Adventure racing is an endurance sport which involves travel on foot (trekking or running), mountain bike and by water (canoe, kayak, raft, occasionally swimming).

What differentiates AR from other racing sports is the inclusion of wilderness navigation using a map, compass and common sense. There is no set race course; participants must find their own route from one checkpoint to the next. The checkpoints (CPs) are marked on maps which the racers receive shortly prior to or at the start of the race. AR also differs from other sports in that racers are part of a team of 2-4 people who travel together the entire time.

The races can last from several hours to many days and are unsupported, for the most part, which means that the racers carry what they will need (food, water, gear) in backpacks for the duration of the race.

To succeed, racers will need athletic endurance, navigation skills, mental toughness, good pre-race planning, strategic decision making as well as a strong and supportive "team" mentality.

Sound intimidating? While it's true that longer races can test even the toughest outdoor athletes, AR is a very open and inclusive sport. Beginning racers will feel welcome at nearly every event. Most races are organized so that anyone at any level of experience and fitness can participate. You can find a race near you on the calendar at the USARA website.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

8/5/17 Race the Phantom - 24hr - New Brunswick, CA

Because of a conflict with work, we switched from the 40hr option to the 24hr race, which worked out fine b/c none of the other teams really wanted to do the 40 and so it was cancelled and all 8 teams were on the 24 hr course.

We were running a little late for the 4:00 PM start and then -Surprise!- lost an additional hour at the US-CAN border time change. So - very hasty unorganized gear-up, facilitated by the very helpful race staff. We then learned that we would have 5 min staggered starts. We got lucky and received the last spot which gave us an additional 40 min to get ready. 

The race format was bike-trek-river canoe-bike. The initial bike looked like maybe a 7-8 hr thing and it was humid so we brought plenty of water.

It was nice to have the last starting position and have all of the other teams in front of us. We passed the first couple on the way to CP1. From here we made the decision to do a northern 500m+ bikewhack which would save maybe 5km of riding the dirt logging roads (that's what all of the riding was on). Not a good decision. The woods up here are pretty hellish off-trail. Its all brushy and small trees (forestry land) and very slow. This alone made the bikewhack decision a bad one, but then we were lost for a long time afterward. There were all these skidder tracks of varying age and passability (none rideable) that we were confusing with logging roads and nothing seemed to line up with the map. Eventually we made our way out by going in the general direction of the nearest main road, but we had lost hours on anyone who out-and-backed it to CP1.

So many sweet route options to choose from

"That swarm of swamp hornets ahead, maybe they're not the kind that stings"

Vain attempt at keeping feet dry

Once we disentangled ourselves and got back to riding the dirt roads, we did fairly well riding to and finding the other CPs on this leg (7 total plus a bonus). Our other screwups were a 200m misplot of one of the CPs (edge of map trick) which led to an hour of needless bushwhacking, and blowing by CP7 which we realized 4km later - necessitating a backtrack. By this point a downpour was in full effect; not a bad thing on this humid night. With our mistakes and the overall length of the leg (we rode 121 km), we rolled into TA1 at around 11 hours, loosely in first place.

Not a ton of views in this region but this hilly area was pretty scenic.

After a long TA, it was time to head out on the trek. The RDs had laid out an ambitious trek that, because of the length of the bike, would see little use. This was a shame because there was a feast of warm food and drink waiting at a distant trek CP that no one had time to visit.

There is a scoring/ranking peculiarity about RTP in which the first criterion of ranking is how long you stayed on the full course - how many CPs you get from the start without skipping one, rather than total number of CPs. This led to some convoluted thought processes about how to secure our lead for the remainder of the race. Basically, there was no guaranteed strategy for winning at this point and so best approach was just continued full gas racing for 24 hrs, prioritizing the early CPs.

We found the first trek CP (8) without much trouble and headed toward CP10 which we knew from last years race, would entail some diabolical bushwhacking through evergreen thickets, raspberries and other brush.
We then headed up a trail and into the most heinous cloud of deer flies and mosquitoes that any of us has experienced before. We trekked with them for the next few hours. We spent about 30 mins searching an area, verifying the plotting and reconsidering the wording of the clue for CP9, while in combat with the DEET-proof bugs, until we had to give up the search and make a long trek back to TA in order to leave time to finish the race. Since we didn't find CP9, this left us vulnerable to any team that cleared the bike leg (there were 2 or 3 other teams that did) and who were able to find CPs 8 and 9 on the trek, even if we had more total CPs.  

This was another long TA. We were pretty beat and dehydrated and no one had been eating well, so we needed to stop and rally for the finish, in the improving morning weather. When the staff asked if we'd like an espresso, morale definitely notched up. This leg was a canoe through the southern part of Spednic Lake and then (via portage) onto the St. Croix river. I actually enjoyed this leg. The frequent sections of mild-moderate rapids and protruding rocks kept you on alert and helped pass the time. By late morning, the humidity was also gone and we had a breezy sunny day to enjoy the pretty river. No paddle CPs.

We got to the takeout with about 3 hours to complete a 30km bike leg which had 2 CPs available. We proceeded to the first CP without any major problems. The chamois region was feeling pretty bad for most of us during this ride and our legs were something less than fresh, with the big bike leg earlier and inadequate calorie intake. On the way to the CP, the RDs buzzed up behind us on dirtbikes to hand me my bike odometer which had popped off on a hill early on the leg. In this race, the race staff really take care of the racers by doing this kind of stuff whenever they get the chance. These little things really make a difference in the overall take-away feeling from the race. 

