We put ourselves into a pace line and felt like we were flying after the slow hours in the boat. In just over 1.5 hours we covered more ground than in the first 10 hours of the race. That's a bit crazy.
One checkpoint was a bit hard to find -- we had to write down what year the giant court house that clearly was RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR FACE moved to its current location. No indication anywhere -- we rode in circles around the building, smooshed our faces up against the front door to see if the date we were looking for was inside, looked for cornerstones ... nothing. Finally we found it on a tiny plaque on the side of the road (it was moved in 1677, in case you were wondering), 10 minutes wasted.
We continued on... and zoomed right past the turnoff to the transition to orienteering. So did just about every other team. Bike lights ahead, bike lights behind as we all rode back and forth looking for the proper turnoff. A friendly solo racer who ended up coming in second overall took the time to stop and show us that the road we needed wasn't actually on our map and pointed us in the right direction. Fortunately, we weren't too far out of the way and pulled into a muddy little patch of grass in the middle of nowhere that would serve as our transition to a 14-point orienteering course.
We had to get 8 points in order not to be short-coursed so that's what we did. In hindsight we could have gotten at least three or four more but, as the course maps were handed out section by section, we didn't know what was ahead of us and decided to go just for the 8 points.
After throwing on our trail runners we were off. B.J. took the navigational lead and we soon found ourselves scraping through chest-high thorn bushes in the dark. Thorn bushes that hid sharp rocks and giant damn turkeys. Do you want to know how trippy it is to find yourself face to face with a wild turkey at 2 a.m. after 17 hours of racing?
Here's how trippy: Very. Very damn trippy.
Fortunately, we stumbled upon the first two or three points easily and thought we were well on our way to snagging our 8 points.
Then, a swamp tried to eat me. I am not making this up.
We were searching for a point along an reentrant. In case you are new to these parts, reentrants are not my friends. As we slogged along through swamp that reeked, the muck sucked at our ankles and threatened to take off our shoes. The point was visible just over and up the side of the swamp, though, so we continued on our route and punched the point. Hooray!
But all was not well. We headed a bit east through the swamp. And then I started sinking. Sinking fast. The boys were a few yards ahead as the Swamp Thing tried to pull me under. Within a few seconds I was in the putrid, rotting, thick mess up to my hips.
I was stuck. Impossibly stuck. And sinking.
What to do? I know! Freak the F out!
I started screaming and shrieking and flailing around. Oddly, this behavior did not get me unstuck. But it did get Bill and B.J. to turn around and come stare at me.
"Get me out! Get me ouuuut! GET ME OOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTTT!," I demanded while waving my hands in the air like I just didn't care. Too bad Bill didn't have the camera out for this.
So they did. First they tried to have me lean over and yank my arms. I got more stuck. Then they had me try to lay on my side and unstick myself. Not happening. Finally, they managed to stand far enough away that they didn't sink and they each grabbed me under an arm and yanked straight up.
Free at last! My shoes managed to stay on too so I guess I can't complain too much. We got a few more points (including one that was within the ruins of a house that made me feel like we were living The Blair Witch Project ... sort of awesome and sort of scary) and soon were up to six. We headed back to transition to take a bearing -- the points looked easy on the map and both seemed to be a straight shot on the far side of a soybean field.
But, no. More swamp, more stickers, more rocks and more swamp. We moseyed along with a few other teams and were starting to get a bit concerned that we were lost when we found one point and then, after more time being stabbed by thorn bushes, the other, neatly tucked within a sticker bush, hidden behind a tree. Ouch.
We headed back to transition, put on clean socks and were off on our bikes again. I didn't wear a watch for this race, hoping to avoid the phenomenon of feeling awake, then looking at my watch, seeing that it is 3:30 in the morning and then suddenly feeling achingly tired, so I am not sure what time it was -- sometime between sunset and sunrise.
Ahead of us was about 25 miles on the bike to the next orienteering section. We found ourselves in some sort of apple orchard/sheep farm/swamp where race volunteers handed us a hand-sketched map with 8 points on it, with no clear markings delineating where we were in the map. Four points were mandatory, four were optional.
I sat in the grass while Bill and B.J. tried to figure out exactly where we were located on the map. This took a bit, so I stuffed my face with more chicken nuggets and a cheeseburger and waited for the fun to begin again ...