Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Bonk Hard Smithville 8 hour... by Neil Dickhaus

The Bonk Hard Smithville 8 hour race was a little harder than I expected this year. Scott Shaw and I left St Louis around noon on Friday and headed toward Kansas City. The ride was pretty typical, I drove, Scott talked, I nodded giving the occasional “yeah”, Scott talked more, than a few “unhuh”s and Scott kept talking. We got to the hotel, unloaded our bikes and gear, and headed out on a supply run and dinner. We needed food and Gatorade. Shopping and dinner were uneventful. We hydrated, carb loaded, and had a few prerace beverages. Afterwards we got our gear ready for the next morning and it was off to bed by 10pm.

The race didn’t start until 10am on Saturday, which in my opinion was about 2 hours too late, but I do understand that a lot of people drive in the morning of the race. We arrived at the bike drop just before 8am and the temperature was already rising and I knew it was going to be a hot day. We dropped and staged our bike gear and paddles as best as we could, than headed off to race HQ, which was about 10 minutes away.

90 minutes prerace we were at HQ, we checked in and received our bibs (#230 for Team BOR), race packet, maps, and our bright orange Smithville 2014 race shirts. We walked back to the car and did a last minute gear check, then we headed back to race HQ to strategize. 45 minutes prerace, I sat down and opened the maps and planned our course. It did not look too bad to me so far, about a 3 mile run/trek followed by just over 20 miles of riding on back country roads. In the meantime, Scott decided to harass some of the race officials and get some inside information. He came back a few minutes later and said that Gary, the race director, had attempted to take the wind into greater consideration this year when planning the paddling portion. We knew better; Mother Nature was going to be against us. 15 minutes prerace, we had the prerace meeting, Kuat rack give away, which I was so close to winning, then they played the National Anthem. 2 minutes prerace, standing at the start with 45 other teams, we checked each other’s packs and decided we were as ready as we could be.

The gun goes off starting the race, actually I think it was a cow bell. Scott and I started near the front of the pack where we quickly realized that we were not runners. We estimated that by the time we were at cp1 over half of the teams were in front of us. Running/trekking will turn out to be our weakest link throughout the day. I kept looking back at other teams and thinking, at least we are ahead of them, and then a few minutes later they passed us. Cp1 was in a creek bed in some thick brush. I waited about 20 yards away while Scott punched our passport. Next we were off to cp2, straight down the fence line and there it is, no problem. We then headed northwest through a field to the trails which led us right to cp3. I felt good, 3 controls down and my navigation was spot on. We exited the trail to a paved path and took it to another path that headed north. Another team was just ahead of us, turned left, and I thought to myself, bad move. We kept going north, then it hit me, I overshot, and maybe the other team had it right. We dropped down a reentrant and quickly found a trail and cp4. My confidence was shaken, but only a little bit. I figured that it only cost us 2 or 3 minutes. Later I would realize that cp4 was the same as cp29 and that it probably saved us that much time. After cp4 we backtracked to the paved trail and headed north again towards cp5. When we arrived at cp5, which was also the transition from foot to bike, we felt like we were only ahead of 10 teams, but checking the splits, we were actually in the middle of the pack arriving 34 minutes after the race started. The fastest 2 teams arrived in 25 minutes with some taking just over an hour. If we were in a little better shape, I am mainly referring to myself since Scott works out in the closet, I think we could have cut our time down to 30 minutes.

It was getting hot, so as part of the transition, we stripped our long pants and attached our paddles and shoes to our packs. I was using my new bike mounted map holder that I made the day before and was amazed how well a 3”x16” piece of wood, 2 binder clips, a 3 zip ties help hold the map on my bike. We were on the road in about 5 minutes and headed toward cp6. We arrived at cp6 a few minutes later with 3 other teams and got our passport punched by a race volunteer. One team left before us, but we were able to overtake another before we reached cp7. On our way to cp8 we passed 2 more teams, but somehow we let one pass us, this would be the only team that passed us on the biking sections. Somewhere between cp8 and cp9, Scott started whining about his front brake dragging. I told him I knew of a bike mechanic that could fix that for him that goes by the name of Kevin. Needless to say, Scott had a few choice words for me. Next came my biggest navigation error. I didn’t trust my gut and missed a turn to cp9. This one probably cost us at least 20 minutes of riding since we had to back track up a couple of hills eating road dust from cars that liked to fly past us on the gravel road. Scott was not too happy and I can’t blame him, I screwed up and got us off course. He stated that we were no longer able to compete in this race. I told him that were fine and lied to him when I said we had only lost 10 minutes. We got to cp9, punched and move past 3 teams that most likely gained on us due to my error. Cp10 and cp11 were any order controls, looking at the map, I decided to go to cp10 first and I am glad I made that decision. I saw the hill we would have had to climb if the order was reversed and it was not pretty. Shortly after getting cp11 we arrived at cp12, transition from bike to canoe. We finished this section for the race in 2:05, with the other teams ranging from 1:24 to over 4 hours.

