Like any good procrastinator I woke up on the morning of April 15th and wrote our government a check. Normally this sends me into a downward spiral of depression but this time it was different (at least a little). That evening we were on our way to Warsaw, Missouri for the 3rd annual Truman Lake adventure race put on by Off Road Fixation. I packed the truck, picked up Reya (our 11 week old beautiful baby girl), went to the high school to pick up my wife Sarah from work, and finally went to get Carter (our soon to be three year old awesome son) from daycare. With that we were on time and on our way to Truman Lake.
We drove uneventfully (for the most part) straight to Warsaw. We got checked in to the cabin that we were sharing with Maggie and Justin (my brother and sister-in-law) and their two little ones. That’s right, two infants and two toddlers in a two bedroom cabin for the weekend! Do we know how to party or what! When we got there Trent (the third member of our team) and Allison were already there and Bruce (Justin’s dad and teammate number four) and Wendy showed up soon after. We got everything unpacked and left the girls with the children before heading to the race meeting and check in. The check in and race meeting were a breeze. Kelly Sumner, the race organizer, did a fantastic job setting everything up and we really got the feeling that this was a well organized and laid back event. When we got back to the cabin we got all of our gear together and tried to figure out the best way to hit all of the checkpoints before trying to get some sleep.
I finally drifted off around 11:30 only to be awakened by Carter at 4:15. Apparently he was more excited about the race than I was because he was ready to get up and get moving. I convinced him to at least lie quietly until I had to get up at 4:45. After that I tried to bribe him back to sleep with the promise of a new backpack that I had brought along for him so that Sarah could get some much needed rest… but it just didn’t work. We got ready, Allison dropped off Trent with Justin and I, and we left for the bike drop at 5:30. When we got there it was 36 degrees and raining. We were told that there had been some changes to the course and were given a new map. Due to the rain and wind they had to cut out the paddling section out of the race which meant the entire orienteering section in the beginning had to be cut as well. We were given new maps and told to be at Sterett Creek Marina by 6:00 instead of 6:30. Now we would be biking first, orienteering by the bike trails second, and then back on the bikes for some single track before a long ride across the levy back to Sterett Creek. Once there we would have an optional canoe leg if we wanted. This was a bummer because the orienteering in the beginning looked awesome, but it was also very understandable given the weather conditions we were facing.
We high tailed it back to the cabin to wait for Bruce who was going to drop off his bike and then pick us up. We scrambled to figure out a decent route through the orienteering and then made it down to Sterett Creek by 6:20 (yes we were late). When we got there, we were told that the bus wasn’t leaving until 8:00! WTF! It wasn’t really a big deal, Wendy had already left but we got her on the phone and she came back and took us to the cabin. (Hats off to Kelly for getting the course completely changed overnight, I doubt he slept much). We got back down to Sterett Creek at 7:30 or so and got on a bus pretty quick over to our starting point. We had to wait there for a while for the bus to make another trip so we ended up chatting with a 3 person team named “till death do us part”. They were definitely experienced racers and since this was the first adventure race that any of us had participated in we were picking their brains about racing. The girl on the team (I didn’t catch her name) was definitely giving us a hard time. She had every reason to; we were the only people there that were in shorts! We told her we were a little worried about the first hill that we had to climb on the bikes and she said “what hill”. I pointed across the dam and said “that one right there”. “That’s not a hill”, she said, “That’s a bump”. These guys were definitely going to kick our ass.
