WE CLEARED OUR FIRST COURSE! YEAH!
WE FORGOT ICE FOR THE POST-RACE BEER! BOO!
For those that don’t like to read–who needs all those words anyway–you can click on the link below and see a short video of our course. I recommend clicking on settings and watching at 0.25 speed to slow down the video.
For those that actually enjoy reading my blogs, well you are obviously above average in intelligence and attractiveness so you shall be reward by a blog post full of information and wit. It’s full of something for sure.
The 2014 Pangea Dixie Conquest was hosted at the Bayard Conservation Area, a beautiful area that is above water 364 days out of the year. However, once a year the entire area turns into a swampy mess, and that’s usually when Greg schedules the Dixie Conquest. This was the toughest race we’ve done so far. It took us 9 hours of constant effort to cover the 36 miles by running, biking, and canoeing. And I’m pretty sure we could have cleared the entire course with just a canoe. I have never seen a race as wet and swampy as this one and I have pictures to prove it…oh wait…no I don’t because we forgot the GoPro. Boo! But that’s okay because I can just hijack the Canyoneros YouTube video…
For those not familiar with adventure racing, clearing a course means that a team has found all of the checkpoints and checked in prior to expiration of time. This is our 4th race and the first time that we’ve been able to clear a course, a big milestone for us.
For those interested, here are the course maps and instructions:
Jeff Leininger, course designer, had the teams gather in a small circle prior to the start of the race. In order for us to get our first set of maps, each team had to find 4 hidden Easter eggs and turn them in at the Start/Finish table. This was a great way to break up the racers and a lot of fun.
We gathered our eggs and were off with the front of the pack. Our original plan was to first go to CP2 then CP5, but when we saw the leaders heading off towards CP1, we decided to follow. I actually don’t like following other teams except in the beginning of a race. For some reason I have the hardest time getting oriented right at the start and I’ll usually follow the herd for the first checkpoint or so. This first foot section was straight forward and we didn’t have any issues finding the CPs. Our order was 1, 3, 4, 6, 5, 2 and then back to the Start Finish where we got our bikes and paddles and headed to the Boat TA.
Since canoeing is our worst event, our plan was to go SE towards CP8 first so that we could maximize our points. If we decided we were taking too long on this section, we would bail out leaving CPs 13, 14, 15 and 7 behind. Given the pre-race forecast of high winds and rain, this approach made sense. But, when we got to the Boat TA, the water was calm so we decided to go for it all and headed towards CP7. On the way, we got to canoe under a number of piers where we had to duck to make it. You can tell Ana is a little nervous as she’s already in full tuck mode.
One thing that worked well for us on this race was measuring distances between the canoe checkpoints and converting the distances to estimated times between CPs. Had we not done this, we would have had a much harder time finding the CPs. This was my first time using the Scale Master Pro Digital Plan Measure. This tool is awesome.
You can set up a custom scale and then just roll out your measurements. I’ve found it to be extremely easy to use and very accurate. If you don’t have one, get one. And if you’re going to get one, do so by clicking on the pic above and Amazon will send me a quarter. You’ll get an awesome tool and be supporting the awesomest adventure racing team at the same time.
After CP7, we hit CP8, 9, 10, 11 without any problems. CP12 was further into the creek than we imagined and we were passed by Team BikeWorks / Gecko when I took an offshooting creek. We quickly got back on track and found the CP. For CP13, 14, and 15, we planned to beach near the trail by CP13 and do the remaining CPs on foot. We never saw the trail from the water but beached where a number of other canoes were and bushwhacked south until we found the trail. We quickly picked up the CPs and made our first major blunder returning to the canoe. We couldn’t remember where we came in and so the plan was to find the trail leading to the water and then follow the shore to the canoe. We found the trail but there was no way to follow the shore south without a major swim. So, we headed back to the loop and picked a point of reentry. This detour probably cost us 10 minutes. Back on the canoe, we “raced” back to the Boat TA having cleared our first canoe section without capsizing…double bonus points. Team BikeWorks was right behind us and they caught us at the take out point. I swear they had an outboard or something.
Finishing Boat 1, we were given new maps at the Start/Finish TA and began Bike 1. We first attacked CP16 and I made a big navigational error that cost us another 10 minutes. CP16 was along a utility line easement and I had measured the distance from where the trail branches away from the easement (Point A) rather than where the easement crosses an adjoining trail (Point B). We started down the easement at Point B and so we paced out 300 meters placing us 120 meters shy of CP16. The clue was “Cypress Swamp” which was useless since I couldn’t tell a cypress if I ran into one. Don’t the race guys know there are two types of trees in Florida, pine trees and everything else. Anyway, we almost gave up on CP16 but stuck around a little bit longer and finally found it. I felt relieved as I really wanted to clear all the CPs.
We then hit CP17, 18 and 19. We found these without any problem although I believe they were not marked correctly on the map. Post race analysis showed that they were plotted about 150m more westerly than they actually were (see the Canyoneros blog post). Since I assume my measurements are off, we started looking for a creek once we got close to the estimated attack point. This worked well for us on this race. At CP18 we ran into BikeWorks again. They decided to bushwhack or swampstomp from CP18 to CP19 while we decided to bike around. Both paths proved to be about equal as we ran into them just as they were coming out of the swamp on the trail just north of CP19. From CP19 we hit CP22, 20, 23, 24, 26, 25 and 21.
