Yes, long overdue post! You certainly don’t have to remind me :-)! It was a long dark winter to [in]ActiveSteve. While I would normally be all over the snowy trails of Gatineau Parc, I spent most of the winter / early spring in full-on rehab mode from my ankle ligament surgery. Whereas my surgeon had mentally prepared me for a 6-month delay before getting back into sports, my physio and hard work paid off, and within 3 months I was back on skis, and working hard at getting back fully to sport. While I’m STILL not at 100%, I AM back doing what I love, and this post is my first official 2019 race report from the Raid Pulse 8 hour Adventure Race!! Read on for all the details!
Rather than diving in head first with a purely trail running race, I decided to make this adventure race my first event of the season. Partly because I love it, and partly because I figured that in this event, my ankle wouldn’t be punished the entire time! With the volume of biking in this one, I was definitely right on that call. Another reason to do this event was that this year, the start/finish was located in a new spot, the Kenauk Nature reserve just north of Montebello. This meant all new terrain to explore and play in! What could be better?
To get an early jump on the race day fun, Deanna and I drove out on Friday and camped overnight. That way I was registered and had all my gear sorted and ready that evening, giving me more time to socialize and film in the morning. Once maps were distributed, I did a quick review to decide how to play it. I could see there would be a lot of cycling, so I figured I might actually be able to push a bit and see if I could keep up with the leaders. I wasn’t really ‘race ready’, but I had kept in shape during the rehab process. The most important thing would be to listen to my body and NOT SCREW UP (remember that for later…).
The overall race was laid out as follows: Leg 1 was a bike section with 3 checkpoints, one of which was a quick bike drop and run up to a firetower on a hill. Leg 2 was the trekking / orienteering section made up of 4 regular checkpoints and 3 advanced checkpoints. Leg 3 was another long bike with 2 regular CPs and 2 advanced CPs. From there, it was the paddle section with 3 regular CPs and 1 advanced CP. From there, it was a straight bike sprint to the finish. My obvious plan was to ‘clear the course’, picking up all the advanced CPs (all CPs were worth the same number of points). As long as I made it under the 8 hours, it should place me quite well. As I know all too well though, anything can happen, and shortly into the first leg, it did!!
The weather was relatively cool, but the rain was holding off, and it looked like it would be a great day for racing. We knew the trails would be wet, but that’s to be expected in an adventure race. I set myself up about 1/4 way back in the start area, and at the gun, I just tried keeping my wheel near the leaders, not paying too much attention to the maps, as I expected the head of the snake to be on track. Getting to CP1 was like clockwork, and everything looked good. That’s when things went to shit here.
All the lead group missed a key turn, and we found ourselves on a disappearing trail. We kept riding, but that eventually turned into bike-whacking (carrying the bikes and fighting through brush) up and down steep slopes beside a river. Consulting my map, the topography looked right, but was obviously wrong. Eventually people either turned around or tried other paths. I foolishly pressed on before finally realizing the error. My solution was to try to cross the river to a visible trail on the other side. It took 3 tries, as the first 2 attempts led to my bike getting pulled under me in strong currents and knocking me into the river completely (yes, I was carrying the bike in fast-moving water… bad idea). Finally on try number 3 in a shallow part I got across, and hopped on a trail, which I hoped would work. Luckily it did, but I was now WAAAY back :-(…
Once on the right track, I finally got CP2, then bombed my way to the bike drop for the sprint to the firetower CP. Deanna had been posted here, but I had no time to say anything, as I was fighting to regain time. No issues on this one, and I was soon back on the bike. From there, I was again error free, taking me up to transition 1 and getting into the trek. Judging by the number of bikes already there, I had blown it for staying with the leaders. However, I had to focus on the task at hand; a solid orienteering run.
This is where I definitely got lucky. I nailed every single CP pretty much dead on, including the advanced ones. Although in retrospect I made one less-than-optimal route choice between two CPs, overall, it was a very well executed leg, and in what seemed like no time, I found myself smiling and coming back into the transition area. I stopped to chat briefly with Thierry to show my completed control card before hopping back on the bike for the next section. At this point, I did have to make a decision. In order to clear the course, I’d have to make a pretty long slog northwards to grab a remote advanced CP. I’d taken notes and had time checks to refer to, and still felt I was comfortable and had a margin of safety, so I attacked and went for it.
