30 April 2015

Race Report: FLX Sea2Sea 72hr AR, Part 4 (Race Day 3)

Day 2 here

PADDLE 3 - 9k - Newnans Lake - night
Before we get to Newnans Lake proper, we have to negotiate a really cool cypress swamp. It's like boat tetris trying to fit our canoes and teammates through the maze of trees and knees. Erl and I get through a bit more quickly than Rev3 because we only have 2 people to manage, so once we finally pop out into the lake we have a few minutes to soak it all in before we're joined by Rev3. And soak it in we do - the shoreline is protecting us from the bitter winds for the moment, and the clouds are ripping across the nearly-full moon. We play "what does this cloud look like?" game for a bit, and then settle into the business of paddling across a very wavy, dark, and cold lake. 
Rev3 playing boat tetris in the Newnans Lake swamp.
This being the Night 2, sleep monsters are sitting on my shoulder, but my mind fends them off with some totally rad optical illusions instead of letting me sleep. Rev3's boat looks like it's doing flips in the middle of the lake, but Jeff, Joe, and Britt are still sitting upright. Then for a while it's like we're on a boat treadmill, with the water moving past us but not making any forward progress. I narrate everything to Erl and I'm sure it sounds crazy but at least it gives us something to talk about as we paddle to Palm Point Park. We were there earlier in the day, and now, the park looks NOTHING like a remember it. Talk about a total mind-screw. To top it all off, both Joe and I are freezing cold, bundled in jackets, making communication really difficult as we scour the park for the CP. Finally, Britt gets out of the boat too and finds the flag for us. We punch and get back in the boats for another wild ride on the windy Newnans Lake.

More hallucinations (boat flips and water treadmilling), plus now the trees on shore are morphing into New Orleans-style houses with ornate iron fences. It's actually kind of scary because falling asleep now would mean almost certain disaster - capsizing in a really cold lake. Not fun. We follow Rev3 along the shore as we try to locate the final CP on this stage. If it wasn't for Erl in the back of OWWWP's boat, I would be super freaked out as we paddle through crosswinds and lots of chop on the water, but I trust his paddling so much that I was mostly just concerned about keeping my eyes open. Finally, we slip into a side channel to the take out and are greeted with calmer waters. 

TA - Kate's Fish Camp - very early morning
Kate's Fish Camp during the day...we arrived in the dark.
The first thing I do once we've got the boat out of the water is give Erl a huge hug. That was a short but super stressful paddle, and I'm so so glad we got through it together and intact. All five of us are really cold, but we have bin access here, so we move slowly through the motions of putting more layers on, eating, and trying to avoid the tempting fire. It's clear that Rev3 went through some tough times in their boat as well, and it takes some effort to get all 5 teammates on the road in a cohesive group for the next trek. 

TREK 6 - 12k - Prairie Creek Pet Cemetery - morning
There are 9 CPs in this section, separated into clusters of 6 and 3. The group of 3 is pretty far away in one direction so we decide to skip the whole thing, attacking the group of 6 instead. The 5 of us hike out of TA, the sun already lighting up the sky with a beautiful sunrise, but things are tense in Rev3/OWWWP-land. Joe got super stressed out by the tough conditions on the paddle, and is having a hard time focusing on the maps. We do our best to support him, but to me it's unclear if he needs silence or hugs to feel better. We stumble on the first CP almost by accident, since it's hung next to the trail but plotted much farther away. But that first flag seems to help Joe click back into the maps and pretty soon we are pinging the next 3 CPs around a swampy pond with ease. 

I wore Hoka Mafates on the 30k Newnans Lake trek, fully aware that I was choosing comfortable cushioning over excessive water retention, and now that we're back trekking in swamps, my feet are starting to pay the price. I can literally feel the wet skin folding under itself and macerating. It's really uncomfortable. But bad feet sort of go hand-in-hand with multi-day racing so I just try to suck it up, reduce excess movement, and stuff my face with Girl Scout cookies. It just so happens that the area we're trekking in is a pet cemetery and it's really beautiful to me. The sun is shining on a clear morning, birds are chirping, and hundreds of pet owners have hand-crafted beautiful tombstones scattered across the meadow to honor their pets. Maybe it's race brain, but the area is so serene and soothing that I don't even care we can't find the final 2 CPs on this section. Joe does care, however, and is hell-bent on figuring out this map and getting the CPs. Britt and Erl are really proactive in helping him, and Jeff and I are sort of trotting along behind, trying to keep our feet intact while offering our teammates cookies. After several re-attacks, strategy sessions, and head scratching, we finally find the final 2 CPs and then shuffle the bike trail back to TA.

On the way back, I realize I've been wearing 6 layers (LS baselayer, SS jersey, LS shirt, LS fleece, waterproof vest, waterproof jacket, plus gloves/buff/hat) since we got out of the boat, and I'm still not sweating or overheating. This is another affect of multi-day racing that's new to me: the inability of your body to regulate temperature effectively. I peel off layers as we shuffle back and it's like watching clowns emerge from a tiny car...it just keeps going! When we get back to TA, race staff inform us that the final 2 CPs were mis-plotted on the race maps which is why they were so difficult to locate. No idea how Joe figured that one out, but his I am in total awe of his skill as a (angry) navi-GATOR. Go team!

BIKE 4 - 120k - afternoon/evening

Re-uniting with my people!
I finally get to change out of my soaking wet Hokas into dry socks and mostly-dry bike shoes. Such a luxury! I also choose my most obnoxious blue-and-PINK jersey because we're in for a long ride across Florida. We are on mostly roads to start, and the traffic is manageable. We stop at a human cemetery for a CP, and shortly after pass by a horse farm where some little kids are taking a lesson. Since I grew up riding horses, I have to go over and say hi, and Erl gets a pic of that for race mojo...sweet!

Me pretending to help Joe.
As we continue riding, the roads get more and more busy. We're on some state highways with a shoulder, but it's still really stressful to keep our sleep-deprived selves out of harm's way. For a while we're able to find a parallel bike path to ride on, and we find a kid with a broken chain whom we stop to help. Then we get chased by another team who glom onto our paceline (organized by Jeff) without asking...boo. We inadvertently lead them into the incorrect location for the Little Blue Springs CP anyway so that backfires on both of us. It's pretty tough to keep our spirits up as we get pack on the traffic-filled paved roads, but then we realize we're going to ride through a town (Chiefland) and start making plans for an ice cream stop. We spot a gas station and Erl and I have visions of slushies and sitting on the curb with our shoes off...such luxury! But as we roll in, Britt cracks the whip with a "Just grab something you can eat on the bike, we're leaving here in 5 minutes." WHAT!?!? I'm so deflated but I know Britt's right - we have to get on the water with some amount of daylight left so we grab cold Gatorade and frozen Snickers, fill our bottles, and eat the ice cream while continuing the ride.
me and Britt: can we get off our bikes yet?
We ride past the next TA to get one last CP on this huge ride (75+ miles). It's on a distinct iron bridge over the Suwannee River, but we struggle finding the access trail in a neighborhood and ask for help from the locals. Finally we are riding over the river and into TA at a State Park, each discussing what needs to happen as we prepare for Night 3. 

