Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Dirty Mamas Do Sam Houston...

from the American Press
Interview by: Ivy Itchmebad

September 11, 2010

My colleagues in journalism have given me a lead on a story that they promise will make me famous, or if nothing else, at least provide a few laughs along the way for my readers. It is about a group of three middle aged mothers that have been working their way into the world of adventure racing through their team's, The Dirty Mamas, participation in the Gulf Coast Adventure Racing Series that ultimately culminates in New Orleans in November of this year. Since their first race last June, they have been followed and interviewed by the local newspaper closest to each event to see just what Adventure Racing is all about. My peers encouraged me to continue this trend as the Dirty Mamas entered into my journalism territory of Lake Charles, Louisiana where they were racing at the Sam Houston State Park. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into when I agreed to take on this assignment. As part of my research, I had read my colleagues work Dirty Mamas Beat The Red Stick Hard and Dirty Mamas Take Over The Spillway to gain some insight into these women. If you are not already familiar with their tales, I encourage you too to read up on their journey into Adventure Racing.

I decided I would approach this from another angle that my colleagues had not considered doing. I decided to go undercover and form my own team of female racers to be able to see just how the Dirty Mamas operated first hand, as up until now all of their experiences have been told via eye witnesses or by the women themselves. I needed to see them in action. I wanted to be able to watch them without them knowing I was there. They knew that they would be interviewed, but assumed it would be like before - a series of questions about their race preparation and then again discussing their performance and post race summary. I kept with this plan as well, and didn't let on that I too had formed a team that would actually be competing against them.

No caption provided
I contacted them after they checked into their hotel to see how their ride to Lake Charles went, and also to find out their dinner plans so I could tag along inconspicuously, as well as check into the motel room next door. I asked about their ride into town and if they had started any pre-race preparations. They seemed awfully giddy and tight-lipped about their ride up and there appeared to be an air of "you're not in our circle so we won't share our conversations with you" about them. They agreed to provide me with one picture from their ride up but would not truly explain its meaning. They were genuinely considerate to me, but responded that other than their typical pre-race frozen fruit concoctions there had really been no other nutritional preparation as of yet.

They were a bit abrupt as they explained that they were hungry, and now that they were checked into their motel they were planning to carbo-load at Johnny Carino's Italian Restaurant. Of course I immediately went into undercover mode and headed over to observe.

I sat in a nearby booth to see for myself if the food-fest that I had read about was true, or an exaggeration of fact. It was true. Although the meal started with salad for two of the three (breaking the myth that vegetables are never eaten by these women), their was an extra loaf of bread and olive oil dip brought to the table that sucked up any nutritional value the greens may have had. I'm not sure if it was coincidence or part of their race plan, but all three ordered the exact same meal... Spicy Shrimp and Chicken Pasta with a Frozen Peach Bellini to drink. I almost gagged at the order, trying to imagine the tarty sweetness of the drinks followed by the rich spicy cream of the pasta. However, as my colleagues have already noted in the past, the meal didn't seem to shake them in the least. I did get a chuckle that all three were carded, and the oldest member - Coug - had to return to her vehicle to get identification before she could order. I am sure that made their evenings.

I couldn't hear their conversation at the table, but there was enough cackling and slapping of the table to let me know they were having some good laughs and some interesting conversations. At one point I swore I saw some of them wiping tears from their eyes they were laughing so hard. They paid their bill and I followed them on to their next stop to see what happened next.

When I saw them pull into Wallgreens I assumed they would be stocking up on the typical last minute race supplies - bug spray, Gatorade... maybe some sunscreen. The nice thing about using an iPhone is that it makes it very easy to sneak up on others and take pictures without them knowing. I was beginning to think the stories I had heard about these women were true when I saw the items they were picking up to purchase.

A need for booty lifts?
Apparently Canada was considering replacing the toenail she chewed off at the Spillway Race

Here seemed to feel that she might need a little lift to get her through the race
Canada had an assortment of items for purchase... Boone's Farm, plugs, and bathroom spray
Here seemed to be interested in new glasses that had side-view capacity, possibly for a stealth race tactic, I wasn't sure
After they made their purchases, they returned to their motel. I had booked the room next door to try to see if I could hear their race preparation rituals myself, but as I expected, the walls were too thick. I had already requested that they send me some pictures and let me know how this race preparation differed from previous ones, and I spoke with them before bedtime.

