“If we swim across the river with our bikes, it will save us a ton of time”.
Welcome to adventure racing….
Last year I got an email from the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA) inviting me to compete in the 2017 National Championships. WTF? Apparently, none of the racers that made the podium of the Calleva 10 hour AR accepted the invitation so it eventually rolled waaayyyy down to me. Since I competed as a solo, my invite was for the “open” division with is the place “non-elite” racers get placated. The elite division is a 3+ co ed team. Even though I felt like I didn’t really earn the right to go, I had never competed in a “nationals” anything, so let’s do this. I put together a team consisting of Mary Foster, Brent Russell and myself. We had a total blast in the 30 hour race and performed better than we ever expected! I was hooked.
So, my new goal was to train hard in 2018 and compete in a USARA qualifying race with a co-ed team to legitimately earn an invitation to the elite division of 2018 National Championships and race with my favorite team mate Andrea Anderson under the name Team thisABILITY. In any USARA qualifying race, the top 3+ co-ed team captains automatically get an invitation. 1st place even gets $400 towards their entry fees and a snazzy USARA jacket.
Even though I was still in recovery from Expedition Oregon just a couple of weeks earlier, this weekend’s Adrenaline Rush was turning out to be an all-out effort to get to the podium and earn the invitation. Unfortunately, Andrea wasn’t available to race this time so I put together a team consisting of Kathy Hoverman and Samuel C Prestidge II "Sam". Both racers have tons of experience but given we had never raced together, we pulled off a Zoom call to get to know each other and work on our strategy. Team thisABILITY is a go!
The 2018 12 hour Adrenaline Rush hosted by Adventure Addicts Racing was to be held at James River State Park on June 16th. I had been to the park a couple of times before so was excited to have opportunity to race in a familiar environment. Map handout started at 6am and we got to work. All three of us are savvy navigators so strategy flowed well. The race was going to be challenging but nothing seemed too out of the ordinary other than we were going to spend a LOOOOONG time on bikes. It was critical to push hard, transition quickly, have flawless navigation and zero mechanical problems. As usual, I am always trying to open my mind up to any creative solutions to give us an added edge over our competition. We desperately needed this because there were some well known top teams competing in our division.
After highlighting our main route for the course, I realized there was a HUGE shortcut that would cut off many miles of gravel grinding on the second bike section. It would require us backtracking a bit and crossing the James River with our bikes and packs. This is a major risk because who knows how wide, how fast and how deep that section of the river was. This is in addition to the fact all of us have mountain bikes and our packs to contend with. The question came up “what if it’s deep”? I assured them that 29” bikes float well on their side and fresh water doesn’t hurt them “too” much. With hesitation, we agreed to leave it as an option. Noting in the race rules forbid us from crossing the river, so we decided to highlight the alternate route on the map and make the decision later in the race.
The Legendary Randy Ericksen always begins and ends his TA1 podcast with the recommendation to “go fast and take chances” and that is just what we are planning to do. This one is for you brother📷😊 Knowing that no other teams would be dumb enough to consider such a risky move, we approach the start line with shit-eating grin on our faces.
While we migrate to the starting line, teams are sizing each other up. Lots of familiar faces. Adventure Enablers, GOALS ARA and Too Slow to Chafe (my previous team mates Brent Russell and Mary Foster) are the top 3+ teams to beat and it isn’t going to be easy.
The race started off at 9am with a 7 checkpoint (CP) orienteering section. Map 1. Points were quite spread out, so it was nice to break up the teams early in the race. Being a trek navigation Jedi, Sam took the lead with me as “punch monkey”, responsible for running ahead to the CP’s and punching our passport as quickly as possible so he could start naving to the next CP. As expected, Sam crushed this section. Our team was moving fast and working together very well. That being said, it was super-hot and only 10am! We all realized heat exhaustion was going to be one of the larger challenges of the race.
Coming into the transition area (TA) to grab our MTN bikes, we learn we are the first 3+ coed team to the TA. Hell yea! Pumped, we transition super-fast and start pedaling hard with me in lead nav and Kathy as punch monkey. We had 5 CP’s (9-13) to get on the single-track section. All went well other than I overshot a bushwhack attack point. Bike computer calibration fail! Gonna be challenging to race without it📷☹ We recover fast and get back on track.
We head over to CP 15 which is our gateway to a CP “window” containing 3 points. “Windows” only provide points if all CP’s are competed in that window. This one had CP’s A-C. Map 1. We nabbed B easily, suffered through a dense “The Saw” inspired brier field to get C and the bushwhacked down and back up a deep reentrant to get A. From there, we continued bushwhacking to the road in route to CP 14. From 14 we head over to the next Window containing CP 17, D, E and F. Map 2 and 3. This is where things started getting tricky. The attack point trail on the map was not there. We quickly realized biking wasn’t an option though the dense underbrush and sticker bushes so we ditched them and transitioned over to trekking gear. For whatever reason, I stayed lead navigation but often consulted Sam and Kathy whenever I had a tough decision to make. We were still moving fast and efficiently clearing the window in good time.
