Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pangea - Turkey Burn, Elite 12hr

The Turkey Burn of 2014 marked the final Pangea Adventure Racing event.  It was held at Wekiva State Park.  Temperatures dipped in the low 40s as we drove out there around 1am.  Cold always means higher endurance for us.

Dave Brault designed a unique prologue for us to do.  We had to disassemble the front wheel of one of our bikes, run in opposite directions in a predefined trail loop, meet up, reassemble, and then head off into the first section of the race.  Also unique to this race was that we were receiving maps at the beginning of each section, which took pre-race planning out of the agenda.

Foot 1
We picked up one CP while biking over to Wekiva TA.  Once at the transition area, we switched to foot and started finding five controls with everyone in the dark.  When you have a massive pack to start, there's really no issue in finding them.

You can reference maps on team Nature Calls' blog.

Bike 2
Nate and I made a quick transition to bikes and starting making our way to the front of the pack, near team Endeavor Racing and Florida Xtreme Hunter.  There were five more controls to visit on bike, most near intersections to keep things fast and flowing.

We were the second team heading into the river, embarking on a very long paddle section.  Rock Springs Run can be hard to navigate with its more subtle features, so I'm assuming that's why we did not have any controls on that river until about 5km later, at CP13, which was 200m from the Wekiva River.  Out of sheer luck, as I called for us to rethink where we were to snap us out of monotonous zone, Nate spotted the control immediately.

We slowly inched our way closer to team Endeavor, but at the far end of the river, where CP20-22 were, they found them much faster than we did and gained another 5 minutes or so from us.  Nate and I have paddled these two rivers for years.  It's literally our backyard.  We ended up with a time of 3hrs 37min, tied with team Endeavor Racing for the fastest time.  It was the best paddling I can remember us ever doing, for this long.

dawn on the river


picturesque environments

Foot 2
We were in second place all the way until CP27, where my GPS reported we spent close to 30 minutes trying to find this control.  We initially attacked in at a distinctive north trail bend (on the east) and then re-attacked at the upper northwest intersection.  This is where teams caught back up to us and we worked together, but after a while, Nate and I decided we had spent enough time here.  With 55 controls set out, we had to average one control per 13 minutes in order to clear.  We heard later that other teams finally found it, either while bailing out or by sheer determination.

CP36 was the last of the controls on this leg.  It had a tough bushwhack going in, and a memorable bushwhack going out.  The exit had us going through some tough vegetation.  Nate and I frequently bike Wekiva along their 8 mile loop and always wondered what it would be like to find controls in the vast fields of palmettos that take over the land after a controlled burn.  Now we know...there is no flat ground haha.  It is filled with palmetto root, razor bladed stems, and tough rigid twig-plants (that's the best I can describe it).  This was enough to put all the bruises, cuts, and blood on us for the entire race, despite us trying to follow the edge of the swamp and palmetto vegetation.

the elusive CP27 and our hunting area

one of many kinds of environments at Wekiva State Park - couldn't have asked for nicer skies

teams working together

happens to me at least once a race, while concentrating too hard on the map

Bike 3
We headed back to Big Buck TA to head to Rock Springs Run State Park  It started with crossing Rock Springs Run river with our bikes and punching a control we had previously punched on canoe.

I had biked here once to train and it was sugar sand heaven, or hell, depending on how you enjoy it.  We found a couple controls before we converged again with Florida Xtreme Hunter and Honey Stinger, where they were debating heading back due to time constraints.

Here, we were presented with the option that would determine the race for us.  We knew if we headed back with them, we would lose by 1 point to them, due to us missing CP27 before.  We started gambling with decisions now, and I called for us to find two more biking controls, while finding shorter routes back to Wekiva.  At first the shorter routes were only slowing us down by a little bit, but as the route continued, conditions got muddier and messier.  Then it got overgrown and we were slowed down to a crawl.  This is where we knew we had botched the race.

There were two more quick controls to pick up on the way back to the final transition area.  Luckily we ran into another team at the final biking CP47, who reminded us to go to Wekiva TA, not the Start/Finish TA.  I had already been biking to the Start TA before Nate called me back.

crossing rivers with bikes

Foot 3
We rushed to Wekiva TA with time ticking and smoothly transitioned off to find the lower four controls, which were the exact ones we found in the morning.  They were much easier in the day.

