admin on September 20th, 2010

What do you get when you combine four teammates who have never raced together before, have no race experience longer than two days, and send them on one of the USA’s premier expedition races for eight days?

Five flat tires, one broken derailleur, two sets of broken brakes, three lost bike lights, three sick teammates, too many blisters, 300 miles, fifty-thousand feet of elevation gain, a head-on collision with a semi, and a dead cow. 

Sound like a disaster…read on to find out how the story ends >>

admin on September 20th, 2010

January 11, 2004

I hear Spanish, but I don’t understand a single word. This is trouble…I’m only in the Dallas airport getting a piece of pizza, what am I going to do when we actually get to Mexico?

We passed trip’s first test back home in Chicago. Surprisingly, our bags were within the weight limit. As I step on to the plane in Dallas, I watch my freakishly large duffel bag roll down the conveyor. Another good sign. All I want to do is get through the Mexico City airport and on to Puebla. As usual for me before any big trip I’ve got another headache. Stress!

The plane arcs towards the runway and through the haze we can begin to see Mexico City. Navigating through the terminal and past the drivers offering us rides, we make it quickly to the bus stop. Nervously using my Spanglish, I ask the man behind the hazy window, “Dos boletos para Puebla, por favor?” 125 pesos and an hour later we’re riding in comfort on the Estrella Roja express bus, watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind dubbed in Spanish while a woman strolls the aisles feeding us unidentifiable pastries and warm soda. Our first hour and Randy has taken a picture of everything already. Mexico City is enormous. The sights, the smells, the people. Green VW beetle taxis tear through the streets. Next stop, Puebla.

January 12, 2004

Randy and I excitedly wake up at 5 am to the sounds of motorcycles in the streets and went to the rooftop garden to catch the sunrise. La Malinche to the North, Popo and Izta to the West, and Pico de Orizaba to the East. Foreign travel is new to both us and I can tell Mexico is going to be quite an experience. Poverty and people everywhere, but you wouldn’t know from the inside of Hotel Colonial, a former monastery built in the 15th century.

After breakfast of huevos rancheros (with black bean salsa), hot chocolate milk (scalded milk, actually) and toasts (yes, with an “s”) we hopped in a taxi for a thrill ride to the huge Puebla bus station, CAPU. Traffic laws mean nothing. Speed limits are merely suggestions as we’re easily three times over the posted numbers. People had better stay on the sidewalk if they know what’s good for them.

CAPU is an enormous place the size of many airports, with literally hundreds of busses. Without question, the bus is the preferred method of transportation in Mexico. Efficient, clean, comfortable, so far. I’m quite proud of myself when I speak with the ticket agents in Spanish and figure out the schedules for the remainder of the trip. Our first destination is a small town named Apizaco on the route to La Malinche.

On the way to Apizaco, the bus stops every few miles to let others on and off. A man with a guitar gets on and sings an out-of-key tune then roams the aisles looking for coins. A woman selling bread gets on as he exits at the next roadside stop. I spot a man standing by the side of the expressway in his underwear, washing his hair in a mud puddle. The large windows give us a completely cloud free view of Popo and Izta.

As impressed as I am with the mountains, I marvel at the incredible array of life passing the bus windows. I’ve seen more police in the 18 hours since we’ve landed than I would see in years at home. There are two dogs for every person, but no one seems to own them. I just saw a van with IL plates. Clothing hangs on all of the buildings and I realize what a sheltered life we lead. How do all these roadside fruit, lemonade and tortilla stands survive? Despite the dirt and poverty, it’s fascinating and I love it.

We arrive in Apizaco at 10 am. As we get our gear, all the taxis, or Colectivos as they are called here, immediately disappear as the locals snatch them up. The station attendant gives us cryptic instructions to walk 8 blocks into town to find the right bus. Weaving our way through packed sidewalks and literally hundreds, if not thousands of six foot wide shops selling clothing, tortillas, candy, medicine, and household appliances, we finally reach what we think is the right spot. A shopkeeper eyes our bags and decides we’re headed for LaMalinche. Una hora, once y media. One hour, 1:30. We wait.

We arrive at the camp and find that a group of 11 students and teachers from Prescott College in Arizona have just come down from the summit as we’ve arrived. Perfect timing…We’ll ask them to watch our gear as we climb. We head for La Malinche, 4600 feet above our camp at 10,000 at 1:15. It’s a straight forward, no navigation hike up a well worn path. The forest looks like any other pine forest anywhere in the US. The one difference is the trash; piles of it, candy wrappers, empty water bottles, tissues, and 3 liter coke bottles seem to be the garbage of choice.

I’m feeling great today. No headaches and I’m climbing strong. We break tree line at about 12,500 and are faced with the crux of the climb, an 800 feet scree slope to the ridge above. Each step up takes up ½ step back and fills our shoes with volcanic ash.

Reaching the ridge we are greeted with views of Izta and Popo with its perfect, symmetrical cone rising above the clouds. We’re both feeling the altitude as we approach 14,000. We ascend the final boulder field to gain the 14,640 summit. It is a magnificent view of all the volcanoes. Peeking over the ridge next to us is astounding, eyeing the drop several thousand feet into this long-extinct volcano’s ancient caldera. It’s the highest point for either Randy or I to date and its Randy’s first summit ever. At this height we are nearly 200 feet above any part in the lower 48 and this is only the warm up.

We set a quick pace on the way up reaching the top in less than four hours. I’ll set an even faster one on the way down reaching the bottom in an hour and a half.

January 13, 2004

Our campsite at Centro Vacacional de La Malintzin is a nice quiet place if you don’t mind dogs. Not the well trained sort that you see in the park catching frizbees, but strays numbering a dozen or more. Seven of them followed the other group to the summit, apparently leading the way like their own personal guides. These dogs barked throughout the night. Sometimes at I’d guess they were barking at something meaningful, but mostly at their own echoes. Between the dogs, my general inability to find a comfortable spot and the fact that I’ve had to pee all night but don’t want to go out in the cold, I spend the night tossing and turning and barely sleeping, never for more than a few minutes at a time.

The group of students decides to catch the 9am Colectivo too and we’re nervous that we won’t fit. The driver, Hermando pulls up in his shiny white VW minibus asks “how many” and upon hearing there’s 13 plus all our gear, he promptly replies “Ay, no problema”

Back in Apizaco we catch the 10:30 bus back to Puebla. We’re treated once again to another American movie dubbed in Spanish. I try to write but the bumping of the bus makes it impossible. I was able to reach Kellie back in Apizaco. I’d like to call more frequently to let her know I’m OK. She said Rachael’s been crying and I feel bad. I just want to talk to her and let her know I’m OK. Our plan is to go to Tlachichuca today and onto Piedra Grante, where I won’t be able to call for two days. I’m hoping we’ll arrive with enough time in Tlachichuca so I can call home again.

Back in Puebla’s CAPU station, we buy our tickets to and spend the next 10 minutes trying to locate the correct gate. After a long and confusing walk, we finally reach the gate. The bus leaves in 30 minutes so we decide to eat something that’s not freeze dried and Church’s chicken is just the right treat.

Our next bus is an “intermedio” bus. Apparently that means “bus that stops whenever somebody wants to get on to sell you crazy looking drinks and pastries.” We arrive safely in Tlachichuca and quickly found Hotel Gerar and load into his rusty, ailing 1970’s Jeep Cherokee to El Refugio at 14,000 feet. I was happy to find a phone on our way out of town so I could call Rachael. Unfortunately she was staying late at school. I’ll call back in 2 days when we return from Pico de Orizaba.

Gerardo speaks almost no English, but he understands my butchering of his language and seems pleased to meet a climber who wants to learn his language. He asks me how to say things in English as I do the same in Spanish. Randy quietly rides in the back, snapping pictures.

We reached El Refugio at 5:30. The crowd is light, with one group of 7 from Montana and a couple from Indiana and New Jersey.

January 14, 2004

Well, I made it through the night without freaking out about mice. In fact, I slept better then at La Malinche. I could hear them in the walls and scurrying around on the floor though.

Randy and I take the first of our acclimatization hikes to 15,200 today. The first thousand feet from the Refugio climbs up a steep and twisted trail. On this first hike, I’m concerned about how prepared we are, both in terms of gear, physical readiness, and hard skills. The other guys in the cabin are extremely experienced and they’re going to move very quickly so we’ll be left to find the route on our own. One guy went to the glacier and is describing it right now and he’s making it sound much more difficult then I expected. He’s talking about class 4 icy scrambles and “a labyrinth”. Compound all this with the fact that we’ll be doing it in the dark. We’ll turn back if this not safe and we don’t feel confident.

Some of this is probably my own self-doubt speaking, but some is also truth. I’m glad that we’re here attempting this mountain because it’s giving me a better idea of my skills and shortcomings. What I’m really concerned about though is Randy. He was really struggling on today’s hike to just over 15,000 ft. Even if we don’t summit, I’d like to at least make a strong try.

January 15, 2004

Midnight arrives quickly on my third nearly sleepless night in a row. Tonight was less about the mice scurrying around by my head and more about nervousness for the climb. Are we ready? What will I do if Randy can’t go on? The others in the hut are not too friendly and don’t seem too willing to let us or me, come along with them. I can’t blame them though. They don’t know us and the last thing they need is to prepare only to have an unknown in the mix.

