Thursday, September 29, 2011

Storm The Eastern Shore, Part I

After a crazy rainy ride down to Cape Charles, Virgina (just past the north side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel) one thing was clear to me: I wasn't nervous for this race at all. No butterflies, no anxiety (other than the fact I realized I left my DEET at home and that I couldn't find my bike computer anywhere) and I had a steady diet of chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, Diet Mountain Dew and Ellio's (thanks for the race fuel inspiration, Abby and Val) to look forward to.

We met up with B.J., ate pizza, threw our junk into our packs and gear box and I actually got about 7 hours of sleep before our alarms started ringing at 5:30 a.m.

Maps weren't handed out until 6 a.m. Points were already plotted, although we** were all a bit curious about navigating via satellite maps in addition to the usual topo maps.

This race was BYO boat. Most of the other teams had these pencil-thin sea kayaks that looked like they weighed as much as a yard of gossamer. Our  rental "kayaks" rolled up an hour or so late, towed by a guy who I am pretty sure was The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

Hello. I will tow crappy ocean kayaks to you. Then I will bowl and drink
a white Russian or seven.

The gouged clunkers The Dude brought to us would have to do -- or we could swim the 30 miles of paddling that were ahead of us.

At just after 9 a.m. we were off for a short 4-mile foot section before the paddle put-in. I was in a good mood. I sprinted. The boys hung back, chatting about whatever it is that boys chat about at the beginning of a 30-hour race. I ran back to my teammates, grabbed the passport from Bill and ran ahead to punch the first point.

LET'S GO! The terrain was flat, the nav was obvious even to me and it wasn't pouring down rain like it was supposed to. I was happy.

We jogged into transition to the kayak put-in and tried to carry our boats the half-mile or so to the water. Um, no. Too heavy, so we took the time to set up our two pairs of portage wheels -- one for the tandem that Bill and I were using and one for B.J.'s single. We were off and managed to save ourselves some time and effort.

And then we hit the water.

"How long do you think this part is?" I questioned.

"In miles or in hours?" Bill asked.

"Uh, both."

"Oh, about 25 or 30 miles. Will probably take us at least 10 hours," Bill responded.

Well, shit. I decided that I'd hate the paddle, be terrible at it and that we'd miss the 4 p.m. course cutoff for one of the kayak checkpoints.

Except sea kayaks move a bit faster than the damn duckies we'd been relegated to for most of our other races this year. And we were in open water with silly birds, fun plants and other cool things to navigate through.

Happy boys. And a milk jug bailer I made the morning of the race. A shoutout to my parents who bought Bill a waterproof camera for his birthday. Alas, this was the only occasion we had time to actually take it out during the race. The rest of the time we were using our arms to push aside thorn bushes, ride, paddle, stuff food into our face, swat at mosquitos ...

I was loving it. I announced to Bill, B.J. and whatever other poor teams were within earshot of my glee that I was having a great time. I did this approximately every 30 seconds for the first three hours.

And then we hit a portion of nasty, shallow water suffering from low tide. And lots and lots of stink. It smelled like the inside of 1,000 shoes after a marathon, plus 56 blocks of Velveeta, plus rotting veggies and also a bit of barf. Fortunately, I got to appreciate this to the fullest extent possible. The water soon became too shallow to paddle. As Bill had a spray skirt and was staring at the maps I got to get out and pull us along. Spectacular.

Nothing says "I love you" like dragging your husband through the mire at hour three of an adventure race. The nasty muck seeped into my trail shoes and squished between my toes. I gagged a few times and threw up in my mouth once. But I was amused.

I wish that this video was scratch and sniff so you could get the full effect of the stench.

Soon, I felt like we were playing Legend of Zelda, circa 1989. Bill switched from the topo to the satellite map and we wove our way through a labyrinth of grass, reeds and gigantic birds who looked bewildered to see us.

I had no idea where we were as we plugged along for miles. Fortunately, Bill knew what he was doing and suddenly the maze spit us out right where we belonged -- checkpoint 6. The lead teams were already on their way out but we were certainly in the thick of things (at that point, anyway) and decided to go for CP 7 -- a bonus point that seemed to be a straightforward run about a mile and a half south on the beach into a grove of trees.

