RockstAR, Bark Lake
I've only ever done RockstAR with 'Bent in the past but as the defending champion with Hammer, he already had a team. Dee agreed to race with me and stuck to her commitment even after her house closed and she learned she would be moving her family of five just 4 days after the race. As a longtime event registrar, I've seen people drop out of races when they get a hangnail or an extra homework assignment so I was very impressed that she showed up saying, "I signed up for the race first."
We reviewed the map and discussed a few route options. Everyone would start with a mandatory paddle around Bark Lake then for the remainder of the 8 hours, we could spread out and find controls using foot, bike or canoe: our choice. The only requirement was that we had to check in at the main hub between 4-6 p.m. (The race finishes at 7 p.m.)
One obvious route was to start with a long road bike ride to the south end of the map to pick up some high value controls. Then we could pick up as many controls as possible on the return trip including some of the fun activity controls around the lake - inner tube, SUP, slingshot, team photo, etc.
We decided to be contrarians. We figured most teams would go south - probably faster than we would - so our best chance was to try something different. Since we ride pretty well on technical trails, we decided to head east on the Lakota Trail, bikewhack over to an ATV trail with a couple of 90-pointers, then ride to the northwest corner of the map, which had several high-pointers close to roads. Then we'd come back, ride south across the portage to Bark Lake and ride along the lakeshore to the hub. Then we'd do whatever else we had time for - and we assumed there would still be a couple of hours.
We were so wrong. (Mostly me.) We got off to a good start and survived the bikewhack. The ATV trails had the usual wet, mucky spots but we were able to ride around or through a lot of it. I looked for 91 too early, which wasted some time, then we headed to the northwest on a long ATV trail ride that was quite messy a lot of the time.
According to Storm, this was the hottest RockstAR with the most voracious deer flies in memory. I've done hotter races but I don't remember the deer flies ever munching on me as much as they did this time. Or maybe I've just blocked it out. I'd also never seen them focus so hard on a few locations on my body. Although I got random bites almost everywhere in spite of using repellent, there were a bunch of bites on my forehead under my helmet visor, another bunch of bites on my right hand through my bike glove (but not my left hand), and another bunch of bites in one area of my left thigh. So weird. I'm told I had blood running down my face at the finish line.
Dee hadn't wanted to hike much in her bike shoes but she ended up doing just that. Part of the sole ripped off one shoe, her ankle turned, a pointy log sliced her arm as she rode by, and her ample supply of water ran out. Not being a complainer, she barely mentioned any of this.
We'd planned to visit three high value controls in the northwest but I wasted time with some nav confusion, and we only made it to two controls (one of them with 'Bent and Hammer - and they had a nav bobble too) before we realized it was going to be tight to hit the 7-hour deadline to check in at the hub.
We were riding well on the way back but incredibly, neither of us saw the small portage trail to Bark Lake as we focused on riding narrow strips of harder mud between deep trenches of soft mud. We were pushing hard and rode an extra 1.4 km, all the while thinking, "We should see the portage any minute." Tarno later told me that in one of the old FAR races, his team never found the portage and ended up bushwhacking to Bark Lake. The dumb thing is that I've been on that portage trail half a dozen times but I've never gone to the northwest of the map before so I was approaching it in an unaccustomed way. Also, my brain was probably cooked in the heat.
We didn't have much hope but we rode hard along the lakeshore trail, which isn't designed for biking. We carried our bikes through two swamps where we went in waist deep. The trail had fallen trees and other minor obstacles to keep us on our toes. In the end, we were 12 minutes late for the check-in at the hub. We would have been asked for a mandatory gear check before checking in, and we learned that 'Bent and Hammer did that with only 2 minutes to spare so I don't think we ever had much of a chance. I know of two other teams who went northwest and also missed the check-in deadline. We should have picked up 90 and 91, then turned south at the portage when we first got there.
So our "go big or go home" strategy ended up with us "going home"! On the bright side, we had a tough all-day workout and we enjoyed an icy can of Coke before heading to our wonderful cabin (Tamarack Staff) where we had showers before everyone else got back. As always, it was a fun post-RockstAR evening with good food, great music and lots of friends to catch up with. Thank you to Storm and all his staff and volunteers for putting on another fantastic event!