Hi everyone! It’s Emily here, coming to you LIVE as the NEW PROGRAM COORDINATOR at Alpine Shop! That’s right, the local business that has supported my adventure racing team for so many years has now become my employer. Let me tell you, it’s a dream come true. Not only am I surrounded by the very best outdoor gear and apparel all day long, the people I get to work with are amazing and share my passion of GETTING OUTSIDE YOURSELF! If you’ve been following Team Alpine Shop in our adventure racing season, you know that I write extensive and detailed race reports over on my personal blog. But here, I’d like to give you a shorter recap of our day at the Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr Adventure Race.
|Jeff, Erl and I at the bike drop on race morning. Photo by Stacey Hagen.|
Race morning was early and cold. Erl (our substitute teammate since Doug was out of town) and I met Jeff at the bike drop in Castlewood at 0630 and it was in the low 20s. We dropped off our bikes and biking gear at the beach, and then drove over to Race HQ at La Salle Middle School. The school had its doors and bathrooms open for us, and it was so nice to have a warm place to get ready! We figured out the perfect combination of base layers, insulation layers, and shell layers to keep us comfortable for this fast-paced race, and pretty soon it was time to line up for the start.
TREK 1, 2mi, CP 1-3, 0:15
|Team Alpine Shop among the top 5 teams at the start! I’m in the purple fleece top. Photo by Mary Welter.|
We take off in a herd of racers…172 to be exact. We let other teams set the pace and are quite content to sit somewhere in the top 10 overall. Jeff punches the CP1 cleanly and we take off to CP2. Here, the path turns to gravel and we start to encounter some Saturday morning dog-walkers who are a bit confused to see a mass of pack-wearing people barreling down on them. We pass them as politely as we can on the out-and-back run to CP2. I love out-and-backs early in races because they let us cheer for a lot of teams, and today is no exception. I actually get super out of breath from yelling “good job!” so much so I try to hide behind David to recover. We reach the end of the trek and tumble down the hill where all of the boats are staged.
|Jeff, Erl, and David running to CP3 with Nathan from Toporadicals. I’m just out of the picture. Photo by Patrick & Donovan Feder.|
It’s basically mass chaos, but somehow we manage to collect 4 paddles, 4 PFDs, 2 canoes, and 1 punch of CP3. Oh, and….SURPRISE! The volunteer hands us a bonus map which adds an unannounced trekking section to the middle of the paddle. Unfazed, we put in to the Meramec River with minimal fuss and get paddling.
PADDLE 1, 4.2mi, CP 4-5
|At the put-in. Steamy. Photo by Patrick and Donovan Feder.|
We’re in the mix of the top 5 teams as we start paddling downstream on the Meramec. We’re in our planned pairs, me in the back with Jeff and Erl in the back with David. I’m using my super-warm ski mittens to avoid the frozen hands like last year and so far they’re working great, even as the spray from the paddle starts to freeze on the gunwhales and thwarts. It’s really a beautiful morning to be on the river, and I use all my concentration to keep the boat on the most efficient line. We punch CP4 at Sherman Beach and get back out into the main channel. Pretty soon, we start seeing the boats in front of us land at CP5 for the start of the surprise trek. We get there quickly and do the same. Both Jeff’s and my packs are soaking wet, but for some reason I don’t even feel the chill when I throw it back on.
TREK 2, 2mi, CP 38-42
|This is the map we were handed at CP3. I added the orange arrows showing our route. Also ignore the red scribbles, that was from later in the race.|
We negotiate our way up the steep earthen bank with 5-6 other teams and take off on a clockwise loop for the 5 surprise/bonus trekking CPs. David’s decided to route us 39-41-42-40-38, and we join a pack of teams on the trail run to CP39. This entire map is a flat flood plain with only a few mapped vegetation features and basically one contour line to navigate off of. Once we’ve punched all 5 bonus CPs, we run across a field of tall, dead grass, take a group pee-break, and hop back in the canoes. Somehow, even though we’ve been running with about 5 other teams, we get onto the water in the lead!
|Our friends on Team Virtus running through the field on Trek 2. Photo by Bob Jenkins.|
PADDLE 2, 2mi, CP 6, 1:45 total for paddle-trek-paddle
|Jeff and I finishing out the paddling section. Photo by Patrick and Donovan Feder.|
Just because we’re leading for a moment, doesn’t mean it’s easy to stay there. We have 2 other boats for company through the first little congested section but I focus really hard on keeping my line and no-one dumps, although David and Erl tell us later that they came scarily close. This paddle is shorter than the first, so we work really hard to keep the boat moving as fast as possible. Finally, the Castlewood beach appears and we take-out with about a 30-second lead on Team CRX and AMTZ, with Toporadicals, 36 Down, and Extreme Electrical not far behind! CP6 has a gear check which is more mass chaos, but the volunteers do a great job at managing everything. A lot of teams opted to do this race with flat pedals, but we all take a bit of extra time to change into biking shoes, hoping that our feet will appreciate being dry and warm after the paddle.
|At the take-out, with AMTZ hot on our sterns. Photo by Stacy Hagen.|
BIKE 1, 6mi, CP 7-14, 0:40
|Getting ready to start riding, I’m helping Erl put on his glove. Photo by Donovan and Patric Feder.|
We’ve got a loop of Castlewood singletrack, and the route is pretty much the best-case scenario for me (keeping the most technical bits on the uphills instead of the downhills). We can’t see anyone ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean anything with the quality of the teams we’re racing today. We get to work climbing Grotpeter, motor through Roller Coaster, and descend smoothly down Love. The trails are starting to thaw and get greasy as we hit the short out-and-back on the dirt crit loop, but we all keep the rubber side down as we knock out the last CPs on this leg. Then it’s into TA where we will be given maps for the rest of the course!
As we approach the shelter, we spot AMTZ already there, so we know we’re a few minutes down in second place. We punch CP14 and the volunteer hands us a map with instructions for 8 trekking CPs, 3 of which we have to plot ourselves. This isn’t a big deal, until David digs around in his pack for our plotter and discovers it fell out at the gear check! We allow ourselves about 5 seconds of panic, and then Jeff tells me to make a plotter out of paper like we did at the Berryman 16hr. I rip off a piece of the map and use the printed scale to make a rudimentary plotter. David calls UTM coordinates and we slowly get the 3 CPs transferred onto the trekking map. I’m not even sure if they’re right, but we have to leave NOW if we’re going to have a chance of catching AMTZ.
TREK 3, 3.5mi, CP 15-22, 0:45
|The map for Trek 3. We ripped the bottom of the map off and used it to plot 17, 18, and 19.|
We storm out of TA on a mission, but I’m really, really scared about the 3 CPs we just haphazardly plotted on the map. I’m SO RELIEVED once we’ve found these first three CPs, and now only have the pre-plotted CPs left. We hit CP15 next, overrunning the side reentrant slightly, and as we descend back down after punching, we spot AMTZ approaching. Erl and I try to adjust our route to not give away the correct reentrant, but it doesn’t really do any good. We cross back over Ries Rd (legal to cross but illegal to run along), climb up to CP16, and then run back down to CP20. We catch up with AMTZ here because they took a slightly different order (17-16-15-20) and we all meet up at the creek crossing. David, sensing an opportunity, leads us straight through a knee-deep section of the creek while AMTZ chooses a slightly longer and dryer route. Our feet are now soaking wet but we’re in the lead!
|Here is a different team crossing the creek at CP20. We had crossed earlier in a deeper section, and then crossed here as well. We were not this careful. Photo by Patrick and Donovan Feder.|
We all know this could be a make-or-break moment in the outcome of the race, so I give my team a quick pep talk, “Guys, we have a gap, we have to push it super hard up this hill and make it stick!” We charge up the backside of Lone Wolf, everyone red-lining in an effort to gain the lead. In between gasping breaths, I try to encourage as much as possible, and we make it to the top of the hill having opened up a slight advantage over AMTZ. We crash down the other side, David picks the correct reentrant for CP21, Jeff punches CP21, and we race back to TA with about a minute’s lead.
Back at the shelter, the volunteer hands us an entire packet of maps for the remainder of the race. It contants four 8.5×11 maps, double-sided, with 12 CPs scattered among them. It’s really confusing to make sense of everything and plan a route to the finish line. David and I work together to get everything sorted, reading the clue sheet again and again to make sure we’re doing everything according to the rules. Meanwhile, Erl and Jeff complete their TA and then help change David’s and my shoes so we can leave faster. Finally, we think we’ve got it all figured out and hop on bikes, leaving in 1st place!
BIKE 2, 23mi, CP 23-34, 1:46
We know AMTZ is stacked with really strong bikers, so we organize into a towing paceline and hustle out of Castlewood State Park. The first three CPs (23-24-25) must be found in order, and David guides us smoothly to each one. Then we have a bit of a route choice, and, after further analyzing the map as we’re riding, David decides to change his original plan and go 27-28-29-30-26, and then head into the west side of Castlewood for 31-32-33. We ride across Ridge Rd and descend down the paved Rock Hollow trail to CPs 28 and 29. On the way down, we actually see CP30 hanging in the woods, but race rules say we must bike to it (no bike-whacking allowed on this land) so we ride down to the Zombie trail head (CP29) and then take the singletrack uphill to the flag. This singletrack is newly-built by GORC and it’s a really fun ride. We get the punch, ride the trail back down, and then take the Al Foster path to CP26 and continue into the west side of Castlewood.
The three controls on the west side of Castlewood are really fun. The singletrack is straightforward and fast, and we’re all still feeling decent. David guides us smoothly to each CP and we’re out of there in a flash. Once we’re back on the Al Foster, we know we just have a mile to the CP34 and the finish line. Time to empty the tanks! The boys each take turns pulling while we absolutely fly down the path. Pretty soon, we spot the iconic orange and white Bonk Hard Racing inflatable arch signifying the finish line. We ease the pace just slightly to make sure everyone’s together and cross the finish line with huge smiles.
|Big smiles at the finish line. Photo by Mary Welter.|
It is incredibly satisfying to finish 1st at the Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr Adventure Race. Sprint races are so stressful for me, since one mistake or mechanical can derail an entire race, where as in the 24hr races you have more opportunity to recover. We did make a few mistakes out there, we always do, but each one was small and we were able to recover quickly. That’s the value of racing with three highly experienced teammates. Even though all of our transitions were chaotic, we were always communicating and trying to help the team as a whole. We were constantly checking on each other, making sure that no one was getting too cold or hungry or blown-up. When we had the opportunity to grab the lead, we all recognized it and had the legs to make it happen.
It is so great to see a huge field in an adventure race, and we enjoyed the intense competition from several speedy teams. Everyone was so positive and encouraging, even when we were trying to rip each others’ legs off. That is the spirit of adventure racing! If you are a beginner racer and have questions, please stop by the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood anytime, I am happy to help you learn more about the sport!