Aug 31, 2009

No Sweat Race Report

And now, the post you have all been waiting for. Well, at least all 3 of you who read the blog. A couple of weekends ago Damon talked me into joining him, Kirk, and Dane for a 24 hour adventure race in Austin, Texas. The race was called "No Sweat" and was put on by Too Cool Racing. If the name of the race sounds familiar to you, it might be because it was during the 12 hour version of "No Sweat" last year that Damon actually wound up dehydrated and in a "No Sweat" situation (accompanied by chills, hallucinations, uncontrollable vomiting, you know, fun stuff like that) and ended up in an emergency room somewhere in the Texas hill country. That cautionary tale would make a normal person think that racing for 24 hours in Texas in August might not be such a great idea, but as we all know, Damon is not a normal person. So, on Thursday, August 20, we loaded up the gear and hit the long road to Austin. Since Hefner Bunny Pie was also participating in the event, Kirk opted to ride over with them. What kind of a jerk chooses his own wife over his teammates? Gosh.

Anywho, we spent Thursday night in Columbus, Texas, and picked up the kayaks in Bastrop the next morning. Damon had been longing for a tandem kayak of his own, and in a moment of weakness I agreed that he could buy one of the ones that we normally rent. We got back on the road to Austin with a new hurricane evacuation plan: when the water rises Damon and I will paddle the kayak with Stella in the middle and tow our possessions along behind us in the canoe. Who needs to wait in long lines to buy gas? Not kayak owners, that's for sure.

Back to the race...we spent most of Friday stopping for last minute supplies, hydrating, and setting up our transition area, bikes, and boats. We ate fast food that night and got in bed way too late, which is something of a tradition for the Pourciau/Welch racing team.

Saturday dawned bright and muggy. I was up much earlier than necessary, because Damon convinced me that I would feel better during the race if I at least started it off clean, so I got up in time to take a shower. We left the hotel for 6, and stopped on the way to pick up some batteries that we had forgotten. (You didn't expect us to actually be prepared, did you? I mean, we only spent an entire day staging our gear.) We drove the nauseating 30 minutes of winding hills from the hotel to the race site much faster than I wanted to, but we arrived in plenty of time for the pre-race meeting. Damon discovered that he had a flat bike tire, so he and I skipped the pre-race meeting in order to remedy that situation. We figured since it was such a short race, there wasn't any information they could possibly give us in that meeting that would be worth hearing. I am pretty sure Kirk attended the meeting, and I feel like Dane at least was there for half, so from the beginning we were already depending on our teammates for info.

Our instructions for the first leg of the race were sealed, so following a very dramatic countdown teams tore into their directions and the race was on around 8 a.m. I immediately regretted rising early to shower, since our first task was to cross Lake Travis with our bodies in the water and our bikes on our kayaks. Dang it! Wet and miserable from the beginning. When we arrived on the opposite shore, we faced a hellacious biking leg on rocky single-track littered with a multitude of cacti. I began the ride optimistic. Damon recently bought me some cycling shoes, and it was my first time to try them out on a trail. At the beginning of the ride I felt like a kid who had just graduated from training wheels. Following my third life-threatening fall off of the bike and onto the rocks, I felt like a welterweight who had just been on the wrong end of Mike Tyson's fist. I seriously thought I had fractured bones. Damon was very supportive and encouraging. I was not in the mood to hear support OR encouragement. A few tears were shed. Ugly comments were made to Damon. I changed into my tennis shoes, which were fortunately in my pack, and spent the great majority of leg 2 pushing my bike instead of riding it. So, the race was young and already I had experienced a meltdown. Meltdowns were actually the story of the day. Each member of the team had one, as you will read below, but I was the first egg to crack.

Following the bike from Hades, we set out on foot for a trek. It was uneventful and we easily found the checkpoints and an abandoned football that Dane hurled at Kirk a few times. By the end of the trek, things were heating up.

