Checkpoint Zero/Inov-8 Team Blog
presented by Inov-8

Harsh Medicine - Can youth and hubris conquer all at Nationals?
posted Wednesday, November 19, 2008 by Team Checkpoint Zero @ 8:49 PM - 7 comments

As I pumped Bad Religion and Sound Garden on my way to Blue Ridge, I considered what was left in the tank. In six weeks I'd been in a 3-day expedition race, a 50k trail run, and a 30hr, the Upstate AR culminating less than two weeks prior. In the latter I had pushed it way into the red on the final trek to the finish, pulling my teammates up the third class climb in order to pass DART- NUUN and gamble for the win. We crested the hill physically and emotionally drained, hypoxic and choking on incoherent words. Our hand was called after coming up a checkpoint short, but a loss was never more euphoric: I had burned like a Roman Candle all the way home and hit the ground as an empty shell. It was all I had ever asked of a race.

The ongoing saga of finalizing a team roster for Nationals had damaged my enthusiasm for the event, regardless of competing on the home field. Ten days out, I was chosen to fill in on the squad, which consisted of my Upstate teammates Peter Jolles and Jennifer Rinderle. I shrugged off the fact that my taper had been gauged towards Upstate- I could float through on the season's momentum to kidney punch the tops teams in the country.

When the maps and instructions were finally dispersed the night before Nationals, we felt pretty confident in our local knowledge. A restful night's sleep was had by most in our crew and the dawn saw us preparing for battle. After driving to the gazebo in downtown Blue Ridge for our 5:45am assembly, the field of over seventy teams boarded the Blue Ridge Railroad for terra incognita. Lurching into the frigid, inky morning, the turbulence inside the cars muted the mountain winds outside. The shuffling in and out of tiny lavatories, adjusting of Samurai-like kayak paddles protruding from a few packs, and situating of maps repeated in every car ad nauseam. After a thirty-minute ride north into Tennessee, we streamed off the train and crossed a bridge above the Toccoa River. A short rogaine on foot would warm us before launching onto the river for a 12-14 mile paddle. The field would take-out and portage near the Brush Creek bike trails just east of the Ocoee Whitewater Center and then run a few miles to where we had dropped our bikes the night before.

A shotgun blast announced the start and began over 24 hours of unabridged suffering. We made quick work of the prologue, chasing the leaders through draws, over hills, and across the river like a pack of hounds. Once in the canoe, I set the cadence as we strained to find the perfect lines. Having been graciously relieved of our swing seat by race management, Jenn swapped between balancing on the exceedingly comfortable thwart and kneeling on the hull when it seemed as though we might go for a swim. Aside from hanging up on few rocks and nearly running a four-foot spillover, we surprised ourselves at only losing a few positions on the leg. A stout cadence and little food or water for three hours aided my retardation in missing the punch at the takeout, thus meriting a short, merry return to the river for said checkpoint. Shouts of encouragement by friends on shore faded quickly as Peter and I blindly carried the boat uphill; more creative expletives have never been uttered during a portage.

Four hours into it, we were still battling at the forefront but could feel the wave of competition swelling above our heads. Stiff-legged and fading, we ran along the Ocoee River to our bike drop at the Thunderock Campground. While inhaling as many calories as one might attempt without suicidal effects, I managed to shred my sexy legs on briars and scare the bejeezus out of a female jogger. We shared a moment of bewilderment as I crashed out of the woods and onto the trail, shades of Eric Rudolph clouding her thoughts.

At the bike drop we were all business. Peter's hydration bladder had detonated after Jenn had accidentally knelt on it in the canoe- an omen we wouldn't understand until after the race- but we gathered as much water as possible under a growing rain and began spinning up the Thunderock Express. My lower back killed from a pack swollen like an engorged tick. The expedition format required us to carry pounds of food, water, and equipment. If we were really smart, we would have called it quits right there. We missed a key turn at our next junction and ended up backtracking a few miles. Swapping back and forth with several teams, we snaked up and down the roads and trails south of the Ocoee. One subsequent descent set the tone for the rest of my race.

In what can only be considered a moment of pure genius, I had decided to leave my sunglasses behind at the rental cabin. While screaming down the Forest Service roads at Mach speed, a constant flow of mud and rocks found its way onto my face and into my eyes. It took one lucky speck of sand under my left contact to put me in the same boat as Achilles. I must have rubbed the contact out in my frustration, because I could only see out of my right eye. Bellowing in the downpour for Peter and Jenn to hold-up, I begrudgingly rode on like a grimacing pirate. Without spare contacts or glasses, this was going to be awesome. Pete and Jenn shrugged the news with positive reinforcement, the kind used when friends knows you're screwed but don't want to say it for fear of making the situation worse. We pedaled on and found the Tumbling Lead Horse Trail, the segment that would lead us to the next TA. The faint path became more eroded with each passing team power sliding down the 30-degree slopes. I flatted at the top of one climb and added the delay to my growing list of accolades.

