The 2021 Two Rivers 36 Hour Adventure Race did not disappoint.
The following is our race brief. Be forewarned, it is long. We suggest grabbing an oversized adult beverage, finding a comfy chair and get ready for a wild ride of adventure.
The 2021 Two Rivers 36 Hour AR was hosted out of the Ski Sawmill Resort in central Pennsylvania, lovingly referred to as BFE.
Apparently one can wander through these parts for at least 36 hours without either seeing another person or obtaining the faintest of cell phone coverage. Given we are based out of Virginia Beach, we decided to leave Monday and work from the van to give us plenty of time to make the 7+ hour drive to BFE. The weather was perfect that week up until Mother Nature delivered one of her signature Weather S#@t Sandwiches to race headquarters. This entailed pouring rain on Friday evening to make sure the course was properly hydrated, and then intermittent cold temperatures and spitting rain for the entire duration of the race. In adventure racing “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear choices”. We have trained for this!
As per the typical Rootstock MO, at the race check-in, we were only given map 1 of beaucoup to be sure to add additional stress to navigators who will now have to plan out the remainder of the race while cold, wet, exhausted bruised and beat up at TA1. Oh joy.
Thanks to Covid, there was a logistical cluster both the night before and the morning of the race since bussing racers to the start wasn’t possible. We knew how things were going to go the minute we were directed to park our oversized Ford Transit in a grassy (muddy) field at the race start. I just knew there was no way that van was getting out of there under its own power, but, who cares, we have a race to run. The other funny thing that happened pre-race brief, Brent Russel felt compelled to yell, “Happy Birthday, Chip!” loud enough for everyone to hear. Of course, Andrea and I were too wrapped up in race prep to remember, so the look on her face was priceless when she realized she had forgotten about it.
Leg 1 – Trek After a straightforward prologue to spread out the teams, we set out on Leg 1. This was a 12-mile trek that was estimated to take 9 hours. Do the math. Oh yea, and we had to bring our bike helmet. Hmmmm.
Some backstory. Race Director Brent Freedland has been itching to take teams down the full length of Rock Run, a beautiful rocky knee to waist deep flowing stream with tons of spectacular waterfalls. Apparently, he tried to treat teams to this experience in the past but the navigators stubborn insistence on efficiency, speed and comfort led them to use the parallel road to make progress while popping in and out of the run to nab checkpoints. Brent is not having it in this year’s race. He randomly placed “bonus points” along the run in between mandatory points that were plotted on the map. Basically, any time you got out of the run and traveled on land to get yourself dry or above freezing for over 30 seconds, you took a chance of missing one of the bonus points, earning your team a 30-minute time penalty. (and we effin missed F7)
So, for what seemed like an eternity, teams slipped, stumbled, tripped, fell, twisted, turned, and faceplanted their way past some absolutely beautiful waterfalls and gorges. Just wow. Thanks Brent.
What was remarkable is how different teams approached this challenge. Some were moving efficiently and carefully. Some used poles. Many who failed to bring poles used sticks to help them from busting their ass. Some were spry enough to prance along the rocks at gazelle speed as if this was their childhood sidewalk. Looking at you Mike Stasiowski – team ARMD!! Amazingly, no one reported any injuries during this “scenic route”. Needless to say, if we had video cameras along Rock Run, the bloopers reel would be insanely funny.
About 4 hours in, I decided it would be smart to cross the run just above a medium waterfall to avoid getting cliffed-out further downstream the crossing was deeper than expected and as Andrea attempted the crossing the water was too deep, and she just knew she was going over the falls. This was cry#1 of 2 during this race. A record for her. Kidding. So, to avoid disaster, we turned back and sorted out a saner route. A critical aspect to experienced teams is for it to be “ok” for anyone to be able to “call it” if a situation gets too dangerous, and we do lots of dangerous stuff.
