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Desert Winds Expedition 2010 Race Report

September 19-24, 2010
by Marcy Beard

We signed up for the Desert Winds expedition adventure race this year because, well, we like expedition adventure races. And there aren't a lot of options for these types of races in the U.S. John and I were also excited to be racing with Dave and Kip, as the four of us don't often get together for big races. We all trained all summer, in the heat of Texas and in the desert and canyons of Utah. We thought we might be ready for a long, hot race in the Mohave Desert, but then, you can never really be sure until you try.

The first pre-race briefing made me pretty nervous, and it has been a few years since an adventure race has made me nervous. We were being given practically complete responsibility for our team and what we carried for gear, making our own decisions, problem solving, traveling "out there" quite a ways from civilization, and covering terrain that might not make me happy at times. I knew I'd have to rely on my teammates to help me through parts of it, but I also knew they were all up to the task.

One possible hitch was that the race director had tried hard to get permits for certain sections of the racecourse, but was not able to obtain them. He talked with each team about this, and we were all still game to try it. The alternative was some dumbed-down version of off-road triathlon in non-interesting areas and without challenging navigation, and we really had not trained all summer for that.

Sunday morning was a short prologue near the Hacienda Hotel in Boulder City. It looked like fun - a short bike ride and a hike up a canyon to drop down a couple of rappels. It was a way to see a sampling of the terrain, and to show Druce and Robert that we knew what we were doing with our rope on the rappels. John and I were excited to demonstrate what we had learned in our canyoneering adventures in Utah, and Kip and Dave would likely have no trouble following along.

By virtue of being one of the last teams to arrive at the Saturday pre-race meeting and thereby having to sit in the front row, we were the first team out the door and at the sign-up sheet for the Sunday prologue. We grabbed the 6:15 am slot (2nd to start) to get it done early before it got too hot. And it was hot around there! While the rest of the country was easing toward autumn, the Las Vegas area was stuck in full-summer mode with highs over 100 degrees in the afternoons. Yeah, it was a dry heat, but there's a limit to how helpful that is.

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Checking the map at the Prologue start

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Ready to begin the Prologue

Anyway, the prologue went (mostly) great. We rode our bikes leisurely since we weren't on the clock, enjoying the morning sunrise. After dropping off our bikes at the bike drop, we walked up a canyon while Kip followed carefully on the map to ensure we found the right place to exit the canyon. No problem, he picked the right spot, and the team that had started at 6 a.m. (team Gung Ho) was up above us climbing toward a saddle.

At the top of the ridge we paused to figure out the best way down into the next canyon where the rappels were located. The guys did a great job of looking at the options and finding decent down-climbs to get lower and see what else was below us. We went mostly straight down, zigzagging a bit here and there, and my teammates helped me down a couple of sketchy parts that were pretty minor for the most part.

We saw team Gung Ho over to the left, seemingly stuck above a cliff. They were preparing an impromptu rappel to get down, which impressed me. But I was glad we were taking the route that we were on. Soon we were at the bottom, rousing Druce from a nap at the top of the first rappel. John easily set up the rope while we donned climbing harnesses, we joked a bit with Druce, and then we were on our way. The two rappels were straightforward, the rest of the canyon didn't make an impression on me, and soon we were walking back toward our bikes.

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Finishing the Prologue canyon

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John carried a camera during the race too, but didn't take any photos, so here's our best (and only) selfie of the race

I thought the whole prologue idea was great, a nice preview of the racecourse. It really eased my mind and made me calm for the rest of Sunday's preparations. Well, at least until we got back to the bike drop. There were a bunch of park rangers and vehicles waiting for us, and one park ranger took our names and info. He told us the race director didn't have the required permits, the race was over and we were free to enjoy the rec area lands as a nice vacation instead. OK sir, I understand that the prologue "race" is over, no problem. We biked back to the hotel, wondering what would happen later that day.

We prepared as if the race was going to start, because really, what else was there to do? John and Dave loaded our bikes into our new "ta da!"-style bike boxes that John had created specifically for this race. It was such a joy not having to take our bikes completely apart. Just the front wheel and the seat had to come off in order to fit two bikes into one box. Thank you John!

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Finishing the bike packing

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Ready to close it up

Gear organization was the easiest of any expedition race I have done. Maybe it was the race format, maybe it was the shorter timeframe (3-5 days instead of up to 10), or maybe we're learning how to do this. The gear list turned out to be "you decide" instead of mandatory, which made so much sense - now we had to really think about why we were carrying something instead of just having mandatory gear to lug around. Still, our packs for the first leg (pack rafts plus ropes gear plus 48 hours worth of food plus -at times- 200 ounces of water) were crazy heavy. At least we could imagine it was our own fault... although I believe some negative thoughts were aimed in the direction of the race director anyway. Hey guys, it's an expedition, let's look at it that way. I don't think Dave was buying it.

The final pre-race meeting was pretty quiet, with Robert telling us that we were now doing an unofficial race, or maybe it would be called a "group trek" if anyone asked. Yeah, we were just spending some quality time in the middle of nowhere with our friends. Chasing another set of friends who were going the same way. We were told that if anyone asked "What team are you?" we wouldn't give them a team name - "We're just out training" was the proper response.

Cyril from team DART-nuun gave huge props to Robert for previous excellent races, and we all agreed that we still wanted to get out there that evening for an exciting "group trek". 11 of the 12 teams did start, with one team opting out. Druce gave us the starting order, in 5-minute increments beginning at 8 p.m. that evening. By some nonsensical formula, our team would start first, followed by teams DART-nuun and Bones who were the actual fast ones of the group.

With our map and heavy packs ready, we were given the go-ahead at 8 pm, and we sauntered nonchalantly out the side door of the hotel. Team Too Cool (our friends from Texas) and Dave's stepdad Bob were waiting to take photos of our departure - thanks y'all!

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Out the door and on our way

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Go Team V!

After walking across the road, we were challenged to find a canyon out the back of the gas station. We paused, discussed a couple things, then decided to try an opening to the left. I heard John remark that we must be going the right way, when we came around the corner to flashbulbs and cameras of the race staff taking our pictures. Fun!

Kip worked the map and we followed dirt roads and powerlines up to a small pass. Teams DART-nuun and Bones passed us on the way, and it was fun to greet them briefly before they charged off into the night. It looked like quite a rivalry between those two teams from the get-go, and we were content to go at our own pace instead. Maybe if we were carrying NOTHING we could have kept up with them for a few minutes, but no way with the big packs and a long way to go. See ya!

There seemed to be two to three reasonable options for getting to the first checkpoint (CP1), and we had decided to take the one that involved the widest-spaced contour lines while following a canyon downhill. It was slightly longer, but we decided it was less likely to involve big down-climbs. We followed a dirt road, crossed a park fence a couple times, and eventually started down the canyon we were looking for.

Right off we had to figure out a couple of decent drops. We climbed up and around one, John used the rope to help most of us down another (he could down-climb it), and it basically felt like we were doing OK so far with the "problem solving" aspect that Robert had promised. Team Verve passed us in here, yet another team moving faster than us, and yet again we were unconcerned about that. We found the truck that marked optional trekking point T1, and it was a lot newer than we had expected for being parked in the middle of a wash. We had to record the type of truck in order to get credit for the checkpoint, and we played a guessing game on the way there as to what it would be. I think John won with "foreign vehicle" since it was a Toyota.

Oh, so I should explain the race format. There were 4 legs: Trek, Bike, Trek, Paddle. There were a total of 12 mandatory checkpoints, or "CPs". Scattered between the CP's were 55 (!) optional checkpoints. Ranking would start with the number of mandatory checkpoints a team reached, then the number of optional checkpoints, then their finish time if they were tied with another team. All teams that finished intact (i.e. no one dropped out along the way) would rank above any incomplete teams, as is standard for adventure racing.

We started with the plan of collecting all of the optional checkpoints, since the distances seemed reasonable and Robert told us that more than one team should clear the course. For the first trek, this involved about 94 kilometers on our feet, and we were told to pack food for 48 hours. We decided to aim for 36 hours worth of food, which might be an error on the lighter side, but we were willing to try it to reduce our pack weight ever so slightly. We were not planning to mess around with the water requirements, however, which we knew were critical for moving well - and for survival, of course.

Back to the race. We followed the wash downhill from T1, I pace-counted, and at a big bend we found a way to climb up to the opposite rim. John even found a small trail which led us (no surprise) to CP1 where Robert was waiting at the top of a rappel. We were the 4th team to arrive (again no surprise), with 2-man team ARC right behind us. Team Verve was just getting off the rappel rope below.

Robert had set the rope using an anchor around a rock, so we didn't have to use our rope for this one. Dave went first since he was ready with his rappel gear, and I followed. The rappel itself wasn't hard, although I did manage to make the start a bit challenging since I'm not fond of stepping down onto shelves at the top of cliffs in order to begin a rappel. But I did my best and hopefully didn't make a total fool of myself.

Off the rope, things got a bit dicier for me. Dave had worked his way/slid down a chute that Robert had termed something like "bowling ball alley." This name did not sound great to me. I waited for John who helped me down-climb it - thanks John! Kip followed without any trouble.

Below that there was a steep talus slope, but this didn't bother me at all. Plenty of solid rocks, nothing really moving when you step on it, just follow where John was going. John started wondering what kind of challenge Team Verve had run into when their lights stopped for a bit, so he slowed to make sure everything still looked OK below us. We made it to the canyon floor without a problem.

Then one of the guys let out a whoop - he had been pushing through some vegetation when the ground disappeared. It was a little drop down a short slide, fun when you're ready for it. Thanks for finding that for the rest of us! Continuing downward, more challenges. At least for me and Dave, as we don't enjoy hand-lining (using existing ropes to down-climb) to get down some of the larger drops. There were knots in the ropes to hang onto, which I suppose I should have appreciated, but without the knots I could have just easily rappelled down. Instead I slipped and slid my way, trying not to fall too far at any one time or hurt myself.

