Cowboy Tough ARWS gave us a truly epic race course, long distances, a great race and a few unfortunate events. It was a truly wild and well organized event and read on to see why NYARA will keep coming back to this one, year after year. First up is Team Captain, Olof Hedberg covering the first half of the race followed by Eric Caravella bringing in the humorous wrap up. Here’s Olof:
Our team for CBT had been set for a long time and preparations had gone on for months. We thought we had everything under control when, the night before we were planning to leave we realized all the gear didn’t fit in our car. After a short panic followed by a brainstorming session we made some phone calls. Thanks to the generosity of the Board of Summit Nordic Ski Club we were able to borrow the Club’s 15-passenger van, which comfortably accommodated us and our ridiculous volume of gear. We are so grateful to have such a great community around us.
Preparations – Shame on British Airways
The mandatory points were pre plotted, but we spent a lot of time plotting the five dozen or so optional points. The maps were big and there was a lot of information to digest, but this was a small issue compared to Mikael’s with his bike being stuck somewhere between London and Denver. British Airways apparently only likes to charge you for taking your bike, but does not actually feel obligated to put it on the flight. He was promised it would show up on the next flight and in time for the race start, but we started to realize they had just lied to his face. In reality the bike arrived on Saturday – 5 days later than planned and 3 days after race start. Nice one British Airlines, well played.
Thankfully race director, Mark Harris offered to lend us not only his bike, but also bike shoes. After 2 hours of cleaning, adjusting, tire swapping and fixing Mikael was all set to go.
After going to bed early and getting to sleep in late relatively to AR standards, we loaded up busses (best busses ever in an AR!!! – I want to come back just so I get to ride these busses to the start again) and get ready for the start in Buffalo.
Prologue – In the lead in an ARWS:
I have always said that unless we get skiing incorporated into an AR I will never lead an ARWS. If we ever do get to ski (glacier, back country, cross country, whatever) I would be shocked if we didn’t take the lead (Maybe Björn and Josefin in Haglöfs aside). There was no snow and no skiing in Buffalo, Wyoming. Instead we had an urban-O where we had to swim to the bottom of a pool, do a shot of Whiskey, get a gun casing and some other stuff. The start of the race went of with a gun shot by Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead. We jogged around the streets, completed the tasks and dream of my surprise when we showed up first to the TA. The next team was right on our heels but apparently I was wrong – it is possible for us to lead without the use of skis – if only for a few seconds (but I’m still wishing for that long brutal ski leg in a race).
Bike ride #1 – Chasing Tail
Next up was an uneventful bike ride to the paddling — well it would have been uneventful if it wasn’t for Eric having to chase some tail (we will come back to that one). I quickly compensated for our fast prolog and made a turn too early, which set us back to a ~top 10 place. On a CP during the ride we had to enter the fairgrounds. In the fairgrounds there was a herd of young cows with ribbons on their tails. Each team had to collect one ribbon. Eric “wildlife appreciation” Caravella was the given the option and before we could even blink he got a ribbon and ran back to us filled with the joy of a four year old who just got candy. The wildlife whisperer strikes again. We rolled into the TA ~10 – 15 min after the leaders and got in the water.
Paddling – The CP that wasn’t
With Mikael “the paddle master” Mattsson, our kayak skills have definitely improved, and we do a one of our better paddle sections. That doesn’t mean we are good enough to keep up with the best, and SAFAT paddles by us like they have a motor on their boat. We continue to grind our teeth and power through (except Mikael who looks like he is on a Sunday afternoon paddle with his family). When we hit the last CP we see the other teams park their boats. But here comes the issue, soon afterwards the teams comes back and continues to look along the shoreline. We pulled up and didn’t see a CP. Continuing along the shoreline we checked every cove together with a bunch of other teams. They called it after 30 min and headed back to the TA, while our 30 min wasn’t up yet so we continued to search but when Mikael says “We need to check this cove too” we are over one kilometer from the plotted CP. Realizing our 30min are up we headed back to the TA to finish what would be the first and last kayak section of the race.
Bike #2 – Can you see the flag?