We were super excited to make it to TA1 way ahead of our predicted time. After checking in with the awesome race volunteers (Mark Montague and Haley Christine) we got the packet of beaucoup maps and started planning the rest of our race. Maps were printed on both sides on waterproof paper. To further challenge/confuse navigators, Brent also threw in some zoomed-out supplemental maps with more accurate renditions of the roads.
Rootstock Racing Founders, Brent Freedland and Abby Perkiss are true stewards of our environment. With this in mind, they printed on both sides of the maps, made sure maps barely overlapped and even used the lightest possible toner in an effort to reduce waste. While the environment is thankful, the banged-up shivering navigators now trying to quickly plan out the route were grumbling. In one conversation post-race, it was said tongue in cheek, that printing on both sides of the maps is like reducing the carbon footprint of the space program by using thinner toilet paper. Bahahahahaha.
After multiple arguments with Mark’s dog over a piece of pizza and fighting the allure of the warming tent, we were done with map markup and ready to head out on Leg 2.
Leg 2 – Bike This leg was 40 miles estimated to take 8 hours. We were warned that due to logging and mining construction, do not be surprised if the roads on the map don’t line up with reality. Understatement of the century. Our intent was to attempt to clear the course as long as time allowed so we hammered hard and made our way at a fast clip. We leapfrogged many teams along the way. Some long-time friends and others we made new long-term friends. The main reason for the leapfrogging is although biking is our strongest modality in AR, it was so wet, humid, and foggy, my safety glasses with 1.75 reader lenses were useless for the barely visible roads printed on the map. So, we took the long way, the wrong way and just about any way to move through this section using speed to make up for navigation errors. Did I mention we love the environment?
One notable part of this leg was crossing paths with Kristian Randt and Jared Kretski from team Trust the Compass. We would smoke past them on the bikes, then realize we went the wrong way and find them at the CP we were looking for. It seemed to happen over and over. They would remark how fast we were I would remark how well their eyes were since they could actually see the roads on the map. They were super pumped to have gotten to CP F just north of Arnot before us. We took the long way around as fast as we could. “If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.” All laughs.
The leg was a mix of backroads and gravel grinding over rolling hills with bouts of steep ascents and descents all while the Weather Shit Sandwich dished out chilly temps and intermittent drizzling rain. You could either bundle up to stay dry and sweat yourself to death or remove layers and unzip to stay cool but wet from the outside. Either way, you get to enjoy the suffering.
One notable part of this leg was CP J which was going all “Mommie Dearest” on teams. Thanks to some newly constructed natural gas facilities in the area, very little on the map was lining up with reality, thus administering a proper smackdown on some the best navigators in the country. As we were licking our wounds ready to reluctantly give up our first checkpoint, we thankfully crossed paths with Adventure Enablers and decided to join forces with us for one more try. Eureka! “Teamwork makes the dream work” and we all carried on with our heads held high.
Leg 3 – Trek This leg was a 4 to 16-mile rogaine style orienteering course set in Tioga State Forest estimated to take 15 hours. Once again, we were warned that there are many roads that are not on the maps and many map roads that do not manifest themselves in reality. Welcome to AR.
We really enjoyed the way this section was designed. On one 1:24K map, all the points were laid out with most points clustered in the middle. The middle points had a 1:15K inset map. It became obvious that the inset was designed to give teams some low-hanging fruit while the outer points (we call fool’s points) were spread out on the East and West side of the middle cluster to give top teams some much-needed exercise. We chose to loop clockwise clearing the western fool’s points and work our way back through the center cluster. Midway through the center cluster, we knew there was no way we were clearing this course and strategically decided to give up the eastern fool’s points so we could make it back to the TA by our self-imposed cutoff. The navigation and terrain were challenging. We were using every tool in the toolbox to nab these points as error free as possible. Our altimeters were the hero in this saga. Although the roads were faint on the maps, the 20ft topo lines were quite visible and surprisingly accurate. On multiple occasions, we were able to use a stream combined with our altitude as an attack point for a CP. Nailed it!!