There was water flowing in the canyon now, which made things slippery and interesting. A couple of volunteers were waiting at one particularly slimy rock (with a knotted rope that only helped make me look silly), and I believe they were taking pictures. I got out of there as fast as I could...

Then the water turned hot - we had found a hot springs, neat! Except that it was really hot, almost scalding it seemed. I did a bit of squealing through that section until the water started to cool off further down. That's not a normal adventure race obstacle - water that's too hot!

Vegetation, hot water, slippery rocks - all very interesting but I was ready for that canyon to be over. Finally we found the river at the bottom and a nice beach for inflating the pack rafts. It was calm, dark, and cool, a really pretty place with high walls alongside the river. We had been warned that there might be current coming from Hoover Dam (if they were releasing water) that could make it difficult to obtain T2 at a buoy about 50 meters from the beach.

We inflated the rafts next to team ARC, and John and I were ready first so we paddled out to the buoy. No current, that was nice. We had no trouble counting the links on the chain on the buoy, and then we were on our way with Kip and Dave close behind. It was a beautiful night for pack rafting down a deep, quiet canyon. I thoroughly enjoyed the next 45 minutes that we spent paddling our little crafts 3-plus kilometers down the river.

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We don't have photos of this section, but here is a sample pack raft that team Too Cool tested out in the hotel pool before the race

The only disappointment was that we didn't see a red flashing light on the river bank - I had purchased a Lake Mohave fishing map which included all the warning lights, but number 60 wasn't visible, even as an inoperable light on the side of the river. Oh well, so much for that.

Watching carefully, we found the boater warning sign and the take-out at T3. This wasn't a nice beach - just a scramble up some rocks. Team Verve was getting out ahead of us, and team ARC was pulling up behind us, so we tried to be efficient with getting out, deflating the rafts, repacking everything, and getting out of the way. Not easy, but soon we were climbing up through some brush.

We found a steep ascent in front of us, starting initially with some pink ribbons attached to the vegetation. We soon lost track of the ribbons, which made us wonder (still does!) but we were following the map - or at least we thought we were - so we didn't try too hard to find out if they continued up in some other direction.

It was a steep scramble, and we thought we were aiming for a particular saddle above us that we could see in the moonlight. John tried heading to the left to find a good way up, but Kip wanted to stay more right to maintain a westerly bearing. It all seemed to work out about the same, and after a rather-rocky traverse we topped out at a high point.

Hmm, the other side didn't look right at all. In the dark we could tell that it dropped way down, sloping off to the north. However, to the left was a rocky ridge that seemed like it might be difficult to follow, and it seemed to drop down as well (we could see team Verve's lights going downhill in that direction). We were hoping for a flat plateau like on the map, but we weren't seeing it at all. We had some discussion about high points vs. depressions, and then I pulled out the course book. It said that the next waypoint was in a "high valley" which seemed to indicate that it might be lower than where we were standing.

We eventually decided to drop down to where it looked flatter, but that didn't pan out as a "high valley". We tried following a wash uphill, but it curved around in the wrong direction. We climbed up and then into another wash, but that wasn't right either. We were trying to go southwest, but that wasn't easy and none of the terrain features made sense.

After a while we decided we just needed to take a southern bearing and head in that general direction, either finding the high valley or the hill to the southeast of it. Just as we started that way, we topped a rise to see a couple headlamps off in the distance. It was the first sign of anyone else in quite some time, so we decided they must be doing something right. We had the feeling that quite a few teams had just passed us as we floundered in the darkness. Team Vignette is so lost...

I'm not proud to admit this, but we took a bearing toward the lights (which soon disappeared) and took off in that direction. We were rewarded by coming out at a nice, flat valley and finally feeling like we might be making progress. We certainly had been too far north the whole time, and the crazy terrain in that area made it hard to figure out in the dark.

Soon we saw a pink ribbon again - did we miss the actual trail of pink ribbons, or was this just a confirmation that we were at the right place, the top of Adventure Canyon? We may never know. Anyway, we didn't dwell on this, we just kept moving until we came to Druce and a volunteer hanging out at the top of the first rappel. Hi guys! They told us we were only the 4th team there - what? DART and Bones had come through hours earlier, obviously, but team ARC (just ahead of us) was the first team they had seen since then. Team Verve showed up right behind us, as all three of our teams had apparently had issues but figured them out at about the same time.

We made a note of the color of the webbing at that rappel (red), as the answer to T4. Then we started down the canyon, using our rope for the shorter rappels and preexisting rigging for the drops that were too long for our 50-meter (doubled up) rope. In between we figured out a couple down-climbs, sometimes using our rope as assistance and sometimes just helping each other out. We were in our element here - John had a great rope management system down, the rappels were straightforward and mostly quick, and it was fun to do in the dark. I kept track of the number of rappels by making a mark on my arm for each one - the total would be the answer to T5 once we reached the bottom.

For the longer drops, Kip or John would say, "Wow, that's a long way down" and I'd just sit there imagining how heavy the rope below me would be. All I needed to do was get my ATC on the rope and I wasn't going anywhere without a lot of hauling on the rope to get it to slide through. No problem. The longer ones took a bit more time, but we got down them eventually. We'd catch up to team ARC on some of the down-climbs, we would chat with team Verve when they caught up at the longer drops, and mostly just made our way down the canyon. Very cool.

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Photos from Too Cool's Adventure Canyon experience

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Thanks for sharing, Robyn!

After a few more down-climbs, we came to some vegetation and pushed through to find team ARC inflating their pack raft. We thanked them for their "guiding light" earlier, and they told us that this final rappel would land us in the lake. So we would need our pack rafts already inflated when we got down there. They offered to let us go first, which was super nice of them. We tried to hurry to prepare the rafts and get out of the way.

We were not so successful in this attempt, such that a camera crew could have gotten some "fun" footage. John started down, and we tossed the rafts and paddles over, so all of the equipment and then eventually all of the guys were somewhere on or next to the water. However, there wasn't much of a place to stand or an easy way into the rafts. To top it off, we were dropping down next to a small waterfall that fell pretty much where we'd end up if we rappelled straight down. We weren't too keen on getting cold and wet, although Dave did try that method to demonstrate for us that we should really try to avoid it if possible. Thanks Dave!

So Dave was in one raft, Kip somehow managed to get in the raft with him, and they retrieved our boat. John told me it was time to get down there too. Team Verve had shown up in the meantime, and we were really holding things up by this point. I dropped over the edge to find an overhang, so I kept my feet on the rock like I was taught. Slowly lowering my butt down, I found myself sitting on the rock right below me. Some things I just shouldn't admit in a race report.

Anyway, moving downward again, I got to a point where John told me I should try to come to the left. Really? Well, the alternative was to rappel into the waterfall and into the lake, so I guess I should try. He helped swing me over, and we somehow worked together so I was standing above the pack raft that Kip and Dave had delivered. I jumped in - nice!

Then John jumped in after me - not so nice! We partially filled the boat with water, cold water at that. Brrrrrrr! I may have eked out a scream. It was time to get our rope off of the anchor at the top. John started pulling, but that brought our raft under the waterfall. I paddled furiously to try to keep it away, also trying to hang onto the rock on the edge of the water, but nothing worked and we kept sliding back under the waterfall.

Finally I mentioned to John that the two teams above us would probably really, really appreciate it if we got out of the way, so maybe they wouldn't mind helping us get our rope down? He called up there, and they seemed happy to assist us. Thank you! Soon we had our wet rope and all of our gear and packs (and us) sort of situated in the rafts along with a couple inches of water, and we were ready to go. Not our finest hour.

We paddled toward Kip and Dave, who were trying to determine whether we were in a wide cove or a narrow part of the river. The walls around us seemed to converge and almost block us in, but then an opening appeared as if by magic and we were able to continue forward. It eventually became clear that we must be in the actual river, or this was a really, really long cove. We decided on the former, just to speed things along.

This pack raft section was not nearly as pleasant as the first, mainly because of the water we were sitting in and the fact that we were starting to get chilly. The river signal lights again were missing, but Kip and I had studied the map before rappelling down to the river so we knew that southwest was a good direction for the bulk of this paddle.

Once we turned south, it started to get light around us. We stayed near the right bank in search of our take-out that we really didn't want to miss, a small jut-out from the side. Kip and Dave were a bit ahead of us, moving faster since they were using kayak paddles as opposed to our plastic "break down into many pieces for ease of carrying" canoe-like paddles that had come with the pack raft. Looking ahead I saw some people standing up, and I asked John if they might be some fishermen in a boat? No silly, that's Kip and Dave on the beach. Ah right! And I must be a little sleep deprived!

We had talked about exactly what we would need for this transition because we knew we would all be cold and really ready to start walking as soon as possible. John and Dave rolled up the rafts while Kip and I worked on putting river water in our Camelbak bladders and treating it. I managed to slice the side of my finger with my knife (I'm really more of a scissors person), so I also had to rummage for the med kit to find a bandage to keep the blood out of our drinking water.

Soon we were more than ready to go, taking just a moment to say thanks to the race director for landing us on a real beach this time so we had room to work. It was an easy entrance to the canyon and we were happy to be walking and warming up. It didn't take much to warm up, as we were carrying a lot of water per the race instructions.

As soon as we rounded a corner we came to our first obstacle, a small wall to up-climb. Here we go again... and with more great help from my teammates I managed to get to the top somehow. The small challenges continued for a while. One in particular was memorable because John was trying to help me figure out hand and foot placements when Kip offered a hand from above. He was off to one side, so I wondered what that would do to help me? He took my hand and hauled me up to the top - Oh, so that's what it would do! Thanks Kip!

