Eleven (plus one) Memorable Orienteering Experiences List, #11
You probably thought this was the last installment, didn't you? But if so, then you failed to realize that J-J can't count!
So there's this one, about a race that I did not actually run, and then tomorrow will be the conclusion.
This is about a race that PG wrote about
as being his best, and mine is a very different tale. It's mostly backstory, in fact, possibly (tl;dr) and if you want you can scroll down to the last paragraph and the map. It was 22 years ago, and I've related the story enough times that it has probably gotten corrupted in my memory, but at least by putting it down in words now I can keep it from deteriorating any more. I'd say it's at least mostly accurate.Franzen, Minnesota, 10/12/1997 (Veterans World Cup Final)
I was heavily involved with the organization of WOC93, and was very much aware of how much of a toll it took on USOF. So when word came down that we were looking at putting on another big meet in 1997, the Veterans World Cup (which in later years became the World Masters Orienteering Championships), I was against it. I even wrote a letter to the head organizer, Sherri Litasi, explaining why it would be best to back out of it while it was still early enough in the planning stages, but the event went ahead. Because I was opposed to it being held, I resolved to stay away from the event, neither competing nor helping, even though at age 36 I would have been eligible to participate.
But my clubmate Beatrice (Garzoni)(Zurcher)McBride was interested in going, and thus so was her husband at the time, Bob McBride. Bob was looking to drive to the event (from Colorado, where I was living at the time) and wanted company on the road, as Beatrice needed to fly in shortly before the event. There was a regular A-meet scheduled for the weekend before in the MSP area, then the VWC itself was somewhere in the boondocks near Lake Wobegon, and it was going to have regular “public” courses in addition to the VWC. I was willing to do that, so I joined Bob and we hit the road in my Corolla station wagon.
The A-meet was okay, though a bit disorganized, and my notes from the time say that the courses were very disappointing, much too boring and easy. One thing that it featured was a results system that had been devised by Angus Bond for the VWC, and this meet was its shakedown run. That appeared to be a complete failure. Although I have notes that I finished 15th each day, as far as I’m aware there were never any results published for the meet. In fact, when I arrived at Camp Ripley a few days later, the meet organization appeared to have gone into a panic. They had appealed to Mike Fritz to take over and come up with something that would work, which he did, but as a failsafe, he reached out to me. I had been handling results at the 1000-Day for five years at that point (with substantial help from Charlie DeWeese), and Mike got in touch with me to find out if he could get our system if needed. To do this, he called Mike Minium’s cell phone, and someone brought it to me – this was the first time I ever received a cell phone call. Our system was written in Lotus 1-2-3 (a spreadsheet that had at one time been dominant until Excel took over), and although in the end Mike didn’t need it, he at least had that option in his back pocket.
But before we even left the A-meet, a critical event occurred. Event Director Sherri Litasi came up to Bob and me and asked if we could do her a favor. I skeptically asked what it was. She said it was just a little thing, kind of a thankless job, but she needed somebody who could do some math. It seemed there were water stops for the VWC located at road crossings, and she needed somebody who could get the information from the course setters about how many people would be going to each stop, convert that to the number of gallons required, and drop off that many gallons at each stop.
Well, okay. We figured that wasn’t too bad, though it turned out to be one of the most misleading things anyone had ever said to me.
Tracking down the course setters wasn’t too bad, and they had their acts together and knew how much water was needed. Somebody noted that the meet had rented a few trucks for moving equipment around, and I could probably manage to use one of those – it was a big enough event that I wouldn’t be able to carry all the water in my Toyota. But when I asked Sherri where the water was, she said, well, you could try WalMart, or supermarkets…
Ack! Nobody had actually procured any water for this event!
Although I had been determined to not get roped into helping out at this ill-advised event, it was clear that there was a major gap here that wasn’t going to get dealt with unless I dealt with it. So I started out by stealing a truck. I asked around to find out who had the keys, asked to borrow them for a few minutes, and disappeared for several days with the biggest truck that the meet had rented. Bob needed to pick up Beatrice at the airport, so he took my car, and I went off to do what I’ve exaggeratedly described as driving all over central Minnesota buying all the bottled water available. In truth I think it was only four stores, but I bought all the water they would sell me, not just what was on the shelves but also as much as they’d pull out of the back. And a lot of paper cups. I eventually racked up over $1000 in credit card charges.
