Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pangea - Turkey Burn AR, Elite 12hr

A slab of wood joined with two raw stumps of log (pic above) represents the true essence of what it is to adventure race.  There are no bells or shiny metal on this.  Symbolically engraved into this primitive trophy are lifelong memories of wild adventures we have experienced--chased by a mountain man with a shotgun, bushwhacked the undergrowth on hands and knees, charged at by a bullcapsized in the rapids of Georgia, and even falling off a cliff today, just to name a few.

Canyoneros like aim for the sky but unspokenly know most of our visions are too lofty to get letdown on if not achieved.  The results of this year's 2013 Championship Turkey Burn AR was the pinnacle of a full season's long worth of growth for our 2+ yr team.  We started from scratch, literally at the very bottom of the pile a couple years ago, not knowing which is the front on a canoe, to a team who has taken just placed first in the Open division championships.  It was a race that finally fulfilled one of our desired goals, our proudest moment yet!

The Turkey Burn AR this year was billed to be more urban than usual, starting in civilization at the University of Central Florida (instead of the remote wilderness).  We spent about 1½hrs on campus, total, in a 12hr long race that started at 4am--not your typical urban race :)

It was dark, yet bright under the parking lights of the campus lot, misty, yet warmer in temperatures for a race at this time of the year.  We piled at the start and were spontaneously told to run up 3 flights of stairs at a nearby garage building and go down the far end, only to run another 250m to another nearby building and back.

Bike 1
We were given orienteering maps immediately afterwards, on-the-fly, to head out on this leg of the race.  Four controls were plotted around campus.  As large as UCF's campus may appear to people who visit it, it is highly compressed with a dense collection of features, such as buildings and sidewalks, more than our regular adventure racing maps.  You had to really know the campus well to move fast in the dark, which we didn't.  We took a newbie approach of latching onto another team who seemed to know what they were doing for the first two controls, only to maintain speed.

However, on the 3rd control, we had to slow things down to figure out where we were.  As I calibrated my bearings, we headed towards CP3 and got immediately derailed into a wrong trail.  Teams came towards us and away in multiple directions.  This is the control that really messed many teams up.  At this point, I really wanted to zone the crowd out, go back to the beginning, identify the mapped lake and start that control over.  We did and messed up again by following an unmapped trail all the way to the south of the lake.  Ughh...alright, back to basics.  "Go back to a known spot and measure precisely, one turn at a time.  From there on out, the fundamentals got us the final two controls flawlessly.  Up next was a 7.5km bike ride through the city to a boat launch.

Boat 1
Our strategy for the race was to "Go slow to be fast".  It's a motto my mentors taught me during the days I raced cars.  It means don't overdrive or fashionably slide a car around turns because you will lose more time than you think you make up for in speed and tire squeal.  In adventure racing, to last a 12hr race well, you have to throttle that energy back.  Going full bore means your brain shuts down and you make mistakes or get lost, which translates into longer distances that produce longer times.  This isn't a race where you follow a road.  This is race where you make up your own routes, even if it means swimming across swamps.

Dave Brault, the course designer, advised at race start that the first three controls on this part of the race were going to be difficult to paddle to.  I had that hunch before the race when I saw how close those controls were.  It didn't intimidate us, as we had our sights on clearing the entire course at that point.

We went for CP7 first, which was pretty easy.  The next two were slow-going.  When we got to the river split, there were over half a dozen canoes beached on the shore, where teams left them to go on foot.  We did the same, tore down fields of palmettos, and trucked across shallow areas of the river.  There was even one control where we tight-roped across a suspended fallen tree over water to reach it.  It was great.

I had measured some distances between controls ahead of time on the river so that we could run the stopwatch and keep track of pace.  However, the river was quite twisty and had many logs to block and slow you down that that technique did not work so well, but I was still able to keep track of our position, turn-by-turn.  We were alone for a while on that river until last year's reigning champs, Good'Nuff, blazed by us so silently and what appeared effortlessly.  Their transitions in and out of punching their cards was like a ping pong.  It was incredible and inspired us to paddle even faster.

Foot 1
Pulling up to the Barr TA (transition area), we carried our canoes up a cliff before switching to the running section.  We were told by the staff that we were in the middle of the pack at that point.  Honestly, hearing that eased some race pressure.  If you're at the front of the pack, the race urgency tickles you to do whatever you can do keep that lead.  When you're in the middle, well...the teams ahead just prepared better than you.  But 12hrs is like three or four marathons.  You can be fast at first but gas out terribly in the middle of the race.  Or you could have skipped several controls and be ahead on route, but not on scoring.  You never know what happens at the end, especially the longer the race gets.

