Adventure Race 1 
Wilderness Traverse 2017, with BNM, BCB, and TCG
I came into the race with high hopes, and a score to settle.
My first WT, in 2013, was about survival. We had a bout of tire troubles as MarkVT flatted and reflatted. We had heat as the full sun of the hydro cut biking taxed me and I lied to the nice nurse and said I felt fine. We fumbled with 1:50k trek legs. Still, we almost made the final cut off, about an hour too late to jump in the boats. Given our rookie status, a short course wasn’t the end of the world.
We returned in 2014, more hopeful. However, we were too conservative on foot, taking safe but long ways, and then the heavens dumped 4 in (10 cm) of rain which turned us into bike pushers instead of bike riders. That and two monstrous, hallucination-inducing climbs had us not entirely disappointed (in the moment) to miss the trek cut off back over those hills by a pair of hours.
Now back in 2017, with more nav chops (I thought) and a strong team - BNM, fresh off a top ten at USARAs, the indefatigable Brenda, and the always finding-something in the well Tizoc, we had a chance for the full course.
As always, I love the way the race is organized. There is no BS. A week or two ahead of time, you get the general course notes with discipline order, bin availability, and estimated durations. Then on race eve, you get your maps, and if you figure out what page your next CP is on, you can see the gist of the course, which is usually straightforward since there aren’t too many TAs. 45 minutes later, a little Q&A and then you are off to plan your routes.
We planned something sensible and were able to get to sleep by 11 or so. I love this race! With the start on site, we didn’t even have to get up early. No plotting, and the race has something unique called “gear bins”, which are transported to various transition areas so you aren’t self-supporting 30 hrs of gear from the start. More races should consider this.
We knew we had a long race, so we deliberately sat on the pace. I begged Brenda to bear with us. She is so competitive; I imagine she was dying inside. But, even by #2, we moved up a few spots efficiently. Then we bobbled #3 slightly, failing to correctly sweep the hill, instead going doing the road (easy walking, my nemesis) and trying to cut at the top, and finding a few extra incorrect tops where we popped up. No harm done, just a couple minutes lost, well that and a BNM ankle twist.
We transitioned reasonably quickly her, just shoes and then onto the bikes.
This was a riot. I’m not sure if there were any shortcuts to the trail. We took the road around, since that seemed easiest. On the trail, we found some puddles, and here I got my feet wet which would remain the case for, oh, the entirety of the race. At one point, we were in a multi team mixed up pace line dodging monstrous puddles. I’m amazed no one crashed. We did see one derailleur hanger succumb to the submerged rocks. But it wasn’t ours!
We arrived here and switched to trek mode. I believe we took the Snowpants route around the lake, rather than back to the junction and over that bridge looking thing. We elected to cut cross country to #6, which got us TEN spots higher in the rankings, despite a stop for some of my stomach troubles. Tizoc crushed the nav. We were pumped.
Then we went to 7, which was a problem. T and I have an issue where if one designs a route, and the other executes it, it doesn’t seem to work as well. The veg looked a little thick off the trail that sort of pointed to the island, and the compass didn’t say the trail was too wrong, so we continue along it further than originally designed. Then with the 1:50k, when we did get off, I think we lost swamp counts a little bit. There was a lot of “300m more to the lake!” and then another swamp. I panicked, and we decided we must have missed to the south and would bail north. By luck, this put us in exactly the right spot. The swims were not bad. Some teams stripped down, but we were wet and still comfy from all of the deep swamps we’d crossed, so I just walked the first swim (could touch). T took my pack for the second, then swam back and towed BNM and I both across. Monster!
To 8 was not my finest moment. I thought I had the bearing right, but I missed a bit south, and we hit a swamp. Unfortunately, this swamp had easy walking along its edge, so rather than cut more deliberately to the cut out road, I went with it. Then it sort of hit a deeper larger swamp, with no cut visible. We should have went north into the woods, but rounding corners is always good and the southern woods *looked” higher than the swamp, so we went there, only it wasn’t and it was miserably, super slow, deep back-in-the-mangroves. I destroyed a lot of team morale here. One cannot imagine the joy upon seeing a man-made object denoting the cut road, even if we figured out we’d lost the 10 spots we picked up by 6.
This was not our finest or fastest TA. Pre race, we had a 15 minute target time, and this ran over a bit. I was frustrated - as the wise JayXC had told once asked, “Why change in a 24?”, I was pretty quick to swap over. Others had chosen more substantial clothing changes and this took longer. I get antsy - this is a character flaw, I’m working on it. Then when we finally left, we forgot a helmet, but hadn’t made it far so we retrieved it from the truck, no harm there.
Bike 2 (the long one)
This went mostly well, other than I think we have some room for improvement. This leg featured some “mini TAs”, where we stopped to adjust clothing. Or stopped to have a snack. Or stopped to go to the bathroom. (washroom in Canadian?) I think we should adopt the MRA philosophy of “you can stop, but we’re not, so catch up”. Perhaps something to discuss ahead of the next race to align expectations.
T had not seen the need for full suspension until after 9, which was choppy. But that wasn’t the hardest bit - allegedly the trails were dry (dryer?) during testing, but today they had frequent deep mud holes, which we usually didn’t attempt to ride. There was a lot of mud. Enough that I even suffered a chain issue: it got lodged between the bosses for my removed granny ring and the bb shell. Eventually (I think in 45 seconds, BNM says in 45 minutes) figured out I could lever the chain onto the chainring and I stood on it and it popped out. Hooray!
So we continued and rode through more mud. Eventually, we came out to a gate, hopped it, and encountered an angry land owner, who was possibly on the phone with Bob as we passed through. We apologized a lot but never stopped, and slide over the next hill to adjust layers, as had a number of other teams.
Sadly, as we worked towards 11, I could start to do the math. We figured four hours to paddle to the mini trek TA, so we needed to arrive at the paddle TA by 11:45 and be out by midnight. But we were not going to arrive by 11:45. Or by midnight. I still haven’t quite figured out where the time went - my slop to #7 was maybe 30 minutes, my slop to #8 was 30 minutes, TA3 was good for 15 minutes…..was that all of it? Plus maybe I should be able to bike faster.
I had been good on layers with just a t shirt, arm warmers, tri shorts, and tights, but as my hopes faded, my warmth did as well so I donned my new rain jacket for the final push to the paddle TA.
Next year, unless we have practiced TAs, and have an agreed plan. This was more like 45 minutes. Granted, many teams took longer here - it was cold, it was going to be a long leg (8-14 hours), but I felt ready after a bit less than that and got a bit antsy.
Fog! I was a bit tired after the bike, so I gave T the map. He got us across the bay, but we could not find the exit, so he gave me the map back. This was tough! I reset us in the corner near the exit, and we brute forced it. You could not see 10 m with headlights on. With headlights off, you could see distance ridge tops, but no detail. So to find the exit, you had to be on top of it. Once we exited the bay, it was a bit easier. I went more frequently without lights. We managed our way around and headed north. But, we were again looking for quite small cuts with no visibility. I missed, and we ended up in a cove. Another team joined us. Their navigator and I argued about our location. She was certain we were well north of our position. I argued we weren’t yet at our position. We were both wrong, but we decided the best we could do was to push hard west and find a way out, after confirming that the road signs in one of the yards did not indicate a road.
Success! We were out! Brenda believed in me as we paddled north. The other boat asked a lot of questions that I interpreted as “we don’t think you know what you are doing”. I don’t know that they meant it that way, but that’s how I took it. “I’m getting us to the CP! Everything is believable!” Brenda continued to concur with me. I don’t know if she had faith, but she either did or faked it and that empowered me to keep after it.
It was a huge relief to find a road sign indicating we’d arrived at the bay that contained CP13. Foolishly, we took a mini TA here, despite being a few minutes from the CP. Team pre race strategy for next time, or me adjusting expectations. It was soooo good to arrive at 13.
We needed to arrive at 14 by 4 am to do the trek, which was not going to happen. It was getting lighter, but cuts were still hard to see, so we made a few bobbles to find bay exits. The portages were wild - one was 1200 meters up and over a ridge on essentially single track. With a canoe on one’s shoulders. With a pack set for 10 hours of water and food.
As daylight continued to spread, the navigation got more and more fun. It was possibly my favorite navigation experience of the year, reading the islands and paddling along. I did not put my map as away as one would do in a multisport tri! We go to 14 three hours late, and turned to the finish. A three person team wrecked us quickly as we left 14. I feel bad I didn’t try to race them more. We caught and gapped a male team, so as we did the last few miles we started to fall out of race mode, with our position set. Navigating the islands remained fun, even when I used the wrong map and didn’t quite hit one of the portages right.
Some things went very well:
* BNM and BCB were hyper accurate pace counting machines. They should be banned, not gps watches!
* Arm warmers were awesome - I had the minimum number of clothing adjustments, and those were great.
* I ate less sugar (fewer shot blocks). The trail mix and bars were so dry that I drank a lot to get them down, and I stayed well-hydrated.
* No cramps from my 2 per hour Endurolyte strategy.
* Our pack sharing worked well
* Bladder on pfd was great for staying hydrated on the boat, so glad I rigged it up this time
Things I’d do differently:
* Agree on TA plan and practice it. When cold and wet. So we are all in agreement, whatever the plan is.
* I suck at following long bearings. I can work on this I think.
* I was way too fat. I swore I wouldn’t race over 200 lbs (91 kg), but I did anyway, and by 20 lbs (9 kg), which is just dumb. I have to get this eating thing sorted.
* I should have eaten more in the boat. BCB can paddle it straight from the front, and I failed capitalize on her prowess
* I think we run bike pace lines wrong. Instead of riding at 50% energy at 14 mph fragmented and lining up to ride 50% energy at 15 mph, we line up and ride 60% energy at 16 mph, and get tired faster and then the line breaks up all the time from struggles
* I should swim more ahead of time for confidence. It was fine and I shouldn’t have worried so much.
* BCB has too much bike strength. I should have had her tow me more often even if I didn’t need it for team pace, because I could have been fresher for navigation, BCB could have stayed warmer, and we would have held the pace line together better
* I’d try to get everyone to hot swap packs and try not to change, for super fast TAs. I will likely hot swap next time. I have enough packs, I just need a few more rain pants and rain jackets and bivy sacks.
Immediately after the race, my feet swelled and hurt. I do not know what did me in:
* Newer Cascadias I hadn’t worn much
* my weight + canoe + pack on portages
* feet wet and cold for 22 hrs
But they tingled for two weeks afterwards. They don’t outright tingle now, unless I think about them or take a shower.
Also I probably need a new chain, but I had one ordered anyway. :)
I am eager to return. I think this team, with better team management and if I had navigated better, could have come awfully close to full course, and if not, certainly could have broken the top ten (better Michigan’s current best finish of 11th, from my team in 2014). So I look forward to WT in 2018. I may not race as much generally in 2018, so it’s my focus - full course / top ten / best ever Michigan finish or bust. If there is a better 24 hr race on this continent, I’d like to know about it, but that’ll be a tall order, competing with true route choice and live tracking!