Well, I guess it’s about time I get off my keister and write up a race report or two. Get comfy and hang on, this is a long one! Our latest adventure was the FL24, a 24-hour adventure race at the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, FL. Craig, from Florida Xtreme, always puts on awesome races and so far we have enjoyed every single one of them. This one was no different. Marianna is a beautiful southern town with numerous limestone outcroppings, caves, and sinkholes that make the terrain absolutely fantastic for racing.
A mass start at 6AM had us riding our bikes a short distance to the first boat put in. I estimated this boat section would take about 2 hours. In hindsight, I guess I forgot to add in the time it would take to paddle back…Oops. I find my teammates really enjoy when I tell them that a planned 2 hour paddle has suddenly turned into a 4.5 hour paddle. Luckily, I was sitting in the back of the canoe when I told them…well out of reach.
The controls were along the twisty and tree-choked Chipola River. Fortunately, Craig and his dad had spent some time clearing this river section. Or in his words, “it’s clear enough so that you could probably get a canoe through there.” He was at least considerate enough to leave one top-notch portage for us and we were sure to thank him as we hefted our canoe through the mucky swamp and tripped over cypress knees along the way.
We made our way north of the Bellamy bridge to the last CP just behind teams Endeavor and Chub Solo. On the control there was a note that said, “punch Flag 1 and Flag 2.” Which meant absolutely nothing to us, or anyone else there, until we remembered Craig saying during the prerace meeting that teams would punch all of the sport controls. And someone recalled seeing two controls not on our maps at the start of the boat section. Confused? Yeah, we were too, but sometimes you have to get into the mind of the race director. It’s a dark scary place and afterwards you feel the need to take a shower, but ya gotta go there. Oh, and ya gotta go to the prerace meeting. Just a pro tip for ya.
After the canoe section, we biked back to the Main TA, picked up a new passport and headed off on a 15 minute run so we could do…Another Canoe Section! DOUBLE BONUS! Actually, we were totally cool with it. Craig made a last minute decision to change the order of events so that teams weren’t doing a long canoe at night in 40 degrees. 40 degrees and wet is really cold, especially if you’re from Florida.
We found ourselves paddling south on the Chipola looking for a well-known spot called, “The Ovens” a small cavern carved into the side of the river bank. We were in the lead by a staggering two minutes when we found the opening of the Ovens. Todd jumps out of the canoe and immediately starts slipping and sliding all over the boulder like one of those old cartoons where someone steps on a banana peel. Then he starts moving like an 80 year old man traversing an icy sidewalk, so I offer some words of encouragement. Dude! LET’S GO! People really like when you say things like that. They REALLY like it when you say it with a mouth full of snickers, sitting in the back of a canoe.
Properly motivated, Todd makes it to the cave entrance, where he discovers that caves are freaking dark inside. Like seriously, no light gets in there. And this is no small cutout on the side of a riverbank, it’s a full on cave that goes back and branches into a thousand little tunnels. Todd, not having a flashlight, decides to use the flash of the camera to look for the CP. I now have 52 fuzzy pictures of the inside of The Ovens, if anyone is ever interested.
By now, Endeavour and Chub Solo have caught up to us and I decide to get off my lazy butt and give Todd a hand looking for the control.
It’s amazing that when someone tells you that something is slippery, or hot, or sharp, we never REALLY get it. Tell someone that something is sharp and they’re like, “okay” and then they cut themselves. Tell them something is hot, “yep dude, got it” and then they burn their hands. What is it with us? We heard it, we understand, but it just doesn’t register.
So, Endeavor, Chub Solo, and I all hop out of our canoes and immediately start slipping and sliding on the moss-covered boulders leading to the cave. We end up clinging to the boulder like we’re trying to tackle a greased pig. Well dang, that IS slippery!
With five of us in the cave, we finally found the control and everyone rushed out again, only to slip and fall over the same rocks we slipped on getting in. Someone fell in the water up to their armpits. Mac slipped and went completely underwater, Todd about twisted his ankle off. Ana was in the canoe about to wet herself from laughing…well dang, that IS slippery!
Five minutes later we hit the transition to Foot 1 where we were told that the race had to temporarily halt due to moving canoes, or gear, or something. This was related to the Race Director making the last minute decision to change the order of the canoe section. Pretty solid decision and we were totally cool with it.
Since we had arrived at the foot TA in the lead by a whopping two seconds, we got to place the first CP on this section. We were given a punch on a string and told to go hang it in the Alamo Cave about 300m from us. No problemo, until we got to the cave and realized you can’t simply tie a string to the wall of a cave. It’s like asking you to tie a string to a brick wall. I told Todd he should bury it. But, he wouldn’t listen. Instead, he found a stick on the ground, tied the punch to it, and set it against the cave wall. I still think he should have buried it.
