2017 Nitrogaine III

The weekend before last (June 24-25), my brother and I drove up to Michigan for an 8 hour overnight rogaine. The course was similar to last year’s race (link), but slightly more compact and with some interesting new flag locations.

My brother and I were both pretty exhausted before the race even started – he was coming off a 24 hour EMS shift, and I had just finished a week in the ICU and was getting ready to start another 80-90 hour work week on Monday. So we ended up doing a lot more hiking than jogging.

Getting ready to start

Maps were distributed at 8pm, so we spent the next couple hours planning our route before the race started at 10pm.

Course map

We started with a short loop, hitting #43, #40, and #31 before making our way to the southeast section of the map – a newly added area since last year. We found #35 easily enough after plowing through chest-high grass under some power lines.

Searching for #35

Our first of two big blunders came when we missed the turnoff for #57. We considered doubling back when we realized the mistake, but decided to just skip it. We continued on to #54 and #68 with no more problems, then started making our way westward along the southern edge of the map. This area was pretty rich in points, and the trail network allowed for quick movement. We picked off #59, #65, #77, #75, #32, and #34, then jogged down the road to another trail, which we followed to #47, #37, #64, #35, #76, #39, #66, and #44…each requiring only a short ~2-10 minute detour off trail.

We were tempted to go for three high-value controls along a peninsula on the southwest edge of the course, which would have required a more extended off-trail bushwhack…but I had some bad memories of getting tangled up in briars in that section last year, so we instead doubled back along one of the main roads toward the center of the map. Along the way we went for #71, but managed to miss it completely (our second major blunder of the night, costing us 70 points and at least 10-15 minutes). Looking back at the GPS track after the race, it looks like we overshot it and ended up making a large circle around #71. Oh well.

Tagging one of the controls…I think maybe #76?

The central section of the map was also pretty densely packed with controls, but unfortunately we were starting to feel a little pressed for time, and wanted to leave ourselves enough flexibility to get the handful of high-value controls near the start/finish area. So instead of clearing this entire area, we made a short loop of #33, #67, #52, and #81 (skipping #42, #56, and #74). This left us enough time to clear most of the rest of the controls near the start/finish area. We finished the race by hitting #63, #60, #80 (which we nearly missed…it was tough to spot on a small island in the middle of a swamp, accessible only by a small wooden plank, or by swimming), #79, #78 (we were running, by this point), and finally #46.

Outline of our route

GPS track

We finished with a few minutes to spare, and ended up placing 9th out of 21 teams. Had it not been for those two dumb mistakes, we’d have finished 6th, so overall not too bad.

Our total distance for the night was 19.5 miles, with 2,060 feet of elevation gain. By the time I drove home, took the boys to the Dayton Air show the following day, and finally made it to bed, I’d been awake for more than 32 hours…so my memory of this race is unfortunately kind of hazy.

Published in: on July 4, 2017 at 1:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Race Report: Nitrogaine 2016

Over the weekend of June 18-19, I took part in my second rogaine of the year (fifth total) – the Nitrogaine II up near Ann Arbour, MI. This was an 8-hour overnight event starting at 10pm on the 18th and finishing at 6am on the 19th.

This definitely had a higher flag density than any rogaine I’ve done previously, which was lots of fun (53 total controls for an 8 hour event…of which I ultimately found 30). The electronic scoring system was also nice. The relatively flat topography and nighttime conditions made navigation relatively challenging, but this was offset somewhat by reflective tape on the controls, and even some tags of reflective tape marking a small perimeter around most controls.

Maps were distributed at 8pm, and I spent most of the next two hours planning my route, coming up with a few contingency plans, and getting my gear together.


20 minutes before the start

I was trying out a brand new pack (the Salomon Peak 20) that I’d ordered online with a gift card, and ended up being very happy with it. It’s smaller than my Mountain Hardwear Fluid 26 that I use for long hikes, but larger than my Nathan running vest or Osprey Raptor 10. It’s lightweight and built more like a vest than a backpack, so it doesn’t interfere with running. It’s really designed perfectly for medium length adventure races and rogaines.

Salomon Peak 20

Salomon Peak 20

From the start/finish area in the southeast corner, the course map seemed to present two obvious options – a “northern route” and a “western route” – with plenty of variability and decision-making involved with each. I opted for the western route, then added a few additional controls further north on my return trip. On the map below, you can see my “pre-race” route plan in faint blue (which I mostly stuck to), a few bailout options I’d outlined in faint red, and my actual route superimposed with red sharpie.


click to enlarge

When the race started, I headed for control #74 along with three or four other people. I then began snaking my way in a southward direction, hitting controls #32, #86, #48, #31, #43, and #51. As with most rogaines I’ve done in the past, the highest density of controls seemed to be within a few kilometers of the start/finish area. I wanted to hit as many of these as possible early on to take advantage of all the points…but I also wanted to leave a few behind to give myself some flexibility for the tail end of the race.

