Thunder Rolls Adventure Race
Mt. Carroll, IL
Team Adventure Capitalists/BDAR Midwest
3 Person Coed
Team Adventure Capitalists/BDAR Midwest
3 Person Coed
Racers: Eric Olsen, Don Bart, Heather Kluch
The Thunder Rolls 24 hour Adventure Race is definitely one of my favorite races and I’m going to tell you why even if you don’t want to hear it. :o) Unfortunately I wasn’t able to race it last year because I made a bad decision to skip it, and have been kicking myself in the ass all year, until this year when it finally came around again. I was so excited to be racing it this year as a different team I recently joined called Adventure Capitalists/BDAR. They are originally based out of the Tennessee, so we branched out as their Midwest chapter. My teammates are still the same, Eric Olsen and Don Bart, I’ ve known these guys and raced with them a couple years now, and we race well together. Ok so back to why this race is a favorite of mine….for one Gerry Voelliger, the race director, is a character; there’s no one like him. He’s friendly, crass, brutally honest, and hilarious. I laugh my ass off in every one of his pre race meetings. He puts on a fantastic (or Gerry would say EPIC…epic is a Gerry word) course, that’s brutal but fun. Second, the volunteers are amazing people. There are A TON of them! Every single one of them is friendly and they really become your friends. Arriving to a TA or having them assist on the ropes course seriously brings a smile to your face. Maybe it’s because you’re sick of dealing with your teammates, either way, it’s always a pleasure to see them. Not only are the volunteers awesome, so are the racers. The people who do this race seem to be a part of one big happy AR family. You see old faces and new, and you immediately form a bond like no other race I’ve raced. Hugs, high fives, sarcasm, and kicks in the asses are all a part of this happy family. So there you go, epic race director, epic volunteers, and epic racers all combine to make one epic race. I’ve used the word epic 5 times in one paragraph, I never use that word and try to avoid it at all costs, so that should tell you this race is truly epic!
Enter Thunder Rolls Territory
Eric, Don and I planned on leaving my area around 1ish, so that would’ve put us there at about 4. Of course things always run later than planned, so our thoughts and dreams of having a long nap before the race were crushed. We always seem to forget how much time it takes to unpack gear and get everything prepared. When we arrived at the race, we were welcomed by the usual sign that said the obvious “Welcome Adventure Racers!” This makes us feel wanted, like we’re important even if we’re of no significance. We arrive sporting our custom made shirts…WWWD on the front and “What Would WEDALI Do?” on the back. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, Wedali is a team, a very,very good team. They win most of the races, but I have to say for how many races these guys win, they are some of the friendliest racers I’ve come across during my racing career. You would think a team that wins all the time would be a bunch of big headed douchebags….not these guys! They’re very humble, and when you congratulate them on a win, they’re very modest, and are more interested in talking to you about how your race went. I love these guys and love seeing them on the course, because when I see them, I feel like I’m winning even though they’re half way through the course and we’re not even close. ;o) Anyway enough bragging about Wedali, to get back to my point, these guys are excellent navigators, so during a previous 30 hour race when we were delirious, we came up with idea of what would Wedali do in this situation, hence the shirt idea was born. They got a good chuckle out of it and so did other racers that understood where we were coming from. Ok, moving on now to the actual race.
After unloading our gear into our cabin, and I have to mention we had some pretty cool teams in our cabin, we headed to the lodge for our delicious pre race salad, pasta, and breadsticks meal. An hour after we stuffed our faces, Gerry began his speech of the torture that was upon us. He explained the routes, let us know what roads were forbidden, and explained that we were not allowed to skip any of the CPs, that we would be ranked at the last CP we attained in sequential order. So for example, if we found CP38, didn’t find CP39 and moved on to CP40, we would only be ranked up to CP38. So this meant all CPs were mandatory except the “advanced section” up north which most teams wouldn’t make it to. Gerry also mentioned that the stinging nettle wasn’t so bad this year, but then Sue Stonitsch, one of the volunteers, immediately spoke up and corrected him on that. The nettles were bad! I was hoping Sue’s correction was wrong, but you will see later in this report, my hopes were shattered. Ugh!
