Monday, December 8, 2008

December Chill 2008 Race Report

December Chill
7-hr Adventure Race
Brighton, MI
December 6, 2008
Weather: 17 degrees, 1-3" of snowfall
Pregnancy: 17 weeks, 3 days
Gear List is in sidebar to the left

The December Chill is a race that I will remember as a trip to Hell and back. It brought me to a place where Heaven wasn't found in the luxuries of a resort spa but in a stench-filled rickety outhouse in the middle of a field during a snowstorm where I cried tears of joy.

Race weekend began with an ominous overtone. Friday evening was filled with so many setbacks that we almost didn't make the drive to Brighton. We arrived around 10:30 PM and organized our gear before hitting the sack for a few hours of sleep.

Wake-up call was for 6 AM. We quickly got dressed, repacked our gear, and watched the weather. It was bitter cold out. We added an extra layer of clothes.

Race meeting was 8:15 AM. At which point we received our topo map, clue sheet and instructions.

The course
Orienteering/Trekking: 3 checkpoints
Mountain biking: 10 miles, 3 checkpoints
Canoeing: 8 miles, from checkpoint to checkpoint
Orienteering/Trekking: 12 checkpoints, 3 mandatory

Mass start was at 9 AM. We overshot our first checkpoint and had to backtrack, losing some time. We trekked through a muddy swamp to the second checkpoint and easily found the third. Jogged back to transition for the mountain bike.

At this point, we were in the bottom 25% and feeling a little discouraged (at least I was). But Amy and I are both strong mountain bikers and knew that this would be the section we could make up some time.

The course was single-track trail, well-packed from all the teams in front of us, which made it icy. It was slow-going, but fun. By 1/3 of the way in, we passed our first team and my spirits lifted. By the end of the mountain biking section, we passe 5 to 7 teams and were looking forward to a break during the canoe portion.

A rest was not what we got.

What hit me at the transition area was how cold it suddenly seemed and the increase in snowfall.

The cold and snow combined with the fallen trees and technical course easily made this section what I refer to as the 10th circle of Hell. Think of that scene in Titanic where Kate Winslet is floating on debris and Leo DiCap is sinking into the ocean--that's what it was like.

Amy and I became silent and only spoke when we needed to navigate a fallen tree. My fingers froze. Our paddles were coated in ice. The river was turning to slush. Our gear bags were giant ice cubes. My muscles alternated from spasms to cramping. Amy's waterproof pants shattered from the cold. Our camelbacks froze, our only source of fluids.

The worst part was seeing teams that had no idea how to canoe, zig-zagging across the river in these conditions. We were worried for them, they were worried for themselves, and rightfully so. We later found out that two of the teams tipped over at some point.

My energy and spirits were so depleted I felt like I was walking in circles speaking gibberish. We reached the take-out point and some very kind and generous man helped us carry our canoe up the cliff.

My thermos of hot chocolate was frozen shut. I didn't know what to do with myself. I could have sat down and cried, not knowing what to do next.

God bless Amy at this point, for having to use the bathroom and spotting the out-house and letting me come in with her. I may have cried tears of joy at this point, human waste never smelled so good.

I ate my sandwich. Got some fluids. Warmed-up. My fingers came back to life. It was heaven. Heaven in an out-house.

After a short break, we continued on to the last section, orienteering and trekking. We aimed for the three closest checkpoints so we could finish the race without being DQ'd.

By the time we navigated to the first checkpoint, we warmed up and got a second wind. Amy shared her Accelerade, she managed to thaw her camelback. We made a decision to go for as many checkpoints as we could before the cut-off time of 4 PM, that gave us about 2 hours, I think.

We manageably navigated from checkpoint to checkpoint, Amy reading the map, I the compass. One checkpoint you had to climb a cargo net. Amy impressively tackled this obstacle, I didn't have the energy for it.

At 3 PM we decided we needed to get on the main road and head back toward the finish line, about 1 mile away. There were 5 more checkpoints left out of 12, two were off the road, the other three we knew we wouldn't have time for.

Amy led the way to the first checkpoint. After a small overshoot, we found it and headed back to the path. I was exhausted and wanted to finish. But as we headed up the road, walking with two other women teams, my competitiveness kicked in. I wanted to beat them.

There was one more checkpoint we could get, and we were going to get it darnit, even if it killed me. We found the trail to the side and we jogged through briers and prickers in a reentrant. We only had a few minutes to find the flag before we'd have to abandon our effort in order to make it back before cut off. With just 20 seconds to spare, I spotted the flag 50 feet away.

That's when the race began for me. Just 20 minutes to find our way back through the woods and the brush to the main road where we'd have another 1/4 of a mile to the finish line. After 7 hours in the cold and being 4 months pregnant, that's a challenge.

We hiked through to the north, blazing a trail, getting smacked in the face with branches and vines until we finally came to the road. We jogged for 30 seconds, walked for 10, jogged some more. We jogged into the finish line with just 10 minutes to spare.

Amy and I placed in third overall, out of 12 teams, for the Women's Division--a monumental finish, in my opinion, for it being our first race together, my first AR ever and Amy's third (I think). I won a $120 pair of Salmon Trail Running Shoes!

We both agreed that next year we'd bring a supply of hand and feet warmers for the canoe. All in all, it was an epic race, one to remember.

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