Sunday, March 9, 2008

Checkpoint Zero AR

Argh, this one hurts..First and foremost, I am typing this as I recover from my lungs filling up with mucus and goo and ultimately causing me and my team to withdraw from the race. I had a similar problem a couple of years ago at a cold NGAR and sure enough, 20 hours out in the 20 degree dry air was enough to do me in. Not even an inhaler was helping me to breathe. It was very difficult to withdraw even though we were safely in second place, but I was essentially drowning in my own mucus and I could barely exert myself enough to keep moving, even on the road. It was truly aggravating, as most of my body was saying go go go, but the parts that actually keep you alive were going haywire. Our pace had slowed so much due to my issues that we were no longer able to keep warm. Heading out onto the more remote O-points probably would have resulted in a search and rescue operation and me having to lay freezing in our sleeping bag until help arrived. So it was a difficult decision, as things were going pretty well up to that point, but sometimes its wiser to call it a night.

Pre Race:
First gripe..enormous maps that were larger than a standard yard stick. Yes, there were corner tics but you still had to line them up and eyeballing can lead to errors. We made a run to the Ace Hardware and bought an enormous T-Square. Other than that, the map work was relatively easy. The bike was pretty straightforward with the exception of one bike whack. The crux of the race appeared to be the trek, which we would encounter at night after we were already tired, hungry, and likely pretty cold.

Leg One - Paddle:
We awoke to the howling of 35-40 mph wind gusts - not the type of thing you want when the first thing you have to do is jump in a canoe. Thankfully, the wind died down a bit and there was minimal chop out on Lake Chatuge. Did I mention it was snowing? Hard? We were dreading this leg, as the creek we had to paddle up was swollen from recent rain. We ended up being able to paddle most of the way and thankfully we never had to get out of the boat in waist deep water, and were able to paddle up most of the creek. We must have had one heck of a tailwind, because we paddled 8.6 miles in 1:18. We arrived at TA 1 with 3 other leading teams. We transitioned and were the first ones out on bikes.

Leg Two - Bike:
This section featured a short bikewhack, frozen waterbottles, frozen drivetrains, and a bunch of hub-deep creek crossings..and snow. The snow was annoying, as we ended up laying tracks for everyone behind us. The nav was easy and mostly on familiar terrain, with the exception of the bike whack. We hit all the points without incident and rolled into the TA with EMS and Black Dome. I was slightly annoyed that we let them catch us, because we basically ended up showing them the way on a trail that wasn't shown on the map. Guess we should have gone faster, but then you never know what's going on behind you. My drivetrain was starting to freeze from all the water crossings so there were only limited gears available. I started to get dehydrated as my camelbak hose froze and Accelerade turned into a blue slushy. Great for summertime use, not so good for right now...

Leg Three - Paddle #2:
We were REALLY hoping this one was cancelled..but no, we had to suffer through this 3.5 hour slog on some tenuously choppy water into a ferocious headwind. Bo was working hard to keep the boat pointed in the correct general direction, and at times, we were paddling our asses off but not making any forward progress due to heavy wind gusts. I was just thankful that we didn't capsize, as that surely would have been a race ender. (We were later told 2 boats did flip..eeek!) The wind chill was causing everything to freeze..our bladders, pfds, shoes, and I had a nice array of icicles forming on the brim of my hat. My compass was encased in a sheet of ice and our feet had absolutely no feeling in them. What type of idiot goes out on the lake in those types of conditions??? Needless to say we were glad to be done with this one.