Back at Transition Area 2, we were instructed to kayak across the river for a mystery challenge. My boat buddy was Dane, and we got our first taste of paddling together during this river crossing. It was a short row, and it really seemed like things might work out. Back onshore we climbed the steep hill to the main TA and headed for the rock wall. Enter Meltdown #2. Dane volunteered to be the first to climb the wall, and with his freakish upper-body strength, scurried up like a monkey in the zoo. Kirk went next and was a little slower, but still skillful and efficient. I was not enthusiastic about going third, but figured I had to so that if I had trouble I could rest during Damon's turn and make another attempt. With coaching from my boys, I was able to conquer the wall in a pretty respectable time with no mishaps. You have probably figured out by now whose meltdown this is. Yes, Damon was our final team member to approach the obstacle. He made it about halfway with no problem, but that is where the wall becomes vertical. About a quarter of the way up the vertical portion of the wall, disaster struck. Damon's size twelves were really too big to get much traction on the teeny footholds, and his upper body strength was waning fast. He slipped, tried to save it, and ended up dangling from his safety rope and almost taking out a member of another team. This happened two or three times, but he finally made it to the top after Kirk and Dane threatened to send me up to help him. Once he was back on the ground, I noticed that his eyes were greener than they should be. This is Damon's #1 sign of severe dehydration. Kirk also saw chills on him, so we hurried him back to the TA and a big waterbottle of gatorade.

After rowing our boats back to TA 2, we faced our second biking expedition. I was praying that there would be no more single track, and God was merciful. This biking portion was on the road! Hooray! As I mentioned before, things got hotter as the day went on. At some points when we were riding the bikes on the rode during this part of the race, it felt like someone was spraying you in the face with a blow torch. We discovered later that temperatures that day were record highs, hitting 103 degrees in the shade. Enter the Zeringue Meltdown. Kirk has recurring cramping problems, and at some point during this ride, they recurred. The cramping culminated with a double-quad cramp so intense that Kirk road his bike off the road and into a thorn tree. Ouch! He persevered, though, and made it through not only that leg, but the remaining 12 plus hours of the race. Must be that marathoner spirit.

Back at TA 2, it was time to transport the bikes back across the river. This time Kirk rowed a boat with a bike strapped on top and towed a boat bearing 3 bikes while the rest of us took a refreshing dip in the lake. Back at the main TA, we received our instructions for the next leg of the race: what we had all been dreading, the paddle.

One thing that I forgot to mention before that made this race very unique was the fact that Austin has been experiencing a pretty major drought recently, and the lake was down 45 feet from its normal water level. This made navigation a challenge, because when the guys were plotting the points, many of them appeared to be in the middle of the lake on the topographical map. As luck would have it, Austin experienced relief for their parched landscape during our race. It did not rain on us, but a huge thunderstorm blew up just in time for us to be paddling down a lake while lightning struck all around and gale-force winds blasted us in the face. Enter the Welch Meltdown. I obviously lack the upper body strength to really pose much of a threat as a kayaker, so we had decided that I would paddle with Dane, who has the most upper-body strength on our team. Unfortunately for both of us, neither one of us are experts at steering a kayak. This deficiency led to a general tendency of our boat to aim to the right, and caused us to have to spend a majority of our paddle strokes on correcting course. When I say "us," I really mean "Dane" because I was just not strong enough to paddle the entire time, and often questioned whether my paddling was benefitting us at all or just making the boat go crooked. Somehow we managed to not get struck by lightning and to make it to the boat takeout. I could have kissed that sandy beach, and I think Dane could have, too. His arms were completely done.

At the boat drop, we treked again as darkness set in. This was disappointing because things become much more difficult in the dark, but we also felt a sense of accomplishment because the temperatures finally started to drop and we knew we had at least beat the heat. We had a pretty easy time on this trek and all too soon arrived back at the dumb water. Dane was not ready to abandon me yet, and struggled through the paddle back to the TA with a martyr's resign. Damon and Kirk towed when they could, but mostly we just all suffered.

