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.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Frigid Infliction, Bolton Valley, Vermont, 3/2/2018

After missing the 2017 version, we were excited to return to Bolton Valley for another Frigid Infliction organized by the reliable GMARA. The new format is basically a 2-sport ROGAINE (snowshoeing and XC skiing) which requires a minimum amount of each discipline but leaves the rest of the decision-making (route/order, modality) to the team.  This has 2 advantages: 1) Emphasizing smart route choice; and 2) minimizing the inherent problem of follow-the-leader's tracks to the CP. There were 21 1-point CPs and 6 trickier 3-point CPs.

Although snowfall had been minimal, the area received 3-6 additional inches within a few days of the race, making for quite good ski conditions. Weather was mild and consistent in the 25-35 F range and mostly cloudy.

We began at 7:00 on snowshoes for a long loop that would encompass most of the western CPs.  We had some early trouble as we attempted to follow scenic Joiner Brook downstream to connect 2 streamside CPs. A steep gorge just upstream of our target led to some sketchy route choices, extremely slow travel and a damaged snowshoe (Rob) which soon came completely apart.

One of many Joiner Brook crossings. We managed to keep dry feet.

Entering the sketchy part of the gorge

After this, we progressed steadily through the CPs, with only a few minor delays and one more significant delay. The significant delay was at bonus (3 point) CP E. This was one of 3 CPs that cost us a bunch of time, along with CP3 and CP5 (on the subsequent ski leg).  All were in steep brushy terrain; the steepness, minimal snow cover and areas of iced-over slopes really delayed us as we tried to search out the flag in our low-traction XC ski boots, often while carrying skis and poles. Leaving the microspikes behind was a big mistake - exacerbating the effects of the steep, icy surfaces we frequently encountered.

Ice-encrusted ascent to BP D

The snowshoe leg took longer than expected and, as we were finishing up, we had to concern ourselves with the amount of time remaining. We next needed to complete an XC ski loop which included at least 5 CPs. To be safe, we skipped one of our snowshoe CPs and scooted down to race HQ, picking up a final easy, on-trail CP along the way. We also visited a fun bonus CP, a high-wire ropes course element which gave us each a couple minutes to rest and eat and a quick 30' belayed descent back to the ground.

Ladies and gentlemen, Race Director Mr. Shawn Freebern on belay!

Steep, dense, slippery terrain typical of the 3 CPs that gave us trouble.  Also, the flags were less than conspicuously hung, as seen above (but we found them, dammit)

Our XC leg was blemished by the aforementioned CPs 3 and 5, but the actual skiing parts were pretty fun and not too extreme in terms of undesired downhill velocity. We finished the loop with 20 minutes to spare, giving us time to grab one more point near the finish line - an easy, on-trail 10 minute round-tripper. We finished with about 8 minutes left until the 8-hour time cutoff.

In the end, we covered 14+ miles, about 4700 ft of elevation gain and bagged a total of 29 points. We had a fairly good showing; the 3 very prolonged CP searches being our downfall. The upside is that all 3 were eventually found. The worst thing in AR is taking forever searching for a CP and never finding it (at least, that's what I've been told). Casualties included Rob's unusable snowshoe (he one-shoed most of the first leg) as well as 2 broken ski poles (Rob, Mase).  After the race, we rehydrated with free beer and cheap coffee, interrupted by filling up on tasty catered dinner, before the 3 hour drive home.

Thanks as always to our friends at GMARA, the volunteers and the race sponsors. We'll be back for more chilly challenges next year.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

2 Rivers Adventure Race, Wilmington DE area, 12/2/2017

Doing another adventure race was Reed's preferred mode of [parentally mandated] exercise for the 2nd half of the year. Obviously, I was more than fine with this choice and began to look for a suitable event. We certainly found a good race when we chose Rootstock Racing's 2 Rivers AR as our next event. There was a little uncertainty about what I was dragging my 14-year old into for 12 hours in December: would it be 35 and sleeting? 55 and sunny? Thankfully it was much closer to the latter on race day, limiting his race-day hypothermia to a few brief periods.

I picked Reed up early from school and we drove 7 hours to our hotel the night before the race. A 4:10AM alarm woke us in time to hit Denny's before the bike drop. Despite the apparent need for a security guard stationed in the restaurant, we had a quiet meal and fueled up on cheap pancakes. On the way to the bike drop, we were treated to site of a giant orange "supermoon" moonset - wow.

