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

 

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2016 Sea to Sea Race Report – Day 1

I can always tell how amazing an adventure race is by how long it takes me to break out of my funk once I get back.  Upon returning from a race, life seems a little more mundane and monotonous and my mind relentlessly replays the highs and lows of the event with a longing to be back out there.  Work duties are met with sighs of resignation and just getting to the office is almost a monumental task itself.  Usually, after a day or two passes, and the excitement from the race wears down, the nose is reapplied to the grindstone and life assumes it’s normal pattern.  But, here it is a week later and all I can think about is Sea to Sea in 2017.

How do you even begin to write a race report on a 72Hr non-stop event?  There is so much to take in that it seems a monumental task.  Many people have asked us about the race now that we have returned, and every time we try to describe it, I can tell that we’re just not capturing it.  The descriptions seem pale and empty even to us and what was lived in Technicolor is relayed in muted grays.  There is no way that I can relate, either in words or in script, how absolutely amazing an adventure like this is.  It’s the actualization of a goal, something that you’ve trained for and committed to. Something that you have pledge valuable time and money to.  And here you are, in the midst of it all, racing for everything you’re worth–sometimes joyous, sometimes angry, sometimes beaten, sometimes elated, but most importantly always in the moment.

Race Passport

Race Maps

Team Tracking

Race Photos

Pre-Race:

40 freaking maps!  Seriously, my map case is on the verge of popping, along with the aneurism in my head.  I have no idea how to take in and parse this much information.  Do we detail plan?  Do we wing it during the race?  So many time cutoffs and decision points.  What CPs do we skip?  Do we try to clear it?  Ana tries to keep me focused and moving through the maps to get an overall sense, but I’m lost.  I’ll be up all night if I try to detail plan and that plan will probably change as the race progresses anyway.  Forget it! I decide to plan for the first day and try to get some sleep.  Ha! Sleep.  Who sleeps before a race like this?

 Start – Honeymoon Island Trek (8 miles, trail)

Super Frogs

We wake up early and are bussed to the other side of Florida, where the race will begin with an 8-mile trek for 4 checkpoint.  The race starts and ain’t nobody trekking.  When the lead teams start off running, we all go running.  Stupid, maybe…but fun none the less.  Our highlight for this section is when Ana gets within a stride of stepping on this beauty…

Now thars a snake!

I guess we didn’t notice the signs coming into Honeymoon Island.  Well, we’re awake and ready to race now.

Nice sign to see on the way out.

Segment 1: Urban Trails Bike (45 miles)

On a good day, we can maintain 15-18mph on a mountain bike, so this leg would be about 3 hours for us, and quite possibly the longest non-stop ride we’ve done.  We’re not cyclists and my butt scabs can attest to that.  There were 4 CPs here and if I would have remembered to take our photo at the Flatwoods Trailhead sign, we wouldn’t have had to turn around and add a few more miles to this leg.  But, we were enjoying the ride so much…

CP8 – Broccoli Covered Powder Babies

Segment 3 – Lower Hillsborough Trek (18 miles)

The race directors had made a change, cancelling out the Lettuce Lake Park and Hillsborough River Paddle, so we were to collect CP9 on the way to Morris Bridge Park.

CP9 – Florida Xtreme

At Morris Bridge, we had to decide whether to complete the next section by foot or canoe.  If you chose to do the next section on foot, then you had to make a water crossing to get to the next transition area.  Otherwise, you could take a canoe, miss a few checkpoints, but paddle to the next TA.  Our plan was to take the canoe, but then Super Frogs were heading out on foot and so was Broccoli Covered Powder Babies…what to do, what to do!  We waffled on our approach and decided in the end to do this section on foot.  It took us 3 tries to leave the TA as 1) I left the passport at the water station and 2) we had to backtrack and let the race directors know that we changed our mind and were going out on foot.  The catch was, we had to be at the next TA by 10PM or we would start losing points.  Ana was nervous about the late night water crossing, but it looked like we would be able to clear this section in time.

