• Tue May 16 2006
  • Posted May 16, 2006
The Epic Mighty Mo Expedition details as told by one of the member of Team I.O.W.A.
What is the Might Mo? A grueling 80-hour expedition in the state of Missouri. Teams will run, trek, mountain bike, paddle, navigate, traverse, rappel, ascend and whatever else it takes to get them to the finish line. This race will test the most experienced adventure racing teams, and provide a challenge of epic proportions to teams that have never participated in an expedition-length adventure race. The race took placeMay 4th-7th near Steelville, MO. There were two teams with Iowas participants. There were also a few top Pro teams like Team Nike participating (winning!) in the race.
Definition of Epic: Very imposing or impressive, surpassing the ordinary-of heroic proportions. And what an epic experience this was for Team I.O.W.A., our first multi-day expedition race. And per usual just getting a team on the starting line was a challenge. When we registered back in January, our team consisted of myself-Jeanne Baum, Rob Baum, Gary Roll, Chris Flint, and our trusty and loyal friend Johnny Houchins-Crew Master. But one by one our team started falling apart. Immediately I thought, “Oh great, race season 2006 is going to be a replay of 2005-every race scrambling to assemble a team.” Gary was the first to fall to a fractured bone in his ankle. Not having success replacing him with local racing friends I turned to the Mighty Mo Web site, where we found Tennessee Todd. Chris was the next to go about 4 weeks prior to the race. Those of you who race, know how difficult it can be finding replacements. Let me tell you it’s even more challenging when you’re looking for someone who is willing and able to put themselves through 80 hours of hell. Fortunately, Jason from NY was more than willing and able. So there you have it: Race day, Thursday, May 4th 2006, 8am, Team I.O.W.A. Jeanne and Rob Baum, Tennessee Todd Essig, NY Jason Urckfitz, and Beck and Call Boy-John Houchins running support. After months of being consumed with training, Rob and I were anxious to get on the starting line. So many questions yet to be answered, the main one being how would our bodies hold up under 80 hours of stress and extreme physical exertion, on very little sleep! Fortunately our other two team members are not only experienced multi-day racers, but have also raced with some of the best in the country. It was comforting to have that experience on our team. Race morning 16 co-ed teams of 4 lined up on the starting line. We had 80 hours to complete a 230 mile course, consisting of 140 miles of mountain biking, 50 miles of paddling, 40 miles of trekking, a rope traverse and other miscellaneous rope work. The line up was impressive, some of the top teams nationally and internationally-including Team Nike, Silly Rabbits, Mighty Dogs, Dynamic Earth, AGS/Infiterra Sports, etc. Without much fan fare the race began with a short run to pick up our maps and then right into our first paddle section using single blades in a 4 person raft. Unfortunately, we were at a slight disadvantage right from the start. Not having a support person who could plot our checkpoints meant we had to spend an hour plotting points on 8 maps before we could begin the paddle leg. And so, we were the last team on the water, but the upside was there was no where to go but up in the standings. Sure enough, before the take out, we did manage to pass one team. At 11am, after 2 hours of paddling we jumped on our mountain bikes and headed out on what was to become the longest bike ride of my life. Not only the longest, but the most grueling as well! The first part of the ride wasn’t too bad, mostly hilly gravel roads, and still feeling fresh, it wasn’t a big deal. But I kept reminding myself of Todd’s earlier words of wisdom, which were: “The race doesn’t begin until after the first 24 hours!” Well, I didn’t have to wait 24 hours before needing to dig deep. The biking didn’t really begin until we got onto the Ozark Trail, around 7pm. We spent the entire night on this steep, switch back, loose rock, log jumping, stream crossing single trak trail. This trail literally beats the hell out of your body. But after 95 miles of biking we finally reached our 2nd transition at 7am Friday morning. I was so glad to see daylight and our transition area (a place to rest, put my feet up, eat some real food and collect myself). At this point we had been racing for 24 hours and we were all working very well together, sharing map duties, and responsibilities leading the team. We were all feeling strong, mentally alert, and ready to move into the next trekking section. The lead group consisted of 4 or 5 teams and they had completed the trekking section the night before-in 12 hours. The second group was a few hours off the leaders and also consisted of about 5 teams. We were in the last group. Now is probably a good time to drop in a side note! For those of you unfamiliar with Team I.O.W.A., it is an acronym for Idiots Out Wandering Around! I must say that our other two teammates (the ones who have raced with some of the best in the country) were not all that thrilled to be on a team whose title was “IDIOTS”. And you can’t really blame them, I mean really, it’s like adding insult to injury! Here’s two young, strong, fast males; who first find they’re racing on the geriatric team and then to make matters worse have to go by the name “IDIOTS”! It took Rob and I awhile to bring them around, but sure enough 24 hours into the race they were both on the band wagon, with “idiot this” and “idiot that” being thrown back and forth, every time one of us made an error. Once