After the CP, we heard a loud pop and found that Nicks rear derailleur had exploded for no apparent reason. This was a little serious. We were still about 12km out from the finish line with maybe 1.5 hrs of time left. We now knew we could not go for the other CP and that we would have to make Nick's bike rideable ASAP and bust it to the finish in order to not go overtime. 

The repair job just barely did the trick, allowing Nick to pedal a bit while being towed by Rob, and me doing my best to hang on to the train. Luckily, the trail we were on was pretty fast and smooth. We had to traverse one washed out bridge section and then we were onto smooth terrain to the finish, with 13 mins to spare. Good enough for the win.

Human and mechanical post-race carnage.
We really like the Natural Selection AR folks. We're not there because we love excoriating bushwhacks, endless logging roads and hordes of bugs. The small, warm and friendly homegrown vibe is what brings us back to this race. Post race goodies hit the spot: homemade lobster rolls, mussels, corn-on-the-cob, fresh fruit and plenty more. This was followed by sitting around and swapping AR stories around a keg of Picaroon's, and then a welcome night of sleep camped out next to Spednic Lake in the cool breezy weather.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

4/21/17 Adventure Enablers Shenandoah Epic 24hr . Shenandoah region, Virginia.

4/21/17 Adventure Enablers Shenandoah Epic 24hr .  Shenandoah region, Virginia
 By Nick C

This was our first experience racing with the Adventure Enablers.  This was also the first time we had received the order of events well prior to the race. We'd each prepared for this race on our own and spent less time in team training compared to prior races. 

The evening before our departure, Mason put us on alert that he was febrile and may have to bail on this race.  We were confident in his sheer will to race he would pull through.  Early morning though the bug won.  We drove to his house grabbed a gear bin, some random supplies, and began the drive to VA as a team of 2. 

The 9 hour drive from NH was easy and we avoided any major delays due to heavy traffic by staying away from the coast. 

We arrived at our hotel, checked in and proceeded to registration.  We then headed across the street to Pave Mint for beer and food prior to the 7:30 pm race meeting.  At the meeting we heard there would be 2 prologues to the race and no water would be provided to racers along the course.  Initially we thought the plan was to receive the maps shortly prior to boarding the buses.  Now we found out we could have more time with the maps if we chose to complete a short foot orienteering section.  This would take about 30-40 minutes and involve 4 easily found flags on the trails around the DownRiver Canoe Company.  We arrived at DownRiver Canoe Company at 7am, competed the prologue at a shuffle and had our maps before 8am.  The maps came as a stapled packet of 14, double sided, 8x11, topo maps at 1:24,0000 plus a supplemental Bike-Orienteering map of the ATV trails in Taskers Gap.

We cut all borders off of the maps and had the time to tape each together to give us confluent routes for measuring distance and noting features.  We didn't have our waterproof highlighter which would have made depicting the routes easier.  Not taping the maps would have been ridiculously confusing and we felt completing the prologue was a very good decision. 

We loaded the buses and drove 30 minutes to the starting line of the race.  During the ride we agreed we would gather all of CPs along the first leg.  We felt we were in good bike shape to handle the demand of this part of the course.  Bikes were staged here for us.  The rain was steadily falling at this point and the ground was turning to pure mud.  This was to be the warmest part of the day and night. 

At 11:30 Mark gave the go ahead to start the next prologue early.  One member from each team needed to complete a 1 mile trail run without backpacks in an effort to spread the field for the mass bike start.  Rob ran this for us and returned within the top1/3 of the pack.  He tossed on his bike shoes and we headed out to CP1-6 along the Massanutten Trail.  Equal parts riding and hike-a-bike were encountered.  The rain, rocks, moss, and wet roots on trails that climbed for miles (8 miles on one alone) made us question if there was any downhill in VA. 

We collected CPs 1-6 in order and suffered only one significant navigation error.  We didn't double check our bearing and ended up descending west rather than continuing north.  This cost us 35 minutes.  We completed the first leg in 7hours 4minutes and covered 34.5miles.

When we arrived at TA 1 we only spent time fitting our bikes with lights and redistributing food.  We stayed on bikes for Leg 2.  We collected CPs 7-10 and decided to leave CP 11 given trail conditions and anticipated time commitment to get this optional point.  We covered these 12 miles in 3hrs 45min.  Again plenty of swamped trails, slick conditions, hike-a-bike, and absolutely ripping descents!

We TA'd at Camp Roosevelt, changed into trail shoes / sneakers, ate, and were drawn to the wonderfully warm fire built by the volunteers.  This was a detrimental and healing distraction.  The shivering could not be controlled yet the warmth of the fire was a temporary relief from the cold temps and wet conditions. 

We navigated to CP 17, landed luckily at CP 13, doubled back for CP 16, then collected 18 and 19.  CP 18 was initially elusive because the reentrant split and we followed the right fork through dense brambles and fight.  We landed on the CP because we fortunately descended along the left fork.  From here we shot a bearing to the fire road near CP 19.  We used the slight bend in the road to shoot another bearing and find the CP along what was said to be a ridge but seemed far less distinct.  From here we navigated directly to the TA rather than follow the road.  We covered 5.5 miles  and arrived at the TA 3 hrs later. 

We got back on our bikes for Leg 4 and decided ahead of time only to collect CP21.  We did not go after the optional points here.  The time commitment would jeopardize finishing on time.  Any additional time at the end of the race would be dedicated to the optional points near the race finish. 