I needed help to put the water out, and Bob wasn’t available so I pulled up to the bus stop. There was shuttle service running to the model event, and Gale Teschendorf was sitting there waiting for the bus. I asked him if he wanted a ride, and said hop in, I’d give him a lift if he’d help me move a couple of things. Gale never did make it to the model event.
The water stops were supposedly at “road crossings”. That was a reasonable description for some of the spots, and Gale and I dropped off the water with no trouble. But some of these “roads” were jeep trails. I was warned that there were puddles on some of them, but that Peter Andersen, who had been doing a lot of work on meet setup, had determined that you could get through them okay as long as you had enough momentum. So when Gale and I were heading up one jeep trail and I saw a puddle, I stepped on the gas to just bomb on through. That did not work. I should have known better than to try to emulate Peter Andersen, because he’s crazy.
It had been fine on the smaller puddles, but on this larger one, I bogged down. I had Gale get out of the truck to see which one of the rear wheels was spinning, and he came back and said they both were. Oh, that was very bad news. This truck had a lift mechanism to get heavy items into the back, and the lift structure was hung up on the solid ground behind the puddle, so the rear wheels were just dangling in the water, with zero traction. I was an idiot, and we were cooked.
There was more work that needed to be done in terms of this water job than putting out gallon jugs. Sherri had also asked me to coordinate with the Army on the placement of some water buffalos (water tanks on wheels). I had an appointment to meet the soldiers assigned to that duty, and now I had no transportation. I left Gale with the truck, told him to see if he could come up with any ideas, and went off on foot for my rendezvous. I had decided that the water buffalos would be most useful at the start and finish areas, so I went with the soldiers to tow them around. At some point during this, I ran into some of the other meet crew (Judy Dickinson among them), told them where the truck was, and they went off to try and help Gale. And I described my plight to the soldiers, who couldn’t help me themselves, but referred me to their sergeant.
The sergeant turned out to be incredibly helpful. I got in touch with him, and we drove out to the truck in his jeep. This was a routine situation for him, he said some private would get stuck like this about once a week, so he kept a tow rope in the jeep. He was able to pull us backward and free the truck from the puddle. At this point, the water stops I had been trying to drive to had been supplied with water by people carrying the jugs the rest of the way, so we just needed to get the truck out. Once we were out of the puddle, John Harbuck, who had arrived in his tiny pickup truck, pulled out a chainsaw and tried clearing enough saplings to make a turnaround for the truck, but that didn’t work. We had to back the truck out. Judy was much more experienced at driving trucks than I was, so she took the wheel, and we made it partway, but then we came to the big downhill, and we had a problem. The truck had an automatic transmission, a foot-activated parking brake, and the ground was covered with slippery wet leaves. The only way to slow it down was with the regular brakes, and whenever you touched them, the front wheels would lock up and slide, and you’d lose steering control. Judy considered the situation, and wasn’t comfortable about it. The hill was fairly straight, but a bit tilted to the left. The only thing she could think to do was to just let it roll, stay off the brakes, pray, and try to keep it on the road and upright. I’m really glad she was driving, because I probably would have run off the trail and tipped the truck over on its side.
That didn’t conclude the water responsibilities for the day, I still had to drive back to Brainard to buy more water.
The sergeant turned out to be critical again a couple of days later, when he drove me to another of the water stops. We loaded the water in the back of his jeep, and went for a very wild ride. Road crossings my ass, there was no way that any normal road vehicle could have driven to that spot, the “road” was just a bulldozed ride through the woods, with some pretty steep spots.
I had been planning to sleep in my car, but Nancy was at the meet, helping out at the finish I think, and she had little baby Stephen with her. She had a room in one of the buildings on the base, and she offered to let me crash on the floor, which I accepted.
