How to Make Any Bed Comfortable – Team NYARA Heads to the Bluegrass State

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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.

nats10Stephanie 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.

nats5We 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.

nats7The 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.

nats8Next 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.

nats4At 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).

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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.

nats1Big 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.

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Race Report: Cowboy Tough: No sleep for the weary.

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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.
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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.
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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.CT- foggy rapell
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….ct- biking
….. 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. CT - crazy eyes
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?

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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.

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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.

Team NYARA: First race of the season, Rev3 Epic

NYARA is back in the saddle again with the first big race of the season. We have some exciting things in store for this year including a new roster, more awesome races and other AR fun. We are happy to introduce a few new NYARA racers here — John and Aaron Courain and Tamela Swan who raced with fan favorite, Eric Caravella in this year’s Rev3 Epic. We will pass the reigns over to John to give us the full report. Enjoy!

REv3 startApril means the start of adventure racing season and the REV3 Epic is always first on the list here in the north east. Forty teams of racers came to Front Royal VA for a 100+ mile race through the George Washington National Forest in the Shenandoah Valley. What started off as a perfect spring weekend quickly turned into a war of attrition for a good many teams. I’ve never seen so many people lying on the ground in the middle of the woods, at night, puking. To generate this kind of misery REV3 has to be doing something right

We are a brand new squad this year. Eric is the youngest in AR years but also the toughest… or just craziest, either way no amount of misery phases him which is both awesome and mildly disconcerting. Aaron and I together have enough talent make up one complete racer. We have over 12 years combined experience which, in black lab years, is an entire life time. Our height and good looks make up for any shortfalls we have as racers. Tamela Swan has joined us this year after a 3 year hiatus and easily became the backbone of our team this weekend keeping us fed, sane, and moving forward.

NYARA startThe race started as it has before at the Down River Canoe Company in Bentonville VA. Our first leg offered up 6 checkpoints located in the tremendous single track of Shenandoah River State Park. Attacking this leg was the first strategic challenge we would see over the weekend. Only two of the points available in the park were mandatory, any two. Whatever two you chose had to be done during this initial foot section. We would be back in this park at the very end of the race and at that point we would also have our mountain bikes with us and we would be able to sweep whatever points were left from the start of the race. Clear more points by foot with fresh legs? Or, just grab the two closest points and bank some daylight for later on in the race. We decided to take a midline approach and grab 3 points. We worked our way out of the park behind a good number of teams who only picked off two points.

Starting a race by setting your team on an abnormal course does a lot for keeping you level headed throughout the race. It allows you to just race your own race and not be anxious and make mistakes when you see other teams that may or may not be in front of you. The fact is we had no idea where we actually stood in the rankings until we crossed the finish line. Is that good or bad? Well that depends. On one hand we don’t play cat and mouse all day, on the other hand we may not have a huge incentive to really race when you’re not sure if the race is on either way we moved forward confident that not too many other teams picked off a third point.

The paddle was next and its spring in the Shenandoah Valley. Spring means rain, rain means swollen rivers, and swollen rivers mean very fast splits on paddle sections. No one was walking away with the win here so we attempted to move efficiently, keep our calorie intake up, and even get a chance to enjoy the scenery. About half way through we spotted a bald eagles on its nest… ‘Merica!

We were entering the mid river ropes course as REV3 was just finishing up along with Odyssey. This gave us a confidence boost as we speedily wove our way through a lattice of chords that wound through the forest. We made our way around and over trees, through barrels, and over what I hope weren’t beds of poison ivy. We finished our maze, packed in a few calories, and got back into our canoes. Several bends in the river later we pulled ashore in historic Front Royal VA. We had to weave our way through town and hit some of the historic and professional buildings. In town was also challenge #2. We met a group of civil war period actors convinced that the south indeed will rise again. Aaron graciously offered to take one for the team and dress up like a confederate soldier. Challenge complete, and we moved on. Our first bumble of the day happened here in town. In an attempt to shave off a couple minutes of travel time I directed my team to cut across school grounds instead of following the blaringly direct path through the grounds of the Randolph-Macon Academy. What would have saved us 3 minutes needed up costing us 10 as we ran into a maze of barbwire fence and swamps that prevented us from leaving the school grounds. After hopping back and forth over a few fences and being suspiciously eyed up by a local we were back on track and quickly finished clearing the section, now onto the bikes.

