Table Rock Challenge
The idea came to Jason and I way back in February of 2004. We got some maps and began scouting various locations we were familiar with and that had lots of potential. We then decided on a date trying not to compete with other area race directors. From there, it was many months of trips to the race course, working on permits with the various agencies, meeting with the medics/others and trying to figure out what it was we were missing. Although each of us had raced before, I had no doubt there were many details that we didn't know we needed to know. I did consult other area race directors who were of great help. The first and foremost concern was getting the CP's plotted right. I imagine that everyone has been in a race where a CP was in the wrong location and this can be frustrating at the very least.
Our plans went along ok and it was of great help that we had started on the race so early in the year. 11 months seemed like plenty of time but it certainly went fast. After we did a test run of the course (which didn't go all that well!), we were happy with the result for a first year race and anxious for race weekend to arrive. When we returned from testing the course in early October, I faxed over the final course to the forest service (they had been getting preliminary plans and maps since June). A couple of weeks later, we were told that our favorite trek section of the course could not be completed due to National guidelines as it related to wilderness area. This was horrible timing because Jason was preparing for Nationals and I was preparing for the Beast - not withstanding the preparations each of us was doing for the T-Rock! As I only had one weekend available, I went down and scouted a new area adjacent to the wilderness area. Although the new trek was doable and would be ok, we were heavily disappointed our previous trek section had to be cancelled. We debated many times to ignore the forest service and have it in that section anyway but decided appropriately that that wasn't a good idea, especially if we hoped to have future events on the forest land.
Our time was running short but most things seem to be coming together. Both of us were still worried that we had missed something obvious and the points might not be in the right locations. The week of, we finished packing the swag and winner bags and then I packed my car. Jason luckily has a bigger car as we certainly hauled a lot of crap down to race sight. I felt like it was 10 years ago when I was heading from college for the summer with my car stuffed full. I'm glad I didn't need to switch lanes much as I couldn't see! At 3pm on the day I was to leave for race site, I received a conference call from the forest service. There were several issues with the permit that needed to be resolved before it would be granted. This phone call, which lasted about 1 hour, threw me into disbelief as the day before I had been told the permit was good and I could pick it up when I arrived in Cassville. I didn't have any problem with the items the additional information they were requesting but I did have a problem with the timing of the call - only because there wasn't time!
I went home after work to calm down and recover from the call and headed off the race site about 7pm arriving around 10pm . I checked in an unpacked my car. It didn't take long to fill up the little cabin room with all the stuff.
The next morning I awoke early and began plotting some of the easier points. I encountered another blow when I went to set up the hatchery CP. The park had closed the hatchery area and our CP wasn't possible. I then took new UTM coordinates and headed off to Big M Marina to set the water CP. This was a fun ride on a gorgeous day and I even got to see 8-10 bald eagles. Very cool! Once that CP was done and after I tried to explain to the guide why anyone would want to do what all the racers were coming to do - especially in winter! - I then headed off to grab lunch and meet both the firewood and tent guy to get things set up. In route, I received several last minute phone calls from teams for a variety of issues. I hope I didn't sound too short as time already seemed to be speeding along.
Once back at HQ, the tent guy was a few minutes late and then he headed to the wrong campground. After he got out, he asked me about the electric and water lines as if he cut a line, he wasn't fixin' it. I had no idea and luckily there was someone in the park office. The park officer really didn't know either but between the two tent guys and him, they did a best guess. They said dig and hope! I figured I was going to be batting 1000 with the hatchery issue and the phone call but once we flipped the switch bag on, all was good. While the tent guys were setting up, I helped our firewood guy unload the wood and drop the logs off for the special challenge. I then set out the tables and chairs and hauled more things down from the cabin, including two coolers. One of these coolers helped feed some extremely obese raccoons both nights - I should have known better. By the time all of this was set up, it was getting a little late. I headed out and plotted a few more CP's and then off to do some Wal-Mart and grocery shopping. I once again tried to explain the need for all of the items I was buying at Wal-Mart but the cashiers really didn't understand. And those at the store made a bit of fun as I was trying to push two completely stuffed shopping carts around. I forgot my car wasn't that big so the bagger helped me get all the groceries in although it was a very close fit!
