2017 Earth Day – 18Hr

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

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

Maps & Stuff

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

Bike 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boat 1

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

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

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

>Go North

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

>Go North

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

>Go East

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

>Go North

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

AAaarrrgghhhh!

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

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

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

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

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

Foot 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boat1 – Return

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

Foot 2

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

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

Bike 3

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

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

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

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

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

Boat 2

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

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

“See anything over there?”

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

“Keep looking, it should be right here.”

“Nope, don’t see anything yet.”

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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2017 Sea to Sea

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… 

Follow along with full race maps here

Section 1: Trek (3 miles) Ponce Inlet

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.

Uh, is this an Indian Mound?

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.

A sign! By Lupine!

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…

Fun?! I’ll show you FUN!

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?

Practicing getting big to scare away the bears.

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.

Dude, if I had some loud hubs, this baby would fly!

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 last bike section was along the Withlacoochee State Trail, a beautiful 46 mile paved rails to trails section.

Section 13: O-Course (? miles) Citrus

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.

Conclusion:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

2016 Sea to Sea Race Report – Day 3

Segment 9 – Spring to Spring Bike (45 miles)

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.

TA8 – Florida Xtreme

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.

Ain’t nothing better than a little Breaking and Entering for a CP

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!

I will put you in my belly!

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.

Oh the gentle lull of carbon monoxide poisoning

But, we weren’t sad to miss the 4AM, 42 degree water crossings…suckers!

You take me to TA, okay?

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

TA11 Dark Zone – Little nap before the final push.

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…

P1020361

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!

CP77 – Oh, you mean THIS space shuttle.

The rest of the bike section was cleared and we made our way to the final paddle.

TA12 – Ana sets the pace line

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.

Out of the wind and waves and into 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.

Hey Broccoli!  You guys mind carrying my boat too?  Guys?!  Hello?

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.

Just hang on baby…I know what I’m doing…kinda.

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!

Great people…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…

U-Hauls…oh yeah, we like U-Hauls!

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.

~END~

Day 1 Report

Day 2 Report

2016 Sea to Sea Race Report – Day 2

Segment 6 – Lake Apopka Bike (35+ miles)

The next section was a 35+ mile bike ride.  By now, we were definitely tired of sitting on our bums and opted for the shorter, southern route around Lake Apopka rather than the longer, northern route with more checkpoints.

CP38 – Dead Reckoning

We knew we’d be giving up checkpoints, but we were getting frustrated with trying to chase the time cutoffs and wanted to catch up with the race and not be so pressed by the clock.  For this leg we had a 6PM cutoff to reach the TA to receive credit for CP44, which was on our way.  CP44 was at race director Manny’s house and I really wanted to stop by…mainly hoping he had a cooler full of beer available.  Not that Manny drinks or anything. Bwahaha! Oops, I just fell out of my chair…

BCP44 – Team YERT

With thoughts lingering on a cold frosty one, we searched for Manny’s house in vain.  Unfortunately, the map I was using to navigate, Map 6C, shows Manny’s house at a totally different location than Map 6B.  I guess I should have Googled the address the night before.  Frustrated, and with the looming deadline, we rode off to collect CP43.

Now, if you want some butt-puckering bike riding, just hop off the West Orange Bike Trail and tempt your fate along the roads of Lake Apopka on a Friday night.  Good thing my screams and cursing were drowned out by the roar of speeding cars.  Frazzled, we got to TA6 and instantly invaded the McDonalds.  While we shoved cheese burgers down our throats, they wondered where all these stinky homeless people with super cool bikes were coming from, and more importantly, when we would leave.

TA6 – Broccoli Covered Powder Babies

Segment 7 – Epic Wekiva Trek (22 miles)

Off the bikes at last and onto our feet.  My butt was aglow like a lightning bug and I was thankful to not be sitting on something for awhile.  We had been running into Broccoli throughout the race and here we decided to tackle the foot section together.  The plan was to make it to the Horse Barn TA before daybreak and get a couple of hours of sleep.  Blessed sleep!

