Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Unexpected Visitor


Imagine you’re a server at a busy restaurant, and it’s one of your busiest nights. You’re running around getting it done, and you happen to notice a couple being escorted to a table near your section. The couple looks familiar so you do a double take and move closer to get a better look. You freeze. Your heart beats like it’s going to jump out of your chest. You can’t move, you’re shaking, and you can’t breathe because you just realized that this couple is your father and his wife, who you haven’t seen in 19 years.  A few of your coworkers see the look on your face, they’re concerned and ask if you’re ok. As you tell them the story of how your dad just walked in, who you haven’t seen in years because of physical and mental abuse, there are so many emotions running through your head. Your eyes are tearing up, you’re stuttering, and you feel like you’re about to pass out. Your coworkers are sympathetic and can’t believe this is actually happening. What are the chances that your father, who you’ve had no communication with, shows up at a restaurant you just started working at, which is nowhere near his house, has no idea that you work there, and just happens to come in on a night you’re working? You would never imagine this happening, you would never be prepared for something like this. Your coworkers suggest you go in the back by the kitchen and take a few minutes to catch your breath, so you do, but as you walk back, you can see your section fill up. Others offer to help but their sections are filling up too, and even though they would still take your tables, you know you need the money. It starts becoming even busier, so now you can’t have those few minutes, you have seconds to compose yourself so you can greet your tables and pretend like none of this is happening. As you walk to your tables you pass your father and can see him out of the corner of your eye. You try to pretend he’s not there but that’s impossible. As the night goes on, you get into your groove and finally feel like you can handle this. You can feel him looking at you as you pass, it bothers you, but it’s easier for you to dismiss it because you’re so busy and you’ve made up your mind to ignore the situation for the time being. Hours pass, and you’re feeling more confident. The anxiety attack you felt coming on earlier is finally gone, he’s still sitting there, but you’ve been good about avoiding eye contact and burying the situation. So you go about your night, and you’re standing at one of your tables talking to your guests, and you feel a tap on your shoulder. Thinking it’s another server trying to get your attention, you turn around only to find your father standing there. All previous thoughts about what you would do if this happened, go out the window. You’re caught completely off guard and you have customers sitting there to witness everything. All the anxiety comes back, you start shaking again, and you decide to act like you didn’t even know he was in the restaurant, so all you can say is “Dad?” He shakes his head yes, and then you look over by the door and see his wife wave at you. You have no idea how to react, you don’t know what to do, you’re stuck, you feel trapped, and you can’t make a scene. Servers are taught to leave their problems at the door so if you’re having a bad day, you don’t bring that to work. Well after 19 years, your problem came bombarding through that door and is now standing in front of your face. You keep your composure and he finally says, “I just wanted to let you know that you look good.” That is all he says. After 19 years of not seeing his own child, that is all he has to say, and then he walks out the door. In this most awkward moment, you feel like you were kicked in the face, and your guests just witnessed everything. You walk back to the table and you have no longer have control over your emotions, tears are streaming down your face, and your guests ask you “What the hell just happened?” There’s no hiding anything at this point so you explain the situation to them and they’re very sympathetic, and tell you to go take a moment. You try to head straight for the kitchen so you can have that moment to regroup, but you have to pass all of your tables along the way. A few of them want to chat as you walk by, but then they see your face and want to know what happened, so you have to explain it again. All you want to do is disappear, but you can’t. You walk into the kitchen, take a few seconds to wipe your tears away, and even though you’re an emotional mess, you head back out to push through the rest of the busy night and wait until your shift is over to completely lose it. All of this, this entire story, happened to me a couple days ago, and I decided to write about it to help me come to terms with it. Writing helps me get through tough situations. I used to bottle up all my emotions which wasn't good for me, so that's why I'm letting my guard down and putting this out there. This is not something I can just let go and pretend it didn’t happen. I know I can’t dwell on it or let it affect my life, but it’s something I have to deal with and I know I will learn from it. I don’t expect my father to contact me, so this might be all said and done, but I can’t know that for sure. All I know is I got through the worst of it, and I think I handled it the best I could. If there is a next time, I won’t feel as weak, and I’ll be more prepared.  I do have to mention that I am very grateful for the girls I work with who I’ve only known for a few weeks. They were able to put themselves in my shoes, give me the emotional support I needed, and offer their help and keep checking on me throughout the night. This is the true meaning of teamwork. I believe that it takes a team to help you get through some of the worst moments of your life, no one should have to go through anything alone.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

2014 MISSION 18 Hour AR

MISSION Adventure Race
18 Hour
Versailles, IN
Team: Adventure Capitalists/BDAR
3 Person Coed
Racers: Don Bart, Heather Kluch, Eric Olsen

Pre Race

The couple weeks prior to race day were some of my most stressful in a long time. With trying to change my life around, I've been pretty much working 4 different jobs, two of them new jobs, so the learning process is stressful in itself. Aside from that I've been trying to fit in studying for my personal training certification, which I haven't been able to as much as I want. All these things combined made me want to pull my hair out, my brain was scattered and so were my emotions. I felt mentally drained which isn't how you want to feel right before an adventure race. During the week leading up to the race, the song La La La by Naughty Boy kept playing on the radio. Some might think this song is stupid, but this song played over and over in my head during the race, which made me feel better about myself, it gave me motivation to finish. Why? Well, I'm not sure what the exact meaning the artist meant for the song to be, but I have my own interpretation. Being a victim of child abuse, I have put that past me, or so I thought, but it seems that during my most challenging times, it rears it's ugly head every now and then. I know that none of it was my fault, there was nothing I did to deserve it, but when you're told to think a certain way about yourself for more than half of your life, sometimes it comes back to bite you in the ass. I was taught to not believe in myself, that I would never amount to anything and that no one would ever love me. So being in the not so fantastic financial and career state that I'm currently in, my mind starts thinking, well maybe the person that told me those things was right. So here are some of the lyrics in the song...  "Hush. Don't speak. When you spit your venom, Keep it shut, I hate it"..."I'm covering my ears like a kid, when your words mean nothing I go La La La. I'm turning up the volume when you speak, 'cause if my heart can't stop it, I find a way to block it, I go..La la" With these lyrics, in my mind I'm telling myself I won't let their words defeat me, and to stop believing in their lies. I felt like a failure for the first 20 years of my life, I can't let myself feel like that again. It's been a rough couple weeks, can you tell?? 

Anyway enough about me, let's talk about fun things like Don's suspected broken toe! Going into this race he informed us that his toe might be broken. He previously injured it and then reinjured it a day or two before we left. He had it taped together, but tape doesn't make pain go away! We were hoping that during the drive to the race, it would magically heal, but it didn't, well actually it temporarily healed. It didn't bother him at all during the race, but paid it's painful visit the next day. Since I covered both Don and my ailments, let's talk about Eric. There's nothing to say, he was all good. Well at least we had one teammate that wasn't falling apart physically or mentally!

When we arrived we hauled our gear to our cabin which we shared with Mary, Mike and John from Trainology Fitness. They're a great bunch of people, love them! The pre race meeting was quick and we learned that in each section, we could get the checkpoints in any order, but they were all mandatory. So if we missed a CP in one section, we would be ranked behind a team that got them all. Makes sense. We anticipated receiving our maps that night, but we got nothing! Totally forgot that we do everything on race clock with this one! We went to bed feeling like we were forgetting something, because usually we're up for hours plotting and planning our route. We felt helpless!! It did feel good to go to bed early though!

Race Day

The race started at 6am, with all of us taking off on foot for a CP scavenger hunt. What's that? It's exactly how it sounds. We were told that we had an hour to find 7 CPs, but we didn't have a map telling us where they were. We had to wander around like lost chickens in the dark, and try to find orange and white non reflective flags that sat at 800 feet of elevation within a radius of 1km. This was frustrating because it was based off of pure luck. If you wandered to the right place, you found them, if not, you were screwed. We ended up finding two near a picnic shelter, but where the other CPs were hiding, we have no idea. We got back to the lodge in an hour, and we found out that it didn't matter how many CPs we got if we didn't get all 7 before an hour was up. So at least we didn't go at a full out sprint and burn out our legs trying to find all 7 CPs! This section was not my favorite, but no worries, it gets better from here on out!