Back at the bikes, we now have a big decision to make. Swim or not to swim, that is the question. Kathy asked quietly if any of us are having second thoughts. Crickets… “Let’s go take a look. We can always take the road if the river looks bad.” Excitement is swirling in my being. If we pull this off….
To keep anxiety at bay, the ride to the river was filled with raunchy jokes grounded in classic topics of marriage, religion, and sex. Hilleffinlarious. We arrive at the river and faced with a steep slippery decent to the river edge. It is wider and deeper than we were hoping. That didn’t seem to stop us from all getting our gear down to the water. It is almost as if we all knew crossing was inevitable. No matter what. Make or break. Do or die. Even if this cost us the podium, who could turn down this opportunity to put the “adventure” in Adventure Racing. It’s go time.
With my pack in a trash bag slung over one shoulder and bike on the other, I start wading across. Map 4. The river is divided by an island so the plan it to get there, hike-a-bike across and repeat on the other side. Within the first 10 meters, I was neck deep, lost my footing and was getting swept downstream by the current. Swim time! As predicted, my 29” bike floated on its side very well. I proceeded across just like a lifeguard rescuing an unconscious swimmer. Pack was resting on top of the bike which was barely floating under the additional load. Woah, I am having to swim hard. The river is faster, wider and deeper than I expected. Every once in a while, I bump a rock 5 ft under the water but can’t get enough traction to stand and walk. Swim… Swim… Swim….
Worried about my team, I turn to see Kathy 15M behind me and seemingly doing well. Sam is behind her and looking good. Out of breath, I make it to the island further down than expected but nothing concerning. I get my gear on land and help Kathy get her bike up the slippery bank. Once she is good, I scurry out to help Sam.
Safe on the island, I sense mixed emotions. This was much harder and taking more time than expected. That being said, we were ½ way across and its looking optimistic we will likely make it. After a thick bikewhack over the island and we are ready to enter the water on the other side. Ugg. Once again, the river is looking wider and deeper than we expected but at this point, there is no turning back. Off we go. We make it to the other side and slog our bikes up the muddy bank. Woohoo, we made it!
Now we need to find a trail to get out to the main road. 40 minutes have passed and we gotta move fast if we are going to maintain the merits of our adventurous shortcut. We follow the river bank until we are perpendicular to the tip of the island and use that as an attack point to find the dirt road. Shit…. 50M away, there is a farmer with an idling tractor blocking our exit. Did he see us? I wonder if he has a shotgun? We decide to head 200m further down the riverbank and cut across an open hay field to the railroad tracks paralleling the river. All goes well until we realize the only way to cross the tracks is back near the farmer. Riding along the tracks was specifically forbidden by the race director so we skirt the field heading back to farmer shotgun with hopes we go fast and get away before we end up with an ass full of lead or worse… a dueling banjo serenade. Don’t look over. Don’t stop moving. Play dumb. Fake lost. Pedal hard. We’ve got this….
We pushed hard and made it to the main road without incident. Sooooo excited. I drop all gear and start dancing a gig in the street. Out comes the video camera to capture the moment. We did it!! Being the more level-headed team mate, Sam tells me to knock it off and get going. We need to get to CP 18!
The road to CP 18 was beautiful. Map 5. Rolling hills and farmland. Hot as balls but manageable. The team seems to be going strong and we have hopes to still be in the lead. On the way up to CP 18, I made a slight nav error and went too far. Map 6. Some highlighter had obscured the faint road on the map. We see team GOALS ARA blast by us in the right (opposite) direction. Oops. Lost our lead. My training kicks in. Own up to the mistake, figure out a solution and get back on track. No room for emotion.
After nabbing the CP we blast down the hill and push hard up the next to catch GOALS. We pass them as they are stopped and head scratching their whereabouts. We blow by heading for the turn we know is just ahead. The race director (Michelle Faucher) gave us a supplemental map to help out with CP 19 that was deep into a wilderness area. Map 5, top. Although it was a nice gesture, I got confused attacking the CP. We go too far and drop into the wrong reentrant and waste 10 minutes. GOALS follow us down. I begin to recognize some key topo features and my gut kicks in. I have us backtrack to an obscure depression and we drop in again. Eurika. Nabbed the point deep in the reentrant. GOALS passed us by again apparently still looking for the right reentrant. Whoop Whoop. We have our lead back.
Next, we haul ass down gravel roads west and parallel of the James with hopes to get to TA 2 before the 6pm cutoff. Map 7.
