Our last post was almost 2 years ago!? Not acceptable. We’ve done some races since then. I’ve been lazy. We’ve been injured. The team composition has changed. We took a break. I’ve become slower. My motivation took a nose dive. I’m struggling to get back in the game.
All of these things you would think would make good posts. But life and work, and every other nit picking excuse has kept me from pounding the keyboard. I forgot why I write, and I forgot how to enjoy the journey. Let’s hope that has changed.
Well, I guess it’s about time I get off my keister and write up a race report or two. Get comfy and hang on, this is a long one! Our latest adventure was the FL24, a 24-hour adventure race at the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, FL. Craig, from Florida Xtreme, always puts on awesome races and so far we have enjoyed every single one of them. This one was no different. Marianna is a beautiful southern town with numerous limestone outcroppings, caves, and sinkholes that make the terrain absolutely fantastic for racing.
A mass start at 6AM had us riding our bikes a short distance to the first boat put in. I estimated this boat section would take about 2 hours. In hindsight, I guess I forgot to add in the time it would take to paddle back…Oops. I find my teammates really enjoy when I tell them that a planned 2 hour paddle has suddenly turned into a 4.5 hour paddle. Luckily, I was sitting in the back of the canoe when I told them…well out of reach.
The controls were along the twisty and tree-choked Chipola River. Fortunately, Craig and his dad had spent some time clearing this river section. Or in his words, “it’s clear enough so that you could probably get a canoe through there.” He was at least considerate enough to leave one top-notch portage for us and we were sure to thank him as we hefted our canoe through the mucky swamp and tripped over cypress knees along the way.
We made our way north of the Bellamy bridge to the last CP just behind teams Endeavor and Chub Solo. On the control there was a note that said, “punch Flag 1 and Flag 2.” Which meant absolutely nothing to us, or anyone else there, until we remembered Craig saying during the prerace meeting that teams would punch all of the sport controls. And someone recalled seeing two controls not on our maps at the start of the boat section. Confused? Yeah, we were too, but sometimes you have to get into the mind of the race director. It’s a dark scary place and afterwards you feel the need to take a shower, but ya gotta go there. Oh, and ya gotta go to the prerace meeting. Just a pro tip for ya.
After the canoe section, we biked back to the Main TA, picked up a new passport and headed off on a 15 minute run so we could do…Another Canoe Section! DOUBLE BONUS! Actually, we were totally cool with it. Craig made a last minute decision to change the order of events so that teams weren’t doing a long canoe at night in 40 degrees. 40 degrees and wet is really cold, especially if you’re from Florida.
We found ourselves paddling south on the Chipola looking for a well-known spot called, “The Ovens” a small cavern carved into the side of the river bank. We were in the lead by a staggering two minutes when we found the opening of the Ovens. Todd jumps out of the canoe and immediately starts slipping and sliding all over the boulder like one of those old cartoons where someone steps on a banana peel. Then he starts moving like an 80 year old man traversing an icy sidewalk, so I offer some words of encouragement. Dude! LET’S GO! People really like when you say things like that. They REALLY like it when you say it with a mouth full of snickers, sitting in the back of a canoe.
Properly motivated, Todd makes it to the cave entrance, where he discovers that caves are freaking dark inside. Like seriously, no light gets in there. And this is no small cutout on the side of a riverbank, it’s a full on cave that goes back and branches into a thousand little tunnels. Todd, not having a flashlight, decides to use the flash of the camera to look for the CP. I now have 52 fuzzy pictures of the inside of The Ovens, if anyone is ever interested.
By now, Endeavour and Chub Solo have caught up to us and I decide to get off my lazy butt and give Todd a hand looking for the control.
It’s amazing that when someone tells you that something is slippery, or hot, or sharp, we never REALLY get it. Tell someone that something is sharp and they’re like, “okay” and then they cut themselves. Tell them something is hot, “yep dude, got it” and then they burn their hands. What is it with us? We heard it, we understand, but it just doesn’t register.
So, Endeavor, Chub Solo, and I all hop out of our canoes and immediately start slipping and sliding on the moss-covered boulders leading to the cave. We end up clinging to the boulder like we’re trying to tackle a greased pig. Well dang, that IS slippery!
With five of us in the cave, we finally found the control and everyone rushed out again, only to slip and fall over the same rocks we slipped on getting in. Someone fell in the water up to their armpits. Mac slipped and went completely underwater, Todd about twisted his ankle off. Ana was in the canoe about to wet herself from laughing…well dang, that IS slippery!
Five minutes later we hit the transition to Foot 1 where we were told that the race had to temporarily halt due to moving canoes, or gear, or something. This was related to the Race Director making the last minute decision to change the order of the canoe section. Pretty solid decision and we were totally cool with it.
Since we had arrived at the foot TA in the lead by a whopping two seconds, we got to place the first CP on this section. We were given a punch on a string and told to go hang it in the Alamo Cave about 300m from us. No problemo, until we got to the cave and realized you can’t simply tie a string to the wall of a cave. It’s like asking you to tie a string to a brick wall. I told Todd he should bury it. But, he wouldn’t listen. Instead, he found a stick on the ground, tied the punch to it, and set it against the cave wall. I still think he should have buried it.
During this foot section, we were passed by Endeavor and Good ‘Nuff…as usual. It was only a matter of time.
We collected the rest of the CPs and made it to the Main TA a few minutes behind the two leaders.
Up next was a fairly short bike section with 9 checkpoints. One of the coolest checkpoints was inside an abandoned beaver dam.
One of the coolest photos is this one of me rockin’ the Kanpas compass and Lupine headlamp.
Foot 3 – Take 1
At the Main TA we had some decisions to make. There were two cave tours, one at 8PM and one at 9PM. The cave tour was worth 5 points, so you didn’t want to miss it. You couldn’t be late and each tour only took 20 people. To complicate the decision, you could do the next four sections (Bike 2, Foot 3, Bike 3, Foot 4) in any order, but you had to alternate between sections. In other words, you couldn’t do two bikes in a row or two foots in a row. Disoriented? Yeah, us too. It was about 7:15PM and we decided to grab 2 nearby CPs on Foot 3 before going to the 8PM cave tour.
CP36 was on top of a hill, which we found with no problem. But, the next one, BONUS CP, was a cave that was 320m @ 103° away. This should be easy, we’ve done it a million times. But, we couldn’t find it…we’ve done that a million times too. Defeated, we headed back to the Main TA so that we wouldn’t miss the cave tour. We ended up wasting 45 minutes on something we would have to do all over again because you can’t get to the BONUS CP unless you first find CP36. In the meanwhile, Good ‘Nuff was completing Foot 4, a 50 minute foot section. Great call on their part, plus they have the legs to make that run.
We met up with Endeavor, Good ‘Nuff, Aubie’s Ambush, Chub Solo, Victorious Secret and another team or two at the cave entrance. It’s really cool that Adventure Racing is such a close-knit sport. Once you’ve gone to a handful of events, you start to know just about everyone there. It helps me not hate them so much when they beat me.
If you haven’t been to the Florida Caverns State Park and done the cave tour, it is something you should definitely check out. The work done by the CCC to establish the cave is amazing. Check out my crappy low-resolution pictures to get an idea of how awesome it would be to see it in real life. You still do things in real life, right?
While the cave was beautiful, the best part was that it was warm, like 68 degrees warm. It had fallen to the mid 40’s outside the cave, but inside we were cozy as could be. After 12 hours of racing, I was ready to get all snuggly with the cave spiders and bats and take a nap. We’ve slept in public bathrooms during races, so we can definitely sleep in a cave.
