Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Coast to Coast 72-Hr AR (2006)

Wow.  Simply wow.  What a race.  This was without a doubt the toughest, most physically and mentally challenging race of my AR days.  Hell, it was the toughest thing I have ever attemped ever.  I may complain about certain aspects of the race here and there, but the fact remains that I love this race, now more than ever.

So here is the story of Jen, Ralph, Greg, and me - Team Hoof Hearted...

I am going to skip all the details about registration, check-in, boat rescue, race preparations, etc, and go right to the heart of it, the race itself.  The report is going to be long enough as it is.  =)

The Start
At 1:00am on Friday morning, the race started with a paddling section at Fort Island in Crystal River.  The route had us going South for roughly 15 miles, finishing at the Homosassa Riverside Resort in the Homosassa River.  The paddle wasn't bad.  Jen and I  jumped in on the great CLC tandem I borrowed from Brian, while Ralph and Greg jumped in on the bathtub Ralph had borrowed from his friend.  It was slow going for us, but we knew it would be.  We hooked up with a couple other teams and got just slightly lost a couple times trying to navigate the winding canals.  But we picked up 1-CP1 and in just around 4 hours or so, we reached the first transition area, TA1.

The Maze
After quickly eating and changing our clothes, we jumped on our bikes and headed East into the rural roads of Homosassa.  There we had to find a few checkpoints in what the RD's affectionally called "The Bike Maze."  We actually did pretty well on the maze.  We went right at most CP's.  Only had a problem actually locating the flag at MP1, which we walked right past (within 5 feet) about a dozen times.  It was cleverly hidden and if you didn't look right at it, you'd miss it.  Anyway, MP2, MP3, and MP4 were a snap to get, and in just two hours after starting the bike leg, we reached the bike drop-off area.

After dropping of our bikes at the next manned check point, we took off on foot for our first trek of the race.  It seemed fairly straight forward.  Follow the Florida Foot Trail (FFT) South to 1-CP3.  From there it seemed like a simple trek to 1-CP4 and then finally to TA2.

During the first portion of our FFT trek we were having a good old time.  Singing, telling jokes, and making obscene bodily noises.  Unfortunately the FFT was not plotted on our maps, and I made a huge rookie navigating mistake.  Instead of keeping track of our direction on the FFT, I just assumed that it was headed South.  The only way I knew to pin-point our location was to count the number of jeep trails we crossed over, which were on the map.  So we did.  Until I realized that we had been traveling East for quite a while.  This threw me off track.  Now I had no idea what was going on.  So, I made a decision to backtrack and follow one of the jeep trails to 1-CP3.  Eventually, about 3 hours after we started, we reached the intersection where 1-CP3 was located.

We knew it was located about 100 yards east of there, so we started looking.  For almost an hour we searched the nearby woods looking for the dreaded flag.  Finally we just gave up and decided to skip it.  It was by mere luck that I happen to be walking on the right place when I saw it.  The flag was hidden in a hole in the ground.  It was a cave, about 20 feet deep, that just opened up in the ground.  The flag was hidden inside.

So we got 1-CP3 and headed off to 1-CP4.  On the way there we were hot as hell and thirsty as can be.  Just as we crossed HWY480 we saw Team Dominican Republic (awesome guys by the way) drinking water from a parked vehicle.  It happened to be some park ranger or something that had a cooler of cold water with him.  It was a life saver!  The guy was really nice.  We loaded up with much needed cold water and ice and headed off to 1-CP4.  We found it pretty easily and then trekked the last hot 3 miles to TA2.

We arrived at around 3:00pm and were told we had two hours (until 5:00pm) to make the cut off at Tucker Hill in Croom, which was about a two hour bike ride away.  So we would have had to leave immediately.  We knew this would not happen, so we didn't even attempt it.

The Support Crew
At TA2 this was going to be the first real opportunity for us to see our cupport crew in action.  And man did they come through.  When we arrived they had a small paradise waiting.  A screened in tent with comfy chairs ready for us.  Cold fruits, drinks, towels, snacks, and even a propane stove in which they could cook us a hot meal.  They were truly amazing!  They took great care of us, our packs, our bikes, our clothing, and our equipment.  Simply the best support crew ever!

The Gathering
At around 4:10pm we left TA2 for what we already knew would be a 125+mile biking section.  What we didn't know was just how hard most of it would be.

After arriving at Croom and missing the 5:00pm cut-off, we were told to simply skip the next three CP's, which were in the trails of Croom.  So we rode straight out of Croom and on to the Rails-to-Trails paved trail which would take us South-East and into the small town of Trilby.

