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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
It was nice to get off our feet and have Ana paddle us downstream as we munched on Fritos and Sour Gummi Worms.
Coming off the long paddle, we were pretty excited to make it back to the ranch for another foot section.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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 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.
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…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
You are in a cypress swamp at night surrounded by identical trees…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bears, gators, green lasers, hobbit feet, mouth sores, epic single track, hypothermia, search and rescue, where’s that damn dam, crash and burn off an 8 foot berm, beautiful Florida wilderness, great times!
How do you describe a 72-hour, non-stop adventure race? I don’t think you really can. It’s almost impossible to describe, especially to those that have never done one. When I try to tell people about it, I can’t seem to capture how exciting, rewarding, tough, exhausting and ultimately fun a race like this is. In addition, most people seem to have a 2 minute attention span and a 3-day race isn’t something that you can describe with an elevator pitch. So, for those that enjoy the archaic hobby of reading things longer than a Facebook post, here’s my vain attempt…
I guess the race started at Ponce Inlet. I find it hilarious that when people ask me where the race started, I really can’t tell them. “Somewhere on the east coast of Florida” is what I usually answer. “But, I know we finished at the Plantation Inn & Golf Resort in Crystal River.” You see, before the race begins and we’re given our 48 maps, we don’t know where the race will start. We know where it ends because that’s where we parked our cars, and eventually you’ll want to find your car.
After a 3hr bus ride to the other side of Florida, we had enough time to drop the browns off at the Super Bowl, butter the biscuits, and do a last minute gear check before embarking on our epic race. I’m usually super nervous until I find the first checkpoint (CP) and truly get my bearing. For this race, the first CP was along a pier right in front of us, even Team Disoriented can nail that.The rest of the section was a simple trek around Ponce Inlet, hitting a couple of local spots, and taking photos along the way.
Section 2: Paddle (8.5 miles) Spruce Creek
There is nothing sweeter than the sound of oyster shells scraping along the bottom of your fiberglass canoe, trying to rip it open like the Titanic. Of course, being the conscientious adventure racers that we are, we would never, ever subject our canoe to that type of abuse. But then again, we weren’t using our canoe…
We followed a few teams through the labyrinth of shallow oyster beds, collecting 2 CPs and ending with a nice little portage. How long was the portage you ask? Oh, about ¼ mile passed pissed off. The canoe drop was just before we got started on the really good curse words.
Section 3: Bike (48 miles) East Coast
Our first bike section of the race started with a time trial of the Spruce Creek Bike Trail Network. Follow the trail they said. You can’t get lost they said. Hmm funny how we ran into 2 other teams that had gone around in a big loop after missing a critical turn. We decided to throttle back our mad mountain biking skilz (yeah, that’s skilz with a z) to not mess up the navigation on this. We definitely didn’t break any time trial records here, but we did get all the CPs.
After the time trial, we had 4 other CPs to collect along the way to the next section. This was a mix of off-road/jeep trails and some city roads. One of the cool CPs was at the Sopotnick’s Cabbage Patch Bar, a well-known bike bar…for dudes with tats, skull rings, chains, and leather jackets. Not for dudes in spandex shorts on bicycles. Actually, they were really cool and allowed us to get a drink, so long as we got the hell out of there.The last CP for this leg was at JC’s Bikes & Boards. Adventure South Racing was stopped here getting their derailleur fixed. How awesome is that?! If you’re ever in the area and need to stop at a bike shop, hit them up.
Section 4: Trek (4 miles) Lake Beresford Park
Here’s the dealio. I hate cutoffs, especially early cutoffs. Yeah yeah, I know, strategery is a part of adventure racing blah blah blah. My issue is that only 2 teams, Rev3 & Good ‘Nuff, cleared the course up to Section 4 and made the time cutoff (and hats off to both teams for making it). We missed it by 20 minutes, clearing the course up to that point. Unfortunately, the early cutoff set the race for us and many other teams and removed the possibility for any late race rallies. By 4:30PM on the first day, both top teams knew that all they had to do was clear the course and they were assured a 1-2 place finish. Mentally, this is a strong position to be in…much different than knowing a team can come from behind and take a spot from you. Oh well. Our mistake. We totally own it and know we should have pushed harder in the beginning.
Section 5: Paddle (11 miles) Snake Creek
We paddled up the aptly named Snake Creek as it twisted its way northwest towards Hontoon Island State Park, where it eventually meets the St. Johns River. At Hontoon Island, we disembarked to search for “CP14 – Indian Mound on Hontoon Island.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that Indian Mounds looked like park benches. I guess if I were an Indian building a mound, I might want a bench on top of the mound so that I could take a nice leisurely view of the surrounding forest, maybe eat a sandwich or opossum, or whatever Indians ate back then. I don’t really know, but I do know that ambiguous clues are no fun. Especially when there isn’t a control at the location. Were we on the right trail? Should there be a sign that says “Indian Mound”? Are we supposed to ignore the “Trail Ends Here” sign and go look for an Indian mound? We decided to reattack this CP from another trail and ended up in the same location. So we snapped a photo of the bench and said &^@#! it after wasting 30-40 minutes.
This should have been a quick five minute punch, “CP14 – Park bench at end of trail (this is an Indian Mound)” would have been unambiguous and let teams know of the historical artifact we were on.
Section 6: Trek (19 miles) St. Francis
I love night treks. No, really, I do. There is something indescribably exciting and enchanting about night trekking. It’s quiet and spooky and fun all at the same time. Owls hoot, critters and creatures run about in the woods around you. You feel like there isn’t another soul around for miles. It’s just mesmerizing.We fast trekked this section, nailing the navigation and making pretty good time while enjoying each other’s company and trying not to migrate onto private property. Walking onto private property at 3AM in the middle of the woods is no bueno.
Section 7: Bike (22 miles) Ocala Paisley Woods
Section 7 was a 22 mile bike loop for 2 CPs that some teams opted not to do. That’s a pretty good decision when you know that after the 22 mile loop, you had another 30 miles on the bike before the next transition area (TA). That’s a total of 7-8 hours of butt-blistering biking. Our plan was to do the short loop for 1 point and to skip the long loop. We were looking for “CP19 – Bike Loop Trail Cutoff Sign” which translated into American means “CP19 – Alexander Springs Sign”. Maybe other teams weren’t confused, but I’m a pretty simple guy. If someone says, take a photo of the blue sign, I’m looking for a blue sign. And if the clue says, “Bike Loop Trail Cutoff Sign” then I’m looking for a sign that says, “Bike Loop Trail Cutoff” or “Bike Cutoff” or “Trail Cutoff” or “Cutoff” or at least 1 of the 4 words used in the clue. I’m not looking for a sign that says’ “Peanuts this way” or “Unicorns are Awesome” but maybe that’s just me.