Eventually it became just a walk up a wash until we found a piece of PVC pipe stuck in the ground with a phrase on it ("Lead the Way") - the answer to T6. More walking as the sun came up, and we were feeling good about making it through the night and the "adventure" portion of this leg. We noticed some melon-looking objects on the sandy ground, and they sure reminded me of watermelon - yum! I wanted to break one open and try it, but John was the cautious one for once (?) and said we probably shouldn't just eat something if we don't know what the heck it is. Bummer.

So I was stuck with eating my race food and drinking river water. None of us was real excited about the river water, with its musty taste. I carried a separate 32-oz Nalgene bottle that I could add flavor to, so I started with some Gatorade powder that made a huge improvement to the drinkability. I guess we've lost some of our appreciation of non-swamp water in the years since Borneo.

Somewhere in here we might have had our first rattlesnake encounter. Those little snakes sure make a lot of noise, which was just fine with me. Luckily we never ran into one while I was leading the way, so I only jumped a little bit when they started rattling at us. The snakes pretty much sat in one place and stared at us while shaking their tails as hard as they could. We'd back up a couple steps, find a way around, and everyone was happy.

As we were climbing up the canyon, we knew that CP2 (also a water depot) was not far above us. It didn't make a lot of sense (at the time) to carry 200 oz of water each up to there. We started dumping some water to lessen our load on the climb. We figured we would just refill everything with the 1.5 gallons of water per person that we would receive at the checkpoint.

Team Verve came up behind us as we were exiting the top of the canyon - good morning! The woman on the team was hauling their rope on the back of her pack, impressive. I was pretty darn happy about my Sherpa husband who was carrying the rope and a raft and my food. Team Verve took off running along a jeep road, while we only managed to walk since it was starting to get warm. We were quite sure we would be plenty hot by the end of the day on Monday.

It was great seeing Robert, Druce, and a few volunteers at CP2. There was a vehicle there with a bunch of gallon water jugs, and we got our allotment of 6 to work with. We were excited to have clean water, and I can only imagine what Robert was thinking when we dumped some river water to replace it with the good stuff. We also got our swamp cooler scarves out (race schwag - and very nice schwag it was!) and doused them with water for a nice cooling effect on our heads. We even turned some water back in that we didn't need once we had filled up all of the bladders. We thought we weren't messing around by carrying the full 200-oz each from here. We were pretty sure this next section was a long one. It was called "Survival" in the race book, after all.

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Team Too Cool modeling the swamp coolers

We started the long trek across open desert, with John taking the lead on the nav for a while. We followed a shallow wash going south, reaching a saddle where we could see WAY ahead of us for the first time all race. We picked out a few features including the next wash and a couple of peaks to aim for. John's really good at figuring out how to get someplace when I point and say, "I want to go there."

We were moving at a decent pace, stopping occasionally to clear some debris from our shoes or get out some food. I had alternated drinking Spiz with eating solid food overnight, but in the daytime heat I wanted to stick to a liquid diet that I knew would work for me. John obliged by mixing a full serving every hour and a half that we split. Dave was carrying a wonderful "spritzer" bottle that he would use to spray mist on himself occasionally. It was always a very happy moment when he used it on my face - thanks Dave!

Our team had a pretty fast walking pace going, and eventually we were heading up a long wash between two ridges. At the top of the wash it was a good grade to reach the nose of the peak ahead of us, and then to walk up the nose until we were even with the ridge to the south. We huffed and puffed and started feeling quite warm, but the wind at the top was a nice refresher.

John led us around on a traverse to keep from going up/back down too much. I questioned him once to make sure our checkpoint wasn't on the peak we were bypassing, so he got out his binoculars - nope, no PVC pipe up there. He tried to spot it further along the ridge, but we weren't close enough yet.

The black rocks in this section were memorable, mostly because they were so frickin' hot. I learned that really quickly when I put my hand on one to steady myself. Ouch! I started using my palm, which was protected with a bike glove, instead of my exposed fingers. We climbed over talus piles of big rocks, making our way along the ridge. It was a neat section and I'm glad the racecourse came this way.

It was a bit of a climb up to the hilltop where T7 was located, but we moved from rock to rock and eventually got there - "The Great Caldera" written on the PVC pipe at T7 was certainly apt, as it was starting to feel like volcanic-level heat. And it was still relatively early in the day. I started dropping nuun tablets into my Nalgene bottle, and I really appreciated the fizz, the added taste, and the idea that I was getting some electrolytes. I'm now a nuun convert, especially for desert trekking!

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Desert Terrain, courtesy of team Too Cool

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More desolate desert trekking

We paused when I found a tiny bit of shade next to some rocks. Several of us were switching from an empty Camelbak bladder to the second full one, and the question came up about when we would be back at the river for our next water resupply. It was a valid question, but a very late one - we should have been thinking of this way back at CP2 or even earlier at the previous river section. We looked ahead at the rest of Map 1 and forward onto Map 2, and quickly realized that we were about to have some water (or lack thereof)-related issues. Major oops - we really had needed the full 200 oz from the river, plus the extra 1.5 gallons from CP2, and the only question was how we would have carried all of that (I guess we would have lugged some gallon jugs around the course for a few kilometers).

Moving on, because it was way too late to go backwards, we finished the ridge and headed over a small rise to see a couple hilltops in the distance. John used his binoculars again to verify the PVC pipe with pink flagging over on the left-most hilltop, so we aimed for T8 over there. I'm not sure what "Desert Urakai" refers to, but we certainly were not about to randomly guess any of the phrases on the PVC checkpoints!

We dropped down toward a wash, doing some traversing on more hot rocks to get around a spur. Kip let us know that Dave was starting to have heat issues, and we knew from past events that we had to take this pretty seriously to keep him from getting sick. Once he gets sick, it can take a long time for him to recover. We stopped on a pile of rocks where John rigged up our sunshade with trekking poles to hold up the corners.

It wasn't much of a rest stop, but it allowed us to get in some shade and off our feet for a few minutes. We looked down to see that our feet were still wet, from the pack raft adventure the previous night and from sweat rolling down our legs. I realized that my trail gaiters weren't allowing my feet to dry enough, so I unlatched them and moved them up my shins for the time being. We also were happy to have the opportunity to air out our feet briefly. The hot, dry air took care of that moisture in no time, very nice. Now as long as we don't let our socks fly away in the wind...

We felt a bit better after the short stop. I'm not sure anyone really slept, but we knew we could keep moving for at least a while longer. We had a good pace going when we started along a nice, flat wash that led us to a dirt road. We caught up to team ARC here, and they were also concerned about the low amount of water they had remaining. We veered off cross-country while ARC stayed on the road, and we were on our own again.

John did a nice job of taking us around some contours and over a small saddle to where we could see our next major destination - the saddle between Peeper Hill and Forlorn Hope Spring. John wondered whether we might find water at the spring, until I reminded him what it was named. We looked over in that direction and didn't see any trace of a creek or water to be had.

Shadows were starting to lengthen, although it was still very hot - over 100 degrees, to be sure, perhaps a good bit higher. I was hoping to get to T9 on the next map and into the subsequent canyon before dark, to reduce the chances of making a nav error in the darkness later. However, Dave's heat issues were getting more pronounced and Kip insisted (rightly so) that we needed a real break this time. John found a section of a wash that was actually completely in shade; it was level, and quite comfortable on the sand. I calculated 45 minutes from that point to T9, so we set an alarm for 1.5 hours later that should give us just enough daylight to get there after our nap.

As comfortable as the wash was, and we all could have really slept hard if we weren't disturbed, there were big colonies of huge ants patrolling it, and soon they were climbing on us looking for food. One by one, each of us had to jump up, swipe off a bunch of ants, and move to a more distant location that seemed clean. John and I moved away from the wash altogether and slept on the sunshade. This helped, and we had only a couple ants to deal with when the alarm went off. Thankfully, the ants weren't in a biting mood or we would have had major problems.

Back to work! We climbed up to the saddle and Kip and Dave started down the other side while John and I checked the map. We called them further to the left, and Kip and I were able to move quickly in the right direction. Soon we could see the bathtub and rolls of fencing that indicated T9. Just beyond there was the top of the canyon. It was still light (getting into dusk), so we made that goal, and Dave seemed to be feeling better.

We were still quite aware of our low water issue, and we were trying to conserve it as long as possible without getting too dehydrated - especially in the heat of the day earlier. I put nuun tablets in my water in order to get the most out of the liquid while I still had it. And I'd swish the water around my mouth before swallowing so I could at least feel better hydrated from the outside.

It was much nicer traveling in the dark, although we knew we still had a very long way to go to get down to the river - around 10 km and 2000 feet down. This wasn't going to be pretty. We discussed sending John on ahead to get and treat some water, but decided to wait until we had found the T10 PVC pipe along the way. Plus the initial top part of the canyon had a few little down-climbs that I figured I could use John's help with.

Eventually the wash opened up into a wide plain, and we trudged along. The Teddy Bear Cholla around us looked rather eerie in the darkness, but we figured they were harmless little teddy bears. Until I stepped on a spiky ball of sharp spiky things, then it wasn't so harmless. I worked on pulling out the largest of the spikes that were impaling the bottom of my foot, then I'd run to catch up to the rest of the trudging crew.

We walked and walked, finally walking by the T10 PVC pipe. It was time to send John on ahead. He was feeling good and could make decent time by himself. We switched several key pieces of gear - I got the Spot GPS device and our short rope, he got the water treatment tablets and the map to ensure that he found his way back UP the canyon without taking a wrong turn (just in case there were any confusing intersections).

John continued on ahead and we followed at a slower pace. We soon had a rattlesnake encounter (and the creature was already unhappy because John had just run by), but Dave simply walked on past without even a flinch. Either he was past caring or pretty out of it. Either way, the snake didn't budge and all was fine.