The first regular CP, and both advanced CPs worked out very well, and I was feeling pretty confident finally (after the first mess-up). Looking at the map, it now SHOULD be a pretty easy southwest ski trail for a 3-4 km before hooking a sharp left and making my way to the final CP on this section. Let me assure you, it ALWAYS looks easy on a map. However, the reality in these areas is often not what you expect. Rather than one clear trail, there are often myriad criss-crossing and/or dead end trails. That’s why I always prefer orienteering, where you can just take a bearing. Trails only serve to screw us up. However, I was not alone in my frustration trying to find the correct left trail. At one point, we were no less than 5 teams all bashing around the woods, once again carrying bikes on our shoulders and crossing swamps :-(. Just when I was about to give up, we found a trail, took a chance, and were rewarded with the elusive CP. BIG RELIEF.
Luckily, from here, it WAS an easy bike to the next transition. However, my confidence was once again shattered and I assumed I was now far out of podium contention. That, my friends, is another thing you should never assume in an adventure race. If you are having a problem, others probably are too! Regardless, I was having a blast, and didn’t let that bother me. Just the fact that I was out there putting it all out there was totally worth it! Arriving at TA2, my spirits were still high, and I was looking forward to a nice lake paddle. Also, it looked like I should still be able to clear the course as long as I kept the pressure on myself and paddled hard. It would be tight but doable. I had to save enough time at the end to make the 6k bike back.
Once on the water, I got right to work, and pointed my kayak for the furthest CP, the advanced one. That way, I would have no choice but to pick the rest off on my way back, forcing myself to be fast and efficient. Luckily, the navigation on this section was not tricky, and I made good time, passing some canoes on the water (and unfortunately, seeing others already returning!). After getting the two furthest CPs, I made my way to a small portage where I’d put in at another lake to grab the last 2 CPs. This is where I bumped into one of my usual competitors in my category. He was exiting this area just as I entered. My [incorrect] assumption was that he had just finished the paddle CPs, meaning I was probably 25-30 minutes behind.
Between seeing him, and knowing of another couple folks out ahead, I once again assumed I was off the podium. Regardless, I paddled my way to the final 2 CPs and eventually back towards the transition. Once there, I took my SWEET time. Chatting with volunteers, calmly removing my PFD, packing up paddle etc. Completely unbeknownst to me, the other dude I had talked to had actually been BEHIND me, and had paddled to the 2 farther CPs after seeing me. He had then seen me ahead paddling to the TA, and was a mere 200-300m back! He then ‘snuck’ into transition, dropped his paddle, and just biked straight out, seeing me wasting time. ARGHH!!! I finally got on my bike and finished off as fast as I could.
Waiting for me at the finish was the other dude, and I didn’t piece toether what had happened until the next day when he poked fun at me on facebook for ‘wasting so much time’ at the TA. I was annoyed at myself, but mainly laughed it off. Turns out he had an even worse time than me in a few sections, losing even more time! Regardless, in spite of my foibles, I ended up in 4th position for the male category, and 9th overall of 40 teams in the race. Only 12 of us cleared the official full course as well. Bottom line for me is that I can call this race a success, despite my errors. My health and fitness were good, and it looks like I’ll have a good race season!
As usual, in addition to racing, I also filmed the whole thing, so if you haven’t already checked it out, make sure you watch my race video below. It’ll give you a good overview of the whole race. Frankly, I had a blast, and once again remembered why I enjoy adventure racing. However, with an ankle on the mend, I’m guessing most of my season will be back on the trails running, so keep an eye out for future race reports! Till then, have fun, and stay active!!
Have you heard the news?? Eco-Challenge is back! Televised adventure racing at its best! But I digress. This post isn’t about Eco-Challenge. It is, however, a post all about a recent 24-30 hour adventure race that I just took part in, Wilderness Traverse. The linkage is that the whole reason I began adventure racing, and indeed my entire athletic ‘career’ was thanks to watching Eco-Challenge so many years ago. That show opened my eyes to true adventure and challenge in the great outdoors, and I HAD to get into it and experience if for myself. 16 or so years later, here I am, writing yet another race re-cap for this blog! Anywho, read on for a telling of the tale of my race in Parry Sound!
Greetings friends! So, what does a fellow do when he is 4 weeks between 2 major ultra trail running races? Why, sign up for, and race in a ‘shorter’ adventure race of course! As the title implies, I was looking for a little redemption after a botched attempt at the earlier Raid Pulse adventure race in May. At that time, I was a little over-confident, and ended up with a major orienteering snafu costing me huge amounts of time. I was determined not to make the same mistake at the shorter 4 hour event this time around. When the race is only 4 hours, you have even less of a margin of error if you’re trying to get on the podium. So how did I do? Well, read on and find out!
