It's the Journey

This last race was, well, quite a learning experience. Warning: this is very long….

It started as a
team built from eCamp — myself, Ryan (another participant), Chris (a
volunteer), and Duncan (a friend of Chris’). First I rolled my foot
(but it is doing mostly better so I still raced), then Duncan got hit
by a car (ok but not able to race) and then Chris’ mom got really sick
(so he was out as well). Down to a two person team, we needed a third
to race, and finally the Tuesday or Wednesday before the race I got in
touch with Zach, of the PQ 2006 team, and he was going to be able to
make it. However, maybe we should have heeded some of those warnings…

the following story is very much my own memory and feelings and
opinions on everything. Some parts are a bit harsh, and may not have
been reality anywhere other than in my view. I still think all people
on the team are good people, and what happens during a race happens.
However, they are still events to learn from, and this is my experience
of my least favorite race ever.

Here it is… the long await (and really long) race writeup.

we were to drive up to Northern CA to Modesto for the meeting. I was
glad that for once I wouldn’t have to drive, and my car would be spared
some miles. We were to meet at 9, and leave at 10. Although we met a
bit late, we were still ready to leave at the same time. However, Zach
tells us upon arriving that his axel bearings are shot, and his truck
is not reliable. No other vehicle can fit 2 ocean kayaks and 3 bikes,
so we end up needing to take two cars, and yes, I end up getting to
drive. Oh well, you have to get there somehow.

The drive up
was actually pretty good. Zach and I chatted about many things, and I
started feeling more and more comfortable with the PQ team idea. We
talked about why we race, and wanting commitement from the team
members. About the fun of races, and being there for the experience.
Hours later (around 7 I think) we arrived at the meeting place, and I
hung out as the boys made a grocery run. I saw many good race buddies
arrive — the Big Bear team I have raced with — all members there for
racing or support crew, Jorge from Brazil who was also at eCamp, Maitai
(a girl I have seen around racing), Rich (the ubervolunteer), Randy,
and of course some new friendly faces. Randy supplied me with all the
ropes gear I could want (ok all I needed), we got our team checked in,
and enjoyed very yummy pasta!

It was finally meeting time. The
course was all to be done in order, and had 37 checkpoints (CPs)! We
got them onto our map (some already drawn for us, other copied off of
maps at the meeting) and highlighted our planned attack route. We were
just in time, as then the store we were at was going to close up, and
our team drove to the start, where we camped that night. Since it was
going to be a 9:30 am start on Saturday, we left our gear organizing
and packing for the morning. Got up in the cool air, and got everything
together. This was quickly done, race gear on, and we were set for the
day to begin!

It was a kayak start. All the boats lined the
shore, ready to be pushed into the water and jumped into. The water was
nice and chilly (we were at 4700 feet), but we weren’t expected to have
to really get soaked. We started on the kayak for 3 points (one
involving a decent trek up a mountain). Our team went with having me
and Zach in the double kayak, and Ryan in the single. We soon figured
out that the double was moving much faster, and ended up having Ryan
paddle in our draft for a while, and then just attached a towline as
well for the final stretch. I jumped out of the boat to grab the first
two points (with the second ending in soaked shoes), and we secured our
boats for the trek up to our third point. This was some fairly thick
bushwacking! I was in trishorts and short sleeves, saving my longer
pants for that night when it would be cold, and not thinking about the
amount of junk on a hillside. My legs now have pretty decorations, or
lots of scrapes, but none that were horrible. It was a tough climb for
me (the boys are just much stronger) and the scrapping I got as they
had pants on while picking the routes wasn’t making it easier. I often
had to call out to find where they had gone, as it was hard to see over
some of the taller brush, or at times they’d get just a bit too far
ahead. And we made it to the top, and picked a great route on the way
down. Back into the kayak, 3 of 37 points down. We paddled to where we
had started, which was also CP4 and ACP (assisted check point) 1, where
we had access to our crew: Ryan’s dad, Charlie. Into trekking gear,
refuel, dry socks and shoes, I stopped shivering and we head out again.

