Monday, February 15, 2010

The Swamp Stomp 24-Hr AR (2010)

I've always said that the Swamp Stomp is the toughest adventure race in the state.  There are other tough races, like the Coast to Coast, but the Swamp Stomp has always stood out with it course selection, tough terrain, hard navigation and (almost always) cold conditions.  Needless to say, it is one of the "must-do" races in my calendar.  As so it was that Greg and I (Team Hoof Hearted) signed up for this year's race, having had very little training over the long holiday season.  But we had our experience so we figured we could get through it. And here's how it went....

This race was a 'rogaine' style adventure race.  For those of you who don't know, that means that there would be a lot of mandatory checkpoints to find (CP), but there would also be a lot of bonus checkpoints (BP) available.  It would be up to each individual team to decide what, if any, BP's to get.  The main rule on this type of race is that you HAVE TO be at the finish line before the time cut off.  For this race the time cut off was at 1:00PM on Sunday afternoon.  So no matter what you do, you have to make sure you will be done by that time.

The Prologue (Paddle 1)

In a very unusual start, all teams had to options for starting the race.  [u]Option 1[/u] was a 15-16 mile, tough navigation paddle from the Homossassa River resort down to the Chassahowitzka River TA (the main start/finish transition area).  There would be no CP's in this paddle, but all teams would automatically receive 9 points for doing the paddle.  [u]Option 2[/u] was to start at the Chassahowitzka River TA and do a short 1.5 hour paddle while collecting five different CP's located near the TA. The first three teams would ear bonus points in order. First Place = 3 points, 2nd Place = 2 points and 3rd Place = 1 point. The other unusual aspect of this start would be that the teams choosing option 2 would have three hours (from 7am-10am) to finish.  If they finished early, the could sit around until 10:00AM when the rest of the race would officially start.

Greg and I, both pretty out of shape combined with the fact that we hate paddling, decided to do option 2.  We figured we could do well and try to make up the points elsewhere in the race.  And it did pay off.  We ended up doing great on the paddle, taking just 1:35 to complete it, and finished tied for first place, which earned us 3 points. But best of all, we got to sit in our car and warm up for about an hour before heading out for 27 straight hours of pure, but fun, hell.

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The Bike (1)

At 10:00AM we headed off on our bikes to continue the rest of the race.  This would be a fairly quick, easy bike section of just about 15 miles, and mostly on paved roads.  There were two very easy BP's along the way before reaching the Hebron Church TA.  Not much to tell here as it was a simple section which took us just short of an hour.

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The Trek (1)

Here's where the race would really start getting tough. After arriving at Hebron Church TA on our bikes, we headed off on foot for the longest trekking section of the race.  There were lots of mandatory and bonus points to get, and we wanted to get them all. So off we went.

CP2 was a very cool point.  It was located at the bottom of a very cool pit.  Only one of us had to go down, and that was Greg's job.  There were ropes to help you get down cause otherwise it would be impossible (as you can see by the pictures and video below.

Greg coming back up from the pit....

The rest of the trek was just long.  Greg and I ran a good portion of it to try and make good time.  And we nailed every CP right on.  only had two small navigational mishaps which only cost us a few minutes, but nothing major.  The trek was actually fun.  Very cool places and some really cool CP's and BP's.  BP10 was in a cool rock quarry.  And BP9, which you can see below, was in some really neat caves out in the middle of nowhere.  Very cool indeed!

The total trek took us about 6 hours.  But we did what we wanted to do.  We skipped two BP's that were kinda far to get considering we had a cutoff time of 6:30PM to make it back to the TA.

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The Bike (2)

After the long trek were got back on our bikes to head of on what would become the toughest part of the race, and the reason a lot of people quit or didn't finish the race.

It was about 6:30PM when we start, and the temperature was already starting to drop fast. We bundled up.  I had five layers on me.  Two polypro longsleeve shirts, a thermal fleece, and two rain jackets. I had on my leg warmers under my long trekking pants.  And as I would find out, this was still not going to be enough.

For us the bike would be pretty straight forward.  We had spent a lot of time studying the maps the night before so we were confident of our route and that we would easily find all the points. What we had not counted on was how bad the trails would be.  Because of all the rain the trails were wet, and because all the short-race (there was another, shorter, version of the race taking place) competitors had already ridden the trails, they were all torn up and muddy.

We hooked up with a couple teams for part of this section.  Our good friends of Team It's Go Time (Trung, Sway, Jaime and Mike) were one of them.  And our friends Tom and Chris were the other.  Tom usually races as Team Punch Junkies.

Everything started out as planned.  We found CP5 quickly.  Moved on to CP6, BP14 and CP7 easily and quickly.  That's where we separated from our friends and went after BP12 on our own.  We found it and headed back.  Even though we were getting the points with no issues, it was still time consuming and slow going because of the condition of the trails.  So after BP12 we decided to go straight to CP8 and head to the TA in order to give us plenty of time to complete the last three legs of the race.  Easy enough right?  It certainly seemed easy enough to us.

