October 29-30, 2010
Conditions: Started in the Colorado River, headed onto slickrock and cliff areas for multiple hours, followed by a few hours on dirt and paved roads - water temp in the Colorado was 50 degrees, during the race air temperatures ranged from 60 to the low 30s
In attendance: Jeff
After finally getting my longtime co-ed endurance racing teammate, Terri Spanogle, to do some adventure racing, we headed to Colorado and Utah last week for several days of riding in Fruita, CO and for the Checkpoint Tracker Series Adventure Race National Championship. This year, there have been two national championships due to a split in promotion of adventure racing. I got to do both of them! This time, the race was in Moab, Utah and was to have 2-3 miles of riverboarding (think boogie boarding down rapids) and 15-25 miles of kayaking on the Colorado, 20-30 miles of running/trekking, 35-45 miles of mountain biking, a 300 foot long Tyrolean traverse over a 200 foot deep canyon and a 100 foot rappel, all while orienteering using a map and compass. We had just about 28 hours to finish the course with our 4-person co-ed team.
After Terri's luggage finally arrived in Grand Junction (a day after we arrived), it was too muddy to go out and ride given the recent torrential rain and snow, so we headed out for a fun four hour hike in Colorado National Monument. I'd never been to the high desert canyonlands area before, and the views were spectacular. The red rocks, green undergrowth and snow made for a great hike.
|Colorado National Monument - Looking down valley to Grand Junction|
|Cool rock formations as we hiked down into the canyons from the upper rim|
It was a good day to be a mountain biker.
|Looking down from Mack Ridge onto Steve's Loop|
|On top of Mack Ridge, looking back at the trails we'd ridden|
The trail head was awash in mountain bikers who had also traveled to Fruita to ride. We met a bunch of guys in their 60s who had traveled by Sprinter van all the way from Michigan just to ride in Fruita/Moab. Very cool.
|Joe's Ridge heading off into the distance|
|The white capped La Salle mountains in the distance, Fisher Towers in the foreground|
Terri and I met up with our other teammates - our marathoner, Timm Phillips from North Carolina, and our uber-navigator, Phil Nichols, from Nebraska - later that evening and tried to get ourselves sorted out for the race. After some frantic gear packing, reviewing maps and driving an hour to the gear-drop off point (we had to drive nearly an hour away to a transition area to drop off equipment for rock climbing, trekking and mountain biking, along with food and water for 24 hours of exercise), we finally got to bed around midnight.
The race started bright and early the next morning with a jump into the Colorado River and a swim/riverboard downriver for 2 miles. We got caught up in the masses of racers wearing swim fins (they don't run very well) and got a delayed start. After picking up a few places on the riverboard section, we climbed up onto a beach to get into 2-person inflatable kayaks for a 4+ hour kayak leg down the river.
|Geared up for a very cold dunk in the Colorado River and riverboarding down though some rapids|
I'm not a fan of kayaking. I enjoy going through fast water, but the flat water paddling is murder. And there was a lot of flat water paddling. Our team stayed together fairly well in our two boats (me and Timm in one boat and Terri and Phil in the other) and we made it to the transition area where we picked up an aerial map for an orienteering and ropes course.
We set out on our trek and almost immediately had to wait in a line to ascend fixed ropes up and over some of Moab's picturesque arches. Ian Adamson, the world's most successful adventure racer of all time, was at the arch and we got to talk with him for a few minutes. That was a good way to spend the wait in line.
You can see a bunch of photos of the course, including the arches here: http://prints.williamlsnyder.com/Adventure-Racing/Checkpoint-Tracker-National/Race-Course-Photos/14494795_bDWDT#1076821743_GJiyQ
And here: http://checkpointtracker.zenfolio.com/p457241745
After ascending the ropes, we accessed Poison Spider Mesa and had a 5-6 hour trek to obtain 5 checkpoints and make it to the Tyrolean Traverse by 6pm and rappel down from the mesa by 6:30. Each checkpoint we missed was a 2 hour penalty and if we did not make the 6pm or 6:30 cut-offs that was another hour penalty.
Phil navigated our team phenomenally across the moonscape-like rocks and we quickly collected two points. Checkpoint #5, however, took us forever to find. It was the furthest point on a long cliff and the furthest distance away from the Tyrolean Traverse. After we ran out of options (ie, the cliffs were almost surrounding us) and had searched the area for a long time, Timm found a tiny slot in the cliff wall that we climbed up to get the checkpoint. Unfortunately, two or three other teams spotted us and took advantage of our 20 minutes of searching to easily get the checkpoint.
|Corona Arch - we climbed up the backside of this arch on fixed ropes to get to the upper mesa area|
On our way back to the Tyrolean Traverse, we somehow got turned around and missed checkpoint #6 and as we got to area with checkpoint #8, the fifth and last checkpoint, with only 15 minutes left to spare before 6pm, we saw 10+ teams traversing the slickrock also looking in vain for the point.
