You are being served a version of this page without styles because your browser is an older version. Everything is still available and functional, but the presentation is plainer than intended.

Louise Madrid at Coyote Hills in 2000

The Arizona Rogaine

"A Competitor's Story"

Mogollon Rim, Arizona
May 5-6, 2001

by Derek Maclean, participant

This year's Arizona rogaine was elevated in stature to the "North American Championships," resulting in a record turnout of 209 competitors from 24 states and Canada. I counted 8 BAOCers: Thorsten Graeve and I; Syd Reader, Doug Stein, and Trevor Pering; Mark Prior and Dorsey Moore; Mike Springer (with former BAOCer Ron Hudson). Check out the complete results (editor: removed bad link to "http://grad.math.arizona.edu/~dcoombs/rog/results2001.html")

Thorsten and I flew in Friday afternoon, stocked up on supplies, ate dinner, and tried to relax and sleep as much as possible before the event. The heavy rain shower after dinner and near-freezing conditions did not do much for my enthusiasm. Wet was one thing I had not prepared well for, and I spent half the night (it seemed) tossing and turning, dreaming of rainstorms, and thinking I could hear the passing traffic splashing in puddles on the highway outside. Thorsten, on the other hand, slept like a log. And snored. It was with some delight, therefore, when I peeped round the curtains at 5.30 am to reveal a beautiful day in the making - bright and sunny.

Breakfast at the motel was a chance to meet and size up a few of our fellow competitors. It seemed that many were not orienteers but adventure racers - much more used to the endurance aspect of rogaine than us but less comfortable with the navigation.

Pre-Race Planning

Maps were handed out 2 hours before the start. With great anticipation we retreated to our car for the all-important planning session. Many teams appeared to have highly sophisticated methods of strategizing, including multicolored pins, highlighters, and pocket calculators. We more or less eyeballed it, although Thorsten did have a handy piece of string for gauging the feasibility of our plans. It looked to me that others were overly optimizing distance traveled rather than navigation, and we thought we could gain an advantage by using the terrain smarter than some of the other teams.

The area covered by the map was about 180 km2 and almost uniformly green on the three overlapping, 11x17-inch sheets we received. We were just over the crest of the Mogollon Rim, leaving the scarp slope behind us, so the overall topography was rather gently sloping south to north, with steeper hills towards the eastern edge and one major canyon system generally draining south to north in the western third of the map. We had previously decided that making the nighttime navigation as easy as possible would be very important, and we immediately identified this western canyon system as being helpful, offering a 12k road as handrail and catching feature following the major water course in the area, with a number of obvious out-and-back side trips to pick up some juicy points.

The hash-house (meet headquarters, start and finish, and source of hot food and other supplies) was conveniently located near the center of the map, so we worked out our route backwards from the canyon to allow us an evening stop for sustenance. Then we had to plot our initial route to cover as much as possible of the eastern half in daylight hours. After a bit of tinkering about, we decided that our plan made sense. We did not plan to discard any controls, but one group of six not too far from the hash house were set aside for a third loop in the early daylight hours before the finish, if we still had time and energy.

A large, tense, and expectant crowd assembled to hear the prerace briefing. It was easy to distinguish orienteers from adventure racers. Clearly they don't shop in the same stores. Most adventure racers wore trail-running shoes, like regular running shoes but with a stiffer sole, invariably gray in colour. They also had these cute little ankle gaiters, and many used short ski-pole-like hiking sticks.

Course setter John Maier had two important announcements: 1- don't take the jeep trails for granted; 2- there are no water depots on the course. Hmmm... Luckily, Thorsten is carrying his water purifier.

They're Off!

10:00 am - The whistle blows and we're off. Many, many people are heading the same way as us, and we jog-walk 400m to the easy first control, arriving in about third place and jostling for access to the punch, then straight off to next flag. Although this initial route seems obvious to us, we are startled to find no one following us. There's a Yellow course-level handrail route, but we're taking on a Green standard cross-country route to save 400m or so. Everyone else must be bailing out and taking the easy route! We spike it - a good confidence booster - and look over our shoulder to see a few other teams approaching the control. They've certainly had to work harder than us to get there, and we know the navigational demands are only going to increase.

Route choice to our third control is similar. We again eschew the easy roundabout route and take it head on. Again there's no one on our trail. A 30-second error finding the correct reentrant junction is annoying, but very minor in the grand scheme of things, and we learn a valuable lesson about the quality of the map: With 40-foot contour intervals and 30 years of erosion since the map was made, only the largest reentrants are shown.