It was around 10:00PM or so when we arrived at CP8.  The temperature as still dropping fast.  Last we were told, it got down to 28 that night, and it definitely felt like it.  After CP8 we continued on to what we thought would be a simple and straightforward route to the TA.  But around halfway through we ran into a huge hurdle.  The trail ended.  It just ended into a swamp.  The trail itself was still there, but completely underwater all around.  There was no walking or riding around it either.  There was only one way to do it, jump in the swamp and push our bikes through it.

So in we went into the incredibly, I say again, incredibly cold water.  In sections we would sink down to about waist deep.  But mostly it was about knee deep.  Either way, my feet were completely submerged for about 40 miserable minutes. And once I went into the water when I tripped.  Because of the loose mud, roots, cypress knees under the water, and because it was dark and we were pushing our bikes, it was very slow going.  But eventually, out we came out onto a solid trail where we could ride again.

By the time we reached the TA, around midnight, my hands and feet were completely numb.  My feet hurt like they have never hurt before. I've always known I have bad circulation on my extremities.  Even at 70 degrees my fingers get cold. So thankfully there was a couple very hot fire pits going at the TA.  We sat around for a long time trying to warm up. This is were we made a tough decision regarding the rest of our race...

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The Trek (2)

Sitting around the fire trying to warm up Greg and I had some decisions to make.  We had about 11 hours left to finish the race.  We had what we knew would be a couple hours trek, a couple hours bike ride, and around a 6 hour paddle before finishing the race.  Basically we knew we would be hard pressed to finish the race by 1:00PM, even if we picked up only the rest of the mandatory CP's.  So after overhearing another team in the same situation, we decided to skip a few of the mandatory CP's.  we would still finish the race, but of course we'd be out of contention for prizes or anything of the sort.  But we didn't care.  We really just wanted to finish the race. So we decided to go get one of the trek CP's, skip two, and then continue the race with the last bike and paddle.

Obviously the trek was simple.  We trekked down the trail a short way, picked up CP10, and headed back.  Even in that short time we got so cold.  So we went back and warmed up by the fire one last time before biking all the way back to the main finish line to do the last paddle.

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As we prepared to leave the TA on our bikes we got a good idea of just how cold it was.  All the gear we had left at the TA while on our trek was completely frozen.  With actual frost on it.  And here's a new one for me, our bikes were frozen.  The chain and cables did not work. Seriously, we could not pedal the bike or change gears because it was all frozen!  We ended up pouring water on everything to try and melt it.  To make it more fun, our CameBak hoses were also frozen.  We could work the ice out of them, drink, and by the time we tried to drink again they would be frozen.  It was unreal.

The Bike (3)

This section was fairly straightforward.  Most of it was on hard packed shell roads.  We were tired and cold so we rode slow, but we found a few BP's and both of the mandatory CP's along the way.  We ran across a handful of teams on this section and arrived at the TA a little after the sun finally came out on a cold Sunday morning.

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The Paddle (2) - The Finish!

To finish the race we had one last paddling section to do.  This section had just four mandatory CP's, and a handful of BP's.  The furthest point (CP5) was about 5 miles out.  We knew going out to get that one and trying tp pick up the other three CP's would put us past the 1:00PM deadline.  SO we decided to skip that CP, another mandatory one, and focus on getting the three other CP's.

These three were not hard to find.  They were actually very cool.  All three of them were located on natural springs.  CP14 and CP17 were very neat to get to.  The natural spring water was the usual 72 degrees, which made it seem so warm compared to everything we had encountered so far.  So getting in the water and getting our feet wet in these areas was actually pleasant.

CP16 was the last CP of the race for us, and also most unusual CP I've ever been too.  It was underwater.  CP16 was at another natural spring down in a cave-like hole underwater.  There was no punch, but a bucket with tokens.  One of us had to dive underwater and retrieve one of the tokens.  It was my turn to do the crazy...

After that we paddled back to the TA and the FINISH LINE!!  We were done.

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The Finish

We had managed to get a lot of bonus points, but unfortunately had missed three of the mandatory points. So we did well and finished a very tough race, but it would have been nice to have gotten all the mandatory points.

In the end it was another excellent race.  Right on par for the previous Swamp Stomps.  Cold weather, tough navigation and a hard course.  Sure, we were pretty miserable at times, but in the true spirit of adventure racing, we never considered quitting.  Even though, I must admit, the thought crossed my more than a few times.  But if there's one thing I've learned from my adventure racing mentor (Jason) is that quitting is not an option anymore. In my first few AR's I quit a few times and later regretted it.  But Jason taught me to do what I have to (like skipping CP's), but always try to make it to the finish line one way or the other.  So Greg and I were definitely happy with our accomplishment of another successful race.

Jessica, Kip and Michael Moule did a great job setting up the course and putting together an awesome race.  Thank you guys!  And thanks to all the great volunteers who were out there in the cold in the middle of the night ready to help us out in any way possible.

And thanks to Greg who did a great job helping me with the navigation and pushing me in the times when I was hurting the most.  Awesome job Playa!

Now on to the rest of the 2010 AR races which are sure to be just as fun!!