Right off the bat again I find myself walking in the back. Now
I don’t mind sometimes being to the back, but it’s mentally draining to
always be the last person, and a decent amount of that time alone. Ryan
would often drop back for a bit, but in general our team was just a bit
spread out. There was also no talking, except about directions really,
or reminders to eat or drink. That again was tough mentally, as it left
you plenty of time to reflect on the pain, frustration, and little
things you wish were different. Finally, when we got way spread out
going up to CP5 I stopped the boys and, already frustrated, told them
it wasn’t working for me, that I was tired of constantly having to
either ask them to slow up so that we’d stay together better, or call
out to find them at all. The other problem was that we weren’t
communicating well — I was not keeping as up with the map as I should,
and they weren’t relaying information as much as they should. I told
them that if I had to keep always asking to slow down, or calling out
to find them, I would soon be done, as it wasn’t fun for me nor was it
why I race. They appologized, and said it was tough to pay attention to
all of it, but that they’d try. And we contined back down that hill.
While many teams recrossed the damn towards CP4 at this point, we saw a
dirt road that saved us scramblind down the tall, rocky damn face. This
brought us head of about 3 teams we were near. Mostly jogging, and some
walking, we made it to CP6, which was the rapel. As a rapel, it was
mostly a formality. Not super tall (someone said 60-85 ft), nothing too
spectacular to see, and just walking down the rock (no free hanging
section). Quickly through it, we continued to CP7. Here our
navigational issues started cropping up. There was going to need to be
some more bushwacking, and we were basing how far on crossing a 4×4
trail and then higher up finding a Railroad grade which the CP would be
on. We also knew that from CP6 it should be pretty much south.

pick a spot to start scrambling up the mountain (luckily it was less
scratchy stuff — or at least my long pants made it feel that way). We
crossed a few areas that might have been trails, but nothing we were
sure would appear on this map. Here I remembered something Teddy (of
Big Bear AR) said before the race. He mentioned how they were noticing
tons of off-shoots not on the map, which makes sense in a logging area.
The roads are constantly changing, and an altimeter is going to be key.
Here I was wishing for an altimeter, as we finally came to a road that
looked like it would be on the map. Now, was it the 4×4 trail
(supposedly single track) or the RR grade (wider, flat)? Without an
altimeter, it was hard to know. So we took it. Yet soon I felt we were
going too far east. How could we tell? Here I had a nav idea (rare for
me) and took a bearing to a mountain. We knew what mountain it was as
we could also still see the rapel point. The bearing to it was at this
point just about exactly what it should be for CP7! Yet we saw nothing.
After some debate, it was decided to continue on the trail we were on.
Howeve, we continued for too long. We should have remembered also that
the bearing mean we should be close. I think the main problem with our
nav was the lack of compass use. I used mine a few times, but don’t
think Zach did much, and am not sure about Ryan. I think Zach (and as a
result the team, as we could have spoken up) relied way too much on the
way the roads should go, as based off the map. I didn’t even see how
big of an issue this really was until between CPs 11 and 12 some hours
later, when I realized I could find simliar bends in tons of roads, as
well as earlier and later on the right road. However, that comes later
in this story. We finally turn back, and find CP7. The person manning
it had seen us go by, saw us check maps and discuss if we were on the
right road, and continue. At that time, the 7th place team was with
him. But the time we got there, we were down in 12th! Yet CP8 was
rightalong that same road, and was also ACP2, where we’d pick up our
bikes. So down the road we continued.