TA - State Park - sunset

OWWWP legs. scratched up but still stylin!
I'm feeling pretty sleepy, so we plan to get all of our transition tasks done and take a 10 minute nap before getting on the water. Turns out the race staff has hot dogs for us, which I can't eat, but also oatmeal which I can eat! I share that with Jeff and it hits the spot for both of us. So yummy. Erl and I find a quiet tree to take a quick nap under, and even though I don't actually sleep, it turns out to be the best break of the race for me...my mind just unlocks and I get up feeling truly refreshed. We finish up boat prep and then put in to the Suwannee River for another night of paddling!


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28 April 2015

Race Report: FLX Sea2Sea 72hr AR, Part 3 (Race Day 2)

Day 1 here

BIKE 2 - 56k - 0100-0618
After leaving our first TA with bins, we ride roads (in a paceline organized by Jeff, natch) to Dunns Creek Conservation area, which has lots of wide grassy trails - similar to what cross-country skiing trails look like in the summer, except I'm pretty sure there is no cross-country skiing in Florida. We have a really hard time with these CPs - #1 because the map scale is NOT 1:24k and it takes a while to figure that out, and #2 because the clues are infinitely unhelpful for trekking in the dark. There is almost no way to tell a "burnt pint" (actual clue) from a "live pine" or "plaid pine" or "pink pine" at night. Joe navigates us easily to the circle for every CP in this section, but then we spend tons of time trying to locate the actual flag. Hugely frustration for a team with a stellar (albeit angry) navi-GATOR. And it's not just us - we trade places with several teams, everyone's headlamps scanning the Florida vegetation for some hint of a reflective CP flag. Here is one time a 5-person team is an advantage, and Joe uses each set of our eyeballs to help find these rascally flags. One exchange in particular stands out when Joe commands Erl "As your navigator, I am asking you to go in those woods and find a swamp!" Erl replies "Okay SIR!" and marches into a woods, immediately knee-deep in cold water. Joe asks "Is there a swamp?" And Erl (happily?) shouts back "AFFIRMATIVE!" OK maybe you had to be there but we all laughed about that. A couple times Joe has to ask us to "Quit being so jovial" so he can focus on the nav and we do our best to keep the chatter to a minimum. 

This is what night trekking looks like. Please find the burnt pine in this picture.
One CP in particular, the clue being "lone pine", gives us heaps of trouble and we end up spending at least 45 minutes wandering in a field/grove of trees looking for a lone pine with no topographic features to relocate off of. At least 5 or 6 teams are doing the same thing, each secretly watching each other to reveal the flag's location. Finally, Joe spots a small patch of orange and white fabric, crumpled and hidden in some weeds under a scraggly tree next to a trail. He clues Britt and I into its location, but we can't punch because there are at least 20 people within 20 meters of us who will see, and we don't want to give away the advantage of Joe's eagle eye. So Britt turns off her headlamp, scurries to the flag, punches her passport, and scurries back without anyone noticing. Sweet, except now I have to do the same thing and I am a horrible lier. I am super nervous but I inch my way off the trail, turn off my headlamp, find the flag, punch, and then run back to my team and we all jump on our bikes and leave, nervously glancing over our shoulders to see if anyone else caught on to your game. Victory! At least...a small one. 

We continue on roads through the towns of San Mateo (including the biggest climb on the course...an overpass) and Palatka. The weather cools down considerable from this mornings steamy beach run, with misty fog rolling in and we're all wearing our rain jackets. And, for some horrible reason, I start to get sleepy. ON THE FIRST NIGHT OF A THREE DAY ADVENTURE RACE! So embarrassing. I roll up to Jeff, admit my problem, and he chats away to try and keep me focused as we ride through the witching hours. There are a few other teams with us too, which makes things a bit more stressful since I'm trying not to crash anyone out. But finally we roll into the Rice Creek TA where our bins are waiting! Warm clothes! When we get to the TA,  race staff inform us that a trek/paddle loop has been removed from the race as teams are behind schedule. It's no big deal for us, we are pretty cold and happy to go straight on to a trek instead of a trek/paddle. 
Trekking in the Rice Creek area. Pretty fun!
TREK 3 - 17k - Rice Creek - 0618-noonish?
We receive a warning at the beginning of this trek: boardwalks may be slippery when wet. Huh? We haven't suddenly passed GO, collected $200, and arrived in Atlantic City, have we? But we strike out, happy to be on our feet and warming up a little bit as the world gradually turns lighter shades of gray. We struggle finding the correct trail for the first CP, way more trails in real life than on the map, but we finally do and figure out that the trails are actually a network of boardwalks through a swamp! It's really cool and we trot along, doing our best to stay upright. FLX Adventures planned a really cool CP that requires us to balance on multiple logs to get the punch - Britt and I take this one since she smartly is still wearing her helmet. 

There was still another balancing log after this one!
We use an elevated viewing platform as an attackpoint for another CP - Joe stands there and commands me and Britt as we fetch the punch. Except, at first he sends us off in the wrong direction, not realizing it until he turns around for a pee break and spots the CP flag almost 180 degrees from his original instruction. So Britt and I get a little bonus trekking through the soggy swamp...it's all part of the fun on Rev3/OWWWP! Towards the end of this trek, we're feeling a little beat down, my feet especially, and we trot into the next TA eager to get on our bikes again!

TREK 4 - 12k - Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway

Joe is an excellent pooper in addition to being a brilliant angry navi-GATOR.
Except...surprise! We have another bonus trek! No one is really excited about spending more time on their feet, but YogaSlackers are in TA with us so we use the competition to get motivated. We head out in opposite directions and on our way to the first CP, see an adult wild boar! On our way to the second CP, we hear some crashing in the underbrush and a momma boar with three baby boars runs across the trail right in front of us! We're super happy to see these animals, but also happy that they're not interested in messing with us - boars can me really mean. Most of the rest of the trek is on logging roads, with cow-related decorations that Joe uses for inspiration. As we're making our way back to TA, the road turns to powercut FULL of standing water, making us glad we didn't have the option to change socks/shoes in TA because we would be soaking wet anyway. That's life in adventure racing.