CP17 – Team Disoriented

We were doing fine on this section until we got to CP14, probably one of the easiest CPs in the race.  I thought it was further up the trail then it was and we wasted 20 minutes going too far.  By now, we knew we were in trouble and made a dash for the water crossing, skipping CP11 entirely.  But, the trails gods were not playing kindly and  we entered a maddening labyrinth of mountain bike trails.  Night had come and the dreaded water crossing was getting nearer, Ana was getting more anxious and I just wanted out of the maze.  As soon as we turned the corner to start the crossing, Florida Xtreme and Epoch Adventure Racing showed up and we made the crossing in numbers.  Ana was almost giddy, and I was too.

CP13 Water Crossing…Ana’s favorite!

The powerlines that we followed led us to the back of a neighborhood and we couldn’t find our way out.  As our headlamps looked for an exit, we must have pissed off someone because the next thing we hear is a shotgun being fired.  Good time to run!  We pushed as hard as we could, but missed the cutoff by 8 minutes and lost a point…bummer.

Segment 4 – Green Swamp Bike Crossing (75 miles)

75 bum-busting miles on a mountain bike.  Oh the joy!  This would be by far the longest bike ride we’ve ever done.  For next year, maybe I’ll look into getting one of these to prepare better.

Buns ‘O Steel

I might even rock the beard too because nothing says kickass adventure racer like a full grown squirrel wrapped around your chin.

Out of the stack of 40+ maps, Map 4A was the only one that I had problem with.  I just couldn’t make out the street markings from TA3 to CP18, luckily it was easy navigating, and the rest of the maps were excellent.  We were tripped up trying to find the entrance to the Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve for CP19 and when a lady busted out of her mobile home and started yelling at us, we decided to bail on this control before the shotguns were brought out.

We were now feeling like we were trying to play catch-up with the rest of the racers, so we decided to skip any of the bonus controls.  We didn’t even try for BCP20 or BCP21, plus I couldn’t figure out from the map how to get to BCP20.  What’s that you say?  “Supplemental Map 4B?”  Hmm, yeah that probably would have helped…it looks so easy now.

MCP24 – Wet Feet

Off to the Green Swamp Main Entrance where we met up with some other teams and began to bang out CPs.  For CP26, we were to record the last 2 digits of the site ID on a gauging station on the other side of a marsh.  We attempted to bushwhack in from the west, but then Chunk had a great idea that there must be an access road somewhere close.  Sure enough there was and we punched the CP and pressed.  Daybreak was coming, temperatures were dropping, and we were pretty sick of being on our bikes.  A few more miles and we could trade our bike saddles for canoe seats…the bliss! (That’s called sarcasm for those that didn’t catch it)

PCP29 – Team Disoriented

Segment 5 – Palatlakaha River Paddle (6.5 miles)

We didn’t make the 8AM cutoff to do the orienteering course so we went straight to paddling across the Atlantic, I mean Lake Minnehaha.  Now, my friends, if you suffer from insomnia, do I have a cure for you.  Simply race for 20 solid hours and then try paddling across a featureless lake for 2 hours.  We had a fierce headwind with waves crashing into us, wanting to capsize the little canoe.  But the warmth of the sun and the rhythmic beat of the paddles was an irresistible lullaby.  I slightly recall thinking, I’m going to fall asleep and drown right here, and I’m kinda okay with that.

TA5 – Team Disoriented

We paddled and paddled and paddled some more.  Ana and I played mind games like, Go from A to Z naming a rock band…Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, The Cure, Depeche Mode…you get the idea.  This was fun for about 30 minutes, not 2 hours.  The problem with racing with your spouse is that you already know how all their stories end.  So, we decided next race we’ll retell our same stories to each other but make up new endings.  I’m going to be an astronaut!

TA5 – Clermont Boat Ramp

We finally made it to TA5 where we waited anxiously for our bikes to begin another 35 mile bike ride.  Day 1 of a 3-day race was complete, and we couldn’t wait to begin day 2, if only my posterior didn’t look like…

End of Day 1

Day 2 Report

Day 3 Report

The Hogback AR

Hey guys, I really need to stop for a sec.

What’s going on, Bill asks.

It seems I have a little chaffing issue I need to take care of, I answer.

Is it bad?

Let’s just say that the tip of the spear has been buffed to a high gloss.