When you last heard from me, I was gallivanting through the hills of Bear Mountain, NY, struggling through my first trail run of the season, which also happened to be my first race of the season. Fast forward 2 weeks, and I was back out there competing in another race. However, I opted to go back to one of my other passions, Adventure Racing! I figured that since my foot has been a problem, I should dive a bit back into multi-sport racing. So with that, I found myself at the start line of one of my favourites, the 8-hour Raid Pulse Adventure Race with many old friends. Although it was my first AR in 2 years, I had high hopes, and was racing solo. Whatever the course may hold, I knew either way, it would be fun. Did it all go to plan? Definitely not, so read on to learn more about his adventure!
I’m usually happiest in two situations. First is when I’m pushing myself physically and mentally, and secondly, when I’m outdoors enjoying all the activities I like to partake in, like running, paddling, and mountain biking. Luckily, I get to combine both those into one package when I take part in Adventure Races. While I have planned to focus pretty much exclusively on trail running this year, I decided to get things started by taking part in the 8 hour Raid Pulse adventure race, now in its 15th year!! Since it may be my only AR event of the year, I wanted to make the most of it. I was racing and filming the event, and also decided to link up with my good friend and AR veteran John Ranson for the event. Read on for the skinny on the race.
Leading up to the race, my training was predominantly trail running, combined with my daily commute to and from work on my road bike. I did zero true mountain biking, and the only paddle I pulled off was when John and I got out for a nice 12k paddle on the Gatineau River. At that time, we chatted about our expectations, with John warning (read: foreshadowing) me that he hadn’t done much biking, so was pretty sure he’d be slower than me. I assured him that was okay, as my main goal was to push hard, and have fun with a friend on the race. He agreed to take care of navigation so that I could focus on filming.
Race day broke clear, sunny, and near perfect. It promised to be good weather for most of the day, with sunny to overcast conditions and not too hot. I had camped onsite the night before so that I wouldn’t have to scramble in the morning, even though the race was only an hour away at Mont Ste. Marie. This area has done a great job in building up its mountain biking options in the recent years, so I knew biking would definitely figure in prominently, but would actually be single track, aka the FUNNEST riding possible.
At race briefing, we got our maps and saw the course layout for the first time. The order of the sections were as follows: trekking, paddling, biking, trekking, biking, finish. The start featured a straight run up the ski mountain in front of us, which would help separate the race field and spread us out. We took off at a decent pace and I’d say we were in the top 10 heading up the hill. We had a few minor bobbles on the opening trek, but they only lead to a few minutes of accumulated errors in our estimation. We had ALMOST skipped a CP, but thanks to us both being navigators and double checking what we’d covered, we caught our mistake in time to not impact our routing too much. All in all, we were very efficient, and our navigation was quite strong on this leg, allowing us to pop out and get on the water in the top 8 or so position.
The water was glassy smooth in the late morning light, and our canoe was identical to most of the others, so we had no real excuse for any shortcomings in the paddle leg, which would actually total a shorter overall distance than our one paddle training outing! Once on the water, and headed to the first ‘advanced’ CP on the water, we were surprised to see the lead team already paddling back to transition! That meant they had 30-40 minutes on us. Also, I don’t think I have ever seen a canoe move so fast on water. There was a wake coming off the back. They looked like men possessed, even though there was no one near their tail. But, that’s what you have to do in order to secure a podium. Never give an inch, no matter what. 8 hours is still a long time, and anything can happen.
For our part, we wrapped up the paddle leg pretty uneventfully. Our time was nothing to brag about, but we generally kept our place on the water, perhaps losing 1 or 2 slots. I still had us pegged as contenders in some fashion, given the future trekking leg, and our strong navigation abilities. At transition, we took the chance to fuel up a bit and make sure we had all we’d need for the next long section. We were about head into the MTB trails of Velo MSM to catch a bunch of checkpoints before doing a bit of cross-country to reach the next trekking leg.
We headed off at a moderate pace, figuring we’d warm up a bit on the road section before tackling the trails. Already, John started dropping the pace a bit, but I was unfazed, even though he was already visibly irritated at himself. I did my best to encourage him and let up my pace a tad. I’m probably strongest on the road based on all my road bike commuting. 30k per day helps! We turned onto the Velo MSM trails, and thankfully we had more mental work to do in determining routes, etc, which helped mitigate pacing issues. However, it did become clear quite quickly again that John was getting frustrated at his own progress on the singletrack biking.
