Saturday, July 15, 2017

Port to Fort--the long event--the long report

First off--I LOVE this race. Some years it is fun. Some years it's just plain EVIL. This year was the latter--but it was still fun.
The long event consisted of a short swim, a 5-ish mile trail run, 14-15 miles on the bike, and then a 4-mile canoe or kayak segment. Our team of Mitch Drummond, Roman Broyles, and I had chosen to kayak instead of canoeing. Although we wanted to register as a team, we had to go as solo participants since apparently, kayaks can go faster than canoes. but we still decided to stay together as a team--mostly.

Now I have done this event every year since year one. I am not a swimmer. In fishing lingo--I'm not a bobber, I am a sinker. My legs are dense n I go right to the bottom and can barely get back to the surface. This race has always made a provision for non-swimmers to use a flotation device. This clearly gives me no advantage since I am almost always the last one out of the water. This year was no exception. We were late starting, and the landing area was basically deserted by the time I dragged myself ashore. I am thinking anyone who says flotation device should not be allowed would be ok with me drowning. But I did kind of enjoy the 100-yard trip this year.

Then it was time to get down to business.I thought we could possibly catch a person or two--but we did not. The next wave of runners (the short event which did not include the bike portion) kept breezing by us.

This event is not so much a race for us as it is an adventure. They DO call it an adventure race.

About a mile into the trail run, the adventure got interesting. We ran into mud. It had rained a couple of times during the week, and this trail has a lot of flat areas where water pools up. I'd say most of the time there are mud holes.

Roman initially tried to keep his feet dry but that idea was shelved in quick order. This was some nasty mud. We'd see more. Much more. Way too much more.

The ropes. After about 4 miles into the run, we have a steep ravine we have to climb out of. Sometimes there's a log-jam here, but for us, we just grabbed the ropes without delay and scooted right on up.

 I snapped pics of Mitch and Roman, then tossed my phone up so they could get a pic of me.

Once up, we ran about 100 yards and had to rappel back down. We did have to waits briefly here. My pictures didn't turn out all that great. Mainly the pictures just didn't look like it was that much of a descent when in fact it was about a 30-foot drop.

From here, we had to wade a lot in the side of the navigation channel. The shore was mid-shin-deep shoe-sucking mud. It wasn't much better in the water, but at least it seemed less likely to pull off a shoe. Mitch opted to swim part of this--if only I could swim....

ODOT had constructed a new bridge over the Neosho River, but thankfully they have decided to leave the old iron one-lane bridge for pedestrian purposes.

Old bridges like this should be kept and protected. It's a shame to see them torn down.

We hit the transition area, restocked our water bottles and hydration packs and took off on the bikes.

The trail early on was well maintained and was quite rideable. I have not been on my bike since---well---last years Port to Fort. My bad!! But my team-mates ad about the same amount of bike training as I had. (I was thinking--just don't do an end-over, and hoping my bicycle butt would not hurt so bad I couldn't finish the race.) Other than passing between two trees about 20 inches apart, a few hairpin turns, a few super steep ups and downs, and a couple of places where the trail was right on the edge of a drop-off into the river, I was able to ride. I seemed to gain my confidence as the day progressed. I even plowed right through the big mud holes that we were seeing more frequently. 

Brave Roman rode across this bridge. I opted to walk my bike across. Roman was in good spirits at this point--maybe 1.5 miles into the race. Then the rain began.

It was still fairly cool, but very humid. The rain was refreshing at first but was the subject of much cussing in the coming miles.

The trailz kept getting worse. This portion of the race was an out and back, and the solo riders and teams had absolutely no joy on their faces. No "good job", no "looking good". Several of them warned us that it was just crazy ahead. Ridiculous. Worst mud they'd ever seen. One rider had just thrown his bike away and was gonna run it in. I soon realized that one could run this trail way faster than it could be ridden.

With about a mile to the turnaround, we hit a steep downhill which ended u in a ravine that had a trickle of water and knee deep mud. I tried to carry my bike across, but it felt like it weighed 100 pounds--maybe it did. With no tools other than my fingers, I dug thick clumps of sticky clay from between my fork and tire, from the rear fork, from the back gears and derailer, and near the pedals. It was futile though. Rolling the bike for 10 feet and it was clumped up again. AND--we had a 30' climb that was slick sticky mud in a slalom. Slick mud. Nasty mud. It had many colorful names. I used my bike as a crutch and jammed my heel into the mud trying to make a foothold. It took 10 minutes to go 20 yards with a 30-foot climb.

