Check this out! Our friends over at Rootstock Racing have been putting together some great events. Eric Caravella has this great report covering two of their events: rootstock-racing
Check this out! Our friends over at Rootstock Racing have been putting together some great events. Eric Caravella has this great report covering two of their events: rootstock-racing
Dude – where is my water ???
NYARA recently raced in the Happy Mutant Mojave desert race. One of the most scenic and desolated races we have ever done. We have a fantastic photogallery from the race thanks to race photographer Ken Moehn. I usually say that pictures doesn’t do it justice – but Ken has captured the landscape amazingly and you can relive our struggles through his lens.
Photogallery here: (FB gallery coming soon)
Full race report is found here: hmar-mojave-desert
We’ve been a little behind over here and have a few great race reports from Team NYARA including this one from 2016 ARWS World Championships that recently took place in Australia.
Check it out here: race-report-adventure-racing-world-championship-2016
I have had the opportunity to race with the Alpine Downhugger 800 Thermal sheet from MotnBell US for almost 18 months now and I think I have reached the point of use where I can write a review of why I think this is the best off-the-shelf solution for adventure racing as well as a fantastic sleeping bag for your camping, hiking and bike packing trips.
First I want to start with some background. As the team captain for New York Adventure Racing Association I have the opportunity race adventure races all over the world. A requirement from the AR World Series is that in many races we have to carry a sleeping bag with a minimum weight of 400 grams. The MontBell Downhugger thermal sheet fits that category perfectly as it weights in at 427gr. On my kitchen scale the actual weight is often somewhere between 435gr – 445gr depending on how much dirt is in the bag.
As an ultralight bag, one would think this is only something that can be used for adventure racing and ultralight backpacking but I have used it in a number of situations: car-camping the south island of New Zealand, climbing and mountain biking trips in Moab, Utah, a mountain biking hut-trip, and hiking in the Swedish mountains. On top of that it has served me well in adventure races like Primal Quest in Lake Tahoe, GodZone in New Zealand and the Happy Mutant races in Utah and New Mexico.
I have no idea how many “nights” I have spent in the bag – but if you count the 90-180 min sleep you usually take per night in AR as “nights” – it is a lot of them. At least it is too many for me to count.
First – let’s start with the best. If you are reading this you probably already know you want something ultra-light but you don’t want to throw away your money on something that doesn’t help when you are cold. This is the bag for you! The weight speaks for itself but it is filled with 800 fill power goose down. This makes it incredibly warm for the weight. The warmth rating is at 50F/10C, but I would say it is ok at way colder temperatures. As an example I slept in it (granted together with the MontBell Plasma 1000 puffy) at the top of a mesa in Utah in January at 15F/ -10C, with no tent or any other protection from the elements. That is 35F colder than it’s rating! Was this a cozy and warm experience? – no, but it was completely doable. I’m constantly surprised how warm it is for the weight and on many adventures there is just no reason not to bring this little “life-saver”.
While I talk about warmth – I need to point out one thing right away. There is no hood. Would it be possible to construct a warm sleeping bag for $200 that also weights 400gr and has a hood. Probably not – I haven’t seen one. This bag is not meant for situations like winter camping or sleeping out in the open when the temperatures are in the teens (even though I did). If that is what you are looking for – this is not for you. This is the lightest possible bag that will keep you warm overnight and allow you to keep moving light and fast through the environment or towards your objective.
MontBell has a patented spiral stretch system. This gives the bag a little more extra stretch than a “normal” sleeping bag. It is actually a nice feature and somewhat of an extra plus, but for me it’s not the selling point of this bag. If you are having leg cramps during the night it helps slightly, but overall the difference between it and a normal bag is not enough to tip the scale. Again – this bag is unbeatable because the weight and the warmth, not for any special features.
