A tale of adventure, misfortune, and impeccable timing

Terra Snowbowl

I have gotten myself in a lot of less-than-ideal situations in my life.

One evening several years ago, I found myself at the top of Stuart Peak at 10:00 at night with nothing but a water bottle, waist deep in snow with no idea where the trail was. And one spring day on what should have been a quick 35-mile road ride, a storm blew in, I got a flat, and while I was changing it my body temperature dropped substantially. I had to stop several miles later and have a friend pick me up because I was swerving all over the road in a delirious haze.

This is the story of my ride last weekend, during which I also ended up in a bit of a pickle.

After spending half the riding season without a cyclocross bike (gasp!) I finally got one last week, and eager to put it through its paces, I planned a pretty long and definitely brutal cross ride that would link together several of my favorite rides around Missoula. I met up with my boss, Alex, at 7:30 in the morning to start the ride.

We began by climbing the always-steeper-than-you-think-it-is Butler Creek up to Snowbowl, a good warm-up for what was to come. On the fire road at the top, Alex flatted, which was kind of a bummer, but not the worst thing that would happen that day.

We buzzed down Snowbowl road and Alex left me to head back to town and be productive. I, on the other hand, made the grind up Ravine trail into the Rattlesnake, a wonderfully painful climb on a cross bike. Without incident, I crossed through the Rattlesnake, up and over the Lincoln saddle, and down Marshall Canyon Road. My original plan was to ride up and do the Deer Creek Sneak after that, which would have been a very good way to finish things up.

Unfortunately, though, I was feeling pretty good at that point, and decided to explore a little. I spun out to Turah and up Allen Creek, a road I had recently discovered with some friends and that seemed very intriguing. What greeted me there was a solid 7% grade for the next 10 miles. That in itself was a whole boatload of fun, and then I had to figure out how to get down.

I looked out from the saddle towards Miller Creek, and the maze of fire roads that, if I knew just the right ones to take, would lead me there. I picked a road. It got narrower and more overgrown. I turned around and picked another road. It seemed pretty promising in terms of direction, but again was a bit overgrown. I stuck with it.

The thing about overgrown roads is, you can’t see the surface you’re riding on very well. Rocks are pretty well hidden by the grass and weeds. As much as I tried to ride gingerly, one of those rocks managed to get me good. I felt my rear tire go flat almost immediately, and as I slowed to a stop, I heard the front one start hissing as well. Double flat. I cursed my misfortune, but at the same time patted myself on the back for tossing in an extra CO2 cartridge and a patch kit before this ride. I threw a new tube in the rear, patched the front, and was on my way.

It didn’t last long. Before long, the spare road tube I had put in the rear tire succumbed to yet another pinch flat, and by the time I got done patching it, the patch in the front tire had failed to hold. By this time, I was out of CO2 and didn’t have much faith in the patches anyway. Time for a nice nature hike!

Did I mention I had a friend’s wedding to be at at 4:00? And currently it was 12:45. This gave me, worst case scenario, three hours to get home. I was well beyond the point where the road was gated, so there was no chance of running into any vehicles anytime soon. The road continued down towards Miller Creek for about half a mile, before veering sharply back uphill. Awesome. I just kept walking, because what else was I gonna do? To hike back down to Turah would have been about a 17-mile walk. I figured I’d take my chances.

After about two and a half miles, I reached a gate, which indicated:

a) I was headed somewhere, not towards a dead-end.
b) There became a possibility of running into a car that might be able to give me a ride back to civilization.

It was another half a mile before I came across a car on the side of the road, and two guys off in the bushes picking huckleberries. I explained my predicament, and one of them let me use his phone, which amazingly got reception up there. I called Kailee, who had been busy all morning running up Cha-paa-qn. Turned out, she wasn’t home yet either, and didn’t answer the phone. It was 2:00.

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Kailee was busy with her own adventure, which incidentally also took longer than planned.

I stopped and picked a few huckleberries while I waited to see if she would call back, but soon it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, so I carried on. The guys picking huckleberries told me it was about two miles down to Deer Creek Road, which meant that if I got ahold of Kailee and she could pick me up, I would only end up walking five miles total.

Three miles later, it became apparent that the two-mile estimate was more than a little off. I ran into another couple picking berries, and finally I was able to get ahold of Kailee. It was 2:45 by this time. Oh yeah, and they told me, more accurately, that I had another three miles to get down to Deer Creek Road. I gave Kailee directions on where to find me and continued walking, sometimes jogging, although that’s not the most comfortable activity in bike shoes.

I got to Deer Creek Road, having walked a total of nine miles, just as Kailee was pulling up to the intersection. It was 3:20. We booked it back home, got showered and changed, and managed to make it to the wedding fashionably early, with eight minutes to spare.

ely marianne wedding
Congratulations to Ely and Marianne! Glad we were able to make it in time!