By the time we arrived I
was already a bit upset. I still felt Zach was constantly walking ahead
of me, or me and Ryan at times. I didn’t feel there was much team
effort going in, and was starting to feel not part of a team. That’s
never a good sign that early in an AR! It was still light out! CP8, and
on our bikes, we head out again. Again using bends in the roads throws
us off at CP9, as we pick a hill too soon to start looking, as it had
the same kinds of turns before it. We find the point, and end up
meeting up with another team here (I believe My Three Dads, if that is
really the name of Jeff and Michael’s team). They have their own issue
when we all reach CP9: they can’t find their passport. We have ours,
get it punched, and continue. Here was a big low. We head out to 10,
which is (it turns out) and out and back. However, I don’t know this,
and am not sure if we are yet on the road to 10 or still have turns
before it. It’s now definitely dark, and we are biking up a dirt road.
We start getting spread out, and Ryan asks how I’m doing. Good, I say,
but this pace is about all I can do. And we continue. I don’t ask for
tow, but one is also not offered, and the boys continue up the hill,
around a bend, and out of site. I pedal a bit longer, and then just
stop, completely frustrated. I can’t see them, don’t know for sure
where I am headed, and it’s just like that trek issue all over again.
As I’m stopped and just standing on the trail, the team we’d just seen
comes by. They ask if I’m ok, and clearly I’m not. They ask where my
team is, and I don’t know. So they tell me to just bike with them, and
enjoy the ride (as I know them, and they know that I like AR for the
fun aspect). I continue with them, behind a few of them. As those in
front of me turn a corner I hear one of the boys on my team say “Kylie?
Where were you?” and the person answer that he wasn’t me, but that I
was with them. I get up there and just tell the boys what I’m thinking.
About being tired of being dropped. About being tired of Zach always
staying ahead. About not having fun, about not feeling I’m on a team,
about how another team was nice enough to make sure I was ok, and bring
me into their group. About being done with the race (not all such nice
words were used, either). They say sorry, and that I need to say
something. To which I say I did, on the trek. That it was exactly what
I was talking about there. Zach replies that things have changed and we
are on bikes now, he didn’t know. And I (very sarcastically) respond
“oh right! I forgot! I *like* biking up hills in the dark by myself
when I’m not sure where I’m going!” He replied that he is also sick of
my sh**, and soon that he is also done. Ryan sorta stands there during
this, and I felt sorry for him. Yes, he was doing a decent job of
making sure things were going ok for me, but if one person gives me a
non-team feeling, it can carry unless it is stopped. We end up just
continuing, as there is nothing else we could really do at this point.

passes fairly uneventfully (with us and the other team still basically
together), and we proceed to CP12. Here our nav by road turns bit us
badly. We found one intersection, and continued on our merry way,
missing a sharp turn. However, we went a good 5-8 miles out of the way.
On paved roads, but still climbing a lot. We finally figured it out
when another team passed us, and said that CP12 was about 5 miles back,
and up a hill. And I have a hard time eating on the bike. Although I
did ok, that was way too bug of an energy drain for me. We ended up
figuring out that we were one road west on the map of where we wanted
to be (with the help of some nicely drunk campers), and that going back
down and to the right road was the best way. We went back, and climbed
and climbed and climbed up to 12. Part of the time I was towed, parts I
just rode. We reached 12, and continued. We came to a stream, and Zach
tried to ride it. It didn’t work, and he ended up with wet feet. But
was across. Ryan walked his bike across on some slippery rocks, and
made it. He turned to come back and help me with my bike, but in the
process he slipped, ending up with wet shoes and a wet glove. So he
ended up just giving me a piggyback across, while walking my bike. It
takes me longest to get warm of the 3 of us, and I get cold the
easiest, but it still would have been nice if we were all more dry. We
missed another turn, and as a result got to cross, and then recross,
another creek. This one had a fairly flat path through, and wasn’t
quite as deep, so we just rode it. Of course, this also means that now
all our feet were soaked.

