Friday, May 20, 2011

2011 Atomic Course Recap by Race Staff

Here is a recap provided by the race staff which gives the theory behind the design and some elevation profiles. Althought not stated as such, in reality I don't believe the paddle worked out as originally thought (and was confirmed by a race staffer to remain unnamed!). In any case, I still enjoyed trekking the paddle section! A few kayaks and the paddle would've been nearly TOO much fun!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2011 Atomic Adventure Race Review

Atomic Adventure Race (28-Hour)
Trailblazers AR – Charlotte – 3-person Coed
Corbitt Simmons, Matthew Getz, & Libby Fly
May 14th – 15th, 2011


Considered one of the more challenging races in the east, the 2011 Atomic Adventure Race was held in the Chattahoochee National Forest north of Dawsonville and Dahlonega, GA. Originally designed as a 24-hour race, a few weeks before the event, we were notified the length was extended to 28-hours. We would need every minute. The race was separated into nine segments: 4 foot sections, 4 bike sections, and a “paddle” section, with a total of 33 checkpoints. The race was unsupported, and excluding a one-gallon food bag which race support would drop at an undisclosed TA, we were required to carry all gear and remaining food for the entire race. To make it more interesting, we would also be required to carry our paddling gear (paddles, pfds, air pump) throughout nearly the first half of the race.

I teamed with Matt Getz and Libby fly to compete in the three person coed elite division, again under the auspices of Team Trailblazers AR – Charlotte. We checked-in on Friday night and received a set of maps and course directions. After plotting the checkpoints, and even following the pre-race meeting, we couldn’t know exactly what we were in for. The biggest unknown, besides the impending weather, was the paddle section. “Boats” were provided by the race staff, however we weren’t certain of what the boat consisted of until we arrived at the transition area during the race. In addition, the start of the race was a little unclear, but would present itself in due time.

On a side note, I had pulled my back a week before the race, therefore I had remained essentially inactive in order to let it heal as much as possible. I don’t know if it was the nervousness about the race course that lay ahead or my worry about how my back would hold out, but I had a terrible time falling asleep the night before, finally nodding off after midnight. At 4:30am, the alarm blared, and it was all I could do to peel myself out of the bed. By 5am, we were on the road to drop the bikes at a pre-determined drop area which we were told was a one hour out and back drive. It took an hour and a half. With about 30 minutes to spare, we finished our preparations at the race start and lined up at the start line at 7am for the final race briefing. The horn sounded at 7:30am and the teams were off… for a ½ mile jog up to two school buses where we all piled in and were driven to the bike drop. Hmmm. Different. Arriving at the bikes at 9am, we finally were able to actually start the race.

Frantically, all thirty-five teams piled out of the buses and commenced to donning bike gear and attaching paddling gear to bikes or backpacks. The first leg was an uphill slog for 3 miles gaining 1,000 feet of elevation. Being so soon in the race, there was no time for a warm-up, and much of the field ended up pushing the bikes up the steep incline the last few hundred yards of the hill. On the way up we hit our first bit of rain, but at this point, it felt good and helped keep us cool. After reaching the top, we had a fun, fast, and twisting downhill; slipping and sliding on the gravel, being ever so careful not to completely wipe out on the way down. Turning off the road, we pedaled a further 2 miles with 500 feet of elevation gain and soon reached CP1. Here, the field split up, with a majority of the teams staying on the same road and a few of us opting to head back down the 2 miles stretch and catch the paved roads around to CP2/TA1… the transition to the “paddle”.