Randy and I hit the trail at 12:20. It’s a warm evening, probably 50 degrees or so. As we begin, he’s laboring hard behind me. I ask how he’s doing and he gives an unconvincing “ok”. The moment I’ve been expecting occurs just minutes into the climb he asks me to stop and says, “We have a decision to make”. He says he won’t be able to make it to the top with his pack. We talk about redistributing our load for a minute and decide instead that our choice is to either continue and see how far we can go, but give up our chance at Izta, or stop now and save his strength for Izta. I choose to cut our losses on Orizaba, however disappointing it is. Inside, I am hurt and my heart is disappointed. I was really looking forward to the idea of having reached the summit of the 3rd highest peak in North America.

My head says it’s the right decision though. Part of me is scared of this mountain. Fear of the mountain is good because it can kill you. The crosses in memory of climbers who have lost their lives here are a reminder that this is high altitude mountaineering and is not to be taken lightly. Still, my fear pisses me off. I’m a better climber a smarter climber than my fear suggests. Maybe it’s because every account that I read on the internet seems to have anyone who attempts the mountain reach the top. Maybe it’s because I see the two gumbies in the other group, one in particular, who doesn’t know how to self-arrest or even hold an ice axe. I’m no expert, but I have more of a right to make a legitimate summit bid. Maybe it’s the small size of our group and wanting the security of others. Having at least 3 would have allowed Randy to bail out without having the same climb-ending effect on me. I am both disappointed and relieved I’ll just have to come back.

Back in the hut I lay awake as mice crawl over my sleeping bag attempting to steal anything they can grab. Sunrise comes not a moment too soon and there’s finally a reason to get out of my sleeping bag. I step outside and suddenly realize that it’s colder now then it was at midnight. I scan the glacier 2000 feet above us with the binoculars, looking for any sign of climbers. We hear the reports over the radio and learn that the two strongest climbers have failed to reach the summit. Mike, who has climbed all over the world, is soloing the mountain, having started this morning from camp 2 at 15, 600. His chosen route the recommended route took him to a large bergschrund, 50 feet deep and it scared him off the mountain. This was his third attempt on the mountain. It’s that kind of solid judgment that will allow him to come back a 4th time. On his descent he told the other group about the barrier and they quickly re-routed to the right side of the glacier. I still don’t understand why he didn’t go up the right side with them and instead chose to return. He was so close.

By the end of the day, only 4 of the 8 who reached the glacier will summit. Strangely enough, it’s not the group I expected. The stronger, more experienced climbers succumb to altitude sickness and exhaustion while the fat slow goof who doesn’t know his axe from his ass reaches the top. When he returns he says that the only reason he kept going up the glacier was that he was too afraid to go down.

Senor Reyes picks them up at 2pm and drops off two college students from Arizona. Talk about massively unprepared. These two women have no idea what they’re in for. One is fairly experienced having done several volcanoes in the Northwest USA. The other is just along for the ride. She bought a pair of hiking boots in Mexico City just for this trip. So far they’ve gotten snowed off LaMalinche, sick on Izta and now they’re here…alone. They’ll be climbing alone with nobody else on the mountain to give them information or help with the inevitable rescue if they go too high.

I call Kellie and it’s quite a relief to hear her voice. I finally get to talk with Rachael too. My adventuring seems to be wearing on Kellie though, making me more anxious to get home. She’ll never really know how much I appreciate her putting up with my stuff. Few people would be as giving. I wish I could have the entire family join me on a trip like this. It’s an incredible cultural experience.

On our way back to the hotel, we stop at the “minimercado” to buy groceries. We’re tired of freeze dried food, especially after watching the other climbers eat the ton of locally purchased food that they brought to Piedra Grande. We also make a quick stop at an internet café so we can send a few e-mails home. The kids are staring and giggling with each other at the sight of the odd Americans.

January 16, 2004

As the bus gets closer to Puebla, the clouds grow thicker. Izta and Popo are completely obscured. Definitely a bad sign for our planned ascent tomorrow morning. We may need to use that extra day after all. The weather has cooperated so far, but today things may change.

I purchase our tickets for the next bus that will take us to Amecameca in a roundabout sort of way. The bus is headed to Mexico City’s TAPO bus station, but makes stops along the way. The only problem was that I don’t exactly know where our stop, Puente de Chalco, is and they don’t make any announcements on the bus about each stop. On top of that, once we get to Puente de Chalco, I’m not sure where to catch the bus, or which bus to catch to get to Amecameca.

On the bus, I pull out the map of Mexico and find a city named Chalco. I could only guess that the road to Chalco, which crossed the highway, was the right one. (Puente de Chalco means Chalco Bridge, in English). Next, how will I know we’re at that spot since there’s no announcement? The expressway crosses a pass in the mountains at 3215 meters just a few miles before Puente de Chalco, so I watch my altimeter and then jump off at the first road crossing after 3215 m. As the bus shudders to a halt, Randy and I jump up to get off as a man waiting for the next stop blocks our path. I yell to the driver “Puente de Chalco?” as he starts to close the door. He stops in mid-close and we jump to freedom.

The bus roars away in a haze of diesel fuel and we’re left by the side of a Mexican expressway in a pile of empty McDonald cups and newspapers, holding two sixty pound bags of climbing gear. Alone. And I don’t see the other bus stop.

All I know is that it’s not right here. Fifty stairs lead to the top of the overpass as I throw my bag on my shoulder. Across the overpass and down the stairs deposits us on the other side of the expressway. An access road leads us past an abandoned building with a large group of men shouting “taxi.” Sure, that would be a good choice! I ignore them and keep moving ahead.

At the intersection leading to the toll booth, four roads come together. There are no stop signs stop lights, etiquette and traffic laws mean nothing. Cars, taxis, trucks, and motorcycles are racing along, coming from all directions, making random unannounced stops. Feeling like participants in the game Frogger, we sprint for the other side with our bags dragging in tow. We make it, but I’m still not sure where to go.

We head for the toll booth, passing a row of buildings where they’re building furniture by hand. Beautiful dinning and bedroom sets of all different kinds of wood. Some rustic, mostly elegant, classic pieces. We stop for a brief moment to watch a craftsman hand plane his work to perfection.

We reach the toll booth and a man tells us the next bus to Amecameca will arrive in 10 minutes. We pay our 8 pesos and ride the B.O. express to Amecameca. In one of the constant contradictions we run across on this trip, Randy decides to buy a handful of peanuts from one of the vendors also riding the bus. Ten pesos earns him a Dixie cup of Spanish peanuts and 8 pesos gets us all the way to Amecameca.

Arriving in town, we decide that it’s too rainy to try to go up to the mountain and check into the Hotel San Carlos, the only hotel in town. The decision is reinforced as we walk next door to get a permit to climb tomorrow and learn that the roads leading into the Izta-Popo National Park have been closed due to train at the lower elevations and 15cm of snow higher up. They won’t issue any permits today nor will the military allow anyone to pass the checkpoints into the park”. “Come back tomorrow”, they say. We got up at 6am and raced here today to get to town by 1:30, only to find out we have nothing to do. Further yet, I don’t have a good feeling about tomorrow’s weather either. If we can’t get on the mountain tomorrow (day 7) and prepare to summit on day 8 we’ll be done climbing.

There’s a huge market in the city square (Zocalo) where they sell everything from packages of pink plastic hair curlers to shoes and fresh poultry. The poultry is so fresh I they’ve plucked the feathers and cut off their heads this morning. They look just like rubber gag chickens as we watch the man whack off the feet with a cling of his knife.

We wander the market aimlessly, dodging rain falling from the tarps covering each vendors stand. All I can find is crap that nobody needs, and mountains of it, but all I’m searching for is something handmade for Kellie and the girls. Pink porcelain elephants, pistachios, and Latin CD’s are everywhere why can’t I find a blanket made with local textiles or anything of any value.

All the stores in every town seem to have the same junk. It’s like a 300 mile long flea market that never closes. If they’re not selling crap or food (why don’t these people weight 500 lbs.) they’re got a weird specialty. Not one, but several stores in each small town sell only wedding cakes or caskets. It seems that nothing is painted, yet there are paint stores everywhere. Another store is devoted to hair coloring products. Every body is wearing a serape or a colorful blanket over their shoulders, but where are they buying them.

January 17, 2004

We wake on Day 7, our last chance to go up on Izta, to find it’s raining even harder and the clouds are even lower. I try to hang on to hope, but when the permit office opens at 9:30, I realize that all is lost. We hurriedly pack and get out of Amecameca not a moment too soon. Under better conditions I might have enjoyed the town.

I try to call Kellie on the way out of town, but he phones don’t seem to work suddenly. Our bus takes us to the large bus station in Mexico City, TAPO. This is our first visit to the heart of the big city and it’s very foreign to us. After figuring out how to pay for a taxi, we load into a small green and white Isuzu driven by Javier.

When I tell him I wanted to go to the Hotel Lafayette, he starts waving his hands saying “muy malo”. After much discussion over price and safety, he takes us to his recommended hotel. We pull up out front of the Hotel San Madrid to be greeted by a doorman who whisked away our luggage. To my surprise, Javier has delivered us to a very nice place where we pay only $60 per night, including breakfast.

Arriving at our room we immediately check for hot water and the presence of toilet paper (and a seat…yes, we’ve run across places where any one or all three are missing). This morning’s “shower” in Amecameca consisted of washing my hair in freezing water in the sink and wiping the rest of my body down with lemon baby wipes that we found in the Piedra Grande hut.

It’s still early 1:30pm and after trying to change our tickets with the travel agent in the hotel, unsuccessfully, we decide to try to salvage the day with a tour of the lost city of Teotihuacán.

