Can you believe that we actually made it to our first Adventure Race with time to spare? Yep, it’s true. We actually arrived early for the 2014 Coosa River Challenge in Wetumpka, AL. Probably helped that it was only 3.5 hrs away and there wasn’t a time change. Race check-in started at 4PM at the Coosa River Adventures with a pre-race dinner starting at 6PM. That’s right, dinner! Chicken breasts with wild rice, pasta, dinner rolls and steamed veggies. Oh and did I forget to mention the ice cold beer on tap. Boom, someone knows how to get a party started right.
Not only that, but they had live entertainment too. Jason Givens from Montgomery came out to play and he sounded fantastic. Checkout his website and sample his music. I think you’ll be impressed.
It was a beautiful night to hang out with good friends, eat good food, listen to good music and talk about the adventure race to come. Hats off Coosa, you started this off right!
This was going to be our first race with my buddy Lacy and his friend Jamal. This was going to be their first Adventure Race, and Jamal just bought his mountain bike 2 days prior to the race, so we knew it was going to be a true adventure.
Saturday morning we met at the Gold Star park for a pre-race briefing and a short bus ride to the race start. One of the cool things about the Coosa River Challenge is that they start you off in one of three groups: the “In it to win it” group, the “Competitive but shoes won’t be smoking group” and a 3rd group that I can’t think of the name, but I’m sure it was witty. We were in the competitive group which meant we wouldn’t be trampled by the kids with the pumped up kicks.
The race started with a 3-3.5 mile trail run. Jamal led the way with an 8:30/mile pace and we were feeling pretty good. After a couple of miles of running, we had our first challenge, The Egg Carry, where we had to use a spoon to carry an egg as we went over then under ropes stretched across a bridge. No eggs were hurt during our traverse and we quickly finished up the challenge and the rest of the foot section. The run ended at the starting location and we transitioned to mountain biking. And here’s where the magic began. During the foot section, we passed a good handful of teams, but we gave the lead right back to them on the bike section.
Lacy was the dominator on this section of the race. He bounded over the course but then had to wait for the rest of us to catch up. I never considered us to be bad mountain bikers, but I bet many of the teams behind us considered us to be bad mountain bikers. Perhaps if someone could take out a few of the rocks and roots and perhaps lessen the steepness of some of the uphills then we’d do alright. In our defense, there just aren’t that many hills in Florida to practice on. We tried to pull over and let faster teams through. At one point I think there must have been 8 riders behind us waiting to pass. Our slow train chugged along the trail and we counted the miles until we got to finish the biking section. Truthfully, the single track was amazingly fun and I can’t wait to go up there and ride it again.
After the mountain bike section, we ran down to the river to start the kayak leg. Since there was not going to be a rappelling or bouldering section, the race committee thought it would be “fun” to give us our kayaks and paddles on one side of the river but not allow us to use them until we swam them across the river. You ever try swimming with a life jacket on while pulling a kayak. Words can’t describe how much “fun” I was having. Actually words can describe it, not very nice words.
Once we swam our kayaks across the river, we had to scramble to the top of a boulder and leap off it before being able to kayak down the river. First, I don’t like heights. Second, I really don’t like jumping from anything high. Third, I really don’t like it when the safety guy is telling me to, “make sure you really jump out far because it ain’t too deep unless you get out a ways.” Now, I don’t know how high this rock is but I can tell you that once I jumped I had enough time to think, “Oh Crap!!! This thing is really high…wow it’s higher than I thought…wonder when I’ll hit the water…hmm i’m not so scared anymo SPLASH!!”
After the jump of death, we got in our kayaks and set off down the river. Since there wasn’t an orienteering section in this race, the organizers had us stopping along the river at certain locations where they posted signs guiding us to the next point. The first stop was Blue Mushroom Island where a map directed us to kayak upstream around an island and then downstream to Dead Beaver Island. Let me tell you, paddling upstream against the Coosa River current at this particular location was impossible. When we rounded the corner to head upstream, there were 3 or 4 teams in front of us, pointed into the current paddling as hard as they could and going nowhere. It was comical. To cross this particular section we all ended up jumping off our kayaks and walking across the channel. Luckily, it was only thigh deep, but it was grueling walking up current pulling our kayaks. We rounded the corner and could get back on our kayaks and head downstream.
On the way to Dead Beaver Island, we had to go through Moccasin Gap, the only Class III rapids on the Coosa. Check out this pamphlet that describes the river and rapids.
Lacy and Jamal hadn’t kayaked in years, if ever, and here we were throwing them into Class III rapids, cue evil laughing BWAHAHAHA! After Ana and I ran the rapids, we would turn the boat around and wait for Lacy and Jamal to run the rapids hoping for a capsize…I mean to cheer them on. Unbelievably, they crushed Moccasin Gap.
But then they capsized on the Pipeline, a smaller Class II rapid further down the river. Downstream we went, on towards Dead Beaver Island where they had us get off the kayaks and run to a spot where we had to crawl through a pipe that was 3/4 submerged in muddy water…yum! Back on the boats, we headed to our next checkpoint where we got to do some CrossFit games; monkey bars, log run, and 20 box jumps.
Back on the boat one more time and our next stop had us doing a small jog to a set of obstacles; a balance beam crossing, a wooden pyramid climb, and scaling an 8 foot high Berlin Wall. After these obstacles we went back in the water but this time without our boats. Instead they had us swim the final leg, passing under the bridge and ending in Gold Star Park. I have never known Ana to be a swimmer but on this section she was gone. I was doing everything I could to catch up to her but every time I did, she just took off again. There I was banging up my knees on the submerged rocks scrambling to catch up and she’s sailing down the river offering advice to me on how to go faster. What a sweetheart!
On to the finish line and a post-race reception at Gold Star Park where Ms. Lew Sievers and Ms. Muriel Belmont had provided sandwiches, fruit, Gatorade and cookies for all the race participants and volunteers. Thank you ladies!
For this race, they group your team by combined age and have 2 divisions 0-79 and 80+. Since we’re both in our f..f..f..forties 😦 we fell into the 80+ group and got 2nd place. On stage, we received our awards, two very nice hand painted tiles. We weren’t out racing for results in this challenge. Since this was Lacy’s and Jamal’s first race, we just wanted to make sure that everyone had a great time, which we did. You can check out all the race results here:
I can’t recommend this race enough. It was an awesome experience. The race committee did a great job laying out the course. The volunteers were excellent. The pre- and post-race were top notch. We loved the mix of events. We only wish that they would have been able to keep the rappel and bouldering and I really wish they had an orienteering section. Other than those small gripes, this is an A+ event and we plan on going next year as well. Hope to see you there.