Now, considering one piece of mandatory team gear was a double-action air pump, it was obvious we would be on some sort of inflatable boat. I had Googled inflatable canoes and was pretty optimistic about what we would encounter, even looking forward to hitting some class I and class II rapids in an inflatable canoe. We would not be so fortunate. We were given a 2-person inflatable pool raft; capacity: 300lbs. We had a 3-person team. Two of us combined were over 300lbs. We made a quick decision, took the raft out of the box and inserted it directly into Matt’s larger pack, forded the river and began our trek of the paddle section! We saw a couple of teams attempting to paddle the kid toys down the river and were completely satisfied with our decision. We bushwhacked up the opposite hillside to a road and completed the next few miles on foot; paddles, pfds, air pump, and boat included. Three miles out, we met the river again and decided to at least take a shot at the paddle. We inflated the boat, stepped into the frigid water and piled into the boat… all three of us squeezed into this toy. It didn’t help the put-in we decided to use was in the middle of a section of rapids. But that’s beside the point. The boat was instantly swamped and we attempted paddling our plastic ice bath down the river for 200 yards before deflating, repacking and continuing on foot! More than anything, we were mad we wasted 45 minutes trying this terrible idea out! Even with the river moving at a decent clip, we were able to keep pace on foot. We easily picked up CP3 and CP4 along the way before reaching our first challenge in retrieving CP5. With no direct trails or roads leading close to the checkpoint, we combined a series of bushwhacks and river crossings, and stopping at a camp ground to refill our water before reaching CP5. Although not a tremendously long bushwhack, the route was congested with downed timber, thorn bushes, thick rhododendron, and backwoods poison ivy gardens. After an hour and a half, we finally made it to CP5. The final leg of the “paddle” was a little easier, aided by open fields, another river crossing, and an overgrown trail leading to CP6. Twelve miles of “paddling” and we already felt beaten down!

The next section was an actual trekking section. Except for one checkpoint (CP9), each of these were seemingly straight forward and simply a matter of pushing ahead. CP7 was a short trek up the road from CP6, and CP8 was less than a mile and a half up a forest service road at an intersection and creek crossing. Originally passing by the location, we turned around and returned to the intersection to began an unlucky search. A new portion of the road was extended beyond what the map showed, therefore there was a little confusion. I still believed it should be there but we just couldn’t locate it. We would find out after the race we turned around not even 50 yards from the checkpoint! At the top of the road, we came across a few teams looking for the checkpoint. Minutes later, one of the race directors drove up and told us the checkpoint should be here and looked confused himself. Not wanting to waste anymore time, we took off up the mountain to the next checkpoint. (This last piece of information was incorrect, the checkpoint was back at the intersection, grrr). CP10 was located atop a hill 3 miles away and 1700 feet up; the last segment a 350’ elevation gain in 0.2 miles through another hillside of poison ivy completely covering the ground, some plants 3’ high and others crawling up surrounding trees. Catching a trail at the top of the mountain, we wound back down to a highway which took us to CP11/TA2 where we would drop the annoying paddle equipment (yes we were still carrying it) and transition to bikes. After nearly 20 miles on foot, we were well past being ready to hop on the bikes.

At the TA, we had access to a creek where we refilled our water bladders and bottles (popping in iodine pills and covering the taste with nuun electrolyte tablets). We donned our bike gear, attached our lights and took off for a relatively short bike to get to the next TA. The sun had begun setting and we knew we would have to deal with a little cooler weather soon. During the day, the clouds had parted and I figured we were in luck with the rain. Part of this bike section was a retracing of a portion of the course we covered on foot earlier in the day; therefore we knew exactly where our turns were which helped our time on the leg. We were able to catch up and pass a few teams along the way and arrived at TA3 around 10:30pm, just before the recommended time of 11pm. Of course it didn’t hurt that a majority of the route was downhill, giving us a little time to let our legs regain some strength which we would need in the next section.

