19 March 2014

Race Report: 2014 Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR

The first adventure race of the year is always exciting. For Alpine Shop, we'd already done a few individual races together, plus mash-ups with Bushwhacker and Tecnu, but there is something special about getting the team all on the same start line at the same time. Plus, we now had Doug back from injury, recovered from a separated shoulder suffered before Castlewood 8hr. Needless to say, our spirits were extremely high as we met at our favorite commuter lot, loaded up 5 bikes on the Sona-van (Jeff, David, Doug, me and Carrie who was racing with Momentum/Alpine) and hit the road to Lake of the Ozarks, MO for the Bonk Hard Chill 12hr Adventure Race
Okay, this is from LAST year's Chill, but I just love our team selfie so much, I had to include it this year too.
We stopped at our favorite Mexican place in Sullivan for late lunch. We sang a few verses of The Quark Song. Jeff told us his new favorite knock knock joke. Yes, it is good to be back with the Alpiners. We roll into the host hotel, Tan-Tar-A Resort, and spend some time unpacking/piddling with bikes and gear before going to the pre-race meeting at 8pm. Gary makes things short and sweet, handing out maps almost right away and we head back to our room to plot points and eat pizza. 

Race morning we're up at 0530 and it seems everyone slept just fine. I change into my race kit and, rrrrrrrrrrip! The seam on the inside right leg tears, leaving a big hole in a rather unfortunate place. Oh, this is not good! Visions of extreme chafing run through my head as I explain the problem to the guys, and the fact that I didn't bring spare tri shorts. David doesn't see what the big deal is. Doug offers to fix it with duct tape. Jeff suggests asking other racers for spare shorts, or switching with him. He also tells me that most likely, once we start racing, I won't even notice. So I decide to tape the hole closed, then wear tights for the whole race, and hope that nothing chafes too badly. 
Huddling before the start.
It's colder than we thought outside and we are all struggling to stay warm as we drop off our bikes in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, at a spot that we visited during the 2012 Chill when I raced as a 2P female team with Sunny. WHOA! Then it's over to the Race HQ at Mother Nature's Riverfront Retreat. We have some extra time to get ready, so I play a little soccer with 35 Down, one of our main rivals today, but they're a fun bunch of people that I'm stoked to kick it with. Then it's time to line up for the National Anthem, and then Gary says GO!

Start map, 1:10k.
Before you start reading this race report, here's a little choose-your-own-adventure-race game: Click on the "Start map" above and then decide what you would do in this situation: You're start at the triangle with PFDs and paddles. Your team can split up to collect passport and canoes, locations marked on the map. Then choose to either put in at the close-by river access and paddle to CP1, or portage everything about 900 meters (and over a 130' hill) to CP1. What would you do? Who would do what? Leave your decision in the comments if you want.
Not us, but this is what we looked like coming into CP1.
Here's how Alpine Shop does it (after much obsessing Friday night, seriously we talked about different scenarios for a few hours before deciding on this one): Everyone starts wearing their PFD already, and the paddles already assembled. I run to the passport pick-up and grab the passport, while the boys run to the canoes and tape the paddles inside, and the three of them start carrying the two boats up the road. I run back to meet them, and then Jeff and I take one boat while David and Doug take the other. We each hoist the boat onto our shoulders to make it easier to carry, and hike up and over the hill, then down to CP1. We punch our passport, put into the Niangua River, and start paddling in about 5th place. 