After doing ½ of the first loop, Todd was super excited about going on to do the long loop as well. Especially since doing so might make us miss the O-course cutoff at Sunnyhill for 9 points. I can fondly remember the words of encouragement and the hug he gave me once we got to the top of the loop…
Section 8: Bike (30 miles) Ocala National Forest
Once we finished the double bike loop, we still had 30 miles of trail biking to do through the Ocala National Forest. The clue sheet offered this sage advice, “Select checkpoints in this ride wisely, many of the roads and trails along this segment can be sandy or muddy.” I’m not sure how you select roads and trails wisely when you don’t know the area, I mean you might as well say, “Shake your Magic 8-Ball and rattle some chicken bones for good juju because if you don’t you’ll be stuck in 8 inches of the softest damn sand you’ve ever tried to ride through.”
Riding in sugar sand is like…well, it’s like CRAP! That’s the best I have. It’s crap, piled on top of crap.
Section 9: O-Course (? miles) Sunnyhill
We rode into Sunnyhill to start the O-Course and were greeted with gator-filled canals that created a labyrinth of water. Picking the wrong path took you to a dead-end where the only options were to turn back or go through the canal. After seeing a few toothsome gators hiding in the duckweed, we decided there would be no swimming or canal crossings on this section.
After plotting 9 UTM points, we headed out. There was a 9PM cutoff to finish this section, but we had plenty of time. Once out on the course, we realized how far apart the controls were and that the nav wasn’t going to be as straight forward as we originally thought. Our first route choice took us to a dead-end where we had to turn back. The distances seemed to be much further than indicated on the map, but looking at Google Maps post-race, the scale was right on. I think it was more of an optical illusion because the land was flat and treeless and you could see a long distance.We struggled a bit on this section. I ended up dropping my watch on the way to CP33 – River Cabin and had to backtrack to find it. Green watch dropped in green grass…yeah that was about as fun as you can imagine. This was my 2nd watch, the first I lost at USARA Nationals last year and I wasn’t about to leave this one behind. Luckily Ana was running strong and could race ahead to look for it while Todd and I limped along.
CP34 – Big Cedar gave us the most trouble as we tried twice to attack it from the west. After two failed attempts, we were going to bail on it, but since we had to go past it to finish the course, we decided to attack it once more from the east. As we got close to the attack point, we had a large black bear walk out of the woods onto the trail in front of us. We were contemplating what to do next until the second, larger bear stepped out onto the trail. That pretty much solidified our decision to get the hell out of there. Now, maybe others would have kept moving towards the bears, but I’ve never heard anyone advising that you should walk towards a bear with a backpack full of food when it stands between you and were you want to go. I’m sure some have tried it. There’s a special award for those people, a Darwin Award.
Our next CP was CP30 – Small Clearing for Bears. Just fantastic. Dusk is settling in, we’ve already seen two bears, and now we’re heading into a small clearing for bears. For five minutes we hunted around a clearing full of bear poop with backpacks full of nuts, berries, chocolate…you know all those things that bears eat. I felt like we were walking snack packs for the bears. Hey BooBoo! Why don’t we go eat one of those walking picnic baskets?
By now, I was mentally drained and couldn’t nav anymore. I handed the map over to Todd and he finished up the O-Course, guiding us to the remaining checkpoints and the transition area. During this section there was also a full-on search and rescue going on. We didn’t know if someone was attacked by a bear, eaten by an alligator, or lost on the Oklawaha paddle. With a helicopter flying overhead, and sirens going off, we were really worried for whoever had called for help. But, that’s a story you’ll have to read about on the Canyoneros blog post.
Section 10: Paddle (18 miles) Oklawaha
Forever to be known as “The Paddle”, the Oklawaha paddle was just about the hardest section of any race we’ve done so far. Our first plan was to sleep for 20-30 minutes at the TA before heading out on the paddle. So, we ate a Cup’O’Noodles and putzed around the TA wasting a lot of time before deciding that we should go out, paddle up to the dam and sleep there for 20-30 minutes before finishing the paddle. That would break up the 5 hour paddle and allow us some sleep. I knew it was forecasted to get cold and the sooner we got the paddle done, the better off we would be.
Exhausted, we launched our canoe and paddled, collecting 2 CPs along the way. By the time we reached the dam, Ana was soaked and freezing and we were all on the verge of collapse. We portaged our canoe around the dam and tried to catch 20 minutes of sleep in the women’s bathroom. You know you’re pretty stinking tired if you’re willing to curl up on a public bathroom floor to get some rest. After 20 minutes of shivering and shaking without sleeping, we decided to hit the water again. By now, Ana was wrapped in her Survive Outdoors Longer Emergency Blanket, cold weather gear, rain gear and puffy jacket.
Little did we know how miserable a 3 hour paddle would be after racing for 36 solid hours and having the temperature drop to 38 degrees. Along the paddle I saw green lasers being shot across the river, Ana saw castles, Todd saw little men. We all heard voices and felt that at times we were either paddling uphill or downhill. With the change in temperature, there was such a mist on the river that Ana couldn’t see anything in front of her. It was like driving in fog with high beams on. Imagine someone threw a white sheet over your head and then told you to paddle while they constantly threw cups of cold water at your face. Good times, right?
We played word games and told stories to stay awake as we bounced off lily pads on either side of the river and avoided downed trees just seconds before crashing into them. We were in total wilderness and a capsized canoe, in our state, would not have been good.
However, it wasn’t until we finally landed and had to hike 1.5 miles to the transition area that we realized just how cold we were. We were completely soaked and with uncontrollable shaking and chattering teeth, we carried all of our paddling gear to the TA where the most awesome volunteers had a small fire and hot chocolate available. Chris and Sonia, you were literally life savers. Thank you!
Section 11: Trek (9 miles) Marshall Swamp
Before heading out on the trek, we decided to grab an hour sleep at the TA. This was our first sleep of the race and we went unconscious as soon as we stopped moving. This trek was along the Florida National Scenic Trail to the Historic Santos Recreation Area. There weren’t any real navigation decisions to be made here and we simply followed the trail to the TA.
Section 12: Bike (50 miles) Santos
For cross country trail riding in Florida, it doesn’t get any better than Santos. Maintained by the Ocala Mountain Bike Association this trail has it all: epic drops, steep climbs, technical stuff, and fast flowing single track.