For $25, a maniac driver races us at twice the posted speed limit to tour this ancient area.
During the drive, he eagerly points in every direction and explains the history of the city, past and present. At the pyramids he takes us to an artisan’s cooperative where he undoubtedly receives a kickback for the visitors he steers in their direction. Edwardo, our guide at the cooperative, does an excellent job of explaining the uses for the local cacti.
We learn that three different kinds of alcoholic beverages are made from a cactus and we’re given samples of each. The Pulque isn’t bad, but my first shots of tequila though don’t leave me wanting more.

We watch artists weave blankets (finally!) from thread made from the skin of a cactus and learned about rocks and minerals, like shale and obsidian that are mined locally. It took seven days of searching but I finally found the handmade, locally produced gifts I had been looking for. Bracelets of shale for Rachael and Sara, and a shale and silver picture frame for Kellie, and a blanket in the colors of our family room for all of us.

After a running tour of the ancient Toltec city of Teotihuacán, the second largest pyramids in the world outside of Egypt, our group is herded back into the van for a speedy run back to Mexico City and the Basilica of Guadalupe. An unexpected side trip, the Basilica was built in the 15th century and consists of several churches built over the years. If find myself to be quite interested in the legend of Guadalupe and to watch people’s reverence as they pass through the church. The Catholic faith plays a big role in Mexican society.

The final thrill ride back to our hotel continues the pattern of blown red lights, cutting off other drivers, heading the wrong way on one way streets, and speeding toward crossing pedestrians. As we pass through downtown to unload other passengers, we see a hurdy-gurdy man playing a box on a stick by means of a crank on the side. With him are several minions in uniform collecting money from stopped motorists. Randy thinks the money must go to pay for the music lesions to turn that crank.

January 18, 2004

As the day began, we realize that we’re running low on money, but we still have another night in the hotel and a cab ride to the airport along with the evening’s dinner. I stop at the desk to renew our room when I notice a set of less expensive rates labeled “Uxmal.” I learn that these rooms do not offer air conditioning or breakfast and were smaller than our present location. None of those were important to us and I attempted to make the switch. To my surprise the workers at the desk work with me to negotiate the Uxmal price, half of our current rate, and still stay in the same room.

I’m quite pleased with this arrangement, now at $35 including breakfast, until I receive a call from the manager telling me I need to change rooms. I rush downstairs proof in hand of my prior arrangement, to correct the situation. This turned out to be my first and hopefully only argument while in Mexico.

The woman who assisted me in the morning seemed to have no recollection of our agreement. The manager insists that they must have told me to change rooms. I had offered three times to move to the less expensive Uxmal section, only to be told it was not necessary. My final call of the manager’s bluff came when he insisted that he bellman recalled a different version of the arrangement, an impossibility since the bellman was on a different floor of the building. He finally acquiesced, realizing that I had successfully disproved his argument I fully expected to see an extra 300 peso charge on my bill later for butter in the restaurant, just so they could recover their cost.

I really wanted to go home today instead of drag through Mexico City. We started the day with a visit to a local church, San Hipolito. The past few days has spurred my interest in the influence of the church and I am interested in seeing a service as well as put in my prayers for a quick return to my family.

The church is enormous and the crowd massive. The sign outside indicates that there is a service nearly every hour of the day on Sunday and several each weekday. The building is packed with people sitting and standing wherever they can find room. This is just a regular Sunday and it’s much more crowded than even a Christmas or Easter celebration at home.

Once again, the Mexican people’s devotion to the church is inspiring. Many people hold lit candles, purchased from the ever present vendors outside. Everyone blesses themselves multiple times upon entering, exiting, sitting or passing a stature of a saint. The church is immaculately kept with ornate chandeliers paintings on the wall stretching from floor to the ceiling over 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Stained glass adorns the windows and statures framed the gigantic alter area.

Our final full day in Mexico has us heading to the famous National Museum of Anthropology. As we stroll along the avenue of the reformas, we see neatly uniformed police officers stationed by twos along every block. Both impressive in the fact that the city took that stance on crime, and disappointing that it was necessary.

On our way to the museum we see another set of street performers, proving once again that not only will people do anything for money, but that people will pay for almost anything. This trio climbed on each others shoulders and stacked three high walked through the stopped cars. The top layer was a small child dressed in a dirty tiger suit that would wave his arms and spin his tail to gain attention. This went on for a minute until the tower would collapse and they would scatter through the cars. Meanwhile, the mother in the family would spend the time during the show weaving through the cars selling stuffed Winnie the Pooh dolls.

The hotel restaurant becomes the final nail in the coffin for this day. We decide to celebrate the end of a largely successful, although unfinished trip with a steak dinner. In reality we want to find out what $7.50 could buy in a steak. Randy orders the filet mignon, which turned out to be one of his most succulent meals. Mine however is quite possibly the worst pieces of steak I’ve ever attempted to eat. When I enjoy the cauliflower and carrots garnishing the steak even more, then the meat itself, you know it’s bad.

I try to salvage it by ordering some extra sauce from Randy’s filet, only to receive a plate of overcooked bacon. Now I wanted some sauce for the bacon. I think I’ll go home and learn the Spanish word for sauce.

Throughout the trip we’ve had some great food. We did our best to experience the authentic flavor by eating tamales wrapped in a Plantain leaf, purchased from a street vendor in Amecameca. My most memorable meal however, has to be the quesadillas we ate for lunch, also in Amecameca. Cooked over a fire with tortillas made in the market and chicken so fresh it had been walking around someone’s backyard the day before. Cooked just right and filled with cheese, they brought a bit of sunshine to an otherwise cloud-filled day.

January 19, 2004

We’re on the airplane now heading home. Our last hurrah came at the airport when the taxi driver dropped us off. Already reeling from the fact that it cost three times as much to go from the hotel to the airport as it costs to go from the airport to the hotels, 150 pesos vs. 45 pesos, we hop in the cab that the hotel doorman hailed for us. I failed to confirm the hotel’s published price with the driver only to learn upon arrival that he wanted 250 pesos. I proceeded to discuss the hotel’s price and his agreement to abide by that already outrageous amount. He retuned by stating that the hotel’s price is not his and that he sets the amount. I firmly let him know that I was now setting the price, gave him 150 pesos and left for the gate. It wasn’t the way I wanted to end my Mexico experience.

The trip was great. I learned a lot, experienced the culture, and proved to myself that I could organize an international expedition.

Will I be back? The answer is a definite yes. I’m not sure when yet, but I would like to experience the summit of these two high peaks.

Vaya con Dios, Mexico
Hasta la Vista
Gracious por su hospitalidad

admin on September 20th, 2010

Team Orange Triangle tasted early season success with a finish at the newly-lengthened 24-hour GMRAS race. Staff for this race included John Chase, Randy Bauer, Ray Daniels and Annie Dickerson with Jerry Bauer and Kelly Rahn running support. Set in western Illinois, the course was intended to include a long section of paddling on the Mississippi, but things don’t always go according to plan in AR, even for the organizers.

At the pre-race briefing, the course was presented in four parts: biking, canoeing, orienteering and the final return which would be a bike-creek walk combination. After suffering freezing conditions of 35 to 40 degrees and rain in last year’s 12 hour race, TOT came to the line prepared for the cold. Little did we know that conditions would actually be worse in 2003.

The rain started as we mounted the bikes at 1:30 pm for a short tour through Mt. Carol, Illinois and it would continue at rates that varied from a sprinkle to a sleety downpour for the remainder of the daylight hours. During those hours, we biked some 60 or more miles up and down the stream-cut valleys of the area, hitting 7 check points before our first transition.

At each CP during the bike leg, organizers had a short off-bike exercise waiting for us. At the first it was a simple walk in the woods following red flags to the control punch. At another it was climbing the stairs up a 60-foot observation tower to the waiting crew. A third sent us on a nighttime zip-line ride over a wide stream. As darkness descended, the rain stopped for while, only to restart as fine flakes of snow that would continue for much of the night.

On what we expected to be the final leg of the bike course, we meandered in and out of the various cross-country and down hill runs at the local ski resort before arriving in transition at about 1 am. Ministrations from Jerry Bauer and Kelly Rahn were a welcome and essential element-without them we wouldn’t have gone much further.

At this point, we discovered that the river canoeing had been cancelled due to high winds and cold temperatures. Instead of a long cold paddle, we were put back on our bikes for another 20 snowy miles of riding before the “O” course.

The O course was long: 13 kilometers straight line, and probably 15 miles or more of actual walking. We had an advantage over many of the leading teams as the sun came up before we reached the second of the 18 control points. At the third point in the O, we got to haul out the climbing equipment (while dodging falling rocks) and then ascend up a 25-30 foot rock wall. The remainder of the O points were easily found in the leafless woods of the Mississippi Palisades State Park, but the layout was such that the entire trek resembled a Stairmaster workout.

It was already past noon when we arrived at the final O CP for a quick rappel down the cliffs and a welcome return to Jerry and Kelly. At this point we did jump in the canoe for a quick paddle: a cursory 20-minute jog down the Mississippi and back-quite a change from the anticipated course, but a chance to use all the paddling gear nonetheless. From there it was back on the bikes for the road home. While Mississippi Palisades State Park had been a beautiful and hospitable setting, its hilly sting hit once more with a monster hill right out of transition. (At that point walking felt marginally better than riding anyway!)

After about an hour’s ride, we reached the beginning of the creek walk. While we had debated bringing trekking shoes, we decided to do this leg in bike shoes instead-hoping in vain that we’d find a way to keep our feet dry. Of course this was not to be. Our orders were to follow a line of red flags that waggled back and forth from bank to bank as we proceeded up the river to the finish line. Finally, there was a cluster of five flags marking the control point and it was set beyond a deep pool that meant a quick, cold swim for our designated volunteer, Annie. As we approached the finish, we caught sight of another team gaining on us and stepped up the pace, running pell-mell over rocks and up the steep hill leading into camp.