Fortunately, there was plenty of food at the reception, because we were both pretty starved.

My final ride for the day ended up looking like this:

Adventure Cross Ride

 

Upon looking at the map when I got home, it seemed that I had in fact chosen the most direct route I could have chosen. Sure glad I did, or there would have been no chance of making it back by 4:00.

Final ride stats:
60.2 miles riding
9.0 miles walking
Total elapsed time: 7:51
Total elevation gain: 7,913 feet

It seems that there are a lot of times that things don’t go as planned, but as long as you roll with it and keep a generally positive attitude, it all seems to work itself out. I will do this ride again, when I can get someone to do the whole thing with me. Also, I will bring multiple spare tubes and lots of food.

Back to the root of things

In the summer of 2004, I had just graduated from high school and finished up my final track season, which had been not quite what I hoped, but sometimes that’s how things go. I got a call from a guy I didn’t know, named Rick, asking if I wanted to do a triathlon. Just not the swim or the bike. He wanted to do the bike, and he had someone else who wanted to do the swim. I didn’t know that was a thing. Regardless, he had heard through the grapevine that I could run pretty fast, and that I might be into bringing it home as the team’s anchor.

I was a sucker for running races at the time, and decided to join up and see if we couldn’t take home some hardware in the team division. The Tiger Triathlon at the time was a quarter-ironman distance race (.6 mile swim, 28 mile bike, 6.55 mile run). I appreciated the challenge of seeing what I could do for 6.55 miles.

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Senior year cross country. I did eventually chop off that mop on my head.

I turned 19 a week before the race. My teammates were both in their 50s. Our team name was “Old Guys”. Classic.

Our swimmer, Scott, had a good first leg, coming out of the water in 7th place overall, and first among the teams. Rick wasn’t so hot on the bike, but he held his own and tried not to lose too much ground. Coming into T2, our team was in third place, around 4 and a half minutes behind the leading team. We weren’t focusing on racing the individuals. They were serious and stuff.

I brought it home in style, recording the fastest run split of the day and passing all the other teams. We won the team division by two minutes! I was proud of my accomplishment, but I couldn’t help thinking that I could totally do this whole thing by myself.

The next year, I went and bought a cheap wakeboarding wetsuit from the local sporting goods store for $50. I bought an old steel road bike that was in decent condition from a friend’s grandpa for $100. I didn’t figure I needed cycling shoes, opting to ride in my racing flats. It would just be faster to not have to worry about changing in transition, right? Also, I did the whole thing in running shorts. I wish I had some photos from that year, but it’s probably a good thing there’s no photographic evidence.

It’s a wonder I stuck with the sport, after what must have been a very miserable first triathlon. Still, I pulled off a respectable 22nd place out of a somewhat small 76-person field.

Many years later, it turns out that I got a little better. In 2013, after a close battle with John Kercher, who incidentally also took 2nd at the previously mentioned race (the one where I was a total beginner and took 22nd), I emerged victorious and claimed my first Tiger Tri title!

In 2014, I returned as the defending champ, and went out hard from the start, coming out of the water in second and moving into first in T1. I tried to push the bike hard, not knowing if there were any sleepers in the field behind me. The bike course at the Tiger Tri is fun. It’s a 40k now (they changed the distance several years ago) but with a substantial elevation loss. I finished the bike in 51:07, a few seconds slower than last year.

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Crushing the bike, and having fun doing it!

When I finished the bike I knew I had the race in the bag, but I really wanted to achieve my time goal of 1:40 for the whole course (last year I went 1:40:22 with some head to head competition, so I knew it would be tough). When I started the run, the race clock was at just over 1:08. The run is a rolling gravel path, five miles long, which is not particularly fast. I knew I could do it, I just needed to find the motivation to run fast and not just coast through to the finish. It was especially difficult because, as you can see in the photo above, a series of fires in the surrounding region made the air quality less than optimal.

On the run, I focused on my form, keeping a good turnover, and took a trip down memory lane. This was the same course where, in a fit of what can only be described as my brand of teen angst, I decided to lead out a small dual meet against our rival team at breakneck pace. I ran the first mile, which has a slight gain in elevation, in 4:58, before being passed by two guys from the other team in a sprint finish and finishing third.

I remembered all the hill repeats, the easy jogs around the course, the way that, despite any big hills, the trail wears down on you because it just keeps rolling up and down. I remembered how so many people I know would complain about having to run this trail, because we had done it so many times before, and it was getting old. But I always loved it. Especially now that I only run it exactly once a year.

And before I knew it, that once a year for 2014 was almost over. I was turning the corner onto the high school track, the place where I ran my first sub 5-minute mile, as well as my first sub 6-minute mile. The place where I won my first race, and where I finished my first triathlon, nine years ago, chafing and sweating like crazy and loving every second of it.