The TA3 area was a nice set-up with a fire, our one-gallon food bag, a few cups of fresh water, the Reality Bikes camper, and an area to sit down and plot our next checkpoints for an orienteering section. There were 6 checkpoints (T1-T6) in the section, none of which were accessible by a road, trail, or any other straightforward method. We were required to enter and exit the area through a designated footbridge due to the sensitive streams and fish hatchery in the area. We picked up T1 at the footbridge, then began a 1.2 mile bushwhack to reach T2. The vegetation was thick, rain began to fall, the wind picked up and the temperature began to drop. On our way up to the ridge line we needed to follow, the other Trailblazers AR – Charlotte team (3-person male) came up behind us and joined us for the section. We made our way to the top of the ridge then followed up and down, further west until reaching the CP. The hard climbs up the hills generated enough sweat to drench the inside of my rain jacket as much as the rain was coving the outside. Not a good combination in lower temperatures! Here we found what could loosely be described as a trail, taking us over to the Benton MacKay Trail, an actual marked trail. This was a great relief. Skipping CP3, we continued further down the trail and picked up CP4 where we ran into 3 or 4 other teams. Waist high grass covered in precipitation completely soaked my pants, shoes and socks, so after only halfway through the section I was drenched to the bone. Trekking a road northeast from the area, we reached an intersection and a decision point. To the right, CP5 half a mile away. To the left, CP6 and the way back to the TA. We decided CP5 would be easy enough and went for it. An hour later we returned to the same location (without CP5 as we couldn’t find it), and some of the team was beginning to feel the affects of the adverse weather. A couple of emergency blankets were broken out and the situation was a little touch and go. Luckily, I was feeling alright, albeit a little cold, but we knew we needed to make our way out as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we had a downhill trek for over a mile, which didn’t help stoke the body heat. However, the two teams kept moving forward and eventually came across CP6. A little over a mile left to the TA… 100% bushwhack. We would have to navigate back using terrain features, at first through relatively open forest, but finishing with thick underbrush as we got closer to the creek system. We made it back to the TA at 5:30am. Completely frozen at the TA, Matt stoked the fire, I squeezed water our of my clothing, put on a long-sleeve shirt, put on a fresh pair of socks (only to put on wet bike shoes), refueled, filled the water bladders and got ready for the final portion of the race.

I was still a little (okay, a lot) frigid leaving the TA, however the sun would be poking its head soon and the hills leaving the TA helped warm us up quickly. The cut-off time for the race was 1pm, therefore at 6am leaving the TA, we would have to push it to get back in time. Skipping CP17, we caught up with the other Trailblazers (they left just before us at the TA) at CP18. Our next route continued on the same road down a ridgeline to a point at which the gradient was partially conducive to a bikewhack 450’ south down the slope to an old logging road. About a mile and a half down the logging road, we met some congestion, a group of 5 or 6 teams trying to figure out the next move. A few of the teams took off back down the logging road to try to catch a side trail; however we decided to cross the creek next to the trail as we determined this was the waypoint given to us by race staff. The other half of the group of teams joined us and we were all across the creek and off down the trail. A mile or so down the trail it became clear we weren’t on the intended trail of travel. I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t paying close attention to the map since the waypoint, and for the life of me I couldn’t discern exactly where we were. Neither could the other 5 or so teams with us. About this time we were beginning to waste precious time and the worry was whether or not we’ll make it back to the finish before dark, much less the cut-off time of 1pm! We decided we needed to push forward and took off down a bearing where we knew we would hit something if we followed long enough. Only there was no trail. And the slope got steeper. We continued slipping and sliding with our bikes along the side of a mountain becoming more frustrated as we went. At one point, one of the teams was close to pulling out the emergency cell phone! After an hour of fumbling through the woods, we came upon another old logging road and decided it had to lead somewhere. Too gnarly to ride, we pushed our bikes for a little over a mile up and around until we were able to locate ourselves. Soon we found the forest service road that led us out of the wilderness, so the group hopped on the bikes and pushed it as hard as we could. Finding CP19 a little further down the road, we were finally 100% certain we were back on track! After the race, we would realize after the creek crossing, we should’ve taken a left and that trail would take us a short distance to the road out!