We finished at about 4:30 pm on Saturday, some 27 hours after the start of the race and with a real flush of triumph. The race had been challenging both physically and mentally, and that made it both satisfying and fun to complete.

A big thanks to Jerry and Kelly for support-their help was essential to completion of this course.

– Ray Daniels


admin on September 20th, 2010

This story is written from the perspective of the support crew at this year’s RtN in Parry Sound, Ontario.
We spent many years supporting our son, TOT team captain, John, during his BMX racing career and into mountain biking. So when the call came asking if we would be the support crew for this year’s RtN of course we agreed. We knew John’s teammate Randy but had not met Annie or Steve. John and Randy have been racing together for some time. They have raced with Annie and Annie has raced with Steve, but this will be the first time the four have raced as a team. We have high hopes for this combination.

While the team was getting their bodies and spirits in shape for this undertaking we were planning how to get their equipment from place to place. We made trips to several stores looking for the perfect cartop carrier. Last year we had a van and this year we have a pickup with a crewcab so we were looking for some extra carrying space over the bed of the truck. We found what we thought would work for us. Individual team member tubs should fit inside the bed, our equipment should fit in the carrier on top of the bed cover, 4 bikes on the hitch mounted bike rack and our personal stuff in the backseat of the cab.

Keith picked up a canopy with 4 sides this year. RtN was cold and windy last year. We were determined to be prepared in case this year was a repeat. We found a good spot to put the canopy on the back of the truck and bungee corded our chairs to the roof of the cab. We packed our mandatory gear including our tent and then packed everything we thought we would need to make the team comfortable during transitions. Most of the items in the cartop carrier were for use in the transition area. A campstove, food, lighting in case the transitions were in the dark, plates, cups, spoons, saucepan, thermoses for keeping soup hot and a small heater for inside the canopy.
The plan was coming together. TOT will arrive at our house on Thursday in two vehicles. They will drop off one vehicle, transfer equipment to our truck and we will go on to Parry Sound. They will be up early on Friday to check in. During the afternoon we will go over equipment with each racer so we know what they expect during the transitions. We then have a pre-race meeting at 4:00. After the meeting Keith and I will pack the truck and let the team get some rest before the start at midnight. Sounded smooth until the team arrived at the house. Oh, oh, some of the tubs were too tall to fit under the pickup bed cover. A little rearranging is necessary. We have some shorter tubs in our garage so we empty the tall tubs and repack into the shorter ones. Problem solved.

We had an uneventful drive up to Parry Sound. Because of the threat of West Nile, SARS and Mad Cow Disease we held our breath going through Toronto. The scenery was beautiful and wilder the further we went north. Signs said the Georgian Bay has 30,000 islands and I believe it. Some islands were so small a house took up the entire island. Parry Sound itself was a small town and seemed dedicated to recreation and adventure. Unfortunately, when Steve picked up a local paper the headline read, SARS IN PARRY SOUND. Oh well, we’ll be out in the wilderness; SARS won’t have a chance out there.

Friday morning registration went smooth thanks to the efficiency of the RtN staff. The team was excited to be here and the weather looked beautiful so far. We returned to the motel for equipment checks and last minute changes in transition plans. Before the race there had been a lively debate about whether to switch packs at transition and whether to change to bike shoes or just use one pair of shoes. In the end they all decided to go with one pack but the shoe debate continued. Each team member arranged their equipment and labeled what they wanted for each discipline. They also put together packages of food and goodies they wanted to take at the transition areas. The parking lot was full of equipment for our team and others at the motel. The TOT and Dagger banners were on prominent display.

Luckily, we had an unofficial but essential member of the support crew. Some of the team HAD to be back in Illinois Monday AM, so Annie brought her friend Vicki along as an extra driver for the trip home. Vicki was a lifesaver more than once. While we went over equipment she ran out to the local bike shop and picked up some items for the team and helped set up bladders for the transition area. We also needed some more food.

The 4:00 meeting finally came and the team got their maps and instructions. Now the excitement would start. The team went back to the hotel and plotted their way across the wilderness and then got some rest while we squeezed the equipment back into the truck and picked up pizza for everyone. We were allowed a second support vehicle to get to the start line so Vicki agreed to drive the team. We gave her a copy of the driving instructions for the support team so she could meet us at the transition area on Saturday morning and see the team on their way through. We left for the start line around 11PM with spirits running high. They will start on bikes but there was a slight problem with Annie’s bike after we unloaded it. After some adjusting the team continued to move to the start line.

At midnight they were off. We were told that we would be allowed to go the bike pickup in about two hours after all the riders went through. We were also told that they would not be as strict this year and we would be allowed to go into town, stop off and have a shower etc. if we wanted. We just had to let race staff know where we were. This was a real plus. Vicki kept the motel room in town so we took advantage of the rules and went back to the room to get some paperwork we forgot. We went back to the start area and waited for the release to pick up the bikes. We were told that we would be released about 2 or 2:30 AM. But time marched on and about 4:00 people started getting antsy. We were finally let go at 4:30. No sleep because we expected to be released any minute.

We picked our way through the back roads in the dark and found the bike drop off. Since it was still dark we had difficulty finding our team bikes. But finally, success, they were up near the front. This is a good sign! We were told at the support meeting that the first teams would not be expected before 8:00 so we didn’t hurry to the first transition area. May as well set up in the daylight.

The first transition area was in a provincial park. Support crews set up near the canoe takeout area. The park also had a big plus. Flush toilets were only a 60 second walk away in the campground right behind us. Also there was a hose for cleaning off bikes in the maintenance yard. We got our canopy set up and unpacked what we needed from the truck. It was pretty chilly and windy so we used all 4 sides of the canopy. The Velcro ties kept letting go so we had to improvise by using clamps to hold the corners together. We fired up the heater and tried to dry out bike shoes and chairs. We were too excited to sleep or eat. We knew we would see the team soon.

The teams would be coming in off a long paddling section. TOT had rented some fancy schmancy carbon fiber paddles that came in 5 pieces and were incredibly light in their packs. Hopefully the price of the rental would be worth it. At 7:57 we saw the lead team come into the transition area. Now the support teams were getting excited but the weather had turned. It was very windy with a misty rain. The lead team was tired and was still in the transition area 45 minutes later when the next team arrived. Race staff was very helpful and communication was excellent but that didn’t erase the fact that 39 teams were still out there in terrible conditions with 3-foot swells, whitecaps and a fierce headwind. Our team was one of the few that had left checkpoint 4 and was headed to checkpoint 5, TA 1 was also checkpoint 6. We heard of several teams capsizing and the rescue boats were busy. 8 teams were stuck on an island waiting for rescue but our team was still forging on. The support crew next to us heard from their team. They were taken in by a family and were enjoying some warm beverages at their home. As teams were rescued, the race staff came through the camp looking for their support crew to pick them up and transport them to the transition area. Meanwhile Keith cleaned up the bikes and made adjustments because they will be back on a bike section when they leave the transition area. Vicki arrived to wait with us. It was a real nail biter for the support crews. We heard stories about the rescue boats reluctance to go out because of the poor conditions on the water but our team was still out there.

Finally we heard that they had cleared checkpoint 5 so we started to get ready for them. They would be cold and wet so we heated up the soup and readied the gear. The transition camp was a buzz of activity by then. There was a hill where support crews watched the final stretch of paddling. The weather turned sunny but it was still very windy. We were ready and anxious. The camaraderie of the support crews was great. Each time someone could see canoes coming there was a lot of hollering between support crews about who was coming. Before long we were the lucky crew. We had binoculars but their team number wasn’t visible. Annie had gotten cold and wore her space blanket under her life jacket. Others had put on more clothes. But we finally recognized their smiles when they saw the canoe takeout.

They were tired and had sore arms from paddling but we got some soup in them and restocked their packs. The crew next to us shared some of their hot food as well. We were extremely proud of our team. They made it through the roughest paddling section where most other teams gave up or were plucked from the bay. This became a source of pride around the campfire at the second transition area. We were able to say that our team was between checkpoint 7 and 8 AND had finished the paddling section. That gave us a certain status among support crews.

We left TA 1 and picked up the bikes at CP 7. An easy drive where we discovered that the road to TA 2 took us back almost all the way to Parry Sound. We decided to take advantage of the relaxed rules again and stopped to visit Vicki and have a shower and a muffin at Tim Horton’s.

The second transition area, checkpoint 9, was located down the worst road we had ever driven. Keith was glad we had four wheel drive because there were several spots where we encountered large mudholes loaded with rocks. We were also glad that we were able to negotiate it during daylight. One area was actually lower than the lake surrounding us. This TA did not have the amenities that the first TA had but it was situated on an idyllic lakeshore and at night the stars shown brightly against the inky black sky. By the time we were set up it was midnight and we were told that the fastest they would make it from checkpoint 8 was 2 hours. The earliest we expected to see them was 2 AM. So we set our alarm for 2 hours to get some sleep. Keith was confident and didn’t want to set up the tent so we slept in the cab of the truck. We checked in with the race staff at 2-hour intervals until daylight. The team would probably not meet the cutoff to go on so we were concerned about how we would get them and their equipment out of the TA. Keith asked if we would be expected to pick them up at checkpoint 8 and he learned that would be impossible. Checkpoint 8 was so remote that vehicles could not get in and the CP 8 staff had to hike in. We found out later that our team had hunkered down for a few hours during the darkest of the night so they wouldn’t stumble over a 49 ft. cliff. We finally got word from the TA staff that our team had passed checkpoint 8. They asked race staff to relay a message to us that they were fine and moving on.

