Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Coast to Coast 72-Hr AR (2008)

Another year and another excellent and tough C2C race is down in the books.  This was my 5th C2C in a row, and even tough what you are about to read will make most people wonder why anyone in their right mind would put themselves through this, I am pretty sure I will be doing many, many more.

This year I was back racing with my great friends Jason Amadori, Jim Gabbert, and Lori Gabbert.  I don't even know if calling them friends is fair, because in reality, they are like family.  As most of you know, we are Team Nature Calls.  And our awesome support crew was my girl Alli, Jason's wife (and the Gabbert's daughter) Erica, and Jim and Lori's other kid's, Ashley, Matt, and a friend of the family, Maggie.  Once again, they were amazing out there for us.

Pre Race

I won't bore you with all the pre-race details.  We got the maps on Thursday night and spent several hours plotting all the coordinates and figuring out what route we would take.  But I will bore you with one important detail.  Monday morning I woke up with a scratchy throat.  I was hoping it was nothing.  Tuesday it was a little worse, and by Tuesday night it totally hurt.  I called in sick to work on Wednesday because I wanted to stay home and try to take care of whatever it was that I may be coming down with.  it didn't help.  Thursday I felt no better.  And wouldn't you know it, that it was when we woke up Friday morning (race start) that I had a full blown cold on my hands.  I woke up feeling like total garbage, just in time to start a brutal 72-hour race.  Perfect.  But what could I do right?  As Jason has taught me, the race must go on.

The Race Start - Run / Paddle

The race started at 6:00am on Friday morning in Cocoa Beach.  We had a quick 5 mile run, south on the beach, to a boat ramp where we would pick up our kayaks.  The run was easy, but right away we realized how hot the race would be.  Even at 6:00am it was humid as all hell out there.  We were drenched in sweat within minutes.

I just about 1 hour we reached the boat ramp, quickly jumped in our kayaks, and headed north on the Banana River for a ~17 mile paddle.  We paddled north to a checkpoint at the bridge at 520.  Then continued north, under 528, and then headed east on a canal to the Intracoastal and back south to 520, where our second transition area, TA2, was located.  The paddle was fairly easy, but then again, it was the start of the race and we were all fresh and full of energy.

The Cold

So far my cold was mainly just giving me a really bad cough.  My throat hurt pretty bad, and I was coughing a lot.  But other than that I felt alright.  That wouldn't last long.

The Bike (1)

After we got the maps on Thursday night we knew there was going to be a lot of biking on this race.  And as cycling is our strongest point, we liked it.  In the end we ended up with about 190 miles of total mountain biking for the race.

At TA2 we transitioned from paddle to bike.  it was a fairly fast TA for us.  In and out in about 20 minutes.  We were the 4th team to make it to the TA, but the first one to leave.

This bike was going to be a good combination of on and off road riding.  We started by heading Northwest on SR 520 from Cocoa Beach.  We would ride 520 all the way until we reached the Tosohatche Reserve near Christmas, FL.  We got in a nice paceline and Jason and Jim rotated at the front, maintaining a nice comfortable 16-18 mph.  As per Jason's suggestion, I stayed off the front to save my energy because he knew the cold would eventually drain me and I had to save all I could.  On the way down 520 Lori got a flat tire.  We stopped right on the bridge over the St. Johns River to change it.  As we were changing it we were passed by two teams.  After we got going again it took us about 10 minutes to catch and pass both teams.

We made it to Tosohatche where we were now going off road to find several checkpoints out on the trails.  It was now the middle of the day, and the sun was scorching hot!  Riding in the trails there was very little shade, and absolutely no breeze.  So it got hot.  it was like an oven in there.  And that's where my cold and my weakened body first affected me.  I had a hard time breathing and I felt so hot.  Jim took my pack from me which helped cool me down.  And later on Jason towed me.  If not for everyone's help I don't know if I could have made it.  But after several hours of riding around the trails looking for CP's, we finally made it out and found a convenience store on Hwy 50 were we loaded up with cold drinks and lots of ice.  I think we went through two bags of ice at the store!