OnTheTrack
In so many ways, this is the spot where it all started.

When I rounded the fence onto the track, I looked at my watch and knew I would be under 1:40. At that point, it became a game to see how many seconds I could cut off in the final 400 meters. I dug deep and crossed the line in 1:39:41.

Finish
Mission accomplished!

I’ll keep coming back to Tiger Tri for years to come. It is always a great event to be a part of, and it gives me a good excuse (besides visiting in-laws, of course) to revisit the place where I grew up.

Missoulians, take heed: next year, I plan on bringing an entourage. Put it on your calendar now.

Making dreams come true

The Missoula Marathon.

This race runs deep in the Carnes household. In 2007, when they announced the inaugural race, I took the cue and signed up for my first marathon. Kailee signed up for the half, and a tradition was born. For the last eight years, every July, whether we are truly trained for it or not, I get on the bus out to Frenchtown, and Kailee does the same to Blue Mountain, and we meet up several hours later on the Higgins Street bridge.

The first year, I got cocky. I decided I should be able to run a three hour marathon, and promptly sped through the first half in 1:28:30. I felt great. Until mile 16. The wheels started to come off, and I realized, with utter horror, that I still had TEN MILES to go. A miserable hour and forty five minutes later, I stumbled across the line, promptly vomited on the side of the road, and Kailee carried me down to the river, where I sat and cooled off. My finish time that year was 3:29:52.

Fast forward seven years, and I am training almost exclusively for triathlons. Every year, I have still managed to make the marathon fit in my schedule, but every year it wrecks me for a week and messes up my training schedule. So I came to the decision that this year, I would volunteer as a pacer. And for which pace group? Why, 3:30, of course! I could lead first-timers and help them pace themselves properly, so they wouldn’t end up running the second half 30 minutes slower than the first, like me!

It was a wonderful decision. The pacer corps is a great group of people, and was a blast to be a part of, and I got to run with balloons!

Photo courtesy of Myke Hermsmeyer Photography
Photo courtesy of Myke Hermsmeyer Photography

It was really fun to run with an entourage! Through the half, I probably had at least 15 folks with me, following the balloons. Around mile 17, some people dropped off, and some pulled ahead, and our group dwindled to about 5 or 6 pace-oriented souls. I could tell a few were suffering, and a couple guys seemed like they were running easy still. It was a mixed bag. By mile 23, all but one guy had either split off the front or fallen back, and he started to pick up the pace. For the last three miles, I tried my best to keep it steady, providing encouragement to those I passed and cheering on the two or three people who passed me.

About a half a mile from the finish, I caught and passed one last guy, a man named Ernie who had run with my group for the first 7 or 8 miles, then gotten a little extra confidence and picked up the pace a little. I found out after the race that this was his second marathon, and his first had been a 3:46. He really wanted to break 3:30 for this one. As I passed him, I encouraged him to come along with me and leave all he had on the Higgins bridge. He gasped that he had nothing left, and I jogged across the bridge in front of him, trying to hold my pace, and glancing back every few strides to make sure he was still somewhat close. He staggered across the bridge with my balloons still in striking distance, and triumphantly crossed the finish line in 3:29:44! Success!

Ernie came in to the bike shop yesterday morning, and we talked about the race further. He thanked me for helping him achieve his goal, and he is looking forward to his next marathon. It’s unbelievably rewarding to be able to help people like that, and this definitely won’t be my last pacing experience. As an added bonus, it’s some great endurance training for Kona, and I am not a total wreck this week!

Next on the schedule is the Tiger Triathlon, my hometown race in Colville. After winning it for the first time last year, I’ll be looking for a repeat. We’ll see how it goes!

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Photo credit: James Richman Photography

If, at the beginning of the season, you had told me I would be racing an Ironman this year, I probably would have laughed in your face. It simply was not part of the plan. But sometimes the best laid plans can be the most static and unexciting. Sometimes an opportunity presents itself and you just have to take the challenge.

Exactly four weeks ago today, I got a phone call that completely changed the trajectory of my triathlon season. I am fortunate enough to serve as an ambassador for Orbea, a company that not only makes currently the fastest bike in triathlon, but also has some of the best people working for it. Orbea had signed on as a sponsor for Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and they were able to get me into the race, despite it having been full for months. All I had to do was help out at the expo. Three days of hanging around chatting with a bunch of really excited people about bikes. Twist my arm…

As it turns out, there is no such thing as a three and a half week Ironman training program. Who knew? I did a couple long rides, followed by some running, and did my best to get rested up to the best of my ability.

