Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Coast to Coast 72-Hr AR (2007)

I will try to make this as short as possible, but a report on an 80 hour race is not easy to make short.  So relax, sit back an enjoy....

The Coast to Coast.  After 4 times of doing this race, it still amazes me what we are willing to put ourselves through for just fun.  This race was without a doubt the toughest thing I have ever, ever done.  Harder than any Ironman, and harder than any of the previous three C2C's.  But it was also the most fun, most exciting, and most rewarding race I have ever done.

We arrived in St. Augustine on Thursday afternoon, but I am not gonna bore you with all the details about registration, check-in, and pre-race meeting.  Let's get right to it.

The Start - 15 mile Trek (1)

Friday morning we started the race in a parking lot off A1A in St. Augustine.  The plan was for us to run down the beach, but due to turtle hatching season we were forced to run down the road.  So at 6:28am, we started the first leg, a 15 mile trek.  The first 4.5 miles of the trek were on A1A and the rest were in a beautiful and remote wildernesss area.  There we 2 CP's (checkpoints) we had to collect along the way, but they were fairly easy to find.  We ran a good portion of it just to get a good rythym going.  we arrived at TA1 (transition area) after a few hours.

The Bike (1) - 20 Miles

The second leg of the race was a quick and easy 20 mile ride on paved roads.  It was basically just a way for us to make it over to the St. John's River where we would start our first paddling section.  Luckily, we had a tail wind and so we hammered it.  We kept a good 20-21mph average most of the way.  We did almost get killed once when a dump truck came by us so close I thought it was going to take my elbow out.  The closest call I've ever had on a bike.

The Paddle (1) - 19 miles

We arrived at TA2, ate and changed pretty quickly before heading out on our first paddling section.  We started by paddling about 5 miles across the St. John's River.  The wind was very strong and the waves were HUGE!  So big in fact that we had to be careful in steering our boats in order to keep from capsizing.  A few of the waves hit us and splashed right over us filling the boat with water.  But once we finally made it across and into Black Creek, it was smooth sailing.  Once in Black Creek, the paddling was easy.  We had a tailwind and the water was calm.

Black Creek was a great river.  Really beautiful.  We saw a lot of skiiers, wakeboarders and other types of water crafts.  Fun stuff.  Most of the way we could see Jason (who was racing solo) ahead of us.  We closed the gap on him, but never quite caught him.   We picked up a couple CP's along the way and made it to TA3 sometime in the mid Friday afternoon.

The Bike (2) - 70 Miles

At TA3 we again moved quickly and tried to waste as little time as possible.  Jason was there ahead of us and left the TA shortly after we arrived.  He looking good and so far enjoying the solo race.

This next leg of the race was going to be about 70 miles of mountain biking through several parks and wilderness areas, collecting several CP's along the way.  We wanted to try and get as many as possible before the sun went down, so we moved fast.  And ti wasn't going to be that easy, most of the riding on this leg were going to be off road, which means only one thing...sand.  Nasty, nasty soft sand.

The first few CP's we had to find in a state park were not easy to find.  They required good navigational skills.  On the way to what turned out to be the hardest of them all, CP5, we meet up with about 4 other teams.  We came to an intersection were all of them decided to go one way.  But I was not so sure they picked the right way.  So we let them go and had a quick team meeting to discuss what we should do.  Charlie, Jim and I studied the map and the location of CP5, and after a couple minutes decided to attack it from a different point.  So we continued on and our plan paid off huge.  We found CP5 in no time.  And it turned out that a lot of other teams, unfortunately including Jason, had a very hard time finding it.  This move moved us to the front of the race.  We found ourselves running just behind the leaders along side a couple other teams.

The rest of the bike was a good combination of soft sand and packed roads.  But one in particular, Sapp Rd, was completely miserable.  It was 6 miles of pure soft sand were you would pedal for 10 feet and have to get off your bike to walk.

So after picking up all the CP's and biking nearly 70 miles, we arrived at TA4 sometime around 4:30ish on Saturday morning.  We were the 5th team to arrive.

It was there that we found out that somewhere behind us Jason had huge bike problems.  His tire blew out and he tried changing the tube 5 times before realizing he needed a new tire.  So he walked his bike, all alone and through the middle off the night, until Erica come come by and drop him off a new tire.  He said it completely sucked!  I couldn't imagine walking by yourself in the middle of the night through some of the remote areas we were in.

The Trek (2) - The Death March

We stayed at TA4 the longest, and actually got about 45 minutes of sleep.  We ate, changed, and relaxed before heading out in the next leg which was going to be long and hot.  Just before we left, Jason came in.  He was looking pretty rough, but still in good spirits.  We left the TA around 6:30am.

This trekking leg proved to be one of the the toughest in the entire race.  It looking pretty simple on the map.  Find 3 CP's and go to the next TA.  But actually, instead of CP's they were called SP's, because they were 'Swamp Points.'  Checkpoints located in the middle of swamps.  And getting to them was not easy.

We took a trail that led us to the swamp were SP1 was located.  The swamp was huge, and somewhere int he middle of the thick of it, was a small flag we had to find.  Talk about a needle in a haystack.  So we gave it our best shot and trekked into the swamp.  Once inside, we ran into several other teams looking for the SP.  In fact, every team that had left before us was still looking for it.  We looked around for a while and more and more teams kept coming in.  That was when we ran into Jason making his way in looking for the SP.

Jason joined us in the search, but it was to no avail.  So we decided to get out of the swamp and start again.  This time Jason took his time.  Read the map, picked his bearing, and said, let's go.  For the next 30 minutes the 5 of us played a game of leapfrog.  One person would shoot a bearing to a particular spot while the 4 others would walk to it.  Once there, one of them would shoot a bearing, while the rest would move ahead, and so on.  The swamp was pretty thick so we had to do some serious bushwhack in order to move forward.  Jason had calculated that if we kept a direct bearing for 580 meters, we would hit the SP.  Well, 30 minutes later we got to 580 meter, and wouldn't you know it, the SP was there!!!!  Just mere feet away from where we expected it to be.  We could still hear tons of teams all around looking for it.  But we kept quiet and got of there as quickly as possible.

Finding SP1 turned out to be huge for our race.  In the end we found out that only 4 or 5 teams found it.  Including some of the best navigators in adventure racing.

For SP2 we employed the same strategy and found it fairly quickly.  A bunch of other teams simply followed us and found it as well.

But SP3 was a completely different story than the previous 2.  SP3 was alos in the middle of a swamp, except it was a HUGE, huge swamp.  Simply shooting a bearing and following it was not that simple because it was so much distance to cover, and the bushwhacking was very tough.

But we still gave it a go at it.  First we trekked around a bunch of trails trying to find a way in to the SP.  No luck.  Then we went back and Jason, Jim, and Charlie tried following a bearing to it.  It took them nearly 1.5 hours before making it back.  They were covered in shit from head to toe.  Scratched up and bleeding, and still no SP.  We spent nearly 4 hours looking for the SP before finally giving up and skipping it, like every other team had done.

Now we had about a 8 mile trek to TA5.  It was long and it was hot.  Oh so hot!!  It was the middle of the day and the sun was full on.  And we were all exhausted.  So those 8 miles were probably the hardest 8 miles we did in the entire race.  But when we finally made it to TA5 and found out that we were one of the only teams to find SP1 and SP2, it was all worth it.

The Bike (3)

We left on the 3rd bike leg at around 8:30 on Saturday night.  Jason was now racing with us, which was a lot of fun.  This was going to be a fairly easy, yet long bike leg.  After finding a few more CP's, it ended up taking us about 4 hours.

Although the riding was easy, this is about the time in a long race when the sleepmonsters start crawling in.  Each one of us starts getting to the point were keeping our eyes open is just hard.  Hallucinations begin and anything and everything is funny.  It's a very interesting state of mind to experience.  As Jason put it sometime in the middle of the night, "I've never done acid, but I expect it would feel a lot like we feel right now."  It's during this time that team dynamics become critical.  We have to keep each other talking and entertained.  Basically keep each other doing anything that will keep your mind off how tired we are.  So we talk.  About anything and everything.  we make jokes, some which makes absolutely no sense, but we laugh anyway.  We even start telling each other about our hallucinations and we each other is 'seeing'.  At one point, I could see my legs breathing.  Yeah, try to make sense of that one.

Anyway, after a long 4 hours, we finally made it to TA6.  And then the race really began for us.

