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.

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!


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