One last thing I want to talk about – it’s durability. This was a non-factor when researching sleeping bags for us. We wanted light and warm. If it broke down on us after a week of use we would have been ok with it, as with most high level racing equipment the focus is going extremely fast and not durability. This is true for your running shoes, bike, Formula-1 car and your adventure racing gear as well. I have now slept in this right on ground in a gravel pit, on a soccer field, beside a forest trail and multiple other places. Somehow it doesn’t show any extreme wear and tear. Anyone who knows me knows that I rely pretty heavily on my equipment, which is basically a nice way of saying that I’m ok with abusing my equipment equally hard as I’m abusing my body during races. Somehow this bag still looks new-ish. I might just be really lucky with this one – but it has definitely been a huge surprise to me. We do take care of the bags immaculately between uses, dry and store in a non-compressed state in a dark place without large temperature swings – but we do this with all our bags. So the fact that this looks like it just came from the store even though it has traveled the US and the world is fantastic and not what I would expect for an ultralight bag.
So, is this bag for you? If you are an adventure racers – YES! It’s basically impossible to find something better unless you have an enormous budget and can put in the time and effort to have custom made bags for you team. If you want to have something that is warm and light, carry your own stuff for long distances or have remote objectives – absolutely. If you need a hood and don’t mind to carry extra weight for some extra comfort – please look somewhere else. This bag is not for everyone or for every occasion (even though I seem to treat it like that sometimes) but it is the best bag in its category.
Olof Hedberg – NYARA Team Captain.
Team NYARA recently headed down to New Mexico for the HMAR 72h race. This was probably one of the highest priority races for us this year — mostly because Whitney was born and raised in New Mexico and she and I met while getting our MBAs at UNM.
Having spent time in the state we knew what many people have somehow missed – New Mexico is AMAZING! It is on my top 3 list of favorite places in the country (together with Summit CO, and New York City). When we heard that there was going to be an adventure race there we quickly decided that this was an absolute “go-to” this year.
We had some problems finding partners with several seasoned teammates that had last minute things come up. Luckily we had Tommy Konecny wanting to try a race. Tommy is a beast – 2:48 marathon, 7:45 Leadville 100 MTB and he and I joined up in the spring to snag 3rd at 12h of Mesa Verde MTB race. So in terms of fitness we know he is good to go – but the longest race he had done are some 24h MTB races. One night is very different than three – so we were all excited and a little nervous for the start.
It didn’t change once we saw the first leg. HMAR is doing things “PQ or Eco Challenge-style” where you basically only get to know the first leg of the race and then you get each leg as you finish the previous one. This also means that you get to see all your TA-bins at each transition, which is nice and minimizes obsessing about “what to put in which bin” before the race start.
So we get the first leg – and it’s 73k on foot, with at least four climbs that are 2000+ vertical feet and three that are above 1500 vertical feet. Normal rules of prologue, short legs at the start etc. did not apply. This was going to be 16h+ on foot right off the bat if we pushed a steady pace and made no big mistakes. Welcome to AR Tommy – hope you like it!
At 7.00 pm the gun went off and we jogged down an asphalt road. Soon we hit the first climb and from there we hiked the uphills, ran the flats, and focused on keeping a decent pace. The most important thing on this leg was to always know where we were — the terrain was huge, and mistakes could be very costly. It went smoothly through the night, well mostly smooth. Whitney did turn into vomitron about 4 hours in and couldn’t eat for around 7 hours, but she rallied and it didn’t really slow us down too much.
We cleared the first section in about 16h and now looked at a 100K+ MTB ride that was basically just up or just down! If you want to see flat sections – look elsewhere all we did was climb or ride down steep hills for hours and hours. As the second night fell we only had a couple of hours left on the leg.
Somehow Whitney entered into a dream world without Tommy or me realizing it. Usually when someone heads down the rabbit hole it is very noticeable, but here the only way it displayed was a lack of ability to stay on the bike (falling asleep and crashing). What we didn’t know was that in her brain there was an intense battle going on. She somehow imagined that only women were allowed on the south boundary trail (an amazing trail – better than almost every single IMBA epic trail that I have ridden). So we are riding down south boundary and Whitney is occasionally falling off her bike and trying to figure out how we could ride down the trail even though we had men on our team. Needless to say it took a little longer than usual to find the next CP, especially since she was the only one with a bike computer.
