18-19 September - North American Adventure Racing Championship, Raystown, PA bait
Being a member of Team Commie Bar has proven to be a real source of pride for me. When I showed up at the North American Adventure Racing Championship as a solo racer, the other racers (who are really, really good) asked me questions like, “Are you racing solo because your teammates (TCOPE and company) are racing in Europe?” I felt like I was the real deal. Imagine how I felt to be part of a team that was racing on two continents at the same time! Another racer whom I really like and respect told me that racing a 30 hour championship as a solo racer was “bold”. I appreciated her word choice and held onto that theme as the race progressed. Adventure racing in complicated. There are lots of pre-race e-mails and instructions. This race was no different—we had to drop our bikes at a bike shop in a town 30 miles from the start line on Thursday night by 6pm. From there the bikes would be transported to an unknown location that we would later find. After dropping our bikes off, we drove an hour to the race HQ and received our maps and passports/rules of travel. The two main maps were 1:24,000 USGS topos with UTM grid overlays. Each map covered 500km². In addition to the big maps, over the course of the race we would receive 5 additional maps. The checkpoints were pre-plotted (I was really thankful for that) but not all the points were on each map. For such a big race the rules were really simple: there were only 20 mandatory checkpoints (leaving 49 optional points), and you weren’t allowed to use any motorized transport or GPS. We rented a cabin near race HQ and Jill and I worked on route planning all night and got to bed around midnight. I was a little nervous to be doing this race alone, and that night I prayed and said. God, I’m putting all my trust in You.
I was up at 0400 and took a nice hot shower, ate my cheerios and greek yogurt like I do every morning, and headed to the start area. Another distinguishing trait of adventure racing is that races are unsupported. Usually you leave a gear bin at a central transition area and retrieve food, water and gear as you progress through the stages of the race. This race did not have a central TA so we were allowed to pack a gear bin and transport it in our canoe. At 0500 I loaded a ton of gear into a really big gear bin and boarded a tour bus for an 1 ½ hour bus ride to where we would start the race. Because the course was so large, the race directors decided to add two hours to the clock to give us enough time to make it back the finish line. Once we were off the bus, we all received the first bonus map of the Stone Creek Recreation Area and it was time to go.
This first section was a foot orienteering course in. A word about the terrain—this area is a very rugged part of the state and is part of the Appalachians. Lots of wilderness and lots of rugged, rocky mountains. My strategy at the start was to grab a couple points in the into get a good lead on the pack. I skipped 3 of the 5 points but blew my lead when I missed a CP—I lost an hour looking for a point that I should have never even bothered looking for in the first place. I was able to make up some time and ran about 7k to the bike drop. From there we rode hill logging and back country roads for 16k to a manned CP where we had to drop our bikes. It was getting really hot and the biking was harder than I anticipated. This next section was a mandatory foot orienteering course. I received another map and hit the trail. I nailed the first 3 points with ease and at the 4th point I was met by a race volunteer who told me to drop my pack and get my headlamp. I looked at her quizzically and she pointed to a big door in a cliff and said “you’re going into that cave!” Awesome!! I entered the cave and it was so cool and dark it felt great.
There were lights and it’s one of those tourist trap places but it was fun. I had to find a container of rubber salamanders and bring one to the volunteer. I checked out with her and made her take my picture on her phone. Not sure why but I think I was a little euphoric. So imagine my delight when the next CP was an even bigger cavern where I had to retrieve another rubber salamander and also a rubber worm and a rubber minnow! I was in heaven although the cave maps they gave us might as well have been in Chinese. I had to ask directions from a lady who worked at the cave because I was so disoriented in there. Anyway I made it out of the cave and was met by one of the race directors. He asked me what I thought of the cave surprise and I told him it was awesome. It was almost as good as having an ice cream cone aid station.
I hit the last couple CP’s on that course and went back to my bike. Jill was there and shared an apple cider slushy with me (the CP was at an apple orchard). From there it was a 20k bike to the canoe launch. That ride was great, mostly downhill through town. At the canoe launch the race staff loaded me into a sweet 15’ single person canoe. I took the front wheel off my bike and strapped the bike in the aft half of the boat while my giant gear bin was in the front. I was all loaded up and Jill was there to give me a smooch before I hit the lake. The race staff/directors were incredibly nice and really helped me out—being a solo is tough—you’re doing the work that 3 people usually do so the transitions are a lot slower than normal, so I appreciated all they did to help me keep moving. As I was pulling away from shore, the camera crew launched their drone and they followed me for a bit. They’re lucky I didn’t have my good shotgun with me! The paddling section was beautiful the lake we were on is the largest lake in PA and was created when the Army Corps of Engineers flooded a mountain valley. The water is clean and clear and the shoreline is very rugged. There were CP’s on several islands along the way. The best CP was on a cliff on an island. I couldn’t stand up at the shoreline because the water was 30 feet deep at the shore and I had to shimmy out of the boat onto a rock ledge and get the CP. After a couple hours of paddling I hit the TA and put my bike back together.