Off we went, running hard. A few minutes in Bill realized he left the map in the boat. Grr.  But he was convinced that the CP flag would be easy to spot so we continued on.

This part of the course was awesome. As we jogged along the isolated coast, silent aside from the shuffle of our feet and the lulling sound of waves lapping at the shore, I realized I was having way too much fun.

Yelling "WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE" did not seem appropriate, however, so I focused my joy into running harder. I ran a minute ahead of the boys, easily found the point, we spun it and we were on our way back to the boats for a mile portage. Eazy peasy, with our two sets of wheels and all.


One set of wheels was on loan from the race directer/owner/whatever else he does for GOALS. The second set was on loan from some friends of B.J.'s who were racing as a team of two. Unfortunately for us, that team decided to sit on and break the set of wheels that they were using. We found them standing next to our boats when we returned from CP 7, eager to have their wheels back.

Well, thanks. They snagged the wheels from us and zoomed on their way to CP 8 as we stood there and looked at each other, trying to figure out how to portage our massive boats, gear, paddles, food and various other sundries that we were instructed to carry to CP 8.

First we tried stacking the boats onto the one set of wheels. No go. The balance was off a lot and the boats kept tipping over. Then the boys tried to carry the single kayak. Too heavy. Finally, we borrowed some webbing from another team, B.J. rigged up a sling and he dragged his boat through ankle-deep water while Bill and I pulled the tandem through the sand. Fortunately CP 8 was easy to find and we spun it back to where we picked up our boats to start the portage.

I am cool with portaging when it serves a purpose, but checkpoint 8 seemed to be added just to give us a chance to lug all of our junk up the beach for a bit. Boring, especially considering that the course was otherwise creative.

We soon realized that we were racing against the clock. In order to get credit for our bonus CP 7 to count we had to check in at the next kayak point by 4 p.m. It was 2:45 and we estimated it would take us more than an hour to get to the next point.

The race was on. We peed in the sand (I was modest and hid behind an oyster shell), threw ourselves and our stuff into the boat and paddled hard.

I, usually the pessimist, was feeling optimistic.

"I bet that the tide is in and that crap we had to walk through on the way here is now under water," I said.

The boys hoped I was right. And for once I was sure that I was.

Sure enough, the tide and the current was on our side and we moved along quickly, passing several teams as we went.

I wanted food. I wanted a break. But I wanted credit for CP 7 more.

We saw what we thought was the point a mile or so in the distance. It quickly came closer and we saw the race volunteers snapping pictures and cheering us along -- we made it with 45 minutes to spare.

We paused for a snack and a drink. I thought we only had a mile or two left. At this point we'd been in the boat for almost 7 hours. Time to do something else.

Bill broke the news to me gently -- he told me we still had more than 9 miles of open water to go, with some challenging navigation choices along the way.

We made one mistake along the way that cost us about 20 minutes, but then Bill decided we should take a gamble that we'd be able to paddle a section of land usually above water except during high tide. He thought the tide would still be high enough and, if it was, about 2 miles of paddling would be cut off our trip.

He was dead on and pointed out a house in the distance that marked the end of what was about 9 hours in the boat out of the first 10 hours of racing. We paddled hard to the takeout and learned we were toward the back of the pack. We were, however, also one of the few teams who opted to go to CP 7, so we weren't too surly about our position.

We got some UTM coordinates that B.J. and Bill plotted while I refilled water bottles, put on dry clothes and ate pizza and chicken nuggets (complete with sweet and sour sauce) before we set out on our bikes for the next leg of the race.

**When I say "we" I really mean B.J. and Bill. I don't navigate. I am not too proud to admit it.

Come back for Part II, coming sooner or later to a Brick Wall near you.


Abby said...

You should invent scratch and sniff video. You'd make a fortune.

Laurie said...

I think I will. I am going to stay home from work today and work on this creation.

Kate said...

Wow, that's a lot of paddling. Kind of puts my little 14 hour race into perspective. But it does sound pretty cool, other than the stench.

Lia said...

Love this adventure! I also love that I had to google "was Kris Kristofferson the dude in the Big Lebowski", and my answer was "no that's just Jeff Bridges".

Mallory said...

Looks like so much fun! Lots of paddling!