again Rob and I were able to bring serious racers down to our level. I always say a little levity helps alleviate the pain! We set out on the trekking section around 9am Friday morning. I had set an ambitious goal of completing this section by 5pm. We would cover approximately 15 miles and pick up 7 checkpoints. Without any difficulty we picked up the first 3 checkpoints and then laid down for a 15 minute nap. Those of you not in this crazy sport might wonder, how do you know when to sleep and for how long? Good question, and I’m still not sure I know, because quite frankly I could have gone down and stayed down at any time throughout the race. So if you find yourself in one of these races not knowing when to sleep, just call Jason or Todd and they’ll tell you. By 6:30pm we had picked up our last two checkpoints and made our way to our 3rd Transition. And just as before, Beck and Call Boy had our transition area nicely laid out with our chairs and bins and the coleman stove ready to fire up some hot grub. I was looking forward to a rest! Much to my chagrin, the minute we walked into the transition area we were met by the volunteers telling us that the next bike section had been omitted and that our support person was to transport us directly to the next paddle section (class III rapids) that we were to start immediately. They gave us another stack of maps and sent us on our way, only we weren’t moving anywhere fast. Our team had come to a cross roads. It was going to be cold and dark and none of us wanted to paddle rapids in the dark. And so the discussion began. If we started the paddle section now while it was light, but wasn’t able to make it to the class III rapids before dark, we would be forced to take out and portage our 16’ inflatable rubber ducks 3 miles. We made a team decision to skip the paddle section and move onto the next trekking section. Todd and Jason then started working on the next set of maps, plotting the checkpoints. An hour later we had one more discussion. We decided not to risk an unofficial finish by skipping a section of the course and would continue on, paddling into the night. Fortunately, when we got to the paddle section it was dark and the race director told us we could hold up there for the night and take off at first light, or we could keep going and portage the 3 mile class III rapid section. We held up for the night, getting roughly 5 hours of sleep. Saturday at 5:30am Team I.O.W.A. and the 4 or 5 other teams in our group set out on the white water course. This was by far the highlight of the race for me! It was a beautiful morning. Jason and I were in one canoe, Rob and Todd in the other. Talk about a comedy of errors, I have never laughed so hard as I did going through the rapids. Class III rapids can be a challenge in a solo kayak, but they’re definitely a challenge when you put two people who have never paddled white water together and one has limited stroke technique. I’m not sure how many times Rob got tossed out of the boat, but he was one wet rubber ducky. 3 hours later we emerged from the paddle section, wet and with heavy packs. We now had a long trek and rope traverse ahead of us. The rope traverse was not your typical traverse! The ropes were suspended in air, between two river banks. However, they were only suspended high enough that once your weight was on the rope, your entire body was in the water. Thus to get from one side to the other you had to pull your body and pack through the water. Fortunately, we all made it across but it did take some effort! Once across, we collected ourselves for the long trek ahead. It was then that we discovered some of our maps didn’t make the river crossing unscathed. Fortunately, only our map of the next paddle leg was damaged and since we didn’t have to pick up checkpoints on the paddle leg-no biggy! However, we made a couple other discoveries during the trekking section that did have a significant impact on our performance. 1) We discovered that our next supported transition would come after the next paddle section. Definite problem, given that we intentionally left our kayak paddles with Beck and Call Boy, thinking we could get them before the next long paddle section: “WRONG!” This forced us to paddle somewhere around 24 to 26 miles with single blades! 2) Since we misjudged the next supported transition, we also weren’t sure we had enough food/supplements to get us through to the next transition. And the topping on the cake was: not having the map with the paddle take out! But hey! It’s an adventure race! We knew we’d get through it, we just had to stay positive! The best was when Rob decided to play Boy Scout-rationing our food as if we wouldn’t see civilization for a year and then giving Jason crap for eating more than his forth of a bar and calling him an Idiot! After 8 hours of trekking, around 4:30pm Saturday we came to the paddle transition. It was raining, we were wet, cold and about to get into two canoes and paddle for 8 hours. Even so, we kept joking and moving forward! And even though the volunteers enjoyed our humor after having several grumpy teams come through; it wasn’t enough to keep them from seeking shelter from the rain as we readied ourselves for a long paddle. The paddle section proved to be more challenging than we anticipated, especially in the dark. Since we were still paddling through rapids, a mist came off the water, making our lights completely ineffective as the light would reflect back in our face, blinding us. Thus we had the challenging task of adjusting our eyes to the dark to make out rapids and strainers-downed trees in the river. Jason and I were in the lead canoe and