When Gerry finally stopped talking to us, our team captains went up to collect the race instructions and the maps. The maps were small, but there were many of them. We had to plot only a handful of checkpoints, since most of the nav sections were pre plotted on different maps that we would attain at the transition areas. We were able to plot during the meeting and plan our routes pretty quick. We headed back to the cabin to arrange our paddle bag and bike gear. Eric and Don left to go stage the bikes and bike gear about 20minutes away while I stayed back to figure out my outfits for the next 24 hours. I get cold very easily so this was some tough planning for me! When the boys got back, we finished getting gear ready and decided we actually had some time to take a short nap. We set the alarm and we snoozed away, or at least tried.
It literally felt like 5 minutes later and the alarm went off. Wake up! Time to race! We changed into our race gear and headed out to the starting line. Race started at midnight but we lined up around 1130 for a group picture taken by the amazing photographer, John Morris. Gerry then played the National Anthem and when the clock hit midnight, we were off! We ran to the fort to get the O map from the volunteers. This O section was rogaine style so that meant we were able find the CPs in any order we wanted. This is where strategy comes into play. Teams scattered in every direction as soon as they got the maps. We decided to head straight to the ropes course. We wanted to get that out of the way as soon as possible since we didn’t want to come into it later with a huge bottleneck. When we arrived at the ropes, our plan worked out well.
We saw Wedali on the ropes, they might have gotten more CPs than us already, but it was still nice to see them! We waited only about 20 minutes before we got on the rope to ascend up it. Ascending is definitely a workout. Imagine doing a bunch of one legged squats..my left butt cheek burned after that! When we got to the top of the cliff, we rappelled down. I slipped as I went over the cliff, swung out, and smacked my ass on the rock. I guess my ass wasn’t sore enough, it needed more abuse! I recovered quickly and flew down the rope. Eric flew down after me. I swear it’s like this guy wasn’t even attached to a rope because he flew down so freakin’ fast! After Eric, Don rappelled nice and smooth into the water below. We left our harnesses on and headed out for the rest of the O section. Things were going smoothly until we attempted our last CP, CP1. Night nav is always so much harder because you can get turned around easily. We followed a ridge line from CP2, which we thought was the correct direction. We ended up hopping over a couple barbed wire fences and then came upon a CP. What’s this??? CP2 again? Did we really just walk in a circle?? Yes. Yes we did. Dammit! So we looked at the map again and followed the terrain much closer. If we ended up at CP2 again, I would’ve thought we were all losing our minds or that Gerry was messing with us. We finally came upon CP1, which made us feel sane again, and then headed to CP6, which was a cave. This is awesome, the only race I’ve even done that has a cave! We had to cross the river to get into it, and it was deep! It was past my waist and it wasn’t warm! We headed into the cave and a bat flew in my face! The cave was cold and part of it was flooded with ice cold water.
We got to the end of the cave and we didn’t see a CP. Wait, what? Were we in the right cave? I don’t remember there being another cave. I asked Eric if there was a turn off to another section of the cave behind us but he didn’t remember seeing anything. So I walked back and sure enough, we were supposed to make a left. We walked down the super narrow hole and there it was! We started to head back out and Don smashed head on the rocks above. Luckily he had his helmet on, but the bash hurt his neck. He had to take a couple minutes to get his brain back. Good thing it wasn’t anything serious! Next we made our way to the river for one more CP before we hit the next section…..Coasteering! This was to be my first time ever doing this!