The Storm

From the store on HWY50 we had to ride east on 50 to Ft. Christmas Rd.  Then head North on Ft. Christmas and make our way to 419 and finally to Snow Hill Rd on our way to TA3 which was actually located at the Snow Hill trail head.

As we were headed up Ft. Christmas Rd, a bad storm started heading our way.  The wind picked up and the temps dropped.  Halfway down the road, the rain started.  It got worse and worse, and the wind was incredible.  One time the wind literally pushed Lori and I right off the road.  We rode through it for a few more minutes, but at one time it got so bad that, and I am not exaggerating about this, I was blinded by the rain coming down so hard.  And to make matters worse, the wind suddenly seemed to be coming at us from all directions at 30+mph.  That's when we immediately got off the road, threw our bikes down, and jumped in the bushes on the side of the road.  We thought for a second that maybe a tornado was nearby.  It was those kind of conditions.  After about 10 minutes of hunkering down in the bushes the wind and the rain slowed down, so we jumped back on our bikes and headed to Snow Hill.

The Trek (1)

At Snow Hill we found ourselves leading the race.  So we again quickly ate and changed into our trekking gear as we had a fairly long foot section ahead of us through the Little Big Econ State Forest.  We had several CP's to find.  But luckily for us it was still daylight so we didn't have any problems getting them.  I was still hurting and couldn't trek as fast as the other guys, so Lori, bad ass that she is, pulled out the tow rope and towed me almost the entire section.  She's a monster.

After exiting LBE, we had some urban trekking through Oviedo and finally a trek down the Cross Seminole trail to TA4 at the Adventure Cycles bike shop.

At the TA we ate and changed.  And this is when we saw Team Adventure World, Dr Ron Eaglin's team come in just behind us.  we learned that unfortunately they had lost two team mates due to heat exhaustion.  That really sucks.  Especially for some as nice as Dr. Ron.  You will never find a nicer guy in any sport, ever.  But this meant that our main competition in the race was now 'unranked'.  So it would take some pressure off us.

Just as we were ready to take off (on bikes), a huge storm blew in.  Lightning was hitting all around us.  Bad, bad lightning!  So we were forced to sit around for about 20 minutes until it blew over.

The Bike (2)

The second bike leg was going to be a very cool and very neat 'urban' ride.  We would ride through Oviedo and Altamonte Springs.  First making our way to the Travel Country Outdoors store where there was a manned checkpoint.  From there we would continue on bike through neighborhoods up to the Wekiva area where we would finally end up on Wekiva Springs Rd just on the southern tip of the Wekiva Springs State Park.  It was still raining a little so it was nice and cool.

We got to TA5 right at midnight.  Friday was now over, but Saturday would prove to be another very hard day.

The Swamp

From TA5 we had to head north through a swamp to find 3 out of our next 8 checkpoints in Wekiva.  There was one point right in the middle of the swamp, about 500 yards from the start.  There was no point of reference or anything we could use to navigate to it.  We had to use true navigating skills and keep a constant bearing in the direction of the point, hoping we would find it.  And wouldn't you know it, we found it!  From here it was going to be a 2 mile bushwhack through the swamp to get out on to some trails on the north side of it.

I know I have told you guys about bushwhacking before.  I have told you how tough it is.  But this bushwhack was unreal.  I am just going to copy and paste exactly what Dr Ron already posted in his blog because he describes it perfectly....
For anyone who has never bushwhacked their way through a thick swamp in the dark, you have no frame of reference and cannot possibly understand what thing is like. Issue #1 – spiders and bugs. Swamps are full of them and they want nothing more than to sting or bite you. Every step entailed knocking down a few webs. Issue #2 – the terrain. This involved endless climbing over fallen trees, bashing through palmettos, crawling over and under trees, and fighting sticker bushes. Issue #3 – Direction. Without constantly checking the compass it is easy to simply do circles. It really does all look alike and it is very easy to get confused.
This was truly a tough bushwhack.  The swamp was wet from the previous rain and so it was muddy and wet.  Every step was climbing over some log or tree, or going under one.  Whenever we hit a section where we could walk three straight steps without and obstacle, it was a luxury.  We did this for about three hours before finally making out to an old logging road which eventually led us to the jeep trail we were looking for, and out of the swamp.

