Monday, August 19, 2013

bitter pill: how we spent our morning

at 0400 they took our bikes and loaded them onto a truck. there were people with packs walking around with headlamps in the dark wearing the odd fashion of backcountry athletic clothing: tights, zip-off leg pants, bike shorts with leg warmers, removable sleeves, packs full of gear, and compasses and map bags dangling. everybody drinking up water or coffee or whatever calories and water they could take on in the last few minutes before the point of no return, the point at which everything you use or eat or drink is a thing you carry yourself.

food and drink in the parking area before the race starts are like free stuff. take as much on as you can NOW so you don't have to lug it, and you don't have to lug the containers.

at 0415 they loaded us onto schoolbusses to take us to the race start. they tell us that our first leg of the race will be travel by foot, and the ride to the start will be about 20 minutes. by the time we turn right in richmond, i know we are going up into camel's hump state forest somehow.

they let us off the busses at the parking area on the duxbury road and immediately a line of men forms along the edge of the lot in the bushes, shedding the extra water. the women probably drank as much and might have had to pee, but will wait, i think, until they can squat in the woods.

at that point i remember wishing i had refined enough the skill of peeing standing up to join that line, not so much because i need to pee, but because women who can join the line and pee standing up are badass.

at about ten minutes to five they give us the maps. the map each team gets is huge; it has all of the territory of the race on it and it covers portions of six regular quadrangle maps.

it's dark out. the ground is wet. i am overwhelmed by the hugeness of it, the newness of it.

i think of a thing i heard in a lecture on preparing for your first race, a youtube video for UCTV with larry nolan in which he says "no matter how prepared you think you are for your first race, you're not."

i think we'll just get out there and do our best with it. we have practiced hard, but no amount of practicing the skills actually matches up to being dumped in a parking lot at five in the morning with a huge map and 65 other people about to head up a mountain in the dark.

smile. it helps.
i should have taken more time to really orient myself to the map, to really match the detail on this map with the large amount of stuff i actually know about this area. i should have done it, but instead i only really oriented myself to the first point and even though we passed a map on the way up, i was too overwhelmed to do the thing i always do on the trail when i pass a map, which is TAKE A PICTURE OF THE MAP, especially if it is a map on which trails are marked, or a map that includes a "you are here" marker.

this map had both of those things but i did not think of it. people were going up! people who knew more than i did were just going by, or quickly checking the map and then heading up the mountain.

after the first checkpoint i looked at these other people. they were not sighting bearings; they appeared to be looking to follow a handrail, which seemed like a good plan to me.

a handrail in this case is a feature on the map that you can follow until it connects with another known feature on the map.

in this case the handrail was a road and a stream.

the plan was to follow the road to the stream and then take the stream up to the second bag.

and there were dozens of sets of footprints doing just that, so it seemed like a good plan.

...except the farther up the streambed we got, the fewer footprints we could see. at some point most of the racers had chosen a different way, and now the only thing we knew how to do was to follow that stream until we reached something we could recognize.

omniscient narrator from the future knows that there is a flat place where if you are on the right bank, you just keep following the stream to the second bag, but if you are on the left bank you might not see that you are now on a different fork of the stream, a fork that is seasonal and not on the map.

omniscient narrator from the future also knows that more than one team will make that same mistake and each of those teams will have a different story to tell about what comes next.

what came next for us was that we continued up that streambed until we were certain we were in the wrong place, and we had a choice: return to the last place where we KNEW where we were, or attempt  to head east and uphill and maybe catch a land feature that would tell us where we were exactly, or come to a place with enough of a view to perform a resection and find our place on the map.

an altimeter would have come in super handy. the only one i have is attached to my GPS, so i didn't have it.

so the best we could do without being able to sight any landmarks was to make guesses about where we were by way of terrain profile.

taking bearings from identifiable landmarks
we are either here, or here, or here, we reasoned. if we go uphill and east we will end up at the peak of this, this, or this. if we come out on the middle one, there will be a flat area. if we come out on the eastern one, there will be a checkpoint. if the thing we come out on doesn't have either of those two things, we will know that we are probably on this peak over here and although that is not near where we want to be,we will at least be able to make decisions about where to go next based on information instead of guesses.

the view from here.
we come up on the peak and we do not find a bag. we do not find a flat area. we know it is bad news, but at least now we have a good idea of where we are.

the point where the lines converge was our location.
 and then we see a light place ahead of us and we go there to see if there is some kind of lookout from which we can take compass readings on any two identifiable mountains.

it takes some doing, because it is hands-and-feet-climbing but we end up on a small rock just over a sharp drop and we cling to the least slippery spot and start sighting and measuring things.

hooray for having brought a map protractor! hooray for having made a little string thing to draw lines over distance! hooray for carrying a spotting scope!

because now we know where we are.

the tricky bit is that the terrain between where we are and where we want to be is so rough and we have lost SO much time that the sensible thing for us to do at this point is to go down the least steep part of the hill, where the terrain will be less likely to kill us, which then puts us in a place where the fastest way to ANYWHERE we want to go is simply to go back via the start to the first transition area, skipping a number of control points.

our new plan is to head by the easiest terrain roughly west and downhill until we run into the stream and then follow the stream back to the road.

and we're doing just that and i say to barb "hang on. i just want to look over this stream bank on the off chance there's going to be a bag" and there was CP2, just sitting there.

"really?!!?", barb says.
"i kid you dafuq not. we have found the second bag."

now, for the first time all morning, we know EXACTLY where we are and we can take a good bearing and we think maybe we can get CP3 on the way over to the transition, but we decide to have lunch before we really think too hard about it.

barb checks her phone to see if race management has sent us a text asking where we are.

they have not.

it is noon. we have spent seven hours on this. after we eat, we decide that we do not wish to spend any more time on this mountain and that we would just as well head down to the transition and pick up our boat.

the race officials cheer mightily when they see us come; they have begun to worry about us. one of them has run some trail looking for us. they have sent us a text (just after the last time we checked) and they are happy to know we are ok and happy
to send us on our way.


Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

lost, not lost, I thank you for the photos because it was absolutely gorgeous! glad you are both fine. all in all looked like fun

flask said...

thanks, peg.

later on there will be more photos and i will tell you how we spent our afternoon.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to your next post!

Chris @ GMARA


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