Thursday, May 9, 2019

FLX - Howl at the Moon AR - Elite 12hr

Johnathon Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound, May 4th 2019
author - Nate Whitaker

Canyoneros are currently training for a multi-day expedition race that takes place later this year. As part of our training, we’ve been trying to participate in a race or long training day every weekend. This weekend Greg, Hien and I found ourselves driving to South Florida to compete in the Howl At The Moon Nocturnal race. This race would be a challenge for me as Hien was handing me the navigation reigns so that I could improve as our team's #2 navigator. Needless to say, I didn’t expect us to be as competitive as usual and my teammates all agreed that the focus of the race should be training and good habits.

After a much needed detour to Arby’s we arrived at the event later than the other teams. Teams were already furiously working the maps, plotting and measuring, as we unloaded Greg's truck. All of the tables were taken and we set up a base camp outside of the rest room (luckily the smell wasn’t too bad).  Clouds were starting to form overhead and the distant sound of thunder was noted but it was still very bright and hot that afternoon.

We checked in and Ron handed us maps for the first trek and paddle legs. As I sat down to plot our route, my teammates started getting all our gear race ready. The first thing I noted on the maps was that all measurements were in miles. I prefer to work in km so did a quick conversion for the distances that I felt mattered.

Trek 1
Disclaimer, my route was far from optimal but here is what I plotted. Everything looked straight forward on paper and it even looked like we would have a nice river swim to end the trek leg.

Once the race started, we all ran out the gates and our team broke left whilst the other lead team (Jason) took a more northerly route. I looked to see if anyone was running the same route as us and only saw one team following us. Everyone else was running the same route as Jason. Still, not to get discouraged, I had a plan and I kept to it. My team mates never questioned my decision and commented that “cool, we like to run alone anyway”.

We found every CP with ease up until CP3. We attacked at where I thought the CP was but didn’t find anything so figured it was the wrong trail. I questioned whether I had switched to mile measurements subconsciously and had blown my pace count. We decided to run north until we found an intersection and then come back south with a new pace count and attack again. Sure enough, it took us back to the same trail. This time however, I did not turn around after 100m and kept going forwards, sure enough the CP was right by a creek, tucked behind a tree, approximately 5m from where we’d turned around previously. Oh well, shrug it off, that’s 10 minutes we won’t get back.

We then continued further north until CP4 and started pace counting to where we thought the CP was. We then all scoured the area and came up with nothing! Again, I backtracked to an intersection and remeasured whilst Hien and Greg kept up the search. I then reattacked and…nothing… After some time, team Nature Calls turned up and I explained that the CP was a nightmare to find. Of course, Manny then runs to the same point we were looking and then pointed out the CP tucked behind the one tree, right on the trail, that we never checked. Are you kidding me? Oh well, that’s another ten minutes we won’t get back.

The rest of the course went well, we hit every CP first time and then at CP8, went for what we thought was a river swim but were now expecting a simple wade through a creek (when we had seen Manny he had mentioned that he had took a shortcut over the creek but it was only a few meters and waist deep). We had been looking forward to swimming with full gear so we were disappointed. Regardless we followed the trail east until it ended and then we stumbled upon the creek.  We were delighted that it was an actual river, maybe 25m wide, deep and by that time, it was night.  Team Control’d KAOS met up with us at this point and we all swam over together then hiked another couple of hundred meters through a very dense swamp. We all loved it, this is what Adventure Racing is all about!

Once we broke through the swamp, team Control’d KAOS broke North to CP1, and we heading back to the TA having collected all CP’s. In retrospect, team Control’d KAOS had chosen a route that would have shed several km from our run had we done the same. Lesson learned, spend more time on route choice next time I have the helm…

Camp Murphy Maze
When we got to the TA to start bike, Ron was talking on the phone to a team Good Nuff who were already at Camp Murphy and had started that leg going for the closest CP (Bike CP 5). They were having major problems finding it and right after Ron stopped talking to them, he started advising teams to start at Bike CP 1. The CP’s on this leg were laid out in such a way that one CP contained clues, and or adjustments, for the “actual” location of the following CP. The plan was teams were going to attack them in order but Good Nuff had done the logical thing, that we were also ABOUT to do, and attacked the closest first. We then headed to Camp Murphy with this new intel and followed the route in order. I felt bad for Good Nuff as it must have cost them so much time without that information.