At the frosty race registration (and future finish line), we geared up, got a look at the maps and huddled in the heated car as long as we could before boarding buses back to the bike drop. The finish line was situated among rolling fields and historic barns and farmhouses in a scenic highbrow (think DuPont money) agrarian landscape. The last leg of the race would be a "farmgaine' through these properties. Major kudos to race organizers Abby and Brent for securing access to this unique terrain.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, tree and outdoor
Photo: Vlad Bukalo

After a quick jog on frosty gravel, we were off on bikes in the White Clay Creek State Park in Newark. These trails were FUN! So flowy and smooth - what a contrast with New England. I swear there were maybe seven rocks in the whole park. Our initial plan was to skip a section of this park, but once we experienced the rad trail conditions and found the CPs coming fairly quickly, that plan changed.

Following this section we rode to the canoe put-in. This involved a 6 mile ride through a busy commercial and residential area, down to the tidal Christina River.

The river would lead us 8 miles to downtown Wilmington. It was a bit of a slog in the canoe which handled like a bathtub in the early miles as we worked against a mild current. It required near-constant corrective steering to track straight. If I looked at the map or spaced out for a couple seconds, we began to fly off left or right. Things improved a bit later in the paddle, as the tide switched. Along the way we grabbed several CPs in the reedy side channels and hunted for a specimen of wild rice, which was required for us to get credit for a CP on the leg.

New racer with an accomplished paddle
We, along with several other teams, bungled the approach to the take-out, necessitating some extra canoe-wrangling in order to end up at the approved spot. By this time, the sun had ducked behind the clouds and Reed was really cold from our wet river trip. We took some extra time at the TA to get him clothed and dry, as much as possible. The race organizers had transported a small bag of our dry clothes to this point and we were glad to pull on dry socks and shoes.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, outdoor and nature
Photo: Vlad Bukalo

We grabbed food and ate as we began the next leg, trekking along the riverwalk into Wilmington and picking up a few CPs along the way.

Once in downtown Wilmington the urban-O course really began. We found a dozen CPs in the city and recorded a clue at most of them, typically historical info found on art (statues) and architecture around town. The CPs were sited in differing parts of town, including poor residential areas, which provided an appreciated balanced tour of the city, rather than simply presenting the tourist-friendly highlights.

At one point Reed really needed to use the bathroom but the area we were in for 30+ mins was primarily small residences and the occasional tiny corner store/restaurant. We asked a few places and eventually got a yes at the Mt. Zion Miracle Station Church which was unlocked for an afternoon service. The kind folks there also invited us to come back anytime after the race and gave us a church leaflet, which we stowed in the map case. At the end of this leg, we trotted along the river in the pleasant Brandywine Park en route to the next TA  under towering I-95, in the scenic peri-urban river valley.

After switching to bike mode in the waning daylight (3:30 in December), we began the 2nd bike leg, which would take us out of Wilmington toward the finish line, just across the state line in PA. I had several nav bobbles on this leg which was actually very simple; not sure what my problem was. Basically we trucked along a road and then a long linear trail into Brandywine Creek State Park as night fell and the big fat moon rose. There was a second bike trail orienteering section available here, but there were dozens of CPs to be had on the farmgaine leg, which we were most interested in, so we skipped the bike-O and headed into the fields. This was a very fun leg - working through fields, trails and patches of forest and finding antique farm structures. The highlights were Reed spotting a couple silent deer silhouetted on a nearby ridge and trekking without headlamps for a bit in the bright moonlight. The lowlights were some continued inconsistent nav and bits of bad luck and near misses. We did not end up covering that much of the farmlands, unfortunately, and time was getting tight.  Throughout the race, Reed had been his usual able, agreeable race-buddy self and was fine with jogging whenever I suggested it. Because I was getting nervous about time, we jogged most of the last half hour.

I knew there was a ford of the Brandywine Creek near the end, which I was secretly hoping to have to do, although I wasn't sure how it would work into our route plans. As time dwindled, I got my wish - we found the site of the ford with only about 30 minutes left on the clock and there was no good route option, in the time allotted, other than to ford the creek. It wasn't bad - no more than thigh deep and not icy cold, maybe 25m across - and was a fun highlight to the leg. Once across, we waded a small creek, found our last CP, bushwhacked some odd humpy vegetation, and jogged up to the big barn to finish with ~10 minutes to spare. We covered just under 45 miles on the day.

Reed emerging unscathed from the deeper first part of the ford

This was a great 12 hour course - Reed's longest race so far. The varied and interesting terrain made for a great day. While the initial mountain biking was terrific, the urban-O and farmgaine, not typical AR activities, were equally enjoyed. Thanks Rootstock Racing for a great race weekend.

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!