Back at the TA we got the worst news of the entire race: the next leg was another stinking paddle. This was the only point during the race that quitting seriously crossed my mind. I was sick of being in that boat. We decided that in order for Dane to survive the race we needed to switch boat buddies, so Damon took me on and Kirk and Dane teamed up. Navigating a lake at night in a kayak is challenging. It is even more challenging when the water is so low that you encounter unseen obstacles and get stuck, and it is decidedly miserable when the rain storm that just passed opens the floodgates upstream and causes a swift influx of water to turn a placid lake into a class 4 white water rapid that you have to paddle up. We struggled for at least 15 minutes against the waves before we noticed that a tree on the shore was not moving. You guessed it, we were paddling as hard as we could just to stay in one place against the rush of water. It was like a nightmare. We paddled as hard as we could and by some miracle made it to the muddy bank where Damon abandoned ship and stuck fast in hip-deep mud. I literally had to claw my way to the top of the steepest, slickest mud embankment I have ever witnessed. It was not my most graceful moment of life, but it was one of my funniest. Dane single-handedly dragged the kayak onshore by a long rope because he refused to descend into the murky pit. We treked again. More of the same uneventful orienteering. I spent a good portion of the trek sitting on the ground with my headlight off and looking at the stars while the boys searched for the checkpoints. I preferred keeping my light off to having bugs swarm my face. All too soon we were back at the cursed boats, but we at least had a little spring in our step knowing that the current would be with us and this would be our last paddle.

Back at the main TA, we received our instructions for the final leg: a trek. It was after 4 in the morning and exhaustion was setting in. I opted to leave my pack, knowing that I was plenty hydrated and not sweating anymore since the temp was now hovering somewhere in the low 80's or high 70's. There were 4 checkpoints on this leg. We got one, accidentally bypassed a second, and then ran into a bedraggled Hefner Bunny Pie who advised us to abandon one as a lost cause. We took their advice but still searched for the third checkpoint. Kirk spent some time napping on the road, Dane napped while he pace-counted, I did some sleep-walking, and Damon just kept shining his stupid laser pointer and forcing me and Dane to bushwhack through clumps of cactus and thorn trees. Eventually we abandoned the third checkpoint in the interest of making it to the finish line before the cutoff, grabbed the last checkpoint on the hike back, and turned in our passport around 7:11 a.m.

As a veteran of Too Cool Races, I knew not to expect any fanfare at the finish line. After receiving our, "Good job," from the race directors, we faced the most disappointing realization of the night: we now had to pack up all our gear before we could leave. This process took a while, especially since some team members spent portions of the packing up time napping in chairs. Once we finally had everything back on the truck (except for my cycling gloves, which appear to be the one casualty of "No Sweat") we faced the depressing prospect of driving 30 minutes back to civilization before we were able to rest our weary heads. Neither of the big, strong men were up to the task, so it fell to me. Dane slept in blissful ignorance, Damon talked to his parents via cellphone in a monotone drone, and I struggled to keep my eyelids open and the truck on the road. The drive that should have taken about 30 minutes took closer to an hour. Remember what I wrote above about the curvy road? Well, it was so bad that I thought I was going to meet my own back bumper on some of the curves. Truly the most terrifying experience of the whole ordeal.

Back at the hotel, I faced a dilemma. I wanted three things very badly: a shower, food, and sleep. The only problem was the order I would choose for procuring all three. In a perfect world I would have been able to eat while I took a bath and then fall asleep in the tub, but since we don't live in a perfect world, I let the boys shower while I ate. I feasted on a huge burger from Carl's Junior and a chocolate milkshake. When it was my turn for the shower, it was not such a great experience since I had many scrapes from thorns and cactus that stung pretty badly. I also was a little overzealous about scrubbing a few spots that I thought were dirt only to discover that they were bruises. Nice. I finally collapsed in the bed and I must say those 4 hours of sleep were the absolute best that I have ever had. We left around 4 p.m. so that Dane could make it back in time for his early shift at work, and so that we could catch a couple of hours of sleep in our own beds before we reported for duty as well.

All in all, I had fun racing, in spite of the many challenges. It is a big feeling of accomplishment to know that you have completed a 24 hour race, so I am proud of that. I could not have done it without my teammates, who each contributed in his own special way. I think that is the beauty of adventure racing, that it gives you a chance to depend on your friends and vice versa in a very unique way. Thanks, boys.

Also, a big thanks to my wonderful in-laws, without whose babysitting skills "No Sweat" would not have been possible.

3 comments :

Grandma Tonie said...

Whhhhaaatttt no pictues????? Just kidding hahaha. I guess you were too busy to take pictures.

The Sharbono Family said...

I would love to read your stories every single day. You are truly delightful!

Paula said...

Great report, Scarlet! I was actually feeling your pain by the end of it. You must be a Language Arts teacher or something, huh? Funny, I wonder why Kirk didn't write about his meltdown in his blog?