Foot 3 – Take 2
After the tour, we headed back to the Main Ta and then set out to get the BONUS CP that we couldn’t find last time. And you know what? We found it! Not so tough when you’ve been there before. It’s like Déjà vu but not really because you’ve actually done it before rather than just thinking you’ve done it before, ya know? Yeah, that’s the type of conversation you have in the woods at night when you’ve been racing for hours.
A few of the CPs were along the trail that circles the main cavern. One of those, CP38, had the clue, “Near Tunnel Cave”.
Now, maybe I’m being pedantic but “Near” doesn’t mean “In”. I don’t tell my kids, I want the poo poo to go “near” the toilet. Nope, I want the poo poo to go “In” the toilet. See how that works? Anyway, we get up to the cave and Ana and Todd circle it as I go through it. See, we went “In” and “Near” the cave. The cave is really a 60 foot long, four foot high tunnel, so I’m crouched over and shuffling my way through. When I get about halfway, a bat drops from the ceiling and flies away from me towards the exit. Awesome. But then it gets all ballsy and decides to turn around dive bomb my face. I guess it wanted a flying start. Holy Cow! So, I close my eyes and scream like the little princess that I am, and it flies away towards the exit…to then decide it wants to have another go. I duck and scream, and all I hear is Todd and Ana laughing outside the cave. “Dude, I’m being attacked by a psycho bat in here!” The whole time I’m crouched over, covering my face, and trying to get through the tunnel while this crazy bat keeps flying at my head. This happened about five times until I finally made my way out. I never saw the checkpoint that was “In” the cave because it was tucked in a niche and I was trying to avoid rabies. Instead, we spent the next 5-10 minutes searching “Near” the cave until Endeavor went “In” the cave and found it. You know, they should be a wee bit grateful that I got rid of that psycho bat for them.
I’m a little too traumatized to remember the rest of the CPs on that section, but I think the rest were okay.
The very first CP on Bike 3 is a creek crossing. We’ve already been warned that there is a log that goes across the creek and we shouldn’t try to cross it because it’s slippery and the water is deep. Remember, it’s about midnight and 40 degrees, so we don’t want to plunge into a river. We also know that there should be a place nearby to cross the creek that’s about ankle deep. We just need to find it. Which we do. And then somebody—not mentioning any names but he’s on our team and he’s male, and sits in the middle of the canoe and blames his lack of paddling on having to read the map. Well, somebody decides that we should take a few minutes to take off our shoes and socks, cross to the other side, and finish out the race with dry feet. Blasphemy you scream! I know, I can feel my USARA membership card about to burst into flames just thinking about this. In a moment of weakness, and coerced by Snickers and the thought of dry socks, we decide to do it. Of course, once we finally get across, we have to dry our feet and put our shoes back on. Which means we now need to take our bike gloves off. We also need to figure out what to use to dry our feet with? We don’t want to use our socks because, well, we want dry socks. That’s why we are out in the middle of the woods wasting 20 minutes. So somebody, who we’ll call somebody #2, who is not me and not the somebody previously mentioned, decides they’ll use sand. Sand. You know, those little pieces of rock with absolutely zero absorption ability. Yep, we’re going to use sand. But then no one wants sandy feet, so how do you get sand off…you could always rinse them in the creek.
We finally get our crap together, our shoes and dry socks on, and bike whack through the woods to a trail, only to realize that a pair of bike gloves were left back at the creek. By now, I am in total meltdown and go thrashing through the woods like the Tazmanian devil Shnagel Fragel Kragel Arrffhfhh! Back in the direction of where I think the creek is. But of course, I leave my map and compass on the bike and get turned around trying to make it back to the creek. One does not simply turn around in the woods at night and find their way back. Somehow, at night, the ground must rotate beneath your feet and it is impossible to simply turn around and head back in the direction you came. If you’re a navigator and have raced at night, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Anyway, now I have to stomp back to the bikes, grab my map and compass and go crashing back into the forest in a whirlwind of broken branches and curses. The gloves were found and we continued to press. It wasn’t my best moment.
On our way up to Bellamy bridge we passed by Christoff Landing where we were greeted with a fine example of southern hospitality. You know what’s really cool? Riding your bike in the middle of the night along a deserted dirt road and having some drunk redneck yell from the woods, “Get out of here Faggot!” Now, that’s fun! What kind of moron does that? Some people just deserve a blast of bear spray.
The good things is that it helped me get over my pissy attitude from the creek crossing.
Seeing Bellamy Bridge at night was pretty spectacular. There is a long standing story about the Ghost at Bellamy Bridge bridge that you can check out, if I haven’t already inundated you with words. We looked for glowing orbs, but only found an orange and white flag. Maybe next time.
We carried on and picked up a few more CPs, running into a couple of teams along the way. For CP55 we had already been warned to not use the tree to climb down into the cave because it’s rotted and will collapse.
Supposedly there was a very small side entrance you could crawl through to get into the cave, but it was dark and I couldn’t find it. I saw a vine growing over the ledge and decide to go all Tarzan the monkey man, swinging on a rubber band, until I remember I’m a brittle old man with a foolhardy plan, about to get crushed like a soda can. (pretty proud of that one).
Oh dear god, please don’t let this vine break and I crash to the limestone below and shatter 3 vertebrae.
The vine didn’t break, I didn’t die, and no one took a kick-ass picture of me either. Dang it.
The rest of the CPs were straight forward. CP53, “Old Quarry” was so straight forward we tried it twice. Luckily for us, on the second time walking right past it, Ad House Adventures told us that we had already passed it, or else we’d still be in the woods.
This was a straight forward jog to the Citizen’s Lodge Park. A quick lap around the fitness track to pick up 3 CPs and we then back to the main TA to transition to the final bike leg.
Of all the times I wanted to choke the race director during the race, this was it!
The clue for CPs 30 and 31 was, “Plotted on waypoint 6, a kiosk.” When we got to the kiosk, this is what we saw. Somewhere between the letters “c” and “h” is a checkpoint, good luck! Oh, and those aren’t roads or trails, they’re berms. Or they were berms back in 1938 when the hatchery was created. Oh, and do you see the scale markings…no…that’s because they don’t exist. So, that distance could be 100m or 1000m, who knows. Oh Craig, you tricky little bastard. This was a fun one!
Eventually we did find it and made our rounds to the remaining CPs to finish out this final leg.
Whew, you made it. Congratulations! 3000 words later. Well, we didn’t win this one. Good ‘Nuff finished almost 2 hours ahead of us to take first place. But don’t worry, we’re working on a few things for the next race…
As always, Craig and John Sheriff from Florida Xtreme did a fantastic job. You guys are awesome and really pour your hearts into these races. We truly appreciate it, as do so many teams that do your events. We can’t wait for the next one, the 72 hour Sea to Sea
And of course, thanks to those that continue to support us:
A big heartfelt thank you to those that supported and followed our team in 2017. It was a tough season that didn’t quite end the way that we had hoped. Hurricane Irma decided to crash through our area on Sept 10th-11th, forcing FLX to cancel the FL24, our last regular race of the season.
And with post-hurricane recovery, there was just no way that we could make USARA Nationals on Sept 22nd either. A real bummer as we were really looking forward to racing against some of the top U.S. teams. However, when all the points were counted, we ended the season 5th overall and we’re extremely proud of that accomplishment.
A huge thank you to Ana and Todd, the best teammates ever. There’s no one else I would rather get lost in the woods with. Thanks for always making it fun.
So, what will 2018 bring? Who knows? A higher level of bad assery? Perhaps. But, I’ve recently reacquired my addiction to chocolate cake and good beer…so maybe not. Regardless, I appreciate everyone that follows along with our antics. I hope we bring some humor to your day and maybe even a little inspiration…maybe…just a little…hello?
