Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yuki-BAR 24 Hour Adventure Race
Trailblazers AR – Charlotte / Sons of Thunder
3-person Coed
Corbitt Simmons, Jeff Papenfus, & Libby Fly
April 29th – 30th, 2011

I competed in the Yuki-BAR 24-hour adventure race this past weekend as part of the Trailblazers AR – Charlotte / Sons of Thunder 3-person coed team along with Jeff Papenfus and Libby Fly. The start/finish for the race was at the YMCA Camp Hanes outside of King, NC, nestled in between Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain State Parks. The race was structured in a modified rogaine format, allowing racers to attack checkpoints (CPs) within a section in any order they saw fit however having to complete each section in a predetermined order. The race was broken into 8 main sections: 2 treks, 3 bikes, a paddle, a short ropes course, and a river crossing. There was a total of 48 CPs, most of which were punches and a few we were to take digital photos of a particular object or view. In addition, all CPs were given a point value, some worth more than others, with a total of 2400 points available. Due to the length of the course, there was a good chance many teams would have to drop CPs in order to finish by the cut-off time.

Prior to race start we were given UTMs for CPs in the first trek section and the location of the ropes course. This would get us started. When the race began, we could choose whether to trek, rope-it, or plot the rest of the CPs for the first half of the race. At 7pm, the race began and we decided to start with the trek which consisted of a vertical trek up Sauratown Mountain, from 1120’ elevation to 2100’ elevation in about ¾ of a mile. Tough hike to the top, but a great view of the surrounding valley! We picked up CP2 and bushwhacked along the contour through rhododendron until we reached a saddle, then a trail that took us to the next hilltop east of our location to pick up CP3. A much quicker trek down the mountain and we picked up CP4 and CP5 closer to Camp Hanes. The location of CP4 did not match where the UTM plotted on the map, however we combed the area and were able to locate it in due time. At this point, we decided to swing by and see if there was a wait to get on the ropes course. To our luck, we were able to throw on a harness and helmet and get to it. The ropes course consisted of a rope net we climbed 30 or so feet in the air, then crossed a “matrix” which consisted of ~2’ by 2’ square planks suspended in the air by cables where all three of us had to settle on each one before moving on. I had to keep myself from imagining what it would feel like if we didn’t have a safety line… We finished with a zipline across a small lake. The remaining CPs on the trek were located around a small lake and were found without a problem. Feeling the cool air beginning to settle in, I pulled on my long pants and a long-sleeve shirt for the many miles of biking we had ahead of us.

We pulled out on the bikes with headlamps blazing around 9:30pm and headed northeast toward Hanging Rock State Park. It was hard to determine whether we wanted to wear long-sleeves or not. Rolling down the hills could get quite chilly, however those were short-lived and most of the time we were working up a good sweat pumping up the hills. Three miles into the ride Jeff and I pulled off the long-sleeves. The mileage in this section (as with most of the bike miles) were paved country roads; much easier than FS gravel roads, but not without their hill challenges. We had two checkpoints to pick up between Camp Hanes and our next TA, located 10 miles away at the Moores Springs Trails area. CP9 was an easy pickup along the route, with CP10 requiring a little more gusto. It was early but we were getting a good taste of the hills which lay ahead of us. At CP10, we ran into Matt Getz and Doug Gray (also racing for the Trailblazers AR – Charlotte team as a 2-person male squad) and headed to TA1/CP11 on their tails.

At TA1 we received a new, smaller map of the area for the next 8 CPs. This section was all located within the Moores Springs Trails area, a network of fast-flowing, single-track trails. I am not an avid “single-tracker”, but extremely enjoyed the ride on these trails. A lot of fun with strategically placed berms so you could keep your momentum. As I began looking at the map, I realized that the CPs on the new map were mis-numbered. The volunteer was able to quickly figure out what the issue was (old map, numbers were just off by 2), and we were off in no time along with Matt & Doug. We stuck together for a couple of CPs, but they pulled away after a few of miles. I was having trouble reading the map due to the trail colors being the same as the contour colors, not to mention the spaghetti layout of the trails to add to the complexity. We ended up reaching a junction of trails and made a decision which ended up pushing us past a trail containing 3 CPs. This was sorted out in due time and in the end didn’t cost us much time (I like to believe at least). Returning to our wrong turn, we quickly found the remaining CPs, two of which along a rocky stream where I nearly went head-first into a pool of water after slipping on a mossy rock. At this point, we needed to return to the TA at the start of the trails to get our final CP for the area, however we were at the furthest part of the network from that location. Instead of riding all the switchbacks back, we were close enough to the road that we decided to bike-whack the 50 yards to the road and ride it back to the TA. Although I still contend this was a good choice, it was not as easy as I had anticipated. The 50 yards was slammed with thick rhododendron and included a small stream before breaking out onto the road. Back at the TA, we received CP11 and decided to take a few minutes to down some food. I enjoyed a new addition to my race nutrition: peanut butter on mini-bagel and goldfish. So good.