Coeur d’Alene is arguably one of the most triathlon-friendly venues in the sport. Not only does the area perfectly embody the beauty of the inland northwest, but the city comes out in full force in support of the event. There were no less than 3,500 volunteers helping out for the weekend. We rented a house that the owners vacated for the week, and the extremely friendly neighbors brought us over some Ironman-themed cookies. The restaurants were crowded, but the service everywhere was great and everyone seemed genuinely excited about all the buzz from the Ironman.

I got a little easy swimming, riding, and running in during the few days leading up to the event, and everything felt great. I managed to meet up with a couple of my Team Stampede teammates during the expo, and Kurt and I got out for a short swim.

Ironman CDA

So come Sunday morning, there I stood on the beach, a little intimidated by the sheer amount of time this endeavor would take, but ultimately feeling good. Since Coeur d’Alene has a rolling start, the swim start position is self-seeding. I lined up with the one-hour swim group, and the start was much less chaotic than I was expecting. The water was, however, very choppy due to some pretty heavy wind. I definitely got a few breaths contained no air. Here’s a photo from the swim. Can you find me? I couldn’t either.

Swim

Thanks to a brand new pair of awesomely clear Orca goggles, I swam in an uncharacteristically straight line. Between that and the employment of some decent drafting techniques, I came out of the water in 1:00:24, slightly slower than I had originally hoped, but with the conditions the way they were, faster than I was expecting.

I hopped on my Ordu and began to move my way through the field. At the first turnaround, just seven miles in, I could see that I was the 15th amateur. I focused on keeping consistent, not pushing the first lap too hard, and taking in nutrition regularly. I felt smooth, efficient, and confident.

After the first out-and-back, the bike course heads back through town and takes a turn to the southwest. The headwind on the southwest-bound portion of the bike was brutal, and I felt like a lot of time was lost. I kept looking forward to the steep climbs because they provided a little bit of shelter from the wind. All in all though, I held it together, leapfrogging with a few other guys on the bike, but not gaining or losing any substantial ground. I came off the bike in 13th, blazed through T2 in true Montana fashion, and surprised myself by effortlessly ticking off 7-minute miles for the first part of the run. I had some friends out on the run course yelling at me (thanks Bill and Elliot, you guys are rockstars). Again, the strategy was to keep everything in control and stay on top of nutrition.

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Here I am stuffing my face with a banana while in full stride. The aid stations were great! There were no less than 26 opportunities to do just this (I didn’t eat 26 bananas though, I think that probably would have caused some problems).

Photo credit: James Richman Photography

I heard a lot of people yell my name while I was running through town, and only occasionally could I tell who was doing the yelling. Going into the second lap, instead of dreading the next 13 miles, I felt pretty confident that I could keep things rolling effectively through the finish.

IMG_0798
Halfway point on the run, showing some appreciation for my fan club.

I was told that I had moved into 4th in my age group, and knew that one guy in front of me had already qualified for Kona, and that I had a big gap on 5th. Since there are three qualifying spots, I knew I would most likely be able to nab one, but for pride’s sake I wanted to be in the top three. On the second lap of the run, it was chaos. There were a lot of people around, and it was hard to tell who was on their second lap and who was just starting. I worked to keep a good solid pace, and at some point I passed someone in my age group. The last two miles were tough, but when I finally made the left turn on to Sherman Avenue for the finishing stretch, I was pulled home by a corridor of cheering spectators and immediately greeted by Keegen and Keith, the Orbea guys, who informed me that I had gotten a Kona slot, along with Kailee, my mom, and the whole entourage.

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Huge props to my #1 fan for getting up with me at 4am, tracking and cheering for me all day, and being there for congratulations at the finish!

Final stats:
Swim:1:00:24
T1: 2:38
Bike: 5:18:04
T2: 1:15
Run: 3:19:01
Total Time: 9:41:22
Overall Place: 23 (2,466 total finishers)
Gender Place: 22 (yeah, I got chicked. Heather Wuertele’s an animal)
Age Group Place: 3
Amateur Place (excluding pros): 12

I can’t thank Orbea enough for giving me this opportunity and talking me into such a masochistic endeavor. I look forward to representing Orbea and Orca in Kona! Also, huge thanks to all my co-workers at Missoula Bicycle Works for dealing with all the RATPOD week chaos without me while I went to play in Coeur d’Alene.

Big congratulations to fellow first-time Ironman and Team Stampede teammate Brian Lockwood, who pulled off an impressive 12:38 finish at age 48, and fellow teammate Kurt McDonough, who came through with a 13:10. The Missoula couple of Brianna Grieve-McSweeney and Jake Hanson also made the trip for their first Ironman experience, finishing in 15:33 and 11:04, respectively. As far as I know, everyone who made the trip from Missoula successfully made it to the finish line.

And with that, this rather unexpected journey continues. Now for a little rest, then it’s back to the grind with training. Time to hit it harder than ever. Kona bound baby!

KonaBound
It will look a little like this, but the sand might be prettier and the water might be slightly more shark-infested.