Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 Lightning Strikes 8 Hour AR

Lightning Strikes
8 hour AR
Camp Benson, Mt. Carroll, IL
Team: Eyes of the World
4th place - 3 Person Coed
Nationals Qualifiers
David Yang, Don Bart, & Heather Kluch
Professional Photos By: John Morris Photography

Pre Race Shenannigans 

Not only was this an 8 hour adventure race, it was an adventure weekend. We pulled into Camp Benson Friday afternoon to check in and setup bunk in our toasty warm cabin. We requested a group of racers we already knew to slumber party it up with us, but not everyone arrived that night. Some racers were just coming for the race and not the entire camp, so they didn't end up arriving until Saturday afternoon. Our Saturday was our play day. Since it was way too cold and their was ice fishing on the Mississippi River, Gerry Voelliger (race director) put a halt to the paddle lesson since it might be a little difficult to paddle through a layer of ice. Since we didn't have to paddle, we got to spend 3 hours on the practice nav course in the Mississippi Palisades. We decided to take it easy since we didn't want to burn out our legs for the race, knowing that many teams were coming in well rested with fresh legs. We walked the course and snagged about 15 checkpoints. Well even with just walking the course, I could feel that my legs were already tired. Super steep hills are still super steep hills whether you're running or walking! 

Nav Practice Map
Check out that ginormous hill in front of Don!

After finishing up our practice nav, we headed back to camp to get ready for the ropes course. This was awesome! It's one of my favorite events of the camp. We got to rappel, slack line, traverse, ascend, and zip line as many times as we wanted. It was like a grown ups playground! Rappelling is probably my favorite out of all of them, and as you can see from the pictures below, our other Eyes of the World teammate, Eric Olsen, his favorite was the slack line. Eric had me in tears because I was laughing so hard. It was like Cirque Du Soleil stunts being performed by a deranged monkey! Good thing Gerry didn't put a slack line in the race!
What not to do when Slack Lining!
Eric taking a break from his stunts

When we were done dangling from ropes, we headed back to the cabin to clean our stinky bodies. David Yang, our 3rd teammate finally arrived. We were so excited to race with David since we finally got his lazy ass out of what he called retirement. We're never going to let him retire again! After our butts smelled nice, we headed to the lodge for a nav presentation, the pre race meeting, and a presentation by Robyn Benincasa, a World Champion Adventure Racer. This was my third time seeing her, she is truly an amazing and inspiring woman! As Gerry laid the smack down on how the race was going to pan out, he told us that the entire paddling section was cancelled and that we would be doing a luge at the end of the race. Gerry's quote "We're exchanging hypothermia for trauma."  I was so happy, I almost crapped myself! I was dreading the paddle before I even arrived at camp. Knowing that it was going to be so freakin cold, I had a fear of frostbite and hypothermia, so I was relieved that neither of them would happen.....or so I thought. 

Robyn Benincasa & David
Robyn and I at ropes practice

Race Start

I was hoping that a forecast of low 30's, snow, and 25mph winds was incorrect, but when we woke up in the morning, those weather people were right for once. Damn them for being right! I tried to stay positive and not think about the torture that was in my near future. We geared up, dropped our bikes and ropes gear at the bike drop, ate breakfast and anxiously waited for 7am to roll around. At about 6:40am, Gerry rounded up all the troops to head outside by the start/finish line to take the annual group photo. After our snazzy photoshoot, I pulled out my hand warmers and put them in my mittens to prevent my Raynaud's Disease from kicking in. Yes, I was wearing my snowboarding mitts, that's how much of a wuss I am in the cold! We all lined up behind the start line, listened to the Star Spangled Banner, and waiting for the GO! 7am hit and we were off! First discipline....a short nav section! 

