Canyoneros came into this event with one glorious goal in mind. "Worst to First" was the motto for the day. This young team aims to the sky and never thinks any lower. For me, it was an race of redemption for finishing last place in our previous one, the 12hr Turkey Burn. Weather forecasts had 37 degrees F at its coldest for the day.
(left to right - Greg Watson, Brian Ruth, Hien Nguyen, Chris Roda)
Greg and I had done our homework on orienteering within the weeks leading up to the race, so we sat down with the maps first. The instructions seemed straightforward and predictable. We were in awe of the 40 CPs to find (the last 8hr only had 24 CPs). The big picture had us picking up boats and bikes and dropping them off in different areas only to be picked up again later. Amazingly, there were only six control points on paddle--a huge win for us since we have historically shown to be far weaker at paddling. With those CPs being in open water, there was no hiding CPs from us, but understanding distance and time traveled looked important. Chris Roda and Brian Ruth took the role of master CP attackers on foot and bike, respectively, Greg Watson time manager, and I navigator.
(main race map)
CPs 1-5 had no drama to them, going in order, except CP4, where I had gone off of my original plan and followed Ron Eaglin from one of the Florida Xtreme teams into a bushwhack towards a faint, un-mapped trail. I naively thought he had a shortcut going. We got lost for about 5minutes on that trail so we decided to go back out on the main road to head down the clearer trail we had in mind. Ron got us...he shook us off. We chalked that one up to race tactics from the wise :)
We also witnessed what we believed to be a coyote going towards CP1.
(Canyoneros accepted the challenge of starting at the back of the starting line)
CP6 had us going back on familiar grounds, but this time, we overshot the simple nature of it. "End of trail" was the clue, yet Roda trucked into the forest with a full head of steam and swam across the freezing creek in an attempt to find it. The rest of us stalled for about 5min outside on the trail before seeing other teams merely go in and out. At that point, we decided to jump in and help Chris, only to realize the CP was immediately at "end of trail" behind a shrub of trees. We lost 10min on that one.
(you can never avoid sugar sand in FL)
Roda deemed it not feasible to cut across the creek for a huge shortcut to CP7 so we took the really long route.
(video summary of canoe portion of the race)
This race portion was voted by all of us to be the most exciting (not necessarily most comfortable though!). We started by carrying our boats over a small hill in the forest that led to shoreline. I envisioned a battlefield for reason, the sound of crashing waves, winds billowing, and shouting navy soldiers rushing to the next control point. Teams tried and failed to paddle through the relentless waves on the shallow shores. Eventually, we gave into the same madness after reaching CP8. We got off our boats and manhandled them forward. Greg and Brian muscled their canoes overhead and walked on the beach, while I strapped a rope I had in my camelbak to ours for Roda and I to pull.
(only 12min of actual paddling on the canoe portion)
Imagine the most biting cold you have ever felt. Multiply that by about an hour and a half's worth of enduring uneasiness. The early morning started around 37 degrees F, so who knows what the temps in the water was. All I know was that the water was so cold that none of us could feel our lower legs and hands. It was like an having odd headache in the legs and working with prosthetic hands. Roda was even shaking off hypothermia at times. Things got dangerous, but we persevered through all adversity.
(map of Lake Louisa)
It didn't take long for me to realize that at the rate we were going, we had to cut the two far CPs off. Luckily, they were all along the west shoreline and obtainable on foot. Most every team ditched the canoe at the main transition area (TA) and continued on foot for maybe another CP or two only. We were able to run and grab CPs 11, 12, and 13, before turning around. Scoring-wise, this was the key advantage we had over most other teams. At the Main TA, I made the mistake of forgetting to refuel my water bag.
(frozen feet in the potentially gator-filled marshes didn't bother Canyoneros)
This section contained the most extraordinary bushwhack we've been through (chime in if anyone else beats ours).
After prancing around the forest, finding CPs 16-21, I decided to turn the team south to hit a trail that lined CP 22 and 23. I knew we were somewhere in the middle of the box, just didn't know exactly where, so if we went south and hit the trail we could head east, find the intersection and make our way to CP22.
