In August of this year, I laughed at the idea of doing the Castlewood 8-Hr. That Friday night, our friends Robert and Cassie Bart had met us for dinner. After some delicious queso and great conversation, I found myself agreeing to a fourth margarita and to sign up for this year’s race. Even in my tequila haze, I wasn’t sure I would be able to follow through. The last two years, [my husband] Kevin has encouraged me to sign up, but there’s always been late nights at the animal hospital, exams to study for or kennel duties that got in the way. My main source of exercise was walking the dog. There was one thing that motivated me the most to join the race: I was sick of listening to Kevin’s adventure race stories. Don’t get me wrong, Kevin is a great story teller. His ability to spin a tale is one of the many things I love about him. What bothered me was I wanted to be there with him to share these experiences instead of listening to them after the fact. That night, after closing down the restaurant, we parted ways with the Barts and Kevin and I walked home. I asked him, “Do you think I could really do the Castlewood 8?” Without any hesitation he said, “Absolutely, but you have to start training.” The next day, though, I opted for an ibuprofen and bloody Mary instead of a morning jog.
Nevertheless, that night did plant a seed in my head. What would happen if I did commit to this? I had three main fears. Fear No. 1: I would embarrass myself in front of a bunch of people. Fear No. 2: I would have to hike-a-bike the whole mountain biking section. Fear No. 3: Kevin would realize I’m a lost cause and never race with me again. After a large amount of internal debating, I finally put on my big girl panties and decided to go for it. One evening in September, I told Kevin to sign us up, because the only way I was doing it was with him as my teammate.
I’m a true adventure race rookie. I have the physical abilities of a newborn calf. Once I decided to go for it, I started a jogging routine. Kevin and I kayaked a few times. I knew my weakest point was mountain biking. It’s been two years since I’ve been on a bike. We managed to get in one practice ride at Creve Coeur that was just enough to remind me how much the saddle destroys your ass. Seriously, I couldn’t sit down properly for three days. It wasn’t until we tried towing that I thought I had any chance to finish the race. By then, race day was around the corner and all that was left to do was to throw myself into it and hope I didn’t end up dead or permanently maimed.
Friday evening, we picked up our maps from Alpine Shop. We meet up with many of the other teams and the fantastic members of Team BOR. Talking to everyone was very encouraging. We couldn’t stay long though because there were points to plot and gear to check and double check.
That night it felt like I had just drifted off when the alarm went off at 5 a.m. I stumbled out of bed to get the dog walked and cats fed and then we were off to the bike drop! Frankly, I was more excited to get to McDonalds for my pre-race coffee and biscuit. It’s a good thing I got my coffee when I did. I’d heard of the pre-race poop before, but I never understood the importance until that morning.
Once we were waiting to start, I couldn’t focus on what was being said over the megaphone. I fidgeted with my jacket and hat, and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to wear either. Already mini bottles of butterscotch liquor were being passed around by Team BOR. Kevin noticed my nervous energy and reminded me of our only goal — to have fun.
Finally, it was go time and the only thing I had to focus on was putting one foot in front of the other…then I saw the hill. Hunter’s Ford Road was something straight out of my nightmares. Kevin had me hold onto the back of his Osprey pack to jog up the monster. I could’ve died right then if Kevin wasn’t there encouraging me. Somewhere along the way, we met up with Team Virtus. These guys are rapidly becoming my favorite group of adventure racers. It’s hard to focus on the suck when these jovial fellows are singing and joking, and Bob Jenkins is showing off his ability to urinate while still rambling up a monster hill.
