July 13-17, 2016
Team Members: Julian Tonsmeire, Katie Ferrington, Ryan Ognibene and Ian Hoag
Cowboy Tough was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, race of the year for Journey Racing. The squad, touted by Adventure Medical Kits as being the strongest yet for Journey Racing, consisted of Katie Ferrington, Julian Tonsmeire, Ryan Ognibene, and Ian Hoag. Four of the top ten teams from last year’s ARWS Championship were our competition. They were expected to take the first four places. We were among about 8 other teams expected to round out the top ten places. We owe a big thanks to our sponsors for supporting Journey Racing and helping to make races like this possible for us: Altra Footwear, XX2i Optics, Rudy Project, Oveja Negro, Lake Town Bicycles, Criterium Bicycle Shop and Yeti Bicycles.
Although I, Ian, had only ever raced with Katie before, the squad gelled as we prepared during the weeks prior to the race. Everyone has significant experience and brought a lot to the table: building portage carts, studying maps, and building hydration “buckets” for canoeing, among other creative contributions. It was exciting to race with such experienced and supportive teammates. Julian graciously agreed to take on the role of team captain. Katie and Ryan have highly competitive personalities and played an important role in motivating the team and keeping us moving quickly and spending as little time as possible in TA’s. Ryan was our primary navigator with me as back-up.
Upon receiving the maps the night before the race, the whole squad pitched in to quickly plot the checkpoints (CP’s) and select our route and alternate routes (just in case we got short coursed). This team effort allowed Ryan to cut the maps into appropriate sizes for racing and label them for quick map-changes. The experience of everyone allowed us to stay focused while preparing our packs and gear bins efficiently with few interruptions. We loaded the gear bins into the trucks on time and had a decent amount of time to sleep before the race.
The race started with a leisurely ride behind an ATV pacing us at 12 MPH along a paved bike path heading east next to the North Platte River until we got out of town. Once the pace car got out of the way the pace picked up to a very reasonable 18 MPH. A near disastrous collision in front of Katie broke up the team and forced us to drop from the lead peloton. Nonetheless, we arrived at the first transition area just a few minutes behind the lead teams.
Though we didn’t know it until after the race, this canoe leg would turn out to be the crux of the race. The leg consisted of roughly 70 miles of canoeing with three stops along the way. The first stop was at Fort Fetterman where we had to carry buckets of water from the river to the top of the hill just as the soldiers had to do in days of old. The second stop was a historic tour of the town of Douglas. The third was an orienteering course in the hills on the south side of the river just before entering Glendo Reservoir. Ryan made a brilliant decision to split the orienteering course into two stops, saving us about 20 minutes. As we paddled across Glendo Reservoir the wind started to pick up from the east (a typical weather phenomenon for Wyoming). We had been paddling at a sustainable pace all day, but I was getting sick of paddling, so started paddling as hard as I could for the distance we had left. By the time we got to the far end of the reservoir, we had occasional waves breaking over the bow of the canoe. We were one of the last boats to make it across before the waves got so big that everyone still on the water had to head for shore and wait through the night for calmer weather. One team’s canoes were completed swamped and they ended up swimming.
The long day of paddling was followed by a bike orienteering course on mountain bike trails that we expected would make for a fun ride. Many of the trails turned out to be very technical and unridable in our tired condition. We had hoped to finish the mountain biking with time to sleep off the clock before the dark zone was lifted to start paddling again the next morning. We finished the biking just three minutes before the dark zone ended, so headed down below the dam for another 25 miles of really fun canoeing Down to Guernsey Park. The last of the canoeing was followed by a few hours of biking on pavement and graded dirt roads up into the mountains northeast of Laramie Peak. Although the ride was pretty uneventful for us, we were sad to see police cars and ambulances headed up the road to tend to Team Kolifit who had a crash that unfortunately resulted in a broken hip for Celia. It goes to show you can’t take even the easiest parts of the race for granted in adventure racing.
The next part of the race was approximately 12 miles of trekking through the mountains on a rarely used trail to Friend Park Campground. We started the trek at a brisk hiking pace up a steep road to the trail head and worked well as a team finding the trail as it disappeared and reappeared through overgrown areas. But this was the second night of the race with no sleep, so our pace slowed. Ryan was especially tired so turned over the navigation to me, which helped me to wake up and we were able to stay on track. We were about an hour behind schedule when we reached Friend Park Campground, so made the hard decision to skip the out-and-back hike to Laramie Peak. We laid down for a much needed two hours of sleep, but woke up four hours later! I think my alarm had gone off moments before one of the trucks carrying the bikes rolled into camp right next to where we were sleeping. Julian woke up with the lights bearing down on him giving him the scare of his life and we all woke up to his blood-curdling screams. I forgot all about my alarm going off, resulting in the extra two hours of sleep. We were lucky to wake up when we did.
We started the final orienteering course shortly before dawn. This was the hardest navigation of the race. Some of the trails did not match the map, and our confidence was shaken trying to find the very first checkpoint. Ryan and I worked together to reset ourselves and eventually found the checkpoint. We messed up on one other checkpoint, but cleared the orienteering course, got back on out bikes for one final climb and a big descent on pavement into town to the finish line with about only a couple hours to spare and earning 7th place!
I am so proud of the team. For me, this year’s Cowboy Tough was my best finish in an expedition race! Additionally, this was a World Qualifier race and it was exciting to compete against such a phenomenal, international field. It was an important test as we plan to race Cowboy Tough again in 2017 which will also be the AR World Series Championship. It will be about 50% longer and is expected to also be more difficult, but showcase some of the best places Wyoming has to offer. As the 2016 AR World Series Championship is just finishing up, I am getting really excited to compete against all the best teams from around the world next year in Wyoming. Go Journey Racing!