During the race, our stop watches had occasionally paused here and there, bouncing off the wrist, giving us an erroneous readout of how much overall time we had left.  Once we figured out the real time left, we realized we were wrong by about 30 minutes and had to scramble even more.  At that point, we knew we'd run late, so I called us to find two final controls, knowing we'd go overtime--I just didn't wanna go over the 10min 2-point penalty period.  The last control only chewed up about 3-4 minutes, so it was a gamble whether or not it was worth it (turns out it didn't really make a difference in the standings).

The bike back to the Start/Finish TA was fast to say the least.  We took a known path along the 8 mile loop we usually go (west of Wekiva TA to the horse coral) and then road back on paved roads for the 2nd fastest time (18:50 min) behind Team America.  Most teams took the south road, but from morning memory, it was deep sugar sand and so we gambled again on the other end.

plenty of razor-stemmed and pointy palmettos

John Sheriff, showing the camera who's boss

All in all, we had a great challenge of a course.  When you don't have all the maps at first, you never know how your decisions will affect the end.  We gambled here and there, some paid off, some didn't, but that's how it goes with adventure racing.  We were suprised we still ended up 5th overall.  Big congrats to team Florida Xtreme Hunter, who made great decisions and took the overall top spot (also sports the youngest racer in the elite race).

We'll sorely miss Pangea Adventure Racing, who home-grew us into the sport.  Neither Nate or I had any running, orienteering, or endurance backgrounds at first, but it was so fun and challenging anyways.  Pangea Adventure Racing has changed our lives in ways we never knew.

In light of this, adventure racing will still continue with Florida Xtreme Adventures!  Keep going outdoors!

Ron Eaglin presenting Greg Owens "Adventure Racer Emeritus"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pangea - Lighterknot AR, Elite 8hr

Three years ago, we participated in our very first Pangea race, the Lighterknot AR of 2011.  We set out with three teams and finished bottom three.  However, there was something about adventure racing that kept us coming back.  No race was ever the same.  Nate and I can name any race we've done in the past and instantly recall the great stories of the experiences.  And that's what makes adventure racing so great for us.  Ironically, the best stories we have aren't the ones where we placed higher on the leader boards, but the ones where we were completely lost in the woods, fearing for our lives, wondering what comes next, while the sun was setting and our water running out.  That's what keeps the blood flowing, and that's what creates the lifetime stories.

Fast forward three years later, and team Canyoneros has finally achieved our very own "first place overall" (technically second time, but the first time was with the unstoppable Dave Ashley at the helm).

This year's Lighterknot AR was designed by seasoned racers, Craig, John, and Jamie Sheriff, team "Sheriff's Posse".  It was held across Faver-Dykes State Park and Pellicer Creek Conservation Area of St. Augustine.

team Canyoneros - Hien Nguyen (me, left) and Nathan Whitaker

Prologue on Foot

Dawn had barely cracked its amber hue on the horizon before we were off on a 32 minute foot prologue to find three controls.  The cooler morning chill was a great welcome that supercharged our running as we collected CP 1, 3, and then 2.  We had a bit of issues at control 3, spending almost 10 minutes finding it.  I always have the toughest time calibrating my navigation on prologues, where we tend to put more efforts on speed than accuracy.


After the run, we biked a few minutes over to the canoe launch, took team photos, and paddled off east towards the St. Johns River to collect CP4 before the open water picked up more chop.

The river was a perfect setup of easy-to-identify bends that made navigation ideal.  As it turned out, we were primarily at the end of a pack of canoes following the leader.  The advantage was that we didn't have to search for the CPs, which gave us the fastest time in this leg.  Once done finding them all, we ended up in another location further up Pellicer Creek to start an orienteering foot section, with another map to be provided there.

Foot 1

There were three controls to pick up, and we took Craig's suggestion of getting CP11 first.  It took Nate and I a bit to warm up our legs after paddling an hour and a half.  Our legs got stiff sitting there in the canoe, motionless, and the weather cooler than usual.  Try running without bending your knees.  That's what it was like.  It was great that the canoe section was split up with another discipline in the middle.

My plan for finding CP11 was to run to the landbridge, measure a distance and bearing for backup, and travel alongside the lake.  This map scale was in miles, so Nate helped me out by converting all of my on-the-fly and eyeballed measurements to metric since we are much more in tune with pace counting in meters.  We met team Mojitos on Monday there, where they had found it.