This quicker out and back was a sustained climb along a well maintained gravel road.  We made very good time on this 7.5 mile ride/0.5 mile hike to the point.  Nothing too notable on this point.   The interesting points (all optional) were left out on the course. 

This was our last transition at the Roosevelt Camp and our last access to gear.  This Leg 5 was a long grind along the Massanutten trail to collect CP 29.  The 13 miles was shared with the Rootstock AR team.  Having the company helped maintain focus and provided good motivation to move quickly.  The uphills were hiked quickly and the downs were shuffled.  We planned 4.5 hours for this leg and completed it in closer to 4 hours.  Few options for error were provided once up along the ridge. Trail signs were well marked. 

We arrived at the paddle slightly ahead of Rootstock only to be passed by their 2 boats mid way along the 11 mile paddle route.  We made a poor decision at the rapids and stayed too far river right.  Our goal was to avoid dumping the canoe, but we were in retrospect overly cautious.  Our far right route required exiting the canoe and dragging it over the rocks.  The remainder of the river consisted of a gentle current with ripples of fast current.

Exiting the canoe was slightly comical.  Legs had stiffened considerably over the 3hr 15min paddle.  Making our way over the bridge was a waddle at best.  The cramping of, and chafe between, the legs slowed our movement considerably. 

We decided to get a minimum of 2 for the last section, however an error in selecting the wrong reentrant resulted in wasting time looking for CP C.  We changed course and ascended up to A and returned to finish the race with 30 minutes to spare. 

We found at this point that of the 41 teams that began the event only 16 had finished.  The harsh weather and difficult conditions resulted in many racers either quitting early or not finishing before the 24 hour limit.  Overall we covered nearly 85miles and 10,050 feet of elevation gain. 

The post race food was excellent.  The prize bags were appreciated greatly. 

Congratulations to all teams who completed the race. 

Mason was missed during this race and we will be using our “winnings” / discount toward a future race for next year.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Race the Phantom 24 hr race. Spednic Lake Provincial Park. July 2016

We had a fun experience on our last sojourn north of the border for this race in 2013 and were keen for a return visit. The 2016 version would actually be east of the border; just barely east of the border at Spednic lake Provincial Park. This was a mere 5 hr drive for us. The last hour of the drive was through a very quiet and remote part of eastern Maine, which seemed promising for a race venue.

Arriving at the Park, we were greeted by Natural Selection AR frontman Troy Johnston and first-time course designer Mike Hutchinson.  We had our choice of several sweet lakeside campsites.

View of Maine across Lake Spednic, from our campsite. Not too shabby.

We arrived Friday evening. The race didn't start until 1:00 PM Saturday, so we had plenty of time to set up camp and enjoy the Park a little while slowly gearing up for the race.

We really lucked out finding Jenni's for dinner Friday night. The super nice ladies there consulted with us on the best choice of food to stuff in a gear box for 24 hours to eat on race day. Their recommendation was the donair, a local specialty we had not had before. They cooked us up a sample donair plate to try before committing and we were instantly sold.  They even wrapped them up special for us and included a good luck note inside the bag!
Evening swim while the loons call.

Rising early on Saturday, we had plenty of time to cook food, get geared up, attend the pre-race meeting, check out the race maps and plot the CPs from their UTM coordinates.

Checking out the race course a couple hours before the start.    Photo: NSAR

The format would be bike-trek-bike-paddle-BIKE-paddle, with the first couple sections being in Spednic Lake Provincial Park and the big bike leg being east of the park in a very rural area, primarily forestry land.  At the starting line we ran to our bikes to begin a 19km ride on gravel road to a more central area of the park. Race favorites Tecnu set a blistering pace to start off and several of the teams, including us, drilled this section as well, in an attempt to stay in touch with Tecnu. Consequently, most of the faster teams ended up at TA1 within a few minutes of each other. After 50 mins of high-intensity riding in the mid-day sun, I was pretty gassed by the time we reached TA1. Once there, we quickly switched to trekking gear and headed off on logging roads to the 5 CPs we would get on this section. Unlike most of the other teams, we attacked the CPs in reverse order. We shortly turned onto an overgrown forest road to approach CP5.

We jogged it when we could and hiked it through the thicker parts. My navigation was not good for this CP; we significantly overshot the departure point from the trail, where we would bushwhack down to East Brook Lake.  Because of this, when we hit the lake, we had to laboriously work through the dense lakeside forest for about 0.4 mi before hitting the CP. Along the way, Nick received a half-dozen stings from some ground hornets we disturbed.

Rather than continue working through the dense woods, we decided to walk along the northern edge of the lake as we approached. I'm not sure this was any faster or less clunky (lots of slippery rocks and soft mud underfoot), but it was a lot cooler.

Soon we entered back into the woods to continue bushwhacking toward a trail on the map that approached our next target CP4.  We have now done several races in rural Maine and Canada and the bushwhacking is generally pretty unpleasant. I don't know if it's because it has been logged so many times or whether it's just the latitude/ecosystem. You generally are faced with slow, brushy, scratchy vegetation and uneven footing. It really takes a toll, especially since, mosquitoes and flies can then take advantage of your slow speed. One occasional bonus in this race was the presence of rough corridors of mossy boulders which you could traverse instead of fighting branches and bushes (see video)

We navigated well to CP4 in this scenic spot - you can see the flag over Nick's left shoulder.

