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
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
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:
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.
Team NYARA was out in full force this weekend…
NYARA hosted the Shag Sprint with race directors, Rodney Villella and Amy Bartoletti — and had three teams on the course. Huge congrats to Eric Caravella and John Courain for taking the overall win. Ann Marie Joyce-Hunt and Sara Percy rocked the 2-person female category and Chris Rice and Bruce Swanson came in 2nd in the 2-person male category. Click here to see full results.
Thanks Team NYARA for such a strong showing this weekend!
This race report comes from Aaron Courain — one half of the Courain Brothers duo. He, his brother John and Tamela Swan killed it at this year’s Krista Griesacker 12 hour race. Here’s their story.
John, Tamela and I met up in Hamburg, PA on Friday night to race the GOALS Krista Griesacker 12 hour adventure race. Last year John and I raced this as a 2 person Male team and took the overall win. Coming back this year we had a reputation to uphold.
Friday night we got a big map and John transposed all of the CPs from one of the provided master maps. We then sat down to go over the rules of travel along with the map and instantly became confused. The whole first section of the race was a bike leg, but at least half of the leg showed no trails at all. The rules of travel said that we would be following a series of unmapped trails with tape that would guide us for the turns. Ok, fair enough. The rest of the course looked pretty straight forward. Bike, Paddle, Trek, in that order. With not much map work to figure out of the next day, we all got a good rest and packed our bags for 12 hours of adventure.
After bussing to the start line, we received vague instructions as to how the prologue would go. Run around the park and follow the trail that stays near the river, then pick up “a thing” at the train trestle, continue running around the park and trade in your “thing” for your passport. Then get on the bikes. Ok. As the prologue started I ended up at the front of the pack, running along the river. Then the trail moved away from the river and I must have missed the trail that put you back on the river…and then everyone else followed me. After correcting and getting back on course we were back in the jumbled peloton of prologue runners. Finally finishing the prologue loop, we set off on our bikes mid pack.
The bike would take us through town and onto a rail trail that paralleled a highway. Having a rough start, we worked our way past all of the teams who could follow instructions better than us to catch up with GOALS, who were leading the pack. They would be our competition for the day. We caught them near the end of the rail trail and then passed before bike whacking up to CP 1. At this point we were in the unmapped trail section, so we were navigating based on the rules of travel, which described what we should do and when we should turn.
We continued on to climb a ridge with a lead pack consisting of NYARA, GOALS and the REV3 duo. Once at the top of the ridgeline, NYARA and GOALS seemed to be able to keep a quicker pace and broke off from the rest of the group. We basically traveled as a team of 6 for the duration of the ridgeline, and then descent to CP4 and 5. Getting to CP6, still with unmapped trails, was described as an uphill bike whack in the rules of travel to get up to the next ridgeline. The bikewhack was much shorter than I was expecting and we were soon back on trail. At this point we pulled away from GOALS for good on the bike leg.
The remainder of the bike went smoothly enough, except for an issue with Tamela’s cleat losing a screw. We had to take a quick minute to fully remove the cleat, so Tamela would be riding with one foot not clipped in. At the end of the ridgeline was a screaming, teeth chattering loose downhill where my brakes totally overheated and stopped working forcing me to steer off into the woods so I could stop and walk down the rest of the hill. Thankfully we all got down in one piece. At the bottom of the descent we found ourselves back at the rail trail we began with. We formed a paceline back down the rail trail and then on roads for a few miles and really pushed to the TA to start the canoe leg.
At the paddle we transitioned quickly and jumped in the boat to keep the momentum. This leg was a pretty long paddle for only a 12 hour race. 9 miles, of which the first third was on a very slow moving lake/river. We would also have 2 portages around dams. We took the time to refuel as much as we could on this leg. We moved smoothly but probably not as quickly as we thought. Aside from Tamela smacking me in the back of the head with her paddle a dozen times, the leg was enjoyably uneventful. Having the two portages also broke up the monotony of paddling and allowed the blood to get back into our legs.
At the end of the paddle we weren’t sure what to expect as there was no clear take out point marked on the map and the TA was 100 or so yards inland; although there was an optional CP which was worth 10 points that we had to get from the boats. As we neared the area where we were expecting to see something, we took a minute to re-read the race instructions and the map, to try and figure out what we were supposed to do. After wasting 2 or 3 minutes we continued around the next bend to see CP 10 which was 100 feet up and the take out. I’m not sure why that was so unclear in the race instructions, but oh well. We portaged up to the TA and began transitioning to the final trek of the day. As we were wrapping up the transition, GOALS came in to the TA. I thought our lead was a bit bigger, but apparently not. It was crunch time.
We ran back to the river and crossed to start our last trekking leg. Steep climbs were a theme today. And we bushwhacked up a few hundred feet to get the first trekking CP only to go back down for the next and then back up. John was navigating super smoothly. We kept a solid pace and never had to search for a CP. Always approaching and spotting it from a hundred feet away.
The trek saw us descend back to the river we were paddling for another crossing. Here we refilled our water for the last time in anticipation for the longest section of the trek. After crossing the river and checking in at the manned CP14, we asked if GOALS had somehow passed us on the previous section. Nope, still in the lead. No time to waste, keep moving.
One last climb. Saving the best for last. 800 feet straight up the side of a hill with a CP in the middle. John’s navigation was dead on and somehow, the heat was peaking in the afternoon. Thankfully we fueled with a bunch of calories on the paddle, so I could stick to easier things to eat like gu’s and apple sauce in order to keep me moving at a quick pace.
The climb ended, and we set out on a plateau towards the rest of the CPs. A mixture of running on dirt roads and bushwhacking to points kept us on our toes with an eye and ear out for GOALS behind us. We approached CP20, the final CP before the finish line with a bit of caution. The clue was border corner, and there would be no punch or flag; only a rock with a number written on it. We headed into the woods to first find the border line marks on the trees. Once finding them, we followed to the corner. It felt easy enough for us, but it seemed like some of the newer teams and racers might have trouble. From here we had a 2k downhill bushwhack to the finish line. We were warned at the pre race meeting to leave 1-1.5 hours for this section. We were well ahead of a time cutoff, but I was expecting a tough 2k.
