Two Canyonero teams, 8 bikes, and four canoes, would stick together until the end. We had formed a bond within the past year, characterized by a wide variety of inspiring physical abilities. Adventure racing would be our next frontier.
Orlando Wetlands Park contains beautiful, and in many places, surreal environments that capture what my image of a Florida park looks like. We even saw a handful of gators hanging out along the wetland trails.
Canyoneros - Chris Roda, Amber Punga, Hien Nguyen, Russell Barton
Canyoneros II - Brian Ruth, Josh Hemann, Amy Hazlerig, Greg Watson
We all got to the venue very early. Greg and I went over the maps, while Roda absorbed and chimed in. I tried to measure out distances on control points that did not have as strong of attack points nearby. The map provided was a Google Earth satellite image, slightly rotated in the software and then printed out, so that the scale was not the same from bottom to top. 6hrs was the shortest race Canyoneros have experienced to date. 6hrs is shorter, but definitely not easier--it is intense.
Both Canyonero teams chose to do the foot section first, except Canyoneros II was staggered 5 minutes ahead of us. They decided to just wait for us at CP1. CP2 went by quick, CP3 was a little bit more difficult, but CP4 gave us some trouble as we went in several areas along the trail to attack. CP5 and 6 were straightforward, relying just on physical speed.
honing in on CP5 from the distant
Roda checked us in and then picked up punch cards for the next section. We mistakenly did not pay attention, so we inadvertently proceeded to the bike portion, rather than paddle as instructed--we did not realize this until Roda punched the first control point on bike. By then it was too late, so we continued finding all the bike points, while punching our boat card. If you ever lose a punch card or grab the wrong one, just make sure you punch something (a map, a different punch card, your shirt, etc). The event hosts are usually nice enough to accept those, except sometimes they come with a penalty. But if that's the best proof you have, then that's the best you can do.
cartoonish swamp trees
We headed towards CP7 by going from the Main TA, cutting directly across cow pasture towards the gated opening that leads you into the forest. I'm not sure if that was the best route, seeing how badly it blew our quads out so early on in the race. The cow pasture was a severely uneven ground with massive piles of cow shit every five square feet. If you stood up and rode, you spent considerable energy trying to maintain momentum. If you sat and pedaled, your ass was pounded on every bump. The open area also slowed your speed with the billowing winds.
"Entrance of the Palms"
Rampage Roda arrived at the gates, ready to throw himself and his bike over the rails, until Amber told him to just pull open the gates ;) Roda is a prolific marathon runner, always finishing with high rankings in prestigious races at Boston, Chicago, New York, and other major cities. He trained so hard by biking in sugar sand for this race that it made him a speed demon at this event because we had no sugar sand! He was also the 'Master CP Attacker' for both teams most of the event.
Roda, in full-race, tunnel vision mode--a true sign of a Canyonero
We backtracked and stayed on smoother grounds to grab CP8, which was a familiar CP. CP 9-12 was a matter of bike speed. It gave us no trouble. After grabbing 12, we realized we were tracking well ahead of time and could afford some mishaps in the water portion.
Back at the main TA, we got reprimanded for racing the segments out of order. There was nothing we could do now but accept our penalty. Greg Owens determined to restrict us from collecting four paddling CPs so the canoes could be returned on time for the sport racers to use. Basically, we were given a four point penalty--HUGE! It was such a letdown for the two teams, who had tracked so well with time so far.
The distance of this paddling section was fortunately short, but playing field was amazingly complex. I was glad they gave us Google Earth satellite images, rather than any other kind of map, because I found no maps ahead of time that illustrated all of the mini channels and temporary lakes there.
Tight water navigation is still pretty difficult for us to nail. It was understood in the morning that we were going to cut CPs here, because of the uncertainty of our skills in this discipline. We were coordinating together with four canoes across two teams in a discipline that most of us only train for at the few race events we have attended. On top of that, we already were penalized by being restricted from collecting four CPs here. That disadvantage turned out in our favor, actually, as they were the four more difficult ones to grab. We probably would have gotten lost or spent a ridiculous amount of time finding them had we gone for them.
(funny video of Hien/Russell constantly hitting other canoes)
And then it never fails...we always have that one CP that messes you up good. We got lost as soon as we went towards the first CP and spent a whopping 30 minutes overshooting, back-tracking, trying to find it, and finally finding it. This was our first major setback. Me, being navigator, did not fully grasp the sense of scale on water until this first CP. Distances were a lot closer than I thought. On the map, you can see that a line of sight could be drawn from the boat launch to the CP. That was another way I should have looked at it--I overshot if I lost sight of boat launch area. We finally recognized this one by the cluster of trees shown on the map.
green = first path we took
red = clear line of sight from boat launch to CP14
portaging boats across marsh
ideal plan of travel, time permitting
Brian Ruth in orange - award winning triathlete and jiu jitsu practitioner
Greg Watson - 2012 EA Sports MVP soccer player
Russell Barton - machete expert
Hien Nguyen - largest calves known to man
Josh Hemman - RDV Sportsplex personal trainer
At the main TA, we refreshed and bolted off to find CP24 and 25 with no slowdown. We then cut across the park gate near CP4 to head into the orienteering forest at WP4. Amber was relentless on this biking segment.
strange looking swamp trees from Dr. Seuss books
entering enchanted Florida forest
Next, it was my turn to make a navigational error. Glancing over the instructions, I mistakenly read the distance as a bearing, and vice versa. We lost about 5 minutes going the wrong direction, only to back track and re-shoot the bearing in the right direction.
300m during a bushwhack is a lot of distance to get out of line with. The best method I found was:
- Do not follow others! They could be lost, doing the sport race, shaking you off, or all of the above!
- Shoot a bearing precisely from the origin, and then pinpoint something distinctive in the line of sight (ie: a tree or something tall and always visible). Once there, shoot the bearing again and repeat. It proved quite accurate and has been the most successful bushwhacking I have done so far.
- While reading the compass, do not run! I took a nasty fall on a large juddering root, fell, and thought I broke my shins. They instantly became numb, while my glutes balled up in a cramp. That one took me a few minutes to recover. I almost lost it several other times, until Amber reminded me to stop doing that :)
(video of me tripping)
After grabbing CP31 (second to last CP), time was ticking and Canyoneros II decided to jet without telling us. We lost them. I think they tried to beat us back or something. Tricks! Canyoneros(I) found the last CP, giving us the upper hand in scoring, and at the same time, went seamlessly back on path to head out to the trail head. The way they designed the orienteering course seemed to resemble a circle. If you bailed out at any earlier point, you probably would have gotten lost even worse, which is what happened to Canyoneros II. Furthermore, they got docked a point for finishing late. Had they followed us, they would have finished on time, even with their five minute stagger. Lesson learned ;)
14th place out of 34 is pretty satisfying for us. Upon reviewing our GoPro videos, there's definitely several areas where we could have picked up significant time (in the realm of nearly an hour), which could have afforded us the last two CPs we were allowed, potentially bringing our rank up to an extremely respectable 9th or 10th. Physically, we know we have it in us to compete with the upper elite. We just need to play out the experience game, fine tune our strategy as a team, and always look to improve. Up next...12hr Nocatee!
mini-contests at the end displaying feats of strength--bike toss
Race Details and Results
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