Up until now, we have been trying to clear the course but are beginning to realize, that wont be possible. There are a few CP’s along the roads and we can choose to get them on bike or wait till the canoe. We choose the bike. For one CP this made sense and for the other, fail. Wasted at least 15 minutes overshooting it and dealing with the steep topo changes that at times were so steep we had to walk our bikes up. Tick Tock…
The sun was brutal. We are all feeling physically exhausted and overheating fast. We can’t drink enough to feed the sweat machine. A snickers bar adds a much needed pep into Kathy’s mojo and Sam is eyeballing cold stale pizza like a famished zombie. Were going to make it! A quick buzz by Vlad shooting photos in Gladstone and we are minutes away from TA2 with over 40 to spare. Map 8.
Desperate to reload with water and food, we took a few minutes extra at TA2 transitioning from bike to canoe. Later we find out that many, if not all, teams took respite at the convenience store walking distance from the TA. Thankfully this didn’t even cross our collective minds and it may have really boosted our chances of the podium. We learn that GOALS ARA had somehow moved in front of us and had already left on the paddle. Hmm… Did they skip a point? Regardless of our urgency, I took an obligatory bath in the river as is my “MO”. Nice to cool off for 30 seconds and knock the mud off the undercarriage. Damn the sun is hot today!
We begin our 2 hour paddle down the James with hopes to catch GOALS or pass them fetching a point on the shoreline that we already had. Our weight distribution was a little off so we had to fight the zig zag demons most of the way. Also, I was rocking a trashcan lid sized floppy hat so Sam had to lean to one side or the other to see around me and steer through the rapids causing the boat to tilt and veer off course. Although a bit inefficient, we got into a groove and kept our rhythm. We passed the takeout TA and proceeded to 3CP paddle window. Map 9.
CP G required us to paddle the Tye River upstream to the second bridge. Map 9. Energy sapping to say the least. Then we proceed to CP H which being on top of a steep bluff, requires us to go down a small rapid and exit on the right immediately after. Fighting cramping legs, we now have that CP and OTW back to the boat. I see GOALS just getting there to make their attempt. Wow, somehow, we passed them. Now we need to figure out a quick way to get our canoe and gear back up the rapid. I (maybe stupidly) decide to direct the team to the far-left section of the rapid where it seems shallow and plan on jumping out and pulling the canoe, my two team members and our gear up the rapid. Yea. That went well… NOT.
After herculean effort, we managed to get our soggy asses up the rapid and proceeded to paddle upstream to get CP I and continue our upstream sufferfest to TA 3. Upon arriving at the TA, we have just over 1 hour till the 9pm race cutoff. We have thus far cleared the course and are assuming other teams have left some CP’s out there. The volunteers make it clear that we doing well and not to eff it up. TA volunteer and XPD Oregon Team Mate, Paul Morris, looks me deep in the eye and says with infinite seriousness, “DO NOT BE LATE”.
Being the O-Course Jedi, Sam recalculates our strategy and houndogs us to CP 25 - 27 leaving a healthy buffer to get to the finish before Murphy’s drunk ass to shows up and starts trouble. Map 10. It was a gamble but we were hoping to have either more points or shorter time that the other teams.
We were completely sapped of energy but knew we had to do a fast “AR Shuffle” to the finish line in hopes of getting the best time possible. We pushed through our exhaustion looking forward to a strong finish. The last 30m to the finish line was invigorating. The end was near, sun was setting, sky was colorful and temp dropping. Deep down I knew we did our best, made very few mistakes, went fast, took chances and would be satisfied with wherever we placed. Being a newly formed team, I am frankly surprised at how well we meshed through some very technical, physically challenging, and extremely difficult and scorchingly hot course. We finish with over 30 minutes left on the clock. Will the other teams be able to nab a few more checkpoints and make it back in time? The anticipation is excruciating.
After cheering on the other teams, chowing down on stellar race grub and hydrating with adult beverages, we patiently await our fate.
3+ co-ed results...
3rd Place…. GOALS ARA. 2nd Place…. Too Slow to Chafe… And in 1st place by just 9 minutes (3rd overall) and winner of $400 towards the USARA National Championships... team thisABILITY!!!
WooooHooooo! National Championships... Here we come.
I have to give a HUGE shout out to my teammates Kathy Hoverman and Samuel C Prestidge II that agreed to spend this 12 hours pushing themselves to their absolute limits. They stayed focused, positive, courageous, solution focused and enjoyable throughout the course. I would race with them again anywhere, any race, anytime.
Mary Foster, Brent Russell and Kellen Smothers, congrats on a super strong finish. Your strategy was impressive.
Michelle Faucher and Liz Notter, thanks for putting on an awesome race!
And to Andrea Anderson, the most amazing girlfriend and AR teammate ever... eff Disneyland, were going to USARA Nationals baby!!!