Overall it went fine – but we opted for the “longer, safer” way to the TA to make sure we got there without issue.
We had a planned sleep at the TA and took a 135min TA including a 90 min sleep and warm food. Dreams of Justin Bieber haunted all of us (unsure why – but they did).
Next up was a 37k foot leg, but with trails and roads that had much better surface than the first leg. This meant a lot more “AR Shuffle” running. The navigation on this leg was also much more straightforward than the first leg with a road in a valley as a large “catch/backstop,” so mistakes were harder to make and wouldn’t be very costly. All that means this was a “speed leg”.
I really enjoy when race directors focus on designing different types of legs within the same race. Too often you get races that are just “long distance” or “tricky nav” or some “style” that fits that race director. The best race I have ever done was GodZone, which had a completely different feel on every leg of the race. Primal Quest was also great in that sort of sense, but in a “over the top awesome PQ way” (and by that less manageable for many teams).
So the first foot leg was long, night and extremely important to always keep track of your location. This foot leg was basically a hammer-fest for 37k. This means that you as a racer and as a team have to adapt to the style of the leg. This adds an extra element of both tactics and strategy in a race.
Did we do a good job of hammering? I think we did – especially considering we didn’t know how much of the race was left. Overall I would give us a thumb up.
Once we finished the leg we got UTM coordinates for everything back to the finish line and knew that it was only ~100k between us and the finish. First stop was Taos, and while we are there, we grabbed a burger and a milkshake. With only 10h to go I was a little antsy to keep moving, but this burger stop turned out to pay back big time. How you ask? – Well we first face a 2,200 vertical feet climb and after the first 1,000 feet, my teammates somehow transformed into Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
Climbing on bike in AR is usually done slow and systematically at constant speed. There are no peletons and no break-aways to cover, just highest average speed up the hill that counts. My teammates seemed to set out to change that. Tommy (who just finished 12 min behind Dave Zabriskie less than a month ago at The Leadville 100) showed that very few can push the same wattage out of the saddle as he raced cars up the hill. Whitney, who refuses to do a MTB race (she has done one, which she won) and her biking skills can only be found on some segments on Strava (hint: you basically have to be a pro roadbiker to beat some of her climbing segments) finds that instead of calling him back she needs to “cover the break.” Apparently we have gone from a “let’s take this home” mentality to “let’s pretend this is a Tour.” At that point I had burned all my matches (Swedish expression) and was just working as hard as I could to try to keep up.
This continued over the next couple of hours (and 7,500 vertical feet) until we were in a state where Whitney was carrying my backpack and Tommy’s attempt to be like Contador came to an end. Just like in the Tour, Froome (Whitney) was the winner and she led a quickly deteriorating peloton of two towards the finish line. I was relived of everything except the map and navigation. Tommy was slowly descending into Czech-world and started communicating only in Czech, which as funny until he gave no indication of understanding English. He also talked a lot to imaginary people – which most of us AR folks have been known to do at certain times. Somehow (caffeine maybe?), he turned things around once we approach the finish line and was good for the last hour of the race. These last hours are some of my strongest memories of the race — our team living in some sort of “crazy enchanted world” with teammates in different states of disarray, trying to get to the finish line.
Crossing the finish line right after midnight gave us a finishing time of right over 53h clearing the course. To make it even better Whitney’s and Tommy’s families were there celebrating our victory as we, totally exhausted, entered the last campground.
We love NM and it was too bad that more racers didn’t get to see this part of the US — which is just amazing and so special. A huge thanks to Toby and Happy Mutant for putting on a race in such a cool part of the country and taking a risk, setting a course in a place that is hard to travel to – but truly unique. As always we would also like to highlight our clothes from MontBell US. Wool shirts for the night, rain jackets for the storms, sleeping bags for the rest and ultralight puffys for when you are freezing – their gear is truly “light and fast” and we can’t recommend it higher.
We are a little uncertain which race is next for us, but feel we are in better shape and faster than ever. We are looking forward to a really interesting 2017 — especially with World Championships on home turf!