Three more checkpoints to go, all on the way back to the finish, and only a little over 8 miles left. However there were two brutal climbs on the way. From CP19, we climbed 950’ in less than two miles. Not being the most talented biker, I was still determined to keep the legs pumping and not stop until we reached CP20. Low and behold, one pedal at a time, I was proud of myself to make it without having to push the bike uphill as others were hoping off! Small feat for some, but for me I was thrilled! The time was 11:45am and we still had one more climb, a long downhill, and a climb up 600 stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls… in just over an hour. The race staff manning CP20 told us if we made the climb on the bike without stopping, we could make it in 25 minutes. We made it in 20! Legs pumping, hill #2 down! We wrote down the time at CP21 and began our last bike leg, a little over 4 miles, and 99% downhill. This was a thrilling ride as we whipped around gravelly roads, careful not to get to aggressive and fly clear off the side of the mountain. With a little over a mile left, we hit pavement and the speed picked up, reaching nearly 40mph at one point. Halfway down the pavement, I began smelling the brakes, leading me to wonder, “what am I going to do if my brakes give out?” With this in mind, I began paying close attention to the shoulder of the road and developing “Plan B”, in other words my bail-out plan. There wasn’t much shoulder to work with, maybe 2 feet followed by a steel barrier. I couldn’t have been happier when the road began to flatten and the parking lot where we were to drop our bikes was in sight! Quickly checking in at CP22, we leapt off the bikes, stripped off a few items and began our trek to the base of the falls. Then my heart sank. I have a tendency to rub my ring finger with my thumb, a habit I’ve developed since September! Rewinding a bit… shortly after the race start I realized I forgot to take my wedding ring off. Back to the present. My ring was gone! Holy crap. It was 12:30. We had a half mile to the base of the falls, a few ramps, then 600 stairs to finish. All in 30 minutes. Crap. I ran back to the bikes knowing that it must’ve come off when I removed my bike gloves. Beginning my search, Peter Jolles from Team Checkpoint Zero and a couple others were standing around and asked me what was up. After telling them, they said go ahead, they’ll look. Almost to the ramps, one of the guys rode up and presented my ring! THANK YOU!! Okay, 12:35, up we started. The first set of stairs, 175 of them. Done, time: 12:39. Okay, this isn’t taking quite as long as I thought. Next set of stairs, 425 of them. One step at a time, we inched our way closer to the finish line. Last step out of the way and there was the finish line… 12:46 and we were done!

Brutal. The only word that comes to mind, and one I heard from many others at the after-race pow-wow. This race really tested our limits, but never broke us. 28 hours. 59 miles on bike, 30 on foot, 200 yards in the ice bath. 20,000 feet of elevation gain. 35 teams began the race, 14 finished officially. Unfortunately a bad decision by us and a few other teams, pushing hard to make it to the finish in time, in not punching CP21 cost us an official finish. Unofficially, we would've rolled in at 6th place in our division and 7th overall, but official is all that counts! Heartbroken, we can still be proud of our finish! Hard tough race, well worth the travel and time. A few strategic mistakes certainly took their toll where we lost a tremendous amount of time. However, I always learn something new in every tough race. Thanks to Team ROC Gear & 4lph4 1337 Adventures for creating an excellent race and especially to all the great sponsors for their help! This race had the best swag I’ve seen at a race! Special thanks to Hi-Tec for a brand new pair of V-Lite Infinity HPi trail shoes! Finally, congrats to my teammates for a great finish, I had a good time pushing through a demanding race!

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!

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!!

Swamp Fox 12-Hour Adventure Race

Palmetto Swamp Fox Adventure Race (12 Hour) - Francis Marion National Forest, SC
Team Sons of Thunder - Solo

March 19th, 2011

It has been quite a while since I’ve written one of these up, so bear with me! I competed in my first race of 2011 this past weekend north of Charleston, SC. In brief, it was a 12-hour race that started with an approximately 2 mile prologue run to break up the crowd followed by a 9 mile paddle along the tidal areas, 4 or so more miles on foot then a transition to bike which covered over 50 files plus a few more on foot intermixed during this portion.

We had a great day to race with the morning temps hovering just below 60 degrees and low wind increasing to around 80 degrees in the afternoon. Just enough to feel the heat, but not too much to really wear you down a significant amount. This was an early start, leaving the hotel at 4:15am in order to drop the bike at a TA around 5:00am at a location south of the start/finish in McClellanville, SC. We were given our CPs once we checked-in that morning and went to work plotting out the locations and intended routes. It was obvious there would be a good amount of biking in this race.