Starting to get a chill, we hopped on the bikes and took off for CP20 trying to shake off the cold. We’re down to around 50 degrees now, so standing still for too long with sweaty clothes begins to become bothersome… We made it down to the vicinity of CP20 and were having a little trouble deciphering the terrain, so it was decided to drop our first CP. I hate missing CPs, but we knew we would probably have to drop one or two in order to make a “night bonus” CP later in the race. More on that later…

CP21 was a short bike down the road and we ran into Matt and Doug again, looking a little fazed. They informed us that they looked all around the location and couldn’t find the CP. The hint was “waterwheel by dam”. We dropped the bikes and jogged down a trail leading us closer to the creek. We could hear rushing water so knew the CP had to be in that area.

After crossing a stream, we made it back up a trail and found the dam, but no waterwheel. We did, however, come across some creepy octagonal cinderblock building situated at the side of the stream with the bottom of it filled with water. I always find the hairs on my neck stand up when I peer into a seemingly misplaced building in the middle of the forest, at night, with my headlamp. The moving shadows always add a little spook-factor. Reminds me of the ending to the Blair Witch Project. A part of me was hoping I could catch Jeff or Libby going to look down into it and I could pop out and scare the crap out of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance. Anyway, back to the race… Circling back around to the other side of the stream, we located the waterwheel next to the dam and partially hidden inside the waterwheel, what do you know - the CP. In good spirits, we made good time over the next 6 miles to CP22 where we took a picture the old stone house of Col. Martin. Not sure who it is, but out there in the middle of nowhere, there is a rather nice monument set up for this guy. CP23 was another picture, this time of a tiny waterfall (in the dark), about a mile down the road. By this time the “neighborhood” dogs were in full force and we had been chased by at least 10 of them, mostly when we were going downhill, so no problem. The slow uphills are when you start yelling or barking back at them hoping they’ll stay away. Otherwise it’s “hey buddy.”

After the waterfall, we were at another decision point. We could skip the next CP or two in order to allow more time to reach the bonus, or try our luck at finding them in good time. We felt we still had enough time, and feeling good that we had no serious problems on the last few, we decided to try our luck. Plus, the next CP was a 70-pointer, so a strong one to get. To reach CP24, we rode a trail that snaked around a little creek on one side with a ridgeline up to our left. Arriving at a reentrant I believe to be the one I was looking for on the map, we parked the bikes and started bushwhacking up the hill following a bearing I took from the map. After a few minutes we reach an old logging road that simply told me we had a) gone to far or b) did not start at the correct place. Screwing around in hopes of stumbling on the CP for a few minutes, we made our way back to the bikes. We rode to the next reentrant where I thought, “this has to be it”, we repeated the last sequence of events. As I was starting to get a little testy that I couldn’t find the CP, Jeff simply said fogetaboutit. So we went. Me reluctantly. But there always needs to be a time limit when looking for a CP, and we certainly exceeded it. We spend a needless 45 minutes searching for the elusive number 24.

Back off the trail and onto the paved road, we wound around to where the trail would’ve led us to, were we to continue on it from CP24. However it would’ve been much slower going. This was also about the time we realized what a nice night it was, with a sky full of stars and cool weather (well, getting a little cold at this point to be honest). We were on the other side of Sauratown Mountain from Camp Hanes and could see the radio towers from the back side. Even in the dark you could sense the steepness of the mountain. On our approach to CP25 and 26, we cut up a road straight at the mountain and felt the steepness first-hand. Granny-gear’a’grindin, we inched our way up to a sharp bend in the road where we dropped the bikes and walked the remaining couple hundred yards to the CP. Turns out, CP25 was a short hike up a reentrant from where we dropped our bikes, so even though limited on time, I was able to convince the team we needed the punch. To my relief, it was a short trip and easily located! Before heading out, we took a short break to make sure we had enough food and liquids in us, and I enjoyed another PB bagel and goldfish. This was quickly becoming my favorite, although Jeff had pepperoni and cheddar cheese bagels, which I will have at my next race!