Olof Hedberg – NYARA Team Captain
Hey adventure lovers — we have a great race report from NYARA’s recent WIN at the Rev3 Epic 26hour race. Eric Caravella, Vanessa Peck, John Courain and Aaron Courain made up the team and we can’t wait to hear there story!
John Courain wrote up the full story here: Epic 2016 race write up
Congrats on a great race and thanks to Rev3 for putting together the course.
Team NYARA was excited to try out the newest AR series to launch in the US — The Happy Mutant AR Series. The first race this year was in St. George, Utah — the desert, in January can’t be too bad, right? Wrong. The race and weather gods had something very non-deserty in store for us. St. George had a lot more snow than usual which caused some last minute course changes — unfortunately limiting the single track mountain biking and taking out what sounded like some awesome ropes sections. What we were left with was a grueling, muddy, cold march through the desert that tested even very experienced racers. The navigation was tricky at times, the elevation gain was significant (around 20K up in 73 hours) and the mileage — especially on foot — was loooooooong! Good ol’ AR fun.
Team NYARA raced with Olof Hedberg as Captain and Navigator; Whitney Hedberg as Mandatory Equipment and two guest stars: Scott Mead (who was doing his first 3-day race) and JD Eskelson (who has raced nearly every single race in the history of AR). We wanted to give each team member the chance to give their “Highs and Lows” of the race. A big thanks to Toby Evans and his crew — Emma Gossett and Cliff White — who somehow managed to pull off a complicated 3-day race with only three people. Thanks for all your hard work! Also, thanks to Cliff for finding time to take pictures in between his hundreds of other jobs. We also want to thank both Scott and JD for racing for NYARA and doing a great job. Special thanks to JD for documenting every step of the way with photos and videos.
Now for “Highs and Lows”
First up, Whitney.
In more words: That mud was the absolute worst! It was like devil mud that instantly invaded every nook and cranny on my bike and added like 100lbs. Needless to say I was a little bit grumpy through the muddy sections. Just ask JD for an impression. He’s got me nailed.
Now for Olof:
This was a cold, cold, cold race with a lot of mud. It was also beautiful, unforgiving and pretty brutal. The weather – which was untypically cold for the season, caused snow to fall just hours before start – which leads me to my low: The need to change the course. The snow and mud made several trails impassable and unridable. We carried our bikes on our shoulders or dragged them along in the mud for a total of almost 12 miles in this race. That is a lot of bike carrying. I don’t mind a good hike-a-bike, actually I like them because other people seem to dislike them – but I hate missing out on single track riding. Unfortunately due to the weather, we missed out on a lot of cool single track. Nothing anyone could do anything about – it’s just the forces of nature and that is why it is called adventure racing (or high speed camping which I like to call it sometimes). The other low would probably be that BBOFF (Big Ball OF Fire) shined a little less on us, compared to what we where hoping for.
Next up, Scott:
Last, but far from least, JD:
Well, now folks how looow can we gooo here… seriously overall not many “lows” in this race albeit I’d say these Top 5 count:
WOW, lot’s of similar “highs” aforementioned by my Teammates above, but here’s more:
By: Eric Caravella
Several months ago, Olof, Whitney and I decided to plan a little trip for the first weekend in October. “Where should we go?” I asked.
“I hear Pineville, Kentucky is lovely that time of year,” said Whitney. And since you simply don’t argue with Whitney, even when she does something as ridiculous as suggest Kentucky for our little getaway, it was settled. We booked a cabin and our trip to Pine Mountain State Resort Park was on the calendar.
We arrived, and the cabin seemed rustic and lovely. Olof and Whitney took the bedroom. Ever the third wheel, I was relegated to the pull-out couch. We tested out our beds and were less than thrilled. Olof and Whitney’s had a cavernous depression in the middle which forcibly smushed the two of them together. My pull-out felt like truck springs thinly covered with a sheet of cotton, my ribs and spine were not pleased with the prospect of spending three nights on that torture device.
I groaned, “How are we going to sleep in these conditions? I don’t know about you two, but I’m used to a certain standard of living and these mattresses do NOT measure up!”
