Coosa River Challenge XIV

“1…2…3…Jump!” Ana yells.

Jump?  Yeah, you just hold on one stinkin’ second there little lady.

This is no “jump” this is a plummet into an abyss and I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared to plunge my body over the edge just yet.

“Oh my gosh, you didn’t jump?!” Ana says “1…2…3…Jump!  Do it!”

“But, I don’t wanna jump!” I whine before hurling myself over the edge.  I don’t like heights, I never have.  I probably never will.  But, adventure racing has a way of taking you outside of your comfort zone and making you do things you wouldn’t normally do for the sake of your team.

Eventually, I splash into the Coosa River below and after checking that my Man Card is still in my back pocket, we press on with the race.

Pre-race:

Way back in 2014, when we just started adventure racing, we did the Coosa River Challenge and had an absolute blast.  We weren’t able to make it back in 2015, but were extremely excited that we would make it in ’16.  The Coosa River Challenge is more than just a race, it’s an event.  It all starts with a pre-race party at Coosa River Adventures the night before.  Racers are treated to a delicious meal provided by the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, an open keg of beer (Score!), and live entertainment by Sam Marsal.  But, don’t let the party atmosphere fool you.  While some come just for the challenge of completing the race, there are plenty of competitive athletes ready to rock the course in the morning.

Foot 1:

The race starts at the Swayback Bridge Trailhead, a 12-mile network of gnarly single track maintained by the Trail of Legends Association.  230+ competitors started off trail running a short section of switchbacks and hills, making their way to the top of Jordan dam and then returning to the start location to transition to bikes.  

Bike 1:

We quickly transitioned to bikes, shoving down a fig bar and a bottle of Skratch before riding off.  I didn’t want to bonk again like I did at the Cauldron, so we took a little time to get some fluids and food in us.  I don’t like heights, Ana doesn’t like single track.  It’s just the way things work for us.  But, today was the day Ana decided to fly.  Two years ago we struggled to make it up the climbs, but this time she was powering the ups and bombing the downhill sections.  Maybe she had the Eye of the Tiger, maybe I spiked her Skratch with cocaine…I’m not saying.  But I was impressed.

eye-of-the

Foot 2:

Back to the start, we transitioned to foot and made a quick dash to the base of Jordan Dam for an orienteering challenge.  For this section we had to answer a few questions on compass use and plot a couple of bearings.  In 2014 there wasn’t an orienteering section and I was happy to see that it was back for this year.  For us, orienteering is one of the reasons we love adventure racing.

Boat:

The rest of the race was down the Coosa River with stops along the way to do certain challenges.  The first challenge was to swim our kayak across the river.  If there is a good way to swim a kayak across a river, please post it in the comment section below.  Call me kooky, but I’m pretty sure man didn’t create a kayak so that he could hang on to the outside of it and swim it across a river.  I have never felt so inept in my life!  I tried the front crawl.  I tried the side stroke, I tried holding on to the back and just kicking.  The only thing that worked for me was letting Ana swim it across.  That made it a lot easier.

Once Ana, I mean we, swam the kayak across the river we had to execute the leap of death.  From atop a 40 foot rock, we had to jump into the Coosa River below.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t 40 feet, but it was high.  Higher than it was 2 years ago, and higher than in my nightmares of the week leading up to the race.  Needless to say, we did make the jump and I’m alive and I’m pretty thankful for that.

After the rock jump, we got to paddle our boats back to the launch location where we would do the 85 foot rappel.  This was my favorite part, mainly because I didn’t have to do it.  Look, it’s my job to kill all the spiders and roaches.  Ana’s job is to do the high, scary stuff and not tell my buddies that I’m too chicken to do it.  Ana flew down the rope like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat.  It was beautiful to watch, especially with both feet on solid earth.

Back on the boats, we were now in full paddle mode, except that the paddles were more like dumbbells with blades on the end.  Seriously, I think they were made out of driveshafts they weighed so much.  We cruised down to Dead Beaver Island, a perfect place to camp out, drink a few cases of beer, and make 200+ people crawl through a pipe that’s been 90% submerged in muddy water. Lucky for us, they left just enough room at the top of the pipe to breathe…that is if you’re a freakin’ dolphin with a hole in the top of your head.  For us normal humans, not so easy.

After Dead Beaver Island, we made the run down to Moccasin Gap, a Class III rapid and the largest rapid on the Coosa.  We didn’t have any issues with this one and were starting to feel pretty proud of ourselves.  That is until we hit Big House Rapids.
moccasin-gap

Let’s go left around this rock…

No, no let’s go right!

Ah $hit! Let’s see if we can go over it!

So, there we sat pinned atop some rock in the middle of the river as our good friend Kaitlin comes cruising past.  Why is it that people always arrive just when you’re screwing up?

You need help?

Nah, we got this.  Just wanted to stop for a bite to eat.

