Monday, February 8, 2010

Race Report - Rock and Roll Adventure Race 2009

Production Company: Steel Sports
Date: 6/20/09
Location: Mineral Wells State Park, TX
Length: 12 Hour
Team Name: Pink Whiskey

10 Teams, 24 racers. 2 Solo racers, 2 4 person teams, and the rest were 2 and 3 man teams. We dropped off the boats at the State Park's boat launch area. The pre-race letter had briefly mentioned that there would be a portage for which we may want a cart. Looking for every advantage possible, I spent a couple days the week before the race building a cart. Some friends and I took the wheels off of a jogging stroller they had found busted up and basically stuck them on a 4' wide piece of aluminum conduit. The race started and we raced back to our table to plot the first 6 sets of UTM coordinates (the organizers GPS the locations of the checkpoints, and you plot those on a scale topographic map and then use a compass only to navigate to the checkpoints). All the points were around the shore of the 4 mile lake. We were almost the last team to finish plotting the points as it was my first time actually doing what I understood in theory but hadn't ever done yet. We grabbed our camelbaks and ran 2 miles downhill to the boat launch. We intentionally set out to hit the points in the reverse order of everyone else. About an hour into the kayaking and 4 points down, our reverse tactic paid off. The most tricky point was on a very non-descript portion of the eastern shore without features or landmarks. the other teams had gone up the eastern coast, we had taken the western. The description and clue were "shoreline rocks" and "it's there". Unfortunately for them, the other teams (all of them) stopped at a big section of shoreline rocks on the eastern shore, and became convinced that it was the right place, especially because of "it's there." We paddled up to a distinct peninsula on the western shore and took a bearing to the plotted point - it turned out the other teams were way too far south. We followed the compass bearing and found the checkpoint very easily. We quietly passed the other teams, snagged the last 2 points on the lake and pulled the kayak out of the water. We were one of the only teams who actually brought a cart, and the first ones out of the water. We ran up the 2 miles back to the transition area, pulling our kayak cart, and the organizers were a bit surprised to see some one so soon, and that it was us. Pretty awesome.

The special challenge to get the next set of coordinates was a xeroxed packet of coloring book challenges from a restaurant. After a stupid ass word search and "which of these horses is different from the others" and mazes and shit, we got our coordinates. One checkpoint was the climbing section. We could do it at any time between start and 12pm. After 12pm it would be closed and we would not be able to complete that checkpoint. The other points were trekking (running/bushwhacking). There were 5 or 6 points in the woods near the climbing point, and three other points several miles by road around the lake on the other side. Fearing a bottleneck at the climbing section (the plotting again took a little too long), we opted to be crazy and do the distant points first. We ran up and down about 6 miles of paved road in the park and missed a dirt trail that would have taken us damn close to the 1st checkpoint - it wasn't on the map, and we were looking for it. We ended up trampling through about a 1/2 mile of small scrubby trees that tore up our legs but had to avoid lots of prickly pear cactus too. Blah blah blah, lots of bushwacking and we found all three of the distant points. Long long long, extremely hot (100 even degrees, running on asphalt) run back to the transition area. we weren't sure what time it was, but knew we were cutting it close to the 12pm cutoff for the climbing leg. We passed the 2 person team Run Amok (2 people that train with Vignette) and they told us it was 11:30 and we might just be able to make the climbing section. We pushed it really really hard to the TA to get our climbing gear and more water. I was starting to get a headache - couldn't drink enough. It was so hot that even though we were skipping lunch and exercising for our 5th straight hour, we couldn't think about food. Energy dwindling, dehydration headaches coming on, legs cramping after about 10 miles of running up and down hills, we dug in and ran to the climbing area. Reached it with about 4 minutes to spare.

A 30 foot rappel and then a top rope climb out again (both of us) and we got to punch our passport (to prove we got the checkpoint). We were getting cranky. Spent 20 minutes too long looking for the next two points that were in the vicinity of the climbing area. Todd was in front, and looking at the map. Luckily I was behind him because the map bag was open just enough to allow the passport (proof of the checkpoints) to fall out. I snagged it and we bickered for a minute about whether or not it was a big deal. Now we're super tired and drained, out of water, and searching for an impossible checkpoint - number 12. The only clue was "vague drainage" and we couldn't find anything fitting that description. Giant boulders kept us from using the compass accurately. Finally we decided to pass that one up. It was a really really tough choice, but we just felt that we had spent too much time on it. About a mile down the path to the next point (really really bad trail - basketball and softball sized loose rocks really threatened to sprain an ankle and further demoralized us) I saw what I thought might possibly be considered a "vague drainage" if you're a jerk. We sprinted up it a ways and sure enough - number 12. Spirits rejuvenated, and after each of us kissed the stupid flag, we tore down the trail to easily find the next 3 points. We took our time to eat some lunch and rehydrate in the shade while we plotted the points for the third leg, the mountain biking points. Heading out we stopped at a bathhouse in the camping area to wash our legs and arms in an effort to remove some of the poison ivy and oak we'd been trudging through for hours. We biked on paved roads for about 10 miles, mostly uphill to the primitive hiking area in the distant north end of the park. Found a well hidden checkpoint on the back of a log in a meadow. By this point, a solo racer who was not doing well had begun to follow us around. Eventually I asked him how many checkpoints he had found so far and when he admitted to having skipped two (we had found every single point so far, even if they took a really long time), I realized he was not really competing against us anymore and we joined forces.