Occasionally we'd stop for a break so Dave could sit and rest, as he was still not feeling great from the heat issue and now of course we didn't have much liquid to give him to help him recover. I gave him a few swallows of the nuun-juice, and then we were down to taking tiny sips of water just to keep our mouths from completely drying up.

I started leading the way along the wash, trying to find the flattest, least-vegetated area in the wide canyon. Finally we made a turn and entered the steeper canyon walls. At least we were making progress! Only a couple-three kilometers to the river. However, the narrowness meant we would have to start working on our down-climbing skills again. That concerned us a bit in our weakened state, but every step closer we got to the river was that much less time for John to bring water back to us. At one point I felt rather dizzy and wasn't sure I should even attempt anything that required balance, but that went away and I focused on not making sudden moves that could bring it back on.

For every small, easy down-climb I said "thank you" to the canyon for making it simple just that much further. We did have a couple more challenging spots, but nothing too bad at all. Until we came to a big straight-down drop that stopped us. Kip checked around and couldn't see any obvious options. He and Dave were thinking of just waiting there for John. I shone my bright light across the way and decided to try going up and over to the left. The "up" part was easy, and there was only a short scree slope on the other side. I made it down and called to them to try it. Again, any forward progress would get us water that much quicker. They made it without too much sliding, and we soldiered onward.

I started a mantra of "Whatever it takes, I can do it. Whatever it takes." Just relaxing and walking and finding a way to move slowly forward, we were taking care of each other and John would be back eventually. After one set of rocks, I found a place to sit and we took a break. We each got one last tiny sip of water from my Camelbak and then we were out completely. At least it was dark and cool, so we shouldn't have any heat exposure issues tonight.

We all sat very still when we thought we heard footsteps up ahead - John? Yep, it's me, he called back. Hooray!! John handed me my Nalgene bottle and I immediately put some lemonade powder in it. Everyone started drinking water from Camelbak bladders and we shared the lemonade and then had another round. Plus a half serving of Spiz for a calorie reload. Sweet relief! And a huge thank you to John!

Desert Winds photo
John is the...

He told us that we weren't far from the river, but it kind of smelled down there so if we wanted to take a sleep break we might consider doing it here. I don't even know if I heard the end of that sentence before I fell asleep where I sat. We were all sprawled across the rocks and sand of the narrow canyon, but we didn't care. We had water and we were ready for some recovery time.

We awoke sometime later, and we were rather surprised that team ARC hadn't walked by during our nap. We were pretty sure they couldn't have gone by unnoticed. Anyway, feeling many degrees better, we got up and made our way down to the river and passed the T11 PVC pipe on the way (appropriately labeled "Haggard Desert Nomads"). We got the pack rafts set up and pushed off on the final river section of the first leg.

It was wonderfully cool, calm, and dark on the water. We were off our feet but still moving forward, we were comfortable, and I was quite happy. I think I enjoyed 2 of the 3 pack raft sections (the ones where I wasn't sitting in several inches of cold water) the most of the whole race. Also happily, red light #42 was blinking at us up ahead. I surmised that the lights above Willow Beach weren't on because motor boats weren't allowed up there; down here below Willow Beach we might still be able to navigate by them later in the canoe leg.

We found out later that we were lucky to be in the pack rafts at night, especially in this section. Other teams arrived at this point during the day on Tuesday, and it was extremely windy, so much so that it was nigh impossible to fight the headwind with a little raft and make it 3-4 kilometers to CP3. Several teams ended up getting help from the safety boat to make any progress. We had good timing and didn't know it.

We navigated an S-bend in the river without running our pack raft over a shallow rock (but it was a bit close). We then followed high cliffs on the left side until we found the correct cove where CP3 was located. There was a speedboat hanging out in the cove with a bright light on. They called over, "What team are you?" and John answered "Team Vignette" as I quickly whispered that we weren't supposed to answer that question. Oh well, they appeared to be race volunteers and not park rangers in this instance.

We paddled over and got checked in. As we were chatting, Tom from team Verve popped up from the back of the boat where he was hanging out. Dave knew him from previous races, and Tom told us that he had problems getting down to the river. His two teammates had continued on without him. So we were the third complete team to make this checkpoint, since team Verve was now incomplete.

Anyway, none of that really mattered to us at that point. We paddled to the "beach" and discovered it was more of a mud flat. Ick. Dave waded out to a dry spot, curled up in his space blanket sleeping bag, and tried to sleep some more. Kip had the good idea of putting all our Camelbak bladders on a pack raft, then John could walk them out away from the mud to refill them. We were told to take 200 ounces up from here, and we weren't messing around with that this time!

I had been barefoot in the pack raft, and it seemed like a good idea not to put my shoes on until I was above the muddy section. Working my way through the mud, I managed to kick a rock with my left foot in such a manner that my middle toe was immediately in a lot of pain. It felt like I had shoved the nail back into the toe (sorry to be so graphic). That had me hobbling for a while until it started to go numb.

I worked on gear rearrangements, Kip worked on retaping his feet, and John worked on the bladders and then the pack rafts. It was a good time for Dave to continue resting. Apparently Dave wasn't sure about continuing on, with the coming daylight and a long climb up the other side. He asked if I thought he could make it to CP4? I told him I thought he should try. And that was that.

Eventually we had everything mostly clean, refilled, and ready to go. We roused Dave and he seemed OK for carrying his pack and walking up the wash. We ambled a short ways until we found T12, some stick figures to copy into our course book. Just graffiti, sadly, no petroglyphs to admire. Dawn began to break as we continued up-canyon, although we were happy to still be in shadows for the time being.

Eventually Kip started questioning our direction, wondering if we had missed an intersection. I came around a corner and my eyebrows went way up at the huge wall in front of me. I sure hope we missed a turn! Sure enough, we had gone half a kilometer out of the way, but going back sure beat trying to climb that wall. At least it was an easy catch and we didn't waste too much time or effort.

We backtracked and found the right wash going northeast. We had simply missed it, and it wasn't like it was super hidden or anything. We just had not noticed it in the low light. T13 was at a confluence, and we were to record whatever object the pink flagging tape was tied to. We started guessing what that object might be - an appliance of some type, a stick, another truck? I thought for a while and decided on "a skull". Further up when we passed a large ram horn in the sand, I refined my guess to "a ram skull".

When we got to T13, at first we saw only the pink ribbon that was tied to a catclaw bush, and that seemed anticlimactic because we had been fighting catclaw bushes since the start of the trek. Then we saw the ram skull on a rock with pink flagging on it. Funny!

John and I took over the nav for a while, and initially I thought this section would be right up our alley - over a saddle and into the next drainage system, only 1.5 km away to the next checkpoint. We made it up the saddle just fine, then stood and surveyed the area ahead of us. We picked the drainage right in front of us to descend, and it seemed to make sense with the drainage intersections for a while. But then it wasn't really quite right.

We pushed east, thought we knew which intersection we were at, and headed uphill. This drainage didn't last like it was supposed to. John climbed around a bit to the south while I stood with the map and started lining up large objects like the huge hills across the way. It became clear to me that we were too far south and that our initial descent drainage had been the wrong one.

Kip and Dave followed gamely, but I wasn't excited to be leading them around rock scrambling and extra distance when we were still trying to recover from the dehydration episode. We got around a large nose, and then I was able to match the entire set of contours in front of me with the map in my hand. I looked east toward a set of cliffs and proclaimed that the checkpoint was just below those.

We dropped down into one small wash, climbed over into the wash we should have been in in the first place, and walked up and around a corner to T14 ("Mental Evaporation" - how did they know?) at the base of a dry waterfall. And yep, those cliffs were right above us. I guess you could say we snuck up on that checkpoint in a very roundabout way. I can only be thankful that we were there in the daylight in order to correct our mistake relatively quickly.

After finding a way around the waterfall that didn't involve using a rope, John took the map back and carefully followed along as we continued to climb. He did a nice job of getting us to the correct saddle, 1600 vertical feet above the river. From there we aimed for Jumbo Wash, a wide, sun-exposed, shallow wash in the middle of a plain. We tried contouring around a hillside, but the rocks were really annoying and we all agreed we'd rather just go straight down to the wash and climb up a bit of extra distance.

By this time my middle toe was hurting quite a bit. I also had a couple small blisters but didn't really notice them while my toe was throbbing. In fact, the toes on either side of it seemed to take up supporting roles, rather like immobilizing the hurt one and acting as one solid toe to protect it. I couldn't bend the middle toe, even with my fingers, and the whole area was turning black and blue. At least I could keep walking as long as I didn't try to do anything too nimble with that foot. Walking on rocks, however, was a huge pain. Kip was also developing some worrying blisters and working to keep up.

Down in the wash I was doing OK. We then climbed up to a highpoint in order to figure out the topography ahead of us. John led us down the other side, through a few small drainages, and finally to a dirt road which led to CP4. It was getting hot, but at least we had enough water with us this time.

We met Franklin who was volunteering at CP4. This was a thankless job. He had an easy-up and a bunch of water jugs, but the wind was starting to blow like crazy and threatened to take the easy-up away. We knew we still had a long walk to the end of this trek, and we considered just sleeping there for the rest of the afternoon until the temperature went back down.

So we spread out the sunshade, took off our shoes, and crashed for a while. It was a nice break, but we weren't destined to stay the whole afternoon. The wind whipped the easy-up around while Franklin held on to it. The sun kept moving the shady spot further from where we had started, even with Franklin trying to move the easy-up to keep us somewhat covered (thank you!). We weren't really tired enough to sleep through the noise and craziness of it all.

Finally we got up and got ourselves together. We didn't think we needed a full 200 oz per person to drink, but we brought that much so we could soak our swamp cooler scarves as much as we wanted. Plus Dave had another full spritzer bottle to work with. Anything to keep Dave a bit cooler this afternoon. Our packs were back to being heavy, and my shoulders were the most sore of anything at that point.