The swamp was just the start.  After getting out of there we still had 7 other points to find through Wekiva and Rock Springs.  We trekked all through the night and into the morning.  Most of the SP's were fairly easy to find, except SP7.  SP7 was very tough.  We searched for a while with no luck.  Finally we decided to go back to and try again, when we ran into Dr Ron who had just found it.  He helped us out and after nearly an hour of searching for it, we finally got it and moved on.  SP8 was a piece of cake.  So all that was left now was a hot trek down Wekiva River Rd, to SR46, and east to Wekiva Park Dr where we would finally get off our feet and jump back into the boats.

So after 11:30 hours of trekking throughout the night and morning, we finally made it to TA6 sometime on Saturday morning.

During the trek and the bushwhack, our feet were pretty much wet the entire time, and I got some pretty bad blisters.  The last half of the trek was pretty painful, but I pushed on as there was nothing I could do about it until I reached the TA.  But man did they hurt!  Luckily we would now be on the boats for a few hours were I would be off my feet and could let them rest.

The Standings

At TA6 we learned that only us, Dr Ron's team, and a solo racer did the brutal trek and we still on the full race course.  All other teams had skipped around the trek and got put on a shorter course.  But we also learned that only us and Dr Ron picked up all the SP's.  The solo racer (Colin, very cool guy) skipped around them and went straight to the TA.  So, since we knew Dr Ron's team was unranked, and Colin had just skipped 8 checkpoints, that this race was now ours to have.  All we had to do now was make it to the finish line before the 6:00am Monday morning cut off, and we would win it.  Even though there was still a lot of race left, it was still a pretty good feeling knowing that we had the race pretty much locked.

The Paddle (2)

This next paddle was a nice and beautiful paddle north on the Wekiva River, hooking up with the St. Johns, then finishing in Blue Springs State Park.  Besides a lot of stupid jet skiers with no regards for kayakers zooming by us, the paddle was very nice and we made it to TA7 at around 3pm on Saturday afternoon.

Blue Springs

At Blue Springs we got our first rest of the race.  We got a new set of maps that needed to be plotted, marked, and laminated.  We spent about 2 hours at BS.  Jason and Lori got the new maps ready.  Alli helped me clean and tape up my blistered feet.  We ate pizza, changed, and rested a bit before finally heading out on our bikes again around 5pm on Saturday afternoon.

The Bike (3)

This next bike section started with a road ride down SR42 heading west.  but we quickly got off the road and headed into some single track trails in an area whose name escapes me.  The trails were not technical, but it was very hilly and sandy.  And this is where we made our first navigational mistake.

The race directions said to take the "Yellow Diamond Trail" and we would come to an intersection were there was a manned station at which we would do a short orienteering course.  And so we followed the Yellow Diamond trail.  All the way until we came out on the other side of it on the powerlines, never finding this manned checkpoint.  Turns out the trail split into two Yellow Diamond trails and we happened to stay on the wrong one.  Not sure how we were supposed to know, but whatever.  We backtracked, losing about two hours worth of time, and finally found the manned point.  At this point we were told that the orienteering course had been canceled and that all teams were supposed to just head straight to the next TA, which was at Moss Bluff.

Heading to Moss Bluff is where we made our second mistake.  At the manned point they had told us to take the Yellow trail north to 445. Then take 445 west to 19.  19 South to 42.  And 42 west all the way to Moss Bluff.  But unfortunately they failed to mention that this was exactly the case.  That route would only put us in the right direction, but we still had to take some other roads to actually reach Moss Bluff.  Our mistake I guess.  We were tired and no thinking right.  So anyway, we kept riding and riding west on 42 forever.  When we finally reached The Villages we knew something was wrong.  We went to a convenience store and pulled out a road map, where we finally saw that we were supposed to have turned off 42 about 10 miles before.  Doh!  So we made our way back and finally reached the next TA at Moss Bluff.  But this whole section, costs us the most time.  What was supposed to take us just a few hours (about 7-8ish), ended up taking us about 14.  Oh well, that's how these races go.  Live and learn.

Anyway, we made it to TA8 at 7:00am.

