|Here, the fateful choice was made to swim.|
Note: As you know I'm writing an article for XXC Magazine's April/May Issue #11 about the Sub 9 Death March. Part of the story will be the tale of the Rogue Racing Project foursome that found themselves wet up to their chests, plundering like Vikings through the stickers, bushwhacking and bleeding their way north toward Elkinsville Cemetery. Gary Lunsford's story was so detail packed that I hated to edit it down to a paragraph or two for the magazine. So, with permission, here in it's original form is the response I got back from Gary when I asked about their little mistake. Thank you Gary and Rogue Racing Project for sharing your adventure.
By Gary Lunsford:
I had been plotting and scheming for weeks. I had been studying every map. I had friends that lived near the course doing recon rides for me. I bought a new Garmin 705 to track my racing and training this year. We even stayed the night before the race at my recon guy’s house and got debriefed on the situation with 3-D fly by mapping on large computer screens in his “laboratory”!
|#7 is the wrong turn, #17 is roughly Elkinsville Cemetery|
We KNEW exactly which way we were going to ride and for sure get all the checkpoints. We elected to go straight to Elkinsville first. It turned out that the eventual race winners, Messer and Gallagher had the same exact plan. So when they passed us on
Combs Road, we knew the race was on!
All of this doesn’t mean squat when you combine two simple factors. 1) taking the Garmin on its first trip in which you are trying to follow a preloaded off-road route and you haven’t figured out all the bells and whistles yet, and 2) you KNOW you are in second place and you have your head down hammering to keep the leaders in sight.
With those two facts, our two teams, came out of Combs road and around the gate only to be greeted by a large horse that had jumped out if its corral and was in the road. Just a distraction. We hit the afterburners in search of the DRT boys. With them not in sight at this point and with a full head of steam, we screamed past the right turn for Elkinsville.
My new GPS was beeping frantically, but I couldn’t understand its strange new language (yet). Not a single one of the four of us even gave a thought to the intersection. And that was where all the chaos began….
|Riding $4000 canoes.|
About another mile down the road, there appeared to be standing water in our way. The obvious result of all the recent rains and flooding. Kirk was the first one to “put in” and we all followed, Looking in the shallow water for Messer and Gallagher’s tire tracks in the muddy bottom. Before we knew it, we were axle deep, but still peddling. Up ahead, we could see that the road emerged from the murky depths. Obviously, this was just a little water puddle to cross in the race, because Sub9 productions wanted to make it interesting. We got back on the gas. All of a sudden, more water. This time we could see the other side…..but it was deeper this time. Hmmm, no tire tracks again. The leaders must have been walking their bikes here! We rode through this water too. This time, I looked down and realized my water bottles were under water. Did I mention that it was really cold river water?
The dry land on the other side this time was a high spot created for an abandoned bridge over the creek. They had bolted a guardrail across it to alert vehicles it was unsafe to cross. Once on top of it, we could now see that to venture on, meant back into the water again! This time the road, or what we assumed to be the road curved around a bend, out of sight. The answer was simple enough to our crew and we immediately headed across the water and up onto the ridge on the inside of the bend. Simple enough we would just traverse the ridge until the road appeared again.
|Results of Kickboxing with Edward Scissorhands|
Now keep in mind that all four of us were convinced we were following the road to Elkinsville and we were going the right way. After about a half a mile of walking on the side of a steep hill, we could see that the water only grew wider and deeper.
Plan B was now needed. The funny part here is that no one said, “lets go back”. The part we had all wrong was that we were standing on a hillside facing north, with endless water to our west and thoroughly convinced that we were still south and east of Elkinsville. We needed to forge ahead.
I forgot to mention my little issues I encountered along the way. The first two bike submarining excursions had left the leg warmers I had on soaked and falling down and had gotten shredded in the chainrings. I too them off at the abandoned bridge and hung them on the guardrail to dry! (note to all that read this, if you find these Bellweather brand black legwarmers, please return them) The other little problem I incurred was that somewhere in the murky depths, my SPD cleat literally fell off my right shoe! No more clipping in. Crank Brothers pedals slide all over the place on carbon soled race shoes.
|The Fire Tower Climb was cold for Gary|
As we made our way north, we encountered several creeks that were feeding the newly installed lake that we NOW know as
Blue Creek Road. So with everyone of these, we would simply change heading and go upstream until we could cross in waist deep or less water. Every time we crossed now, I was carrying my bike up out of the water. After the last leg of the underwater riding, where literally, my headtube was creating the wake, I realized I was seriously screwing up a seriously expensive bike! My bike, a factory team issue Cannondale CFR 29er, with all the cool custom parts was not meant for this! When I rode up onto the bridge, I unlocked the suspension and compressed it. Water shot out of the vent holes in the boot like a lawn sprinkler! All I could picture in my head, was Tom Cruise in the movie “Risky Business” standing in the waiting room of the Porsche dealership when the service manager walked in and asked “who’s the U-Boat commander?”