As most of the other teams did not find checkpoint #8, we had no luck either. We decided to skip the Tyrolean Traverse (we could not get across the canyon before 6pm) and head straight for the rappel. This was a hard choice, but a good one, as the rappel closed at 6:30. After fording an icy cold, waist-deep pool of water, we were one of the last teams permitted down the ropes.
We heard that one or two teams were lost on the mesa all night, in the dark....
After the descent down the ropes, we headed out a slot canyon and back to the transition area to pick up our bikes. By the time we got riding, it was pitch black. I was happy to have along my Lupine Edison 10 (this light and battery has worked flawlessly for nearly 10 years) and my Lupine Tesla 5 - tons of light for the pitch black Moab night!
We rode through the night and through Moab's streets to the world famous Slickrock Trail. The organizers gave us a choice to either ride or run the trail to obtain 8 or so checkpoints. Pass up riding the slickrock trail in the dark? Never!
The ride took almost 4 hours, but we had a great time, swooping up and down the sandstone rock. I've never encountered trails where I've had so much grip. And, thankfully, I couldn't see where some of the drop-offs were - I'm sure there were some - because we were going pretty fast. Everywhere we looked, we could see other teams - four sets of lights ascending or descending rocks. It was quite a spectacle, almost as if the stars had gotten very close to us (it was pitch black) and we were in and among them.
At 2am we finished our ride and faced a very long uphill leg on gravel and paved roads to the final checkpoint of the race, which was located around 8,500 feet (3-4,000 feet of climbing from where we were setting out from). Some of our team was getting tired out, so I used a bungee cord to pull them up the road. Some of the sections were incredibly steep and I was glad for my 28x36 gearing on my Sram XX. Even puling a tired teammate up a 18% grade, I was still able to motor right along.
Timm was starting to show the signs of real fatigue and possible illness - e.g., slurred speech, refusing to eat or drink - which worried me and Phil. Plus, he had damaged the B-Tab on his bike, only leaving him with three gears, none of which were very useful. So, we took a possibly easier route to the checkpoint instead of riding on the Kokopelli Trail.
The route choice turned out to be a good move, but we only after the fact, as our ATV trail turned into first a cow-path, then a deer-path and then nothing... Phil was confident he knew where he was (even though, I'm sure I was giving him a look of death, i.e., "we're going the wrong way"), but he successfully led us up and over a ridgeline and nearly right on top of the checkpoint. We also made up time on other teams. Awesome!
After chatting briefly with the very cold volunteers manning the checkpoint, we headed out for a 4,5000 foot vertical drop down a paved road and back to the finish. The temperatures were in the low 30s and snow was on the ground. After riding up that far, we were all covered in sweat and it quickly froze on us and we got colder and colder as we dropped into the valley far below. At one point, I was shivering so badly, I thought I was going to crash my bike because I couldn't hold the handlebars straight. But, none of us wanted to stop with just a few miles left to go.
We finished just at sunrise, 24 hours after we started.
I got cleaned up and headed to the hotel restaurant where I polished off plate after plate of food, took a nap, and then came back for more.
Our team ended up in 15th place after being assessed 5 hours of penalties for missing checkpoints 6 and 8 and the Tyrolean Traverse. Those were tough penalties to get, but the time-cutoffs were very difficult to achieve (and there was some controversy regarding the top few team's interpretation of the rules and route choices; our placing, I think, was not affected by that controversy). We were all very happy with our accomplishments and finishing together as a team. We all came together to help each other out when the going became tough and finished strong.
But, what a race! I'll always keep memories of riding the slickrock trail at night - that was a really fun experience and one that I don't think many people get to have. A week after the race, though, and I'm still pretty tired out and ravenously hungry. I guess one or two Raw Rev bars, 18 GUs, Zebra Cakes and some assorted gummi worms isn't enough for 24 hours!
So, this race closes out my season. Back to rebuild and get ready for 2011. I'm looking forward to getting my new Scale 29er Carbon and taking it out for a spin. After seeing the bike at the World Cup Finals in Windham, NY, I'm really eager to race on it next year!