Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pangea - Treasure Coast AR, Elite 6hr

Nate and I woke up at 2am after a few hours of sleep on a Saturday morning while our significant others just about went to bed.  We embarked on a 3hr ride to Hobe Sound through the night, chatting up past stories of adventure racing and looking towards future ones, namely the 30hr Atomic AR.  We used the Treasure Coast AR as practice for coming into a race with absolutely no intel on the area--something the Atomic AR in Georgia would not allow us the luxury of.  Sure, we browsed Google Earth images, but everything looks much different on ground level anyways.  On top of that, we only reviewed last year's routes from other teams who had raced it.  As it turns out, the race was held on entirely different sections of Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  Good...this was the true test of the unknown for us.

Prologue & Boat (CP1->2->3->4->5->6->7->8->9->10)

We nailed every prologue and boat control point (CP) with speed and precision.  I use basic geometric visualization methods to hone in on the water CPs.  For example, if I rounded a corner, what kind of line can I draw to the CP and at what angle, both on map and on field?  Most CPs were located in a distinct feature, such as small channel off of a main river, so it helped identifying easier.

great to see pine trees that kept the forest open

Foot 1 (CP16->15->13->14->12->11)

While map planning in the morning, we realized that this section was probably going to be the most challenging section to navigate.  You could barely make out the faintly visible trails in the area, blurred by the jpeg compression that Google Earth applies to their images.  CP16 was found early on by heading down a trail somewhat near Trapper TA.  We took a bearing to CP15 at a distinct trail curve.

race map

We wanted to head back to the North-to-South trail to the west of us to get to CP13, but could no longer find the trail, so we decided to head south and hit the next perpedicular trail that ran west to east.  We never found a distinct enough trail either.  At this point, there were three teams looking for this control, each with wildly different approaches. Team BikeWorks were the first to find it and we all gathered in.

first blood!

Knowing that trails weren't well maintained here, Nate and I kept it safe by taking a direct bearing to CP14 and to our delight, ran into a clearly distinguishable trail that was somewhat showing on the map.  We retook another bearing from a distinct bend in the trail and quickly found it first before disappearing out with no one in sight. After gathering CP12 and 11 to complete the counter-clockwise loop, we headed back to the main transition area (Main TA) in a blazing 22 minutes.

boats on water, boats on land

Bike 1 (CP17-24->26->25)

Up to this point, we had raced an exceedingly satisfactory race.  We transitioned out of the Main TA and headed to the Bike TA to start Camp Murphy single-track bike trails.  This reminded me of Turkey Burn 2011 and doing the Chuck Lennon trails, only these weren't nearly as technical.  They were so brutal--curvy trails with thick sugar sanded uphills.  We were told controls were placed obviously on the trail so that you could focus more on the riding.

bike trails at Camp Murphy

For the first quarter of the trails, we made good speed, passing a team or two.  But as I looked back, I could tell Nate wasn't in it.  His head was down and he seemed to be pushing a 90% effort level.  I slowed the pace and things continued getting worse and worse.  Half way in, after taking a couple falls each, we were basically walking our bikes from there on out.  Nate was going into full heat exhaustion--fatigue, muscle cramps, pale skin with red face, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, and later, bouts of dizziness and confusion.  He took all the salt pills, Gatorade, and gels he had to try to combat it, but nothing worked.

using pliers to pull a cactus thorn out that pierced through foot and shoe

I told Nate as soon as we can hit road, I was putting him on the tow to get back to the Bike TA, where he could cool down with the water jugs there, and perhaps end the race.  Once you hit the wall, it's extremely tough to come back.  Trails become the longest trails ever, and hilltops become the most scorching open areas.  I encouraged stops and rest, yet the stubborn Canyonero wished to push forward.  Nate tells me, with eyes rolling to the back his head, "we're not driving 6hrs from Orlando to Hobe Sound and back just so I can bail now, keep going!"  The season in Orlando had not hit 90 degrees for the year, so we had not held training sessions in substantial heat yet.  To further compound the situation, Nate is an Englishman, who hails from a country that sees 70 degrees possibly twice a year.  Today, Hobe Sound roasted him.

bridges that look like they have been built in the 1600s

Foot 2 (CP30->29->27)

To my surprised, Nate was still breathing, somewhat upright, even after traveling through the most desolate-looking terrain, filled with bike sinking sugar sand.  The sun baked him from the top and the white sand broiled him with its radiant energy from the bottom.  I kept a close eye on him.  We transitioned onto foot where I aimed to grab CP27 first.  We counted paces to the trail that CP27 was supposed to be located, but had to go much further before we saw a trail.  About 100m before the CP, I told Nate I would run to the CP while he walked over.  It was the tactic we used to cool Nate down.  However, again, I had to go quite far before finding a CP near a bridge.

the wall makes everything look like this

After punching it, I realized we were at CP30!  What??  It did not make sense whatsoever to me.  I reviewed the map and traced our routes back from the Bike TA...yep, everything still looks correct.  As Nate stumbled over to catch up, even in his delirious state, he asked if my map was rotated.  Damn, yes it was.  That "North" indication got me, and I was not the one in heat exhaustion.

disorienting race map

On our way to CP29, we met Team BikeWorks, who graciously gave us a tip to CP29, while we returned the favor to CP30 (go to the second bridge, not the first that you will encounter, which we saw several teams do).

