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.

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