Maybe it was the Arctic Enema or perhaps the Electroshock therapy, I’m not sure but something happened during the Tough Mudder that made me want to find another event that would provide that same kind of thrill and physical challenge. I knew that I wanted something team-based that my wife and I could do together and I wanted it to be adventurous, but not too adventurous. I don’t mind a little thrill but I want to keep my shorts clean. So, we looked into Adventure Racing and decided to sign up for the first one closest to us, the 2013 Backpacker Bushwhacker in Lafayette, LA. Stu, always up for a challenge, completed our 3-person coed team. This was to be our first adventure race. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we had a kick-ass logo and team shirts and that’s all one really needs.
Since we didn’t know if we were going to like adventure racing, we didn’t want to spend much money gearing up for one. Stu picked up a pretty nice Giant mountain bike from his buddy for $150 and we had a couple of Schwinns that we bought from Wal-Mart in ’03 that had been sitting around unused since then. A few days prior to the race, I noticed that I had broken 3 spokes while training and my front tire was rubbing on the brake pad. So, I ran my bike down to the local shop to get it fixed. The morning we were leaving for the race, I picked up my bike and threw it into the back of Stu’s car without test riding it, and we hit the road. The 6-hour drive was uneventful and we arrived at The Backpacker in time to register. The volunteers at registration were awesome and we picked up some really sweet pre-race swag. Score!
Race morning, we wake up and the first thing Ana says to me is, “I’m really dizzy. I think I might have to go throw-up.” I suggest she might need to eat something and that with luck it might just go away. She agrees and we all grab a bite and head to the bike drop-off area. We assemble our bikes but it’s early in the morning, the sun hasn’t risen yet, and we can’t really see what we’re doing. We get the tires on and go for a test ride. Stu’s front brake is sticking and mine won’t stay in gear. Not knowing anything about bikes, other than most have 2 wheels and a couple of pedals, I was at a loss for what to do. Luckily, there was a volunteer at the drop-off who showed me how to adjust the rear derailleur so that it would stay in gear better. Unfortunately, it would still pop out of gear if much torque was applied so I couldn’t quickly accelerate the whole race…how frustrating. The guy also showed Stu how to adjust his brakes. By now, time was getting short for us to get to the mandatory pre-race meeting , so we left the bikes as they were and jumped in the car to leave. Stu turns the key and all we hear is click…click…click, the battery is dead! I guess in all of our messing around, we had left the interior lights on and forgot about them. We asked a few people around us for a jump and once again, the bike repair guy comes over and saves us. Thanks, Bike Angel Dude, for helping out and not making us feel like idiots!
At the pre-race meeting, we start scoping the competition. Everyone seems to be in full triathlon gear. You know the tight fitting shirts with the padded bike shorts and top of the line running shoes. One guy has a super deluxe backpack with hydration system built in and a hip belt into which he has tucked numerous gel packs. I call him Batman. We start recollecting the Cannondales, Treks, and other nice bikes that we saw at the drop off area and the intimidation factor starts creeping in. We jokingly refer to ourselves as Team Wal-Mart. Of course, Stu is never intimidated, and I appreciate his confidence no matter how unfounded. We talk with a few people and everyone is really nice. You can feel the pre-race vibe in the air…everyone just wants to get going.
After a few delays, we are given the race map and told not to look at it until the official start. Everyone sets 5 hours on their watches and the countdown begins, 3, 2, 1…Go! We rip open the package and see a Google Maps printout with 3 checkpoints (CPs). We have to hit all three in a specific order (Boudreaux, Guidry, then Thibodeaux). At the final CP, we’ll be given a new map. We start running to the first CP, but mainly we’re just following the crowd. The racers pretty much stay together and we all end up at Thibodeaux at the same time. We’re given map #2 and the real race begins.
On the run to Thibodeaux, we spotted where they staged our bikes and decide to run there first. We get to our bikes and I start looking at the map for the first checkpoint to attack (that’s cool Adventure Racing lingo for those that don’t know). I tell the team that we’ll head north and pick up CP26 before heading off to CP13. Stu and Ana are cool with that and we get on our helmets. Being total noobs, we aren’t even sure if we can ride across the park area to the main road. I think we even asked someone if it was okay to go that way. While we’re trying to figure this out, I notice that EVERYONE is going south. Hmm, hold on guys, let me take another look at that map. I look again and see, for the first time, CP12 just to the south of us. Ok, I guess we’ll get CP12 first and then CP26.
We find CP12 in a creek bed along with a few other people and we’re almost ready to make our first punch when someone tells us that it is not CP12 but rather CP8. Hmm, ok CP8 then. We make the punch and then head north to find CP12. We quickly run into a road, get our bearings, and realize that it really was CP12 and we’ve made an incorrect punch, oops. So we head back to the CP and punch our passport correctly. Then I start thinking, if this is CP12 then where is CP8 that everyone was talking about. I look on the map and don’t see CP8 listed. What the hell! We overhear other teams talking about taking a bearing from CP12 and I see them with a different sheet of paper. Then we remember the instruction sheet we got with the map. On it is a table of unmapped checkpoints that we had completely disregarded. CP8 is 360ft at bearing S51W from CP12. I quickly shoot a bearing and the hunt is on. After carefully measuring our steps, we locate CP8, punch our passport and get going.