CP 3 was an easy find near a beaver dam after running a few km on forest roads (see video)

CP2 was a farther run/hike on more dirt roads. The clue was "15m north of skidder chains". I had plotted it in a spot about 200m off the trail. We searched the bug-laden area and found no clue of its whereabouts. It also just didn't seem like any place where you would find skidder chains, and rechecking the coordinates, I found that I had misplotted it by about 400m. We quickly ran down to the correct location but still were fumbling around without success. Then, Nick and I noticed a big-ass pile of skidder chains right on the road; we had passed by them twice without noticing. Aarrggh! We finally punched the CP but not before wasting a big chunk of time. Following this, we ran more dirt road kms to an easy find of CP1 and then back to TA1/2 where we had left our bikes.

 At this point, a certain heat-intolerant member of the team had been without water for a couple hours and was in a less-than-optimal place to begin the warm sunny 19km bike back to race HQ. Indefatigable Rob helped me along with some backwoods MacGyv-AR towing using a foraged root which we held onto at each end.

The ensuing paddle leg was a nice break from the heat and forest. We had a calm lake paddle, followed by a grassy winding river paddle and then a short-ish portage before hitting First Lake. There were 2 portage sections per paddle leg. Both were very awkward and frustrating, with 6-18" of water covering slick, bruising boulders and random deeper holes. We never really figured out the best way to get through these sections; the other teams we saw seemed to pass through more easily than we did.

Following this was a paddle through First lake toward on-land CP6 as the sun set. This was another frustrating time-loser characterized by very dense bushwhacking, lots of bugs, unlucky nav, unlucky interpretation of the clue and questionable accuracy of the provided CP location relative to the nearby road feature. We also spent some time not finding where we left our canoe on the bank, once we re-emerged from the thicket.

Next (after portage #2) was paddling the 3 mi length of Lake Wauklahegan under a fantastic array of stars. The night paddle experience at our previous Race the Phantom proved that glassy lake paddling under a clear starlit sky is best done without lights. Surveying for obstacles in the low light tests one's observations skills, however the lack of glare from artificial light is actually a benefit.

TA3 was probably one of the longest TAs we have ever had. We were cold, wet and hungry and because of our issues thus far, we were not doing well in the race and a little demoralized. We spent a large chunk of time changing clothes, eating our donairs (yum!) and gearing up for the long upcoming bike leg. We got to spend some time chatting and joking with TA volunteers Scott and Marlana, whom I had spent a weekend with previously, manning a TA at Untamed New England 2014. By the time we left, spirits were lifted and we headed off toward the town of McAdam, NB in the cooling humid night air.

I'll summarize the bike leg: 10 CPs over ~125km of dirt roads. Hills were generally mild. The CPs were a bit off the road - near lakes, in trees, on objects and not too hard to find. There was a big navigation decision to be made about halfway through. It was the classic AR bike route decision: the shorter, more technical route of unknown surface quality or the longer ride on better roads?  We chose the latter and we think it was the right choice. We heard of several teams having significant problems after choosing the shorter, sketchier route. Our route added a lot more kms to the loop and also a pretty large descent/ascent into/out of the St. John river valley, but we had no delays and generally did well on this leg.

The big bike leg - a lotta lotta this.

Troy was waiting at CP11 with baked potatoes, beans and cola - a lovely mid-night treat. As the sun rose, we made our way through tiny Canterbury and onto the flat and fast NB rail trail. We grabbed a few CPs on a moderately hilly loop off the rail trail in the early AM hours before re-joining it and heading back to McAdam.

Scenic spot for CP 14 just after sunrise - it was located near the far end of the water, top center. Thank you Rob!

We made decent time through this leg but my bike legs had never really recovered. By the time we hit the last 10km of rail trail, my "Check Engine" light was flashing red. A final delirious push and some more MacGyv-AR towing brought this epic leg to a close at TA4, where we would paddle back to the finish line.

When we arrived at the TA, we noticed that Monkeys Throwing Darts, whom we had been chasing all night, were just leaving the TA. This time we transitioned fairly quickly and set up for a reverse of our last paddle, back to race HQ. Being 3 relatively strong racers in a canoe, we had decent horsepower and passed a couple teams along the way. We caught Monkeys at the second portage, but we were again thwarted by the awkward rocky traverse and they regained a 2 minute lead on us. We were not able to close much of this gap on the winding grassy river, but once it opened up onto Spednic Lake, we laid into a fast cadence and began gaining. This was high drama - two teams paddling for 3rd place in the last km of the race. Monkeys Throwing Darts were a team of 2 and, eventually, our extra manpower proved to be too much of an advantage. We hit the boat ramp about 30 seconds before they did, but then had to carry the canoe to the finish line. The canoe felt like it was filled with wet sand at this point, but we were able to maintain our thin lead and steal the last podium spot.

Gritting it out to the finish line with Monkeys Throwing Darts close on our tail. This is equivalent to a photo-finish, in a 24 hour adventure race!      Photo: NSAR

And then we were done, logging 130 miles in a bit under 22 hours. What a relief. We spent some time talking the race over with race staff and our fellow racers before taking some minutes to rinse off in the lake, grab a Picaroon's beer or two (thank you!), eat some freshly grilled goodies and catch a nap. Tecnu grabbed first place with a solid margin of victory and provided a number of the race prizes as well. We'd like to send out a great big international thanks to race directors/designers, volunteers and sponsors for making it all happen. We look forward to our next trip to the Maritimes.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Maine Summer Adventure Race - 8hr. Jefferson, ME

I scoped out this race early in the year as a good first race to do with my son, Reed (13). It being close (~2hr drive) and pretty short (8 hr) made it a nice intro. I dragged Reed along on rides, runs and a paddle for the months leading up to it because it's, you know, a race, after all and I knew a decent finish would be rewarding (for him, of course).

