2015 NAARS Championship — Race Report

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…

NAARS paddle smileDoug 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.NAARS running

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.NAARS water crossing

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.

NAARS water crossing 2We 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.NAARS Paddle all 4

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.NAARS check point

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.NAARS Paddle 2

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.NAARS Paddle 2015

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.

Race Report: GOALS ARA Krista Griesacker

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. 

Intro

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.

Prologue

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.  

Bike

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.

Paddle

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.  

Trek

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!

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

CT Finish
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.
CT -- prolog
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.
CT -- biking2
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?

CT -- biking

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.

CT -- running to finish

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.

NYARA is National: Race Reports from Across the Country (part 2)

Today we are excited to share two race reports: one from the east coast and one from the mountains in the west. The first is a report from Austin Planz and Chris Obara who raced in GOALS Cradle of Liberty and the second is from Chris Edmundson who raced the Ultra O-gaine in Colorado.

Ultra O-Gaine – NYARA takes 2nd place.

Checkpoint Adventures resurrected their 24-hour rogaine race “Ultra O-Gaine” after a six year hiatus.This year the race was held in the Buffalo Creek area of Colorado. Team NYARA was represented at this great event by Chris Edmundson.

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Pre-Race, overlooking the terrain.

Much like Checkpoint Adventures, I have also been on a six year hiatus and this was my first time behind a map in a substantive race since 2008. Overall, the race was a blast! However, more than once I was thankful that Olof Hedberg is the primary navigator for Team NYARA. As it turns out, racing solo in a self-supported event is hard!

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1:24,000 map of the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area in Pike National Forest

We received the maps at 7:30 PM on July 3rd. Race began at 8:00 PM and in my disorder, I didn’t leave the start until 8:10. The task at hand was to obtain as many as 41 checkpoints (CP’s), for a total point value of 2201. The map looked pretty straight forward and I would have an opportunity to return to the start/finish area to resupply after about 20km. This allowed me to travel very light for this section. Things went quite smoothly with just a few minor map reading errors that I was able to quickly recover from. During this leg, I was fortunate to meet my personal hero Danelle Ballengee and even help her find one of the CP’s! What an honor!

Sometime before midnight I was back at the start/finish to resupply. From here, my plan was to not return again until the finish. Therefore, I had to carry a lot of supplies. Well… My paranoia required that I carry way more than I needed. I left with a lot of confidence that I could clear the entire course. I was running well and without any major navigational errors, obtaining every checkpoint seemed quite feasible. As it would turn out, before the night was up I would spend about 3 hours searching for 2 CP’s that I would never find. Despite trying several different attack points, these checkpoints were elusive and really shook my confidence. Missing these 2 CP’s, I was leaving behind only 91 points but with a major loss of time. As daylight arrived, I continued to make numerous minor navigational errors and I can’t begin to explain how I repeatedly walked by CP’s without seeing them. It was as if they were cleverly hidden to evade detection.

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Sun up! Maybe I will stop missing checkpoints now…

Somewhere along the way, I ran into Team Lupine and it was nice to see some familiar faces. They told me about a nice horse trail along the creek to the next CP that would save me some heartache. At this point, I was running low on water at which point I discovered that I must have left the iodine behind the last time that I refilled. Ohh well, only another 9 km to some known clean water. Thinking about water, running hard, 15 hours in, I reached my high point. I was running up a switchback trail to a CP on a spur. This was clearly a popular mountain biking destination and I was a bit jealous of the riders that were passing me on their descent. The one rider going up this hill gave me a boost of confidence. Despite starting at the same time, my legs felt strong and I continued to put distance into him. He only caught me when I wandered off trail to go punch the CP. I then got back on trail and proceeded to run him down and would have caught him if it wasn’t for the next CP. Shortly after, I refilled water and set out for what turned into the most time consuming CP of the event. I spent 2 hours searching for this thing! It was worth a lot of points and I was not going to give up. My final attack point yielded success despite running over and over the same ground. This CP was just hidden!

These old burn areas are hot!

These old burn areas are hot!