I then unloaded all of the stuff and began reviewing the race files, volunteer clipboards, etc. and baked several batches of cookies. I also washed the dishes in the cabin and tried to add to my pre-race meeting list. Jason arrived around 230am after having traveled to Herman from KC to pick up a trailer. I should have thought ahead to provide the room number to family, friends, and Jason as my communication in the room was nil given lack of Spring PCS service at that exact spot. The room could accept calls but not make any. However, I did learn the one hilltop in Cassville that has great reception as a result.
Jason & I unpacked some of his truck and then tried to go to sleep. It was about 430am when we finally crashed and the next morning came awful fast. We headed out to plot CPs and pick up some last minute race items along with (hopefully) the permit and the maps. It was weirdly exciting for me to put out the actual CP race markers on the course knowing teams would be in the area trying to locate each one. After spending all day setting up the course, we headed for dinner at the Rib and then once again to Wal-Mart for some even more last minute items.
On Friday morning, we headed down to the tent to get things set up and then haul over the logs to the long course special challenge. The logs were gone! We couldn't imagine someone stole these heavy things but they were not there. Thinking the park may have picked them up even though at least one guy there knew we'd be in campground 2, we headed over to the park office. Sure enough - they had hauled them to their maintenance shed area. It was hard asking but we asked if they could haul them back. They were thrilled with this as you can imagine. We then realized we could just go pick up 2 of them to haul to the long course as we were headed that way anyway. We picked up 2 of the logs and then headed off to set up some additional CP's. It was extremely windy and cold out and I was beginning to worry about the weather for the race. After not making it very far down the road, Jason realized we were running out of time to get things done so we headed back to HQ to drop me off. His mom was waiting there and ready to get helping! This help was much needed as she continued with the food preparations, made a store run, and loaded some things down to the tent. I in the meantime showered and got down to the tent to start checking teams in. A few teams arrived right around 1pm . We had a nice fire going and check in went smoothly for a while anyway! Although I was expecting it, time just went too fast and all my well-intentioned planning went to crap! The lack of sleep from the previous week and a half was already catching up to me. Check in was ok for the most part but for the first few teams, I forgot to hand out their swag bags and I forgot to ask for money from one or two others even though I had a huge note on their files to do so. Then as it got near suppertime, the tent became congested with the food line being combined with the registration line for those late arriving teams. The food was well received for the most part and everyone seemed to like the mini loaves of bread a friend of mine made for the event - 46 in all! Volunteers started arriving throughout the entire day, which was great.
Once dinner was over, I asked everyone to leave the tent so we could set up maps, etc... Here, I'm not sure how I missed the obvious but I did. Stupid mistake! Earlier in the week, I had taken time to put passports, team numbers, safety pins, etc. in bags so that we could just hand them to the teams. For some reason, I decided we needed to take the stuff out and lay them on the maps. This didn't go well as we lost passports, pins, numbers, etc. Lesson learned! There was also not enough room for all the teams as I had originally planned to move all the food from the tables and open those up for use. Well-laid plans.
We made it through though because of the volunteers' help and racers patience. After all the announcements were made (not all were made because I had left my clipboard with all the notes somewhere and could not find it at the moment! - Jason's mom tried to find it in the room but could not.) Teams begin plotting and one happened to ask if 76 were off limits. Jason was out handling some last minute course items and I told all teams in the tent that it was off limits. I realized we had blown this, as we should have announced it beforehand as well as hwy 112 being off limits. Not only were these two ways not our intended course but also these roads opened up a safety issue we were not ready to deal with in signs or personnel. Because the teams who had left would not have this info, I announced the race would start 15 minutes later than planned.
The remainder of the time was spent hauling the individual boats, canoe guys, volunteers, and racers bags to their locations. Jason did a great job getting the personal boats there and I found it funny carrying one in the van. I raced back to make sure all teams had got the revised info and Jason made it back just in time for race start. We did one final roll call as I had let several teams switch up and even one register that day and I wanted to make sure we hadn't missed anyone. The national anthem was then played and Jason counted down the start. All the teams took off and it was a sigh of big breath, here we go.
