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MIX Race Report - Part II

Part I of the MIX race report brought us to the beginning of the rafting section on the Sturgeon River. We had just completed a 33-mile overnight trek through the Chandler Hills. It was mid-morning and we were ready to be off our feet.

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Goin' Down the Apple River

CP 11 was located at a canoe launch about 10 miles up the Sturgeon River. We were supposed to paddle down to Burt Lake with all four team members in a Hyside raft rented from Big Bear Adventures. There were no checkpoints along the way and we were told the river didn't have any whitewater - it was just very fast current with tight twists and turns. So it gave us an opportunity to have a little fun, and was a breather for me since I didn't have worry too much about thumbing the map and making sure we took the right turn.


Fun in the rubber raft.

We jumped in the river and took off with the 8-10 mph current. Molly and I were up in front, and Dave and Brian were in back to poke a paddle in the water as needed. There were lots of downed trees and logs, so we had to spend at least a little time forward-paddling, but on the whole it was nice to just get downstream. During a straight section, Molly and I decided to switch sides, so I just fell back into the bottom of the raft, let her scoot over, and climbed back up.

There was an amusing incident (but maybe not from his perspective,) when we tried to let Brian take a break and get something to eat. Molly quit paddling and fished the food bag out of his pack, but as Brian tried to do the same, Dave and I weren't able to completely handle the boat, and we skidded to the outside of a tight turn and rotated. We tried to regain control, but bounced off a log and headed for a strainer. Molly and I forward-paddled hard, but something ended up happening in the back and the food bag flew into the water. We briefly saw it being carried right into the strainer we just missed, and continued on downstream as Brian looked back with a wistful look on his face. Luckily, there was a TA at the end of this section, but that wasn't what we hoped would happen! It would have worked on the straight sections, but the tight turns needed constant steerage. We ended up catching a small eddy a few minutes later and doing it the right way.

Finally the river started to widen and open up, and we saw houses and docks on shore. Not long after we rounded a turn and crossed under a highway bridge in the town of Indian River. There was a volunteer standing on the retaining wall river left, shouting out some instructions to us. It turns out the 25 mph NW wind was whipping up big waves on Burt Lake that were pushing directly up the river channel. He said it was nearly impossible to paddle the rafts out on the lake, and that to make the 100 yards downshore to the takeout, we'd have to jump out of the raft and manhandle it. He helpfully pointed out that the lake was only about 2-3 feet deep because of the fan of river sand.


Yikes!

As we approached the lake, we could hear and feel the wind picking up, and started to bounce over swells coming upstream. We paddled hard to approach the lake, and looked ahead to see big rolling breakers about 50 yards offshore. When we reached the point that further paddling was pointless, we jumped out into the waist-deep water and each took a handle, pulling the raft downshore, underneath a private dock, and over to the takeout at Burt Lake State Park. From there it was a quick jog up the road to TA 3 at Big Bear Adventures, across from the park entrance. We had to go slow since the cold lake water had stiffened up our sore legs.

Return to Boyne Mountain

Corey and Rick were ready for us with plenty of food, including a couple of pepperoni pizzas from some local shop. Needless to say, this treat disappeared fast - over the course of the TA, I personally ate four pieces, and I can't vouch that the others didn't top that. At this point in the race we were supposed to do a 46-mile bike leg back to the TA at Boyne Mountain, and I took advantage of the nearby facilities to clean my filthy glasses, which we really starting to be annoying while reading the map.

Brian took care of his developing FAS and Molly changed into dry clothes, then we checked out and headed across the highway bridge and right towards the freeway interchange. Just before I-75 we turned south onto an old converted rail trail - straight and flat with a crushed-gravel surface. We drafted along in fine style, surprising some walkers along the way, and stopped to punch CP I at the edge of trail and dispense with our extra layers. It was sunny, up in the 60s, and beautiful weather to be biking. The trail continued south and crossed the Sturgeon River right at the same park we'd put the rafts in at - we could look down and see the actual canoe landing. We continued through the park and turned off a mile later, zigzagging down gravel roads toward CP J.

Brian was feeling a bit slow and "off" here, and he was concerned because it didn't seem characteristic. A couple miles short of the CP, Molly and I stopped to let the others catch up a little, and as Brian and Dave pulled up, we learned that there was now a um... pile of pizza by the side of the road. We took a rest in the shade for about five minutes, then kept on going. We hit the five-way intersection near CP J, and as the sole wearer of long pants, I ran through the raspberry bushes to punch it. As we took the exit around the south side of a pretty pond, we were glad to see that Brian was recovering energy and his usual chutzpah - manifested as we encountered another team for the first time in several hours.


Sand, sand, beautiful sand.