According to Here, the actual equipment check and set-up was minimal this time. "We have learned how to store our items in our camelback, and who carries which needed items now. It makes us much more efficient. Canada is our nutritionist and provides us with our gels, bars, and salt tablets. Coug is the photographer and documents the journey. I am the carrier of Coug's inhaler. This is a very important job since she has a long history of forgetting it."

Canada's version of Sesame Street's "Which of these things doesn't belong?"
I asked if there was a showing of Pretty Woman before bed, and the women just laughed and said that they had moved on to better television watching with shows such as Jersey Shore. They said that they were trying to get hip with the younger generation's lingo and started throwing terms around about "smushing" and other things I wasn't exactly sure what they were making reference to.

I wished them a good night as they prepared themselves for bed and I told them I would call them in the morning.

When I touched base in the morning the Mamas did say that they made it into bed early enough to paint nails and to get some good sleep before the race. I asked about the sleeping arrangements and they laughed, saying that Coug was on her own this time as she was covered with poison ivy from her tree moving incident last week and neither were willing to risk the exposure. Coug seemed to be a bit distraught that no one wanted to snuggle with her even with her frequent attempts to sandwich between the other two and rub her oozing wounds on them. Other than the sleeping arrangement issues, once settled in it seemed the night had been uneventful...not even any complaints of anyone snoring.

I was already nervous by that point about my own race preparation. My team had brought oatmeal, bagels, and orange juice to fill up our tanks. I asked the Mamas what they ate. They sounded a bit annoyed.

"Well, if the motel's complimentary buffet had actually had some food on it that wasn't stale or maybe if there had been milk to put on our cereal it might not have been too bad. We gave up and drove through Burger King for the worst bacon egg and cheese croissant I have ever eaten. And I'm not picky. I was taking bets with the Mamas on when I would see it resurface during the race," said Coug.

"It wasn't that bad. There were eggs at the hotel that were better than IHOP's," said Canada. The other two said nothing in response.

The women had never met me in person, so I was comfortable taking pictures and talking to them from my undercover mode at the race as many people have cameras there. I watched them set up their gear and had to admit they looked like they had a system and knew what they were doing. They aired up their tires and discussed the parks surroundings. Once the maps were given out I walked over and told them our team was racing for the first time, and would they give us any advice. They were nice and just said to have fun, and not to follow the crowd unless we were sure they were going in the right direction. Other than that they didn't offer up any help. I guess the competitive side was starting to come out.

I found the map difficult to read and really was getting nervous about my own race. I had paired up with two friends who were athletes, but I myself was a novice. The map was obscure and covered with topographical lines and symbols. It was confusing to figure out where to start navigating. The Mamas seemed confused at first as well, but then seemed to fall into a comfort zone as one took charge and the other two added their thoughts along the way.

Focused attention on the map
At one point before the race began I caught the women comparing their earrings. I honestly was a bit surprised that amidst all of the mud that we were about to encounter, I saw pearls and diamonds adorning two of the three Mamas. At least they race in style!

Time to line up and position ourselves to run. I notice the Mamas are not afraid to head towards the front, but manage to slide to the side in order to avoid being trampled by the masses.
Canada and Here breaking free...
And so the race begins with a run to the first checkpoint. My team tries to keep pace with the Mamas as best we can, but they are fast. They wear their fully loaded camelbacks and I am amazed at the speed they keep as I realize these add another eight pounds or so to their total weight. They appear organized and together. While other teams are already overheard making comments like, "Man, you are already pissing me off," I never hear anything negative coming from the women. If one needs to slow, they slow. If they need to speed up they pull each other along. I was impressed. They hit the first three checkpoints without too much difficulty and only a little wheezing, and then arrive at the canoes.