Olof chimed in, “This may sound silly, but I heard there was some sort of race going on here this weekend. If we tire ourselves out enough, perhaps we won’t mind our uncomfortable beds.”
“That sounds perfect!” Whitney exclaimed. “It just so happens we have two cars full of gear that will be perfect for this so-called ‘adventure racing!’ And we will even be racing overnight, so one less night sleeping in these awful beds!”
And so it came to be that we entered the USARA Adventure Racing National Championships.
Stephanie Ross (of Flying Squirrel Adventures) was this year’s Race Director, and she put together an interesting course sure to challenge the 60 or so teams that showed up from around the country. The field of competition would be tough, so we had our work cut out for us. We wouldn’t receive our maps until the morning of the race start, so we had plenty of time to fiddle with food and gear the day before. Strategizing is tricky without maps, but we received enough clues to put together what we thought would be a good plan. It seemed clear that the race organizers expected us to carry most of what we needed throughout the race as there would be no access to gear bins, so in a lot of ways that made planning easy.
We decided that between the three of us, we would have one big pack (for Olof the Super-Swede), one small pack (for Eric the Not-So-Super-Runner) and one running vest (for Super-Whitney so she could afford to take my pack when I got super lazy). I, for one, loved this plan. The only problem was when Olof felt less “Super-Swedish” than normal and the heavy pack ended up on MY back. Then I was cursing that strategy. But, that’s why we race as a team. Or so I’m told.
The running prologue went swimmingly. And I say swimmingly, because parts were actually more of a swim than a run. I didn’t mention that it had been raining the whole week leading up to the race, and the forecast called for rain throughout the whole race weekend. We were in for a cold and wet 24 hours. We got to our canoes and set out on the river paddle only a couple of minutes behind the leaders. Paddling has never been our strong suit, so we spent most of this leg just trying to go straight and not flip. A couple teams passed us, but we didn’t lose too much time to the leaders.
Next came the King of the Mountain leg.. a bike ride up a roughly 5 mile switch-backy hill that just seemed relentless. Fortunately, I was thankful for the opportunity to warm up and felt pretty good on the bike. Olof, on the other hand, was not feeling this bike ride. I spent a little time pushing him but soon realized it would be better off to just take his pack. After that we moved pretty well, and ended up with one of the fastest KOM times of the field.
At the top of the mountain, we dumped any non-mandatory weight and made a speedy transition to foot. This was a short 1.5 hour O course with a ton of steep hills. We flip-flopped with a few teams but ended up coming out in 5th place. Then it was time for the misery to begin.
The rain continued as we approached the big bike leg of the race, 5 hours on the dirt roads of a local “off-road park” that used to be a strip mine, but is now evidently where the local Kentuckyans bring their 4-wheelers and coolers of Natty Ice. On the surface, it was apparent this leg would be tricky because (due to the fact that it was a strip mine, and everything had been dug up) the contour lines would be wholly unreliable and we would need to navigate primarily by trail markings. When we arrived, we realized that the REAL reason this leg would be tricky, is that it had been raining for a week and the place was a mud pit. I kept the MonsterPack (which was now soaking wet), and Olof focused on not getting us lost. With the exception of one little hiccup, he did a great job of keeping us from spending more time than necessary in those god-awful bogs they call dirt roads. By the end of the ride, the mud had rendered our bikes virtually unidentifiable. And by the grace of some higher power, we suffered a grand total of zero mechanical problems. I was amazed.
Time for the second paddle of the race, on flat water this time and…. (you guessed it!) in the rain. I was dreading this paddle because I was certain we’d get there in the dark and it would be cold and tricky navigation, but it turned out to be quite a nice, placid lake paddle. Plus, we managed the whole thing in the daylight and actually ended up with the second fastest time on this leg! Quite an accomplishment for the paddle-averse NYARA!