We led the other team south on a sandy trail to the base of a steep hill leading up to the next manned checkpoint. This hill really stunk - it was deep (3 or more inches) sand, steep, long, and hot in the mid-afternoon. We trudged our bikes up with the consolation that other teams would have to do the same thing. Finally we reached the top and checked in with the volunteer at CP 13, who offered us a couple of cans of Coke.

After this it was a long road ride down to, and then along Thumb Lake Road. We drafted when possible, and turned off across from the boat launch at the south end of Thumb Lake. We bobbled CP K, going too far up the road and not sure how far up on the "side-hill" to go. Dave eventually spotted it; we punched and continued out towards Bows Lake to get over to the next unmanned point. We followed County Line Rd west and grabbed CP L, then followed the sandy trails back off the ridge to the main U.S. highway as the sun started to go down. The ride along U.S. 131 wasn't so happy. Although we drafted well and kept a strong pace, there wasn't much of a shoulder and traffic was busy enough in both directions that vehicles often didn't have the opportunity to swing out wide around us. Combine that with the drivers who would have buzzed us anyway, and it made for a hairy five miles. At least we got to do it in full daylight. We turned off on Boyne Mountain Road and came right back into the same TA we'd visited twice before.

The Second Test

At this point we were really feeling the lack of sleep - we'd been up for about 36 hours and really needed to catch a nap somewhere. The following section was a trek to the Jordan Valley orienteering course, and even getting there required a long off-trail bushwhack. So it was natural to sleep here and let me recover some brainpower for the navigation ahead. Plus, the sleep would be more restful in TA and we had a support crew to get us moving again. So we got everything prepped for the trek section, and went down for 2 1/2 hours.

We checked out of the TA a few minutes after midnight, with a 10-10:30 AM target time for the next TA. We were hoping to get all ten checkpoints in the orienteering section, but were OK with less depending on how the time worked out.

The first section was a road walk down into the hills south of Boyne Mountain, but then we had to go partway up a two-track and then bushwhack south up to a complex of hills. Despite the sleep, I was a little slow getting into the map and we wandered a couple times up on the hilltop before I got the scale and led us west to CP M.

A quick digression: This seems to be a common theme in my night navigation - there's a bit of uncertainty at first, followed by a point where things "click" and our track (if could you see it) makes a beeline for the correct location. My goal is to figure out how to minimize the time where there's any uncertainty, so that every leg becomes a direct beeline. Even so, at least those periods of uncertainty don't involve, like for so many other teams, an excessive physical effort where we run around like rabbits. Instead, it's slow and deliberate, all the better to spare my teammates.

Following CP M, we proceeded more-or-less south, bushwhacking when we needed to and following unmapped trails as we caught them. It was a clear, starry night with light winds, and quite pleasant. Towards the end of the leg, as we started to approach the big hill north of the road bend (or so I surmised), the moon started to rise in the southeast, and I was able to see it appear and disappear behind slopes, and see the trees of distant ridgelines silhouetted against it. At last my combination of intuition and Dave's altimeter convinced us we had climbed up the last major hill, and we turned south to catch a trail that opened out onto the main paved road. From there it was a quick walk down to CP 15. We had also caught (or dropped back to?) several other teams, since now we saw a bunch of headlamps. It was approaching 3 AM, and that left us several hours to safely go for the orienteering points in the valley of the Jordan River. We had received the map at the last TA, and a quick look showed that the navigation actually wasn't too difficult. At this time, I was sure we could get at least 6, probably 8, and more if we were lucky.

We checked in at the CP and made our way, with several other teams, south on a recent trail to the edge of O'Brien Pond. I decided to hit OP 13 first, which was an easy road route. Then we climbed the hill to the north and homed in on OP 12. There were at least four teams up on the flat hilltop while we were there. I had planned to head SW back to the trail intersection, but somehow we messed up and dropped to the north side of the hill, and had to bushwhack and climb over a couple of ridges to get back to the trail. After recovering, we headed up the other side of the valley towards OP 14. We attacked it from the trail, passing Blue Bayou, and then walked the ridgeline around to OP 11 as the other team followed us. They redeemed themselves from the charges as we took two different routes to OP 15, which was in an area of considerable logging slash that made travel difficult. Dawn had broken up on the ridge, so visibility was much better now and our spirits were rising. We hadn't made any major mistakes, and it was apparent that we'd be able to get 8 of the 10 OPs in this section.


An unmanned checkpoint.

We caught a new logging trail running down the center of the N-S valley and curved around into an open area on the way to OP 18, but I stupidly picked the wrong pond and we had to backtrack. Blue Bayou ended up here with us as well. We used the logging trails to get back the main river valley road and avoid any swamp encounters, then walked down to attack both OP 19 and OP 20 from the road - both straightforward. We rolled into the TA at the Jordan River Fish Hatchery around 9 AM, in plenty of time for our target.