Another gravel road leads us to the foothills. Not anything special, but also not boring in any way. Half way through we have to stop and communicate with each other trough flags like they did during the war (a communication method known as semaphore). It was actually pretty cool and impressive how they could do that over long distances. One problem here – since there had been OPs on the paddle many of the top teams still got stuck behind a lot of lower ranked teams in this bottle neck and there was no way to progress until the teams in front of you had completed the task. With Whitney “Hawkeye” Hedberg on our team we completed the challenge on our first try but we were still stuck there for over 30 min of which 18 was just waiting for other teams to complete it. The fun part of the episode is the Whitney actually has really bad eyesight (at least compared to me) but she is probably the most observant person I have ever met and that made all the difference. She and Eric worked together to help the team in front of them – to speed up the process — and they in turn helped us. Overall we were two of the fastest teams! Yeah for cross-teamwork. We finished up the bike ride with a climb to the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
Day 1 Hike – Up into the mountains we go
We quickly dropped our bikes and started hiking together with Yogaslackers, Nordic Racing, Canada AR and Dart Nuun just in front of us. This section involved lots of elevation gain from 6,000ft to over 10,000 ft = awesome! Yogaslackers were having a rough time. Canada AR kept fantastic speed and hiked past us like we were standing still. After the first bushwack we also passed Dart Nuun who was dealing with a sick teammate. This was when Mikael starting to have trouble. His speed suffers and even after we take his pack he throws up. We are slowly moving forward into the night, but many of the teams around us are dealing with sick teammates so everyones speed is suffering. We got two optional CPs which took some time but were set in truly beautiful places.
The two last CPs were the biggest “tricks”. On the map leading into gem lake it looks like there is a good sized trail leading straight to the lake. We try three different trails with no luck. In the end we decide to just backtrack to a known location and set a compass bearing. It’s a long slog bushwacking hours and hours trying to stay on bearing and keeping track of our location. It’s slow moving but safe and as the sun goes up we feel sure we will make it to the TA before the cutoff. We are lucky as very few others do and the field gets reduced to just 7 teams making the cutoff.
Bike #3,4,5 – 200k and 24h of biking
Day 2 was going to be long and didn’t get better by me taking the wrong way out of the TA. Somehow I got really turned around after sitting down to eat, and I switch my maps up side down, so we headed out back the way we came in. An hour later we corrected the mistake and we are biking through the misty Wyoming morning towards a cool rappel. Our speed was still slow as Mikael was still suffering after throwing up all night, but we are slowly getting there.
The rappel was totally covered in clouds when we got there, but right as we were about to head down there was a break in the clouds and we could see the ground far below us. We didn’t have high expectations for this rapell, but it turned out to be really cool.
Then it was back to the bikes….
….. 205 kilometers of biking for the day. Eric clocked it. We arrived at the TA and were happy to get out of the saddle for a bit and run up and down in the canyon searching for Ops by foot. We grabbed a bunch, got back to TA, changed and were back on our bikes just before the cutoff for another long ride…
Bike #6 – Epicness awaits in Crazy Woman land, and burgers from us…?
The next day started with an epic bike leg with a ton of route choices and vert. It started off fantastically with nav straight on point and the miles flying by us (if by flying we mean slowly passing as we are hiking bikes over ridges etc.). We stop to try to sleep at one point, but as soon as we lay down clouds roll in and rain started pouring down – no rest for the weary.
We were 90 % of the way to the CP when, overconfident, we made a turn too early. This wouldn’t be too bad except that it was pretty steep downhill. The trail was also marked with orange ribbons, which contributed to our overconfidence. 2- 3k later we are totally cliffed out by Crazy Woman Canyon. Options are discussed, going back and around would mean we would lose about an hour. Down climbing with our bikes could be impossible. We look around and decided to go for option 2 – bike climbing. A pretty intense half hour goes on while we scramble with our bikes to get down and up to the other side of the canyon. “I thought that wouldn’t be possible” Mikael says somewhat putting the finger on the doubt we all had been feeling. But making it to the other side gave us extra energy. Ten minutes later we roll into the CP and NYARA President, Denise Mast is standing there flipping burgers. NYARA had joined forces with Rev3 and put together a secret burger oasis in the middle of the course. How frikkin awesome is that!!! I’m still slightly shocked, but more convinced than ever – we race for the coolest club!
Burgers swallowed nearly whole and on to the next CP. The landscape changes once again and we bike into a section that looks like the Moab desert. This course is truly amazing and we stop for a minute to take in the view of “The Red Wall”. Mark and Rev3 have done just an amazing job, and Day 3 might have been the best of them all, starting in the mountains, finishing in desert/ranch hills.
And now let’s hand it over to Eric…
Hey all, Eric here… taking over the report for Olof who had to jet off to Sweden for XC ski camp with his team (talk about “no rest for the weary”!) Anyway, our original plan was to have slept by this point in the race, but as Olof mentioned, we got rained on. Once the sun came out and was beating down on us (with no real shade or shelter to be had anywhere) we figured we’d just make the most of the daylight and try to grab some CPs. Mikael had been able to snag a few minutes of sleep here and there alongside the road the night before. I played 20 questions with Whitney to help keep her awake (and not for nothing, but when she tried to stump me with “Alf”…I guessed it in 6 questions. Booyah for small victories.) But we were all hurting for sleep. I became convinced that every turn and every trail we took I’d been on before. Spookiest hallucinogenic deja vu of all time. I knew it made no sense as I had never been to Wyoming, let alone to the private ranch we were on. Still, I couldn’t resist the urge to try to predict our next turn and guide us to the next CP using my recollection of experiences that had never occurred. Good strategy, right? Anyone surprised it didn’t work?