After the prologue, we received UTM coordinates for our next set of bike CPs. CPs 1-5 were all on single track, and we decided to attack them in reverse order. We headed out for CP5, the trails weren't too technical and they were fun! We came upon a switchback and realized that we had gone too far. We turned around and the CP was right behind us! We rode right past it because our eyes were trained to look for the orange and white flags, we had totally forgotten that they use PVC type tubes for this race even though the race director told us that during the pre race meeting. Our bad! At least we didn't go far! As we kept on riding, we hit a trail with the word "cliff" in the name. I hate cliffs. They scare the crap out of me! The word "Shitballs!" came to mind over and over again. I seriously need to overcome that fear before I nervously shake my way off a cliff! Not only do cliffs scare me, they scare me even more when it's raining, and of course, it started to drizzle, so the trails and the rocks started to get slippery. I think I had a few anxiety attacks but I kept on riding through my fear! By the time we reached CP2, we had to get off our bikes for to hoof it to the end of the spur. We saw a team of 3 dudes, and after talking to them, we found out it was one of their teammate's first adventure race! High five to that guy for doing an 18 hour for his first race! As we approached the CP, I felt my legs burning and a few minutes after that, they itched like hell! We had just gone through a field of stinging nettles, oh nettles I really haven't missed you at all! These things are torture. They feel like paper cuts, then itch for about 20 minutes, and the more you scratch, the more they itch! Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Luckily that was our only encounter with these evil plants. We had one more CP to go and then we were off the trails. Don's chain fell off along the way, but it was super quick fix.

We headed out on the road for CP6 & 7. We pulled up to our attack point, headed into the woods and bushwhacked our way across a creek. We saw team No Sleep coming out of the woods as we headed in, and this began our leap frogging relationship. A little background on these guys, I've known them for years, well at least the John Farless part of the team, nice guy and a great navigator. They're a tough team to beat, so seeing them gave us a little kick to get our butts moving! The next CP was in a dry creek bed, we found that one pretty quick, but No Sleep was nowhere in sight when we got back to our bikes. We pressed on to get to the TA. We had the option of taking a known route back, or we could attempt a road that looked like it didn't go completely through on the map. We took our chances and rode this grassy overgrown road, and to our surprise, it actually went through and saved us a lot of time! I think we all did a happy dance as we headed to the TA!


When we got back to the TA, we were given more coordinates to plot, and even though these were considered the paddle section CPs, not all of them had to be attained by boat, and we were allowed to split up. Sounds weird but it will all make sense in a few seconds. At this point we were right on the tails of No Sleep, so we got in the water as fast as possible! We paddled north to CP12, dropped Eric off at the bank and he ran into the tall grass to get it. When he got back into the boat, we talked strategy. We decided to drop Eric off to attain CPs 10, 11, and 13 on foot while Don and I paddled down the river to meet him near the last CP, kinda like an extraction point! (If you've ever watched "Naked and Afraid" you know what I mean by that!) Eric and Don picked a spot on the map as to where he would be plucked out of the woods, and I recommended we take a picture of the map since Eric would have it, and we would have nothing. They took a quick pic and Don and I paddled away as Eric went frolicking through the forest. After a few minutes we could hear thunder rolling in the distance, but it became louder and scarier real quick! I hate being on a boat when it storms, freaks me out! You know the face you make when you're constipated? Well I made that face every time I heard thunder! I kept my cool though, and just as we approached a grassy section of the land that looked like a perfect place to take out, the monsoon let loose! We knew it was coming but holy crap, that thing dumped on us! When we got on land, we quickly turned the canoe upside down so it wouldn't fill with water and put all of our gear underneath it. We both busted out our raincoats,
even though it felt like they weren't doing much. We weren't exactly sure if this was where Eric wanted us to pick him up, but then I remembered, the picture!!!! So happy we decided to take one! The pic was clear enough to see exactly where we were at, and yep, we were in the most perfect spot! The road that ended at the patch of grass was on the map, and we decided it would be a good idea to hike up the road just in case
Eric wasn't sure where we were. He could at least run into us on the road instead of being hidden down by the water. As we stood there freezing and shivering, we contemplated it would take him another 30 minutes or so until he got to this point, but after a few minutes, he appeared jogging down the road, no raincoat, and soaked to the bone! We waved at him but he didn't say anything. When he reached us, he said he didn't even know it was us! He thought it was some lost racers that needed help! He couldn't hear us with the thunder clashing, and he didn't recognize us with our raincoats on! He was super excited when he realized who we were! We all jogged down the grassy road and as we approached our boat, we saw Sarah Dallman from Flying Squirrel Adventures pulling up in her boat, alone. Well actually she wasn't alone, and here is where years of racing experience, being plain old smart, and thinking outside of the box, benefits a team. Sarah and Stephanie were a two person team, so when she let Stephanie out of the boat to do the nav section on foot, it was difficult for Sarah to paddle the huge canoe alone. So she found another two person team, teamed up with the female, they both got in Sarah's boat, and she tied a rope to the other boat and towed the empty boat behind them. Pure genius!!!! I will always remember that for future races in case I'm ever in that situation. Thanks Sarah for being so smart!

As we prepared to launch, Eric was standing right in front of me, and as I bent over to get my PFD, an awful stank floated up my nostrils. I asked Eric if he farted and he said no, but he's always farting so maybe he didn't even realize it. I put on my PFD and there it was again! So I asked him again if he farted because something meaty and rotten just wafted past my face again! He assured me it wasn't him, which he usually admits to it, so there had to be something else rotting or farting somewhere near us. All farting aside, we finally set out on our voyage, and as we paddled along, we came upon a dam. We had no choice but to portage around it, and as we were putting in on the other side of it, we saw No Sleep again! Man these guys were great motivation! It was like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit, or more like dangling a cheeseburger in front of a hungry adventure racer! As we went to put the boat in the incredibly shallow water, we hesitated and contemplated portaging the boat down the road instead. We decided against the road portage and stayed in the water until we reached CP14 where we began another game of No Sleep leap frog. No Sleep pulled over at a spot along the shore to go look for the CP, we paddled past them and past the CP to tackle it from a different attack point. We all got out of the boat for this one, and found it pretty quickly, hopped back in the boat, and there came No Sleep paddling down the river right behind us! It was like we were stalking each other! As we paddled on, the river kept getting more shallow, more rocky, more sandy, pretty much anything that would make us get out of the boat. So instead of a paddle, it turned into a draggle, dragging the boat more than paddling it. Luckily, my smallness actually worked in my favor for a change, and I was allowed to stay in the boat while my big manly teammates pulled me over the rocks. I did have to get out a few times, but not as much as they did. Thanks boys! Since I got to sit on my butt during all the dragging, I took over navigation. It's tough to figure out where you are on the map when you haven't been looking at the map at all, but just by the direction we were going and terrain features, I was able to figure it
out. At one point Eric asked where we were and I didn't want to tell him because we still had what looked like a million miles to go! This paddle took us well over 6 hours, probably almost 7, so as soon as we reached the take out near the bridge, we couldn't wait to get out of the boat! We were soaked, I was freezing, I had lost circulation in my fingers a long time ago, and we just wanted to be dry and warm for a change. The cool thing about the paddle was I felt like it was straight out of National Geographic. We saw so many different animals like super loud ca-cawing hawks, vultures, jumping fish, frogs, a duck protecting her babies, a snake slithering in the water right near me when I was in the water (creepy), and a cow duck, yes I did say cow duck. It was seriously spotted like a cow! MOOQUACK!

