BWC 2009 – The Report (English)

Bergson Winter Challenge 2009 – X-Bionic Masters of Disaster…

The Master race of the Bergson Winter Challenge was on my mind for a long time already. Since I did the Speed race a couple of years ago, where I looked with admiration at the ghosts of people in the yellow jerseys strolling around like zombies, I knew that I was once going to start in the Master category of this race. Arnaud shared this thought and during the regular coffee breaks we share as colleagues the issue was raised frequently: “We will start in the BWC-masters once!” Especially the “once” was an important word in my plans, until Arnaud asked himself aloud why we wouldn’t start this year. Well, actually there was no good reason why not… Or no, there were a whole bunch of reasons not to join the race this year. I wanted to have some more experience on the X-country skis, try some longer races in less difficult terrain, I’m overloaded with work so there will be limited time to train… And most of all, why on earth would we, in our attempt to finish a longer race, take a worldcup race and then start with the that is – due to the winter conditions – known as “extremely tough”? Honestly, teams much better than ours have found their Waterloo in the Bergson. There has never been a Dutch team that managed to stay in the race for more than 30 hrs, not to mention getting close to the finish line. All in all, that’s not very encouraging…

We’ve got clear ambitions, but the interviewer doesn’t understand that we would really be happy with place 8 in the final ranking. Why would we come all the way from the Netherlands to be satisfied with the last place? Honestly we are… Most of all we want to experience what it is like to race for several days, next to having fun and enjoy the area. Those last two points will probably be minimized once we’re further in the race.

So far, the preparations are relaxed and there is a good atmosphere in the team. We easily win all the rankings that are of no importance. First complete team at the race base, team no 1, we score a lot of points during the speech-contest and bribe members of other teams with cups of tea. Just to win a few places in the final sprint. Now we are having fun, but from Monday 12.00 onwards we won’t be able to hide behind a mask of jokes and large amounts of self-mockery…

Monday 12.00 – 5 km Prologue

Directly after the start signal we position ourselves at the end of the field. Michiel planned the route, including a plan B and C. Normally, we take a route that is different than the one chosen by the crowd, but now we follow the other teams. The route partly leads through the hills just north of Rabka Zdroj, where the snow is thick. The map shows small tracks only, which means that the first teams have to make the tracks through the snow, which requires a lot of energy. For sure we don’t want to be the first team here… Just behind the other teams we collect the 6 CPs and return to the start arch in the last position. One hour after the start we leave the city, ski’s mounted on the backpacks, heading for the snow-covered hills.

Stage 2: 29 km X-country ski

At a gentle pace we climb the first hills. The terrain is too steep for x-country skiing, at least for flatlanders like us. Once we reach the path that follows the ridge we can finally enjoy the benefits of the skis. Not that our technique is good enough to go fast, but at least we manage to slide. Sometimes the track goes up or down too steep, and I don’t have really good brakes on my skis. Luckily there is a huge amount of snow, which guarantees a soft landing. But it costs a lot of energy to get back on our feet again each time. Nevertheless we pick up the CP’s within the deadlines. The first night has started and we make a first navigational error, which costs us about half an hour. Lisette indicates that she feels weak, she misses power in her arms and legs. That isn’t a good sign at this early stage, so we start directly with putting her stuff in the backpacks of the guys. Lisette manages to keep the speed up until the TA, but she feels bad… Flue and diarrhea the week before the race appear to be a very bad preparation. “Feeling better” and “being topfit” are many miles apart. It is painful that our race as a full team already ends after only 13 hrs… damned…