Now came a big decision point. Do I run an extra 12 km to obtain an extra 243 points? I was beginning to feel weary and any physical dysfunction or navigational errors would mean missing the 24 hour time cutoff. In the end, it was clear that I made the right decision. The combination of limited physical conditioning and poor attention to nutrition led me to a physical and mental meltdown around hour 20. I am not sure what was worse, my cognition or my physical function. I was now barely running even on the flats and downhills. As I approached the finish, in my malaise, I could not wrap my head around how to obtain the next 2 CP’s (77 points). I became completely disoriented and was forced to bail out on a northerly bearing to find a known trail. After 95 km, I stumbled into the finish 40 minutes early having left a total of 445 points on the table. I finished with around 100 points less than the winning team of Mark Lattanzi and his partner from Team Odyssey.

Thanks to Patrick and his wife for a wonderful event! NYARA will certainly be back again next year. Hopefully with Olof at the helm…

Race Report: The Jersey Inferno

In addition to producing the race, NYARA fielded several teams at the this year’s Jersey Inferno.

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We have a great race report from Rodney Villella, but first a few photos of Team NYARA racers:

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Breaking in a Newbie – Literally

By: Rodney Villella

Rodney and amy blog

On June 6th, NYARA hosted its 12 hour Jersey Inferno Adventure Race. Amy & I were planning on racing the event with our regular teammate, Pete Spagnoli, but at the last minute, he had to go out of town. We were looking forward to our first Adventure Race (“AR”) of the season and always prefer to race in the “premier” coed category if possible but most of the other NYARA racers already had their teams set. We asked the race directors, John and Aaron if they knew anybody that might be interested in joining us and this is how we got connected with Vanessa.

Now to be honest, we typically don’t like to race with people we don’t know, but since this would be our first race of the year and we have had limited time to train, we figured what the heck. Plus, even thought Vanessa had never done an AR before, she has participated in many mountain bike races and since the race was at Allamuchy State Park, we figured it would be bike intensive.

We were excited to share some of our knowledge and experience with a new racer and hoped we could show her what a great sport Adventure Racing is. The hard part for us was going to be trying to keep up with her.

We had a few phone conversations/email exchanges with her to let her know what to expect on race day and make sure she was prepared. We take for granted all the little things we’ve learned along the way, so we tried to make sure we covered as many details as possible to make her experience as good as it could be.

Again, this was the easy part. The actually racing was going to be our challenge. We met Vanessa in the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning before the race. On race day, there is always limited time to go over details of the race, so we hoped our earlier conversations with her would be sufficient and she would learn as we went.

The gun went off and the event started with a foot section. Here was our first opportunity to see the toughness of our new teammate. About 2 hours into the event, a rock jumped up and grabbed her foot. Vanessa arrested her fall with her forehead. At that moment, I though oh no…I hope it’s not serious. She was a bit dazed but got right up. She had a nice “egg” on her forehead but shook it off as if it was nothing. We were super impressed with her grit and determination…

The next leg was biking and this is where Vanessa wanted to open the throttle. The only problem was she had to wait for Amy & I. Vanessa rode right behind me tight on my rear wheel as I navigated the tricky course. And here is where our second attempt to break her happened. There was a section of trail that had a narrow boardwalk over a swampy area. I slowly and gingerly started out and realized I was about to fall so I quickly slowed down, stopped and unclipped. I started again and tried to remount my bike but it was a slow process. Vanessa following closely behind and assumed (unfortunately, erroneously) that I was just going to quickly continue on.   She literally slowed to a track stand before she eventually teetered over and fell off the boardwalk. All I could hear was the crack and splash of her fall as I slowly continued on. Again, I thought oh no, I hope she is not hurt too bad. I waited at the end of the boardwalk for her to make her way over and she was totally fine. In fact, we laughed a little bit about my lack of technical skill and how we should have told her to never follow too closely behind me on the bike as I tend to pull “Crazy Ivans” with reqular frequency.

