Monday, November 30, 2009
Going into this year's race we as a team had a different goal in mind than most other races. Although we wanted to do great on the race as usual, we also wanted to win the Pangea Adventure Race Series. Out of all the teams that were registered for the race, only four qualified for the Elite Point Series. Going into the race we (Team Nature Calls [NC]) were ranked in second place in the series, behind Team Shake-a-Leg (SaL). Close behind us was Team Punch Junkies (PJ), and following them was Team Badfish.
We did several races this year and most came right down to the wire between us, SaL and PJ. A couple we won. But in all it always came down to the three of us teams finishing in the first three spots. And the races were close. One of the races we finished 21 seconds behind the winners (PJ) and just 1 minutes ahead of SaL. So we knew the Turkey Burn would be a tough one.
Somehow, the Turkey Burn Adventure Race always manages to fall on very cold nights, and last weekend did not disappoint. When we arrived at the start/finish area in Wekiva State Park at 2:00am, it was around 40 degrees.
The race started at exactly 4:00am with a short 1.5 mile time trial kind of event where one person from each team had to ride the loop and get back to his teammates as soon as possible. Jason Willems did the ride form SaL, I did it for our team. JW smoked the ride, and I finished about 1 minute behind him, quickly hooking up with Jason and Lori and heading off on the short bike ride ahead of us.
We had a couple points to find on the bike ride and as usual, Jason led us right to them. We quickly moved on and arrived at TA1 in about 4th or 5th place. Here we dropped off our bikes and headed off on foot to pick up a couple points then head to the boats.
The Trek 1
On the short trek Jason again did his thing and got us to the points quickly. We kept a pretty good pace and tried to stay ahead of the teams behind us. Sometime later we arrived at the boat TA.
It was still dark out when we got on our boats, and because the air temperature was much colder than the water temperature, there was a pretty nasty and thick fog coming off the water, which made it a little hard to navigate the river at first. As a three-person team, we all had to get in one boat. Usually this means that the person in the middle has to sit on the floor of the canoe. but for this race they had canoes with a middle seat. This was great because it meant the middle person could help paddle, but it also screwed us up a little. Having the middle person sitting up high like that threw off the center of gravity on the boat, so balancing it was a lot of work for all of us. And sure enough, about 1 mile into the paddle, we were coming around a turn and hit a tree trunk that was submerged under the water. The impact quickly threw us over. All three of us went into the river, bags and all. Luckily it was not deep so we just got up and back on the boat quickly, but now we were soaked, and cold. The more we paddled, the colder we got. Lori and I were so cold we literally could not unbuckle our lifevests. Our fingers were so numb that we just could not do it. :) But we kept moving on and one by one kept picking up points. We knew that Team SaL was way ahead of us. But we weren't sure where PJ and Badfish were. Finally, after some good paddling and navigation, we arrived at the next TA where we would drop of the canoes and go off on a nice long treking section. At this point we were still in about 4th or 5th place. But all would change in the next leg...
The Trek II
This second trek would be good for us, but also it was here where I screwed up and cost us some points. More on that later. So off we went on what would be a fairly long trek section with a handful of CPs to pick up along the way. Again we were feeling good so we kept a pretty descent pace. Jason was right on the money on his navigation and one by one we hit all the CP's without any problems. We ran into a couple teams along the way, but quickly got away from them as Jason's navigation was spot on and allowed us to make up time. After picking up the 6 or so CP's (I don't remember how many), we made it back to the TA where we had originally left our bikes earlier that morning. As we walked up to the volunteers we asked them how many teams were ahead of us. "One," they guy said. Just one. We didn't even have to ask the team name. Instead we quickly replied, "So how far ahead of us is team Shake-A-Leg?" "About one hour."
The Bike II (The ride to the finish)
So were were very happy cause we had passed a lot of teams in that trek and had moved up to second place in the race. And we had a pretty solid lead on the third place team, which made it even sweeter. And to make things even better, we were about to jump on our bikes for the last leg of the race. The bike, which as most of you know is our strongest discipline.
So off we went on our bikes, riding strong and feeling great cause all was going as planned. Team SaL was smoking, and catching them would be nearly impossible, but a strong second finish would be sweet. So Jason once again led us directly to every point along the way. we were knocking them out fast and without issue. And we never saw another team behind us. But then we got to CP27.
We now had only three CP's to get before getting to the finish line. After getting CP27 we continued on the trail on our way to CP28. The trail we were on crossed a very defined fire road trail which was not on the map. And this one thing threw us for a loop. We ended up taking that road and ended up getting a bit lost. A long 40 minutes later (and after some nasty, nasty bush whacking) we popped out on another trail nowhere near where we expected to be. But at least we knew where we were, and from there easily made it to CP28 and then on to the last two CP's before getting to the finish line (where I screwed up again).
When we got to the finish line we were about 5 or 6 teams back. That one single mistake from CP27 to CP28 costs us that many spots. But as I've always said and I still stand by it, that is what makes adventure racing so much fun. There are no certainties. One tiny mistake, one small wrong turn, can be the difference between winning it all and losing. And even Jason, who is without question one of the best navigators in the state, can sometimes make a small mistake. This is what makes the sport so exciting! Unlike almost every other sport, it's not all about physical strength.
So we made it to the finish literally seconds ahead of Team Punch Junkies. So we were still happy, we had lost our place in the race itself, but in the point series championship, we would end up in second place for the year. Not too shabby.
The Screw Up
I've mentioned it twice. And I feel like an idiot because it was my fault. As we were sitting and relaxing by our car after finishing, Greg, the race director for Pangea Adventure Racing and a good friend, came up to us and informed us that we had missed something. He was right. The instructions clearly specified that going to/from the start/finish TA, all teams had to go by the main gate of the park. I did not inform Jason this. And both times, as we left and came back to the main TA, Jason, doing what he does best and finding the shortest way, had us go around the main gate. It was only about a one mile shortcut. But because we did not go through it it cost us some penalty points (and rightly so). So we ended up losing points to Team Punch Junkies in the series standings and it moved us back to third place. A lesson I will surely never forget.
Even though we were a little disappointed with ourselves, we still had a great race! All three of us raced strong and hard and had fun doing so. Even through the numb fingers and toes early in the morning, we love adventure racing and wouldn't give it up for anything!
Congrats to Team Shake-A-Leg for an amazing race! You guys truly smoked that course! And congrats to Team Punch Junkies for another strong finish! Love racing against you guys. Makes the race so much more fun and exciting. Looking forward to next year!
And of course, I want to thank Lori and Jason for another fun race! You guys rock! And as I always say, I couldn't imagine racing with anyone else.
Now it's time to get ready for the always tough and brutal Swamp Stomp AR in February. The SS has always been, in my book, the toughest race in the state. It's 36hours, usually cold (February) and always tough navigation. But we wouldn't want it any other way!