With Todd picking the lines, we “flew” through this section. At least in my mind I was flying, and looking pretty awesome doing it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
After getting through the climbs and switchbacks on Nayls and Ern N Burn, Ana was ready for a stiff drink. I was ready to get off the bike for awhile, but we still had miles to go.
The last single track section, Tricycle, seemed to last FOR…E…VER! After the previous, more technical sections that made you stay focused, this part was a little more mundane and having only 1 hour of sleep so far, it was getting hard to keep our head in the game. We weren’t sure where the last CP was, just that it was along the trail somewhere. It’s always a little unnerving not knowing where the controls are, but the race directors did a great job placing them so you couldn’t miss them. Had the race directors placed the CPs on the map, teams could easily bypass the more technical and fun parts of the trail in exchange for getting to the controls faster.
Once we got out of Santos, we still had a few miles of street riding to do before reaching the next TA. Once we hit the road, we met up with Nativos Colombia and a few other teams. Nativos Colombia are crazy fast on the bike and flew past us. I knew we weren’t the fastest cyclists out there but man what an eye opener. It must be our bikes…yeah, definitely our bikes. And a loud hub, I need a loud hub. I heard they make you go crazy fast.
The O-course section was a dark zone where all teams were stopped until 5AM Sunday morning. While here, they had the option of completing up to four O-courses of varying difficulty. The way it worked is that you picked one of the four courses and returned to the TA after completing each one and before heading out on the next one. Once your team decided it was finished, you were off the race clock until the dark zone was lifted.
I’m not sure what time we arrived, but it was after dark and we knew we were in for a long night if we wanted to collect all four available points. After sucking down about 3 hamburgers, we headed off on our first O-course.
Clearing the first course was pretty easy, but then we couldn’t find the Transition Area again. I can’t explain how frustrating it is to be able to locate a 12in x 12in orange and white flag out in the middle of a forest and then not be able to locate a clearing with two U-Haul trucks, 100+ bicycles, and racers milling about. We stumbled around for a little while, ending up in the regular campers section of the park before finally finding the Transition Area again.
Due to Todd’s bloodhound-like ability to sniff out controls, we didn’t have much trouble finding any of the CPs except for CP2 on map 4 (shown below) if anyone is following along on the maps.
When we bushwhacked straight from CP1 to CP2, we thought we were looking for a CP on a hill, but we should have been looking for a CP in a sink. They’re kinda like opposites, ya know. So, we scoured the hill to the south of CP2 for about 45 minutes until we decided to reorient ourselves by going to the trail junction north of us and pace counting to the correct “hill”. When our pace counting put us smack dab in the middle of the sink, I realized my map reading error. Once in the correct location, we found the CP easily. Oh, the fun we had!
By now, we were sleepwalking zombies. It was probably close to 2AM and we hadn’t slept more than an hour in the last 65 hours. Once again I was brain dead and handed the maps over to Todd, who finished up the O-Course and led us to the Transition Area. Along the way we entered this massive sink that was also a prescribed burn. We came across a downed pine tree smoldering with glowing red embers inside of it. At the bottom of the sink was a huge tree with a CP hanging from it. I really wish we would have taken a picture of the area as it was surreal. But, the only thing on our mind was finishing this section and grabbing an hour of sleep before the dark zone lifted.
Section 14: Bike (28 miles) West Coast
We got back to the Transition Area at 3AM, just enough time to sleep for an hour before waking at 4AM in preparation for the 5AM race restart. Dragging yourself out of a warm sleeping bag after 1 hour of sleep, when it’s 45 degrees outside…AWESOME!
The race restart had us blasting down clay roads with washed out sections ready to grab your front tire and launch you head first into the darkness. Being the super bikers that we are, we got to watch taillights disappear into the night ahead of us. We had a couple of CPs to pick up along the way to the final boat section.This was a 28 mile final sprint and our team formed a pace line, more to look cool than to move any faster. Ana, always the unstoppable one, took the lead and pulled Todd and me along the streets of Crystal River.
The last CP on this section was supposed to be collected on foot, but since the lead teams were allowed to go on bike, we were all given the option. This rooty, narrow berm of a trail was not meant for bike riding, at least not for us to be bike riding. On the way back from punching the control, Ana got close and personal with the mucky waters on either side of the berm.
I looked back just in time to see her fly over her handlebars and crash face first into the muck 6 feet below. Thank goodness she saved her bike from any damage by having it land on top of her. I would have taken a picture if I wasn’t so worried that she was okay…and worried that she’d slap the crap out of me if I tried.
Later on I was able to snap this photo of her post-crash bad assery 🙂
Section 15: Paddle (8 miles) Fort Island Beach
Here were our choices, paddle 8 miles into a blustery headwind or go hit Denny’s for the Grand Slam special…
There is nothing better than rolling into a Denny’s after 72 hours of racing and smelling like swamp funk. After 3 days of solid racing, your body takes on a completely new level of stink. There is regular body odor, and sweaty man body odor, and then there is something I like to call Landfill funk…you know that special scent that makes you cough up a little vomit in the back of your throat on the first sniff. We were just about touching that level.
Florida Xtreme nailed it! This was the race we were looking for. Difficult, wild, adventure. The maps were great, the logistics were great, the volunteers were great. Superbly ran and organized from beginning to end. We can’t thank Junos, Ron, Dave, Manny, and the entire Florida Xtreme crew enough for putting on a superb race. To the volunteers, a heartfelt thank you for making this race amazing. I know how hard you all worked out there and it is appreciated by every single racer. And of course, thank you to the two best teammates I could ever hope for.
To the race directors, two small suggestions:
All CPs need to be unambiguous or have a marker on them. 72 hours of racing is hard enough, don’t make us guess whether we have a photo of the right thing or not…or counted the right number of benches. It’s just down right frustrating to lose a point when you know you were in the right area.
Not being able to speak for most racers, but for me and my ego, what I really want more than prizes or t-shirts are photos. I’d rather the race directors pay someone, or get a volunteer, to take a boat load of photos of all the teams throughout the race and make them available for free. Because in the end, we’re all doing this for the memories.
Wekiwa Springs State Park was the location of the 2016 Florida State Championship AKA Turkey Burn 12Hr Adventure Race. Dave Brault and Jim Feudner teamed up to design another amazing race that pushed all the teams for everything they were worth. This was our first time at the Turkey Burn. Unfortunately, we were missing our #GetRad guy, Stephen, who was off doing stuff like getting married, adopting a dog, and working his ass off over in Europe…
Bike 1 (~8 miles)
For the 4AM race start, Dave led the teams to the bottom of a sugar sand covered jeep trail. At go, we put on our best hardcore faces and pedaled for everything we were worth, until we passed the volunteer snapping photos 20 feet ahead. Once safely past, my race face changed to Mr. Huff and Puff and I concentrated on staying upright and not hyperventilating as my back tire churned up sand. In front of us, Good ‘Nuff kicked up a cloud of sugar sand as they powered through, their taillights vanishing in the darkness. I have words for moments like that…special words.