Horse Barn TA

We estimated that we would make it to the TA by 4AM, but with a promised water-crossing followed by a 6-7 mile hike, this was shaping up to be a cold evening.  At the water crossing, we met up with Off the Grid and a couple of other teams.  Not wanting to be wet and cold all night, we stripped down and forged across the stream.  Eric, from Off the Grid, crossed first wrapped only in a trash bag for a loin cloth and a buff for a turban.  Someone remarked, “You look like an Indian god” to which he replied, “I should wear this more often!”  I’m just glad there aren’t any pictures because no one wants to see my dangling bits.

CP47 – Off the Grid

After collecting CP47 at the Indian Twin Mounds, we trudged into the Horse Barn TA, pitched our tent, and crashed for a couple hours of sleep.

Ana kept trying to wake me saying, “Hey, there’s something going on outside.  We need to check it out!”  Whatever lady, just let me sleep!  Well, come to find out she was right…as usual.  It seems that the O-Course cutoff, which had been 10PM the night before, had been extended.  No one had told us before we crashed for the night and by the time we figured out what was going on there wasn’t enough time to collect any of the CPs…no bueno!

I was pretty ticked that we lost the chance to get 4 CPs, so we stomped off to finish the remaining 10 miles of the trek with Broccoli who had recently returned from the O-course.

Somewhere north of Wekiva Camp there is a magical “abandoned track” where the race directors hid a control marker.  It’s a mystical place that is not truly here nor there.  It exists to those that have the eyes to see.  We did not have the eyes to see and the woods still ring from my languished curses!  And that’s all I want to say about that.

Segment 8 – Blackwater Creek/St. Johns Paddle (12 miles)

Blackwater creek is a beautiful paddle through tannin stained waters that knot into hairpin turns and switchbacks.  Cedar and cypress trees encroach on the sides with outreached branches casting deep shadows across the creek.

TA7 – Team Super Frogs

With a swift flowing current, teams with strong paddlers and good steering are rewarded, while those lacking are tossed into overhanging branches and partially submerged obstacles.

Lil’ Chomper

We thoroughly enjoyed this section as the many turns and beautiful scenery kept us awake and in the moment.

Unfortunately, once we paddled onto the St Johns, the serenity of the creek was soon supplanted by rednecks in speed boats playing Let’s Capsize the Canoe.  I assure you that it’s an amazing spectator sport as canoeists attempt to surf down boat wakes without spilling over or being cast upon the embankment.
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Broccoli was setting a fierce pace on the canoe and we struggled to keep up.  We paddled north to the Swamp House Riverfront Grill to pick up a checkpoint and then backtracked south for another CP before reaching the TA and the next bike leg.

CP55 – Canyoneros

And to whoever gave me that Werther’s Caramel Coffee candy on the paddle…bless you! You are an angel.  It was worth almost capsizing my canoe for.

End of Day 2

Day 1 Report

Day 3 Report

 

Lighter Knot 8Hr AR

The Lighter Knot AR, henceforth to be known as the, “I can’t find my own bunghole with two hands and a map” Adventure Race.

Lighter Knot

Once again FLX‘s Dynamic Duo of Craig and John Sheriff put together an amazing 8Hr Elite Adventure Race at the Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park.  This was the 3rd in a series of ‘Sea to Sea’ highlights race series where a different section of the Sea to Sea is covered. The overall winners of the three-part series would receive a free entry into the 2016 Sea to Sea.  Having raced the Reunion with Rice Creek, and being the only team to have raced in 2 of the 3 races in the series, we figured as long as we showed up and finished the race, we should win the free entry into the 2016 Sea to Sea.  For this race, I’d be teaming up with Todd Binkley who I’d raced with at the Blue Ridge Adventure Race.

