May 15, 2010, after TURFF race

When I mentioned that we are taking part in WAR24 to Scott and Melissa, they became speechless. Upon recovery, Melissa said: “Wow! It’s… impressive” in a tone I would have used if my best friend, a nerdy MD/PhD, had registered for a marathon. I reminded them that in order to win they need us as a “reference point”. Also, there is a hope that the race will be cancelled due to the low number of the participants. In this case we can pretend that we are very sorry, and I can stay in Chicago for two extra days.

May 27, 2010

An e-mail from Frank made it very obvious: the race is happening no matter what. I changed my plane tickets. Now, there in no way back.

June 5, 2010

We are doing a 5-mile trail running race as a “preparation” for the next Saturday. I know we should have practiced navigation instead but running is much easier. Crossing a river was fun: the water was waist deep.

June 6, 2010

I’m flying to Tampa for my board exam. It’s the only place you can take it, you cannot choose the dates, and there is only one hotel you can stay in. What a waste of time and money.

June 7, 2010

I got an e-mail from Frank with an Update#1. I just finished the first day of examination. I had been questioned for about 8 hours, and I cannot quite process what he is saying. The race looks more complex than I imagined but I cannot worry about it right now. My friend mentions alcohol – indeed, that is a good idea. We clearly need a drink.

June 8, 2010

After 7,5 hours of torment the exam is finally over. I’m flying to Chicago to visit my best friend. I can probably read the Update#1 on a plane one more time.

June 9, 2010

Frank invited us to join them in Cook’s Cabin, which is in Boy Scout Camp somewhere in the woods of Warren, where the race starts. That is very nice of him cause we have no idea where to spend a night before the race.

June 11, 2010

14.00. I just came back from Chicago. Max met me at Pittsburgh airport with all the gear packed in the jeep. Our dog is staying with our friends. We are driving straight to Warren.

19.00. Against all odds, we found a cabin, and the door was opened. The camp looks abandoned, and not a living soul is seen around. The shack has electricity and even a bathroom. We transferred the gear to “our” room and are trying to decide what is needed for which leg of the race, and what is going into a bag for transition area #2… and #1… and how to distribute food… and… speaking of food: Max points out that we didn’t have dinner and we don’t have anything for breakfast. I point to the box with at least 50 bars and 60 gels he brought from home. He looks at me and the box with disgust and opens a bag of jerky and a bottle of beer (THAT he didn’t forget). We take a couple of armchairs outside. I have a cigar in my “exam” backpack. Life is good.

23.00. Frank&Co has not arrived yet. I have a tiny hope that they won’t come at all. In this case we’ll finish our beer stocks in the morning, drive back to Pittsburgh in the evening and forget about this adventure. Now I’m going to bed if all this crap fits under it. What a mess.

June 12, 2010

0.00. I hear voices and they are not exactly in my head: somebody is in the house. I get up very quietly, tip toe into the “living room” and turn the switch on. I hoped for better effect: only Sarah got mildly scared. Damn. She and Rob are volunteers for the race. There are two dogs: shy Ben, the Border collie, and a very friendly bulldog whose name I forgot to ask. Frank and Bethann are cheerful as usual like they haven’t spent the entire Friday in the woods. Everybody agrees that we have to get some sleep now.

8.30. Bethann gave us oatmeal for breakfast and detailed instructions on how to arrange our stuff. The rest of the crap goes into the jeep, which stays in the camp. We’ll have to retrieve it somehow tomorrow morning but there is no point to worry about it. Tomorrow might never come in spite of the fact that Bethann promised that we can continue the race even if we don’t get a “minimum passing score” on each leg. I wonder if Frank knows about this deal.

9.30. We are finally done with packing and repacking, and Bethann urges us to go down to the river and prepare a canoe for the first leg. She didn’t mention that we had to take paddles with us... Frank helps us arranging the bikes and backpacks in a canoe and gives advice on how to paddle. Did I mention that we have a very limited experience with kayaks but canoeing is a novelty to us?

