Who wouldn’t want to race 36 hours straight in Florida, in September. What’s not to love about asphalt melting sun pushing temperatures well into the 90’s while you and your team run around in spandex suits sucking hot water out of a plastic straw connected to your backpack. That, my friends is the definition of fun. And if you can add in getting lost, dehydration, and the overwhelming desire to puke, well you’ve hit the jackpot and pushed yourself into euphoria.
Off the Grid Racing race directors Erik, Jeanette, and Craig put together a completely new course for us around beautiful Marianna, Florida. And when I say beautiful, I mean crystal clear springs, limestone outcroppings, numerous caverns, natural sinks and a ton of history and old Florida charm. For the adventurer, or eco-tourist, Marianna needs to be on your list…just maybe in October or November when the weather is cooler.
Race Maps and Clue Sheet
The race started at midnight with a foot section from Merritt’s Mill Pond. Starting a race has always been a problem for us, mainly because there are so many teams heading off in different directions and the pace is always excessively fast. Not knowing the area, we headed off in one direction along with Ron and his team, FLX Adventures. But, after hopping a fence and running into thick brush, we decided to take a different route. We floundered for a few minutes but recovered and started to tick off CPs. It seemed that many CPs centered on a pump house and by using this as our anchor point, we made short work of this section.
One of the CPs was inside of a cave, and when they say “inside a cave” they meant really inside the cave. We first gave it a cursory look, didn’t see the flag and moved on. Only to discover minutes later that the flag was in there, just tucked way in the back.
By the time we cleared this section and transitioned to bike, Pangea, FLX Adventures, Canyoneros, and Wet Feet AR had already left on bike.
Let me introduce you to Quadzilla, I mean Erik Wise the race director.
He likes to run around in his underwear, maybe it has something to do with his days in the Navy. I don’t know. But I do know that he likes biking, a lot. And any race he puts together will have plenty of it. For this section, we were to bike to the Hinson Conservation Area, collect a few checkpoints on foot and then bike back to Merritt’s Mill Pond. As we started the bike section, we passed Wet Feet AR and soon caught up with FLX Adventures who were looking for BP2 – NW corner of Chester Rd. & Old Spanish Trail.
After playing Brer Rabbit for 20 minutes, we finally found the checkpoint on the SW corner. North corner…South corner…whatever. Who uses their stinkin’ clue sheet anyway.
Sometime during that long, dark bike ride, we met up with the Canyoneros and started a pace line with them. They ended up falling back for some reason, and when we looked back to see where they were, we heard this snarling, barking and crashing through the woods. I assumed that it was just a couple of frenzied dogs running out to the end of their fence line. But once I heard claws hit asphalt, I wet my pants a little and hit turbo. There is nothing worse than pedaling your ass off and hearing crazed dogs gaining on you. About the time I got to the fifth line of the Lord’s Prayer, I could hear them backing off. We were worried for the Canyoneros since they were behind us, but they said by the time they ran into the dogs they were on the side of the road panting their lungs out.
We finally rolled into the Hinson Conservation Area with FLX Adventures and after transposing the checkpoint locations from a master map to our map, we headed off on the trek. While Ron’s group decided to attack the trek going south, we took the northern route.
It was dark and we had a hard time locating the karst window (TP5). What’s a karst window you ask? Yeah, we wondered the same thing until we saw this huge hole in the ground with an orange flag at the bottom of it.
This section seemed to take a really long time and I felt that we were floundering. There didn’t seem to be anything we could do to speed things up and I could feel our 3rd place standing floating away.
We finally emerged from the woods, having cleared the section and as soon as we reached the transition area to hand in our punch card, FLX Adventures emerged from the opposite woods. It was crazy to think we went in at the same time, took totally opposite directions, never saw or passed each other, and yet finished the section at exactly the same time. Crazy I know!
We now had 4 CPs left to collect on our way back to Merritt’s Mill Pond to start Boat 1, and it was only 7 hours into the race.
Merritt’s Mill Pond is absolutely stunning.
Did I mention it was stunning. Not kinda cool, but absolutely stunning. We arrived about the same time as FLX Adventures and ended up circling the mill pond with them. I wish that we had some awesome videos or pictures, but we were slackers on this section and didn’t take any. Just imagine pure awesomeness in a canoe and you get the idea. Yeah, just like in the photo below!
Back on the bikes, we tried in vain to chase down Pangea, who we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the race. This leg was a slog, with long dirt roads and sweltering heat.
We struggled with BP14 (Oak in swamp south side), but after searching both the south and north sides of the swamp, Todd stopped a passing truck and the local told us that the landowner had removed the flag. Time wasted.
We continued our chase of Pangea, rattling our brains out on the washboard dirt roads. At one point Todd had a slow-motion crash and laid in the dirt like a flipped turtle with his bike on top of him. Sorry for laughing dude, it was funny.