Our path choice proved to be a bad decision because the path from CP26 to CP25 was completely underwater. It was a 700m trudge through knee-deep algae filled muck that had us cursing for 15-20 minutes. After finally reaching the fork, we stopped and had to clean our deraillers, chains, and brakes of swamp slime before we could proceed. A better route from CP19 would have been CP24, 26, 20, 22, 25 and 21. Aah, the beauty of hindsight.
Right after clearing CP25 the Canyoneros came upon us as I was struggling to figure out which way to go on an unmarked fork in the trail. Eventually I will realize that not every trail is marked on the map and to not be distracted by this. The Canyoneros sped off to the west and since I didn’t know where they were going, we went off to the east until I got my bearing. Luckily it didn’t take long as we ran into the train tracks and had to turn around. Crisis averted, we collected CP21 and were off to Foot 2.
Our plan for Foot 2 was to hit CP27, 28, 31, 29, 32, 34, 35, 33, 30 and then exit to the main road for a quick run back to the Bayard TA. We stuck to this plan and cleared most of the CPs without much issue. CP28 was a little difficult as we went up the wrong creek and had to backtrack to find the CP. The whole course was flooded so it was pretty easy to chase up the wrong creek. My biggest mistake on this section was right after punching CP29. We were supposed to head back the way we came from CP31 and then follow a new trail to CP32. However, we ran across another team and for some reason instead of stopping to consult my map at the intersection I just followed them. They were heading to CP 30, which we were saving for last. Once I realized this, we had to make a decision to continue on to CP30 or backtrack to stick to our original plan. We decided to backtrack and probably lost 5-7 minutes here. The other major blunder on Foot 2 was at CP34. We found the CP without any issues but I got turned around coming back to the trail. I think my brain was exhausted by this time and I couldn’t figure out how to get back to the trail from the CP. Another wasted 5-7 minutes here.
CP35 was true adventure racing for us. Ana usually punches the card so that Stu and I can review the map before taking off again. Once we spotted the marker for CP35, Ana went to punch it. After a few seconds she called for us to come over because she needed help. We came over and saw that the marker was across a creek that had turned into a river due to the flooding. I took the punch card and started to go across the creek and it kept getting deeper and deeper. The water was up to my armpits and my feet were sinking in the mud and I’m thinking, “Dear Lord, I don’t want to be eaten by something!” I’ve watched ‘River Monsters” and I could imagine Jeremy Wade fishing for whatever had decided to eat “that poor adventure racer from Niceville, Florida.”
Finally, I was able to grab hold of a cypress knee and pull myself out of the water just as another team found a much shallower way to get to the checkpoint. Well, I bet you can guess which way I took to return to the other side. It was fun. I don’t want to do it again. We collected the remaining CPs and hit Banyard TA where we transitioned to bikes for the mad dash to the Start/Finish.
At Bayard we turned in our punch and I see the Canyoneros finishing Foot 2 as well. Oh crap! Race On! We scramble to get our bikes and head out. I want to beat these guys to the finish but I don’t have my maps arranged and shortly after hopping the fence to get on the trail to the Finish TA, I have to stop when I come to a fork in the road and am unsure of which way to go. I hear Hien in the background yelling at me, “Why are you stopping!” and I yell back, “Because I don’t know which way to go! I haven’t been here before!”
Once they pull ahead I say screw it and decide to follow them in. There’s no way we’re going to pass these speed freaks anyway, so we just follow. We’re pedaling our hearts out to stay with them and they’re pedaling their hearts out to make sure we don’t pass. It was funny in a twisted kind of way that I can laugh about now but not then with my legs cramping. Well wouldn’t you know it, they took a wrong turn and I followed them right into it. My teammates had stopped at the correct turn but I didn’t know it. Too bad I didn’t just follow those stupid red arrows pointing us back to the finish line. In the end, the Canyoneros beat us by a few seconds but we didn’t care, we had put on a good race and had about as much fun as possible. We met some really cool racers and had a lot of fun laughing it up with them while trying to perform our best. We learned a lot and improved from last time. Who could ask for more?
During this race we learned some new adventure racing terminology that we thought to share for the novice racer:
- “Large Pine” or “Large Oak” = average sized pine or oak that will look like every other pine or oak in the vicinity of the CP
- “Faint trail” or “Old trail” = forested area that will not look like a trail by anyone’s imagination
- “Clearing” = swamp
- “Creek” = swamp
- “Cypress swamp” = swamp
In conclusion, I was really pleased with the way the team performed. We stayed better hydrated and fueled during the entire race. We didn’t capsize. We pushed pretty hard throughout, except when we got chatty with the other racers, and some of our navigation was pretty decent. Below is a capture of the split times for the teams above us. Yes, I know, it is a kaleidoscope of colors but take a moment and let your eyes adjust to the rainbow and I think you’ll be able to see what I was trying to capture. Each team has its own color and each section is arranged in order of time (least to greatest). So, Primal Instinct (Purple), finished 8th overall, completed the foot 1 with the 4th best time, Boat 1 with the 9th best time, Bike 1&2 with the 8th best time and Foot 2 with the 7th best time. See, now wasn’t that fun and easy? Team Jax was first in everything but those guys are on crack so I don’t really count them 😉