Stage 3: 79 km ATB

Mitch, Arnaud and I decide to continue, so we don’t have much time to relax – although Lisette extends our break with 10 minutes by spilling a pan of boiling water over Arnaud. We have a warm meal and prepare for the first ATB stage. We say a fast goodbye to Lisette, who is taken good care of by the organization. The first kilometers we follow the river downstream, which allows us to develop a good speed. A flat tire gives some delay, but we quickly replace it. Then we start with a long gentle climb over an icy road. Mitch is riding easy, but I’m not finding my pace at all. The skiing has cost me too much energy, so I hook on to Mitches dragging-system. The final kilometers to the CP follow a steep snow-covered road, which makes cycling impossible. This means we have to tackle our first push-bike kilometers, which we cheer up a little further with a micro-navigation error which leads us over farm fences and snow up to our hips. Not effective, but we end up exactly at the CP. After that we reach the next CP and the first Special Task (rafting) without any problems. When this special task was announced we knitted our brows slightly, but luckily we were able to borrow dry-suits so we can pass the ST dry and warm. Without any problem we pass the gates and the large rocks. Afterwards we understand the choice of the faster teams in the race, who didn’t change clothes at all and jumped in the boat in their cycling gear. That’s a risk, but it makes a difference of at least 40 minutes on this CP alone. It is another good lesson for us. Hours behind the other teams we reach TA B, after many kilometers of push-biking, some crashes and ploughing through the snow. At the TA a ropes park awaits us. Arnaud claims the rope bridge, so Mitch and I have to decide who has to do the 120 m tyrolian (diagonal rope). I offer to do this killer, so Mitch can do the 35 m jumar. I accept my fate, hook on to the ropes and start to work myself up along the rope. I count my strokes in blocks of 10, but the rock face where I have to go up to stays far away. I’m not even halfway when Arnaud and Mitch finish their tasks and yell to me that they will start cooking. Fine guys, I’ll manage… It takes me at least half an hour to get up to the cliff… This rope task is a killer…

We take an Adventure Food meal and discuss shortly what to do. We want to use as much daylight as possible, but if we leave now we will get a tough night with little sleep. We decide to start walking anyway and hope for a sleeping place somewhere along the track.

Stage 4: 36 km trekking

We walk up the mountain at a good speed to CP 9, the first of 4 CP’s in the 36 km trekking. The snowshoes are on the backpack, where they stay for the entire trekking, because the teams in front of us made a nice track. Arnaud navigates smoothly and we’re in a good mood. Towards the next CP we can choose between a route over the snowy ridge or the way directly to the valley which continues to the CP with about 8 km asphalt. We decide for the asphalt option, but regret this as soon as we reach the valley. The monotonous bouncing of our soles on the asphalt tortures our feet much more than the soft snow. The second night has started already when we reach CP 10 with the special task. We haven’t found a good place to sleep so far and after the special task we will enter the vast forest again. Mitch uses his charms and convinces the volunteers to let us sleep in their tent, so we enjoy a 15 min power-nap on their soft mattresses. After a cup of tea we cross the river by two rope bridges.

There is an obligatory route to the next CP, through the national park. The reason for this becomes clear pretty soon, because the path leads us steeply up and down innumerable times. On our left side we have a steep cliff and also the map shows that we are passing a sensationally beautiful landscape. Because of the darkness this beauty is not revealed to us. I get the first attacks of sleep and despite the cold we decide to take another power-nap in the snow. Hiding deep in our jackets we find out that the short sleep gives us more energy than expected. Our muscles get a little stiff because of the cold, but after a few minutes of walking we are warmed up again. Many kilometers and a few power-naps later we reach the castle. Here we have the “castle exploration” special task, and we quickly find the 2 punches. Now it is only 2,5 km back to the TA, but they seem to last for hours. My eyes close and I wander from the one side of the road to the other. I hook on to Michiels backpack again, so every time I fall asleep and stand still he pulls me forward again. Tired and sleepy we reach the TA at the end of the night. We decide to get 3 hours of sleep…well deserved…

