The weekend of Jul 19-20 was the CAARA 2-Day Potluck, a free event designed to help beginners get into the sport of AR. The first day was an optional activity, either a MTB bike, a bike and hike, or a paddle. That evening, there were clinics on paddling, gear, and a storytime about Primal Quest. The final day was a practice race.
I did this event last year and felt that it rocked, so I decided to see if Stephanie wanted to go, too. She was down and we were off.
We got out to the park, which was a small city park in a small city (Spring Valley). There was, however, a pool. We checked in, set up our tents, and headed out for the MTB ride.
Day 1- Ride @ Mattheissen SP
The 'MTB ride' turned out to be a road ride to Mattheissen State Park, where there is some singletrack. The roads to Mattheissen (past Starved Rock) have some hills that would be challenging on a well-equipped road bike, so my heavy GF Tassajara (the AssJar) with knobbies was not necessarily the best tool for this task. I assume Mattheissen's singletrack is pretty sweet in the right conditions, but it had been raining and the trails were greeezy. If I've learned anything from Rage, it's not to shred trails by riding them in the wrong conditions. ("Somebody broke their back building that shit! Don't fuck it up!") We got about fifteen minutes in and decided to turn around. Stopping every ten feet wasn't really that fun anyway.
Now, heading in we were sure to stay on the "main trail", not taking any branches until we got our bearings. Turning around ended up being more challenging, as there were about a thousand feeder trails that we failed to notice. We had no idea which trails we had come off of. Forty-five minutes later we ran into the Hernanns, who had just started in. They told us to stay right and we did and eventually got back out to the sweet, sweet pavement. We had to stop and scrape pounds of mud off our bikes to simply make them operational again.
We ran into a few other folks and the Hernanns, and we all headed back towards Spring Valley- via the ice cream shop in Utica. Adventure racing is tasty!
Day 1 (evening)- Clinics
Not much to say, other than there was a lot of info involved here. A LOT. I won a pair of socks during the ARFE "Racing Green" clinic because I knew that you should pee on a rock in the woods. Gerry Voelliger gave the gear talk and I think may have given some hints for Thunder Rolls. Of course, I have been very wrong about hints before...
The night nav clinic had to be called off because a wicked storm ripped through. Again, super psyched about my Boy Scout-style Eureka pup tent! Handled it like a champ. Forgot a tarp so I had to cut up some garbage bags which worked just fine. I slept without problem during the violent thunderstorm- I was just happy to be dry and lying on the ground.
Day 2- Practice AR
I am fucking psyched about how this thing went. Stephanie and I went into this knowing that neither of us are navigators and we would have to be careful. The pre-race meeting was fast and furious, with me franticly taking notes. There has to be a better way to do that.
The race started with one teammate (Stephanie) running to the other side of a baseball diamond and grabbing one of many papers stuck in the fence. It was a word find, and there were different requirements. We grabbed a "find ten", which turned out to be one of the worst. We were third to last when we finally started out.
CPs 1, 2, 3
We jogged to the first checkpoint (CP) and found it pretty quickly on the top of a hill. We then ran down to CP2 on the river bed, where there was a descending rope (no harnesses required) to a sideways scaling (along the clay riverbed) into a woody area along the river. This may or may not be where I got poison ivy. We were already gaining on some teams. CP 3 was across a shallow section of river. This is where we saw Team Child's Voice, which was reassuring because Milan is a really awesome navigator. We high-fived and wished them luck. We jogged past them on the way to CP4.
CPs 4, 5
CP 4 was actually in the Illinois river attached to a kayak paddled by Neil Johnson (the Tax Guy- Team Critical Path). I did the swim portion and the water was refreshing. CP 5 was back to the start/finish to pick up our bikes. We were keeping a steady pace and transitioned quickly.
CPs 6, 7, 8, 9
The ride to CP 6 was fast and fun, with one wicked hike-a-bike gravel hill. It started on paved roads, but at the bottom of a fast, curvy road it transitioned to gravel pretty quick. I remembered this from last year and warned Stephanie. As we were pushing our bikes up the wicked hill, Chad came by in a truck and said he had to check on someone who wrecked and probably had a separated shoulder. We wished them luck and health and kept pushing on. We had passed another team or two in the bike transition, and thought we were maybe in third place.