Speaking of urinating outdoors, of all the trials I anticipated and agonized over, I did not foresee what would be one of my greatest challenges. Turns out, I’m not very good at peeing in the woods. By the time we got to the Allentown Access Boat Ramp, I needed to make a pit stop, but that proved to be more difficult than I thought. First off, I had no idea how far I needed to go out into the woods to pop a squat. What was the proper etiquette? After I meandered roughly 500 feet into the bush, I found a decent downed tree to hide behind. Next was the challenge of getting my bushwhacking pants, my tights and my bike shorts down while simultaneously going into a squatting position without falling over. FYI, I fell over. Finally, I got situated only to discover that what happened so naturally indoor was not going to happen out here. In a mild panic, I wrangled all my layers back up and headed out of the wood to catch a canoe.
It was just in time, too, because I found out that my fiancé had secured us the last two paddles. The guys left behind were kind enough to push us off the boat ramp, and we set off for a trip down the majestic Meramec River. Having never canoed before, there was some zigging and zagging on our way to the bike drop, but overall it was an uneventful journey. We were able to take in all the scenery that the Meramec had to offer, including outhouses, plastic barrels on sand bars, a red Camaro that was stuck halfway down a cliff by a tree and a dead bloated deer under a bridge. Very romantic.
At the halfway point, we began to see the back of the pack ahead of us. We were actually gaining on them! My arms were trying to give out by then, but I decided to take a page from Team Virtus’ book. I began singing random songs at the top of my lungs. This took my mind off of my fatiguing muscles. Before long, we saw the ramp and made our ungraceful approach. Once we hit land, I realized two things: my legs were no longer working right and I really needed to piss. After punching the checkpoint, I was following the navigator over some rocks to get around the canoes. I was going slow and looked up to see him leaving me behind. At that moment, I slipped and hit my right knee hard on a bastard rock. I’ll admit, I’m not proud of what I did next. As people were asking if I was OK, I quickly got to my feet and yelled at Kevin. At that moment, I experienced the reality of my first major fear. I embarrassed myself in front of a group of people by being a total ass to my teammate.
I immediately apologized to Kevin, and we made our way to the bike drop off. I took a deep breath and walked into the woods to attempt a potty break once again. This time was more successful, but with one hitch — I peed on my pant leg. Lady luck was with me though, because it was my right side that I was going to zip off anyway for the mountain biking section. After some grub, we were on the bikes. (Ironically, the next checkpoint was near a perfectly good indoor toilet.)
From the moment the pavement hit trail at West Tyson, I knew I was in trouble. We followed other teams up the hill, and before long, we started falling behind. I must have worn out my legs in the first 5k, because I was not making much progress on the rocky terrain with my bike alongside me. I have never felt that kind of fatigue in my muscles. I was walking like I was drunk. Going uphill, everything from my lower back down to my calves was on fire. At a certain point, Kevin offered to take my bike as well as his and I reluctantly gave in, feeling defeated. My second fear came true — except I wasn’t even hike-a-biking. I was barely able to walk up these hills! With my hands free, I chewed on some energy blocks and those seemed to help. Finally, we reached a crest and I was able to take my bike back. The sections I could ride were few and far between, and the way my legs were I was very afraid to ride them. The time between checkpoint 7 and 8 is a bit of a blur. I think I was just zoned out and cursing the trail every few feet. Once we made it to the picnic table, I wanted to throw the bike back down the mountain — but because it was a loaner, I refrained. (Thank you to Scott Shaw for letting me use his bike!) It was great to see Amanda and the other volunteers up there. We set off on foot and got a few more checkpoints. Punching a few spots on the passport seemed to wake me up.
After checkpoint 17, my navigator said, “I think we’re going to try for something stupid on the way to 15.” To preface this part, you should know that Kevin often says something like this and it usually ends badly. Unfortunately, this time I was too zoned out to object. Kevin’s stupid idea was for us to red line to checkpoint 15 through a reentrant and up a steep hill. Halfway through this hike, my shoes were slipping around on my feet because of the slope and I had to stop to tighten them. At this point, I was tired, frustrated and feeling sorry for myself. I was having trouble taking my gloves off to tie my shoes, and I lost my shit. Kevin straddled the log I had collapsed on, bent down and tightened my shoelaces. As he trying to cheer me up, tears were welling in my eyes. Any other person would be surprised or weirded out by my crying on a log in the middle of the woods, but I’m pretty sure Kevin was expecting this at some point. Honestly, I think he was impressed that I lasted this long before the tears came. With Kevin’s help I pulled myself together and we tried to scramble up the steep hill out of the reentrant.