The third leg of the race was a quick paddle that was relatively uneventful. This led to the last leg of the race which was an final mountain bike section. By this time, Vanessa had learned not to follow too closely and I made sure to announce my radical maneuvers in advance. But there was still opportunity to test Vanessa’s toughness. We were bushwhacking to a control point off trail when she must have stepped on a hornets’ nest. She was stung three times on the hand and one time on her upper leg. Aside from a few ouches and light expletives, she said she was fine and told us to just continue on. By this time, I was completely convinced that she will make a great adventure racer as she is one tough cookie and just wants to keep moving forward.

The race ended with an individual mountain bike “time trial” and this is where we finaly set her free to do her thing. She took off and ultimately won the women’s “Blazing Saddle” award for the fastest female on this mountain bike TT section. Well Done!

So team NYARA’s newest member got a proper introduction to Adventure Racing with a contusion on her forehead, a nasty fall off a boardwalk, four hornet stings, Queen of the mountain biking TT and a 4th place Coed finish. Not too shabby.

We would like to thank the newest NYARA RD’s John & Aaron Courain for putting on a great course and all the volunteers that helped to make it happen. We would also like to thank Vanessa for being patient with our pace and hope she learned enough and had a good enough time to try this AR thing again sometime soon.

Race report — Badwater Badass: NYARA’s Chris Rice

Team NYARA is super proud of Chris Rice for his amazing performance at this year’s Badwater. He finished 25th overall and which is totally badass! He gives the full report here. Enjoy!

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I haven’t done one of these in a while, but figured that it was the Badwater, so I should probably get some details down.

To begin, this was the first year on the “new” course, which basically means that, instead of running straight out of Badwater to Mt Whitney, you start towards the end and do some out and back mountain running to make up 90 miles, then run the final 45 from the original course. While this avoids the most extreme heat of the course, it adds loads of elevation and 15 miles of unfinished dirt road running.

My training for the race was pretty much standard, loads of miles with little recovery time. In the last few weeks, I spent some time doing heat training by adding layers to hill workouts and doing some sauna workouts (very light).

I flew into Las Vegas late Sat night with my crew (more on them later), picked up our van, and headed to Pahrump, which was about an hour from the airport, but the last town before going into Death Valley. Got up Sunday AM and hit the Walmart for supplies and then drove another 3 hours through Death Valley to the registration at Lone Pine. Went through all of the mandatory meetings and then back to the hotel for sleep, my start time was 8:00 am Monday.

At 7:30, we were at the starting line, ready to run….had to get weighed in and take pics, then we were off. Right away, I was shocked at how fast people went out. I have seen this before in other runs, but I figured it would be different here…..we had 23 miles uphill directly in front of us. I was in the back of the pack as we made it to the top of the mountain, and both of my pads on my feet were hurting, so I took a couple of minutes to change to new socks and apply some new foot cream. The trip down was much better, started making up ground as people who had sprinted up began to slow down.

At mile 45, you are back in town, having knocked out the biggest mountain and now you can have a pacer. My crew started running with me here, and would be with me for the rest of the race. Layne and Stark took turns until we made it to Cerro Gordo, which is the next mountain and now at mile 59. Here Shaddow put on a pack with some gear and food in it, and also carried 4 water bottles. The sun was going down and we would not be back at the support vehicle for at least 4 hours. The climb was much more aggressive on a dirt/rock road leading up to the ghost town. People were really having a tough time now, the elevation was getting to them and we saw some napping, swaying, and vomiting at different times up the mountain. The top of the mountain was cool, but we didn’t stay long…..we started running back down. Quads are now very sore and feet are getting banged up on all of the rocks and uneven terrain coming down.

Mile 75 and back at the car. Finally sat down and ate a foot long Italian hero from subway. This was possibly the best sandwich I ever had. Drank a bunch of sodas, a red bull, and took a couple caffeine pills….and was running again. All of the caffeine had me going pretty fast and passing more people. My feet started feeling odd, so I stopped at 85 to check them out. Two large blisters on both heels, and 50 miles to go….not really the best situation….popped them with a pin Stark found and started running again. We got to the Darwin turnaround at 91 and my feet were really giving me trouble, I had not prepared well for this situation and we were not equipped to handle it. Luckily, one of the other support crews helped out with good moleskin, which I hoped would get me back to the medics on my feet.

