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Too Cool "Big Chill" 2009 Race Report

January 24-25, 2009
Bastrop/Smithville, Texas
by Marcy Beard
Photos by Curtis Slaten and Dave's Mom

I have grown rather fond of Too Cool's Big Chill 24-hour adventure race. Maybe it's the colder temps that I enjoy, or maybe it's because we don't have as many opportunities to do 24-hour adventure races nowadays (between our traveling and other races). Maybe it's the navigation fun at Rocky Hill Ranch (RHR) and Bastrop State Park (BSP). Or maybe I was simply looking forward to the possibility that I might be on the winning 4-person co-ed team for the first time this year.

Kip has grown rather less fond of the Big Chill, deciding to volunteer instead of race this year. John and Dave were still gung-ho about it. Dave helped us track down Kristi Darby to join us as our fourth teammate. Kristi is very capable, upbeat, and enjoyable to race with. She was also game for whatever got thrown at her, which turned out to be perhaps more than she bargained for.

Dave's whole family came out to help set up our TA and cheer us on during the race. They didn't get much chance to watch us, but we knew they were always wishing us well.

The race started on foot, carrying our biking helmets (our bikes would be transported for us to an unknown location). We tore open an envelope to find information about historical Bastrop and the first clue to the "Amazing Bastrop Race" - an urban leg, what fun!

We jogged toward the park entrance while searching for Arena Park on the town map. Someone spotted it just outside the park, so we ran to it with a bunch of other teams. We had to pick one teammate to perform a challenge - John is a good default for things like that. Especially when it involves a farm animal.

John deftly swooped into the arena, snagged a befuddled goat, and carried it over to Garrett (Robyn's son). I'm not sure Garrett was too keen on getting a goat deposited in his lap, but he gave John our next clue anyway.

Another racer bringing Garrett a goat:

Next we had the choice of bringing one canned good per teammate to the Bastrop Opera House, or going to the jail to look something up and bringing the answer to the Opera House. We were carrying one can of tuna already, but needed three more. John raced down the hill toward a convenient store while I tried to locate the Opera House on the map. Got it! Dave ran into the store to provide John with some extra cash - apparently cans of vegetables in Bastrop convenient stores aren't too cheap.

Other races in the same store - always fun to mix with the locals!

Team Peanut Butter running through town:

We made our way into town and over to the Opera House where we exchanged cans for a word search puzzle. Kristi and Dave located BSP-related words while I fumbled to find my pen. When the puzzle was completed we found the 9 letters at the intersection of two words, then rearranged them to come up with "Ferry Park".

Racers working on the word search:

Team Werewolves finishes their puzzle:

John located the park on the map and decided we should run down to the river. We asked a local on the way, and she confirmed the idea of running down to the river walkway and toward the highway. That also involved going back UP some stairs, which cost us slightly. Team Knights of Ni met us at the Ferry Park gazebo where we all got our next cluesheet.

We weren't the only ones climbing extra stairs, apparently:

Next we had to find a newspaper place, based on its motto about being the Oldest something-or-other. The Knights went into the Visitor Center to ask, which seemed like a great idea to us. The lady inside directed us to the next street over. Sure enough, there was another volunteer with our next challenge.

We were given Thursday's local paper and told to find our next destination. It turned out to be inside a Too Cool ad with the words "Sugar Shack" - sweet! We took off running across the river, since we knew exactly where this place was located. Dave volunteered to handle the last challenge, which turned out to require eating some chewy beef jerky.

Robyn handed us our race map and coordinates for the first two legs. Other teams were right on our heels, and everyone tried to find a place to plot points out of the crazy wind. With knees on the corners of the map, we managed OK.

A smart team (not us) plots inside the Sugar Shack:

The bad news: It was going to be a super-long paddle, over 25 miles from Fisherman's Park in Bastrop down past Smithville and under highway 71. The river was quite low and rather slow. While the wind continued to blow (I am so not a poet).

We ran back across the bridge and lugged the boats down to the water. It was fun "woo-hoo"ing up to the teams on the bridge as we passed underneath. For a while we had a tailwind, some current, and deep water, so it felt like we were gliding along at a decent rate. The low river required vigilance to keep from ending up in inches-deep water. It actually made for a nice challenge, trying to read the ripples and anticipate the turns. We did some zigzagging and worked on our communication between the front and back of the boat. Only once did we truly lose our concentration and run aground. John and Dave got their feet wet a couple times, while Kristi and I thanked the guys profusely for unsticking the boats with us still in them.

Approaching CP1:

The first section to Tahitian Village went well. John got out to punch CP1 and hand out chocolates to a couple of the volunteers. As we were sliding back into the river, team AAR pulled up in their 4-person canoe.

They were hauling butt on the water. Soon after CP1 they zoomed past us and it was fun talking with them briefly. They told us that the Knights and Werewolves weren't too far back, and we confirmed that they were now the lead boat.