We got back on our bikes and had to go up another hill. Olof’s tire decided to randomly spring a leak on the pavement, which I found especially odd considering how resilient our bikes had been during the previous leg. I stuck a tube in his wheel and we were back on our way. We took a little detour through an apartment complex because the trailhead we were looking for wasn’t immediately apparent, but once we were on the right track we could properly suffer our way up the (muddy) monster of a hill. The descent off this hill was steep and more than a bit slick, so it took us a little extra time to pick our way down without any catastrophes. We lost some time on this leg, but got into the last TA at Pine Mountain Lodge primed for the final leg, a long foot O course that was sure to be the crux of the race.
We took a few minutes in TA to change socks and prep our feet, and then we were back at it with packs as light as we dared. We left the TA at the same time as Team Kuat, tied for 6th. We approached the first attack point, and with some double checking between Olof and me, we chose a spot and began bushwhacking. We found the first CP with little problem, and then continued our bushwhack descent down a steep re-entrant utterly choked with mountain laurel and other various unfriendlies. Our progress was much slower than we would have liked, and those unavoidable doubts about our route choice began creeping into our heads. But we held firm as we were confident with our direction, and the foliage started to open up near the bottom near where we figured the second CP should be. Another team ran into us and continued down the same path. But then we hit a road, (our backstop), and we hadn’t seen the CP. The other team continued on. Why hadn’t we seen it? Back up the re-entrant we went, this time stopping to more carefully assess a minor divide in the ravine, and when I checked up a less prominent re-entrant to the right, I stumbled right onto the orange flag. 20 or 30 minutes lost. Not ideal, but not the end of the world.
We continued on. Olof made the navigation a team sport, and with all of us in touch with the map we were spot on. We ran everything but the steep uphills. We crossed paths with the team that passed us in the ravine, and got an extra charge of adrenaline to stay out in front of them for the rest of the race. We kept checking over our shoulders, certain that there was a team right behind us. We ran our hearts out all the way to the finish line where we found out that not only had we held off Team Kuat, but we jumped ahead of Checkpoint Zero for a 5th place finish overall. (A review of the record after the fact revealed that the 6th place team came in over an hour after us. We’re not really sure which “team” we kept seeing right behind us. It’s entirely possible we were hallucinating).
It was 3:30am and we were soggy, muddy, sore and tired. But thrilled with our Top 5 finish. And not only that, but the points we gained bumped us up to 3rd overall in the USARA Rankings! An awesome finish to a great year of racing.
But now, the moment you have all been waiting for. The answer you have been desperately seeking. The reason you have read this entire stupid race report. It was time to put our theory to test… was it possible to sleep in our beds (aka medieval torture devices) after pushing our bodies to the max for almost 20 hours?
VERDICT: YES!! We are happy to report that adventure racing makes it possible to sleep anywhere. However, we discovered a problem with our methods. While redlining for 20 hours makes sleep come easy, it also makes every other daily function unbelievably painful. You know, like walking. Or bending over. The day after the race I dropped a $20 bill on the ground and considered just leaving it there.
Oh well. No one ever said we were brilliant for participating in this crazy sport.
Big ups and mad props to my awesome team the Hedbergs. It was swell racing with you, as always. And from all of us, huge thanks to Stephanie Ross and her staff, the volunteers, to NYARA and MontBell. Thank you everyone for making all of this glorious suffering possible. We wouldn’t be nearly as miserable without you.
We are excited to share this race report for the 2015 NAARS Championship. Eric Caravella was Team NYARA’s captain and led the team to a 4th place finish. We want to thank Montbell, Rudy Project and NYARA for all their support!
Here is Eric with the details…
Doug Crytzer has done it again! Last year’s championship race in North Dakota (courtesy of Andy Magness and ENDRacing) was as awesome as they come.. and this year, Doug chose Gung Ho to put on the last NAARS race of the season at Raystown Resort in PA, right in our back yard. I had heard good things about Gung Ho and about Raystown, but they surpassed all expectations in one of the most fun and creative races I’ve ever done.