Camp Benson O Section - Rogaine Style

In this section we were to obtain 3 CPs in any order. I was not in control of the map for this race since Don and David are both strong navigators. I was the designated gopher, so that means I was supposed to punch the passport for all the CPs. I was weary about this since my left hamstring had been bothering me all week, but I gave it a go anyway. We sprinted out towards CP3. I had no idea where we're going because I wasn't looking at the map for once so I just followed and trusted their nav skills. The hills were not easy for me. I slipped and yanked my hamstring just enough to feel pain shoot down my leg and I thought, great, well this is it, not even 10 minutes in and I'm done. I yelled to David that I couldn't be the gopher, that if I kept pushing it, my leg would pretty much fall off and we would be disqualified. So he took the passport from me, which I felt bad about. I hate giving up my duties, I felt worthless, but I knew they needed me to qualify for Nationals, so I kept pushing through. My legs were tired, and my left leg was in pain. Every step was a struggle, but I just looked at the ground and told myself to keep on going. We finally got all three CPs, we weren't in first place, but we were near the top, but that doesn't matter in a beginning of a race. Anything can happen. We transitioned to our bikes, I made sure I was warm...mittens with handwarmers, booties over my bike shoes, a neck gaiter to cover my face, but the only thing I was missing were my sunglasses that I had lost the day before. Luckily David brought a spare for me, so I had that covered.

Bike O

We headed out on the bikes and of course it had to start snowing. I was still warm so it didn't bother me at first, but then every time I put my neck gaiter over my nose, my glasses would fog up so I couldn't see anything. So I decided to take them off, who needs glasses when it's not sunny out? I did! Holy crap that wasn't a smart move. As soon as we picked up speed the snow was spearing me in my eyeballs. It felt like I had metal spikes jabbed into my eyes. I turned my head to the side and scrunched one eye closed like a pirate so I could save the life of at least one eye. When we finally reached the CP, I grabbed my glasses back from Don. I'd rather ride with foggy vision than daggers in the eye pirate vision. We headed out to gather the rest of the CPs. I could feel my legs already shutting down. I don't know if it was from the practice nav section from the day before or if it was the cold, but I felt like I had cement blocks on my pedals. I focused on the tire in front of me to stay in the draft because I knew if I let go, I would fall behind. After gathering all the CPs, we finally made it to the next TA. Suddenly it felt like my lungs were caving in, like I had a 200 pound dude sitting on my chest. Don said something funny which I can't remember what it was, but I laughed, and when I laughed, I had that uncontrollable cough that made my lungs hurt even more. I felt like I caught pneumonia within 5 seconds. Even Don asked me if I was ok and I told him I felt like death, but of course that didn't stop me. We quickly changed out of our biking gear and headed out for the bigger nav section. 

Mississippi Palisades O Section

For those of you that have never been in the Mississippi Palisades, this place is no joke. The hills are monstrous. So with my leg issue and now my new found pneumonia issue, this kicked my ass. I had no idea where we were going since I didn't have the map, and for the first time in a race, I didn't want to know, All I knew was we had to obtain 9 CPs which felt like 100. All I could focus on was ignoring the pain, and trying not to hack up my lungs. I barely ever saw my teammates faces during this section because I had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I had popped some Sport Legs, but my legs weren't feeling very sporty, and I felt like I needed a lung transplant. Even though I felt like a stick of poo, I kept on going. As we were nearing either our last CP or second to last, we saw Team Rev 3 heading down the road on their bikes. At that moment we knew there was no way we would catch up to them unless some kind of catastrophe happened to them, but we also knew we were probably still in the running to qualify for Nationals, so we kept pushing our pace. After our last CP, we headed back to the TA to transition back to our bikes. If you think I've been falling apart during this entire race, you are correct, but this is when I really fell to pieces. 