Orienteering Section

After that super soaker paddle section, we changed into dry socks, and plotted our next CPs. As we started plotting, No Sleep was pulling their boat out of the water. They were still right on our butts! It's hard to shake a strong team! As soon as we plotted, we grabbed our gear and hauled ass out of there. We knew No Sleep could catch us at any point, so we didn't want to give them that chance! We ran the flats and downhills of the road, and when we reached an intersection we dropped into the woods for CP22 which was a small creek reentrant junction. When we popped back out onto the road, of course we looked behind us for signs of No Sleep, but they weren't in sight. I finally decided to stop looking back, we needed to focus on our race, so I just wanted to keep looking forward.  We attacked CP21 next, this
thing sucked. The clue was forest maturity which made me think there would be a distinct line of old and new trees. We struggled trying to find this one, we even used a supplemental map that didn't help much. We felt we were in the right spot, so Don suggested we sweep North and South with the possibility of stumbling upon it. We ended up hitting a trail , went down the trail and of course, there was the CP! After losing some time on that one, we ran, well tried to run on the super muddy trail north to a road. We crossed the road and went up a spur for CP20 which was a building foundation.
This was a cool CP, kinda dangerous and dangling, which is what made it cool! Eric punched it, and we hurried back down the spur, went around it to the west, and hit a reentrant that lead us to CP19, a waterfall. It was gorgeous, and of course the CP wasn't at the base of the waterfall, we had to climb up to it! We then headed back out to the road and ran it back to the state park. Inside the park we grabbed the CP under the covered bridge, and then ran into town to get CP17 which was at a water tower. We wanted to get this one while it was still light out because we didn't just punch a CP, we had to climb up the water tower and rappel down!

This was super scary but awesome! Getting over that ledge scared the
crap out of me. I had to roll over it, then find my footing, which with being short, made that a challenge in itself! All 3 of us climbed up and flew down the tower one right after another. It was exhilarating! I'm pretty sure the race director fulfilled one of Eric's dreams! When we were all safely back on land, it was dark, we busted out our headlamps and headed to CP16 which was hanging on a stop sign at a church. We then headed back to the TA, Eric found a shortcut across a dam, so we shimmied across a narrow ledge of the dam with fast flowing water. It was pretty scary in the dark especially with a kajillion bugs smacking me in the face while I was trying not to fall in!

All of those white dots are bugs, except for Don's headlamp in the background!

Bike to Finish!

When we got back to the TA, we had to plot what would be our last CPs. The bike section was pretty huge and we determined that we could only get two of the CPs that were close to the TA since we only had a couple hours until the cutoff. CP27 which was a road turnaround was pretty close. We rode past a pile of rocks, which seemed like the wrong way to go, but it was right. We then biked to CP26 which the clue was a shore line, but the sneaky race director decided to put a challenge there, stocked with blow up rafts, paddles and PFDs. We had two options, to take the rafts across some swampy waters with using only two crappy plastic paddles, or use the PFDs to swim across to get a CP with a blinking light at the top of a hill on the other side. We opted for the raft, Don in front, me in the middle and Eric in the back. This raft was crazy hard to control, we were going in circles and the mud from the murky water smelled like rotting poop. Suddenly out of nowhere we starting flying across the swamp. Don and I thought maybe we were just stuck on something and we finally got free. We made it to land, but that wasn't the end of it. We portaged across the land and then Don jumped into the raft and it took off, with just him in it! Eric had to get in the stank water and pull him back to land so we could all get in. We headed across the swampy waters again at a pretty decent speed, but then Don looked back and realized that his paddle stroke with the crappy plastic paddle wasn't doing much, Eric was actually in the water kicking and pushing the boat! We had no idea!! No wonder we were flying, but gross! I felt bad that Eric was swimming in the liquid poo! We made it to the hill and hiked up some steep, muddy terrain in bike shoes, and then slid down on our butts back to the raft. Eric pushed us again since it was so much faster and we made it back to our bikes in no time. We were cold and we reeked like swamp butt as we got back on our bikes to head to the finish. We crossed the finish line at 11:03pm, we had almost an hour to spare, but with how far the other CPs were, we probably wouldn't have made it back in time if we attempted to get them. We saw No Sleep right when we finished, they couldn't go out on the final bike section because John lost his helmet during the trek which is required gear. That sucked! They would've have time for one more CP!  We had a fun and solid race with a 5th place overall finish and 4th in our division which qualifies us for USARA Nationals! And we forgot to take finish photos, so you get maps instead!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

2014 The Breakdown Adventure Race 15 Hour

The Breakdown AR
15 Hour
Breaks Interstate Park, Virginia
Team: Adventure Capitalists/BDAR #2
3 Person Coed
Racers: Don Bart, Heather Kluch, Eric Olsen, Jennifer Schoon (medical issue)
AC/BDAR #1: Josh Braun, Brooke Manning, Ben Smith

Pre Race

Never having done this race before, we had no idea what was in store for us. I have raced in West Virginia which was pretty freakin hilly, but I had no idea how it's partner in crime would be. We were all in for a surprise....a big one, well multiple big ones! Eric, Jennifer, and I got our hill training on as much as we could for living in the flattest land of the flatlands. I always ask myself, "Why do I live in Illinois?' I still haven't given myself a good answer. After preparing ourselves for our unexpected hilly doom, I get a message from Jen four days before we leave for the race that she is sick, and not cough and snotty sick, there was something seriously wrong. She was pretty much losing the ability to stand upright. Every time she stood up, she would get dizzy, and she was experiencing numbness on the entire left side of her body from her foot to her face. She had some small symptoms early on, but they were bearable, but within the two weeks prior to the race, her condition worsened to the point that she needed to see the neurologist. She remained positive, even knowing that she wasn't able to race with us, she believed she would be back at it soon, but then I received another message telling me it was something rare, and serious. I couldn't believe it. When we did the race in Belize, our teammate Mark had an Aortic Dissection a week before the race and thankfully he survived, and now this. It was unbelievable! Jen was diagnosed with Benign Intercranial Hypertension...I've never heard of it, but anything with that long of a title has to be serious. Jen explained that she had a leak in her cerebral spinal fluid, the fluid around the spinal cord and the brain. They don't know how this happens, it just happens spontaneously. They tried to fix it with blood patch work, but her body didn't respond the way they had hoped. The next step for her is to see a specialist in mid May at Duke University, this guy is supposed to be the best of the best in this field, so we are all hoping that he can get her back to her badass racing self! We were really looking forward to racing with Jen. We had teamed up with her team in the Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge in Belize, and we all had a lot of fun and good team dynamics. We'll just have to wait patiently for her to conquer this nasty and weird obstacle, we know she will! We wish her a speedy recovery! Please keep her in your thoughts.

So now that we knew Jen wasn't going to be able to race, we were down a teammate. We had signed up as a 3 person, and wanted to keep it that way to keep ourselves in the elite division. We called up our teammate Don Bart to see if he could step in at the last minute. He had been suffering a hip injury since the end of last year, and hadn't really run or biked since then. He did a couple runs within the past couple weeks with no pain, but that still didn't prove the injury was completely healed. With last minute scrambling of trying to get all his gear in order, he said YES! We were excited, it felt like we hadn't all raced together in forever, which was November of last year, so yes that qualifies as forever!

We left early Friday morning for our 12 hour drive. It actually didn't seem that long, since we made stops along the way and ate at a delicious smoked BBQ place in Kentucky. We thought our bikes might get stolen in the neighborhood we were parked in, but at least the food was delicious! When we arrived, we met up with our Tennessee AC/BDAR teammates, Brooke Manning, Ben Smith, and Josh Braun. We slumber partied it up in a decent sized cabin.Our plan for the race was to stay together throughout the entire race so we could have two navigators and work on team dynamics, and also for just plain fun! We ate some dinner, attended the pre race meeting where we received our maps, plotted our course, and went to bed with anticipation of the crazy terrain that awaited us.