Hooray! They’re coming but still how will we get them out? We combined as much as we could to conserve space. Some of the tubs had some airspace in them; surely we can get more stuff in there so we can empty the back seat. We started to plan how we were going to stack things on the truck. We were at the point of planning what to put in the back seat that was flat so the men could sit 3 across with Annie lying on top when Vicki came to the rescue again. She arrived about an hour before the team came into the TA. Not only was she a lifesaver, she also brought Egg McMuffins!

We started walking down the trail to greet our team coming in and saw another team. We asked if they saw team #13 and they said they saw a team they thought was American. It had to be them! Five minutes later we saw them.

They made it a full 36 hours, never gave up. They may not cross the finish line but hopefully they are as proud of their accomplishment as their support crew. When asked later about whether he intended to do it again next year, John did not hesitate. Of course he’ll be back; he has to finish it.

admin on September 20th, 2010

This story is written from the perspective of the support crew at this year’s RtN in Parry Sound, Ontario.
We spent many years supporting our son, TOT team captain, John, during his BMX racing career and into mountain biking. So when the call came asking if we would be the support crew for this year’s RtN of course we agreed. We knew John’s teammate Randy but had not met Annie or Steve. John and Randy have been racing together for some time. They have raced with Annie and Annie has raced with Steve, but this will be the first time the four have raced as a team. We have high hopes for this combination.

 While the team was getting their bodies and spirits in shape for this undertaking we were planning how to get their equipment from place to place. We made trips to several stores looking for the perfect cartop carrier. Last year we had a van and this year we have a pickup with a crewcab so we were looking for some extra carrying space over the bed of the truck. We found what we thought would work for us. Individual team member tubs should fit inside the bed, our equipment should fit in the carrier on top of the bed cover, 4 bikes on the hitch mounted bike rack and our personal stuff in the backseat of the cab.

Keith picked up a canopy with 4 sides this year. RtN was cold and windy last year. We were determined to be prepared in case this year was a repeat. We found a good spot to put the canopy on the back of the truck and bungee corded our chairs to the roof of the cab. We packed our mandatory gear including our tent and then packed everything we thought we would need to make the team comfortable during transitions. Most of the items in the cartop carrier were for use in the transition area. A campstove, food, lighting in case the transitions were in the dark, plates, cups, spoons, saucepan, thermoses for keeping soup hot and a small heater for inside the canopy. 
The plan was coming together. TOT will arrive at our house on Thursday in two vehicles. They will drop off one vehicle, transfer equipment to our truck and we will go on to Parry Sound. They will be up early on Friday to check in. During the afternoon we will go over equipment with each racer so we know what they expect during the transitions. We then have a pre-race meeting at 4:00. After the meeting Keith and I will pack the truck and let the team get some rest before the start at midnight. Sounded smooth until the team arrived at the house. Oh, oh, some of the tubs were too tall to fit under the pickup bed cover. A little rearranging is necessary. We have some shorter tubs in our garage so we empty the tall tubs and repack into the shorter ones. Problem solved. 

We had an uneventful drive up to Parry Sound. Because of the threat of West Nile, SARS and Mad Cow Disease we held our breath going through Toronto. The scenery was beautiful and wilder the further we went north. Signs said the Georgian Bay has 30,000 islands and I believe it. Some islands were so small a house took up the entire island. Parry Sound itself was a small town and seemed dedicated to recreation and adventure. Unfortunately, when Steve picked up a local paper the headline read, SARS IN PARRY SOUND. Oh well, we’ll be out in the wilderness; SARS won’t have a chance out there.

Friday morning registration went smooth thanks to the efficiency of the RtN staff. The team was excited to be here and the weather looked beautiful so far. We returned to the motel for equipment checks and last minute changes in transition plans. Before the race there had been a lively debate about whether to switch packs at transition and whether to change to bike shoes or just use one pair of shoes. In the end they all decided to go with one pack but the shoe debate continued. Each team member arranged their equipment and labeled what they wanted for each discipline. They also put together packages of food and goodies they wanted to take at the transition areas. The parking lot was full of equipment for our team and others at the motel. The TOT and Dagger banners were on prominent display.

Luckily, we had an unofficial but essential member of the support crew. Some of the team HAD to be back in Illinois Monday AM, so Annie brought her friend Vicki along as an extra driver for the trip home. Vicki was a lifesaver more than once. While we went over equipment she ran out to the local bike shop and picked up some items for the team and helped set up bladders for the transition area. We also needed some more food. 

The 4:00 meeting finally came and the team got their maps and instructions. Now the excitement would start. The team went back to the hotel and plotted their way across the wilderness and then got some rest while we squeezed the equipment back into the truck and picked up pizza for everyone.  We were allowed a second support vehicle to get to the start line so Vicki agreed to drive the team. We gave her a copy of the driving instructions for the support team so she could meet us at the transition area on Saturday morning and see the team on their way through. We left for the start line around 11PM with spirits running high. They will start on bikes but there was a slight problem with Annie’s bike after we unloaded it. After some adjusting the team continued to move to the start line. 

At midnight they were off. We were told that we would be allowed to go the bike pickup in about two hours after all the riders went through. We were also told that they would not be as strict this year and we would be allowed to go into town, stop off and have a shower etc. if we wanted. We just had to let race staff know where we were. This was a real plus. Vicki kept the motel room in town so we took advantage of the rules and went back to the room to get some paperwork we forgot. We went back to the start area and waited for the release to pick up the bikes. We were told that we would be released about 2 or 2:30 AM. But time marched on and about 4:00 people started getting antsy. We were finally let go at 4:30. No sleep because we expected to be released any minute.

We picked our way through the back roads in the dark and found the bike drop off. Since it was still dark we had difficulty finding our team bikes. But finally, success, they were up near the front. This is a good sign! We were told at the support meeting that the first teams would not be expected before 8:00 so we didn’t hurry to the first transition area. May as well set up in the daylight.

The first transition area was in a provincial park. Support crews set up near the canoe takeout area. The park also had a big plus. Flush toilets were only a 60 second walk away in the campground right behind us. Also there was a hose for cleaning off bikes in the maintenance yard. We got our canopy set up and unpacked what we needed from the truck. It was pretty chilly and windy so we used all 4 sides of the canopy. The Velcro ties kept letting go so we had to improvise by using clamps to hold the corners together. We fired up the heater and tried to dry out bike shoes and chairs. We were too excited to sleep or eat. We knew we would see the team soon.

The teams would be coming in off a long paddling section. TOT had rented some fancy schmancy carbon fiber paddles that came in 5 pieces and were incredibly light in their packs. Hopefully the price of the rental would be worth it. At 7:57 we saw the lead team come into the transition area. Now the support teams were getting excited but the weather had turned. It was very windy with a misty rain. The lead team was tired and was still in the transition area 45 minutes later when the next team arrived. Race staff was very helpful and communication was excellent but that didn’t erase the fact that 39 teams were still out there in terrible conditions with 3-foot swells, whitecaps and a fierce headwind. Our team was one of the few that had left checkpoint 4 and was headed to checkpoint 5, TA 1 was also checkpoint 6. We heard of several teams capsizing and the rescue boats were busy. 8 teams were stuck on an island waiting for rescue but our team was still forging on. The support crew next to us heard from their team. They were taken in by a family and were enjoying some warm beverages at their home. As teams were rescued, the race staff came through the camp looking for their support crew to pick them up and transport them to the transition area. Meanwhile Keith cleaned up the bikes and made adjustments because they will be back on a bike section when they leave the transition area. Vicki arrived to wait with us. It was a real nail biter for the support crews. We heard stories about the rescue boats reluctance to go out because of the poor conditions on the water but our team was still out there.

Finally we heard that they had cleared checkpoint 5 so we started to get ready for them. They would be cold and wet so we heated up the soup and readied the gear. The transition camp was a buzz of activity by then. There was a hill where support crews watched the final stretch of paddling. The weather turned sunny but it was still very windy. We were ready and anxious. The camaraderie of the support crews was great. Each time someone could see canoes coming there was a lot of hollering between support crews about who was coming. Before long we were the lucky crew. We had binoculars but their team number wasn’t visible. Annie had gotten cold and wore her space blanket under her life jacket. Others had put on more clothes. But we finally recognized their smiles when they saw the canoe takeout. 

They were tired and had sore arms from paddling but we got some soup in them and restocked their packs. The crew next to us shared some of their hot food as well. We were extremely proud of our team. They made it through the roughest paddling section where most other teams gave up or were plucked from the bay. This became a source of pride around the campfire at the second transition area. We were able to say that our team was between checkpoint 7 and 8 AND had finished the paddling section. That gave us a certain status among support crews.

We left TA 1 and picked up the bikes at CP 7. An easy drive where we discovered that the road to TA 2 took us back almost all the way to Parry Sound. We decided to take advantage of the relaxed rules again and stopped to visit Vicki and have a shower and a muffin at Tim Horton’s. 

The second transition area, checkpoint 9, was located down the worst road we had ever driven. Keith was glad we had four wheel drive because there were several spots where we encountered large mudholes loaded with rocks. We were also glad that we were able to negotiate it during daylight. One area was actually lower than the lake surrounding us. This TA did not have the amenities that the first TA had but it was situated on an idyllic lakeshore and at night the stars shown brightly against the inky black sky. By the time we were set up it was midnight and we were told that the fastest they would make it from checkpoint 8 was 2 hours. The earliest we expected to see them was 2 AM. So we set our alarm for 2 hours to get some sleep. Keith was confident and didn’t want to set up the tent so we slept in the cab of the truck. We checked in with the race staff at 2-hour intervals until daylight. The team would probably not meet the cutoff to go on so we were concerned about how we would get them and their equipment out of the TA. Keith asked if we would be expected to pick them up at checkpoint 8 and he learned that would be impossible. Checkpoint 8 was so remote that vehicles could not get in and the CP 8 staff had to hike in. We found out later that our team had hunkered down for a few hours during the darkest of the night so they wouldn’t stumble over a 49 ft. cliff. We finally got word from the TA staff that our team had passed checkpoint 8. They asked race staff to relay a message to us that they were fine and moving on. 