The sun was coming up now and it was getting hot, much hotter than the day before. This part of the race was the hardest, without a doubt. My feet were degrading quickly, forcing me to run in the sand next to the road. I was running so slowly that my support guys could actually walk and keep up with me…the road stretches out in front of you very far in the desert, and you don’t feel like you are making much progress. My stomach had stopped accepting most sugar, so I was down to chicken soup, water, and cokes. The crew really got me through this section, keeping me laughing and forcing as much drink into me as I could handle.

Mile 122 and back in Lone Pine – and the medics. 30 min with two people working on my feet. They knew that all they had to do was get me 13 miles up Mount Whitney, so they hooked me up. Got me drained, cleaned, taped and padded up, even gave me a pair of brand new socks. I was out the door and walking up the mountain, and I felt really good now, passed a couple of people, even did a bit of running to stay ahead of an Italian guy who seemed to find a reserve of energy.

34 hours and a few minutes after I started the race, I finally crossed the finish line. Check one more item off the bucket list…..

I had a great time, great scenery and really interesting people out on the course. Everyone is extremely supportive of each other out there, less of a race than an endeavor. I didn’t’ “find myself” in the desert or anything, but it was a cool experience. In retrospect, I would not have prepared any differently. I would have brought more foot care equipment, but other than that I think it would be the same.

The most critical component of this race is your crew, without a doubt. This is more important than your training, your gear, and your food. I was lucky to have come out here with some good friends, and they really lifted me through the isolated moments of the race.

My most sincere thanks to my crew – Mike Shaddow, Matt Stark, and Jeff Layne.

I also want to say thanks to my wife and best friend Patty as well as my three sons – Peyton, Teague, and Asher – for supporting me through this experience.

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Race Report: Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge

 

For the Mayan Mountain Adventure Racing Challenge (MMAC), which also serves as the North American Adventure Racing Series Championship, NYARA sent a relatively young, up and coming team, with Olof Hedberg, Whitney Hedberg and Mikael Mattsson all new recruits to NYARA for 2014, and Jason Brown who normally races for GOALS ARA and SWIFT, making an appearance to complete the team. Below is a race report from team captain, Olof Hedberg.

Ready to start the race after weeks/months of preparation.

Ready to start the race after weeks/months of preparation.

We had a lot of uncertainties before the race: none of us had ever raced in the jungle before, the team of four had never raced all together, Whitney was sick before the race and just barely recovering, and two out of four had never done an expedition race before, and at the other end Mikael hadn’t done an AR in seven years.

It was almost a relief to be at the start line, because then all we could do was focus on the race and finally stop worrying about other potential problems.

The race started with a 30+k bike leg. The first 16k was relatively easy if it wasn’t for the fact that I overheated my breaks in the first downhill and we had to stop and do mechanical work while the rest of the teams raced away. How did this happen? – Well one of the brake rotors on Whitney’s bike got damaged on the flight over, and finding a replacement in Belize was not possible. The only solution was for me to race without a front brake, which lead to some problems throughout the race. More on that later.

After being dead last and playing catch up during the first 16k we had our first experience with Belizean mud. Just after punching CP1, the route turned off the road and into a double/single track.  A thunder storm the night before had made the trail so wet that while riding was not an option, neither was pushing the bikes. The only way forward was to shoulder the bikes and carry them while trudging through the mud. Needless to say, a lot of thoughts crossed our minds at this time, but we found relief in that at this point the situation was the same for everyone. After about 3k, the mud-fest stopped and the trails became ride-/walkable again and we caught up with ENDracing/Yogaslackers – a super nice team which we saw again many times during the race.

After punching CP2 at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall, and fixing our first flat, we crossed a river and headed towards our first TA.

The team in great spirits after finding CP2 at the bottom of the first of many beautiful waterfalls.

The team in great spirits after finding CP2 at the bottom of the first of many beautiful waterfalls.

We arrived at the TA in third place in the elite class (and 5th overall), but with ENDracing right on our heels. After switching to foot our first task was a Tyrolean traverse over a river. This was a new experience for some of us, but it caused no problems and we always love well designed ropes elements.

