Plot, Pedal, Paddle adventure race - Team Dragon AZ 6/21/14
Toporadicals were ready for another challenge. With an 18hr race and a 6PM start time, this was going to be an interesting night time experience. I've had minimal night orienteering previous to this and the bulk of this race was definitely going to be done in the dark. Most of my race gear checks and prep were in the last few days before the race. It would have been good to do this much further in advance, but some time is better than no time. I had to make some climbing gear purchases as that was another element that I'd never dealt with in an adventure race and very little outside of that as well. I also found out that I had a broken headlamp and needed a replacement. Some other pre-race excitement was that there was a bear spotted within 10 miles of one of the orienteering areas we would be at! Cool!
Race day! Nathan and I got an early start as per usual on the morning of the race. We left at 7:30AM to make the 4+ hour drive up to Dixon, IL to be there early for check-in. We got there right on time and got checked in... but no maps or course information yet! Bummer! Our hopes were to get the maximum amount of time to plot and plan, but none of that information was going to be given out until 4:30PM. We spent the 3 hours getting our bikes and gear packed and ready as much as we could. Any changes needed after getting our final instructions would be done at the last minute. 4:30 rolled around and the usual pre-race meeting information was given out. A lot of warnings were given about the paddle leg. Apparently the river was up and current was strong. Finally we got our maps. We plotted the missing UTM check points and started planning our race. There was a decent amount of questions and some announced corrections, so it was good that we did all of that in the room with the other teams. I am in charge of the passport and it wasn't waterproof so I used something Nathan had that was the size of a standard photo. Shoot, it didn't work. The passport (even cut down) was just a touch too big and wouldn't seal all the way around. I had to use 2 more to seal over that to get both side. It was kind of a disaster, but would have to do and should serve the purpose of keeping it dry. Later it would prove to be thick and tough to get the punches through. The 90 minutes they gave us with the maps was barely enough time. We were scrambling and running around stressed trying to get everything done. Another 30 minutes would have been nice.
A quick send off from the race director and we're off! As per usual, I take off and am out in the lead. I even thought I had dialed it back, but this is an 18hr race. We are the first through the slippery tunnel under the highway to CP1. We head back under the highway to head for CP2. Already running into some trouble, but so are the other teams around us. It ends up just being hard to spot from above and we get it right with the top teams and move on quickly. A clean route to CP3 and leave right with Alpine Shop. We split with them to head out of the unmarked trails towards the roads. It ends up being a wash as both teams get to CP4 hidden behind a fallen tree's roots at pretty much the same time. Nathan and I try to pick up the pace a touch for the long run to CP5 since it a decent distance away and mostly on the roads. CP5 is easy and Alpine is still on our heals. Both teams head up the nearby re-entrant for CP6 on slightly different paths. This was our first real encounters with the thorns. I take a thorn in the back of the head which causes me to lean forward and get another in my right eyelid. It was nice to hear Alpine Shop ask if I was OK... class acts. We find it in the middle of some fairly thick stuff and head out to the clearing for a faster run to the next CP. Again we split with Alpine and break towards the creek sooner. It wasn't there and I ended up sloshing through the creek following Nathan on the banks until we finally get to CP7. Alpine Shop has already come and gone. We do catch them on the way to CP8. I get a good spot of CP8 from a long way aways and get the jump to get there and back first. However, we go to the wrong spot for CP9. It takes us a bit to get our heads around it and climb up the steep, slippery incline to CP9. Alpine Shop was gone from sight again. We head to CP10 where our bikes had been dropped off before the race and race back near HQ to where the traverse was.
We don't have to ride all the way back to HQ since we were carrying our climbing gear with us and short cut it to CP11 and the traverse. We get out harness and climbing gear connected up and zip across the line to the other side. Fun! I wish we would have brought our packs with us so we could have just carried on to our bikes, but we have to use the bridge to get back to our packs and then back over the bridge. The Michigan Racing Addicts shows up as we are heading out. We get back to our bikes and start on our long ride picking up CP12 easily. Coming up to CP13 we are caught from behind by a team. We stay in front a bit getting CP13 and CP14, but get passed officially by them before picking up CP15. We don't force the pace to stay with them as there is so much race still left to go. It's still light out for that matter. We finish up the bike with CP16, CP17, and show up at CP18 to transition to the next O-leg. In that time, we have lost the light and are going out with headlamps.
