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Shenandoah Tough 2018

October 3, 2018

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Mark Sky is BendRacing/YogaSlacker’s newest team member, and this past month he took part in his second “expedition” length adventure race. Below is his first person account of the event - a unique and charming blend of adventure racing niavetey and total excitement.

 

Racing a Hurricane

News stations around the world are calling Hurricane Florence the ‘storm of century to hit the USA above Florida’! Hurricane Florence is about to smash the coast of Virginia and is the talk in every store! Warnings of a Class 4 Hurricane are making all the headlines--

Millions are forced the evacuate with the prediction of several feet of rain and catastrophic flooding.

 

My friends are calling me to get out of Virginia ASAP. However, I am an adventure racer, and I never give up. Neither do my teammates. We are Team Bend Racing/YogaSlackers - Jason Magness, Chelsey Magness, Stephen Thompson and myself, Mark Sky. As millions evacuate, we stand our ground - packing food, testing our equipment, and preparing for Shenandoah Tough Adventure Racing World Series Race that is about to go down.

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

An Early Start

The race was originally starting at 8AM on Thursday morning, but Race Director Mark Harris informed all of the athletes that we’d be starting 12 hours earlier in an attempt to ‘outrun the hurricane’. 

 

Mark had lost all his permits the day before as National Parks, State Parks and Forests were closed by the government with the storm approaching. Mark had to create a new course the day before and asked us all to start at 8PM the night before in the hopes that some teams would finish before the hurricane came into shore. He also shortened the course to approximately 300km+ rather than the original 400km+ as expected.

 

He also told us that he expected the winning time to be about 35 hours, which was far less than the original 60 hour time estimate. Bummer! A 36 hour race is tough but certainly no “expedition”.

 

Jason was a bit worried, knowing we are starting after being awake for 12 hours, which he said would make the sleep monsters even more intense as we went into night two. I don’t like sleep monsters. Last time I saw a bear (that was a log) and nearly lost my bowels.

 

At exactly 8pm, the gun went off!  

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Stage 1: Bushwhacking is for the Brave    Trekking /Trail Running   ~21 km 

All of the other teams decided to run a trail up the mountain to the first checkpoint while we opted for a more direct route - straight up the mountain. This took some precise navigation as we bushwhacked our way to the top of the ridge for the 1st CP.

 

Boom! We absolutely nailed it!

 

We took the risk and it paid off. One of the other top teams (UTNE - recent winners of the Untamed New England Expedition) saw us at the top but did not find the CP as they came off the trail!  

 

We followed the ridge for a few hours of trail and mean thorns before descending down to the Transition Area. A few hours into the race, and I am already bleeding from a thousand tiny cuts.

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Stage 2: Inflated tires and working suspension are for Sissies    MTB   100km

We hopped on our bikes around midnight. It wasn’t long before we started having mechanical issues. 

 

I suffered my first flat tire of the race. We put in a tube quickly and were off again. 

 

Next, I noticed the suspension on my bike (which I borrowed from my teammate Daniel) was severely damaged. Oh Shit! This was not good. I was terrified the suspension could explode and cause me to crash hard. I was forced to baby it by descending all the mountains with all my weight over the back wheel and pulling up on the front. If it got too steep and rocky, I would hop off the bike and run. Then when we started climbing again, I would have to hammer it to catch my teammates. It was an absolute sufferfest.

 

I would lean all my weight over the back wheel and the force must have caused a spoke to blow out and stab itself right through my wheel! Flat tire again. We quickly put in a new tube and didn’t pay attention to broken spoke, and this led to flat tire number 3.

 

Tough start to a brutal ride, and then the hike-a-bike started.

 

Chelsey almost stepped on a large snake as Stephen and I watched in a panic. I believe it was a Cottonmouth, which are poisonous (but I’m no snake expert). It scared the crap out of me. 

 

I got two more flats (5 total) by the time we finished Stage 2, which was killing us mentally and causing lots of lost time. We had no more tubes, and were running out of patches. And now I had a broken suspension and a messed up back wheel.

 

I was terrified to know there was still well over 150km of mountain biking left in the race. 

 

We climbed and descended thousands of feet, crossed at least a dozen rivers, and carried our bikes when there were no trails to ride. And there were a lot of “no-trails”. Luckily, we worked well together and still managed to get to Stage 3 in 1st Place.

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Stage 3: Bush Karate Master     Orienteering Course     30km (approximately)

We were relieved to have made it without a serious bike disaster. Now it was our time to crush as we have Jason Magness, ‘The Human GPS’ navigating us through the wild forests looking for CPs. 

 

Stephen is an absolute madman when it comes to running and would literally spring with his 8 foot legs through forest like I’ve never seen anyone run before. By the end of the race, I dubbed him “Bush Karate Master” because he has this amazing skill to run through thick forest without it slowing him down. It is beyond amazing. He just puts his arms out in front of him and waves them with so much skill and precision as he sprints full speed through any off-trail terrain. The trees and shrubs basically move aside for him. It’s supernatural. Nothing can slow this guy down. I was so impressed. I have been in the mountains, bushwhacking through thick forest many times with many different elite athletes, but this guy is a whole new breed of ‘Extreme Bushwhacker’.  I’m just glad I race with him and not against him. I think he should start his own Bushwhacking Certification program. Seriously.

 

By the time we finished Stage 3 we had been racing for over 24 hours and awake for almost 40.  Things were about to get wild!

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Stage 4: Sleep Deprivation, Sleep Depression   MTB/Hike-a-Bike   100 km

Let the hallucinations begin. 