Anyone else surprised that as soon as the sun went down I became useless as backup navigator and fell asleep on the side of the trail? But we were so close to the TA and our sleeping bags that we just pushed on. We got to TA and our magnificent, glorious, floating-on-a-cloud sleeping bags. Our heads hit the pillow and it was lights out for 60 minutes of the most sublime sleep imaginable.
End of Day O-Course – half a dozen (non)high points and a porcupine
Sleep is a game changer. Even just 60 minutes of it after 63 hours of racing. Once we shook off the cobwebs it was out on foot for the end of day O. My brain was back in the game and Olof and I were able to nav the night points without major issue. Until we decided to go for the “high point” CP. We scrambled up this nutty ridge and scampered about, climbing everything that looked like a high point but evidently never was. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we found it, so we had to head back to TA to get out by the Start of Day 4.
I was lagging behind a bit on our way off the ridge and almost stumbled over a humungous porcupine, lumbering around in the dark. I had never seen one before, and I got really excited (since I’m wildlife guy). I ran ahead and caught the rest of my team and told them about the porcupine, and Olof (in his typical non-wildlife-guy way) said “we’re going to skip the porcupine” and ran off toward the TA. No further discussion, the Captain has spoken. Off to the TA we went.
Bike #246, at least it seemed – Grinding back to Casper
Race rules dictated that we must leave the TA on the Day 4 bike ride between 4am and 5am, and had to be back to Casper by noon. The ride was 75 miles, give or take… and we were just about to get out of TA at 5am. Mikael and I are the pacers on all bike legs, but since he hadn’t been feeling well I was worried about getting back to Casper on time (and about how much work it would be for me to pull the team 75 miles over what could possibly prove to be insanely wide open and windy terrain). Everyone kept telling me the ride couldn’t be that bad if race organizers figured everyone would be able to make it within 8 hours, but I was still concerned and yelled at anyone that got out of the paceline. The first 20 miles were very hilly and scenic, and the sunrise was spectacular. But I was busy calculating our progress and average speed so I barely noticed.
Eventually the road flattened out and the grind really began. Longest gravel road ever. But thankfully, Mikael was in great shape and helped tremendously. We even grouped up with a couple other teams and formed a big peloton, great for our pace and a morale boost!
Packrafting to the Finish – why are Olof and Whitney swimming?
We made it into Casper (in plenty of time, I can admit when my teammates were right) and grabbed our packrafts. We jogged 2 or 3 miles along the trail next to the river to the put-in. And I have to say that even though we could almost smell the finish line, this was my lowest point in the race. My legs were locking up and I could barely keep up a jog… it was misery. We arrived at the put-in after what seemed like an eternity, and inflated our rafts. In an interesting strategy decision, Olof opted not to tighten his air valve all the way. Let’s see how that works out!
Mikael and I crammed our two 6+ foot personages into our comically tiny raft and pushed off toward the first rapid. Mikael had never packrafted before but did an expert job of negotiating the drop successfully, so we slowed down to watch Olof and Whitney take their turn. In the 60 seconds between pushing off and arriving at the first rapid, their raft had apparently lost enough air to fold up in half on itself during the drop and eject them both into the freezing cold water. Funny to watch, probably less so to experience.
After they collected their belongings and added air to their raft (fully sealing the valve this time!) they were back on the water and paddling like a boss. We all cleared the rest of the rapids without incident, and pulled out our boats for the run to the finish line. We were all smiles and shared a big group hug, before Olof went off somewhere to pass out and I began crushing BBQ like it was my job. Great post-race food, Rev3. Kudos!
It may very well have taken you all as much time to read this race report as it took us to experience it, and for that…. we apologize. But Rev3 truly packed a lot of adventure and memorable experiences into the Cowboy Tough race this year that we certainly were not at a lack of things to write about. Wyoming is an incredible place, with so much diversity in terrain and wildlife (we also saw coyotes and a momma moose with her baby!) that I can’t wait to go back to explore some more.
Thanks to my team who were awesome as always, to Denise Mast and NYARA (for the burgers AND the support), to Montbell for supplying outstanding gear for the race, to Rev3 and Cameco who crushed it with an amazing event overall, and to Governor Mead, Casper and Wyoming in general for supporting our sport. Huge thanks to the great photographers who captured the race — Randy Eriksen, Michael Sero and Johan Lundahl.