For my part, I was just having fun on the trails, and felt quite (surprisingly?) strong out there. I had forgotten just how much I do love mountain biking. Maybe someday I’ll get back into more cross-country riding rather than spending all my time running like a fool out there! I kept telling John not to worry about it, just focus on the riding, and not waste energy feeling frustrated, since it wouldn’t help anything. We’d get where we were going when we got there. I felt really bad later on when he outright told me I should just continue without him. I have NEVER abandoned a team-mate, and firmly believe in the team construct, and accept that a team will only ever be as fast as the slowest person, and all you can really do is help them. Unfortunately, there was almost nothing I could do for John. I took as much weight out of his pack as I could, but it wasn’t enough to boost his spirits much.
However, John knows the game. And he also knows how to push through. He is used to being at the pointy end of the stick, and I think wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with feeling weakness. Lucky for me, I’ve been there, A LOT, over the years. Being the weaker team-mate on more than one occasion, I felt qualified to know what NOT to do or say. I stayed positive and we just kept pushing. We got all our CPs and made it up to the top of yet another mountain (hill?) to arrive at the remote trekking transition. Back on our feet, we hoped to move smoothly through this section.
We did move well, with me trying to stay ahead and grab the CPs as quick as possible, letting John hang back where we could and focus on the maps. The best part of this section was the little swim that we had an option to take. I didn’t hesitate to strip down, head into the swamp / lake to cool off, pick up a CP, and head back. Since it was under 100m, John stayed on the far shore. The water was very refreshing, but smelly. I emerged like a swamp beast, with all the insects instantly attracted to me. Wasting no time, I re-dressed, and we got back on our way.
Back at transition, John got busy mapping the final few advanced checkpoints (which we didn’t get to see until this moment). It was more biking, so not John’s favourite. He was lobbying to skip a few and just make sure we finished under the 8 hr time limit. You could go over time, but the penalty was a point per minute, and with every CP worth a fixed 25 points, you had to make a decision on your approach. After a quick discussion and looking at the maps, I conceded that we could definitely skip one outlier CP, but felt we should do our very best to nab the rest. John agreed, and we were off. By now, things were also very hot, so dehydration was starting to fall over some racers. I’d managed my fluids pretty well, but John was low.
We kept hacking away on the bikes, making steady progress. Again, we bobbled once on the bikes, overshooting and adding a couple kilometers in distance, as well as probably 20-30 minutes over ‘optimal’ at our speed, but nothing major. Certainly nothing soul crushing. Overall, I can safely say I was still having fun, and although I will admit to being disappointed at NOT clearing the course this time around, it was still a positive experience. Being mentally and physically strong for an entire race felt good, and gave me confidence going into another race season.
We wrapped up the race on the bikes with a super-fun descent on more of the Velo MSM trails. I let myself get a bit ahead of John in this section, but only because it was a downhill technical run and I really wanted to bomb it for fun. I passed a lot of other racers, then waited at the exit of the trail for John. When he came into view, I hooted and hollered, and we rode the rest of the way down smiling having fun. UNTIL I did an endo!. 100m from the finish in a ditch. Sadly, it wasn’t captured well on film, but I basically was following a track that went straight down a dropoff into a ditch rather than the track next to it which had a clean path down and out of the ditch. Thankfully, no injuries were sustained, and we crossed the line.
When the dust settled and results were tallied, John and I finished off in 7th in our category and 11th overall, in a field of 40. Not podium material, but completely respectable, and still quite high in terms of number of CPs attained (we only skipped 1). After reflection, John decided that he got what he deserved, as he knows that you need to put the training in to do well, and he simply hadn’t been putting in the time to be a top contender. He also shared that he was used to being strong, and had hated the thought of slowing me down and/or holding me back. But while I would have liked to race harder and push myself to my limits, I was completely content to race the way we did. I accomplished my goal and spent my day in my ‘happy place’. What more can I ask for? It’s not always about winning. It’s about learning about yourself and about others, and savouring the experience.
As usual, the entire Raid Pulse crew put on a great event. Just the right size of event, with the right number of volunteers, and a well laid-out course. Thierry knows what he is doing, and I hope to be doing this event for another 10 years! Shortly after we finished however, storm clouds rolled in, and I suspect some racers may not share my fond memories, as they got caught in a torrential downpour on a very technical descent on mountain bikes! Yikes! Hopefully the rotisserie chicken meal at the awards ceremony made up for it!
Well, that wraps up my race report. If you haven’t done so already, please watch my race review below to get a sense of this race. Put it on your calendar for next year. If you’ve never done an AR event, this is one to try. With both a 2hr and 8hr option, there is no reason NOT to try it! That’s it for now. Stay tuned for my report from my first 50miler (80km) trail race of the season coming up next.