We worked ourselves free and headed off to Corn Creek Park for a short orienteering course where we quickly grabbed 3 checkpoints and then headed back onto the water.  We had another 1.5 miles of paddling before the final takeout at Coosa River Adventures.  And, after three and a half hours of solid racing what I really, really wanted to do was a few air squats and burpees.  How about a punch in the gut? Can I get one of those too, please?

Ana could now smell the end of the race…or was that me.  Whatever.  She knew it was close by and after scraping her amazingly handsome husband off the ground, she was ready for the final sprint to the finish.  

“Come on!  This is it!  This is it!”, she yelled.

We burst out of the recently cut trail near Coosa River Adventures and saw our old teammate, Stu, waiting to run the final leg of the race with us.  What a fantastic surprise!  A mad dash through Gold Star Park and we finished, 1st place Co-ed.

finish

We celebrated with peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and the most awesome cookies ever.  Seriously, who made those cookies?!  They were delicious and in a convenient Ziploc bag of 20.  We were supposed to take a bag each, right?

Conclusion

Once again the Coosa River Challenge was awesome.  The race director, Therese Carter, always does an amazing job of putting together a top-notch event.  I don’t know how she does it every year, or where she finds her amazing volunteers.  Maybe she pays them in cookies.  Regardless, I’m not asking questions, I just know we’ll be back as often as we can!  Thanks everyone it really was amazingly fun.

team

Oh, and one last comment.  Post-race, some buddies and I hit one of the race sponsors, Los Mayas Mexican Restaurant.  The food was excellent and we ended up ordering so much of it that they had to move us to another table because ours was too small to hold all the plates.  Stinky, sweaty, middle-aged men in spandex pants sucking down burritos.  Now that’s a mental image nobody wants.

 

2014 Coosa River Challenge

Can you believe that we actually made it to our first Adventure Race with time to spare?  Yep, it’s true.  We actually arrived early for the 2014 Coosa River Challenge in Wetumpka, AL.  Probably helped that it was only 3.5 hrs away and there wasn’t a time change.  Race check-in started at 4PM at the Coosa River Adventures with a pre-race dinner starting at 6PM.  That’s right, dinner!  Chicken breasts with wild rice, pasta, dinner rolls and steamed veggies.  Oh and did I forget to mention the ice cold beer on tap.  Boom, someone knows how to get a party started right.

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Coosa River Adventures

Not only that, but they had live entertainment too.  Jason Givens from Montgomery came out to play and he sounded fantastic.  Checkout his website and sample his music.  I think you’ll be impressed.

It was a beautiful night to hang out with good friends, eat good food, listen to good music and talk about the adventure race to come.  Hats off Coosa, you started this off right!

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Lacy & Jamal enjoying the pre-race festivities

This was going to be our first race with my buddy Lacy and his friend Jamal.  This was going to be their first Adventure Race, and Jamal just bought his mountain bike 2 days prior to the race, so we knew it was going to be a true adventure.

Saturday morning we met at the Gold Star park for a pre-race briefing and a short bus ride to the race start.  One of the cool things about the Coosa River Challenge is that they start you off in one of three groups: the “In it to win it” group, the “Competitive but shoes won’t be smoking group” and a 3rd group that I can’t think of the name, but I’m sure it was witty.  We were in the competitive group which meant we wouldn’t be trampled by the kids with the pumped up kicks.

The race started with a 3-3.5 mile trail run.  Jamal led the way with an 8:30/mile pace and we were feeling pretty good.  After a couple of miles of running, we had our first challenge, The Egg Carry, where we had to use a spoon to carry an egg as we went over then under ropes stretched across a bridge.  No eggs were hurt during our traverse and we quickly finished up the challenge and the rest of the foot section.  The run ended at the starting location and we transitioned to mountain biking.  And here’s where the magic began.  During the foot section, we passed a good handful of teams, but we gave the lead right back to them on the bike section.

MTB

Lacy was the dominator on this section of the race.  He bounded over the course but then had to wait for the rest of us to catch up.  I never considered us to be bad mountain bikers, but I bet many of the teams behind us considered us to be bad mountain bikers.  Perhaps if someone could take out a few of the rocks and roots and perhaps lessen the steepness of some of the uphills then we’d do alright.  In our defense, there just aren’t that many hills in Florida to practice on.  We tried to pull over and let faster teams through.  At one point I think there must have been 8 riders behind us waiting to pass.  Our slow train chugged along the trail and we counted the miles until we got to finish the biking section.  Truthfully, the single track was amazingly fun and I can’t wait to go up there and ride it again.

After the mountain bike section, we ran down to the river to start the kayak leg.  Since there was not going to be a rappelling or bouldering section, the race committee thought it would be “fun” to give us our kayaks and paddles on one side of the river but not allow us to use them until we swam them across the river.  You ever try swimming with a life jacket on while pulling a kayak.  Words can’t describe how much “fun” I was having.  Actually words can describe it, not very nice words.

