2017 Earth Day – 18Hr

After doing a couple of these adventure races, you would think we’d know what the hell we were doing.  But, that wasn’t the case during the 2017 Earth Day 18 Hour Adventure Race by Florida Xtreme.  Sure, we ended up 3rd overall, but that’s due to a mispunch by two kickass teams that beat us to the finish by over an hour and a half.  They were so fast that they were eating breakfast at Waffle House while we were still out on the course dreaming of Waffle House.

We’ve never claimed to be fast, or good, but man that’s disheartening.  Anyway, let’s dig into this cheeseball…

Maps & Stuff

If you’re looking for an adventure race that is going to take you to some wild and beautiful locations, with some fun twists and turns thrown in, then look no further than one directed by Craig Sheriff.  Craig does a great job of hunting out cool locations and integrating them into a challenging course.  

Bike 1

For us, the misadventures began instantly.  The race started off with a short foot sprint and then a dash to find two CPs along the East Cadillac Trail.  We were 3rd, just behind ARGeorgia and Off the Grid Racing.  We hit the twisting single track, nailing the first CP and then completely blew by CP2.  It seems that when I transcribed the location of CP2, I put it too far east.  We saw a control, but thought it was a sport race CP and didn’t even stop to check it.  Oops.  We then had to backtrack to the control as 6-8 teams flew by.

Our next big mess up was at CP7.  I guess while I was busy shoving Snickers in my pie-hole, I must have missed where Fern trail branched off from the dirt road and jumped back into the woods.  Had I seen the fork, we would have quickly found the small wooden bridge we were looking for and been on our merry way.

Instead, we got to spend 15 minutes scooting across a gas pipeline to cross a creek and look for a CP that was not there.  The cool thing is that we were so sure we were in the right place we did it twice, until Bill Dean and his brother rode by and told us we were idiots for looking in the wrong location.  Looking at my map now, it’s easy to see that we overshot the location.  At the time, not so much.  Having screwed up two controls in less than two hours, we were not off to a good start and were probably 12th or 13th place by now.

One of the really cool places on the bike section was a visit to the Florida State Capitol building.

One of the not so cool things is we had to climb 22 stories to reach the CP at the top.

Actually it was really cool and I don’t know how Craig ever got it approved by the state government.  But I’m glad he did.

Calves ablaze, we descended the stairs and biked off toward the Tallahassee Museum.  Along the way, we biked past the FSU stadium and then had to find a CP in the Munson Slough.  Bill and his brother were kind enough to give us a hand getting our bikes down, and we returned the favor to them.

At the Tallahassee Museum, we got to experience our first zip line ever.  The sun was setting as we climbed obstacles and soared through the trees.  It was an incredible experience that I know all of the racers enjoyed.  We can’t wait to come back with our kids and do it again.

The only bad part was when Ana decided to do some product testing for Lupine by tossing her headlamp from the top of one of the platforms, into the swamp below.  Forty feet up and surrounded by swamp water, there was no way down and no way to recover the light.  Lucky for us though, she dropped her headlamp into the water at a canoe checkpoint, CP14.  Our only chance at recovering the light was to canoe to that control and search for it later that night.

Boat 1

Night was rapidly approaching and the first order of business was to go straight to CP14 (Near Zip Line) and try to recover our headlamp.  After a quick search, we found it in about 2 feet of water and it still worked perfectly.  I love Lupine.  What I don’t love is canoeing in a swamp at night without a light!

I wish we had taken more photos during the race to better show you what it was like at night, but we were playing catch up the whole time and photos were the last things on our minds.  Just imagine that you are surrounded by cypress trees that are all identical and you can’t make out the shoreline because it is so dark.  No matter which way you looked, everything looked the same.   It was like a bad text-based video game from the 80’s.

You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…

>Go North

You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…

>Go North

You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…

>Go East

You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…

>Go North

You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…

AAaarrrgghhhh!

It was eerily beautiful.  Our headlamps created a perfect reflection of the cypress trees on the black water as we paddled around the labyrinth of trees.  As we were looking for CP20 (Distinct Cypress) we heard this voice in the darkness…Hello?