Greetings friends. I’m pretty excited to be able to write a blog post about a race I recently did in Pennsylvania. Why? Well, for starters, it was a 44 hour adventure race. Also, I have never been to Pennsylvania for a race. And finally, it was because this race was not even on my radar until a few weeks before, when Deanna pointed out a post on Facebook from a friend stating they were seeking a team-mate. Had she not encouraged me to throw my name in the hat, I wouldn’t have even raced a multi-day AR this year! How sad would that have been? Read on for my tale of climbing mountains on my mountain bike over and over again….
48 Hour races (44 in this case) in the AR world are one of the best challenges for a middling team. You have enough time to get into real trouble and/or make some really great decisions to help your standing. Anything can happen, and you definitely start to hit the wall of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. Going into a 48 Hr race, you know you will not sleep, so it is all about smart decisions and figuring out as much as you can in advance, so you are not planning when dead tired. Unfortunately, this race didn’t really allow you to use that strategy, and in my opinion, this race was more like a multiple stage orienteering race than a pure adventure race.
What do I mean by that? Well, here are a few things. First, the maps. They were huge, and not marked. We got them 1.5 hours before the start, along with a very brief (<1 page) instruction sheet. I started trying to furiously plot the points on it using the UTM co-ordinates before realizing they had master maps posted on a wall of a building. Unfortunately, all teams were trying to copy the maps at the same time, making it VERY challenging to transcribe, and also prepare all your gear, since it was the first chance we had of seeing the order of events. Oh right, and I should mention that I was in the navigator role so that my teammate Brad could focus on doing filming of the event, and my other teammate Jessica could focus on the fact that this was her FIRST RACE >8 hours in length!
Matters were made worse by colder-than-expected weather, forcing organizers to completely re-imagine the course a day earlier! They had to cancel rafting, swimming, and ropes sections right off the bat, forcing extra mountain biking on us. As a result, we also only got instruction for about the first 20 hours of racing. The next sections would be revealed to us later (or maybe just made up as we got there??).
So, where exactly was the race and what was it? Well, this was the Equinox Traverse Adventure Race, and took place in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania (near the Maryland and West Virginia Borders). This region features many state parks and state forests, leaving lots of options for adventuring. It is also very close to the highest point in Pennsylvania, Mount Davis, at 3,200ft elevation. While we did not climb that feature, we DID go up and down MANY >2,000 ft climbs during the course of our race.
So, back to the start line. Maps now marked and roughly folded to fit into my map carrier on my bike, we straddled our mountain bikes to get ready for the rolling start as a group. We had a roughly 2k road section where we were to stay together before we were cut loose to hammer to the next transition. This section was a taster for what would become a theme of this race. On our bikes. Climbing long sections, then bombing down others. On a combination of roads, gravel roads, fire tower road, trails, and singletrack. Not to spoil the surprise, but we basically spent ~35 of our 40 hours of the race on our butts doing this!! Not everyone was as ‘lucky’ as us, as you’ll learn.
Our first section didn’t feature any real CPs to be punched, just a nice bike section to the first transition of the day, where we were switching to trekking. We started the bike leg at 9am, and got into the first transition at 11:15 am. You can click here for detailed results and times for the race. At this point, we took the time to organize food and maps before heading out. We didn’t want to overlook anything, as we only had until 6pm to get as many CPs in this area as we could, and we wanted to get them all. This area featured some great trails and elevation gain giving us impressive views of the area. I wished I could pull out my camera and snap pictures, but my hands were full with maps and compass, navigating and keeping us on track. We quickly discovered that there were plenty of trails not indicated on the maps. When trekking, I can say that I personally HATE that! The easiest is to take a bearing and just bushwhack in my opinion. When you have myriad trails, you have to take educated guesses on which might help, and decide then to abandon them.
Luck was with us for the most part, and the route choices and trails made general sense. It helped that our destination was often the highest point in an area, so we could read the terrain around us for cues and clues. It took us a little longer than we’d hoped to grab our 2nd CP (the first was an easy grab on a small island not far from the TA). This CP also introduced us to the fact that this area was THICK with stinging nettles and briars. The best sum-up would come from a post I came across on Facebook after the event:
The only hints I’m giving away for the Equinox, is if your in the stinging nettles, briars so thick Peter Cottontail would have hard time crawling through, knee straining rock gardens, seeing occasional piles of bear poop and maybe hearing the sound of a baby rattle in the middle of the woods…..you might be close to a CP. Oh and ticks.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of pushing your way through a sea of stinging nettles, I do NOT recommend it. The going was very slow, and it definitely tested our mental fortitude. Looking at the time we’d spent already in this section, we got concerned about getting the remaining checkpoints in time, but pressed on, deciding to run to the furthest CP in the section, and making our way back. Once again, we had a slight challenge getting this one due in part to mis-reading the cue sheet descriptions. In reality, our navigation was in fact bang on, it was just finding the actual CP flags that seemed to challenge us, as they are often in an area of 100 square meters or so, and it can take time to locate them. Once again, although we were a little annoyed at the time delay, we again re-grouped and pressed on, with me adjusting our route plan on the fly in hopes of getting lucky on the next few CPs.