Stage 5: 108 km ATB

The monster stage of 108 km ATB mainly leads through relatively flat terrain. First we have some asphalt kilometers, but the CP is 2,5 km off the beaten track again. We can only accept our fate and push our bicycles through the snow. We end up below a large rock, which we off course have to climb. With jumars we manage to overcome the 45 m ascent, going down with the abseil is a nice dessert. A few cookies and some chips later we head back to the main road… another 2,5 km push-biking. It is nearly 35 km to the next CP, mainly over flat roads, but we don’t get there easily. Arnauds knee hurts after a fall in the first biking stage, which forces him to get off the bike every now and then to do some stretching. Furthermore, we manage to produce 4 flat tires. Normal leaks would have been fine and fixable, but the tubes are torn close to the valve. We have completely used our supply of spare tubes but we can only guess the reason why they break. In our search for new tubes I have to use my complete knowledge of Polish, extended with a lot of gestures and a broken tube as example. There should be a sklep rowerowy in the larger village, which we will pass within a few kilometers. But nobody there knows anything about a bikeshop, the nearest is in Rabka Zdroj, at least 15 km in the wrong direction. We can only hope that we don’t get flat tires anymore, which is luckily the case… We overcome the final 7 km climb before TA C by playing numerous games of “who am I” (how should I know who you are if you don’t know it yourself anymore), “what am I?”(tired, mentally disturbed, cold and hungry) and “where am I” (you read the map, so you should know…) to stay awake. At the TA Arnauds knee is too painful to continue. For him the race ends here….

An extremely enthusiastic Lisette bounces out of the mountain hut. She has spent a day in bed after she had to stop, but has now recovered and is on the road with the photographers. For the first time since days we get an idea of what is going on at the front of the race, because the first teams are on the TA as well. The only, very minor difference is that they already finished the 52 km trekking, which we still have to start. Michiel wants to continue, I have some doubts if it is wise to start trekking through the wilderness for 20 hrs with just the two of us. I take a good look at the map and the trekking-route seems to pass civilization often. That convinces me to go on as well. We eat a fast meal and grab a few hours sleep. Now that there is just the two of us we need to build in some extra safety margins…

Stage 6: 52 km Trekking

In darkness we leave the mountain hut and start the endless trekking stage. Each time we have to descend to a valley, cross a river and climb a mountain on the other side  to get to a CP. This has to be repeated 5 times, which means that we get plenty of vertical meters. The first part goes really smoothly, we both walk easily and we get used to the long distances and time it takes to get to the next CP. Since we are the last teams we can also relieve the volunteers, who camp at the CP’s and are waiting for us for hours. It must be frustrating for them when the first 7 teams pass within an hour of each other, and then you have to wait 24 hours for the last team J. We left our snowshoes at TA B, which turns out to be not an unlucky choice. Even without the rackets we can move easily through the tracks. Everything goes smoothly until CP 22. The tracks lead further east and I follow them. Michiel sees on the map that we have to head further north, but the terrain there is steep. Apparently the other teams avoided the steep terrain as well. Too late we notice that we move way too far east, so we hit the asphalt at completely the wrong place, which delivers us an additional 6 km, unnecessarily…. This gives Mitch such a bad mood that he starts walking like crazy to get rid of his aggression. I hook on to his backpack to keep up with his speed. Damned, this has cost us an hour of our valuable time again, which we have to compensate by sleeping less. We speed up to minimize the damage.

Stage 7: 42 km ATB

After 1,5 hrs of sleep I wake up, feeling terrible.. I feel bad, shivering and I look like a zombie. Well, the last thing is not really visible for myself, but Michiel watches me worried. I sit on a chair, shaking and shivering, but after a cup of tea and some yoghurt I start to feel a little bit better. Stop here or continue? We have gotten so far, but if the body cannot cope with it anymore… We decide to start the next stage, which begins with 4 km push-biking. If I don’t feel comfy and warm after 15 minutes we turn back, so we can still meet the organizers in the mountain hut. As soon as we start walking I feel better and I warm up again…

As dawn breaks we stop for breakfast at a local supermarket. Icy rain falls in the valley, so higher up in the mountains there must be fresh snow. We travel some kilometers over the road, but the next CP is on a frightening location. 400 meters of elevation have to be overcome, over a path which is almost too steep to walk normally. The rules of the biking stages are clear, you have to reach every point with your bikes. For one and a half hour we push, drag and carry our bicycles uphill. There is a strong, icy wind on the top and we hide in the restaurant, drinking a warm chocolate. After finishing the special task, a rope bridge just below the summit, we have to descend along the same steep path.