It's possible we could have gone for one more CP, but I estimate it would have been about another hour (since it was an out-and-back), and the rest of the team was getting a little tired. Dave's feet were really hurting. I also had the idea that few teams would be able to spend a lot of time on the second O-course, since most were already running behind, and so our energy might be better spent grabbing a couple of the easier and closer OPs in the second section. And this did turn out to be the case!

Feels Like Florida

As we walked into TA 5, the priority one topic of conversation between Brian and I was whether or not there was a public restroom there, and if so, how good it was going to feel. Molly was well into the swing of things - unfazed, and ready to sustain a conversation about the relative merits of restroom vs. woods, and the differing readiness of men and women to partake. Dave was a little quiet, but I think that's because he's that way naturally, plus his feet hurt.

After taking care of business, we were back on bikes within a half hour and climbing south. The volunteers at the TA told us to skip the unmanned checkpoints N and O - all teams were told to do that - so it was just a connecting leg to get us to the paddle put-in on the Manistee River. We were warned not to take Turner Lake Road to the east, but it didn't matter - there was a killer climb no matter what direction we left. Corey had taken a morning run up Turner Lake Road and reported a mile-long ascent, and the bike route was no better. Every time we hit a flat spot, there was eventually a turn at the end, hiding another hill. The ascent really didn't stop until we got to Mancelona Road and turned left. After several miles, we overshot the turnoff and came back to parallel the Manistee on Deward Road.


It's getting a little warm out.

By now it was the middle of day 3 (Friday), with highs peaking in the 70s and bright sun. Luckily the road was flat now, but it was somewhat sandy and vegetated with a mix of semi-open pine forest. This combination reminded me a lot of sections from the Florida Coast-to-Coast race, although obviously not as hot! We were being a little lazy - no criticism intended, though - and took several breaks where we rehydrated and refueled. We had to go about a dozen miles before turning off on a paved road and working our way over to the Manistee River Campground to start the paddle.

Later I heard that some other teams found better routes to the campground, with more pavement, and I wonder if the other side of the river might have been better.

The Other Dump(s)

Once again, we were getting on the river on a warm, sunny day! The plan was for a 26-mile paddle to a trek section where we'd have to carry our paddle gear. So I changed out my tights for a pair of REI pants and changed out the Mandatory Gear long sleeve for a Rail Riders long sleeve. We were out in the Mad River canoes within 45 minutes, and enjoyed the Manistee - also a fast-flowing river, but not quite as fast and not quite as twisty. But we still had to watch ourselves! Only a couple of turns out of the TA, Dave and I bumped a log a little too hard and guess what - over we went! I managed to climb onto the offending log, and Dave was waist deep in the river. We horsed the boat up and emptied it, then got back in shaking our heads. A couple of turns later, guess what!

This time it was really no one's fault. The river took us tight around a bend, and as we skimmed past another log, a protruding branch caught Dave on the shoulder and slipped underneath the strap of his PFD. Unfortunately, that's an irreversible situation, and it ended up flipping us over to the right. This is perhaps the first time in a race I've heard Dave curse. So we swam the boat over to the nearby shore. I had gone all the way in to my neck, and Dave too I think. Suddenly, as I climbed on shore I started to shiver violently and, as soon as the boat was secure, job one was to change into dry clothes. I stripped and raided the dry sack for my fleece, and Molly offered up a pair of tights and another synthetic shirt - a nice little number in lavender-blue, with a V-neck and cut a little too short for me. Altogether we spent about 15 minute changing and drying stuff out - drying out my rain jacket was a priority, and it eventually happened. I'm still impressed with Dave. He was just as wet as I was, but didn't change at all and was never shivering, just upset about the second dunk, which we could hardly fault him for.


On the Manistee River (and upright).

OK, back upright and hoping that three times in the race is enough! Brian and Molly were giving us a little crap about the lack of attention to detaill, so we shot back that we still had a lot of paddling left in the race...

We played tag with a few teams down the rest of the river, including Elk Bones, and half of Dumpster Muppets who had decided to go on as a two-person team. They passed us during the second dump, but we saw them later pulled up to a local resident's dock, deep in conversation and enjoying a couple of bottles. Shortly afterwards we went by another cabin with a nice deck about 12 feet above the river, with a grill going full blast. The smell of burgers was overwhelming, and the proprietor greeted us with an invitation to stop and eat. Only the quick current of the river prevented us from taking advantage of the offer, and we glided away with a sudden hankering to open up the food bags.

The race organizers brought a flag down to the water's edge to mark CP 18, so there was no chance of missing it. After that, the CCC bridge formed the obvious catching feature, so we continued down to CP 19 and the takeout, where we found that several teams we just barely behind us. But, at least we were warm now, and ready for the nighttime trekking section to come.

Coming soon... Part III, where we hit our lowest low, our highest high, and our biggest dump yet!