One of the last checkpoints was in an abandoned church. If you want to freak yourself out, head out to Parramore, Florida: A Real Florida Ghost Town, and crawl around an abandoned church. Dead flowers and religious artifacts in a decaying building, there was no way I was heading in there alone. “Hey Todd, why don’t you be a good pal and go in and grab that checkpoint while I stay out here and look at the maps?” Yeah, he wasn’t buying it either.
We made it to the Marianna Cavern’s State Park at 6:30PM, an hour before the time cutoff. 18 hours into the race and so far we were clearing the course. Unfortunately, the cavern’s trek was the start of the breakdown.
As the sun was fading, we started off on the Fence Line Trail, a 3 mile loop with a few CPs on it. After clearing this section, we headed off to the Sink Hole trail where CP25 led us to a bonus CP, 600 meters into the woods on a direct bearing. After finding the bonus CP, it pointed us to a second bonus CP another 600 meters into the woods on a direct bearing. I was physically fading fast and all we could think about was the other teams skipping these far out CPs in exchange for collecting more points on the paddle and the Bellamy Foot Section at the end of the paddle. We decided to skip the second bonus CP and head to the Cavern Trail where there was a greater concentration of points to be collected.
By the time we made it to the Tunnel Cave, I could feel myself really struggling. We hit the bathroom and I splashed water on my face to recover. It didn’t work and we decided to crash for 15 minutes on some benches. Todd and Ana were snoring in seconds, but I couldn’t get any rest. We soon pressed on.
Ana had to carry my pack and hers as we struggled to clear this section. I was pretty useless by this point and Todd and Ana had to do all the work. We made another tactical decision to drop a far out CP to a hidden cave with the hope of making the paddle and the other foot section. We were sure other teams had moved on long ago.
I stripped down to spandex shorts and running shoes, trying to cool off and stay in the race. Let me tell you, ain’t nothing pretty about a shirtless man in spandex shorts.
We made it back to the Caverns TA and found Junos from FLX Adventures recuperating from dehydration…it seems the heat had affected a number of racers. I tried to eat and drink, but couldn’t stomach anything. I told the team I needed to rest for 45 minutes and then we could figure out our next move.
At the Caverns TA, we learned that all of the other teams were still out on the trek portion, and no teams had gone out on the paddle yet. That was a frustrating blow, since we gave up 2 controls thinking the other teams had pressed ahead. But that’s part of Adventure Racing, making those tactical decisions in an attempt to maximize points.
Pangea came through the TA, and decided to head out on the paddle to pick up a few points. I was still passed out on the ground trying to recover. When 12 Chunky Layers passed through the TA and started heading out on the paddle, I got up and we strategized about our next move. We could either do a short paddle and hope to collect 3-4 points, do the last bike section of 45-60 miles to collect 6 points, or just bike to the finish and go with what we had.
With the hope of an easy paddle, we set out on the Cavern Boat section…we were idiots.
We soon found out that the water level was down 3-5 feet and the river was filled with downed trees. We picked up one checkpoint and struggled with multiple portages before abandoning all hope of collecting any more. We did find the second bonus CP from the Cavern’s Trek section, but that wouldn’t help us any.
We decided to turn back and ran into Pangea along the way back to the boat take out. We weren’t sure how many CPs they had collected but we knew that they would kill us on the final bike section, so we didn’t try to chase them down.
From the Cavern’s TA, we decided to just bike it in. The bike points were too far away and my butt couldn’t handle another 45 mile bike ride. I already felt like someone had been spanking my ass all night, and not in the fun 50 Shades of Gray kinda way.
We pulled into the Finish after 34 hours and 28 minutes of racing. 40 minutes later Pangea rolled in, having collected 1 bike CP along the way. At the closing ceremonies, we were surprisingly announced as the winner, but a couple of days later the count was re-tallied and we discovered that we had actually come in 2nd place…from 1st place to 1st loser.
I was totally frustrated with myself knowing that I had let the team down and lost the race for us. A few days after the race, I texted those sentiments to Todd and his reply was, “I race to be a better me, meet great people, and push the possible, not just to win. I accomplished all that in this race. Could have been one of the most challenging I’ve done.”
Well said my friend, I couldn’t have phrased it any better! Thanks for racing with us and being a great teammate. To be able to race with someone for 36Hrs and laugh throughout the whole damn thing is awesome. You’re rock solid and we look forward to more races with you and Broccoli #2.
As far as losing. There’s no better team to lose to than Greg, May-Li, Jake and Allen from Pangea. They are an amazing group of tough, seasoned racers and some of the friendliest competitors out there. Good luck at Nationals!
A big thanks to Erik, Jeanette, and Craig for putting on an amazing race. Cheers to all those who we competed against, it was a great time and we’ll see you out there soon! And special thanks to our outstanding sponsors whose products pull us through: