Three Canyonero members from last year set out to return to Blue Ridge, GA. It was a race we excitedly anticipated returning to for a year. We were joined by Bill Dean, my backup navigator from team We Blame Javan, and Nate Whitaker, who has raced with me for the most of the last year or so. This would be their first time racing in the mountains and paddling in the rapids.
Team Canyoneros and Canyoneros II - Nate Whitaker (left), Hien Nguyen, Greg Watson, Robert Foster, Bill Dean
I received my giant tablecloth of a map in the morning and really only had time to merely locate the 53 CPs that were marked. With the added access to 90,000 acres, folding the map into the map bag was quite a chore!
race orders given at the start
We were bused to Skeenah Mill, an area that had over 150yrs of heritage, to start on foot. A quick 10 minute jog led us ascending immediately into the mountains for a rough warm-up. CP1 and 2 were found with the aid of the mass start.
As we headed down the trail to CP3, I realized that the topo maps given were going to have the usual inaccurate illustrations. For instance, getting to CP3 was a matter of following a trail that went primarily south. In actuality, there was a section that curved north, causing me to backtrack a little just to make sure we did not get distracted onto another trail. Furthermore, the trail used to attack to CP3 wasn't even illustrated close to where it was in real life. The CP ended up on the west side of the trail, as opposed to the mapped east side. Thanks to Ron Eaglin's team for that one.
On our way to CP4, we met a cool friendly team called the Bearded Bastards. These guys were the epitome of slow and steady. Every time we took off running, somehow we saw them around the next corner. These bearded guys were there passing us again and again, only walking with their trekking poles. We had never seen anyone walk as fast as they did, even up cliffs! It was quite comedic :)
Bearded Bastards (left)
As we ascended to the top of a mountain that housed CP7, the grand mountains in the distance revealed itself around us, some steaming with smoke. The burnt path towards this control was voted to be the most visually interesting. It even had funny history to it. Ten years or so ago, this mountain was apparently the mistaken location of a controlled burn that went out of control. The trees and ground were charred from top to bottom, painting us completely black by the time we found the control.
Up until this point, we had climbed mountains. There was no way to CP8, except to descend steeply. Down we went towards the nearest trail. Here's a video of it.
(video of descending a mountain)
Bill did a great job identifying the road split and mapped creek that we would use to attack a direct bearing into CP8. Our incredible sharpshooting did not even lead us an inch away from the control.
There really was no other efficient way to CP9, except to cross a river with powerfully flowing water. We followed the creek north to get us to the river and used the intersection to shoot a bearing from. Crossing the river was something we did last year in the thick of the rainy night, not knowing how deep the water was.
(video of river crossing)
After transitioning into the canoes from CP9, we paddled effortlessly downstream with the aid of the current. It was a very pleasant paddle. Nate and Bill were excited and a little nervous after hearing all of our stories of the previous year.
We completely missed CP10 in the mayhem of several rapids in a row. From then on out, I prioritized finding the CPs over dodging rocks :P This is what happens:
(video of crashing into rocks)
Then came the moment I was never able to record footage of last year because we paddled in the dark. The capsize! Watch the video to see how Bill lost his glasses in the plunge and miraculously managed to find it in the canoe after we flipped it upside down to dump the water out! What better way to experience rapids than to get the two Blue Ridge first-timers overboard, hahaha. It was a great incident to recharge our adrenaline. Amazingly, Greg and Foster did not capsize once--something they did about ten times last year.
(video of capsize)
We made our way to Stanley TA, finding 5 controls along the way. This was pinpoint navigation at its best, except for CP18. I attacked in at the pseudo parking lot, rather than the hidden path near the bridge there. Once we saw another team attack in there successfully, we followed suit and found it as well.
When you're on paved road going downhill, you just keep accelerating and accelerating. Without effort, my max speed was 56kmh on these slick roads.
Along this route, Greg's tubeless rear tire kept going flat--most likely due to not having enough sealant in there to begin with. We pumped it up with CO2 cartridges before finally giving in to a lengthier procedure of returning it to a tubed tire.
At Stanley TA again, we refueled with Domino's pizzas that Greg and Foster ordered and packed the night before. It was completely nightfall by now. Our strategy changed to avoid the more challenging CPs here in an effort to put more energy towards the Sport race at the end, which should be better bang for the buck.
We grabbed only CP21 on this leg, basically by walking our bikes to it. I had to keep track of where we were on a turn-by-turn basis since there were very few clear attack points to distinguish proximity. So what goes up, must come down even faster! Our return route consisted of coasting the entire way down at gut-wrenching off-pavement speeds that had you on the brakes more than the pedals. We all risked the chance of bouncing off a rock and tumbling down a cliff in favor of the thrill rush of speed around curves in the night. It was by far the most exhilarating part of our race.
We knew the CPs were the toughest of the race here. We immediately dropped the furthest, most difficult ones and went for CP29, 24, and 25. CP29 was a drone march uphill for a 1½ hr. Again, I kept track of our positioning by thumbing the map, turn-by-turn. Once we punched CP29, a storm came down hard. It was another 1hr going back downhill, this time hammering our toes as they banged off the fronts of our shoes. Two and a half hours for one CP--this wasn't adding up too well.
When we returned to Stanley TA, the officials told us they had to shut down the technical bike section due to the rain. We would have to take the paved road back to the Main TA instead. This provided more time for the trek, so we went for CP24. It was a steep climb to find this one. Foster was constantly reading out the reading on his altimeter watch. The CP was located much higher than the map's elevation showed, yet another indication that the map was not too accurate.
We mountain-whacked towards CP25 by evaluating a few areas along the river before crossing it. There appeared a trail that we followed. I incorrectly identified the river bend much too soon and had the team count paces to attack the control. As we dipped down from the path to the river in multiple locations, we found nothing. Turns out, upon GPS replay, we did not even go half way there. Mountain whacking is a very slow mode of transportation that skews a Florida racer's sense of distance across time.
The rain thickened and fell harder. We biked conservatively on Aska Rd with rain sandblasting in our eyes. At times I just let the brakes go to allow the bike to free-fall and accelerate. Those times forced me to squint my eyes to the point I just saw tiny dots of light from the biker in front of me. It became a video game. If I hit something and fly off my bike, I just push restart...right? Judgement was not really great now, seeing how badly I missed CP25 earlier.
The team was beat and tired. They voted to chill in the car with the heater on. I succumbed and fell asleep in Bill's car within 10 seconds. The sleep was deep, accompanied with dreams. It wasn't very long before we woke up at daylight to take the canoes out.
I was fading, as I made several mistakes heading to CP9, dipping into every nook. Good thing Bill still had his wits with him. Good thing he knows how to navigate as well. He basically corrected me with everything on this leg of the race.
some Georgia wildlife
Once we found the right area, we shot a direct bearing to CP4. It was easy to find. Up to this point, our sharpshooting was extremely accurate. We shot another direct bearing to CP5, but ended up about 100m north of it. There was a scramble of finding other attack points and trying to read the elevation before we called it off. The team was hurting so badly with feet blisters and chaffage, that the constant up-and-down route to CP5 finally broke their spirits...the towel was thrown in :( One more re-attack for CP5 was out of the question. On this Sport section, if we obtained the controls out of order, it would be for not. There would be no point in getting anymore. We took the flatter jeep trail back, gave up some 6hrs, and ended the race.
bike distance traveled - 68.88km