manage to find a slightly shallower crossing.  With my hiking poles to steady us, we forded the creek which was butt deep and ice cold!  Cold plunges may be all the rage, but not 257 miles and 2+ days into an expedition race.  I did take my socks off and once across, drained the water and sand out of my shoes.  At least with dry socks, my feet were not soggy Sponge Bob wet.  And going commando in Lisa's orienteering super lightweight pants made for a quick dry.

This trek was in Jennings State Forest, land that had topography!  It was beautiful and the trails were in great shape.  There was a lot of up and down, which hurt my feet, but the hiking poles helped to minimize the pain.  We were yo-yo'ing with the Air Force Special Warfare team.  Although they were running, Lisa's bushwhack skills kept us right on their tails, at a fast walk.

CP46 (turpentine stump) stumped us for 30 minutes before Lisa figured out that we had just not gone quite far enough.  Would have been nice to know there was an actual sign for this one on the trail 😆. We nabbed all the others on this trek in a reasonable amount of time.  Here is where I don't remember much, as halfway through this trek, my eyes had that 1000 yard stare.  My mind went numb and along with that so did the pain.  All I could think about was taking a nap at TA # 5.

We arrived at the TA at 5:30pm. I grabbed some PFD's and went to a soft grassy spot and lay down.  I told Lisa to give me 30 minutes.  After 15 minutes of just laying there, I realized sleep was not going to come.  I went back to Lisa and finished preparing for the paddle.

Leg 7: Paddle, 24 miles, 7/8 CP's

We grabbed a newer canoe and drug it down to the river, actually called North Fork Black Creek. This was the same creek we had followed during the last trek.  We were concerned about how narrow and swift the water was flowing, as well as all the obstacles present early on.  But it had widened quite a bit by the time we put in.

The current was fast and we were like a rally car sliding through the corners.  We enjoyed this free speed for a few miles, snaking our way through deadfall and half submerged logs.  We then began seeing boat docks and huge houses to go with.  The creek widened, the current slowed a little, but we didn't have to worry about running into downed trees anymore. The full moon was rising and there were parties happening at many of the houses.  I could smell hamburgers and hear music playing.  I also began to envision climbing into one of the larger boats, one that would definitely have a bedroom with a king size bed; I was definitely jonesing on the creature comforts.

We almost missed CP52 (boat ramp) as it was obscurely hidden amongst some deadfall. CP's 53 and 54 involved going up into backwater, but not far.  Luckily for us, racers were coming out as we were headed in, reinforcing what we thought was the right area. Once we hit a confluence, we lost the current and were under our own power.  The moon was so bright we didn't even need lights until we got close to a CP.  I had several episodes of the yawns and my lizard brain kept nudging me to close my eyes for just a few minutes.  Oh, hell, no!  I would then reposition myself and focus on paddling harder.  If I kerplunked over the side of the canoe, Lisa would make me swim the rest of the way.

We passed several canoes, with their occupants just sitting there doing nothing.  We asked if they were ok, to which they responded they were just taking a break.  For me, I never even thought of stopping.  For one, I would get cold.  And two, it is going to take just that much longer to get to the take out.  

Team Thisability came blowing by us, paddling for all they were worth.  We did some basic math and realized that there was no possible way we could finish the paddle by the 6 am cut off at TA6.  Even Team Thisability was probably not gonna make it, as they couldn't possible keep up that pace for another 9 miles.   We strategized and decided to go for all the points on the river, so that if we got short-coursed, we would at least have a shot of having a higher placement, than those who chose to go for TA6 and didn't make the cut-off. The short course option was to get off the river at mile 24, at a marina, just before the Black Creek emptied into St. John's River.

As we approached the marina, we pulled over to get clarification about the TA6 cut off.  Lisa got a little heated when the volunteers would not answer her on the near side, but told us to paddle around to the take out side.  I knew she thought this was costing us precious moments, in the off chance that the TA6 cut-off had been extended.  But as we approached the boat ramp, they were telling everyone that this was a mandatory take out.  Conditions in the St John's River were too dangerous to continue ... strong winds and white caps. We would all get a free shuttle ride over to TA6 with no penalty.

We were elated that we did not have to paddle another 8 miles.  We jumped into a warm van and Hunter drove us over to the TA. That van ride was a moment of "having your cake and eating it, too." We arrived at the TA at 1:30 am.

We prepared for our last leg.  The grilled cheese sandwich, chili, and hot chocolate gave me the urge I had been waiting 3 days for.  I ran to the porta john and one of the best poops of my life!  Not that I completely emptied, but enough that I no longer looked pregnant.

This was the coldest morning of the race, upper 30's/low 40's I believe.  Both Lisa and I put all our layers on, including our puffy jackets.  I slapped chemical warmers on all appendages and my chest. We headed out at 3 am.

Leg 8: Bike, 62 miles, 13/14 CP's

We were glad to be riding through the community of Silverleaf at this hour.  We had the roads to ourselves.  And this place looked like it would be heavily trafficked come sun up.  It was quite surreal; millions of dollars of brand new real estate, yet not a soul in sight. All the roads, buildings, and residences looked perfect, like we had just come out of the wilderness and entered Utopia. This went on for 10 miles.  

We were so set on getting to Guana River WMA that we blew past CP61.  I should have said something sooner because I thought that there was another CP before we hit trails, but I didn't, until Lisa stopped before the bridge to get her bearings.  We backtracked almost 2 miles to get it, but at least it was a quick pedal back.  That bridge over the Tolomato River almost broke me, after riding so much flat. The quads were on fire!

Nabbing CP62 was the first time we had to take a bearing.  Nothing like walking through 200 meters of dew soaked underbrush when it is 38 degrees to make you feel painfully alive ... and cold.  It felt like the temperature had dropped 10 degrees from Utopia to the WMA.  Despite all my clothing and chemical warmers I was shivering.  But I knew daylight was fast approaching and with that, the sun's warmth.

We almost gave up on CP63 (highest point). There were many sets of eyes looking for this one and still no luck.  If anything, the highest point may have been 12 inches higher than the surrounding land.  Basically it all looked flat as a pancake.  But Lisa's eagle eyes prevailed once again, and after about 30 minutes of getting nowhere, she found it!

I was giving Lisa time checks on the 1/2 hour.  We wanted to make sure to give us a nice cushion to get to the finish.  We opted not to get CP64, but headed down to CP65 (viewing tower).  Of course, the CP would be at the top of the platform, 3 flights up.  Legs were angry on that one!

CP66 looked difficult and most likely under water, so we were going to pass on that one, too.  But lo and behold, we came upon a handmade sign that said to stay on trail to get to CP66.  And then Hunter popped out from behind some palmettos, cheering us on. He said that the original placement of CP66 would have required a swim. So they moved it to the road we were on, which was still quite soupy, but rideable. 

Despite having to ride through many mud bogs, we thoroughly enjoyed the single track and snagged the  remaining CP's in the WMA.  Lisa took one for the team when she waded through belly button deep water to get the one at the South Point. 

From there we hopped on to the bike lane along A1A and rode 8 miles.  With a strong tailwind and renewed vigor, we slayed that last section, cruising along at 17-18mph. The final CP was at Vilano Beach.  While Lisa punched our passport one last time, I struggled at finding a quick method of filling the remainder of our bottle with sand.

Almost finished

From there, it was one more giant bridge crossing over the intracoastal waterway, and then on into the finishing chute at the Southern Oaks Inn.  We crossed the finish line at 10:38 am, 72:18:31 later.  We captured first place in Open Women, and 5th place overall. We nabbed 56 CP's, 61 if you include the 2-parters, and got credit for 2 more (CP11 and CP 58), as did everyone else, for a grand total of 63.  Total distance was 353 miles.

What an amazing adventure!  This has been the hardest race I have ever done, and I have done a lot over the past 25 years.  The first 24 hours I was in shock, but over the next 48 hours, my mind went to a place that I had not experienced before.  I had several aches and pains that developed the first day (the nethers, foot blisters, shoulders from heavy ass pack, but somehow I was able to mute the pain over the next 2 days, despite those problem areas getting worse.

I also learned that my AR superpower is sleep deprivation.  I only got 15 minutes and those were restless at best.  I will definitely use this to my advantage in the future ... yes, I am hooked! As far as nutrition goes, I learned that eating at night does not bode well with me.  I do better with taking in a solid 1000 calorie meal in the late evening and then "fasting" until daylight ... similar to how I eat in my daily life, although not that many calories.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Lisa, for asking me to be your team mate.  While I felt like the caboose, you never once got frustrated with me.  I went into this thinking I would be the one to pull the extra weight at the TA's, yet it was you, taking me under your wing, and assisting me with getting ready for the next leg in as timely a fashion as possible.  Your patience was remarkable during the treks when I was on the struggle bus. Your navigational skills were exceptional, sniffing out the most difficult ones when other teams gave up. Your strength was undeniable, steering our canoe through rough waters. Had you raced this solo, there is no doubt in my mind that you would have been a challenger for the top spot overall.  I could not have had a better team mate!

What David Goggins says about the 40% Rule, "When you mind tells you that you're exhausted, fried, and totally tapped out, you're really only 40 percent done,"  he's absolutely f*cking right!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sea to Sea Expedition Race is fixin' to happen

Tomorrow is a not a BDR, but a BDA (Big Dumb Adventure). While it looked like a fun and exciting challenge back in the fall, now that it is less than 12 hours away, it looks formidable.  I am not worried about my fitness, as I am confident that I can bike, trek, and paddle 350-400 miles over 3 days.  

What concerns me the most is being cold and wet. As of now, there is a chance of rain Thursday night into Friday morning and the nights will be in the 40's. This body loves warmth; I excel in the heat/humidity compared to others.  I have never been able to acclimate well to the cold.  It has only gotten worse since menopause.  

I also have Raynaud's, a condition where the vessels in your extremities constrict excessively in response to cold, limiting the blood supply to the affected area. Sometimes, temperatures in the 50's can trigger it.  If this happens for an extended period, I lose dexterity in my hands and feet, which makes it extra challenging to shift and brake on the bike, and for punching a checkpoint or digging in my pack to extricate what I might need at any moment.

I told the driver to take it easy in the turns.

I have all the layers packed into my "bin of fears."  This is a 27 gallon plastic tote that we have to pack all our supplies (nutrition, clothing, first aid, lights, shoes, spare parts), which has a weight limit of 40.0 pounds.  If you saw my clothing, you would think I was racing in Alaska!

I have an awesome team mate that won't let me die of exposure, but I also don't want to be a burden and I want to hold my own throughout the event, perhaps even taking the lead in case she has an unexpected issue.  So I will put on my triple G hat (grit, gristle, and gumption) and keep a positive mindset.  After all, I chose to do this, I want to do this, and it is an opportunity so many people don't have. 

I just finished watching "Society of the Snow."  If those courageous young men can survive 72 days in the Andes in sub-zero temps, surely I can survive 72 hours.

Looking forward to this on Sunday

" 'It's impossible,' said pride.  'It's risky,' said experience. 'It's pointless,' said reason. 'Give it a try,' whispered the heart." -- Unknown