As we descended, we found ourselves leaving the nice open forest, and fighting denser and denser woods until we were battling walls of thorns 6 feet high. This was the most painful bushwhack I have ever experienced. The only upside was the amount of blackberries we found and could eat along the way. But for every blackberry I picked, I had a dozen thorns to pick out of my skin. It was impossible to keep a bearing here. The thorns were too dense to go through, so we found ourselves going around and traversing more and more. We followed game trails where we could, but then they would dead end into another nest of thorns that we had no option but to battle through. There was much rejoicing and jubilee when we found the road at the bottom of the bushwhack. But the big question was, did GOALS pass us on this last section?
As we ran towards the finish line, we heard that we were the first team in! John’s great navigation brought us through and we were able to really stay on top of our nutrition and run a smooth and fast race. The last bushwhack took us 57 minutes. Unfortunately for many other teams, they would be stuck in that for closer to 2 hours, coming in well after the finish time, as well as in the dark. But everyone finished with a smile on their face, most likely because they were finally out of that ridiculously painful bushwhack.
Big thanks to GOALS for the fun and challenging course, and the great competition!
Cowboy Tough ARWS gave us a truly epic race course, long distances, a great race and a few unfortunate events. It was a truly wild and well organized event and read on to see why NYARA will keep coming back to this one, year after year. First up is Team Captain, Olof Hedberg covering the first half of the race followed by Eric Caravella bringing in the humorous wrap up. Here’s Olof:
Our team for CBT had been set for a long time and preparations had gone on for months. We thought we had everything under control when, the night before we were planning to leave we realized all the gear didn’t fit in our car. After a short panic followed by a brainstorming session we made some phone calls. Thanks to the generosity of the Board of Summit Nordic Ski Club we were able to borrow the Club’s 15-passenger van, which comfortably accommodated us and our ridiculous volume of gear. We are so grateful to have such a great community around us.
Preparations – Shame on British Airways
The mandatory points were pre plotted, but we spent a lot of time plotting the five dozen or so optional points. The maps were big and there was a lot of information to digest, but this was a small issue compared to Mikael’s with his bike being stuck somewhere between London and Denver. British Airways apparently only likes to charge you for taking your bike, but does not actually feel obligated to put it on the flight. He was promised it would show up on the next flight and in time for the race start, but we started to realize they had just lied to his face. In reality the bike arrived on Saturday – 5 days later than planned and 3 days after race start. Nice one British Airlines, well played.
Thankfully race director, Mark Harris offered to lend us not only his bike, but also bike shoes. After 2 hours of cleaning, adjusting, tire swapping and fixing Mikael was all set to go.
After going to bed early and getting to sleep in late relatively to AR standards, we loaded up busses (best busses ever in an AR!!! – I want to come back just so I get to ride these busses to the start again) and get ready for the start in Buffalo.
Prologue – In the lead in an ARWS:
I have always said that unless we get skiing incorporated into an AR I will never lead an ARWS. If we ever do get to ski (glacier, back country, cross country, whatever) I would be shocked if we didn’t take the lead (Maybe Björn and Josefin in Haglöfs aside). There was no snow and no skiing in Buffalo, Wyoming. Instead we had an urban-O where we had to swim to the bottom of a pool, do a shot of Whiskey, get a gun casing and some other stuff. The start of the race went of with a gun shot by Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead. We jogged around the streets, completed the tasks and dream of my surprise when we showed up first to the TA. The next team was right on our heels but apparently I was wrong – it is possible for us to lead without the use of skis – if only for a few seconds (but I’m still wishing for that long brutal ski leg in a race).
Bike ride #1 – Chasing Tail
Next up was an uneventful bike ride to the paddling — well it would have been uneventful if it wasn’t for Eric having to chase some tail (we will come back to that one). I quickly compensated for our fast prolog and made a turn too early, which set us back to a ~top 10 place. On a CP during the ride we had to enter the fairgrounds. In the fairgrounds there was a herd of young cows with ribbons on their tails. Each team had to collect one ribbon. Eric “wildlife appreciation” Caravella was the given the option and before we could even blink he got a ribbon and ran back to us filled with the joy of a four year old who just got candy. The wildlife whisperer strikes again. We rolled into the TA ~10 – 15 min after the leaders and got in the water.
Paddling – The CP that wasn’t
With Mikael “the paddle master” Mattsson, our kayak skills have definitely improved, and we do a one of our better paddle sections. That doesn’t mean we are good enough to keep up with the best, and SAFAT paddles by us like they have a motor on their boat. We continue to grind our teeth and power through (except Mikael who looks like he is on a Sunday afternoon paddle with his family). When we hit the last CP we see the other teams park their boats. But here comes the issue, soon afterwards the teams comes back and continues to look along the shoreline. We pulled up and didn’t see a CP. Continuing along the shoreline we checked every cove together with a bunch of other teams. They called it after 30 min and headed back to the TA, while our 30 min wasn’t up yet so we continued to search but when Mikael says “We need to check this cove too” we are over one kilometer from the plotted CP. Realizing our 30min are up we headed back to the TA to finish what would be the first and last kayak section of the race.
Bike #2 – Can you see the flag?
Another gravel road leads us to the foothills. Not anything special, but also not boring in any way. Half way through we have to stop and communicate with each other trough flags like they did during the war (a communication method known as semaphore). It was actually pretty cool and impressive how they could do that over long distances. One problem here – since there had been OPs on the paddle many of the top teams still got stuck behind a lot of lower ranked teams in this bottle neck and there was no way to progress until the teams in front of you had completed the task. With Whitney “Hawkeye” Hedberg on our team we completed the challenge on our first try but we were still stuck there for over 30 min of which 18 was just waiting for other teams to complete it. The fun part of the episode is the Whitney actually has really bad eyesight (at least compared to me) but she is probably the most observant person I have ever met and that made all the difference. She and Eric worked together to help the team in front of them – to speed up the process — and they in turn helped us. Overall we were two of the fastest teams! Yeah for cross-teamwork. We finished up the bike ride with a climb to the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
Day 1 Hike – Up into the mountains we go
We quickly dropped our bikes and started hiking together with Yogaslackers, Nordic Racing, Canada AR and Dart Nuun just in front of us. This section involved lots of elevation gain from 6,000ft to over 10,000 ft = awesome! Yogaslackers were having a rough time. Canada AR kept fantastic speed and hiked past us like we were standing still. After the first bushwack we also passed Dart Nuun who was dealing with a sick teammate. This was when Mikael starting to have trouble. His speed suffers and even after we take his pack he throws up. We are slowly moving forward into the night, but many of the teams around us are dealing with sick teammates so everyones speed is suffering. We got two optional CPs which took some time but were set in truly beautiful places.