The real race began here. We would be working our way by foot or by bike southeast between two parallel ridgelines. As we moved closer do the close of day we would work our way up and down these ridges over and over again until we really found ourselves in the hurt locker. The heat of the day and the effort it took to make it up and down to these high points over and over again began to take their toll on everyone. Stomachs began turning, nav decisions got harder to make, and pedaling uphill became less and less an option. Our major TA for the evening would be at Woodstock Tower. We had to push our bikes up to the Three Top Mountain ridgeline and make our way south west along the ridge for about 8 kilometers to CP 28. It was this section where we started to see the carnage ensue. We watched racers drop by the trailside one by one. We passed by Odyssey who was attempting to nurse one team member back to health, and soon after our friend from REV3 Masters had a small crash brought on from dehydration fatigue. Our own team was beginning to feel the effects as well but we pushed on toward Woodstock and finally made it to CP 28 at 11pm. The race directors wanted every team to take a selfie, so there’s this…

NAYARA selfie

We were able to make it through the ridge line push mildly unscathed save for about 5 minutes of Aaron puking. We spent some of that time hanging out with No Boundaries Media who also had a puking teammate at the selfie CP. We had been trading spots with them off and on all throughout the day. They beat us out of CP 28 by about 5 minutes but we had plenty of time to close the gap in the final section.

Races are decided at night time and this night was no exception. Our final loop put us through a valley where we would crisscross paths over and over with the teams who had not lost it all on the ridgeline a couple hours before. Most teams decided to take their bikes down through the valley, drop them, and attack the points high up on the ridges by foot one or two at a time. We scored big at the “picnic table sized rock” CP. GOALS passed us walking away from it telling us that it was a real doozy, and when we got to the attack point REV3 was on their 2nd sweep still looking. Eric did a great job picking a line off of a bend in the trail and we grabbed the point quickly moving on. We had to leave the two far out points as well as 38… and if you were at the race you would know why we skipped 38.

Our mission now was to make it back to the Down River Canoe Company and finish the course in Shenandoah River State park that we started the morning before. Not exactly a straightforward task, we had to make it past Veach Gap which climbs 1000 feet from the valley floor over Massanutten Mountain. With climbing of course comes awesome downhills and the Veach Gap Trail is no exception. We flew down the rocky trail, our brakes screaming under the strain of trying to keep us from flying off the side of the mountain. At one point we almost lost Tamela to a tumble off the side, but we made it down in one piece and crossed back into the park.

We had three points left and still had no idea where we stood. We heard at some point that Checkpoint Zero had to bow out do to sickness along with Odyssey. We were contending with REV3, GOALS, and No Boundaries Media. We had no idea where we stood so we had to treat this last part like a time trial. We hit it hard and cleared the park with some time to spare.Rev3podium

In the end we took second to REV3 who did a great job in this early season race. No Boundaries Media ended up with the same score as us but we beat them on time so they ended up third. NYARA is shaping up to be a tremendous squad this year. Next stop; Ohiopyle for the Equinox Traverse.

NAARS Championship in North Dakota

Team NYARA is at again. This time Olof and Whitney Hedberg along with Eric Caravella and Mikael Mattsson are headed to North Dakota to race. The team is currently pretty spread out — Mikael is in Sweden, Eric is in New Jersey and the Hedbergs are in Breckenridge. Needless to say, there have been nearly endless emails in preparation.

This team is super excited for this race — which features the famous Maah Daah Hey mountain bike trail. We thought it might be fun to take a peak into their preparations…and they seem organized, sort of. 🙂

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Good luck Team NYARA!!

Race Report: Lion Heart

Congrats to Team NYARA for another strong perfomrance! This time at AAS Lionheart. Team Captain, Eric Caravella has the following report.
 
Over the weekend, Team NYARA took a trip out to Western Pennsylvania to race the 24hr AAS Lionheart. The team was Cara Guilfoyle, Mikal Davis, with your humble writer Eric Caravella deciphering maps (sometimes well, sometimes poorly… but more on that later). We rented a cabin near the race start, and Cara’s husband Gregg came to show his support. He made us dinner the night before the race, for which he earned a dozen gold stars. Here’s a pic of Gregg killing it on the camp stove:
 
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Having Gregg as support crew turned out to be very fortunate for us, because otherwise we may have found ourselves dining at this weird local establishment:
 
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There was some discussion about why there is mustard all over Joe’s face in the sign (and whether or not it’s even mustard). Just another reminder that we were deep in Pennsyltucky for the weekend.
 