Silver Lake, sunset

Silver Lake, sunset

I found all of these initial controls without difficulty. The undergrowth was relatively thin and run-able in this area of the map, and I was making better time than I’d anticipated. From #51, I made my way west to #96, then continued west until hitting a trail. Following the trail, I snagged #36 (underneath a footbridge) and #84 (near the tip of a peninsula). The only control I left behind in this southeast corner of the map was #56, since it would have involved some backtracking. In hindsight, though, it probably would have been worth the 10-minute round trip after leaving #96. A minor tactical error.

I made a much more serious mistake, though, going for #42. I easily wasted 15-20 minutes on this low-value control, initially missing it to the south, then doubling back and overshooting to the north, then wandering directly INTO the marsh it was positioned next to. I was on the verge of calling this one a lost cause, when another team “rescued” me. I was able to make it out of the marsh by heading toward their headlamps, and the three of us stumbled into #42 shortly thereafter.

After that mishap, I continued west to #75 (along a spur), #30 (just off the trail), and #44 (also just off the trail). I bypassed #67 since it was slightly out of the way…but again, in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to grab. The route was almost entirely on trail.

#80 was a little further off-trail (following the theme of high-value controls being tougher to find), but I had no trouble there.

After this, though, I made 3 mistakes in the span of 30 minutes. First, I managed to miss #77 completely. This was by far the “flattest” rogaine I’d ever done, and my skills weren’t quite up to the challenge of discerning some of the more subtle land features on the course – particularly at night. Being a novice, I generally like to rely more heavily on topography than my compass. When I found myself standing in the forest with no idea if I was north/south/east/west of the control, I bailed south back to the trail and continued to #88.

One of the trails

One of the trails – taken just before sunrise at the end of the race

On the way I made my second mistake. While jogging through the thick undergrowth (and glancing distractedly at my map), I snagged my foot on a fallen log hiding under the greenery. I face-planted hard. Completely knocked the wind out of me. This should have been a warning, but…

…two minutes later, I made the third mistake. I was only a hundred meters or so from #68 and trying to move too fast through some dense deadfall. I turned to look over my shoulder…turned back around…and took a stick to my right eye. When I reached up, the stick was still protruding 3-4 inches out of my eye. For a few seconds, I legitimately thought I had an open globe. Fortunately it was just lodged between my cornea and upper eyelid. So I got away with just a corneal abrasion, which hurt like a beast for the next few days.

Now with only one good eye, my pace slowed down considerably. This may have actually helped me making the loop from #68 to #88 to #104. The lack of trails in this section made route-finding more important, but now I was taking more time to fine-tune my route rather than navigating on the run. I ever-so-slightly overshot #104, but otherwise had no issues. Talking with others after the race, it sounded like #88 had given a few people problems.

The undergrowth was horrendous to the northeast of #104. After crashing through a few spider webs and slicing myself up on some briars, I finally stumbled back to the trail and made a second attempt at #77. This time I hit it dead on. Maybe this one eye thing isn’t so bad!

I continued west to #60, located near a copse in a large field of waist-high grass. I took advantage of the nearby water station to refill, then took a couple minutes to debate going for #102.

It felt wrong not to go for such a high-value control when I was already so close. But on the other hand, I wasn’t too excited about an extended off-trail out-and-back venture in my semi-impaired state. I decided to skip it and head for #47, which was probably dumb from a points standpoint. In the end, though, nobody finished <100 points ahead of me, so skipping #102 didn’t cause me to drop in the standings.

#47 was located a short distance off the road, near the top of a gully. I continued making good time on roads and trails toward #66, #73, and #69. These were all in close proximity to trails, so each only required ~5 minutes of bushwhacking.

When I hit the road north of #69, I had another decision to make. I thought briefly about taking a southern route toward a cluster of low-value controls (#41, #65, #34, #49, #33) with the option of picking up some high-value ones time permitting (#82, #70, #94). Instead I continued north toward the #63-#90-#71 loop. This was probably my biggest tactical error of the night.

I missed my intended turnoff for #63 and had to backtrack, costing me a few valuable minutes. I only overshot #90 by 30 meters or so, but the surrounding forest was packed with the densest brier patches I encountered all night. I lost another ten minutes or so flailing around and getting some nice gashes on my forearms and bald head.