The two last CPs were the biggest “tricks”. On the map leading into gem lake it looks like there is a good sized trail leading straight to the lake. We try three different trails with no luck. In the end we decide to just backtrack to a known location and set a compass bearing. It’s a long slog bushwacking hours and hours trying to stay on bearing and keeping track of our location. It’s slow moving but safe and as the sun goes up we feel sure we will make it to the TA before the cutoff. We are lucky as very few others do and the field gets reduced to just 7 teams making the cutoff.
Bike #3,4,5 – 200k and 24h of biking
Day 2 was going to be long and didn’t get better by me taking the wrong way out of the TA. Somehow I got really turned around after sitting down to eat, and I switch my maps up side down, so we headed out back the way we came in. An hour later we corrected the mistake and we are biking through the misty Wyoming morning towards a cool rappel. Our speed was still slow as Mikael was still suffering after throwing up all night, but we are slowly getting there.
The rappel was totally covered in clouds when we got there, but right as we were about to head down there was a break in the clouds and we could see the ground far below us. We didn’t have high expectations for this rapell, but it turned out to be really cool.
Then it was back to the bikes….
….. 205 kilometers of biking for the day. Eric clocked it. We arrived at the TA and were happy to get out of the saddle for a bit and run up and down in the canyon searching for Ops by foot. We grabbed a bunch, got back to TA, changed and were back on our bikes just before the cutoff for another long ride…
Bike #6 – Epicness awaits in Crazy Woman land, and burgers from us…?
The next day started with an epic bike leg with a ton of route choices and vert. It started off fantastically with nav straight on point and the miles flying by us (if by flying we mean slowly passing as we are hiking bikes over ridges etc.). We stop to try to sleep at one point, but as soon as we lay down clouds roll in and rain started pouring down – no rest for the weary.
We were 90 % of the way to the CP when, overconfident, we made a turn too early. This wouldn’t be too bad except that it was pretty steep downhill. The trail was also marked with orange ribbons, which contributed to our overconfidence. 2- 3k later we are totally cliffed out by Crazy Woman Canyon. Options are discussed, going back and around would mean we would lose about an hour. Down climbing with our bikes could be impossible. We look around and decided to go for option 2 – bike climbing. A pretty intense half hour goes on while we scramble with our bikes to get down and up to the other side of the canyon. “I thought that wouldn’t be possible” Mikael says somewhat putting the finger on the doubt we all had been feeling. But making it to the other side gave us extra energy. Ten minutes later we roll into the CP and NYARA President, Denise Mast is standing there flipping burgers. NYARA had joined forces with Rev3 and put together a secret burger oasis in the middle of the course. How frikkin awesome is that!!! I’m still slightly shocked, but more convinced than ever – we race for the coolest club!
Burgers swallowed nearly whole and on to the next CP. The landscape changes once again and we bike into a section that looks like the Moab desert. This course is truly amazing and we stop for a minute to take in the view of “The Red Wall”. Mark and Rev3 have done just an amazing job, and Day 3 might have been the best of them all, starting in the mountains, finishing in desert/ranch hills.
And now let’s hand it over to Eric…
Hey all, Eric here… taking over the report for Olof who had to jet off to Sweden for XC ski camp with his team (talk about “no rest for the weary”!) Anyway, our original plan was to have slept by this point in the race, but as Olof mentioned, we got rained on. Once the sun came out and was beating down on us (with no real shade or shelter to be had anywhere) we figured we’d just make the most of the daylight and try to grab some CPs. Mikael had been able to snag a few minutes of sleep here and there alongside the road the night before. I played 20 questions with Whitney to help keep her awake (and not for nothing, but when she tried to stump me with “Alf”…I guessed it in 6 questions. Booyah for small victories.) But we were all hurting for sleep. I became convinced that every turn and every trail we took I’d been on before. Spookiest hallucinogenic deja vu of all time. I knew it made no sense as I had never been to Wyoming, let alone to the private ranch we were on. Still, I couldn’t resist the urge to try to predict our next turn and guide us to the next CP using my recollection of experiences that had never occurred. Good strategy, right? Anyone surprised it didn’t work?
Anyone else surprised that as soon as the sun went down I became useless as backup navigator and fell asleep on the side of the trail? But we were so close to the TA and our sleeping bags that we just pushed on. We got to TA and our magnificent, glorious, floating-on-a-cloud sleeping bags. Our heads hit the pillow and it was lights out for 60 minutes of the most sublime sleep imaginable.
End of Day O-Course – half a dozen (non)high points and a porcupine
Sleep is a game changer. Even just 60 minutes of it after 63 hours of racing. Once we shook off the cobwebs it was out on foot for the end of day O. My brain was back in the game and Olof and I were able to nav the night points without major issue. Until we decided to go for the “high point” CP. We scrambled up this nutty ridge and scampered about, climbing everything that looked like a high point but evidently never was. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we found it, so we had to head back to TA to get out by the Start of Day 4.
I was lagging behind a bit on our way off the ridge and almost stumbled over a humungous porcupine, lumbering around in the dark. I had never seen one before, and I got really excited (since I’m wildlife guy). I ran ahead and caught the rest of my team and told them about the porcupine, and Olof (in his typical non-wildlife-guy way) said “we’re going to skip the porcupine” and ran off toward the TA. No further discussion, the Captain has spoken. Off to the TA we went.
Bike #246, at least it seemed – Grinding back to Casper
Race rules dictated that we must leave the TA on the Day 4 bike ride between 4am and 5am, and had to be back to Casper by noon. The ride was 75 miles, give or take… and we were just about to get out of TA at 5am. Mikael and I are the pacers on all bike legs, but since he hadn’t been feeling well I was worried about getting back to Casper on time (and about how much work it would be for me to pull the team 75 miles over what could possibly prove to be insanely wide open and windy terrain). Everyone kept telling me the ride couldn’t be that bad if race organizers figured everyone would be able to make it within 8 hours, but I was still concerned and yelled at anyone that got out of the paceline. The first 20 miles were very hilly and scenic, and the sunrise was spectacular. But I was busy calculating our progress and average speed so I barely noticed.
