Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December Chilly Adventure Race

The race went quite well, I thought, considering my rather lacking level of preparation. But I (we) did not really know quite what to expect going into the race.

The December Chill 2011 adventure race was made up of 42 CheckPoints, spread out over 3 disciplines (mountain biking, canoeing & hiking/orienteering). Some CPs were mandatory and needed to be found in a particular order. Others were optional and could be found in any order. But to obtain a maximum score and be eligible for the overall win, you basically needed to find all of the CPs.

We started with the biking at 9am (34°F). Brrrrrrr. But 5 minutes into it, internal heat was more than sufficient. With a mass start of 100+ riders, it was a bit chaotic at first. Less than a mile into the ride, we all had to funnel down from a 2-lane road to a 1 lane (~ 4ft wide) bridge which really strung out the pack a bit. But Team P.O.R (David Allen & I), got off to a decent start (~ top 25% of the field).

Expecting to excel on the bike portion, I found myself working hard to keep up with David's quick pace. But this was so much more than just mountain biking. We had to navigate using a topo map of the park & surrounding area to find CheckPoints marked on the map. But many of these CPs were not just sitting alongside the trail. We had to drop the bikes and go searching in the woods for some of them.

At one point, we were going after a CP that was on the opposite bank of a swamp/marsh area. David suggested we try crossing the area on foot. The ground LOOKED firm enough, but after only a few steps in, we were up to our ankles in water...thanks to the 2+ inches of rain that fell on the preceding Wed.. So we retreated and found another, dryer way around.

Here I have to give a lot of credit to David who managed, quite well I'd say, to ride a mountain bike on unfamiliar, snow covered 2-track & single track trails while at the same time reading/navigating from a topo map...without crashing...and leaving me in the "dust" at times. Well done!!!

After bashing around a couple different parks (Proud Lake State Rec. Area & Milford Mntn Bike Trail), we were working on wrapping up the ~17 mile bike leg. At CP20, David noticed that the two furthest CPs for the upcoming canoe section were only about 100 yards from our current location. While standing near a couple other teams, David whispers, "Have you read anything in the rules prohibiting going to CPs out of order that are in other Legs?" Me: "No, I've read everything I could and saw nothing about this in the supp's/rules." So we waited for the other teams to move on and we collected the CPs at the nearby river. We were not the only ones to figure out this loop hole. And it saved us over 1 mile of canoeing.

The end of the bike section was back at the start point/HQ. In this "Transition Zone" we were allowed to go to our cars, change our gear, leave the bikes and head down to the river for the next leg. We both took a rather lax approach to this TZ and spent way to much time changing clothes, warming our feet, etc. In hind sight, it likely cost us a position or two in the final results. But we're learning.

At then end of the bike leg we were in 17th overall (out of 66 teams) and 10th in our Male, 2-person class (out of 30).

As we made our way to the canoe "put in" my legs were looking forward to the upcoming rest. The first half of the canoeing went very well. Heading down river, we made good time with David steering us around a number of obstacles. As we pulled up to CP22, a solo competitor was attempting to pull himself and his kayak up onto the shore. He had split the bottom of the hull and was taking on water...FAST! But he was OK. We pressed on. After CP23 (the turn around), we had to paddle back up river ~ 0.75 miles. Thanks to all of the previously mentioned rainfall, the water level was very high and the current was quite fast. As a result, the return trip was not fun! If we both stopped paddling for even a moment, our forward progress ceased almost immediately. My arms felt like they might fall off at any moment (see attached picture). I was SO done with paddling, but David kept motivating me and we pressed on.

Back on land, after traveling ~ 1.5 miles, we had set the 5th fastest time (59 min.) on the water leg and we'd moved up to a 3-way tie for 7th in the overall (3rd in class!!!) despite my complete lack of upper body strength. ...Boy were my arms looking forward to a "restful" hike!

The final leg, Trekking/Orienteering, consisted of 16 CPs that could be reached in any order. These CPs were loosely placed near/around two separate sets of hiking trails. As David continued with his role as navigator, he wisely opted to tackle the larger trail loop first. The value of this would become apparent later on.

By this time, the temperature had climbed into the mid 40's. This was quite comfortable given the level of energy that we were exerting.

Often times the quickest way from one CP to another was to follow the trail. But other times we would head straight through the woods to cut off large sections of the trail. And because it was more or less a free-for-all out there in the woods, we really had no idea how we were doing compared to the other teams.

Before starting this section, I expected our pace would be a brisk hike. But after only a few short minutes into the leg, it became apparent that we would need to jog whenever possible in order to stay competitive with the other teams. I was not prepared for this. My training consisted of zip, zero, zilch, nada, no running/jogging. And on top of that, I was carrying way more in my back pack than I really needed (once again in hind sight).

With many words of encouragement from David, I jogged as far and as often as I could, but with frequent periods of "fast" walking in between. But we cleared the CPs, one by one.

Then shortly after starting the final, smaller loop which had 6 CPs to track down, we came across a sign that said "Trail Closed". This was a marshy area with a number of boardwalks that made up the trail. We were told before the start that this closure was because of some missing planks on the boardwalks. "No problem" we told ourselves as we leapt over the missing pieces of lumber.

But...... then we rounded a corner only to find a 10+ foot section of boardwalk completely under 4-6 inches of icy water. The only way passed this frigid obstacle was to walk/run straight through it. There was no way to avoid completely soaking our feet/shoes. It was quite a shock at first. But fortunately this came near the end of the race.

Once we had made it beyond this soggy surprise, it wasn't long before this uncomfortable feeling was all but forgotten. This was due to the burning sensation in my thighs which took over my thoughts as I squeezed the last bits of strength from them.

David kept on trucking through the final miles of the course and I gave it all I had just to try to keep up. When we arrived at the finish, I was completely wiped out. The hiking leg ended up being ~ 6 miles which we coved in just under 2 hours. So the total distance covered by Team P.O.R. was about 25 miles in 5hr 12min. This was good enough for 11th place overall and 6th in class. Not too shabby for the first time out. And we were only 1min 43sec away from a top ten finish which basically came down to the time lost during our "relaxed" Transition Zone after the bike leg. Oh well!!

The overall winning team finished with a time of 4hrs 23min., a cool 49min. faster than us. But this gives us something to work towards in the future.

We had a great time. It was certainly quite an experience. A big thanks goes to David who expertly handled the navigation throughout the race and who managed to keep me motivated in order to press on regardless and make it to the end.

Paul Fernandez, Team POR

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