Once we arrived at Murphy, we started following the CP’s in order and also had a lot of fun riding the technical trails. In some places where there were obvious short cuts, we elected to ride the trails instead, whilst commenting that it would be great to come back to the park again some day.

Trek 2 – “The Dunes Of Hell”
We rode to the remote TA at hells gate, and were immediately tasked with plotting UTM Coordinates onto a tiny map. Hien and I plotted UTM’s whilst Greg, took care of our gear and resupplied us all. We then left the TA and I started to look at the route I was going to take then realized I had a major issue, I couldn’t read the map! I recently had ASA corrective eye surgery which comes with a 6-12 week recovery period in which your vision jumps around and gradually corrects to 20-20. The scale of the map resulted in me seeing a blurry mess and not being able to pickup contours at all. Hien graciously took over this leg and we headed out.

Nate comment:- the “Dunes Of Hell” certainly lived up to their name and gave many teams fits trying to find the controls (no single team found all controls but all controls were found, if that makes sense).  Many teams were visibly frustrated as this was an intense mental and physical slog. At one point, Greg sensed that the Dunes were about to get to us too and started joking about them. We continued the joking for hours after and the Dunes actually became fun! That in a nutshell is why I love our team, we can turn around any lousy situation and make it fun. Embrace the suck!

imagine trying to find this control box deep in the woods at night, without clues

Paddle 1
After the “Dunes Of Hell”, we rode back to the main TA and transitioned to paddle. Ron had advised us that we should count on doing the family leg if we wished to achieve best “bang per buck” in terms of time vs CP’s (there were 9 of them on this leg). As such, I measured a route that would collect us 3 out of the 6 CP’s and we headed out. This leg went better than I expected, I had dreaded this leg the most as I was having issues with the scale of the topo map on the river, and my corrected eyes. Also, the river map didn’t always seem to match reality. However, I relied on a turn by turn method of navigation and except for us overshooting CP 1, which we then grabbed on the way back, this leg went well.

Family Course
We’d set aside an hour to clear this three-discipline course and we did so with ease, we then headed back to the TA and punched in to finish, or so we thought…Ron had other plans…

Ron has been extremely supportive in giving us advice for our expedition race later in the year, whether that advice be training, equipment or providing us with useful contacts. Ron then told us to grab some water, have a little rest and then go out and collect the 1st trek controls on bike. We grabbed them all using pretty much the same route we’d took on the trek leg except we avoided the river swim which, we probably should have tried with the bikes.

Once we paddled back to the TA, Ron was out collecting controls and everyone else had gone home. We left the controls we’d picked up and then packed up and hit the road. About twenty minutes into our journey back to Orlando, Hien got a text from Ron, “Pickup Paddle controls 1 – 6 next”. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the text whilst we were in the park, and still in race clothes, otherwise we would have done that too. Thanks again to Ron, and a huge thanks for not making us pick up the controls in the “Dunes Of Hell”. Ron did that himself and in good old Ron fashioned, seemed to love it!

This was an enjoyable race, in a great park and we thoroughly enjoyed the training. We were pleasantly surprised to see that we actually got second place too.

Darn Tough Socks
For the last couple of months, on our long training days, I’ve been experimenting with foot care solutions. Whether that be tape, socks, liners etc. None of the solutions I’d tried so far had seemed to eliminate blisters completely. Prior to racing Nationals a couple of years ago, Darn Tough had handed me a pair of socks and I had remembered them as being super comfortable but also good on the feet.
With that in mind, I’d reached out to Darn Tough and asked if they would send a pair to try before our expedition race. The super generous, nice folks at Darn Tough promptly replied and asked our  teams shoe size. They then sent our team a couple of pairs each to try.

For this race, I covered my toes in Run-Goo then out on a “Hiker Micro Cushion Crew” sock. The verdict:- this sock was awesome, despite us being wet for pretty much the entire race, thanks to that Trek 1 river swim, I peeled off the sock and had zero blisters!

We are racing (well training) at the 24 Hour Blue Ridge Adventure Race next week and I plan the wear the socks again. Thanks again Darn Tough!

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