Our next destination was TA2, located near the Yadkin River. It was also time for long sleeves as the temperature was approaching the mid-to-low 40s. This tour consisted of a long ride up, down, up, down through the country, constantly being pestered by dogs (do these people ever put their dogs in the house, on a leash, or behind a fence?), all the while inhaling putrid stank which smelled of buffalo dung and rotting skunk flesh (on more than one occasion, which was strange). But for the most part, the 15 miles was relatively uneventful. (We did, however, have the fortune to ride through Pinnacle, NC where one of my favorite bands, JJ Grey and Mofro, will be playing at the Smilefest Reunion on June 4th!) I posed for a picture in front of the Mt Moriah Church sign for CP27 and we continued the rest of the way unhampered to TA2 and arrived a little after 5am.

Don Childrey from Bushwhack was awaiting our arrival at TA2 and supplied us with the remaining CP UTMs, a resupply of water, our PFDs, and a wicked smile when we said we were “headed to the crossing.” For an extra twist, the race designers decided it would be fun to have the choice to cross the Yadkin River, and not by boat or bridge. The main draw to complete this was that reaching CP36 by 6:30am would get your team a 200pt bonus CP. And it was on the other side of the river. We thought that a little over an hour would be plenty of time to reach the other side and get our much coveted prize. Don also casually mentioned that they had made it down, across, and back in 20 minutes. Of course, this was on foot with not bike or other gear, but we still figured we could do it in three times that amount. First, we needed to plot the new CPs, so we huddled in an outhouse and went to work. Even after plotting the new CPs and realizing there were a couple on the way to the river to grab, we still felt we had time. We left the comfort of the outhouse at 5:30am and headed to the shoreline.

The bike to the shore was not a problem; an off-road trail where we punched two CPs along the way. By the time we made it down to the river it was shortly before 6am, so we were in fact running a little short on time. With this in mind, we didn’t have much time to locate the “unofficial” crossing where the race staff had so kindly strung chem lights so racers knew the best place to cross. In addition, day was just starting to break and with a little fog thrown in, we couldn’t locate the markers anyway. With no time to waste, we found where one short trail led to the water’s edge and decided to take that route. It was debated whether or not to wear bike shoes across the river or just go in socks so we could keep or shoes dry. I had an extra pair of dry socks in my pack, but not an extra pair of shoes. I also didn’t want to get the chamois wet in my bike shorts. Remember, it’s about 43 degrees outside and we’re getting ready to ford a river. I quickly stripped down to my underwear and socks (kept everything from the waste up on because we were told that the water level was “nut-deep” the day before), threw all my stuff into a small dry bag, my bike over my shoulder and stepped into the Yadkin River. It was actually not that deep, about thigh high... at first. But it didn’t take long to realize crossing in bare feet was a serious mistake. With the cold taking hold, every step was tough; especially considering this was a rocky shoal area, with the river bottom covered in various sized and shaped rocks. Some of which were pretty sharp. As I would move for my next step, I could feel a sharp rock at the last moment and try to shift my foot elsewhere, only to land harder on another maybe only slightly duller rock! To make matters worse, recent rains were making for a strong current, almost (but not quite!) taking me with it once or twice. It really was a one step at a time operation and this was taking much longer than anticipated. No bonus for us. Three quarters of the way across, I found a spot of sandy bottom which was a big relief; however 15 feet further the river level was up above my stomach. Now my clothes were wet anyway! Finally I made it across and had to heave my bike up on the shore, nicely settling into a ground layer of poison ivy and thorns. Who decided to do this?

Up on shore, I pulled my bike and removed all my gear and helped Jeff get his bike on shore. Libby had started out a little after the two of us and was stuck about a ¼ of the way across. While Jeff went to locate the trail and pull our bikes further inland, I made my way back across the river to grab the bike from Libby and we continued to the island. That’s right, island. We still had three more, albeit shorter, crossings to get to the other side of the river! After being schooled on crossing number 1, we all put our shoes back on. Wet or not, we weren’t crossing without them on our feet! Turns out, it is much quicker. In no time we were through the rest of the crossing and safely on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, it was also about 6:45am, so bye bye bonus CP. We decided to take it easy and change our clothes, eat a bit and pick up a couple of CPs along the way before checking into CP36; now changed to CP39. Along the hike-a-bike to an overlook for the next CP, my pack strap ripped apart so I spent the next few minutes retooling my gear and was able to tie it off to last the remainder of the race. Down at CP39 we told the volunteer we should at least get partial credit!

