Saturday morning at 4.45 I found myself sitting on the side of the tub in the bathroom checking Instagram really quick before I got dressed. I saw pictures of painted toenails on beaches, beer bottles in hands, beautiful vacation houses and smiling people. A normal Saturday around the world. I tried to get ready for a +24 hours adventure race. Is that even possible? I brushed my teeth, put sunscreen on and took a couple of deep breaths. I had breakfast and scrambled through the newspapers and got picked up about an hour later. We left for Roslyn, WA. The first time I heard of Roslyn (population ca 875) was when I lived in Leuven, Belgium ’94 and attended KU Leuven. I made a few American friends who came from Roslyn and Seattle. I remember they showed me the map over Washington and pointed it out. In the middle of nowhere, far out there and nothing around. They told me the show Northern Exposure (90-95) was filmed there and I knew exactly what they were talking about. Large moose, lots of bears, a quaint bar and genuine people. Nice place.
We got ready, checked in, changed, drank a few bottles, had a banana and a bar, got the maps, checked the bags, packed the last stuff, got our transition bin ready… And I really had no clue. Didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what to put in the bin. How does +24 hours feel? Will I fall asleep standing, sitting on the bike? Will I ruin the race for the guys? Will my body stop working? How do you know?
10am and we are off. It’s hot. Two checkpoints down and I don’t get any air. My left hand burns and my heart rate is so high it feels like my heart will stop working. My fingernails turned purple and I got off the bike and had to lay down. The guys stopped and my poor teammates looked puzzled. It’s not looking good, 30 minutes in to a very long race and she cracks. Overheated? We start walking and we walk with our bikes for a long time. I cool down and we start over. Lots of time passed and we should have been going faster. I don’t know how much time we lost, 20 min, 1hour, 2hours… it felt like a long time.
The race was divided into 5 chunks with 4 transitions (bike/trek/bike/trek/bike). The first was a very long bike section. We knew it was going to take time but it took a lot longer than I expected. The first hours felt like a blur, I can’t really remember what happened. We started walking with our bikes, basically hiking with a lot of extra weight. Pushing our bikes, walking on rocks with big drops beside us trying not to fall. It was hot. Sweat was dripping from random body parts. 3 hours and 15 minutes in it started hailing. It was popping down on our helmets, making funny noises. Got on the bike for 20 meters and off and over a river, pushed it up, up, up and got on for 30 seconds. Don’t look down. Don’t fall. Don’t walk too close to the edge. It rains a little and we hear thunder every now and then. Crossed the river again, again, again. Up, up, up, pushing the bike, checkpoint after checkpoint. The only think I could think was:
We all ran out of water when we had a few hours left. I emptied 5l of water really fast. Hot weather and no water, kind of a nightmare. I felt like the raisin version of myself, started to crumble up and could only think of the blackberry lemonade I made a few days ago. Or a cold beer. We crossed another river and filled up our bottles. I am too tired to dig out my iodine tablets from the bottom of my pack and decide to drink little sips and filter away the dirt with my teeth. How bad can it be? We are in the middle of a huge national park, no people, lots of animals and the water looks clear. And I found a nötcreme in the bag on the bike. What a treat. Next time I am going to have my parents send over Dextrosol and Nötcreme. Huge amounts.
I remember checking the time and thinking that I had pushed my bike uphill for more than 2 marathons. The last miles of a marathon usually feel pretty hard, the legs start to cramp a little bit and the body feels done. When you run a longer run/race you usually have plenty of time to regret your decision, curse and doubt your ability to finish. At least that is how I work. I did not think once that I couldn’t do this. It really sucked, it was not fun at all but I didn’t think, just walked. And ate and drank when I walked. More than 11 hours passed. A long day mostly bike hiking up mountains.
We got in to transition and filled up new water. 5 new fresh liters. Changed in to dry clothes and packed the pockets with more food. Ate a sandwich. I took off my shoes and socks and looked at my feet. Purple? Rotten? I count my nails, all there and with a turquoise polish. Looks very odd in the middle of the forest. Wet shoes for a day makes your feet really pretty. Dry socks and shoes feels like a treat. I sit on the ground and I can’t bother to go hide somewhere to change. (Really apologize for not being very modest guys). 10 minutes and we are on our way. It’s dark, our headlights are on and we are walking. It feels great. I am not tired. We are hiking up , up, up looking for new checkpoints. I am really impressed with Robins navigation. It is pitch-dark, in the middle of the night, we are on top of a mountain and he is spot on. All the time. And cycle on a trail, read a map and eat at the same time.