Eventually the road flattened out and the grind really began. Longest gravel road ever. But thankfully, Mikael was in great shape and helped tremendously. We even grouped up with a couple other teams and formed a big peloton, great for our pace and a morale boost!
Packrafting to the Finish – why are Olof and Whitney swimming?
We made it into Casper (in plenty of time, I can admit when my teammates were right) and grabbed our packrafts. We jogged 2 or 3 miles along the trail next to the river to the put-in. And I have to say that even though we could almost smell the finish line, this was my lowest point in the race. My legs were locking up and I could barely keep up a jog… it was misery. We arrived at the put-in after what seemed like an eternity, and inflated our rafts. In an interesting strategy decision, Olof opted not to tighten his air valve all the way. Let’s see how that works out!
Mikael and I crammed our two 6+ foot personages into our comically tiny raft and pushed off toward the first rapid. Mikael had never packrafted before but did an expert job of negotiating the drop successfully, so we slowed down to watch Olof and Whitney take their turn. In the 60 seconds between pushing off and arriving at the first rapid, their raft had apparently lost enough air to fold up in half on itself during the drop and eject them both into the freezing cold water. Funny to watch, probably less so to experience.
After they collected their belongings and added air to their raft (fully sealing the valve this time!) they were back on the water and paddling like a boss. We all cleared the rest of the rapids without incident, and pulled out our boats for the run to the finish line. We were all smiles and shared a big group hug, before Olof went off somewhere to pass out and I began crushing BBQ like it was my job. Great post-race food, Rev3. Kudos!
It may very well have taken you all as much time to read this race report as it took us to experience it, and for that…. we apologize. But Rev3 truly packed a lot of adventure and memorable experiences into the Cowboy Tough race this year that we certainly were not at a lack of things to write about. Wyoming is an incredible place, with so much diversity in terrain and wildlife (we also saw coyotes and a momma moose with her baby!) that I can’t wait to go back to explore some more.
Thanks to my team who were awesome as always, to Denise Mast and NYARA (for the burgers AND the support), to Montbell for supplying outstanding gear for the race, to Rev3 and Cameco who crushed it with an amazing event overall, and to Governor Mead, Casper and Wyoming in general for supporting our sport. Huge thanks to the great photographers who captured the race — Randy Eriksen, Michael Sero and Johan Lundahl.
By Amy Bartoletti (and Rodney Villella)
There have been plenty of reports written about the pre-race race (notably that by Brent Freedland – http://brentfreedland.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-race-before-race.html), so I won’t go into those details. Upon arriving in Anchorage, we had the typical jostle of having to get bins, food, fuel and bear spray (not typical) for the 7-day race before the shuttle departed for Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. We made it with just a little time to spare. It is at the Lodge where we learned of all of the perils that Dave Adlard (aka President Snow) had designed for us in a course. Luckily, Adrian Crane, Mike Kloser and Erik Nachtrieb traded roles as Haymitch, Seneca Crane and Plutarch Heavensbee. Brian Leitten, producer of the upcoming TV production, was definitely Cinna. They imparted to us what we needed to make it through and fortunately, did not meet the fate of Seneca Crane or Cinna. We also knew we would get the support of “Sponsors” in the form of all the great volunteers (Kate, daughter of Penny and Jay from Gung Ho, Seth, Andy, Max, Stacia and Lisa, Dave’s wife, just to name a few), that we would see along the course and at the TAs. So at the lodge, we went through gear checks, spent 2 days on glacier travel and crevasse rescue training, learned a few tips on pack rafting from Roman Dial himself, learned about the differences between black and brown bears (both scary), had a refresher on wilderness first aid and spent a good amount of time on the maps. What I really learned was that there was a lot out there that we really needed to be prepared to deal with – crevasses, fast moving rivers with really cold water, hypothermia, Devil’s Club and other hideous plants, steep terrain, a lot of wildlife, quicksand and Tracker Jackers (ok, I’m exaggerating just a little but I am highly allergic to yellow jackets and being stung could definitely lead to a heli evac). What all this amounted to was that our team knew that having the right gear on the course would be key to completing the race. We chose to carry heavier packs (and believe me, they were heavy to begin with) to ensure that we had what we needed for each leg.
Prologue – A Run by the Lake – Chad’s Trot
(Note on the maps: The scale was 1:63,000 and had 100 foot contours. This took a bit of getting used to as everything looked a lot closer than it really was.)
The Prologue started with a trail run along the length of Eklutna Lake in memory of Chad Denning. It was really awesome that Snow (I mean Dave) dedicated this first part of the race to Chad, a fellow adventure racer that unexpectedly passed away about a year ago, but making us run 13 miles at the start of a 7 day expedition race is a little sadistic!
I know we didn’t “have to” run, but the first cutoff of the race was at TA1 and we felt it was a necessary evil in order to make the cutoff. We managed to get through it with Team GOALS at our side. My teammate, Bruce, towed me the entire way and it went really well until about 11.5 miles in when I lost concentration for a second and totally wiped out on a rock (the Gamemakers must made it appear out of thin air). Bruce didn’t notice at first and managed to drag me a few feet before he stopped. I was a little bruised but otherwise ok, so we walked a little, then continued the torturous run. At mile 12.7, we were united with our glacier gear and continued on our trek up to the Eklutna Glacier. Then the fun began…
Segment 1 – “The R2 Traverse!” (Eklutna Traverse)
This segment was named the R2 Traverse in memory of Roman Dial’s son, Cody, who disappeared last summer in Costa Rica. (http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/lost-in-the-jungle-the-search-for-cody-dial- 20150206). It was a fitting tribute as it was both adventurous and spectacular. We had done a little pre-race research and speculated that Snow would put a significant river crossing in right after we picked up our glacier gear. So we chose to carry extra shoes, socks, pants, etc. (I even carried an extra pair of undies although they literally weigh nothing) so that we would have dry feet and other body parts on the glacier.
The river crossing was treacherous to say the least, and since the water was coming right off the glacier, it was about 37 degrees. In fact, there were ice chunks floating in it. The river itself was divided by a small spit of land into two forks. The first fork was relatively easy to cross, but the second was not. We tried getting across the second fork twice (going across half way both times) only to come back.