Luck was with us from that point for the remainder of the trek. We picked up some very useful trails, and had gotten more used to ‘guessing’ where the CPs might actually be. We also had the chance to do some classic straight-line bushwhacking, which netted us some solid progress and ending up finding the rest of the CPs on the mountain (while enjoying a few glimpses of the spectacular views). Time was tight, but we were confident we could run back to the TA in time. Luckily, backtracking was made simpler as the route I had chosen took us back to a point where we’d be able to basically just double back on the ‘right’ trails more easily. However, it was still a real push to wrap things up quick, as you’ll see by our time in at the TA. 5:56pm. Yup. 4 minutes to spare! While many teams had already left, we learned that several teams had not ‘cleared’ the section, so we took this as a small victory (and personally, I’d say in retrospect, that was our greatest accomplishment in the race).
The team was cooked from the recent effort, so time was spent re-grouping, filling water, etc, before taking off. This was perfect for me, as I had not even started planning out our next route choices on the bike, which involved plotting 3-4 supplementary maps, and preparing for a long night of cycling, much of it in remote park locations. As I sorted the routes out, it seemed very likely to me that we’d face our first true decision point on which CPs to skip, since our next deadline was 4am, and there was a LOT of ground to cover. Sadly, we mis-interpreted another little instruction on the sparse directions, which noted we had to check in at TA3 by 4am, and would not have access to any CPs north of a certain highway. Uncertain of which road that meant, we took that to mean we were not allowed to grab any more of the CPs in this whole quadrant by 4am. As we learned later (and others also made this mistake), that was not true.
So fast forward on the bikes now. I had plotted as conservative a route as I could (i.e. avoiding as many of the crazy long climbs as possible), while having a clear plan to get as many CPs as possible, while giving us ‘outs’ and shortcuts as needed in some of the parks. I was quite pleased with the plan I had devised as it should have maximized our ability to grab CPs. The plan involved working on clearing the ‘south’ area of this leg first, then working our way north before veering east to the TA. In effect, it meant we were grabbing CPs that we’d eventually (although at that time unknown to us due to not having the information yet) see again, and COULD have picked up AFTER 4am! Looking back at the maps, it isn’t clear that we would have done things differently, as the alternative was a LOT of trails and tougher biking, and we were already not that fast at this point.
I will state that although this section was now in the depths of the night, it was actually quite fun to navigate and ride. There was a good mix of route types, and enough trails and challenges that you had to be sharp, but not ‘perfect’. Given more time and speed, clearing it wouldn’t have been that difficult from a navigation perspective. However, hindsight is 20/20, and in the end, we left a LOT of CPs out on the course once we made our move to head to TA3. Some of the CPs were so far removed, and required really long slogs up or down trails that were un-rideable that losing an hour on 1 CP was quite easy. Again, we made our priority getting to the TA before that 4am cutoff a priority, as we were warned there would be ‘severe’ penalties for missing them.
Let me digress here to point out a complaint we felt is warranted here. The notion of a ‘severe’ penalty was completely unexplained to racers. There was not a single ‘rule’ about the race, nor how it would be scored or how we’d be ranked depending on these cutoffs, etc. This left us uncertain what the best choices to make would be. Rush to make cutoffs? Grab an extra CP or 2 to get more points? Would there be a short course option? Would we be disqualified for missing cutoffs? It was frustrating to have more questions than answers, especially when we were out there trying to make a decision on what to do in a pinch. So, we made the best decisions we could, and hoped for the best.
Digression over, I’m happy to say we yet again got to the cutoff with 8 minutes to spare. You’ll note on the timesheet we cut it closer than anyone else EVERY time :-). This particular cutoff was at a 24 / 7 gas station. At this point, it was FREEZING outside (like 4-5 degrees!), so we loved the heat indoors. We also loved the gas station Pizza, Burgers, and other food that we bought to fuel up. Once again, we took our grand time here. In part to fuel up, and also so that I could plot the next section, which was only revealed to us now. It involved quite a bit of back tracking, and then entering an area called ‘Bear Run’ and following what they said were orange ribbons to the next TA. We were given no information on what awaited us there, only that we had to make it there by 10:30am.