10.20. We are back to the “dining hall”, where the rest of the participants are waiting for a pre-race meeting. Bethann suggests us going back to the river with the paddles and reminds that we didn’t sign a waiver, didn’t get a race bag and didn’t plot CPs for the first trekking leg. While Max delivers paddles and PFDs to the canoe, I plot the CPs. Then I look at my brand new race shirt only to discover that we have to complete 100 miles in 24 hours. Max is terrified by this fact. We get our team number painted on different body parts – very convenient for identification in case of mass disaster.

10.40. Scott and his teammates tell us about the strategy they planned and their approximate finish time. For some reason he thought we did planning as well. I was afraid to disappoint him: even if we had planned something it would have never worked in the reality.

11.00. Pre-race meeting. I’m writing down the instructions like crazy. Max is mumbling that I can stop right now cause we’ll never go beyond the first trekking leg.

11.40. Pre-race picture is taken.

11.50. I’m eating somebody’s energy bar and drinking somebody’s “gatorade”. Max wants to say something disapproving, then sighs and takes a half of the food. The Rubicon is almost crossed.

11.55. Everyone has lined up at the start line. Everyone but us wears a PFD. We were the only idiots who took them down to the canoe.

12.00. START. It’s the easiest part of the race – 1.25 miles of running downhill. That’s good that Frank changed his mind about us carrying a canoe with the bikes to the river. It would have taken us several hours – darn thing is pretty heavy and bulky.

12.10. We managed to leave the shore without capsizing. Paddling seems to be easy. I don’t know why people make a big fuss of it.

12.30. Can somebody stop this goddamn wind? And who said that paddling is easy? We are zig-zagging instead of going forward smoothly and effortlessly like other teams do. We used all our might to pass a team and guess what? In 20 minutes we are far behind again. We have a serious argument about paddling technic: Max has his own idea and I’m trying to apply to practise what I’ve seen on “youtube”. No matter what we do, we have to straighten bloody canoe every 3 minutes.

13.00. Can somebody turn the sun off? It must be 40C, and none of us dares to fetch some water. The canoe takes on a life of its own if left unattended even for a second. Now I know how the galley slaves felt.

13.30. The transition area #1 is very close but we are moving away from it. Ed is waiving from the shore, and Bethann is trying to direct us from the motor boat. We are not exactly blind or deaf – we can see and hear them well but we have no control over canoe.

13.40. We finally moored in the bay and tried to carry the canoe to the shore. It didn’t go well: we had to drag it for the most parts. I didn’t zip a map case well, and both the trekking map and the instruction sheet are wet. We were given an additional map, where we managed to plot CPs pretty accurately.

14.00. We are jogging along the asphalt road in the direction of the trail. We have 4 hours and at least 15 points to collect in order to continue. That means we have to find 4 CPs including obligatory #1 and #7. There is a trail, and so far it is well marked. It seems too good to be true.

15.00. We’ve been lost and had to return to the beginning of the trail. I don’t know how I found it after all bushwhacking. We have to start all over but there are only 3 hours left.

16.00. We got CP#1 and CP#4 but missed CP#2 – as usual, we were running without paying attention. If we get CP#6 and CP#7, we will be fine. Two hours should be sufficient for that.

17.00. Totally lost but keep running – if we hit the river, we can probably find our way. According to the map, we need an intersection of a bay and a stream. Here is a shore of the river, and we are pretty far from the bay. We have to hurry up.

17.20. CP#7 is collected, but we have only 14 points and 40 minutes left. If we get back on time and Frank is not around, Bethann will probably let us to continue. With so little time left it will be faster if we go along the shore – the third bay should be ours.

17.40. Here is the bay#3, but it’s not the TA#1. It’s clear now that we have to keep going along the shore, and the TA will be just around the corner. It will be faster if we cut through the woods and return to the asphalt road. Max doesn’t care any longer. He is very upset that we won’t be allowed to continue. Well, loosing is a part of a game, isn’t it? I’m upset too cause first time in my life I’ll have a “DNF” line in front of my name. But that’s ok, we deserved it.

17.57. We worked our way through the last portion of blackberry bushes and hit the asphalt road. We have three minutes left. We’ll never make it but I persuaded Max to make an effort. Run, Forrest, run.

