The Pangea Nocturnal Challenge was going to be our first race as a 2-person team. Why have our first race be something like a sprint when we can just sign up for an 18-hr race? Off we went to the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and we didn’t have Stu to blame for being late this time. The pre-race meeting started at 1PM so we, of course, roll in about 1:10PM to sign in, collect our maps and start the planning. I swear, one day we will get to a race before the pre-race meeting.
25 teams had signed up for the elite race and the Start/Finish line was crowded with teams getting ready. Click on the links below to check out the Instructions, maps and our GPS track.
The race largely followed the Suwannee River with multiple transitions through the Start/Finish TA. Having multiple transitions through the S/F allowed us to not carry a lot of gear during the race, unlike the Atomic AR where we had to carry our gear, food and water along the entire course. The race started at 3PM with a 7-mile death run in 95+ temperature. The run went well, except for a 0.5 mile detour that took us nowhere and allowed a few teams to pass us.
The end of the run had us transitioning to the canoe for an 8.5 mile paddle down the Suwannee river. Along the way we were to encounter Big Shoals, the only Class III rapids in Florida, and it’s sibling, Little Shoals. We had just run the Class II rapids at Coosa River so we had our game faces on for the Big Shoals.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of rain, the river was down and instead of Class III rapids, we found ourselves doing the bump and grind over submerged rock formations. But, that wasn’t enough to keep us from earning style points. Just look at us taking the rapids backwards. All I remember is Ana telling me, “But, I don’t want to go backwards!”
The Boat 1 section was uneventful and, like usual, we were passed by a number of teams that put in after us. I don’t know why we are such slow paddlers. 2 hours and 44 minutes later, we finish Boat 1 by arriving back at the S/F with aching backs and sore butts–ready to start Bike 1.
It was starting to get dark as we geared up for Bike 1. Of course, we were completely prepped in advance for the dark…I mean come on, it’s called the Nocturnal Challenge…who would show up without any batteries in their flashlights for the “Nocturnal Challenge”. So, after putting batteries in our lights, and eating a Heater Meal, we headed out for Bike 1. The first checkpoint, CP11, turned out to be a real B*&%%^$*&! We searched and searched and other teams showed up and searched too. Someone finally found it, not us, and everyone rushed to get the punch and move on. Continuing onward to CP12 and CP13, the thunder we had been hearing since the end of the canoe leg started growing louder and by CP14 all hell broke loose. The storm was right on top of us and the flash of lightning was immediately followed by the booming thunder. We could hardly make out the trail in front of us and we ditched CP14 for the trailhead, hoping to take shelter. At the trailhead, we found a small sign post with a roof that we huddled under with another team.
We had no idea there was a large pavilion a few yards away, where a couple of teams were already huddled, until Brendon from Team America rode over in the storm and told us. Adventure racers are awesome people!
While the storm raged, a couple more teams showed up and the next thing we know there were almost 15 people crowded together under the pavilion. And that’s when the party train began. Once the rain diminished, we all headed back for CP14. With the gang of people, it took us no time to find it. We all then headed off to find CP15-CP20. Since the CPs were all on one single track there was no reason to push ahead only to be caught by the train as your team went looking for the CP. If you opted to stay behind to hunt the CPs on your own, you risked being killed in the standings because the large group would find the CPs much faster with so many people searching. I thought it would be fun to stay with the group to get a feel for how other people orienteer, especially since I’m new at it and the group had much more experienced racers such as Ron Eaglin and Craig Sheriff. Craig was leading the pack and I think he did a fantastic job. We were going so fast that I couldn’t keep track of where we were on the map and with as many twists and turns in the trail, I would have definitely gotten turned around and taken much longer to finish this section. Night navigation is tough, night navigation on a bike going down a single track is extremely tough. Great job, Craig.
The party train separated at the trailhead after finding all the CPs in Bike 1. Ana and I watched the taillights of the other racers quickly diminish in the night as we wondered aloud, “Why are we so slow on the bike.”
Back at the S/F for a transition to Boat 2 we saw Aargh Maties packing up for the night. This was one of the teams that kicked our butts on the Boat 1 section with regular canoe paddles. Such strong paddlers and runners, we hope to see them again in future races.
Boat 2 had us paddling 5 miles on the Suwannee in pitch darkness with steam rising from the waters creating such a mist that you could hardly see the river banks on either side. We were on the River Styx paddling straight to the underworld and Ana was NOT THRILLED. Ana had already seen one alligator during the day and now at night, with just the two of us in a small canoe in this pitch black, we were a little concerned. Ok, I may have been poopin’ bricks, but I was putting on a good show of bravery. You have to recall, we’re the same team that dumped our canoe at the launch a few months ago, so we’re not really experts here. We crawled down the river, trying to stay calm knowing that once we had launched, there was no turning back. There was a little freak out moment when a pair of eyes came off the shore and into the middle of the river, right where we were heading. I didn’t think the gator was ever going to dive below and I ended up hitting the water with my paddle, hoping to scare it. It finally dove underwater and I thought to myself, “I don’t really feel any better knowing it’s below us.”
We finally found CP21 and had just started approaching the shore to look for CP22 when Team America came upstream looking for CP22. We decided to band together to hunt for CP22 and continue the canoe journey together. Let me tell you, it is amazing how having one or two other people can take the scare right out of the situation. Everything was once again right with the world. We had gone from dreading the canoe to almost enjoying it. We were buzzed by bats a few times and ended up seeing 3 gators before finally finishing Boat 2.
Foot 2 was an amazing night hike along some of the prettiest sections of the Florida Trail. Team America was with us and we were finding the checkpoints without too much trouble. By this time, our pace was a moderate walk but I was ok with that. Night navigation is really tough when I try to go fast. We found CP24, CP25, and CP26 without many problems and were going to attempt CP27 until we ran into Florida Xtreme/Hunter and they said they had looked for CP27 for an hour and couldn’t find it. If they couldn’t find it, I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t have found it. So we gave it up and pressed for the others. We were hoping to find CP28 but after looking for a while, we gave it up as well. Looking at Google Earth, I think we were close but my bearing and distance are off a little. If someone knows the GPS coordinate of it, please send it to me. I’d love to know how far off we were.
We found the remaining CPs on Foot 2 and discussed whether we were going to try for any Bike 2 CPs or not.
Team America decided to try to pick up CP31 and CP38 before calling it a day and since we still had a little over an hour, we decided to tag along. The newly forged Team Disoriented Americans was doing pretty good so far and so we decided we might as well go for a few more points. CP31 and CP38 were right on the bike trail so we found them easily. I also found that I can throw myself off my bike while swatting my helmet off my head when I decided to catch a 3-inch Banana Spider with my face. Oh yeah, I definitely squealed like a little girl. It’s okay Ana, you can laugh now.
We tried to pick up CP37 but time was getting short, and the trail was getting more difficult to follow, so we packed it in and called it a race.
We really liked working with Team America but didn’t enjoy the Party Train experience of Bike 1. Having so many people congregating on the same path took the fun out of the race. Although it was nice not to have to navigate, we felt like we were just following the herd. And, in the end, it almost feels like cheating when other teams are finding the checkpoints. That’s why, even though we may have come ahead of the Canyoneros in points on this race, we didn’t beat them. We only got lucky enough to fall into the herd for CP15-CP20.
Oh, and precooked bacon at 2AM is a blessed thing!
Many thanks to Greg, the Pangea crew and volunteers. Another excellent race! And thanks to all the racers that make these events so much fun.
17 hours 23 minutes
55 miles covered trail running, mountain biking and canoeing
5500 calories burned
15th place out of 25 teams
1 hell of a good time