Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gorge Games 24 Hour AR Race Report

I tried to get a race report out on the Sunday, the day after the race, but just couldn't do it. I sat on the ferry coming back from Port Angeles and could barely get a keystroke out on the laptop. I'm sure this has nothing to do with sleep deprivation nor being burnt out from moving for 24 hours straight. So, as the Gorge Games website has not seemed to post any results as of yet, I felt the urge to get the blog report out.

As I mentioned before, this race was very last minute and I was racing with a team that I had never raced with before; Team Mergeo.com. I headed down to the Coho ferry terminal and got the afternoon sailing into Port Angeles and from here, I had a a nice drive down the Puget Sound coast to Port Orchard to meet up with Matt Hayes. Matt had informed the team a couple of days prior to the race that he had got sick but thought that he would be able to put in a decent race still. Knowing that Matt was a strong rider on the bike and strong on his feet, I didn't think twice that he was going to have any issues in the race. However, when he met me at the door and after hearing that he could stomach nothing other than a small piece of a bagel the entire day, I became worried. Not being able to fuel the body before you push for 24 hours straight is a sure sign that things will not go well. Even still, Matt had focused his training on this race and really wanted to be a part of it. I certainly couldn't blame him as it sucks to pull the plug on any race that you have focused on. After talking with Roger and Kimberley, it was decided to wait till the next day and see how Matt felt.

We met up with Roger and Kimberley the next morning and headed down to Hood River which is located on the Columbia River which is a natural boarder between Washington and Oregon States. The area is a windsurfer paradise as the weather is always fair due to being right on the edge of the Okanagan desert ecosystem and having a gorge to funnel eastbound wind.
To add to this, the area is mountainous with several large volcanoes surrounding the area including Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens. We were in for a treat!
A slightly recovered Matt with Hood River and Mt Defiance in the background; taken on the Sunday after the race.
It seemed like the standard Northwest adventure racing teams were present with appearances from Mannys, Yoga Slackers, Dart-Nuun, and Colin and Connie of the infamous Colinoba urban beer race.

We found out early that the race was going to consist of four stages as follows:
Kayak Rogaine
Bike Rogaine
Trekking Rogaine
Bike Rogaine

This format was different than any other race I've done as it really was a stage race with no breaks. You had a set time in each stage and if late, would be heavily penalized. Thus, the race outcome was solely based on points at the end of the 24 hours.

Shortly before the start of the race, it became apparent that Matt could not race as he had started to vomit and was looking rough. Fortunately for us, another Mergeo team member (Dave) was present and was going to race solo. He knew the situation so in no time, we were a team of four once again and ready to go.

Unfortunately for everyone, including the race director who set up an awesome Rogaine kayak course, the high winds forced the kayak section to be completely altered last minute. When I mean altered, I mean going from paddling all over the Columbia river, up rivers and around small islands, to paddling to a sheltered Island, paddling back, and repeating as many 'laps' as possible in 3 1/2 hours with 200 points being awarded per lap. Read this as self induced torture. 11 laps later, we completed the kayak in or tied for 2nd place behind Dart-Nuun who managed to put in 12 laps.

The kayak start put-in

After the kayak, you had a chance to leisurely change, pick up the bike map, and prep for the next stage. We had two hours to climb up to the TA nestled by some lakes next to Mt. Defiance and grab some checkpoints along the way. After some short riding on the road, we were treated to some nice and smooth singletrack which became standard throughout the racecourse. The riding was non-technical, but nice and flowy with bermed dirt corners. At this point, we were doing well with Dart-Nuun in our sights. However, we soon realized that the 2 hours that we were given for this stage was simply not enough. As Dave was local to the area, he quickly realized that we had to B-Line it to the TA and limit our losses. So, we pushed hard to the TA and arrived at 11:45; 15 minutes past the posted 11:30 end of stage.

What happened next was disappointing indeed.

Apparently, even though the race rule book stated that we had 2 hours to complete the stage (from 9:30pm to 11:30pm), there had been an announcement that we wouldn't occur any penalties until after midnight (that we didn't hear of course). This meant that we missed two CPs that totalled 650 points that we would have been able to get. I was pretty pissed at the news. With the situation out of our hands, we simply packed for the trek, and took off right at midnight just as Dart-Nuun pulled in from cleaning up all the controls (they obviously had heard the news).

I should say hear that while I was disappointed, it didn't last very long. I was racing with a great group of individuals who usually race a little more low key and calm than I'm use to. Dave also just came off of a 9th place finish at Primal Quest Montana and was obviously still recovering. So, while we were going slower than I initially would have liked, I started to just take it down a notch and enjoy the experience. With Matt gone as well, I became the primary nav and while the first CP that we attempted eluded us (we weren't looking at the CP description which was essential), I was on fire the rest of the trek! This was the first race that I was just dialed in and never faded; maybe it was the later 5pm start but I just never felt tired the entire time. It had also been quite some time since I biked and bushwhacked in the dark so I was just stoked to be out there.

I tell you, if you've never trekked through the bush with a group of great people at 2am, you don't know what you're missing! It is quite the experience.

As we weren't pushing hard, we never ran the entire race. We solely hiked fast and occasionally did the infamous 'PQ shuffle'. Even so, we were continually able to keep up with the fast running Dart-Nuun and Yoga Slackers. We kept thinking 'there they go, won't see them again', yet 15 minutes later we would pass them or at least catch up. The difference was the nav. We walked everything out but made virtually no mistakes over the course where Dart was continually back-tracking after overshooting a CP.

The highlight on this stage for me was the early morning sunrise viewed from the top of an long open spur that looked north toward the gorge and Mt. Adams in the background. Should have brought the camera!