Race Day
Prologue and O Section

The race began in the dark with a gunshot that scared the crap out of me! We all ran to an amphitheater in the park to plot a UTM coordinate on our map that was taped to the walls of the theater. The coordinate was to get us to our first CP, which was at the top of a hill. We scrambled up this hill along with other racers, we found it quickly, which was a good start to the race, so we were confident on finding the next few CPs in any order we pleased just as quickly, but then oh wait, here came CP2, or actually where was CP2? We were nowhere near it. Our mistake was not following signs that told us which way to go. We had seen a sign for the Prospector Trail, which was the trail we needed, but it was pointing in the wrong direction. After some debate, the decision was made to continue on a different trail, but as we started to hit elevation that was lower than what CP2 called for, we turned around and had to find a different way to attack it.
We finally hit a trail that took us to the base of Pinnacle Rock, which was where we needed to be. After losing about an hour, we finally hit the CP. It was frustrating but at least we found it! We then headed down to CP3, and when I say down I mean way way down! I was pretty much sliding down these slopes of death on my butt because they were so steep! Rocks were slipping down the slopes, people were drunkenly falling all over the place. We all made it down to the creek to CP3 without any injuries and then headed out to CP4. On our way to CP4, we had to cross a creek. Once again, this creek had some fast flowing water, so with the force of the flow, and the rocks being covered with mossy goo, it made for a slippery crossing. Ben was having problems with his foot, he suspected a hairline fracture from a previous injury, but with his trekking poles and determination, he didn't let that slow him down. We all crossed the creek but as Josh crossed, he lost footing on one of the goo infested rocks and fell right on his ass! It was a hard fall, I think I even heard his butt crunch! After such a hard fall, he had to take a minute or two to get back to gather himself. It really shook him up and he was in a lot of pain. This was a turning point for our race, and it wasn't a good one. I think the fall did more damage that one could see. We followed a trail to the road, and jogged the road to a river access launch. We heard that some teams attempted to side swipe their way along cliffs to the launch, but it was too treacherous and had to turn back and take the road. Luckily we didn't lose time there, we needed to make up time for CP2!

When we got to the creek, which we were told in the pre race meeting that the volunteer would show us how to cross it, we were told to cross it in a two person raft. This wasn't just a small little peaceful babbling brook, it looked more like a wide raging river to me! We all divided up into twos and headed across these angry waters. Eric was in the back of my boat and I was in front. I'm so short, you could barely see me in
the thing, and I could barely reach over the sides. I felt like my feet were in my face and the raft was really hard to steer! Good thing it was just a creek crossing and we didn't have to paddle for miles in this uncontrollable beast! We all made it across without dumping, and trekked our way to TA1.

TA1 to Bike

At TA1 we started transforming into our bike gear. Eric was going through his pack and found something that he didn't pack, a Hustler card with some naked chick on it!! We all pretty much died laughing! Judging
by the grooming of a certain southern body part, this card had to be from the 1970's! No one would fess up to who put it there so for now the culprit was a mystery. All Hustler aside, our next order of business was to ride to TA2, oh wait, did I say ride? I meant hike-a-bike. This hill, mountain, slope of death, whatever you want to call it, was so steep, there was no way anyone was riding up this thing! After some huffs, puffs, and grunts, we finally made it to TA2, where were transitioned back to our feet.

O Section

This section consisted of CP5 through 9, which we could attack in any order. We decided to go in a different order that we had originally planned which actually worked out better for us. Again the hills were absolutely ridiculous but we couldn't complain. We had been wanting to do a race with
ginormous hills, and we got what we asked for! We attacked CP5 with no problems, then headed west down a steep hill to a creek bed for CP7, we were spot on with that one too. We climbed out on a trail and took that trail until we found a reentrant, which we followed to get to CP9. We scurried around spur to get to CP8 and at this point Josh had to take a quick break because he wasn't feeling well, so we stopped to eat and drink. We decided not to snag CP6 since the terrain was ridiculous and would end up hurting us more than helping us. The race director told us later in the race that it was good one to skip! We then headed back to the TA to get back on our bikes.

Bike (Downhill Bomber....or so they say)

This section was called Downhill Bomber, which makes you think you'll be going where? Yep, down is what we would've guessed. Lies!! The name was totally deceiving. Apparently what must come down, must go up first. We rode and hiked our bikes up, and up, and more up until Brooke had to stop. Her bike suddenly
stopped shifting for no apparent reason. Everyone jumped on it immediately to find out what the hell was going on with this thing. Upon further inspection, we noticed her derailleur cable popped out. Surgery was performed and after about 15 minutes, it was adjusted, but she only had about half of her gears. At least it was her high gears so she could ride up hills, but on the flats her legs were flying out of control. She's a beast though, she could handle anything on a bike! We proceeded on to CP10 where Eric ran out of water. We filtered water out of a nearby creek, and it seemed like we set a trend because racers that were passing by stopped to do the same. Eric popped chloride tablets into his water which proved to be quicker that the Sawyer water filters bags. Only downside was he had to wait 30 minutes before he could drink the water, but he had a water bottle on his bike, so he was all good to go. Next time I'm just popping tablets, I can wait a half hour if it lessens the time of using a filter.

We hiked and biked on to CP11, and finally we were at the Downhill Bomber. As we rode down, I don't know if it was allergies, elevation, or motion sickness, but I started to feel really sick. My lungs and throat hurt, I felt a ton of pressure inside my head, and bouncing around on the gravel road wasn't helping. I had to slow down a bit, my balance felt off and I felt like I was going to puke. Thankfully my teammates waited for me, well I guess they had no choice, but when I finally made it down this bomber, all the symptoms went away, so I'm guessing it had to do with elevation. We eventually hit pavement which after all the gravel and hike a biking, pavement was glorious. As we rode to TA4, we passed by an outdoor honky tonk wedding. We were so tempted to crash it and ask for food, but we didn't want to waste any time. A hot dog would've been fantastic though!

TA4 - Paddle

When we arrived at the paddle section, we had a little pow wow to determine how many CPs we would attain on this leg. We all knew paddling is the slowest way to go, and there were CPs pretty far off, so we made the decision to get just one CP since we could probably get more on foot and bike in later sections. This pretty much ended up being the shortest paddle section ever in any race we've done, I think it was about 1 mile total! After our mini paddle we headed back out on our bikes. Brooke had to stop to use the Port-O-Potty, but when I looked over there, I saw her squatting behind the potty OUTSIDE of it! Apparently there was a poop explosion on the inside which made her gag. This is why I'd rather pee in the woods, it's much cleaner! After the poop splatter fiasco, we headed out on our bikes but stopped at a couple water pumps since some of us were out of water again. Heat and hills made us thirsty! Unfortunately the pumps weren't turned on, so we kept going to find water elsewhere.

Bike to TA6

We had a nasty climb up again, but it was on pavement so we could actually ride instead of hike a bike it. When it finally leveled out to a flat road (probably the only flat section of this race), we stopped at a house
where a guy was riding around on his tractor. He let us use his hose spigot to refill our bladders, what a lifesaver! As we rode on, Josh was having a hard time again, so Ben being the machine that he is, towed him. Don was also really strong at this point. For all the training he missed out on due to his hip, it didn't show. We regretted not putting a tow system on his bike, he would've been strong enough to trade off towing with Ben. At this point we were moving slow, but at least we were moving. As my teammate Don would say...Progress! During Josh's struggles, he kept pushing on which is hard to do when you feel like crap!

TA6 O section

There were 3 CPs for this section, one located on a hilltop, a rock outcropping, and a waterfall. We moved quick through this section, nailing each CP, and the waterfall was pretty sweet! When we got back to the TA, as I went in my pack to pull out a protein bar, I pulled out something else. A Hustler card!
So glad I wasn't left out on this prank! Actually it really was a great mood lifter, can't help but laugh at something like that! No one fessed up as to who did it yet, and we had no idea who it could've been. As we prepared to head out on our bikes again, we turned on our rear bike lights since it was starting to get dark. Well all of us except me. Mine just wouldn't turn on. I replaced the batteries but got nothing. Another team that was in the TA with us had the same problem, with the same exact light. I opted to use a glowstick that was required gear for the paddle section since this thing was totally dead, and I think the other girl did the same. Minutes later the light turned itself on. I'm convinced it was possessed.