We were awesome…until we weren’t. Actually, we’re never awesome, so let’s just say we didn’t suck…until we did.
There are some pretty tough adventure races in Florida, but I would bet that the Cauldron is the toughest. The Florida Sea to Sea is the longest at 72 hours, but there’s nothing like the butt-chafing, sweatfest of racing in 98 degrees with 85% humidity for 36 hours…
Jake, Erik, and Jeanette from Off the Grid Racing, along with an army of awesome volunteers, put together an epic event. Unfortunately, there weren’t many teams at this race. I don’t know if the thought of a 36 hour sufferfest discouraged a lot of teams, or perhaps it was too close to the Adventure Racing World Championship. Regardless, it was a well-organized and difficult race that pushed everyone.
With only 2 coed teams racing, we were hoping to bag the first CP, beat feet to the finish line, claim second place and be eating at Denny’s within the first hour. You know, as much as we talk about and eat at Denny’s, they should really consider sponsoring us. We could be team Grand Slam, or All-American Slam, or Slam-a-lam-a ding dong…I don’t care so long as they help out with race fees.
A midnight start had all teams exploring the nooks and crannies of the 505 Ranch on foot. The 505 Suwannee Ranch is owned by Jake’s family and is a 750 acre, 300 head of cattle wonderland that used to be owned by the Marion family, kin to the Swamp Fox. We’re in the south baby, we use words like “kin”.
With headlamps aglow, there wasn’t much reason for any team to go sprinting ahead, unless they wanted to become beacons for the other teams. So, we herded together and made our rounds.
Since all the cattle had been moved to another part of the ranch, we didn’t have to concern ourselves with running into any except for two longhorns and a calf that remained. Now, I can’t explain how a thousand pound animal can hide in eight inches of grass, but they can, like little ninja cows. You gotta remember it was dark, super dark, and when I came around a tree and this behemoth rose up with 6 foot long horns and stared at me…the cows weren’t the only ones making patties in the field that night.
After clearing the foot prelude we did a quick transition to the bikes and headed off into the night. I think we may have been the second team out on bikes, which just meant that we got to enjoy every other team pass us again. Watching taillights disappear in the night ahead of us is such a pleasure, I wish more teams got to enjoy it.
There were a couple of different ways to do the single track section. We took the super cool route, which I’d show you but I don’t have my maps…but trust me, it was super cool…until it dead ended at someone’s fence. Boxed in on three sides we could either turn around and go back or hop a fence and hope to not get shot.
I’m not into the whole “dying” thing, so we turned around. After trying a few unmapped dirt roads, we luckily got back to a main street and made our way to the transition area at Foster TA.
We were one of the first teams to hit the TA at Stephen Foster State Park and relieved to know we didn’t just screw up our whole race on the bike/dead end section. Back in the hunt, daylight was breaking, birds were singing, and we felt pretty good.
The first checkpoint, CP21, was a little difficult as I couldn’t match up the trail with the map. It seemed we were going backwards on the trail, which is exactly what we were doing. It took Todd’s Super Navigator Skills to orient the map with the terrain. You see, we were bushwhacking to a trail which made a U, but instead of landing on the near leg of the U, we landed on the far leg of the U…Okay, maybe that only makes sense in my mind. Anyway, I was disoriented, Todd figured it out ‘cause he’s awesome, and I’ll end it there before you click to a better adventure racing blog…like there’s a better adventure racing blog than this one.
On this section, we kept bumping into the Super Frogs. We tried to keep up with them, but they were doing this whole “running” thing…totally not us. So instead, we just filmed ourselves walking.
Boat 1 was an epic 4+ hour paddle down the twisting Suwanee River back towards the 505 Ranch. With the sun blazing, and the first paddle checkpoint three hours downstream, this could have turned into a real grind. But, the Suwanee is an absolutely beautiful river and we really enjoyed this boat section.
It was nice to get off our feet and have Ana paddle us downstream as we munched on Fritos and Sour Gummi Worms.
Coming off the long paddle, we were pretty excited to make it back to the ranch for another foot section.
As an added challenge, we’d get the chance to do some skeet shooting during the race. We were really excited to try it and it turned out to be super fun. Todd went all Yosemite Sam and nailed his two targets. Rather than race off, we decided to stick around so all of us could give it a go. Check out Ana’s total pro shooting stance…
Ben, and the volunteers that helped us out, were amazing. They loaded the gun, told us how to shoot it, and didn’t laugh at us too much…which is always appreciated.
I also got a refresher course on land navigation and how important it is to pay attention to map scale. You see, there’s nothing more fun than having to backtrack to find a checkpoint because you thought it was 200 meters down a trail, but it was only 100 meters. It’s really hard to find a flag buried in the woods when you’re 100 meters off.
Clearing the foot section, we returned to the canoes for the next boat section. By now temps were well into the 90’s and we were pretty hot. Funny how when you’re overheating in a race, you don’t ask yourself if that refreshing creek runoff is from a spring or drainage from the cow field above…post race, you kinda wonder about those things.
I don’t remember boat 2. We did it, we were hot. I probably yelled at Todd whenever he stopped paddling for a second. The great thing about being in the back of the boat is that no one can see when you quit paddling…not that I would ever quit paddling.
I know there has been some controversy on UTM plotting. UTM plotting seems a lot like cilantro, some people love it, some people hate it, most tolerate it in small doses. I love mid-race UTM plotting. But, what I really love are spiders. Big ass, nasty spiders with webs of steel that wrap around your face.
And they were everywhere so we made sure to have our trusty web-whacking sticks ready. And how’s this for some kick ass cinematography…only the best from Team Disoriented.
During these foot sections, Off the Grid took us to some really cool land formations. This area has to be one of our favorites in Florida, and we really enjoyed racing here.
After 21 hours of racing, we were just behind Super Frogs and Good ‘Nuff. Our navigation was going pretty well, but we were starting to get fatigued. Three monster foot sections in a row were starting to take their toll and we weren’t taking care of our wet feet.
There was only one CP along the final boat section and it was up a side creek that was gushing into the Suwanee. Rather than paddle like mad against the current, we decided to drop the boat and walk up to the checkpoint. With aching feet, it took us a lot longer than we intended.
Back on the boat, we had to fight hard against falling asleep. At night, the Suwanee River is pitch black and flat as glass so the white limestone river banks are perfectly reflected on the water.
When you’re battling sleep, it’s hard to determine where the river ends and the banks begin. Of course, being in the back of the canoe I don’t get to see any of this. Instead, I get to watch the back of Todd’s head.
We finally arrived at the TA and ran into Greg Owens who was patiently waiting for us. It seems that we were the last boat out of the water. It was somewhat crushing to know that all of the teams had passed us by.
By now, we knew we wouldn’t be able to clear the course, our feet were barking at us to just wrap it up, and the fun meter had rapidly moved from “Awesome” to “Sucky”. We promised ourselves at the start of this race that we would worry more about having fun and worry less about our placement.
While I’m sure Adidas was just about ready to sponsor a couple of middle-aged, mid-pack, adventure racers, and we may have thrown away our chance of athletic greatness, I think we’re okay with that. But, if Adidas is still interested…here’s my number, call me maybe.
At our snail’s pace, there was no way to increase our finish position and little motivation to attempt it. So we decided to skip the rest of the checkpoints and just make it to the finish. Our blistered and battered feet had enough. While physically and emotionally we felt strong, crawling along at 2mph to pick up a couple of more checkpoints just didn’t sound like fun.
I was a little delirious in the video, there wasn’t 25 miles left to walk. I don’t know how far it was, but it took us another 3 hours from here to finally make it to the finish line.