After 10 hours of trekking, we should have cleaned the course but ended up missing two controls. One control was simply a 'bingo control'; a control placed in a large area that you simply have to stumble upon to find. We wasted 45 minutes with Dart looking for this elusive control. After using several attack points, we simply gave up and moved on. The second missed CP was simply an oversight by our team. We were all going to a CP but were thirsty and hit up a natural spring on the way. After filling up, we simply moved on and didn't go to the control!

From the trek, we moved back onto the bikes and collected CPs in a similar area as the trek. It would have been nice to move to another area but logistically, it made sense to keep things in the same general area. Several CPs were actually the same as we had to get on the trek including one 1000 pointer at the top of Mt. Defiance. The climb up was on an extremely gnarly road that was loose, full of gravel and cobbles and consisted of very steep pitches. In short, unclimbable; or so I thought. Trekking up this hill the night previous, I thought that there was no way that anyone could climb this road. To me it was unclimbable.

When we got to the base of the climb I made a commitment to myself to see how much of the climb I could actually do. I cleaned up a section and waited for my teammates who had started to hike-a-bike like everyone else who attempted the CP. My commitment soon turned to a challenge and obsession; climb as hard as you possibly can and try to physically ride the entire climb.

I continued upward as the road became steeper, looser and gnarlier. I could not believe how well I was climbing. I was riding sections of road that I had deemed completely unrideable several hours earlier. I have never climbed so well in my life! Maybe it was the huge gains that I received after recovering from BC Bike Race.

There was one section of the climb that I again thought was just impossible. As I was coming up, a team was coming down from the CP and had decided to walk due to how steep and gnarly the road was. They couldn't believe that I was actually riding it. They cheered me on but I think they were still in disbelief in what I was doing.

I hate to go on about this but this was just an absolutely amazing moment for me on the bike. A revelation I guess. I think my motivation for the climb came from BC Bike Race and knowing that you can ride those crazy sections that I would always walk up in the past. This was a big door opening for me and I absolutely loved it.

While I didn't have a completely clean ride up to the top, I was elated and was treated to a completely open view of the gorge below and Mt. Hood towering in the distance.

After the climb, we rode down and started to pick off more controls on some nice single track. One section of trail had a lot of woody debris over it and just before I got to a track crossing, a medium sized piece of branch decided it would do the virtually impossible. The piece of wood wedged itself into the bottom bracket area of my frame and dug into the dirt in front of it. Now, I've got stuff in my spokes before but I have never experienced what happend next.

While speeding down the singletrack, the wood wedged in, my bike completely stopped, and I supermanned over the bars, bike following with my shoes still clicked in, smeared my face and helmet into the dirt, and tumbled on my back with my bike slamming into the ground.

'What the F#&*!'
It was one of those moments where all you can think is 'why the hell is this happening?' rather than the more typical 'oh shit, I screwed that up'.

I was having such a good time up until this point. With a bashed up knee and some face rash, my mood turned from a big smile to a more tired groginess where I was now ready for the race to be over.

We continued on, picked up as many controls as possible, rode into Hood River to pick off a few more CPs, and then hammered to the finish line with four minutes to spare!

In the end, we ended up with a 2nd place finish behind Dart-Nuun and had a great time doing it.
I also found out that our team would incur a penalty for being separated. What! I was being penalized for riding up Mt. Defiance and waiting for my teammates at the top. This pissed me off as what I did not go against the intent of the 'team' rule. You are supposed to stick together for safety and so that you're team doesn't cheat by sending one team member to a checkpoint while the others wait. There was simply no advantage to me being ahead nor would there be any safety issue (there were solo racers anyway so this doesn't even really apply). Regardless, the race director stuck to his guns but fortunately for us (or me) it didn't affect our overall ranking.

I had such a good time getting out for my first 24 hour AR this year; I finally got my fix! My teammates were fantastic and just great people, and the race organization was great as well.
My gear worked out extremely well for the race. My Helly Hansen Lifa's kept me nice and dry throughout the night trekking stage. My princeton tec lights worked so awesome! It was the first time that I was truly able to test out the Switchback 3 and man, what a nice light! Super bright and a never ending burntime. The Apex, as always, work flawlessly. It was the first time that I was able to fully utilize my Salomon Raid Devil 25 bag and I can now say that this is the best bag that I have ever used! The front pack is just so versatile and distributes weight so well. For nutrition, my CarboPro 1200 and powder kept delivering and I kept my energy levels up throughout the race with no stomach issues. I love you CarboPro! I used Thermolytes for my electrolyte input and they once again did not disappoint. And of course, my Kinesys sunscreen kept the sun at bay during the long hours on the bike come daylight.
To top off the weekend, Roger, Kimberley, Matt, and Ryan Van Gorder and Glen Rogers (both from Dart-Nuun) went for an easy mountain bike spin on the north shore of the gorge. Nice views and some nice riding as well.

Roger, Kimberly, Ryan and Glen
A nice meadow with Mt. Adams in the background

Mt. Hood
On the downside to all this, Matt passed on whatever he had to me and I spent yesterday with stomach pain and just trying to keep things down. I'm feeling quite a bit better today though and should be ready by the weekend to take on my first solo attempt at a MOMAR.

MOMAR Cowichan Valley here I come!



garobbins said...

Nice work bud, sorry I had to miss out on another incredible race!!
In defence of Matt, I don't think you'd be feeling his bug within a day, but who knows, I ain't a Dr, but I did play one on t.v.


Todd Nowack said...

It was actually four days since I stayed at Matt's place on Thursday night and got sick on Monday. I'm feeling quite a bit better now though. Maybe we can make it down next year!