*You can check out the amazing pics from the weekend on Facebook here. Thanks to Rootstock for taking these!
After the Long Trail, my racing plans for the near future were up in the air. I didn’t know if, or when, I would be ready to race again – physically or mentally! My body started to come around, but the major hold up in recovery ended up being my sleep: I couldn’t get back to a normal pattern! It was like permanent jetlag. I actually ended up doing several weeks of frequent accupuncture which restored my chi 🙂 Seriously though – it did. Accupuncture is the real deal if you have never tried it!
Since my triathlon race season wasn’t top priority this year, I wanted to investigate some other race options in the “fun” category. After the Long Trail I now have a long list of things added to my bucket list, and to accomplish some of these I need some #skillz. Namely, skills for the wilderness. Orienteering became a fun sport for me this Fall. It was made even better because I could share the experience with Leslie. As beginners, our speed was last priority so it didn’t matter that she was growing a child.
All of this orienteering practice though WAS for a purpose: I was going to race The Stockville! I’m still not sure exactly how I stumbled upon this gem, but I knew instantly that this was what I was looking for. Since solo’s were not being allowed this year (too remote!) I had to find a partner in crime. One of my athlete superstars, Cortney, who is a fellow ironman-ultrarunner ringer, came to the rescue! With only a few weeks notice, Cortney and I put together all our required gear and then coordinated last minute logistics.
I picked Cortney up from BWI on Thursday evening, and we stayed at Casa de Godesky outside of Annapolis, driving up to Williamsport, PA on Friday. A pretty uneventful drive, and with the Fall foliage in full swing it was really pretty too. Our hotel was right next door to Wegmans, so we had an easy dinner spot. After dinner, we packed up our packs with all the gear, laughing a little bit at how big they were, but refusing to give up the last of our “maybe these aren’t quite necessary” items: toothbrushes (note – we never used them), baby wipes (also not used), change of clothes (didn’t end up using), etc. Honestly though, I think we did a really good job not over-packing, considering we had no clue what we were really in for!
What else was in my pack? (we also had any other gear listed by the race as mandatory – like med kit, etc)
I used the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 and I LOVED it. Super comfy and plenty of room. I actually had a bunch of room for more stuff, so it will be great for future hiking/camping adventures too.
I used a 2L UD bladder, plus 2 soft flasks. I probably could have downsized to one flask of red bull, and then folded that away for day 2 and just had the bladder.
My bladder was filled with F2C Nutrition’s Endurance 5:1 (I carried another baggie of it for day 2). I also had an assortment of other food – mostly candy bars.
A 3L filter bag
Headlamp/Waistlamp + extra batteries
Sleeping mat & Sleeping bag
Extra clothing: tights, baselayer, gloves, socks (note: not helpful to pack 2 right socks when you wear Injinji toe socks)
Orange buff (for potential warmth and, hunting season!)
The race begins at 8am, but at 7am you can go and pick up your maps for day 1. Luckily I had reached out to the great folks of Rootstock Racing (thanks Abby!) in the weeks before with some map questions abut what to expect. So I was not totally shellshocked to find that they were pretty different than the orienteering maps I had been using in my practice meets. Orienteering maps seem to have more detail – things like rock gardens or even benches would be marked on them. This is not the case with the Forest Service maps that we had for the Stockville! This was going to mean that things like the map scale would be more important than ever (well, hindsight on that lesson is 20-20!).
The first day was to have 6 mandatory checkpoints, and 31 bonus checkpoints. This is one of the best parts of the sport: you can make your own adventure, literally. Cortney and I were going to try to gather as many points as we could to be competitive, but you can definitely begin (and perhaps it’s smarter?) To try your first race with only the mandatory checkpoints in mind. While we ended up making our day pretty challenging for ourselves, it didn’t have to be that way, and we definitely could have been a bit safer/less adventurous in our attempt. So please, don’t let my story deter you from trying if you want to do a Rogaine….you can scale it in a variety of ways for difficulty!
The first half of the day went really well….perhaps because the checkpoints were mostly linear, requiring fitness and trail skill over navigation skill to get to them! It was enough to boost our confidence though, and we began to think we were doing pretty well. Despite it being cold (and wet from the water crossings) we were having a great time and we began to get more adventurous in our checkpoint attempts.