Seemed easy enough. 6.5 hours to bike to the next CP? Not so fast tiger. First, by the time we left, it was already 5am. Then, Jess flatted out as soon as we got underway, which I fixed as fast as I could on the roadside, but this still cost us time. THEN we made the decision to pick up 2 CPs from the previous section, now that we knew we were allowed to. We were happy to grab them, but didn’t realize the fresh hell awaiting us on the way to Bear Run. For starters, the climbing was really starting to wear on poor Jess. She was hurting and struggling, so we took some weight from her, and did what we could , but admittedly, progress on the roads was slow. The focus was on eating, drinking, and bouncing back, which she did by the time we got to the ‘entry’ of Bear Run, which was a flagged roadside trail entry. The directions just said to follow the flagging tape to the CP. We assumed that it would take a while with the mountains, but at least it should be straightforward, right?
WRONG! The flagging was pretty consistent for the first couple kilometers INTO this park, then, all of a sudden, it STOPPED! Ok, now what? We were well into the park, but with no map indicating ANY of the trails we were on (even though they were named). Once again, all we knew is that certain roads were completely out of bounds. Logically, we new that we might hit one such road, and wanted to avoid it, in case if would lead to disqualification. That meant a bunch of climbing up, looking for flagging, then changing our minds, doubling all the way back and dropping all the way down off the mountain, still not finding tape. We heard the road, worried about the DQ risk, and eventually decided to head back all the way UP, agreeing that either we’d missed flagging, or it didn’t exist, and that we should have just kept going up and around. This was definitely a low point on team morale, but the worst was yet to come.
Once we got ALL THE WAY BACK UP and a whole lot further, we finally saw another team, commenting “oh look, another team trying to follow the flagging”. They were trekking, so at least we knew what was next. They were kind enough to: a) share their own absolute frustration at this part of the race and b) share an additional map they had gotten AFTER the bike showing the trails and their names in this region. This indicated that we had to go ALL THE FRIGGING WAY BACK DOWN, and that we had been dangerously close to the TA and not known it (like 10-15 minutes away). We had lost many hours by now. Ultimately, although the cut-off had been noted as 10:30am, we only showed up at 1:21pm, but were told the cut-off was not being enforced here. Small miracles!
At this point, we got the lowdown on the next section, which was an orienteering leg in the Bear Run State Park. It looked quite easy (with the now-supplied map), but time consuming. Teams seeking to clear the whole course were taking about 4 hours to do so. Our main issue was that in order to make it to the NEXT transition, we still had a lot of biking to do, and were looking at a 6pm cutoff. We had the idea to grab at least 1 checkpoint near the TA, but after overhearing several other teams discussing the time it would take to bike to the next TA, we got spooked, and decided to pack back up and get right back on our bikes. All told, we spent 40 minutes in the TA. This was spent eating, addressing sore parts, and mapping out the next part of the race. This was the FIRST (and ONLY) chance we had access to our miniscule 40L team gear bin. It basically only had room for a little food, and spare clothes should we need it. In this TA, I was in a bit of a funk after the last major delay, and not excited about riding the saddle for many more hours. However, such is the way things go sometimes. We’d now been on our bikes from 6pm Saturday to 1pm Sunday, a total of 19 hours, and about to keep pedaling.
Once again, the route we were going to follow was a bit of back-tracking in the State Park, then we had to make a choice on how to get to the transition area. We decided to take a bit of a gamble by heading down an extremely steep ATV trail from the top of the mountain we were on down to the river, then follow this ATV trail along the river into a village before linking with the road many other teams were likely taking. What a ride! We had to stop numerous times to let our forearms have a break as well as make sure the brakes weren’t overheating or wearing out. It was STEEP! What a rush. At the bottom, we discovered our ATV track was not as ‘smooth’ as we’d hoped, so any time gain we might have had by taking the shorter route was likely offset by the slog we faced. I now hit my absolute lowest in the race. We often use a scale of 1-5 to share with the team how we feel. I reported a 0.75. However, that merely frustrated me, so I ate more, blocked out everything else (not even talking…), and just plowed on hard, taking no rest or giving me any time to get frustrated. I was determined to not make this be a factor in our race. After a little while I bounced back (as we always do), just in time for a stand-off we were NOT expecting!