The race started with a prologue which included four CPs around the town of McClellanville. Each team was handed a town map with instructions and at 7:09 the race was off. We covered just under 2 ½ miles around town before returning to the start area to unscramble a word in order to continue. Another racer from Charlotte I train with, Matt Getz, and I worked together to getting our kayaks in the water as both of us were racing solo. I was off from the dock around 7:35. We were lucky to have relatively calm water for our paddling section which took us out through tidal marshes and a portion of Bulls Bay before returning to the Inter-coastal Waterway where we took out at Buck Hall ramp. There were four CPs along the way while watching the sun rise and dolphins surfacing not 10 yards from the boats. A fairly easy paddle, but going solo you have to be more efficient as you don’t have the benefit of team members keeping the boat moving forward while you take a break to refuel or check the map. In all, the paddle covered 9 miles and I was at the TA to foot at 9:43.

At this point I was sitting around seventh or so, with three teams leaving the boat ramp heading into the foot section. Here I caught up with Matt again and he and I took off on foot to grab the next few CPs. The terrain was easy along the trails and we were able to make good time picking up CP5, then catching up to two other teams (Northern Lites 3-person coed, and another solo) before reaching CP6. This checkpoint consisted of a rope latter/zip line combo which I was able to get in and out before the other teams. I was glad to put some separation between me and other racers but ended up boggling the next CP when I second guessed my distance and retraced my steps just before reaching CP7. Another 30 feet and I would’ve been there, but I turned around and wasted a good 10 minutes before making it back down to the CP. As soon as I punched my passport, I could hear the other teams behind me. Both Northern Lites and myself sat looking at a swamp crossing for a few extra minutes thinking, we could easily loose a shoe in that stuff never to be seen again. Finally, I got restless and tried to jumping lightly through, but ended up shin deep in rank swamp muck. Which reminds me I still need to clean those shoes. I was able to pull away a little between here and the TA to bikes, just behind Matt. However not before noticing too late that some vines or tree limbs had ripped open my pack and took my rain jacket and headlamp with them. No time to fret I suppose. We were in the TA at 10:40am, after covering approximately 4 ½ miles on foot.

After a few minutes changing over, I was on the bike and heading toward CP8. This CP was just off the Swamp Fox Trail; an easy, flat, straight trail which you could cruise right on through. I cut off the trail up a couple of paved roads to get to the intersection I was looking for which would act as an attack point for the next CP. When I was a few hundred yards from the intersection, I saw Matt just leaving and heading back up another trail so I was still feeling pretty good. I took my bearing from the intersection and began bushwhacking through some heavy brush. There were a couple of other teams out there looking for it as well, and before long I came across an old road and just down a bit was the CP. As soon as I punched the passport and began heading back, I saw atleast four teams barreling up the road toward me on their bikes! Turns out the spur road on the map went a little further than shown… as in all the way back to the CP from the intersection. So as I was on foot, all these teams caught up with me due to taking the road. Goof number two. A little heated, I tore up the trail toward the next CP, skipping the water stop and blowing right past CP10, luckily realizing it a minute later. I was able to skip over to a road to get off the trail (which had turned slower due to a plethora of roots) and made up a little time picking up CP11, passing another team back on the Swamp Fox Trail on the way to CP12.