We are in the area of the course that there bear was near and it was dark. I like to call this the Bear-O. I guess we'll have to keep our ears and eyes open. We're in 3rd and looking to make up some time. We get to our attack point and duck into the woods for CP19. WHOA! It is incredibly thick and packed with thorns. There's no use in even trying to protect yourself. We push through and do our best to ignore the constant pains from the thorns pokes and scratches. Even our trekking pants aren't enough, but I can't imagine not having them. It's very hard to keep going in the right direction or even know where you are since it's so thick and dark. I get a flash of the reflection off the CP. This section has us collecting items from buckets hanging off the CPs as a fun twist on the normal punches. I collect our item and make sure to zip it up in a pocket. On our way out of there and to CP20 Nathan and I get slightly separated by picking slightly different paths and I end up getting pushed father from him than I'd like due to some absolutely impassably thick (even if they weren't thorns). I get back to him right as we hear Alpine and Michigan Racing Addicts still looking for CP19! We're in the lead! We let them know they are heading in the right direction and bolt out of there to try to increase our lead. It ends up being very short lived. We end up having a TON of trouble with CP20. We attack it through some very thick stuff... over and over and over again. 4th time is a charm and are annoyed we were so close to it so many times, but kept stopping at a plowed path that wasn't on our map instead of continuing to follow the elevation. We didn't see the other teams, but knew they had to have pushed us back into third. This is confirmed as we head past our bikes and Michigan Racing Addicts is already done and heading out. We still have 3 CPs to go! I get a good spot of CP21 a long distance off by catching it's reflective tape. We see Alpine Shop's lights in the distance and hurry through CP22. We get to CP23 just after them and catch up with them on the way back to CP24 to transition back to the bike. Tied for 2nd.
We fill up on water and get ready for the next section of biking. Alpine Shop heads out before us. We jump on our bikes and head out a little disappointed that there wasn't a bear sighting. The bike ride at this time of the night is amazing. I find myself looking up and star gazing a bit. I mention it to Nathan only to find out that he had noticed as well. It really was amazing. Don't worry, I didn't stop pedaling or let up on the pace to do that. I somehow cause us some time not seeing the CP bag at the bridge for CP25. Thankfully, we knew we were at the right place and got it before moving on. I pass up CP26 as well and Nathan has to call me back to get the punch. We roll into CP27 to transition for the paddle. We're amazed that we are done with the bikes and won't get back to them at all for the rest of the race. Right about 30 miles total.
We get our paddle gear out of the trailer and new instructions of where CP29 is located. We attach the glow sticks to the canoe and ourselves and turn on our headlamps. Whoa! In a split second we are both completely engulfed by a thick swarm of endless bugs. We head out up stream and it's slow going as promised trying to paddle against the current. I ask Nathan numerous times thinking we over shot the CP, but he is confident and we press on. Sure enough our progress was slow and it just took a long time to get up river enough. We punch C28 and get to head down river with the current. It seemed pretty harmless on the river and didn't get what the pre-race fuss was about. We are FLYING. CP29 is done in a flash. We pass under the bridge and apparently avoid the "whirlpool" just after that. It's hard to navigate on the river at night and it probably doesn't help that we're going so fast. We locate the creek to go up to get CP30 and Nathan does a great job of spotting it hidden in a fallen tree and head back to the river. Click here for a race director's video of a daylight approach to a sneaky CP30. The swarms of bugs come and go throughout the paddle and there's an occasional fog as well to hinder visibility. I make it no secret that I am not really fond of the paddle legs. We seem to be paddling forever and the repetitive motion of my paddle stroke is making it monotonous. The only bright spot for me was the star gazing. We pass a spot that we consider for CP31, but don't see anything when shining our lights up there and move on. Nathan starts having a bad feeling about it and for some reason we don't go back right then and there. We press on and decide to look out for CP32 so we know for sure if we passed it. We see a sign that says 2 miles to the dam and we know we aren't supposed to paddle all the way there. We kept going, not seeing CP31 or CP32 yet. We start seeing residential lights from the shore and know from the race directors warnings that this meant we went past the take out. Nothing left to do except paddle back up stream until we find something. We get back to that sign and sure enough the CP32 take was right there. We pull up and Nathan throws the maps to shore and gets out. I stay put. I'm waiting for the question "Do we go back?". I can tell he doesn't want to. Truthfully, it's about the last thing that I feel like doing as well. However, I insist that we go back. We are way ahead of the pace for the noon time cut off for the finish. If there's time, you ALWAYS go back not matter how far! The upstream paddle goes slow and our arms are wearing down with no chance for either of us to rest without the current stopping us in our tracks. We're amazed that we go so long before we pass another team. We get to CP31 (right where we thought it was going to be) when finally getting passed by 3 teams that were close together. CP31 was much father inland than we had expected and didn't really see the swim dock which was the clue since it had been pulled to shore. Nathan and I get a quick rush of cold when getting ready to leave and he changes into a dry shirt to warm up a bit. The night chill and extra sweat from the hard work paddling up river must have done it. We fly back down to CP32 and the take out. Not quite done with the canoes yet though... a portage! We flip the canoe over and above our heads to walk to CP33 and the next transition into another O-leg section. It's farther than I thought and am very ready to get this canoe far far away from me. It should have been a 11.1 mile paddle which would have been long in it's own right. However, we ended up doing 17.7 miles (6.6 extra miles), not to mention how much of that was UPSTREAM!
