NAARS Championships 2014 — North Dakota
Was this the best 1-2 day course ever designed? Possibly.
Was it the best 1-2 day course we have ever done? Without a doubt!
A simple race report will never be able to capture what we saw during ~26h of hammering through the badlands of North Dakota – but we will try. A ton of thanks are in order – I’ll get to that in the end – but I need to mention one right away, Legendary Randy Ericksen is responsible for all photos in this report. You can see all his photos from the race here.
The team is starting to behave like a well oiled machine before the race. Everyone has their own tasks — I worry about the race and count down the minutes until I can get the maps, Mikael and Eric take care of bikes, Whitney works out all the logistics. Once we finally got the maps at 4.00 pm everything was ready and we started pouring over the race course. Like any adventure race, it is a relief when you finally get to see the map, make your time estimates and see if you can stick to your pre-planned strategy. Here ours was to go fast, eat little, keep packs light and hammer as hard as we could to the dark zone. We went to bed surprisingly early and all had a “good” night’s sleep.
Morning rose over the Maah Daah Hey trail. The race started with 35 miles of single track on the trail. Our plan was to take it easy during the first third or so – just to see that everything was in working order and then make sure everyone was fit for fight. After that, the hammer fest began. The scenery was amazing. Luck wasn’t really on our side–we got two flats and dropped from first to third place both times. Rev3 with the Courain brothers (Aaron and John) and Julia Pollock and Journey Racing with AR legend, Danelle Ballengee, Fletcher Hamel, and Ian Hoag were always close behind and passed us during both our flats.
Towards the end of the section all three teams looked significantly tired and there was suffering all around. On the positive side – we had put a huge gap to the rest of the field and it would basically be a 3 team race from here on.
The next section was one of the coolest foot sections we have ever done. Ridges and canyons stretched out over the landscape and 95% of the travel was off trail. We headed out first on the section with Journey a couple of minutes behind. After checking the first CP we took a bearing towards CP 2 – it was a Class III ridge scramble down to it. While none of us lead 5.12 trad climbs, all of us are pretty comfortable in the mountains and thought we kept good speed down the ridge. To our surprise – Journey came flying down the same ridge and almost caught us. Very impressive speed from them in such a “high consequence area.”
The section continued and as we took the next couple of CPs our teams were never more than a couple of minutes apart. We both started climbing the same Class III reentrant together and both teams basically gave up on getting a gap during the section, so we start traveling together. We met Rev3, who were doing the section in reverse order, near our second to last CP — which was the last time we saw them during the race.
As we checked in to the TA we are told by race director Andy that the next 40 miles is mostly be on dirt roads. Great – quick miles is our first thought. I bet Andy would laugh really hard if he had seen us after an hour. Hiking our bikes over some sort of washed out trail, which was occasionally closed off with barb wire. Not what we expected, but that is why it is called adventure racing, right? After about 20 miles, the roads opened up and we started pushing toward the next TA. As night fell we saw Journey Racing’s headlamps behind us. Sometimes close, sometimes farther away. We overshot one CP a little and that allowed enough time for both teams to reunite again. We rode the last 10 miles towards the TA within a minute of each other. At this point, I hit my deepest bottom in adventure racing so far. My legs could hardly push down on the pedals. I handed my backpack over to Eric (who biked with two) and he and Mikael took turns pushing me up the hills. It was just something I had to work through — and now with hindsight it is funny to know that less than two hours later I would be the strongest person on the team.
One of the things I love about racing with NYARA is that all pride is left at the door. If you are tired you hand your backpack over to the strongest racer. This is not something that is ever argued about or even discussed. It is what we do and it helps to maximize our speed. Often that means that I carry two backpacks at some point during a race. This time it meant that my teammates took my backpack and towed me. Since I started racing with Whitney I have said that this moment will come “at some race at some point I will be the weak one and you will have to take care of me.” Well, it happened and it was amazing to see how quickly and seamlessly the rest of the team helped me through it. It is truly an amazing experience to be the weak one because afterwards you know you couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team. We rolled in to the TA after about 12 hours of racing. During those 12 hours the difference between us and Journey had never been more than 5 minutes. It started being comical – we joked that they had a secret teleporter because as soon as we thought we had gotten them out of sight they managed to pop back up.
The next section was a night foot-o rogaine, with some interesting night scrambles and a lot of route choices — we knew from early on this would be the crux of the race. We headed out first, but both we and Journey overshot the first CP, so we were back together again. Going over how many times the lead shifted during this section would be impossible and boring. It was a night of despair (when we thought we had lost them in front of us), hope (when we thought we had lost them behind us), speed (running close to 6-7 minute miles after 12h of racing on trails), complete tiredness and as we approached CP 4, more self inflicted fear than we have ever experienced in an adventure race.