When I regained the road south of #90, I immediately began hiking briskly eastward. I knew I had to make a decision about #71, and wanted to save time by doing it on the move. I had about 1 hour 40 minutes remaining, but the finish area was still several miles away. The route to #71 didn’t look terribly long or strenuous, but the lack of clear landmarks from the road (approaching from the east) made me worry I’d waste time hunting around in the dark (or stuck in another marsh). I decided instead to continue moving southeast, using the remaining time to pick off as many controls as possible nearer to the finish area.

So the loop northward to #63 and #90 probably wasn’t ultimately time well spent…but I still think I made the right call by skipping #71.

I detoured off the road to successfully bag #94 – a task made easier by a fork in the road to the north (good landmark) and some helpful topography. I then continued southeast to #52 (located about 100 meters off the trail, down a hill and next to a marsh), then to #58 (along a spur on the edge of a lake), and #38 (in a small depression). I had been a little nervous about making it back on time (there was a harsh 100 point penalty per 1 minute late), so I was running hard for the final 3 controls. I hated not going for #76, but the risk of missing the 6am deadline scared me off.

I made it back to the finish area with 11 minutes 26 seconds to spare…just as it was getting light enough to turn off my headlamp.

Silver Lake, sunrise

Silver Lake, sunrise

Here’s the breakdown by time:

Start – 2200
#74 – 2207
#32 – 2213
#86 – 2220
#48 – 2226
#31 – 2235
#43 – 2239
#51 – 2245
#96 – 2251
#36 – 2259
#84 – 2310
#42 – 2333 (after getting lost)
#75 – 2353
#37 – 2358
#44 – 0011
#80 – 0024
#68 – 0104 (after missing #77 and scratching my cornea)
#88 – 0111
#104 – 0132
#77 – 0154
#60 – 0224
#47 – 0249
#66 – 0303
#73 – 0320
#69 – 0329
#63 – 0353
#90 – 0411
#94 – 0506
#52 – 0524
#58 – 0532
#38 – 0538
Finish – 0548

And here are the results. I finished 6th out of 18 in the eight hour division.

Nitrogaine II Results


Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Last week the Casteel parents came up to visit and to go camping with us.  We traveled up to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula on Thursday morning without Matt (he had to work, but would join us Friday evening).  After setting in to camp and walking around the surrounding area, we made a Casteel favorite for dinner: Hobo Stew.  I’m not sure where the name came from, as it’s not stew, just hamburger, carrots, potatoes, and onions wrapped in foil and cooked over the fire.  Nothing says a family camping trip like Hobo Stew!


Matt and I’s tent


Mom and Dad Casteel’s tent

On Friday, we decided to explore some of the many waterfalls and other features found in the area.  We drove to various parking areas, and then hiked to see the waterfall or famous feature, came back, and then went to the next parking area.  We still managed to get in lots of hiking, but got to see a little more of the park that way.  For the day we visited Munising Falls, Sand Point March Trail, Miners Falls, Miners Castle, hiked along the shore to the Au Sable Light Station, saw the Log Slide, Grand Sable Dunes, and finally Sable Falls.  It was a busy day, but so pretty!  We had no idea how gorgeous the lakeshore of Lake Superior was until we got here.  We learned a lot about the history of the area as well, such as that the logging companies used to build shoots down the dunes to send their logs out on the lake to be picked up by the boats (hence the Log Slide).  It was really cool to see the crazy steepness of the slide (35 degrees) and watch people run down it and then have to make their way back up (the wooden slide that was used is now gone, just leaving the steep sand path).  And of course a day with the Casteel’s would not be complete without a bald eagle sighting at Miners Castle or a mystery bird sighting along the road!


mystery bird = sandhill crane


Grand Sable Dunes


one of the many waterfalls!


Au Sable Light Station

On Saturday, we set out on a 10 mile loop hike in the Chapel Basin.  We saw Mosquito Falls, Chapel Falls, lots of beach, and Chapel Rock (a very interesting rock feature that looked like a small Greek stone chapel with a tree growing on top).  Matt ran a potion of the North Country Trail and then met us for part of our hike.  It was a gorgeous hike both in the forest (we were almost positive we could have been in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest) and along the lake (look at the gorgeous rocks!).


Arch in the rock


Beautiful rocks and water!


Mosquito Falls


More coast

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Hiking along the lakeshore


Another arch

On Sunday, we drove to the Beaver Basin area and took a 4 mile out and back hike along Little Beaver Lake and Beaver Lake.  We saw quite a bit of evidence of the beavers who live in the area, but no beavers themselves.  It was a gorgeous area, with the two lakes side by side.