The next day was the opening of the VWC. I wasn’t running in the VWC itself, I was running M21A in the public event, but that used the same courses as VWC M35 for the two qualifying days. The difference was that there were no public courses on the final day. In the morning I put out more water, for the following day, with the assistance of Mark Parsons, then babysat Stephen for a while, and went out on my course very late. At this point I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. I was in enough of a fog that I was unable to recall my routes on a couple of the early legs, though the splits were okay, so I apparently didn’t have much trouble. But leaving #6, disaster struck. I mistakenly thought I was leaving #7, heading NW toward #8, and everything made sense insofar as I quickly plunged into the green. And I wandered in that green for a long time. Instead of going 400 m north through white woods to get to #7, I finally relocated over a kilometer away on a major dirt road, figured out what had happened, and had to go back though that green to get to #7, where I still had trouble. I finally got it when I stumbled across an easily recognizable feature: the puddle where the truck had been mired. My split for that leg was over an hour. Back through the green to actually get to #8, and the rest of the course went okay. About 10.5 km, and I was just over three hours.
Qualifier Day 2 saw me picking up water stops from the previous days before I ran, and I was still exhausted. Two errors of note, but not on the scale of the one the previous day, and otherwise quite clean. The course was a little longer, but I got around it more than 45 minutes faster. After my run, there was more water work, this time with Bob and Beatrice helping, and that went okay until it came time to leave, and the gate was locked. We were trapped in the woods.
The VWC was held on three maps all at Camp Ripley, an army base in central Minnesota. The maps were in the northern part of the military reservation, and the meet headquarters was on the base proper, at the southern end. Military reservations are locked up most of the time, and the meet organization had failed to come up with a plan to determine when all of the meet workers were out before locking up. Or at least, the water crew was not part of that plan. Fortunately, from my travels on the first day, I knew my way back to the base through the range (as opposed to around on public roads, which is what everyone was doing, a 25+ mile drive). So we drove the lonely dirt roads of the range until we got to the Range Control gate at the north and of the base. I left Bob and Beatrice in the truck and walked about two miles to find somebody to let us in. When we got back, B&B had company, there was a private who had showed up who had also gotten himself locked in.
We had all the water for the last day set up at that point (or close enough, I think there might have been a little more work that I managed to delegate), and there was a rest day before the final. Nancy suggested that we just get the hell out of there, and that sounded good to me. I spent the day as a passenger in her car as we drove up past Duluth, because she wanted to visit a couple of lighthouses, including the famous and spectacular Split Rock. That was the first time that we went to a lighthouse together.
The Final day had no course for me. I was surprised to find that, despite my horrible result the first day, if I had had been running those courses as M35 instead of M21, I actually would have qualified for the A final. I did show up at the event site, where Sherri spotted me, and asked if I could do her a favor.
Well, she said, there were a few boxes of meet merchandise that inadvertently got left behind at the base, and there wasn’t going to be any opportunity to sell them after today, so we needed to have them up at the event site. Annoying as it was, it was true, so I grudgingly said I’d make the 50+ mile round trip to get them. Just a few boxes, she said. I stole a truck again, and I had to stop to get gas for it on the way. When I got to the base and found the loading dock where the merchandise was, there were dozens and dozens of boxes, and had to load them all myself. Sherri had said that for helping out, I could help myself to a T-shirt or something – yeah, I took more than a T-shirt. When I got back to the event site, I drove the truck right out into the middle of the assembly area where it was completely in the way, tossed the damn keys on the dashboard, left the door open, and walked away.
And I went to my car and got a compass.
When I got to the start, things were wrapping up. I knew the start crew people, and I said to them, I’m not here, but I’m taking this map, and they said, sounds good, have a nice time, J-J. And with an M35 VWC map in my hand, I started my watch.
PG has noted that sometimes he’s had very good runs when he was pissed off for some reason, it helps with the motivation and drive. I was thoroughly pissed off, somewhat more well-rested than I had been on the previous two days, and had zero pressure on me. They had saved the nicest piece of terrain for the final, and I ran that course fast. Small errors on #9, #18, and #19, but I corrected quickly on all of them and didn’t lose too much time. I came tearing up the chute, with most of the people gone by that point, and Lex Bundschuh was working the finish. I stopped a step short of the line, hit my watch, said Hi Lex, I’m not here, and walked off to the side.
12 km, and I got around it in 1:53:49, which would have been good enough for 43rd place at this major event. The best race I never ran.