So, at 10:59am, we were corralled in a pen, all 250 or so of us. At 11:00am, the start gun goes off. Team Whine & Cheese, aka Team 103, aka Deepak, Tip, and Mark, is ready. Sprint about 400 yards to the boats, where Deepak (who was *actually* sprinting) has already claimed a canoe for us. Throw the paddles at Tip (she replaced Preeti, who dropped out last week), and D & I pick up the canoe (jesus is it heavy!) and run with it another 100 yards or so to the put in point. With the other 80 or so canoes and kayaks in the water. D in bow, me in stern, and T riding bitch in the middle.

The idea is to paddle to the far end of the lake, about a mile away. Get run into a number of times in the beginning. A guy in a kayak, who is hopelessly out of control, spins us. No hard feelings, he’s clearly in worse shape than us. A canoe from another team hits us, because they aren’t paying attention. Hard feelings emerge, and I consider trying to flip their canoe. We make it to the landing point, and pick the canoe up again. Arrgh.
Run with it another 100 yards. Decision time. Either swim across the lake (300 yards?) in full clothes (and shoes/life vest) or run around the end (couple of miles? felt like it, in the end). We run. Bad choice. About 50 yards into it, my ankle rolls, and I go with it. [insert string of expletives. Really. The worst you’ve ever heard.]. Had this happened near the end, I probably would have quit. But I was so annoyed with it that I decided to push through. I’d trained a while for this, and was not going to miss my reward of actually doing it. So I played Hop Along Blacknell for a bit, and then got back to running (like a giant lumbering Clydesdale, of course . . .).

T and D, who don’t just play runners on TV and can actually run, are kind enough to slow up for me. That or something about a 100 foot rule. So, passing a couple of checkpoints, we’re back at the start/transition area. We hop on our (pre-positioned) bikes, and head for the road, sure that that’s faster than the trail along the lake. We’re right, but we’re also learning that biking is a lot harder after an all out sprint/canoe/2 mile run. Huff huff.

We keep biking, heading through trails that are mostly rock at some points, and unexpectedly dips and rises at others. Get stuck behind a team that isn’t all that good at the biking. I let the rider muddle her way through, while keeping a safe distance. In retrospect, I should have just pushed past her. We make it to the other end of the trail, where a lot of racers have stopped to look at their maps (we were given a map with checkpoints at the beginning of the race, with not always obvious paths between each one). Having come here the previous Saturday and correctly guessed the location of a checkpoint, our team knows exactly where to go and moves quickly ahead. Unfortunately, this is the last time we’ll move quickly for a good hour.

See, the checkpoint is at the bottom of a hill. Actually, a mountain. And where’s the next? Yes, at the top. We, with everyone else in the race, are to push/carry our bikes about a mile STRAIGHT UP A MOUNTAIN. It is less than inspiring. I’m sure I heard every curse known to man on the way up, some of it from T, who is less than amused at having been roped into this. I consider calling her “Cupcake” for the rest of the race, but settle for just not turning my back to her for the remainder of the hill. I spy a boy scout troop climbing on a parallel trail, and consider capturing and enslaving them to carry my bike. Fast (ha) forward 60 minutes, and we’re at the top. Just south of a Mason Dixon Line marker, no less. Get our race card punched, and we’re off.

And boy are we off. The upside of a straight up mile climb is a three mile screaming downhill descent along an easier grade. Somehow, we all make it to the bottom without falling off and smashing our skulls. There’s a flat bit on the trail, and then we get to the check point. The checkpoint to which Preeti has been assigned to as a volunteer. Tip, having been coralled into this by Preeti after she quit, lets forth a spew of invective at Preeti that would make any mother proud. Better her than me! Preeti smiles and is probably inwardly planning to do this to all of us again.

Soon, we’re off for more biking, back to the point where we first landed our canoes. Throwing our bikes against a tree, we run off to grab our canoes, and paddle back to where we started the race. We are momentarily heartened by the fact that we see another team paddling in the wrong direction. That schadenfreude-flavored joy is quickly eclipsed by the headwind we face on the lake, which has managed to spout real live whitecaps. D bravely leads us through the wind and waves. Fun!

After an absolutely pathetic showing on our second canoe segment, we make it to the next checkpoint (much drier than the poor souls who were close behind us, only to capsize about three feet from shore. Ha!). D and T apologize as they say they have to hit the bathrooms, and I pretend to be nonchalant about it while being secretly thrilled that I will have a minute or two to catch my breath and not die.

Business accomplished, we then run . . .well, okay. We don’t exactly run. We walk. Trot. Walk some more. Shuffle. Try to run. Walk some more. To the next check point, which is on top of Rocky Gap Mount. We end up (with some other teams) taking the long way there. The checkpoint is at the very top, near a ledge. Someone goes to check out the view while the race card is being punched. One of the checkpoint staff cautions against getting too close to the edge. Wait. You just sent us across a lake with high winds, up a mountain with a bike on our shoulders, and down a road with giant boulders, and NOW you tell us to be careful? I should have pushed him off the cliff. But I don’t, and we run through the woods to the next checkpoint, on the other side of the lake.

Some serious navigational skillz (yes, skillz with a z) serve us well, and I take us on a shortcut that puts us ahead of at least a few more teams. Now, I wasn’t certain of my brilliance until we stumbled on the checkpoint, but we’ll just keep that between us, right? Finding our bikes where we left them, we hop on our bikes for the final sprint to the finish. And by sprint, I mean, well, moving forward.

Given that I’d recently threatened D with bodily harm if he started us running again, I decided against telling him to hurry up. I briefly reconsidered my stance on the matter when we were passed by a team of three 40+ year old overweight women, but thought better of it when I realized he might compare my ass with theirs, in response. Unfavorably, of course. I hope. So we pedaled a mile or two more. Up the hill, over the rocks and roots, and down the hill. And then over the bridge. And finally, with bodies and friendship intact, over the finish line. 23ish miles, five hours even. Plan to sign up for it next year, and do it in less than four.

Team Whine & Cheese

Updated to add: I was unable to walk without massive pain in my ankle for at least another week (it ultimately took more than a month to really heal). Deepak and Preeti, despite her treachery, are still married. And Tip? Well, she had to move to another city.