At this point we're all alone. We are very conscious of the need to pace ourselves. Both of us have prior 24-hour rogaine experience, but it's been several years since my last one and I'm not training as regularly as I was in those days (blame the arrival of son Rory, now 2 1/2). Also, the lack of readily available water means that it's good to keep sweat to a minimum. Pacing is also important with respect to the overall plan. Time it wrong, and the easy navigation planned for the night can turn into something much more technical.

Nightfall is such a pivotal period in a rogaine. Get there on a high, with things going to plan and spiking controls, and you will be well set up for the long hours of darkness ahead. Looking forward, we see the twilight period as having several technical legs which we can imagine becoming troublesome in failing light. We decide to bring those forward in our plan by leaving our planned controls 4 and 5 for a later loop. This, the only change in our plan we would make, turned out to be somewhat costly. Small things have a habit of multiplying themselves over the long day of the rogaine.

Water, Water, Anywhere?

With three controls under our belts, we tried to avoid getting overconfident. Not difficult, with 50 more to get and only 40 minutes into the 24 hours. Control 4 was perhaps of Orange-course standard. Follow a jeep trail to the top of a hill, then bear off, crossing another jeep trail to the control down below in a reentrant junction. All goes well except there is no second trail. This seems like a bad thing, especially as we wanted to later follow this same trail to the next control, but after a moment's reflection we realized what a gift it really was, since we felt sure we were in the top tier of navigators and would be able to handle this better than most other teams.

Sure enough, we spiked the next three controls through some tricky, feature-poor terrain - all 70-pointers (controls ranged in value from 20 to 80 points). Thorsten, in particular, seemed to be gaining a great sense of intuitive map interpretation. One problem which we could see in our future was water supply. We crossed one stream which John Maier had mentioned as a good source. However it was barely a trickle and not too appealing. We shared the first of many Power Bars and discussed the water situation.

Water is always a logistical consideration on a rogaine. Thorsten had his half-gallon CamelBak; I was carrying two one-liter bottles. This was most of the weight of our packs. We thought this would last slightly more than four hours, thus needing to be replenished from the field at least twice - once in the day and once in the night. At least the weather was favorable: With a high of around 70 and mostly shady in the trees, we were barely sweating. We identified a mapped spring - surely we'd get something there. This was seven controls, 13k, and about 2.5 hours away. A lot could happen before then...

The terrain steepened as we climbed out of a long, wide reentrant. Little humps and bumps on the map were actually significant hills, and minor squiggles were canyonlike reentrants. Also the jeep trails became even more flaky. We did well to find our first 80 pointer without hesitation, but then made our first significant mistake, overinterpreting some reentrants which really seemed like they ought to be on the map and double-thinking ourselves on the nature and location of jeep trails, leading to a nasty parallel error. As we finally extricated ourselves, Thorsten even bet his lunch that the next hill would be the right one. It was. A good time to have a seat for a few minutes and take stock. Even with this mistake we had taken 2 1/2 hours to do what we had conservatively estimated at 4 h. 10 controls, 16k. Nothing hurt, and we were working well together. It seemed impossible, however, that more than 21 hours of this remained!

Time for lunch. PB+J sandwiches, cookies, beef jerky, trail mix. Water starting to run low but spirits high. You have to consciously try to eat constantly before you feel you need it and certainly before you want to. Power Bars in particular were always a struggle to get down.

The next four controls were easier. We made good use of the trail network and navigated well when required. We couldn't help thinking how much more difficult many of these controls would be in the nighttime, and hoped we'd made the right strategic decision.

Now we were at the foot of the hill with the spring about 1.5k above us. It looked simple. The only marked stream came straight down the hill from the spring right through the control in front of us. Discouragingly, the stream held only the occasional small puddle, but we followed it upstream anyway. Our stream meandered. It disappeared underground so no watercourse could be seen. Other unmapped streams joined and we had to pick one to follow. It seemed we would never find the spring. Thorsten was totally out of water and beginning to get quite grumpy, but then there it was. Oh joy! OK, it was a dirty old cattle trough with copious algae, but it was full to the brim with water. After filtering it was crystal clear, and just tasted slightly of pepper, strangely enough. Adding Gookinaid covered that and gave us a good kick.

