Team Orange Triangle faced a challenging day of racing in wet and cold conditions but persevered to be counted among the 14 official finishers for this 12-hour race. 

When we arrived at YMCA Camp Benson in Mt. Carroll, Illinois for check-in on Saturday, it was a sunny early spring day that seemed perfect for racing. Unfortunately the sun would be a no-show on race day. 

And as it turned out, the race began well before Sunday morning. After a filling spaghetti dinner and a race meeting that included a huge number of give-aways from sponsors, race organizer Mike Ehredt threw a special event at us. Conjuring up images of the Tour de France, he announced a “prologue” that would be added to each team’s time on the course to determine the final finishing time. This pre-event event amounted to a 5K run to tour the local haunted house and pick up our maps. Having heeded the warning to show up for the race meeting “ready to run,” we weren’t too stuffed to crank out a few crisp miles and posted a respectable showing. As it would turn out, a heavier meal might have knocked us out of an official finish.

Although it was dry on Saturday and quiet through the night, the soft sounds of water greeted us when we awoke for the race: the rain had begun. Temperatures at the race start hovered around 40 deg F (4 deg C) and didn’t stray far from that during the remainder of the day. During the pre-dawn bike leg, snow replaced the rain, falling at times with enough determination to significantly hamper visibility. As the day went on, rain-soaked hands, feet, legs and bodies would get chilled to the bone each time we sped down one of the Mississippi valley’s long ravines. The tough uphill climbs offered a chance for some warming exercise, but too often it was walking rather than riding as the steep grades took their toll. For most racers, the inescapable cold was the biggest challenge of the day.

The race included a 40-mile bike loop run on paved and hard-dirt roads and marked by three stopping points. At each stop there were orienteering check points to find and at the third a canoe course on the great Mississippi itself. Team Orange Triangle orienteered well, finding all 20 of the orange and white orienteering flags with their respective punches in good time. But by the time we had finished those legs, cold was beginning to challenge our stamina as well as the function of our hands and feet. We continued to the canoe leg to discover that a pfd—even when worn over several already-wet layers—could add welcome warmth to a body. A bit of brisk paddling also helped to warm arms and fingers somewhat as we quickly cranked through the three checkpoints hung from all-but-submerged duck blinds in the river. 

The biggest challenge of the race came when we faced the 20 mile bike leg back to the start-finish area. Most of us began shivering anytime we stopped moving and we faced a tough decision to get on the bikes and continue in face of such piercing and unrelenting cold. In the end, we swapped some clothing around, popped some M&M’s and climbed on to the bikes to give it a go. Three long hours later we arrived back at Camp Bennett ready to complete the rope events and post a finish that we thought would be well-within the 12 hour limit. Figuring that we had plenty of time for an official finish we trotted down the short trail to the rappel, concerned only with staying ahead of the teams nipping at our heals. Little did we know that precious seconds hung in the balance. 

We had forgotten (or didn’t quite understand) that the 12-hour limit was to include the prologue time from the night before—teams whose combined race and prolog times exceeded 12 hours would not be counted as official finishers. Once we made it to the head of the line, we rappelled quickly (whee!) down the 70 foot drop and into the stream below (yeah, it was cold too, but who could tell at that point?). We hustled back to the finish line and checked in to discover that we would be the last official finishers. Our combined prolog and race times totaled 11 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds!

Rather than dwelling on what might have been a near miss, we gratefully grabbed our finisher’s medals and made a B-line for warm clothes, luke warm showers and a few minutes burrowed inside toasty sleeping bags. 

The GMRAS races offer a great taste of “typical” adventure racing, but in this case the conditions made things rather extraordinary. In the end, the weather transformed a race that we viewed as an early-season tune-up into a real test of that most important of AR skills: the ability to persevere when your body is screaming for you to stop. As always, the rewards for doing so go beyond the results of the race itself.

–Ray Daniels

66 Responses to “GMRAS 2002”

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