18.05. We have been penalized 5 points for being 5 minutes late. Bethann says we can continue in spite of the fact that now we have only 9 points instead of required 15. There is only one condition: we have to complete a bike leg by 22.00, and it will be even better if we come earlier. She suggests us getting 15 or even 14 points and returning back as soon as we can. There is another paddling, trekking and biking leg ahead, and… We clearly are the team of “special needs”, and it’s very embarrassing. But we want to finish the race, and we’ll do what we were told.

18.30. We are sitting on the ground with three maps in front of us. They make a nice collage. I’m able to recognize some landmarks on all three but not able to picture what we have to do except for going to an ATV trail, which more likely is the one we passed at the very beginning of the trekking leg. Rob takes pity on us and calls Bethann. She explains how to use the maps. They will probably give us a GPS for the next part. Or a guide.

19.30. We found CP#8, which was not difficult, and are pedaling uphill. Scott and Melissa rushed by – they were on the home run. Lucky bastards.

20.00. Ed punched our card – he is CP#9 and CP#14. He cheerfully reminds us that the ATV single track is 10 miles long, and two hours would be enough to get all CPs if we don’t get lost. We cannot get lost. We promised to be back by 22.00 even if the get no points.

20.40. This is hopeless. We found neither CP#10 nor CP#11, and I used a compass and all the instructions. The problem is that we cannot measure the distance accurately. I suggest us returning to TA#1 now, and screw the rest of the CPs. Ed is clearly disgusted when we come back with no points but punches our card with CP#14.

21.00. Downhill is fast and fun. We had to stop for CP#15, which is the same as CP#8 but you have to get it only after CP#14.

21.15. We finished way ahead of deadline with 14 points only. Bethann is relived and says it’s not a big deal. We can continue the race.

21.40. With everyone’s help, we are waterborne again. Our canoe and PFDs are decorated with glow sticks and flashing red lights. The night is very quite and peaceful, and our paddling “technic” dosen’t bother me any longer. On the contrary, Max is agitated. He keeps mumbling about damn bridge, which must be thousand miles away, and gets very upset when two teams pass us with ease.

23.40. We are at transition area #2. People around us are drinking beer and eating burgers. In real life I don’t like fast food and despise “Sierra Nevada” but right now it looks like the food of the gods. One of the girls says to someone: “These guys are doing well, aren’t they”? Had she only known… We left the bikes and packs on the parking lot. It’s time to get the maps. There are 4 CPs to collect, and all are obligatory. There are no time limits any longer – the entire night is at our disposal.

June 13, 2010

0.10. We were told to go SE from the parking lot. The compass directs us uphill, and I’m very sceptical. Max urges me to go since we don’t have any other plan. A guy comes from nowhere and explains how to find a trail. Now I see a very faint line on a topo map. That must be it: a piece of paper on a tree says it’s a Rimrock trail. It leads to Rimrock overlook, and from there we have to find another trail… or an asphalt road… depending on a map you use. Whatever. I’m trying to give myself some energy shots: Red Bull in little bottles tastes like shit.

0.45. Here is CP#16. There are several levels of rock staircases, but we are lazy to climb to the very top. I think our path starts right from CP#16.

1.00. We met team #5 punching their card at CP#16. We tried a path suggested by me but it clearly was a dead end. Ryan looks at the map again and directs us to the top of the overlook. There is indeed an asphalt road we can follow till we find a cross-county ski trail to avoid “off-limit” road 59. Theoretically, we can use #59 as long as we don’t get killed and/or hide this fact from Frank. The rest of the gang disapproves of my plans. All right, all right, as you say.

1.40. We are marching on asphalt in silence. Everyone but Ryan is in a semicomatose state. Kevin starts a conversation to break the monotony. They live in New York and did a number of 24-hours races before. Their orienteering skills are great, and I’m pretty happy they let us to tag along.

2.10. We are on cross-country ski path found by Ryan. Nobody talks any longer. Only Ryan announces quietly: “blazer… blazer…bridge…blazer”… We have already decided that we are not getting CPs in order. Out next one is #17, then #19. CP#18 is in the middle of nowhere, and if we do them in order we will be stuck in these woods forever and a day.

2.20. We are at the parking lot, where Frank stamps our cards. He says there is a relay team about 20 minutes ahead of us. We talk a bit about getting back to the TA#2, and the alternatives are grim: either a very long walk on trails and asphalt or a long walk on trails and asphalt with some bushwhacking. It doesn’t matter right now cause we have two more CPs to collect.

3.00. We are sitting on the trail at CP#19 and discussing our options. We can skip #18 and return back. We can try to find #18 and then return back. The difference is about 3 miles. Who cares then – we are going forward. Kevin takes another Advil and a 5 hrs energy shot. I swallow a caffeine pill. Max and Ryan refuse to share drugs with us.

4.00. We’ve been travelling in a single file: Ryan, Kevin, me and Max. That’s the order we maintain religiously. Don’t ask me why it suddenly became so important. Probably, we are getting insane. Kevin and I have been talking about beer for an hour. It helps us keeping the pace: Max stopped falling behind in order to make comments. CP#18 is about a mile ahead.

4.20. There is a police car with blue and red flashing lights by the stream. Nope, it’s a relay team in all its beauty. They’ve been looking for CP#18 for at least 30 minutes. So much for that – we are not wasting time on it.

5.00. The dawn is approaching. We are sitting on the stones around the trail, all 8 of us: the relay team has also decided to return back to TA#2. They leave before us, and it was the last time we saw them.

6.00. We have to climb uphill through all these bushes. That way we’ll return to the asphalt road connecting Rimrock overlook with route 59. Kevin is thinking about an extra Advil, and I take another caffeine. So far I feel fine, and Max suddenly became more energetic. The guys want to skip the last bike leg. That is a shame cause they have a lot of points for navigation.

6.40. Déjà vu: we are marching on the asphalt road in silence. Our socks and running shoes are same color: brown. We are covered in cuts and bruises. I don’t know how I’m going to bike for 25 miles. I don’t want to think about it right now.

7.20. We are back to TA#2. Relay team is still in the woods, but their teammates have already prepared for a bike ride. They gave me an apple. I’m not sure I want to bike especially after Bethann said the course was “very technical”. She and Ed persuade me at least to take a look at the map. I don’t want to see any maps any longer. Max takes over but soon gets lost and asks me to help him. I really don’t care. Bethann says we can do an “abbreviated” course by skipping 10 miles of uphill. Whatever. Max asks her to WRITE down some instructions for us. She does and makes sure we understand where to go. “Special needs” we are.

8.00. We say goodbye to Ryan and Kevin. I’m sure they could have done a shortened course in spite of all muscle cramps… Navigation points beat the speed. But they decided to quit.

8.30. If I eat another gel or an energy bar, I’ll throw up. If I drink more liquid, I’ll throw up. If I take another caffeine, I’ll throw up. But I’m still hungry, thirsty and somewhat drowsy, and I have to keep up with Max, who suddenly became very alert and oriented. Probably he took a handful of amphetamines in secret.

9.00. We are passing Seneca power plant, and it is huge. CP#22 was very easy to find, and there is a very long downhill ahead.

9.20. We are on the asphalt, and strangely enough Max is able to find the way and I feel fine again. All we have to do is to bike to Warren and find Betts park.

10.17. FINISH and REAL FOOD: soup with meat and bacon and chicken noodles. I don’t know how Bethann and Frank find time and energy for all these activities.

12.00. We are packing our stuff in the jeep. Max feels like driving all way back to Pittsburgh. I’m not sure it is wise but he insists. Frank and Bethann are staying to remove all CPs. It is raining, and they have been up as long as we had, not mentioning all preparations they made on Friday. These people are made of steel.

16.30. We are trying to do some shopping in Giant Eagle. People cast a look on us: we are moderately dirty, smelly and have big black“3” on our arms and legs.

17.30. Our friends are feeding us with baked ribs, potatoes and vegetables. Our dog is very glad to see us. All I need is a pint of beer and probably a shower. But beer comes first.



Many thanks to Bethann, Frank, Ed and the rest of the volunteers for the oatmeal, apples, advice, directions, explanations AND for dragging us through the race.

Special thanks to Ryan and Kevin for your company and help with navigation.

As hopeless as we are, one day we’ll pay it forward.