At check in, AAS provided us with roughly the first 8 hours of checkpoints with more info to be provided mid-race. We packed our bags, discussed our strategy, stuffed our faces, and tried to get some sleep.
 
Then came race morning:
 
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There was no prologue, so everyone dashed off and arrived at CP1 together. We tried a couple of bushwhack shortcuts to get to 2 and 3, but they turned out not to pay off quite as well as we’d hoped. During these bushwhacks, Mikal discovered the “Devil Plants” indigenous to Western PA. Since he was the only one in shorts, Cara and I had no idea why he was complaining so much. Apparently whatever they were, the leaves irritated his legs as he trekked through them. Based on his description, Cara did some research and discovered the species:
 
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The “Devil Plants” became a recurring theme throughout the race, much to Mikal’s chagrin. 
 
We arrived at the paddle put-in roughly 30 minutes behind the leaders but in a dead heat with Odyssey. The paddle was slower than expected, and we got hung up on rocks several times. But our all-star support crew (aka, Gregg) miraculously appeared on the riverbank and was able to snap a photo of us:
 
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We lost another 30 minutes to the leaders during the paddle and the subsequent jog to the rappel, but were entertained along the way by the “Amish Armada” of whitewater rafts floating everywhere down the Youghiogheny. Apparently there was an enormous group of Amish out for a day on the river, and they were just having a grand old time splashing one another and getting stuck on rocks just like us. It was nice to have some company on the river for those long paddling hours.
 
The rappel was preceded by a slackline traverse across the river:
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mikal slackline
 
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Then we rapped off the ledge to the left of Cucumber Falls:
 
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Then an amazingly confusing trail run/bushwhack took us back to the start, which was also CP9/TA3, but most importantly…where we found out what the rest of the course had in store for us. We came in at the exact same time as Odyssey. The second part of the race was a long bike leg with 8 CPs and a couple nasty looking bushwhacks. Mikal and Cara were very efficient through the TA as always, we developed a great strategy for the bike leg and set off. It was going very well for the first 6 CPs… we were working extremely well as a team and everyone was feeling pretty good. We took a chance on a trail not on the map and it paid off big time, and we found two of the tricky bushwhack CPs with little problem. We were in good spirits and on track to clear the course in 20 hours for a potential podium finish…..
 
Then…. adventure racing happened. We had to hike a huge hill to get the second to last CP. It would have been possible to ride our bikes off the other side of the hill to cut a little distance after grabbing the CP, but I made the call to leave our bikes at the bottom and come back for them to save energy on the climb. It was supposed to be a quick up and down, but when we got to the top it became apparent that the trail network was far more confusing than the maps suggested. We ran into Odyssey once again, but they had their bikes with them. It turned out to be the right call, because they were able to scout the area much quicker than we could on foot. I rushed my decision and took the trail in the wrong direction. We hiked it for what seemed like ages, hoping that each turn in the trail would reveal the CP or at least some feature that made sense. We ultimately decided to backtrack to where we started, when I knew exactly where we were. We managed to find the correct trail in a matter of minutes and went and grabbed the CP. GOALS passed us at this point, also on their bikes, and we knew we slipped a bit in the rankings. But we forged on, and went back to our bikes. We managed to grab the final CP with little problem and turned toward the finish.
 
And then the pain came. The final climb to the finish covered 1200 vertical feet in just 6 kilometers. Cara was battling severe chafing, and Mikal was battling the bonks, complete with nausea and dehydration. But they were champs and pushed through. Our pace was slow in the end, but we helped each other make the finish line with all CPs in just under 22 hours. Our rank was 5th in the Coed Elite division and 5th overall.
 
While our results weren’t quite what we hoped for, we had fun and would do it all over again. American Adventure Sports put on a great race, and Ohiopyle State Park was beautiful. The race was a lesson in maintaining focus and managing pace, but it was also a lesson in teamwork and the value of appreciating your companions. We all learned something from the Lionheart, not the least of which was how much we enjoyed racing together.
 
