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.

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