Getting to CP10, we just wanted to get a rough bearing towards the large man-made, squared pond to the south.  The bearing didn't have to be precise since you had a huge room for error, and if you overshot, the control was close to the road anyways.  Once we got there, we ran up and down its west border and found it.  CP9 didn't give us any trouble, as we used our steady jogging to complete it efficiently with the fastest time.

"ring cut pine"

As we headed back to Pellicer TA, we were happy to hear we had taken the lead.  This has happened in the past for brief moments, but they were just that...brief.  Nate had the eye on the prize, the wooden trophy, and did all he could to back me up on navigation from there on out.  The excitement produced some high heart rate jitters on our paddle back.

Bike 1

On map, the biking portion looked straightforward with a counter-clockwise loop.  Some controls were deceivingly close for a biking segment, and Craig confirmed our suspicion in the morning by going around and telling us all that there were a number of flooded areas.  We took all of his suggestions, starting with taking the detour at CP2 to head north.

CP12 was where the three teams converged again (Mojitos on Monday and Broccoli Covered Powder Babies).  That's 8 sets of highly experienced eyes hunting for 20 minutes.  Nate and his hound dog, control-sniffing ability finally found it (blue star below).

Once we punched it, others converged in and continued north to CP13 with us.  Nate was beginning to experience first symptoms of heat exhaustion.  With only 4½ hrs in, we needed to slow the pace down to prevent it from going full-blown.  The other teams slowly passed us and visions of first place once again slipped away from us like it always did in the past.  If they were faster as a team, there was not much we could do with so much race left.  But somehow they blew right by CP13.  My pedometer reading stopped me in our tracks, and I had to double check my measurements to be sure I wasn't wrong.  A couple sniffs while I was doubting/fumbling with the map, and Nate's nose had honed in on it again, at the exact location I stopped.  By then, the other teams were far gone down the trail.

Nate's condition was getting worst.  I had him set whatever medium pace he could manage.  I can easily tell when he gets into heat exhaustion when his cheekbones are red and he's sweating profusely.  He'll be the last to admit it, that stubborn Englishman :D.   "Forward!  I want that wooden trophy!" he would proclaim as I regularly encouraged stops.  We couldn't find time do any long endurance biking before this race--nothing longer than 45min.  So for the flooded trails, we simply walked most of it.  On the flipside, my thinking is much clearer when my heart rate is down and oxygen can get to my brain better, so we were surgical on finding the rest of the controls on this leg, netting us the 2nd fastest time behind team Area Goats.

We made multiple stops along the flooded trails for Nate to defibrillate himself with cooler muddy water on the body :D

Foot 2

It was a treat to finish the last bit of the biking segment on paved roads.  As we pulled up to the main TA and got off our bikes abruptly, both of us immediately locked up in severe leg cramps.  I was meters away from the staff, trying to hop over, but just could not move my Frankenstein'd legs that had gremlins clawing to get out.  Nate's finally subsided and he was able to take the punch from me to turn it in while I sat down and stretched.  Nate ran back to our camp, poured cold water on his steamy head, and grabbed me to head back out, still with biking shoes.  Those were the worst leg cramps I have ever had to date.

We hobbled out of the main TA at a speed slow enough to manage our cramps.  With the exception of trying to figure out where the trail head near the campground was, we found all four controls here with no issues.  CP23 appeared the hardest, but our pace counting amazingly got us there almost exactly.  Eventually, we settled on a pattern of 2-5min trot, 30 second walk to finish the race, since the cramps and stitches kept flaring up.  Believe it or not, we had a lot of heat training leading up to this race and it still got the better of us, despite a cooler than average day.

Other Notes

The tree stump trophy in the first photo above is wood called "lighter knot", hence the race's name.  It is also called "fatwood", which apparently lights up in flames pretty easily and is used in the production of dynamite.

Nate's Stats

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pangea - Superhero AR, Sport 3hr (Newcastle Boyz!)

Newcastle Boyz – Aaron (left), Nate, Omer, Nathan

This was my (Nate) and my son Aaron's second time at attempting a sport race with myself at the navigation helm. For this race we were joined by first-time racers, Omer and his son, Nathan. We would be relying on my navigation (Hien is the driver when I race with Canyoneros) and Omer would be backing me up. Whilst I’ve became proficient with navigating orienteering maps, I knew that this race would be my first test with google maps.

My idea of a typical, high feature google map.