CP 6 was the bike drop. Code and Yi Shun were manning the point. When we handed off our bikes I didn't see the other bikes, so I asked Yi Shun, "Where are you putting the bikes?"
Yi Shun: "We don't know yet."
Me: "Are we the first ones here?"
Yi Shun: "Yep."
Stephanie and I looked at each other and headed off. No way! We decided to take the fire roads into CPs 7 (at shed and shelter) and CP 8 (bottom of ravine). I think a lot of teams tried to take the gravel road around the outside (which is what I was proposing) and it proved to be harder. We found these CPs pretty easily. At one point coming out of the ravine, we heard the second place team and tried to hide by laying flat against the side of the ravine. This also might be where I got poison ivy. CP 9 was back to pick up our bikes. Code told us later that we had about a 45-minute lead at this point.
CPs 10, 11
CP 10 was right at the bottom of said wicked hike-a-bike hill, across some tracks. We found it and were on the gravel towards CP11. CP11 was on an old rail trail, right at the intersection with a highway. We slightly overshot the old tracks and turned back to catch it. Later we found out that some teams overshot on purpose in order to ride the roads in lieu of the grassy offroad route that we chose. However, we came out of the woods right on the highway, at the bottom of the trail up to CP11 and got it.
CP12- final CP, also known as the Trail of Tears
We knew we had probably lost a little ground overshooting the trail on CP11 (and stopping to pee- this also may be where I got poison ivy- so much for finding a rock), so we rode fast and furious along the old rail trail. Here I would like to pass along some of the things Chad said in the pre-race meeting: "Do not cross the creek on foot. There is no reason to cross the creek on foot." "Stay to the right." "Look for the spray painted arrow. Follow the spray painted arrow." "You will cross three railroad tressles."
We stayed right, but knew something was up when the trail went into the creek ("Do not cross the creek on foot. There is no reason to cross the creek on foot.") We turned back and checked some of the other possible routes, thinking that maybe the rights we had been taking might not have actually been trail. We headed up a steep incline to a corn field, which (out of respect for the farmer) we spent twenty minutes hike-a-biking around, only to find a sheer dropoff dead end. We headed back and ran into a group of teams also perplexed, including Child's Voice. Instead of staying and brainstorming with a known skilled navigator, we freaked and rode away from them- a total rookie mistake.
If we had stayed on pace, we would have finished this race in around two hours, forty-five minutes.
We got so severely lost on CP12, we finished in just under six hours. Luckily we had 100oz bladders of water and thousands of calories in bars and gels.
We did everything we weren't supposed to do, including crossing the creek on foot. We were six minutes (literally- "Let's give this 10 minutes and then head back") from quitting, when we heard voices coming out of the creek bed: "This is the worst fucking weekend! First my kayak flies off the truck, now you got us lost!"
Stephanie and I look at each other. Other racers!
We found them, and it was Dawn and Matt. They were in the creek (drivetrains submerged) trying to find the elusive tressles, too. We spoke to them and they had seen the spray paint but hadn't taken it ("Stay to the right"). We teamed up with them and they showed us the arrow- which turned out to be the only left on the trail. Stephanie and I had forgotten all about the spray paint.
Nonchalantly, I asked Dawn if they had enough to eat & drink, considering that we were over five hours in.
Dawn: "We had an apple."
Me: "How many apples did you have?"
Dawn: "We split one."
At this point, Stephanie and I both started pulling out gels and bars to give them, forcing them to get some calories.
As we headed out, we all stayed together. We laughed and pointed out that we were all so far behind that they would probably be sending search and rescue soon. A few times Dawn and Matt told us we could go on ahead, but that seemed ridiculous. The only reason we found CP12 was because they showed us the trail. We became a team of four as we headed back into town for the finish.
We finished third to last.