…silence…

No worries, I continue, if it comes down to it I have a bagel in my pack that I can shove down my pants for the rest of the race.

And so began our final big bike section for the 24Hr Hogback Adventure Race in Ocoee, Tennessee.I have been looking forward to racing the Hogback with Ana since I first learned that Adventure Capitalists were putting it on. Not only would the race be in a beautiful section of the Smoky Mountains, it would also include guided whitewater rafting as part of the prologue–awesome sauce!

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to work it out where Ana and I could go, and I was extremely bummed. Then, at the last minute, I was asked by Craig Sheriff if I’d like to race with him and Bill Dean. Why yes I would, thank you. And luckily for me, Ana was gracious enough to let me race it without her…what an angel!

PRERACE

Bill, Craig and I met at Quest Expeditions, race HQ, the afternoon before the race. I, having returned from Boston the night before, had a car full of unpacked gear and food and a bike that needed fixing.  All of which I had thrown into the car at the last minute.

At 4PM, we were given the map, a massive 1:24k scale squiggly lined monster that had more contour curves on it than this Florida boy had seen before. We were also given a sheet with UTM coordinates for every checkpoint, except those of the orienteering course, which would be plotted during the race.

We quickly scrambled to our hotel room at the Whitewater Inn to begin plotting CPs and trying to make route choices. Actually, Bill and Craig did this, I was still sorting out my crap.  We had to be back at Quest by 6pm for the prerace briefing, a team-building exercise and dinner. The prerace brief was quick and efficient and the team building exercise would determine the order of raft that the teams would be in for the start of the race. Josh Braun, the race director, had a great idea. One person from each team raced to pick up a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle in a ziploc bag and bring it to the rest of the team where they worked together to solve the puzzle with no image to work from. We quickly put together an image of a large rubber duck and ended up being the 2nd team finished. This put us in raft #2 the next day.

RACE DAY

“I will not try to stand up in the Ocoee” our guide had us chant together prior to launching into the cold river leading to Class IV rapids that were once part of the ’96 Olympics. I had no intent of falling in the river at all, so I wedged my feet even harder into a crease of the inflatable raft.

Down the river we cruised, plunging through rapids with names like Smiley’s, Slam Dunk, Humongous and Godzilla before spilling out and hitting Edge of the World. Water sprayed everywhere as we crashed into wall after wall of whitewater. Most times I hate getting wet prior to an adventure race, but this was well worth it. We yelped, and hollered, and paddled and laughed a lot. This was by far, the best start to an AR that I have done! Our guide, Clay, from Quest Expeditions was very professional, well-trained, humorous and fun. I look forward to taking my whole family there and recreating the experience. Especially because I’m too dumb to figure out how to operate a GoPro and ended up recording the flattest part of the river trip rather that the most exciting. Bummer!

(More info on the rapids found here)

BIKE 1&2

Like drowned rats, we scrambled off our raft at TA1 to find our bikes and start Bike 1.  We flew south on I-64 and hit the Brush Creek Trails just south of the highway.

Craig led the navigation, and we nailed this section with Bill’s eagle eyes picking off the CPs visible from the trail.  We quickly made our way to TA2 where we transitioned to Bike 2 along the Tanasi Trail System, an IMBA Epic.

Tanasi Trail System

Many times I lit up my brakes crashing down the rocky, rooty trail but mostly it was an uphill slog that the race director aptly named Granny Gear.

tanasi_16

For some reason CP14 gave us, and a few other teams, a lot of difficulty.  Josh had said that he expected mid-pack teams to be able to clear the course if their navigation was clean, so we weren’t eager to give up on this checkpoint.  We first stopped at a reentrant we thought was the correct one.  However, there were other teams there and they said that they didn’t find the CP, so we tried a different reentrant a little further down the road.  When we weren’t able to locate the CP, we went to a known intersection and backtracked to re-attack the CP.  It was getting frustrating.  We decided to attack one more time, using a straight section of the road as a marker, and this time we went right to the CP (off the reentrant we stopped at first).  Happy that we had found it and were still clearing the course, we headed off to TA3 and the beginning of the orienteering section.