High Fives and Low Energy

Three more straightforward controls followed. We caught and passed two teams, putting on a show by jogging away from them down the trail! One team who shall remain nameless (no BAOC connection) were, shall we say, stretching the spirit of the rules by one carrying the other's bag while the other ran off to the control some distance down the hill. The official rule is that you stay within 20m of your partner, but we saw all too many violations. One team was disqualified.

We were clearly well ahead of our anticipated schedule. Those two controls we'd missed out in the morning now seemed regretable, but no big deal - a slight detour to pick them up before the hash house would get them.

Next was an 80-pointer we'd not been looking forward to. A 2k traverse of a moderate slope with no good catching feature and one unreliable jeep trail as collecting feature. It would be hard to know exactly where we were as we neared the marker. Thorsten boldly took the lead and executed flawlessly. High-fives all round! Definitely a high point. It seemed like it would be plain sailing to the hash house from here, 13k and no obvious difficulties, with the sun relatively high in the sky.

However, from this point on the distances seemed to mysteriously magnify, and we consistently undershot. In part, this caused us to hesitate, and look for controls way too early. Once, we climbed the first hill when we should have climbed the second. However the worst effects were psychological: It really saps your morale to constantly expect the flag/road/stream to be just up ahead, only to have your hopes dashed.

Since we were getting within sniffing distance of the hash house it became harder and harder to shove down Power Bars, and we got a little low on energy. The sun was setting as we approached the last control for the day, and we made an error in a reentrant system. I was getting totally disoriented and was much relieved when we finally figured it out. Those last two controls really sapped us, and the trudge in to the hash house just stretched on and on, although only 1.5k up a sandy road in the dwindling twilight.

7:00 pm. Only 9 hours in. 23 controls. We'd done well, but we were digging deep at that point. Could we keep it up?

A Cold and Blistery Night

Arriving at the hash house just after sunset was unfortunate timing, psychologically speaking. It meant that the longer we waited, the darker and colder it became, and the tougher it was to contemplate going out again. Neither Thorsten and I took the initiative, and an hour slipped past all too easily. By the time we finally got our act together, another 30 minutes would disappear. A few other teams dribbled in, generally looking about as bad as we felt, which was really not much consolation. Everyone was rather cagey about discussing their progress and potential.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, Syd, Doug, and Trevor arrived. It seemed they'd done fairly well, but Trevor had twisted an ankle and wouldn't continue in the dark. Unfortunately, according to the rules this meant that Doug and Syd would have to register as a new team with no accumulated points.

It was cold - probably high 20s. I had 5 layers on as we left the hash house, but as we got moving I was able to discard two. The cold never really bothered us at any stage. The moon was one day short of full, and the night was clear, so visibility was good once you got used to it. Hiking the trails was actually quite a kick, and morale rose as we figured out we could really navigate. In full moonlight you could almost see the map without flashlight. The standard greeting to the several teams we met returning to camp became, "Evening, gentlemen. Lovely night for a stroll."

The first two controls were no more than 100m from the trail, and it was another morale booster to find how well the reflective strip on the flag lit up in response to a flashlight beam.

Next two were deep in canyon junctions, and we began to get a sense of what this section of the map would hold. The reentrants were steep-sided and rocky. Maybe it was the darkness, or maybe the ground was actually rougher than before, but it became quite trying on the feet as each step seemed to involve a slip or adjustment. The third control was more of the same, and as we descended into the correct canyon, I began to feel the telltale squish from the ball of my foot, signifying a growing blister. Thorsten had also started to murmur about a sore toe.

Shortly after that flag, we began the main travail for the evening when we hit the large dirt road running north-south along Black Canyon. We would hike about 6k up the road, interrupted by four side trips to left and right to pick up a few hundred points. I just measured the 6k on the map right now. My God - it felt so much more than that at the time!

Nearing the end of the first side trip up a short box canyon, the pain from my feet became acute. Time to stop and see what could be done. I am perennially afflicted by blisters. After a Sunday's O' on the sun-baked cow meadows of (say) Sunol, I can often put half my index finger inside the flaps of skin which result. Knowing this, I had liberally coated my feet with moleskin and other purported blister remedies. These helped, but every uncovered piece of skin on my feet would be blistered before the end of the race. My Mum, visiting from Scotland, said it broke her heart to look at my feet for days after we returned.

"We didn't scare you, did we?"