At CP29, I shot a direct bearing from the trail intersection.  I shouted my bearing to Nate, who asked me to read the clue.  I measured a bearing of 40* and the clue was "NW of trail intersection" and started trucking through palmettos to reach it.  I looked back and Nate was scratching his steaming head...."40 degrees is not NW, is your mapped rotated?"  Damn, yes again.  I bolted in, searched and found it.  I can always appreciate a great backup.

At this point, he was not looking good at all.  Bouts of dizziness overcame him, and he reported his actual stomach organ was cramping and making a fist.  I was really concerned so we called it and headed back.  I have never witnessed a mere mortal suffering for this long without throwing in the towel much sooner.  I had to give it to him.  He raced through 3½ hours of heat exhaustion (although I do not encourage anyone sucking this up whatsoever!).

On the way back, I calculated 3 minutes for me to dart in and out of a trail to get CP27--my time estimate was bang on.

Bike 2

We had about 20 minutes left so we skipped the remaining bike CPs and booked it back with Nate on the tow.  We had no doubt that we could clear the course with our initial progression of the race had it not been for unfortunate circumstances.  But even on our worst physically-performing day, Canyoneros still mustered a respectable 5th place.

By the way, the faster Sport teams should switch to Elite :)

our GPS-recorded route (24.72km was bike)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pangea - Boar AR, Elite 6hr

Canyoneros finally took a podium spot after two years of mucking through waist-deep mud and cow dung fields as fast as we could!  Only a few can appreciate this madness, and to me, my first medallion is a reminder of how exhilarating and wild the sport can get sometimes.

Team Canyoneros - Stuart White (left), Hien Nguyen

This race marks the debut of Stuart White, a triathlete who approached us at the RDV Sportsplex, expressing interest in the apparently crazy sport we do.  So we brought him out to a Florida Orienteering event, where he passed the test of not hesitating to jump into creeks to cross them, a sign of a Canyonero, marked with tunnel vision of the bigger goal in mind--orange and white CP boxes.  He also pushed our running pace so fast that we cleared their white course for warm-ups in an official time of 4 minutes, the next best being 44 minutes :)

Foot 1 -> CP1, 2, 3, 5, 4 order

We started at the back of the pack due to my prolonged map strategizing, but quickly accelerated our bikes towards the front after a minute or two of heading towards the Foot TA (transition area). There, we dropped our bikes and our paddles and headed south into the red trails.

race instructions (yes, that is Canyonero blood)

CP1 was a matter of following the trail curves and bends, both on trail and on map, until the southwest bend was apparent, and then shooting a bearing directly to the CP.  We then went clockwise on the rest (CP2, 3, 5, 4).  The main reason we chose this orientation was because we felt it lent itself to more accurate attack points, namely CP5, which appeared to be in the middle of the woods.  There was a distinct trail corner to attack from, and luckily, there was a non-mapped trail leading to it, but there was no path leading down into it from the north, unless you accurately counted paces before you headed directly south into the control point--this was the riskier option to me.

CP4 was a matter of going to the furthest, most eastern part of the trail curve and then shooting a bearing in until you saw a wetland.  The wetland was big enough to provide a margin of compass and human error.

Canoe - CP11, 12, 14, 13, 18, 20, 19, 16, 17, 15 order

carrying paddles on the way to the Boat TA

Once done with the first trek portion, we headed back to Foot TA to pick up paddles and bike to the Boat TA.  You can do all the Google Earth research you want beforehand, but it hardly prepares you for the Swiss cheese that is St. Johns River, filled with sporadic lakes and channels.  Last year when I raced the Boar, we purposely chose to only gather the CPs on the main route and nothing in the hairy interior of St. Johns.

race map

With one year's experience since the last Boar AR, I have to admit that I've gained the confidence to navigate rivers you can easily get lost in--minus the nighttime, that is.  Stuart and I hit CP11, 12, 14, 13, precisely, before stumbling on CP18.  Our first attempt at docking the boat was correct (image below), but unfortunately, we listened to a following team who thought we had not gone far enough.  We moved forward and identified another potential docking point, ran on foot until I saw the boat ramps.  That's when I knew we overshot it, and that our first docking point was the correct one.