When we realized we had about 90 minutes until sunset, we went for one last bonus checkpoint. Unfortunately, when we couldn’t find it, we also couldn’t find the trail we went into the woods on when we turned around!! This meant 90 minutes-2 hours of a boondoggle, until eventually we ended up going down a ridge and miraculously ended up back at a checkpoint we had been at earlier in the day. We couldn’t even get mad about that – we were just so happy to not be lost!
After that, we were a little skittish about our nav skills, and with the sun going down quickly we opted to play it safe for the remainder of the night, taking roads to checkpoint 4, and then, despite our best efforts to find #5, we ultimately called it a night without finding it in the interest of not spending the night in the cold woods, lost. (Note: during the day, #6 became optional as the organizers were able to gauge the progress of the racers)
While this sounds pretty casual, it’s worth pointing out how in this sport, you can be *convinced* you are in the right spot. You can have just said “this trail is here way too early” when you come upon it, and yet you still take it, because you justify a few other map landmarks to matching up. This experience has helped me take a step back and think about the times I am willing to throw out the objective look at the situation, because I want to see what I want to see. I’ll literally say “we should go back to this point which we are certain of, and take a bearing from there”…and then as we backtrack I’ll see something that looks like it could be right, and we go off on that trail, once again just following a whim. Time is lost and we often found ourselves more lost when we didn’t just take it slow and methodically, removing what we “hoped” it was from the equation. Probably a life lesson buried in all of those thoughts as well.
We jogged down to the midpoint village – The Stockville. Few sights were as great to see as the lights twinkling at the camp as we came down the road.
Since we arrived at mid-camp just around the cut-off time, sleep was on our minds and we tried to get our tent and sleeping area set up, and cook dinner, as quick as we could. That said, since we aren’t experts at this yet I think we were still quite a sight to watch attempt these things. Everyone was so nice though and helpful as much as they could be!!!
I haven’t mentioned much how cold it was because, quite honestly, we knew it would be cold: it was November in Pennsylvania after all. But, night time was definitely a little harder. We had the right gear, but I think just being cold and then not really warming up (we definitely should have taken the time to change into our other clothes I think, but we couldn’t fathom getting naked to get changed in the cold!!) Made our night a little colder than it needed to be. Oh, and Cortney’s sleeping mat was deflating on her, so she was basically sleeping on the cold ground. Due to that, and the fact that I was having stress dreams that the campfire had spread into a wildfire and was about to engulf the camp, we didn’t get much sleep, ha!!! And so when the morning came, it really took a bit more than I thought it would to motivate us to get up and get moving.
This was probably for the best though – during our procrastination, we started to chat with another team, and after some discussion about the fact we both were going to start with the same navigation plan, they invited us to start with them. WOOHOO! This was my prayers answered, as starting in the dark was one of my biggest worries for the event!
And thus began our day of fun, day 2 of the Stockville. We had teamed up with Brian, Diana and Jim, who are all veteran adventure racers. Before we left the parking lot, we also ran into the other women’s team – Mary and Shari. They joined in with us, and off we went.
Over the next 9 hours I learned more about adventure racing than I bargained for, learning far more than I feel like I deserved for the minimal skills I was able to offer the team! But these guys were amazing (also: major badasses! It was so cool to hear about the races they had done) and we had a great time together. Of course, the day was still full of trying to beat cut-off times, a few wrong turns and having to scale steep ridges as a result….but we would have been way worse off just the two of us!
In the end, they called it a draw between us and the other women’s team since we both had a debacle of our own in some way during the weekend, but that was the furthest thing from my mind in the end. It turns out, Rogaining, while it needs a better name, is the ultimate form of adventure in the woods. And I am looking forward to plenty more adventures in the woods in the future!!
I also can’t say enough good things about the folks at Rootstock Racing. I think Cortney and I were probably their biggest liability as newbies attempting to do the full course. They kept an eye on us, allowing us to have our fun but also being really helpful when we needed it. Abby always was checking in: “Are you still having fun?” And I’m pretty sure if we weren’t at any time, she would have found a way to get us back safe and warm. Luckily for us all, freezing in the woods for a weekend was actually our idea of the greatest fun 🙂