BIKE 3 - 67k - afternoon
After completing the bonus trek, we're allowed to get on our bikes, just behind YogaSlackers and just in front of Journey Racing. We ride roads thru Interlachen, and Jeff gets the brilliant idea to look for fast food places to get some hot food. Ever since midnight, it's been cold and misty, and we're starting to accumulate a little fatigue. As we ride through town, we spot the golden arches not 100m off course...TIME TO STUFF OUR FACES! 
We barge into the McDonald's in soaking-wet race gear and each order about $10 worth of food - I get large fries, a chicken sandwich, small coffee, and small hot chocolate. Total score. We sit down with our food and plan to watch Journey Racing ride right by, ignoring the delicacies of theAmerican obesity epidemic. Except...they have the same plan as us and park their bikes outside the same McDonalds! 
3-team party at McDonalds on Day 2!
So it turns into a 3-team McDonald's party which is super fun. But the party doesn't last much longer than a large fry, as Joe herds us back outside and onto the roads through Hawthorne,  to Palm Point Park, and into the Newnans Lake TA. In a paceline. Organized by Jeff. Natch. 

TA - Newnans Lake - evening
When we arrive at Newnans Lake TA, we have exhausted our supply of maps and are given the final set by race staff. Also, they tell us we can't have access to our bins. What? This news is contradictory to what we were told in the race powerpoint, and we were planning on restocking food. So we have a few panic moments of do we have enough calories to last 5 people another 5 hours? Turns out, if we all pool our remaining food, we do. OK. Crisis averted, and we get set for the next trek which looks to be longish. As we're transitioning, the YogaSlackers roll in to the same race news and have a completely different reaction...let's just say there were some words. And in the end, it all turns out to be a non-issue because the bin truck arrives and we all get our bins anyway! PLUS...race staff orders hot pizza and feeds us! Total oasis!

TREK 5 - 30k - Newnans Lake Conservation Area - evening/night
We trek out of TA with new shoes for some of us (dry Hokas for me) and an hour or two of remaining daylight. Joe attacks the cluster of CPs nearest the TA together with Lattanzi and Bacon from Odyssey, and then as we move away (north?) we end up taking different routes. We still struggle with actually locating the flags - getting to the circle is easy enough, but it seems every flag is crumpled or half-hidden in vegetation. The struggle is getting real as we go into Night 2! We choose to trek an extra 2 kilometers instead of swimming 100 meters because it is really cold out and we're all shivering after a few seconds of non-movement. Eventually our route kicks us out onto a long road out-and-back for just one CP, which Britt and I go get, and when we return to the team we find Joe succumbing to Night 2 sleep and cold monsters. He's walking along, but not really in a straight line, and chattering away, but not making any sense. We pile all of our extra clothes on him, but it's not very helpful since the open road offers no protection from the bitter wind. I offer to "navigate" which really means just hold the map so Joe can put his hands in his pockets to warm them up too. We bumble on down the road in this rag-tag fashion, Joe slipping further into oblivion, but then emerging with a few coherent sentences when I have a nav question. It's really fascinating to watch his nav experience take over like instinct, even though his primary consciousness is failing. Finally we get into a more protected forest section and Joe takes the map back over, and we are all super relived that his condition has improved. 

Me and Britt punching a rare nicely-hung CP with Lattanzi from Odyssey.
A few CPs later, we decide a team sleep is needed, so we find a sheltered pine grove and choose our spots carefully - well, Erl and I take the time to find a nice tree to lean against, while Britt, Joe, and Jeff each just pass out on the forest floor and are snoring in less than 30 seconds. Not a joke. Erl and I rest against the tree and keep track of time - after 10 minutes, everyone is still snoring, so we add 5 extra minutes and then get everyone back up and moving. The nap seems to help our Rev3 teammates and we knock out the rest of the CPs, using mostly roads to travel. Lattanzi and Bacon join up with us for a few CPs, and we pass Shane, Jen, and Alex from the other Odyssey going the opposite direction, along with the YogaSlackers (accompanied by their "media director") and a bunch of other teams as well. Everyone's bundled against the cold and windy night, but trekking helps keep everyone somewhat warm. We hike the paved road back into Newnans Lake TA, having cleared this section despite the difficult flag placement, challenging temperatures, and sleep deprivation setting in. Go team! 
The road back to Newnans Lake TA.
In TA, our biggest concern is putting on as many layers as possible to protect us on the paddle across Newnans Lake. It's really cold, really windy, and dark - lots of things can go wrong in these conditions so we layer up, and eat some hot food from our bins with the hot water provided by race staff. Turkey tettrazini! Cup O Noodles! Hot chocolate! All of these things are so delicious, and pretty soon we walk, Michelin-man style, to the boats and put-in to the dark swamp channel.


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27 April 2015

Race Report: FLX Sea2Sea 72hr AR, Part 2 (Race Day 1)

Erl and me in full race regalia.
It's a funny thing to wake up and think, "I might not sleep again for 3 days. At least not in a bed". And this is the thought I wake up with on Thursday morning as we prepare for the start of FLX's Sea2Sea 72hr Adventure Race. Erl and I (On Wednesdays We Wear Pink) and Britt, Jeff, and Joe (Rev3/Mountain Khakis) pack up all of our non-race gear into cars, park them in the designated parking lot in Cedar Key, and then board the (coach!) bus for the trip east across Florida. The bus ride passes uneventfully. Erl and I use the time to mark up our set of maps, hoping never to have to use them during the race but wanting to get an idea of the course. We also steal a few naps and get our feet ready to go. At 1100 right on schedule, the bus arrives at Ormond Beach for the start of the race. A hundred or so adventure racers unload to tropical temperatures - 80s and sunny - which is probably normal for Florida but definitely not normal for our team. Regardless, the sun feels great and Erl suggests not wearing our (pink) calf and arm sleeves for the opening trek. "It's hot," he says. "We don't need these right now." And since Erl has SEVEN (Michigan Coast To Coast 05/06/07, Primal Quest Badlands 09, Abu Dhabi 10, Raid The North British Columbia 11, and GodZone New Zealand 14) multi-day races under his belt compared to my ONE (Cowboy Tough Wyoming 14), I take his advice. As I plan to continue doing for the next three days. 
And they're off! For the start of the 2015 Sea2Sea 3-Day Adventure Race!
TREK 1 - 6k beach-o at Ormond Beach - 1100-1200
Teams On Wednesdays We Wear Pink (OWWWP) and Rev3/Mountain Khakis are giddy at the start line, excited to start 3 days of non-stop racing that we've been planning for so many months. Ron the RD from FLX Adventures counts us down, and pretty soon we're sprinting (!) on the beach road to our first CP. The pace is fast, especially considering the amount of racing left to do, but we don't really care because WE'RE RACING IN FLORIDA! IN SHORTS! WHEEEEEEEE! That is, until a few short minutes later. Joe attacks our first CP by bushwhacking through 500 meters of razor-sharp palmetto and scrubby brush. All of us (well, besides Britt, who kept her calf sleeves on) start bleeding immediately as our legs get torn up by the defensive vegetation. We struggle a bit with the first few CPs, but it's hard to start the race by navigating on an aerial photo map. Joe makes the best of it and we get around the short loop, but not before I trip in the dunes and grind a bunch of sand into my bloody legs and arms. I can't help but laugh that this is the perfect way to start my first true expedition race - cut up and dirty in the first 30 minutes! We run back into TA to find ourselves securely in the middle of the pack, but it doesn't bother us as we pick out 2 canoes and start paddling.

me and Erl in the first paddle section.