Bike to Finish

We headed back to the park to snag a few CPs before the finish. We only had an hour and a half left, so we
were pressed for time. We made a mistake on CP25, passed the road we needed to be on and ended up at a campsite. Some lady with an RV offered us food and drinks, so Brooke grabbed a Pepsi and some Doritos. The lady even offered beer! I passed on the beer but that Pepsi was like drinking a can full of magic! While we stuffed our faces with happy treats, we figured out our mistake, turned around, headed back to the correct road and snagged the CP at the bridge. There were no special treats here, but a CP is just as satisfying! Next we snagged CP26 which was at a dam. We pondered getting another CP before heading to the finish, but Josh was struggling. He was really hurting but he was a trooper. Most people give up when they feel this awful, and even though he couldn't give his full potential, with the help of the team, he gave it all he had!  We decided against getting that last CP, not only was Josh struggling, it was getting dark, Don was having trouble with his light, and the CP was on a trail which meant we would've been moving slow. So the team came together and helped Josh tackle an uphill so we could finish this race. Here's a great example of teamwork at it's best...Ben took Josh's pack, Eric towed him, and Don pedaled along side him and pushed his back. We all rode to the finish and crossed the finish line, not as two separate teams, but as one. We went into this race with the mindset of staying together and working our our team dynamics, and I'm proud to say we did just that. We may not have won, but in my mind we came out winning because we all worked really well together and helped each other when we needed it. I'm proud to say I'm a part of this team that really cares about each other and can push through any struggle! Can't wait to race together again, I'm already missing my teammates! This was a well put on race, with 13,000ft of elevation gain, it was a super tough course! Thanks to the race directors and volunteers for a awesomely torturous race! Oh and I can't forget about those Hustler cards! Josh finally fessed up that it was him. He was the last person I would've suspected!!!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge: 4 Day Expedition Race

Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge
4 Days/170 miles
San Ignacio, Belize
Team Adventure Capitalists/BDAR Midwest
2 Person Coed
Racers: Eric Olsen, Heather Kluch, Mark Rouse (injured)

We went into this race not knowing what to expect. Not only was it our first expedition length race, it was also our first International race, and I was recovering from a sprained ankle (I sprained twice in two months). It was bothering me a day before the race, so even with all the great advice from other experienced expedition racers, we went into this race with the mindset of let’s just finish this and be happy with that! We started off as a 3 person coed team with 4-5 hour intense training days while wearing our packs that we would be racing with. One suggestion, if you think you’re training with a heavy pack, make it heavier!! I trained with 15 pounds, it definitely helped but was nothing compared to what I was carrying during the race. Since the weather in the Midwest during the winter is colder than Alaska, we ended up doing most of our training indoors so we didn’t get used to the arctic temps. Going from negative 30 to 88 degrees and a kajillion percent humidity is a shock to the body! Our workouts included something like walking at steep inclines on the treadmill (more brutal than you would think), steps and more steps up the boring stairmaster, walking with weights above our shoulders or down at our sides to simulate a canoe portage, and spin class with our packs on (yes we did get weird looks). We were definitely the “crazy” people at our gyms but all this training really did pay off! Not once did my legs feel like they would cash out. I give some of that credit to Vector450, an all natural egg protein supplement I’ve been taking for months now that aids in muscle recovery and immune system strength. A quote from my teammate after the race was “I don’t think I pushed myself hard enough” and my answer was “Egg pills!” The stuff works! Anyway, back to training….About a week before we left for Belize, I got a phone call from our teammate Mark Rouse’s wife that he was in the hospital. Mark being a joker with a great sense of humor, I actually thought she was kidding at first. I had just messaged him earlier that day and he said he felt strong and ready for this race, so this couldn’t be for real. It was real. He had an unexpected aortic dissection which could’ve taken his life. He made it to the hospital just in time and survived surgery with only a 50% chance of survival. He is on the road to a full recovery and although we really missed him and his quirky sense of humor out on the course, we are grateful this happened before we left for Belize, because if it happened out there, who knows if he would’ve received the care that he needed to save his life. So this race was dedicated to him, and also dedicated to Rich Wiet, a good friend of mine who lost his battle with brain cancer a day before the race. Both were in my thoughts throughout the race and I had little trinkets with me to remind me that both of them would tell me to shut up, quit my whining, and keep going!

We arrived in Belize a few days before the race just to get nice and settled in and get used to sweating with just standing motionless in one place. The humidity is no joke out there! We unpacked and put our bikes together to make sure nothing was broken or missing. My bike had some brake issues but thanks to Lars from Team Merrell Denmark and Derrick from Orange Lederhosen for getting it back into smooth rolling condition! We got our maps during the day before the race so we could plot and map out our route. The map was a 1:50,000 scale which we’re not used to. We’ve used 1:24,000 before which doesn’t have much detail so, you can imagine the 50,000 has even less detail. We knew this would be a challenge, but everyone had the same map, so we had to deal with it.
We had our pre race meeting along with an awesome pre race dinner (stew chicken is delicious) and found out that the race would be starting at 7am on Thursday rather than the original 12am start time, which meant more sleep for us before the race, and we would be starting with daylight. A few things we were worried about were botflys (google them, they’re nasty), the unknown of the jungle along with flesh eating snake bites, and getting our bodies through a 4 day beating.

We started off the race on our bikes. Teams lined up in alphabetical order by division, so we were about middle of the pack. A pace car lead us down a steep hill (brakes were squealing) at a slow pace through town. It was actually pretty cool to be riding as a huge group rather than us taking off right from the start. As soon as we hit the bridge it was every team for themselves and we were off!  As we crossed the bridge we saw our friend Jennifer Schoon from Cumberland Trail Connection struggling on her bike. Apparently her brakes decided to seize up and she could barely pedal. We passed her up and heard later that they got it fixed up pretty quick. The ride wasn’t too harsh, about 12 kilometers of dirt roads we had to take to CP1 which was at an intersection. We were surprised to see so many photographers and a camera crew doing interviews with the racers. The coverage was awesome! After we punched the CP and got our on screen debut, we headed southwest out of town which is the way we were told we had to go. This mandatory route wasn’t much fun. This nice dirt road we had been on was now mud. It was the most muddy mud that I’ve ever had to ride through.

 Actually there wasn’t any riding, this was straight up hike a bike and even that became “carry a bike”  because every time we’d push our bike, the mud would collect on our wheels and they would stop rolling. Apparently they had abnormal amounts of rain for this time of year and it showed! At one point Eric laid his bike down on the road and his tire just happened to land on a super sharp rock and the next thing we heard was Psssshhhhhh! That thing punctured right through the tire! Eric pushed and carried his bike with a flat for a while until we finally stopped to fix it since we were nearing the end of the mud zone. We got back on our bikes and actually got to ride them instead of push them to find CP2. We decided to turn down a trail and get off our bikes to follow a creek to the CP. The creek kept winding around and seemed to take forever so we got out of there and decided to attack it a different way. We came across another trail intersection that wasn’t on the map which lead us right to it! There was even a sign that said “Waterfall”. Dammit! Wish we knew that was there! Would’ve saved us some time! The waterfall was gorgeous though!
After our little trek back from the waterfall we got back on our bikes and ended up at a raging river, or creek, whatever they want to call it, but it was raging! We had to cross this with our bikes. I was so nervous that I would twist my ankle so early on in the race so I took my time while Eric helped me across.
Thankfully I crossed injury free, and we kept on going. The road eventually opened up to the Pine Ridge Mountains where it was much more enjoyable, and by enjoyable I mean rideable. We ended up taking a left on a road that wasn’t on the map and ended up on the wrong side of the creek. What they call creeks out there, are more like raging waterfall mile wide rapids. We tried to look for a place to cross, but with our bikes it was just too rocky and dangerous, so we had to back track through grass that was cutting up our legs to find the right road which lead to CP3/TA1 at San Miguel Camp.

TREK - San Miguel Camp
When we arrived to the camp, we saw Doug Crytzer the race director, and the first words out of his mouth were “Are you freaking kidding me?” That wasn’t a good thing! Because of our route mistake we had lost a lot of time, so much time that Doug thought we were stuck out in the jungle with a broken leg or something tragic like that. He said he was about to send out a rescue team to come find us. We sat down and started changing into clean and dry socks so our feet would feel fresh for this trekking section. At the beginning of the trek we were supposed to traverse across a waterfall which sounded awesome, but Doug informed us that he had them take the ropes down since he thought we weren’t coming. Uh oh. He told us we could cross the creek (there’s that misleading creek word again) on foot, so we hiked down to the waterfall to see what we were in for. Sure enough, roaring raging rapids all over again! There was no way we were going to cross this creek and stay dry. We scoped it out to try to find the best way to cross but everything looked dangerous. We filled up our water bladders with our filter as we pondered what the hell we were going to do. We ended up hiking down to a part of the creek that looked shallow, but when got closer, it was just uneven slippery rocks with a super strong current. We finally made the call to cross it, and I don’t get scared easily but I was actually shaking at this point. I was worried about my ankle and even more worried about slipping and having the current take me down the creek with my head ping ponging against rocks. Luckily we made it across without cracking our skulls open, and then took some stairs up to the main road. We thought the road we hit was Blancaneu Line, which if it was, we were supposed to turn left. We saw a sign with the road name which had an arrow pointing right. That didn’t make sense to us, so we ignored it and went left. BIG mistake! We hit a dead end where there was a resort with a couple locals sitting on the road. We asked them if we were on the right road and they said no, and pointed to a Nature Trail off to the side. They told us this would lead to the road. Lesson learned… some locals don’t know where they’re going either. The trail did take us to a road but it was a creepy, dark and dingy mudfest! We hit a creek which we thought was the right one for CP5, but it wasn’t. We had to back track all the way back to the waterfall where we saw that sign and turn right, just like the arrow told us! When were finally on the right road, well we still weren’t sure, so I decided to ask a local. This is how the conversation went…I said Hello? Him: “What?” Me: “Do you know what road we’re on?” Him: “Yes” Me:”What is it?” Him: “No Ingles.” Well that was helpful. Luckily we were on the right road, we hit the correct creek, and we had to go into waist deep water to get the CP…at night…it was creepy!
  After we got out of the water without anything attacking us, we headed down the road and found a trail that lead us to CP6 which was supposed to be a fire lookout tower. The trail didn’t seem to go the same direction as the trail on the map so we were unsure if we were on the right trail. Eric saw some eyeballs glowing in front of him which he thinks was an Ocelot, but maybe he was just hallucinating, we’ll never know. We kept climbing up this trail disregarding it’s weird direction and stumbled right upon the CP. If this was a fire lookout tower, things would be burning to the ground because all we saw were trees and more trees. There was no tower, we couldn’t see past anything.
We got out of there and headed down the trail. The moon was so bright we turned off our headlamps and trekked by moonlight. It was incredible! We took the trail going west looking for a junction that would take us to CP7 which was on a waterfall. We never found the junction but we could hear the waterfall so we headed down the hillside. We couldn’t see the CP but after climbing over a rock, we spotted it. We double backed out of there and took the road all the way around back to San Miguel Camp so we didn’t have to cross that raging creek again. At night it would’ve been even more unsafe.

BIKE – 1000ft Falls
At San Miguel Camp we transitioned back to our bikes and headed to CP9 which was Rio on the Pools. As we were riding, we noticed a black dog following us. We were in the middle of nowhere so we wondered where in the hell did this guy come from, but it was like he was leading the way. The trek down to the CP was slippery and rocky which had me a little nervous, so I went down slow. Anything rocky and slippery made me immediately be cautious of my ankle. So annoyed with my body part! When we got back out onto the road we decided to take a different route than we originally planned. We previously saw a sign pointing in the direction of 1000ft Falls (CP10), so we ended up taking that road instead we had no idea what kind of condition the other roads were in. At this point it was getting late, we were tired, and running out of water. It was very slow going on the muddy road since it had been misting and drizzling all night. We decided to make a stop at Hidden Valley Inn to refill our water and take a nap. We found some lounge chairs by the pool so we whipped out our Bivvy sacks and made those our beds. It was about 530am and we planned on getting an hour of sleep. We were told before the race to trick our bodies…if we go to sleep while it’s dark and wake up when it’s light out, our bodies will think they’ve been sleeping longer than they actually have. This actually works! We really didn’t get much sleep with the rain falling and the birds squawking pretty much the entire hour, but at least it was some kind of rest.  At 630am,
we got up, changed into some dry clothes and
got back on our bikes to head to 1000ft Falls. At this point we had been racing for 24 hours and it was the toughest 24 hours of my racing career! I seriously wondered how the hell was I going to get through three more days of this?

When we finally arrived at 1000ft falls, we dove into our food bags that they let us pack for this TA. We were running out of food so this was the perfect time to reload. We ended up running into Cumberland Trail Connection as they woke up from their nap, and we learned that they put some extra unnecessary miles on their bike. These are the things that happen in the jungle with unnamed roads and roads that aren’t on the map! We decided to join forces with Cumberland Trail Connection (Kevin Howser, Jennifer Schoon, & Tamara Falke). At this point since we both knew we’ve made some serious mistakes that cost us a lot of time, and with Kevin’s debilitating knee problem, we had the same goal in mind, to just finish this course.

TREK – Hidden Valley Inn
As we started off on our trek to Hidden Valley Inn (CP11, where Eric and I slept on lounge chairs), Jen was eating one of her Mountain House meals….a breakfast skillet. She generously let Eric and I have some and holy freakin crap it was amazeballs!!! Total happiness in my mouth! As we walked and ate this bagful of breakfast magic, we ended up at an intersection which we shouldn’t have ended up at. Apparently this amazing food made us wander like zombies, so we didn’t notice the gate that we passed all the way back down the road. We turned around, found the gate entrance,  and tried to follow the posted signs to the Inn, but they were confusing. One of the signs pointed both left and right….ummm so which way was it?? We ended up trekking down a service road which felt like forever. We felt demoralized and hungry so we sat down to take a break and as I looked up, I saw a sign for the Inn!! Break was over in a matter of seconds! It was like someone gave us a swift kick in the butt, we wanted to get to that Inn!
When we finally arrived at the Inn, we were told that the mandatory number of CPs changed for the O section, it was now 4 instead of 7. We thought about skipping this entire section altogether because we really wanted to make it down to the Caracol Mayan Ruins which had a cutoff time of 2pm the next day. This was one CP we didn’t want to miss, so after looking at the map for the Hidden Valley O section, we thought there was no way we would make it to the ruins even with having to get only 4 of the CPs. The volunteer got on the radio with Michael Sero to figure out what we should do. If we skipped the O section, then we would end up being unranked which we almost decided to go with until we heard that we were allowed to skip CP14 and 15 on the next bike section. After hearing that it was like someone poked a hot fire poker in all of our butts because we knew if we hauled during this section, we could now make it through the course, RANKED!! So we ran out of there like a pack of wild chickens flying around that O course. It was rogaine style so we were able to pick the 4 CPs we wanted to go for in any order. At CP3
we saw an amazing waterfall at Vulcan Falls, paddled a boat to CP1, and we ended up completing the course in 2.5 hours when it took most teams 4 hours. We were determined to spank that O course and we did! After we showed that O course who’s boss, we trekked back to 1000ft Falls, but this time we took a shorter route since we now knew a better way to go. The way to the Inn felt like hours and the way back felt like 20 minutes!