Maps to follow the play-by-play:

ELITE FOOT CLUES R FOOT Q FOOT B FOOT ELITE CP CLUES ELITE LARGE MAP

Boat

Well, if you’re going to have a bad race, it might as well start off crappy…and that’s exactly how this one started.  Due to Hurricane Joaquin, the super moon, or the gravitational pull of my ego coming off of some really good race finishes, the water level at Bulow Creek was higher than it had been since, well, some dude named Noah decided to build a boat.  I couldn’t match what I was seeing to what the map was telling me, but I knew that I had to follow the shoreline south.  We were all on a small peninsula and there was a crowd of people trying to get their boats in the water.  Not wanting to wait in line, we launched at the end of the peninsula, not more than 5 feet away, and that ended up being a huge mistake

You see, in central Florida they have these marshy areas with low-lying grasses and canals cut through them to create labyrinths to befuddle the minds of adventure racers.  While I’m used to seeing waterways marked in blue, the map showed these channels in red.

mapaerial

I wrongly assumed that once launched, we could make our way west to the shoreline.  But oh no, we were stuck in some channel taking us southeast, rather than south.  Not understanding where we were, I knew we had to boat-whack across the marshland and find a path west.  You can see our meandering site-seeing tour highlighted in red.  The smart teams traveled the yellow path.  The launch point is marked with a green star.

path2

In hindsight, we could have continued south and still made our way to the checkpoint, but at that point I didn’t know where I was.

After collecting CP1 and CP2, I was still making mistakes trying to match the waterway to the map, but once we got on the main creek we were doing okay.  That is, until we decided to portage the boat rather than try to canoe under a low bridge.  I swear it looked like the boat wouldn’t fit, so I decided to portage around.  We grabbed the canoe and when I went to pull it over a guardrail, I slammed my knee into the rail.  It was an explosion of pain and I dropped to the ground.  It took me at least 10 minutes to collect myself and be able to move on.  Todd was trying his best to help, but there really was nothing he could do.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to run any of the race and I was wondering if I’d even be able to bike.

Foot 1

At the furthest Boat checkpoint, we were surprised by a foot section.  We were given a new map with 7 foot controls.  The first two (B6 and B1) we found without difficulty, but we couldn’t find B2 after shooting a bearing from B1 and pace counting.  So, we did a back-bearing and returned to B1 and reattacked B2.  Todd spotted the control but we were off by at least 30-40 feet.

Foot1

From B2 we measured a bearing of 30 degrees and shot off for B3.  But we couldn’t find it and after traveling way too far, we retreated all the way back to B2.  Consulting the map, we realized the bearing was 20 degrees, not 30, and we quickly found it.  The rest of the controls went okay and we returned to the boats for a quick paddle back to the Start/Finish to begin Bike 1.

Bike 1

The cluster of trails at the beginning gave us a little difficulty and we had to backtrack a couple of times, but nothing major.  For some reason, we didn’t measure any distances to CP14 from the trail intersection so we weren’t sure where to attack the control.  And then, we didn’t realize that the control was almost 100m into the woods.  Thinking it was right off trail, it took us a little time to find this one, but it was well worth it.  (Video blatantly stolen from Ron Eaglin)

CP15, large cat-faced pine, was another frustration for us.  Once again, not measuring the distance from a known intersection to the attack point had us missing this control as well.  Another backtrack and then off to CP16 where we were welcomed with another foot section.

Foot 2

I completely sucked on Foot 2 and I have nothing more to say about it…

Foot 2

…other than I was 1 foot away from having a really bad day.

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Bike 2

Feeling pretty defeated after Foot 2, we headed off on the last bike section.  Taking the local highways north to Bulow ruins, we were encouraged by two of Flagler Beach’s finest as they heartily cheered, “Get the F@*$ off the road!” as we pedaled against strong headwinds.  At CP24 we had another orienteering section but we were quickly running out of time.