Time Constraints

When we arrived at TA6 we were told that we had to be at the ropes section by 8:00am in order to stay on the long course.  The ropes section was about 3.5 miles into the next trekking leg.  So basically it came down to this.  We had to paddle about 30 miles down the Suwannee River in about 6 hours.  That would put us at TA8 by 7:00am.  Then we would have 1 hour to run, yes run, 3.5 miles to the ropes section, and we had to pick up 1 CP along the way.

So as tired as we were, we had no time to waste.  We changed into our paddling gear and in less than 40 minutes, at about 12:45am, we were in the river.

The Paddle (2)

Paddling at night is fun, but also scary.  It's hard to see and in a rive with a lot of turns and a lot of debris, you are constantly having to pay attention so as to not run over logs or rocks that can tear a fiberglass kayak in two.

For us it was slow going at first.  Again we were incredibly tired and we tried to keep each other talking and keep our minds away from thinking about sleep.  I wish I could remember some of the stuff we talked about, but then again probably none of it would make any sense right now.

From what little we could see, the river was beautiful.  Lots of rock formations on the shores and a nice tree canopy most of the way.  We sang, we talked about farts, sex, music, racing, food, etc.  And we got more and more tired with each passing minute.

But at around 5:00am we could start to see the night sky fading away.  We knew that if we just pushed a little farther, the sun would be out soon.  And sure enough, by around 5:30ish the sun started shining through and to us it was like crack.  Just like that we were completely awake again.  It amazing how sunshine affect you that way.  From 5:30 on we paddle our asses off.  We [b]HAD TO[/b] make it to make it to TA7 before 7:00am so we could change and run the 3.5 miles to the ropes before 8:00am.  We had to.

So we paddle hard and fast and we finally arrived at TA7 at 6:42am.

To make matters worse, our support crew did not expect us there so quickly, so they were not ready for us.  They were all sleeping and we could not find them.  We were running around like crazy trying to get all our trekking gear and food supply ready.  It was total chaos!  But we rushed and rushed and finally left TA7 on foot at 7:05am.  And now the fun began.

The Trek (3) - Run Forrest Run!!

And so we ran.  Now over 48 hours into the race and with just about 40 minutes of sleep, and we ran our asses off.  Running right along side the Suwannee River, never stopping.  There was one CP we had to find before getting to the ropes section, and it proved to be a bitch!

CP7 was on a tree overhanging the river and finding it was hard.  Jason and I decided to look for it while the others continued running.  It was here that Jason hurt himself.

We were standing on the edge of the river on a rocky terrain.  J asked me to hold something for him and as he reached out for me he slipped on the rocks, fell on his chest and slipped about 4 feet down into the river.  He hit hard!  I thought for sure he had broke something.  He got back out of the river and he had a nasty, nasty cut on his right chin on his leg.  It was bleeding badly.  But this was not time to be concerned with such things.  He brushed it off like it was nothing and we continued on.  We finally found CP7 and continued running madly towards CP8 (the ropes).

I felt pretty good at this point so I took off running like a bat out of hell.  We quickly caught back up with our group and I continued on.  Running faster than I think I ever have before, even though I was carrying a backpack with about 25 pounds of gear on my back.

I got to CP8 barely able to breath.  I asked the volunteer in charge, "did we make it?'  And he said, "yeap, it's 7:59."  We were still on the full course.  Then I blacked out for a few minutes.  =)

At the ropes section we were able to rest for a little bit because there was a team in front of us, and only one person could get on the line at a time.

We had two ropes sections.  We had to traverse the Suwannee River, then trek up the river about 3 miles, then traverse it again.  It was kinda cool.  I have some pictures of it I will post later.

After the ropes we had another 8 - 10 mile trek where we had to find 3 more CP's.  Again, it was during the hottest part of the day so it was miserable.  We were all still so tired and now after working so hard to get to the ropes, we were really hurting.  But we had no time to waste.  We had other time cut off and we couldn't miss them.

Jason and I worked together in navigating and find the next 3 CP's.  And finally, at around 4ish Sunday afternoon we arrived at TA8.

Again, we had no time to sit around and rest.  We were told that we had to leave TA8 by 5:00pm.  Also we had to arrive at TA9, and be off on our bikes by 9:00pm.  So we had to rush.  We were so damn tire we almost considered just giving up and taking the short course option, but we knew better than that.  We had worked hard and with a little more hard work we could stay on course.  Plus that this point, there were only 5 teams on the full course and two of them were us.