This section had 4 CPs that we had to get in order, and as much as we wanted to pull away from the other teams, they were having none of it. Behind us was a steady stream of lights with mere seconds between teams. This was no time to screw up and we cleared the section quickly, racing back to the Main TA where we had our first special test, making S’mores at a campfire. Pretty sweet!
Foot 1 (~3.5 miles)
The start of Foot 1 presented us with our first strategic decision. We could either do the foot section while carrying our paddle gear, or clear the foot section and then go back to the Main TA to get our paddle gear before heading off to the canoe section. We decided to carry all of our paddle gear and raced out of the TA. Then we realized that they probably had PFDs at the canoes and it would be smarter to not carry ours. We ran back to the Main TA, dropped our PFDs, and raced out of there only to realize we forgot to grab extra water for the 4 hour canoe section. Crappy, crappy transition. Luckily, I helped us recover by totally screwing up the first checkpoint on the foot section. Why stay in second place when 5th is much more fun.
Y’all ready for a pro tip? Here it is. The scale on an O-Course map is probably different than the scale on a 1:24000 map. You see, CP5 was only about 200 meters from the bend in the road if you use the right scale. Use the wrong scale and it looks more like 350 meters. It’s pretty stinking hard to find a little orange and white flag when your 150 meters past it, at night, in the woods. What’s really cool is if you can watch the headlights of other teams pass you as you struggle in vain to find the CP. I have plenty of these pro tips, ya just gotta ask.
Boat (~12 miles)
The canoe along the Wekiva river was beautiful. The canoe along the backwater channels was hell. Of course, all of the CPs were along the backwater channels. According to many race directors, the word “canoe” is Native American for “hunk of fiberglass you push and pull over many downed trees.” Todd was nailing the nav on this section as we struggled to regain the time we lost on the previous foot section.
After 3.5 hours of paddling and getting soaked to our waist from jumping in and out of the water, we were freezing and just wanted to get off the canoe. Once we landed, we ran back to the Main TA on numb feet and chattering teeth. It took the entire 15 minute run back for us to warm up.
Bike 2 (~12 miles)
This section had us going in a clockwise direction to collect the CPs in order. Somewhere close to CP24 we ran into Ron, Courtney and Erik from Lost Cause. It was the first time we had seen another team since the paddle section. We ventured to CP24 and CP25 together, and after punching CP25 away they all flew like the down of a thistle. What the hell does that mean?! Seriously! I’ve heard that line for 44 years and still have no clue what it means…down of a thistle…whatever.
In more tortoise-like fashion we raced back to the Main TA and almost got ran over by Good ‘Nuff as they were flying up to CP25. They are crazy fast!
Foot 2 (~7.5 miles)
Foot 2 is where the strategy started to come in. We were clearing the course up to this point. But, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to clear the entire course and doubted any other team would either. So, we had to make decisions to maximize our points. Todd and I debated two far away CPs. We estimated it would take us 30-40 minutes to grab them both and get back. I wanted to get them. Todd wanted to leave them and save our legs for the last foot section. In the end, I agreed with Todd and it ended up being a wise move. Mentally, it is hard to drop any points when you’re clearing a course, but who can resist Todd’s Cheesy McPleasy smile?
Bike 3 (~11 miles)
Not much to say on this section. I have little chicken legs and knew we wouldn’t be able to get many bike points, so we didn’t try. With the sugar sand trails that suck the life out of you, we knew we’d end up killing ourselves for just a few points when there were more to get on foot. Instead, we raced to get the first easy bike CP and then headed right back to the Main TA and transitioned to foot.
Foot 3 (~4.5 miles)
The final foot was the make or break section. We knew we had to clear it and get back as quickly as we could to have any chance of winning. There wasn’t any room for errors here and we tried to be as solid as we could with the navigation. With Ana pace counting and Todd spotting CPs with his super x-ray vision, we cleared this section efficiently. One final push to the Main TA and we finished after 11:31:00 of solid racing.
There is this feeling you get in your gut when you get to the finish and realize you left 30 minutes and a whole bunch of checkpoints out on the course. It is not a pleasant feeling. It’s more like that feeling you get the day after you eat bad sushi. You have no idea what the other teams got and your mind replays the whole race and every point you left out there. Should we have gotten those two far checkpoints? Could we have picked up one more on the bike? 30 minutes is an eternity to wait.
In the end it turned out great. We tied Lost Cause on points but won on time. Only thing left to do was eat some delicious spaghetti, check Todd over for ticks, pack up, and drive the 6 hours back home.
As always, a big thanks to Dave, Jim, and all of the volunteers that made this event awesome! There is nothing better than racing hard with great friends out in the beautiful woods of Florida. This is why we do it:
There is nothing worse than the walk of shame. You know, that walk you have to make after you realize that you blew right past the first checkpoint in a race and have to slink back towards it. I don’t know what it is about the first checkpoint in an adventure race, but I always struggle with it. It’s like I’ve never held a map and compass before. Who put this paper with all the squiggly lines in my hand and what am I supposed to do with this floating needle thingy!? Maybe it’s nerves or excitement or just turning off the nav when every team is racing to the same CP. I don’t know, but I hate it and I never feel settled until the first CP is punched. Howl at the Moon started off no differently. The good news is that Ron captured it all on camera…what a swell guy!
At CP1 there was an option to shorten the foot section by swimming across Kitching Creek. After taking a look at the inky black swamp water, I was all for the longer route. I’m chicken, I know, I’m okay with it. This decision added about 2 miles to our trek, making it 11.5 miles total. Other than this shortcut, I really didn’t see anywhere else to save time on this section, so we went around collecting CPs in order. Somewhere along CP3, we ran into the Warriors, a couple from South Africa that are working in Florida. They’ve done a few Expedition Africa adventure races and it was fun to talk with them. We stayed together until CP6, where they decided to take a different route to CP7. Pretty awesome that at a small adventure race in Florida we’d run across a team from ½ way around the world.