The most remarkable part of the center cluster was the waterfalls. Brent apparently found every spectacular waterfall in the park to use for CP placement. Although this entire leg was done at night, we took a few moments at each waterfall to light it up with our ridiculously powerful Fenix lights, take some GoPro footage and enjoy the stunning beauty. At one point, I remarked that this single state forest has more amazing waterfalls than the whole of Virginia.
Most of this section went as planned but there were a few small bobbles that are fun to share. The most NW fools’ point (CP P) was in the middle of a huge marsh between two high points. Somehow, I headed too far NE from CP O which had me traversing a pretty flat section of topo. This confused the hell out of me since I was expecting to be working my way up to a mountain top to use as a known attack point. In navigation training, you are told to use all your senses to maintain awareness of your location. Well, having no clue where we were on the map, we paused long enough to hear a symphony of frogs doing what could only be described as the “humpy scrumpy”. Frogs + Humpy Scrumpy = Marsh. Bingo. We dialed in the new bearing and within minutes, we blushingly interrupted Kermit(s) long enough to bag the CP and move on to CP Q.
The next blunder was at CP W. Although we found the CP without issue, the trail to get back to the TA was elusive. Given we were cold, wet, tired and behind schedule, I took the well-marked, wrong trail to rush and get CP EE. While wandering around a stream crossing that matched the map, I eventually oriented the map and was horrified to find I ventured way off to the east instead of south towards the TA. Painful rookie mistake. Luckily, due to a strong track record of making silly mistakes, we have honed in the ability to quickly recover and move on. We backtracked to CP W, re-oriented and located the correct (unmarked) trail and made it back to the TA just after dawn, 1 hour past our self-imposed cutoff. Here we added a member to our team. His trail name is Stress.
We did a pretty good transition at the TA including the entertaining task of unveiling our water-saturated, dirty, stinky, pasty, white, zombie feet. My routine includes some baby powder to dry things up and then the awkward task of adding a half pint of Chamois butter to the piggies and rest of my foot before bagging them back up in fresh dry socks. “Yay, I am now ready to rehydrate!” said piggies on the rainy ride to the next TA. Fun.
Just before taking off with our new teammate, Abby asked us to come by the TA tent to go over our intended route due to a construction detour. Upon arrival, Abby and volunteers Haley Christine and Christina van Assendelft unveiled a gluten-free birthday cupcake with a single candle on top and proceeded to serenade me with the birthday song. This was a very much appreciated gesture and briefly distracted us from Stress, who was singing a bit louder than the others.
Leg 4 – Bike This leg was a 17-mile ride that was estimated to take 2 hours. Once again, do the math. The construction detour took us up and over what seemed like the Mt. Everest of Pennsylvania. Up and up we go for more than an hour of “Granny Gear”. In our earlier days, I used to joke around to Andrea and recommend “resting on the uphills” until one day she threatened me with physical violence if I ever said it again. On leg 4, there was NO resting on the uphills.
This mountain’s grade was taunting us to be a Buttercup and get off and push but as mentioned earlier, biking is our strong suit, so we simply cranked up the hill at a feverish pace to make up some time. Once we reached the summit, we bombed down the 16% grade at terminal velocity barely able to see from the spitting rain stinging our face and Andrea wishing she had windshield wipers on her glasses. We came into TA knowing we were hours behind our schedule but pumped to experience the next leg. The photos in this post were taken by AR enthusiast Dan Foster as we blasted into the TA. He was stoked to have just finished the 15 hour and his energy was contagious. We are about to need his energy for what we were going to have to overcome in the next leg.
Leg 5 – Trek / Packraft Every team knew this was going to be the biggest highlight of the race, which was already overflowing with highlights. This section was a 13-mile trek ending in 9.25 miles of packrafting down Pine Creek, known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. It was estimated to take 7.5 to 11 hours. Given the time, we had about 8 hours available to us, including transitions. In my opinion, this was the crux of the race. There were tons of options and route choices. It was near impossible to estimate the time it would take given the massive elevation changes, distance to be traveled, squiggly roads/trails and the added weight of the packrafting gear.
