Howl at the Moon – 18Hr Adventure Race

Who would think that after 17 hours and 45 minutes of constant racing that the finish would come down to 2 teams racing neck and neck to the finish line…

After running into Broccoli Covered Powdered Babies (BCPB) throughout the race, it was them and us racing to be the first team back.  Of course, neither team knew how many CPs the other had collected, but we knew that we were close.  Going into the last paddle section, we knew that we had only missed one CP so far and that BCPB had missed 2.  However, they got on the paddle section before us and there were a total of 3 CPs out there–the race was up for grabs.

Note: For those that don’t know, adventure races are won first by points and second by time.  In other words, if team X gets 20 points and all the other teams get less than 20 points, then team X wins.  However, if team X gets 20 points and team Y gets 20 points then it goes to whomever gets to the finish line first.

Howl-at-the-Moon

Link to Race Maps

From the very beginning we knew that Howl at the Moon was going to be an interesting race.  The weather forecast had already informed us that Hobe Sound had experienced a week of heavy downpours with Thursday evening having almost 2 inches of rainfall.  Two inches of rainfall anywhere in Florida morphs an otherwise marshy landscape into a lake, hiking trails into creeks and creeks into running rivers.  It also displaces every nasty crawling, slithering creature you can imagine.  They would be everywhere searching for new homes as we tromped through their habitat.

David, Ana, Ben, Jake

Pre-race:

Check-in at 12, race start at 2, plenty of time to  looking over maps, strategize and prepare our gear for the 18Hr adventure we were bound to have.  Jake Brewer and I poured over the maps, mentally running through the flow of the course, highlighting routes and measuring distances.  Ana and Ben Brewer were getting the gear ready and figuring out how to cram gear, water and 8 hours of food into small packs.  Ron had promised us in the prerace meeting that this race would be a true adventure race, not some watered down version…and we were taking him seriously.

The pre-race meeting wrapped up at 1:30 and Ron announced, “The race will begin in 10 minutes.  Now we’re rushing around trying to finish all the little things we thought we had 30 minutes to do.  But that’s adventure racing, react to the unexpected.  At 1:40 Ron yells “Go!” and teams start racing out.  We’re still thrashing around our gear bins and we race off frazzled and not completely prepared.

Foot 1:

I’m sure these were trails once, but now they’re little more than ankle-deep creeks that either try to suck the shoe off your foot or fill it with muddy water.  The thought of jogging any of this is non-existent, it’s a slog.  While the whole foot course isn’t underwater, a good portion of it is, and we walk as quickly as possible.

We punch CP1 and head towards CP2, deciding that we’ll do a creek crossing rather than following the trail 1.5km around the creek.  This looked like an okay plan when we were looking at the map, but when we’re looking at the inky black creek that we have to cross, it doesn’t look so appealing.  With the rains, the creek that may have once been waist-high is now at least neck high…I wasn’t about to see exactly how deep it was.  Jake leads the charge, because he’s the man, and I go last to keep Ana from becoming gator bait.  Afterwards Ana tries to tell me that she must be a good swimmer because she was across the creek in no time.  I tell her that throwing her into an alligator infested creek that is as dark as oil is like throwing a cat into a bathtub full of ice cold water.  I wouldn’t exactly call the cat a good swimmer, it just managed to get itself out in a flash.  I’m not sure Ana even got wet.

CP3 and 4 were straight forward and after another swim across a murky black, fast-flowing creek we headed off to CP5.  We got a little off on CP5, heading north on a trail on the wrong side of the lake.  This was quickly resolved and we met up with BCPB while searching for this one.  From CP5, we hopped onto the highway for a quick march up to CP6.  I’m sure the commuters were wondering what 6 mud-covered spandex-clad people were doing out on the highway, but then again this is Florida, so maybe not.

BCPB hit the highway and sprinted off while we picked briers out of our shoes and took a more leisurely pace.  We followed the Florida Trail under the highway to CP7, but had difficulty locating the CP.  The clue was “ditch” and we knew we were in the right area, but couldn’t seem to locate it.  Jake amazingly sniffed it out and we cleared the section before heading off to the canoes.