PADDLE 1 - 14k - 1200-1430
We put in on a windy, windy (both pronunciations and meanings) grass-lined river. It's hard for OWWWP to keep up with the horsepower of Rev3's boat - they've got one extra paddler, plus all three of them are ripped (Britt's guns are bigger than all of Tecnu combined). And it's clear that Erl and I haven't paddled since...since...December at the Castlewood 8hr? But all we can do is put our pink-bedazzled-visored heads down and WORK. Erl keeps track of our effort and suggests spots for "10 hard paddles" and "20 hard paddles" and we scoot along the Florida water. There are TONS of birds flapping around, several different kinds, and it's cool to take that in. We see Journey Racing and YogaSlackers ahead of us on an out-and-back section of the paddle and give them some early-race cheers. Finally we make it to the take-out and hustle through transition. The volunteers give us instructions to "run down this here road for 200 meters and you will get your next passport". So we do and find the passport in the middle of a really cool ruin - like an old mossy castle. Super sweet. Then we run back to TA and get on our bikes!

Surprise singletrack at Graham Trailhead. I don't always wear sunglasses while mountain biking, but when I do...

BIKE 1 - 43k - 1430-1730
It's not long before we get to ride some super fun rooty trails to kick off the biking of Sea2Sea. The trails are awesome and the SegSlayer is crushing them! Then we get on to some pavement and Jeff organizes us into a paceline as we make our way to the Graham Trailhead. YogaSlacker's "media director" (yes, really) is there to greet us along with race staff. The staff informs us of a surprise singletrack section with instructions to "just follow the trail, it's easy". All of us have heard this before, and all of us have been burned by the "easy to follow" trails. And, wouldn't you know, not 100m down the trail there is an unmarked junction! We flail around for a bit before I spot Ron in the woods and ask for help. He shows us the correct trail to take and we ride on. The trails are surprisingly technical and full of short punchy climbs (much like Council Bluff for you MO people). They are awesome and all of us are riding really well, but both Odyssey teams catch us and we let their faster legs go ahead to avoid early-race stress. Back on the roads, Joe's pedal starts seizing up and we worry about its potential to survive several hundred more kilometers of riding. We put some chain lube on it to try and get it to rotate again, but Joe is still having to work really hard to keep the pedals turning over. My bottom bracket seems to be overly noisy as well...oh great! We roll into the next TA with some concerns, but lubed the crap out of Joe's pedal and my bottom bracket, all we can do is load them on the race trailer and hope for the best. Then we get to turn our attention to boat selection and more paddling!

A super sweet pic from Erl's race camera on Black Branch.
PADDLE 2A - 13k - Black Branch/Haw Creek - 1730-2045
We put in to a small river on the side of a road, and immediately the river is full of vegetation - cypress knees, downed trees, lily pads, etc. Luckily we have a few hours of daylight in which to negotiate all of the deadfall - Erl gives new meaning to my "princess" paddling style as he drops me off on the (dry!) riverbank before each downed tree, then jumps into the waist-deep water to lift the boat up and over the tree, then jumps back in the boat and picks me up on the other side. Yeah. See what I mean about Erl being the best teammate ever? It's true. I stay dry until we get to a somewhat-mapped portage which is just ankle-deep mud, but there's no princess option for the 400m or so we must slog with our boats. Eventually the mud opens back up into a real river, with islands even, but the islands prove to be tricky as we can't find CP18 immediately after a mapped portage. We circle the island in question several times, certain we are in the correct location, but the flag is elusive. We are forced to bail with an impending early-race cutoff looming over our heads, so we abandon and motor on down to Russell Landing for a heavily-hinted-at "surprise" trek. It's dark and relatively cold at this point and we're all pretty excited to warm up a bit by running.

Russell Landing. This was the norm for trekking sections throughout the race.
TREK 2 - 7k - Russell Landing - 2045-2300
We take out at Russell Landing and sure enough, surprise trek! We have to be back by 2300 which is a pretty aggressive cutoff for so early in the race, but we vow to do our best. It's hard to manage the TA with so much to do and new teammates - with Alpine Shop we all have our jobs but now I'm a bit lost on how to best help Rev3, especially Joe. But with plotting and re-fueling managed, we head out into the still-sharp Florida vegetation, still with no calf protection, still donating blood. And even better, half of this trek is through a swamp, so we get to wash out our cuts with swamp water! We manage our time pretty well, but the maps are confusing (waypoints with no CP value are shown...strange) and we end up not clearing this section. It's a bummer but not much else we can do except keep racing! We get back to our boats and put in with a herd of teams all fighting the early cutoff as well.
Pretty sure this is the first TA with bins.
PADDLE 2B - 9k - Haw Creek/Dead Lake - 2300-0030
The rest of the paddle isn't very eventful - it's dark, but it's Night 1 so we aren't very sleepy. We continue downstream easily, paddle a few kilometers in a lake, and then get to a very busy transition area. We get to see our bins for the first time! I might have changed socks/shorts here, but honestly I can't remember. I do remember Andy Bacon from Odyssey trying to poison me with bacon. Nice try, Bacon/bacon. My body is a non-mammalian-meat temple.


Day 2

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13 March 2015

Race Report: FLX Sea 2 Sea 72hr AR, Part 1 (Pre-Race)

One of the first lessons you learn in adventure racing is: getting to the starting line is actually the hardest part of the race. You've got a team to assemble, people to get fit, body parts to keep uninjured, travel to complete, mountains of gear to sort and pack and unpack and repack and unpack and repack, thousands of calories to prep, and you still need to get some sleep and do some "real" work in between. The road to my first non-stop expedition race was no different.
It started with an email from one of the top teams in the country, Rev3/Mountain Khakis. They won the Sea2Sea in 2014 and were looking for a repeat, but their normal girl (Britt) was unable to race. At that point in time I was already planning to assemble a team with Erl from GearJunkie/WEDALI, one of the most experienced multi-day racers I know and also one of my favorite people. But it turned out that Rev3 had room for both of us so we jumped at the chance to join Jeff and Joe of Rev3/MK. A few weeks later, Britt's schedule opened up and was able to join us as well, so we shuffled the teams into one 3-person coed (Jeff, Joe, and Britt) and one 2-person coed (me and Erl). Since Erl and I aren't known for our navigation skills, Rev3 promised to stick together and guide us through the swamps of Florida. Game on!

Now the biggest issue we were facing was a team name. Jeff, Joe and Britt, obviously, would be racing for Rev3/Mountain Khakis. But I would be representing Alpine Shop and Erl would be representing GearJunkie/WEDALI. Normally in these situations we come up with a really creative team name mash-up, but nothing was making sense. Then Erl and I raced with Rachel, Jeff, David, and the Garrison at POCAR and had a hilarious team joke about underwear. Kind of a long story, but all you need to know is that Erl and I would be racing Sea2Sea honoring the movie Mean Girls...our team name was On Wednesdays We Wear Pink.
the photo that started it all!
OWWWP fo eva!
In the weeks and months leading up to March, Erl and I took our pink-wearing duties very seriously. Pink visors were purchased and bedazzled. Pink duct tape was acquired and applied to all gear. Pink arm sleeves and calf sleeves were bought and worn. Pink bracelets were made. We even thought about dying our hair pink but didn't want the dye to run into our eyes during the race. Team mojo was through the roof when Erl rolled into St. Louis on Saturday and we started Part 1 of gear prep.
Race food from the grocery store. This doesn't include the bars/gels/sports drink stuff either.
gear bomb.
Then on Monday, Britt drove in from Illinois and we started our 3-person road trip to Florida. We had many hours to drive but used the time to get to know Britt and talk through potential race situations. Everything went really well and we rolled into Cedar Key late Tuesday night, just in time to grab our hotel keys and eat an amazing seafood dinner at the only restaurant open on the tiny island. Jeff and Joe arrived late that night as well and finally we were the 5-person mash-up team we'd been planning for so many months.
adventure racers like to have fun, too!
our home on Cedar Key, the Beach Front Hotel.
Wednesday morning the 5 of us grabbed cruiser bikes from the hotel and rode to a leisurely breakfast on island time...meaning nothing is ever in a hurry. Then it was back to the hotel to explode our gear all over the parking lot for last minute prep. Fittingly, our hotel was painted pink and purple so Erl and I immediately felt at home. The pre-race meeting had to be rescheduled a few times, but thankfully everything on Cedar Key is a 3min bike ride away so we used the down time to get dinner and ice cream and finish up bike prep. At the meeting, we were handed a race summary page, race book (aka "the powerpoint"), and maps for the first half of the course. The maps were small, mostly 8.5" x 11", pre-plotted, and not waterproof. We had a combination of aerial photos and some sort of topo (not USGS). We took everything back to the hotel to put the finishing touches on our clothes and food based on the race information. Then it was another 3min ride to load the bikes and bins onto race trucks, and finally collapse into sleep!
Race summary sheet. Sean Clancy is complaining about it already. Can you tell why?
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26 February 2015

I'm an Alpha Gal?

When I was in elementary school, I was lucky enough to have a bunch of friends who hosted sleepovers on a fairly regular basis. We would spend these nights watching scary movies, playing light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board, prank-calling boys in our class, and other classic sleepover activities (that almost never involved sleeping). Eventually, morning would dawn, and the host family would make some sort of breakfast while, most likely, silently grudging how late we kept them up last night with our incessant chatter.

I never liked cold cereal growing up (still don't, actually) so I would always stress about what would be offered for breakfast. Usually, the parents would make something special like waffles or pancakes. But in the rare occasions when cold cereal was the only item on the menu, I tried to avoid it without seeming rude. Sometimes I asked for toast. Other times I said I wasn't hungry. And in one particular instance, I flat-out lied. "I'm allergic to cereal," I remember telling the host mom. In the early 90s, before gluten-free became a thing, I'm fairly certain the host mom thought I was crazy. An allergy? To Cheerios? What a weird little girl.

I've since learned that it's okay to dislike a food item, and haven't experienced any other allergy, to food, medication, plant, animal, or otherwise. That is, until the past 6 months...dun-dun-dunnnnnnnn.
Finish line of Berryman 2014...Jeff, me, Doug, Garrison.
It all started with getting to know my WABAR teammate Mike "The" Garrison. In one of our first "here's what kind of competitor I am" conversations which are so essential to adventure racing success, he mentioned he is allergic to mammalian meat and that consuming it may result in anaphylactic shock (a potentially fatal condition if untreated). This struck me as weird, especially when he explained that he acquired this allergy later in life from tick bites. But as long as he didn't eat beef, pork, rabbit, venison, bison, goat, or any other mammal, he was the same top-notch racer he's always been.
This was 5 days post-race. Not my leg.
I raced with Mike (and Jeff and Doug) at the Berryman Adventure Race in September 2014, and all of us got attacked by seed ticks during one of the trekking sections. As we were paddling away from the TA, Jeff happened to look down to see hundreds of ticks crawling all over his legs. The same thing happened to our friends the WhackaDALI-ans, and in the weeks after the race we had a pretty hilarious "photos of my bug bites" email chain going. I remember eating pepperoni and bacon during that race with no ill affects. But a few weeks later I had pork for dinner and broke out in head-to-toe hives later that evening. Some frantic texts were sent to Garrison, who didn't respond... And also to Carrie Sona who advised me to take a few Benadryl and sleep it off if possible. I did, promptly passed out, and woke up in the morning to significantly reduced hives (or "urticaria" in medical-speak).
After having pork for dinner in October. My leg.
That got my mental wheels turning, and I decided to avoid mammalian meat until my next regularly scheduled doctor check-up a few months down the road. The check-up happened in January 2015, and I got referred to an allergy specialist for February. At the allergist's office, I described my history and self-diagnosis, and she decided to perform skin and blood tests. The skin test came back positive for every mammalian meat they applied: lamb, pork, and beef. She also tested cat which was positive, and chicken was negative as expected. These results were suspicious enough to order blood testing, and we just got those results back this week: I have developed an allergy to alpha-gal.

What is alpha-gal? First, it's a shorthand term used to describe galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, which is a carbohydrate found in mammalian meat (but not primates or humans). What does that have to do with ticks? Ticks ingest alpha-gal when they bite mammalian hosts...deer, raccoons, possums, etc. Then, ticks transfer alpha-gal to humans when they make a subsequent bite.

Normally, human antibodies (immunoglobulin E in this case specifically) understand that the alpha-gal introduced to the body, either via tick saliva or via ingesting mammalian meat, is no big deal and do not react. The alpha-gal carbohydrate gets digested normally and people go on their merry hamburger-eating way. But in certain cases, especially in instances of historically high tick bite volume, the body misconstrues ingestion of alpha-gal from mammalian meat as a tick onslaught and produces a specific type of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody to fight against the invasion. The IgE antibodies bind to the alpha-gal CHOs, producing histamines, which manifest initially as hives and can progress to anaphylaxis.