During this foot section, we were passed by Endeavor and Good ‘Nuff…as usual. It was only a matter of time.
We collected the rest of the CPs and made it to the Main TA a few minutes behind the two leaders.
Up next was a fairly short bike section with 9 checkpoints. One of the coolest checkpoints was inside an abandoned beaver dam.
Foot 3 – Take 1
At the Main TA we had some decisions to make. There were two cave tours, one at 8PM and one at 9PM. The cave tour was worth 5 points, so you didn’t want to miss it. You couldn’t be late and each tour only took 20 people. To complicate the decision, you could do the next four sections (Bike 2, Foot 3, Bike 3, Foot 4) in any order, but you had to alternate between sections. In other words, you couldn’t do two bikes in a row or two foots in a row. Disoriented? Yeah, us too. It was about 7:15PM and we decided to grab 2 nearby CPs on Foot 3 before going to the 8PM cave tour.
CP36 was on top of a hill, which we found with no problem. But, the next one, BONUS CP, was a cave that was 320m @ 103° away. This should be easy, we’ve done it a million times. But, we couldn’t find it…we’ve done that a million times too. Defeated, we headed back to the Main TA so that we wouldn’t miss the cave tour. We ended up wasting 45 minutes on something we would have to do all over again because you can’t get to the BONUS CP unless you first find CP36. In the meanwhile, Good ‘Nuff was completing Foot 4, a 50 minute foot section. Great call on their part, plus they have the legs to make that run.
We met up with Endeavor, Good ‘Nuff, Aubie’s Ambush, Chub Solo, Victorious Secret and another team or two at the cave entrance. It’s really cool that Adventure Racing is such a close-knit sport. Once you’ve gone to a handful of events, you start to know just about everyone there. It helps me not hate them so much when they beat me.
If you haven’t been to the Florida Caverns State Park and done the cave tour, it is something you should definitely check out. The work done by the CCC to establish the cave is amazing. Check out my crappy low-resolution pictures to get an idea of how awesome it would be to see it in real life. You still do things in real life, right?
While the cave was beautiful, the best part was that it was warm, like 68 degrees warm. It had fallen to the mid 40’s outside the cave, but inside we were cozy as could be. After 12 hours of racing, I was ready to get all snuggly with the cave spiders and bats and take a nap. We’ve slept in public bathrooms during races, so we can definitely sleep in a cave.
Foot 3 – Take 2
After the tour, we headed back to the Main Ta and then set out to get the BONUS CP that we couldn’t find last time. And you know what? We found it! Not so tough when you’ve been there before. It’s like Déjà vu but not really because you’ve actually done it before rather than just thinking you’ve done it before, ya know? Yeah, that’s the type of conversation you have in the woods at night when you’ve been racing for hours.
A few of the CPs were along the trail that circles the main cavern. One of those, CP38, had the clue, “Near Tunnel Cave”.
Now, maybe I’m being pedantic but “Near” doesn’t mean “In”. I don’t tell my kids, I want the poo poo to go “near” the toilet. Nope, I want the poo poo to go “In” the toilet. See how that works? Anyway, we get up to the cave and Ana and Todd circle it as I go through it. See, we went “In” and “Near” the cave. The cave is really a 60 foot long, four foot high tunnel, so I’m crouched over and shuffling my way through. When I get about halfway, a bat drops from the ceiling and flies away from me towards the exit. Awesome. But then it gets all ballsy and decides to turn around dive bomb my face. I guess it wanted a flying start. Holy Cow! So, I close my eyes and scream like the little princess that I am, and it flies away towards the exit…to then decide it wants to have another go. I duck and scream, and all I hear is Todd and Ana laughing outside the cave. “Dude, I’m being attacked by a psycho bat in here!” The whole time I’m crouched over, covering my face, and trying to get through the tunnel while this crazy bat keeps flying at my head. This happened about five times until I finally made my way out. I never saw the checkpoint that was “In” the cave because it was tucked in a niche and I was trying to avoid rabies. Instead, we spent the next 5-10 minutes searching “Near” the cave until Endeavor went “In” the cave and found it. You know, they should be a wee bit grateful that I got rid of that psycho bat for them.
I’m a little too traumatized to remember the rest of the CPs on that section, but I think the rest were okay.
