ar race 7:26:00 
Wilderness Traverse!! Whoot! ;-) .. dare you to read it all!! :-)
Will turned 16 back in late June so it was time for him to suck it up and do an overnighter! Actually I'd been plagued with injuries and wasn't sure I'd be able to race competitively (running a grand total of 11 hours in the first 6 months of 2012.. including 2 races) so I thought it might be nice for Will and I to take our time as an unranked duo and get him a good intro to something longer than 6-12 hour racing. The RD's were o.k. with this, but suggested that Stephan Meyer might be a good addition to us, as he was covering the race, as a racer, for Get Out There Mag. I knew of Steve from a distance, and knew he was easily capable of racing at this level and once we agreed to race together we became on official team... so I asked Mike Popik to join us because I knew that regardless of Mike’s current level of fitness he's HaF (crossfit term) and would be a great second source of support for Will, should he need it.
We were set and all on the same page. Our goal was to finish the whole course, not push too hard and focus on staying healthy and as comfortable as possible. Some beer was stashed in the bush before the race briefing and fortunately the final TA was less than 50 meters from four frosty cans of awesomeness!!
We started about 15 minutes early at 7:45 on Saturday a.m. with a 2 km run to the boats followed by about 4 hours of paddle/portage and beaver dam liftovers... or is that damn beaver liftovers? I figured we were very close to the back of the pack after a fairly leisurely run to the boats. This was expected, but caused a little bit of frustration on portages as we were often waiting for someone to get moving and giving up easy minutes that we didn’t want to have to make up later with what might be an unsustainable effort. Mike and Steve were in one boat and Will and I the other, with Mike and I handling the boats for portages and everyone managing boats on the liftovers. Will was fine on this leg as he is no stranger to taking a canoe through any kind of terrain. (I did have to give him a warning at one point, when he unleashed a gaseous bomb that nearly had me tapping out in the back of the boat… he then informed me that he had not pooped in 3 days… great… another thing for me to worry about… who starts a race like that? … he didn’t get that from me!) I think on the paddling our boats were pretty evenly matched with Mike and Steve maybe a little faster on the obstacles. We had a decent leg and actually came off the water with a small group of teams in places 9-11ish, which was a huge surprise to me as I thought we had only passed a handful of teams.
We set the TA bar low with a very slow TA 1 (CP#3) and managed to maintain that level of efficiency for all TA’s, but that was honestly part of what I had anticipated. I wanted to make sure we were healthy and happy leaving each TA. We left TA 1 about 1.5 hours ahead of plan for making the CP 9 long course cut-off.
We walked for about the first km out of the TA to let our (= my) stomachs settle a little and then walked and jogged intermittently to CP 4. From 4 to 5 I decided to stay on the trail as far as it would take us (Cain Lake?) and then feature hop to the CP. This wasn’t the fastest ‘route’, but it was the safest and I figured the easiest on our feet and legs, which we would want in good shape for the second trek. We hit everything as expected, including a MASSIVE swamp that we waded/swam through (except for Steve who’s so light he levitated over) but we gave up 4-5 places, which likely added up to less than 15 minutes, since 3 of the teams were still in the CP when we arrived. Most of this time can be accounted for with a 20 or so minute stop we took so I could tend to some hot spots and a blister, which then had my feet feeling great for the rest of the race!
From 5 to 6 I decided to take a nearly straight bearing as the distance was short and I figured if I held hard on the bearings we could split the swamps easily enough… it worked out really well and we climbed back up to 10th spot! We were well ahead of sched! We walked the trail (and swam) to CP 7 TA2 without seeing another team. We were now 2 hours ahead of plan and I was pretty certain we would be OK for the CP9 cut-off. We hadn’t worked very hard and still had an hour of daylight and were well fed and hydrated. VERY GOOD SHAPE!!
Just as the trail turned crappy we ran out of daylight near Horseshoe Lake. Oh, how our world was about to change. Poor Will. He had a number of things stacked against him. 1) He had less than 1 week with his first set of clipless pedals 2) His only light was mounted on his handle bars 3) He’s recently turned 16, experiencing a growth spurt and requires a LOT OF SLEEP!!
The trails were in pretty bad shape for night riding and Will fell over a lot of times because he couldn’t get his feet out to put a foot down quickly… that was very frustrating for him. There were a number of ride arounds for most of the ‘gator holes’ but with the bar mounted lights he had to steer towards what he wanted to see often causing him to commit early or get rutted and go down again. He was getting very tired and more frustrated and both things were exacerbating the other. This was one of the more stressful times I have ever had on a course. From the day your child is born, any time they are suffering you just wish you could make it stop. You will do anything you can to ease their pain. From that first tooth, to flu’s and fractures, you just wish you could suffer in their place. So here I am with the most miserable child I have ever had the misfortune to gaze upon… so tired his eyes were rolling back in his head, knees and shoulders aching from falls, doing the ‘cowboy walk’ from the rash he’s developing, frustrated, full of self-doubt and all I can offer is ‘you’re doing great bud, just keep moving’…oh yeah, and also ’it’s o.k. bud, there’s no shame in being a pussy’.