Once we swam our kayaks across the river, we had to scramble to the top of a boulder and leap off it before being able to kayak down the river.  First, I don’t like heights.  Second, I really don’t like jumping from anything high.  Third, I really don’t like it when the safety guy is telling me to, “make sure you really jump out far because it ain’t too deep unless you get out a ways.”  Now, I don’t know how high this rock is but I can tell you that once I jumped I had enough time to think, “Oh Crap!!! This thing is really high…wow it’s higher than I thought…wonder when I’ll hit the water…hmm i’m not so scared anymo SPLASH!!”

Rock jump
Leap of Death

Rock jump 2
Bottom of Leap of Death

After the jump of death, we got in our kayaks and set off down the river.  Since there wasn’t an orienteering section in this race, the organizers had us stopping along the river at certain locations where they posted signs guiding us to the next point.  The first stop was Blue Mushroom Island where a map directed us to kayak upstream around an island and then downstream to Dead Beaver Island.  Let me tell you, paddling upstream against the Coosa River current at this particular location was impossible.  When we rounded the corner to head upstream, there were 3 or 4 teams in front of us, pointed into the current paddling as hard as they could and going nowhere.  It was comical.  To cross this particular section we all ended up jumping off our kayaks and walking across the channel.  Luckily, it was only thigh deep, but it was grueling walking up current pulling our kayaks.  We rounded the corner and could get back on our kayaks and head downstream.

On the way to Dead Beaver Island, we had to go through Moccasin Gap, the only Class III rapids on the Coosa.  Check out this pamphlet that describes the river and rapids.

The Coosa River Guide Book

Lacy and Jamal hadn’t kayaked in years, if ever, and here we were throwing them into Class III rapids, cue evil laughing BWAHAHAHA!  After Ana and I ran the rapids, we would turn the boat around and wait for Lacy and Jamal to run the rapids hoping for a capsize…I mean to cheer them on.  Unbelievably, they crushed Moccasin Gap.

rapids
Moccasin Gap, Class III

But then they capsized on the Pipeline, a smaller Class II rapid further down the river.  Downstream we went, on towards Dead Beaver Island where they had us get off the kayaks and run to a spot where we had to crawl through a pipe that was 3/4 submerged in muddy water…yum!  Back on the boats, we headed to our next checkpoint where we got to do some CrossFit games; monkey bars, log run, and 20 box jumps.

Back on the boat one more time and our next stop had us doing a small jog to a set of obstacles; a balance beam crossing, a wooden pyramid climb, and scaling an 8 foot high Berlin Wall.  After these obstacles we went back in the water but this time without our boats.  Instead they had us swim the final leg, passing under the bridge and ending in Gold Star Park.  I have never known Ana to be a swimmer but on this section she was gone.  I was doing everything I could to catch up to her but every time I did, she just took off again.  There I was banging up my knees on the submerged rocks scrambling to catch up and she’s sailing down the river offering advice to me on how to go faster.  What a sweetheart!

swim to the bridge

On to the finish line and a post-race reception at Gold Star Park where Ms. Lew Sievers and Ms. Muriel Belmont had provided sandwiches, fruit, Gatorade and cookies for all the race participants and volunteers.  Thank you ladies!

finish

For this race, they group your team by combined age and have 2 divisions 0-79 and 80+.  Since we’re both in our f..f..f..forties 😦 we fell into the 80+ group and got 2nd place.  On stage, we received our awards, two very nice hand painted tiles.  We weren’t out racing for results in this challenge.  Since this was Lacy’s and Jamal’s first race, we just wanted to make sure that everyone had a great time, which we did.  You can check out all the race results here:

2014 Coosa River Challenge Results

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David, Ana, Lacy, Jamal

I can’t recommend this race enough.  It was an awesome experience.  The race committee did a great job laying out the course.  The volunteers were excellent.  The pre- and post-race were top notch.  We loved the mix of events.  We only wish that they would have been able to keep the rappel and bouldering and I really wish they had an orienteering section.  Other than those small gripes, this is an A+ event and we plan on going next year as well.  Hope to see you there.

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Coosa River Challenge

Just signed up for the Coosa River Challenge and we are super excited.  3-6 hours of mountain biking, trail running, river paddling with lots of special tests throughout.  The format is 2-person teams male/female/co-ed or individual and the course is friendly enough to be finished by the novice racer, while challenging enough for the veteran adventure racer.

Check out the video above to see some of the events that will be part of the race.  There will be Class II-III rapids, rope work such as rappelling, bouldering and some pretty sweet single track.  We already ran the rapids on the Coosa River a few weeks back and had a blast.

Cooler weather, beautiful scenery, multi-sport challenges and the opportunity to hang out with the most awesomest adventure racing team…what more could you ask for?

Go here for more info: Coosa River Challenge