Within a minute of receiving the map, and cross referencing against the terrain around me, Omer observed that I was interpreting the map upside down…..

….. Not a great start….

We quickly recovered and with the help of Hien, quickly came up with a solid plan for attacking the foot section, which we would be tackling first. Our team of four then used the remainder of the time to plan how we would attack the bike, paddle and tubing sections. We were confident in our pre-race plan and as an additional bonus, we’d be leaving for foot at the same time as Canyoneros. If my navigation really did start to fail, we could fallback to tailing Hien for the remainder of the race. Solid plan until we drew marbles for which discipline we tackled first…. Of course Canyoneros landed foot and we landed bike. OK, the training wheels were off…..

Our discipline order for the race would be bike -> foot -> canoe -> tubing.

The bike section looked particularly daunting. We were to ride about a mile out of the park to a trail head where we would ride a network of interconnecting trails. We were given instructions to look for specific numbered trail markers where we could take a right turn. If we navigated all markers correctly then we’d ride the prescribed route, collecting all CP’s en-route, and eventually end up back at the trail head.

Once the race started, we headed to the trail head. Once we reached it, I stopped the team for a couple of minutes. I had not arranged my maps correctly in my case prior to race start. By the time I had reordered the maps, other teams were no longer in sight. I had all visions of getting my team lost for the duration of the race, making their first race a miserable experience.

Once we started actually rolling down the trails, we were able to follow the prescribed course with ease. At some point we came to a downhill / semi-technical section and I realized my team mates had never ridden anything but the flat, wide trails of Wekiva State Park. I rode ahead and kept listening behind for the sounds of my teammates struggling. I never heard such a sound, instead I heard cheers and laughter as they quickly became comfortable with blasting up and down the single track. They were having an absolute blast riding the trails and we even passed a couple of teams in the process!
Before too long, we had exited the trail system and were heading back to the main TA. As a bonus, we’d manage to collect all CP’s too. Confidence was building...

Foot 1
We quickly transitioned at the main TA, then quickly dispatched the 3 controls within the main TA area (6-7-5). We then headed towards the boardwalk area and quickly picked up 1 and then 2. Things were going really well, then some cramps kicked in within the team. Not a problem, we slowed the pace and a couple of us scouted out in front whilst respecting the 100m distance rule. I did not have the punch but quickly found CP 3 and pointed it out. All going good, we then headed down to collect the 2-point “Superhero CP”. Using a a bearing we plotted earlier, the control was quickly located, and I called for punch. As the punch card was handed over it turned out that we’d not punched CP 3, we’d walked straight past it. J Never mind, we quickly headed back to CP 3 punched it, and then started working towards CP 4. We’d lost a little time but we knew we’d easily collect CP 4 and head back to the TA. … Wrong!!!!

Whether it was too much sun to the head, or the google map simply having its revenge, who knows.. either way I went a little crazy here. First, it all started when I somehow misread the clue and started looking for an “evacuation sign”. The real clue was along the lines of along “evacuation route”. I first took the wrong trail whilst looking for this elusive signage. I then figured it was the wrong trail and homed in on where the CP really was. In fact, I saw and then ran right past the evacuation route. “Nice looking trail, really great looking place for a CP, but I am looking for a sign”.  Eventually, after a quick consultation with the rest of the team, and a quick look at the clue sheet, the mistake was realized and CP 4 was punched. We headed back to the TA at a slow pace, seeking shade when possible.

There were three CP’s to collect on boat and we were able to find them all with ease. The paddle was great, the boys paddled hard and we spotted some cool wildlife. The spring itself was crystal clear and we spotted huge Gar swimming right under us! We also spotted a couple of Gators too including one which we estimated to be 10-11 foot in length (10x the distance from eyes to snout, right?).
Very cool! Beautiful location!

At this point we had cleared the course and we were confident that we’d be able to collect the remaining tubing CP’s quickly and return to the main TA. We grabbed a tube each and inflated them as we walked to the launch area. The team then quickly entered the water using a variety of techniques. Omer went in first and sitting on the tube, he quickly started heading to the first CP, backwards. Aaron and Nathan then went in, laying down on top of the tubes. As they quickly paddled into the distance, I followed suit and went in laying on top of the tube. Rather than quickly moving forwards, I started inching along despite all my best efforts. Ok, I don’t float good but I had the map and started calling out directions and distances to each CP. This strategy worked well until we reached the CP where we were to take the team picture-“Oops! Forgot about that”. The team then took a good few minutes to regroup, take the pictures and move on.