Curiously, a helmet was mandatory gear for this leg, so we assumed it was for the whitewater section. We were also recently traumatized by AR Georgia’s Blue Ridge 24HR where we were provided a 3-person canoe and sent down class 2 and 3 rapids. Given the helmet mandate, we mistakenly assumed Brent and Abby were going to take us through some ass puckering whitewater, especially since the rain was swelling the rivers. With this in mind, we chose to take our Kokopelli Nirvana self-bailers. Yes, they are a bit heavier and slower than our Alpacka Gnu race boat, but in burly whitewater, having solo self-bailing boats is the safest way to avoid a yard sale. We will soon regret this decision.
After completing this section teams simply needed to bike 12 miles to the finish which Brent estimated would take 1.5 to 2 hours. Math. We planned our route to take us up Schoolhouse run with intent on getting as many trek points as we could, as we work our way up to the northernmost river put in at CP NN by 2pm. This would give us 30 minutes to transition to the rafts and 3 hours to paddle back to TA. We knew we didn’t have enough time to clear the trek section, but we will figure it out once we get up there. Stress just smiled and nodded.
We headed out of the TA with gusto and excitement. Within minutes our gusto was replaced with our old friend, Suffering, as we started a slow, steep 1200-foot ascent up to the plateau where the trekking CPs lay buried in thick Rhododendron. Taking two solo boats meant instead of an 11 LB raft, we had two 9LB rafts. Very soon we were winded and settled on a routine of 40 steps up and then a 30-second break. Over and over, we repeated this routine looking forward to the topo leveling off. Given my knees were in the early stages of failure, I could not offer to take any of Andrea’s extra weight. With some back-of-the-envelope math, this means Andrea was carrying about 17% of her body weight. Just for reference. I am just over 6ft and weigh 188lbs. If my pack was 17% of my body weight, it would weigh 32 lbs. Yea… she’s a beast.
After reaching the top, we went after CP II and got a proper smackdown. We found ourselves bushwhacking through impossibly thick rhodo which gets hung up on every single piece of gear hanging off our packs. This was not fun. After multiple attacks and at least an hour of time invested, Stress demanded that we give up and head north. As we slogged up the gravel road, we finally took the time to start assessing our different options and time estimates. It started to become abundantly clear, Stress was right. We had best hustle if we wanted to make it to NN by 2pm. Given our route took us within 400 meters of CP HH, we told Stress to shut his pie hole and we dove back into the rhodo to bag the point. It was a 22-minute round trip but nice to have a win after the beating CP II gave us. The long slog from HH to NN can only be described as soul-crushing. Our packs were heavy, our knees were cranky, our feet were sore and the route was just dang boring. Stress was getting his second wind and pointed out that there was no way we were going to make it to the put-in anywhere near 2pm. Maybe not even 3pm. Then he got on a rant about the fact we weren’t likely to make it to the TA by 6p and there was no way we could tranny to the bikes and be on the road in time to make it to the finish at 8. With 8 hours still on the clock, Stress was suggesting our race was already over. Oh well, at least we get to packraft the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.
At the safety briefing, Brent had mentioned that the helmets were not for the rafting section, but the climb down to the put-in. There were some super sketchy rock scrambles where stupid = painful. Due to a poor route choice on my part, we found ourselves channeling our inner gecko to traverse a very steep muddy featureless slope just above a 12ft drop to jagged rocks. Stress was all jokes and pointed at the rocks below and mused that if we slipped, Randy Ericksen wouldn’t be the only one that is legendary in AR. This is where Andrea had cry #2 of 2. Within about 30 seconds though, the pity party was over and she expertly traversed the deathtrap. After making it to the bottom in one piece, we wished mandatory gear included a rope, harness and a rack of trad gear. Bygones.