PADDLE 1, CPs 1-4, 9mi, 1:54
Paddling 1-2-3-4.
Beautiful morning for a paddle! Photo by SuperKate.
We put in on the steamy Niangua River and get to the task of paddling. I'm actually pretty excited for my first paddle of 2014 since I've been working on getting physically stronger and want to see if that training will translate into faster paddling. But first, I have to get my hands to thaw out after their blood flow was cut off during the portage. That's harder than it sounds because temperatures are hovering around 30F, cold enough for the spray to freeze on my paddle shaft, and I'm not wearing warm enough gloves. But Jeff, always the encourager, reminds me to flex/unflex my fingers with each paddle stroke, and that combined with a few well-timed sunny sections gradually brings my hands back to life. We pass a 4P male team, 9 Balls, early in the paddle and as we say hi, they tell me they read this blog! Awesome! Maybe some time you guys can do a guest post about the origin of your team name? Also, who is this team and what's going on?
Doug and David at the put-in.
We reach just about the only route choice in this section, an island near Baker Bluff that we was discussed during the pre-race meeting. Gary (race director) told everyone that the river-right channel is more open but requires a short portage, and the river-left channel is more technical but can be paddled through. Actually, Gary didn't use the words "more technical", he just told us that the locals call the river-left channel "The Gauntlet". David and Jeff are really good boat handlers so of course we pick "The Gauntlet". It's actually not that bad, a few sharp S-curves but we are rewarded with dry feet and a closer view of Team Fusion and 35 Down ahead of us. Sweet!
Doug and David lead me and Jeff (and Toporadicals) into CP4.
We get an even closer view of 35 Down just as we are approaching CP3. We come around a slight bend in the river and see 2 of their teammates standing in the river, boat sideways. They've tipped on a really shallow gravel bar! Thankfully they didn't get submerged but we still feel really bad about how cold they must be feeling. We make sure everyone's got enough clothes before paddling on and punching CP3. We do this about the same time as a 2P male team, Toporadicals, and then we stick together for the rest of the paddle. At the take-out in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, it's really hard to force our legs to work again, but it's awesome to see SuperKate as the race volunteer! We fly through a gear check and then get to run!
Jeff and me bringing the boat up to the truck.
TREK 1A, CPs 5-7, 1mi, 0:21
Jeff, me, Doug, and David run into CP7/TA.
We drop the PFDs but carry our personal (princess) paddles on this next section, a tiny trek up to the bike drop where we get to visit some cool features of Ha Ha Tonka State Park. CP5 is on top of a fake island, and as we run up the trail we pass Fusion and Toporadicals on their descent. High fives abound! The trail up top is rather technical, and I laugh to myself as I think "just another day in the life of an adventure racer - running a techy trail with a fully-assembled kayak paddle". It gets even better as we bushwhack down the side of the fake island and straight into a mud bog. David does a total faceplant, but the paddle actually helps him extract himself from the mud! CP6 is at the base of a million stairs that we climb to the top of the bluff for a short run into CP7/TA, where we arrive in 3rd place! Race volunteers hand us a new passport and a new clue sheet with 23 CPs to plot for "The Big Trek". We all have our jobs in TA: Jeff calls UTM coordinates, I plot, David route-plans, and Doug gets food/water/gear ready for everyone. 
Me plotting, David route planning, Jeff calling coordinates.
Doug getting the trekking passport ready.
TREK 1B, CPs 1-23 on new passport, 15km redline, 3:37
Rogaine trek, we went clockwise.
We race out of TA with a solid game plan: run hard, nav clean. We pick off two nearby trailside CPs (11 and 12) in quick succession and then head up to CP13. On the way to CP7, we spot the new green jerseys of 35 Down just leaving the cave entrance. This is a scenario we don't like so much: being on a similar route as another fast team, so we fret a little bit about how hard we're going to have to run to get separation. But then, mysteriously, 35 Down disappears to the west as we continue north to CP1. We're a little confused, but we think they're getting CP11 still, and are relieved to be by ourselves in the woods. We press onward to CPs 1, 5, and 2, and then make a last-minute decision to go straight to 3 (instead of getting 8 on the way, we'll get it later instead), then 10 and 9. I had a lot of fun running with Tecnu in California, but there really is nothing like trekking with my own teammates in the wide open Missouri woods. I'm so proud to call these guys teammates. Go Alpine Shop!