Hooray! They’re coming but still how will we get them out? We combined as much as we could to conserve space. Some of the tubs had some airspace in them; surely we can get more stuff in there so we can empty the back seat. We started to plan how we were going to stack things on the truck. We were at the point of planning what to put in the back seat that was flat so the men could sit 3 across with Annie lying on top when Vicki came to the rescue again. She arrived about an hour before the team came into the TA. Not only was she a lifesaver, she also brought Egg McMuffins! 

We started walking down the trail to greet our team coming in and saw another team. We asked if they saw team #13 and they said they saw a team they thought was American. It had to be them! Five minutes later we saw them.

They made it a full 36 hours, never gave up. They may not cross the finish line but hopefully they are as proud of their accomplishment as their support crew. When asked later about whether he intended to do it again next year, John did not hesitate. Of course he’ll be back; he has to finish it.

admin on September 20th, 2010

Even with a change in team personnel less than two days before the race, Team Orange Triangle tackled their third visit to the annual Mid-America Xtreme (MAX) with a good finish and a satisfying performance.

 Hobbled from his climb of Mt. Rainer just a week earlier, team regular Randy Bauer had to bow out of the competition at MAX. Still he remained a critical part of the team, coordinating the support provided by Jerry Bauer and the newest members of the TOT clan, Barb Schwartz and Leah Carter. Thus the team for this race included captain John Chase and regular Ray Daniels with two new members, Nicole Miller and Karen Judge. Nicole and Karen had previously completed a Hi-Tec race and another sprint-distance AR event in southern Michigan together and their experience paid off in performance on the scenic and diverse MAX course.

As it has in the past, the race began at 2 am Saturday, this time with a two-mile run to spread out the teams. Knowing that no more than 5 minutes would separate the first and last teams after this short start leg, TOT focused on staying together and progressing at a pace that was comfortable for all team members. Coming off the run, we quickly transitioned to bikes for a 15-mile night ride over McCaslin mountain and through the trails around it. Although there were some tricky sections where sand, rock and hill conspired to slow our progress, we completed nearly all of this challenging bike leg in the saddle. As dawn began to break, we completed this first bike section and headed out on the orienteering part of the course.

While the orienteering consisted of only three check points, they were placed in such a way to require careful reading of the topographic map to follow the natural features of the land. Much of the terrain was covered by dense foliage and the rest was water or marsh. TOT showed excellent teamwork in this section with collaboration that allowed the group to move directly to each checkpoint without wandering or searching. During this leg, the team’s elapsed time was comparable to some of the top finishing teams, allowing us to move up eight to ten places in the standings, emerging 25th.

Following orienteering, we were back on the bikes for 10 to 15 miles and then had a short trek that delivered us to the start of the paddling section. This year’s water craft was an inflatable two-person Sevylor kayak—although an improved model from the unsteerable yellow monsters we encountered at Pathfinder last year. Paired up with the guys in one boat and the women in the other, we headed off down a 10-mile stretch of the Peshtigo river. The first and last portions were flat and slow requiring us to do all the work. The middle section was shallow and occasionally fast with several challenging chutes and drops. Still, we spent plenty of time in the center section scooting off of shallow rocks and both boats managed to dump the stern paddler on one particular drop.

Overall, the water section was the most challenge part of the course as it took us more than four hours to paddle and scoot our way through. Arms were tired, sure, but backs and legs were also cramped from the required sitting position. At the end, we were ready to get out of those boats!

After the paddling, there was another short bike section that took us to the rappelling and ascending. Both ropes exercises covered a 10 to 15 yard distance, making them challenging but enjoyable for the TOT squad and we moved through them without any delays.

After the ropes, we had a 5k run back to the base camp and the race finish line. We moved along the route walking up the hills and running the remaining sections to bring us home just a little over 14 hours after the race start. Between the boats, bikes and ropes, we had passed a few more teams and wound up finishing 22nd overall.

The weather for this race was delightful and that certainly contributed to making it easier to complete than many others we have run. It contrasted both with the cold we faced in races earlier this year and the heat of last summer’s MAX where dehydration hit hard. Finally while we saw a little mud and slogged through a good bit of marshland, the majority of the course was not wet and that certainly made for faster travel on the bikes, treks and ropes.

Unlike many races, this one required the support crew to move and meet the team every two to three hours. That helped to keep the racers happy and the crews busy. We want to extend a special thanks to Jerry Bauer, Barb Schwartz and Leah Carter for the great job they did keep us moving through this course.

-Ray Daniels

admin on September 20th, 2010

Even good teams have bad races and so it was for Team Orange Triangle at Raid the North – Bark Lake on May 4-5, 2002. Although energized by a powerful new teammate in Cammie Crampton who brought expedition experience and top placing finishes to the team, we were stymied by small errors that added up to big losses of time. Despite our disappointing performance, we enjoyed the beautiful territory and liked the structure and management of this well-run race. Right now we are looking at this as the first of several expected “Raid” experiences in coming years.

Run in central Ontario province about three hours northeast of Toronto, the Bark Lake race consisted of trekking, biking and paddling sections over gently rolling terrain laced with marshes, lakes and streams. Snow melt and recent rain had expanded the mapped water features and created seasonal trickles and pools that further complicated navigation. In the pre-race review, it struck us that the distances didn’t seem all that far for a 36-hour race. What we failed to conclude from that observation was that navigation would be tricky and speed of travel slower than expected—conclusions that would have served us well.

The race began at midnight Friday, with 30 co-ed teams of four thundering off into the chilly night from Camp Bark Lake. We were immediately wet to our knees from the swampy conditions as the usual adrenalin and excitement of the start carried the pack along for 15 to 20 minutes before teams began to split up in various directions. Searching for a dirt road running southeast and marked on the map, we instead found an unmarked ATV trail on the same heading and, as it turned out, just 50 to 100 meters away from the desired road. Still adjusting to the 1:50,000 scale map, we burned an hour scouting the trail before finding the needed road and rolled into CP1 near the back of the pack. While we were disappointed with this start, we knew there was plenty of racing to go as evidenced by the fact that one team that only beat us to CP1 by a few minutes wound up finishing in the top five overall.

At CP1 we mounted our bikes and began a 15-mile ride through the night, hitting several checkpoints placed along dirt roads or ATV trails. Although these paths were often little more than bogs and mud holes, we moved well through this section, easily finding the CPs. Still, the cold hit hard as wet and muddy brakes, gears and feet froze in the breezes that came with traversing the many hills on the course. 

As dawn broke, we arrived at CP4 and our first transition area where we enjoyed the ministrations of Keith and Candy Chase as well as the roaring fire maintained by race volunteers. As we rode out of CP4 with the sky blue and clear above us, we felt like we were on the right track and fully capable of completing the race with a competitive time. Indeed, we expected to see Keith and Candy again before sundown. But just as the sun warmed the day and thawed our frozen extremities, it seemed to evaporate our chances for a successful race. In a demoralizing mental lapse, we forgot the maps needed for the middle sections of the course at CP4 and lost an hour back-tracking to retrieve them.

Back on track again, we moved well through CP5, dropping our bikes and picking up paddling gear before heading out on the trek. Here complacency got the better of us. The course from 5 to 6 was all trail, although much of it was not marked on the map. Moving quickly down the path, we violated the first rule of orienteering and failed to keep track of our location on the map. Although we pressed on down the challenging ATV road that included a memorable marsh crossing through chest-deep freezing water, uncertainty about our location ultimately caused us to stop short of the CP and backtrack. In total, we lost about three hours here—time that could have been avoided if we had more carefully noted our position from the start of the trek. 

By the time we reached CP6, we were running at the very tail end of the pack and realizing that we would not make the second transition area before dark. Still we maintained our spirits and navigated well through a challenging bushwhack from 6 to 7. Despite our success on this leg, movement through the terrain was slow and we arrived at CP 7 as the sun set. We still had one more trek to CP8 before we could get in the boats and paddle for the second transition area. Having assumed that we would be boating in daylight, we had not brought the powerful lights we would need for night navigation on the water, so we knew that leg would now be tedious and slow moving. With a 1 am cutoff at the end of the paddling, we figured our chances of finishing the race were slim, but we set out for CP8 hoping to make it to our waiting support crew before having to stop. 

The race directions implied that unmapped trails would take us from CP7 to CP8, so we carefully charted our way down the ATV tracks that headed in the right direction. Discovering that none of the trails led all the way to our desired destination, we knew that we faced a challenging nighttime bushwhack to find CP8 and we felt certain that race officials would stop us from continuing at that point. Although prepared to go on physically, we could see little point in continuing just to be stopped in the next few hours, so we broke out the radio and called in our position.

Many of our past races featured trivial navigation that could often be followed with little resort to the map. By contrast, Raid the North requires racers to maintain constant contact with the map and a good bit of aggressive “reading between the lines” to go crashing through the bush on a dead heading toward the next objective. Having seen what Raid the North style racing is all about, we look forward to returning to Canada next year to successfully tackle a future Raid. 