Bike to Camp TA

We transitioned to our bikes pretty quickly, actually I was the quickest because I knew I was falling apart so I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as I could because the more I waited around, the worse I felt. The first thing we hit was a hill from hell. I swear this thing went up and up for 5 miles. Surprisingly, I still had enough strength to make it all the way up without having to walk my bike. I felt like that was my biggest accomplishment so far, so there was hope for me! As soon as we got out of the park area, and onto open road, that's when the winter tornado hit. Winds gusted at 25mph or maybe even more. I would get side swiped with these invisible blizzards and almost pushed off the road. All up until this point I was pretty warm, but my handwarmers were no match for this. I felt my Raynaud's Disease acting up. My fingers and toes turned into corpsicles and there was nothing to do about it. I concentrated on David's tire again, and I told myself, "This is almost done." We reached the last CP along the way before we had to head back to camp, and when we stopped to punch the passport, we saw in the distance a super ginormous hill that we had to ride up of course. Don made the call to eat something and pop down another 5 Hour Energy, which I did the same. I needed all the help I could get to climb that crazy hill. We approached the hill and I got angry at it. This helps me defeat hills. I love them and hate them at the same time. David, who claimed he was old and out of shape, was like a robot and flew up that hill. Out of shape my ass, I'll punch him if he ever says that again. We finally made it to the top and reached some flat terrain. I saw a car pull out of a driveway up ahead, and I cracked a half frozen smile. I knew that had to be the entrance to camp, and it was! I wanted to kiss that driveway! We pulled into the entrance and arrived at the TA to check in with the volunteers. We had our gear bags that we dropped earlier so we could switch into our climbing gear since the next section was a series of ropes. This is where I lost myself.
This isn't us, but it gives you and idea of how nasty it was during the bike section!

Ropes Section

As we started to transition into our ropes gear, I realized there was no way I could put the harness on myself since my hands were frozen, so I yelled to Don and David that I needed help. David asked me where my climbing gear was and in my head I knew the answer was "holding it with my left arm", but the only words I could get out of my mouth were "Right here." Obviously David didn't know what that meant so Don asked me where again. All I could say was "Right here." I thought to myself, what the hell is wrong with me? Why can't I answer a simple question? Just as that thought crossed my mind, a volunteer walked over to me and said "You don't look so good." Well to me I felt fine, but judging on how I couldn't answer a simple question, maybe she was right. She asked me if I was cold, and I told her yes, that my hands were freezing, so she made me take off my mitts. Every single finger on my left hand turned completely white. Even the palm of my hand was white and that's never happened to me before. Seconds later my entire hand turned blue. The volunteer yelled to my teammates "Hey, we have to get this girl taken care of or she's not going to finish this race. She's in the early stages of hypothermia." My teammates didn't realize how bad I was, which wasn't their fault since they were digging in their packs and didn't really take a look at me. I know they would've noticed it when they started putting my harness on, but it never got to that point since the volunteer caught it sooner. They sat me down on a bench so they could put foot warmers on my socks, and I sat their like a helpless baby as they took off my shoes and socks while my brain continued to fade away. The volunteer realized that my socks were wet, which meant the warmers weren't going to work, so Don asked me where my spare socks were. Again, the answer immediately popped in my brain, they were in my green dry bag in my pack, but I couldn't get that answer out of my mouth. All I could say in my floaty head voice was "I don't know." This was so frustrating! I knew the answer, why was I saying I don't know? Don realized he wasn't going to get an answer out of me because my brain was fried, so he pulled out his spare socks and continued to dress me. The socks were huge but I didn't care because they were warm! It amazed me how David and Don came rushing to my aid and moved so quickly to help me. It was almost like we practiced this. This was an excellent example of teamwork at it's finest. Playing dress up took a huge chunk of time which I felt bad about. I was afraid that another team would catch up and pass us while I was floating away into Neverland. So I thought to myself, "Get your weak ass up, finish this race, and qualify for Nationals!" I finally got my weak ass up and said "Let's get this done!" and we headed off to the first ropes course, the ascent. 


I had practiced this the day before and it was pretty easy for me. My arms were a little tired from all the ropes we did during practice but they didn't feel like they would be useless, but of course they were. Since my body was still in hypothermia mode, I had absolutely no strength in any part of my body. Chad and Ron, the volunteers at the ascent, suggested that I wait until both of my teammates reached the top since it was windy up there and I would freeze even more. We were only allowed to go up on the same rope, so I had to wait until my teammate was done before I could climb. When I finally had the ascenders clamped to the rope and my bum left leg put in the loop, I started my ascent. I tried pushing with my leg and it didn't want to push. My arms didn't want to move the ascenders either. I had nothing left at all. I didn't even make it half way up and I already needed a break. I dangled there and spun around for a minute, and during this minute I just wanted to burst into tears. I thought to myself, "How the hell am I going to make it up this rope? I'm exhausted, I'm freezing, and I have nothing left in me." Just as that thought crossed my mind I heard Don and David yell down to me, "Great job Heather, keep it up!" Great job? They had no idea that I had stopped because they couldn't see me. At that moment I felt I was failing them, and I was failing myself. That got me out of my "I can't do this" mode and put me in "Quit whining and get the hell up this rope" mode. I started to climb again, grunting and groaning and pushing and pulling. I finally made it over the ledge and felt a huge surge of satisfaction. I had surprised myself! I originally thought I wasn't going to make it. I also noticed that my hands were finally warm. Using the last bit of strength I had, heated up my body. I was finally leaving floaty head land, I didn't feel perfect, but I didn't feel like I was losing myself anymore. With that, we headed to the next course, the zip line!

