Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pangea - Atomic AR, Elite 30hr

Two days, 139km of distance, 2 mile ascent, 2 mile descent, and one capsize later, Canyoneros had the most fulfilling AR race of our lives.  This would be the second time for Nate Whitaker to head up to Blue Ridge, GA, first time for Tim Cowan, and third time for me.  Third time's always the charm!

Here's an overall view of the mountainous terrain we traversed.  No flat land at all.  The best we had was Clermont to train in, city of the highest smoothly-paved 50ft hills in FL!

The race started out with picture-perfect blue skies and green pastures.  Birds chirped loudly, creeks flowed soothingly, everything was lively.  The environment in Georgia is always stunning.  The mountains in the distance and the rich red clay in the ground are in clear contrast to what is seen in Florida.  We immediately rode our bikes into a two hour ride up to the remotest of mountains for our first control at CP11.  It was primarily uphill, but we were treated to a few sections of exhilarating downhills.

The temps were climbing towards 80 degrees.  Nate started experiencing signs of heat exhaustion, and me, leg cramps only three hours in--not a good start.

no pedaling needed

Most of the controls (CP11-23) on the first biking segment were found very well using distance measurements, bearing direction, reading elevation, and clues from nearby teams.

About five hours in, I hear a wreck and a loud gasp coming from Tim.  I quickly turn around and see that he had just flipped over his handlebars and smashed into the root-filled ground of the single-track biking trails.  His left hand instantly swelled up.  His knees and forearms bled from road rash, so we spent a few minutes to recover here.  (After the race, X-rays showed a "non-displaced fracture of the 4th left metacarpal shaft").  As he gave us the ok, I knew the next 25hrs were going to be very painful for him.  It was the first time I had seen him grimace.

We continued forward as the afternoon approached.  The clouds became overcast and rained down upon us.  Somewhere along the way, we passed by a creek and Nate jumped right in, roaring back to life, as the crisp coldness of the water re-energized him.  Nate cheered in relief and my leg cramps temporarily stopped.  It appeared as though the whole team was recovered.  And then I ran out of water for a couple hours.

At Bull TA, we switched shoes to transition onto the trekking portion of our race.  I filled my Camelbak to the 3-liter brim.  I looked at the map and instantly estimated a 6-8hr segment.  For our race, this was the most technical for navigation.  It required us to pinpoint attack points precisely and try to remain on a bearing as best as we could.

CP30 was relatively easy to locate but steep as a wall.  We attacked directly south of the control.  For CP29, I had mentally memorized a large set of branches with brown dead leaves on the side of the trail to mark the location of a previous bike CP22.  We used that to shoot a straight bearing towards CP29 with Team Super Frogs.  Leaving there, we parted ways and found each other again at the next control (CP28), each team with a different route to there.  Many teams were having problems here, but as we took an extended break for dinner on the trail south of the control, I re-confirmed our position on the map, bushwhacked in, and we easily found it.

reference this trek map as I explain the route choices below

From CP28, we bushwhacked northeast, hit a trail and ran along it until we reached a previous CP17.  Once there, we counted paces, followed the map, and helped another team make a second attempt at attacking into CP25 from exactly west of it.  It took a long trek to finally reach the correct re-entrant that CP27 was located.  Once we found that re-entrant, we browsed up the mountain and found it.

There was no other way to CP26 except a surgical bearing.  Our bearing was super precise alright.  A little too precise, but our pace counting and spur identification caught us somewhat late.  Then came a period of hunting that circled us right back to where we started and realized we had initially blew right by it by no more than 5 meters!  Here I ran out of water again.  It would fatigue me for the next two hours or so.

Tim, an Eagle scout, used his mountaineering skills to lead us down to the re-entrant that CP16 was located, to be used as a resetting point for locating CP25.  Here, we met up with Ron Eaglin's massive team of six to find 25 together.  It is quite a feat to herd that many people, esp. the longer the races go.  But it is a huge advantage to have as a search party.  We followed Ron some more as he used his own mountaineering skills to creatively try to find CP24.  I wanted to do a straight bushwhack from the previous control, since that's my bread and butter, but we stuck to Ron's more adventurous path that had us zig-zagging and crossing a creek multiple times.  Out of my comfort zone, I tried really hard to thumb our location on the map, turn by turn, bearing by bearing.

After a while, he cut into a re-entrant in which I think he used to prematurely attack in from.  I was scratching my head as his team bolted up the hills.  My thumbed location had us waaay too early to attack in from.  I relied on my gut and had our team use that re-entrant to recalibrate.  With a combination of Tim's mountaineering skills and my own thumbing and bearings, it took us a bit to find the correct re-entrant before commencing the search.  We search and search and as I began doubting myself in what became the night by now, I miraculously heard a "I FOUND IT!"  Historically, night, plus mountains, have been bad luck for me.  But oh boy, were those words great to hear at times like that.  Tim had located it.  Thank goodness that was our last control for the section.  Now we just had to find our way out, which had its own recoverable mistake.

I had us erroneously bolting out of Bull TA on the wrong trail, the red trail, so we had to backtrack up the correct trail to find CP31.  As we traveled to CP32, we joined the party of about 6 teams trying to find this control.  We eventually called it, as no one found it, but Eaglin's teams, who never gave up.  That missed control ended our incredible six month streak of being able to find all the controls we would go after.

