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.