 

The bike started out with a huge climb during which I was falling asleep. I fell asleep while riding and landed in a ditch. My teammates forced (or as they would say, ‘encouraged’) me to keep going. They promised a nap at the top of the neverending climb.

 

Finally at the top, Jason wanted to sleep at the road intersection of the dirt road and main road. But he wanted to sleep on the road where it was mostly dry. We thought he was joking but he wasn’t. We had to veto him to sleep in a safer spot in the mud, where a passing car wouldn’t crush us. 

 

After 40 minutes of sleep, we were absolutely freezing and wet. I was so dissappointed. I’d dreamed of how good sleeping during an AR would feel. I’d dreamed about it for the first 36 hours of this race. But it was miserable, and I woke up (if I actually slept), more depressed than ever!

 

The next 90km felt like they would never end. 

 

Chelsey is a beast on the bike and helped us stay motivated. I got two more flats which brought me up to 7 for the race. We were finally passed by Team Main Nerve, and they kindly gave us one of their spare tubes, too! We were so excited to have a new tube instead of constantly patching the same muddy ones.

 

But guess what - it already had a hole in it and went flat as soon as we started out. Was this a cruel joke from Main Nerve? We’d need to catch them to find out.

 

But I was having a really hard time with the broken bike! We rode, hiked, and carried our bikes for what felt like forever until reaching the Transition Area.  

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Stage 5: Bush Master, Meet Master Bush    Trekking/Trail Running     ~22km

My feet were covered in blisters and peeling from the dozens of river crossings in the first half of the race. We stopped quickly to treat our feet before pushing hard to attack the check point at the top of the ridge.

 

Here we heard Main Nerve only a few meters ahead of us. We decided to take the risky but shorter route of bushwhacking down the mountain. Again, Stephen started busting out his bush karate but this time, the mountain fought back. 

 

In fact, it was killing us.

 

We were stuck in thick bush, and the ‘shortcut’ was no longer a shortcut. We fell apart a little bit as a team here, so we had to stop and regroup. It was a tense moment when we recognized how much of a “longcut” it had turned into. 

 

We’d lost over 30 minutes in the final 2 km of the trek, and were worried about the final bike leg. We were exhausted, freezing, and had 3 working bikes. The race director had taken one look at my bike’s fork and said, “no way”. It really looked and felt like it would implode at any moment.  

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Stage 6: A Sheet of Acid    MTB/Bike-Whacking    ~60 km

This stage is where things got really wild as we became extremely sleep deprived. Hallucinations were at another level of insanity, and we were all super crazy.  We were in pure zombie mode!

 

To start with - thank you very much to our competitor Mary who loaned me her bike for the final stage! You can’t receive any outside help in adventure races whatsoever, but you can receive help from fellow competitors. Since my bike was as good as burnt toast, I now had a new (to me) whip.

 

We rode out of that TA with a whole new level of energy. I was busting out rhymes about being a gangster as I rode my new bike with a curved “h” handlebar. We cracked jokes nonstop and laughed uncontrollably.

 

But within 1 hour, my new bike got a flat tire!  Riding up a paved road into the mountains – no joke – that’s my luck! Flat #8!

 

As we rode up, we all took turns riding into the ditch as we were all drifting in and out of consciousness. I begged them to stop so we can sleep, but they wanted to push on as I suffered. I’m sure it was amusing for them.

 

Within a couple hours we were bushwhacking on the ridge with our bikes and something happened where I got a whole new level of energy and all 3 of them started to get really sleepy.  

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

At this point, we were nuts, sleep deprived, and hallucinating as if we all ate a big sheet of acid. Now, the tables have turned. It was about 3AM, and my teammates were f’d so bad. I, however, was absolutely loving life. I watched them suffer and trip out for hours as I led them across this ridge. They were insane to trust and follow me. I laughed and tried so hard not to pee my pants. Several times, we would regroup and start moving again, only to turn around and realize one of them was missing.

 

They would literally fall asleep standing in one spot. Then 3 of us would start moving while the 4th slept standing there, only to wake up 30 seconds later, screaming ‘Where Is everyone!’ Can you imagine standing there with 3 friends on a remote rocky ridge line, and 20 seconds later you open your eyes and look around to see no one. I laughed about this for days after the race [and I laugh now as I write this].

 

Visuals were wild all night. I remember Chelsey popping out from the bushes to find me in a little clearing and saying with relief, “Thank God you’re in this room Mark. I thought you were in another room.” “A ROOM?” I replied. She had officially gone nuts. Well we all had at this point. We needed to sleep so bad.

 

We pulled out our emergency bivvy and crawled in while freezing on the mountain ridge in the rain. We slept no more than 15 minutes in the freezing cold before getting up to attack the rest of the ridge.

 

Within 8 km of the finish line, Super Chelsey popped out of the bush with her bike over her head and her derailleur just hanging there! Oh No! Jason knew exactly what to do and together with Stephen, had her bike somewhat rideable in a few minutes.

 

Finally, we rode as the final hill, Jason’s back wheel locked up, and he ran with his broken bike to the finish line! Stephen’s was the only bike this race without an issue.

 

After approximately 62 hours of non-stop racing, we crossed the finish line in 2nd Place! What an adventure we had together!

 

Photographer: Chris Radcliffe

 

Thank you to our sponsors!  

Ellsworth Bikes

Leki USA

Nomad Nutrition

Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Smith Helmets

Gear Junkie

Nite Ize

Fenix Lights

 

We love you all! We appreciate your support in helping us live our dreams and race in the Adventure Racing World Series.

 

Finally, thank you to my awesome teammates for making my career in AR special and a dream come true – Jason Magness, Chelsey Magness and Stephen Thompson – Mark Sky loves all 3 of you!

 

Peace and Love

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