October 2005
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Month October 2005

Coosa River Challenge

(race date: september 17th)

I got an SOS call early in the week… a friend had registered for this race, but his teammate had been shipped south to help with the Katrina cleanup. He offered a free race and promised fun so why not? I carpooled with one of his coworkers (who was doing his very first adventure race) to the small town of Wetumpka, AL (just north of Montgomery). That night we camped under the stars – literally. No tent, tarp, or anything. I bundled up (even though it was summer, the night got a bit cool) and tried to ignore the occasional “thing” that hopped across my face. I finally had to put some earplugs in to silence the deafening crickets/cicadas, but in general I had a good sleep.

We woke up early to get to the park for the pre race meeting, then loaded our bikes onto trailers and climbed into school buses to head to the start – apparently the parking was quite tight there and the finish was at the park (with our cars). We started in several waves. This race accommodated solo racers and 2 person teams, in male/female/coed divisions. Assessing the crowd, we were happy to see some of the fast folks we knew racing in the solo & 2 person male divisions; we thought our chances at a co-ed podium finish were fairly good.

The first leg was a trail run, approx 3.7 miles. We started strong and settled into a decent pace. I was sucking wind a bit from being sick (or allergies??), but managed to get drag myself through. One special event we encountered was an obstacle course: first the tire run (like the football players) then crawling (or rather dragging our bodies) under low lying ropes. We looped around and came back thru the start to pick up our bikes. We passed a few teams here, as the bike was fairly fast. No extended hills and not too technical. Midway through we did a tire change and continued on to the next TA (which was the same one we’ve seen twice now). The bike was short and I really would have liked more, although my calves were on the verge of cramping several times so stopping wasn’t entirely bad. I’m not sure where the cramps came from – not a normal thing with me.

We dropped our bikes and had a mile or so run to the rappelling site. Here we had one member draw a chip; white, they go; black, the other teammate goes. I had mixed feelings here. I wanted to do it since I haven’t yet gotten to a rappel in a race (I have this curse thing going on apparently). On the other hand, Jim was much more experienced and would be quicker. And the verdict…. I do the rappel! I scrambled up to the top, only to find a line waiting. I used this time to stretch out my legs and eat a bit. Meanwhile, Jim had to swim to the bottom of the rappel and wait. Finally I get up there, lock in, and go! It was about 170′ down a fairly rounded dome. Pretty easy. At the bottom I unhooked and had to swim to Jim, then back to where he started. Thanks to the strangers that retrieved my sacred LavaGear TBARC hat – those things are rare items these days!

Next up: Paddling! We had the choice between a tandem sit on top kayak or canoe. I voted for the canoe (felt it was a bit more stable in the rapids), and were were off! The Coosa River is dam controlled, rising several feet once the flow is on. This also meant the current would be faster and the rapids bigger. We paddled well together and passed several teams. There were several smaller rapids we went through, but one larger: the Class III at Moccasin Gap. We hit it just right, stayed low, and paddled through. Yeah we did it! Well almost. A big swoosh hit us from the right and we went over. Luckily there was some shallow ground (a sort of small island) nearby that helped us right the boat. On we went!

After a bit more time we came to the final challenge: the Lock Jump. There were concrete lock structures that were built at one point, although the locks themselves were never finished. Our job was to beach our craft, swim to the structure, climb up the stairs, then jump back in the water. Easy enough sounding, but try standing on the edge of a perfectly safe pillar and stare at the water 15′ below you. Once upon a time I had gone off the high dive at the club pool, but I was young and careless. Being old and careless is a different story! Waiting wasn’t making things better so I stepped off, arms and legs flailing. I screamed not once but twice (yes, that’s how long it took). I remembered to get my feet together and hold my nose as I splashed into the water. Safe! I swam out and turned in time to see Jim take a step, cross his arms, and shoot like a bullet into the water. Well I guess ex-Rangers can do that sort of thing!

Now we grabbed our boat one last time, paddled across the river, took out, and went on our final run through the park and downtown Wetumpka. Yeah, that didn’t take too long! Jim was cramping a bit, but we managed to finish strong and finish 2nd. Or 3rd… While the race was run wonderfully, their timing could use a bit of help. They had us finishing in front of 1 team we know finished before us. The awards ceremony was actually stopped once enough small mistakes were made, but they got everything right in the end. The finish was great with plenty of food, space, and great weather to wind down a great day. (too bad there was a long drive back to Atlanta!)

In the end, a Masters Co-ed category was created that we finished 2nd in by 4 minutes (final time: 3:46:44). This also earned us 3rd place in the overall Co-Ed division. We actually won MONEY, some awesome custom/homemade plaques (truly one of a kind!), and a case of red bull (gotta love it!) I’m really not sure how this race got so many sponsors, but they are definitely doing a lot of right stuff – all top 3 finishers in ALL categories walked away with money, which is a wonderful thing! A short race, but definitely one to be recommended to newbies and experienced racers alike.

