2017 The Cauldron – 36Hr

We were awesome…until we weren’t.  Actually, we’re never awesome, so let’s just say we didn’t suck…until we did.

There are some pretty tough adventure races in Florida, but I would bet that the Cauldron is the toughest.  The Florida Sea to Sea is the longest at 72 hours, but there’s nothing like the butt-chafing, sweatfest of racing in 98 degrees with 85% humidity for 36 hours…

Jake, Erik, and Jeanette from Off the Grid Racing, along with an army of awesome volunteers, put together an epic event.  Unfortunately, there weren’t many teams at this race.  I don’t know if the thought of a 36 hour sufferfest discouraged a lot of teams, or perhaps it was too close to the Adventure Racing World Championship.  Regardless, it was a well-organized and difficult race that pushed everyone.

Prelude:

With only 2 coed teams racing, we were hoping to bag the first CP, beat feet to the finish line, claim second place and be eating at Denny’s within the first hour.  You know, as much as we talk about and eat at Denny’s, they should really consider sponsoring us.  We could be team Grand Slam, or All-American Slam, or Slam-a-lam-a ding dong…I don’t care so long as they help out with race fees.

A midnight start had all teams exploring the nooks and crannies of the 505 Ranch on foot.  The 505 Suwannee Ranch is owned by Jake’s family and is a 750 acre, 300 head of cattle wonderland that used to be owned by the Marion family, kin to the Swamp Fox.  We’re in the south baby, we use words like “kin”.

With headlamps aglow, there wasn’t much reason for any team to go sprinting ahead, unless they wanted to become beacons for the other teams.  So, we herded together and made our rounds.

Since all the cattle had been moved to another part of the ranch, we didn’t have to concern ourselves with running into any except for two longhorns and a calf that remained.  Now, I can’t explain how a thousand pound animal can hide in eight inches of grass, but they can, like little ninja cows.  You gotta remember it was dark, super dark, and when I came around a tree and this behemoth rose up with 6 foot long horns and stared at me…the cows weren’t the only ones making patties in the field that night.

Bike 1:

After clearing the foot prelude we did a quick transition to the bikes and headed off into the night.  I think we may have been the second team out on bikes, which just meant that we got to enjoy every other team pass us again.  Watching taillights disappear in the night ahead of us is such a pleasure, I wish more teams got to enjoy it.

One thing we did enjoy was seeing Little Shoals at night.

There were a couple of different ways to do the single track section.  We took the super cool route, which I’d show you but I don’t have my maps…but trust me, it was super cool…until it dead ended at someone’s fence.  Boxed in on three sides we could either turn around and go back or hop a fence and hope to not get shot.

I’m not into the whole “dying” thing, so we turned around.  After trying a few unmapped dirt roads, we luckily got back to a main street and made our way to the transition area at Foster TA.

Foot 1:

We were one of the first teams to hit the TA at Stephen Foster State Park and relieved to know we didn’t just screw up our whole race on the bike/dead end section.  Back in the hunt, daylight was breaking, birds were singing, and we felt pretty good.

The first checkpoint, CP21, was a little difficult as I couldn’t match up the trail with the map.  It seemed we were going backwards on the trail, which is exactly what we were doing.  It took Todd’s Super Navigator Skills to orient the map with the terrain.  You see, we were bushwhacking to a trail which made a U, but instead of landing on the near leg of the U, we landed on the far leg of the U…Okay, maybe that only makes sense in my mind.  Anyway, I was disoriented, Todd figured it out ‘cause he’s awesome, and I’ll end it there before you click to a better adventure racing blog…like there’s a better adventure racing blog than this one.

On this section, we kept bumping into the Super Frogs.  We tried to keep up with them, but they were doing this whole “running” thing…totally not us.  So instead, we just filmed ourselves walking.

Boat 1:

Super Frogs Crushing the Canoe

Boat 1 was an epic 4+ hour paddle down the twisting Suwanee River back towards the 505 Ranch.  With the sun blazing, and the first paddle checkpoint three hours downstream, this could have turned into a real grind.  But, the Suwanee is an absolutely beautiful river and we really enjoyed this boat section.

Suwanee Springs

It was nice to get off our feet and have Ana paddle us downstream as we munched on Fritos and Sour Gummi Worms.

Foot 2:

Coming off the long paddle, we were pretty excited to make it back to the ranch for another foot section.

Left Right doin’ it right!

As an added challenge, we’d get the chance to do some skeet shooting during the race.  We were really excited to try it and it turned out to be super fun.  Todd went all Yosemite Sam and nailed his two targets.  Rather than race off, we decided to stick around so all of us could give it a go.  Check out Ana’s total pro shooting stance…

Ben, and the volunteers that helped us out, were amazing.  They loaded the gun, told us how to shoot it, and didn’t laugh at us too much…which is always appreciated.

