Ozark Expedition Race: My Race Report.

This was not intended to be a race report, but that is what came out when I sat down to write today so here it is and I hope you enjoy. Read it, or skip to end to see links to our favorite gear items from the race, links to podcasts (for more stories) and a link to Dusty’s take on the race.

“Stay calm and carry on”,  “Stay Curious”  and “just breathe” became the mantras of this race very early on for me.

70 hours before the start of the race Jason woke up with severe left side stomach pain. “Chelsey, I think I may need to head to the ER.” In all of our 15 years together, this was the first time I had ever heard these words come out of his mouth. 

“Ok…” I said very calmly. “Well, let’s wait for a few minutes.” He replied.

An hour later Jason was driving himself to Urgent Care. “Classic” I thought. I made sure he had his phone and that it was charged. He left with very clear instructions to text me as soon as he found anything out. 

Thirty minutes later, I got a text saying that they were 90% sure that it was a kidney stone. At once I got to work on looking for an alternate. I knew that he would probably try to race, but deep down I knew that it was not the correct decision both for his body and for our team. His emotional and mental state would hurt, but that is something we could deal with. A physically damaged Jason?  That would hurt more and maybe have a very bad outcome. Luckily, months before the race we had already appointed Dusty as our alternate. However, he had already started making plans as with only three days till the race, he was positive he was not getting called… until he did with just 24 hours notice before his flight out and less than 48 hours before the start of the race. 

Once we made the call that Jason was out and Dusty was in, our whole team plus our support team (my Dad) helped get us all out the door and packed. Karine and Alex were already at the race start in Bentonville, Arkansa and were able to do a ton of prep for us before we landed, Emily, Dusty’s wife and our teammate canceled her plans so she could help Dusty pack and my Dad watched Max and Revel so Jason could run around to different MRI’s and doctor appointments while I finished doing all of my last minute packing and rearranging. 

Going to the airport in the early morning, Jason and I had a mixture of feelings swirling around us. We were sad, grateful, excited and worried all at the same time, but overall and more than anything we were relieved that it was all still working. 

“Don’t worry about me babe” Jason said as he helped me carry my bike box into the airport “Just do your thing and have so much fun out there. And when you do have hard times, just think of me and know that I would want to trade places with you in a heart beat.”

As I boarded the plane, I had some anxious and worried feelings come up, like I do when I am traveling away from my family. “Just breathe Mama”  Ahh, there he was. Spirit always came right on time in the perfect moment “Hello Spirit, thanks for that” I whispered back to him, “Now, for this race, I think I need you to be with both me and your Daddy.” I told him. “I know Mama.” he said. “You know I can be in multiple places at once.” “I know” I thought.

As soon as my plane touched down into Arkansa and I had all my bags and bike I let out a huge sigh of relief. Ok this is happening. I met up with Karine and Alex, and they were chill and confident that everything was going to fall into place. We got to work on packing and doing everything we could to make Dusty’s arrival as smooth as possible. The next day, he arrived with two hours to pack his bin and turn in his bike. Karine worked with him to pack his bin bags and we made sure he put it in all the right places. This race was one of the most logistically confusing as far as where to put what bag where so he just surrendered and trusted our process. At 7 pm that night we all let out a few sighs of relief together. With nothing left but our starting gear and clothes with us, all we had to do was talk about some team goals and get a good night sleep. We all decided that for us, the pre race was a great indicator of how well we all worked together. Not one of us ever got super stressed, we all listened to each others concerns and we all trusted and respected one another. If we could get through losing a teammate, gaining one at the last minute and do a ton of last minute packing together, we felt like we could for sure race our own race! 