Thank you Franklin! Sorry you have to stay there. We at least were able to leave that desolate spot. We walked up the road, trying to stay on the less-sandy side when we could. After almost 3 kilometers we took a right turn up a hill and found T15 there (count the posts in the ground). We kept our swamp coolers wet, which was really very nice, and we walked some more, and walked some more. We could see the main road off in the distance, also a little community with the promised "Rosie's Den" diner at CP5. We were really looking forward to that!

Walking along a dirt road, we found a flyer for Cook's Canoes (a company run by Art's dad from Texas, who had been around before the race started). I found this to be uproariously funny for some reason. No idea what it was doing out there, but it made my day.

Finally we turned onto our last dirt road - the only thing left was almost 4 kilometers of walking along a power line toward the settlement. This seemed to last forever. We had thoughts of Mandalay Bay from the GUR Vegas finals... except these were little buildings that never got any bigger as opposed to a big building that never got any closer.

At last! A parking lot! Civilization! We found Rosie's Den and several wonderful volunteers clapping for us upon arrival. It was great to see them. They told us we could have a free fountain drink and order food if we wanted. We DID want. The cold Sprite tasted so good, I sat there savoring it with my eyes closed for several minutes.

We ordered food - Dave even ordered a cheeseburger to go, wrapped in tin foil. I asked if I could have some fruit instead of hash browns with my eggs. We were sitting at the counter, and I got to watch the cook cutting up cantaloupe, bananas, apples, and pears. I was mesmerized - that was what I really wanted. And it was a huge side of fruit. Thank you, wonderful chef!

The volunteers loaded us up in a car and drove us up to Robert's house where CP6/TA1 was located. I was so excited when I heard the phrase "haul you to the TA" - no more walking for today! We were finally done with the first trek, after "only" 45 hours. My oh my.

The big news was that only 4 teams had made it past CP3 on foot to CP's 4 and 5. Teams DART-nuun and Bones were still going at it head-to-head, and team Verve was also in front of us but short one teammate. That put us in third place at the moment. All other teams had caught a ride from other parts of the course up to CP6, and once we verified that, our whole plan changed.

We confirmed with Robert that the 12 mandatory CP's counted first and foremost in the standings. The optional CP's would be the next tier, for the teams that achieved the same number of mandatory CP's. And then finish time would be the tie-breaker. Being in 3rd, and having no realistic chance of catching the two blazingly fast teams ahead of us, we suddenly were in a position where we needed only the remaining mandatory CP's to stay in 3rd.

As much as we were enjoying all of the ins and outs of the course, and we had time to see more of it, Kip's blisters, Dave's heat illness, and my potentially broken toe (which never became an issue and actually wasn't broken, thank goodness) caused us to rethink everything. The goal was now to "Get to the Finish Line" and not do anything stupid to put that goal in jeopardy.

It was fun seeing other teams at the TA - the Dirty Avocados were just finishing up, and we also got to chat with team Too Cool. Everyone around us seemed in good spirits and ready to get on bikes for a change.

Desert Winds photo
Walking into TA1

Desert Winds photo
Our gear boxes

The guys worked on setting up the bikes and getting gear together. I took the huge pile of maps and tried working on them from the floor of the garage. Wind was whipping through the area, making things a bit difficult. Kip and Dave both decided to take a shower, even though there was no door on the garage bathroom and the shower curtain continually flew around. I kept my eyes on the map, trying not to pay any attention to anything that went on in the bathroom.

Eventually John helped me move the maps into the living room of the house (thank you Robert and Robert's wife for the space!). Without the wind it was easier to work. There were a ton of points to plot, but I already knew we would be skipping most of the optional ones based on our new goal. So I needed to have an idea where the "real" course went, but I mostly needed a plan to get to the remaining mandatory CP's.

Specifically, I was hoping to avoid a bike ride over a mountain. We discussed a potential alternate route, agreed to try it, and got the basic routes together for the rest of the course. The guys cut up the maps into more manageable sizes as I went to work on my gear that hadn't been touched yet. Kip came over to help, and I joked that he could "do the batteries" (a running joke from an old Eco-Challenge broadcast of a racer who was so out of it in TA that she couldn't even change headlamp batteries). Upon further query, I realized that I actually could use new batteries in my headlamp, so Kip took care of it. Thanks Kip!

We finished arranging gear by gear box #1 and #2 (#1 was heading for the end of the bike leg and #2 was for the canoe start), mostly just adjusting a couple items and hoping we had planned OK. It was way dark by this point, and I was struggling to finish everything without having a meltdown. John asked if we needed to sleep, and as I tried to focus on his face he decided that yes, we were going to sleep!

So we crashed in the now-dark garage for an hour or more, I don't really know. It was quiet when we got up, got on our bikes, and rolled out of there. I felt tons better and ready to focus again. Dave took on the bike nav like he normally does, so he must have been feeling better too.

We started up the dirt road on a gentle climb to the north. I was immediately so happy because we were no longer carrying the pack rafts and ropes gear and my pack weighed half as much as earlier in the day. John scared up two rattlesnakes on the road, for goodness sakes, which woke me up for good. We figured out one intersection that wasn't drawn on the map exactly correctly, but otherwise it was easy going up to CP7. The volunteer checked us in and pointed us toward the powerline road for easterly travel.

That road was decent, slightly sandy, with a few dips, but easy traveling. We watched the odometer and made a right turn onto another dirt road. This section was downhill and sandy, slower for me but I got down eventually. Turning back east we started another gentle climb. We found a windmill for B11 (we had skipped the B1-B10 loop at the beginning), first noticing a small new one that was functioning (but needed grease) and then seeing the actually windmill in the right location - it was old and derelict, so that answered the checkpoint question.

Somewhere that night, the smell of cheeseburger came wafting back. Dave still had his prize from Rosie's Den as a midnight snack - too funny! He also did a nice job following the map in the darkness, and when we came to a rather confusing area he figured it out quickly. We could have gone a bit further south to pick up 2 optional points, but we opted for a parallel and more direct route instead. This seemed to work out well, as we had a wonderful, gentle downhill ride.

I could see large Joshua Trees alongside the road, eerie dark figures waiting in the moonlight. That must have been pretty in the daylight, but we were enjoying the coolness of the night at this point. We really enjoyed the next few kilometers, as the wonderful, easy downhill continued on and on. Usually when something doesn't end in an expedition race, it's a bad thing. Not so this time!

Our next "skip it" section had us going around a set of hills to the north instead of through them. So when we reached a paved road we turned left instead of right. We were looking for a dirt road on the right to cut over to the next paved road (Stockton Road), but we didn't find it. Eventually we had gone too far, and downhill at that.

Dave suggested we go back up and take a powerline cut that he had seen. I wanted to continue down and go around on all paved roads - longer, but with an emphasis on the "paved" part. We decided to go with the shorter option instead, so we climbed back up and started down the powerline.

This started out OK, just a little sandy. Then it got worse and we had trouble staying on our bikes. Then it got worse and we all had to walk for a while. I could hear Dave behind me yelling, "Sorry, sorry," but it was all good. We were happy to get off our bike butts for a little while, and my feet felt fine for walking.

Eventually we popped out on Stockton Road and started south. It was still dark but the full moon (which we really appreciated, by the way!) cast a nice light on the nearby peaks and ridges. We navigated by that and by odometer to find the right "Adopt a Highway" sign that was our next waypoint.

We were about to head out across a dry lakebed called Red Lake. CP8 was just over 4 kilometers away on a bearing slightly south of east. This could be interesting! The surface turned out to be awesome - hard, flat, and fast, easy to ride. We took a bearing and aimed for some faraway hilltops, plus a constellation that I think was Orion if I'm remembering right.

Dave initially headed more southeast, so we corrected that more to the left. We were hoping to see a light to indicate the manned checkpoint, and eventually we saw a light in the generally-correct direction. Except that light had started more to the right, and now it was more to the left... hold on, is that light moving? We stopped, and sure enough, it was a distant car headlight. Oops.

We at least had the odometer working correctly, so when we hit 4.5 kilometers we knew we had overshot it just a bit. We backed up a couple hundred meters (in the last of the moonlight before the moon went down) and stopped to scan the horizon both south and north of us. Nothing. We were standing on vehicle tire tracks, and perhaps they belonged to the checkpoint person's car? We marked the spot where we were standing with lines in the sand and then followed the tracks south a few hundred meters until they made a big circle and stopped.

No good, so we went back to our marked location. It was very close to dawn, so we decided it might make sense to just sit for a few minutes until we had some light to work with. We ate and drank, and then not 10 minutes later Dave sat up and exclaimed, "What is that?" Directly north of us we could barely make out a vehicle sitting on the sandflats.

We had been off by only a couple hundred meters, but there was only a weak glow stick hanging on the water jug to mark its location. Apparently the light of the full moon can only do so much. We were glad not to have wasted too much time, and we were glad to see Druce there. Good morning!

We filled up with water, got our course book signed, and headed back toward the road. There was an optional point across the lakebed to the south, but as much fun as the lakebed was to ride, the point was past the edge of it. It could be sandy, hard to find, etc., and we wanted to get moving before it got too hot again.

Actually, the heat wasn't about to be the issue of the day, for once. A southern headwind was already blowing by the time we got back to the pavement. We got into a paceline and prepared for a long ride into the wind. I'm not sure how one goes about "preparing" for something like that, but that's sort of what we tried to do.

This race report will get even more boring if I thoroughly describe the next few hours, so let's just say that we rode into the wind for a long time. Dave and John took turns leading the paceline, and then Dave towed Kip for a while as John led the way. It was gradually uphill, punctuated by a couple downhills that didn't seem like it (we still had to pedal because of the wind).