After picking up 2 checkpoints that we would have completely skipped, we are off to pick up CP26 as originally planned. For the first time during the race, there are no other racers around. I’m somewhat glad but a little nervous too, wondering where they have gone and why they aren’t going after CP26 as well. We have an uneventful ride to where CP26 is supposed to be, but we can’t find it. All I could say was, “It should be right here!” which didn’t help at all. I think we wasted 10 minutes looking for it before realizing that the CP was accidently marked incorrectly and it was on the opposite side of the road. Unfortunately, since this was our first race, it made us wrongly assume that checkpoints weren’t necessarily inside the circled area on the map. So, to compensate, we allowed our search area to broaden beyond the circled areas which increased the amount of time we spent finding subsequent CPs.
After CP26 we hit CP13, CP15, and then tried to attack CP16. On the map, CP16 is clearly shown west of a creek but given our previous issue with CP26, we thought the CP might be on either side. We decided to attack it from the east since we are already nearby. Unfortunately, the “creek” turned out to be a fenced off, impassable culvert and the CP was definitely not on the east side. Stu was ready to climb the fence and go across the culvert—bikes in hand mind you—but I absolutely refused. Instead, we left it for later and attacked CP14 and the unmapped CP9. Another team had been close by us during this time and although we were all looking for the same CPs, they were finding them before us. We weren’t trying to follow them, but when one team signals that they’ve found the CP, what else are you going to do besides go over there and get your passport punched? We felt a little bad and so we decided to let them know about CP26 and how the map was wrong and it could be found hidden on the other side of the road. I don’t know if they ever got to CP26 but it made us feel better.
After CP9, we attacked CP16 again and found out that it was at the Rok Haus, a rock climbing gym. In order to get your passport stamped your team had to harness up and climb to the top of a wall. That was awesome and completely unexpected. We then went to CP10 where we could finally get off our bikes and do some land navigation. CP10, was at Red Lerille’s Health & Racquet Club where we had to do lunges for 50 feet, 20 squats, and run around a small track while carrying 25lbs to get our passport punched. Not so easy after biking all morning. Off we ran to CP5 where we had to swim 3 laps of 50 meters to get our punch, and I discovered that I am the worst swimmer ever. Both Ana and Stu finished well before me as I flopped around like a gorilla trying not to drown. It was horrible.
CP1 through 7 could only be accessed by foot. They were all hidden in a forested area and it took us a long time to find them. We ended up skipping CP2 due to time. CP6 was unmapped and could be found by taking a bearing from CP4. We took a bearing and measured our paces from CP4, but didn’t find CP6 at first. I began to question my orienteering, since it took us to the middle of a field, and I thought that all checkpoints would be hanging from something. We finally found it lying flat on the ground in tall grass and I was really happy. At CP3, we found the ropes section of the course where teams had to harness up and pull themselves across a small gulley to receive their punch. It was fun, but I was hoping for a little more rope work during the course.
After CP3, we knew we would never make the paddling section of the race and decided to hop on our bikes and pick up as many additional checkpoints as we could in the time remaining. We hit CP17, CP18, CP19, and CP20 without any hiccups. We skipped CP21 as we weren’t sure how we were going to get there and didn’t want to get lost. We then had to decide if we were going to go for CP11 and CP25. Both of these were south of the Vermillion River and the only way to get there from CP20 was to ride on Hwy 182 and cross at Pin Hook Bridge.
We decided to give Hwy 182 a try and pick up CP25 since it was worth 2 points. I will say that for the first time during the race I was scared. I don’t like riding on busy streets and I definitely don’t like crossing bridges on busy street. We pedaled fast, stuck together like a big train and prayed that we wouldn’t get hit by some idiot texting “Wassup!” to his buddy. We were a blur of green and silver. We hit CP25 and decided to skip CP11 since time was really close and it was only worth 1 point. Being late to the finish would cost us 3 points per 15 minutes.
We left CP25 and rode like mad to the finish area. We arrived at 5 hours and 5 minutes, giving us 9 minutes to spare. We were very tired but really excited. Our biggest regret was not getting to the canoe section since we were really looking forward to trying that. Overall, the race was great. We had a blast. The organizers and racers were super cool and the event was challenging and fun. We learned a lot about adventure racing and I think we performed pretty well for our first time. We definitely plan on going back next year and we highly recommend it for first timers as well as for those with more experience. Oh, and did I mention swag? Not only did we get stuff during registration, but post-race there was a massive raffle of some really sweet stuff. I’m talking really nice stuff like North Face bags, hydration packs, ski goggles, etc. I don’t know how the organizers did it, but everyone went home with something nice
As for Ana and her morning dizziness, she only got worse during the race. In fact, she spent the 6-hour car ride home throwing up every hour or so. Under some overpass on I-10 there is a Ziploc bag containing the remnants of the Bonefish Grill sandwich they gave us at the post-race party. What a waste ’cause those sandwiches were AWESOME! She’s fully recovered now and ready to do another one!