Alpha-gal allergies are unusual among food allergies in these ways:

  • they are associated with a carbohydrate, and all other food allergies are associated with proteins
  • they manifest 2-4 hours after ingestion, not immediately like most other food allergies
  • they can develop later in life in a person who has previously ingested mammalian meat with no problems
  • the intensity of their reactions can change based on recent tick bite volume, hydration state, and a few other systemic factors.

My interpretation of the whole thing is one more of fascination than of sadness. Sure, I'm going to miss steaks and bratwursts. But I think it is weirdly cool that I had a medical hunch, my doctor believed me, there was a conclusive test available, the test was covered by insurance, and the results were definitive. I've taken steps to replace the lost iron in my diet, which I believe is incredibly important for female athletes, and otherwise have adjusted well to eating a ton of fish and chicken. I'm writing this post to bring some awareness to the issue. Most of the research on the alpha-gal allergy has only been ongoing for the last 10 years.  The connection between red meat and ticks wasn't even made until one of the researchers happened to develop the allergy himself (after a tick bite). Most doctors aren't aware of the condition, but I feel a lot of the people who read this blog spend a lot of time in the woods and may be susceptible. So if you experience head-to-toe hives a few hours after eating mammalian meat (beef, pork, venison, bison, lamb, etc), please consider visiting an allergist and getting tested.


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12 February 2015

Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure 2015: All 31+ Hours

The idea for my 31st birthday party happened in the middle of my 30th birthday party. I was driving home on Saturday morning from Stage 2, the Aerie's 12hr Ultrarun, after running/hiking all night and covering 40 of the hilliest miles in the STL area. I had the entire day to sleep/recover and then was planning to slay a Double Berryman with Dwayne and HH on Sunday morning. I remember thinking I just want to go get my mountain bike and ride The Berryman right now. Screw this wait-and-recover strategy.
The plan.
So for 2015, my 31st birthday, that's what we did. 31 hours, straight through. I planned out a giant loop around St. Louis that incorporated running and biking and 2 ferry rides. Weather in the week leading up to the event melted the singletrack, so we stuck to gravel and pavement and did the whole thing on our cx bikes, which honestly made logistics a TON easier. We had several different combinations of Team Noah Foundation members and friends on each stage - 12 different people in total. And no one person did exactly the same thing, everyone tailored their participation to their interests, fitness, and availability. That was exactly how I wanted this to work. I wanted to plan something on a massive scale, and then have my friends pick and choose how they wanted to participate. Sort of like how DBMFH works, no one person does exactly the same thing but everyone ends up crushed.

Of course this whole event raises money for the Team Noah Foundation, which is my mountain bike team. Last year we raised just over $2,100 and this year we want to do better than that. So if you have a few extra dollars, please click over to our donation site and put them towards a good cause. Team Noah Foundation helps the families of children with a Congenital Heart Defect spend as much time as possible with their kiddos while they are receiving treatment. Dwayne and Bettina, Noah's parents, got to spend 10 beautiful weeks with their baby boy, and want to give other families the gift of that much time or possibly more. So after Noah's death, the Foundation was created and his memory is what we are riding for today.

Bike from Alpine Shop (Kirkwood, MO) to Aerie's Winery (Grafton, IL)
55 miles, mostly road
1600 Friday - 2030 Friday
Thanks Maria for the pic from the Alpine Shop parking lot!
I meet up with Dwayne, Peat, JZ, Chuck, Maria, and Jim in the parking lot of Alpine Shop on Friday afternoon. It's beautiful - sunny and high 50s, RealFeel. It takes a long time for us to get Chuck's tires swapped, admire Peat's new van (with Stow-and-Go and electric doors, holy cats!), get my car packed, etc etc etc but we finally roll out on this adventure around 4pm. There is no rush as we ride through Kirkwood, Webster Groves (hi The Hub!), Forest Park, DeBaliviere, super sweet bike path, then into THE CITY on Goodfellow which is actually not a bad road to ride. Some ladies even stop to chat with us and JZ invites them on our adventure. Smiling, they decline. We make it up to The Circle and then veer east on Riverview, eventually smacking straight into the Riverfront Trail. About then we start turning on our various lighting systems and continue up to the Chain of Rocks Bridge, crossing our fingers that the gates are still open. Even if they weren't, Peat assures us that he's lifted full kegs of beer, and bikes, and trailers, over the locked ones so we're in good hands. Turns out the gates are open, HOLLA!, and we cross the Mighty Mississippi and say goodbye to Maria and Jim (they're allergic to Illinois). Then it's onto the MCT system to bring us northbound to Grafton.
Dwayne and Chuck on the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Once we pass Alton, it starts to get a bit cold, but thankfully our support car, driven by Matt, is nearby so we stop to get some heavier clothes and he feeds us heart-shaped doughnuts. Then it's flat flat flat roads and bike paths to Grafton which Peat and Dwayne and JZ use to sharpen their high-cadence skills (they are on SS, Chuck and I are on gears). We roll in to Grafton just before 8:30 PM and check in at Race HQ. I see a lot of my running friends but I don't have much time to get ready for the 9:00 PM start. I change shorts, socks, shoes, put on new gaiters, add lights, EAT, quick picture, and then we're off into the next adventure. 4 hours down, 27 to go!

Run Aerie's 12hr Ultramarathon (Grafton, IL)
40 miles, all trail
2100 Friday - 0748 Saturday
Peat, Dwayne, Chuck, me, JZ at the start.
Aerie's is a 12hr race. The course is an almost-5-mile loop that you do as many times as possible in the allotted 12 hours. The loop is pretty heinous - 1,000' of climb (ridic for IL) of mostly trail and some pseudo-bushwhacking. This is a race that rewards constant forward motion over pure speed. So, perfect for me. Robin, the race director, sends us off and Dwayne and I run/hike the first loop together. The course changed from last year and at the major point of deviation, isn't very well marked, so we spend 10 or 15 minutes floundering in the woods trying to figure things out. But we finally do (really it's our fault for not looking at the 2015 map) and settle into 12hr pace. I'm running with 3 other women and I have no idea who 2 of them are...are they fast? I know the third, Melissa, completed 6 laps last year which is no joke so I try to stay ahead of her. My legs actually feel great and it's fun to run! But as we get to Race HQ, she has a lightning-fast transition while I stop for several minutes. So atypical for me but in my rush to make the start, I forgot to take care of some things so I'm forced to do those now (retie shoes, plug in phone, find food, fill bottles, etc).