Not much to say on this other section other than we suffered through it. And would you believe that once again, out of nowhere, we ran into Space Ghost AKA Team Chunk right before the end of the race.
It just wouldn’t be a race without strangely meeting up with them totally unexpectedly on the course. What’s really cool is that we met up with them as they were punching a CP under a bridge. We had no idea there was a CP right under us, since we were no longer going for points. But hey, if it’s right there might as well punch it.
Ain’t no reason to ugly cry for us, we had a blast at the race. While we sat around picking our blistered feet and stinkin’ up the place, Jake’s parents and a handful of other volunteers put together a fantastic breakfast for all the racers.
If I could ever be adopted into a family, it would be Jake’s. They are by far the nicest people we’ve ever met. Maybe I’ll go all Baby Moses, swaddle myself in a diaper and beach a canoe on the shore of the Suwanee River at the edge of their property hoping to be adopted…hmmm maybe not.
Sometime later that day, the true racers made it to the finish.
Good ‘Nuff rallied for the win with ARGeorgia and Superfrogs rounding out the podium. It was a heroic effort for all of the teams. This was a truly challenging course and the race directors and volunteers did an outstanding job.
While we’re excited to see the race continue under ARGeorgia, I’m going to miss the summer sufferfest.
And by the way, you can thank Ana for stopping me from eating all the flapjacks!
Pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and let me ruminate for a little bit on our first DNF. It was the 30-hour Atomic race, our first attempt at a race lasting more than 8 hours. It was night and we were trying to locate a control in a reentrant. Not being very good at navigation, and not wanting to lose our reference point, I had Ana stand at the top of a knoll with a flashlight while I searched the 30 or so tiny reentrants that surrounded us. Knowing that I could just look back at any time and see Ana’s light, I wasn’t paying any attention to my compass. But, then it started to downpour and visibility became nil. I could no longer see Ana’s light and I had no idea which direction to go to get back to her. In two seconds I went from knowing where I was to being lost and not being able to find my team. I yelled for Ana, but she couldn’t hear me over the rain.
Don’t believe me? Go try it sometime. The next time it rains, go in the forest and yell for all your worth. I like to do this anytime Ana tells me she wants to repaint the house. It’s crazy how therapeutic it is. It’s also amazing how no one can hear you. Your voice just doesn’t travel well in the woods, especially during a downpour.
It wasn’t until after the rain stopped that I could finally hear Ana yelling for me. Thank god she hadn’t moved from her spot or we would have really been in trouble. I finally spotted her flashlight and made my way to the top of the knoll, where she asked me if I had been crying. I told her of course not, it was just rain washing the mud off my face. It was a scary feeling indeed, and while I can share many more stories of us getting lost, no one has enough time to read them all.
So, why am I telling you this? It’s because I want you to think about one piece of lowly gear that a lot of people overlook, your whistle. It’s mandatory gear in every race I’ve ever been in. In the past I would have just gone to Walmart and picked up any old whistle in order to comply with the rules, or relied on the one that came with my backpack. But, those are crap and mandatory gear shouldn’t be crap.
Imagine your team is bombing a downhill at night and the last rider goes over a ledge. You may not even realize it at first. It’s happened with us on a training ride and it was three or four minutes before we even knew we lost a teammate. We’re not inconsiderate jerks, it’s just that it’s hard to look behind you when you’re going downhill, even as slow as we are. We know of other teams where someone has fallen off of a railroad truss and needed assistance.
There is no quicker way to bring help then by alerting your team, or other racers, with a super loud whistle. And the best whistle out there is made by ACME Whistles.
Now look, don’t get upset thinking that you just got sucked into reading a commercial for ACME Whistles. I’m only sharing this with you because I love our blog readers and I want you to be safe out there. Stuff happens when you’re in the wild, and it can get serious very quickly. Don’t peg your hopes on crap gear. Spend five bucks and get yourself and your team members a quality whistle.
We have the ACME Tornado 636 for our PFDs and the ACME T2000 for our backpacks. How loud are these thing? How about 117dB for the 636! What’s a dB? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that 117dB is louder than if you were standing 3 feet from your car horn and someone honked it at you…in other words LOUD! And that’s what you want. Loud, dependable, and Day-Glo green (because that’s the best color ever). Actually, they make lots of different colors, so get your favorite.
As a thank you for making it through another rambling post of mine, like the post on Facebook by midnight on 5/10/17 and we’ll choose four people to send a free whistle to. We’ll even cover the postage. How cool is that?
After doing a couple of these adventure races, you would think we’d know what the hell we were doing. But, that wasn’t the case during the 2017 Earth Day 18 Hour Adventure Race by Florida Xtreme. Sure, we ended up 3rd overall, but that’s due to a mispunch by two kickass teams that beat us to the finish by over an hour and a half. They were so fast that they were eating breakfast at Waffle House while we were still out on the course dreaming of Waffle House.
We’ve never claimed to be fast, or good, but man that’s disheartening. Anyway, let’s dig into this cheeseball…
If you’re looking for an adventure race that is going to take you to some wild and beautiful locations, with some fun twists and turns thrown in, then look no further than one directed by Craig Sheriff. Craig does a great job of hunting out cool locations and integrating them into a challenging course.
For us, the misadventures began instantly. The race started off with a short foot sprint and then a dash to find two CPs along the East Cadillac Trail. We were 3rd, just behind ARGeorgia and Off the Grid Racing. We hit the twisting single track, nailing the first CP and then completely blew by CP2. It seems that when I transcribed the location of CP2, I put it too far east. We saw a control, but thought it was a sport race CP and didn’t even stop to check it. Oops. We then had to backtrack to the control as 6-8 teams flew by.
Our next big mess up was at CP7. I guess while I was busy shoving Snickers in my pie-hole, I must have missed where Fern trail branched off from the dirt road and jumped back into the woods. Had I seen the fork, we would have quickly found the small wooden bridge we were looking for and been on our merry way.
Instead, we got to spend 15 minutes scooting across a gas pipeline to cross a creek and look for a CP that was not there. The cool thing is that we were so sure we were in the right place we did it twice, until Bill Dean and his brother rode by and told us we were idiots for looking in the wrong location. Looking at my map now, it’s easy to see that we overshot the location. At the time, not so much. Having screwed up two controls in less than two hours, we were not off to a good start and were probably 12th or 13th place by now.
One of the not so cool things is we had to climb 22 stories to reach the CP at the top.
Actually it was really cool and I don’t know how Craig ever got it approved by the state government. But I’m glad he did.
Calves ablaze, we descended the stairs and biked off toward the Tallahassee Museum. Along the way, we biked past the FSU stadium and then had to find a CP in the Munson Slough. Bill and his brother were kind enough to give us a hand getting our bikes down, and we returned the favor to them.
At the Tallahassee Museum, we got to experience our first zip line ever. The sun was setting as we climbed obstacles and soared through the trees. It was an incredible experience that I know all of the racers enjoyed. We can’t wait to come back with our kids and do it again.
The only bad part was when Ana decided to do some product testing for Lupine by tossing her headlamp from the top of one of the platforms, into the swamp below. Forty feet up and surrounded by swamp water, there was no way down and no way to recover the light. Lucky for us though, she dropped her headlamp into the water at a canoe checkpoint, CP14. Our only chance at recovering the light was to canoe to that control and search for it later that night.
Night was rapidly approaching and the first order of business was to go straight to CP14 (Near Zip Line) and try to recover our headlamp. After a quick search, we found it in about 2 feet of water and it still worked perfectly. I love Lupine. What I don’t love is canoeing in a swamp at night without a light!