When we got back to 1000ft Falls, we transitioned back to our bikes. I dropped my hat and some other things on the ground not knowing that there was some poop like clay residue everywhere. My hat looked like someone pooped on it and I still can’t get it clean! Anyway, we took off on our bikes and back tracked the same route we rode in on. I swear for the entire route, that black “ghost” dog
was with us the whole time! It just seemed impossible that he could be everywhere! How could he be meeting us every single intersection when we’re flying on our bikes?? It was definitely strange but it gave me motivation. I kept thinking that this dog was like my friend who passed from cancer, and my teammate who just had heart surgery, both  who would be there pushing us to the finish just like this dog was. I smiled every time I saw this dog, but eventually he parted ways with us and let us push on without him. When we hit Rio on the Pools, it was about 10pm, and we were all feeling tired, so we decided to take a 15 minute nap. This was probably the best sleep I had throughout the entire race. For some reason sleeping on the top of a picnic table while hearing water crashing in the background was so relaxing, and my Opsrey Talon 33 pack made for a great pillow! Jen set her alarm and we all passed out, well all except for Eric. He downed a 5 Hour Energy right before we left the TA so he was bouncing off the walls. After 15 minutes, I heard Jen’s alarm go off, but no one woke up, so I thought she hit snooze. I welcomed this snooze! Then I heard someone say hey, it’s been 20 minutes, wake up! We overslept by 5 minutes. Oh nooooooo! It really wasn’t a big deal, but we all scattered like they were late for work! We kept riding on these bumpy dirt roads with land mines of potholes with me wishing I had a full suspension 29er (Niner Jet9 RDO is my dream bike in case you were wondering).  I took a couple spills along the way which really worried me. Both times I landed on my weak ankle and it hurt like hell. The second time I thought I was done, I really expected my ankle to blow up like a golf ball, but I kept pushing on and it turned out to be fine. It sounds weird but after all the abuse I put it through during this race, it’s actually better now than it was before I started the race. My body likes the abuse! When we finally reached Rio Frio Cave, we went exploring in the first cave we stumbled upon and found nothing. We walked further down the road and saw another cave hiding in the darkness, and there was CP16, that orange and white beauty waiting for us in this ginormous cave. We wish we saw this cave during the daylight, I’ve never seen anything like it! We punched the CP and would later find out that this is the CP that Team Merrell Denmark didn’t find. Because it was mandatory, it placed them behind us in the finishing ranks. So I have to give them credit where it’s due…Lars and Sanne raced their butts off, they were amazing, and if it weren’t for this mishap with CP16, they would’ve placed ahead of us. In adventure racing, sometimes the smallest mistake can bump you down in how you place, but you know that it wasn’t that you didn’t give it all you had, you just made a mistake and you learned from it.  We then made our way to CP17, which was an old abandoned British army base. Eric rode a bit down the road and waved for us to come over to him. We just stared at him like we didn’t understand what an arm wave meant, and even when he said to us that the CP is down this road, we still stared at him. It was like we were stuck! I finally headed over to him and then everyone else followed. Eric was right, the CP was there. There was a guy sitting in a little shack who gave us a new passport for the rest of the race. I stopped to pee in a weird bathroom which had a sign to throw all the poo paper in the garbage. Gross! Sometimes I’d just rather shit in the woods!

We left the base and headed to CP19, a ranger station, skipping the optional CP18 along the way since it would take too much time. This section of the ride felt like eternity. It was dark, we were surrounded by nothing but jungle, and I started hallucinating like mad! I saw villages and people waving to me on the side of the road, which I waved back at first but then realized it was just a tree. I started dodging what I thought were dirty baby diapers on the ground. I didn’t want to run over them and have poo splatter on me, even though I probably smelled worse than poo. When we arrived at the ranger station, we were greeted by Emma Gossett, who was volunteering while her boyfriend Derrick was racing as Orange Lederhosen. Emma was sleeping in a hammock, I so wanted that hammock! At least we had our gear bin at this TA so we busted that open and went through all of our goodies. First order of business was warming up our Mountain House Mac n’ Cheese meals! So delish! We saw the two guys from Ecuador putting diaper rash lotion on their feet, and their feet did look as smooth as a baby’s butt! We also saw Team Merrell Denmark getting ready to leave and they overheard me talking about how sore my feet were. I had my feet taped but I actually think that was causing more harm than good. It bunched up on my heel and was starting to cause a blister. Lars and Sanne gave me some kind of magical powder for my feet. They told me to wrap my feet, take a nap, and that by the time I woke up, my feet would feel better. They were right! Thanks to them for saving my feet! After we finished our gourmet meals, we searched for a place to sleep. Our friends from Cumberland Trail Connection were already sleeping, most likely in their hammocks (envious), so we found a small slab of concrete to cozy up on. There was nothing cozy about it. Some big rat like thing ran past Eric’s feet and that pretty much killed our sleep. After about an hour went by and I sprung out of my Bivvy sack! My stomach wasn’t happy with something I had put in it, and it wanted out immediately! Luckily I felt ok after that, I was worried that was going to be an unwelcomed reoccurring event. At about 630am, we got up,  ate some food, and geared up to head back out on our bikes with Cumberland Trail Connection.

DAY  3
It was daylight as we headed out, so I felt rested even with barely any sleep. I was no longer seeing dirty baby diapers so the universe was working in my favor. The road out of the ranger station was a steep uphill and it was muddy, so once again we had to hike a bike. I thought to myself, crap I hope the whole route isn’t like this. Just as I thought this, a racer riding back from the ruins yelled to us that the road turns into pavement. Kevin and I both thought, this guy is full of crap, but when we reached the top of the hill, there it was. Pavement! It was glorious! We were flying on our way to the ruins. There were some super steep hills but being on pavement made them more bearable. If this race didn’t make me a stronger biker, nothing will! When we arrived at the ruins, they had a camera crew there waiting for us. We felt like celebrities….stinky ones!  The ruins were absolutely breathtaking! We got to climb to the top for the CP!

I loved this, I’m so happy we got to experience this part of the race, definitely one of my favorite sections! I didn’t want to leave! After a climb up and down, and a quick look around to take in such awesomeness, we hopped back on our bikes to head back to the ranger station. As we were enjoying
our last ride of the race, Kevin’s tire went flat. Seriously, out of all the rocks and bumps and potholes we rode over, he gets a flat on pavement! Not only did Kevin’s tire decided to take a hike, we leap frogged NYARA twice because they had a flat and some bike troubles. On the easiest part of the bike sections, everyone’s bike fell apart! When we got back to the ranger station, we cooked up another Mountain House meal (spaghetti with meatballs…mmmm meaty!) and took the meals with us as we headed out on our jungle trek.

TREK – Jungle Trek to Chechem Ha Falls (Ugh!)
Ohhh the jungle trek, I will never forget this for as long as I live. This trekking leg almost broke me…almost. At first it started off as an overgrown trail which you could barely tell was a trail. We thought, wow if the whole trek was like this, this would suck, but to our surprise, it got worse! This trail opened up into a wide road that looked like it was used for farming. You could tell a few tractors came through there and tore up the entire trail, or road, or whatever it was, which was now slurpy mud. We were slipping and sliding all over the place, and at some points our shoes got sucked right off our feet. At this point my feet began to throb all over again. Where was that Team Merrell magic powder when I needed it? Oh yeah, I left the little bit I had left at the rangers station. Poop! I kept on pushing along and the pain was becoming unbearable. Tamara offered help to carry some of my things, but I just kept on going anyway. She was actually very good about offering help throughout the race, she’s a strong racer and a great helper. As we continued on, I was pretty much putting all my weight on my trekking poles and shuffling on my toes since my heels felt totally destroyed. I honestly wanted to cry, but I had so many emotions going through me that I couldn’t cry. So many thoughts went through my head at this point, and they all gave me motivation to get me through my nightmare.  During a previous race, my teammate Don Bart, kept saying the word “progress” as we were trying to get through a tough trekking leg. That word ran circles around my head and it kept me going. One foot in front of the other is progress. I thought of my teammate who was in the hospital recovering from his heart surgery, and about my friend who had just lost his battle with brain cancer. I thought about all the people who helped make this race possible for me, I thought of all my friends and family that were rooting for me back home, and with all this jumbled in my brain, it’s what kept me going. I couldn’t quit, my feet wanted to quit, but I didn’t want to quit, and I knew everyone at home was waiting for me to finish. I also told myself that my feet situation was nothing compared to what my teammate had just gone through with his heart surgery. I kept looking at the bracelet I wore in honor of him to remind me of this.