In Trilby we stopped at a small convenience store to load up with food and  liquids before entering The Green Swamp for the rest of the night.  When we got there there was one team already there.  And over the next 30 minutes about 8 more arrived.  We took over the store's parking lot.  Everyone started sharing their stories and of course talking about 1-CP3.  That was a lot of fun.  Then it was time to get going again.

The Green Swamp
I had heard about The Green Swamp from Jason and Greg.  Greg had just recently raced through there during the Swamp Stomp back in February.  So he took over navigation for this section.  We were supposed to find a handful of CP's, then exit near the North-East corner and jump on the Van Fleet Trail.  The roads (trails) in the swamp changed back and forth from rideable, to rideable but hard, to totally unrideable nasty ass sugar sand.  And there was a hell of a lot of the latter.

Just prior to entering the swamp, we came to River Crossing.  River crossing is exactly what the name suggest, a place were we had to cross a river.  The river was only about 50 yards wide, and the water level was between ankle to knee deep.  When we got there, sometime around 11:00pm (I think) we immediately shined our lights in the water.  There were probably around 30 gators in the water.  Dozens and dozens or red-eyes staring back at us.  None of us knew what to do.  And there was no other way we could take.

A few minutes later another team came up, TeamRacePhotos.  The eight of us looked at the situation and finally a guy from TRP decided to take action.  Using a couple methods, we cleared a path in the water.  And then, one by one, we started across with our bikes.  All the time keeping an eye in the water.  It was a bit scary, but all 8 of us got across safe and sound.  Adventure racing at is best!

The rest of the night in the swamp was a combination of frustration while trying to find hidden flags like 2-CP8, and misery with all the damn sugar sand that covered most of the trails we had to ride.  We did find a nice slab of cement off one of the trails which we immediately used to catch our first sleep of the race.  We napped for about 30 minutes, and it was wonderful.  Then finally, sometime around 6:30am, as the sun was just poking it's hot head out of the eastern horizon, we escaped The Green Swamp and reached the Van Fleet Trail.  Finally, paved road heaven!

We rode the VFT for about 9 miles and got off to head east on Deen Still Rd.  While on Deen Still we were all tired, now very hot, and thirsty.  But shortly, a miracle in the form of a convenience store with a Subway inside appeared to us at the intersection of Deen Still and 27.

I ordered a foot long veggie sub, an egg & cheese crossiant sandwich, a bag of doritos, and a large coke.  And I ate every last bit of it all.  As we were at the store a bunch of other teams showed up, and again, it was really cool.  Everyone talking about the race and discussing things like how nobody could find 2-CP8, or how much fun it was to cross River Crossing.  =)

From the store we had another few CP's to pick up and about 30 miles left to ride.  It was mostly on paved roads, but we were all pretty tired so it seemed to take forever.  But finally, about 22 hours and 120 miles after we started our bike ride, we reached TA3 at Lake Hatchinecha just South of Kissimmee.

Four minus One
At TA3 we decided to get some much needed rest.  Jen and Ralph slept inside one of the cars, Greg slept in a tent, and I got a one hour power nap on one of the chairs.  Then I got up to start plotting the new maps we had just received.  From the looks of it, we were looking at a 30 or so mile paddle, followed by a long ass trek, then a bike, then finally a paddle towards the finish line.

Unfortunately, the bike section we had just finished was really tough on all of us, especially on Jen.  She had raced amazingly well, but given that this was her first race ever, I think mentally it was taking a toll on her.  So after a few hours of rest, she decided she could couldn't go on.  I totally understood.  Luckily for us, her and the support crew agreed that they would love to still support us if we wanted to go on.  So Greg, Ralph, and I made the decision to keep racing, unofficially of course.

Since now there was only three of us, we decided to skip the next paddle section and go directly to the trek.  So after packing up camp, we drove two hours to TA4, where the paddle ended and the trek began.  After a few minutes of prep, we took off on foot.  It was approximately 11:15pm, Saturday night.

The Death March
This brutal trek was going to take us through the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area onto the Bull Creek Wildlife Area.  It was a very long, and incredibly hot trek.  What's worse, the trail we were following was not plotted on our maps, so we had no idea how far we had gone or how far we had to go.  So rationing our water supply became critical.  I was actually a bit scared through this section that I would run out of water.  My feet were blistering up something crazy, and my pace slowed way down.  but inch by inch we kept trekking along the FFT hoping that the end was near.

Finally, at around 4:30pm, nearly 17 hours after we started our trek, we reached TA5.  We were totally worn out.  Hungry, tired, and extremely thirsty.