It was fun waiting for the teams to pass through and we were surprised to see some coming in from a different direction on the first leg. A couple of teams got separated a bit as is usual during a first leg run on single-track trails. Once the first teams were coming in, I headed on out to get gas and pick up some food for the volunteers I would pass. This process of hopping ahead of the lead teams continued all day with Jason doing the same but he stayed longer at each place and also made sure all the bikes got hauled back to HQ. Both of us found it pretty awesome that there were some locals following us around all day along with the forest rangers who seemed to be having a good time. After seeing the first teams come through the canoe, we had our first gear issue. The lead team could not produce 2 dry bags. We discussed it a bit but then I said to get going as it wouldn't change things and we could resolve it later. I then made the rounds to check on a few of the volunteers and deliver more food. (Thanks to Jason's brother and step dad who stopped and picked up food for our volunteers at the canoe put in from our sponsor Lakeview Grocery). I watched the short course teams for a few moments at the rock special challenge. All seemed to be enjoying it although hating it at the same time.
After that, I headed to the short course put in, mid point on long course and waiting for either the lead team or first short course team. While here, I talked to the lead teams support crew (Cynthia - Springfield Bike), Matt (our volunteer), and Denver Dixon who was our other boat person (Jason's brother was the other) from Big M Marina. Denver seemed to be excited which was neat and Matt was a good sport in being there by himself for some time. Once the first teams came through - all in good spirits - I headed off to the canoe take out for both teams. I was excited about this spot because not known to the racers; we were having a cheeseburger checkpoint and giving each team a ride. I was a little concerned about a bottleneck but Jason was correct in saying we'd be good with that.
This was a neat CP and very enjoyable. A couple of notable moments here. While we were waiting for the first few teams, my mom had gone to get some food for her, Kerry, and I. When she got back, I headed from the canopy set up to the car, as it was a bit windy. We then hear this crackling and the tent side and grass is up in flames. It took all three of us to put the fire out and it happened about 10 minutes before the rangers showed up! As teams started arriving, they all seemed to enjoy the cheeseburgers and the ride. (The cheeseburger idea came to me at the Beast this year when one team said we were getting a cheeseburger at the next CP. I was stupid enough to believe them and still disappointed I didn't get one! J ). Teams were of varying stages and the ride seemed to lift all of them up. I did offer one team my trekking poles for a sprained ankle and we went to pick up a solo teams shoes from HQ for him. My goal was always to get as many people across the finish line as possible.
Near the end of this CP, we did have one big worry. One of our volunteers had been coming back from dropping off teams and some locals swerved and broke the mirror on the van that Mark Alft had loaned us. I warned the teams and volunteers and hoped nothing else would happen.
I also heard that my guys (coworkers from Zimmer) were lost. Two of them had kept going after the other two had dropped and I knew I should send a search party for them, as they had never done this type of thing before. Fortunately I then heard their teammates had found them in addition to firing me .
One funny moment - a well-known regional racer, Mark Alft and Brian Eason (team GCAR Moosejaw) came from the right side when ending the canoe when all other teams came from the other direction. They had decided to portage and ended up coming over the hill. I love racers like that!
As we were waiting on the last team, Chubby Bastardos, the water patrol come up to the shore. I was worried as it just felt ominous. However, the officer was great and even offered to follow the team in the dark so they could finish (part of this was due to their energy and enthusiasm in wanting to finish). I did offer the officer a cheeseburger and he even took theirs to them out in the water.
The Bastardos were tired but enthusiastic and ready to finish the course. We had learned that Jason had cancelled the special challenge for the short course and so they though the remainder was doable given the lack of strict cutoff time. I encouraged them as much as possible and off they went. I then waited for Jason to come get the personal boats so I could move along on the course. Instead of Jason coming, Larry came to pick them up and he and Kerry told me to pull off Chubby Bastardos per Jason. There is no other explanation for what I did next except that I flipped momentarily. From the moment the Bastardos checked in, they were so thankful and grateful that we would let them go past the cutoff. I had become strangely attached to this team maybe due to lack of sleep, my hope for them to finish, and because to me, this type of team is exactly the heart of adventure racing. To paraphrase a famous quote - there are winners who know they are winners, there are losers who know they are losers and then there are losers who think they are winners. These players are the heart of the game. I'm not saying in anyway that the Bastardos are losers but they came into the race knowing they wouldn't win, knowing they'd be slow, and having the heart to compete with all that they had. This to me is what adventure racing or any sport for that matter is all about. And so I went to find Jason to tell him there was no way in heck that he was pulling the Bastardos from the racecourse. When I did find him, I uncharacteristically yelled at him. There was no excuse for this, it was unfair to him and his reasoning for wanting them off the course, and I'm still disappointed in myself and as well as surprised as I've never been a fan of yelling. There were a lot of things that built up to that moment and on top of that, dammit - I wanted the Bastardos to finish!
