“1…2…3…Jump!” Ana yells.
Jump? Yeah, you just hold on one stinkin’ second there little lady.
This is no “jump” this is a plummet into an abyss and I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared to plunge my body over the edge just yet.
“Oh my gosh, you didn’t jump?!” Ana says “1…2…3…Jump! Do it!”
“But, I don’t wanna jump!” I whine before hurling myself over the edge. I don’t like heights, I never have. I probably never will. But, adventure racing has a way of taking you outside of your comfort zone and making you do things you wouldn’t normally do for the sake of your team.
Eventually, I splash into the Coosa River below and after checking that my Man Card is still in my back pocket, we press on with the race.
Way back in 2014, when we just started adventure racing, we did the Coosa River Challenge and had an absolute blast. We weren’t able to make it back in 2015, but were extremely excited that we would make it in ’16. The Coosa River Challenge is more than just a race, it’s an event. It all starts with a pre-race party at Coosa River Adventures the night before. Racers are treated to a delicious meal provided by the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, an open keg of beer (Score!), and live entertainment by Sam Marsal. But, don’t let the party atmosphere fool you. While some come just for the challenge of completing the race, there are plenty of competitive athletes ready to rock the course in the morning.
The race starts at the Swayback Bridge Trailhead, a 12-mile network of gnarly single track maintained by the Trail of Legends Association. 230+ competitors started off trail running a short section of switchbacks and hills, making their way to the top of Jordan dam and then returning to the start location to transition to bikes.
We quickly transitioned to bikes, shoving down a fig bar and a bottle of Skratch before riding off. I didn’t want to bonk again like I did at the Cauldron, so we took a little time to get some fluids and food in us. I don’t like heights, Ana doesn’t like single track. It’s just the way things work for us. But, today was the day Ana decided to fly. Two years ago we struggled to make it up the climbs, but this time she was powering the ups and bombing the downhill sections. Maybe she had the Eye of the Tiger, maybe I spiked her Skratch with cocaine…I’m not saying. But I was impressed.
Back to the start, we transitioned to foot and made a quick dash to the base of Jordan Dam for an orienteering challenge. For this section we had to answer a few questions on compass use and plot a couple of bearings. In 2014 there wasn’t an orienteering section and I was happy to see that it was back for this year. For us, orienteering is one of the reasons we love adventure racing.
The rest of the race was down the Coosa River with stops along the way to do certain challenges. The first challenge was to swim our kayak across the river. If there is a good way to swim a kayak across a river, please post it in the comment section below. Call me kooky, but I’m pretty sure man didn’t create a kayak so that he could hang on to the outside of it and swim it across a river. I have never felt so inept in my life! I tried the front crawl. I tried the side stroke, I tried holding on to the back and just kicking. The only thing that worked for me was letting Ana swim it across. That made it a lot easier.
Once Ana, I mean we, swam the kayak across the river we had to execute the leap of death. From atop a 40 foot rock, we had to jump into the Coosa River below. Okay, maybe it wasn’t 40 feet, but it was high. Higher than it was 2 years ago, and higher than in my nightmares of the week leading up to the race. Needless to say, we did make the jump and I’m alive and I’m pretty thankful for that.
After the rock jump, we got to paddle our boats back to the launch location where we would do the 85 foot rappel. This was my favorite part, mainly because I didn’t have to do it. Look, it’s my job to kill all the spiders and roaches. Ana’s job is to do the high, scary stuff and not tell my buddies that I’m too chicken to do it. Ana flew down the rope like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. It was beautiful to watch, especially with both feet on solid earth.
Back on the boats, we were now in full paddle mode, except that the paddles were more like dumbbells with blades on the end. Seriously, I think they were made out of driveshafts they weighed so much. We cruised down to Dead Beaver Island, a perfect place to camp out, drink a few cases of beer, and make 200+ people crawl through a pipe that’s been 90% submerged in muddy water. Lucky for us, they left just enough room at the top of the pipe to breathe…that is if you’re a freakin’ dolphin with a hole in the top of your head. For us normal humans, not so easy.
After Dead Beaver Island, we made the run down to Moccasin Gap, a Class III rapid and the largest rapid on the Coosa. We didn’t have any issues with this one and were starting to feel pretty proud of ourselves. That is until we hit Big House Rapids.
Let’s go left around this rock…
No, no let’s go right!
Ah $hit! Let’s see if we can go over it!
So, there we sat pinned atop some rock in the middle of the river as our good friend Kaitlin comes cruising past. Why is it that people always arrive just when you’re screwing up?
You need help?
Nah, we got this. Just wanted to stop for a bite to eat.
We worked ourselves free and headed off to Corn Creek Park for a short orienteering course where we quickly grabbed 3 checkpoints and then headed back onto the water. We had another 1.5 miles of paddling before the final takeout at Coosa River Adventures. And, after three and a half hours of solid racing what I really, really wanted to do was a few air squats and burpees. How about a punch in the gut? Can I get one of those too, please?
Ana could now smell the end of the race…or was that me. Whatever. She knew it was close by and after scraping her amazingly handsome husband off the ground, she was ready for the final sprint to the finish.
“Come on! This is it! This is it!”, she yelled.
We burst out of the recently cut trail near Coosa River Adventures and saw our old teammate, Stu, waiting to run the final leg of the race with us. What a fantastic surprise! A mad dash through Gold Star Park and we finished, 1st place Co-ed.
We celebrated with peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and the most awesome cookies ever. Seriously, who made those cookies?! They were delicious and in a convenient Ziploc bag of 20. We were supposed to take a bag each, right?
Once again the Coosa River Challenge was awesome. The race director, Therese Carter, always does an amazing job of putting together a top-notch event. I don’t know how she does it every year, or where she finds her amazing volunteers. Maybe she pays them in cookies. Regardless, I’m not asking questions, I just know we’ll be back as often as we can! Thanks everyone it really was amazingly fun.
Oh, and one last comment. Post-race, some buddies and I hit one of the race sponsors, Los Mayas Mexican Restaurant. The food was excellent and we ended up ordering so much of it that they had to move us to another table because ours was too small to hold all the plates. Stinky, sweaty, middle-aged men in spandex pants sucking down burritos. Now that’s a mental image nobody wants.