Laps 2, 3, and 4 are pretty hard, but mostly in my mind. Melissa is staying solidly in front of me by about 5 minutes and I'm starting to crack mentally. I keep telling myself that racing doesn't actually start until the sun rises (about hour 9), but I am trying to run/hike pretty fast and only making up a minute or so on Melissa. I start to project the effort I will need to make up the remaining 4 minutes and that makes my head hurt. I start to doubt that I can win. This is pretty crazy because we are SOOOOOOO not about winning on the Epic Birthday Adventure - it's an ADVENTURE for godssake. But if you've known my last 6 months of solo racing, it's been a mind-screw for me, and 2nd place here will not help that. Thankfully, I hear a familiar voice behind me and it's DWAYNE!! I almost hug him in relief and blabber on about all of my fears and insecurities. Like the good teammate/mentor that he is, he gets my head straightened back out and we move. Not 2 miles later, Melissa appears in front of us, we run with her for a bit, and then motor on up the signature climb on the course, the "Big Long Turd" as named by Jeff in 2014.

Looking back at the splits, we made up 11 minutes on Melissa on Lap 5. 11 minutes is how hard my mind was screwing with my body. That is crazy. Thank you Dwayne.
Final meters of Aerie's 12hr. My number was 34. I got 7th place overall. 7 is special.
Laps 6-8 are all good. I don't feel as great as I did last year (in worse conditions), or as I did a few weeks ago at POCAR in Indiana, but I just try to ignore that and focus on constant forward motion and conversation with Dwayne. We talk about pretty much everything, including bikes that have a treadmill on them and the purpose of time. What is time? Who decided how long a day should be? Is time getting longer? The sunrise on Lap 7 is incredible, despite Dwayne not knowing which way is east. It totally makes up for the fog-fest last year. On Lap 8, the course swings close to the cabin that we've adopted as our HQ and we see JZ outside. We convince him to join us and he even runs a little! We finish the lap, securing the women's win for me and 7th place overall, cheer on the men's winner as he crushes out his TWELFTH LAP!!!

I spend the next hour or so piddling with my bin (adventure racers will appreciate this) and getting ready for Stage 3. Kate rolls in right on time (she rode STL-Grafton solo this morning due to work obligations yesterday) and Ian gets dropped off as well. Chuck, having pushed far past his perceived limits, decides to call it quits and gets a ride home with Matt. The rest of us saddle up and ride out. 16 hours down, 15 to go!

Bike from Aerie's Winery (Grafton, IL) to Bike Stop Cafe (St. Charles, MO)
26 miles, mostly road, 2 ferries
0930 Saturday - 1230 Saturday
Chuck, Dwayne, Adam, Matt, Jason, Kate, Peat, me, Ian. Ready to roll south!
Our first task is to ride 4-ish miles west to the Brussels Ferry. That is mostly on bike path, along with a super-sketch connector trail to the ferry entrance which is pretty fun. We board the ferry with minimal waiting and cruise across the Illinois River with high spirits and a group pic. We're on a ferry!
We are on a ferry!! The Brussels ferry.
Then we land in Calhoun County and have about 11 miles of road riding to do on the way to Golden Eagle Ferry. The nav isn't hard, we just follow the signs, but there is a significant headwind and the start of many rollers. Also the start of my inability to ride a bike in a speedy manner. I have ZERO power in my legs, I am pretty sure because of not eating enough after Aerie's. So I try to eat a bunch of food, but it's kind of difficult to operate the zippers on my pack without stopping. I have no idea why. I'm in a nutritional hole when we reach the Golden Eagle Ferry, but Peat gives me a birthday cookie, SS Kate shares a delicious rice krispie treat, and I eat another bar. The Golden Eagle Ferry ride across the Mississippi River goes well and pretty soon we're in St. Charles County, riding the flat floodplain roads another 11 miles towards lunch.

My favorite moment of this stage happens when we hop onto the Boschert Bike Trail and I see a giraffe. A real giraffe! I start excitedly yelling at everyone, "Hey look at that giraffe over there!!" and then I realize it's a fiberglass giraffe. Not alive. Whomp-whomp.
Adam, Dwayne, Peat, Kate, JZ, and my empty bowl of chili at Bike Stop Cafe.
We take surprisingly well-connected bike paths all the way into St. Charles historic downtown, and begin the search for the Bike Stop Cafe. I know it's just off the Katy Trail but not exactly sure where, so we have a few map checks while Dwayne's stomach growls loudly. Finally, we spot the Cafe and barge inside to do some serious ordering of food. I think everyone buys 2 or 3 meals. I order an egg/avocado burrito, a bowl of veggie chili, and a cup of coffee. We enjoy a relaxed lunch outside on their patio, wait while JZ puts down an extra order of waffles, and then get back on our bikes to take the Katy all the way to The Mound. 19 hours down, 12 to go!

Bike from Bike Stop Cafe (St. Charles, MO) to The Mound (Weldon Spring, MO)
20 miles, mostly road
1330 Saturday - 1600 Saturday
Except, the warm temps (60 RealFeel) have turned the Katy into a soggy, tire-sucking, slow pea-gravelly mess so we decide to re-route on pavement. JZ knows a way through the discombobulated subdivision hell of St. Charles, so we follow his lead through miles of cul-de-sacs and tan vinyl siding. My slight slowness in Calhoun County has devolved into absolute anchor-laden bike riding. I think I ate too much at lunch and now all of my body's blood is in my stomach, trying to digest and distribute those calories. I can't do anything to help the situation either, besides pedal slowly and try not to get too down on myself.

Luckily, my teammates realize what's up and come to my rescue. Dwayne does a ton of pushing, which is crazy because he's on his singlespeed franken-bike (mtb frame, cx tires, thud-buster post, trunk rack, aerobars). Peat even gets in on the fun too with a triple push. Everyone else keeps the pace moderate in front so I don't fall too far behind. Struggle Street can be many lengths, but today it is 20 miles long. Even 20 miles has to end sometime, and finally we cruise through the Research Park and onto the brand-new GRG trail that links up with the Hamburg that leads straight into The Mound. Jeff, Maria, and Melisa are there as a terrific welcoming committee, but my first priority is getting off the Warbird and laying on the pavement for a while. I'm seriously WORKED and I just need some time to digest. Jeff knows exactly what's going on, he's been through this before too, and luckily everyone else finds things to do during the break so it doesn't feel like I'm holding anyone up. 22 hours down, 9 to go!