The race director told us solos that the mandatory 10’ length of rope would come in handy “later in the race”, and CP12 was it. The CP was suspended on a rope in the middle of an old gully, probably 12’ off the ground. I pulled out my rope and threw it over the CP rope, wishing it was a foot longer because I couldn’t reach the other end… damn my 5’8” stature… I ended up having to find a long tree branch, carefully pulling down the CP rope while throwing my length of rope over it until I could reach the other end, finally enabling me to reach the CP punch. This took about five minutes and a good 10 tries until I was able to reach it. The next three CPs (13,14,15) could be reached two different ways. Everyone I saw was grabbing 14 & 15 first, followed by 13 on the way back, as you could take the road it was located on to get to CP16. I decided to grab 13 first, backtracking near 12 and heading up to get 14 then 15. Matt passed me again as I turned down a side road to grab CP14. He had gained some ground on me by my estimation. After CP15, instead of heading back the same way I just came like many others, I rode a bit further north to hit a paved road which took me back around to approach CP16. About a mile short of CP16, I saw another solo that was ahead of me pulling out coming from the other direction. We both arrived at CP16 together and he put enough pressure on me to get me to speed up a little. CP17 was an easy punch and I passed Matt sitting on the side of the road refueling and screwing around with his map. As you can imagine, I was really feeling good now! That ended up being short lived. Minutes later he’s on my ass and we shoot up an old overgrown road filled with downed trees to grab CP18. Low and behold, there was the leader, only minutes ahead of us! I believe at this point, both he and Matt felt like they must’ve been taking it too easy because they turned it on! I had to refold my map so I lost more precious minutes after punching the CP. On my way out Northern Lites and another team passed me heading up the road. After grabbing CP19, I turned up the road to grab CP20, both the leader and Matt passing me heading to CP21. Instead of following a bearing from an intersection to get CP20, I thought “eh, it shouldn’t be too far in”, so I just ran in the woods looking blindly. It didn’t take long for Northern Lites to catch up, and they ended up finding it before I could.

Only a minute behind Northern Lites, it was apparent they were going to take the same route to CP21 as I intended. Bad choice. We turned down a side road, immediately questionable due to the overgrown condition, which was supposed to connect through the swamp to another road with the checkpoint about halfway down. It appeared I was gaining some ground only to realize they were off their bikes walking and looking around. Uh-oh, I thought. The road had simply disappeared. Wondering what to do (turning around and going the long way around not being one of them) we all talked about what in the world to do next. I decided to just shoot a bearing though the swamp brush and began bike-whacking (aka pulling myself and my bike through chest to head high brush), assuming they would be following in-kind. After a few minutes, I look back and see nobody. Then I look around and see nothing but swamp and brush. Luckily it wasn’t very wet, but I couldn’t see a thing on the ground. Hoping I would have no luck at finding a rattler or rogue gator, I forged ahead, finally making it to the road I was looking for. Whew. From there, the CP was easily found coming back up the “lost road” from the other direction, where I made the mile out and back on foot. Ah, there they are again, Northern Lites. I hopped on the bike and started making my way to CP22, only for the neglect of my nutrition to start having an affect. Not a mile down the road my inner thighs began cramping along with my right calf… all at the same time. I stopped briefly to eat a couple of granola bars and suck down the rest of my electrolytes. As I reached CP22, I saw the cooler first… filled with Gatorade! Yay! Great timing (thanks KanDo!). However the joy of carbs and liquid pleasure was quickly eroded when I saw the CP hanging (again) up a tree with a very skinny rope “ladder” type contraption at about a 30 degree angle leading up to it. There was no way my arms could make that journey, so I dropped my gear, passport in mouth, and shimmied up the tree hoping my legs wouldn’t begin cramping again. Sliding back down the tree (leaving a top layer of shin skin on the bark) I felt nearly out of gas. Making it to CP23, I again had trouble finding it in good time and Northern Lites was on me again. Again finding it first. I make it to the attack area for the last checkpoint just after Northern Lites and tear ahead through the bush on foot without hesitation, thinking this is my last chance to try to get and stay ahead of them. Although I left with the punch a minute before they did, there was nothing I could do to hold the team of strong bikers from passing me. The road back was easy and I glided to the finish for a total time just under 10 hours, finishing at 5:06pm and good enough for 4th overall, three minutes behind Northern Lites.

All in all, I had an awesome time and learned a little about racing in the swamp. It was a great course design and very well put together. Kudos to Steve Morrone of KanDo Adventures and his volunteers as well as the other racers that made it an exciting race. It felt more like a sprint race than a half-day race as we kept the pace strong throughout the race, knowing any slip ups could easily cost a finishing position.