managed to get through 8 hours of paddling without incident. However, some of the teams ahead of us weren’t as fortunate. Around 11pm we came upon another team who had taken refuge at a home along the river after flipping their canoe upstream. A woman on their team was becoming hypothermic and needed to get to the transition area soon. They asked us to lead them to the canoe take out, which we were happy to do, except we weren’t exactly sure of the take out location, nor did we have a map. But we just kept that to ourselves! Not knowing how much further we had to paddle Jason and I took the lead with three canoes following. We paddled through a few small rapids, no big deal, everyone got through them fine. Then a few feet ahead we saw a long dark shadow stretching across the water and wasn’t sure if it was land mass or a strainer. As we got closer, the water flowed faster, we were able to make out a small opening to the right. Jason and I shot through the opening and just as we passed through there was another strainer from the right shore in our path; we quickly adjusted-paddling our canoe left. Rob and Todd were in the canoe directly behind us and had also made it through safely. Unfortunately, the team we agreed to help ended up in the river one more time. This time they lost a second backpack and the second woman on their team had been dumped in the river. Needless to say, they were a little freaked out! As one team member searched for their backpack; along came another team and now the situation was becoming dangerous: with a man in the middle of the river and two oncoming canoes. People were yelling and it felt like all hell was breaking loose. Sure enough the oncoming canoes also turned over and now we had 2-4 people in the river. Rob and Todd were busy directing and trying to get control of the situation. Once everyone was out of the river and safe, we jumped back in our canoes, knowing that we now had two women with hypothermic concerns that we had to get to the transition. Fortunately, the take out was only 15-30 minutes away. To the best of my knowledge everyone is fine. It’s 12:30am Sunday and we were in our 4th supported transition, all we had left was a 40 mile mountain bike leg, another supported transition and a 13+ mile trek to the finish line. Doesn’t sound bad, right! Wrong! The 40 mile bike leg was back on the Ozark Trail (Bike Trail from Hell). We started out on the trail at 3:15am and had till 4pm, Sunday to get to the finish line. We were averaging 3 miles per hour, and at that rate it wasn’t looking good for a finish. The hours ticked by and as the day wore on we wore down. Jason and Todd lead us through this bike section and I have to hand it to them, because Rob and I really challenged their patience-with frequent stops and a turtle’s pace. After 9 hours of the same monotonous pushing the bike up steep inclines and then death grip braking on the steep down hills, jumping logs, crossing streams, biking through mud and standing water; Rob and I were finally starting to break ourselves. And we still hadn’t picked up any checkpoints! The checkpoints had been strategically placed at the very end of the 40 mile bike section. Rob was getting delirious and I was loosing my motor skills; we had changed two flats, and adjusted stretched out brake cables on two bikes. We were ready to be done with that section, but we weren’t pulling out or leaving until we picked up the two mandatory checkpoints. We knew we weren’t going to make it to the finish line and that we were the last team on the course that wasn’t in the final trek to the finish. But determined, we pushed on and finally, after 10 hours on our bikes we picked up our first checkpoint and then the second. I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to pick up two little checkpoints. Those were the two we worked the hardest to get and for me it was the culmination of the race, because we had to dig really deep and stay focused on the goal. It would have been great to cross the finish line and we were all disappointed we didn’t. But we also knew that for a team who had never raced together, with such varying skill levels; that we worked well together, supported one another, picked up every checkpoint on the course up to the last transition, formed new friendships, laughed a lot, traveled through spectacular country and had a lot to be proud of! Once again, the thing that motivates me in adventure racing is the journey/process. Sure it is nice to win or cross the finish line; but what is most impressive is “HOW” you get there. Every race I learn something about myself and my ability to work with others in a cooperative, supportive manner. How else in our ordinary, mundane lives would we have the opportunity to test the boundaries of our limitations! Note to self on what to improve upon for next race: 1) Length of stay in supported transition area shouldn’t exceed an hour. 2) Read, Reread and have someone else read instruction sheet. 3) Have a crew person who can plot checkpoints. 4) Brushing teeth should be left for the end of the race. The Mighty Mo Expedition was an EPIC adventure. The scenery was spectacular, the challenge: Well let me just say you had better come prepared and trained! I am looking forward to putting the IDIOTS back on the starting line next year! Thank you Jason Elsenraat, Race Director and all the volunteers for this Epic Adventure, job well done! Thank you teamies: Idiot Tennessee Todd Essig, Idiot NY Jason Urckfitz, Idiot Rob Baum and Idiot John Houchins for making this experience memorable. Race Well and Strong, Captain Idiot Jeanne Baum

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