first attempt--me shooting a direct bearing to the line of trees that housed CP18

So we called off CP18 and from there on out, it was a battle against the almighty winds, shallow seagrass, and the airboats manned by guys who looked like Afghan terrorist soldiers.  In many areas we had to get out of the boat and pull it forward because the waves turned the canoe backwards if you stayed in to fight it.

waves surging against us

Our plan of going counter-clockwise in this section was due to the fact that you had a wall of land to the west that kept you from getting lost on the return route.  It was a safer for us to go out towards the unknown and return back along the known.  After missing CP18, we pinpointed CP20, 19, 16, 17, and 15 with no issues or second attempts.  In fact, it was too good for how I have historically navigated in water, but I'm not complaining :)

knee-deep in the smelliest water ever

Going south and rounding the river towards CP15, it was too shallow so we walked in shoe-stealing mud.  I got the idea that it doesn't take two to push it, so I ran on the shore and alongside the "palm grouping" to find the CP while Stuart pushed the canoe to meet me down the river.  It worked and saved us the time we would have spent to push the canoe and then find it.  Why not do both at once?

Bike 1 -> CP7, 6, 8, 9, 10 order

This segment was characterized by pathetic biking grounds, followed by ideal hard-packed trails :)  The "ideal" is only referring to the smoothness of the ground.  We withstood billows of wind that almost knocked us over!

race map

For CP10, you had to go to WP10 (a reference point), shoot a bearing towards the southern most radio control tower you saw to the west, and with that line on the map, make it intersect an imaginary line drawn from WP1 to CP26.

We adventure racers are clever thinkers.  Instead of taking a longer route to WP10, why not just draw the imaginary line and go up every trail that intersects it (green dots above)?  The swamps and fields in between the trails were infested with gators, so chances were high that the CPs were only along the trail.  We were not alone in this, as there were other teams who we saw doing the same, or reported doing it.  However, it was not so convenient, as it had us going to the very last trail that intersected the imaginary line :)  We can imagine it still saved lots of time though.

On our way out of CP7, we rounded a forest cluster and saw a bull or cow bolting towards us!  I was seriously bracing for impact, so I got off my bike and planned to throw it at the bull and jump out of the way if he charged at me.  Luckily, our Canyonero aura scared the bull off, causing him to trip and fall over to avert danger (us).

video of bull charging at us.  He knew better though ;)

Bike 2 -> CP27, 26, 28, 29, 30 order

We were doing fairly well on time and Stuart had picked up a second wind on the biking portion, so we continued to bike.  All of them were picked up with not much navigational focus, but CP28 did have three trail openings nearby that we went into before finding it.

we must have ridden this trail a dozen times during this race

At CP30, we estimated 15-20 minutes to head back and out on foot.  With about an hour left, this was the period of the race where we had to increase our time awareness.  Always ask each other how much time is left after every CP or transition and try to figure out a plan of dropping CPs that are far or tough.

Foot 2 -> CP25, 24, 23 order (skipped the other two)

I am usually the one who drinks the most water, but amazingly, my three liter Camelbak lasted all 6hrs!  On top of that, I finished the race only drinking 3/4 of it, which means my body has been adapting to all the endurance training I'm putting it through.  The cooler weather helps too :)

FL jungles

With 45 minutes left, we reversed our morning plan and ran the route backwards to gather the closest CPs first.  I knew CP24 would be the hardest.  Sure enough, we shot the bearing at the incorrect first sharp turn of the trail to the south (pic below).  We saw a wetland, but the control was nowhere to be found.  We lost 12 minutes on that attempt and called it off.  The race map did not show such a sharp turn where we attacked in, so we figured we had run far enough to the correct second one.  We poked back out on the trail, continued to run towards the next control point, but found Ron Eaglin shooting a bearing into the correct trail corner, so we followed.  He was someone we could trust.  His teammate admitted that they erroneously did the same thing we did, as did a couple more teams I came to learn afterwards.

How do you prevent that?  From CP25 to the correct corner is roughly half a kilometer.  Ideally, one guy would be in charge of using a stopwatch to measure time traveled.  At a pretty good off trail pace (6mph), that's a little more than 3 minutes to travel half a kilometer.  So if the clock shows 2 minutes and 15 seconds after resetting the stopwatch at CP25, then you know you have not gone far enough.  Putting it to practice takes a while to make habit out of, but does wonders for times like this.  Plus, through training, you'll develop a sense of what a 6mph pace is.  The only catch is that if you stop or change average speeds, the measurement becomes less and less accurate, which is what will happen 5hrs into racing :)

After CP23, there was only 20 minutes left, so we headed back and won third place!

falls like this happen pretty frequently; get up and pretend it didn't happen

our recorded GPS route (32.72km of it was biking)