Sunday, July 13, 2014

PORT TO FORT--What an adventure!!

Two years ago after finishing the first Port to Fort Adventure Race, I said I would always do this race as long as it's held. That was 2012. SO far, I have made good on that promise. My teams the past two years have competed in the adventure race which has included a short swim, a 5 mile trail run, and a 5 mile canoe trip. This year, a longer race was introduced, featuring the usual 5 mile of trail running, a 7ish mile mountain bike ride, and a 7+ mile canoe trip.

The swim is my Achilles heel. I do not swim. My best is a survival dog paddle which resembles treading water almost unsuccessfully. Each year, I have swallowed my pride and embraced the leniency of the rules and used a flotation device. Year one, I brought an oversized ski vest. It kept me afloat, but I could not get horizontal in the water and eventually found that I could lean back and do the back stroke. I was the last one out of the water, but we kicked some trail running butt and finished in the middle of the pack. Last year, I decided a boogie board might be better. It did not keep my head and body above water, and I ended up wrapping my right arm around it and beat the water to death with my left arm. Brian Hoover said he thought I had broken my arm, like my arm was in a sling. But as pitiful as I looked, I was in the middle of the pack getting out of the water. This year, I went with a smaller tighter ski vest. It kept my body afloat, but I still could not do the horizontal thing,m and did the back stroke albeit maybe a little quicker. My team mates told me as soon as they could touch bottom, and I was able to walk out of the water a little sooner than before. I was in transition before some of the speedier swimmers had left, and I swam in my running clothes and shoes so I was ready to go!

Our team was the Zombie Hors d'ourves. Zombies hate "fast food" or so the saying goes. But as runners/adventure races go, we are not fast. We would be a zombie's first course, hence the name. Our team from left to right: Me, Shannon Wendt, and the one and only Mitch Drummond.

We hit the trailz, and after a half mile we had found our rhythm. We were the last team out of transition since Mitch and Channing had some shoe/clothes changing to do after the swim, but we caught a team after a mile or so. The trailz on this section were the best they have been since the race began. We were just cruising. But a super fast solo runner from the short race blew by us just before the ropes section--no worries though because he was in the shorter race.

We did the rope climb, and breezed through the rappelling too without much of a delay. It was nice to not have a long line at these obstacles.

After 5 miles, we mounted our bikes and took off. This section was a complete mystery to us. I did not know if the route was on roads, gravel roads, trails, or what. We started out on a trail that hugged a chin link fence. My handle bars clipped the fence, and I quickly dismounted and walked my bike til I was past the fence. Then when it looked like we were gonna climb up and over a rail road track, the course markings sent us under the bridge, and then up a steep gravel reinforced embankment on the other side. It was like loose scree, and the thought that the whole course might be this hard raced through our minds.

Fortunately, we got onto a paved road, and crossed the river. This bridge was a treat. A good breeze couples with sweaty shirts worked like air conditioning. Down a paved road through a river access park, all the way to the end of the road. Now where??
The Jean-Pierre Choteau Trail. This is an old trail that has all but been forgotten. A renewed interest especially from RD Joel Everett has breathed new life into this gem of a trail, which extends 60+ miles from Ft Gibson to Catoosa alongside the navigation channel. Opening this section took days of marking and carving out the route through dense thickets and jungle-like bamboo and wild tall grass.

None of the three of us are accomplished mountain bikers, but we moved slowly and carefully, through the bike leg. I enjoyed the ride early on. It seemed hard but very doable. 

Anything technical or steep we walked out bikes. Everything else was a steady pedal/coast. And fun.

Twice on the trail we came across old very narrow steel bridges. These were barely wide enough to walk our bikes across. I doubt that even the speedsters rode across them. We crossed another creek that should have had one of these bridges. AS deep 6' ravine that was 8-10' wide looked like a formidable obstacle, but we worked like a team, with Mitch on one side, Channing on the other, and me in the bottom and we handed the bikes over and didn't blow much time. We were still having fun.

The fun took a detour when Channing got a flat tire. I had brought a couple of spare tubes, and we made like a Nascar pit crew and got his flat fixed. My CO2 applicator was in the seat-bad on my road bike though. I did have a handheld pump that pumped one thimble of air per stroke, so 275 pumps later, we had his tire inflated. 1/4 mile later, he had another flat. This time it was the back tire, but we still got it fixed in decent time. But the group we passed caught us. They were also having bike trouble. Mitch tried to help with a bent derailer, but needed a wrench or pliers, and could not do them any good.

Channing, with fresh tires (well, tubes) found his mojo and was cutting through the woods like a kid with a new bike. We got into a part of the course with a LOT of mud holes, and Channing plowed through these with reckless abandon. He looked like a pro!

In places, briers reached out from the newly cut tunnels through the thicket, and moth arms and legs were shredded. A little blood looks tough though.

The two tubes I brought turned out to be way short of what we needed. The newly cut trail could have been the cause. Cut stalks of bamboo were like buried sharpened pencils planted pointy-side upward. Steel belted tires with titanium tubes filled with slime would probably not have been any better. My bike had slow leaks in both the front and back. I'd stop and do 250 pumps in each tire, and that'd last a mile. I came down a steep hill with a rocky bottom, and must have cut the front tube badly because it would hold no air. With two miles to go, it was a hike-a-bike affair for me.

As a team. we were required to stay together. As friends, we would have stayed together anyway.

The rotten part--the last mile or so was much smoother and really rideable. It was heating up! I had drained my Camelback, but still had my water bottle. Mitch was out of water, and Channing was getting low. We shared what we had, knowing we were close to the canoe checkpoint. 

This bridge was a welcome sight. Here, we boarded our canoe, and we had a LOADED cooler--iced down beer, water, sodas, Gatorade, and BEER!

Knowing the 5 mile canoe we had done in years past was tough, 7+ miles on a 100 degree day seemed pretty scary. But we all hydrated, and got a good rowing routine going and paddled near the bank in a straight line and made good time--as good as you can do in a 2 mph current against a 25 mph wind. We were not in the main wide navigation channel, and the river did not seem right. After a while I remember this was called Three Rivers Trail for a good reason. Three rivers converge into the Arkansas which by then is the main navigation channel. We were in the Verdigris which is more narrow, and the wind and waves were not as bad. But when we hit the main channel, it was like rowing across the ocean. We could see the HWY 62 bridge which is very near the start/finish and while it looked like we were close, it was actually 2 miles away. It took us almost an hour to go those two miles against 30-35 mph winds. WOW.

We were the last ones in. The finish line was still up, the clock was running, and we finished to a round of applause and pictures from the race photographer. 
We were third in our division. The group behind us dropped. We have finishers medals and trophies coming. Cool!

Joel Everett does such a good job planning and organizing this event. It is still on my must-do list for next year.

Much mud is still being scraped out of my ears. Mitch washed my bikes off before bringing them back by this evening. Good memories were made.

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