January 6, 2007
My first reaction when I heard that Bonk Hard Racing was putting on a sprint event at
Castlewood was, "SWEET!" Castlewood is a great venue for a short event and I had
every reason to believe that Jason would put together a fun course. Unfortunately, that
welcome news was followed by learning that the date conflicted with the Possum Trot.
The Trot is one of my don't miss for anything events. But when an ice storm moved the
race to January, I quickly asked Doug Nishimura if he'd like to team up. He thought it
sounded like a blast, so we were set to go.
We're given maps and coordinates that night before. I'm glad that we'll be using real
orienteering maps (Castlewood and West Tyson), but as I plot the points it's clear that
navigation will not carry the day in this one. That's not to say you couldn't get turned
around, but all the good teams should get through it with no big mistakes. To be
competitive, we'll have to hammer.
Conditions are chilly the next morning as we setup our transition area, but certainly
warmer than one might expect for January. The forecast says that the 7AM start might
well be the warmest time of the day. Temperatures are expected to drop from mid to low
40's through the day. We decide we'd better don our waterproof gear for the opening
As one might expect, a number of teams decide to blast the opening run to the boats.
Doug and I settle into a brisk pace, but don't worry about the fact that we're losing 30
seconds to a few teams up ahead. Of course, when they all run right past the trail that
leads to the beach, we find ourselves in the lead. There's something to be said for holding
back at the start of these things.
When we get to the boats, we're relieved to see that they are real canoes and not some
crazy inflatable crafts. With the Meremac running a bit high, the upriver paddle will be
no picnic in the 18-foot aluminums. It would have been nearly impossible in a slower
boat. We expect this to be our weakest leg and aren't too surprised to see Dynamic Earth
and Alpine Shop pulling away. Several other teams try to match the pace and are ahead
of us for a while. By the first set of rapids, they've faded and we're in third. We get to the
takeout in just under an hour, about 2 minutes behind Dynamic Earth and snapping at the
heels of Alpine Shop. That's exceptionally good news and even though we give away
another place getting our waterproof clothes stashed, we're quite happy with how we
The next section is trekking on the West Tyson map. Even though the navigation is
trivial, we still have the advantage of so much practice running on the steep, loose slopes
of this park. At the top of the brutal climb leaving the second control, all four of the lead
teams come together. That sparks the usual testosterone rush, made worse by the fact that
Alpine Shop's Carrie Sona is the only woman in the mix (and she's every bit the
competitor the rest of us are). We all blast down the ridge towards the next control
throwing caution to the wind. Just as we're getting into the really rocky section above the
cliff, I hear Doug stumble behind me. Then comes the dreaded announcement: "I turned
my ankle." I know Doug well enough to know that he wouldn't even mention a minor
injury in a situation like this. I ask if he can keep going and he says he might be able to
walk it off. When I see how much trouble he has getting down the break in the cliff, I
suggest we stop and get it taped.
We've got a 3" bandage as part of our required gear, but I would have had one anyway. I
read that members of the Swedish orienteering team always carry an athletic bandage
with them so if they turn an ankle, they can tape it up immediately. I adopted that practice
myself and I think it's helped keep a couple minor injuries minor. You can do a lot of
damage getting yourself out of the woods. The taping only takes a couple minutes, but as
soon as he stands up Doug realizes his day is done. Fortunately, the next control is only a
few hundred meters away at a shelter. When we get there, we're happy to find that it's
After making sure that Doug will be transported back to the TA, I decide to continue on
my own. The result won't count, but it will be good training. The remainder of the
section goes without incident and at the boats I'm told I'm six minutes behind.
Fortunately, the upriver paddling is done. I won't lose as much time paddling back down.
Still, by the takeout, I'm 12 minutes back. The next trekking section doesn't offer much
opportunity to make up time as it's mostly on trail. I run it hard, but only get back two
minutes. The short paddle back to the start/finish yields no further change.
Doug is there with his foot iced and elevated. He offers a few words of encouragement as
I swap shoes for the first "cycling" section. I put that in quotes because after a quick ride
to the first control, the next is at the top of the ridge. I've ridden the Lone Wolf trail up
this ridge enough times to know that, while it's a nice trail, its meandering route is not the
fast way to the top. I hop off and push the bike directly up the ridge. From there, it's back
down the other side, which means carrying the bike down Castlewood's famed staircase
built into the cliffs. Back on the flood plain, I finally get to ride the bike a bit to finish the
The second loop is longer and mostly on roads. A few miles into the loop is a "mystery
event." When Doug and I looked over the course last night, we thought this might
involve ropes or climbing. While that sounds like fun, it occurs to me that my arms are
pretty trashed from trying to limit my losses in the solo paddle. My fears are unfounded;
the challenge is to ride through a slalom blindfolded while one of your teammates gives
you instructions. As I don't have a teammate, one of the course volunteers guides me
through. It's a bit spooky riding without site, but actually not as hard as you'd think.
The Alpine Shop team is leaving the mystery event just as I arrive. There's not much
racing left, but I push hard figuring a win in the Buckley-Frei Death Match might make
up for not having an official finish. At the last road control, I'm about two minutes
behind them and there doesn't appear to be enough distance on trails to make that up. I
have to take a chance on a route choice.
Several such choices exist. The best was one that I noticed while plotting the points.
Rather than ride the road down to the trailhead, you can stay on top of the ridge and then
bikewhack to the trail. That cuts out both distance and climb. The problem is that you
have to cut through somebody's backyard to get into the park. I looked through the rules
and was surprised to not see any injunction against this sort of thing, so we figured we'd
do it. Jason must have realized his error overnight, because at the start he makes a point
of saying you can't cut through yards.
The remaining choices are to bikewhack straight up the ridge along the park boundary
(doesn't save any climb, but it does cut out a fair bit of distance), or to take the longer
road route between the two trail controls. In the first case, the saved distance is real
distance because the trail up the ridge (known as Cardiac) is so steep that I'll have to
walk it at this late stage of the race. I decide to give it a try.
The push is a brute. At some points I'm holding onto the bike with one hand and
grabbing trees with the other to keep from sliding back down to the road. It seems terribly
slow going, but when I get to the top Alpine Shop is just coming up Cardiac. Buoyed by
that development, I find a little reserve to hammer out the last couple singletrack
While the third place finish is unofficial, I was happy with the performance. It certainly
would have been fun to continue the battle that was forming up front, but injuries do
happen and dropping out was certainly the smart thing to do. To continue would have
risked turning a routine sprain into a pretty serious injury. There's always another race -
unless you mess yourself up so badly you can't race again.