The very first CP on Bike 3 is a creek crossing. We’ve already been warned that there is a log that goes across the creek and we shouldn’t try to cross it because it’s slippery and the water is deep. Remember, it’s about midnight and 40 degrees, so we don’t want to plunge into a river. We also know that there should be a place nearby to cross the creek that’s about ankle deep. We just need to find it. Which we do. And then somebody—not mentioning any names but he’s on our team and he’s male, and sits in the middle of the canoe and blames his lack of paddling on having to read the map. Well, somebody decides that we should take a few minutes to take off our shoes and socks, cross to the other side, and finish out the race with dry feet. Blasphemy you scream! I know, I can feel my USARA membership card about to burst into flames just thinking about this. In a moment of weakness, and coerced by Snickers and the thought of dry socks, we decide to do it. Of course, once we finally get across, we have to dry our feet and put our shoes back on. Which means we now need to take our bike gloves off. We also need to figure out what to use to dry our feet with? We don’t want to use our socks because, well, we want dry socks. That’s why we are out in the middle of the woods wasting 20 minutes. So somebody, who we’ll call somebody #2, who is not me and not the somebody previously mentioned, decides they’ll use sand. Sand. You know, those little pieces of rock with absolutely zero absorption ability. Yep, we’re going to use sand. But then no one wants sandy feet, so how do you get sand off…you could always rinse them in the creek.
We finally get our crap together, our shoes and dry socks on, and bike whack through the woods to a trail, only to realize that a pair of bike gloves were left back at the creek. By now, I am in total meltdown and go thrashing through the woods like the Tazmanian devil Shnagel Fragel Kragel Arrffhfhh! Back in the direction of where I think the creek is. But of course, I leave my map and compass on the bike and get turned around trying to make it back to the creek. One does not simply turn around in the woods at night and find their way back. Somehow, at night, the ground must rotate beneath your feet and it is impossible to simply turn around and head back in the direction you came. If you’re a navigator and have raced at night, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Anyway, now I have to stomp back to the bikes, grab my map and compass and go crashing back into the forest in a whirlwind of broken branches and curses. The gloves were found and we continued to press. It wasn’t my best moment.
On our way up to Bellamy bridge we passed by Christoff Landing where we were greeted with a fine example of southern hospitality. You know what’s really cool? Riding your bike in the middle of the night along a deserted dirt road and having some drunk redneck yell from the woods, “Get out of here Faggot!” Now, that’s fun! What kind of moron does that? Some people just deserve a blast of bear spray.
The good things is that it helped me get over my pissy attitude from the creek crossing.
Seeing Bellamy Bridge at night was pretty spectacular. There is a long standing story about the Ghost at Bellamy Bridge bridge that you can check out, if I haven’t already inundated you with words. We looked for glowing orbs, but only found an orange and white flag. Maybe next time.
We carried on and picked up a few more CPs, running into a couple of teams along the way. For CP55 we had already been warned to not use the tree to climb down into the cave because it’s rotted and will collapse.
Supposedly there was a very small side entrance you could crawl through to get into the cave, but it was dark and I couldn’t find it. I saw a vine growing over the ledge and decide to go all Tarzan the monkey man, swinging on a rubber band, until I remember I’m a brittle old man with a foolhardy plan, about to get crushed like a soda can. (pretty proud of that one).
Oh dear god, please don’t let this vine break and I crash to the limestone below and shatter 3 vertebrae.
The vine didn’t break, I didn’t die, and no one took a kick-ass picture of me either. Dang it.
The rest of the CPs were straight forward. CP53, “Old Quarry” was so straight forward we tried it twice. Luckily for us, on the second time walking right past it, Ad House Adventures told us that we had already passed it, or else we’d still be in the woods.
This was a straight forward jog to the Citizen’s Lodge Park. A quick lap around the fitness track to pick up 3 CPs and we then back to the main TA to transition to the final bike leg.
Of all the times I wanted to choke the race director during the race, this was it!
The clue for CPs 30 and 31 was, “Plotted on waypoint 6, a kiosk.” When we got to the kiosk, this is what we saw. Somewhere between the letters “c” and “h” is a checkpoint, good luck! Oh, and those aren’t roads or trails, they’re berms. Or they were berms back in 1938 when the hatchery was created. Oh, and do you see the scale markings…no…that’s because they don’t exist. So, that distance could be 100m or 1000m, who knows. Oh Craig, you tricky little bastard. This was a fun one!
Eventually we did find it and made our rounds to the remaining CPs to finish out this final leg.
Whew, you made it. Congratulations! 3000 words later. Well, we didn’t win this one. Good ‘Nuff finished almost 2 hours ahead of us to take first place. But don’t worry, we’re working on a few things for the next race…
As always, Craig and John Sheriff from Florida Xtreme did a fantastic job. You guys are awesome and really pour your hearts into these races. We truly appreciate it, as do so many teams that do your events. We can’t wait for the next one, the 72 hour Sea to Sea
And of course, thanks to those that continue to support us: