|Team Veteran Leader and the Tablerock Challenge|
Honor of our Fallen Warriors…
Lance Cpl. Jeffery S. Blanton, 23, of Fayetteville, Ga., died Dec. 12 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq
Jeffrey L. Kirk, 24, of Baton Rouge, La.,
Joshua A. Ramsey, 19, from Defiance, Ohio,
Sgt. Melvin L. Blazer, 38, of Moore, Okla
Cpl. Hilario F. Lopez, 22, of Ingleside, Texas
Cpl. Gregory P. Rund, 21, of Littleton, Colo
Robert W. Hoyt, 21, of Ashford, Conn.,
Arthur C. Williams, IV, 31, of Edgewater, Fla.,
Class Todd C. Gibbs, 37, of Angelina, Texas,
Mark N. Stubenhofer, 30, of Springfield, Va.,
Andrew M. Ward, 25, of Kirkland, Wash.,
Sgt. Kyle A. Eggers, 27, of Euless, Texas,
Michael L. Boatright, 24, of Whitesboro, Texas
Cari A. Gasiewicz, 28, of Depew, N.Y.,
Sgt. Henry E. Irizarry, 38, of Bronx, New York,
Spc. David P. Mahlenbrock, 20, of Maple Shade, N.J., died Dec. 3 in Kirkuk, Iraq
George D. Harrison, 22, of Knoxville, Tenn.,
Photos courtesy of Dave Meador, http://www.davesphotoimages.com/ Copyright for these photos belongs solely to Dave Meador. Images may not be copied, downloaded, or used in any way without the expressed, written permission of the photographer.
Team Veteran Leader wins the Tablerock Challenge Winter Adventure Race
11 December Cassvile, MO.
This was not the first time I had competed under the burden of a mission of awareness and education, yet each time it becomes more personal. As a member of Team Veteran Leader Adventure Racing, we dedicate every race to a fallen soldier to honor their sacrifice for our nation. It has grown increasingly meaningful to me as a Soldier in light of the events of the Global War on Terrorism and personal experiences during the war. We have all lost friends and we understand the importance of remembering them and acknowledging the selflessness of their service to our nation and to the world. This is our small way of ensuring our fellow Soldiers are never forgotten.
This race was the Tablerock Challenge (www.tablerockchallenge.com), a cold weather multi-sport endurance race occurring in the heart of the Ozark Mountains in the Mark Twain National Forest from 11-12 December 04. Teams of two, four, and solo racers would run, paddle, mountain bike and orienteer non-stop for 30 hours in near freezing temperatures. Yes, we were all a bit crazy and masochistic, but that is a prerequisite to be an adventure racer.
At 0330 hrs on December 11th, 37 teams launched into the darkness of the Mark Twain National Forest. The first leg of the race stretched along 10 miles of trail throughout the Roaring River State Park. After traversing the aptly named trails of the Eagles Nest, River Trail and Devil’s Kitchen, locating a checkpoint at the top of a fire tower and one in the mouth of a cave, we emerged back into the campground where the race began. What had started as a tight knit group of runners had stretched throughout the forest. Only a handful of teams emerged together leading the race. I transitioned my gear and launched into the next leg of the race, a 26 mile mountain bike section. I knew that one or two teams were ahead of me, but at this moment, I was left to my thoughts….and the coldness of the night. The route was mainly dirt roads and county highways and the ride was fast. As the sun began to rise, the leading teams came in to view. In the last few miles, I joined with John Bradley and Scott Dunsmuir of Team Springfield Bikes, and we rode in to the next transition point together.
At Campbell Point Campground, south west of Shell Knob, was the paddle transition point. After a brief inventory of gear, I completed prep and, with a friendly push from Jason Elsenraat, one of the race directors, I paddled my kayak out into Table Rock Lake. John and Scott had started a few minutes ahead and I could see their boat edging around a bend in the lake. With the advantage of a kayak against their aluminum canoe, I soon closed the gap between us. The sun was finally up and the brisk paddle did well to warm some cold bones from the night’s events. Five hours of kayaking and 23 miles later, I was greeted with the welcome site of the paddle take out. Brandi Resa, the second race coordinator, greeted me with a wonderful surprise….a Cheeseburger and a brief car ride to a point further up the course. Talk about a ‘cheeseburger in paradise’…it was great timing! The far to short ride ended in an unmarked location in the middle of the Mark Twain Forest, where, after a brief map orientation, I pinpointed my current location and began the next 16 mile trek. Several hours and multiple checkpoints later, I arrived back at Roaring River State Park. I had covered 75 miles in the last 13 hours and was anxious to keep moving while I still had light. This transition marked the end of the course instructions we had received at the beginning of the race. I was handed a sheet of coordinates to plot on the maps and instructions for the remainder of the course. The whole last section of the race, I had been playing mind games, telling myself to be prepared for another 50-75 miles for the second half. I had paced myself the whole morning so that I would be in good shape for whatever lay ahead. I smiled inwardly as I read the sheet…16 miles of biking, 10 mile trek, then a second bike leg of 16-18 miles, depending on your route selection. See! It wasn’t as bad I’d anticipated…only 38 more miles…ouch!
I refitted, ate, plotted the points and planned my route with the benefit of day light, then launched out on the bike. As I left the campground, John and Scott came running in from the last leg. I had seen no other teams since around 0500 hrs that morning. Night was falling quick, so I pedaled hard to at least hit my first check point before dark. I had foolishly used much of my rechargeable bike light’s battery power during last night’s ride and was preserving it - it appeared tonight’s route would be a bit more technical. My small handlebar light would suffice for most routes, but wasn’t a great help in locating small side trails.