A special thanks to Cammie Crampton who demonstrated the true spirit of adventure racing while traveling with us during the Raid. She was always ready to move and never complained about the conditions, the circumstances or the consequences of our race decisions. We look forward to including Cammie in future TOT squads. 

–Ray Daniels

admin on September 20th, 2010

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

admin on September 20th, 2010

I am indeed powerless to describe the enchantment and the instinctive love which drew me to the mountains.

- Benoit Marti of Berne

June 3, 12:15 pm – The big day is finally here, and so are the butterflies. Months, in fact years, or preparation, have led up to this climb. The last few days at home have been a frenzy of activity with me organizing gear, trading phone calls with Randy, organizing gear again, packing and re-packing. The excitement has been building for the whole family. I am sitting at Chicago Midway waiting for the plane to Seattle. Nervousness running through me: Am I ready? Can I do this (I CAN do this!)? Did I remember everything? What will the weather be like on the mountain? Will my backpack make it to Seattle (It WILL!)? The plane leaves at 1 pm and makes two stops, Kansas City and Salt Lake City. Right now, 5:40 pm seems like an eternity. Randy is flying a different airline, so I’ll be meeting him at the airport in Seattle. From there, we’ll head to Ashford, WA and Rainier Base camp.
Kellie and the girls dropped me off just about an hour ago. They were very happy and full of good luck wishes. I’ve got my usual array of good luck pictures, courtesy of Rachael, and a special good luck quilt from Kellie. I miss them already, but I’ll be carrying them with the whole way. I can’t wait to tell them all about the big adventure.

June 3, 9:00pm – Sitting on the porch of Whittaker’s Bunkhouse watching the clouds swirl around the area mountains. We’ve got a full moon, nice skies, and fresh air. I can’t believe I’m here and we’re starting our climb tomorrow. On the drive in from Seattle, we were able to see The Mountain a few times, mostly obscured by clouds. Its enormous size dominates everything around it. There’s no snow on the ground here but we’re told that several feet are on the ground at our training site tomorrow. We find out who our guides are tomorrow morning. 

June 4, 9:45pm – It’s the end of the first day and I’m even more excited about mountaineering and climbing Rainier than before. We spent the day today learning basic skills: ice axe arrest, team arrest, roped travel, stepping and crampon techniques, and much more that I’m forgetting. We left Ashford at about 9am heading for Paradise. The drive was beautiful, passing through lush rainforest, glacier-fed rivers, winding up into the mountains. As we started walking from Paradise to the training site, the cloud cover rolled in blocking our view. For a few minutes, we could see Edith Creek Basin, where we would train. They recommended coming back here later in the season, as the area would be consumed by wildflowers. 

After today’s climbing school, we came back to Ashford and spent time learning different knot tying techniques. We reviewed gear and made our final rental and purchase decisions before heading to the mountain. There was some initial concern by the guides about the hood on my down jacket being too skimpy, but I think we’ve resolved it. I bought another Gore Windstopper hat that should calm their fears. 

June 5, 7:00am – Activity has started at the bunkhouse with climbers packing for the day. It’s raining outside…not good news. We don’t know what the weather is like at Paradise, but people are pretty quiet here. We’re hoping it’s better up higher. I just spoke with one of the employees here and he’s hopeful that it’s better at about 8500’. However, there are no guarantees. I need to finish packing and get ready to go. 

June 5, 6:00pm – We’ve had a long hard day hiking to Camp Muir. Whiteout snow conditions the entire way with a stiff wind blowing. It took about 6 hours, an hour longer than expected. Two members of the team turned back at our second rest stop at about 7,500’. The hut at Camp Muir is, well, pretty nasty. It looks to be about the same quality as a fort I built as a kid. Wires spanning the width of the building are holding the building together. It’s very crowded with 22 people stacked three high, but quite an experience. We’ll be good friends by the end of the trip.

Paul Meier and Tim O’Brien, two of our guides, are giving us a rundown of the next few days. Tomorrow will focus on skills practice and learning about crevasse rescue. The expectation is that we won’t beat ourselves up too bad on Wednesday, as Thursday is the planned summit day since the forecast is getting better throughout the week. 

The guides are really good and very attentive to their clients. At each break, they are reminding us how to keep in control of our bodies, stay warm, eat right, and drink regularly. They spend a lot of time telling us about the terrain, glaciers, etc. 

I’m very tired. I did well but could feel myself weakening through the climb. The upper mountain (above Camp Muir) is significantly more difficult. I’m trying to pay attention to regular, strong breathing, drinking, etc. I can feel a headache coming on and I’m trying to fight it. It’s about an hour since we arrived at Muir and they said to begin to feel the effects. 

June 6, dinnertime – Another big day! I woke up with a wicked headache and feeling a bit nauseous. It made me pretty nervous as I thought altitude sickness was taking over. I fought it hard and drank as much water as I could, ate, and started to feel better. When I woke up, I went outside to use the bathroom and was amazed at the view. We’re well above the cloud layer at 9,000’. Off to the South, we had a beautiful view of Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and Hood poking through the clouds. All around Camp Muir, we could see the Cowlitz Glacier, Gibraltar and Cathedral Rocks, and part of tomorrow’s route to the summit.

Today, we started learning crampon techniques on harder snow, climbing Muir Peak along the way. We had a great view of the crevasse-filled Cowlitz from this point. Next we move on to practicing various anchor techniques in preparation for the afternoon’s crevasse rescue practice. After lunch, we roped up and practiced hiking with crampons over a rocky ridge. Very unnerving as I looked down the ridge to either side. Oh, I forgot to mention that the clouds rolled in again and the snow started, whiteout conditions again prevailed. After the ridge, we crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and even hopped two very thin, but very deep crevasses. We were roped up for safety, but again innerving. We finished the day practicing crevasse rescue, in an actual crevasse. One by one, members of the team were lowered into the crevasse and hauled out by the rest of the team. Randy got a chance to go in. I might have a chance tomorrow after the summit climb, but that seems a bit unlikely.

As we were on the glacier, I was amazed at how quickly the temperature changed. As the clouds, and resulting snow, moved in and out, changes of 20 or more degrees occurred in seconds.

June 7, 7:30pm – I stopped writing suddenly last night because Art, one of our Senior Guides, joined us to talk about the Summit Day. After he left, we scrambled to get our gear together to prepare for the summit attempt. Two AM this morning, Art came in to wake us up. We gathered everything and left at 3:45 am. We would be attempting the Disappointment Cleaver route. We began by crossing the Cowlitz Glacier and headed up a steep rocky area named Cathedral Gap. Rest stop 1 was at 11,100’ at Ingraham Flats. Randy and I were on separate rope teams so we met up at the rest areas. We were both feeling good at this area and continued on. After the rest stop, we crossed the Ingraham Glacier, right under the Ingraham Icefall. I was amazed at the size of the seracs in the icefall. Between Ingraham Flats and our second rest stop at 12,500’, we met with probably the most difficult part of the route…Disappointment Cleaver. The DC is a high ridge of mixed rock and ice terrain and highly exposed. It was both scary and exciting. Walking on rocks with crampons is difficult and unsteady. Add several hundred feet of exposure on either side and the scary part is magnified. However, being up on the ridge with the wind whistling and the glaciers to either side and the clouds floating by below us made it very dramatic. We took our second break at the top of the cleaver and I was feeling pretty beat up at this point. The rocky terrain took its toll, but I knew that there was no more rock and only snow, so I keep moving. Randy was feeling good too and opted to join a different rope team. The climbing was steeper in this next section and started to get quite windy. Up until now, the weather was perfect, and even now it was still very good. Leaving Camp Muir at 3:45 am in a full moon was awesome. The moon reflected off the snow and lit everything up to the point where we didn’t even need headlamps. The sky was cloudless which made it fairly cold at the start. The trip all the way to the summit would be cloud free. 

Our next rest break was at 13,500’ and I came in feeling even better than at 12,500’. Although the climbing was steeper and very windy, I was doing well. When it was Randy’s turn to leave the rest stop, he turned to me and gave the thumbs up/thumbs down signal, as if to ask how I was feeling. I gave enthusiastic thumbs up, thinking he was just checking on me and he returned with a “thumb in the middle”. Randy was iffy. He sat down for a minute, and then got up to make a go for it. I gave the thumbs up signal again and was looking forward to seeing him at the top. As his team headed out, he took a few steps and I could hear him call to Art. He couldn’t go on, and he returned to a small group of others in the same situation. It turns out that he hadn’t brought enough water, although he followed the guide’s recommendations, and got dehydrated. At this point, we had lost 7 climbers on the mountain to various things, from dehydration to altitude sickness and physical and mental exhaustion. One other climber unfortunately had altitude sickness get the best of him at Camp Muir and was unable to leave with the rest of the group earlier this morning. It had been a pretty tough day for all and tougher for some.