We soon hit the main road, which
we’d follow to CP13. Keep in mind that it is now definitely dark
(around 11 at night) and we are at 5000 ft. It was around 35 degrees
out, and that was before windchill. On the bikes, it was a paved
section where we were going to drop down to 4200 feet. Add in the wind
of our bikes flying down the hill, and the wet shoes, and our feet were
numb! Passing through ACP3/CP14 (and not checking in), we drop our
bikes, and climb out to CP13, on a hill behind the ACP. We figure out
where it is, and when almost there Zach realizes the map, and our
passport, are gone. They came unclipped from around his neck, and only
the string remains. He and Ryan run off, retracing steps to find them,
and having me wait since they can climb faster. Somehow, they found the
maps and passport laying under a bush, and we get CP13 and proceed back
to CP14/ACP3, checking in, and then checking out and continuing on our
way to CP15/ACP3B.

At CP15/ACP3B, we were to drop our bikes
and any bike gear we wanted, and then continue on our way. We could
pick up no gear, and we could not have contact with our crew guy (as he
should have shown up after we were gone). However, to save a shoe
change, we had biked there in our trekking shoes (as we’d be continuing
with a trek, or so we though). This ended up going not great, as I
found that my foot which had been rolled some time before got lots more
stress on it trying to pedal without the stiff-soled bike shoe, and
that all the pressure was right along the injury. So I ended up walking
sections there, hoping not to set off my foot. At CP15/ACP3B, we found
we were far enough behind that we had a short course option: we could
hit as many or as few of the trekking CPs as we wanted (16-21), and
then a bike pick up with no crew assistance at 22, and bike to 24. We
could even just bike straight to CP24, which was also ACP4, and along
that same main road. Tired, and mentally done with the race, our team
opted to go straight to ACP4/CP24.

We dropped a bit more
elevation, and then started climbing, and kept climbing. Mentally not
into the race, and over the whole idea of being our fastest, combined
with not getting in enough cals on the bike in the previous section, I
just couldn’t climb all of it. Ryan towed me for a while, but even that
soon didn’t work, as my legs just didn’t want to pedal. I had to walk
some, and zoned out while doing so, going through motions but not
really there. This was probably my personal low point physically in the
race. We climb and climb, and soon Zach turns. “Do you guys even plan
to finish this?” he askes. Yes, we answer. “When? Noon tomorrow? We are
walking a f***ing paved road!”. “I’m trying my best” I say (not quite
true, and I knew it, but it was the best that I could give to that
team, as the fire and mental drive to get to 110% was completely out,
and I was already debating ever racing with Zach again). He repeats how
it is a paved road, and goes on to say how I said I know how to do AR,
and how I’ve done 24 hour races, and I’m not as good at them as I claim
to be (I’ve never claimed that, I’ve just told him I’ve finished ones
that were tough for me, and that I just keep going). He asked if I knew
what I was getting into when I signed up for this race. I’ve never
before had a teammate make a low worse, or ever in AR been told things
like that. All other people I’ve talked to have encouraged me, and
non-AR people have found interest in it just from my stories, and the
enthusiasm I get from races. Here I knew: I would never race with Zach
again. Including PQ2006. And I became glad I learned this in a 24 hour
race, instead of a 5-10 day one. This was about 15 hours into a race,
and yes, we were tired, and not moving as fast as we’d like. Yes, I was
contributing to that speed. However, so did our nav errors. Looking
back, it’s almost as if he took all the frustration from the race not
going perfectly, and made it all my fault in his head, and took it all
out on me. Yes, I contributed by not being as strong a racer as he
thought I could be, but lots of factors had drained my strength that
day. Right after this, I tell Ryan let’s try again, and we climb on the
bikes, but Zach doesn’t, as he can see transition around the corner,
and says we might as well walk it in since that’s what we’ve been doing
anyways. We get there, and the person we check in with can tell we are
not doing well, and I tell him that apparently I’m not good enough for
some people on the team. And yes, I shouldn’t have said anything, but
after that I didn’t care about other people knowing the issues within
our team. I was completely over the race.