Whitney in the Tyrolean Traverse - Photocredit: MMAC fb page

Whitney in the Tyrolean Traverse – Photocredit: MMAC Facebook page

The next trek was a lot longer than we had expected. It started with me making a navigation error which cost us about an hour. After that we realized that many of the trails marked on the map did not exist in real life and instead there were a few new ones. This is basically adventure racing navigation 101 – trails change, but hills don’t. With our maps last updated in 1992, a lot of changes had happened. So when several of our proposed route choices didn’t exist, and jungle bush whacking didn’t seem like a good option, we chose the long boring road around. A couple of hours later, which we had spent jogging dirt roads, we came into the TA. When we saw other bikes there we joked, “at least we are not last”. To our surprise we were still in 3rd place and hadn’t lost too much time on the leaders. Sometimes the long way around is not that bad.

Mikael defies any fear of snakes or aligators heading towards CP5

Mikael defies any fear of snakes or aligators heading towards CP5 on the trek

 

The author smiling since he is not the one who has to punch CP5, and we are on the right track again after the navigation miss.

The author smiling since he is not the one who has to punch CP5, and we are on the right track again after the navigation miss.

Following that motto we decided to do the same thing on the upcoming bike ride. Dusk was nearing, and instead of riding 30+k on smaller roads we decided to play it safe and ride 40+k on “bigger” roads, which we also knew had a great stream for purifying water.
As the sun set, we saw the 2 person Ecuadorean team about 30 min ahead of us while ENDracing was about 30 min behind on the “out and back” to CP9.
The bike ride was pretty uneventful, but a full day of racing started to leave its mark on our bodies so at the next TA transition to foot we made a heater meal. Eating something hot at nightfall is a great feeling (there will be an upcoming blogpost entirely about food and what we learned from this race).

After eating, we started the night foot section. It was a 16k out and back (8k each direction), with a 4-6h foot-o at the far end, making the entire section between 7 and 10 hours. The slog back and forth on the road was not the most fun, but the actual foot-o section was beautiful, with unique trails, small wood bridges and gorgeous waterfalls. It got even more interesting as we had an addition to the team. The film crew following the race wanted some night shots of our team and sent a crew member with a camera along with us on the foot-o. We can’t wait to see how it turned out! Sometime during the night we also passed the 2-person Ecuadorian team and now only had Merrell Denmark (2-person Co-ed), Odyssey and Yogaslackers (both in our class elite 4-person Co-ed) ahead of us.

Jason plotting the route for the night foot-O.

Jason plotting the route for the night foot-O. Photocredit: MMAC Facebook page

As morning rose the second day, we were back to the TA and our bikes. We now had a full day of biking ahead of us, estimating that we would bike for about 20h (it actually took us to ~24h) until we would get to our oasis box. After about 30 min Whitney started having problems with her backpack so we redistributed her weight and I took her food. I have never had such a heavy backpack racing. It was also hills galore and after a couple of hours we stopped to eat a little. I pulled out all the food from the backpack and start counting. It turned out I had food for over 80h in my pack (40h each for 2 people)! I was not happy about it but not much to do about that then, instead just keep biking and eating.

As the day progressed and we caught and passed Merrell Denmark when they made a navigational error. The hilly landscape continued and at one point we dropped more than 300 vertical meters in less than 2k of trail. The downhills were extremely scary for us (me), because I had no front break. This meant that my back brake constantly overheated and I had to stop and pour cold water on it. Over the race I poured over 3L of water on my brake, water that I originally had planned to drink.

The author happy about 300+ vertical meters of hike a bike. At least the breaks doesn't overheat going uphill.

The author happy about 300+ vertical meters of hike a bike. At least the brakes don’t overheat going uphill.

For CP 15 we made a navigational mistake and lost almost 2h. Both Ecuador and Merrell Denmark passed us again. We were still ahead of ENDRacing and we were excited to head towards CP16 and CP17 – there was fresh water and a sleeping opportunity there. At the map it looked like CP17 was located in a small town and we discussed and dreamed about having dinner at a restaurant and getting Cokes at a store. At this point I was pretty thirsty since I had poured most of my water over my breaks instead of drinking it.