Paddle 1:

There were only 3 CPs to pick up on the paddle back to the Start/Finish/Main TA where we would transition to bikes.  However, getting these CPs would prove a challenge for us and many other teams.  The recent rains had swollen the normally placid and narrow southwest end of the Loxahatchee River into a wide river flowing at over 4 miles per hour.  The river had risen almost 2 feet, completely covering spillway 1, and putting us 2 feet closer to low hanging branches.  The current rushed us through hairpin turns and maintaining control was near impossible.  Since the river had spread through the swamps, what once was land now became part of the river and knowing where the true river went became very difficult.  All we knew was to hold on as the current raced us downstream and to duck, dodge, or climb over as many branches and brambles as possible, trying not to get swept out of the boats.  The sun was rapidly fading and all I could think was, thank god we’re not trying to do this at night.

When we started the canoe section, we were surprised to find we were the 3rd team out.  Pangea Adventure Racing and Broccoli Covered Powder Babies  were 1st and 2nd, respectively.  It seems many other teams had struggled on Foot 1.

CP9 and 10 went well and Jake faultlessly guided us to the correct river branch leading to CP11.  By now it was completely dark and we were paddling against the strong current that before wanted to crash us into every overhanging branch or cypress knee.  It was almost impossible to make forward progress and our paddles madly churned the water as we pressed towards CP11.  The checkpoint was past a small footbridge and rather than try to portage around or over the bridge, we attacked by foot and found the CP.  I did my best Elastic Man impersonation to keep from having to swim in the water to punch the control.

17mtxg317o3thjpg

Clearing Paddle 1, we raced off to the Main TA.  Of course, with a 20% forecast of rain, it had to dump on us before the night was through.  The black sky erupted with brilliant flashes of lightning on the horizon and the skies opened up with a drenching downpour.  Having been soaking wet since the first 15 minutes of the race, a little more water didn’t matter much.

Bike 1

We raced off to Hobe Mountain and climbed the observation tower for the first bike CP.  But instead of a flag, there was a sign saying the actual checkpoint was 350 meters away on a bearing.  We bushwhacked and found it inside a small building.  We then rode to the Camp Murphy bike trailhead where we could either do the O-course or the single track.  We opted for the single track first and had a blast riding 8.6 miles of pretty sweet single track at night.  Club Scrub maintains the track and you can tell they have put their hearts into it.  It’s not easy building good single track in the sugar sands of Florida, but they are doing amazing work down there. [The following video is not mine and is +45min long.  I post it so those interested in seeing what the full single track looks like can watch.]

O-Course

Pangea Adventure Racing and Broccoli Covered Powder Babies were already out on the O-Course as we dumped our bikes and headed out on foot for what was promised to be a challenging section.  We hit the O-Course start, where we found the clue sheet for the remaining checkpoints, and attacked the course in order.  Working together on the navigation and the pace counting, we found most of the points without much issue.

I was really proud of CP8 because there wasn’t a clear attack point.  We measured the distance pre-race, counted out our paces, and headed directly west into the woods and ran right up to the control.  CP9 was the same, solid distance measuring, good pace counting, and holding to the bearing by leap frogging each other.  The team really worked well on this section and our navigation was spot on.  We returned to the bike drop for the O-course and found that we had jumped from 3rd place to 1st.  What?!

Bike 1 Continued

We were pumped.  We didn’t know what had happened out there on the O-Course but we knew that we were in first and had a real chance of winning this thing.  Unfortunately, we were now heading into our weakest event…biking.  Our plan was to attack Bike 1 CP3, 5, 4, then 6 (see map for numbering if interested).   CP3 took us well away from the course and was a 3 mile slog through jeep trails that were half underwater.  The water at some points was so high that we were slapping our pedals through water on the downstroke.  Many times we plunged into puddles so deep that we were knocked off our bikes into knee deep water.  My favorite moment was when Jake, leading us through one of these enormous puddles, yelled, “Gator on the left, stay to the right!”  Ana’s bike, sensing imminent danger, decides to buck Ana off into the puddle in an effort to save itself.  Thank goodness it was only a baby.

gator

This section was a slog and I got completely winded.  I could feel it sucking the strength out of me and many times I had to walk, even on the dry ground, just from exhaustion.  Ana, Jake and Ben were pedaling strong and I was frustrated being the one holding us back.