We paddled, and paddled, and paddled. It took quite a bit longer than expected to reach the next checkpoint. It's hard for me to judge why our time was significantly slower than last year - either less paddle speed, or a slower river, or some of each. Whenever the boat was in shallow water, we could feel an obvious drag, so we tried to aim for deeper areas, but that wasn't always possible. In any case, I felt bad that we had underestimated the paddle time for Kristi. I don't think she enjoyed the length of this leg much.

Truth be told, I was starting to really not enjoy it myself. Especially when the wind started blowing in our faces, slowing us and chilling us down. The Knights of Ni gradually made their way toward us, passing us not long before CP2. We were so happy to finally spot the pecan grove where a Special Test awaited. We were all rooting for something that would get us out of the boats for a while. Looks like we might get our wish - team AAR was just leaving when we arrived.

We hobbled up to Kip to get our instructions. We would be taking a bearing and pace counting to a piece of flagging, then getting the next bearing/distance from the flagging. And also a letter. After 4 sets of numbers and letters, we would return to the boats with an anagrammed word from the 4 letters.

The first flagging tape (letter U) was 190 meters up the hill to a loud piece of machinery. We took another bearing, slightly left of the Knights, and started pace counting. My count was oddly off-track, but John and Dave had it wired. As did the Knights, because they found the next flagging (letter E) dead-on. We took off across the pecan grove in the same direction.

None of us found the next flagging right away. And the area was bisected by active water sprinklers to keep things interesting. We dodged water spray and tried to search the area. The Knights went back to the previous flagging to try again, while we spread out. Kristi spotted the orange tape behind a shed. Thank goodness! Both teams ran up to it (letter T) and then started back toward the boats.

The last one was easy (letter D - Tude? Dute?) and then we trotted back to the canoes, grateful for the chance to warm up a bit. Mike Drost yelled something about not yelling the word out loud, which I misheard and yelled "duet" back at him, oh well. That was right, in any case, so we punched CP2 and got back on the water.

The paddle got a bit easier after that, first from having a nice break, and also because John and I recognized the rest of the river from having paddled there several times in the past. We made bets about when the Smithville bridge would appear, so John now owes me a dollar. It was also nice to have a good idea which side of the river would be deepest before you got there, so we were slightly more efficient in that section.

Finally we went under the Smithville bridge and then under highway 71 to the takeout. Oh thank goodness. It took about 6.5 hours total, including almost half an hour in the pecan grove.

Whatever you do, do NOT tip this boat over!

Team Knights of Ni landing right behind us:

We wouldn't have much daylight left for RHR. But first, the hardest part of the whole race. We put on every piece of clothing we hadn't yet donned, then shivered as we got on our bikes to ride along roads to RHR. CP4 was next to the road along the way, and CP5 was at the RHR shed. We set up a pace line and tried to keep our fingers and toes from going completely numb. I felt bad for Dave and John with their wet shoes.

John didn't seem too unhappy about it:

I had seen enough of the maps to make an initial plan - we were going to aim for the "corner" at the top of Fat Chucks. On the singletrack heading up there, I happened to spot CP11 in a draw near the trail, so we stopped and got that one. By the time we had lugged the bikes up Fat Chucks hill, we were getting warmer. We stopped to pull out the RHR topo map and set up a detailed plan for the rest of the CP's on the ranch.

"This is my favorite part," I said as we started off again. Figuring out the topo and the trails and the best way to the points really makes RHR fun for me, much more than just riding some designated set of trails. We went up the jeep road to the back entrance of Off the Lip, then crossed over on foot to find CP10. Back to the east fence line, we went north until we found the Tris Cross draw. A bit of cross-referencing got us to CP9.

We bushwhacked just a short ways to Omar's Revenge and then rode along it backwards. It had just gotten dark, and I was having trouble keeping up with Dave and Kristi, so we got out Dave's Nite Rider light for my helmet. Ahh, so much better. Dave spotted CP6 on a nearby hilltop, nice catch.

Moving west, we jumped out to the Avenue of the Pines road and followed it to Pine Pin. CP7 was in a draw, where John found the coordinates for CP12. We had a bit of confusion about the UTM numbers but decided that a couple digits were transposed. In any case, the clue "RHR Shed" was pretty clear.

We followed Pine Pin west to the fence line and rode north to the top corner of the park. Dave was following on the topo map and questioned whether CP8 was close by. I had thought it was off the top of the map like last year. We stopped to evaluate, when some lights came south toward us. After double-checking the UTM coordinates, we decided Dave was right, so we jumped into the draw next to us. The other team didn't stick around.

We pushed our way through trees in to CP8, which was pretty close to the Coyote Run trail. Ah well, at least we didn't waste too much time there. We went back to the bikes and rode Coyote Run back to the Avenue of the Pines. I'm thinking there was a better way to do that (along the north boundary), we'll have to figure that out next time!

We saw what we believe was team AAR looking at their maps as we rode south. After some fence line riding, we eventually made it back to Fat Chucks. A bunch of other teams were heading north, and one team (Outcast) was working on a flat tire at the shed. John punched CP12 there and we readied ourselves for some chilly road riding.

It was a long way on pavement back to BSP, but it turned out not as bad as expected. There were plenty of uphills to keep us warm, and the downhills were short. We chatted and rode along, eventually finding CP13 at the Cottletown Road intersection. By the last section into BSP, we started seeing 12-hour teams going the other way, so that gave us an indication we'd be headed there on bikes eventually ourselves.

Our fingers and toes were numb again by the time we made it to the TA, but we were just happy to be there. Quite a crowd greeted us! Robyn handed us a jigsaw puzzle to assemble and a Lost Pines Hiking Trail map to use as a guide. The puzzle was the same map, with three CP's on it. Excellent!

We struggled a bit with a wobbly table, cold hands, and stiff backs that didn't want to lean over, but each of us picked a section of the puzzle and did a reasonable job at putting it together. I fished the pen out of my pack to plot the points on our map, and it was finally time to head to our TA tent.

It was a quick transition, mostly eating and filling bladders with liquid. We knew we would be warm soon enough - time to go! We followed trails to the pond, found an inlet, and walked up it and then up a hill to CP14. I took us east from there to a park trail that led to the main road. We were all excited that we had complete feeling in every extremity by this point.

We ran down the road and cut in to find a fence line and CP15. Trails and an old roadbed led south and back to the park road. We were chatting and watching a team on bikes, but luckily I caught sight of the change in direction on my compass in time. The draw we needed was right next to us. We followed it up to CP16 and back, and then crossed over to park trails for a trek back to the TA.

Teams AAR and Knights of Ni were now on the trekking leg, between 30-60 minutes behind us. So we were doing OK but couldn't afford to let up and we certainly didn't want to make any big mistakes. We plotted the three points for the next biking leg, also discussing whether it was really the second-to-last leg or not. We sure hoped so!

John carried all our climbing gear in a big pack Dave had brought for that purpose. I changed into warmer gloves and added grocery bags inside my shoes. Overall we were warmer on this biking leg than the last one, and that made us happy.

The first point was near the pond, a short trek in to find the ropes section. Brian Rooney was there (another recipient of John's chocolate handouts). Apparently he hadn't had enough time to make the traverse as evil-difficult as he had wanted, which was OK with us. Dave, then John went across. I followed, letting a lanyard dangle so they could help pull me up to the end where I could stand up. Kristi followed and they helped her up too. Thanks guys!

Back on our bikes, we peddled out to Gotier Trace Road where Dave located a nice little side road leading down toward a creek. On foot, we pushed through some brush to find the water and CP18. We backtracked to the road, followed it down to Alum Creek Road, and rode until we found the culvert and CP19. More road riding, and we were back to the TA. The CP's were flying by at this point, and our lead looked pretty good.

The next CP sheet confirmed it WAS the last leg - yay! We plotted 4 points, which is fewer than the normal final huge trek. However, those points were relatively far from TA and mostly in dry ditch systems, so there weren't any "gimme" points and we'd still have to run quite a ways. We packed some food and took off.

The purple Lost Pines trail turned out to be our friend for this leg. We followed it around clockwise, starting with CP20 in a draw. We took a bearing from a pond and came right to it. On the southern section of the trail, we approached CP22 from just below a large draw and then cut north to it. John spotted it without too much searching.

CP21 concerned me a bit, because I wasn't quite sure where the purple trail was in relation to the dry ditch system. We jumped off the trail a bit early, but Dave and Kristi eventually came across the right area with the ditches going the right direction. Dave called over that he had found the CP - oh wait, no, that's just a trail marker. John had only heard the "I found it" part, so he came over to ask where it was. Just as Dave was about to explain, John said "oh, it's right here" - just one little ditch over from Dave and Kristi. Too funny.

One more to go! We ran on the trail, past the power line, over to Harmon Road. I asked Kristi if she wanted to do the nav to CP23 and she was ready to try. Dave helped her with the plan and they led us up the trail to top of a rise. Kristi set a bearing and aimed southwest. We followed, and just as I started thinking we had gone too far, Kristi walked right to the checkpoint flag - nicely done!

Dave tried to get us back to the trail, which turned out to be one of the more difficult tasks of the day, what with all the brush in the way. Finally we pushed out to the path and we were off and running again. We retraced our steps from earlier and followed roads and trails back to the TA. We had held our lead, actually gaining time at the end, and we were really happy to be done!

Congrats to everyone who stuck it out under cold and windy conditions! It was not an easy race, but we enjoyed many parts of it. Big thanks to Robyn, Art, and all the volunteers - another excellent Too Cool race!

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