Orange Triangle faced a challenging day of racing in
wet and cold conditions but persevered to be counted
among the 14 official finishers for this 12-hour race.
When we arrived at YMCA Camp Benson in Mt. Carroll,
Illinois for check-in on Saturday, it was a sunny early
spring day that seemed perfect for racing. Unfortunately
the sun would be a no-show on race day.
And as it turned out, the race began well before Sunday
morning. After a filling spaghetti dinner and a race
meeting that included a huge number of give-aways from
sponsors, race organizer Mike Ehredt threw a special
event at us. Conjuring up images of the Tour de France,
he announced a prologue that would be added
to each teams time on the course to determine
the final finishing time. This pre-event event amounted
to a 5K run to tour the local haunted house and pick
up our maps. Having heeded the warning to show up for
the race meeting ready to run, we werent
too stuffed to crank out a few crisp miles and posted
a respectable showing. As it would turn out, a heavier
meal might have knocked us out of an official finish.
Although it was dry on Saturday and quiet through the
night, the soft sounds of water greeted us when we awoke
for the race: the rain had begun. Temperatures at the
race start hovered around 40 deg F (4 deg C) and didnt
stray far from that during the remainder of the day.
During the pre-dawn bike leg, snow replaced the rain,
falling at times with enough determination to significantly
hamper visibility. As the day went on, rain-soaked hands,
feet, legs and bodies would get chilled to the bone
each time we sped down one of the Mississippi valleys
long ravines. The tough uphill climbs offered a chance
for some warming exercise, but too often it was walking
rather than riding as the steep grades took their toll.
For most racers, the inescapable cold was the biggest
challenge of the day.
The race included a 40-mile bike loop run on paved
and hard-dirt roads and marked by three stopping points.
At each stop there were orienteering check points to
find and at the third a canoe course on the great Mississippi
itself. Team Orange Triangle orienteered well, finding
all 20 of the orange and white orienteering flags with
their respective punches in good time. But by the time
we had finished those legs, cold was beginning to challenge
our stamina as well as the function of our hands and
feet. We continued to the canoe leg to discover that
a pfdeven when worn over several already-wet layerscould
add welcome warmth to a body. A bit of brisk paddling
also helped to warm arms and fingers somewhat as we
quickly cranked through the three checkpoints hung from
all-but-submerged duck blinds in the river.
The biggest challenge of the race came when we faced
the 20 mile bike leg back to the start-finish area.
Most of us began shivering anytime we stopped moving
and we faced a tough decision to get on the bikes and
continue in face of such piercing and unrelenting cold.
In the end, we swapped some clothing around, popped
some M&Ms and climbed on to the bikes to give
it a go. Three long hours later we arrived back at Camp
Bennett ready to complete the rope events and post a
finish that we thought would be well-within the 12 hour
limit. Figuring that we had plenty of time for an official
finish we trotted down the short trail to the rappel,
concerned only with staying ahead of the teams nipping
at our heals. Little did we know that precious seconds
hung in the balance.
We had forgotten (or didnt quite understand)
that the 12-hour limit was to include the prologue time
from the night beforeteams whose combined race
and prolog times exceeded 12 hours would not be counted
as official finishers. Once we made it to the head of
the line, we rappelled quickly (whee!) down the 70 foot
drop and into the stream below (yeah, it was cold too,
but who could tell at that point?). We hustled back
to the finish line and checked in to discover that we
would be the last official finishers. Our combined prolog
and race times totaled 11 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds!
Rather than dwelling on what might have been a near
miss, we gratefully grabbed our finishers medals
and made a B-line for warm clothes, luke warm showers
and a few minutes burrowed inside toasty sleeping bags.
The GMRAS races offer a great taste of typical
adventure racing, but in this case the conditions made
things rather extraordinary. In the end, the weather
transformed a race that we viewed as an early-season
tune-up into a real test of that most important of AR
skills: the ability to persevere when your body is screaming
for you to stop. As always, the rewards for doing so
go beyond the results of the race itself.