I also got a refresher course on land navigation and how important it is to pay attention to map scale.  You see, there’s nothing more fun than having to backtrack to find a checkpoint because you thought it was 200 meters down a trail, but it was only 100 meters.  It’s really hard to find a flag buried in the woods when you’re 100 meters off.

Clearing the foot section, we returned to the canoes for the next boat section.  By now temps were well into the 90’s and we were pretty hot.  Funny how when you’re overheating in a race, you don’t ask yourself if that refreshing creek runoff is from a spring or drainage from the cow field above…post race, you kinda wonder about those things.

Boat 2:

I don’t remember boat 2.  We did it, we were hot.  I probably yelled at Todd whenever he stopped paddling for a second.  The great thing about being in the back of the boat is that no one can see when you quit paddling…not that I would ever quit paddling.

Foot 3:

UTM time!

I know there has been some controversy on UTM plotting.  UTM plotting seems a lot like cilantro, some people love it, some people hate it, most tolerate it in small doses.  I love mid-race UTM plotting.  But, what I really love are spiders. Big ass, nasty spiders with webs of steel that wrap around your face.

And they were everywhere so we made sure to have our trusty web-whacking sticks ready.  And how’s this for some kick ass cinematography…only the best from Team Disoriented.

During these foot sections, Off the Grid took us to some really cool land formations.  This area has to be one of our favorites in Florida, and we really enjoyed racing here.

ARGeorgia bringing the heat!

After 21 hours of racing, we were just behind Super Frogs and Good ‘Nuff.  Our navigation was going pretty well, but we were starting to get fatigued.  Three monster foot sections in a row were starting to take their toll and we weren’t taking care of our wet feet.

Boat 3:

There was only one CP along the final boat section and it was up a side creek that was gushing into the Suwanee.  Rather than paddle like mad against the current, we decided to drop the boat and walk up to the checkpoint.  With aching feet, it took us a lot longer than we intended.

Back on the boat, we had to fight hard against falling asleep.  At night, the Suwanee River is pitch black and flat as glass so the white limestone river banks are perfectly reflected on the water.

When you’re battling sleep, it’s hard to determine where the river ends and the banks begin.  Of course, being in the back of the canoe I don’t get to see any of this.  Instead, I get to watch the back of Todd’s head.

Foot 4:

We finally arrived at the TA and ran into Greg Owens who was patiently waiting for us.  It seems that we were the last boat out of the water.  It was somewhat crushing to know that all of the teams had passed us by.

By now, we knew we wouldn’t be able to clear the course, our feet were barking at us to just wrap it up, and the fun meter had rapidly moved from “Awesome” to “Sucky”.  We promised ourselves at the start of this race that we would worry more about having fun and worry less about our placement.

While I’m sure Adidas was just about ready to sponsor a couple of middle-aged, mid-pack, adventure racers, and we may have thrown away our chance of athletic greatness, I think we’re okay with that.  But, if Adidas is still interested…here’s my number, call me maybe.

At our snail’s pace, there was no way to increase our finish position and little motivation to attempt it.  So we decided to skip the rest of the checkpoints and just make it to the finish.  Our blistered and battered feet had enough.  While physically and emotionally we felt strong, crawling along at 2mph to pick up a couple of more checkpoints just didn’t sound like fun.

I was a little delirious in the video, there wasn’t 25 miles left to walk.  I don’t know how far it was, but it took us another 3 hours from here to finally make it to the finish line.

Bike 2:

Not much to say on this other section other than we suffered through it.  And would you believe that once again, out of nowhere, we ran into Space Ghost AKA Team Chunk right before the end of the race.

It just wouldn’t be a race without strangely meeting up with them totally unexpectedly on the course.  What’s really cool is that we met up with them as they were punching a CP under a bridge.  We had no idea there was a CP right under us, since we were no longer going for points.  But hey, if it’s right there might as well punch it.

Conclusion:

Ain’t no reason to ugly cry for us, we had a blast at the race.  While we sat around picking our blistered feet and stinkin’ up the place, Jake’s parents and a handful of other volunteers put together a fantastic breakfast for all the racers.

If I could ever be adopted into a family, it would be Jake’s.  They are by far the nicest people we’ve ever met.  Maybe I’ll go all Baby Moses, swaddle myself in a diaper and beach a canoe on the shore of the Suwanee River at the edge of their property hoping to be adopted…hmmm maybe not.

Sometime later that day, the true racers made it to the finish.

Good ‘Nuff rallied for the win with ARGeorgia and Superfrogs rounding out the podium.  It was a heroic effort for all of the teams.  This was a truly challenging course and the race directors and volunteers did an outstanding job.

Good ‘Nuff grabbing the gold!

While we’re excited to see the race continue under ARGeorgia, I’m going to miss the summer sufferfest.

And by the way, you can thank Ana for stopping me from eating all the flapjacks!

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