Race report: The Savage

Over the weekend, NYARA raced in the two-person male division of the GOALS Savage 6-hour Adventure Race in Nockamixon State Park, PA. NYARA team members Eric Caravella (your humble writer) and Mikael Mattson, a pair that had never before met (let alone raced together), comprised the team.

With the huge lake smack dab in the middle of the park, there was almost certainly going to be a ton of paddling. But Bruce Kuo did a great job of creating an interesting and unexpected 6-hour race, with some great single-track biking, lots of trekking, and surprisingly very little paddling. It was also quite logistically complex for a 6-hour race.

After a short relay run prologue, racers could choose to begin with whichever discipline they wished. We knew the biking trails are very tight with little passing opportunity, so we decided to sprint the prologue in our bike shoes and get right on the trails to avoid traffic. This strategy paid off big time, as we were able to cruise through the biking section in almost no time at all. Traffic was beginning to build up on the trails as we were leaving, but we were already off to TA1, a fishing pier several miles down the road from the start line.

Most of the rest of the race was on foot. There were two long and narrow trek sections, one on the northwest side of the lake, and another on the southeast side of the lake. These trek sections were connected at either end by short paddles, straight across the lake. At TA1, racers could either paddle directly across the lake to begin with the southeast section, or complete the long northwest section and paddle across the lake at another crossing farther down. Since that far paddle was worth 4 points more than the immediate paddle, Mikael and I started off on foot.

I was navigating and Mikael was in charge of the passport and clue sheet. The first portion of the trek was off an orienteering map, and we started very strong at a great pace just nailing the CPs. But I made a bone-head mistake early on and blew past CP13, completely forgetting about it. Thankfully, Mikael was totally on the ball and reminded me about it, so we were able to loop back for it without wasting too much time. We finished this trek without any more big issues (except the ankle-deep, energy-sucking mud) and paddled our way across the lake for the southeast foot section.

During a race formatted to allow racers to choose their order of disciplines, it’s difficult to gauge your ranking during the race. But we started to realize we were in pretty good shape when we began passing teams on the second trek that hadn’t done the bike section yet. More mud, a hairy bushwhack or two, and a whole lot more trail running got us to the final paddle point to return across the lake to the bike drop.

Since racers could choose where to paddle across, race staff used motorboats to shuttle canoes back and forth across the lake to make sure there were boats available in all places at all times. The logistical difficulties of this became apparent when Mikael and I arrived at the TA and found no boats. We waited 9 minutes for a canoe, hopped in and hammered across the lake back to our bikes. (GOALS recorded any time teams spent waiting for boats and deducted it from their finishing times).

The final bike ride home was only a couple miles down the road back to where we started, so we pedaled it in our sneakers. After clearing the course, we arrived at the finish line with a time of 5 hours (adjusted to 4:51 to account for the time we waited for our boat). Race organizers were so shocked we finished that fast that they almost didn’t even notice us crossing the finish line! We knew right away that we had won, so we shared a Swedish/American high five and flopped down in the grass. In the grand scheme of adventure racing, 6 hours is nothing… but when you’re going full tilt for 5 hours and only one 9 minute break, it feels good to sit down.

Only one other team managed to clear the course within the time limit (one of the two GOALS Elite teams), and they did so in about 5 hours and 50 minutes. The post-race atmosphere and ceremony was great, and everyone was very congratulatory. This race was very meaningful to me, because the 2013 GOALS Savage 6-hour was my very first adventure race. Now, in 2014, the same race became my first cleared course and overall win as team captain and navigator. And it felt good that the win was so decisive. Mikael was an awesome teammate, fast and confident, and we were able to both help each other and push each other.

A big thanks to GOALS for putting on such a great event, I hope to participate in it for years to come.

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