Finally, we decided to move back downstream (going back across the first fork) where the crossing looked a little easier and team up with Team GOALS. It was about then that every muscle in my legs started to cramp. It was unbelievably painful but I knew that I had to keep moving especially since we were going to try to cross the river as a group of eight. This strategy paid off with Abby and me going third in line, each behind two guys. Rodney literally was picking me up off my feet. He also managed a quick grab when Brent from GOALS nearly got swept away. The river crossing resulted in a lot of carnage for other teams as well as camera crew and I was relieved to be through that obstacle. But just as we made it to the other side, the cramping started again. I knew I just had to keep moving to warm up my muscles, but I was already at a low point and we were only a few hours into the race. I kept moving albeit slowly. As we approached the glacier, however, my spirits lifted.
It was spectacular and I was excited to tackle the ice field. We changed into dry clothing and grabbed some food before we started the climb. It was really thrilling route finding through the ice fall and I was happy to have a good amount of ice climbing experience. I would have preferred to have a steel ice ax and crampons, but my aluminum ones seemed to do just fine. I would have also liked to have carried a few ice screws (as opposed to the required snow pickets, which would have been pretty useless in the event of a crevasse fall) but we proceeded methodically and cautiously, and I felt like we were really in our element.
We crossed the Eklutna Glacier to a snowfield (where we switched from crampons to snowshoes) and eventually hit Whiteout Glacier, which pretty much lived up to its name.
We made a short stop at the Hans Hut and were then graced with a beautiful moonscape. It was really awesome. Given our clothing strategy, I was generally warm and dry and comfortable. On the top, I had a base layer, and changed between 3 Montbell layers – windshirt, shell jacket and puffy (sometimes all three) that worked fantastically. But because I had worn somewhat older (although comfortable) GoreTex shoes, my feet got wet. I tried vegetable bags and they worked for a bit, but ultimately my feet did get a little cold. We finally traversed across Eagle Glacier and both Pete and I were struggling a little. Bruce carried Pete’s pack for a while and pulled us both to the end of the glacier. At this point it was morning and we ran into a guy on a snowmobile that told us about a trail that traversed across the mountain in the direction that we wanted to go. It took a little route finding to locate it but it was well worth it. It was steep, just a goat path in places, and a little spicy but awesome. And it took us directly to the small summit we were trying to attain that gave us a great view of Goat Mountain as well as the surrounding landscape.
The descent should have been as easy as the approach, but we made it a little more interesting by taking a direct route down from the ridge. We thought we saw “tracks” in the snowfield below. Turns out they were slide path marks from falling rocks – oops. We crossed the steep snowfield carefully by donning our crampons again and using our ice axes. We finally got down to the valley floor where we had to find a cairn that Mike Kloser had built that marked an old “trail”. This pseudo trail gave us our first taste of Devil’s Club – an evil, evil, plant. We finally emerged to Crow Creek Road and the mountaineering gear drop. The very pleasant Winner Creek Trail (and hand tram) took us to the first TA (30 hours after the start) at the Day Lodge at Alyeska Resort. We were thrilled to make the cutoff to be able to do the full course – this was the goal that I had in my mind since we got the maps! Rodney said that this was his favorite leg in any race he’s done – an amazing compliment… Our Sponsors helped to refuel us at the TA before we decided to take a short rest before embarking on Segment 2…
Gear that worked great: Montbell Layers – Ultra Light Shell Jacket, Torrent Flier Jacket and Ultra Light Thermawrap Jacket, Osprey Youth Ace 50L Backpack (it actually fits me quite well), MSR Denali Ascent Snow Shoes
Gear I wish I had: Steel crampons and ice ax, ice screws, shoes that were really waterproof
Segment 2A – “The Soul Crusher!”
After we slept, we finished packing our pack rafting gear and a lot of food for the next leg. Again, our packs were really, really heavy but we intentionally took some heavier gear such as drysuits to help us get through what we thought would be about 30 hours. We hiked the Upper Winner Creek Trail for what seemed to be forever before we got to the put-in on a feeder creek to Twentymile River. When we got to the beach, we saw SORB getting ready to camp. It was fairly late, and although it never really got dark, it was the darkest part of the day, dusk-like and hard to see and the put-in seemed to be a little more than we had bargained for on the river. GOALS caught us as we were scouting the put-in and their team and ours decided to try to find a friendlier place to launch our pack rafts so we set out on a short bush whack to find a better spot. We found a better put-in but the feeder creek was interspersed with many sweepers and strainers. We approached each with caution and the going was slow. Eventually, we made it to Twentymile River and paddled until we hit our intended spot to start the bushwhack across to Twentymile Glacier Lake. We stuck with GOALS through the bushwhack and it definitely made the trek seem to go faster. An hour or two into the trek, we heard a helicopter in the distance. We thought that perhaps SORB or another team got into some trouble on the pack raft and collectively discussed that we hoped they were ok. A little while later, we heard the helicopter again. This time, it sounded way too close and we realized that they must be looking for us!! We stopped to check our Spot devices and realized that our SOS button had somehow been pressed. Oh no, the helicopter was indeed looking for us. We turned the SOS signal off and pulled out the Sat phone, but we couldn’t get a signal in the dense canopy. We knew that we weren’t far from the lake though and decided that we would try to call again there. We were soon at the water’s edge with Twentymile Glacier in the distance at the end of the lake. Here, we inflated our pack rafts and I was nominated to make the call on the Sat phone back to Race HQ to let them know that we were in fact ok.
Once on the lake, we were greeted by a motor boat with Mike Kloser, Erik Nachtrieb, Owen and additional camera crew on board. They followed us in the pack rafts until the next checkpoint, which consisted of one of us to climbing onto an iceberg and taking a photo. I volunteered.
Twentymile Glacier Lake was quite stunning and we paddled at an easy pace until the spot where we would undertake the next bushwhack to Carmen Lake. Here, Mike gave us the details of what would be in store if we continued on Leg 2A.