Lionel?  Adele?  Nope, it was Mac Kelly from Chub Solo.  His headlamp had gone out and he was drifting in the darkness.  How he didn’t freak out, I don’t know.  We loaned him one of our lights and said he could either give it back to us at the end of the race or tag along with us.  He decided to tag along…silly guy.  We got to enjoy his company and he got to enjoy getting lost in the woods with us.

When we couldn’t locate CP20 (Distinct Cypress) we ended up backtracking to the previous control to try to follow the bearing again.  It seemed like it was going to take at least two attempts to find every control, and I was beginning to feel as if we would never get out of that swamp.

For CP21, we had to follow pink streamers down a small creek to locate a pond.  But the creek ended up turning into nothing but a mucky “trail”, through which we portaged our canoes.  And thank goodness we took our canoes because once we finally got to the pond, there was no way we were wading across a chest-deep pond in the middle of the night.  Some teams did, but then some teams are just flippin’crazy!

Another interesting feature that the race director led us to was a sunken car in the middle of the swamp.  Most likely a relic of the prohibition era, this was really cool to come across at night.

Foot 1

Finishing the paddle took us forever, and it was well into the night when we started our first foot section.  Craig had warned us that the foot section was going to be hard.  He also suggested we attempt it in reverse order.  We didn’t listen…we were stupid.

The first two controls were along trails and easy enough to find, but then it all went downhill.  By the time we got to CP26 (West Side of Bradford Brook) we had somehow caught up with ARGeorgia, Off the Grid Racing, and Florida Xtreme.  It seems the paddle and foot section were giving lots of teams problems.

Somewhere prior to CP27, we met up with Ron Eaglin, “The Human Compass” and his team, Florida Xtreme.  Since we were all walking at this point, we ended up finding CPs 27 & 28 together.  I don’t really like following other teams to controls, because I don’t feel like I learn anything that way, so we broke away from Florida Xtreme going towards CP29.  Not the wisest of choices.  Ron is a really good navigator and staying with them would have ensured we found the remaining controls quickly.

Instead we went on a 40 minute swamp stomp.  On the map, CP29 looks straight forward.  From CP28, shoot southwest until you hit the stream and follow it south until it forks…easy peasy.  Except that the creek turned into a swamp and we never could locate the fork.  We worked our way south down the creek and eventually gave up and bailed east to the powerlines.

To reattack, we headed northwest towards the powerline/creek intersection, pace counted southeast until we hit the powerline/trail intersection and headed straight west and found the control without any problems.  Sounds easy now.  Forty minutes wasted and we never saw Florida Xtreme, ARGeorgia, or Off the Grid Racing again.

The rest of the foot controls were straight forward, with many of them being in sinks.

Boat1 – Return

When we finished up Foot1, we had to return to the boat and then paddle back to the Boat TA, where we had originally launched.  Todd was working the boat nav and doing a great job, Ana was in the front being the motor, and I was in the back smashing palm-sized spiders before they crawled up Todd’s leg.  Todd loves spiders…and ticks.  He really loves ticks.

Foot 2

Once again, I was leading the nav and doing a freakingly stellar job of it.  We were jogging along an old road to CP39, because the clue was, “Along an Old Road.”  However, when the road ended and we didn’t find the control, I wasn’t surprised given the way the night was going.  The old road intersected with a new road.  So, we turned around and pace counted to where the control should be.  But, there was no control.  We looked in the woods where we thought the control should be, but nope, no control.  So, back up to the intersection to see if there was another old road that ran parallel to the one we were on.  I didn’t see one, so back down the old road we went.  When we got to the same spot again, I said screw it, I’m heading east until we hit the lake.  And that’s when I found another road running parallel to the one we were on.  And you know what was along that parallel road.  Yep, the control.  Good times.  

We had a couple of more controls on this section, and one of them had us pick up a Natural Ice can left behind by someone who thought it would be cool to drink Natural Ice and litter.  Neither of which is cool.  I felt good cleaning up a little piece of the forest, I felt bad sucking at navigation all night.  Perhaps a Natty Light or two would have helped.  It definitely wouldn’t have hurt by this point.