|My cold face!|
Some people never heard of coasteering, so what is it? It’s orienteering, but in a river, so you’re orienteering in the water along a coast…coast + orienteering = coasteering. Ahhh now it all makes sense! We hopped in the Waukarusa River, it was pitch black so we couldn’t see much, only what our headlamps illuminated. We had to walk in the water the entire time since the land on both sides was private property. I later heard some other teams took the high and dry route, but oh well, at least we know we did it right. Walking through this river was tough! Footing was totally uneven and rocky so we were either tripping or banging our shins and knees on rocks. In some sections, the water was up to our waists! I felt like I was walking like a newborn baby, or a drunk, or a drunken baby, either way, it was a long, wet stumble! I’m not complaining though, it was pretty freakin cool and for once I wasn’t freezing my ass off! When we got to the road, it was our exit point. It was time for a 2 mile run along a paved road to get us to the paddle section. Don was wearing some crazy orienteering shoes with mini spikes on the bottom. These are awesome on dirt and trail, but pavement not so much. Luckily there was a small shoulder of grass and dirt that he could run on, and when he couldn’t, he toughed it out on the pavement. As we made our way down the road, we could see Boom Boom Pow ahead of us. They’re an all girls team, and they’re pretty awesome! We kept pushing our pace and ended up passing these lovely ladies who were missing a usual team member. Their third teammate contracted Lyme disease. We all hope she recovers quickly! We finally got to our destination….the ADVENTURE paddle, and oh man, an adventure it was!
Gerry had told us that we were in for an adventure for this paddle and that was an understatement! First of all, it’s still dark, so it’s hard to see branches, logs, and debris until they’re pretty much right in front of you, or when you’re ramming into them. The adventure paddle began on Plum River, a very twisty river with a ton of debris, strainers, logs, trees, and anything else that could block us. As we were paddling along, we kept running into obstacles. We would run over a log, and get stuck on it. Having three people in a canoe was a disadvantage, the more weight, the more stuck you got. We came up
When we would finally make it through an obstacle and have a nice and easy paddle, we would hit another obstacle. Out of nowhere Team Rage Against the Cutoff came flying past us. These guys were animals, tearing through the debris like it was nothing. They passed us as we were trying to hump our way off of a log. There were so many times we thought we would dump but with our amazing teamwork, and with Don calling out everything he would see, we managed to make it through without any carnage. (Carnage is Gerry’s favorite word so I had to use it.) I did almost lose my shoe during a portage around one of those beaver dams. I stepped in some quicksand-like clay mud and it sucked the shoe right off of me. Not only did my shoe disappear but it smelled like rancid poo. I had to dig in the poo goo to get my shoe back. It was nasty! This paddle definitely wasn’t easy, it was scary, it gave me mini heart attacks and got my adrenaline pumping, but I had a smile on my face through the entire ride. I thought it was torturous fun! It definitely wasn’t boring and kept us awake! It was a total body workout!!! Screw Insanity or all those other workout gimmicks, all you need is Gerry’s Adventure Paddle!
The next section was something new for Gerry’s race, he called this the Bike-O. During this section in the super steep hilly mountainous terrain of the Mississippi Palisades, we were able to attack the CPs in any order by riding our bikes near the CPs, then obtaining them on foot. This section was very strategic, some teams dropped their bikes and got all the South CPs on foot, as others obtained a few CPs in the nearby area, then get back on their bikes and rode closer to another group of CPs. We chose to ride near a group of CPs, snag them, and ride again, and so on. It was working out well except for my feet didn’t agree with leaving my bike shoes on as we stomped around on the uneven steep terrain. I mentioned my feet hurt, but still kept going. Since I left my bike shoes on, my trail runners were clipped to the back of my pack, and they were still caked with poo sludge from the paddle take out. This made my shoes feel like bricks, so as I ran, it felt like someone was tugging on my pack and pulling me backwards. It started to wear on me, my back was starting to hurt and it was wearing me down. So since we weren't switching shoes every time we got off our bikes, Don came up with a plan. Eric would unclip my shoes for me whenever we got off our bikes to navigate on foot, then clip them back on when we’d get back on our bikes. This worked out well for a while, until my feet were finally ready to give up. They were screaming at me, “Take these damn bike shoes off!” My feet are very picky, I need support in my shoes and these things gave me none. It was starting to affect my knees, and Eric started having the same problem, so we finally decided to switch shoes every time we got off the bike. A few seconds to switch shoes was worth not killing our feet and possibly affecting the rest of our race.