The rest of the weekend was a bit of a blur as the sleep deprivation got to me (I think I slept about 30 minutes total?). I made many many trips back and forth between the scenic overlook and HQ. One was because the volunteers or Jason didn't know where the short course prizes were. Even though they were labeled in our HQ room at the cabin in a box, nobody thought to look there. Given all that was going on, this doesn't surprise me as simple thoughts become increasingly hard one sleep deprivation kicks in. And the volunteers were just deprived as Jason & I and the racers. We also had one long course bike that had disappeared, a team that couldn't find their drop bag (it was in the volunteer van sitting next to them but we all missed this!), and teams were dropping out like crazy. As all bikers know how we love our bikes, the bike missing was a huge concern as how much would that suck. We also had not put in place a good system to track teams that got rides from the course and even missed marking a couple of the punch cards with team names when they came in. The things seem so obvious in hindsight but with all the details there is when putting on a race for the first time, these things are not so obvious - or they weren't to me anyway!
The rest of the race went smoothly, a bit out of luck on our part, as there weren't that many teams on the course. Given the dropping temperature, wet course, and lack of communication controls, I was relieved nothing major happened. We were "missing" one team for several hours but this didn't concern me terribly much as it was a 4 person team and I knew at least two of the racers were experienced enough to handle themselves. We also had a team that came into the last CP on the long course who had a member throwing up. I trusted him to take care of himself in deciding to go on and luckily when they needed their cell phone out in the field, it worked! I'm not sure if that was a good decision (to let him go on in his state) but I know as a racer, I want that decision to be mine. It's tough knowing though if I would make the best decision for myself or if my desire not to quit would override common sense. I did take the advice of the top teams (Veteran Leader and Springfield Bike) to cancel the bike back. They made some good points and really, riding back to HQ wouldn't add anything and only create another additional unnecessary risks.
As we waited for the last team to come in on Sunday morning, team GCAR Moosejaw headed out to get another couple of points. We handed out a few of the prizes but there was no true awards ceremony as planned. I was disappointed in this for the teams but it just didn't work out. Once breakfast was over and teams headed off, we immediately packed up with the help of volunteers and even the forest service. Once that was done, I picked up a few of the CP's while Jason went out to pick up the majority of the remaining ones as well as pick up the picnic table left at the overlook. Picking up the course is certainly anti-climatic and not as exciting as putting out the CP's before the race.
I then headed back mid afternoon (Jason didn't get to leave until much later) and unpacked all of the stuff onto the floor of my garage. My initial thoughts were to get out the results within a day or two, mail the remaining prizes, send out sponsor and volunteer thank yous and start on 2005 race within the week. It's already been three weeks and all the stuff still isn't done! I am planning on getting out the final results this weekend and I have accomplished mailing out thank yous, paying some of the final invoices (not all are in yet!), and getting some team gear that was left behind mailed.
And on top of trying to wrap everything up from 2004, someone has been sending emails through the message board that are mean and erroneous and therefore, we had to pull the message board off the website. (Side note: for anyone who saw the post that appeared to be from me that insulted the racers, the process, etc. - it was not from me.).
I'm not sure which is more exhausting, racing or being race director. I do know that without the effort of each volunteer (they did so much on so little pay!), my co-race director, and the racers being patient with the first year oopsies, the race would not have been successful. THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYONE! It's certainly opened my eyes to the amount of time, money, and worry that all the race directors go through. Although I was never outrageous with my expectations as a racer, I will certainly be more cautious before I complain on little things that aren't perfect with a race. I did find it rewarding that most everyone seemed to enjoy the experience and were nice to share good compliments as well as good criticism.
On a side note. My coworkers have recently begun talking to me again and my brother who volunteered all weekend wants to do a short course event with me. I think this excites me as much as anything as even though he still thinks I'm crazy for all of my adventuring, he at least now knows there are at least many others out there as crazy!
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