Bike 3

Finally done with the foot sections, it was time to climb back on the bikes, except that Ana’s tire was completely flat.  It seems her bike maintainer was a little too lazy to add more anti-leak goop to her tires before the race.  She probably would have fired the bum by now if he wasn’t so damn sexy in bike shorts.  A couple of blasts of compressed air and a prayer that it would hold together for 3 hours, and we were off.

CP43 had us bushwhack 35 meters into a tree line from a wooden fence along the St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail which put us nearly into someone’s backyard.  Pitch black, headlamps on, dogs barking their heads off and some dude yelling, “What the hell is going on out here!”  I’m just praying, “Oh dear Lord, please don’t let that man release his dogs because I am stuck in these briers and my legs are too cramped to run.”  Todd kept calling out, “Sir, we are NOT trying to get to your house.  We are in a race and looking for a flag.  We are NOT coming onto your property”.  Ever try to explain adventure racing to someone?  Try explaining it to someone who thinks you’re trying to sneak onto their property at night, while their dogs are going nuts.  Oh, the fun we have!

Not finding the flag, and not wanting to get shot, we got the bright idea to see if there was another wooden fence just up the trail…which, of course, there was.  And wouldn’t you know, there was a flag 35 meters in the tree line, just like the clue said.

Ana’s knee was absolutely killing her by now, and she was reduced to pedaling with one leg.  I didn’t know if she was going to be able to manage the hills of Tallahassee, much less the final single track section.  None of us had a towline, so we slowly worked our way towards the finish, picking up CP’s along the way and waiting for teams to pass us before we could finish.  I think it would have absolutely crushed her to have another team pass us on the bike.  But, if they had, it would have been due to my bad navigation throughout the night, not her bad knee.

We grinded it back to the Cadillac Trail and pushed through the final single track section.  I could hear Ana wince on every pedal stroke, but we knew if we could just get onto the canoe we’d have a good chance of retaining our position.

Boat 2

The final paddle was a 2 hour push through lily pad covered waterways.  I was unsure when the official race time was over, so we paddled as hard as we could to try to finish by 10AM.  Todd was doing a great job of navigating us through the mess.  I don’t think we made a single navigational error.

We did end up blowing by CP55 (on an old dock) and having to turn around to find it.  I’d like to think it was because our blazing paddles had us going so fast.  Truth is, it was because all of us were looking towards the shoreline…you know the place where most old docks are.  We’re all looking off to the right side of the boat as we slowly cruise past the flag on our left.

“See anything over there?”

“Nope.” Eyeballs straining to see across to the shoreline where old docks are supposed to be.

“Keep looking, it should be right here.”

“Nope, don’t see anything yet.”

As our boat slowly drifts by the damn flag that is within arm’s reach on the left side of the canoe.

Arms and back exhausted, we finally finished circumnavigating the Lafayette Heritage Paddle trail, collecting all of the CPs, and crawling to the finish just before 10AM. 

Conclusion

This was an all-around tough race that had us in race salvage mode the entire time.  My navigation was probably the worst it has ever been.  However, I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team held together and kept racing.  We weren’t the fastest by a long shot.  But, I feel like we kept pushing and stayed in race mode even when things got sucky.  Our race results ended up being much better than we expected.  Many teams fought hard and were amazingly fast the entire time.  Ron and Florida Xtreme ended up in 1st, which is no surprise for anyone that has raced against Ron.  Congratulations to his team on the win!

A big thanks to Ana and Todd for keeping me in the race and pushing the entire time.  We’re definitely not the fastest, but there’s no one I’d rather race with.

As always, this was another great Florida Xtreme race and we can’t thank Craig, John, and all the volunteers for the work they put into making this a success.  The course was top-notch and the zip lining was amazing.  A big thanks to the Tallahassee Museum for putting up with 50 stinky racers tromping around their property.

As always, we greatly appreciate those that have chosen to support our team.  Please take a second and check out their gear.  If we’re using it, it’s because we like it.

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