A 4:10 AM alarm gave us time to eat a quick bite and drive up to Jefferson, ME in time for the 7:00 check-in.  Although a short race and in its inaugural run, there was a great turnout of teams - 25 in the 8 hr race and several more in a concurrent 3-hour race. Kate and Cliff White were directing for their AR outfit, Strong Machine, with the help of the staff at race HQ: Hidden Valley Nature Center.

JS O'Connor photography

The order of disciplines would be: short memory-O, road bike, lake kayak, road & trail bike, and then a final long O section at HVNC.

Riding on leg 2. It was a warm/hot humid day. Finding shade on country roads was helpful.

Paddling on pretty lake Damariscotta, leg 3. We went after 4 of the possible 8 points on this big lake, It was a really nice time out on the water with this kid.

JS O'Connor photography

After we decided to spend a little extra time at TA3 and take a quick dip in the lake to cool off before the hottest part of the race - the 2nd bike leg. 

Riding one of many scenic country roads. It was good that we started off wet on this warm sunny, hilly ride.

A short singletrack section heading back into HVNC at the end of bike 2. This was kind of soft and humpy - not real easy to ride.

After finishing Bike 2, we had 2 hrs left to get as many CPs as we could off the HVNC trails.  We had to swim to this one, on an island in Little Dyer Pond. I love it when you have to swim in adventure races. A nice cool-off.
Trekking around on the last leg. Reed was still going strong after 7+ hrs. We jogged most of the trails we were on.

The final orienteering section ran a bit slower than we thought: we only found 5 CPs in 2 hours. We jogged into the finish line with about 12 minutes to spare. This was good enough for 11th place out of 25 teams. The post-race spread was ideal: home cooked locally sourced mac-n-cheese and toppings, quinoa salads and a delicious keg of beer from Oxbow Brewing.  We had an awesome time and will surely be back for any future editions of the race. Big thanks to Kate and Cliff, the folks at HVNC and all the sponsors and volunteers that made it happen.

Kudos on a job well done.      JS O'Connor photography      

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

NYARA The Longest Day. 6/11/16

We finally got another Longest Day after a series of bureaucratic/permitting delays. This year the race was held in western Connecticut - Bridgewater Fire Station was the race HQ. We hadn't seen much of CT other than congested highways and this was a stark difference. Although only 10-15 minutes from the interstate, this area consisted of tidy, pleasant small towns, rolling green agrarian landscapes and old roads with correspondingly old names (Judd's Mill, Battle Swamp, Hat Shop Hill). We spent a lot of time traversing these areas as we navigated to different patches of forest, where the CPs were hidden.

Compared to most other races, this one was very low-key.  Because of the prior reschedulings and permitting uncertainties, it was hard to mass-market the race on short notice.  It drew a fairly small crowd of racers, mostly friends and familiar faces - not a bad thing.

Race prep began early (4:30 alarm) but the race didn't start until 8:00. This allowed an unusually leisurely start to the race - no rushing around with gear/maps and plenty of time for breakfast and hanging out before we all set off.

The race was to start with a paddle-trek-paddle on the Housatonic river (more like a lake here).  The provided watercraft were tandem sit-on-top kayaks (ugh). These highly uncomfortable vessels are unfortunately quite common in AR because they can be locally sourced in bulk. With 2-man kayaks and a team of 3, that leaves one boat with only one paddler, so we teamed up with the Rev3 team to split our two 3-man squads into 3 boats.

Rob pre-race prep.
We had a short (3 km) downhill run to the kayak put-in. After boarding the boats, we headed to the first CP, to the north, then a U-turn to head back south. After 140 minutes of paddling (ugh), we reached our next stop, Upper Paugusset State Forest. Once ashore, it was a quick transition to run/trek mode to pick up 4 off-trail CPs in a counterclockwise loop that was ~6 mi in a little under 2 hrs.

Rob and Nick at CP1

Running with Rev3 on 1st trek. A coyote bolted across the trail behind me right after I took this.

Soon, the comparatively comfortable trail running was over and it was time to jump back in the kayaks (ugh.) to finish the paddle: 70 more minutes. It had begun showering during the trek and once we were out on the water, the rain really unloaded on us. This wasn't really a problem though; the weather wasn't cold and visibility was not really needed for this long journey on the flat river. We paddled about 14 mi total. We were a little under 6 hours into the race by the end of the paddle.

The kayak leg finished near a spot where we had dropped our bikes and some gear early in the morning. We spent a few minutes here eating, switching a little gear and getting some drier clothes before setting off on a lengthy bike leg. The rain had stopped but humid conditions persisted for the duration of the race.

We spent the next 10 hours and 78 km on our bikes. It was about 50% trails (mostly singletrack), 30% pavement and 20% gravel/dirt roads. Points of note were:

- A sweet singletrack loop at George C Waldo State Park
- Lots of scenic (and hilly) road miles traveling between various local trail systems
- Plenty of trail miles featuring flowy sections, wet technical stuff, steep hike-a-bikes and exploring little-known terrain on grown-in trails.

Nick and Mr. Dave Lamb punching a scenic CP early on in the bike leg.