As my mind kept my feet going,  we eventually stopped at a farm where a bunch of teams stocked up on water. We sat for a bit with some other teams to rest our feet and fuel up on food. This farm was nothing like farming back home. It was so awesome to see how different a culture could be other than our own. After our break we pressed on, and for a while we were hanging on the tails of Team Fortitude and Gung Ho.
 At some point we split up, and the trail opened up into a beautiful field accompanied by the sounds of howler monkeys in the distance. I really wanted to see one up close and personal, but just the noise alone made me smile. Eric was very good at impersonating their howl so it was like I had my own howler monkey with me for the rest of the race. I was also lucky that my howler monkey carried my pack for me a while during this trek to lighten up the load so my sore feet didn’t have as much impact.  We kept going and going on this trail, it felt like we were lost, or missed a turn somewhere. We stopped to get our bearings but still questioned our whereabouts especially when we saw NYARA and Gung Ho coming back towards us. That made us think we were going the wrong way so we stopped, took a seat on the jungle path, and tried to figure out what just happened. We noticed we passed a farm house down the trail so we trekked back there to see if we could talk to someone that lived there. The first guy that came up to us didn’t speak a word of English, but then his son, sporting an Abercombie shirt (do they even have Abercombie out there?), was very fluent. He gave us directions to our next CP which was Chechem Ha Falls. We were actually going in the right direction in the first place, so we kept on going, as I kept on falling apart. My feet felt like someone was taking a hammer to them, and I had to stop a few times because on top of feet problems, butt problems were now added to my list. When we finally reached Chechem Ha Falls, I could barely walk. I sat down and took off my shoes and tape, and let my feet air out. This place felt like luxury to us! This would be our dark zone, which was a mandatory holding point until morning. The woman who owned the home cooked us stew chicken and rice for dinner, we drank Coke, and they even offered beer. Was this really happening? Yes!!! After I gorged myself with delicious eats, I hobbled over to the gazebo as a camera man followed me to record my misery. At this point we learned that the guys from Ecuador also had foot problems but they had to drop due to an infection one of the teammate’s contracted during the race. I saw his foot, it was huge! They were awesomely fast, and had 3rd place overall locked in before all that happened. At least they pushed it as far as they possibly could! As it got later, we got sleepy, so Eric and I tried sleeping on a chair which felt awful, so we ended up on the concrete again, cold and in pain, but hey at least I was off my mangled feet! Kevin, Jen, and Tamara were all snuggled up in their cozy little hammocks near the falls. Lucky bastards!

DAY  4
All the racers in the dark zone woke up around 4am to eat breakfast that this amazing woman offered to us. I’ve never been so excited to drink coffee and eat Cocoa Puffs!!! Just typing that made me want Cocoa Puffs again! We finished our meals and waited around for our tour guide to take us to CP24, which was in a cave. We hiked up a nice little jungle trail to the cave, split up into two groups to take the tour, and headed in. We didn’t go very deep into the cave, but we got to climb a ladder to check out some Mayan pottery which was super cool! After our short tour, we hiked back down the trail and continued onward to the next CP at Vaca Falls. We passed some random loitering cows along the way, which Tamara wasn’t too excited
about since she’s not a big fan of livestock. They seemed sketchy to her, but they didn’t bother us.

When we got to Vaca Falls, we saw the CP was actually out on the rocks. We were allowed to let one of our teammates fetch it, so seeing that my feet were on the fritz, Eric ventured out with Kevin.
It looked amazing, if my feet were in better condition, I would’ve went with them. After we snagged that CP, we kept on going down this jungle trail which was like a for real jungle trail, not like the muddy jungle trek from hell we were previously on. This trail was gorgeous! We could see the sunrise over the mountains, the trees were beautiful, this section was definitely another favorite of mine. I actually started to tear up during this trek because I felt so grateful to experience such beauty. I don’t
know how or why but my feet suddenly became less painful. It didn’t make sense but I was ok with that! Our amazing trek came to a close as we approached the paddle put in. Finally after 3 days, we were going to be able to sit in a boat. We were excited to get off our feet for the next 20 miles!

We grabbed a canoe and we’re told that there were some small rapids on this river but nothing too crazy since the water was so high. Eric and I know how to paddle but we are used to kayak paddles, not oars, so this was going to be a whole new experience. Cumberland Trail were right behind us as we approached the first rapid, which wasn’t what I would call small! We hit a rock and got stuck on top of it and almost tipped! It’s a good thing neither of us freak out when this happens , we can immediately compensate our balance so we don’t go overboard. We finally managed to get our boat off the rock as Cumberland passed us and floated smoothly down the rapids. The current was strong and we couldn’t get our boat turned around so we had no choice, we were going down those rapids backwards!
My stomach pretty much jumped in my throat but it was so much fun! We actually made it without tipping again so I was proud of us! After a couple smaller rapids, the river became totally calm. It was a gorgeous, calming paddle for the rest of the way. At one point we reached a bridge and saw Jen’s boyfriend standing off to the side taking video of us. That meant we were nearing civilization, we had to be almost done! No, not really, it was just a tease, we still had a ways to go, but it was an enjoyable ride. When we finally reached the take out, Eric went to assist Kevin by pulling his boat onto shore, while Kevin was still in it. Right when Eric pulled the boat, Kevin fell backwards and got his PFD and himself
wedged in the seat. He looked like a helpless turtle stuck on his back waving his arms trying to get free. It was hilarious! Kevin escaped his turtle trap and we moved on to the last leg of the race, the final trek home.

Our trek back to the resort wasn’t far at all, and it was on major roads. It definitely felt weird to be back in civilization after roaming the jungle for 4 days. It was sunny, hot, but we all felt strong at this point and we’re in good spirits! Jen’s boyfriend was right there with us, trekking the whole way back, taking pictures, video and motivating us. When we reached the top of the insanely steep hill that our resort resided on, we all decided to link arms as we approached the finish line. We started as two separate teams, but we finished as one. Tears welled up in my eyes and I almost lost it, so much emotion of completing the toughest race of my life so far, imagining all the people that are going to be so proud of me, and just being proud of myself for pushing through the most incredible pain I’ve ever experienced, being proud and grateful for my teammate for helping me through my foot struggle, and being able to experience this race with another team that were amazing throughout the entire race. I choked back my tears even though I should’ve let them loose. We crossed that finish line with huge smiles and hugs! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I dedicate this race to our teammate Mark Rouse, and my friend Rich Wiet and his family. Both of them were in my thoughts throughout this entire race and they have everything to do with me finishing! We ended up placing first in the 2 person coed division because of a small mistake made the other team, but we were just happy to finish this race. I love adventure racing for the experiences, adventures, life lessons learned, and the incredible bond between fellow racers. I can’t wait for my next expedition race, but I don’t know if anything will be able to top this one! I’m so grateful for this whole experience; it was definitely an eye opener and changed my life for the better! Congrats to all the racers who made it through one tough race, and thanks to the race directors and volunteers for putting on an awesome event! Also, a huge thank you to everyone who made this race possible for me, words can't even describe how grateful I am!