We don't see another team until we are leaving CP8 (after attacking it from the south) and they look like they're maybe just starting out since they're still all wearing jackets. All of us have been stripping layers off like mad since the frosty paddle ("Doug, can you put this in my pack?" has been on repeat all morning) and we are thrilled to be running hard in the sunshine. We take a low route to CP14 and CP16, then up high to CP17 and CP20. On the climb up to CP23 we see the 4P male Extreme Electrical Race Team bashing through the woods in the opposite direction, and then our very own Carrie who is racing with Momentum/Alpine! We are all really excited to see her and she tells us that they haven't seen any other teams coming from our direction. This might mean we are in the lead! On the ridge run to CP22 I get a little excited by our progress and trip over a branch, executing a perfect faceplant into the leaves. Brilliant! But thankfully nothing injured so we keep running. CP19 throws David a curveball with the different spurs, we go up the one next to our intended route, but once on top of the ridge he figures things out and we attack CP19 with only a few minutes lost. Then we've just got 3 more left, CP21, CP18, and CP15, all in a straight line back to TA. We knock those out feeling really strong and proud of ourselves for trekking well so early in the season, on an unseasonably hot day as well.
Running back to TA after our trekking loop.
Running into TA, we're thrilled to hear that we're the first team back with all of the CPs. Everyone drained their bladder during the trek so we refill, drink some super-hot Monster, eat melted Oreos, pack up the paddles, and hit the road on our bikes.

BIKE 1A, CPs 8-14, 26mi, 2:16
Biking from TA/CP7 clockwise back to CP14.
We first ride to CP8, where we turn in our trekking passport to the race volunteer and he confirms that we're first on the bikes. This is great news of course and we make a plan to ride strong but not killer on the way back, since we know there is a huge climb in the last mile on Tunnel Dam Gardens Rd. We drove that was to get to Race HQ this morning, and we rode it last year during the OGRE. We first go and get CP9 as an out-n-back, and are able to establish our gap is more than 2 miles. More great news! Some not-so-great news is that I'm not feeling particularly speedy, and neither is Jeff. So David tows me and Doug drafts for Jeff until we're both feeling better. Then we just continue to ride as a team through the rest of the course. I've raced with a bunch of different people in the last 2 years, and I can say that no other team tows more than Alpine Shop does. And I'm not really sure why - for this bike leg we weren't riding excessively hard but still turned in the fastest split by about 30 minutes. That's not meant as a boast, it's meant as advice for other teams: work together more! Our friends at Bushwhacker wrote a great how-to article about making your own bike tow, and they included some great insight: 
The key for successful towing, is that neither person, whether it is the tower or the towee, should put in any more effort than they were putting in if they weren't towing.  The effort should remain the same, but the overall speed will be faster than the slow person, and slower than the fast person.
I could go on and on about the benefits of towing, but this is a race report, so I'll get back on track. The rest of the ride is really smooth. We crush a couple hills, enjoy the scenery from the top of Tunnel Dam Garden Road (really GORGEOUS!!), fly down and grunt up the last hill, and then get set to punch CP14. It's at a gate just 500m from the finish, except as we approach we see a car and 2 race volunteers waiting for us. This can't be good...

BIKE 1B, CPs 15-20, 1mi, 0:24
David and Jeff receiving the bonus map.
It really does say bonus!! Start at CP14, collect CP15-20 in order on bikes. Bikewhacking allowed.
...instead of riding straight into the finish line, we're met by SuperKate (again!!) and another volunteer who have a special present for us: a bonus map! It shows 5 more CPs all on ATV trails around the Race HQ. At first, we're not that excited. But then SuperKate offers us one of her famous cookies, and Jeff does what he does best: rallies the troops. We all let some air out of our tires and get ready to shred! And honestly, once we're on the trails, it's really fun. David leads us cleanly around the bonus loop and by the end we're all grinning again. 