We get a new map with CPs for the next O-leg. A bit discouraged with our drop to 6th, but we know we need to move on... in the wrong direction. Totally my fault as I had gotten the map and thought it was a simple start to the first CP. It was the last thing we needed at that point. Another team was getting to the TA as we get back there and head out in the right direction. Half way to CP35 I see them on the horizon behind us and we pick it up to make sure we don't give any teams a free ride by following us. WE hit CP35 and off of the main path to be out of sight as soon as possible. Finding the right "thicket" for CP36 and attack it wrong 3 times before being in the correct spot. It seemed like a straight forward bearing to CP37. This is not the case. We are there forever and so were so many other teams. There are red lines on the map that we feel are the paths we are seeing, but it's also looking completely wrong at the same time. We end up looking for CP38 which was in the vicinity and find it first and use it to get us to the right spot for CP37, but still not easy. I think I counted 7 failed attempts. We get both punched and head in the direction of CP39 and CP40. The red lines continue to throw us off. We know to ignore them, but for some reason can't let go of them. Also, this is where the stinging nettles really came into play. WOW those made my legs itch like crazy! It really doesn't take long to get them both. I did forego any thoughts of staying dry and comfortable and ended up walking through the middle of the marsh. We know CP41 is going to be tough. No elevation lines on the map to help and the red line near it means NOTHING. We try to get back to CP38 to use it to get our bearings, but for some reason don't follow all the way though and start heading through the field and completely over shoot it. We did eventually come ALL THE WAY back to CP38 and go straight to it from there. Where was that resolve to follow through with our plan a mile ago? At least in over shooting it we had located the general vicinity of CP42 and where to go to get back to CP43. We were right on the vicinity, but finding the exact spot proved to be a bit more difficult. A few passes at it and we finally get it right with another team with yet another very close by. We fly out of there to CP43 which was the same as the canoe drop. We check in with them and keep on going.
That put us on the same path I had mis-led us on at the beginning of the last section. I double check with Nathan and we are doing it right this time. The rest of the CPs seem to be on the roads, so there's no much chance to catch any teams based on mistakes on route. All we have is speed, but there's not really a lot of that going on either. The sun is finally coming up enough to put away our headlamps as we start on our way. It's a pretty long run to CP44 and CP45. Finding them is easy as we had expected. We run right into the last CP, CP46, and fittingly I get one last trip on a bit of barb wire fence getting it punched. We go on our way for the home stretch and finish strong. I find a cool looking low tree branch on a nearby tree to do a diving forward roll over. Finishing in style. We really had no idea where we were at, but had hopes that not many teams would have gotten all the points that got in ahead of us. Our hearts broke when we heard 5 other teams had come in with all the CPs already. 6th place... *sigh*. I guess that's what we should have expected after the added 2+ hours on the paddle section alone. Just over 15 hours with all the CPs and covering 67.4 miles. Congrats to Alpine Shop for another victory! Thanks to Team Dragon AZ (pronounced as, "team draggin' a$$") for a great race.
I figured that I should start keeping track and list what gear, clothing choices, and nutrition was carried during the race and also note what all was actually used. There's a lot of little things, so forgive me as this list is a work in progress. In future race reports it will be easier since I use a lot of the same stuff and can use this one to go off of instead of starting from scratch.
Paddle Gear(not carried on other sections unless otherwise specified)
Bike Gear(not carried on other sections unless otherwise specified)
Race Day Nutrition(note that I ate WAY WAY under the recommended amounts for a race this long) I can somehow get away with this without feeling horrible, but that would not be the case for most. It's better to go off of what I brought instead.
Items in itallics were recommended gear
Team gear that was not carried by me is specified by Name in parenthesis.
Some team gear was carried by each of us as a backup.
Here's some of the links for more information about the race:
Plot, Pedal, Paddle race page
Team Dragon AZ page
Strava race data