There were 2 major team events during the bike leg that could have ended our race. The first occurred about a third of the way through: A loud pop from Nick's bike followed by an expletive and then a bike inspection revealing a dangling rear derailleur. The bolt that attaches the derailleur hanger to the frame had sheared off. We sorted through the problem for a while and brainstormed about potential field repair techniques. On a whim, Rob threaded an old CO2 cartridge into the bolt hole and it fit perfectly. After a few adjustments, it was realigned, but the bike still wouldn't pedal. 2 chain links were bent during the bolt breakage. After fixing the chain, we were back in the game. We sat on the trail for a good 40 minutes assessing and fixing the bike but no teams caught up to us, which was encouraging. Rev3 and a solo racer (Thorin) were the only ones ahead of us. Our odds of catching them were low after this time loss but one rule in AR is that you never stop charging because you never know what will befall the teams ahead of you.

Spent 40 minutes here fixing Nick's bike

CO2 cartridge engaged; time to fix the chain

Many hours later, well into the night, we were faced with big problem number 2. We had left our bikes on the trail and proceeded laboriously into some thick vegetation to find a CP at the edge of a swamp. I eventually spotted the flag and turned to notify Rob, who was carrying the passport. I noticed the pouch we had been keeping the passport in was unzipped and gaping open - uh oh. Passport gone. Race Directors are generally nice, trusting folks but they understandably want to see some kind of proof that you found the CPs, and we had just lost ours. We had been searching through thick brush for about 10 minutes to find the flag and now had to try to retrace our steps looking for a dropped passport. We searched for about 15 minutes and found nothing. We searched the trail, the bikes, other pockets/pouches/papers - nothing. We started heading back to the previous CP to search when Rob cried "Here it is!" from the edge of the woods. Wow - huge surge of relief. Saved again by perseverance and a boatload of luck.

We wrapped up the rest of the bike leg with more trail riding and a pretty long road trip in the balmy night air to the next TA. We had very little contact with other teams during the 10 hour bike, which was cool. It was a well-designed bike leg but it took a long time. All of the controls had been significantly off-trail and generally difficult to locate even with accurate navigation and map-reading.  This theme continued throughout the subsequent treks and really slowed the course down.  It became clear that the predicted finish times provided for the course were very underestimated and that acquiring the 22-25 CPs on the trek leg was not possible. It was now 1:00 AM, as we set off on foot for the remainder of the race to see how many more CPs we could accumulate before the 8:00 finish cut-off time.

We spent the next 4 hours trekking about 8 miles total through the wooded gentle hills surrounding the Shepaug River (including a slippery cooling shallow ford of it).  Many CPs were challenging to locate and map-reading/decision-making was suffering a bit from sleepiness. This 2:00 to 5:00 AM period is the hardest stretch to maintain focus and determination in an overnight race. Also, the flags were not reflective and moisture in the air was blocking the headlamp beam, adding to delays in CP-bagging. So we weren't exactly burning up the course at this point. The last CP was at an overlook known as "The Pinnacle". Here we were treated to a wide-ranging vista in the blue pre-dawn calm, with fog filling the lowlands below us to the west.

Dirty tired people at the Pinnacle.
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We finished up this leg by heading out of this forested patch and onto a road north of Washington Depot at 5:30 AM. The next task we now realized was a ~3 mi road trek/run to the next TA. Okay, we got that done. Then we (me) messed up the approach trail to the TA, adjacent to the Shepaug, which cost us 15 min or so and a bit more trekking.

Met this nesting mama near the TA
When we arrived, we got co-RD Joe's instruction to proceed to the final TA which had been changed into the finish line. We would skip the final 2 trek sections. The trot to the finish line would entail 6+ mi of trekking and running, initially on rail trail and then gravel road and pavement.

Rustic railroad tunnel
About halfway through this, we realized that, to make the final time cutoff, we needed to haul buttocks. So we mustered a strong run on tired legs for the last 3 miles to finish out the race after 23 hrs 45 mins of playing outside.

At the finish line we sat on our butts for a nice spell, got some drinks, chatted with the esteemed former RD's of this race, Rodney and Amy, and then made a slow 4 mile bike ride back to the Fire Station for grub, naps, hanging out and re-packing the car. We came in 2nd behind Rev3, who got to 2 more trek CPs than us and finished an hour earlier - well done.

We would like to thank Austin Planz, Joe Brautigam and the crew of NYARA volunteers for their hard work in making this race happen. We are lucky to have such motivated folks around to arrange these great races and perpetuate our tiny sport!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Presidential Traverse 5/20/16

On Wednesday, we got a short-notice invite to join in on a traverse of the Presidential range with a veritable AR all-star team featuring west coast guest Kyle Peter (of the top-ranked US team Adventure Medical Kits). It took some last-minute scrambling of schedules but Rob and Mason made it happen. Ironically, Nick "I love the White Mountains especially the Presidentials" Cassotis was the one of us who couldn't make it (daughter's wedding).

From One of the great hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is called a Presidential Traverse. It’s so-called because hikers climb all of the mountains in the  Presidential Range of the White Mountains in one continuous hike that’s nearly 23 miles long with close to 9,000 feet of elevation gain

Rob and I each bagged 2 hrs of sleep Thurs night prior to a very early Seacoast departure for a 5:30 AM rendezvous with Kyle and fellow AR strongman Jason Urckfitz. For various reasons, other invitees couldn't make it and we were the 4 remaining. Rob and I had a little anxiety about keeping up with these horses for a day-long hike but it wasn't an issue. The pace would be deliberate but moderate overall with short stops for views/snacks etc.