SMAR2: (warning: this review is as epic as the race)

You may remember reading my team’s attempt at SMAR1 back in the spring, you know, the one with the freak blizzard in April. October promised warmer weather and hopes of a bit of fall foliage. I was glued to weather.com as soon as their 10-day forecast touched our race days. Initially a bit of a shower, followed by sun. then no rain. then rain again with colder temps. Each day it flip flopped; who knows what would happen. Introduce Tammy. No, not our newest teammember, but a freakin’ hurricane that was headed our way. I’m really not sure what Tony/Raceday has done to piss off mother nature so much, but leave it to one of his races to summon up some nasty weather.

Back to my team… During NGAR in January, my team 3 Blind Mice hung out with A Bagel & 2 Donuts for a good half of the race. Joey & Eric (their other donut Brad was long gone…) were great guys and seemed like a good crew to race with, so when the fall SMAR was announced, I called them up. They’re in! My friend Joanna was also interested in jumping up to a longer race. Unfortunately after a few months she had to withdraw due to other commitments (including concentrating on her marathon training). It was then quite a challenge coming up with our 4th teammate. Ken & Charlie were both close to saying yes, but denied me (yes, I’m mentioning you just in case you read this and I can lay on a lil guilt!) Then I heard 3 Blind Mice had decided not to race, so I snagged Mike for our team. All set….NOT. Eric had had a bad mtn biking accident during the summer and while he was expected to recover, his wrist just would not heal. His doctor finally took his cast off the week before the race but made him promise not to race (if he fell, surgery would likely be needed). So then the rush is on… Luckily Mike came to the rescue with budding AR stud Hunter. 5 days till the race and finally we were on: Team A Bagel, A Donut & Something Else / ERT (ERT is Explorer Racing Technology – look to see more from them in the future! They thankfully helped me out with some of the race entry).

Friday Oct 7th: We drove up to Brevard, NC that morning, all piling into Mike’s huge boat on wheels. The ride was nice to get acquainted, as Joe & I had never met Hunter. We made it up to race headquarters at Morningside Farm shortly after it opened up at noon. It was on and off drizzly; not too bad (although it had rained for 3 days straight before!) Check-in went smoothly, we got our maps, and escaped to a local irish pub to eat a good lunch and plan! We took over a large table on the deck and huddled over our maps, with many curious onlookers wondering what the heck we were doing. A few hours and a roll of contact paper later (we were not taking any chances and waterproofed all our maps), we headed back to HQ for the pre-race meeting. Then we headed back out for a quick dinner to fuel us before the start. By now we’ve packed and repacked our packs. They were ridiculously heavy. I tried to take out everything but the essentials, but those were hard to figure out since we had to carry everything with us for the duration of the race. That means extra shoes, 2 helmets, clothes, food, misc mandatory gear, and our liquids. and batteries, can’t forget those heavy suckers.

Race start: 10pm, Friday: We gathered on our bikes in a light drizzle and followed an ambulance around town (police had closed intersections for us), leading us safely to Rich Mtn Road. It pulled off and the rest of us (29 teams of 4) headed up. And up. And up some more. Thank god it was so foggy out (maybe 10-20ft visibility at best), so I couldn’t see anything except the slight incline in front of me. While it was never ending, I didn’t really know so I didn’t stop (except once to peel of a layer). (The next day I saw this same hill and really couldn’t believe I had made it up.) The fsr we were on dumped us out on a trail that would lead us into Dupont Forest. Lead isn’t really a good word for this…. trail intersected from all angles and easily confused us and the 4+ other teams around us. It was quite frustrating to start out not knowing where we were, but we kept at it, eventually making it to CP1 around 25th place (but sadly we dilly dallied here and 2 other teams came and went. liz & charles manned this point and we did indulge in some fabulous homemade goodies). Once there, we could get the next 7 checkpoints in whatever order we wanted (a rogaine). We decided on a clockwise order (which was opposite our original strategy; I can’t remember why we decided to change this last minute). We hit #2 easily. #3 snuck by us (or rather we rode right by it), but with another team we corrected our mistake pretty quickly. We decided to skip #4; this would give us a 5h penalty, but looking at the terrain and map legend that labeled that route advanced, we thought it best to save our time & energy, as our goal was to make it to the finish line together, officially.