To save some time, Nathan decided he would lose the float and swim ahead to collect the remaining two cp’s. This was a great move, he swam like a dolphin and before too long, we’d collected all CP’s and were back at the main TA!

where is the underwater CP??  are we in the right location?  no?  party anyways!

We had two first timers and my son who had only raced once before. Everyone was fantastic and the team’s hard work had netted us a podium thirdplace finish! Thanks to Pangea for again laying on a great course. We all had so much fun!

PS I still don’t like google maps (kudos to Hien and the other elite navigators for processing them with ease).

Time to clear course:      2:28’52.2
Distance:                         11.42 mile

Calories:                          1399 (quickly added back with a post-race trip to Texas Roadhouse)

Pangea - Superhero AR, Sport 3hr

Two Canyonero teams led way to introduce two new girls to the sport of adventure racing--Amanda and Anastasia.  Anastasia had been running a couple smaller events with us before and Amanda had been wanting to join at some time.  The Superhero AR, at the historical Blue Springs State Park, provided a treat for us, allowing for 4 disciplines, including tubing down its infamous clear blue river.

Distances on this run section were so short, we finished this section before we knew it, within a mere 27 minutes, the 2nd fastest time behind the 1st place overall winner.  There were several trails in the park that were unmarked on the Google maps, but as long as we went in the general direction, we found trails to get us where we needed to be.

a Canyonero army in tight formation

Amanda spared the wooden fence today - she has the superhero ability to Spartan kick it down if needed

Greg Watson was our superhero speed rabbit, bolting ahead to punch controls and catching back up while the team headed for the next.  The order was CP 7, 6, 5, 1, 2, 3, bonus CP, and lastly 4.

GPS route


As we arrived at the canoe launch, we waited a few minutes for the elite teams to provide us a canoe, which would be credited back to us at the end.  Anastasia, who just became a US citizen, sat in the middle and used her Russian navigational skills to flawlessly guide us to the controls.  She has the uncanny superhero ability to orienteer without a compass.

Canyoneros II - Russell "the Muscle" barks at an alligator to turn the other way

Heading up the "blue spring" river, we gazed at plenty of longnose gar fish, many of them 3-4ft long.  Depending on the season, locals will also see manatees drifting around.

The biking leg consisted of riding out of the park to a nearby technical biking set of trails, finding controls along the single-track, and heading back.  Trails went left, right, up and down, with us ducking under tree branches and avoiding the fall into the abyss.

riding into the jungles of FL


Despite this being one of the few times Anastasia had ridden a mountain bike, and it being off-road on top of that, the Russian mindset in her came out as we offered to help tow and speed things up.  With a heart rate at 190bpm, "No!  I must do this on my own power!" she would reply--an admirable attitude characterized by many Canyoneros in the past, indeed.  Win or lose, we give it all we got!

Unanimously voted to be the funnest section of the course, it was also the most refreshing ending to the heat-filled summer day.  There were four controls here.

We all grabbed a deflated tube at the Main TA and blew them up as we spent 10 minutes walking along the boardwalk, towards the tube launch.  Russell used his superhero lung muscles to blow up all the tubes for the team.  Everyone took cue as I showed them the fastest, most effortless way to tube upstream and down the river--sitting on top of the tube and paddling backwards with your arms, a technique we learned at last year's Superhero AR.

CP20 was quite unique, being underwater

As the race wrapped up, I believe a co-ed team ahead of us was penalized for starting their race before their proper staggered time, so we jumped ahead and took 2nd place in the premiere co-ed division.  This was icing to a day filled with a variety of exercises that kept monotony out of the agenda.

Canyonero Superheroes
Juan Chavez (left), Amanda Wilson, Russell Barton, Greg Watson, Anastasia Nikolaeva, and Hien Nguyen

stones as trophies - Pangea Adventure Racing comes up with some of the most fitting and original awards!

We celebrated at a nearby Texas Roadhouse, where we witnessed Juan Chavez down a 23oz Porterhouse with his superhero ability of eating steak with just a spoon.

Congrats to team Newcastle Boyz! for their 3rd place overall victory, led and navigated by my usual teammate, Nathan Whitaker, also with brand new racers.  We all had a blast at this event.