Teams are ranked based on how many points they find and then by time. So if we were the only team that found all of them, even if we were the last to finish, we would win. The next couple of points were very, very difficult to find. we had to leave the roads and trails marked on our topo maps and resort to the park maps. These didn't have topo lines on them, but a big wooden sign in the primitive area did have topo lines. So we had to use the big wooden sign to estimate where the plotted points on the topo would be on the park map - big approximations. We knew it was getting late and that there might be another leg after these points, so we didn't spend too much time on accuracy. Stupid. We biked past where we thought 22 and 23 should be almost 4 times, back and forth, until I noticed a species of grass that requires occasional flood conditions (Chasmanthium latifolium). The clue was that the point was in a creek bed. We had been looking for a place where the creek crossed the trail, but hadn't found it. The other guys were about to skip the points, but I said, just give me 4 minutes to follow this grass. 50' off the trail I almost fell into the 20' deep creek bed that was invisible from 10' away. I jumped down and saw the flag just around a bend. The guys couldn't believe that I found it using botany. The next point continued away from the trail so we locked up the bikes and set out. The clue said "spur" which we decided must be a sharp bend in the creek that resembled a hook, as seen from above. By the way, my dehydration headache is almost unbearable and Todd is miserably hungry. Our tagalong is older and a little crazy - singing kids songs under his breath. But we can't find any stupid "spur." Finally he decides to run up a ridiculous ridge (we've spent 45 minutes in snake country running up and down this dry, sandy creek bed looking for this point) and look down from the top for the "spur." Todd and I sit down for the first time since the kayaking at 8am. It's 5pm. Race ends at 7:30pm. We decide Shannon, our tagalong, has been gone too long and we have to go up to look for his ass, probably slipped and knocked himself out. The hill is maybe 300meters at a 55, 60 degree grade. Loose rocks and juniper needles work against us - goats couldn't climb this. We get to the top and Todd starts jumping up and down and squeeling. He grabs the mapbag and runs over to the checkpoint flag and there Shannon is, dying in the shade. We are all extremely psyched to have found such a difficult point (and now every point so far for us!). We sit for 60 seconds and slurp down some energy gel. we split the last of the water between us. Then we tear down the hill. Todd slips and rolls a couple summersaults but misses all the cacti and comes to a sudden stop at a tree. Lucky bastard had his bike helmet on and didn't break anything. he's shaken but we push on. Back at the trail, another team has located our bikes and used them to find point 22. They skip 23 or don't realize it's out there and take off ahead of us. The same scenario plays out with the next two points, 24 and 25, except that they are even harder to find. Miraculously we picked the exact right spot to leave the creek bed and scale the ridge - The flag was right in front of us when we summit. Now it's 6:30 and we've got several miles of really bad terrain and awful trails to get back to the road, then 8 or 9 miles of road hills to get back to the transition area. We are reasonably certain that there are more points to plot and find (another leg), since we confused the "trailhead" of checkpoint 18 for another "trailhead" and located checkpoint 26 - But so far we've only been given coordinates for checkpoints 1-25. So we dig in and push as hard as we can to get back. The final mile uphill to the TA we have to take so slow that we would have been faster on foot. But we can't muster the energy to get off the bikes. We roll in and turn in our passport. The organizers tell us congratulations - we're done. Todd makes his way to our picnic table and lays his head on his arms like to go to sleep, and I almost follow suite. I ask if any other teams have finished yet and a woman tells me 3 have already finished. I ask how many got all the checkpoints and she says only one. I ask if we are the winners and she looks confused. I point out that we found every single checkpoint and she gets very excited - apparently only one other team did - Run Amok (who are basically professional adventure racers). They finished before us, but that puts us solidly in second place. Not bad for my 2nd 12 hour, and Todd's first!

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