The next, and last, 1,000’ would take about an hour and was just as steep and windy. The terrain become more gradual as we approached the crater rim. As we neared, we came across several false summits and I kept thinking, it’s just around the next roll. Suddenly, we crested the top and were looking at the crater rim. It was amazing! To enter the crater, we crossed an enormous steam vent, although I didn’t see any steam at the time. (We did smell a very strong sulfur odor at about 13,000’, which reminded you that the mountain is truly alive). The crater is about ½ mile across and ringed with a rock and snow wall. Our rope teams crossed to the windless center for a well-deserved rest. In all, 14 of 24 original members of the team made the summit. As soon as we crested the rim, the headache hit so I was feeling drained. Despite that, I hiked across the rest of the crater with a small group to sign the summit register and stand on the true high point, Columbia rest on the mountain’s west edge. (Reaching the crater rim counts as an official summit). I thought the climb was windy, but it was nothing compared to the wind raging up the western side of the mountain. I could barely stand but it didn’t matter because the view was magnificent. To the south, we had a view of Adams, Hood, and St.Helens. It was most definitely worth the trip. Before leaving our spot in the center of the crater, I took a picture with the quilt Kellie had made for me and the good luck picture from Rachael. 
The last part was the hardest and by far the most important: getting down safely. The sun had been warming the mountain all day long and as soon as we got out of the wind up high, the heat took over. Not only were we warm and continuously shedding layers, but the snow as softening making it harder to come down. My crampons kept balling up with snow and I had to knock it out with my ice axe. Looking at the terrain that we had just come down was even more exciting from this direction. The entire east and south sides of the mountain were laid out for us and we could see the glaciers and the path they weaved, like a spider with its legs going in every direction. The steepness was magnified in this direction, and this was the easy route! The guides were great though, continuing to remind us of proper walking and breathing techniques. Victor, our rope team leader, was especially proud as this was the first rope team he had led and his entire team made it to the summit, an accomplishment that no other guides would have this day. We were all quite tired on the way down and ready for this adventure to end. One member of our team was having particular trouble and slipped a couple of times on the descent, but remained in control and never created any added danger for the team. It took about 3 ½ hours to come down to Camp Muir. 

June 8, 6:00 am – The wind is blowing hard and it’s snowing again. In fact, it’s snowing right up the route we’re planning to descend to Paradise in a few short hours. The plan was to spend time this morning at Muir learning rappelling, fixed rope ascending, and other rope techniques. It doesn’t look good if the weather stays like this. God was looking out for us yesterday, giving us a dream summit day and holding this weather off. This cabin stinks of 22 climbers and their gear. I stink. I’ve been wearing the same shirt and long underwear since Tuesday. I suppose a “hardcore climber” would think that’s no big deal, and maybe someday I’ll think the same.  Right now…I stink! I’ve hardly slept over the past three days and I keep tossing and turning. Each morning I wake up with a raging headache. I “woke up” this morning, ate a Pop-Tart (a Camp Muir staple), drank some water, and I’m feeling better. Just about everyone is awake now and looking at the morning’s weather. We’re starting to talk about ways to manage our packing without having to spend much time packing in the wind. I think we’ll be bringing our packs in in shifts to load up. In guide terms, the weather is “nuking” and we’re heading into it.

June 9, 8:00 am – We’re back at Ashford at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse. We got back yesterday at about 1:30 pm and haven’t stopped talking about the week since. The trek down from Muir started out in a blizzard. We put on the ski goggles, balaclavas, and everything we could find to cover exposed skin from the wind. We began the descent with Art leading and watching his compass and Tim following to make sure we didn’t lose anyone on the way down. Not even 1,000’ into the descent, we came out of the clouds, quite unexpectedly to the entire group. The view of the valley below and the distant mountains was perfect. We widened out from our single file line into a large group, talked, and enjoyed the hike. The snow was soft and as we reached a few rolls in the terrain, we took the opportunity to glissade. (Basically sledding without a sled). It took about 2 ½ hours to return to Paradise at 5,400’ from Camp Muir at 10,080’. The difference between the two places was amazing. Not only were we now in a populated area with tourists and school busses, but also the snow was very different. Up high, everything was white and felt remote. We felt as if we’d been away for weeks, months even. Down at Paradise, the snow was dirty. It hadn’t snowed in a few days and the crud from people’s feet coming off the parking lot turned the snow black. We snapped our few final pictures, climbed on the bus, and headed for Ashford. The bus ride was chaos of conversation as friends shared the experience and talked about the next adventure. We talked with the guides about Mexico, Everest base camp treks, and why they guided. At times, you envied the fact that they are doing exactly what they love to do and are getting paid to do it. Then you realized that the lifestyle comes at the cost of living in a ‘76 Mercury Zephyr and eating beans from a can 5 days a week. There are exceptions to this rule, like Tim O’Brien, who guides part time and works with the outdoor education program at Oregon State University the rest of the time. Tim was a real down-to-earth guy who truly enjoyed being in the mountains with a group of like-minded people. It was nice to be treated as a friend rather than “a client”. I would look forward to the chance to climb again with Tim, wherever that may be.

June 9, 7:30 pm CT – I’ve gotten onto the second plane of the day, this one in Kansas City. Our flight out of Seattle was delayed an hour, making the connection in KC very short. I made it and I’m truly hoping that my backpack made it too. I called Kellie from the Seattle airport and it was so nice to talk to her again. I didn’t want to get off the phone. I wanted to tell her everything that happened during the week and tell her all about my adventures. 

  • As I’m writing, the memories of different events during the week keep popping into my head:
     
    Randy arriving at 12,500’ at the top of the Disappointment Cleaver. Tim is leading his rope team with Randy immediately following and Tim asks, “how’s everyone doing”? Randy blurts out, “I’m getting pulled backward and forward and something needs to change. A team member behind Randy was having trouble on the DC and ended up stopping for the day at this point, as did a few others. A good effort on a very tough mountain.
  • Asking Art about the weather conditions at Muir on Friday morning. When asked if the weather qualified as “nuking”, he replied by saying, “When we need to run a line from the bunkhouse to the outhouse so you don’t get blown off the mountain, that’s nuking”. I believe they’ve seen that weather before.
  • The confidence shown by the guides in their abilities, knowledge of the mountain, and their experience. You never had the impression that they were making things up, even though that’s often the nature of climbing when you can’t control the mountain. They provided a lot of positive reinforcement as a group of novices learned the ropes. No superiority complex!
  • Standing on the crest of Cathedral Gap watching the sunrise along side Little Tahoma.
  • The lush rainforest on the drive between Ashford and Paradise. I’ve never seen a forest as green and as full. The size of the trees was incredible.
  • The walk from Cathedral Gap back to Camp Muir. Muir seemed so close, yet the closer we got, the farther away it seemed. It was like the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Camelot keeps getting farther away as they walk towards it. I finally had to yell to Victor that I couldn’t walk that slowly. He started blazing a new trail alongside the other rope teams so we could get back faster.
  • The fun our entire group had on Friday morning taking pictures in the bunkhouse after naming the shelves the Basement, Mezzanine, and the Penthouse. The fact that there were no arguments while crammed into such a small space for 4 days is impressive. I hope the group stays in touch. 
  • Going to dinner (real food) on Friday evening with Mark and Tonya, Bill, and Randy and laughing about the week, learning about each other, and talking about next trips.
     
    The pilot just announced that we’re about 15 minutes from Chicago. The adventure is over…for now. 

 

Mountaineers in print rarely do justice to themselves or the dignity of their subject
– Robin Fedden

(Thanks to Lyndon Gritters and Randy Bauer for the use of a few photos).

admin on September 20th, 2010

July 21, 2001 – The race started at 2 am with a tubing trip down the Peshtigo River. One-hundred seventy-six racers floating, yelling each other’s names, smashing rocks with butts, it was a wild ride. As the race started, we all
instantly lost each other, as did nearly every other team. The frantic search brought most of us back together quickly for a group float, still searching for Cindy! Especially unnerving for Cindy, she hopped in her tube at the beginning and instantly had her shoe ripped off (accidentally) by another competitor. In the search for the shoe, her helmet and headlamp also fell off and it was decision time…find the shoe or the helmet and headlamp. She went for the helmet and headlamp and finished the tubing section with one shoe. Thanks to Now and Zen for your help on the tubing section!!

A 3 1/2 mile hike followed the tubing over mostly flat and sandy terrain where we met Jerry, our Support Crew. We arrived in 37th place out of 44 starting teams. Having completed the hike with only one shoe, Cindy focused on picking up her bike shoes, we picked up some food and backpacks, and off we went for another 17 1/2 mile hike. Throughout the night, the temperature stayed steadily in the 80s and climbed brutally high during the day. The long hike, combined with a tough land nav section and intense heat, brought the team to a crawl. John was getting anxious as the day wore on, prodding the team to pick off a few more competitors. (We’re going to have to add some weight to his pack for the hiking sections). We began running out of water, with dehydration hitting Ray hard with over 4 hours left to hike before the next transition area. (Stupid us, we walked through a stream and forgot to fill Ray’s water bladder). Mixed in with the land nav we had a rappel, ascent, and a Tyrolean traverse. We were steadily moving through the ranks, arriving at the rappel in 28th place, and up to 18th by the end of the hike. Smart decision making and constant movement win again.

At about 3:30 pm, we picked up bikes for a 23 mile ride over rolling roads and two track trails. It felt good to get off our feet and onto the bikes. Ray was feeling better and we were moving at a blistering pace. Each time we’d see a team, we decided that there was another one we had to obliterate. Five miles remain on the bike and Randy’s bike starting making horrible noises and he’s skidding all over the road. Our first thought: a flat. Reality: his chain jumped the rear cog and ate up a few spokes,
stopping him in his tracks. Randy yanked the chain out of the rear wheel, winds the broken spokes around the good ones, opens up the brakes, and we’re off again. Riding what appeared to be the shape of a potato chip, Randy led the charge for the next 5 miles to the boats.

We arrived at the boats with another team breathing down our necks. We jumped in the boats or the wild ride down the Peshtigo. The rapids were crazy, the rocks hard, the water the perfect temperature for a hot day. John couldn’t seem to figure out how to stay in the boat, flying out at two sets of rapids with Ray joining him for a swim in the last whitewater section. We pulled up to shore with the 13th place team right on us. A dash to the finish and a signed passport later, we were the official 12th place finishers!