Sign picture! (the Casteel family is famous for them)


Beaver dam on Little Beaver Lake

After that, we headed home to begin a new week.  But Pictured Rock National Lakeshore has become a new favorite up in the Upper Peninsula!

Published in: on September 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains

The Porcupine Mountains are located along Lake Superior, on the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This translates into about a six-hour drive from Milwaukee – easily in range for a backpacking trip over the four day weekend.

I’m going to be referring to specific locations within the park, so check out THIS MAP if you care to follow along.

Allison and I left early on Thursday morning in order to arrive at the park around noon. After purchasing our backcountry permit, we departed from the Summit Peak trailhead.

Allison atop Summit Peak

We took a short one-mile excursion to Summit Peak and back, then started our trek down the Little Carp River Trail (by way of the Beaver Creek Trail).

Lily Pond

This took us past Lily Pond shortly before joining up with the North Country National Scenic Trail. Although (sadly) not true for Allison, this was actually the third National Scenic Trail I’ve hiked along in as many months (read about the other trips HERE and HERE).

North Country Trail Marker

Anyhow, our hike along the Little Carp River included a handful of crossings – some of them actually rather difficult with our fully-loaded packs (Allison’s weighing in at 29.2 lbs and mine at 33.0 lbs).

Crossing the Little Carp River

We reached our campsite for the first night with a couple hours of daylight remaining, so we had plenty of time to build a fire and enjoy the sunset over Lake Superior.

Allison on the shore of Lake Superior

Campsite #1

That first night along the lake was pretty chilly – well below freezing – so neither of us slept particularly well.

Allison building a fire

Our route for the second day took us more than ten miles northeast along the coast of Lake Superior, not including a 2.8 mile side-trip along the Big Carp River Trail to see the Shining Cloud Falls.

Allison along the Lake Superior Trail

This trail was pretty muddy, and challenged us with numerous fallen trees to climb over. When the trail ended, we walked a little over a mile along a road to reach the Lake of the Clouds overlook area.

Lake of the Clouds

Allison’s Achilles tendon was very sore at this point, so we decided to shorten our trip by ten miles or so and camp for the night near Lake of the Clouds.

Campsite #2

On the third day of the trip, our route took us along the Escarpment Trail  – probably the most scenic section of trail in the park. The morning was clear, so we were treated to sweeping views of Lake Superior to the north and Lake of the Clouds to the south.

Lake of the Clouds (left) and Lake Superior (right)

From this angle, I decided that “Lake of the Clouds” could have been more properly named “Lake Inferior”. Furthermore, “Mirror Lake” (near the middle of the park) could have been named “Lake Interior” and “Lily Pond” (near the edge of the park) could have been named “Lake Exterior”.

Thus, had I been in charge of naming the lakes, it would have been possible to hike from  Lake Exterior to Lake Interior to Lake Inferior to Lake Superior…all in a single day.

Moving on.

Trekking along the Escarpment Trail

For the rest of the morning and afternoon, we hiked along the Government Peak Trail, stopping for lunch at Trap Falls. By the time we reached Government Peak, we could see rain showers moving rapidly in from the west.

Fortunately, we were able to reach our next campsite along Mirror Lake without getting terribly wet. We were even able to build a fire and eat dinner before the rain started coming down heavily.

Campsite #3

Sometime in the middle of the night, Allison awakened me to point out that water was seeping into the bottom of the tent. In our infinite wisdom, you see, we had pitched the tent right in the middle of what would become a large puddle. So, in the total darkness and howling rain, we got to run outside, un-stake the tent, and move it several feet uphill.

Also, a few hours after that ordeal, I heard something very large crashing around outside the tent, making grunting noises.

Removing our soaked supplies from the bear pole

Whatever was making those noises, our food was still intact the next morning. Thank goodness for bear poles.

The weather had also improved by the time the sun rose, so we didn’t have to deal with any rain during the last few miles back to our car.

Mirror Lake the next morning

On the downside, Allison’s Achilles tendon problems were really giving her a rough time. I’d also woken up with some pretty bad nausea, which turned into a full-blown case of gastroenteritis during the drive home – fever and all.

But injury/illness aside, it was a really fun trip. I think we went at the perfect time of year, too, since it was late enough to avoid snow and early enough to avoid bugs. Also, since it was still considered “off-season”, we only encountered a dozen or so hikers and fishermen during the entire 3-night trip.

Approximate Total Distance: 42.9 miles

Published in: on April 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm  Comments (13)