We dropped a car at the endpoint (Elephant Head on Rt. 302) and drove ~30 mins to the start at Appalachia trailhead on Rt.2. The first task was to climb almost exactly 4000ft in only 3.6mi to reach the summit of Mt. Madison. This began as a moderate climb and then a steep climb through forest before breaking out above treeline for some stunning panoramic views (which we would have for much of the next 6 hours).

Morning from Mt. Madison

Once above treeline, the terrain changed to a giant pile of boulders. This would persist for the next 2 peaks as well (Adams and Jefferson). Its a challenge to move with speed across a pile of boulders, especially when you would occasionally slip on their dry-appearing green lichen coating.

Jason. Boulder scree descent

Kyle. Boulders. Lots of boulders.

After the first few peaks, the boulders let up a little and we would hike on small boulders, gravelly stuff and even a few patches of dirt. The ascent of Mt. Washington was actually pretty easy, only a moderate climb compared to the earlier peaks.  At the summit of Mt.W, which was about the halfway point, we took 20 minutes to grab a seat on an indoor bench and enjoy a drink and a snack.  We cooled off a bit at this point.  Temps has been 40s to 50s but we were working hard on some climbs (and descents - did I mention they were bouldery?) and feeling warm. Once we stopped moving on the top of 40 degree Mt.W, we started to cool off and each added a layer and gloves before resuming the trek.  These items were removed shortly however, as we worked up a sweat in the beautiful sun at 5000ft on our next descent/ascent toward Mt. Monroe.

The next few peaks (Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce) involved relatively short climbs and overall better footing/groundspeed, with an occasional runnable stretch of trail. Spectacular weather and views were the norm for this highly enjoyable section.

The last part of the hike - to Mt. Jackson and the descent to the dropped car - were below treeline. This meant lots of typical White Mtns terrain - wet, rocky, rooty trails as well as a few areas of iced-over trail.  For some reason I had been sweating my ass off during this traverse despite the relatively cool temps and not-excessive pace. I had plowed through my 2.5L of water and had been eating handfuls of alpine snow at every opportunity but I was out of water and very thirsty.  Kyle lent me a full bike bottle (which I subsequently refilled twice at streams) and Jason offered a big slug of nuun but dehydration persisted. After we finished, I polished off half of a water bottle in my car and consumed 2 LARGE drinks from McDonalds and still had no need to use the bathroom until after 9 PM that night. I am a generally sweaty, heat-intolerant guy but this was a new low.

We continued on the wooded trails, made one short nav error and then headed up to Mt. Jackson.  I just learned that Mt. Jackson is named after Charles Thomas Jackson, a geologist and not Andrew Jackson the president. Thus, Mt. Jackson need not be included to qualify as a Presidential traverse. We got our last wide-ranging views from Mt. Jackson and then headed down 2.6 miles to the car.  2.6 mi downhill sounds easy but it really wasn't.  Most of this section was steep technical rocky downhill which was slow and not super comfortable on worked-over quads.  Not my favorite hiking terrain but these ancient eroded streambeds which pass for trails are typical in the Whites. It's probably good training for something.

Kyle had had enough of our slow downhilling and skipped ahead for last bit and we met back at the car to upload data and change out of wet shoes and clothes (in that order) before shuttling back to the other end of the traverse and settling into the 2.5 hr drive home.

We were very lucky with our weather for the traverse.  I kept thinking about how lousy (to be frank) this hike would be if you were stuck in a cloud and hiked for 10-11 hrs without any decent views. With stops, we clocked in just under 11 hrs for the trek, covered 21.4 mi and climbed just over 9000 ft.

Monday, March 7, 2016

GMARA Frigid Infliction, 3/5/16, Bolton Valley, VT

3:30 AM cell phone alarms woke us in time for 30 minutes of pre-race gearing up, eating cold pizza, coffee and hopping in the car for a quick ride to Bolton Valley ski area's nordic center for our 6th trip to the Frigid Infliction. We had a delicious visit to Waterbury's Prohibition Pig brewpub the night before, sampling some delicious local brews (including race sponsor Zero Gravity's Conehead IPA) followed up by some further carb-loading at Zachary's Pizza, saving leftover pizza for breakfast and for the race.

Our prior 5 Frigids have featured 2-3 feet of backcountry snow. Things were different this year. Bolton was covered in a layer of 1-8" of icy crust and an inch or so of snow on top of that. The surface was not suited to skiing and therefore GMARA had converted the ski legs to additional snowshoe legs. The course would be 4 snowshoe legs, one leg on foot and as many bonus snowshoe loops as you had time for at the end of the race, if you had hustled through the main course. Race conditions were good: temps between 5 and 25F, light winds and sunny. Registration was strong this year: 42 teams of 2-3 people.

The RDs had designed a variable initial leg that would do a great job of spreading the teams out.  The lack of deep snow also allowed easier separation from other teams.  There were 5 possible CPs on the leg which were variably valued depending on degree of difficulty.  You needed to accumulate 10 pts before returning to base. You could go for the one distant, mountaintop CP which was worth 10 pts or get a combination of closer CPs to add up to 10.  We did the latter, which seemed to work out well.