Glistening in the sun (and pulling the canoe backwards)
It was at the canoe put-in that I noticed the first signs of problems with the Mamas. Apparently there had been a change in ranking from previous races, as I was under the impression that Canada always took the rear in the boat. Today I noticed Coug got in what she thought was the rear and Canada did the opposite. After spinning in circles for a few minutes they decided to change places, just intensifying the problem and putting the entire canoe at risk for capsizing. Finally another team gently told the Mamas that they were sitting in their boat backwards. Once they clamored over each other a second time to get their seating order straight it ended with Canada riding in the center, leaving Here at the helm and Coug in the rear. Amazingly the setup seemed to work for them in the long run even though they probably lost close to five minutes re-arranging their seating and spinning in circles.

"Come on girls, paddle!"
By positioning Canada in the middle of the canoe the weaker paddlers were able to use their similar lack of upper body strength to keep the canoe moving in a straight path for the first time. Consensus must have won and by benching their strongest member they seemed to have a better chance to get to where they wanted to go. There didn't appear to be too much dissention from Canada as she easily seemed to make herself comfortable by stretching out in the middle of the canoe and pretending to navigate while the other two did all of the work.

Canada's Canoe Fantasy
Occasionally I would see her hold up an iPhone that was playing Eminem and I could only assume it was to motivate her teammates to paddle harder. Every so often I would hear her yell out "Stroke, Stroke" or see her dip one hand in the water as if she thought this was really having some impact on the direction the canoe would take.

I have to admit, I was enjoying myself even though the race was already very challenging for my team. I had sucked wind on the run, but my own team was pretty adept at the canoe and it allowed me to get close to the Mamas. At one point the Mama's actually suggested that we portage our canoe across a field in order to be able to skip a large portion of the river. We weren't sure if this was legal, but decided to try it and it actually kept us in pace with the Mamas when they got around to the other side. I wondered why they didn't take their own advice.

Once the canoeing ended it was on to the first mystery challenge. This seemed to be an unexpected event for most of the racers and there was a lot of trepidation in the air.

Apparently the plan required each team to ditch their equipment at the canoe put-in and then jump out of the canoe into alligator infested waters and swim (life jacket on) about 1/3 mile down the river to the exit, at which point the team would have to run back to the area, barefoot and exhausted, where they left their gear.

Drop the gear and jump!
Just don't think about what's in the water. Just don't think about what's in the water...
I could tell by watching their expressions that the Mamas thought they had this event in the bag, as Canada, their lead swimmer was a 5 time All-American swimmer, and her teammates have been benefiting from her swim coaching.

Having undergone elbow surgery a week ago, post surgical instructions included "no open water swimming" and "don't overdo". Yeah. Right.
I watched from the bank as my team got their gear off and got ready to enter the water. The Mamas were already in and started strong with their lead swimmer, Canada, way ahead. I noticed that quickly however Coug seemed to struggle with her life-jacket and wasn't keeping pace well with her teammates. For a moment I saw Canada offer her a leg to hold and helped to pull her along. Here jumped on board as well, and the water train set off down the river. It was short-lived however as Canada didn't seem to feel she should have to pull this dead weight, and was overheard saying that if only her girls would "swim like they know how" they might could make up for the time they lost turning circles during their canoe fiasco.

Eventually Canada gave up pushing the swim instruction when she realized Coug was going to doggie paddle her way to shore. It was ugly to watch, but they did seem to make up some time, passing us as well as other all female teams on the swim.

Once out of the water it became a barefoot race back to the canoes to grab gear and put back on wet socks and shoes, then off for more trail running to search for hidden orange punchers hanging off of vine covered trees in the woods.

Canada was strong and led the trail runs, taking charge of getting most of the punches, while the other two sucked wind. As I passed them on the trails I heard mumblings about how maybe they wouldn't be so tired if they hadn't paddled the entire way without help. I also thought I overheard something about how their strongest swimmer had gotten a nice siesta for the past hour as well. No wonder she wasn't tired.Finally after a few more checkpoints, gels, and puffs off of the inhaler, the three made it back to transition to pick up their bikes.