As we approached cp12, it was not only a bike to canoe transition, but also a gear check. We quickly dropped our bikes and tried to figure out what gear they wanted to check. There appeared to be only one volunteer doing the gear check. What do you want to see? Emergency blanket for each, CHECK, whistle for each, CHECK, team UTM, CHECK, cell phone, CHECK. With the gear check completed, we got our passport punched and received map 3. The first leg of the paddle required us to transport our bikes in the canoe, luckily it was less than 1.5 miles. We took our paddles out and strapped our bikes to the canoe. Scott laid his bike down first, I proceeded to pull out a towel to lay across Scott’s bike to keep from scratching mine. The guy from the gear check was walking by laughing a little. All I could say was “hey, it’s new and I don’t want to scratch it”. A few minutes later we shoved off. I was a little concerned about paddling, since I strained my elbow at the beginning of the week, but I was feeling good. We had a good paddling rhythm going and about 300 yards from shore, a motor boat decided to pass about 50 feet in front of us providing a 2 foot wave from its wake off our bow. All I could think was I hope he hits one of the stumps. Next we had to battle a hefty head wind. I could not believe how many teams we were seeing heading back the direction we were coming from. We arrived at cp13 which was nothing more than a 20’ wide beach. As fast as we could we unloaded our bikes, biking gear, and stripped our bike pants. We laid everything out to dry, which would turn out to be a wasted effort. On our way back to the canoe we each grabbed 2 bottles of water, jumped back into the canoe and we were off again. It took us 29 minutes to get to cp13 with other teams ranging from 23 minutes to over an hour. Looking back, I am happy with this leg as most of the teams were over 30 minutes.

We transitioned faster than 2 canoes, not sure if they were 1 or 2 teams. Then we had a tailwind, for a few minutes anyway. On our way to cp14, both Scott and I finished a bottle of water. Cp14 was pretty easy to find. As we punched, we saw one team go right past the cove we were in, missing the check point all together. We passed another team on our way to cp15 which was on a point. Cp16 was set pretty far back in a cove on a little point. Cp17 was next, honestly I don’t remember it, and I know we got it, but it is a blur at this point. I do remember that after cp17 we rounded a point and off in the distance we saw the trailers where the canoes were being loaded and we knew this was cp18. We immediately put all of our effort in getting to the transition from canoe back to trekking. We passed another team, which we latter dubbed “the runners”, and beached our canoe. Then we gathered our gear, packed our paddles, put our shoes back on and started carrying our canoe to the drop point about 20 yards away. We stopped, dropped our empty water bottles in the trash and finished carrying the canoe to the drop. Scott then went to get the passport punched, but couldn’t find it. Race is over, we are done, ran through my head. In a matter of 30 seconds Scott checked every pocket in his pants and bag, which is an amazing feat in itself. I scoured the beach, but no luck. Scott yelled “check the trash”. I stuck my head in the bag and dug, FOUND IT!!! We got our passport punched by the volunteer and were given clue sheet for the next trekking leg. This leg took us 1:19 with other teams ranging from 55 minutes to 1:46, I was happier with our performance before I knew our times. I am not sure why we didn’t do better, it sure felt like we did.

The next clue sheet required us to plot, so we found a shady spot on the side of the road and began plotting. Scott called out coordinates and I plotted. Then I called them out and Scott plotted to double check. We headed east down a road and found a trail that headed south toward cp21 which just so happens to be the same as cp17. The trail opened up into an old corn field and the “runners” passed us, but they went the wrong way. Once we made it to the southern corner of the field, we found another trail that led down to the lake cove. We had to get around this cove, so stuck to the shoreline and slowly made our way to cp21. A few minutes later the “runners” caught back up to us, those guys made some good time back tracking and getting to the cp. Once we punched we scaled a small dirt bluff and headed southeast looking for the fence line we could follow to get to cp25. On the way to cp25, Scott dropped one section of his kayak paddle. While he was securing it to his pack, we spotted a 4 person team crossing a field on the other side of the fence on their way to cp25. It was obvious to me that they were on private property. Oh well, some people are not too smart or maybe not too ethical. Some time around cp25 the heat and dehydration started getting to me, I was starting to feel pretty bad. Not wanting to admit it, I tried to drink as much as I could and pushed on.