Leg Four - Bike #2:
This ended up being longer than expected and I ran out of unfrozen food and again, all our waterbottles froze up. To make matters worse, we discovered a hole in my bladder at the TA, so we just tossed it and only took waterbottles, which conveniently froze in about an hour. So I again rode on without adequate hydration and after about an hour was having trouble breathing and casually shrugged it off to not eating enough. I downed some food, and while my spirits were higher, I continued to wheeze away. Pressing on, we rode to Tate Branch and crossed the Tallulah River. Coming into the bikewhack area, we had waning daylight. We found the summit trail and followed it for a while, but I then tried to contour instead of going all the way to the summit. If I had looked at the map closely, I would have noticed that the long ridgeline that we needed to cross was nearly as high as the summit, so we didn't really save much, and likely wasted much more effort, since we were off trail, and lost some elevation in the process. In retrospect, I shouldn't have changed my attack strategy mid-race, and just stuck to the summit plan, which would have been much faster. EMS snuck by us while we were dragging our bikes up the side of the mountain. The whack down the back side was kind of a pain too, and somewhere in there I slipped and rolled down the hillside and my bike landed on top of me. No one saw though, so it must not have really happened. After losing elevation, we arrived on an old roadbed and I had to resort to standing in a creek to get the ice to melt off my cleats so I could actually clip in. I was now definitely having breathing difficulty and my HR was sky high while riding relatively easily in an attempt to deliver more oxygen to my muscles. I didn't say much about it to my teammates, as I was hoping it wouldn't get much worse. (denial) I also had an Enervit, mostly because it wasn't frozen solid, and it nearly gave me a heart attack.. On we went to collect the next two CP's, one of which involved a long climb up a gravel road. I had to go pretty slow, as I was getting light headed when my heartrate got too high from the lack of oxygen. I wanted to hammer out the climb but my respiratory system was on strike. Thankfully I was still able to go fast enough to keep warm...probably not fast enough though for my teammates to be warm. We rolled into the TA still in second place, but a now a half hour down to EMS.

Leg Five: Trek
We fueled up, changed clothes, and I took some hits off my inhaler. It helped momentarily, but really doesn't get the job done when you need to be able to breathe under exertion. I was really frustrated, as I knew my situation was rapidly deteriorating, but I didn't want to let my teammates down. I'd hoped that I would feel better on the trek, as steep rhodo crawling is one of my stronger disciplines. There was a lot of off-trail travel, so I thought I might be able to hang in there. We headed out for Moccassin Creek Falls, which I knew from the previous years race, so finding it was not too big of an issue. Continuing on from there, however, was nasty and slowgoing. After about a mile of sideslope-deadfall-rhodo hell, I decided we needed to get the hell outta that tangled mess. My tall teammates were getting hung up in the tight, overgrown areas, and I was hacking and wheezing anytime I had to take two steps uphill. I headed on a southwest bearing to hit the road and after quite a few ups and downs and doing our "well, we SHOULD have hit the road by now"s, we finally came out on the gravel road which led to Addis Gap. It was a real struggle just to get to the road, and I was quickly going from bad to worse. As I stauntered up the road, pissed off because I couldn't hike fast enough uphill to really stay warm, I assessed the upcoming CPs and my current situation. Based on how quickly I was deteriorating, I'd never make it up the upcoming long bushwhack climbs, and even if I did, my teammates would freeze in the process. I was choking on myself and the temperature at elevation was around 20 degrees with a strong 20 mph wind. The other option was to make it to CP 14 and hump it back in, call it a night and see how things shook out the next day. Unfortunately, the extra 7-8 miles back to the Finish would have taken us over two hours at the pace I was forced to travel, and it was likely that two more hours in the cold dry air would have landed me in the EMT truck. I didn't think we'd hold onto second without getting some other points, so it wasn't a risk I really wanted to take. Hobbling in on a twisted ankle is one thing, but when something can actually kill you, that's where I start to take notice. I didn't hear a lot of opposition from my teammates, so we bailed at CP 14 so I could get out of the cold, dry air and give my lungs a chance to drain. Bummer, but sometimes $hit just happens.

We headed back to the hotel, which apparently caught fire during the night, and I drank a ton of water and slept a couple of hours. I've been lethargic and riding the couch all day, hoping that I'm good to go by Tuesday. I wish the weather had been better, as I don't seem to have these issues when it is above freezing. I heard rumors that the trekking points we missed we're pretty heinous, so I'll save those for another day : )


Lorna said...

Glad to hear that you're okay.
As for the first bike leg and leaving a trail in the snow, all I can say is thanks! By the time we were going through there it was really well marked. ;-)

Namrita O'Dea said...

it was so freaking cold this weekend...sounds like you made the right decision. that's how i felt when i had an allergic reaction on the snowy trek section at NGAR '06. it sucks to have to give in to that kind of stuff.