I wish we had taken more photos during the race to better show you what it was like at night, but we were playing catch up the whole time and photos were the last things on our minds. Just imagine that you are surrounded by cypress trees that are all identical and you can’t make out the shoreline because it is so dark. No matter which way you looked, everything looked the same. It was like a bad text-based video game from the 80’s.
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
It was eerily beautiful. Our headlamps created a perfect reflection of the cypress trees on the black water as we paddled around the labyrinth of trees. As we were looking for CP20 (Distinct Cypress) we heard this voice in the darkness…Hello?
Lionel? Adele? Nope, it was Mac Kelly from Chub Solo. His headlamp had gone out and he was drifting in the darkness. How he didn’t freak out, I don’t know. We loaned him one of our lights and said he could either give it back to us at the end of the race or tag along with us. He decided to tag along…silly guy. We got to enjoy his company and he got to enjoy getting lost in the woods with us.
When we couldn’t locate CP20 (Distinct Cypress) we ended up backtracking to the previous control to try to follow the bearing again. It seemed like it was going to take at least two attempts to find every control, and I was beginning to feel as if we would never get out of that swamp.
For CP21, we had to follow pink streamers down a small creek to locate a pond. But the creek ended up turning into nothing but a mucky “trail”, through which we portaged our canoes. And thank goodness we took our canoes because once we finally got to the pond, there was no way we were wading across a chest-deep pond in the middle of the night. Some teams did, but then some teams are just flippin’crazy!
Another interesting feature that the race director led us to was a sunken car in the middle of the swamp. Most likely a relic of the prohibition era, this was really cool to come across at night.
Finishing the paddle took us forever, and it was well into the night when we started our first foot section. Craig had warned us that the foot section was going to be hard. He also suggested we attempt it in reverse order. We didn’t listen…we were stupid.
The first two controls were along trails and easy enough to find, but then it all went downhill. By the time we got to CP26 (West Side of Bradford Brook) we had somehow caught up with ARGeorgia, Off the Grid Racing, and Florida Xtreme. It seems the paddle and foot section were giving lots of teams problems.
Somewhere prior to CP27, we met up with Ron Eaglin, “The Human Compass” and his team, Florida Xtreme. Since we were all walking at this point, we ended up finding CPs 27 & 28 together. I don’t really like following other teams to controls, because I don’t feel like I learn anything that way, so we broke away from Florida Xtreme going towards CP29. Not the wisest of choices. Ron is a really good navigator and staying with them would have ensured we found the remaining controls quickly.
Instead we went on a 40 minute swamp stomp. On the map, CP29 looks straight forward. From CP28, shoot southwest until you hit the stream and follow it south until it forks…easy peasy. Except that the creek turned into a swamp and we never could locate the fork. We worked our way south down the creek and eventually gave up and bailed east to the powerlines.
To reattack, we headed northwest towards the powerline/creek intersection, pace counted southeast until we hit the powerline/trail intersection and headed straight west and found the control without any problems. Sounds easy now. Forty minutes wasted and we never saw Florida Xtreme, ARGeorgia, or Off the Grid Racing again.
The rest of the foot controls were straight forward, with many of them being in sinks.
Boat1 – Return
When we finished up Foot1, we had to return to the boat and then paddle back to the Boat TA, where we had originally launched. Todd was working the boat nav and doing a great job, Ana was in the front being the motor, and I was in the back smashing palm-sized spiders before they crawled up Todd’s leg. Todd loves spiders…and ticks. He really loves ticks.
Once again, I was leading the nav and doing a freakingly stellar job of it. We were jogging along an old road to CP39, because the clue was, “Along an Old Road.” However, when the road ended and we didn’t find the control, I wasn’t surprised given the way the night was going. The old road intersected with a new road. So, we turned around and pace counted to where the control should be. But, there was no control. We looked in the woods where we thought the control should be, but nope, no control. So, back up to the intersection to see if there was another old road that ran parallel to the one we were on. I didn’t see one, so back down the old road we went. When we got to the same spot again, I said screw it, I’m heading east until we hit the lake. And that’s when I found another road running parallel to the one we were on. And you know what was along that parallel road. Yep, the control. Good times.
We had a couple of more controls on this section, and one of them had us pick up a Natural Ice can left behind by someone who thought it would be cool to drink Natural Ice and litter. Neither of which is cool. I felt good cleaning up a little piece of the forest, I felt bad sucking at navigation all night. Perhaps a Natty Light or two would have helped. It definitely wouldn’t have hurt by this point.
Finally done with the foot sections, it was time to climb back on the bikes, except that Ana’s tire was completely flat. It seems her bike maintainer was a little too lazy to add more anti-leak goop to her tires before the race. She probably would have fired the bum by now if he wasn’t so damn sexy in bike shorts. A couple of blasts of compressed air and a prayer that it would hold together for 3 hours, and we were off.
CP43 had us bushwhack 35 meters into a tree line from a wooden fence along the St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail which put us nearly into someone’s backyard. Pitch black, headlamps on, dogs barking their heads off and some dude yelling, “What the hell is going on out here!” I’m just praying, “Oh dear Lord, please don’t let that man release his dogs because I am stuck in these briers and my legs are too cramped to run.” Todd kept calling out, “Sir, we are NOT trying to get to your house. We are in a race and looking for a flag. We are NOT coming onto your property”. Ever try to explain adventure racing to someone? Try explaining it to someone who thinks you’re trying to sneak onto their property at night, while their dogs are going nuts. Oh, the fun we have!
Not finding the flag, and not wanting to get shot, we got the bright idea to see if there was another wooden fence just up the trail…which, of course, there was. And wouldn’t you know, there was a flag 35 meters in the tree line, just like the clue said.
Ana’s knee was absolutely killing her by now, and she was reduced to pedaling with one leg. I didn’t know if she was going to be able to manage the hills of Tallahassee, much less the final single track section. None of us had a towline, so we slowly worked our way towards the finish, picking up CP’s along the way and waiting for teams to pass us before we could finish. I think it would have absolutely crushed her to have another team pass us on the bike. But, if they had, it would have been due to my bad navigation throughout the night, not her bad knee.
We grinded it back to the Cadillac Trail and pushed through the final single track section. I could hear Ana wince on every pedal stroke, but we knew if we could just get onto the canoe we’d have a good chance of retaining our position.
The final paddle was a 2 hour push through lily pad covered waterways. I was unsure when the official race time was over, so we paddled as hard as we could to try to finish by 10AM. Todd was doing a great job of navigating us through the mess. I don’t think we made a single navigational error.
We did end up blowing by CP55 (on an old dock) and having to turn around to find it. I’d like to think it was because our blazing paddles had us going so fast. Truth is, it was because all of us were looking towards the shoreline…you know the place where most old docks are. We’re all looking off to the right side of the boat as we slowly cruise past the flag on our left.
“See anything over there?”
“Nope.” Eyeballs straining to see across to the shoreline where old docks are supposed to be.
“Keep looking, it should be right here.”
“Nope, don’t see anything yet.”
As our boat slowly drifts by the damn flag that is within arm’s reach on the left side of the canoe.
Arms and back exhausted, we finally finished circumnavigating the Lafayette Heritage Paddle trail, collecting all of the CPs, and crawling to the finish just before 10AM.
This was an all-around tough race that had us in race salvage mode the entire time. My navigation was probably the worst it has ever been. However, I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team held together and kept racing. We weren’t the fastest by a long shot. But, I feel like we kept pushing and stayed in race mode even when things got sucky. Our race results ended up being much better than we expected. Many teams fought hard and were amazingly fast the entire time. Ron and Florida Xtreme ended up in 1st, which is no surprise for anyone that has raced against Ron. Congratulations to his team on the win!