This was our decision point. We had made the cutoff so we were allowed to continue on Leg 2A if we so chose. It would be committing, potentially a little dangerous, and would take a looong time. Two teams that were previously ahead of us had already opted out at an earlier point. It seemed that GOALS had made the decision to take the Bailout Option (although we didn’t discuss it). But we actually had a good hour or so bushwhack ahead of us to contemplate what to do. GOALS led us through the next bushwhack and despite the copious amount of Devil’s Club (and once I donned my rubber paddling gloves), it seemed to go rather quickly. We didn’t discuss the decision on the trek, but I know that each of us were weighing the pros and cons of the potential Trek from Hell vs. the Bailout Option with each step. The beach at Carmen Lake was pretty idyllic, but we needed to make a decision.
The Pros of Continuing on Leg 2A: Potentially stunning views (or whiteout conditions depending on weather) One of few teams on the full course Guarantee of top 5 placing if we completed the leg
The Cons of Continuing on Leg 2A: We would likely be on the leg for a long time and would miss a lot of the other “cool” segments of the race We would probably run out of food We didn’t have the right gear if there was snow/ice (and the reports we were getting indicated there was) So we voted. And we were split – 2 and 2. I won’t tell you who voted what but since we were split, we had to default to the safer option, which was the Bailout. I would lie if I said that I wasn’t disappointed. We had pushed to make the Cutoff. We made it! Then we cut ourselves off. But ultimately, I think it was the right decision.
Gear that worked great: Kokatat Gore-Tex Front Entry Drysuit (purchased used from Kayak Academy), Montbell Light Dry Bags, SealLine Zip Waterproof Duffel (Cascade Designs), Alpacka Pack Rafts (Gnu and Explorer 42), Aleutian Glacier Gloves
The Bailout Route
The Bailout Route consisted of paddling our pack rafts across Carmen Lake, then down Glacier River and the rest of Twentymile River to the Turnagain Arm, where we would continue on Leg 4 (We would miss Leg 3 – Kayaking in Prince William Sound). We were in good company with GOALS, Mike, Erik and Owen, who accompanied our teams down the river. It was actually quite fun. We finally made it to the Turnagain Arm, when it was starting to once again become dark-ish. It was hard to figure out exactly what was happening with the fast outgoing tide. Water would suddenly become mud flats before our eyes and under our pack rafts. It was already somewhat surreal, when GOALS starting yelling to us to watch out for the quicksand.
Leg 4 – The Long March!
Seriously, quicksand! Snow has gone too far. I almost didn’t believe it (thought GOALS must have been hallucinating), until I nearly lost my paddle…and my shoe… From that point, any step I took on the mud flats resembled that of a cartoon character. We spent the evening traversing across the flats until the next checkpoint, which was a bridge. Right near the bridge, there was an old road pull off that provided a great camping spot. We got some much needed rest but this was the last time in the race that we would see GOALS. After we awoke, we continued on the hike near Ingram Creek. Unfortunately, it was here when Snow would try to foil our plan of a flawless bushwhack. This would be our first major mistake of the race. After travelling about four hours, we thought that we may have over shot the checkpoint. So we backtracked for a few miles, only to realize that we hadn’t gone far enough. Rule #1 in adventure racing – You almost never have gone far enough. So we backtracked again. We started getting frustrated and second guessing ourselves when Tecnu came bouncing by. They were in good spirits and lifted ours. And the checkpoint (CP) was literally within spitting distance of where we had stopped. We were bummed because the mistake cost us about 7 hours all in all. It also meant that we were running out of food (one of the concerns had we completed Leg 2A), but we were happy that we finally got to the CP.
We continued hiking over Turnagain Pass until we reached Granite Creek. As it had become our habit during the race, we reached the put-in at the darkest time of day.
We literally had to enter the creek through a culvert, which was interesting. The next few miles were a little spicy given the lack of visibility, but Bruce and I led and Rodney and Pete followed unscathed. We continued pack rafting until we hit the Six Mile Creek where we were to meet up with the rafting guides. We arrived at the raft put-in just as the first set of boats for the am were getting ready to depart. Marco from the #1 ranked adventure racing team in the world, Columbia Vidaraid (who had dislocated his shoulder upon falling into a crevasse on the Eklutna Traverse) greeted us with chocolate milk. Thank you, Marco! This was an amazing gesture from their team and badly needed by ours. Dave asked if we were ready to go immediately as there were just enough spots in the rafts for our team (because one team didn’t want to go at their assigned time) and we said, “Absolutely!” We were a little sleepy during the safety briefing, but thrilled to be able to just keep going. We had to get in the freezing cold water for a swim test before we got in the rafts, but my drysuit performed flawlessly. I had actually worn my drysuit for most of the leg, including the hiking. When I got hot, I just tied the top around my waist. It kept me warm and more importantly, because it had booties, kept my feet dry. The river canyons were spectacular. Our guide (who happened to be good friends with another rafting guide we know) was awesome. And we were fortunate enough to be teamed up in the raft with Tessa and Urtzi from Columbia Vidaraid, who are really cool! After the raft down Six Mile, we aptly finished the segment with a swim to what would be only our 2nd Transition Area (TA) of the race four days in.
Gear that worked great: Montbell Alpine Hugger 800 Thermal Sheet, Hileberg Rajd Tent, Camelbak All Clear Purifier, Kokatat GFED, (My 2nd) Montbell Ultra Light Thermawrap Jacket (worn under my drysuit)
Leg 5 – Resurrection!
At the TA, we ate whatever we could after being deprived for so long (we all ran out of food many hours ago on the prior leg) when Snow appeared to inform us that we had to serve a 4 hour mandatory sleep penalty/credit since we had bypassed GOALS at the raft and they should have been given the open spots. We definitely needed some rest at that point, so we weren’t going to argue. We awoke feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next challenge.
From the Chugach Outdoor Center, we had to hike and bushwhack over a 4,000 foot mountain into Palmer Creek where we would pick up our bikes. We had received various advice from locals regarding the start of this leg. One said go left as much as you could, another said go up. We did a little of both and still found ourselves battling alders at various points until we hit a steep field.