We were reassured by a number of red-painted trees, which we assumed were marked trails--untraveled for a long time since the path was not clear at all.
The first roadblock we ran into was a thick boundary of palmettos, which was the start of a field of them! It didn't look too bad once we got in, but we were going slow as molasses. As I led us through, I heard and saw shuffling about 50ft ahead. At first I thought there were others going through, giving me a sign of confidence. But then the shuffling quickly advanced to another location, like the creature in Lost (tv series). They were most likely boar, which can do some serious damage to you! Once we cleared the nasty field of palmettos, spirits were high and we continued trucking through the forest slightly faster.
It didn't last long before we hit yet ANOTHER field of palmettos! This time, we declared point of no return and continued plowing deeper into this entanglement.
Shortly later, we realize these red marks on trees were fungus, not trail markers! We were not on a known path the entire time!
Then we ran into this mess of brambles higher than our heads! There was a THIRD field of palmettos after this! Roda's legs did not fare too well for wearing only shorts :(
There was something in these fields. I sneezed uncontrollably, by the dozen, for the rest of the race. Most of us only had 3hrs of sleep the night of the race. I had developed a cold three days before the race, which peaked the day before the race. Luckily, I felt decent Saturday morning. Concerned, but I was not going to let that hold me back. I told my teammates it was going to be all or nothing, and that there was no giving up in a Canyonero. We had not had a decent standing ever in this sport. Inside my head, with the cold still recovering, I knew there was going to be hell to pay the next day (sure enough, as I write this the day after, hell has graciously traded me bronchitis for the glory of the team). Race day doesn't come every day and when it comes time to perform, if there's no guts, there's no glory.
(and here is the magnificent south trail that alluded us!)
Once on this trail we picked off CP23 → 22 → 24 → bushwhacked diagonally to 25 → 26 → 27 → 28. The key here was to always keep at least a light, constant jog going, led by our strongest runner, Chris Roda.
The end of Foot 2 portion was at the Boat TA, where we had dropped off our bikes earlier. I had a bottle filled with Pedialite on my bike--it was the elixir of life this far into the race!
(the debut of a new 2012 Motobecane 29er bike)
The last bike leg of the race contained 12 CPs that led you through vast fields of ranch grass, dirt/stone paths, sugar sand insanity, dead and live orange groves, and uphill/downhill paved/unpaved roads. It had you covering the entire parkground.
(compass points to a bike bushwhack through the forest!)
(trees from the Twighlight Zone)
(long bushwhack in thick bushgrass to CP33)
(dreaded sugar sand)
This was the portion of the race where time management was critical. You had to constantly keep in mind how many minutes you could allocate towards each CP, otherwise you risk finishing late and suffering penalty points that rack up quickly after the time deadline. For the most part, we picked these CPs off like grapes on vines, shown by the path we chose below.
(bike repairs are a part of races that take you through a variety of rough terrain)
(a deurailleur that was popped far back out of its natural angle)
The evening was getting colder as indicated by fog on the camera lens. We regrouped and shared what little morsels of food we had packed. Greg reported an hour left to hit five CPs. As long as we kept a constant pace, we were on track to hit them all.
And finally!...this was our last CP40, code 46. We could have headed up a shorter off-road path towards the finish, but we decided to go back on the paved road and blast it at a faster speed back home, finishing with 7½ min to spare.
We finished the day coming in 5th place as we checked the scores (out of 19 teams). This beat all of our realistic expectations, a tremendous leap from our usual last place and DQs! It was a culmination of our perfect execution--mental/physical preparation, decision making, and ability--that allowed for such a fast rise. We could not have been more proud of ourselves.
- Hien had consumed all camelbak water about 4½hrs into the race.
- Roda was reported to have hit the deck about a dozen times; Hien flew over his handlebars once.
- Brian had a malfunctioning derailleur and a flat tire twice during the race. Great decisions were made to just quickly pump the tube back up, rather spend 10min to replace it.
- Greg had badly blistered feet by race's end.
- We ran more than half of the race.
- Krispy Kreme donuts are a tradition after a race (the only time a dozen will evaporate immediately in the stomach upon consumption).
Race Details and Results
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