I’m nearly certain I saw a mountain lion this weekend. Keith and Brent don’t believe me. But I know it was there.
First, I saw the tracks. Big pawprints beneath a canopy of evergreens.
Then there was the flash. Brown-ish yellow, streaking across the woods not 30 yards ahead of us.
Had to be a mountain lion, right? Or at the very least, a bobcat. A coyote? Maybe a really fast big-footed rabbit.
Or maybe I was just a little woozy.
This weekend, Brent and I spent a grand total of 13 hours, 42 minutes, and 15 seconds in the woods. Well, probably closer to 13 hours, 41 minutes, and 45 seconds, but the finish line on Day Two was in a little room, hidden away in the back of the Nordic Center at Greek Peak, and it took us several seconds to find our way inside to clock in.
Day One of the 2009 Snowgaine was held at the Highland Forest County Park in Fabius, New York. Fifteen or so teams of two and three set off into the woods promptly at 8:30 AM. We had seven hours to find 21 checkpoints and make it back to the lodge, or risk losing precious minutes on Day Two. Heading up there, Brent and I had planned to don our snowshoes both days of the race, but after checking out the trails and the weather conditions, we decided that we would be better off with only our running shoes and yaktrax. The high was in the mid-50s, and the snow was melting quickly. We knew we were in good running shape, and thought that if we could get through the bushwhacking sections smoothly, we’d be good to go on the trails.
This probably ended up being the right strategy for us. While most racers found themselves in armpit-deep snow drifts throughout the day, we’re both light enough and small enough that we were able to keep ourselves from falling through much deeper than our thighs. Still, several hours of post-holing – and the occasional neck-deep surprises – were enough to throw me off my game a little bit.
Amnesia has already begun to set in and I don’t remember a whole lot about our time on (and, more precisely off) the trails. I remember Brent falling through a mess of evergreen saplings and finding himself in a snow-made cave up to his head. I remember hyper-extending my knee when my shin unexpectedly got caught under a buried log. I remember sliding down a cliff on our butts to get to one of the last points. I remember the beaver territory and the chipmunk that crossed our trail and the last hour where everything started to click and Brent and I ran along packed snowmobile trails, looking for the final few checkpoints that we could grab before the seven-hour cut-off.
Though it was a rough outing, I found myself recharged by the time we ran into the finish with 20 minutes to spare. Brent suggested about four hours into the race that I follow along on my map and try to figure out our route choice, and it did wonders for my psyche. I was able to turn off the doubt and questioning and focus on the task at hand. By the end of Day One, minor bumps and bruises aside, I was looking forward to Day Two and excited upon realizing how much I’d learned about navigation in just a few short months.
My senses were a bit more dulled this year, as the wonderment and newness had worn off since the 2008 race. Still, Day One offered about three hours of mental wrangling and four hours ranging from mild enjoyment to adrenaline-induced euphoria. Brent reminded me that last year, Day One was dicey from start to finish, and Day Two saw a marked improvement. This was encouraging.
6 hours, 40 minutes in the woods.
16-17 miles traversed
800 calories and 100 ounces of water consumed on course.
20 checkpoints found.
Zero lost Yaktrax.
Day Two started and ended at Greek Peak, in Virgil, New York. Unlike last year, where we were in the same park both days and had to think about about which points to attempt each day, this year saw two different courses. Less fun strategizing, but it was nice to have a fresh start on a map that was liberally laced with paved roads. The checkpoints were arranged in a sort of spiral pattern, far less straightforward than Day One and offering the potential for lots of different route choices.
Once again, Brent and I set off in our Yaktrax and made a beeline for the mountain in the southwest quadrant. We trudged partway up, with Keith and Dan hot on our heels. We found the first point with ease and then elected to continue up through the woods instead of backtracking to the road and taking the path paralleling the ski-lift up the rest of the way. We slogged our way up another half a kilometer, Brent breaking snow and me following in his tracks (I offered to take the lead for a little while, but he wouldn’t hear of it). At the top, we lost a few minutes talking to the ski patrol (all of the trails were closed due to ice, he told us, so we’d have the whole mountain to ourselves). We found the second checkpoint and were rewarded with a long run/slide down the slope.
Though I was physically tired for much of the day, my mental state had improved dramatically. I followed along on the map, even helped with a couple of decisions, and enjoyed the long stretches of roads and trails, where we were able to average sub-9:00 miles. There were still a few dicey moments. We couldn’t find the stream junction where checkpoint 36 sat, and after running through/across/along several creekbeds, my feet began to feel the effects of mild frostbite (this was confirmed on the way home when they began to thaw out and became pretty itchy). We clawed our way through brambles and thorns, and I have the battle scars to prove it.
Still, Day Two, for me, was a testament to what this kind of racing is supposed to feel like. Moments of mild agony balanced out by hours of fun. After a hard day of pushing, the final hour turned pretty brutal as we struggled to stave off lagging energy, get the last few points we could muster, and make it back to the finish in time. But it didn’t counterbalance the great day.
We sprinted into the finish a couple minutes late, losing four of our several hundred points. We warmed up with hot tea and crackers (me – my stomach wasn’t holding up so well at that point), and cookies and hamburgers (Brent), stuck around for the awards ceremony, and then loaded up Keith’s car with wet, smelly clothes and headed back to Philadelphia.
7 hours, 2 minutes, 15 seconds in the woods.
20-21 miles traversed
900 calories and 90 ounces of water consumed on course.
16 checkpoints found.
Three lost Yaktrax (it worked to our advantage, having Keith and Dan trailing us all day; each time, they found the lost shoe and returned it when we cross paths. Thus, we made it home with all four yaktrax!).
We ended up finishing second in the coed division, just behind Jon, Bruce, and Tracey. We won his-and-hers tooth-brushing alligator figurines for our efforts. Three teams cleared the entire course, including two all-women teams from Canada (the Bob Kittens and the Snow Bunnies). Team EMS – adventure racing national champions – took first overall, having cleared the course in the fastest time on both days.
Brent and I both slept restlessly each of the last two nights. He had to head to school early this morning to get ready for his last week of teaching before spring break. Me? My break starts today, and while I plan to do a lot of dissertating over the next week, today I’m taking a break. Following a morning of laundry and grocery shopping, I’m heading to the multiplex for an afternoon of mindless bliss.