Monday, October 8, 2007

Big Blue Tahoe

Dave looking goofy
This year's big race for me was Tahoe Big Blue. With Shooting Star Adventures having shut down, Big Blue adventures in now pretty much the only game in town in the Silicon Valley area. I was racing solo, but my good friends the PowerStrangers were racing as well, so at least I had some folks out on the course who may stop to throw me some food if they saw me curled up in a ball on the side of the course.

Jen and I headed out to Tahoe on Thursday night, hoping to avoid the Friday traffic. Believing in the power of Google Maps, we followed it's instructions right into downtown San Francisco at 1700, basically forcing us into gridlock traffic. After spending 2 wonderful hours getting from Google to Oakland, we were on our way. We were staying up at the Hearst cabin (thanks Dave + Nancy!) which was great because it allowed us to bring Taita, and to be sure we had some place for Keira to play.

Originally we thought that all the PowerStrangers were going to be arriving on Friday night. Jack and Devin were going to be driving up from Google after work, and Peter and Ginny were driving down from the Bowron lakes via Seattle, in a mad international auto sprint. As it turned out, Peter and Ginny finished their paddle of the lakes a day early, and ended up arriving exhausted in Tahoe at about 0100 Friday.

The other reason we had gotten up to Tahoe early was that I had offered to pick up the kayaks for people. I foolishly rented the kayaks in South Tahoe, so I had to go down to pick them up. For some reason I always think that it's a 15-20 minute drive from North Tahoe to South Tahoe, when in fact it's over an hour. Also, I really hadn't thought through the fact that although my Explorer (Note to Ginny...I do so know what type of truck I own) can happily carry my short little river boat, it may not do as well with 3 sea kayaks, two of which are tandems. Ginny came down to pick up the kayaks with me, and it's a good thing she did. We ended up spending close to 5 hours getting the kayaks, strapping them to the truck (two on top, one inside) and convincing ourselves that they weren't going to blow away as we drove back up to the north side of the lake. We did an excellent job strapping the two tandem kayaks to the roof rack, however we didn't pay as much attention to the one inside the cab. As we pulled out of the driveway trying to cross four lanes of highway to get to the Safeway across the street, it started to slide out the back. If it hadn't been for Ginny's quick reactions we would have dropped a rental kayak across four lanes of highway traffic on the CA-50. While Ginny went into Safeway to grab some food, I found some more straps in the truck, including Taita's dog leash, and tied the solo kayak down as well. We made it home without incident aside from pissing off some other drivers as I was being REALLY careful on the climb up around Emerald Bay (those of you who have driven there, know what I'm talking about).

After wasting most of Friday getting kayaks, we barely had time for a short spin on the bikes before heading out to drop our gear off at the transition area and head to race registration. Once registered, there was nothing too exiting to do, so we went to grab some dinner at a local Mexican joint. It was nice to get to sit down and talk to Ginny and Peter for a while about their trip, even if Keira was making it known that she really wasn't that keen on Mexican restaurants that night.

We headed back to the Hearst place and arrived within 15 minutes of Jack and Devin. We got them moved into the cabin and immediately started assembling gear. For Jack, Devin and Peter, this was their first real adventure race, so there was a lot of discussion about what should be carried. It was also the first race for the PowerStrangers as a team which meant even more discussion. Finally, we were expecting rain, hail, and snow which meant even more discussion. I think we all finally headed to bed around 1230, with a wake up call of 0500.

0500 rolled around as early as ever, and we quickly loaded up our gear into the truck. Ginny, Peter and I drove down to the transition area while Jack and Devin rode their bikes down. We then loaded everyone up in the truck and headed to the starting line. We quickly got Jack and Devin registered, and then the directors started handing out maps. It turned out to be a reasonably big course with a limited amount of checkpoints. By the time we had gotten our points plotted and discussed some basic strategy, it was time to go.

They had us start off with a short 4k run from the starting line to the transition area where our bikes and kayaks were awaiting us. I had originally thought I was going to stick with the PowerStrangers, but it looked like they were doing fine, so I decided to see what I could do if I pushed myself. I finished the first little run in 2 place which was nice because I managed to avoid the crush as people piled into their kayaks. It's not uncommon to have kayaks flip because so many people are trying to get their boats in the water.

I started kayaking, and immediately noticed that my lifejacket was rubbing under my armpits. I hadn't sized it to fix over my race clothes (usually all I'm wearing under it is maybe a tshirt, and today I had a bike jersey, and then a long sleeve shirt, and then a rain coat under there. Oh well, other than a small rub, things felt good, and I was paddling reasonably well.

The kayaking leg had two check points, and looked to be about 8 miles of paddling. I had just about made it to the first check point when a Coast Guard swooped in on a jetski and told me that we had to turn around due to lightening. ARGGH, all the advantage that I had managed to rack up, lost because of weather. We turned around and eventually regrouped back at the transition area. The race directors had been forced into cancelling the kayak section, so they were just going to restart the race. Sigh...$85 to rent a kayak for the day, plus all the pain of shipping it around the lake, to get a grand total of 20 minutes of paddling in.