Zip Line

I knew this was going to be easy. Even if I was totally worthless, I could do this since it requires no effort whatsoever, well it's not supposed to. Most of the time I get stuck half way because I don't weigh enough, so I have to traverse the rest of the way down. I hoped that wouldn't happen because if I had to use my arms again, they were going to fall off. I got clipped in and jumped! That jump totally drops my stomach to the point where I can't even scream. It's such a cool feeling! I flew down that zip line and luckily, I made it all the way to the bottom without having to pull myself. I was so relieved! I didn't want to cost my team any more time than I already had. After the zip line, we headed over to a cliff to snag a CP that was on the way to the next course. After we snagged the CP, the realization of having to cross a creek set in. Really??? My feet were finally warm and now I had to dip them in freezing water? Shitballs! David decided to be the first to cross to see how deep it was. The ice cold water came up to his knees which meant it would be even higher on me since I'm so freakin short. Then Don came up with the most genius idea ever, he would carry me across so I didn't get wet! I loved this idea! I jumped on Don's back to begin my piggy back ride across the creek. David crossed back over to stand behind me to make sure I didn't fall in. This is what adventure racing is all about. When you're struggling, your teammates find a way to get you through it. I felt so bad that they had to do this for me but I was so grateful at the same time. This made me want to cry too, but this time, happy tears! We made it across the creek without toppling over or falling in, so we headed to the next course, the rappel.


We made it to the top of the cliff just to get ready to fly down it. For some reason, well for a lot of obvious reasons, I don't remember much of this but I do remember one of the volunteers was making Mac n Cheese. This smelled like a gourmet meal to me! I wanted some! I kept telling myself if I finish this race, I will get to eat this fancy meal. I got myself clipped in and started down the cliff. Normally I would fly down this, but I wasn't trusting myself, so I went down pretty choppy. At least I made it down, and I knew that this was almost it. All we needed to do next was the luge, and then we were done!

As you can tell by how awesome I look, my mind is totally gone!

The Luge to Finish

We arrived at what looked like to be two huge sewer pipes on the side of a hill. I got nervous at first because I imagined myself flying out of the sewer and bashing my head on something. We were so close to the end, and after all I had been thorugh, I would've been pissed if I was injured and couldn't finish! We grabbed a plastic sled and headed to the top of the hill. Each of us had to go down individually into this creepy dark tunnel. I hate going down things where I can't see where I'm going! I plopped my sled down, jumped on and flew down the pipe. I shot out the end and flew across the snowy ground. This was awesome! And now we were done!! We put the sleds back and headed back up to the lodge where the finish line was! Exhausted, cold, tired, and at least one of us in pain (that would be me), we ran across that finish line, finishing 4th and qualifying for Nationals!!!! We gave each other huge hugs and were so happy to finish such a grueling race. Normally an 8 hour race isn't too tough for me, but this one completely sucked the life out of me. I don't know if it was my hamstring, or the cold, or probably a combination of both, but my body was in shut down mode the entire time. It's so hard to fight that, you feel slow, worthless, and it's just totally demoralizing. It takes a lot to convince yourself you can make it through something like that. This race was a constant mind battle since my body was destroyed right from the beginning. With the help of my amazing teammates and volunteers, I was able to push myself to the finish. I couldn't have done it without all of you!  Thank you Don and David, for helping me through my lowest points ever. I'm proud to have you as teammates. Thank you Gerry Voelliger, for putting on a great race! I'll definitely be back next year, just please have better control of the weather next time!

Crossing the finish line!

Gerry Voellinger, one of my favorite race directors!