It was so steep, and the ground was so loose, that I couldn’t get any footing. I tried to bear crawl up it and slipped even further. I started to panic that I would be stuck in this hellhole forever. Kevin told me to sit down, grab the stick to my left and try again. Turns out you have better luck getting up square on your feet then trying to crawl up. I feel like this is some vast metaphor for life, but at that point I just wanted to get the heck out of there. Finally, we got on top of the saddle, we were headed for, and Kevin said that we could either go down the other side for the checkpoint or head back to the trail. That’s when I made what Kevin called a “tactical decision.” I looked down the hill and said hell no. We also tried and failed to get checkpoint 12.
At this point, I was a bit discouraged. I wasn’t feeling good about my performance, and I was worried about the second leg of mountain biking. Around this time, we ran into Team BOR Fresh Meat with Dave Beattie, Leah, Devon and Bart. They looked as miserable as I felt. I told Kevin how I felt, and he said that this race is supposed to be hard. I looked around, and most of the faces I saw either looked tired, confused or, for those headed downhill on Chubb, terrified. While I was feeling alone in my misery, actually everyone was suffering just like I was. This was a very uplifting thought.
Finally, we got back to the bikes and I somehow managed to not die on the way back down the mountain. Kevin even managed to show off a bit over the rocky terrain. We ended up coming down at the same spot we went in, and I got to enjoy the indoor bathroom. The effect on my moral was remarkable. Also knowing that the mountain bike section was over was a big relief. We loaded our bikes on the canoes and made the quick trip across the river to the gear check that we passed with flying colors.
It was great to see Tamara Taylor there to see us into the next leg of the course. This leg of the race was my favorite because of one piece of equipment — the tow. Thanks to Kevin’s massive quads, we made good time though the Route 66 State Park, knocking out checkpoints one by one. Then, we raced back to The Legends and were making such good time I forgot about the last major challenge until we were right under it. The race finale was an endless hill into the manicured community of The Legends. Halfway up, I didn’t think we were going to make it. My legs were beyond useless. Kevin stood up on his bike and powered down. I haven’t mentioned yet that Kevin was doing all of this while battling a sinus infection. While I was trying to stay upright on the bike he was burning his lungs. When all seemed lost, the amazing volunteers, including Tamara, pulled up beside us and started honking their horns and shouting encouragement. We made it to the top, coasted down another hill and right back up the next one. Next thing we saw was the Alpine Shop arch. At a respectable 7 hours and 30 minutes, we ended our race.
Our ending photograph shows Kevin and me with helmets askew and 1,000-yard stares. We were both so happy to be done. After changing and loading bikes, I was just able to grab the last baked potato for us to share. But there was one last great moment in store. The members of Team BOR all stood up after the awards. In a mock ceremonious tone, Scott Shaw declared there was some unfinished business at the table. I turned to Kevin just in time to see him pull out a shiny new pair of plastic blue testicles on a key chain. If he had been on one knee, it would have been just as romantic as when he proposed.
Afterwards, there was a good little bit of bullshitting between all the racers before we went our separate ways. Although I was half comatose, I had to appreciate the community aspect of the sport.
The next morning, I woke up sore all over and asking Kevin when the next race was and if he would do it with me. At Castlewood 8 we didn’t clear the course, I embarrassed myself and had to hike-a-bike for 90% of the mountain bike sections, but my last fear was completely unfounded. Kevin said, “Absolutely, but you have to start training.”
Author: Reanna Pearson
This race report printed with permission from Alpine Shop