The field was open but at least 40 degrees. In retrospect, we should have beelined it to the ridge sooner but we continued the slow progress up the field. We finally hit the spectacular rocky ridge top and were rewarded with gorgeous views. We sat down at the top for a few moments to grab a bite and take in the beauty and saw another team (or two) approaching the ridge in the distance. The hike across the top was breathtaking and well worth the approach. As we (and by we, I mean Rodney) were route finding across the landscape, the other teams caught us. It was Rogue AR (from Australia) accompanied by Boom Boom Pow (an all female duo). Rogue had 3rd place locked up at this point as they had completed Leg 2A. It was great to chat with them and hear their stories. They all but confirmed that we had made the right decision in taking the Bailout. Views from the ridgeline hike to our bikes:
We all travelled together down from the top until we reached our bikes at Palmer Creek. We were tired but unsure if we should sleep at Palmer Creek because it was so cold. In the end, we decided to sleep for what was going to be a short time, but stretched to longer than we originally intended because we really needed it. While we were there, our friends from Team Gung Ho arrived. We were super psyched to see them and knew that we would continue crossing paths on the bike. From Palmer Creek, we rode our bikes into Hope, a cool historic former gold mining town. Fortunately, the Café was open and we bought egg and bacon sandwiches as well as some of the most delicious cookies I have ever had (and they were gluten free!) We weren’t going to sit down, but Team Gung Ho arrived while we were there and we couldn’t resist a little socializing. We left Hope to start our ride the on the Resurrection Pass Trail. Not 45 minutes in and we were foiled once again by Snow and the Gamesmaker. They put thorns on the trail right where Pete was riding and he got a flat. We changed it only to figure out that Snow had already put holes in his spare tube. We unsuccessfully tried patching the holes. We were in a tough position because while Pete rides a 29er, Rodney and I both have 26 inch tires and Bruce has 27.5. (Not great planning on our part.) Our solution was to use Bruce’s spare 27.5 inch tube in Pete’s 29er. It worked! Nice try Snow! (Our backup plan was to wait for Gung Ho as we were pretty sure they would have spare 29 inch tubes.) We continued on the 55 mile ride of mostly single track. Because I’m slower, I led the entire ride, which actually seemed to work well. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the spectacular ride more, but I was feeling low on energy for a good part of the uphill. Once we got to the pass, I was relieved; from there it was pretty much all down. We stopped for about 20 minutes at a scenic intersection where Gung Ho caught us, but had to go back because they had passed the last CP. The downhill started out as a little technical (and a little frustrating), but soon changed into fun and flowing. Before we knew it, we were at the TA at Cooper’s Landing. We got just a little rest before embarking on the next segment – kayaking what was supposed to be Kenai Lake.
Gear that worked great: Wingnut backpack Gear I wish I had: New 29” bike tube (sans holes)
Gear I wish I had: New 29” bike tube (sans holes)
Segment 6 – Deep and Still Waters
(the name itself should have given us some indication that we weren’t where we were supposed to be)
It was as dark as it had been the entire race when we launched our kayaks. But we had just installed our sail and we were ready to fly. The current took us pretty quickly and we were moving along when we started to hear rapids. Wait, there aren’t supposed to be rapids on this leg! We thought what is Snow up to now? We’re in sea kayaks…and we’re supposed to be on a lake… “Rodney, are you sure we’re going the right way?” “The compass says we’re going East and Southeast and that’s the direction we’re supposed to be going.” Mike said something about a strong current at the start that would soon let up, but nothing about rapids. I guess the Game Makers wanted to throw in another twist. “Rodney are you sure…” as we just avoided a rock in the first set of rapids. Folks partying along the shore were cheering us on. We agreed that we would pull over and look at the maps but it was proving difficult to find somewhere to do that as the next set of rapids sounded like thunder. Again, we got through unscathed, but when we passed the rafting company, we knew that we had to pull over. We had definitely done something wrong and who knew what the “river” (yep, it was definitely a river) had in store for us at the next bend. We were able to eddy out on river right on a small beachy area and Rodney pulled out the maps, then started yelling. Yelling is not characteristic for Rodney. Even when we fight, he manages to do so in a calm, somewhat monotone voice (it’s actually quite frustrating at times). But he was as upset as I’ve seen him. We went the wrong way – we were supposed to make a left as we left the TA and go up current for a short time until we hit the lake. We went right down the river. Part of what had happened (besides it being Day 5 and us being sleep deprived) was that Rodney had put a nautical compass on the kayak, instead of using the typical orienteering compasses that we’re used to. They work differently and he was reading it backwards by 180 degrees. Now, what do we do?
Well, we couldn’t paddle back upstream. We had estimated that we had travelled about 4 miles as the current was moving at about 8 knots. Paddling back upstream would be all but impossible in sea kayaks. There were no roads close by where we had pulled over on river right, but fortunately there was a main road on river left. Ferrying across in the dark might be a little difficult and dangerous, but if we waited until it was light, I was confident that we could make it across. But first, we had to call the Race Organizers to let them know what happened. I was nominated to make the call. I pulled out the Sat phone for the 2nd time in the race, and I tried to make the call, but had about 10 failed attempts (really?) So, I pulled out my cell phone and turned it on. Finally, I got through to Snow, who then connected me to Seth, who happened to be at the TA, just 4- 5 miles away. We made a plan to wait until light and he would meet us with a truck on the road across the river. We pulled out the tent but realized that we had not brought trekking poles to set it up. So we improvised with our kayak paddles, and they worked amazingly well. We took off our drysuits and pulled out our sleeping bags and tried to get a little sleep. I was pleasantly surprised how peaceful and restful it was on our little spit of beach on the side of the river and light came all too quickly. When it did, we were able to see much more clearly and we could see the rafting company that we had passed not too far upriver. This would be an easy place for us to take out if we could make it there. Bruce and I went first and paddled from eddy to eddy until the eddies ran out and we had to ferry across. It was exhilarating, but we made it. Rodney and Pete went next. They paddled upriver but weren’t able to make it on the first attempt ferrying across. Fortunately, try number 2 was successful. We pulled the boats up and I went up to the road to meet Seth and Stacia. In the meantime, I realized that somehow I had butt dialed my mom with my cell phone. She had called back and left a worried message. Oh no… Once we got the kayaks and ourselves in the truck, I called my mom back. She was worried because our Spot Tracker had stopped working days ago and she wanted to make sure that we were ok. We were, just a little embarrassed… It was actually really nice to talk to her for a few minutes and fill her in on what had transpired over the last week. Before we knew it, Seth dropped us off at the lake that we were originally supposed to paddle. Thank you so much, Seth and Stacia! This time we turned left and thought we would have an easy paddle on the lake.