One memorable gust of wind from the side was so disruptive that we ended up in various places along the side of the road and had to work to regroup. That was some nasty wind! We took a break every 1.5 hours, with John finding a nice shade tree off to the side for us to sit under. I got out the sunshade to sit on, and was thankful yet again that we were carrying it. Food, water, rest, OK, let's get at it again.

We had a 10-kilometer section that was in between our maps. We only knew that it was about 10 km of riding on that road, then we would know where we were again. It was a nice little celebration when we were back "on map." We reduced the time between breaks, as the road was starting to climb more and the wind was picking up more (if that was possible).

We took a break near the turn-off to Volk Canyon, on a nice sandy spot under a shade tree. The trees were quite welcome after all the barren desert trekking. Dave said something slightly funny that made me laugh, then said something normal that also made me laugh for some reason, then I got some serious giggles about nothing in particular. I couldn't stop laughing, ending up with tears in my eyes. It was the only time I cried the whole race, so that was a personal accomplishment for me :)

Finally we all just closed our eyes and fell asleep without even planning to. It was one of our best naps overall - quiet, comfortable, with a cool wind, in the shade on a beautiful day. Ahh. We were sad to get up, but it was time to soldier onward. We had one last discussion about the racecourse route (i.e. over Cherum Peak) vs. our self-designed route over a col to the south. The headwind was one consideration, but we decided we still preferred it to the extra climbing and mountain singletrack.

So off we went, on our own now. Dave did some good towing of Kip up the hills and John continued to pull strongly from the lead "break the wind" position. John didn't stop at our next scheduled break time, instead continuing on because he suspected he could see some sign of civilization up ahead. Eventually we all could see it - a sign advertising cold sodas. Sweet!

We pulled over at a local convenient store, and I announced that I had plenty of cash, get whatever you want! It was junk food heaven - cream soda, chips, cookies, iced tea, string cheese, and even hot pockets that Dave cooked up in a microwave. I don't even remember everything we all gathered for the feast, but we certainly won't forget that place. We sat at a picnic table out front in the shade and had a wonderful lunch, complete with leftovers for later.

Well, if nothing else, our detour was worth it just for that. After a bit more headwind, we finally found the road to the right heading up toward the hills. It was another nice little celebration. The route seemed pretty straightforward, just following a dirt road up a valley and over the top to the other side.

Until... we came around a corner to a fence across the road with a "No Trespassing" sign. Oh dear. We all had huge sinking feelings about this. All that work in the headwind could have been for nothing. Well OK, like I said the junk food stop was still worth something, but not as much at that moment.

Dave and Kip went up to the house to ask if there was any way the kind owners would mind so very much if we went through their backyard and up into the hills behind their house, pretty please? An elderly lady answered, and her first impression was that it wouldn't be possible to get over those mountains. We would need a lot of water and it would take a very long time, and why on earth would we want to do that? We should just go around on some road that still exists.

They showed her the map, tried to explain things, and finally she called her husband over. He was like "sure, whatever fool thing they want to try is fine with me." Cool! The only thing they couldn't help with was permission to cross the ranchland behind theirs. But there should only be cows on it, no one living there.

They opened the gate for us (thank you, kind people!), and we were on our way. We biked up an old dirt road, made our way across the cow pasture, and came to the entrance to the valley. It looked like we might need to follow the wash all the way up, which could get ugly. The couple might be right - why would we want to do this?

After one short bushwhack, we were rewarded with the sight of an old roadbed taking off up the hill to the left. It was rocky and occasionally overgrown, but mostly in great condition considering that it probably hadn't been used in forever. We pushed our bikes up, following above the wash, grateful to have this path instead of fighting our way through vegetation the whole way.

It reminded me of other adventure racing experiences, which usually turn out quite differently. It would start with a small difficulty, then we'd think we had figured it out only to turn a corner and see something bigger/more difficult. So we'd push through it, only to discover we were stuck in something worse. Eventually we'd be bike-whacking our way up a steep mountain, climbing over huge piles of downed trees and handing bikes up to each other. Ever had one of those experiences? You don't want to turn around because you've gone through so much just to get there, so you beat your head against whatever wall is in your way. Many hours later you somehow break through and wonder how it had gotten to that point.

Anyway, I was so pleased that this experience did NOT turn out that way, regardless of how it seemed like it might!

Dave found a nice rock to bring home to his son, so he carried it the rest of the way. I'm not sure whether he took it on the second trek or left it in the gear box at the next TA, but either way, adding a rock to his pack sure is parental dedication!

More bike-pushing, but I heard later that we missed a great deal more on the route up the mountain. We topped out to find a cattle guard and a sandy road that had been used by off-road vehicles fairly recently. This was a very good sign. We were still concerned about getting down the other side (especially with the mine and industrial waste pond marked on our map), but we figured that it's usually easier to get permission to leave a property as opposed to entering it!

The top was rather steep and sandy, so with a mix of riding, sliding, and running we made our way down to a more rideable section. That was more like it. Soon we were zooming down, past the huge mine with men and equipment doing some work (they didn't bother us), past the huge industrial plant with a few men around (also ignored us), finally to a paved road that led down to the valley below. The only thing of note was the very interesting smells in that area. Not somewhere I'd like to hang around for long. We knew we had been really lucky to make it all the way over without having to backtrack.

We flew down the road for a ways, then found a dirt road going north toward the town of Chloride, our destination at the moment. With a tail wind (finally!), we made decent time even though the road undulated a bit heading uphill toward town. Our butts were getting rather tired of sitting in the saddle and we were looking forward to scoring some more food purchases - twice in one day! This was making up for 45 hours in the desert, for sure.

We located the restaurant called "Yesterday's" that had been recommended by the race staff. It was funny in that some of the dishes were called "Yesterday's Meatloaf", "Yesterday's Chicken" and then others were interesting by themselves - a spam dish, for example. We enjoyed browsing the menu and talking with the waitress. Sprite was again a hit among our group. It's such a good hot weather soda.

While eating, we worked on route plans for the next trekking leg, mostly involving making our way to the CP in the middle of the leg and then finding the park road down to the lake. It was still going to be a long trek and we hoped to get the bulk of it completed at night to avoid the heat. It was such a relief to not be hot for most of the bike leg!

After dinner (and after Dave had collected a to-go cheeseburger and a frisbee for his other son), we checked out the town park across the street - looks like a nice place for a nap! We rolled the bikes over and crashed on the grass. I imagine we looked like a bunch of hobos. With bikes. Another good nap and it was time to roll out. John noticed that he had rolled over a bunch of goathead thorns - oops! Luckily John's tubeless tire sealant took care of the little punctures. Dave also had a couple on his tire. I was annoyed because I had been warning of goatheads the whole time and managed to totally miss them in a pretty little park.

We rode out of town, following a couple dirt roads for a ways. We stopped briefly for Dave to change out the bike tube that wasn't holding air, then continued on. The road turned into a sandy trail, but we were back to following bike tracks again after a long time by ourselves. It was good to be "back"!

The trail turned north and came out on a side road, but that didn't make great sense. We pulled up at the main road, highway 93, but we couldn't cross it (there was no road on the other side) and we weren't allowed to ride on it. That was one of only three race rules, so we figured we had better obey!

We watched a vehicle make its way across the plain on the other side of the highway, indicating the road we would likely be aiming for. They came out at the highway just a short ways south - in fact, they then circled around to where we were standing and it turned out to be a couple race volunteers. Hi guys! We told them we knew we couldn't be on the highway, and they waved and drove off.

A short backtrack, then Dave found some bike tracks heading across the field. Looks good, so we followed them to the right spot to cross the highway. Once over, we were on a dirt road for a ways, aiming for the bike drop. As much as we had enjoyed being off our sore feet, now we were also ready to be off our sore butts.

We still had a bit of daylight as we rode along, enough to see a big moving truck parked up ahead. Looks like the TA/CP9. Sure enough, there were the volunteers and our bike and gear boxes. It was 6:30 pm, a good time to start another desert trek. Well done on that bike leg, team.

Feeling pretty good, we hustled to get through this TA faster than the previous one (shouldn't be hard!). Packing the bikes went quickly, thank you again John. I spread out the gear from the gearbox, we picked out what we needed, ate a few things, and I even changed shorts for once in a race. Also socks, how wonderful. Time to go! We all took a guess regarding how long we had been in transition, and we all guessed low - it was actually 50 minutes. Oh well, it seemed fast to us.

Dave's stepdad Bob was there to greet us and see how we were doing. It was great to see him at all the TA's, thanks for being there and taking a few photos!

Desert Winds photo
Arriving at TA2

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Working on bikes and gear

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Checking out the map

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Ready to go!

We walked back down the road to a side road I had seen on the way in. I hadn't studied the map super-closely, and this turned out to be an alternate route even to our alternate route (which involved skipping the optional points in the hills and heading for CP10 instead). But John, who had the map at this point, figured it out quickly enough and it wasn't much out of the way.

Speaking of alternate routes, you might have thought that our experiences on the bike leg would have steered us back toward staying on a more "normal", i.e. race director-indicated, route. Because we would know that they had checked it out and at least found a way through. Whereas, when you try something completely different, who knows what you'll find? We were making our own adventure as we went along!

In this case, we opted for the flattest route on straight roads. Well, the "flat" and the "straight" part were pretty much correct. Whether there were actually roads as indicated on the map remained to be seen.

On the outset, things were going well. We followed an excellent road to a corral and found a wide path going in the northwest direction like we wanted. And by "path" I mean "huge road wide enough to land a plane on." Dave suggested that it was because it was an actual landing strip we were walking on. Huh! Sure enough, that's what it had to be. That was pretty odd! It was all dark, so we didn't expect we'd have any planes landing on us anytime soon.

Then the runway stopped. But there was still a road, phew. And it was still going the right way, straight as an arrow. Things were looking good so far. We were looking for a water tank as our next point of reference, and I pace-counted to keep my mind awake. The water tank showed up right on time, but then the road stopped. Well, it went in a couple other directions, but nothing right in front of us going northwest like we wanted. Bummer.

We stopped and studied contours of the hills nearby and in the distance. We really, really didn't want to get lost out here and end up wandering on the plains in the dark for hours. This route was supposed to be all on roads, actually, and we needed to hit a left turn about 7 kilometers ahead. Not sure how that was going to happen now that there was no road to follow.

John forged on ahead on a bearing, through the vegetation and a shallow wash or two. He seemed to see signs of an old road and sort of figured out where it had been, even though it was now overgrown. He kind of sniffed it out, like a road-whisperer. This is a new skill that we hadn't seen before. I reset my pace-count and we all made note of a double-hill feature (a pair of fried eggs was one description) in the distance that we were aiming to go just around.

A couple kilometers later, still on a pseudo-road that only John could see, we crossed some washes, crossed a road or two that wasn't on the map, and continued making progress. We saw lights in the distance that seemed like houses? That didn't make a lot of sense. Also way off to the right we saw a set of lights that looked like a town of decent size, too far north to be Chloride, and we wondered what that was. None of our maps showed it (it was off the edge), and we thought it would be pretty funny if it turned out we were all hallucinating it.

I continued pace-counting, resetting the count whenever John was confident in our location. We started seeing old beer cans and other bits of trash, which was encouraging. At least someone had been this way once! We followed a wash upward for a ways, then the wash slowly morphed into an actual honest-to-goodness road. If we had all been more awake, I think we would have been suitably impressed and congratulatory of John. So at least I can say it now after the fact - nice going!!

The road passed the egg-hills and then there it was - our left turn right where it was supposed to be. Amazing. We tried following it, but it didn't make great sense, so we stayed within a wide wash, which was easier to follow on the map. We stayed near the hills to the left, heading southwest, and the road came back to us.

Dave had the map now, aiming us toward a watertower at 2 kilometers after our left turn. There it was, an excellent position verification. It would be our only landmark for the next 4+ kilometers to the checkpoint, so I reset the pace count and we took a good look at the map before starting off. We would be going slightly uphill and following a road we didn't trust that went up various splits in the drainages in mostly parallel directions and without any big features to work off of. Good luck with that, Dave!

We followed the wash up various intersections, and occasionally we had something of a road to work with too. It was really more of a wide wash. At least it was easy walking, as Kip was started to feel the blisters on his feet again.

At one point we crossed a perpendicular road (not on the map) but looked to the left to see a road sign? That's odd. We went over to look, and it was an actual green street sign that seemed truly out of place in the middle of nowhere. None of the roads going away from it were in the right direction, however, so we returned to the wash.

After quite a while of guessing and hoping, we noticed small ridges on either side of us. We sent John up to a highpoint to look around. He spotted a road just ahead, going the right way. Finally! We got on the road, and sure enough it dead-ended into another road like we hoped. We turned south and walked right toward an area with a windmill and water tower. Nice going, Dave! Phew, that could have been ugly but it worked out in the end. Again.

We headed down a small hill to where CP10 was plotted on the map, then found the water tower just up the way. We had been told to look for water jugs behind the water tower, and they were indeed there. We did a reset of our Spot GPS tracking device and hit the "OK" button to record that we were there, since it wasn't actually a manned CP but it was a mandatory location.

Someone suggested that we could use a short sleep break, so we moved away from the water depot and up on a flat-ish hilltop. It was actually chilly out, something new. We got out our space blanket sleeping bags, put on all the clothes we had, and crawled in. It was the first time John and I used our sleeping bags (Dave had been using his all along), and they turned out to be quite warm even though they collected condensation inside. Good enough for the first use, anyway.

Kip, who had opted not to carry his space blanket, got cold first and roused everyone to start walking. We noticed another team, who had arrived just as we were falling asleep, a short ways away in their sleeping gear. And they had a fire going! What a great idea. I was tempted to quietly go over there and hang out by their fire for a few minutes to warm up, but we were getting warm just by walking so we kept moving.

We followed a road north for a spell, then cut cross-country for 1.5 kilometers to another road. The roads in this area were much better (i.e. correct on the map), thank goodness. Of course at this point, we had only to go north until we hit Cottonwood Road, at worst case. We did fine following old jeep roads, passing a couple wells along the way, and eventually coming out on the park road just like we had planned.

I had been assuming the park road would be paved, but was ever-so-glad that it was actually dirt. We were heading a long ways downhill, and pavement would have been more painful all around. This was yet another alternate route, to avoid a big canyon and then lots of strange-looking contour lines heading down to the lake. The decision to avoid the canyon was made easy when it turned out we didn't need the rope/ropes gear OR the pack rafts by taking this direction. None of us had been looking forward to heavy packs again, and now we lightened that load considerably. It would have been fun to do that canyon - but it will have to wait for another time.

The downside of this route was that there was no navigation left to do. We were just following one road for a long ways down to the lake. Our minds could shut off, but our bodies still had to work to keep moving. The first part down was steep, good for running downhill and making decent time. The road curved a few times, going through some interesting hills on either side.

Then it seemed like we popped out into the open and we could see the whole lake spread out below us. In the moonlight it actually seemed like we didn't have far to go. We found the marina lights across the way and the dam to the south of us, even the casino lights of Laughlin in the distance. This should have been a clue that we were still pretty high up, but we chose at that point in time to be optimistic that we would be down to the edge of the water soon.

We were looking forward to starting the canoe leg and being off our feet for good. I was hoping to start the paddle early in the day before any winds came up, since we had to traverse east-to-west at the northern end of a wide basin area to reach the narrower part of the river that runs north-south. Prevailing winds were from the south, and with 4 people in one canoe we didn't really like the idea of side-winds. However, we'd certainly take a tail wind later in the day if we have that, please.

John, who tends to be the most optimistic of us all, estimated that we'd be down at the TA in some short amount of time like 20 minutes or something that we can only marvel at now. Dave thought we had more like 5 kilometers to go. None of us felt like getting out the map to see if we could figure it out, because basically it all looked the same once we got out of the hills anyway.

Silly us, it was more like 8 kilometers and 1300 vertical feet... I'm not whether it would have been better to know that at the time or not. John estimated that we would soon see a fork in the road that would indicate that we were almost there. We tried to run to hurry things up, but that got old rather quickly.

Nothing changed except our feet started hurting a bit. Then tedium set in. The only progress we could measure was when something disappeared from view - first the dam and lights to the south. Then eventually the marina. It was the strangest optical illusion that the lake looked so close in the light of the full moon. And yet, it never came any closer!

I finally called a break in order to rest my feet. I followed Dave's lead in propping my feet up on the bank beside the road. Soon we were all uncomfortable enough to get moving again, because apparently we had all just crashed "wherever" and finally started to notice the rocks poking into our bodies and faces. Restarting the trek was getting difficult for Kip and his feet blisters. He would hobble for a while until they went numb and he could move again with some semblance of velocity.

John had gone on ahead to see if he could find the lake, and after we had gone a little ways I started wondering if he hadn't taken a sleep break, and if he had, would we notice where he was lying down? It sure would be stupid to walk right by him, then not be able to find each other on the side of the mountain in the middle of the night. Just when I got a bit concerned, his headlamp blinked in the darkness ahead, and we blinked an answer. Team V, back together again.

John hadn't found anything of interest. Later he came across a USGS marker next to the road, which would have been really interesting if we had thought to compare it to the map. There were several markers all the way down, and they probably had the elevation listed on them. But no, we continued on, oblivious.

We did several running sets as long as we could all manage it. My feet started hurting more, and my heel blisters from the rogaine the previous week were finally making themselves heard (they had not bothered me a bit up until then). As much as we all might have wanted to complain, no one really did - we more tried to coax the lake closer to us by sheer will. Get there, get there, get there.

After all, it was our own decision to take this tedious detour, skip the interesting stuff over in the hills to the left of us, and walk downhill for a couple hours on a road. And looking at those contours, we could only be thankful because it could be a lot worse, trying to get sore/tired feet down to the lake through THAT. Plus we weren't hot! After a while, the bright side didn't help all that much, but it was worth a try.

Let's see, how many paragraphs have I carried on about this? Quite enough, I agree! Sometime later we finally found the road split, then we were quickly to the TA/CP11 as dawn was starting to break. Thank goodness that was over.

Robert was there to greet us and welcome us to the last leg of the race. Great to be here, thank you! Gear assembly went pretty quickly since we didn't have too much to mess with. The guys got the canoe set up, we threw in a bailer and a couple sponges, and I redid my pack with a drybag inside. John and I each drank a nice can of latte and an Ensure, then I made sure to bring every bit of powder (Gatorade and lemonade) plus every nuun tablet available to drown out the taste of the river water for when we'd next need to refill our Camelbak bladders.

I even changed my socks, but then decided to sit in the canoe barefoot for a while to let my aching feet air out. We made our way down to the beach and the guys had made a spot for me in the front seat - really? I was supposed to be sitting on a sling seat in the middle like Kip was, but John was feeling sleepy and decided he should start mid-boat so he could take a nap. I was not arguing one bit.

We pushed off and glided for a bit to see how the boat would sit in the water. It was pretty low, with all the people and gear and 200 oz per person of water. But it seemed stable enough and we started paddling forward. With everyone paddling, we even had some significant speed, so that was nice. We watched the two-guy team ARC in their yellow canoe just ahead of us. They looked to be taking a scenic route, or maybe they were simply taking a break. We passed them and said good morning, also suggesting they take a closer look at their seating arrangements. They can tell you what that means.

Soon we were rounding the corner at the top of the largest open area of Lake Mohave and heading northwest to a narrower section. We had avoided a southern crosswind, and I was getting more comfortable in the tub of a boat even with all the people in it. Somewhere in here John slid under the crossbar and sling seat and fell asleep.