Nick wasn't able to find his "A" snowshoes while packing and so he brought a backup pair of Baldas snowshoes we had won in a previous race.  Both of these snowshoes broke apart within 15 minutes under race conditions. Rob lost a metal tine off of his MSR snowshoe's crampon later in the race. My Tubbs made it through without problems.  This was a tough day to be snowshoe (or snowshoer); 9 hours of pounding an unyielding crust is a solid field test.  Nick retained one snowshoe flapping around on his foot to respect the snowshoe requirement of this leg; the other was totaled. Luckily, when we returned to HQ, GMARA's Colin was able to provide Nick with a loaner set to abuse for the remainder of the race. Otherwise, our race would have been extremely short.

Snowshoe carnage         Photo: GMARA

The next leg consisted of finding 5 CPs on what was to have been a ski leg.  The CPs were primarily on/around (what would have been) groomed trails. Lots of climbing and running in snowshoes. We wrapped up this leg and entered TA2 around the 3 hr mark.  Here we got to take off the snowshoes and carry them for a while to complete this third leg on foot.  This process was greatly aided by wearing microspikes over our boots to provide some bite on the icy crust.  Normally, in the Frigid, these on-foot "posthole" legs are a slow deep slog, but with the current conditions, this was not the case.  We whipped through these 5 CPs around Joiner Brook in 30 minutes and arrived as the second team (Goose AR was 20 mins ahead) to reach the Tyrolean traverse (TT) over the Joiner Brook ravine.

Clipping in for the tyrolean traverse

Not us but a nice shot of the TT. See the tiny people on the other side?     Photo: GMARA

Reaching the TT early had its pros and cons: it was good that there was no wait/bottleneck to get on the ropes, but the Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon was not ready yet (!!) and no other teams were around to observe. This comes into play soon.

We individually zipped across, got out of our climbing gear, and continued on foot for the fourth leg, consisting of 2 CPs (17 and 18) off trail, southwest of the main Bolton area. We had spot-on navigation for these 2 points and had caught the frontrunners; we were just descending from CP18 when we ran into them. "It's a snowshoe leg" one of them yelled to us. A quick check of the course instructions verified this. Oh s%&t.  We stopped and put on our snowshoes and continued on to TA4 in relative silence, each considering the consequences of this error.

I was almost sure we had been told that we were continuing on foot after the TT and I failed to double check the instructions. Being at the TA alone, there was no one else putting on snowshoes to indicate otherwise and, unluckily, none of the race staff we were chatting with noticed we were leaving on foot. We reported our mistake to race staff at the next TA and continued on in...snowshoes.

Although there was little, if any, advantage gained, we had violated a rule and knew that, justifiably, we would be penalized.  Expecting that we would have to absorb a significant time penalty, we knew we'd need to hammer the remainder of the race.

Nick, steamy (from the wrist up)          Photo: GMARA

Photo: GMARA

The next leg was only 3 CPs but involved ascending to the top of the 3000' north ridge and a long loop back to race HQ on backcountry trails. There was some nice scenery from the ridgetop including stunning vistas from Harrington's View, the site of CP20. We took a couple minutes here to eat and soak in the views before continuing.  After some technical descending (not sorry to be off skis here!) we grabbed the final CP of the main course (21) and headed back to race HQ at the nordic center.

Ascending to the ridgetop on Goat Path between CP 19 and CP 20.

Harrington's View. Great spot for CP 20!

Frozen pizza with a view. Bolton's alpine trails to the south behind us.

This year, if you finished the main course early, you had the option of heading out on another loop to pick up a different 10-point combination of the 5 CPs from the first leg.  There were 4 total different combinations possible, including the one we already had done in the first leg; therefore a max of 3 additional loops. All snowshoeing. Each completed loop was worth 2 hrs of subtracted time. It was 11:45. We wanted to go after everything we could in order to counteract the penalty we were expecting. We completed one loop in about an hour and felt strong. We completed a second loop and were bonking a bit, arriving back at HQ at 1:40. The only bonus "loop" remaining was an out-and-back to CP1, a couple km away and 800ft vert up. We were tired but thought we probably had enough time to get it done and return by the hard cutoff time of 3:00, as long as there were no nav issues. The team whom we had been chasing had decided to call it a day after 2 loops, so we had a glimmer of hope if we could make quick work of this final push.

Navigation committee. Incandescent brain power occurring here. Microvascular surgeons aspire to this level of focus.     Photo: GMARA

With the clock ticking in our heads, we gave it our all on the ascent to CP1, lost about 5 minutes at the top getting the CP, and then hauled ass back down to the finish line at about 2:45.

Adventure racing is awesome and when the race is over, not adventure racing is awesome too.  We could finally take off the snowshoes and sit down for a bit, enjoying the sunshine and watching the happenings at the finish line.  Then showers, a beer, a nap (Nick) and some chatting with racers before heading down to the Ponds for the banquet.  After some free IPA (thanks Zero Gravity!) and more chatting, we were informed that we would be receiving a penalty of one CP rather than a time penalty. Ouch. A tough judgement but we understood the decision and certainly empathized with race management's position of having to adjudicate a situation like this.

They made us drink free local fresh IPA afterward.             Photo: GMARA

Ironically, the other team that cleared everything was also unranked (after losing a teammate early and continuing as a 2-man team). They were a little faster than us in this.  Their team leader Thorin seems to be some kind of winter-AR savant, essentially winning his first 2 attempts at the Frigid.  Following the division winner announcements, the good folks at GMARA acknowledged our efforts and even presented gear prizes for our unofficial achievements. Another great day racing in Vermont. We'll be back.

Final stats (averaging our 3 different elevation readings)

22.7 mi, 5900ft elevation gain, 9 hours 41 minutes.
GPS track