Boy, that was cheesy. Luckily we have Cara to close out the report with her thoughts:
 
“Overall this was a great race with a great team. I haven’t done a 24AR in about 4 years, so I knew this might be a challenge and at a high pace (Eric demonstrated the fastest bushwhacking pace I have ever seen and Mikal is a rocket on the runs!) Eric and Mikal were nothing but helpful and supportive. We came together as a team and I would think that we accomplished more together than we would have as individuals. We ran into some problems at the end of the race, but we will learn very much from our issues/mistakes. We supported each other well and will apply what we learned in the future. I am really proud of the work we did out there 🙂 Thanks guys for getting me through, you were both inspirational, loved racing with you and can’t wait for the next one!”

Race Report: Krista Griesacker

Team NYARA is proud of Eric and Ann Marie for a super strong performance at this year’s Krista Griesacker race. The race is put on by GOALS ARA and is typically a 12 hour Race. This year Team NYARA raced in the two person co-ed category and won it! Ann Marie gave us the following report. Enjoy!

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Strategy and speed, or some combination of the two, is what will help your team win. It was an honor to race the GOALS Krista 12 hour race with Eric Caravella as Team NYARA this past Saturday. Although I had always been the navigator for my team for my past 10 years of racing, I was more than happy that Eric would be the navigator for this race so I could focus on trying to keep up with him – this was the dynamic that would work well for our team.

Monsoon rains came down just before the pre-race check-in on Friday night, setting up tents and getting gear ready was a soggy affair with the constant dripping of water through the trees, and the forecast was for scattered storms on race day, too. Of course we all know the race will go on regardless. The usual Hawk Mountain Civil Air Patrol base camp facilities were wonderful, and comfortably familiar. At check-in we get the map and start marking points, copying down from the maps hung on the walls. Eric immediately was focused and very detailed, really paying attention to the elevation of the points, putting together a list of question for the Race Directors to fine tune our race.

At the race meeting, Race Directors Brian Reiss and Derek Lawrence were clearly thrilled with the racecourse they had planned, and they set a fun and upbeat mood for the next day. Morning arrives, and Team NYARA totally missed the 6 am meeting, clueless, never heard the loudspeakers calling for us – fortunately we didn’t miss anything other than taking attendance. Then we hopped on the buses for an hour ride to the town of Tamaqua for the race start.

After a short prologue to spread out the teams, the race starts on bike, in a hidden gem of technical singletrack park that hosts some local Mt Bike races. There are no checkpoints in here, instead the course is marked with blue arrows and flagging, sending us up down and all around, full of alley-oops, and up and overs, some a little too dicey with wet roots and drops. Altogether very fun if you like Mt biking. Ultimately, the only checkpoint we were going for was M1 sitting atop the ridge. Once on the ridge, it looks like a 6k double track to the west, plus a road ride with serious elevation. Or, as we checked out when studying the map on Friday night, the other option was instead to bomb down to town and take the level road across the valley to TA1. The problem was that after following the marked course on the way up, I was turned around and unsure of the descent. Eric had a good feeling for it, and when Team REV3 went blowing by us on the downhill with the same plan, that locked in our decision to head back to town.

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After cruising through the valley, we were the second team to arrive at TA1. TA1 sat in a saddle between 2 highpoints to the east and west. The next part of the race consisted of 2 optional foot sections, ‘A’ and ‘B’, each with 7 checkpoints, set up on those highpoints. When studying the map, Eric decided to start with ‘B’ as the terrain was more obvious. Eric takes off like the wind, I did my best in here, but my legs were burning on the endless uphill. Picture a mountain goat teamed with an old Galapagos tortoise. Once we reached the plateau, the navigation needs to kick in – we are looking for a minor saddle 1k west, and the saddle is so minor, and the ridge so broad, we were afraid of missing it. Fortunately, Eric nailed it right on, and we kept going. Eric’s pace counting was fabulous through the course of the race, of the 3 long stretches that he counted, the most he was off was by 5 steps. Yeah, just 5.