Last year we got to ride the Camp Murphey off road bike trails and were looking forward to riding them again this year. They are managed by www.clubscrub.org and are fantastic. This time, though, the CPs were not right on the trail. Four controls were “can’t miss” on-trail, but the remaining six were placed off-trail. Because we had ran the entire first foot section, we were able to do this technical bike section in daylight, which was a huge help. We were doing well, trying to catch up with Good ‘Nuff, which is impossible for us on bike sections…or foot sections…or canoe sections, for that matter.
Somewhere between CP20 and CP21, we ran across a dog on the trail. No owners in sight, just wandering around. Of course Ana had to stop, check the collar, and call the owner. After 5-7 minutes trying to reunite the dog with its owner, they finally show up. A happy ending and we were back on the trail.
By this time, I felt like we hadn’t really enjoyed bushwhacking through thickets and briars, so I sent us on a random bash through some really nasty stuff in the hunt for CP23. This was actually an easy control to find, if you started looking in the right place…but what’s the fun in that.
We finished the single track and then made a mad dash back to the transition area, racing to cross the railroad tracks as a train was approaching.
From the main TA, we transitioned to canoe and started our paddle west along the Loxahatchee River. Night had descended, the little sliver of moon provided little illumination, and the beautiful Loxahatchee took on a spooky appearance as our headlamps swept across the water’s edge, illuminating cypress trees, mangrove roots and the yellow eyes of gators sheltered within them. Our first 3 CPs on the paddle where CPs 1, 2, and 4 from the foot trek section. We decided to land the canoe at CP1 and jog north to CP2 for fear that the shallow creek would make the paddle tougher. I think this saved us some time, but we lost 5-10 minutes trying to relocate CP1, even though we had already been there previously on the foot section. Bummer!
After collecting CP1 & 2, we crossed Kitching Creek by boat to get CP4. This was another CP that should have been easy. We had been there before, we were at the right bend of the river, but we just didn’t spot it. Another 10 minutes wasted here, and I could feel my frustration level building.
We had 2 CPs remaining for the paddle section and both were further south, where the Loxahatchee River turns into meandering shallow creeks, swallowed up by the surrounding swamp. All I can tell you is that it’s a mess and following this watery trail at night was frustrating.
Just prior to reaching CP27 along Cypress Creek, we ran into the Warriors, heading back from the bridge where the CP was located. They had turned back in frustration, not being able to locate the checkpoint. They had also lost their passport along the way. We asked if they’d like to search for the CP with us, but at this point their frustration level was too high and they were ready to head back.
When we got to the bridge, I could tell why. We couldn’t find the CP either. The clue was, “Date on Pile N bank Cypress Creek.” We looked at the north bridge pylon for a date and didn’t see it. We looked at all of the bridge pylons for a date and didn’t see any. We forded the creek and looked at all the pylons on the south side of the creek for a date…nothing. We were frustrated and ready to turn back too until we checked the southbound I-95 pylon and saw a date scratched into the concrete. We ran back to the pylon on the north bank of cypress creek and maybe a foot from the base was the date. I guess our headlamps had made it difficult to see. Had we known what we were looking for, this would have taken us seconds. Instead it took us 15 minutes.
At CP28 we ran into the same problem. This time it wasn’t the date, we knew where to find that. Instead, the clue was, “DOT# Casting# Above N. Pile Cap.” Once again, I had no clue what I was looking for, but we were told there would be an FLX sign with an arrow pointing to it so we would know we got the right number. 17 minutes wasted here and all I can say is…
Ron…you know I love you man!
Back on the canoes, we paddled back to the main TA to salvage any type of race we had left.
The final section would be a bike to all of the controls we hit during the foot section. However, this time, instead of punching the controls, we were to take pictures of ourselves at a few of them. Once again CP1 would cause us problems. We had already been here twice during this race, so I have no idea why we couldn’t find it easily. I swear Ron was moving it a few yards further south each time we went out to look for it.
After CP1, we rode up to CP2, and here I made my genius move of the race. You see, when we were here on foot, we decided to cross the creek and bushwhack to the next checkpoint. In my head I was thinking, “Just do what you did on the foot section.” So, I did. We crossed the creek with our bikes and bike-whacked through to the trail. Now, Ana has had to tolerate a lot of stupid things from me over the past 20 years of marriage. But nothing…NOTHING…has been as stupid as making her haul her bike through this jungle of sawtooth palmettos, briars, and vines. The double bonus was that ½ way through the mess, I realized that there was a much quicker, much easier way to get where we wanted to go and all of it along perfectly groomed bike trail. But, being ½ way through, it made no sense to turn around now, so we pushed through. The woods of Jonathan Dickinson State Park still echo with my screams and curses! Another 25 minutes wasted.
The good news though is that somewhere along the trail we met up with Running in Circles. This group of four firefighters were definitely running circles around us. They had a late night and had to start the race an hour behind everyone else, and here they were at the front of the pack. With an hour credit, there was no reason to race them to the finish line and there was no way we were going to catch Good ‘Nuff, so we just cruised it in, picking up the final CPs and enjoying the conversations along the way. Sometimes you have to throttle it back and just enjoy the fun of it all.
After 15 hours and 18 minutes of solid racing, we finished in 3rd place overall, 2nd place co-ed, and had a blast doing it.
Once again, FLX Adventures put on a fun race. Jonathan Dickinson is a great park and the single track is amazing. Most of all, I’m very grateful that Ana didn’t kill me in the middle of the night during that horrendous bike whack.
A big thanks to our friends for helping us making it all possible!
You know there is nothing better than crawling out of a warm bed to go slap cold lube on your butt cheeks and stuff them into a pair of spandex cycling shorts. But, when you’re getting ready to race 30 hours at the USARA National Championship, that’s how you get rad. I wonder if this is how Team Adventure Medical Kits and Tecnu roll out of bed…I doubt it.
We staggered into the Savannah Rapids Convention Center where we were given a map the size of a bed sheet, a list of 36 UTM coordinates to plot, and an hour and a half to get our crap figured out before loading buses and heading off to the starting line. Lucky for us we found a little corner of a fish cleaning station to do our map work. We never got our crap figured out, but we were pretty good at faking it.
After a short bus ride to Wildwood Park, we were given a final pre-race briefing and then it was game on.
The prologue consisted of grabbing 12 CPs around the International Disc Golf Center. 180+racers converging on the first CP led to some interesting last second route choices by many teams. Stephen was leading the nav on this section and we ended up clearing it quickly and with no issues.
The prologue ended up spreading out…well…no one really. Teams were all over the place, scrambling to launch canoes and get on the water as quickly as possible.