When the second bus arrived Kelly gathered us all up and handed out the punch cards. We were then told to go line up at the end of the parking lot because we were going to start with about a half mile run to the stop sign and back before getting on our bikes (this guy loves to change it up on us). When Kelly said go Trent took off like he had a rocket up his ass. “Where the hell is he going” said Justin. I said, “he must be really excited about this race”. Eventually Trent turned around and realized he was making his team look like a bunch of old women and slowed down a bit. I figured that once we got a half mile run out of the way that I would be plenty warm for the bike ride; but… I was wrong. It may be because it was 40 degrees out and I didn’t have a hat or gloves on but I’m pretty sure it’s because Trent was riding his bike about as fast as fingernails grow. Seriously, I was dying to peddle my bike but Trent was driving Mrs. Daisy down the damn road! We got passed by several teams on the first bike leg and I figured we were in trouble when we hit the hill on the other side of the dam. However, the girl from till death do us part was right, it was just a bump. We went up it with no problem.
When we got to the first checkpoint (CP) it was time to drop our bikes and do a little orienteering. We were greeted by 4 volunteers in Harley Davidson attire who had to be freezing just standing around out there. (Did I mention that a portion of the race proceeds went to Bikers against Child Abuse, very cool. Big thanks to all of the volunteers that made the race happen). Anyway, my entire team had to “use the facilities” after we punched our card so I waited patiently and snapped a few pictures while I was at it. We decided that we weren’t going to use the trails at all to get to CP 2 even though it was right on the side of a trail. We had set a bearing earlier and we headed for it. We navigated right to the second CP and started towards the third. Another team was taking the same route so we walked along with them to the third CP.
We decided to follow the lake to CP 4 but after we bushwhacked for a few minutes we realized we were right next to a trail so we decided to hop on it and jog for a while. We came to a fork in the trail and turned left, when we came to another fork we stopped to look at the map and see where we were. At the same time till death do us part came jogging past us on our right. We couldn’t believe that we were this close to them! We had made up some serious time on the
orienteering because they were only using the trails and we had been mostly bushwhacking. They said that CP 4 was just down the trail that they came from. We said thanks but decided that the faster route was to the left and went that way instead. We jogged for a few more minutes and hit the CP right where we thought it was. To our surprise we got there just behind the guy that we walked with to CP 3! He had been slowly walking the entire time while we had been jogging most of the time on the trails. This, and the fact that we had gained so much time on Till death do us part taught us a big lesson; walking in a straight line is faster than running on trails.
We plotted a line to CP 5 and hit it without a problem. Now it was back to the bikes and CP 1 which was now functioning as CP 6. We headed south up the hill until we hit the road and took a left to our bikes. We punched our cards and got on our bikes for some single track. Trent was to lead us through the trail and I was dreading more of the agonizing slowness that plagued us in the first bike round. Apparently however, Trent’s bike just doesn’t do roads because we were tearing up the single track. The track was really muddy from all the rain and in my opinion was an absolute blast. We passed a team that was jogging in the opposite direction (apparently they thought they had to orienteer to CP 7. That sucks!!) Then we passed another team that was changing a tube, we asked if they needed help but they said they had it under control. We made it to CP 7 in no time and another team let us around them when we got there. We passed another team on the way to CP 8 and we were all feeling really good about our performance thus far.
The trail ran parallel with a power line to the south for quite a while and then turned and went down a somewhat steep little hill. When we got to the bottom of the hill we were greeted with about 30 yards of some super deep mud. Trent powered through it even though you could tell that others had been walking their bikes through it before us (you’ll know why in a little bit). We came to a fork in the trail and for some reason I was sure that we had to go right, everyone trusted my judgment and we continued on (trusting me here turned out to be our biggest mistake). When we got to the beginning of a small hill we saw till death do us part coming right at us. They asked if we had found CP 8 and we said no, that’s what we’re looking for. They told us that they were looking for it too but must have passed it because the levy to Sterett Creek was at the top of the hill. Damn! We consulted our maps and decided that we had to head back down the trail, pass the first fork, and take a right at the second fork that we came to. I didn’t remember seeing two forks but I figured that I missed it on the way in.
We took off behind till death do us part and were quickly riding right behind them. We passed the first fork and started looking for the second. We went back through the muddy swamp and started climbing back up the hill. As a side note, I was happy to see the girl from till death do us part have to get off her bike and walk it up the hill. If they hadn’t been in front of us we were all sure that we could have climbed it. When we got to the top there was another team there that was also looking for CP 8. I knew right where we were on the map because this is where the trail diverged from the power line. I showed everyone where I thought we were and all three teams agreed that we had to take a left at the fork that we had ridden by twice already. When we started back down the hill we were leading the pack and I was thinking that we actually had a chance at beating till death do us part.
We hit the mud and Trent stood up to power through it. When he did his chain snapped right off of his bike. Hmmm, now what do we do! We got out of everyone’s way to let the other two teams pass us. I know absolutely nothing about repairing mountain bikes but after a quick inspection I determined that the chain was missing the master link. The other teams that were riding behind us were still there and I asked them if they had a spare master link. Till death do us part didn’t but the other team (I don’t know their names) said they had a spare pin and the guy said I could take a link out and use his pin if I wanted. Awesome! The guy dug the spare pin out and handed it to me; he asked if I had a chain repair tool to which I replied, “yes but I’ve never used it”. He asked if I needed help but I refused. This gracious guy had already gone out of his way to help and I wasn’t about to slow him down anymore. The whole team thanked him and I got to work on the chain. I had just gotten the pin out and was trying to figure out how to take the link out when a friend of Trent’s named Beau with team Kuat rode by. Team Kuat is one of the best teams in the country and they were doing the long course not the short one like us. Trent asked if they had a spare master link but they said they didn’t and kept going. I guess they decided they had better check though because 30 seconds later Beau was yelling at Trent from up the trail telling him they had a spare master link for us. Sweet! What an incredible group of people these adventure racers are.
Once we had the master link in we knew we could get the chain fixed quickly. Bruce and Justin decided to ride ahead and make sure that they could find CP 8 and they would wait for us at the fork. This was legal because we actually signed up as separate two man teams and Trent and I didn’t have to stay with Bruce and Justin. Trent and I fixed the chain and gave it a quick test; everything seemed to work fine so we headed for the elusive CP 8. When we got to the fork Justin and Bruce were coming down it and they told us the CP was right up the hill and they’d wait for us. We rode up the hill and got the CP.
Finally! Now we booked it back down the trail and out of the single track to the levy. Justin and Bruce were waiting there and we all started down the hill to cross the levy. Now, looking at that levy I figured it would only take a few minutes to cross it but I think this is where the old adage “looks can be deceiving” comes from because we peddled across that levy for a loooong time. Trent was leading us and he was motoring across it at a good clip but the wind was blowing every bit of 20 miles an hour across the lake and the biking was cold and slow.
We finally got across the levy and had a pretty easy ride up the road to Sterett Creek. We were riding along just fine when I heard Justin yell “WAIT”. I turned around to see Justin jumping off his bike with his hand on his eye. Apparently Justin was riding right behind Bruce when Bruce’s bike threw big chunk of mud right at Justin’s face. Justin wiped the mud off of his face and used Bruce’s hydration bladder to flush his eye out and was ready to go right away. However, it took us a while to stop laughing before we could get back on our bikes.
When we got to Sterett Creek it was time for the “optional” canoe. The canoe was never optional for me but I’m pretty sure that Trent and Bruce would have started drinking beer right then if Justin and I wouldn’t have helped them along. They would have had good reason too. It was still only 40 degrees and the wind was still blowing really hard which was creating some pretty sizable white caps out on the lake. We watched a team ahead of us get their boat in the water and start paddling against the wind to their first CP. I’m pretty sure they paddled 30 seconds and went 10 feet. We asked Kelly if anyone had tipped their canoe and he replied “not yet”. I figured there was a 50/50 chance that we would be the first. Kelly told us that there were two checkpoints on the canoe leg and it didn’t matter what order we got them in. The first was against the wind in the back of the cove and the second brought you back past the marina and across the main channel to a group of trees on the shoreline.