FINISH 8:46 total time

Finish line!
Hugs and smiles.
We finish with a signature Bonk Hard Racing cowbell serenade! We're really stoked on the day: we ran a great race, we're the first team back, and we feel like 2014 is off to a great start. As usual, Gary wants to hear about route choice, so we unfurl the map and chat about where we went. After a few minutes, he asks non-chalantly, "What did you think about CPs 4 and 6 on the big trek?" 
Did we really just do that?
We all look at the map, and then look at each other, and there's a collective sinking of hearts. CRAP. We didn't GO to CP4 or CP6. They're hung a little to the west of the rest of the controls on the trek, and we just didn't see them when we were route planning in TA. Because we were plotting on the clock, we didn't do our usual double-check of counting all the CPs on our route. There's no time for blame, we just make sure there's no chance to go back and get them (it would be a long-ass ride that no one feels like doing, plus it's against the rules since we turned in our trekking passport already), and then decide that our fate is not in our hands anymore. CP4 was worth 2 points, so we finish with 47 out of 50 possible points. The only thing left to see is the finishing times of other teams, and how far down in the standings we'll fall.
David and me post-race. With the map, natch.
We're bummed, obviously, but the hot post-race barbeque and on-site showers go a long way in raising our spirits. We all pig out, clean up, and then hang out to cheer on the rest of the teams. It's Team Fusion across the line next, and they have all of the controls, so they win! Congrats Fusion!! 35 Down finishes next and we're really glad to see them recover from their canoe incident with a stellar race. The top 5 are rounded out with everyone's favorite Tiny Trail Ninjas, Toporadicals, and our early-paddle race buddies 9 Balls!  We land in 6th place with our error but by now it's all water under the bridge. It's great to hear race stories from all of the teams, and it makes me really appreciate the adventure race community we have in the Midwest. We have some stellar navigators and athletes who take adventure racing seriously, along with a great group of newbies who are just getting into the sport, and we're lucky to have terrific competition whenever we race with Bonk Hard.
Hanging out with Team Fusion after the race! Well done team!
Full results: http://bonkhardracing.com/chill/chill-results.asp
Official photos: http://bonkhardracing.com/chill/chill-photos.asp
SuperKate's photos: https://www.facebook.com/kate.geisen/media_set?set=a.10152053885503882.1073741856.531103881&type=1
Toporadicals: http://brianrodenbeck.blogspot.com/2014/03/bonkhard-chill-adventure-race.html
SuperKate: http://kate-my-mind.blogspot.com/2014/03/going-solo-bonkhard-chill-volunteer.html
9 Balls: http://houseofkerrs.blogspot.com/2014/03/bonk-hard-chill.html

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  1. So great to see you guys out there! You all weren't particularly thrilled about the bonus map, and you were BY FAR the happiest to see it. We may have been lynched if not for the cookies. ;-)

    Such a bummer about the missed CPs. I guess that's one of the rare times when the division of labor may have worked against you? If the plotting and route planning had been done by the same person would it have been harder to miss them? Regardless, you guys are so strong that I'm sure that's the last time THAT happens.

    As far as the portage, as soon as I heard about it I KNEW the guys would've been all for portaging. I'd have gone along with it, but I'd definitely have advocated to be the one to get the passport since I'm nowhere near as strong as the guys.

    1. Yeah those cookies were KEY. Thanks for volunteering so much, I bet it was fun to see everyone's reactions about the "bonus" loop!

      We talked about the separate plot/route plan approach on the way home and we'll still do it that way, just add in a mandatory double-check at the end. Honestly, it would have only taken 1 extra minute MAX to make sure we had everything. No excuses for not checking.

      Portaging was definitely the way to go for speed, but for enjoyment i would have paddled the whole thing no questions. :)

  2. Great Job, I love to read your race reports. I'm impressed by your recall of the details and description.

    Question: if you don't portage to start, how much time do you need to make up after cp1 on the paddle? Can you finish the paddle in good position for the rest of the race?

    Keep up the great writing and let me know if you join Twitter.

    1. well the paddle from the start to CP1 was about 2 miles I believe? so it was up to teams to decide which they could do faster: paddle 2 miles or portage 0.6 miles. sounds like none of the paddle teams were faster than the portage teams, but in a 12hr event it might make sense to save some strength for later while giving up a few minutes at the start. it's all about knowing your team strengths. :)

      i'm on twitter at @silkychrome!