And that is exactly what we did. Right before the race directors yelled “GO!!!” we didn’t seem to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the mass start. When Alex’s skewer got stuck in his front wheel at the first transition Alex and Karine did an amazing job of keeping calm and figured out a way to fix it. When we lost thirty minutes to other teams at the second transition, we didn’t get stressed, instead we kept our heads down, smiled and breathed. And at the 3rd transition, when we found out we were suddenly in 2nd, we didn’t get too excited, instead we kept to ourselves, transitioned calmly and got out of there efficiently. On that first big trek, when Alex and Karine started to get affected by the heat, we did our best to keep us all moving by shuffling weight, taking clothes off and did our best to go at our own pace with out worrying about who was ahead or behind us.  Much of the race went on like this. We had our fair share of struggles and high moments, but we were always in communication about them, we knew who was low and who was high at any given moment and we tried to use each others strong moments to our advantage. Dusty was kept in the front with the map, as we saw early on that this was where he needed to be. Alex was keeping an eye on the maps as well but was best at keeping a pulse on the bigger picture while Karine and I made  sure everyone was “still racing” and that we were all going at the best and most sustainable pace.  All of the legs were fun and diverse in their own way. The paddle legs were short and beautiful, the bike legs were fast and hilly and the treks had a mix of bush and trail. We all had never been to the Ozarks before, and it was so fun and beautiful. “Who knew!” I kept saying, “this place is awesome!”

As a team, I believe we had three big moments that could have escalated into something larger, but luckily as a team we all stayed calm and kept our breathing intact. The first was when Alex crashed on his bike, as that could have been much worse. It did give him a huge bruise, causing him to walk in pain for one of the bigger treks, but we all managed to take most of his weight which helped a ton. The second was on me. I am severely allergic to poison ivy and oak and while the race director assured us that there was none out on the course, there was a ton. Spring had bloomed while we were racing, and there was no getting away from it. Towards the end of the third trek, I looked down at my arms to find a ton of bubbled up itchy rashes, then I started feeling it on my legs and in my groin. “This might be really bad guys” I said between muffled sobs. I am not sure if I said it,  but I really really wanted to switch places with Jason at that moment. “Lets just get you to the TA Chelsey and see what we can do” Alex said. Karine started crying with me as we ran into the TA which was so sweet and surprisingly comforting. Once there, I spoke with the medic who thankfully was also very allergic to poison ivy. Him and Adrian the referee talked, I cried some more and then they came to me with a shot of prednisone. We all made sure that this was ok and that we would not get disqualified. Once we got the ok, I took the shot knowing that I may get some unwanted side affects, but I would gladly take them over being swollen and itchy for the next several days! Our third moment was when we were on the last mini trek, it was an hour long trek with a little rappel in the middle of it. We didn’t know how close second place was, but we knew we didn’t have much time. As we were running along the trail, we heard some people cheering loudly. “If that’s them, how many minutes back do you think they are?” I quietly asked Dusty. “Maybe 6 minutes?” My heart sank into my stomach and my breathing started to get very rapid. “Mama, let’s just see what happens. Stay curious and keep pushing” Spirit B hadn’t been there for much of the race, but he came in strong here and I’m so glad he did. Once we got to the rappel I got ready as fast as I could. “No matter what happens ya’ll, I love you” I said to the team before I went over the cliff.  Once down, the team was right behind me in a matter of seconds, “Did you see them?!” I asked. “No” Karine said “but let’s get the hell out of here” and with that we all took off at a full on sprint. I didn’t know we had that in us, and damn did it feel good. Right before we got to our bikes we saw the Estonia/Ecuador team looking for the trail to get up to the rappel and we all let out another huge sigh of relief. “we are good guys, we can slow down a little for this last bike” said Dusty.

And with that, we took out sweet time figuring out our way back to the finish (which was surprisingly tricky!). When we all finally rolled across the finish, it didn’t seem real. There were lights, music, cameras and so many happy smiling people. It felt like a dream and we were all so happy. That night we took showers, talked until late, and went and congratulated the Estonians and Ecuadorians. They were super fun (and at times stressful) to race against as they kept us focused and moving efficiently! 

Huge thank you to my team for being amazing in all the ways, thank you to Jason for being our “5th teammate” out there, we heard all of your telepathic messages and thought about you a ton, thank you to the race directors, the volunteers and to everyone in Bentonville for making us feel so welcome. Thank you to my family and neighborhood for supporting me and Jason while we follow our dreams, your love for our boys is so amazing and we are so grateful for it. And lastly thank you Spirit B for continuing to show up for me, you are my light and I am so grateful for all of your messages.

Want to know our favorite gear picks from the race?? Check out my GearJunkie article here.

Listen to our podcasts about this race here and here.

Dusty’s take on the race here.

Dusty’s take on the race here.

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