At TA5 I didn't get a chance to rest.  After eating and rehydrating, I immediately had to start plotting the maps for the finishing legs of the race.  All we had left was a 10 or so hour bike ride and a 12 mile paddle.

Jason came in from Orlando to join us on the last two legs.  He wasn't able to register for this race, but decided to join us to get some good training for Primal Quest.  And also, Jen, after resting a bit over the last day, decided to come back and join us for the last two legs of the race.

At around 7:15pm or so, the 5 of us, along with our friends from Team Remedy, Jay and Carlos, headed off on what would eventually become the most interesting time on a bike (or actually off a bike) I would ever have.

It all started off really easy.  Went went straight to CP1, CP2, and CP3.  They were pretty easy to find.  The roads leading there were not so nice, but we had become used to that by now.  And then we went after CP4.

CP4 was located somewhere in Bull Creek.  The actual creek.  We started by following the trail on the map, which suddenly ended into a dense and dried up swamp.  Jason spotted the white dot markings on the trees that marked the trail.  So we started bike-whacking our way through the swamp enroute to CP4.  Our path was covered with roots, fallen trees, and loads of [s]pine stumps[/s] cypress knees.

For the first half-mile or so, following the trail was easy.  But then it got hard, really, really hard.  The white dots were nearly impossible to find and there was a lot of backtracking trying to get ourselves back on the trail.  It was a solid two-three hours of nasty bike whacking the likes which I have never experienced before.  But at the same time, it was kinda fun.  Sick isn't it?  =)

Eventually, Jason and Ralph found the main trail again.  Turns out we had made it further than we thought and had passed right past CP4.  But we were all so tired and beat up that we decided to just keep going.  In fact, we decided to skip CP5 as well and just get the hell out of Bull Creek and onto 441.  Of course, that was also a lot easier said than done.

As we biked the trail that we thought would lead us to the exit of this hell-hole (the same place we had entered before off 441 during the trek), we ran into team Relentless.  They had been unsucessfully trying to find their way out, but just couldn't seem to find the exit.  It was actually kinda funny because we kept seeing them.  It was like they were making loops around us.

After a quick 30 minute sleep on a sandy road, we finally made the decision to just bushwhack our way out.  So we headed South to a fence line which we then followed straight West.  After about 2 miles we ran into some unpassable bush.  On foot it might have been ok, but with bikes it was nearly impossible.  So we decided to do something we did not want to do.

We had passed a house about 1/4 mile behind us.  We trekked back to the house and quietly sneaked past the house and onto their driveway, which believe it or not, was a 3 mile long driveway heading straight West.  We came out on 441 just south of were CP6 was located.  Again, we said screw it and decided to just get moving towards the TA.

Now on paved roads, Jason took the lead and pulled us at a pretty good pace.  Unfortunately, the other 6 of us were exhausted.  I started hallucinating and could barely keep my eyes open.  Which is not a good thing when you are drafting someone and have another 5 riders behind you.  Apparently, I wasn't the only one feeling that way.  So just before we reached our turn onto Fellsmere Rd, we pulled off onto a gas station to rest.  I immediately fell asleep in the parking lot.

I woke up sometime later with jason throwin bits of warm cookies in my mouth.  =)  And I heard some pretty good news.  Apparently, the RD's had decided to move everyone off the bike course and onto the paddle.  So our support crew was on the way to pick us up and take us to TA6.

The End is Near!
AT TA6 we wasted no time.  Changed into our paddling gear and headed off.  It was about 9:00am when we hit the water.  Thankfully, the RD's had also decided to remove the last two CP's and have us all simple paddle directly to the finish line.  It was going to be only about 6 miles.  An easy 1.5 hours.

And that's all it took.  1.5 hours later, Team Hoof Hearted paddled up to the beach of the Key West Inn at Capt. Hiram's Resort in Sebastian and unofficially finished the 2006 Coast to Coast Race in about 82 hours.

It was a great feeling, especially for me.  I had attempted this race twice before.  The first time I dropped after 52 hours of racing.  And last year I was forced to abandon the race due to mechanical problems just a short 5 miles from the finish line.  But this year, I crossed the finish line.  And I felt good.  No, I felt great!

As usual, I learned a lot from this race, and I made some really cool new friends.  And most important, Greg, Ralph, Jen, and I got closer than ever before.  The experience we went through is somthing we will never forget.

So thanks again to everyone that made this possible.  RD's, volunteers, my support crew, Team Remedy, Jason, and of course Team Hoof Hearted!

Till next time!

Hoof Hearted