A new map was given to us here.  We punched CP12 easily.  CP13 looked really tricky on map.  It was really tricky in real life too.  Nate and I executed the full plan by measuring the distance from the closest intersection, counted running paces until the trail bent, and shot a bearing to the north.  We never saw that faintly mapped trail, but kept with the plan and when hope was running out, Nate spotted it in the distance.

the dewy morning

At CP14, we ran into our next year's 72hr race teammates, We Blame Javan, and found the next six controls together.  It was a long jog to CP21 before we got back to the Barr TA.

our GPS route with color-coded pacing

Boat 2
From Barr TA, we carried our boats back into water to continue the race.  For some unknown reason, my GoPro camera beeped to change batteries after only recording for 1.5hrs.  I have the extended battery pack, which normally provides me 4.5hrs of record time before I need to change out two sets of batteries.  Upon fumbling to change them out on the boat traveling around a log filled corner of the river, I accidentally dismantled the case hinge and could not figure out how to piece it back together.  It also caused us to get log-jammed, so from there on out, the GoPro was out of commission.  Such a shame, because not five minutes later, the following happened, which would have provided epic Canyonero footage:

At CP26, the map showed a channel that branched off the main river.  It appeared you could just paddle your way into the channel.  In real life, the opening of the channel was closed shut, so we banked our canoe at the opening (point A).  This made for some stagnant water that just sat there, brewing up some foul smelling, potentially gator-laden, bacterial waters.

I took a gamble, followed Kayla from Team Super Frogs, and chose to run up the east bank enroute to the control.  At point B, she spots the control and tells me "crap! we're on the wrong side of the water," and proceeds to turn back.

The race urgency is funny sometimes, but only if you survive.  I took one look at the river, which was about 15-20m across, and started challenging myself like a fool (aka, Canyonero).  Yes, I had thoughts of swimming across this nasty dark water.  I grabbed a long, fallen palmetto branch and jabbed into the water at the edge of the channel.  It was maybe 2ft deep....not bad.  All judgment left my mind as I cautiously stepped in and went forward.  It got deeper and deeper.  The deeper it got, the softer the ground became, and the more my shoes got sucked into the mud that marinated at the bottom.  I was about a third of the way across, chest deep, and nauseated by the shit-smelling muck I was in, when I deemed "point of no return" and lunged in.  Suddenly there was no bottom.  All I felt was warm, slimy mud around my legs.  Thoughts of being sucked down and paralyzed in the quicksand that burped from beneath crossed my mind amidst a mini-panic...that and alligators :)  To my relief, the life vest I was wearing suspended me back up and I swam myself across to the other side (GPS route shown above).  Team Super Frogs trekked behind me and even commented on how badly I smelled, but gave me props in the spirit of adventure!

Bike 2
Eventually, we paddled to a bridge overpass, where the Snow TA was located.  Some 6hrs in, we spent some time refueling at the first location to provide us with fresh water.  This section had us following a set of bike trails at Snow Hill.  One of the controls had a clue of "ditch of doom" to give us a warning of what we were in for.  Luckily, we were close to Team Super Frogs, who seemed to know this area much better than we did.  There were several trails and options to choose from and we were at a lost at first.  We relied on them for the first 10 or 15minutes, but from then on, decided it was better to understand our position and go solo.

map of Snow Hill single track biking trails

Somehow at CP34, we poked out of a trail much south of its control (the hill) and just left it.  At CP36, we realized we were missing one and this became the first and only control we couldn't find, although, we just about biked right over it.  There was a period of about 10minutes where we backtracked to try to find it, but we had no luck and called it.

This is also the section Nate suffered the "bike seat up the ass" incident.  There was a moment where a root halted his bike and the bike seat rammed up his tail bone, probably to the point it's broken (update 12/3/13: confirmed broken tail bone).

Bike 3
Starting at Snow TA, we took the blue route to a Bridge TA for the start of a running segment.  This route was filled with the dreaded sugar sand.