The Last Paddle

The next leg of the race was going to be our last paddling section north on the Ocklawaha River heading to Silver Springs in Ocala.    The paddle was beautiful again.  And if you have never been to Silver Springs, I suggest you do.  It is a really cool place.  The water down the river from the spring is crystal clear, cold and blue.  Very pretty.  And di you know that back in the 50's they filmed a Tarzan movie there from which a handful of monkey's escaped, and whose relatives are still running loose in the park?  Well, they are there.  Jason saw one.  Funny stuff.

We got to Silver Springs around 1:40pm.  No more paddling for us for the rest of the race!!  Jason and I jumped in the nice clear water at Silver Springs to cool of and get some of the 3-day stink off us.  Not sure if it worked.  :)

The Last Trek

The next leg was going to be our final trek of the race.  We would be leaving Silver Springs and heading on a Southeast, then Southwesterly direction along the Florida Foot Trail looking for several checkpoints along the way.  It was a fairly easy trek and the CP's were easy to find.  We did waste sometime looking for CP18, finally just giving up.  But we found out later that the flag had actually been stolen and wasn't there, so we still got credit for it.  We kept heading down the FFT until we finally reached the Santos MTB trailhead, TA10, at about 7:00pm Sunday evening.

And now, our race was almost over...

The Final Leg - The last Bike

It was just short of 8:00pm when we left on our bikes riding the Santos trails.  We had a couple of checkpoints in Santos.  Some of you might know them.  There are two old and rusted out car shells out in Santos.  Each one of them was a checkpoint.  From there we headed out to Landbridge and further west for more checkpoints.   Now, what we did after Landbridge is hard for me to explain, because frankly, I don't remember.

The Sleepmonsters

For anyone that wants to know what the hardest part of a race like this is, I have your answer... fighting off the sleepmonsters.  In the entire 3 days of racing, I got no more than 1 hour of sleep.  And it sucks.  Sunday night, shortly after leaving the Landbridge area, heading to the rest of the points, I completely lost all sense of what was happening.  I started hallucinating pretty badly.  It's hard for me to write down the kind of things I was seeing.  But for one stretch of riding, I could almost see myself riding my bike, as if I was out of my body.  We were riding down a double wide road, I was riding behind Jason.  And I was moving, going through the motions, pedaling, turning, braking, etc, but I was not doing it consciously.  I finally hit  bump which kinda brought me back.  I told the guys that we had to stop and rest for a bit because I was out of it.

So we got a short break which was just enough to get us moving again and on to our last manned checkpoint at Pruitt Trailhead.

The Finish

From Pruitt all we had was a short 24 mile road ride to the finish.  Take 484 West to 41 South to 488 west to 19 South to the finish line in Crystal River.

Although the ride was a short 24 miles, it was long when you are riding as slow as we were since we were all exhausted.  We reached the finish line at 3:20AM on Monday morning.  We only missed two checkpoints in the entire course.  And one wasn't really our fault.  Dennis (the course director) can attest to that.  :)

We had been racing since Friday at 6:00AM, nearly a full 72 hours.  We got less than 1 hour of actual sleep.  But in the end, we had pulled off the big one, winning the toughest adventure race in Florida.  And we were/are all really happy about that.

Final Thoughts

I can't say enough about our team.  I really believe that we have one of the best and most fun teams in the sport.  As I have already said, we are not just racers that came together to race, we are family.  Jason is one of my best friends, and Jim and Lori (Jason's in-laws) have become like family.  When we are not racing or training together, we are flying out to Colorado to go out skiing together, or we are partying and drinking together, or we are doing something fun somewhere.  My point is, our team dynamics are as good as they can be.  Yeah, we each have our little things, but the rest of us know how to deal with them and race as a strong and competitive team.  And in a race were I was pretty sick, the guys did a great job at helping me anyway they could to keep me moving and keep us racing strong.  Thank you!

And our support crew, Alli, Erica, Ashlee, Matt, Maggie, and LaLa, I couldn't imagine a better crew in the sport.  Not only do they take care of us, but they find a way to make it fun and to make us laugh throughout the entire race.  They simply rock!