Our next stop was TA3 where we were to transition to the paddle. But more than that, we had biscuits and coffee waiting for us at the Rockford General Store, complements of the race staff! Only a 13 mile bike was standing in our way. Once at the TA, we took a looong time, sitting on the front porch of the general store enjoying the sun while eating our biscuit and drinking our coffee. Finally moving, I bought a Mountain Dew (my first in months!) and repacked some gear and was ready for the paddle. Our bikes were transported to the boat take-out by race staff, and we portaged a few hundred yards down to the river for the put-in. The paddle was originally estimated to take up to 6 ½ hours, however I could tell quickly it would not take nearly that long. Winding through the country, the Yadkin River was flowing fast with good water levels in most sections. The majority was smooth enough to nearly put us to sleep. We did reach a few treacherous class 0.5 ripples along the way, more pesky than anything, but did keep us awake. There was only one close call as we were hung up on a protruding rock, the current nearly turning us sideways, but we were able to recover in time before being swamped. That was the most excitement (which was fine by me given my history on paddles). The weather had turned warm, the water cool, and I would learn later… the sunburn real. Legs, neck, and lips were fried. However it didn’t set in until later, so overall it was a very relaxing paddle. We picked up three more CPs along the way and pulled out at TA4/CP40 under the Hwy 67 overpass around 2pm; covering just under 18 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes.

TA4 was a quick transition, however slowed by a flat to which Libby’s bike had nearly succumbed. It was pumped back up to check for leaks and seemed to stay inflated, so we decided not to change it. It wasn’t clear if it happened during the transport of the bikes, the heat, or the garden of sandspurs the bikes were left in that caused the deflating… I was sure to check my tires well for spurs before I took off. One trekking section remained before we were to head back to the finish. We left TA4 with an 11 mile ride to make it to TA5/CP42, or the start to the trekking section at Pilot Mountain State Park. As we left TA4, we crossed over the Yadkin River one last time (on a bridge!) and headed north to Pilot Mountain. The ride took just around an hour with no dogs. I suppose the sun had scared them under their trailers. There were a number of other teams around the area as the 12-hour teams were converging on Pilot Mountain as well as us. We transitioned to our trail shoes and looked over the maps. There were a total of 6 CPs on and around Pilot Mountain. Being 3:30pm, we gave ourselves a buffer of an hour and a half to make it back to the finish, approximately 10 miles on the bike. So we needed to be back by 5:30pm. This would provide us room if we were to have a flat tire or other unforeseen accident. The penalty was stiff for being late at 20 points per minute late. It was decided to go after CP48 first, located halfway up the mountain as the bird flies, but before the steeper climbs began.
Another team of friends, Northern Lites who Libby typically races with, was running in the 12-hour race as a 3-person male team and was on the trail just behind us up the mountain. We ran the remaining distance to CP48 with them before turning back down the mountain to get one more, easy CP. They had decided to keep going up and clear all the CPs (They finished with only 5 minutes left before cut-off! Great race management!) In hindsight, we had time and should’ve grabbed at least one more CP on the mountain, but it wouldn’t have made a difference in the standings, so no worries. We picked up CP43 as our last CP and transitioned back to the bikes for the last 10 mile ride of the race. We were out of TA5 a little after 5pm and reached the finish shortly after 6pm. We had a total of around 10 miles trekking, 18 miles paddling, and 80 miles biking.

I had an awesome time on the course with my team and thank them for joining me to compete in the Yuki-BAR. We had never raced but have only trained together, and turned out that we had no unfortunate issues! I believe the highlight for me was crossing the Yadkin River. This was an outside-the-box addition to the race and I learned a good lesson… forget the wet, wear your shoes. I was also glad I ate as well as I did. It is taking me forever to realize what I need to bring as nutrition on a race, but I’m getting closer. Peanut butter bagels and goldfish are in the sack, nuun tablets in my bladder, combos and granola bars in my side pockets. I will be adding Jeff’s pepperoni and cheddar bagels however. And of course if we have a central transition area, ravioli and toaschees will be in waiting.

Thanks to Bushwhack Adventures and their volunteers for a tough race. The scenery was beautiful and the terrain a challenge. I only wish we would’ve had the time to make the trek to the top of Pilot Mountain and see the view from there!

1 comment:

  1. Great race report! Thanks for taking the time to share it!

    Don Childrey