A big thanks to Ana and Todd for keeping me in the race and pushing the entire time. We’re definitely not the fastest, but there’s no one I’d rather race with.
As always, this was another great Florida Xtreme race and we can’t thank Craig, John, and all the volunteers for the work they put into making this a success. The course was top-notch and the zip lining was amazing. A big thanks to the Tallahassee Museum for putting up with 50 stinky racers tromping around their property.
As always, we greatly appreciate those that have chosen to support our team. Please take a second and check out their gear. If we’re using it, it’s because we like it.
Like many people, our family has been affected by cancer and we want to get involved in stopping this disease. We are trying to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society through the Relay for Life. If you would like to help by donating, please visit our Relay for Life Team Page and make a single donation.
Or, if you want to have fun with this, give us a challenge and base your pledge on it. Here are some examples we’ve thought of:
Donation per lap for Lucas our 9 year old son
Donation per lap for Nolan our 11 year old son
Donation per lap for David (He’s getting a little old and his knees are a little shaky)
Donations per lap for Ana (She’s a diesel that may just chug through the whole night)
Donations per lap for Team Disoriented – all 4 members (Hope you brought your checkbook for this one 😉
Pick the challenge depending on how brave, or how much money you are willing to part with…or come up with your own. How about how many lunges Ana can do around the track? Or, a dollar for every minute she rubs my aching feet? We’re game for anything legal. The event last 12 hours and each lap is 1/4 mile.
If you want to make a challenge pledge, just leave a comment either here or on our Facebook page, or shoot us an email with your pledge and we’ll let you know how we did following the event. Maybe we’ll have some challenges that we can post in real time over Facebook…that would be pretty cool.
Anyway, we hope you help out.
We’ll be going live on Facebook throughout the night to give you a feel for the event.
Bears, gators, green lasers, hobbit feet, mouth sores, epic single track, hypothermia, search and rescue, where’s that damn dam, crash and burn off an 8 foot berm, beautiful Florida wilderness, great times!
How do you describe a 72-hour, non-stop adventure race? I don’t think you really can. It’s almost impossible to describe, especially to those that have never done one. When I try to tell people about it, I can’t seem to capture how exciting, rewarding, tough, exhausting and ultimately fun a race like this is. In addition, most people seem to have a 2 minute attention span and a 3-day race isn’t something that you can describe with an elevator pitch. So, for those that enjoy the archaic hobby of reading things longer than a Facebook post, here’s my vain attempt…
I guess the race started at Ponce Inlet. I find it hilarious that when people ask me where the race started, I really can’t tell them. “Somewhere on the east coast of Florida” is what I usually answer. “But, I know we finished at the Plantation Inn & Golf Resort in Crystal River.” You see, before the race begins and we’re given our 48 maps, we don’t know where the race will start. We know where it ends because that’s where we parked our cars, and eventually you’ll want to find your car.
After a 3hr bus ride to the other side of Florida, we had enough time to drop the browns off at the Super Bowl, butter the biscuits, and do a last minute gear check before embarking on our epic race. I’m usually super nervous until I find the first checkpoint (CP) and truly get my bearing. For this race, the first CP was along a pier right in front of us, even Team Disoriented can nail that.The rest of the section was a simple trek around Ponce Inlet, hitting a couple of local spots, and taking photos along the way.
Section 2: Paddle (8.5 miles) Spruce Creek
There is nothing sweeter than the sound of oyster shells scraping along the bottom of your fiberglass canoe, trying to rip it open like the Titanic. Of course, being the conscientious adventure racers that we are, we would never, ever subject our canoe to that type of abuse. But then again, we weren’t using our canoe…
We followed a few teams through the labyrinth of shallow oyster beds, collecting 2 CPs and ending with a nice little portage. How long was the portage you ask? Oh, about ¼ mile passed pissed off. The canoe drop was just before we got started on the really good curse words.
Section 3: Bike (48 miles) East Coast
Our first bike section of the race started with a time trial of the Spruce Creek Bike Trail Network. Follow the trail they said. You can’t get lost they said. Hmm funny how we ran into 2 other teams that had gone around in a big loop after missing a critical turn. We decided to throttle back our mad mountain biking skilz (yeah, that’s skilz with a z) to not mess up the navigation on this. We definitely didn’t break any time trial records here, but we did get all the CPs.
After the time trial, we had 4 other CPs to collect along the way to the next section. This was a mix of off-road/jeep trails and some city roads. One of the cool CPs was at the Sopotnick’s Cabbage Patch Bar, a well-known bike bar…for dudes with tats, skull rings, chains, and leather jackets. Not for dudes in spandex shorts on bicycles. Actually, they were really cool and allowed us to get a drink, so long as we got the hell out of there.The last CP for this leg was at JC’s Bikes & Boards. Adventure South Racing was stopped here getting their derailleur fixed. How awesome is that?! If you’re ever in the area and need to stop at a bike shop, hit them up.
Section 4: Trek (4 miles) Lake Beresford Park
Here’s the dealio. I hate cutoffs, especially early cutoffs. Yeah yeah, I know, strategery is a part of adventure racing blah blah blah. My issue is that only 2 teams, Rev3 & Good ‘Nuff, cleared the course up to Section 4 and made the time cutoff (and hats off to both teams for making it). We missed it by 20 minutes, clearing the course up to that point. Unfortunately, the early cutoff set the race for us and many other teams and removed the possibility for any late race rallies. By 4:30PM on the first day, both top teams knew that all they had to do was clear the course and they were assured a 1-2 place finish. Mentally, this is a strong position to be in…much different than knowing a team can come from behind and take a spot from you. Oh well. Our mistake. We totally own it and know we should have pushed harder in the beginning.
Section 5: Paddle (11 miles) Snake Creek
We paddled up the aptly named Snake Creek as it twisted its way northwest towards Hontoon Island State Park, where it eventually meets the St. Johns River. At Hontoon Island, we disembarked to search for “CP14 – Indian Mound on Hontoon Island.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that Indian Mounds looked like park benches. I guess if I were an Indian building a mound, I might want a bench on top of the mound so that I could take a nice leisurely view of the surrounding forest, maybe eat a sandwich or opossum, or whatever Indians ate back then. I don’t really know, but I do know that ambiguous clues are no fun. Especially when there isn’t a control at the location. Were we on the right trail? Should there be a sign that says “Indian Mound”? Are we supposed to ignore the “Trail Ends Here” sign and go look for an Indian mound? We decided to reattack this CP from another trail and ended up in the same location. So we snapped a photo of the bench and said &^@#! it after wasting 30-40 minutes.
This should have been a quick five minute punch, “CP14 – Park bench at end of trail (this is an Indian Mound)” would have been unambiguous and let teams know of the historical artifact we were on.
Section 6: Trek (19 miles) St. Francis
I love night treks. No, really, I do. There is something indescribably exciting and enchanting about night trekking. It’s quiet and spooky and fun all at the same time. Owls hoot, critters and creatures run about in the woods around you. You feel like there isn’t another soul around for miles. It’s just mesmerizing.We fast trekked this section, nailing the navigation and making pretty good time while enjoying each other’s company and trying not to migrate onto private property. Walking onto private property at 3AM in the middle of the woods is no bueno.