We collected 6 of the 7 CP’s in section B before we heard voices in the woods behind us, we tried to scurry up the next hill to stay hidden, but tortoises don’t scurry, and soon after we were caught by 3 teams, including GOALS. For the first time in my life, my hamstrings cramped and that pain just stopped me in my tracks. (My thanks to Val who shared some electrolyte tabs so I could keep moving). I was discouraged at this point because I knew Eric could be flying out ahead, but he was a fabulous teammate, he never gave up on me, and he picked some decent lines that I could follow. We grabbed the last CP and started the descent back down to the TA. We had to strategize here – do we try for anything on the ‘A’ side? Most other top teams were going for all or part of the ‘A’ loop, the phrase “staying competitive” was tossed around quite a bit. But it was a major hill climb to get up there, and my legs were already tired. And we were only halfway through the race – we still had the paddle on the river (if it had any water this year was still unknown), and a very long one direction trek to get back to the finish. We decided to skip ‘A’, go directly to the paddle, and concentrate on the Optional points on the long trek back, hoping that the clock would work against any team who took too long up there on loop ‘A’. Foreshadowing of things to come…

We arrived first at the paddle and were pleased to find enough water to float our boat, so off we went. With only 2 bodies in the boat, we did make it over most shallow spots, and finished the paddle in about 1 hour, way ahead of the 2 hours we planned for. Now I’m feeling guilty that perhaps I should have pushed the hill for the ‘A’ loop, but it’s too late now. Eric reset his altimeter, and we headed off for 3k on the road, then back into the woods we go. The 3 optional points in this section were tricky, set on vague state gameland boundaries and vegetation boundaries. F3 was set at post 20 on the vegetation boundary, and the elevation just wasn’t working. After looking around for a bit, we decided to skip it, go get F1, then come back at F3 from another angle. F1 was no picnic either, and as a navigator I would have walked away from this one, but Eric was determined and cool, and did I mention determined? And sure enough, battling though endless rhodo bushes, there it was.

We set out again for F3, and came back to the exact same spot we were before. Now we need to start widening our circle, something isn’t making sense. Ultimately we find the CP 65 feet higher than expected which causes Eric to question the elevation, the altimeter, and the map. But the good side of all the wandering around was we knew that the dotted line on the map indicating a trail was a lie, and on the trip to F1 and back we had also already found the re-entrant up to M8, so Eric was confident as we started the last hill climb. M9 was a beautiful vista off the AT, one of those uber awesome spots where you can see for miles and makes the race pause for a moment. Well, I paused and enjoyed the moment, Eric was checking the map and planning our descent. Off we went, scrambling down an endless major boulder field, Eric estimated 800 meters angling off southwest to hit the trail (it was actually 803 meters to step onto the trail, awesome!). We scrambled down this trail – more like a stream runoff – and popped out by the soybean field just short of home base. When we checked in at M11 around 5:30, they told us we were the first team out of the woods, which was another indication that for some teams that went for the ‘A’ loop, time was not going to be kind. When the Race Director seems relieved to finally see a team emerge from the woods, you know the cutoff time will become a determining factor in the results.

For Team NYARA to finish, we had one last bushwhack up and over. What we didn’t know was REV3 was right behind us, and instead of the bushwhack they decided to run the flat road around. As Eric and I skirted the active shooting range, heading downhill for the finish, we heard cheering up ahead as REV3 arrived first overall, AND clearing the course. Team NYARA came across the line as the 2nd team to finish, but short of points from the ‘A’ loop. Now it was wait and see who else could get in before the cutoff, and how many points they would carry.

Outside of the race clock, the Obstacle course was open for 1 additional bonus point, and it is just too much fun to miss! My teammate really stepped in to help get my sorry exhausted depleted body up the rope climb, and over the 6 foot wall, I had every good intention but I was so maxxed out I fell off the rope swing into the mud puddle, and I didn’t care one bit!

We found some food and chilled out, and waited. And waited. The clock ticked on. Where is everyone? In the end, only 10 teams that started the race made it in by cutoff. Our closest competition in C2 came in with 1 extra point, but too late, so they lost the point and tied our number. Team NYARA won with a faster time, 1st place in Co-ed 2 division, and 4th overall. Other teams missed points and/or the race cut-off because of the length and toughness of that last trek section, and spending too much time on the ‘A’ and ‘B’ loops early in the day. Strategically, we balanced out what my legs could handle with Eric’s sharp navigating, and it ended up to be a really good call. It was an honor to race with him, just to watch a good navigator navigate was cool, and he knew I was doing my best to keep up, and that I was determined to keep moving. And another of my favorite things is the time spent after the race reviewing the course with other teams, swapping stories and laughing. We agreed up front to have fun with the race, and we certainly did!

High fives to Aaron Courain and John Courain for taking 1st overall with an awesome showing, and to GOALS for winning the 3 person supreme divine category also clearing the course.

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Race report: The Savage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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