Just before we hit a real road in the village we had targeted (and dangerously close to the cutoff) we realized we were about to cross a sign that said “Private Property”. A mere 500 feet from the road we wanted. And of course, the owner was on his porch, and none too pleased. We had a genuine standoff here, uncertain whether we were going to be fired upon, have police called or what. In our exhausted state, we did all we could to assure the gentleman we meant to disrespect, and were merely ‘lost’ and didn’t realize the property was private. In all fairness, this was true. From the map, this trail clearly went across state park land (free access) and was not clear that the final 500 feet might be private. We lost precious minutes before finally somehow convincing / promising him we’d leave quickly, quietly and would NEVER return. Apparently they are very zealous of property rights in this area. Duly noted. Reinvigorated by the adrenaline and fear, we roared off on our bikes, now more than ever determined to make the 6pm cutoff. A few quick route decisions, and we were pulling into the TA, seeing a sea of bikes, but no other teams. On the plus side, it was 5:59pm!!! We’d made it. Brad was ecstatic.
Just as quickly as he was ecstatic, he was crushed. As we were hugging the fact that we’d ‘made it’, the race crew clarified that we had to be on the water at 6pm, not arrive at the TA. So we had missed the paddle section! This also meant we would miss the next trekking section, since it involved trekking from the kayak pull-out BACK to this point before grabbing bikes and cycling to the finish. However, the “good news” was that we could just take our bikes and do the trekking section using our bikes before making our way to the finish. We had now been awake for about 35 hours, and on our bikes for the last 24 hours straight. We didn’t immediately see the fact that we’d get to keep biking as ‘good news’.
For my part, I let Brad and Jess sort through their feelings about this while focusing on plotting the next section on the maps anyway. There was little point to getting angry now. On the plus side, there was no way we wouldn’t be finishing the race at least, and getting out as soon as we could would be helpful, as we still had some daylight to use to find the final 4 checkpoints. I soon realized that we had a VERY long climb ahead of us, and didn’t want to share the extent of this with the team just yet, instead just encouraging everyone to get ready and head back out. Which we did, but not before witnessing the eventual winner of the race running into the TA having finished both the paddle AND the trek, and back to grab his bike to head to the finish! He had a mere 7-9 miles left on rail trail to finish the race, whereas we were now facing many more hours on trails and access roads on our bikes before getting there. If nothing, it was inspirational to see a solo racer that far ahead and winning!
Off we went! We made our way to the bottom of what was called ‘fire tower road’, a climb of probably over 2,000ft total lay ahead. Luckily, a nice old timer at his house invited us to use his outdoor hose to fill up our bladders with fresh filtered creek water. This kind of made up for the last cantankerous fellow. We were warned by him (and several other people we saw on our way) that this road was NOT friendly, and very steep. Lol. If only they knew what we’d been up to for the past 32+ hours. We slowly made our way up and up and up. When we reached the top and grabbed the 1st of the final 4 CPs, we started running across teams on foot completing this trekking section, including friends. They were a bit confused seeing us on bikes. We explained our situation, wished everyone well, and kept going. Night was now upon us again, but luckily, I felt confident about the route choices, and just settled in for many more hours of riding at a slow pace to keep us all together (Jessica didn’t have a proper light for night 2, and was a bit bagged).
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say the last 3 checkpoints, while not incredibly hard to find, did take us quite a little while to get. The final CP involved a long ride on a fun single-track trail (usually limited to hikers, but we got to ride it), then a long road climb to a park summit. Once we finally located the CP hidden in the woods, we knew it was just a matter of downhill riding to the finish line. We had a mini-celebration up there, knowing we had succeeded.
We rolled across the finish line at 1:08am. Technically, this put our finish time somewhere in the middle of the pack, albeit having finished an ‘alternative’ course. Our category standing put us in 6th of 9 teams, and overall 8th of 16 teams, based on our points. However, more importantly, we finished the race strong, as a team, and with smiles on our face (proof above). We had raced hard for 40 hours, been awake for 45 hours straight, covered about 260 km (most of this on mountain bikes), and used our bodies to climb 25,000 feet or more of elevation! Not too shabby. I was happy to race with both Brad and Jessica, and proud to call us a ‘Team’. We had a great attitude, helped each other out when needed, and managed to show Jessica just how far you can push yourself. I’m pretty sure she’ll be back for more!
Now, as a reward for sticking with me through this really long post, I have a treat. As mentioned, Brad was filming for this race, and as a result, we have a full video of our experience. Click below to watch it. Put it on full-screen HD and see what 40 hours of racing looks like from the inside!
Stories from an athlete, adventurer, and lover of life