So again we moved fast and got out of TA9 quick.

The Paddle (3)

We freaking HAMMERED the paddle!!  We finished it in 3.5 hours, about 40 minutes faster than the closest team.  The fastest time split for that section!!

We reached TA9 at 8somethingish and had just a few minutes to rest and change as we had to leave there by 9:00pm.

We left on our bikes at 8:52pm.

The Bike (4)

Now over two and half days into the race, with very little rest and just about 45 minutes of sleep, we started the last biking leg of the race.

We had just 4 CP's to find, but there were not going to be easy.  The first one, CP25, started out to be a bitch.  It was in the middle of nowhere and getting to it seemed impossible.  But after trying to find it for about an hour, Jason found another way to approach it.  And wouldn't you know it, we found a couple fire roads that led us right to it!  It was a huge find for us! And got us all pumped up.

Finding CP25 however proved to be hard.  So much so in fact that we made a tough decision and decided to skip it.  We were tired and still had to bike about 25 miles before reaching TA10, and then we had one more paddle before the finish.  So we decided to skip CP's 26, 27, and 28 and just head straight to the TA.  The way we figured it.  We had more CP's than most teams so we should still be in pretty good standing.  And Jason knew he had his race locked.  Out of the three Solo teams, one had dropped out and the other one was on the short course, so J had 1st place locked.  He just had to make it to the finish line.

The ride to TA10 was slow moving.  We actually stopped twice and slept for about 30 minutes because it was getting dangerous for us to ride without causing a crash.  Plus now that we had decided to skip those last 3 CP's we knew we had plenty of time.

Once again on Monday morning around 5am it started getting light out again, so it was like a boost of energy.  Now a full 72 hours into the race, we arrived at TA10 by around 7:15am, and by 7:45am, we were off on the last leg to the finish line!

The Paddle (4) - The Finish!!

The last paddle was about 12 miles down the Steinhatchee River.  Simple and easy paddle in a very calm river, but we were all so tired that it was really slow moving.  We helped each other once again and kept each other moving, knowing than in a couple short hours we'd be finally done.

At 10:40am on Monday morning we finally reached our destination.  The finish line!!  We had started in St. Augustine in what seemed like a lifetime ago, and had arrived in the West coast 76 hours later.

We ate and drank a well deserved cold beer as soon as we got out of the boats!

About 2 hours later the awards ceremony began.

Hoof Hearted (Jason) and Nature Calls (us) were in the top 5 teams.  We were two out of the only 5 teams that had made the full course.  As expected, Jason had taken 1st place in the solo category.  KICK ASS!!!  We ended up in 3rd place in the Coed Elite division!!!  The 2nd place team had just as many CP's and points as we did, but they had made it to the finish line about an hour before we did.

I was so damn excited!!  In the previous three C2C's I've done I have never finished the full course.  The first attempt we bailed after 52 hours of racing, and the next two attempts we finished on the short course.  But not this time.  This time not only did I finish the full course, but I felt better than I ever had before.

So all in all it was an amazing experience.  The course was excellent and the race was fun.  But the best part was my teammates.

The Support Crew

I can't say enough about our support crew.  Erica, Orion, Ashley, Maggie, and Matt.  These guys were simply incredible.  Imagine giving up your weekend to spend it out chasing us around and taking care of us.  It's not a job I wish on anyone.  Yet these guys were the best I've ever seen.  They never complained and took care off us better than I would have ever expected.  Anytime we arrived at a TA, they were there ready to do and help us out in any way possible.  It is a fact that without the incredible help we got from our support crew we would have never been able to finish the race.  The kept us motivated and going when we felt the worst.  And got us moving at times when we felt like quitting.   So thank you guys!  You rock!!


Finally I want to give thanks to my team.  Jim, Lori, and Charlie were amazing partners!  We worked great together and had excellent team dynamics.  I would race with them across the globe anyday!

And being able to join up and race side by side with Jason made the race that much more fun, entertaining, and better!  Jason still amazes me when it comes to racing.  He is truly the man!  Every time I race with Jason I learn more and more about how to be the best at this sport.  Thanks J!!