We spent hours wading through water that was full of crayfish and a gorgeous red water snake and the dry shoes and socks is a thing of the past. It’s dark, the temperature feels so much better. We walk the whole night, waiting for the sun that never shows up. It’s a long night looking for reflective bands/checkpoints. We are on the top of a mountain again looking for a cave, climbing boulders, shuffles around, climbing big trees that fell years ago. Trying to hold on to branches so I don’t slide down the hillside. My hands are full of thorns and I don’t really care. The mani-pedi last week was money well spent. We run out of water again. It’s mixed feelings, the pack is getting lighter when you drink but it’s a scary feeling to run dry. My body is really beat up. My left foot is swollen and is constantly pounding after a wrong step a few hours into the race. I have bruises and scrapes all over. My legs look like ground meat, dripping blood from a few spots, covered with dirt. I have a bad cut on my wrist from sliding down a cliff. Looks a bit suicidal. My left hand is completely numb, very convenient since I can’t feel if I am holding on to rosebushes with thorns. I am starting to think of things that are worse than climbing over sharp objects on a hillside. I can think of lot of things and it really helps. Watching a burlesque show, jump out of a plane, carry my bike and climb at the same time, eat crickets… I am in a long-term relationship with my brain, trying to stay focused.
Back on our bikes and I lost track of time. It’s getting lighter and the sun starts to show. It’s going to be a hot day. We move, we bike and we push our bikes. The view is gorgeous, we are 6000ft up and on top of the world. The trails are full of sand, big boulders and logs. A bit technical for me and the guys slow down. We keep on moving, walking our bikes, carrying our bikes, falling, walking… Hours pass and I am not tired. My body feels a bit slower but my mind is still there. I actually enjoy the day. This is great and I don’t want it to end.
And we came in for a third transition, starting to run out of time before the cut off. And we get a big welcome from Rick and Jen. So nice. We take off for a short trek. I feel extremely tired for the first time. It’s hot, around 35. The skin burns, there are no shade and the cloths are once again sticking to my body. I smell, my hair stinks and a cold shower would feel great. Where is that river when you need it. And 26 hours something and we race through transition again and are on the last part of the race. We need to make it to Roslyn before 4pm, before the cut off. We hear in transition that most of the teams went back and didn’t finish the checkpoints. Apparently it’s been a tough race. I don’t know since it’s my first +24h adventure race and have nothing to compare with. I am just surprised that time went by fast. And I am still awake.
We have one more bike hike before the finish. 1500ft, trails with deep sand and the sun is extreme. One step up and two down. We never seem to finish the bike hike, we will never reach the top. When you think you are there another hill shows up behind the trees. We finally made it but it took forever. We bike over the ridge and keep moving. Sinking in sand, broiling in the sun. We saw a random black cow standing in the heat in the middle of nothing.
The last part back to Roslyn is a nice single track down the mountain. We enter a bike park with two different paths. My nightmare. I don’t like this at all. I am tired, I can’t focus. If I look to the right, I turn to the right. It’s been a long race. Instead of just go and try to focus, I start slowing down, breaking too much. And I fall. I hit my previous broken elbow really hard and swear. Up again and trying to catch up. Josh is the nicest guy you can imagine, tells me to take it slow, walk if I need to. I am bubbling inside, angry, disappointed that I am such a coward. The guys walk through parts of it and that makes me even more mad since it’s my fault. Just go, don’t wait for me. Down on a trail and found the last checkpoint and I can’t say the word cottonwood. I am tired, I am done, I can’t move my lips. One mile left. ½ mile left. For the first time I feel so tired that I can barely move my legs. Robin tells me to bike like someone is chasing me. And we are done. Finished. Finito. I mål. 29 hours and 44 minutes of constant movement. That’s a long workout. And I thought when we reached Roslyn again it would feel like a super happy moment.
But it felt more like
I am not going to lie to you, it was a long day, night and day. The 24 hour race spilled over to the next day and became close to 30 hours. It’s a long time. Constant movement for 30 hours. Long time. Getting myself in to this I thought not sleeping for 30 something hours would be the biggest problem. Eating and drinking is what’s important, all the time. And keep moving.