Let’s see, if I go CP by CP, this will get boring. But what the heck. It was a long race so this can be a long post! CP5 was down a nasty rutted road that I flatted on, but it was somewhere around here that I looked up for some reason and realized the clouds were gone, the sky was crystal clear, and stars were everywhere. Gorgeous! It was also good to see some friends on the trail (Jim & Patsy with Explorer/TH/HSE and the NADS crew). Then we visited Mine Mtn, and Burnt Mtn, both waay up high. At the latter we ran into Misguided (my wed night spin crew). We also had a nice ford across some creek (Little River) that totally sketched me out – flashbacks of Fall Creek Falls. Although it was shallow, the current was swift and immediately cascaded into some nice looking waterfalls (not crazy big, but enough to cause a good bit of discomfort I’d presume). Luckily the sun was now coming out which helped me gauge my footing. Our last CP to get was on Big Rock, which made me think of all my BOD crew out on the rock at Conyers for 24 Hours of Adrenaline this same weekend.

Saturday Morning…
We finally exited Dupont Forest around 8am; next stop, Becky Mtn. We started to ride down Rich Mtn Road, looking for a trail that we passed. We started to turn around and push our bikes back up to retrace our steps (did we really ride up this last night??? thank god for zero visibility!), but then decided we’d take roads to the top. After all, that would be surely be easier than rough singletrack. Well I have never seen a road like Becky Mtn Road. Beyond anything steeper I’ve ever ridden or driven up. Concrete is definitely worse trying to hike a bike too. Not too far from the top we took a long rest and I put on my running shoes, as my feet felt like they were going to explode. Sleep was finally hitting Hunter and he nodded off as soon as we sat down. Joe had by now developed a case of monkey butt – severe chafing around the rear due to wet spandex and dirt rubbing for too long without enough lubricant (chamois butt’r was my best friend during this race!) At the top of the mtn we had a bit of a nav dispute. Mike, who bravely was our head nav’r, was sure we hadn’t yet come to our turnoff due to the direction of the road. I however thought we had passed it, judging the terrain we’ve passed through. This is a hard thing about AR: we’re given maps that are usually quite outdated, so you never know what roads and trails are around, what’s gone, what’s new, etc. Terrain is the only gimme. We agreed to turn back for 1 mile and low & behold we came across several teams and our wonderful turnoff to CP 11.

From here we set off on an epic road section. The sky was clear and the sun beat down on us. We got to see some nice countryside, but being on the road wasn’t exactly fab. Our goal was CP12, up in the SE corner of Pisgah Nat’l Forest (and site of our rappel)
. We took our time getting there. Joe was moving slower due to his condition and our eating breaks took longer due to our tiredness (and the curious country folks who stopped and wanted to know what the heck we were doing. This entailed a 15min conversation at one point). Finally we cross Hwy 64 and get on the road that would lead us to 12. At one point Tony, the race director, drove by and stopped. “How would you feel if you didn’t get to rappel? Jono wants to close the site…” WHAT?!?! I know my eyes immediately went to a glaring squint. I tried to keep my voice moderate and leave the expletives out when I said I would be very very VERY upset. All he said after that was “ok, keep going, you’re all good.” I’m good? what? you just told me that and it’s all good? I rode ahead for the next bit fuming, not really sure what was going to happen. Mike said to me “wow, I dont’ think I’ve ever seen you mad before…” :) oh yes! it does happen on occasion! But luckily everything was smooth. We were the last team to be allowed on the rappel. Dusk was falling and I can definitely understand why they wanted to shut it down. The entry to it go quite steep, a good scramble for sure, then a rope assist up a rockface before we got to the top launch area. (It just would have been nice to have known about any pending cut off times so we could have avoided the previous stress!) We got ready alongside Crew Zen, then proceeded down. Now, I was prepared for this. In fact, Jono had taken me out rapelling twice and I felt very comfortable. But for some reason, I froze. Maybe it was night falling. Maybe it was being on the race course for 22 hours now. I’m not sure. I didn’t have a headlamp on yet and think that may have helped me see my footing. We ended up not having to use a backup prussic knot because we’d apparently have to feed the 300+ feet of heavy rope through our figure 8; but for some reason that rope slid more easily than it ever had with me. With my arms being tired from biking (read that my brake arm for the rappel), I was a bit uneasy and shaky. Mike went down beside me and talked me through until I hit the ground. Unfortunately I didn’t stop to take in the view around me, but was happy to get down safely and uneventfully.