Still, no time to sit around moping. A few pricks from the needle and some fresh moleskin, and we hit the road again. Next was a ridiculously steep climb 40m up and straight back down a huge cliff/scree slope. Back on the road, we were surprised to see another team absolutely pounding down the road behind us. Their opening retort of "We've got beer!" indicated they were not actually rogaining. Also their attire, which I'd have to describe as hillbilly: dungarees, floppy straw hat, and checked shirts. It was two teenage locals out turkey hunting, it being that season and that being the most fun to be had for 100 miles.

"We didn't scare you, did we?" they beamed at us as they swayed slightly in front of us and opened their cans with a large spurt of foam. "No, of course not," we replied, trying to ignore the scenes from "Deliverance" that came to mind. "I think we scared those other guys a whiles back when we were shooting," they giggled to each other, "even though we weren't really shooting at them!" Thankfully, they did not appear to be armed at that moment, and we made off into the bush.

Their camp was right on our course to the next control, so we took as wide a berth as possible. There was a nice pool in the river nearby, and we considered replenishing our water, but when two large rocks came flying out of darkness to splash loudly in the shallows accompanied by much guffawing, we decided to move on. There were a lot of teams in the area at that time. I'm sure we weren't the only ones the "yahoos" (as Thorsten called them) had some fun with.

Next flag was up another box canyon, and another crop of blisters were speaking insistently. I have an enduring picture of Thorsten and I sitting in the moonlight in a beautiful meadow with our shoes and socks off at 2 am, passing a needle back and forth, liberally dosing it and us with Neosporin cream. That's teamwork! Another team of three sat at the control - two girls and a guy. They barely acknowledged our greetings, and appeared to be deep in an existential discussion. Didn't look like they were enjoying things too much. You just have to keep reminding youself that everyone's out here with the same deal. As long as you keep moving you've got a chance.

2:00 am. We'd found 10 more controls in five hours of darkness, for a total of 33. Three hours till dawn, eight till it's over. 20 flags as yet unfound. Could we hold it together?

The Going Gets Tough

Now began the most difficult section of the rogaine. A series of seven controls extending over about 10k north to south along the western portion of the map. All but one were reentrant junctions, and all but one leg had the same generic route. Climb out of canyon, cross plateau, descend into next canyon, locate correct junction. We would be heartily sick of this sequence before long, for the canyons were extremely steep and rocky, torture on the feet with every step, especially on the downslopes.

Although the plateaux were brightly moonlit, the canyons were usually deeply shaded. The further you went down, the harder it got to see. The canyons also had a distinct convex shape, becoming steeper near the bottom. Invariably the final section involved a precarious rock descent without being able to see exactly what lay below in the gloom. Doing this over and over again with tormented feet was not fun.

Still, we kept going. Our navigation gave us a boost. There were many opportunities to mess up badly in this section. A relatively small error could send you into the wrong canyon with the depressing realization of having to go up and down all over again. Thorsten, with head torch, did most of the map work through here, as I found it hard to manage my flashlight, map, and compass with two hands. We found a nice synergy, where the rather weak beam from the head torch was perfect for map reading without glare, but the more powerful flashlight was much more effective for illuminating the area and locating the controls.

In the cool of the night, we made our water last six hours. We had identified a marked water tank high on a ridge directly on our route. It turned out to be a massive metal structure reminiscent of those on the hills above Monte Bello. Just try getting a drink out of those! We circled the tank nervously looking for a tap or outlet, but there was none. Then we saw a ladder propped against the back of the tank, and climbing to the top, found that there was a gap through which we could feel that the tank was full to the brim. Manipulating filter pump and bottles six feet up a ladder was another opportunity for teamwork.

The moon began to set around 4 am, and became a positive nuisance as it got low in the southern sky and dazzled us rather than helping to illuminate our path. Then, in the absence of the moon, the final pre-dawn canyon (our fifth) was the darkest and seemed the deepest, but the lightening sky as we climbed out was a real boost.

We'd survived the night. 24k and 14 controls in 8 hours. It no longer seemed like we would have the time or energy to get all the controls, but we agreed to just take one flag at a time and see how it went.

The Final Slog

The last three flags west of the road looked technically easier, especially in the bright of early morning. So, of course, we made a couple of dumb mistakes, including almost going off the map at one point. We'd found that our spirits seemed to oscillate in opposite cycles, with one of us being low and the other higher. However an early morning malaise seemed to simultaneously fall on both of us.

