October 21, 2010

USARA Adventure Racing National Championships

USARA Adventure Racing National Championships
Hidden Valley, PA
October 15-16, 2010
Weather: Cold and wet to start, sunny through the day, cold and windy during the night

In attendance: Jeff

To close out my season, I've been doing some long distance racing - the Shenandoah 100, an 18 hour adventure race at the end of September, and most recently, the USARA Adventure Race National Championships in and around Hidden Valley, PA.  The national championship race is a 30 hour co-ed event for teams of 3 that included something like 150k of mountain biking, 3-4 hours of kayaking, and a whole lot of running/trekking and orienteering. 

I was racing with my adventure racing team, Team Remington-Mountain Khakis/Trakkers, a team I've been with for a few years, who had fielded two co-ed and one masters teams for the event.  Going into the race, the R-MK/T team was the #1 ranked team in the US.

At the pre-race meeting - left to right, are Michelle Thompson, Phil Nicholas, Sheila Torres-Blank, Dave Ashley, Mark Harris, Todd Jansson and Veronica Ivey (back row) - front row are Michael Spiller and Jeff Dickey
 Unfortunately, the pro mountain bike woman who I was to race with broke her foot a few weeks before the race and we were just able to find a sub for her before the event started.

The race started off cold and early with a short orienteering course around the Hidden Valley ski area (this was after we had less than an hour to plot out all of our checkpoints on two huge maps and try to determine the best route). We ran to the top of the ski area to get our orienteering maps and got all of the first checkpoints in quick order and back to the finish to begin the first bike leg of the race.

We got out to a good start (perhaps 12th out of 35+ teams) and eventually made our way to the top of Seven Springs ski area, a few miles away.  From there, we bombed down some fast roads, onto some trails and found our next checkpoint.  After that point, I began towing Sheila, our substitute teammate who is from Texas and not used to hills or wet rocky trails or roads. I hooked up a bungee cord from my backpack to her bike and motored along (probably all-told, I rode this way for 50 or so miles - talk about a power workout!).

After an hour or two of riding, we caught up to the leading teams on a huge paved climb, but we missed a turn and got lost on the top of a mountain that was covered in ropy thorns.  By this point, the second of our co-ed teams caught up to us, and after 30 minutes of bushwhacking through deep thorns, we found our way again.  On the next descent, Sheila crashed heavily and I think she lost some of her nerve for east-coast riding.  But, she soldiered on with us and we made it to the start of the paddling leg of the race at around 1pm - a 4 hour ride....  I was eating GU packets like mad - trying to keep up my energy for the day and into the night (my favorite flavor is Mint Chocolate - I think I ate 17 of those during the course of the race).

We had to get 3 paddling points, but the Ohiopyle river reservoir was so low, paddling was difficult.  While we were on the water, a fierce squall blew in and we could see canoes blowing up into the air and rolling over and over.  It was hard to paddle and we had zero visibility.We decided to ditch our boat on the shore after the first checkpoint and trek 20k to the next two points and back to our boat. I really dislike paddling, but it was tough to carry a kayak paddle in my pack for almost 15 hours and only use it for an hour of paddling...

After the paddle, we determined that we'd made up 40 minutes with our route choice and we rode to the next transition area - nighttime orienteering.  When we arrived at the orienteering start at 7:30pm, it was dark and cold.  We had also caught up to the third of the Trakkers teams and all 9 of us went out into the night.  I was using my Lupine Tesla 5 headlamp (thanks Bill of Gretna Bikes!) which put out a huge amount of light - so much so that it was easier finding checkpoints at night than during the day. It's always nice to be able to spot a checkpoint in the dark that is 1/4 of a mile away! 

Heading out to the nighttime orienteering course
After getting some of the points easily, and others not so easily (one tough one involved a 1,500+ vertical descent and return down a river valley), we headed back to the bikes at 2am for a long ride back to Hidden Valley.

Our teams were getting really tired out and I was wishing I had some more chamois cream, if you know what I mean (I'm glad we have Enzo's ButtonHole Chamois Cream on board as a sponsor for 2011 - no saddle sores for me next year).  After a long ride with some missed turns and a lot of hills, we got back to Hidden Valley at 9am.  It was kind of a tough ride.  I started drifting off to sleep while riding uphill and pulling another rider.  Not good at all... 

When we got back to the ski area, we grabbed some breakfast and I drained a lot of coffee and headed out to get 2 of the 9 possible optional orienteering points on the final leg of the race - we were too cooked to get any more than that.

We finished up at 10:30, 27.5 hours after we started.  My Polar watch said that we'd climbed 16,000+ vertical feet and I'd burned something like 14,000 calories. I'm still tired out almost a week later...

At the finish line - cold, dirty and tired, but happy!
 We placed second overall for the season and 17th in the race.  Not the finish we had hoped, but it gave everyone motivation for next year.

Next up for me is another 30 hour race - this time in Moab, UT on October 29 for the Checkpoint Tracker National Championships.  This one involves a bunch of kayaking, riverboarding, mountain biking, a huge Tyrolean traverse/rappel and a bunch of trekking and orienteering. I'm already shivering, anticipating the 2-3 mile swim (probably in the Colorado River).  Hopefully, it doesn't snow!

- Jeff

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