We found CP 16 in one of the coolest caves I have ever been to, and we took an extra 5 minutes just to look around. With only 20 minutes left to CP17 suddenly my thirst was not the biggest problem. Whitney, who had been feeling bad for some time, started vomiting up everything in her stomach. On top of that, Mikael was feeling bad and having some problems staying upright on his bike. We rolled into CP 17 and the medical check at the same time as Whitney vomited up the very last of any fluids that were still in her. As an additional blow to our spirits the “town” turned out to be a couple of houses without anything resembling even a mini-mart. While the rest of the team took an hour to sleep, I started the task of thoroughly repacking the backpacks. The CP was also manned with volunteers from the Belizean military (they followed the entire race keeping everyone safe) and it felt great that I could donate 40h of food to them. Not only did my backpack get significantly lighter, but also the food went to good use. Lesson number two: bring extra food, but make sure not everyone does it, because then you end up with a LOT extra. ENDRacing was also sleeping at the TA, and hadn’t yet gone out to CP16. They let us know that they didn’t plan to take CP18 and instead would take a longer rest at the TA, which meant that if we managed to clear the course we would have 3rd place in the bag.

Jason punching CP16 at Rio Frio cave, one of the most awesome caves we have ever visited.

Jason punching CP16 at Rio Frio cave, one of the most awesome caves we have ever visited.

The team felt slightly better after an hour nap and Whitney’s and Mikael’s backpacks where now significantly lighter. We headed towards the last 5- 8h of biking. When we got to the out and back for CP18 we took a short lay down on the road and made an assessment. Whitney was still very weak but Mikael was feeling better. If we took 5h or less to make the 22k, we should theoretically be fine, making the cut-off at 1.00 pm the next day for the jungle trek. Sitting at home reading this, this sounds like a no-brainer, because who can’t bike 22k in 5 hours? Well, after 40+ hours of racing and seeing some of these “roads” you would not be as sure anymore. Sand and mud often meant you had to walk your bike for miles and what looked like a jeep road on the map could in reality be more of a swamp that no four wheel vehicle had passed in years. To add to the fun, my chain and derailleur had started causing problems (thanks Belizean mud), making it impossible for me to use the small chain ring in the front. After some discussion, we decided to go for it. The out and back was brutal for the team. Jason towed Whitney as much as he could for the first 4k. We all had sleep monsters, and Mikael was sure he saw me ride through a herd of antelopes, while Whitney slammed on the breaks to avoid the men standing in the road. None of this was actually real, of course, but provided amusement for the rest of the team mates.

We came back to the road after a little more than 3h, and had another lay down on the road. Mikael had crashed, and cracked one of his ribs. I hadn’t slept one minute since the night before the race, now 46h ago, and Whitney was exhausted. Jason who had managed to catch some sleep was doing the navigation at this point, as I couldn’t keep my eyes straight. Still we felt happiness and relief. We had made it! We were still in the run for clearing the course!

The Team at CP18 following the NYARA motto - it's better to look good than to feel good!

The Team at CP18 following the NYARA motto – it’s better to look good than to feel good!

At this point we thought there were still 5 teams in the running for clearing, but it turned out Merrell Denmark also decided to skip CP18 so it was actually just 4. Now it was time to take it easy. We rolled down to CP19 and our oasis boxes completely exhausted and ready for sleeping. Our only goal now was to make the 34k out and back to CP21 on top of the Mayan ruin, Caracol before 1.00pm – it was 5.00 am in the morning and we knew this was on a bigger road.
We took a 2h+ break to eat warm food and sleep – seldom has sleep felt so good. It was like all our worries, fears, exhaustion and problems washed away with the sleep and the knowledge that as long as we finished the course, we had secured a third place cemented itself in our brains. Our strategy now changed tremendously. We started playing with huge amount of safety, resting and eating as soon as anyone felt like it or wanted too. We ate two hot meals before even heading out to the ruins. We left for the ruins around 7.30 am and to our surprise, the road turned into asphalt after a couple of kilometers. This was fantastic! The miles flew by. At the ruins we met the film crew again and we stopped to talk to them, did a small interview, and took personal pictures. We knew there was no hurry, since the cut off for the trek was at 1.00 pm and we had almost 4h left for what should be 1h 30 min bike back. Of course, at this point, something had to go wrong- just because things were going too well. 6k from the TA, Jason’s sidewall of the tire got slashed, and our repair efforts didn’t work. This is almost ironic because before the race we discussed having extra tires in our oasis box, but we decided to take them out due to weight restrictions. It turned out to be just a small set back, since Jason was able to run fairly fast while Mikael took his backpack and I rode with two bikes on the flats and downhills. While we lost some time, it was nothing huge and we made it back around 11.30am with an hour and half to spare before the cut off.