Crossing the main road signified the beginning of the end, turning to head almost directly back to the hash house, 8k and 5 controls distant. The ground leveled off once again, and the navigation was straightforward. Unlike the previous morning, my timid, handrail-oriented route choices tended to be selected over Thorsten's cross-country leanings. "We're pathetic," he exclaimed as we traipsed round a trail like beginners moving up to the Yellow course. An error at that point, however, may have been more than we could handle, both physically and psychologically.

8:00 am, and we've just about had enough. Feet hurt like hell. Eating anything is a real chore. Power Bars, cookies, and trail mix all make me want to gag. It was hot by this time. Much more so than yesterday. I had not brought any suncream with me for the night section, and with my lily-white complexion I was wondering if sunblock remains effective after 20 hours (apparently so).

Three controls to the hash house, the first two deceptively easy, close to linear features - a trail and stream, respectively. Neither of these are particularly well-mapped, however, and the flatter terrain is impossible to read. We don't really have much of a clue exactly where we are, and got lucky the first, unlucky the second time. Another 10 minutes lost is relatively minor, but at this late stage it ensures that we won't be going much further past the hash house. We are not too disappointed.

The final 2k to the hash house is interminable, following a sandy jeep trail that has the perversity to cross the same watercourse five times. The dry streambed was covered in fist size rocks, a final insult for the feet. Thorsten asked me, "What am I going to tell Olivia when she asks me why we did this?" "Wait a few days before you tell her," was my response.

There was one last 20 pointer a short 500m detour away. I was delighted when Thorsten agreed to go for it: "There's no way someone's going to beat us by 10 points." That's the spirit. We made one last idiotic mistake on what was one of the easiest controls on the course, seeing Mike Springer and Ron Hudson exiting as we finally got the approach right. They were about 200m ahead of us on the trail as we headed home. Again, adrenaline overcame sense, and fearing that they may have the same point total as us, we "sprinted" to catch them just before the finish, although with the imprecision of finishing times we needn't have bothered, the process consisting of locating the correct official in the melee surrounding the food stand.

I honestly can't remember what happened next, but I ended up lying in the car, trying to figure out just how far the seats would recline. Thorsten seemed a bit more lively (just as well, as he would be driving). He had hung around long enough to get a rough idea of where our efforts would leave us. Looked like we were about fifth overall of current finishers.

Thorsten retrieved my bag from the trunk and placed it by the car door, so I wouldn't have to move. Syd, Doug, and Trevor's van was only a few yards away so we were able to exchange rudimentary stories from a supine position. A cool breeze came up, so we shut the car doors and waited for the award ceremony, which I did not have the energy to attend. I did not emerge from the car until we left.

A Job Well Done

Two teams found all the controls (2950 points). The veteran team of Ernst Linder and Alar Ruutopold had almost three hours to spare - a remarkable performance. David Frei and Gary Thomson from Missouri came just over an hour later. We were 5th out of 33 on men's open (2590 points, having missed six controls), 7th overall out of 83 teams on the 24-hour race. Mike and Ron got 120 more than us for 5th overall. Well done, Mike - must see your route.

Personally, I'm very satisfied with this performance. We approached the event quite conservatively and didn't push ourselves too hard. In ability and temperament we proved a well-matched team. While we "wasted" 90 minutes in the hash house, we probably needed this time for recovery. Our feet were the major negative factor, dramatically slowing us down and sapping morale, in addition to actual "repair time." We will treat them better next time. However the slowing down undoubtedly saved us from discovering some other physical limitation.

Finally, the answer to the "Olivia Conundrum" (see above). Well, after a few days' reflection, there are so many justifications. You certainly find out a lot about yourself doing something like this. Also, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? In the final analysis, though, is it not sufficient to have such a unique story to tell? ;-)

Postscript

1. In my vegetal condition after the event, my bag was left when we drove off, only to be discovered when we got to Hertz in Phoenix, 3 hours away. My wallet with my only picture ID was inside. Thank you to American Airlines for letting me talk my way onto the flight home. Thanks also to Syd for picking up the bag and being conservative with the truth at his own security checkin. Also to Trevor for making me happy by dropping it off at my house later that evening.

2. I was able to cycle to work the very next day, although walking was hell, and putting on or taking off shoes in that state should be outlawed by the Geneva convention. By Thursday I could run again, by Friday I was playing soccer. My Mum's broken heart healed on approximately the same time scale.