At this point it starts all becoming a blur. After several reviews of the maps and no longer trusting my GPS (mistake! I just didn’t know how to set a waypoint, yet) we decided to get up on a ridge and check cell phone receptions and pull up phone GPS functions.
We finally get signals and with our cornucopia intelligent minds, we determine that we are in fact, off course. We conclude that we need are NOT making good time anymore and need to seek out some form of road to get back on course. We determined that the closest road was to our Northeast. The only issue was that there was no trail going that way. No problem, we will just make our own. Having been a career Boy Scout and having had survival and orienteering training as a ski patroller, this all seemed logical and simple.
|They Made It To Elkinsville Cemetery|
While most of this trekking was on foot and pushing bikes through so much briars and underbrush that today I look like I lost a kickboxing match with Edward Scissorhands, we followed the plan. The whole time as I am pushing and dodging branches and thorn bushes, I am trying to get a handle on the GPS controls, frantically pushing buttons, changing screens, etc.
At one point we come across an old Toyota FJ40 4x4, abandoned years ago and now an obvious frustration release for lost hunters with high powered weapons. Even in the middle of BF nowhere, someone had stole the wheels off it! Funny! I had the feeling that my GPS was still functioning and tracking our every move, I just couldn’t “speak the language”. In hindsight, if you look at our GPS download, and zoom all the way in at mile 10.6, you can actually see the FJ40 sitting in the woods! It was at that point that I figured out how to see and set a waypoint on the Garmin and pull up the compass screen with the directional arrow to the waypoint. NOW we had a tool that we could use, as we were no had any faith in the maps. We found what appeared to be a jeep trail from years ago, long since forgotten and unused. But it was a sorta trail and it looked like the only way that FJ got down in there. So we started up the ridge following it. Some sections were kinda rideable. I was the only one on an MTB. I was the only one who didn’t get a flat in this race, but I was the slowest of the team on the roads. Did I mention my Carbon Lefty was full of water? I could see the Stan’s plugging thorn holes one after another! I bet I have 50 holes in my tires. At one point we stopped and Matt and I use the small role of medical tape in my pack to try and cover the open wounds on our heels from the miles of hiking in wet cycling shoes over steep terrain. It helps a little.
|According to their GPS this is home.|
My GPS finally says that we are only 1.6 miles away from the Elkinsville cemetery and we are headed in the general right direction. With that and then finally figuring out the mapping on it, we see that we need to head off the old trail and down the valley and follow another creek out to what looks to be a road. After another mile of hiking and bleeding, we hit GRAVEL!!!! Stierwalt drops to the ground and kisses the grey terra firma! We paused only long enough for him to remount and we were off! We had found the road at its very end, so there was only one way to go.
As we gained speed and felt relief, I get noticing that the GPS arrow was continually point off to my right and we were getting farther away from the cemetery. Our road tee’ed into another more traveled gravel road. It was obvious that we go right. Now all of a sudden things looked familiar to me. I saw this road on the Gravel Grovel race back in November. I knew where I was, kinda. We came up on the Nebo Ridge parking lot and found the map board. All of the pieces came together. About that time, two guys roll off the Nebo trail. They are just out for a ride and proclaim “Death Marchers? You guys are off course” With a bit of advice from them and our directional suspicions confirmed we headed up over a huge gravel road hill to Elkinsville. But before we pulled out, I had Matt use the medical tape and along with some zipties he had, we fastened my foot to the pedal.
|Feeling Funky Early|
When we began the climb, I remembered….this was the tough hill that had so many people walking it at the Gravel Grovel race. I was strapped in! I had no choice but to ride it out! I made it up on a cross bike last time, so an MTB with a granny gear shouldn’t be an issue. It was still a bitch!
At the bottom on the other side we pass Combs road where we had been 3 hours earlier! Up ahead we see two other teams turn out from the road we missed.
What can ya say? That one little mistake only took a little more than 3 hours, 12 miles of tail blazing and swimming, several flat tires, hundreds of cuts and scrapes, four wet frozen asses, and four sunk bikes to correct.
We did finish what we started. And somehow we didn’t finish last! We just took the scenic route.