Up until the last minute, NYARA was registered as a 3-person co-ed team with John Courain, AR newbie Vanessa Peck, and your humble writer with the map and compass. We knew that at some point during the race we were going to need to paddle two canoes with our bikes in our boats, and we were concerned a 3-person setup was not going to be ideal for this endeavor. So when Molly Housman asked if she could join our team a couple of days before the race, we jumped at the chance. Fritz (on Rev3/MK) had given her the idea to reach out to us, and then proceeded to completely psych her out by telling her how fast we are. Literally, to the point that the morning of the race she was so nervous she considered dropping out. Those Rev3 guys are diabolical. Anyway, John convinced her it was all in her head, and she agreed to stick it out. And good thing she did, because she was awesome!
At registration, race paperwork seemed simple enough… two big maps and a race booklet. Turned out, it was anything but simple. They would give us 32 hours for the race, during which time there would be no fewer than 13 TRANSITIONS. It took an hour just to wrap my head around the complexity of the race, because for how big it was… there were very few actual rules of travel. Turned out, Gung Ho wanted everyone to figure out their own method of attacking the course, and as a result they did not tell us how (or in what order) we had to obtain most of the checkpoints. This resulted in a frenzy of carrying canoes (sometimes filled with bikes) to parking boats at weird places to run up and get bike points, to leaving bikes behind and canoeing to other areas to run back to bikes… and more. It got weird. But the fact that the creativity of the course design was matched by the creativity of the racers was precisely the reason this event was so amazing. And turned out also to be the reason that once we got deep into the race course, we stopped seeing other people. Everyone’s strategy took them to different parts of the course at different times, so each team had no option but to race their own race. I remember coming into one TA and asking Doug Hershey (Gung Ho course design hero) why I saw people running around on foot just outside the TA. He told me he had no idea, that people were attacking the course in ways he himself never imagined. I got a good chuckle out of that one.
I’ll give you the “lite version” of what happened, because it would take forever to describe the whole race to you. But I will tell you about some of the highlights. Like the first 20 minutes of the race, when we saw a porcupine sleeping in a tree during the prologue, and then another one lumbering across the street as we jogged along. We even saw a third porcupine during the night bike section, indelicately bashing his way through the underbrush. (I saw my first porcupine ever in Wyoming during Cowboy Tough 2 months earlier and was ecstatic. I saw 3 during this race… and Olof wasn’t even there to yell at me for stopping to appreciate them!) Who knew PA had so many porcupines? Giant black snakes, too. We saw several of those, including one that was in the middle of hunting a mouse. It was a real Circle of Life moment. We also saw various birds, deer… and I was even pretty sure I saw a koala bear in the middle of the night. But it could also have been a tree stump. Anyway, lots of wildlife.. not a lot of people.
The second foot section had a nice river swim, and the third foot section was an awesome surprise. They gave us new maps at the TA, but didn’t tell us what was in store. It wasn’t until we arrived at the CP that we learned we’d have to navigate through a series of caves before we could punch the control! We did this a couple of times, and John served as cave navigator extraordinaire. From there, a bike ride along a scary highway brought us to the real meat of the race course, and the first time our bikes would go in our boats.
We packed up our boats (in one of our better TAs of the race) and paddled off. Another genius move Gung Ho made for this race was the “Mobile Gear Bag.” Due to the number of transitions, and the logistical nightmare it would be for race staff to transport gear, they allowed us to keep bags in our boats with whatever we wanted. Food, fluids, magazines, bocce balls… whatever. Most people brought food and drinks. But this allowed us to travel pretty light outside the boats since we’d be returning to our canoes frequently. I must say, though… those canoes were heavy with all the gear, people and bikes in them. Paddling is usually pretty slow, but this was painful. But we plodded along and crossed paths with GOALS and Rev3 before our strategies finally took us off in different directions.