At CP33, I got us to the correct location and reconfirmed it, but we couldn't find this control either.  Same with CP34.  While searching for CP34, I looked down while clearing tree branches out of my face to see a rather large rattlesnake, coiled up about the size of a frying pan, two inches away from my left foot.  I jumped so high, screamed so loudly, and braced for a striking bite that never happened.  When I looked back, his head was simply nodding "uh huh", his rattler silent, and his tongue still inside his mouth.  On that particular night, I was saved by the grace of God that the serpent did not strike me.  I think he was just sleeping.  At 1:30am on a Sunday morning, as far away from civilization as we were, if I had been bit by that rattlesnake, all I could do was say my prayers.  And speaking of snakes, in the midst of trying to find CP33, Nate had deliriously tried to pick up a copperhead before Tim identified and warned him of it, haha.  Of all the races we've done in some 3yrs, this race was the only one we have had actual dangerous encounters with them.  But then again, maybe we've just been lucky with the ones we've never seen at our feet while bushwhacking through FL...

CP35 also gave us a lot of trouble since the trails leading north did not follow the map much.  It was only after team Adventure Capitalists/BDAR tipped us off that we came storming after it.  With as little luck as we had on that biking leg that night, we decided to call the next control off and just head back while picking up CP37.  Even getting out of CP36 gave us fits.  It was the most demoralizing part of my navigation.

CP37 to the next transition area (Frying TA) was very long on the map.  Should be pretty easy with no navigation right?  Nope.  We went uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill, and uphill.

And then we went uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more, and uphill some more...until my altimeter read 3200ft!

This was a death march.  It took about an hour and a half to walk our bikes up 7km.  We saw teams just dying going up this mountain.  I could just picture the race director laughing at the thought of us racers wringing our guts out after 20hrs of race.

When we finally made it to Frying TA, we noticed a large amount of teams taking shelter and sleeping in the Uhaul.  Of the people who were still awake, they spoke of the killer walk up the mountain.  It had severely depleted everyone, physically and mentally.  To us, the race must go on!  The Uhaul had our gear bins, so we were able to replenish, eat, and renew our gear.

While heading out, I realized I was missing a map, the map to our next leg!  Kevin, the staff located here, mentioned that I should ask around if anyone was even going to attempt the next leg.  I did and luckily, Ron Eaglin was there to save me by lending me his map.  His team was done, he said, and didn't have the energy to do the next trekking segment.  Thank you Ron!

Nate, Tim and I then walked our way to CP38, with high ambitions of getting two more after that.  There were these wobbly and flimsy-looking trees all the way up the mountain to CP38.  I was thinking you could plow them over like any other shrub that gets in Canyoneros' way, but we were instantly stiff-armed trying to walk through them.  They put up a fight!  It was nonstop too!  If you weren't careful, your eyes could easily get gouged out.  Feeling beat ourselves, we estimated the times for the rest of the race and called off the rest of the trekking controls we were currently on.  We knew this portion of the race did not have good bang for the buck, as it took us almost two hours to get to CP38 and back.

The bike ride back to the Sport controls was my favorite part.  It was probably 90% downhill, where your bike blazed 30+ mph, faster than cars would try.  I would do this technique where I would duck my head low and pick up even more speed than my teammates.  It was so fun, but I knew I was one step away from making a mistake and getting dragged and skinned 100ft down the wet rocky roads!

We easily picked up CP10 on the way out and made quick work of the Sport controls.

Onto the canoeing portion of the race...it was funny how we got jammed up on the first three set of rocks we passed by, including getting spun 360 around.  Each time we got jammed up, we would execute this weight shifting/rocking maneuver to dislodge the boat.  While doing it that way, we capsized after the canoe freed itself into the water (in video above).  I laugh every time I see that.

Canoeing down rapids was quite fun and refreshing to a race that had us on bike or foot the entire time.  Tim, at this point, could not paddle with his broken hand, but it was no issue with the aid of the downstream.  I was amazed he had made it this far with the rattling handlebars that required death grip down the mountains.  He actually jammed it up a couple more times with some falls throughout the race, one busting up his lip.  What a soldier.

Last year we had listened to the locals at the top of the bridge who told us to navigate to the right side of the rapids.  We capsized.  This year, I wanted to see if they were joking with us at the time, so I had us going to the left side.  We also capsized :)

(left) Nate Whitaker, Tim Cowan, Hien Nguyen

In the end, Canyoneros placed 3rd in the Open Division, which sported 20 teams, and got invited to the USARA National Championships.  It was also good for 9th overall out of 34 competing teams.  We can honestly say we gave it all we had on this one, and came out beat up, broken, chafed, and already looking forward to next year!


ascended 2 miles
descended 2 miles
trek distance = 36.07km (22.4 miles)
bike distance = 91.59km (56.9 miles)
canoe distance = 11.5km (7.15 miles)


  1. You guys just have to do USARA Nationals! They have whitewater boogie boarding this year! My goals are to one day make the USARA Nationals and do at least one ARWS Regional Qualifier such as the Untamed New England. So jealous. Great job.

    1. Thanks! At the fast rate you guys are picking up this sport, you'll be there in no time. We're currently discussing the logistics of it to see if it's possible to get the whole team out there this fall, schedule-wise and all. Not sure how competitive we'll be at the national level, but the experience will be something to remember, for sure.