I have to give huge kudo’s to Steve and Mike for staying so positive through this whole section and never putting any extra pressure on Will. Mike in particular was an incredible support, as I knew he would be ( I think Mike and I share similar parenting styles). I spent most of the ride out front with Steve making sure we didn’t get off track and trying to lead on the best route… also, in Will’s fragile state he did not need his Dad right on him all the time either nagging him or giving him an easy out. I would be surprised if we rode more than 33% of the section from Horseshoe Lake to Big Chute Marina. Just before Big Chute I dropped back to ride with Will and give Mike some reprieve. I still thought the CP9 cut-off was in reach but he was out on his feet. Even when I was pushing both of our bikes he was having trouble walking so I told him to lie down and gave him a 15 minute sleep… once up and going again we hit a decent road within about 5 mins and were soon at Big Chute Marina. Steve experienced some wicked chain-suck (check out the video Steve has) and managed to turn his chain into what I can only describe as a ‘fascinating string puzzle’. Will was able to get another 20 minute nap while we figured it. Just when Steve was about to break his chain, he gave it one more little jostle and voila... on the road again. I think this was when we were finally passed by a team… what the heck had they been going through??!
We now knew there was no chance of making the cut-off so it was a slightly different vibe. Will was spent and basically indicated that he would not continue past CP 9...if such a place really existed. We told him to just keep moving and now that we were short coursed he could sleep in the TA for several hours before having to make any decision on that.
Will had ridden the section north of Big Chute with me early in the summer. It was nasty and the bugs were ferocious and I know that it had been weighing heavily on his mind since the race started. He did not want to ride it again. It turned out that it was a much easier ride this time… even in the dark, but he was already spent and struggled as a result. When he fell over and was lying pathetically pinned under his bike, trying unsuccessfully to twist his feet out of the pedals, I finally ‘put him down’ for a 30 minute nap and half dozed beside him while Steve and Mike reviewed video footage from the first sections of the race. We finally had more teams start to pass us while he was out.
Once moving again Will was much better, even with his light running low and FINALLY he had to poop! After nearly four days that was almost as much of a struggle as the darn bike ride… I thought I heard a newborn crying at one point… he emerged a new man! We soon hit the power line trail that would take us most of the way to the TA. Steve had a wicked endo on a slick rock section here and I don’t know how both he and the bike were able to continue after that. He took a tremendous shot on the thigh and I’m sure he’s still feeling that one days later.
We rode fairly well to the TA (actually, remarkably well compared to the previous riding) with the exception of one little bobble getting from the power line out to South Gibson Lake Rd from the power line. We rode about 2-300 yards on a parallel trail before turning around and getting out to the road. They both would have gotten us there, but in our state I wanted the easiest route possible.
So what started out as a ride with about 2 hrs of grace time turned into 2 hrs past the cut-off!?!?! When we pulled into the TA Will’s mom (Suzi) and sister (Syd) were there waiting for us (with the dog, Cleo). That really perked him up. He will never admit that and I will have to sleep with one eye open after he reads this, but it’s true… his mommy saved the day! She told him how proud she was and that he’d always regret giving up now and next thing we knew he was cracking jokes and pounding back a can of Stag Chili!
It’s unfortunate that the cut-off was set as it was, but I totally understand why it was set the way it was. Three teams did the trek in the 5-6 hour range and 4 did it in the 7.5 to 10 hour range. I don’t think any of those teams had nav skills any worse than ours and some were better. The unfortunate thing for us was that I have a cottage on the lake that we had to nav around and I can guarantee that even at our walking pace, we would have done that trek in less than 6 hours… I’d bet my house on it… even the part I own. If the top teams had my knowledge of the area they could do it in 3 hours… 2.5 if they were fresh enough and they would only swim once and get wet twice more up to the waist. Unfortunately it’s tough to write in the course description “cut off at CP9 01:00 or 06:00 for Fat Bastard and his band of merry racers”…. So, for all of our misery on the first bike, we were rewarded with another sloppy bike section... complete with a torrential downpour! The final bike on the FULL course took all the teams roughly 1.5 to 1.75 hours. The SHORT course bike took anywhere from 3 to 5 hours… and in one final flip-off from the AR gods … we were the fastest team on the short course bike leg after being the slowest on the first bike!!! … bite me!
Everyone did the same final paddle. It was a 1 hour paddle with moderate effort… or in Will’s case NO EFFORT… passenger! We retrieved the cache of cold beer but did not open the cooler until the final portage to the finish… still ice in it after over 36 hours!!!
We crossed the line with just over 6.5 hours to spare, which made it extra hard for Will to swallow our short course finish. He knew the trek and knew it could have been easily done in time, but that’s another lesson learned. So it was a little bitter-sweet. He was very happy that he stuck it out and completed ‘A’ course, but definitely has some regrets that he didn’t complete ‘THE’ course. He’ll be back… as will I. It was another Awesome AR experience from the WT. Maybe next summer he’ll go out West and work for Shine Energy and his Boss will put in a Team!!
This report focusses a lot on Will, but I must commend Steve and Mike for being awesome team mates. Steve can set speed records for dry-bagging his gear for swims and then suiting up again and Mike has an unflappable positive energy, as well as taking some of my weight for the back half of the course (I took way too much extra food and clothes on this race… just in case). Thanks Guys! Will will never forget this one!