So by the time we hit CP 4 – there were only two CP’s left. We approached the CP and and saw an enormous ridge shooting up out of the landscape. As we shined our lights on the ridge (which at some points is a knife edge) we saw Journey Racing (who is now in the lead) looking like three small fireflies clinging to the side of the ridge. We climbed after them and noticed that the ridge wall is close to vertical. I got up to the lowest part of the ridge and threw one leg over. Sitting with one leg on each side of the wall I shined my light trying to find the CP. I realized it must be higher. I climbed after Journey higher up the ridge and screamed to my team to follow. About 300 feet higher up the ridge we found the CP and I got up there just as Journey punched and headed out to pick up the last two CPs. We were not more than a couple of minutes behind. The rest of the team gets up to the CP after the somewhat terrifying scramble and everyone looked at each other. Eric spoke first, “I almost died!” Turns out he climbed the east side of ridge, instead of the easier west side. His side was basically Class V climbing on crumbling sand stone. Whitney had moved along the knife edge basically hugging it – with one leg and one arm on each side before semi-intentionally sliding down the less steep side. All of it Insane.
With two CPs to go and Journey a couple of minutes ahead there was no time to stand around and share stories of how frightened we all had been. Journey had taken a direct route over another ridge to the second to last CP – we decided to run around instead. After we climbed down, we took out the tow ropes and ran faster than we ever have during night navigation. As we hit the CP we didn’t see any headlamps ahead of us and then had only one CP left between us and the dark zone. As we headed off for the last one, we saw Journey coming over the ridge about 5 min behind us. We pushed, tore our clothes, screamed, pushed some more and battled our way towards the TA and the dark zone. Finally, I could payback my team for their help while I was dead — it was my turn to carry two backpacks. We ran and powerhiked the last 3 miles to the dark zone knowing that every minute counted. It was intense. When we checked in at the dark zone we all fell down lying in the cold night with heartrates towards 180 bpm — unable to do anything other than scream out our joy over being first (well, I guess I was the only one who screamed, but we were all beyond relieved). We had three and a half hours of rest off the clock until we needed to get going again. Every minute Journey wasn’t there was one minute they needed to beat us with after the rest.
It took Journey 18 more minutes than us to complete the “first day.” This was the biggest gap we had all day – but it was nowhere near enough time to make us comfortable. In AR 18 minutes can disappear with one wrong look at the map.
Feeling like we just had gone to war and come back home alive we dragged our sleeping bags out of our TA box and set the alarm clock for 5.00 am – over 2h of sleep in a 34h race – and it was the best feeling in the world.
The next morning we woke and got ready to leave when the dark zone would open at 6.00 am. No other team was in yet – so it was clear that the two team race would continue with at least 3.5h down to third place. Six miles downhill on gravel and asphalt roads brought us to the paddle put in. Journey hit the TA right behind us. Our plan was to continue to race aggressively, be first on the water and control the race from there. A silly fast TA gave us a 3-5 min gap at the put in. Then we started an amazing, and amazingly cold paddle. Well it was amazingly cold for me, because I jumped out of the canoe into the water a couple of times – once to save a paddle, and others to drag the canoe out of sand bars.
As the sun slowly rose, I stopped shivering. Our spirits rose as we seemed to put time on Journey – and by the time we reached the only CP on the 18 mile paddle (which was up on a hill) we had about 7-10 minutes on them. Mikael our master paddler, directed the team and for the last part on Lake Sakakawea we put our heads down, pushed hard and tried to ignore our aching bodies.
The last 20 miles of biking was more a formality. It started out with a huge climb up from the river/lake – but being so close that we could taste the win put a smile on every one’s face.
As the climb mellowed out – it was just 18 miles “rolling” terrain home – all on roads. Sometimes 18 miles of biking feels long – but compared to the rest of this course, it sounded like a Sunday morning picnic.
We put up a pace line but couldn’t muster the energy for an all out effort. Instead it was all high fives, smiles and stories.
Crossing the finish line was so incredibly wonderful. We have never had a better race and even better, the finish was completely a team effort.
Securing the NAARS trophy was the perfect ending on our first season with NYARA.
First of all we want to thank Andy Magness and ENDRacing for making the race course unbelievable. It was a true race – with sections of complete hammer fest. It was also a true adventure – where you sometime doubted if the outcome would be success or a short trip to the hospital. Not only did you put “Adventure” race in Adventure Racing – you also put “Race” into it. An amazing accomplishment.
Second – Doug Crytzer and NAARS – your energy and effort to grow the sport and bring it back to where it belongs is amazing. Team NYARA is trying to do everything we can to help you in that task.
Third – All the volunteers. Nothing but smiles the entire race. Clear communications and directives. Thank you for all your time and positive energy!
Last – NYARA as an organization (and Denise Mast), who supports us racing – without you none of this would be possible!
Looking forward to 2015!!!!