Bike OT Night Ride Route
30 miles, gravel/road combo
1700 Saturday - 1930 Saturday
Ready to leave The Mound. Thanks Melisa for the pic!
The Mound is a perfect staging point for any variety of mountain bike or gravel rides, so we have plenty of options to choose between. Too many options, almost. In the end we decide to embark on a 30-ish mile loop of gravel and pavement known to many as Rich Pierce's Tuesday Night Ride. We put our own spin on it by using the Lost Valley doubletrack to connect to the Katy. The Katy is pretty soft still, but Peat motivates everyone with "POWER SECTION!!!" yells and we all motor through. I seem to be handling the flats a bit better and can actually hang, sort of, with the group. We get to the base of Terry Rd, one of the larger climbs in the STL area, just as the sun is setting and share my 630-calorie QT PB/Chocolate rice krispie bar as a group. Despite lingering bronchitis, Jeff hangs back and helps push me up Terry. I would be no where without my teammates.

Do you know how long a sunset lasts? Longer than it takes me and Jeff to haul my tired ass up Terry Rd. I keep wanting to stop and enjoy the cloudless perfection, rich oranges and golds silhouetting my friends, their bikes and the bare Missouri woods, but getting going again would take too much effort. So I just steal quick glances here and there, trying to conjure up a sense of gratitude for the beautiful day, however painful it's been.

We bomb down the pavement to Defiance, have a quick group conference to discuss gin shots at the biker bar, decide against them, then get back on the Katy towards home. Again, I can hang with the group on the flats but once we hop onto the Hamburg and its slow uphill grunt, I'm off the back again. But Peat sticks back to chat so we have a great time grinding out the final-ish miles. 25 hours down, 6 to go!

Hike Clark Loop of Lewis & Clark
5 miles, insanely muddy trail
2030 Saturday - 2230 Saturday
Now, the real purpose of sticking in some running-slash-hiking-slash-oh-come-on-you-really-thought-we'd-be-running-at-this-point?-Hiking-FTW! was simply to give our butts a break from the bike saddle before the final ride home. Also I wanted to introduce my cycling friends to some hike-only trails, which happen to be my favorite in MO. So we say goodbye to Jeff (thank you so much for driving support), hello to Yvonne, and switch into our running shoes for some time on foot. Yvonne tells us the story of the Love Connection trail as we access the Lewis & Clark trail system and start the Clark Loop. And we find a lot of mud.
Maybe not as much mud as Adventure Racing World Championships 2014 in Ecuador, but almost! And it's dark!  We all spread out along the super-muddy trail, gingerly picking our way towards the bluff overlook. Maria turns back to save her newly-purchased running shoes before we get there. We spend a few minutes watching the moon rise at the overlook and I'm excited to start my second night of no sleep, which is uncharted territory for me during endurance sports. Sure, I've done a bunch of 24-hour races, even staying up a second night to cheer other teams on, but I've never actually pushed straight through the second night on foot or bike. After some nice group time at the overlook, Dwayne, Ian, Adam, JZ, Yvonne, and I press on, leaving Kate and Peat to retrace their steps back to The Mound (Peat's hip is still recovering from Aerie's).

My hip flexor isn't feeling awesome either, but my desire to do the "whole" Epic Birthday Adventure is stronger than the discomfort so I slog through the remaining 3 miles. It doesn't sound like long, especially to me since I've ran this loop so many times, but tonight it is long. So long, and full of mud that each step is like a slip-n-slide. Mud cakes onto my shoes, adding to the load my overworked hip flexor has to deal with. Yvonne chats with me for a while, and I grab a stick to function like a trekking pole, but eventually it's just me, alone in the woods following the faster progress of 5 bobbing headlamps in front of me. They wait for me every so often, but honestly in my emotional state it's better to just be alone, and somehow everyone understands that without saying anything and lets me bring up the rear.

The miles tick by so, so slowly. I get sadder and sadder. I cry a little. I know this is normal and a sign of being pushed to the limit, which is exactly what I asked for when planning a 31-hour birthday party. Whose idea was this anyway? Oh yeah, mine. I encourage myself by drawing on the strength of my friends - Peat refusing to let a broken hip ruin his bike racing. Adventure racers worldwide who battle through 12" of mud like it's a road 5k. Dwayne and Bettina absorbing more pain than I'll ever know after losing Noah. I can deal with a whiny hip flexor for 1 more mile. Finally, The Mound comes back into view and I tumble into the Interpretive Center, eager to sit down, eat something, and saddle up for the final part of tonight's journey. 27 hours down, 4 to go!

Bike from The Mound (Weldon Spring, MO) to Alpine Shop (Kirkwood, MO)
30 miles, gravel/road combo
2330 Saturday - 0300 Sunday
After returning to The Mound, we find out that Peat and Kate have already started their ride back to Alpine Shop, so it's me, JZ, Dwayne, Adam, and Ian left for the remaining 30 miles. Maria and Yvonne make sure we've got everything we need and then wish us good luck as we connect back into the Research Park and onto the Katy. Before we cross the Missouri River on the Page Bridge, we stop at the gas station across the street in hopes of pizza. No pizza, but they do have coffee, hot chocolate, turkey wraps, and potato chips, all excellent sources of fuel for a midnight ride.
Real cyclists eat on the curb. Eyeballs.
Engines re-stoked, we crush out the Page Extension bike path and decide to execute a rare climb up Marine. During normal daylight hours, the climb is a bit sketch given its frequent traffic, limited sight lines, and no shoulder, but tonight it's perfect. I haven't regained any climbing power but everyone waits at the top and we cobble together a route back to Kirkwood using Craig and New Ballas. The pace is easy and I'm reminded about the joys of urban night riding - no traffic!! Dwayne gives me some more pushes and finally we're rolling into the Alpine Shop parking lot and our waiting vehicles. DONE AT 3:00 AM!

There wasn't much to do once we finished. No finish line, no crowds, just a quiet parking lot. Ian and Adam still had to ride home to their houses, an extra 45-ish minutes, and they both refuse rides from me. Studs. I say goodbye to Dwayne and JZ and we just all drive away. So simple and so complicated.

I knew that 31 hours was going to be hard. We ended up being outside a long longer than that, thanks to several leisurely stops for meals and changing clothes. For me, I woke up Friday 0600 and went to sleep Sunday 0400. 46 hours awake and 31 doing some form of exercise is great prep for a 72-hour race I have next month in Florida. We covered more than 160 miles on our bikes, and everyone had different foot miles, about 45 for me. But more than numbers, the support I felt from my friends and teammates was far beyond anything I'd expected. It's hard to explain, maybe I can only explain it to someone in the woods at 3:00 AM, but to everyone who joined in on this Epic Birthday Adventure, thank you for picking me up when I was hurting and telling me my crazy plans were not crazy at all. They just take a long time.

Also thank you Noah for the stunning weather.

Please consider a donation at http://www.plumfund.com/pf/teamnoah15 if you can :). Fundraiser closes Friday 13-Feb at midnight!

Aerie's Full Results

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