This section was a bike orienteering course on the famed Allegrippis mountain bike trails—these are the best mountain bike trails in PA—and I was totally stoked to ride them. I nailed a bunch of bike points and rode all three levels of trails (easy, moderate, difficult) and had a great ride. I finished up the ride at dusk and got back on the canoe for more paddling. I pulled into the next TA around 2130 and Jill was waiting there. We visited a minute and I headed out onto another section of the Allegrippis but this time on foot. I opted not to ride because I wanted to play it safe since I was alone and was worried that the trails would be too technical to ride at night. I later regretted this because the trails were easy and I could have gotten more points, but I did well and nailed everything so it all worked out. Back at the TA I took a minute to plan the rest of my night and eat a cold microwaveable soup. I consistently pack way too much food—I ate less than half of what I packed—and I am getting more into eating real food instead of gels and bars. I was regimented in taking on salt stick capsule per hour and had no cramping throughout the entire race (it was 87 degrees on sat). The next sections of the race would be difficult. I had to paddle across the lake and drop off my bike. Then I had to paddle another 12k and start a foot section. Along the way I picked up a couple boat points and around 0230 I hit the wall.
I was paddling through the fog and started dreaming. I realized that it would be better to take a nap than try to fight this for the next 12 hours, so I pulled over and took a 30 minute nap in the boat. I felt a lot better and on my way to the next TA I saw 4 shooting stars. At the TA I pulled my boat out of the water, put on dry clothes and was met by race volunteers. It was like 0400 and they were handing out walking tacos. Best race meal ever (google them if you don’t know what they are). This race staff was so dedicated, they actually added the contents to the taco for us (because there was nowhere to wash our hands). They really took good care of us and then sent us on our way. This next foot section was the most remote section of the race. I spooked a turkey vulture out of it’s roost and startled a porcupine. While bushwhacking through a blueberry and scrub oak patch I almost stepped in a ten pound pile of bear crap (acorns and blueberries are a bear’s favorite snack so I was happy to have a bear bell with my. Also sang a couple hymns for good measure). I worked my way to the spot where I dropped off my bike just as the sun was coming up. There’s something miraculous about racing all night and then watching the sun come up. It’s like getting a recharge from the sun. It’s hard to describe but it’s my favorite part of a long race. I feel totally rejuvenated and refreshed. And it’s easy to navigate again! I grabbed my bike at the TA and had to push it up a rocky fire road and then I hit the trail along the lake. This trail is on the opposite side of the really good trail and I must say, it was awful. Every rock was loose and there were tons of down trees. It took forever but I was able to hit a couple more CP’s along the way. I made my way back toward the canoe but had to do another foot orienteering course fist. This was a 5k course in a really beautiful gorge that had cool rock features. Everything was easy to find and it only took 45 minutes. I got on my canoe at 1130. I was 30 minutes ahead of schedule and had 3 ½ hours to paddle the final 12k.
Everything was going well until I entered the main body of the lake. It’s an unlimited horsepower lake on a beautiful Saturday and every A-hole with a speed boat was out. I really think some of them intentionally tried to swamp me. Little did they know that I fear no wave and am actually a pretty good big water paddler. It might have been the fact that I’d been awake and racing for 36 hours but I dared them to swamp me. I yelled at them over the roar of their small block Chevy inboards to come get me. I even had a fisherman try to tangle me in his trolling spread. 2 ½ hours of white knuckled shit talking paddling later I passed under a bridge and saw the finish line. I don’t think it was a runner’s high but I was pretty euphoric again and Jill was waiting on the shoreline for me. I carried all my gear to the finish line and all the elite teams were there, clapping and cheering me on (a lot of them gave me words of encouragement throughout the night). I set my stuff down and the organizer of the whole race series ran over and gave me my finisher’s award and took my picture. He’s a super cool guy and buddies with TCOPE.
After that I took a cat bath in the bathroom nearby and hung out in the race director’s cabin with all the volunteers drinking beer until the awards ceremony and post race dinner. I felt like a rockstar coming in second place in the solo division and got some cool swag from the gear table. But better than that I connected with some super cool people at the race and dinner. This race was a real moment for me. I was humbled by the respect the elite racers gave me—most said they could never do a solo race. My wife was awesome and kept me going when I would see her at TA’s. And I did put my trust in the Lord—there were two bear sightings by other teams in the that blueberry area. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do another race like this in the future. This is something I never would have done if it weren’t for you guys and the KTC family. I mean that. -Bait