Foot 2
We were back at Little Big Econ, using the orienteering maps for this leg.  We found all of them rather effortlessly, but I have to say, CP44 was placed for the really elite teams.  The only way I could figure out a plan to find it was to follow the ditch that intersected the trail (luckily there was a bridge over it), count about 125m in and locate the marsh south of there.  It was slow going through the ditch, so one step was not really 1m.  We ended up shooting south out of the ditch too soon, but Nate was sharp enough to identify a mapped clearing, which I used to shoot a bearing towards the marsh.  It was done very well.

Bike 4
The previous foot section took us back to Bridge TA, where we copied controls and descriptions from a master map to our own maps.  This was an area of technical biking trails with lots of tree roots.  I have always known how tough it could be to navigate technical biking trails.  There are many reasons.  One is that the trails are usually very twisty, as to make measuring distances on map difficult.  Another is that while biking it, 75% of your focus is to traverse the terrain safely.  Third, the mapped area was only 1x3", which means the mapped route did not have the small intricacies of turns.  And worst, the mapped routes did not show every trail or intersection.  With that said, I'm always needing to confirm direction by holding the compass out in front of me, riding with one arm, observing the map and moving a marker across that map.  The controls were not simply along the trail route had to really find your attack points, stop and hunt.

So as I was making trial and error decisions on how to navigate this route and going back and forth, Nate's painful broken bone was provoking silent thoughts of ways to choke me afterwards :)  I deceivingly kept him hopeful by promising it was "only 100m" ahead, or backward.

Karma was dished out to me while I biked along a curve that peaked above a river.  The path was extremely close to a cliff on the right, and there was a tree to the left of the single-track trail.  I did not want to fall off the cliff, so I stayed overly cautious by hugging the left side...a little too much.  I smacked the tree with my shoulder and bounced immediately away from it, flying down the cliff and into the abyss below me.  Life flashed before my eyes as I accepted my fate within a span of half a second.  It sure seemed like it was done in slow-mo though.  Nate, who was behind me, recalled my bike flipping over and over down the side, while I somehow bounced off the sides, landed on my feet, and amazingly halted the wipe-out about 20ft down.  Another epic GoPro moment forever lost!

I must have had four attempts at trying to find CP50 before calling it.  Then, once we found CP51, I had my bearings straight again, and was able to measure precisely our way back to CP50.

Even the easiest CP52 alluded us!  We biked all the way to the end of the trail, found a gate and backtracked "90m from end of trail".  Nothing.  So as we biked back to the gate for the third time, a trail appeared out of nowhere to the left of the gate.  We took it and found the CP.

The 12-13km bike ride back to UCF campus was uneventful.  We used that time to strategize our last few controls since time was running out.

Upon reviewing the times for this segment from other teams, I now don't feel so bad about losing so much time here.

Foot 3
With 45minutes left, we headed out on the last foot section to find 4 out of 7 controls on campus.  My laziness of not using the compass had us headed in the wrong direction for the first 8 minutes.  Once I figured out where we were, we backtracked and stuck to our original game plan.  Navigation was quick and easy here.  Nate, who's the stronger runner, helped me out tremendously by taking the brunt of the running leg work.  Halfway through, we calculated we could grab one more control than we planned and did.  We came to the finish with just about 8 minutes to spare before time ran out, completing this leg by finding 5 out of 7, leaving two on the field due to time.  Overall, we collected 56 out of 59 control points, the most ever in any race we have participated in!

We knew we had given it our all and raced a solid race with no fatal setbacks.  We were proud having done so much better than last year and felt the huge improvement we pushed for this season.  We ended up winning the Open division title, a glorious end to year we almost broke down physically to training and accidents.


Special thanks goes to John Sheriff and his team for graciously giving us their prized wooden trophy, so Nate and I would both have one, as we tried to figure out how to chop ours in half :D

It was a great race designed by Dave Brault and Jim Feudner.  There were many unique elements and great experiences in this race, including a whopping 10 segments of activity.  We heard many other teams' incredible stories, and even a shocking one that involved a racer...a girl...getting struck by a motorcycle, yet still prevailing to finish second overall!  That just about beats all my crazy tales.


  1. Congratulations! It sounds like the race was a blast. Great write-up as always. Too bad the Go-Pro failed. Unfortunately, we had to pull out at the last minute due to injuries, a broken tailbone as well, so we feel for Nate. Now we're planning for the Resolution AR, maybe we'll see you there.
    -david (

    1. Thanks! So Nate found out the bad news today, which is a broken tailbone. What's the prognosis that you guys received?

  2. Same thing, not much you can do about it. What a pain in the ass :) You know I had to. I hope his isn't too bad as they take a long time to heal.