The race started with a LeMans start – a 200m run out and back to our bikes parked by the side of the road. Andrew and I ran ahead of everyone and got a jump start, although we were quickly caught by several teams behind us at the first CP. We dodged into the trees at the base of a ridge to hit CP 2 fairly quickly and got out ahead again. One of the state park managers awaited us at a huge log pile blocking one of the forest roads, and she took our picture as we vaulted over it carrying our bikes on our shoulders. I put Andrew on tow after CP 3 so that we could keep our momentum up the hills that were coming. Glenn and Mike were right behind us at CP 4, hoping we’d miss it, but we got that one quickly and moved on to CP 5, which was up one of three reentrants. It was fairly easy to see once we were in the trees. So far, everything was going smoothly. Glenn and Mike were looking strong, and Kevin/Dean, an unknown pair (to me), were also hot on our heels.
CP 6 was on the SE side of a saddle, and our bike route took us to both the north and south sides. I had originally thought that we would come up from the south side, but as we passed the north side of the saddle, I realized it was a much shorter climb from that side, and so we stopped there and quickly dispatched the CP, which lay just on the other side of the ridge. We spiked CP 7 when I climbed up a steep slope to the west side of a quarry, right to the CP.
Then came the long, long climb up a decommissioned logging road to CP 8. Andrew was really tired at this point and had trouble riding his bike up the road. I had him on tow, but a lot of cuts in the road and a few fallen trees caused us to get off/on our bikes a lot more than we wanted to. CP8 was just alongside this road, just above snow level. From there, we continued to climb, and a quick stop by Andrew caused our tow rope to snap. Then it became push-a-bike, and both Glenn/Mike and Kevin/Dean passed us before we got to the top. All of us pushed our bikes up steeply through a few inches of snow at the very top of the road. The Bike-to-Run TA was not too far away, and we all pulled into it close together. Now we were on foot.
Kevin/Dean were ahead by a short ways, but we caught up with them at CP10, where they were milling about. Andrew and I ducked left into the trees and tagged the CP while they watched and followed. Apparently their navigation is a bit spotty. They followed us to CP 11 at High Hut (elevation 4760’) and then caught up with us again in time to see us get CP 12 down the ridge. We headed along a ski trail to CP13 with Kevin/Dean 20 feet behind us, so we stopped to let them pass. Besides, the people in front had to break trail through the four inches of snow. CP 13 was right along this trail and easy to locate. Peteris and Chrisi showed up. Peteris made a back-handed compliment about what a Superman I was, so why were THEY right behind us? Glenn and Mike might have arrived also; it was getting a bit crowded.
Everyone went in different directions to CP 14. Andrew and I took the direct way straight up through the bushes, and made it to the ridge first. We followed the ridge to the high point and hit CP 14, and then we continued several hundred feet down the ridge through heavy snow-laden brush until we intersected a road. There we jogged right, found a small ski trail marked on the map, and dropped another several hundred feet to a basin below. Being first was definitely a disadvantage, as snow covered me as I knocked overhanging branches out of the way along the narrow trail. I had two fairly warm layers on, though, so I did not get too cold. We were happy to have waterproof socks on when the trail went in/through some large ankle deep partially frozen puddles that would have otherwise chilled our toes.
CP 15 was on the northwest side of a shallow hill. I missed it and headed too far north into the bushes, and while I was thrashing around (two, three minutes?), all three other teams passed us. Andrew and I picked up the pace to catch up with them at CP 16 on the next hill and CP 17 at the edge of an open field. Then we climbed up to a road that headed up to a saddle and to CP 18/19 on the other side.
At this point, Kevin and Dean, who I think were ahead of everyone, disappeared. From what I understand, they went pass the turns for both CP 18 and CP 19 and kept heading down the road a ways, and when they realized that they were too far, they called it quits (something about needing to be home by a certain time, I heard). In any case, we never saw them again.
Glenn/Mike led out to CP 19. We were allowed to get CP 18/19 in either order, and I had already decided that CP 19 had a better attackpoint if we headed there first, as CP 18 was on a hilltop and easy locate from any direction, while CP 19 was in a reentrant off a fairly straight smaller road with only a subtle curve in it. We got to the expected location and I dove into the bushes as Glenn and Mike verified their location from the road. I found the CP and got back to the road without revealing the location to others. Andrew and I bushwhacked up the slope aiming for the hilltop far above us as Peteris and Christi joined Glenn/Mike at the previous CP.
We made it to the hilltop first to nab CP 18. I could hear both Peteris and Glenn talking in the woods below us, very close behind us. From here, we retraced our steps all the way back to the TA where we had left our bikes, so I put the WeGo Racelink on Andrew and we started to motor as fast as we were able (which got slower and slower as the day wore on). One decommissioned road we followed was like a mogul run with all of the snow covered cuts across it. We did manage to gain a couple minutes on the others by the time we pulled into the TA (now CP 20).
At this point, Matt and Erin handed us new maps for the “Pro Course”, and extra loop containing three more CPs that would give us bonus time, so we headed back out again trying to keep up the pace. The first CP (CP21) was at the edge of a clearing above the road, and I took a chance by bushwhacking straight up to it rather than taking another road up that required a slightly longer route. We popped out in the clearing within twenty feet of the CP. Yay! We continued along another very snowy decommissioned road that was partially overgrown with slide alder. At a hairpin turn in this road, we caught CP 22 and continued straight down the ridge through light brush, dropping 300 feet down to a ski trail, along which CP 23 was located. I could hear Peteris singing somewhere above us on the ridge. We turned left and followed the ski trail back out to a main road, and back up to the TA again where our bikes were located.
The only thing left was to ride our bikes down the main road to the finish. The RD had mentioned at race start that as the road was snowy and slippery most of the way down, we would all be charged at least 12.5 minutes on this leg, even if we did it faster, so as to discourage a breakneck race to the finish. Andrew and I passed Glenn/Mike and Peteris/Christi a minute or two down the road as they were still coming up, so we knew that we could relax on our victory lap to the finish.
Oh, and I forgot to mention all the beautiful scenery and views, including gorgeous views of Mount Rainier just across the valley. This was a beautiful race in an amazing location. Thanks to Eric Bone, the RD, for making this happen.