We had a difficult time finding CP3, but we stuck it out and finally found it.  At CP5 is where we met our demise.  So far we had cleared the course and still had time enough to clear the entire thing.  But CP5 had other plans.  First, we ran into a gate that we were sure was for private property, but we knew we had to go west and on the map there was a trail going west, right where the gate was.  Running north and south of the gate was a canal and as we approached the gate, at the edge of the canal, a gator launched itself into the water scaring the shiznit out of me.  We contemplated the map trying to figure out where to go and decided to hop the gate, which actually isn’t that unusual in adventure racing.  Many times you come across forest service gates that are locked and you have to jump them.  But once we started walking on the nicely packed gravel drive and saw cows beside us, we realized we were on someone’s property.  3AM in the morning, out in the middle of nowhere, is not when you want to stumble onto someone’s private property.  The barking of dogs prompted us to make a hasty retreat across the fence to reconsider our options.

Jake suggested swimming the canal and I replied with, “You gotta be a lot more convincing if you think you’re going to get me in that water.”  We realized there might be a crossing further south if we just followed the canal, so that’s what we did.  We finally made our way to the CP5 attack point–a T in the trail–and bushwhacked in.  The clue was edge of swamp and we went in until we were at least knee deep in water but never found the control.

Post race we discovered that with the amount of rain, the edge of the swamp was now in chest deep water.  4AM + Florida swamp + chest deep water = Big pile of NOPE!

Having given up on this control, my morale was pretty low.  We had spent so much time on these 2 bike CPs that had given us so much grief, that we knew we had blown any lead we had.  Not only that, now we weren’t sure if we’d even be able to clear the canoe section.  We hadn’t seen another team for hours and had no idea what the rankings were.  We picked up the remaining 2 bike checkpoints without much issue and headed off for the final leg.

Canoe 2

We got to the canoe section and discovered there was only 1 team out on the canoe section, Broccoli Covered Powder Babies.  They had all but 2 points so far, we had all but 1 point so far (having missed CP5).  There were 3 points out on the canoe section.  If we got all 3 and came in under the 18Hrs, we could win, anything else was a crap-shoot.  The fastest sports team cleared this section in 1:40 and we had a little less than 1:20 remaining.  We were off and paddling hard!  We went north up a little creek for the closest CP but it took us 25 minutes to get there fighting the current.  Jake looked at the map and he decided that we had to race back to the finish now because if any other team had cleared the previous sections, they could beat us on time.  There was no time remaining to pick up anymore CPs.  We raced down the creek and right where the creek meets the Loxahatchee river, we saw BCPB pulling in behind us from the south.  I told Ana that they probably got all 3 checkpoints and would end up winning this thing and she just kept saying, “You never know, maybe they only got 2.”  If I tried to say anything else, she would say, “Just paddle!”  I never looked back.  I didn’t want to see them overtake us.  We just paddled for all we had.  Coming to the boat ramp I yelled, “Grab your crap and let’s run!”  Ben was leading the charge sprinting to the finish but Jake was trailing in the back…”Come on Jake!  Come on!”  It was a freaking foot race to the finish.  BCPB landing seconds after we did and you could see them sprinting up the hill to pass us.  After 53 miles and 17:45 of racing it all came down to 1 second.

Amazing! Broccoli Covered Powdered Babies were beasts out there and we enjoyed every second racing with these guys (Go to their Facebook page and follow them, they’re hilarious).

Conclusion:

The course bested us all and no one cleared it, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.  Many thanks to Florida Xtreme Adventures for another amazing adventure race, it truly was epic.  And thanks to Jonathan Dickinson State Park and their vigilant rangers that kept watch over all the racers the entire night.  A special thanks to JJ, Ron, and Jim (the nicest guy you’ll ever meet).  You guys did a fantastic job with the course layout, the maps and instructions.  Everything was professionally ran.  The volunteers were amazing, of course, and these races couldn’t be done without them.  A very special thanks to our new racing partners, the Brewer Boys, Jake and Ben.  Thanks for racing with us guys, we’d love to partner up with you again anytime.  This was Ben’s 2nd adventure race and he did fantastic, leading the charge through numerous swamps in the dark!

Suggestions:

If I could suggest one eenie weenie tiny thing it would be that you guys would reinstate taking team photos before each race.  Some teams may not care, but for us the AR community is a big family and some of the coolest people I have met, I met through AR.  Many times we meet people pre-race or on the course and strike up instant friendships but after the race most of us have to rush back to our families and lives.  Pre-race photos with racer names helps us reestablish those friendships either online or at the next event, so for me their really important.

And if you’ve read this far…I am truly impressed and grateful.  Thank you.

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