The TA at the bottom of the horse trail found us farther behind the leaders and left us even more frustrated. The rain had turned the trails and hillsides into "slip 'n bleeds", thanks to rotting leaves carpeting the ground. A several hour trek took us straight up Mule Top peak and then screaming down into the misty valley below. Darkness came quickly and Jenn became my eyes, guiding me through the minefield of loose rocks and stump holes. As I became more burdensome, Peter put me on tow. I shamefully clipped in. This was the first time in four years of racing that I'd ever been towed. We slogged up FS 22 to our bikes wondering if Peter's nav had bought us some time. At the miserable outpost of a transition area, we discovered that some of our southern brethren were either still there or out on the trek. Teaming up with the CPZero Master's squad, we mounted our steeds and bombed into the night. I fought off epilepsy as my double vision transformed all of the flashing LED's into the most miserable rave to date.

Checkpoint Zero Master's Captain Jon Barker led our procession to Jack's River Campground, his exposed right butt cheek lighting the way. Apparently Jon had not been so lucky on the descent from Mule Top. Familiar faces and a fire greeted us at the campground. I was feeling better after woofing some food on the moderate ride and took the opportunity to check on Peter and Jenn. The fire drew the muddy, shivering racers to it like the Sirens' call, but I knew better. Hustling Jenn and Peter out of the TA, we realized that the weather and terrain were slowing most of the field and that we were slowly climbing back into a top five position. The sky cleared and the mercury dropped as we ran along the South Fork Trail on the edge of the Cohutta Wilderness. The first few points came easily and after gambling on some unmarked roads and trails, we popped out in front of both WEDALI teams and joined forces on the last few points of the trek. We were back in the game.

Our transition took slightly longer than hoped, but we were low on water again and knew that there would be few options for filling-up until late in the race. Peter had been drinking straight from creeks through a ghetto-rigged filtration straw but it was never enough. We saddled up and soldiered on. The ride up to Flattop reminded me of the endless climbs in Moab. Enveloped in the tiny world our headlamps created, we rode out of reality and into our minds, each turn and switchback bringing us closer to becoming victims in an Escher painting. After grapping the CP on Flattop, the wheels came off. Literally. We buzzed along a ridgeline and counted the mini peaks we rolled over. Three was the magic number that would bring us to a recently blocked trail, a trail that would elude us until morning. When the trail didn't magically appear after the third peak, we dismounted and decided we were at a great juncture for a bike-whack. Peter's dehydration, my status as "damaged goods", and Jen's fatigue prevented any argument on the matter. We stepped into oblivion. The raping by rhododendron would be long and painful.

The next four hours were some of the most miserable of my life. Bikes were thrown. Tempers flared. The adventure racing gods defecated on our spirits. Having no recollection of looking at the map to offer advice, I had no idea where we were or where we were going. The climax was a "death huddle" for warmth on a remote boulder. I desperately wanted to get out my emergency blanket and play Survivorman until the sun warmed us. Eventually we got up and carried our bikes uphill to find a road and the cusp of dawn. A team in the vicinity helped us find the hidden trail we had originally sought. The sunrise was extraordinarily beautiful. All I wanted was to enjoy it with some coffee, but we rode on. At least we wouldn't die on some godforsaken hill like the more fortunate members of the Donner Party.

Riding east towards Blue Ridge, we found more company while combining FS roads, single-track, and deteriorating tracks in the final push home. From goofy to downright cranky, I felt like our competitive edge had been compromised by the bike-whack. Jenn's sunny outlook and Peter's fortitude made up for my shortcomings. We decided to pick-up all but two of the remaining points in an effort to avoid missing the 30-hour cut off. At long last we roared onto pavement. More people than we'd seen in the preceding twelve hours cheered us on. Our epic was almost complete when it was relayed to me that we were required to ride the train tracks back into town.

The railroad ties shook us like a British nanny. There was no novelty in what we were doing. For the few miles we rattled down the tracks, cranking the big ring to maintain speed, I wanted nothing more than to challenge the race director to a cage match. Normally one is swelled with joy at being this close to the finish line, but my arse argued differently. When our route mercifully pulled back onto the road, we could finally let go. Friends and family came into view. An invisible force pushed us into their arms, praise, and beers. The three of us smiled at the culmination of a brutal race and season. A few hours later, we would learn that pure stubbornness had brought us into a respectable tenth place. I had come to Blue Ridge with visions of grandeur. Unfortunately, my vision was blurred.


New and Improved! Now with more topo!
posted Wednesday, November 05, 2008 by Team Checkpoint Zero @ 8:53 PM - 0 comments

This weekends USARA National Championship race was the official unveiling of the new and improved Checkpoint Zero / Inov-8 jersey. Sporting a new and improved look with more topo for your your viewing pleasure. The team is thrilled to be able to retire their old stinky threads in exchange for these masterpieces.