We decided to go for the one in the cove first before trying the much taller waves of the main channel. Trent got in front and I got in the back. Neither one of us had much canoeing experience but Trent let me know that he had never been in a canoe without tipping it (maybe those odds are more like 70/30). We started paddling and quickly got into a good rhythm. I’m pretty sure that Trent was responsible for the majority of the forward movement in the water. Between the brutal wind and my girlish upper body I just couldn’t seem to keep the boat straight. We finally made it to the first CP of the canoe leg just behind Bruce and Justin. To our surprise we actually passed two teams along the way. Justin and Trent ran up to punch our cards and we got moving to the second canoe CP.
I thought that the wind was going to be behind us for this leg and we would coast right down to that other CP but, like almost everything else that I thought about this race I was wrong. We paddled and paddled and paddled and we were only halfway there. At this point my arms were shot and we were just entering the big water. I felt like the boat was pretty stable but those waves were getting a lot bigger. Trent was definitely a little worried about the waves so I played off my fear by telling him to stop acting like 10 year old girl and paddle the damn boat. He did, and we got through it just fine. Bruce and Justin had gotten a decent lead on us at this point and when we were still 100 yards out from the shore I saw Justin jump out of his boat and take off running across the mud for the CP. I was like, what the hell is he doing. Then I realized that those rat bastards were trying to beat us to the finish! I told Trent of my nefarious suspicions and we paddled hard to the shore. When we got there I jumped out into the water and took off running. We had to run through about 100 yards or so of really thick mud to get to the CP and Justin was just getting back when I was getting started. When I passed him I yelled “Are you trying to beat us”? He replied, “I just want to get done”. Yeah right, I thought. I started up the Rocky theme music in my head and took off.
I got the CP and hauled ass back to the boat. When I got there Trent was screwing around with his hydration hose trying to feed it through his life jacket to get a drink. I waited patiently for all of 2 seconds before I started yelling at him to hurry up. He ignored my pleas for swiftness and finally got the hose fixed. When we started after Justin and Bruce we realized that they were heading way too far to the right. We did our best to paddle in a straight line back to the takeout and dug deep to beat those guys back. Trent once again did all of the work. Don’t get me wrong I was paddling just as fervently as he was but all of our movement came from the front of the boat. Before long we realized that we were going to beat Justin and Bruce who were still way right of where they needed to be. At the same time we saw a team in front of us dump their canoe. Luckily Kelly had arranged for the water patrol to be on site and they were there immediately to help those guys out of the water. That had to be cold!
You would think we would let up when we realized we were ahead of Justin and Bruce and we saw a team plunge into icy water right in front of us but we didn’t. We drove the nail home and finished strong. When Bruce and Justin got in they tried to play it off like they weren’t trying to beat us back. If I had just gotten smoked on the last leg of a race like they did I would have said the same thing though, so I’ll let you be the judge. I asked why they were so far right and they said they think they had a bad canoe or something because they were both paddling on the right side of the boat the entire time. That sucks!
Our families all got there right when we finished which was just icing on the cake. We took some pictures and talked and laughed for a while before we were told that Kelly had pulled pork and beer and soda for us. How awesome is that guy? We grabbed a sandwich and opted for the beer over the soda.
Being our first adventure race we couldn’t have asked for a better time. Kelly put on an amazing race and we all had a blast. There were many highlights on the trip but a few things really stood out. First, the atmosphere at an adventure race is awesome. Everyone is helpful, friendly, and looking for a good time. Second, Bruce is a machine. The guy is 52 years old and he was always ready to go faster. I hope I can keep up with a bunch of 30 year olds when I’m his age. Third, you should always have a spare master link and chain tool with you. This wasn’t part of the required gear list but without it you are at the mercy of your fellow racers if you have a chain problem. Luckily, everyone that comes by you will offer to help! Finally, we will definitely be coming back next year, so if you think you’ve got what it takes to beat us… Bring it!