Section 7: Bike (22 miles) Ocala Paisley Woods
Section 7 was a 22 mile bike loop for 2 CPs that some teams opted not to do. That’s a pretty good decision when you know that after the 22 mile loop, you had another 30 miles on the bike before the next transition area (TA). That’s a total of 7-8 hours of butt-blistering biking. Our plan was to do the short loop for 1 point and to skip the long loop. We were looking for “CP19 – Bike Loop Trail Cutoff Sign” which translated into American means “CP19 – Alexander Springs Sign”. Maybe other teams weren’t confused, but I’m a pretty simple guy. If someone says, take a photo of the blue sign, I’m looking for a blue sign. And if the clue says, “Bike Loop Trail Cutoff Sign” then I’m looking for a sign that says, “Bike Loop Trail Cutoff” or “Bike Cutoff” or “Trail Cutoff” or “Cutoff” or at least 1 of the 4 words used in the clue. I’m not looking for a sign that says’ “Peanuts this way” or “Unicorns are Awesome” but maybe that’s just me.
After doing ½ of the first loop, Todd was super excited about going on to do the long loop as well. Especially since doing so might make us miss the O-course cutoff at Sunnyhill for 9 points. I can fondly remember the words of encouragement and the hug he gave me once we got to the top of the loop…
Section 8: Bike (30 miles) Ocala National Forest
Once we finished the double bike loop, we still had 30 miles of trail biking to do through the Ocala National Forest. The clue sheet offered this sage advice, “Select checkpoints in this ride wisely, many of the roads and trails along this segment can be sandy or muddy.” I’m not sure how you select roads and trails wisely when you don’t know the area, I mean you might as well say, “Shake your Magic 8-Ball and rattle some chicken bones for good juju because if you don’t you’ll be stuck in 8 inches of the softest damn sand you’ve ever tried to ride through.”
Riding in sugar sand is like…well, it’s like CRAP! That’s the best I have. It’s crap, piled on top of crap.
Section 9: O-Course (? miles) Sunnyhill
We rode into Sunnyhill to start the O-Course and were greeted with gator-filled canals that created a labyrinth of water. Picking the wrong path took you to a dead-end where the only options were to turn back or go through the canal. After seeing a few toothsome gators hiding in the duckweed, we decided there would be no swimming or canal crossings on this section.
After plotting 9 UTM points, we headed out. There was a 9PM cutoff to finish this section, but we had plenty of time. Once out on the course, we realized how far apart the controls were and that the nav wasn’t going to be as straight forward as we originally thought. Our first route choice took us to a dead-end where we had to turn back. The distances seemed to be much further than indicated on the map, but looking at Google Maps post-race, the scale was right on. I think it was more of an optical illusion because the land was flat and treeless and you could see a long distance.We struggled a bit on this section. I ended up dropping my watch on the way to CP33 – River Cabin and had to backtrack to find it. Green watch dropped in green grass…yeah that was about as fun as you can imagine. This was my 2nd watch, the first I lost at USARA Nationals last year and I wasn’t about to leave this one behind. Luckily Ana was running strong and could race ahead to look for it while Todd and I limped along.
CP34 – Big Cedar gave us the most trouble as we tried twice to attack it from the west. After two failed attempts, we were going to bail on it, but since we had to go past it to finish the course, we decided to attack it once more from the east. As we got close to the attack point, we had a large black bear walk out of the woods onto the trail in front of us. We were contemplating what to do next until the second, larger bear stepped out onto the trail. That pretty much solidified our decision to get the hell out of there. Now, maybe others would have kept moving towards the bears, but I’ve never heard anyone advising that you should walk towards a bear with a backpack full of food when it stands between you and were you want to go. I’m sure some have tried it. There’s a special award for those people, a Darwin Award.
Our next CP was CP30 – Small Clearing for Bears. Just fantastic. Dusk is settling in, we’ve already seen two bears, and now we’re heading into a small clearing for bears. For five minutes we hunted around a clearing full of bear poop with backpacks full of nuts, berries, chocolate…you know all those things that bears eat. I felt like we were walking snack packs for the bears. Hey BooBoo! Why don’t we go eat one of those walking picnic baskets?
By now, I was mentally drained and couldn’t nav anymore. I handed the map over to Todd and he finished up the O-Course, guiding us to the remaining checkpoints and the transition area. During this section there was also a full-on search and rescue going on. We didn’t know if someone was attacked by a bear, eaten by an alligator, or lost on the Oklawaha paddle. With a helicopter flying overhead, and sirens going off, we were really worried for whoever had called for help. But, that’s a story you’ll have to read about on the Canyoneros blog post.
Section 10: Paddle (18 miles) Oklawaha
Forever to be known as “The Paddle”, the Oklawaha paddle was just about the hardest section of any race we’ve done so far. Our first plan was to sleep for 20-30 minutes at the TA before heading out on the paddle. So, we ate a Cup’O’Noodles and putzed around the TA wasting a lot of time before deciding that we should go out, paddle up to the dam and sleep there for 20-30 minutes before finishing the paddle. That would break up the 5 hour paddle and allow us some sleep. I knew it was forecasted to get cold and the sooner we got the paddle done, the better off we would be.
Exhausted, we launched our canoe and paddled, collecting 2 CPs along the way. By the time we reached the dam, Ana was soaked and freezing and we were all on the verge of collapse. We portaged our canoe around the dam and tried to catch 20 minutes of sleep in the women’s bathroom. You know you’re pretty stinking tired if you’re willing to curl up on a public bathroom floor to get some rest. After 20 minutes of shivering and shaking without sleeping, we decided to hit the water again. By now, Ana was wrapped in her Survive Outdoors Longer Emergency Blanket, cold weather gear, rain gear and puffy jacket.
Little did we know how miserable a 3 hour paddle would be after racing for 36 solid hours and having the temperature drop to 38 degrees. Along the paddle I saw green lasers being shot across the river, Ana saw castles, Todd saw little men. We all heard voices and felt that at times we were either paddling uphill or downhill. With the change in temperature, there was such a mist on the river that Ana couldn’t see anything in front of her. It was like driving in fog with high beams on. Imagine someone threw a white sheet over your head and then told you to paddle while they constantly threw cups of cold water at your face. Good times, right?
We played word games and told stories to stay awake as we bounced off lily pads on either side of the river and avoided downed trees just seconds before crashing into them. We were in total wilderness and a capsized canoe, in our state, would not have been good.
However, it wasn’t until we finally landed and had to hike 1.5 miles to the transition area that we realized just how cold we were. We were completely soaked and with uncontrollable shaking and chattering teeth, we carried all of our paddling gear to the TA where the most awesome volunteers had a small fire and hot chocolate available. Chris and Sonia, you were literally life savers. Thank you!
Section 11: Trek (9 miles) Marshall Swamp
Before heading out on the trek, we decided to grab an hour sleep at the TA. This was our first sleep of the race and we went unconscious as soon as we stopped moving. This trek was along the Florida National Scenic Trail to the Historic Santos Recreation Area. There weren’t any real navigation decisions to be made here and we simply followed the trail to the TA.
Section 12: Bike (50 miles) Santos
For cross country trail riding in Florida, it doesn’t get any better than Santos. Maintained by the Ocala Mountain Bike Association this trail has it all: epic drops, steep climbs, technical stuff, and fast flowing single track.
With Todd picking the lines, we “flew” through this section. At least in my mind I was flying, and looking pretty awesome doing it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
After getting through the climbs and switchbacks on Nayls and Ern N Burn, Ana was ready for a stiff drink. I was ready to get off the bike for awhile, but we still had miles to go.
The last single track section, Tricycle, seemed to last FOR…E…VER! After the previous, more technical sections that made you stay focused, this part was a little more mundane and having only 1 hour of sleep so far, it was getting hard to keep our head in the game. We weren’t sure where the last CP was, just that it was along the trail somewhere. It’s always a little unnerving not knowing where the controls are, but the race directors did a great job placing them so you couldn’t miss them. Had the race directors placed the CPs on the map, teams could easily bypass the more technical and fun parts of the trail in exchange for getting to the controls faster.
