Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gleneagles Challenge Sprint AR

Gleneagles Challenge - Shearon Harris Park, New Hill, NC
Trailblazers AR – Charlotte / Sons of Thunder
Teammate: Gary Hartong
April 2nd, 2011

Gary Hartong joined me for the Gleneagles Challenge Sprint race just south of Raleigh, NC. This was Gary’s first AR in a number of years after doing a few together back in 2006/2007. I did my first AR with him down in Georgia and it was good being able to catch up and compete with him once again!

Looking at weather reports as the race approached, I was mainly focused on “Sunny and 60”. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about having perfect weather for a race. What I didn’t pay attention to was the wind factor. Stay tuned. This race was designed and directed by Bushwhack Adventures, and I have competed in a number of their races in the past. They always put on a good race, so another reason to look forward to race day. We began the day by receiving maps with about 1/3 of the CPs pre-plotted, the remainder we were to receive following a prologue where we would also receive our passports. At 10am we were off for a quick out and back run of just under 1 ½ miles. At the turnaround, we were handed a pinecone which we turned in to receive the rest of the coordinates and passport.

Gary and I were the first team back and found my parents and wife waiting in the parking lot to give us some moral support! Quickly plotting the remaining CPs we devised a quick strategy of what we were going to do. We decided to grab the canoe and portage back down the road where we just ran the prologue and put-in to start our paddle. Along the way, there was a checkpoint that looked easy enough to find just off the road so we dropped the canoe and spent 10 minutes looking for a CP I had incorrectly plotted due to a false northing line on the map (100% my fault!). Usually, I would have caught this (so I’d like to think), however the hint was “northwest of pond”… it just so happened that there was a pond in the same relation to where I misplotted the CP! What are the odds. Anyway, after wasting the time, we went back and grabbed the canoe and were off on the paddle… about 6 teams behind where we started the portage. We paddled along the shore to pick up one CP, cut across a section of the lake to grab another, then headed toward a third about a mile up the shoreline. We were beginning to see increased wind, but other than a strong gust here and there, were making decent time and passing a few teams along the way. After reaching the third CP, we had to cut across the largest section of the lake to reach the transition area to an orienteering section. Peering across the lake, we could see mini-whitecaps on the lake and a couple other teams just ahead of us struggling to make good headway. We began our paddle across the lake and immediately I could sense this was going to be a pretty shaky paddle. We were told the water temperature was around 43 degrees, so nothing in which you’d necessarily want to capsize. I’m in the back trying to zigzag a little in order to not catch the waves parallel to the boat and was having trouble turning when Gary asked (laughing) “where are you taking us?!” I countered with something like “I’m trying to keep us in the boat!” After a good 10 minutes, we made it almost halfway across the lake, just west of the park peninsula. Once we made it past the peninsula, the wind became frighteningly more fierce. 40 mph gusts of wind were hitting us, Gary was churning away up front as I was just trying to keep us going straight. The lake and wind had other ideas. After heading essentially away from our destination so as to not be taken in by the waves, we were able to turn the boat back into the direction of our destination. Paddling as hard as we could, while watching waves dump water into the boat, we were finally able to make it to the shore and pull the boats up to the TA. I was already not looking forward to having to get back on that water!

The next section consisted of 6 CPs on foot which we were able to clear with no problem and at a very quick pace. We were able to gain a decent amount of ground on other teams as we decided to push it and run about 90% of the distance. Much of this was over recently clearcut timber stands, so we had to watch where we were going as to not incur any sprained ankles or puncture wounds if we were to slip.

Back at the TA, we began getting our boat back on the water, briefly watching a couple other teams heading out into the perfect storm. There was no let up. Waves were crashing against the rocks, making it hard just to keep the boat pointed in the right direction. As soon as we were in the boat, the paddling had to begin in full force or you would be sunk. We had two more points to pick up on the water and noticed a number of teams simply heading straight back to the take-out across the lake, foregoing the CPs. The distance to the next CP after the TA was one of the toughest with the most forceful currents and waves pushing us mostly where they wanted us to go. It was harder paddling with the wind than it was into the wind because the waves would simply push the back end of the canoe in one direction or another. So again, as Gary was paddling away, I was simply struggling to keep us going in the right direction! Usually you can paddle your way in the direction you want to go, but I had to use my paddle as a rudder (which didn’t help our momentum) just to keep the boat perpendicular to the waves. After reaching the first CP on the way back, the remaining distance was relatively easy. The further we made it back, the less the impact the wind had. Getting out of the canoe was the greatest part of the race for me!

We had a short portage back to the start/finish area where we were able to see my parents and wife again, this time with my brother and his girlfriend cheering us on! We quickly transitioned onto the bikes and took off on a series of single-track trails. The single-track consisted of easy ups and downs inside the Harris Park and made for some fast riding. There were a number of CPs clumped together on the east side of the park, the remaining few on the west side. Except for a minor delay after I took us down the wrong trail, we picked up the CPs on the east side in pretty good time and headed off the trails down the service road to grab the last few. It was after we made it down to the west side that I realized we blew right past CP6, which was a good distance back on the east side trails. Agghhh! We finished clearing the west side CPs and backtracked to retrieve the missed CP, adding another 10 minutes to our time.

Still feeling decent about our time, we rolled into the finish with a time of 4:55. Not our best showing, but would work. It has been a while since I have done a sprint race, but my mistakes highlighted the fact that they carry a much larger burden in a shorter race. Every minute matters. The extra 20-25 minutes of dilly-dallying put us out of contention for placement, but nevertheless, we enjoyed a good day of weather (sans the wind) and a great race! Thanks to Don and Patrick and the rest of Bushwhack Adventures for a fun day in the woods. Thanks also to Gary for stepping up for the race and my family for sticking through the less-than-favorable viewing conditions and giving us some support!

Next race is another Bushwhack Adventures production – the Yuki-BAR 24hr race around Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks, April 29th-30th. I look forward to getting back to the longer races!!

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