There is still 20 km to go to the last TA. A few kilometers before the final pass we hear some yelling from the other side of the road. Arnaud and Lisette, accompanied by two cops who just gave them a traffic ticket, are waiting for somebody who can repair their car. The Polish roads have taken their toll… We have a short chat, but want to continue quickly as well. There is still one stage waiting and we need time for that. A lot of time…

Stage 8: 42.5 km X-Country skiing

Our transition to the last stage is one from the book. Within half an hour we eat, drink, change clothes and leave the TA again. Lisette joins us, so she can still enjoy some ski kilometers and she has the chance to make some pics and movies of our run-down faces. Full of energy she dances around us, and it takes Mitch and me some time to get used to that after two days relying completely on each other. We mainly walk the long climb to the summit, from there on we follow the ridge for many kilometers. Those should be nice sliding kilometers, but there is a large amount of fresh snow and the track disappeared nearly completely. There are little recognition points on the track, but every time we reach one again we are disappointed again by the distance we covered. We are going slow… While there is only 2,5 hrs on the race schedule for the track to 28, it took us 7 hours to get half way. If we decide to go to 28 anyway we will never meet the deadlines of the last points and the finish. Therefore, we choose to skip 28 and move to the mountain hut on 29 directly. We went into the 5th night, so we take a 1 hr nap on the hard seats. It feels strange to skip a point and then sleep right away, but it is the only good choice, without sleep we will never be able to overcome this night. Once we wake up we feel much better again, skipping 28 feels less painful and the track to CP 30 goes down gently over a wide path. That combines well with our ski capabilities so we reach the CP easily. The way to the next CP is steep. Especially on the last part going up the ridge again we have a hard time, battling sleep and with muscles complaining. Leaning on our ski-poles we close our eyes for a few minutes. With a few of these short breaks we reach another hut where we sleep for another half hour. After that, we pass the last CP in the hills without any problems, after which we only have to descend to Rabka Zdroj. There the last special task and the finish-line wait for us. A welcoming committee is standing at the special task. Elwin and Renata had to skip the speed race because of an injury, but spark up the fireworks when they see us coming. Arnaud drags with his leg, but is enthusiastic as ever again. Reto, the Swiss Norwegian from the Danish team (how international can you be?) is looking fresh and watches how Mitch and I work ourselves through the tire-and-rope bridge… smoothly… Reto and his colleagues finished nearly 24 hrs ago, after they ruined their chance for a place on the podium in the last stage. For us, a high ranking was never within reach, but Mitch and I feel like winners anyway when we pass the finishing cloth. We forget all the pain and tiredness once we open the Champagne bottles and receipt congratulations. Double unranked, disqualified, later than last, masters of disaster! Never mind, we reached the finish line and with that we managed to get further than we ever expected…

The award giving ceremony is a nice happening with the combination of folk dancing, choirs and athletes getting very cold for more than an hour. After the speed-race teams it is time for the master category and we are surprised when being called on the stage as well. There we get the “Spirit of the race award” as an appreciation for our perseverance, continuing after all when half of the team had to quit. A nice gesture from the organization, indicating that they also appreciate the presence of slower teams, who have the finish as their only goal.

We didn’t reach the finish as a team, but when we look back we have a good feeling about the week anyway. The BWC is a brilliantly tough race under very extreme conditions. The speed of the teams in the front is amazing and something we can only dream about. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had more fun during the race and that was our main goal 🙂 A while ago I ended a story with the remark that we would once go back to race in Poland, “to learn and have fun”… We learned a lot, and we had fun, so we can only be very satisfied…

Harm Bartholomeus

www.teamxbionic.nl

Team X-Bionic

Welkom op de website van het X-Bionic Adventure Race Team. Vier mannen en één vrouw die van avontuur en fysieke uitdagingen houden. Op deze weblog plaatsen we verslagen van onze wedstrijden, voorbereidingen, ervaringen met materialen en alle andere zaken die ons bezighouden. Geniet van de verhalen en schroom niet om een reactie te plaatsen of je vragen aan ons te stellen.

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