As we attacked the CPs on foot, there were a few events that made this section memorable. One of them being my spider attack. As we dropped our bikes, I walked in between a fence post and a trail sign, not seeing the spider web sprawled out between the two. The web stuck to my face (this happened a lot throughout the race), but this time the spider must’ve been still on it because out of nowhere if felt like I got stabbed in the back with a knife! I screamed and started walking super fast down the trail, trying to speed walk off the pain. I could feel my back pulsing with pain like someone kept punching me repeatedly. Just then, my teammates came to my rescue. We all walked over to a gazebo, I pulled my top layer off so they could check my back. Sure enough Eric could see where that sucker decided to sink his teeth in me. It was red and a little puffy, didn't look too bad but I could feel throbbing shooting pains through my back and shoulder. Eric whipped out some Afterbite, we weren't sure if it would work but anything was worth a try at this point. The pain stayed with me for about 2 hours until it finally disappeared. I had Eric check the bite later and he couldn't even see it, so maybe the Afterbite worked, or it’s quite possible I have superhuman healing powers! After that fiasco, and after we finally grabbed the CP in that spider infested area, we headed over on our bikes to the next CP. As we pulled up to our destination, Eric yelled out “My wheel is wobbling! My spoke broke!” Broken spoke could mean non rideable bike which could’ve meant the race was over for us. With Eric’s quick thinking and McGyver-like skills, he busted out some duct tape and started wrapping his spoke with it. We weren’t sure it would work but we didn’t want to quit the race, so he gave it a try. He tested his duct tape bandaid out and the wheel wobbled a little bit, but it was still rideable. This is proof that duct tape fixes everything!
As we headed in to attack more CPs, we noticed we were neck deep in stinging nettles. For those of you that have never heard of this, the name says it all. It’s a plant, and it can grow taller than me, which in some cases it was up to my chin, and the leaves have needles. If you hit the leaf and it gets you at the right angle, it feels like someone is giving you huge paper cuts. Yes, that would freakin’ hurt, but wait, there’s more!
After you feel like you’ve been sliced, it then starts to itch, and the more you scratch it, the more it itches. The itching lasts for about 10 minutes, and when you look at the affected area, you see nothing. Sounds fun doesn’t it? I think they should have this form of torture for prisoners! So anyway, we trudged through this land of itch since there was just no escaping it in some areas. I got “attacked” in one are so badly that my entire body itched. I ran out of the woods, onto the trail, frantically scratching myself. I know you’re not supposed to, but I couldn’t help it! It was driving me crazy! Just as I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, we see another team….our friends of Team Cairn, Kim Heintz, Donovan Day, and Chad Hannon. This was Donovan’s first 24 hour race, and I hear he was pretty much a machine! We gave them a little tip about the CP we had just attained but didn’t directly tell them where it was. They were in our same division so that means they were our competition so we couldn’t give them all the answers! We hauled out of there, finished up the Bike O,
and then headed on our bikes to the next TA for our nav section…without the bikes this time.
Our motivation to get there was we knew a cooler filled with watermelon awaited us! We were so hot and drenched with sweat, that watermelon seemed like the cure for everything! We were still in the Mississippi Palisades which of course meant the steep hills didn’t disappear and neither did the stinging nettle. Hills I can tolerate, nettle can go punch itself in the face…if it had a face. This was a pretty decent sized nav section. We were to obtain CPs 35-42 in order, all on foot in the mountainous, nettle infested terrain. We’re we worried? Of course not! We knew watermelon would be waiting for us when we got back to the TA! We headed out on our run/jog/trek….during nav sections, every team tends to do all three at some point. We were attacking CPs and not having any issues until CP39. I have nightmares about CP39, and I now hate that number. I’m 36 years old but when I’m 38 going on 39, I might skip it and go straight to 40. That’s how traumatized I am by this thing! The clue for the CP was a rock outcropping, and we attacked this annoying thing twice with no luck. After almost two hours, we were all getting frustrated, it was seriously demoralizing. I walked over to Don to take a gander at the map. We decided to attack it from a bend in the trail that we ended up on since we were pretty much out of any other attack points. As Don took a bearing on his compass, we saw David Huntley from Tardy Rooster heading towards us.