Dave had the map and he did a nice job with the tangents and figuring out what to aim at in the distance. Three of us paddled for a while, the sun was rising but we weren't hot yet, and we were off our feet. Happy Day. John had previously offered that he wouldn't mind trying for a couple of the optional trekking points that were placed up canyons at various takeout spots along the lake. It sounded like a fun way for a couple people to trek while others of us could paddle the boat around to the next cove and pick them up.

While Dave was trying to figure out where the first landing spot might be, I asked him if we would have to paddle out of the way to get these points, and if so, how far? When he came back with an estimate of over a kilometer, I immediately voted to veto this idea. I didn't mind the extra time, but we already had a fairly long day on the water ahead of us and I wasn't too keen on the extra paddling. Since John was sleeping anyway, we continued on past C1 and C2.

When John awoke, it was time for him and Dave to switch places. Plus Kip wanted to work on his sling seat to try to make it more comfortable. We docked on a nearby beach and worked on the rearrangements while trying to stay upright amid some motorboat wake. There were only a couple speedboats here and there so far, but I knew they could cause my biggest headaches of this leg.

Back on the water, it was Dave's turn to take a nap while John steered. For some reason I was feeling really good, really happy at this point. My paddle flashed in the sunshine as I planted it in the start of our wake beside me and I focused on my form and helping as much as I could with our forward speed. The scenery was gorgeous, and we were heading home, plus I was barefoot the whole day, which made for happy feet. I was also thrilled to be on Lake Mohave instead of Lake Mead for this paddle leg. Maybe the caffeine from the latte was kicking in :)

John played around with the map and I passed him the next one to look at. We had 2.5 maps to cover to the finish line, and we were making great progress with the first one. The only thing missing was the locations of the red/green warning lights on the first map, since I had not taken the time since the first TA to add them from the Lake Mohave fishing map.

When I passed the second map back to John, I glanced at it and figured we were probably on that map already. John didn't think so. Well, it was something to keep him busy in any case. We passed green light #35, which was the southernmost light I had marked on our maps, but John still didn't believe it. Odd, because John usually guesses incorrectly that we are further than we actually are. In this case, we were glad he was wrong! Finding out that we were making progress on map #2 already was really nice.

We passed the optional points C3 and C4 somewhere in here, but since I didn't have the map I didn't even think to ask if anyone wanted to stop to get one or two of them. I was more focused on setting up my iPod and speakers so we could have some music for the last leg of our journey. Well, the speakers only projected as far back as Kip (right behind me), but since the 3rd seat paddler was usually asleep, the only person really missing out was the guy steering. Sorry Dave and John! In return, I stuck with Joss Whedon musicals (Dr. Horrible and Buffy) that Kip and I would enjoy much more than anyone else.

So Kip and I had a rockin' good time for while, singing and laughing about the songs and lyrics. What a hoot. It sure would have been nice to have music to share during that walk down the hill overnight. It made time fly and at least two of us were having fun.

Those albums were mostly over when Dave woke up and we decided to pull over again. More rearrangements, plus some Spiz mixing. John said he was sleepy again and Kip wasn't sure how long he could stay awake. Someone suggested we could stop for a nap, or I guess keep on rotating who was lying on the bottom of the canoe in some fairly uncomfortable position. On the other hand, I was wide-awake, we were closing in on our final destination, and it was time (in my opinion) to get moving for real.

So I handed out some 5-hour energy drinks and Vivarin pills. Time to wake up, everybody! Team ARC passed by while we were getting ourselves sorted out, hi guys! We asked if they had had any luck with their sail? Sure! they replied, but not really because they knew we were joking. There was not a bit of wind to be had this morning, which disappointed us because we had brought along a kite that we wanted to try. Where was the prevailing south wind that had blown so hard in our faces on the bike leg the previous day, where I ask??

Back on the lake (and somehow I was still in the front seat, but I wasn't about to ask about it!), we started seeing landmarks that we knew. John and I had biked down to Nelson's Landing in training, over there on the left. There was the cove where CP3 had been. A couple more kilometers, don't get us too close to the rocks amid the big boat wake, John!, then there was the rock we almost got too close to with our pack raft. More red and green lights to follow our position, and then - map switch! Time for our last map, yay!

Somewhere along here we saw team ARC at the shore, so we decided to call out "arc, arc, arc," trying to sound like a bunch of seals. Yep, we were pretty sleep-deprived and juvenile. They stared at us, telling us later that they just couldn't think of a good response to that. I don't blame them!

Dave and John somehow managed to swap seats while we were still on the water, and despite my protests and yelling they didn't even tip us over. I wasn't looking back to see what they were doing. I went to get a drink of water but decided to wait until everyone else was paddling. But someone else was fiddling with something. Then someone else was eating. Then someone was peeing over the side of the boat (again, not looking back!). When it seemed we were all paddling, I'd reach for my Camelbak tube and then someone would stop to do something yet again. Oh for goodness sakes, guys.

I tried to say something, but apparently John and Dave could hardly hear me. This is nothing new, as I don't have a loud voice, but I was seriously trying to project and they would be like, "what??" I looked back to see that they both had their swamp cooler scarves tied around their head. And ears. Well, no wonder. Kip became the intermediary, shouting back anything I wanted to communicate to them, and relaying their replies to me. So close and yet so far away.

We saw some tourist kayakers and their support boats, but they didn't have any sodas we could buy. Just a bunch of wake from their boats for us to bob over. We were at least making progress on the warning lights, having passed #45. I thought we were aiming just past #51, although Dave tried to correct me that we also had to pass #52.

Dave studied the map and pronounced that we had only 9 kilometers to go. Good news! We would be done before dark for sure, because there was no way we were doing the extra distance (another 8 miles upstream and back) to the final two optional points.

Just after that announcement, a large flat-bottomed boat came around the corner. It looked to have a pretty solid wake behind it, but Dave didn't seem to care, continuing the bearing that he was already on. We passed practically right behind the boat and crossed the wake, a significant set of waves. As we started up the first wave, I yelled, "nine kilometers, not smart, NOT SMART!" The front of the canoe splashed down between waves and plowed into the next one, soaking me with water. This repeated a couple times before everything calmed down again.

I was rather seething and the back of the boat was quiet for a while except for a bit of mumbling. At least we hadn't swamped. The guys all paddled together for a while as I used a sponge to get the excess lake water out of the canoe and eventually calmed down. There was a bit more bickering here and there - I think we were all ready to be finished! Kip sat in the middle and jokingly moaned that our team was falling apart at both ends of the boat.

Finally Dave announced our final turn to the east was coming up, then not far to go from there. Sweet! He noticed that that plants on the bank were all bent over from the south wind that normally blows but was totally silent today. He declared that he hated those plants. Looking down into the water, we could see huge trees at the bottom from before the lake was flooded, and closer to the surface some plants that were bent downstream from the current. I don't think Dave was too pleased with those plants either.

Because we started to notice some current - nothing obvious, but we were all padding in earnest now since we could taste the finish line and we weren't moving anywhere nearly as fast as we had been earlier. We were all getting itchy to be out of the boat, to stand up and stretch, to get some relief for cramped knees, legs, and backs. I was hoping that warning light #51 was the last one, but really we had yet another to go. Plus another kilometer after that.

We could see civilization up ahead - cars, roads, construction, buildings. I thought that was Willow Beach Marina and the finish line, but Dave didn't think that matched the map. He kept checking side inlets, expecting to see something that wasn't there. He would aim to the right, convinced we should be there already. I kept staring at what I thought was the marina. Then Dave took a totally different course, aiming first directly at a fisherman in his boat, and then to the left of the buildings. I wasn't sure why he didn't believe me. It turned out he was just being lazy with the steering, but it was humorous to me at the time.

Finally we saw a race volunteer - hello!! He was up on a rock and pointed us to the beach where we should land for the finish/CP12. Then he took off running up the shoreline, meeting us as we pulled up on the beach. The group of folks there wanted to know if we intended to go upstream for the final two trekking points? Heck no! We were done!

Desert Winds photo
Almost there!

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Pulling up on the finish beach

It turned out that the top two teams, DART-nuun and Bones, were actually still upstream doing just that. They had been gone for a while, actually. While we were pulling out gear to put into Bob's car, someone yelled that they were coming. Right now! Both teams! We looked up to see two canoes with paddles flashing, 4 people in each canoe in perfect synch, all pulling as hard as they could to get to the beach first. I stood transfixed, mouth open, amazed at this spectacle of two teams racing their guts out for almost four days and reaching the finish line at pretty much the same time. It was so amazing and so close that I actually don't even remember who landed first. Wow, we were so lucky to have seen that! Huge kudos to both teams for your incredible, inspiring performances.

Oddly enough, we were the first team to get to the finish line, probably had the fewest optional points of all teams, and finished in 3rd place (3 days and just over 20 hours of racing time). Robert actually called it 2nd place after awarding a tie to the top 2 teams. All remaining teams finished in the next 24 hours after completing different parts of the course in different ways - a truly unique race that was probably difficult to score!

I will certainly never forget this event, and it was definitely once-in-a-lifetime. Hopefully Robert and Druce will find other (legal) venues to put on similarly-spectacular and challenging races, and we will try to find a way to be there. Thank you to them for staging Desert Winds 2010, we are so glad we came to experience it.

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A tired but happy Team Vignette

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Team Too Cool at the finish

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At the awards banquet

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Receiving our 3rd (or 2nd) place awards

Huge props to my teammates for helping me through all the craziness, especially John for carrying a lot of my stuff, doing a great job on the ropes, and for being my pack raft buddy; Dave for not giving up after being sick and for being strong on the bike; and Kip for his excellent canyon navigation and for finding a way to the finish line with hurting, blistered feet. I love racing with you guys!
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