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.

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!!