Once we got out of Santos, we still had a few miles of street riding to do before reaching the next TA. Once we hit the road, we met up with Nativos Colombia and a few other teams. Nativos Colombia are crazy fast on the bike and flew past us. I knew we weren’t the fastest cyclists out there but man what an eye opener. It must be our bikes…yeah, definitely our bikes. And a loud hub, I need a loud hub. I heard they make you go crazy fast.
The O-course section was a dark zone where all teams were stopped until 5AM Sunday morning. While here, they had the option of completing up to four O-courses of varying difficulty. The way it worked is that you picked one of the four courses and returned to the TA after completing each one and before heading out on the next one. Once your team decided it was finished, you were off the race clock until the dark zone was lifted.
I’m not sure what time we arrived, but it was after dark and we knew we were in for a long night if we wanted to collect all four available points. After sucking down about 3 hamburgers, we headed off on our first O-course.
Clearing the first course was pretty easy, but then we couldn’t find the Transition Area again. I can’t explain how frustrating it is to be able to locate a 12in x 12in orange and white flag out in the middle of a forest and then not be able to locate a clearing with two U-Haul trucks, 100+ bicycles, and racers milling about. We stumbled around for a little while, ending up in the regular campers section of the park before finally finding the Transition Area again.
Due to Todd’s bloodhound-like ability to sniff out controls, we didn’t have much trouble finding any of the CPs except for CP2 on map 4 (shown below) if anyone is following along on the maps.
When we bushwhacked straight from CP1 to CP2, we thought we were looking for a CP on a hill, but we should have been looking for a CP in a sink. They’re kinda like opposites, ya know. So, we scoured the hill to the south of CP2 for about 45 minutes until we decided to reorient ourselves by going to the trail junction north of us and pace counting to the correct “hill”. When our pace counting put us smack dab in the middle of the sink, I realized my map reading error. Once in the correct location, we found the CP easily. Oh, the fun we had!
By now, we were sleepwalking zombies. It was probably close to 2AM and we hadn’t slept more than an hour in the last 65 hours. Once again I was brain dead and handed the maps over to Todd, who finished up the O-Course and led us to the Transition Area. Along the way we entered this massive sink that was also a prescribed burn. We came across a downed pine tree smoldering with glowing red embers inside of it. At the bottom of the sink was a huge tree with a CP hanging from it. I really wish we would have taken a picture of the area as it was surreal. But, the only thing on our mind was finishing this section and grabbing an hour of sleep before the dark zone lifted.
Section 14: Bike (28 miles) West Coast
We got back to the Transition Area at 3AM, just enough time to sleep for an hour before waking at 4AM in preparation for the 5AM race restart. Dragging yourself out of a warm sleeping bag after 1 hour of sleep, when it’s 45 degrees outside…AWESOME!
The race restart had us blasting down clay roads with washed out sections ready to grab your front tire and launch you head first into the darkness. Being the super bikers that we are, we got to watch taillights disappear into the night ahead of us. We had a couple of CPs to pick up along the way to the final boat section.This was a 28 mile final sprint and our team formed a pace line, more to look cool than to move any faster. Ana, always the unstoppable one, took the lead and pulled Todd and me along the streets of Crystal River.
The last CP on this section was supposed to be collected on foot, but since the lead teams were allowed to go on bike, we were all given the option. This rooty, narrow berm of a trail was not meant for bike riding, at least not for us to be bike riding. On the way back from punching the control, Ana got close and personal with the mucky waters on either side of the berm.
I looked back just in time to see her fly over her handlebars and crash face first into the muck 6 feet below. Thank goodness she saved her bike from any damage by having it land on top of her. I would have taken a picture if I wasn’t so worried that she was okay…and worried that she’d slap the crap out of me if I tried.
Later on I was able to snap this photo of her post-crash bad assery 🙂
Section 15: Paddle (8 miles) Fort Island Beach
Here were our choices, paddle 8 miles into a blustery headwind or go hit Denny’s for the Grand Slam special…
There is nothing better than rolling into a Denny’s after 72 hours of racing and smelling like swamp funk. After 3 days of solid racing, your body takes on a completely new level of stink. There is regular body odor, and sweaty man body odor, and then there is something I like to call Landfill funk…you know that special scent that makes you cough up a little vomit in the back of your throat on the first sniff. We were just about touching that level.
Florida Xtreme nailed it! This was the race we were looking for. Difficult, wild, adventure. The maps were great, the logistics were great, the volunteers were great. Superbly ran and organized from beginning to end. We can’t thank Junos, Ron, Dave, Manny, and the entire Florida Xtreme crew enough for putting on a superb race. To the volunteers, a heartfelt thank you for making this race amazing. I know how hard you all worked out there and it is appreciated by every single racer. And of course, thank you to the two best teammates I could ever hope for.
To the race directors, two small suggestions:
All CPs need to be unambiguous or have a marker on them. 72 hours of racing is hard enough, don’t make us guess whether we have a photo of the right thing or not…or counted the right number of benches. It’s just down right frustrating to lose a point when you know you were in the right area.
Not being able to speak for most racers, but for me and my ego, what I really want more than prizes or t-shirts are photos. I’d rather the race directors pay someone, or get a volunteer, to take a boat load of photos of all the teams throughout the race and make them available for free. Because in the end, we’re all doing this for the memories.
Okay, I try not to rant on this blog because honestly who wants to read someone’s ranting all the time. But, today is different. Today I want to talk about barriers to entry. I hear it all the time about how there are so many barriers to entry when it comes to adventure racing.
You have to use a compass…
You have to plot UTMs…
You can’t use your cell phone or GPS…
There is too much gear to buy…
The races are too expensive…
I have to travel too far to race…
The races are too long, too hard, too…whatever.
Yep! You’re right! And that’s what makes this the “Best Damn Sport Ever”. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass. Sometimes you get lost, or you don’t finish a race. Maybe your gear sucks. That’s life. I’m not sorry. I’m not apologetic. You want to play the game, then get the gear and get your butt out there and learn how to do it.
You want convenient, go run a 5k. The course is marked. You’ll be done in 30 minutes and can go home with your t-shirt. You can impress your friends on Instagram with a couple of photos, hell you can probably tweet to them while running the course. There ya go, no barriers to entry. You probably already own a pair of shoes and you can probably swing the $30 entry fee.
As adventure racers, is that what we want?
Enough with the hand holding and wondering how do we get the next generation into this sport. Maybe they’re too busy playing video games. That’s cool.
The motto for Eco-Challenge, the race that started this for many of us, was:
For veteran adventure racers, Eco-Challenge is designed to punish, torment, and take no prisoners. For the wide-eyed rookies, it is designed to be all but impossible.
People try things, they fail. Or perhaps they don’t do as well as they’d like. It’s okay. We fail…all the time. It’s adventure racing. We’re not very good at it. There are some REAL teams out there crushing courses. We’ll never be half as good as them, but that’s okay.
The allure of adventure racing isn’t how easy or fun it can be made. The allure is in the multi-faceted nature of it. You have to do the disciplines but you also have to manage your team, your gear, your nutrition, yourself. You have to be able to plot, to navigate, to read a map and compass. It’s a lot, and it’s hard, and it’s not for everyone. That’s okay too.
I don’t like basketball, but I couldn’t imagine someone lowering the barriers of entry for me. I’m sure no one is sitting around thinking…man, what if we make the hoop a little bigger, or the post a little shorter. Most people suck at dribbling, why don’t we just allow people to run with the ball instead of dribbling.
I wonder what other sports have people wondering, “How can I make this easier for someone.”
That’s right, none!
You gotta pay to play. Gear, training, skills, experience, teamwork, If you want it, go get it. It’s not fair, but it’s worth every damn penny.