|Team Tardy Rooster nav-ing with us.|
They were in the same situation, so it made us feel better that we weren’t the only ones having trouble with this one. We collaborated with Tardy Rooster and they agreed to attack it the same way. As we marched for a while in the snarly terrain, suddenly we heard Don yell “Got it!” Holy freakin’ crap, that immediately brightened our moods! We were so sick of looking for that stupid thing so it was a huge relief to find it! We then decided to finish the rest of the section with Tardy Rooster. Sometimes two nav heads are better than one and they weren’t in our division anyway. David and his teammate Woody, I think it was Woody but if not, that’s what I’m calling him, are great guys to race with. We ended up finishing the course without any more annoying CP issues and headed back to the TA for…yep you guessed it…WATERMELON!!!!
Bike O to Finish
After we devoured our watermelon for the second time, we had a little pow wow on what to do next. We knew team No Sleep would be coming in soon, and they were our competition, so we had to decide quickly. Just as Eric went to fill up our water bladders, I saw John Farless rolling in with the rest of his No Sleep-ers. Oh no! We gotta go! Don rode over to Eric since the water wasn’t at the TA, and let him know that we had to hurry out of there. No offense John, you’re a great guy, but we didn’t want to hang out with you! Eric hurried back and we made our decision. There was an advanced O course up north which we knew we wouldn’t have time for because CP39 took a huge chunk of our time. We were contemplating riding up to get CP44 which would’ve put on about 16 more miles to our route back to the finish. We knew that would cut it really close to the midnight cutoff, especially since we didn’t know the conditions of the roads, were they paved, were they gravel, were they dirt? We had no way of knowing. Also we were worried about Eric’s spoke. If we got out that far, and something happened to his spoke, we were done. We would have to be picked up and we wouldn’t be considered finishers. So we decided to play it safe, and head back to the finish, picking up the mandatory CPs along the way. Just as we got near a bridge, I noticed Eric slowed down a lot. I thought he was struggling, that maybe his legs were fried because of the insane hills we were heaping over. As we approached a bridge with the first CP, he got off his bike and said “No wonder why that was so tough! My rear tire is flat!” We were on gravel so he couldn’t even tell it was flat while he was riding. He quickly flipped his bike over and started changing tubes. I was impressed with how quick he did this. Tardy Rooster and another team passed us while he was changing the tire, but we were leap frogging them, so we weren’t too concerned. After the fix, we got back on and pedaled like monsters. After racing for so many hours, and battling insane hills, we all still felt really strong. We just hammered our way back on our bikes. It was dark, I tried to ignore the weird hallucinations that kept popping in front of me every so often, but I felt like I could’ve raced for 12 more hours. I credit this to proper training, nutrition, and a product I’ve been testing out called Vector450 which helps with muscle recovery and performance. Since I’ve been taking this, I don’t feel the extreme muscle fatigue that I had in the past. Anyway, we all hauled ass to the finish, Don and Eric were machines, and luckily Eric’s tire and spoke held up for the rest of our ride. We crossed that finish line and felt a sense of accomplishment even though we didn’t make it to the advanced course. Sure we had our downfalls, but we did our best to make it through them and came out strong as a team, and no one hated each other at the end! We took our team finish photo with Gerry and then headed straight into the lodge to stuff our faces with delicious pizza and corndogs! Looking back on the race, this is still definitely one of my favorite races throughout my racing career. I love the racers, the volunteers, and of course Gerry, the race director. It is alwasy so well organized and just an all around great race course! I will definitely not be skipping this race next year! Bring on that nettle!!