I can always tell how amazing an adventure race is by how long it takes me to break out of my funk once I get back. Upon returning from a race, life seems a little more mundane and monotonous and my mind relentlessly replays the highs and lows of the event with a longing to be back out there. Work duties are met with sighs of resignation and just getting to the office is almost a monumental task itself. Usually, after a day or two passes, and the excitement from the race wears down, the nose is reapplied to the grindstone and life assumes it’s normal pattern. But, here it is a week later and all I can think about is Sea to Sea in 2017.
How do you even begin to write a race report on a 72Hr non-stop event? There is so much to take in that it seems a monumental task. Many people have asked us about the race now that we have returned, and every time we try to describe it, I can tell that we’re just not capturing it. The descriptions seem pale and empty even to us and what was lived in Technicolor is relayed in muted grays. There is no way that I can relate, either in words or in script, how absolutely amazing an adventure like this is. It’s the actualization of a goal, something that you’ve trained for and committed to. Something that you have pledge valuable time and money to. And here you are, in the midst of it all, racing for everything you’re worth–sometimes joyous, sometimes angry, sometimes beaten, sometimes elated, but most importantly always in the moment.
40 freaking maps! Seriously, my map case is on the verge of popping, along with the aneurism in my head. I have no idea how to take in and parse this much information. Do we detail plan? Do we wing it during the race? So many time cutoffs and decision points. What CPs do we skip? Do we try to clear it? Ana tries to keep me focused and moving through the maps to get an overall sense, but I’m lost. I’ll be up all night if I try to detail plan and that plan will probably change as the race progresses anyway. Forget it! I decide to plan for the first day and try to get some sleep. Ha! Sleep. Who sleeps before a race like this?
Start – Honeymoon Island Trek (8 miles, trail)
We wake up early and are bussed to the other side of Florida, where the race will begin with an 8-mile trek for 4 checkpoint. The race starts and ain’t nobody trekking. When the lead teams start off running, we all go running. Stupid, maybe…but fun none the less. Our highlight for this section is when Ana gets within a stride of stepping on this beauty…
I guess we didn’t notice the signs coming into Honeymoon Island. Well, we’re awake and ready to race now.
Segment 1: Urban Trails Bike (45 miles)
On a good day, we can maintain 15-18mph on a mountain bike, so this leg would be about 3 hours for us, and quite possibly the longest non-stop ride we’ve done. We’re not cyclists and my butt scabs can attest to that. There were 4 CPs here and if I would have remembered to take our photo at the Flatwoods Trailhead sign, we wouldn’t have had to turn around and add a few more miles to this leg. But, we were enjoying the ride so much…
Segment 3 – Lower Hillsborough Trek (18 miles)
The race directors had made a change, cancelling out the Lettuce Lake Park and Hillsborough River Paddle, so we were to collect CP9 on the way to Morris Bridge Park.
At Morris Bridge, we had to decide whether to complete the next section by foot or canoe. If you chose to do the next section on foot, then you had to make a water crossing to get to the next transition area. Otherwise, you could take a canoe, miss a few checkpoints, but paddle to the next TA. Our plan was to take the canoe, but then Super Frogs were heading out on foot and so was Broccoli Covered Powder Babies…what to do, what to do! We waffled on our approach and decided in the end to do this section on foot. It took us 3 tries to leave the TA as 1) I left the passport at the water station and 2) we had to backtrack and let the race directors know that we changed our mind and were going out on foot. The catch was, we had to be at the next TA by 10PM or we would start losing points. Ana was nervous about the late night water crossing, but it looked like we would be able to clear this section in time.
We were doing fine on this section until we got to CP14, probably one of the easiest CPs in the race. I thought it was further up the trail then it was and we wasted 20 minutes going too far. By now, we knew we were in trouble and made a dash for the water crossing, skipping CP11 entirely. But, the trails gods were not playing kindly and we entered a maddening labyrinth of mountain bike trails. Night had come and the dreaded water crossing was getting nearer, Ana was getting more anxious and I just wanted out of the maze. As soon as we turned the corner to start the crossing, Florida Xtreme and Epoch Adventure Racing showed up and we made the crossing in numbers. Ana was almost giddy, and I was too.
The powerlines that we followed led us to the back of a neighborhood and we couldn’t find our way out. As our headlamps looked for an exit, we must have pissed off someone because the next thing we hear is a shotgun being fired. Good time to run! We pushed as hard as we could, but missed the cutoff by 8 minutes and lost a point…bummer.
Segment 4 – Green Swamp Bike Crossing (75 miles)
75 bum-busting miles on a mountain bike. Oh the joy! This would be by far the longest bike ride we’ve ever done. For next year, maybe I’ll look into getting one of these to prepare better.
I might even rock the beard too because nothing says kickass adventure racer like a full grown squirrel wrapped around your chin.
Out of the stack of 40+ maps, Map 4A was the only one that I had problem with. I just couldn’t make out the street markings from TA3 to CP18, luckily it was easy navigating, and the rest of the maps were excellent. We were tripped up trying to find the entrance to the Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve for CP19 and when a lady busted out of her mobile home and started yelling at us, we decided to bail on this control before the shotguns were brought out.
We were now feeling like we were trying to play catch-up with the rest of the racers, so we decided to skip any of the bonus controls. We didn’t even try for BCP20 or BCP21, plus I couldn’t figure out from the map how to get to BCP20. What’s that you say? “Supplemental Map 4B?” Hmm, yeah that probably would have helped…it looks so easy now.
Off to the Green Swamp Main Entrance where we met up with some other teams and began to bang out CPs. For CP26, we were to record the last 2 digits of the site ID on a gauging station on the other side of a marsh. We attempted to bushwhack in from the west, but then Chunk had a great idea that there must be an access road somewhere close. Sure enough there was and we punched the CP and pressed. Daybreak was coming, temperatures were dropping, and we were pretty sick of being on our bikes. A few more miles and we could trade our bike saddles for canoe seats…the bliss! (That’s called sarcasm for those that didn’t catch it)
Segment 5 – Palatlakaha River Paddle (6.5 miles)
We didn’t make the 8AM cutoff to do the orienteering course so we went straight to paddling across the Atlantic, I mean Lake Minnehaha. Now, my friends, if you suffer from insomnia, do I have a cure for you. Simply race for 20 solid hours and then try paddling across a featureless lake for 2 hours. We had a fierce headwind with waves crashing into us, wanting to capsize the little canoe. But the warmth of the sun and the rhythmic beat of the paddles was an irresistible lullaby. I slightly recall thinking, I’m going to fall asleep and drown right here, and I’m kinda okay with that.
We paddled and paddled and paddled some more. Ana and I played mind games like, Go from A to Z naming a rock band…Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, The Cure, Depeche Mode…you get the idea. This was fun for about 30 minutes, not 2 hours. The problem with racing with your spouse is that you already know how all their stories end. So, we decided next race we’ll retell our same stories to each other but make up new endings. I’m going to be an astronaut!
We finally made it to TA5 where we waited anxiously for our bikes to begin another 35 mile bike ride. Day 1 of a 3-day race was complete, and we couldn’t wait to begin day 2, if only my posterior didn’t look like…