19 June 2017

2017 Teton Ogre 8-Hour Adventure Race

Abby, the race director, emailed me late on Monday evening:

“There are still a few hours left to sign up for the Ogre. We extended registration through tonight. The course is full of adventure biking- you'd crush it. Just sayin'. Here's a code for 50% off for you and your teammate if you wanna do it.”

I had been waffling hard and had decided against it, but apparently I could be easily swayed by some ego-stroking and a discount code. I registered and bullied Cy into joining without too much trouble.

I wanted to go for a run on Wednesday and I wanted to cover some unfamiliar ground and increase our shot at knowing where the Ogre was. I suspected that the top of Pine Creek Pass could be the venue—on the map there was a tantalizing expanse of land criss-crossed by ATV and pack trails, and there was plenty of parking.

I traced out a little loop south of the pass and we ran it, steep powerline to undulating ridgeline to an incredible descent through balsamroot meadows and lodgepole groves, the Grand prominent far to our northeast. It would’ve been the ideal bike ride and I pledged to get back there ASAP to ride it, maybe the day after the race if I was feeling spicy. Abby and Jason had set the course earlier that week and I kept an eye out for the flags, hoping to get some confirmation of my suspicion, but didn’t see any.
The most important tool
When we checked in and got our maps on Friday, I unrolled it…saw the Teton-Bonneville county line snaking across the middle…let out a whoop. I was right! And, upon further inspection, I realized there were three bike checkpoints on the fun loop. I was utterly delighted. What were the chances?

Cy and I plotted the points and then spent the rest of the evening obsessing over route choice, debating the order, talking contingencies. Last year I had been surprised that all of the top teams cleared the course (found all the CPs) so I decided that was our only option. Plus we move pretty damn fast, running and biking, so I knew the navigation would be the crux.

It rained through the night and the morning was chilly and wet with heavy clouds that never released their burden. Twenty-six teams poured off the start line heading mostly in the opposite direction of our route, but some of the most experienced racers, including my future landlord, went the same way we did, which was a nice route validation.
Skeletons from last year's Tie Canyon fire
We rode a powerline track through tire sucking sandy mud and then dropped off-trail into the Tie Canyon drainage, catching the first CP. Cy got to experience the high of punching the passport, a better rush than doing a bump of coke. Then we traveled up marshy singletrack, grabbed another CP and dropped the other teams.

We got to the transition area and swapped into running gear. The trail was ankle deep in muck and thrashed by horses. We got the first trekking CP off a tree in a saddle, churning through thigh-high wet greenery. I was glad I decided to wear tights, protected from the burn of nettles and the slash of grass. 
Wet and green
We climbed a bump on the landscape, barely noteworthy on the map with its spacious contour lines that hid steep climbs, and got our fourth point. Then everything went sideways. We didn’t pay close attention to the oh so critical topo lines on the map and plunged into a drainage northeast of the ridge, convinced we’d hit a trail in the creek bottom. We stomped around down there for far too long, befuddled and frustrated, before reexamining the map and realizing our expensive error. We regained the ridge, cursing our stupidity, and swept up a couple points to placate our disappointment. Damn.

During each bushwack and hike-a-bike, we remembered some of the other thankless crap we’ve done recently. Turns out pushing through peanut-butter mud in the Caribous, exploring new trails during an endless spring of swollen creek crossings and bogs, getting lost on Teton Pass and skinning up 2000 feet at 7:00 pm, and running countless miles over stupid-deep snow was great training for the Ogre. 
Back on track after an hour of faffing about
The CPs were whimsically placed and it seemed like Abby and Jason were sharing with us these special little pieces of land. Cy climbed a dead tree, and we dropped a knife ridge and gained another mini slice of ridge, a place you would never have a reason to be if it weren’t for the Ogre. We then traversed overland to another bump on the map and were rewarded with the sight of a photographer up there with her dogs, and another flag flapping from a tree.

Then we dropped, a long and precipitous descent to a rushing creek, tripping over the wealth of downed trees, pushing through alder and baby aspens, slipping on the layer of organic matter on the group.

We occasionally followed the trail of others, leaves and stems left bruised and muddied, a subtle confirmation that even if we were off-route, someone else had already made the same mistake. We called these invisible predecessors the herd of cats, and eventually just the cat herd, as in “Oh, here’s the cat herd again.”

I promptly fell in the creek when we reached it but was already so wet it didn’t matter. We bushwhacked downstream hunting fruitlessly for the next CP, until we saw a gang of girls clustered around…the wrong CP. We had blown by one somehow. We punched the passport and decided to backtrack for the missed one because…no regrets, right?

It was hung high above us on a steep embankment. So worth it. We hauled ass back down the stream, trekking portion of the course complete with a comfortable margin of time to finish the bike leg. We jogged back to the transition area and remounted our bikes to start climbing.

Ouch. I was more shelled than I’d thought, and somehow the anticipated fun bike loop was way harder than it seemed when it was a mellow after-work run. We scored two more CPs and rode the descent, which was as flowy and awesome as anticipated. A real gigglefest.
The beginning of the most fun rarely-ridden descent in the valley
Then we put our heads down for the final brutal powerline climb from the bottom of the pass to the top. We happened upon another team that gave us a heads-up about the last CP, and Cy backtracked and found it hiding down a hollow. We were really pushing it on time so the only thing to do was keep slogging, gasping in pain. And then we emerged on the mellow road at the top and booked it to the finish line.

Jason greeted us. We were three minutes late, which meant nine points docked from our score. He saw our passport, raised his eyebrows, seemed impressed. Everyone else was clean and relaxed at the finish line and I convinced myself that we’d been crushed, hadn’t even scratched the top five. I cursed that mistake again, knowing we could’ve been there at least forty-five minutes earlier.

But we discovered at the after party, reclining in the grass drinking beer in the sun, that we were one of the few teams to clear the course, and we took second in co-ed behind seasoned Ogres Maura and Shane, and we were fourth overall. And got a big cookie as a prize. My stoke immediately returned because I’m terribly addicted to podiums.

We ruminated over the experience and analyzed the good and the bad. I was really pleased at how smoothly (ish) it had gone relative to how unpleasant it could’ve been. Another incredible Ogre in the books, eight hours of getting lost in beautiful country.

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