We hung out at the transition (CP15) a bit; there was a heater on that felt fab and some awesome homemade chex mix courtesy of Ron Sanders (that salt hit the spot!) We finally left/got kicked out (we were the last ones there!) and continued on our bikes to the next stop, a transition area (finally!!) It was quite dark by now, and since we were on some country forest roads, Joe dropped his droors to get some air circulating on his poor chafed parts. We did happen upon some coon hunters and he covered up very quickly :)

Midnight-ish: After way too long we hit the town of Rosman and a small outfitters where we were to drop our bikes and proceed on the trek portion through Gorges Nat’l Park. However, we had a big decision to make (actually we had made it by now, but it just fits into the story best here). Joe wasn’t in top shape (and in fact,I worried about him in the finale paddling section. sitting that long as NOT going to be fun). We were getting short on time, as we had to be out of the same TA by 7:59 am to make it on the paddle, which had to be completed by 2pm in order for us to be considered official finishers. We could either drop Joe, go on the trek, and thereby become an unofficial team, or we could chill out for a while, skip the trek (and take massive penalties), but guarantee ourselves an official finish. We opted for the latter, so that we could maintain our primary goal of entering this race. Sure, it sucked to not attempt the trek, but it’s one of those things about the sport of AR: those team decisions. Sherrie and Michaela had an awesome fire going so I got quite cozy while all 3 guys zonked out for a bit. Around 1am we saw headlamps; this would surely be the leaders (Litespeed) coming in (they had gone out at 1pm, so the 12-hr mark had just passed), but no, it happened to be Team Racemetrics (the team Dan was on for the weekend). They hadn’t gotten all the CPs and talked about how challenging the trek was. It was here they learned they were racing unofficially (as an earlier bike substitution was deemed not legal), and they made the decision to withdraw at that point. I have to say it was nice to get to see Dano for a bit after racing for 28 hours… a bit of renewed energy…

Sunday, 3:45am: Mike and I got Joe & Hunter up and we started slowly getting ready to hit the water. We were to paddle on the French Broad River from Rosman to Brevard, about 23 miles. The section we were paddling was to be relatively quiet. We were told there was the possibility of one Class II rapid that we were to portage around; running it would be grounds for a DQ. If we had enough rain, the water would be higher and therefore lessen this rapid. The rule was if we heard it, we would portage. And we also knew it would be within the first 1/2 mile. So we get in our boats… start to paddle… then oh geeze, what do I hear? Hmm…. I can see some ripples ahead, hear some noise. This has to be it. We paddle to the side, not wanting to risk anything. We take out the boat onto a small shoulder that was nothing except briars. It sucked. but geeze, there was really no where to portage, as the road (that was prohibited) was right above us. After being puzzled for a bit and just generally clueless, we got back in and paddled. The guys didn’t think this was it, but I just wasn’t sure. It was pitch black out and every sound was amplified. Another team came up and we discussed what to do and decided to continue. One of their boats was in front, then our two, then their last. We paddled through the ripples, convinced we were in the clearn Then suddenly I see their lead boat flip. PADDLE RIGHT! HARD! Dang, this was it. It was in a bit of a bend and really nearly impossible to see at this hour. Luckily there was a bit of an island/outcropping thing that was perfect for us to portage around. We stopped and made sure they were all good, Then continued on our way.

daybreak: shortly after the sun came up (a bit… it was looking to be an overcast day), we pulled over for a quick nap. I was actually starting to get tired now, but couldn’t get comfortable enough to snooze. It was weird how I hadn’t had any episodes of sleepiness yet and really had hardly taken any caffeine; just a red bull at the campfire TA. After a half hour, we paddled some more. It was pretty uneventful, but pretty. Especially with all the exotic birds around and the artwork and pottery displayed along the shores. Oh wait, those were just the hallucinations I had. Actually we all saw the birds which was interesting. Sadly they were just leaves. The rive was great though and threw a few challenges at us in the form of strainers (logs and such blocking the river). Some were easy to navigate around; we came across one dangerous one that had a good current sucking underneath, and another medium one that Mike and I safely got around, but Joe & Hunter tipped a bit too much and went over. Luckily they were ok and only a small headlamp was sacrificed. About halfway through is when the repetition really got to me and I started nodding off. I realized I could get 3 strokes in before totally nodding off and played that I’m really not asleep, I’m still working game for a bit.

1pm: Finally we see the glorious little sign that signalled our takeout. Tony had planted a lovely muddy & steep bank for us to get out at. Nice touch! Then we had to portage our boat through a path cut in a corn field (interesting, but the ground was horrible there. Holes, corn husks, etc.) and down a road until we hit the finish line at the Farm. Our finishing time was 38hrs 13min, well surpassing my previous record for racing (of 31hrs). We threw all our stuff into thick garbage bags, got a bit cleaned up, and ate lots of pizza before hitting the road. That is really the last challenge of an adventure race, getting back home. While I socialized with racers
at the finish, Mike napped. Joe was first at the wheel then Mike while I was the prime entertainment (ie. keeping him alert); Hunter lucked out with his girlfriend coming up to see the finish and drive him back.
We all made it back safely and recovered well – actually a lot better than I anticipated (but maybe that’s because we didn’t do a large trek section). My bike on the other hand is still in need of some TLC!

Thanks to Neal at Explorer Racing Technology for some race sponsorship and Jono at Hairy Scary Evolutions for providing me with paddling & Ropes certifications. And a big thanks to Tony, Tim & Beth at Raceday for another incredible event!