The rafting down to the TA was beautiful. Props to Brent and Abby for adding this into the course. We were stoked to have made it to the highest put-in so we could make it through the most spectacular part of the river. As promised, there were numerous waterfalls, sheer rock faces, lush rocky reentrants and overall a really relaxing enjoyable experience. So relaxing, that the sleepmonsters decided to come out and play. I know better than to get on any paddle section without taking at least 2 caffeine pills. So, the yawns start, and hallucinations begin. Oh joy. We are rafting through whitewater that is now turning into manatees, modern art, large fish, ocean waves, etc. Even Stress was falling asleep. Luckily, the worst that can happen is to bump a few rocks and get stuck. The water was pretty low so the packrafts frequently drug bottom and jarred us out of the movie playing before our eyes. Bump. I wake up and forget that we are racing to the TA. Bump. I wake up and forget where I am. Bump. I wake up and I am floating down the river backward. Not good. We tried to chat between yawns which seemed to work. Math is hard when you’re in dreamland fighting the sleepmonsters. As time ticked by, we slllloooowwwwllllyyyy calculated we weren’t going to make it to the TA by 6 as planned. Stress started to snap out of it and dominate our chat, which was surprisingly helpful to fight the sleepmonsters. We seemed to enjoy kicking ourselves taking the solo boats. Team after team passed us on the water making movement seem effortless as we plow through the water like a gravel barge. Why didn’t we use our Alpacka Gnu?!?!
We make it to the TA, snap out of our fog and hustle to our gear to tanny to the bikes. Stress does a great job of keeping us laser-focused on a quick, but frantic transition. Brent, Joel and numerous other volunteers are at the TA half smiles and half looks of concern. They know all the teams coming in after 6pm are going to struggle to get to the finish before the cutoff. If anything goes wrong, their race is over. We smash our paddle stuff in the paddle bag and we’re ready to roll. Kate Matthews stops us to snap a quick photo as we were rushing to leave. Although we are smiling and in good spirits, it is around 6:30 and we are WAY behind the time estimated to get back to the finish by 8pm. When this photo was taken, what we didn't know yet is that my front bike tire is totally flat. Damn!!! Quick! I’ll try pumping it up. Andrea, grab the bike repair kit and get out the CO2, valve and spare Stans. Put it in my backpack where I can reach it. Stress, your job is to keep pointing out that we are going to be late and get a time penalty. I get the tire to 75% which is rideable and we take off. It’s “Hammer Time”. We have to ride 12 miles up and over 1200ft of elevation in less than 1.25 hours. Will the tire hold?
That really fun 3K 16% grade I mentioned in Leg 4 is now staring menacingly at us in the face. Stress gets spooked and is complaining that we will never make it. Andrea and I do what we do and crank away in granny gear as hard as we can passing a few teams along the way. We know in our heads that getting off and pushing is not an option. In AR, “everything is temporary” and we know that if we just tolerate the suffering, the soreness, the sweating, the spitting rain, the big truck traffic passing us and most of all, Stress, we can do this. “Never quit the race, make the race quit you”.
As we approach the top, the roads start leveling out and we know the hardest part is behind us. I just have to make a couple turns and we are home-free. I am looking for a right turn that we have seen before, so I get a little cocky. I’m ignoring Stress’s incessant chatter. We’re still hammering but I made the rookie mistake of not keeping aware of where we are. I forgot to reset my bike computer at the bottom of the hill to track my distance. Wow, we have been going for a long time. Andrea notices I am starting to realize something is off. I should have seen my turn by now. We start looking around for something, anything that seems familiar. That woodpile. That tractor. That house with garbage all over the yard. That sign that says Camp Carabou. WTF is a Carabou doing in Pennsylvania I think to myself.