I hit the first point with no issues, but my luck was about to change. I had made no navigation errors during the course so far, but fatigue was starting to play a factor and the cold had set in worse than the night prior. It probably wasn’t any colder than last night, but when your body starts breaking down, it sure feels that way. I missed the trail to my second point. In my efforts to locate the right trail, I explored multiple forest roads and rural driveways, but with no luck. Resetting, I plotted an alternate route to the point that would add several miles but reduced the chances of navigational error. I had to get moving forward instead of in circles. Grunting at the prospect, I dug in to make up the time I knew I had lost. The route brought me back on track and blessed me with a great section of technical singletrack that would have been a whole lot more fun in daylight, but you gotta enjoy it when you get it, so I barreled down the rock set and soon found my next check point.
I was back on course, but the extra effort had charged a price in fatigue. Continuing north, the route took me across East Fork Rock Creek. The ford point was deeper than expected and I suddenly found myself waste deep in icy water…not a good prospect when the temperature outside was a nippy 32 degrees. Shaking it off and squeezing the excess water from my socks, I drove on. The trail was laced with water filled ruts and puddles. I weaved in and out, doing my best to avoid them. I did alright, except for one especially deep rut that grabbed my front wheel as I tried to skirt it. It won, I lost…I went over the handlebars and got deposited in a thigh deep mud puddle. As I scraped the mud from my headlamp, the sudden thought occurred to me, “Okay, now I’m really cold”. I was on the downward slope of the pain curve. I continued following the trail, but my core temperature was dropping and I knew I would be at risk for hypothermia. I looked down at my compass. It registered Southeast. My race addled brain rebelled at that thought. Staring dumbly at the map, I realized I needed to be traveling North East. I was on the wrong trail. Cold, wet, lost….the essence of adventure racing. I stopped entirely. Donning all of my warm gear, I swapped my wet bike shoes and socks for running shoes and a dry pair of socks. About facing, I started running my bike to get my core temperature back up and headed North west back up the trail. In time, I traversed several intersections that I had passed earlier until I was finally able to pinpoint my location. I was back in the game. In minutes, I hit the next checkpoint and the next until I finally arrived into the next transition point. I was confident that my misadventures had placed me well back in the standings, but I was racing for something more important. Despite the cold and the fatigue, I would never quit. As I rode in to the check point, I was greeted with the comfort of a fire and the surprising news that I was still leading the race! Like I said….never give up.
The next leg was a 10 mile orienteering section in which we could locate the ceck points in any sequence. As I left on the trek, John and Scott came riding in to the CP. They were strong runners and I expected I would see them shortly. The only obstacle to the first point was a rather large pack of dogs who were only too eager to say hello. Skipping the formalities, I trotted on by them. John and Scott caught up with me as I navigated to the second point. We continued moving together to the third point. What should have been a short walk, suffered from group think as all three of us went up the wrong hill trying to locate the point. Lost again, we walked in a clover leaf trying to locate the correct hill top. We found several, but not the right one. Heading South in an effort to pinpoint our location, we began to descend sharply. John and Scott decided to continue down to locate the road. I decided to part ways and follow a team motto of ours…when in doubt, go up! Within five minutes, I literally stumbled onto the point. Course complete, I turned south and moved out back to the road. I ran into John and Scott again at the road and showed them where we were and where the point was. I felt guilty at my own dumb luck. They moved off to grab the point and I headed back to transition, knowing they would be close behind. The last five miles to the transition were the most painful of the course. I’d been on the course for 22-23 hours, with no real sleep since the night before the race began, and it was catching up hard. These are the times that are perhaps the most challenging to a solo racer…no one there to keep you awake. I turned those five miles into at least six miles as I literally slept walk….zigzagging back and forth across the road in varying states of consciousness.
All I wanted on arriving at transition was five minutes of sleep before I started on the bone chilling ride, a ride that would back trace 18 miles of the course that we had covered earlier that day. As I prepped for the bike, word came from race management not to leave the transition area. The course and the cold had claimed nearly all of the 37 teams. Three teams remained somewhere out on the last bike section. Two other teams, counting Springfield Bikes, had made it to the trek. It was 0300 hrs. I had passed the other team on the return walk from the trek…they had found no points and didn’t appear very happy…they gave up shortly after. It was obvious that only myself, and John and Scott would complete the course within the 30 hr timeline. The decision was made to shift the finish line to the end of the trek. No complaints here….One Hundred and One miles (plus a few extra…) and the course was done. Mission complete. I said a quiet prayer to the memory of the Soldiers I had raced for, knowing that my small hardship and triumph in this race paled in comparison to their sacrifice, but thankful for the opportunity to remember them.
Shortly after the race, I learned that during the same time period of the competition, we had lost ten Soldiers and Marines serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In a touch of grim irony, one of the Marines, Lance Corporal Gregory Rund, 21, was killed on 11 December. He was from my home of Littleton, Colorado. I thought back to the fact that on December 7th of this past week, the first freely elected president in Afghanistan's 5,000-year history took the oath of office in Kabul Afghanistan BECAUSE of the actions of service members like Lance Corporal Rund. Freedom is not free…I am honored by the sacrifice of the brave men and women of our armed forces who have made freedom possible.