The Team on top of CP 20 - the tallest "building" in Belize - The Mayan ruin Caracol.

The Team on top of CP 20 – the tallest “building” in Belize – The Mayan ruin Caracol.

It's all smiles and happy faces as it's not often you get interviewed on top of a Mayan ruin.

It’s all smiles and happy faces as it’s not often you get interviewed on top of a Mayan ruin.

 

The worlds most awesome stair master ?

The worlds most awesome stair master ?

Happy to ditch our bikes, we headed out on the jungle trek, fully knowing we would get caught in the dark zone. Upcoming sleep and food made us excited and the first half of the 30k trek went extremely well and at a good pace.
A search for a new trail and a Y in the road (seriously, we should just have kept going straight), cost us about 2-3h, but at that point we didn’t really care, as it was irrelevant to our overall finish. It was much worse for our Ecuadorian friends. They had pulled ahead during the night, while we slowed down and was roughly 3h ahead of us. Unfortunately the jungle is very unforgiving and they had got some major foot problems. When one team member took off his shoe, the foot swelled up enormously and “looked like it was boiling”, so they had to quit the race in the middle of a jungle road. We feel so bad for them, as they were fantastic racers and deserved a better race finish.

Along the jungle trek.

Along the jungle trek.

We came into the dark zone at ~9.30 pm and got great food and drinks – they even had beer! At this point frankly none of us were excited about the dark zone. We all felt pretty good and wanted to continue. Instead we got almost 6h of sleep and time to hang out with a bunch of other teams – something I don’t think has ever happened before in an adventure race for any of us.

Next morning we were up bright and early to head to a cave for CP24. The cave was guided and off the clock which made it like a fun exploring experience instead of a race. We saw Mayan pottery and relics which had been preserved over 2000 years in the cave. Pretty cool place for a CP.

Heading into an old cave to see some 2000+ years old mayan pottery and CP 24.

Heading into an old cave to see some 2000+ years old mayan pottery and CP 24.

Once we got down from the cave, the race started again with a couple of miles run to the canoes and then canoe back to town. After sleeping for hours we all felt strong, and together with ENDracing we picked up the pace to running. The final paddle was beautiful, amazing and fun. Mikael, who is the master paddler in the team, kept the team organized and focused even though we took our fair share of scenic breaks as the river flowed through the jungle landscape.

The absolutely awesome paddle that was so scenic that at times we just had to take photo breaks.

The absolutely awesome paddle that was so scenic that at times we just had to take photo breaks.

A final run through town took us to the finish line and there was nothing but joy as we crossed in third place and as only one of three teams clearing the entire course.
We could not be happier with the result and we are so excited about the upcoming race season.

Last trek to the finish. Less than 2 miles left and then we are done - but in our heads we have already started celebrating.

Last trek to the finish. Less than 2 miles left and then we are done – but in our heads we have already started celebrating.

 

The race was truly an adventure and included the tallest mayan ruins in Belize, countless waterfalls, and the mountains of the Cayo district, but nothing of that can compare to the hospitability of the people of Belize. NYARA would like to extend a huge thank you to American Adventure Sports for putting on a fantastic race, Friends of Conservation and Development in Belize for making the area accessible, to all fantastic volunteers and fellow racers. Looking forward to see you all again!

Done - what a race and what an experience!

Done – what a race and what an experience!