We come to an intersection where the detour says to go left but I am thinking I need to go right. Stress is mouthing off as usual and I am starting to think he is right. We’re not going to make it. Out of the blue Brent pulls up beside us at the intersection and yells GoGoGo!! There was no use in hiding it. I look him in the eye and honestly say “I’m lost”. Obviously, he is not allowed to give me any help. He simply asked, “you got M14 right”. Stress yells, “I told you!!”. Damn, gotta backtrack. With a concerned look, Brent takes off towards the finish and we start heading back still unsure where we are. After a quick look at the map and clue, I see “M14: CLUE: Camp ______”. Bingo. I have a bit of a photographic memory regarding maps and where we have been. I know exactly where that Camp Carabou sign was and thus now I know where we are. YAY!!! We may have wasted 2 minutes but now we are back on track with only 3 clicks to go, one turn and I have about 40% air left in my front tire. Holy crap, we're going to make it!!
As we turn into the Ski Sawmill driveway Joel Ford pulls in behind us raddling a cowbell non stop and cheering us on for the last few hundred meters ride to the finish line. This simple gesture of encouragement rounded out the whole finishing experience into a moment we will never forget.
Finishing this race was an unbelievable experience. For the last 36 hours, we had many ups and downs both emotionally and physically. Stress was an integral part of the team and kept us focused if we liked it or not. We overcame just about every physical, mental and mechanical setback we faced. We pushed as hard as our 48 year-old rickety bodies would take us. At thispoint, we have no clue how we did in the rankings but what we do know is that we gave it our all and proud of what we accomplished.
Post race We need to give a huge shout-out to Abby, Brent and the rest of the volunteers at Rootstock Racing for pulling off this event. This race pushed our limits on so many levels. Covid was a huge bummer for all die-hard adventure racers so getting back at it feels amazing.
For those of you who don't know, Adventure Racers are some of the best humans on the planet. It doesn’t matter if you are an elite team pushing for the podium or you’re attempting your first race, everyone is super helpful, friendly and excited to be enjoying an adventure together outdoors. The finish line was tons of high fives, covid safe knuckle bumps, and even some hugs. Swapping stories of our experiences is a super fun part of racing. We were all relieved to learn that everyone made it off the course without any dropouts or injuries.
During the awards ceremony, we were surprised to learn that we placed 1st in the Coed Two Person Division. Later we learn that we ranked 8th overall. Wow. This was one of the toughest races we have ever done and there were lots of very experienced and fast teams competing so ranking in the top 10 is a huge accomplishment for us.
The Why. Our team is named thisABILITY for a reason. Professionally we help people with developmental disabilities live the best lives possible regardless of the challenges they face. We do this by focusing on what they can do and not what they can’t. This mindset works well in Adventure Racing. AR is a sport that anyone can enjoy. Our Two Rivers 36-hour saga has lots of references to pain, suffering, stress and suck. When you push hard for the podium in an Adventure Race, this is what you are signing up for. It is hard and we like it that way. I always say “for one to push their limits, they must first find them”, and adventure racing is a target-rich environment for finding your limits. If suffering is not your thing, simply approach a race as a fun adventure. Skip the fool’s points and spend more time in TA. Take your time on each leg and tell dad jokes to keep things fun. (Thanks to Matt Wilson for this one: Why couldn’t the bike get up the hill? Because it was two tired. Bahahah) Teams can tailor their own experience. Regardless of your age, fitness or experience, focus on what you CAN do and give adventure racing a try. It will change your life.
The van. Now that things are settled and it’s time for the next adventure. Getting the van out of the grassy muddy parking area after 3 days of nonstop rain. Not fun. Although I make it 90% out, the mud was just too slick and there was no way the Candy Van was getting out under its own power. As mentioned earlier, Adventure Racers are the best people on the planet so other teams stepped up to help push and pull the beast out of the mud. We owe a huge thank you to Brent Russell, Drew Afton, Jim Mernin, Brian Gatens, Shari Hymes, Pete Spagnoli, for their determination to get us unstuck. I apologize if I missed anyone. It was dark and I was quite frustrated.
If you made it this far, we thank you for your attention. We sincerely hope that by writing this race report, we can inspire others to go farther than they ever imagined. Not only in the outdoors but in life.