So, we collected 4 checkpoints and raced back to the finish.  We were supposed to collect a piece of Lighter Knot and bring it back to the finish for an extra bonus point, and we didn’t even manage to do that.  Some races are just crap piled on a plate of poop.

Finish

Well, it was finally over.  Sometimes all you can do is just finish and have an ice cold beverage with your racing buddy.  Thanks Todd, for putting up with me and helping me through.

The 6 hour ride home was spent analyzing the race, icing my knee and picking off ticks.  I realized that I had tried something different this race.  I just got a watch mount for my Moscow Compass and was wearing it on the same hand that I was holding my base compass.  I use my watch compass to keep track of heading while on the bike and canoe but I use the base compass for foot orienteering and more precise navigation.  Well, it seems that having them in the same hand is NOT a good idea.

I didn’t move the base compass in the photos above, only putting the watch compass next to it.  That’s 40 degrees of error!  So many lessons learned on this one.  At least with Adventure Racing, even a bad race can be a lot of fun.

Conclusion

Craig and John Sheriff, another superb race.  You guys made it a challenge with some really interesting surprises.  A special thanks to John for the wonderful trophies, mine is sitting on my desk as I type this.  The teams out there all did an excellent job, with Ron’s team taking home the win of course.  Hats off to the volunteers, you guys were great.  And Jeff Wood, you are one funny dude.  Hope to see you out there racing soon.  Most of all, thanks to Todd, you did a great job.  We’ll see everyone again at the upcoming Turkey Burn where I’m sure we will be disoriented once more.

Howl at the Moon – 18Hr Adventure Race

Who would think that after 17 hours and 45 minutes of constant racing that the finish would come down to 2 teams racing neck and neck to the finish line…

After running into Broccoli Covered Powdered Babies (BCPB) throughout the race, it was them and us racing to be the first team back.  Of course, neither team knew how many CPs the other had collected, but we knew that we were close.  Going into the last paddle section, we knew that we had only missed one CP so far and that BCPB had missed 2.  However, they got on the paddle section before us and there were a total of 3 CPs out there–the race was up for grabs.

Note: For those that don’t know, adventure races are won first by points and second by time.  In other words, if team X gets 20 points and all the other teams get less than 20 points, then team X wins.  However, if team X gets 20 points and team Y gets 20 points then it goes to whomever gets to the finish line first.

Howl-at-the-Moon

Link to Race Maps

From the very beginning we knew that Howl at the Moon was going to be an interesting race.  The weather forecast had already informed us that Hobe Sound had experienced a week of heavy downpours with Thursday evening having almost 2 inches of rainfall.  Two inches of rainfall anywhere in Florida morphs an otherwise marshy landscape into a lake, hiking trails into creeks and creeks into running rivers.  It also displaces every nasty crawling, slithering creature you can imagine.  They would be everywhere searching for new homes as we tromped through their habitat.

David, Ana, Ben, Jake

Pre-race:

Check-in at 12, race start at 2, plenty of time to  looking over maps, strategize and prepare our gear for the 18Hr adventure we were bound to have.  Jake Brewer and I poured over the maps, mentally running through the flow of the course, highlighting routes and measuring distances.  Ana and Ben Brewer were getting the gear ready and figuring out how to cram gear, water and 8 hours of food into small packs.  Ron had promised us in the prerace meeting that this race would be a true adventure race, not some watered down version…and we were taking him seriously.

The pre-race meeting wrapped up at 1:30 and Ron announced, “The race will begin in 10 minutes.  Now we’re rushing around trying to finish all the little things we thought we had 30 minutes to do.  But that’s adventure racing, react to the unexpected.  At 1:40 Ron yells “Go!” and teams start racing out.  We’re still thrashing around our gear bins and we race off frazzled and not completely prepared.

Foot 1:

I’m sure these were trails once, but now they’re little more than ankle-deep creeks that either try to suck the shoe off your foot or fill it with muddy water.  The thought of jogging any of this is non-existent, it’s a slog.  While the whole foot course isn’t underwater, a good portion of it is, and we walk as quickly as possible.

We punch CP1 and head towards CP2, deciding that we’ll do a creek crossing rather than following the trail 1.5km around the creek.  This looked like an okay plan when we were looking at the map, but when we’re looking at the inky black creek that we have to cross, it doesn’t look so appealing.  With the rains, the creek that may have once been waist-high is now at least neck high…I wasn’t about to see exactly how deep it was.  Jake leads the charge, because he’s the man, and I go last to keep Ana from becoming gator bait.  Afterwards Ana tries to tell me that she must be a good swimmer because she was across the creek in no time.  I tell her that throwing her into an alligator infested creek that is as dark as oil is like throwing a cat into a bathtub full of ice cold water.  I wouldn’t exactly call the cat a good swimmer, it just managed to get itself out in a flash.  I’m not sure Ana even got wet.

CP3 and 4 were straight forward and after another swim across a murky black, fast-flowing creek we headed off to CP5.  We got a little off on CP5, heading north on a trail on the wrong side of the lake.  This was quickly resolved and we met up with BCPB while searching for this one.  From CP5, we hopped onto the highway for a quick march up to CP6.  I’m sure the commuters were wondering what 6 mud-covered spandex-clad people were doing out on the highway, but then again this is Florida, so maybe not.

BCPB hit the highway and sprinted off while we picked briers out of our shoes and took a more leisurely pace.  We followed the Florida Trail under the highway to CP7, but had difficulty locating the CP.  The clue was “ditch” and we knew we were in the right area, but couldn’t seem to locate it.  Jake amazingly sniffed it out and we cleared the section before heading off to the canoes.

Paddle 1:

There were only 3 CPs to pick up on the paddle back to the Start/Finish/Main TA where we would transition to bikes.  However, getting these CPs would prove a challenge for us and many other teams.  The recent rains had swollen the normally placid and narrow southwest end of the Loxahatchee River into a wide river flowing at over 4 miles per hour.  The river had risen almost 2 feet, completely covering spillway 1, and putting us 2 feet closer to low hanging branches.  The current rushed us through hairpin turns and maintaining control was near impossible.  Since the river had spread through the swamps, what once was land now became part of the river and knowing where the true river went became very difficult.  All we knew was to hold on as the current raced us downstream and to duck, dodge, or climb over as many branches and brambles as possible, trying not to get swept out of the boats.  The sun was rapidly fading and all I could think was, thank god we’re not trying to do this at night.

When we started the canoe section, we were surprised to find we were the 3rd team out.  Pangea Adventure Racing and Broccoli Covered Powder Babies  were 1st and 2nd, respectively.  It seems many other teams had struggled on Foot 1.

CP9 and 10 went well and Jake faultlessly guided us to the correct river branch leading to CP11.  By now it was completely dark and we were paddling against the strong current that before wanted to crash us into every overhanging branch or cypress knee.  It was almost impossible to make forward progress and our paddles madly churned the water as we pressed towards CP11.  The checkpoint was past a small footbridge and rather than try to portage around or over the bridge, we attacked by foot and found the CP.  I did my best Elastic Man impersonation to keep from having to swim in the water to punch the control.

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Clearing Paddle 1, we raced off to the Main TA.  Of course, with a 20% forecast of rain, it had to dump on us before the night was through.  The black sky erupted with brilliant flashes of lightning on the horizon and the skies opened up with a drenching downpour.  Having been soaking wet since the first 15 minutes of the race, a little more water didn’t matter much.

Bike 1

We raced off to Hobe Mountain and climbed the observation tower for the first bike CP.  But instead of a flag, there was a sign saying the actual checkpoint was 350 meters away on a bearing.  We bushwhacked and found it inside a small building.  We then rode to the Camp Murphy bike trailhead where we could either do the O-course or the single track.  We opted for the single track first and had a blast riding 8.6 miles of pretty sweet single track at night.  Club Scrub maintains the track and you can tell they have put their hearts into it.  It’s not easy building good single track in the sugar sands of Florida, but they are doing amazing work down there. [The following video is not mine and is +45min long.  I post it so those interested in seeing what the full single track looks like can watch.]

O-Course

Pangea Adventure Racing and Broccoli Covered Powder Babies were already out on the O-Course as we dumped our bikes and headed out on foot for what was promised to be a challenging section.  We hit the O-Course start, where we found the clue sheet for the remaining checkpoints, and attacked the course in order.  Working together on the navigation and the pace counting, we found most of the points without much issue.

I was really proud of CP8 because there wasn’t a clear attack point.  We measured the distance pre-race, counted out our paces, and headed directly west into the woods and ran right up to the control.  CP9 was the same, solid distance measuring, good pace counting, and holding to the bearing by leap frogging each other.  The team really worked well on this section and our navigation was spot on.  We returned to the bike drop for the O-course and found that we had jumped from 3rd place to 1st.  What?!

Bike 1 Continued

We were pumped.  We didn’t know what had happened out there on the O-Course but we knew that we were in first and had a real chance of winning this thing.  Unfortunately, we were now heading into our weakest event…biking.  Our plan was to attack Bike 1 CP3, 5, 4, then 6 (see map for numbering if interested).   CP3 took us well away from the course and was a 3 mile slog through jeep trails that were half underwater.  The water at some points was so high that we were slapping our pedals through water on the downstroke.  Many times we plunged into puddles so deep that we were knocked off our bikes into knee deep water.  My favorite moment was when Jake, leading us through one of these enormous puddles, yelled, “Gator on the left, stay to the right!”  Ana’s bike, sensing imminent danger, decides to buck Ana off into the puddle in an effort to save itself.  Thank goodness it was only a baby.

gator

This section was a slog and I got completely winded.  I could feel it sucking the strength out of me and many times I had to walk, even on the dry ground, just from exhaustion.  Ana, Jake and Ben were pedaling strong and I was frustrated being the one holding us back.

We had a difficult time finding CP3, but we stuck it out and finally found it.  At CP5 is where we met our demise.  So far we had cleared the course and still had time enough to clear the entire thing.  But CP5 had other plans.  First, we ran into a gate that we were sure was for private property, but we knew we had to go west and on the map there was a trail going west, right where the gate was.  Running north and south of the gate was a canal and as we approached the gate, at the edge of the canal, a gator launched itself into the water scaring the shiznit out of me.  We contemplated the map trying to figure out where to go and decided to hop the gate, which actually isn’t that unusual in adventure racing.  Many times you come across forest service gates that are locked and you have to jump them.  But once we started walking on the nicely packed gravel drive and saw cows beside us, we realized we were on someone’s property.  3AM in the morning, out in the middle of nowhere, is not when you want to stumble onto someone’s private property.  The barking of dogs prompted us to make a hasty retreat across the fence to reconsider our options.

Jake suggested swimming the canal and I replied with, “You gotta be a lot more convincing if you think you’re going to get me in that water.”  We realized there might be a crossing further south if we just followed the canal, so that’s what we did.  We finally made our way to the CP5 attack point–a T in the trail–and bushwhacked in.  The clue was edge of swamp and we went in until we were at least knee deep in water but never found the control.

Post race we discovered that with the amount of rain, the edge of the swamp was now in chest deep water.  4AM + Florida swamp + chest deep water = Big pile of NOPE!

Having given up on this control, my morale was pretty low.  We had spent so much time on these 2 bike CPs that had given us so much grief, that we knew we had blown any lead we had.  Not only that, now we weren’t sure if we’d even be able to clear the canoe section.  We hadn’t seen another team for hours and had no idea what the rankings were.  We picked up the remaining 2 bike checkpoints without much issue and headed off for the final leg.

Canoe 2

We got to the canoe section and discovered there was only 1 team out on the canoe section, Broccoli Covered Powder Babies.  They had all but 2 points so far, we had all but 1 point so far (having missed CP5).  There were 3 points out on the canoe section.  If we got all 3 and came in under the 18Hrs, we could win, anything else was a crap-shoot.  The fastest sports team cleared this section in 1:40 and we had a little less than 1:20 remaining.  We were off and paddling hard!  We went north up a little creek for the closest CP but it took us 25 minutes to get there fighting the current.  Jake looked at the map and he decided that we had to race back to the finish now because if any other team had cleared the previous sections, they could beat us on time.  There was no time remaining to pick up anymore CPs.  We raced down the creek and right where the creek meets the Loxahatchee river, we saw BCPB pulling in behind us from the south.  I told Ana that they probably got all 3 checkpoints and would end up winning this thing and she just kept saying, “You never know, maybe they only got 2.”  If I tried to say anything else, she would say, “Just paddle!”  I never looked back.  I didn’t want to see them overtake us.  We just paddled for all we had.  Coming to the boat ramp I yelled, “Grab your crap and let’s run!”  Ben was leading the charge sprinting to the finish but Jake was trailing in the back…”Come on Jake!  Come on!”  It was a freaking foot race to the finish.  BCPB landing seconds after we did and you could see them sprinting up the hill to pass us.  After 53 miles and 17:45 of racing it all came down to 1 second.

Amazing! Broccoli Covered Powdered Babies were beasts out there and we enjoyed every second racing with these guys (Go to their Facebook page and follow them, they’re hilarious).

Conclusion:

The course bested us all and no one cleared it, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.  Many thanks to Florida Xtreme Adventures for another amazing adventure race, it truly was epic.  And thanks to Jonathan Dickinson State Park and their vigilant rangers that kept watch over all the racers the entire night.  A special thanks to JJ, Ron, and Jim (the nicest guy you’ll ever meet).  You guys did a fantastic job with the course layout, the maps and instructions.  Everything was professionally ran.  The volunteers were amazing, of course, and these races couldn’t be done without them.  A very special thanks to our new racing partners, the Brewer Boys, Jake and Ben.  Thanks for racing with us guys, we’d love to partner up with you again anytime.  This was Ben’s 2nd adventure race and he did fantastic, leading the charge through numerous swamps in the dark!

Suggestions:

If I could suggest one eenie weenie tiny thing it would be that you guys would reinstate taking team photos before each race.  Some teams may not care, but for us the AR community is a big family and some of the coolest people I have met, I met through AR.  Many times we meet people pre-race or on the course and strike up instant friendships but after the race most of us have to rush back to our families and lives.  Pre-race photos with racer names helps us reestablish those friendships either online or at the next event, so for me their really important.

And if you’ve read this far…I am truly impressed and grateful.  Thank you.

Mo’ Pain…Rogaine!

Our first Florida Xtreme Adventures event was the Rogaine Ocala , an 8-hour race that had us on foot for over 26.7 miles.  Some of those miles were ran a couple of times because I got a little disoriented, but what’s new.  Click on the map below to follow the action

Rogaine Map Small

Check in started at 7AM, we were handed our map, passport, and I committed my first mistake almost instantly.  Ana and I have never done a Rogaine before, so before the race I checked out a few blogs to get an idea of what to expect.  A rogaine is basically the foot/nav section of an adventure race.  You’re given a list of checkpoints, a map, and a finish time.  You’re job is to collect as many checkpoints in an alloted time as possible.  The order of collection and path is up to you.

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Pre-race planning time is always nerve-racking for me.  I never feel like I know what I’m doing, unlike the guys below.  Look at the Canyoneros, just chillin’ before the race.  They’ve got chairs, a lantern, even a floor mat.  They probably have coffee brewing somewhere too.

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So, I get the map and the first thing I do is highlight all the CPs so I don’t miss one.  What I didn’t realize though is that there were more CPs on the map than on the passport. Come to find out, it’s a two-stage race where after completing the first stage, we return to the Start/Finish and grab a second passport.  Once I figure this out, I try to “erase” the highlighter marks on the CPs that are not on the first stage and come up with a path plan.

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At 8AM Ron yells out, Go! and people start dashing off into the woods.  We’re rushing to not get left behind and start bushwhacking to catch up with the other racers that I assumed were on the trail we want.  Come to find out, they weren’t on any trail at all, they were bushwhacking to their first checkpoint (probably 31).  I realize the mistake I’ve made and we start heading east to CP33.  Of course, I’m ticked at myself for feeling pressured to keep up with other teams.  We had come out to practice navigation and right out the gate I want to start following others.  Race starts always put me in a frenzy until I truly get my bearing and find the first CP or two.  It’s hard, being an amateur, to not follow the more experienced teams.

FLX

We find CP33 with little trouble and then realize that CP33 is not a checkpoint on the first stage.  I had forgotten to erase it and now we had wasted time trying to find it.  Three mistakes right off the bat and we hadn’t found our first CP yet.  Not a good start at all.  The good news is that after the bad start, we actually did pretty well for the rest of the first stage.  We found all of the checkpoints with little trouble.  What was really fun was that we didn’t end up running into another team that was looking for the same CPs as us.  We’ve been in races were lots of teams were looking for the same CPs at the same time, and it gets pretty boring.  We cleared the first stage in 5Hrs and 13 minutes.  I have no idea if that is a good time or not.

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Back at the S/F, we get our second stage passport and start route planning.  Then I see Team Night Owls, who came in after us, leaving to go out.  Well, if they’re just going to grab their map and head out, then so will we.  And look, CP33 is on this stage and we know where it is, right?  As we head off to CP33, Ron Eaglin comes up from behind and takes a few photos before heading out to CP33 to get some pics of teams locating that checkpoint.  We see where Ron goes in, but it isn’t where we decided to attack the CP from and so we keep going.  When we get to our attack point, we take a bearing and head in.  I can see Ron sitting behind palmettos but for some reason I don’t go over there.  I don’t know if he’s being tricky or if he’s sitting on the CP.  Of course, he’s sitting on the CP and I feel like a dumb ass for not just going over there.  In the end, he got a good laugh at our inexperience and we got a good team photo 🙂

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We knew we were running short on time so we made an abbreviated plan, trying to pick up CP33, 34, 54, 76, and a few more that I can’t remember.   Since I seem to have misplaced my map I can’t recall what our original plan was, but I’m sure it was stupendous.  It doesn’t really matter because after getting 54, we crashed and burned trying to get 76.  I lost my bearing when we hit on a trail while bushwhacking south, and I then spent 40 minutes trying to regain it.  I couldn’t figure out what trail we were on, which is pretty stupid in hindsight.  Oh well, we had to ditch 76 and could only pick up CP55 before heading back.

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We ended up finishing the Rogaine Ocala in 11th out of 18 teams, collected 19 out of 28 CPs and covered 26.7 miles in 7 hours and 39 minutes.  More importantly we had a blast and discovered a new event that we definitely look forward to doing in the future.  If you haven’t tried a rogaine yet, go do it.  You’ll have a great time and meet some truly awesome people.

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Rogaine Ocala here we come.

ROGAINE OCALA

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Nope, not that kind of Rogaine.  More like the, “pay money to go run and get lost in the woods for 8 hours” Rogaine.  Confused, yeah so are we.  We haven’t done one before but we’re actually pretty excited about it.  We figure it will give us a chance to practice our navigation skills, which are dearly lacking.  Most importantly, it will give us a chance to reconnect with our adventure racing friends that we haven’t seen for a long time.

So, my friend, slick back that comb-over and come get lost with us in the woods.  More info can be found here: Florida Extreme Rogaine Ocala and tell them Team Disoriented referred you…we’ll gladly take the race credits 😉