It was bad for most of the rest of the way. There was one stretch where we had a freshly mowed-down trail and that added grass clippings and straw to the wads of packed adobe clay locking up our bikes. We bottomed out in a creek crossing, and I dragged my bike upstream for 20 yards to a deep spot and gave my bike a bath. I was able to dislodge 80% of the mess, and could then carry my bike up the next muddy hill.

I mentioned to Mitch that I was 60/40 on staying the course and was considering taking the paved road back, but Mitch would have none of that. So my decision was to tough it out. When Roman heard the idea, he was leaning heavily to taking the pavement back. Then the trio of Vinita girls came in. Gina Day, Jodee Whitworth, and Candy Williams rolled into the turnaround. Two of the three had stashed their bikes back where the mud got bad, but Gina was riding hers. They were all smiles and seemed like they were having a blast. I asked if they were gonna take the road back and was met with a resounding NO. This swayed Roman into enduring another 7 miles of mud.

It was certainly not any better on the way back. The rain was past, but the sun was trying to peek out and it got warmer. The humidity was 100% I bet. Every 10 feet or so during a lot of the way, we'd have to stop and dig out mud so our wheels would roll. 

I started trying to ride a little more and found I could go about 50 feet between mud diggings and riding through the big mud puddles helped wash out a little of the thick clay. The mosquitos woke up after the rain stopped and were feeding on any skin that was not mud covered when we stopped to pick out mud. Since we had registered as solo runners, I assumed it was ok if we didn't stay together.

The Vinita girls outpaced us from the turnaround since they had stashed bikes, but I caught up with them at the mid-course aid station. Geeze--they were having fun! The aid station guy gave us the option of taking a good gravel road north to the pavement, since there had been multiple reports of the next gravel on the course was tearing up derailers. The girls welcomed the idea, and I wish I had taken that route as well. I wanted to stay on the official route though (stupid) and when I got to the one-mile dirt mud road, I discovered that they had sprinkled a little gravel on top of it. Think of it like sprinkles on a donut. The mus was relentless as ever, but now there were marble sized rocks mixed in and grinding into the chain and sprockets. I quickly found I could not ride on it, and could not even push my bike through it. To my left was a mowed hay field, and I made my way over to see if I could go that way. Riding picked up some nice straw that now mixed into the concrete mixture that was locking up my wheels, chain, and gears. Clean it out and clean it out again and again. Pushing the bike was slightly better than trying to ride. It seemed like five miles, but it was just one--and finally, I reached the paved road.

One more mud picking and now I could rice. I did my best to get all of the rocks out of the gears, but I left a lot. Riding on the road, I heard and felt many small rocks being pulverized. Hopefully, have not ruined my gears.

Mitch had his own Kayak, and we borrowed two kayaks from Kathy. One was a super long slender kayak, and I greedily took that one thinking it would be FAST. It was not. I found out later that this was a white water kayak, and has no rudder. Keeping it going straight in the water was nearly impossible. I'd get it going straight and after five alternating side to side strokes, the kayak would cut to the left like it had a mind of its own. No amount of paddling, back paddling, or using the oar as a rudder would straighten it out. I'd end u dead in the water, and start all over again. Finally, I figured out that if I took very light strokes, I could keep it on a line for about 20 strokes per side.

Once this bridge comes into sight, you think you are almost there. Wrong. You see this bridge from about two miles away, and it seems to be moving away as you paddle toward it with all your might. But finally, I reached the port and rowed my spear shaped ship to the shore. The girls had made good time on the bike and canoe and beat me there by an hour. They were the first place women's long course team.

Roman and Mitch came in shortly after, and we all felt whipped. I had tick bites, chigger bites, mosquito bites, and poison ivy. Us guys also took home a third place trophy for the men's long course team. The team that was second was a coed team, so we actually were second. And also last. It was a long day. I am certain that I will not do the bike next year if it's muddy. But for sure, I plan to never miss this race.


  1. You summed this up great!! Would you like a picture off my raw meat looking skin with poison oak to add to the collection? Lol

  2. Wow, amazing. this seems more of an ordeal that a race you reported on a few years ago that go snowed out. I admire your grit.