We came across another lake cove that we would need to go around in order to reach cp24 or any of the other cps. I was hurting bad at this point and I knew Scott could see it. We looked at the cove and Scott said that it can’t be too deep and its only 50 foot across, we can wade it. My thoughts were no way, that’s stupid, this sucks, I quit. So I watched him wade out 10 feet then he had to swim the rest. My head sunk, I have to follow him, and everyone would be mad if I left him alone in the woods. Obviously I was delusional at that point. I put everything that could get damaged by water in my dry bag, and followed Scott across. We made it and saved a lot of bushwhacking. Cp24 should be just up the shoreline and around the point, but we found another cove along our route that we decided to swim as well. Cp24 punched. We headed due west up a little ridge and back down to the lake. I had begun to feel much better, my energy was coming back, my sense of direction felt clearer. I think that the cool water reduced my body temperature. I told Scott that I was back. On the way to cp20 (aka cp15) swam our third cove, which was so much easier than trying to go around. Then, just to make sure we were wet enough, it started raining. After cp20, we found a nice trail heading south and it took us to a road which allowed us to find a field and head west toward cp23. It stopped raining as we approached cp23, which was in a reentrant junction and had a trail leading right down to it. When it rained, the temperature dropped what felt like 50 degrees and I started to get cold. Shortly after it stopped, the sun came out and warmed us just enough. We then headed south, crossed the road and found cp26 about 100 yards in. Then we went back to the road and headed west, we knew our bikes were at the end of this road, but we had to get 2 more cps before we could get them. We went about 200 yards than headed northwest into the field where we came across 2 other teams, one being the “runners”. Scott and I located cp22 that was in a reentrant before the other teams, but due to the heavy undergrowth, we could not get there before them. Punched it and headed north to cp19, formally known as cp14. We bush wacked almost all the way to it. I nailed the cp, but it was a rough trek. With cp19 down, we saw a trail just to the west of us that headed south, which we followed until it headed west. Here we found a small creek that went the direction we wanted. I was in the lead and was jumping rock to rock, when Scott said “Are you seriously avoiding the water?” I just shrugged and started splashing my way toward the bikes. The creek took us to a clearing where we headed south southwest and hit the road. Once on the road we had about 300-400 yards to the bikes. Morale was definetly improving. Cp27 down.

3:10 on the trek, which was not great, but of the teams that got all the cp’s the average is around 2:45, so not terrible. I want to know the course team Tiny Trail Ninjas took to clear it in 1:31; that is impressive.

As we got to our bikes and biking gear, the “runners” were on their way out, we just could not stay ahead of them, at least not on foot. We got our gear together and grabbed another bottle of water and were off to cp28, about 4.4 miles away. We saw several other teams reaching the road on foot as we rode and shared a few words of encouragement with each of them. “Good job, you’re almost to the bikes”. We were back in, rather in our element, bikes. We were determined to make up time and pass a few teams. We followed the road we were on until we got to county road J. There we saw 2 teams, one being the “runners”. We stayed on their tail for just a minute and the road started going up, so we passed both of them. I was in the lead and a few minutes later called back, “How far back are they?” Scott replied “don’t see them.” We were feeling good as we approached cp28. CP28 punched and we were given MAP4. We were biking all the way back to the finish at race; HQ, but had 5 more cps. The rain had closed all the single track to bikes, so we had to ride the paved trails as close as we could to our cp and hoof it the rest of the way. Cp29, aka cp4 was next. We took the path and dropped our bikes and bush wacked down to the cp. The hard part was getting back to the bikes, which cost us a minute or 2. Back on the bikes we headed south stopped almost on top of cp20. The trail looped around and headed northeast. Cp31, aka cp3 was about 25 feet off the paved trail. We are making good time. We then headed toward cp32, aka cp1. They sure liked recycling their cps. At cp32 we had to drop our bikes and cross a field and drop into a reentrant to get our punch. Done. On to our final control, cp33. Back on our bikes and back on the move. Again we dropped our bikes trailside and hiked in about 100 feet in, we punched cp33. We sprinted back, at least we attempted to in water logged bike shoes. We jumped on our bikes and headed to the finish. Scott was in the lead and called back “How far?” I replied “less than half a mile”. A minute later we saw the finish and heard the clanging of the cow bells which welcomes every racer back. Scott and I crossed the finished with a total time of 8:43:29.The first place team finished in 5:54:55. We were almost 3 hours behind them. Still we finished 14th out of 46 teams and 5th out of 21 teams in our division, 2 person male. Looking back, I see several mistakes that cost us time and energy. Just by correcting a few navigation errors, I think we could have moved up to 12th pretty easily. If we were in just a little better shape, we could have shaved off more time. With all that being said, I was happy the race was over and pretty happy with our results. I had told Scott when I started racing “I’m not doing this to compete; that is until we are able to compete, then it will be about competing.” I think we are approaching the point where we can compete.

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