Oh well...after having us stand around in the rain for 25 minutes, while they verified that everybody was off the water, we hopped on our bikes and away we went up the mountain. I sprinted up to the front of the pack, and hooked up with the Dart-Nuun team who were expected to come in first. I stuck with them, and managed to tie for the second team into the first checkpoint. As we climbed up the mountain on fireroad, the cold rain started to turn into snow. My old rusty snow riding skills came in handy, and actually moved me into first place for a significant chunk of the first single track section. After some great single track I grabbed the second checkpoint, and Dart-Nuun and I headed for the third one. I had to stop for a pee break, and fell slightly behind Dart-Nuun, and almost ended up missing the third check point.

At the fourth checkpoint I realized suddenly that I hadn't eaten for a long time, and that my body was starting to bonk. My rain gear doesn't have any easily accessible pockets, which doesn't encourage much eating. I quickly scarfed down a couple hundred calories, and chased after Dart-Nuun.

The fifth checkpoint was an orienteering course. When I got there I realized how much my bonking had affected me as I realized that Dart-Nuun were almost 20 minutes up on me. I was hoping to make up some of that time on the hill down from the orienteering course to the finish line though.

The orienteering course went pretty well aside from one check point that I ended up about 50m north of, and couldn't find at all. There were about 12 points on the orienteering course, but you only needed to get 8. The main problem was that a lot of logging had been done since the orienteering maps had been made and this made things difficult in that the maps didn't quite match the terrain anymore, and it gave them a lot more interesting places to hide the flags.

I hopped on my bike after the orienteering in second place, about 30 minutes behind Dart-Nuun, and about 5 minutes ahead of the third place team. I bombed down the hill as fast as I could, hoping to make up some time. This is sadly where my race fell apart. I misread the rules, and thought I had to ride my bike over the finish line. There was a rule that we weren't allowed to ride on the main highway, and the only way I could find to get from the bottom of the hill back to the "start line" was to bike back up the valley into the mountains. Sadly, if I'd just continued sprinting down the road I was on I would have ended up in the correct place, and probably been finished in less than 30 minutes. Unfortunately I ended up riding an extra 2 hours trying to get to the "finish" line. Amazingly, as I was trying to find the magic combination of logging roads to take me home I did end up almost running right into a black bear who was sitting right in the middle of the trail. He stared at me for a while, refusing to move, until I picked up a couple of sticks and threw them at him. Once again however, I didn't eat enough and ended up seriously lacking energy.

Finally I got to the finish line and crossed over, hoping I was still in 2nd place. When I got told I was in 6th, I couldn't believe it, until I realized what had happened. To add insult onto injury they "unfinished" me, and required me to ride back to the transition area, drop my bike, and run back to the finish line. As it turned out it didn't affect my placing too badly as I ended up in 7th overall, 3rd in the solo category. Dart-Nuun had been in for over 2 hours at that point, and had started wondering where I had ended up.

I called Jen, and she and Keira came down to wait for the PowerStrangers to cross the line. It turned out that the Strangers ended up having some adventures of their own, and showed up just before the cut off time.

I had had some time to recover by this point, so I was doing ok (a massage and a burger will do wonders), but the Strangers were forced to come right off the course and help load kayaks and bikes in the dark. Luckily Jen had pizza ready for us when we got home, which we scarfed down, and even with the troubles of the day, everybody had had a good time and was in a good mood.

Notes from the race:

  1. Must eat regularly. Still haven't found my favorite race food. Clifbars get old really quickly.

  2. Must read rules, and then read them again, and then maybe once more for good luck.

  3. Must find a better way to carry my map.

  4. Must figure out my water consumption so I'm not carrying way more weight than I need.

Thanks to Peter Newbury for the pictorial goodness (more pictures here).


Peter Newbury said...

Food:, and

I use them all for a variety of size, flavour, richness and how sticky my mouth is. I, too, got sick of cliff bars and Powerbars from years of riding.

Water: As evidenced by your friendly racing companions. :-) Gatorade and Powerade, etc. are all too sweet, too flavourful - not a good thing when your breathing so hard it hurts.

Amount... depends on the weather, clothes, effort, and I'd rather carry a litre extra than run short 3/4 of the way through. Hydration drop will leave you standing still; carrying an extra couple pounds will hardly be noticeable depending on how much mud you collect. But, yes, there has to be a good way to estimate that.

Thanks for the writeup! Always good to get views from other eyes on the course.


Mary said...

Sounds like an amazing experience. Congratulations on a super race!

don said...

With all this scarfing and bonking when do you get time to race? :-)
Glad you had a good time anyway...

Shannon said...

Wow! Cool story! Good for you Dave-- sounds like you had fun. :)