But as was becoming typical, Snow and the Gamesmakers had other ideas. They whipped up a strong head wind which we battled the entire way along with whitecaps waves (and sleep monsters) as we kayaked the length of Kenai Lake to Primrose Campground.
At primrose Campground, our Sponsors (Adrian and Seth) gave us hot liquids and an awesome sandwich as we built our bikes. Gear that worked great: Montbell Alpine Hugger 800 Thermal Sheet Hileberg Rajd Tent (with kayak paddles as tent poles)
Gear I wish I had: The opposite of a sail, a regular compass
Our Segment 7 – Bike to the Finish
We rode our bikes into Seward to the Finish (with a short detour to grab an additional CP on the Lost Lake Winter Trail just because).
The next morning, we had to complete the race with a hike up and down the 3000 feet of Mount Marathon (the official Mountain Marathon race was held the day before with a new course record of 42 minutes set). We almost overslept. I didn’t want to run to the base. It was somewhat painful going up and down, but the views from the top were really cool.
Gear that worked great: Outdoor Research Gaitors (great for scree skiing), NYARA arm warmers
Gear I wish I had: Parasail to get down from the top Wrap-up Expedition Alaska turned out to be a fantastic event on all fronts. The race was well suited to our strengths and the terrain was stunning, rugged and technical. This race was not sanitized in any way and was probably the best expedition course we have done. We only wish that we didn’t make the two rookie mistakes (which is very uncharacteristic of our team) so that we could have completed more of the course. In the end, we moved well over the terrain and managed to avoid any carnage during the technical aspects of the course. We never flipped our pack rafts and didn’t get swept away during any of the swift river crossings. We enjoyed traveling with our good friends from Team GOALS for the first half of the race and were quite pleased with our overall 7th place finish. Snow (Dave Adlard) and the Gamesmakers (all of Dave’s Staff) put on a great course and the Sponsors (Volunteers) were incredible. We are grateful to have had the pleasure to experience this great event in Alaska. Can’t wait ‘til the next one!
Gear I Loved Montbell Layers – Ultra Light Shell Jacket, Torrent Flier Jacket and Ultra Light Thermawrap Jacket (2) – These are the only outer layers you would need in almost any condition. Throughout the race, I carried these with me the entire time and used them in various combinations depending on the temperature. I couldn’t be happier with the function and performance of each and highly recommend these products. [Rodney agrees that his Montbell layers were the key to a comfortable and successful race. He used their Alpine Ridge Pants, which kept him dry and toasty on the glacier leg. While these are a bit heavier than what Adventure Racers would typically choose to carry, they definitely are worth it if you really want to stay dry and warm. He also used their Storm Cruiser Jacket on the Glacier, which performed flawlessly and kept him dry when the freezing rain began to fall above 5,000 feet. He also had the Thermawrap Guide Jacket that he used in the TAs. It’s a great synthetic puffy to keep you warm in the coldest situations].
Kokatat Gore-Tex Front Entry Drysuit (purchased used from Kayak Academy) – For a good portion of the race, I practically lived in my drysuit. The biggest benefit of this was that because of the booties, my feet were dry. Thus, I had no foot issues, an amazing “feat” for a 7-day race. To keep my drysuit from getting holes in it while bushwhacking, I wore an old pair of rain pants on top. [Rodney also used a Kokatat GFED drysuit and said it was the key to keeping warm and dry especially on the pack rafting legs].
Montbell Alpine Hugger 800 Thermal Sheet – I was super impressed with this sleeping bag. I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical pre-race because it is down-filled and I was worried about it getting wet. But somehow, the DWR finish kept it dry (even when I know that our tent had a ton of condensation)! Every time I pulled it out to sleep, it was 100% dry and I was warm. Amazing!
SealLine Zip Waterproof Duffel (Cascade Designs) – I used this while packrafting. It served as my seat and my dry bag and worked great as both. Much better than any of the roll-top options. Rodney is going to get the 70L.
Osprey Youth Ace 50L Backpack – I was a little bummed in the store when none of the women’s packs fit me properly and I had to get the kids’ version. After racing with it for 7 days though, I couldn’t be happier with the fit. It is fully adjustable and it fit perfectly. It held up well to all of the bushwhacking too. The only thing I wish it had were the wing pockets of the Wingnut packs…[Rodney used the Osprey Volt 60 and raved about it. They just make great packs that are more comfortable and functional in a lot of ways than many of the AR specific packs out there, specially if you need a pack with more volume].
MSR Lightning Ascent and Denali EVO Ascent Snow Shoes (Cascade Designs) – These are awesome snowshoes. I used to use the Denali EVO Ascents before I had a splitboard. For the race, I loaned mine to Bruce and borrowed my mom’s Lightning Ascents. They were relatively light, easy to put on and off and secure when on your shoe.
Montbell Light Dry Bags – Rodney and I have used other lightweight dry bags before only to be disappointed to find out they weren’t really dry. Montbell’s are the perfect combination of light weight and truly dry – awesome!
Alpacka Pack Rafts (Gnu and Explorer 42)- Rodney and I purchased the Gnu last year and it is a remarkable packraft. For this race, Rodney and Pete would be using it. Bruce had borrowed the Explorer 42 from a friend and I was worried pre-race that it wouldn’t keep up. I was wrong. It may be a little slower on flat water, but in fast moving water, it was quite nimble and a great boat in its own right.
Hileberg Rajd Tent – Great lightweight tent. Although a little tight for 4 people, we made it work. Condensation was a little bit of an issue at times, but for the weight, it can’t be beat.
Camelbak All Clear UV Purifier – For this race, I limited my use of a bladder and went with 3 bottles instead. The Camelbak All Clear worked very well and I would use this as my purification method again. I also limited my intake of sugary beverages and this was the first expedition race where I did not get any mouth sores.
Wingnut Backpack – I used this backpack on the biking segments. Biking is what it’s designed for and you can’t beat the Wingnut pockets for racing – means quick access to food and whatever else you need.
Outdoor Research Gaitors – I used one pair of gaitors for the whole race and they held up well. I’ve used other gaitors in the past, but OR has become my go-to.
Aleutian Glacier Gloves– Unfortunately, I read that these aren’t made any more. These were my primary defense against Devil’s Club and other evil plants while bushwhacking and as designed, kept my hands warm in the cold Alaska water.