This brought us to the main bike leg of the race, intersprinkled with a couple gnarly foot sections. We barely saw anybody during this part of the race, it was amazing. I made a call to reverse the direction we did part of this leg so I could get to some tricky foot nav in the daylight, which turned out to be a good call. We were all starting to feel the effects of the day’s heat, but managed to enjoy a few miles of the awesome Raystown singletrack before the sun went down. That gave us a new shot of adrenaline. Molly was whooping and yelling along the dips and turns as we cruised along the singletrack. Vanessa had been struggled with fatigue, particularly along the road biking sections, but was back at home on the dirt and crushing it. And John was cruising along too, until he bonked. We were running low on fluids anyway so we stopped in a campsite to fill up and allow John to sit down for a while. He got some soda and some spam in his system and eventually felt well enough to continue making forward progress. Molly took the passport and we all banged out the rest of the biking leg without major issue. I promised John we would come back another time when he was feeling 100% so he could enjoy the trails, because they really are fantastic.
Bikes went back in the canoes and we paddled off on my first ever night paddle orienteering section. A definite highlight of the race for me as well, because I was nervous about night paddling having never done it before… but it went super smooth. I even nailed the tiny 50 foot wide “Pee Wee Island” in the middle of the lake. (Although in the interest of full disclosure, I did have to tell Molly to stop talking to me so I could focus. She sure likes to chat!) At the end of the paddle, everyone was pretty cold. We pulled into the TA and saw there was a fire, and I warned everyone to stay away from it because I wanted to be out of the TA as soon as possible. They did stay away, but instead went for the “Walking Tacos” that the race organizers had prepared. (Ziplock bags of doritos with meat and cheese, etc). A very nice gesture by race staff. But admittedly I was quite grumpy at this point and in no mood to be wasting time on things as trivial as warmth and nutrition. In my estimation we were behind and we needed to move fast if we had any hope of clearing the course.
Next foot section was unremarkable, except for the fact that it took way longer than expected and had a nasty ¾ km bushwhack that I was not expecting. It was labeled a clearing on the map. It was NOT a clearing. Even thought the sun finally came up toward the end of this leg, spirits were pretty low when we finally got back to our bikes. We had just stumbled down 1100 feet of steep vert that we were now going to have to go back up with our bikes. (I realize I have digressed from the “high points” of the race, but there’s more of that to come). We pushed/rode our bikes up the monster hill and I was pleased to learn upon closer inspection of the map that the rest of the 25km ride would be steady gradual downhill as we once again lost the elevation we had just gained. HIGHLIGHT! We flew through the rest of this bike leg and went out on one last foot section before the paddle home.
I don’t eat well when I’m in charge of the maps (a bad little habit of mine), so my brain and body were pretty tired by this point. John was fully revived so he took the map for the last 40 min foot section and did a great job navigating us through a beautiful series of steep rocky trails with creeks and waterfalls. Fortunately I was not too exhausted to appreciate the unique beauty of this little treasure, and once again realized that everything the race directors added to the race had undeniable redeeming value, and was not just a way to extend time and distance.
We made it back to our boats for the 10km paddle home with a little under 4 hours to do it. HIGHLIGHT! At that point our position was pretty much locked so I was thrilled we didn’t have to hurt ourselves to make the paddle back in time. Instead we enjoyed the beautiful day and tried not to capsize as the motorboats and jetskis zipped around us in an apparent attempt to impress or intimidate us. Lazy bums with their internal combustion engines! Anyway, it was a nice final paddle, and I even allowed Molly to start talking again.
Verdict: SPECTACULAR! Gung Ho crushed it with the course design, and NAARS hosted yet another amazing championship race which I will be sure to continue participating in for years to come. We cleared the course (all 69 CPs!) in 29:34, one of only 4 teams to clear. AAS, GOALS and Rev3/MK managed to clear it faster, so we took a solid 4th place. In retrospect, we had some slow downs related to fatigue and nutrition, as well as TA times that were probably slower than they should have been. But overall a great experience with a super set of teammates. John was an excellent backup navigator as usual, and saved my butt a couple of times. The girls rocked it… Molly was physically strong and super positive the whole race, she went from worrying about being able to keep up to a point at which I thought she was going to need to start towing. And Vanessa who is new to AR this year… this was a tough race on a big race course, and only her second AR ever! She did the Jersey Inferno 10-hour in June, so this was a lot to ask of someone on their second race. But she did an awesome job, and we’re just hoping we didn’t scare her off from racing more in the future.