Walking into ACP4,
Donny (of Big Bear, who was crewing, and who I raced Baja with) was
near the entrance. I stop at him, and give him a huge hug, telling him
what is going on and being very upset, hurt, and drained. He tells me
to keep strong, that I can do it, and talking to him makes me know I
will finish this race. I will keep going, until either timed-out or
done. I don’t care how many points we skip on our way to the final CP,
but I will get there. Even if other teammates decide it isn’t worth it,
I will continue unranked. It is a race, and people say things they
don’t mean (Donny was great and talked to me again after the race,
emphasizing how it means not that someone is a bad person, but can mean
you should never race with them again — thanks Donny). I get to our
crew spot, and just stand there with my bike. Ryan’s dad ends up taking
it, and soon tells me to come sit down. So I do. Ryan says maybe we
should grab a 25 minute nap. I have no opinion on it, either way works
for me. We end up taking on, and it ends up taking about 2 hours. But
we finally get up and back on the road: on our feet looking for CP25.

never did find it, and 1.5 hours later give up, go back through CP24 to
the main road, which we know will take us to CP26. Getting there is
uneventful, and we are told from there we can do whatever we want. We
can hit every remaining point, or even just continue down the same road
straight for the finish. So we skip 27, 28, and 29 (offroad mtb
section) and head to 30, where we skip 31,32, and 33 (a small mtb
loop). We hit point 34 (on the main road) where we drop our bikes, trek
through 35 (simply because getting or skipping it would be about the
same distance and time, and to 36 (again on the main road) where we get
our bikes back. From there, it’s just straight on the road to the
finish, and after passing the turn into it (it was hard to see) we made
it. We were done.

Having left my car (with both kayaks) at the
start, Charlie and I soon drove up to get them. I figured it would be
easier then than waiting til the adrenaline wore off, and didn’t really
want to sit around with the team quite yet. So we got it (it took about
1-1.5 hours total to get to it and then to return). We ate food, I won
a shirt at the raffle, and we sorted gear and got the cars repacked.
The good thing about having driven was that I changed my route home,
going through Claremont (and ended up crashing there that night). It
meant I didn’t get to head back with my teammates, which was ok as I
really needed some time to sort thoughts and really be calm before
talking to Zach. It also worked out well as Rich needed to get to the
same area, so I still had company for the ride home, helping me stay
awake and even driving one section. By doing this, I got to people who
I needed to be around after such a mentally tough weekend — Mike
cooked pasta for us all, and I got to be with him, Holly, and Jeremy.
Good soothing medicine.

Lessons learned:

  1. Get better at eating on the bike.
  2. I do best with a team that is focused, but still chats and enjoys the journey.
  3. Words of race reasons won’t always match actions. Only way to learn
    that is to race with someone, and then move on if it is time to do so.
    A great training partner might be an awful race teammate. I’m there for
    the race as an experience, not the winning and being the best as the
    experience (although they can be a nice bonus).
  4. Sacrifice
    races that look cool if there is a chance you’ll be left with a bad
    taste in your mouth. I will not be racing PQ 2006 with that team, as no
    matter how cool the race might be, it just wouldn’t be worth it. This
    was a tough decision, no matter how clear it seems on the mountain.
  5. Improve nav, to have a better idea when I think we are on the wrong
    path which wrong path it is, so that I can give more help with
    navigation and also give my ideas with more confidence.
  6. Altimeters are good!
  7. I have the best support in my friends and family, and people who don’t know me can just be wrong.

our race bags there were Lance-style bracelets that say “It’s the
Journey”. I found it rather fitting, especially after the race. It is
why I am there. Yes, going fast is good, and I would love to get faster
and I work on doing so. But it’s not my only or primary goal. A good
time, an experience that makes me grin. That is why I’m there.

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Robert Louis Stevenson (my quote of the day for Sunday… very apropriate)

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