One last mystery challenge before the ride. It involved moving a large piece of wood from cinder block to cinder block until all three teammates had crossed to the end. The problem was that no one could put their feet on the ground, and the wood could not touch the ground without them having to start over. This apparently was too much to handle and try as they might, they couldn't get all three members across. They looked like a knot of sweaty pretzels as they climbed over and under each other, balancing and grabbing each other anywhere that would help them to keep from falling. Eventually the race director told them to give it up at the 15 minute time limit and move on to the bike.

The all female teams were in close time with each other, and depending on the event seemed to leap frog along the trails throughout the race. My own team quickly found the biking to be exhausting. The trails were long and very technical, with lots of tree roots bursting up through the dirt in the middle of the trails and sharp turns, pine cones, and cypress knees creating numerous obstacles.

It wasn't long before I heard the famous cry of the Mamas..."Dirty!". There was a slight pause. "Mamas!" I heard the middle rider. And then silence. A long silence. I saw Coug turn back around to go look for Here. I followed from a distance to see what the problem was. Apparently Here took on a cypress knee straight on and wrecked. The back wheel of her bike was not moving and she seemed a little shaken up. With a little help from her teammates, as by now even Dirty had returned to the scene, the rear tire was removed, the brake straightened out, and the wheel replaced good as new. They were off again.

Another twenty minutes goes by and I watch as Coug tries to cross a very narrow wooden bridge and cuts the edge too short flinging herself off of the bridge and landing in a pile of poison ivy. I have to laugh as she seemed to already have taken a hit with the poison ivy just last week. There are murmurings of "Karma" whispered under the breath of her teammates as Coug picks herself up in time to dust off and then to lose it again not much later as she fish-tails in some deep sand around a bend. It is obvious that at least the rear riders are getting fatigued. On the other hand, Canada does not seem fatigued as much as she seems irritated. By this point our team is ahead of them but apparently slowing them down each time we get to a bridge as we are a bit over-cautious and prefer to get off of our bikes and walk them over the lip of the bridge rather than ride them over it. I hear Canada comment a few times that "Sheesh. That's what mountain bikes are made to do!" and notice that her face would become beet red when she would say it. Obviously there was a frustration amongst at least part of their team from being trapped behind a large group of slower and less experienced riders.

I see Canada slow to a stop at the top of a steep hill as her team regroups. I hear her say, "We're going to let them clear out before we go down this hill. That one girl is a weak rider and has fallen like three times already." With this, Canada proceeds to topple off of her bike, leaving one shoe in her pedal as her other foot pops out of a shoe and buries itself in the dust. I see Coug dive for the camera in Canada's camelback, but Canada, reluctant to have any proof of her clumsiness manages to thwart the photography attempt and reclaim an upright position before she can be photographed.

The ride portion of the race comes to an end, and the Mamas return to transition to drop their bikes. The more competitive teams are already done and eating when the Mamas return to the main area. Not to be outdone, even with the smell of jambalaya all around them, the focus returns to the map to identify the last few checkpoints of trail running. It's obvious that the team is tired, but there persistence and attitude is admirable. They leave the temptation of food and beer in order to complete their task. I notice that somewhere along the race course, Coug's name has changed to Garden Gnome. I make a note to ask about this later.

The final battle to the finish for the all - female teams is underway. Three of the teams have already finished, and the rest are in a close race to the end. I watch as the Mamas strategize to catch the pink out-fitted team that is just ahead of them on the trail. Garden Gnome is wheezing and can't seem to keep a steady run, so they adapt and do short intervals to keep themselves moving and keep her from having a full blown asthma attack.

Unfortunately, the other team has become aware that the Mamas are on the prowl and manage to keep pushing ahead just far enough to maintain their lead. At the final turn they sprint it in and claim Third, leaving the Mamas to claim Fourth Place just a minute behind them. They aren't angry or bitter and are gracious to the third place team. I am there to watch at the finish line as our own team decided to DNF in order to catch the official finish of the Dirty Mamas. As expected, the first stop, after their finish line photo, was for food and beer. I knew I liked these women.

It is at this point that I finally sit down with the women and introduce myself and tell them exactly who I am. They seem impressed at my determination to see them in action and immediately take me under their wings. I am in the club now.