Todd, always in full race mode, decided this was the perfect time for him to capture some epic videos of the race. Or, as I like to call it, bailing out on paddling…
But, who can blame him for capturing a video of this epic 4.5 hour paddling section. Oh, did I say 1 video…oh no, I meant 2 videos. Todd still not paddling…
Or was that three slacker sessions, Uh I mean totally rad video captures. Anyone want to guess whose limp paddle that is?
Actually, Todd, AKA “Limp Paddle” did awesome navigating the canoe section and we cleared this section quickly. And by quickly I mean 50 minutes slower than the fastest 3 teams. If I could only think of a way to make a three man kayak go faster…hmmm…I’ll have to ponder that one.
On to the bikes, and a quick ride over to Mistletoe State Park. We were racing neck and neck with our Florida compadres, Good ‘Nuff and Off the Grid Racing until I decided we should pick up CP14. Totally awesome move, until Shane Hagerman (bad ass adventure racer on team Happy Mutant Main Nerve) reminded us that CP14 could only be gotten on foot and not on bike. Oh yeah, we got them rules and stuff we should pay attention to.
We raced off along Rock Dam Trail to the transition area, and I was lucky enough to impale myself on the only piece of rebar along Gawd Damn Trail, I mean Rock Dam Trail. Red Badge of Courage earned and, more importantly, photographed. I was feeling manly and ready to rock (after a short break, a few snacks, and maybe a hug or two from Stephen that is).
Now on foot, we could get CP14. We could also get CP13 and CP15 according to the rule sheet that we started reading. Now, if we could only read a map. That’s something that could come in handy. We decided to poke around CP13 for awhile. These CPs can be kinda skittish you know, and you don’t want to just go blasting towards them. Instead, you kinda want to circle around them a few times, picking out just the proper way to approach them. We’ve been to USARA Nationals, we know these things.
Bike back to Wildwood
After we cleared the foot section, we had to bike back to Wildwood Park. You would think that biking back the same way that we came in would be easy. You’d think that. Yep, so would we. For the sake of a short race report, let’s just imagine a quick bike ride back to Wildwood without me deciding to try a new path we hadn’t been on before. And let’s just imagine that the new path led exactly where we thought it would, rather than meandering off into the never ending wilderness…yeah, that’s a nice thought, let’s go with it.
The good news is we found our way to Wildwood and we also found one of the greatest inventions ever made by man…
By now it was dark. We were hopped up on Coke and ready to start our second O-course. We were actually doing pretty well on this section until we ran into CP20. We were doing a straight bearing shot from 21 to 20 and you can see how close we were to the control, but we just didn’t see it. So, we headed northeast to the shoreline, dropped down to find the inlet and shot another bearing past 20. We knew the CP had to be somewhere between those intersecting bearing and finally found it within 10 feet from where we originally were. Bummer!
The cool thing though is that we ran into another set of Florida adventure racers, 3 Shades of Gray out of Pensacola, FL. Awesome set of guys who we enjoyed running with for a little while. I’ll say it again, the best part of adventure racing is meeting all of the really cool people out on the course. We hope to see you guys at the FLX Adventures Earth Day AR in Tallahassee next year.
Bike to Final Paddle
You know what helps to keep your bike moving? Pedals! Yep, all the cool kids have them now…they’re kind of a big deal. You know what’s not cool? Riding Bartram’s Trail for 3 hours on this.
But, in Adventure Racing, things can always be worse. Like having your rear hub explode on you and then having to race with your bike on your back. Kudos to Kevin Tobin of Team ASR – Raging Burritos. First rate dude, first rate!
Trek 3 – Clarks Hill Dam
We finally made it to Clarks Hill Dam for the final O-course. This section would prove to be challenging for many teams. While pros like WEDALI would clear this section in 1:50:20, us mere mortals would take 3:43:55. Of course, I’m sure WEDALI didn’t have the pleasure of meeting the convenience store operator who told us that the land owner next door would shoot us if we ended up on his property. Now that’s useful information.
After checking every reentrant in this area twice, we finally cleared the section and moved on to the final paddle section, tired and a little hungry #DennysGrandSlam.
Paddle 2 – Final Paddle
We hit the final paddle section just before day break and if there is anything that will put you to sleep quicker than reading this race report, it’s paddling on a dark, flat river after 21 hours of racing. While most experts may think that canoes are meant for the water, adventure race directors know that canoes are best lugged around on foot…especially uphill. The final Portage section…uh I mean Paddle section to the Savannah Rapids Visitor Center was beautiful. At least they didn’t make us paddle upstream. Todd nailed the nav on this section and I think he even paddled once or twice, between naps of course.
Right after punching the final CP, we passed Off the Grid going to the final CP. Somehow we had managed to get in front of them. Now, the race was really on. Those guys are strong bikers and I knew we’d have to pedal our tails off not to be passed just before the finish line. So, we formed a pace line and cranked it out as hard as we could. Stephen still had his broken pedal and how he managed to hang on to our rear wheel for the final sprint finish, I don’t know. But he did and Todd and I couldn’t have been prouder.
A final sprint to the finish to claim 4th Place Open Division was an awesome way to end the race.
USARA Nationals is always a great race with amazing competitors. The winning team, Adventure Medical Kits, cleared the course in 17:24:38 hours, compared to our time of…well now there’s really no need to compare finish times is there? Actually, we cleared the course in 26:51:44 Putting us 19th overall. The top racers in the coed and the master’s divisions are absolutely amazing athletes and we’re just thrilled that we get to participate in this race alongside of them.
USARA hosted an awesome after party where we got to kick back with our fellow competitors and the new friends we met while consuming large quantities of beer…I mean exercising Calorie Replacement Therapy. Good times had all around and we can’t wait to be back next year. A heartfelt thank you to those that have supported our meager efforts:
Todd and Stephen, Rock Stars as always. Thanks for not abandoning me out in the woods.
And to those that actually read these verbose postings, thank you! I hope you get some enjoyment out of them…you’re definitely not going to learn anything from them. If you get a chance, please like our Facebook page or comment below. We love to hear from other racers and it helps feed my ego.
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.
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.
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:
How do you prepare for 6 hours of canoeing followed by a 4 hour bike ride. Pretty easy actually. Just drop your shorts, sit your bare ass on your driveway, and have your teammate grab you by the ankles and drag you for 30 feet or so. I stand here writing this, not wanting to sit on anything for the next week.
Butt, enough with the training, let’s get down to the fun stuff. (See what I did there? Yep, only the best from yours truly)
Maps, instructions and all the other goodies needed to follow along:
Ana’s knee has been bothering her since Sea to Sea, so I teamed up with Broccoli Covered Powder Babies for this race. I registered as a solo, but we would really be running this as a 3-person team. I didn’t want to be responsible for DQ’ing Broccoli, if I had to fall out for some reason. Anyway, the Earth Day Adventure Race started at 6PM from the River Rise Preserve State Park and leading from the very start was Good Nuf. They tore out of the TA like Road Runner from those old Looney Tunes cartoons, you know the ones where the road runner is going so fast that the road flies up in the air behind him. Yeah, it was pretty much like that. I think I even heard a faint “Beep Beep” in the distance.
Since we couldn’t go off trail for this section, due to park rules, this was pretty much follow-the-leader and we hit all the CPs without issue.
Ah, the beginning of the boat section…I remember it fondly. There I was, staring at the beautiful Santa Fe river and my fiberglass canoe seat, anticipating how intimately connected we would become over the next 3.5 hours.
Stephen provided the motor in the front, Todd navigated from the middle, and I flung buckets of water on top of their heads for hours from the rear. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
It was nighttime when we paddled down to CP10 at Blue Springs Park. As we struggled against the spring’s current, our headlamps illuminated an aqua-colored pool of the clearest waters I’ve seen. It was absolutely stunning.
Our next checkpoint, CP11, was a gauging station just east of Ginnie Springs. We actually nailed the navigation to it and saw a tall piece of wood sticking out of the water. But, we didn’t see any numbers on it and thought that perhaps the gauging station was little further downstream. We paddled a little further until we ran into some drunk locals hanging out at Ginnie Springs.
Todd yells across the river, “Have you seen a gauging station around here?”
Y’all lookin’ for a PlayStation?
No, a gauging station!
Todd, they wouldn’t know a gauging station if their 6-pack was hanging from it.
Up river we paddled, back to our original location, where two other teams were marking the level of the Santa Fe river. Come to find out the numbers were on the back of the board. Oh well.
Cruising past Ginnie Springs was interesting, part campground, part Rave, part spring break…there was a dude wearing a light suit and people dancing around with glow sticks. If you’re looking for rednecks, drunk women, beer guzzling and loud music, then Ginnie Springs is your place…Todd was in Nirvana and once Stephen and I wrestled him to the floor of the canoe and tied him to his seat, we commenced paddling down the Santa Fe. It was straight out of Greek mythology were they tied Odysseus to the mast so that he could withstand the Sirens’ call.
We arrived at the Santa Fe TA after 3.5 hrs of paddling and began our first orienteering section.
I think we were in 4th place by this time with DeChunkers right in front of us. The Foot section map shows a beautifully outlined trail following the river. Some people say there was a trail, some people say there wasn’t. We fell into the “wasn’t” category.
You can see our track above. We started with CP1 then a straight south bushwhack to CP6. From their, straight east to CP2. We tried to pick up CP5 on the way, which was silly since we were going due east and about 150m too far north to see it. From CP2, it was straight bearing shots to CP3, then CP4. Then back up to CP2 to attack CP5. All this time we kept running into DeChunkers. They’re like freakin’ Space Ghost. Here we are in the dark searching for a CP thinking there is no one around and all of a sudden, there they are, at the control ahead of us, as if they could materialize out of thin air. “Hey DeChunkers you want to work together on the next…hey wait…where’d they go!” Spppaaaacccceeeee GGGGhhhhhoooossstttt!
We struggled on CP7, having no clear attack point, and no clear trail. Eventually, by wandering around, working from the river bend and triangulating off of headlamps, we found it and beat feet to the TA where DeChunkers were once again just ahead of us.
One hour of boating from Santa Fe TA to Tudeen TA with no CPs along the way in the middle of the night. About as exciting as it sounds. I’m kidding of course. It was a really nice paddle and the blisters were forming beautifully on my posterior.
We arrived at Foot 3 slightly in front of DeChunkers. I think we were now in 1st place by a good 15 seconds or so. I don’t know what happened to Todd and Stephen on this section, but once we hit it, they turned into a pair of bloodhounds.
My navigation wasn’t all that great, but man you put those two within 50 yards of a CP and they would sniff it out. As we were heading to a CP, I’d say something like, “Should be right about here.” and then I’d here “Got it!” and off we’d trot to the next CP. There’s not much more to say on this section, they were bad ass and I was along for the ride.
Transitioning to the boat, we knew we were in 1st, but had no idea what kind of lead we had on any team. The race had been really close from the beginning and there were some fast teams out there. So, we got on the water as quickly as we could for a final 2 hour paddle with one CP along the way.
Some people like 3 in a boat…I say they’re wacko. I hate it. I feel like I’m on the verge of capsizing with every paddle stroke and my butt is trying to attach itself to the seat like a sucker fish so that we don’t fling ourselves into the water. We found the sole CP without issue and made it to the final transition area.
Yep, love this pic! Middle of the night, headlamps on, rockin the USARA jacket.
Can you believe it, there’s actually a bike section in this race. We hit the final TA knowing that we had some of the fastest bike teams right on our tail and a 4+ hr ride ahead. Talk about feeling the pressure.
We knew our navigation had to be spot on if we were going to win this thing, so we decided to screw up the first CP. When the clue says, “Boat Ramp” and you see a sign on the road that says Boat Ramp –>, you gotta take that turn, even if its 1500 meters too soon. It’s a really good way to waste 15 minutes and get the adrenal glands pumping.
Once we fixed that issue, we formed a pace line and hit the rest of the CPs without much issue until the second to last CP.
We’re racing down sandy horse trails less than 30 minutes away from winning this 18Hr race, knowing that we have speed freak teams behind us and I can’t find the stupid westbound trail that CP24 is on. Thank god Stephen and Todd were there to sort it all out. I got turned around on an unmarked westbound trail and couldn’t make sense of where I was. After studying the map, they got us pointed on the right trail and we raced off to the finish.
And with that, we took our first win of the season. Although I tried to keep the trophy, Stephen said he had a special place for it and wouldn’t let it go.
As always Craig and FLXAdventures put on another excellent race. I always look forward to Craig’s races as he takes the time to find really interesting areas with great history. Glad to see all of our adventure racing friends out there again. A big thanks to Broccoli Covered Powder Babies for letting me race with you guys. Y’all are awesome and I always have a blast racing with you guys. I only wish that Ana could have been there racing as well, she always adds to the fun plus she let’s me drink her beer.
This was primarily a night race with heavy paddling and I relied heavily on my Epic paddle, Lupine lights, and KanPas compasses. I’ll be writing a review of my Lupine light in the next week or so, but let me say they are AWESOME!
We finally made it to TA8 where we were to switch from canoes to bike. Broccoli hit the TA and were gone in a flash. I needed a cup of noodles, a full body massage and a hot cappuccino to sooth my tired soul…I settled for the cup of noodles. While I fumbled through the maps plotting our route, almost every other team came and went from the TA. We definitely need to get faster at transitions, and biking, and running, and just about every damn thing you can imagine.
Off we raced to try to catch the pack. This section took us along the Spring to Spring bike trail with a first stop at Gemini Springs. It was closed, but there wasn’t a fence so we snuck in to take a quick snapshot. Up next was Green Springs and it was definitely closed, with a locked gate and everything. So, I attempted to squeeze through the gate and once Ana dislodged my head from between the two poles I was off and running for the CP. I guess I should have taken my bike helmet off.
The remaining checkpoint on this section, other then CP59, were bonus points and the cutoff time to collect them was well past, so we planned to bike straight to TA10. However, at CP59 we found out that the deadline had been extended. I guess teams were also allowed to collect CPs 60 & 61 by bike rather than foot. Who knew? It seems I wasn’t doing a very good job of making sure that I got all of the race changes at the previous transition areas.
Somewhere along the way to TA10 we met up with the Canyoneros. We were right behind but making sure not to get on their back wheel because drafting without asking permission is bad cycling mojo…and nobody needs that. So, I pedaled up to Hien and asked if he wanted to form a pace line. “If you nav, I’ll pull”, I said. He was on board so we formed up and away we went. When I got tired, one of their teammates took over, what was his name…not Nate or Hien, oh yeah Captain America. So, Captain America is pulling on the front and we’re flying to collect CP62 and make it to TA10 in time for it to count. Ana, Hien and Nate also took turns pulling and for a brief time we felt like part of a well-oiled machine…thanks guys, that was fun! We rushed into the TA with 1 bonus checkpoint and 5 minutes to spare.
Segment 11 – Final Trek to Fox Lake (16 miles)
BURGERS! I could have eaten the tires off the U-Haul but instead we were greeted with burgers. I may have even cried a little while eating them, they were so good. A big hearty thank you to all of the volunteers that made this race amazing!
We met back up with Broccoli at the TA and decided to tackle this next section together. It was promising to be an epic trek that would take us through the night. We started the trek at 11:30PM and by the time we collected our first CP we knew we wouldn’t make the next transition, TA11, until 9AM or so. From TA11 we still had a 35 mile bike ride, a 7 mile canoe and a 2 mile run to do before the race finished at 11AM. There was no way to do it all. In hindsight, we should have never tried for any CPs on this section and marched straight to TA11. In hindsight we should have done a lot of things differently.
Jeff Leininger made the call to the race directors explaining our situation and soon we were in the back of a U-Haul getting a lift to TA11 along with 15 other racers, 30 bikes, 12 paddle bags, and 27 ticks. Although we’re all smiles in the photo below, I think everyone was pretty disappointed to have to call for rescue.
But, we weren’t sad to miss the 4AM, 42 degree water crossings…suckers!
Segment 11 – Canaveral Bike (35 miles)
At TA11, we were held until 6AM when the teams would be released for the final push to the finish line. I stayed up to do the map work for the bike and canoe section while Ana took an hour nap. With 5 hours to complete the race once released, there wasn’t any room for errors. I also got to break out the JetBoil and make coffee, lots and lots of coffee. At 6AM I woke Ana, handed her a hot cup of coffee, and subsequently earned the best husband of the year award
After spending a good portion of the race trying to chase down Broccoli, or doing sections with them, we were really happy to finish out the race alongside them. They made us snort with laughter and we, well, I don’t really know what we brought to the mix. Charm? Good looks? A certain je ne sais quoi. Who knows. Anyway, three more sections and we’d be done.
Our first bike CP was a photo of the space shuttle. You may wonder how someone could miss a 56 meter high space shuttle, but I did. I vaguely recall Ana yelling, “Hey guys there it is, we don’t have to go all the way around.” But, I was in a total daze. Look at this stupid picture I took, thinking this was the shuttle they were referring to…
It wasn’t until we rode all the way to the security gate and were turned back that I noticed the extremely large, extremely obvious orange thing…IDIOT!
The rest of the bike section was cleared and we made our way to the final paddle.
Segment 13 – Final Paddle (7 miles)
I think we were the first team to make it to the final paddle, and that was probably a good thing because had we seen other teams being tossed about in those waves and winds, we probably would have just ridden our bikes to the finish. I can’t describe it, it was madness. Ana and I have become much better paddlers than when we first started racing and this was the ultimate test of our abilities. We nearly capsized many times but eventually we made it into the shelter of the mangroves.
Broccoli was navigating and they could have it. We had our hands full just trying to stay afloat and keep up with them. After collecting the first two CPs, we had a small portage by the high school.
I think Ana got a little nervous with my canoe reentry, but I know what a good swimmer she is so I wasn’t nervous at all.
At the old pump CP, we took the time to snap a selfie and it turned out to be my favorite photo of the race. Good times!
Finish – Lori Wilson Park (2 mile)
We could have walked the remaining 2 miles to the finish, but that just didn’t seem right. I wouldn’t say that what we did was “run” it was more of a shuffle, but I was glad we were giving it everything we had until the end. And after 75 hours and 19 minutes, we crossed the finish line, completing our very first Florida Sea to Sea Adventure Race and our first multi-day race. I couldn’t be more proud of my #1 teammate and favorite racing partner, Ana. She was amazing the entire race, never once complaining or wanting to quit. I’ve raced with plenty of people and there is no one I’d rather be out on the course with. Thanks baby, you are amazing! Oh, and by the way there’s this really sweet bike I’ve been looking at…
A big thanks to Todd and Stephen from Broccoli Covered Powder Babies, you guys really made this race fun. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed so hard during a race! We hope to race with you guys again someday.
As always, thank you to the race directors, Dave Brault, Junos Reed, Manny Otero and Ron Eaglin. We could tell that you poured your hearts and souls into this race and we loved every minute of it. We’ll definitely be back next year!
A huge thank you to the volunteers that make any race like this possible. You always greeted us with a smile and tried to help out whenever and where ever you could. Thank you! We can’t say it often enough.
We’d also like to thank KanPas, Geigerrig, Skratch Labs, Klymit, and Lupine North America. We only use brands we know and trust, and your products never fail us. I’ll be doing gear reviews in the next few days to describe the equipment we used and how it performed.
And thanks to our readers. Your comments make putting together race reports like this worthwhile. I hope you enjoyed the write up and if you have any questions or comments, drop us a line below.