 Foot 1

Well, this is where it all went to hell and it started with the very first checkpoint.  CP16 oh how I hate you!  Of course, we hit the o-course as it’s turning dark, which is never a good thing for me.  Those little orange and white markers are hard enough to find in the daytime, much less so at night.

We thought CP16 would be straight forward–hit the peak of the mound, keep going due west, cross an old trail and bam, there it is.  What we got was a big heap of NOPE!  I don’t think that I have ever ran into so many brier bushes in my life.  This was like trying to hug a porcupine and I had my RailRider Bushwacker Pants on (which are awesome but that’s a review for another day).  Anyway, we attacked the CP from the east, we even tried from the north, but in the end CP16 bested us with her prickly defenses and we wasted too much time on it…so much for clearing the course.

From CP16, things somewhat picked up, we were able to get CP17 without an issue.  However, finding the trail that led to CP18 was problematic.  We found a trail but then it seemed to disappear, or not go in the direction we wanted.  After awhile, and confirmation from another team that the trail did indeed exist, we found it.  This led us to CP18 and CP19 and by then we were done.  We realized we were sucking on the foot nav and headed off to the Bike 3 section where we hoped the nav would be easier.

Bike 3

Feeling somewhat defeated from the orienteering section, we hit Bike 3.  Craig again took the navigation and we cleaned this section without much difficulty except for the hills.  By now, my legs were about exhausted. The ups felt like forever and the downs were white knuckled descents of gravel, hairpin turns, and darkness.

Over and over again we blasted down gravel roads and I had to constantly remind myself to not brake in the middle of a turn.  This is also when I had my chaffing issue that we don’t need to discuss further other than to say a sock in the pants helps enhance one’s manliness and provide an extra barrier against chaffing.  What did you expect me to do, throw duct tape on it?

 Boat 1

You know, if there’s one thing I really like to do after spending almost 18 hours on a bike it’s sitting on a hard plastic canoe seat and paddling for 3-4 hours.  We launched our canoe shortly before sunrise right beside Team Ad House Adventure.

To be competitive in this race, we knew we would have to make some strategic decisions.  Craig suggested that we skip the closest 2 checkpoints and head towards the furthest CPs we thought we could get in the remaining time.  That way if we got pressed for time, we could make a last minute decision to skip CPs and race for the finish.

This section went really well.  Bill sat in the center and navigated us to the checkpoints without faltering, Craig kept falling asleep in the back and would almost fall into the water, and I paddled in the front barking at everyone to keep paddling. I like to think I was kindly cheering everyone on to victory, but you know, everyone’s got an opinion.  We wanted to be back on land by 9:45AM to give us ample time to get to the finish at 11AM and this meant that we scrapped the furthest checkpoint on Mitchell Hill.  In hindsight, I’m confident we could have cleared this section too.  We were paddling very strong, hitting 5MPH on the GPS.

 Finish

After the boat, we just had to pick up two checkpoints on the race to the Finish.  We picked these up and rolled into the Finish after 22 hours and 46 minutes of racing.  My GPS logged 85.5 miles traveled with 9200 feet of elevation gained.  After the results were tallied, we ended up 2nd in the Open Division (yes, there were more than 2 teams in our division although the picture below doesn’t make it seem that way).

As a trophy, we were given these awesome, custom made Hogback AR coffee mugs from Forman Pottery.  They look amazing and my coffee has never tasted better.

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 Conclusion

This was an amazing race.  Josh and his team put together one of the most professional, well-organized races that I have been in.  The scenery was beautiful, the course was well laid out, the whitewater rafting prologue was epic.  I can’t say enough good things about this race.  The transition areas were well stocked, our gear was available on time, mid-race someone gave me a beer…I mean, it doesn’t get any better.  Well, you could have taken out those damn briers on CP16.  But, probably the most important thing I learned is that Josh can sing the complete Happy Birthday song without ever changing his pitch.  Honestly, it was like listening to Stephen Hawking sing it…amazing.

A big thanks to Josh and all the volunteers that made this race so successful.  We will DEFINITELY be back in 2016 and I’m bringing my amazing wife with me this time!

Map

 24Hr Hogback AR GPS Track

(Yes, the GPS was approved, sealed in a bag and never visible during the race)