The Bird throwing The Bird
Cheers to Fourth Place!
Building a tower of beer...
Gandolph and the Hobbit
They spill their guts to me and answer the questions I had been unable to get answered up until now. My first question of course was why the name change for Coug?

"She has these little hobbit feet and reminds us of the Garden Gnomes that we saw along the Spillway Race, " laughs Here. "We decided that for Adventure Racing it fits her better. We are going to just take her along with us like those little traveling gnomes. She's so tiny we can just pack her up in a bag and put her in the back of the van." They both think that this is hysterical, and even GG (Garden Gnome) finds herself laughing out loud.

"Okay, I have to ask. What's with the earrings?" I question Here. "Well, I find I race better when I look nice. It is very important to always keep yourself dignified when you go out in public. Pearls represent my upper class status. Don't you think I look nice?" I can't tell if she's serious or not.

"What was your take on the race?" I asked Canada. "Well, for me the biking was just too easy, but I am strong and my teammates are weak. Sometimes it's just hard to be elite. I had to keep reminding myself that this is all for fun. F-U-N."

Here groaned. "I kept telling myself that it was fun all right. Over and over again as I swerved into trees and roots, I kept reminding myself this was fun. When I realized I had ridden the entire time in my big chain ring and couldn't use my left hand to change gears because of nerve damage, I said to myself...this is fun!"

"How did this race compare to the others you've raced in this series?" I asked GG.

"It was a blast, but it was very challenging. I think the biking was probably the most technical of the courses we've ridden. The trail running was fun, but tiring. Surprisingly the canoeing was the easiest part. It may just be because we shifted the load in the boat a bit." She grinned at Canada. "I have to say that from a team standpoint, we are really coming together. We know who does what well. We all had our struggles today. Well, maybe not Canada, except for her struggles with patience. Here struggled on the bike a bit, mostly from sheer exhaustion. I crashed on the swim, and the run really winded me towards the end. The second mystery challenge got us as a team. But overall we all helped each other through and kept our wits about us."

Swamp Monster
"Every time we do one of these races I think about it in the weeks leading up to it. I think how the last race was fun, and wonder if we will ever be able to top it. Each race seems to get better. I laugh harder each time. I don't think I've laughed myself to tears in a long long time. I really needed that," GG says as she looks around at the nodding heads from her teammates.

"Do you expect any adventures on the way home?" I ask. The women look at each other and laugh and suddenly the open door into the inner circle closes and again I am "not in the know".

"There are always adventures," assures Canada. "Just putting the three of us together in a small place creates the potential for laughs, trouble, and chaos. That's why it continues. Life is just too interesting around the Dirty Mamas." They all look at each other and laugh.

"Well, you know I have to follow up with your Lessons Learned. Let's hear them." I get out my pen to write them down.

1.  We've decided that we need to invest in a helmet cam to record the awesome carnage we seem to create when we wreck on our bikes. Surely there is some money to be made in that.

2.  For the next race we are bringing external speakers for the iPhone so we can jam out to some tunes during the canoe segment.

3.  When swimming with a life jacket and speed is required, it is best to hook it around your waist rather than strangle yourself with it around your neck.

4.  Be aggressive and pass riders that are in your way rather than let them dictate your pace.

5.  Trust your teammates. The Circle of Trust is crucial for success in all areas. Never break the Circle of Trust. Never.

6.  Garden Gnomes may appear cute and innocent, but they can just as easily bite your ankles and take you down. Beware the Gnome.

7.  Having Poison Ivy should not be a reason to be shunned. Just saying.

8.  Karma sucks.

9. Some people are more right brained and creative than others, even from a young age.

10. Laugh hard, laugh loud, and laugh often.

I leave them at this point and wish them luck in their next race. A few hours later I get another picture from them via their iPhone with a one-word caption...


1 comment:

  1. Love it, GG! Add to next list of lessons learned: 1) Holy cellulite. Ugh. Even on my arms. Next time I'm totally buying the booty lift at Walgreen's the night before. Can't hurt. 2) Canada may have rested during canoe, but she did have to look at my huge rear end the whole time. Punishment enough. 3) Don't stack beer cans. Makes you look like an alcoholic.
    P.S. What does poison ivy/oak look like? Just sayin'...