17 August 2011

Team Carpe Vitam vaults to #1 in the East Coast Adventure Race Series

Left to Right:  Todd Copley of Team Commie Bar, Jason Brown and Stephen Eland, Captain of Carpe Vitam.
After the win at the Lionheart 24hr race this past weekend, Team Carpe Vitam has been pushed up to #1 on the East Coast Race Series.  Carpe Vitam is captained by Stephen Eland and is joined by Todd Copley of Team Commie Bar and also several unaffiliated racers including Jason Brown, Kirk Lauri and others.  A great win for this new team....  Proud to have Team Commie Bar be a part of it in a second place finish at the Longest Day and the 1st at Lionheart.

East Coast Adventure Racing Series Championship Rankings
Rank    Team                              Points
1          Carpe Vitam                    651

15 August 2011

The Lionheart 24hour Adventure Race Report

Lionheart 24hr Adventure Race Report
13-14 August 2011

Although not on the early season schedule, the Lionheart got added in July.  It was seen as an opportunity to gain further points in the 3man category competition and also boost Team Carpe Vitam (the 3man team that Todd of Commie Bar races with) to a solid podium finish for the year in the East Coast Adventure Racing Series.

Here’s how the race unfolded….

I got down to Ohiopyle on Friday afternoon and got some gear straightened up and ready to race.  I then went over to the registration at Wilderness Voyagers around 6:30 to meet Stephen and Jason from Carpe Vitam.  Jason was a new addition and what an addition he was!  A nationally ranked decathlete who proved to be extremely (too?) strong and also a fierce competitor. 

Anyway, we picked up maps and punch cards and hung around a bit to plot grid coordinates and do some preliminary route selection.  We then headed back to the hotel to finish the planning phase. 

At the hotel, we plotted the segments and knew we’d have a good shot at collecting a bunch of optional points if things went well.  The progression of the race looked like this:

Segment 1:  An opening prologue of a 10k run to separate the teams. 
Segment 2:  Mountain bike
Segment 3:  Trek
Segment 4:  Paddle
Segment 5:  Ropes section and 140foot rappel
Segment 6:  Trek
Segment 7:  Mountain Bike
Segment 8:  Optional Bike orienteering Course for optional points
Segment 9:  Mountain Bike
Segment 10:  Orienteering Course on Foot for optional points
Segment 11:  Mountain Bike to finish

Here’s how the segments went:

The opening prologue was something that I didn’t particularly look forward to.  Starting off a 24hr course with a 10k flat out run doesn’t fit well with my strengths of slow and steady.  Of course, Jason averages 5 minute miles during his training but that wasn’t going to happen here!  We settled in a comfortable pace of probably 9 minute miles and we were also carrying packs.  We made it out to the point and collected the punch then started the jog back.  We were in the front third of the race pack and there were a lot of teams walking this initial section.  After we got back we further supplemented the packs with food and water for what we figured would be the next 9-11 hours.  We saddled up the bikes and hit the trail.
Segment 2:  Mountain bike the Baughman Trail
After about 15 minutes I knew something was terribly wrong.  For some reason my legs felt absolutely dead!  They were definitely not firing and I found myself pushing the bike on even the gentle grades.  That and I had made a serious error in forgetting to load water bottles on my bike.  Oh no, I thought.  This race is over at 2 hours for me.  Dehydration and energy levels so low that I was getting dizzy. 
Thankfully Stephen and Jason took some weight out of my pack as I plodded up the mountain.  We made okay time but I knew I held them up as we neared the top.  I also knew that I may have some time to recover on the trek and then the paddle.  Gotta keep going I thought to myself…..

Segment 3:  The trek to Confluence and the put in spot of the paddle.
The trek was fairly short and simple as we made our way further over the mountain.  I had begun to recover somewhat and was really looking forward to feeling the cold water of the Yough.  Both Stephen and Jason had thankfully taken some load off my back and I think that helped a lot.  The last part of the was on a bike trail and I remember jogging slowly but now I’m having a hard time remembering the initial part of the trek.  I really must have been out of it. 

Segment 4:  The paddle back to the main transition area.  We figured on about a 12 mile paddle or so.  Jason and I loaded in one kayak and Stephen in another.  We headed out and into the fairly flat waters of the lower Yough.  With 2 men in the lead kayak we could have easily out paddled Stephen all by himself so we hooked up a 50’ throw line to Stephens boat to “tow” him and keep the boats together.  This worked well as we overtook several teams on the paddling section before taking out back at Ohiopyle.

Segment 5:   Ropes and rappel.  This was pretty straightforward as we were directed to a massive railroad bridge over the Yough river.  We grabbed our harnesses and ATCs then got safety checked then climbed up and over the rails of the bridge, hooked in, and then made the 140 foot rappel down to the river where we punched in and then trekked back up to the top of the mountain. 

Segment 6:  The trek back to the bikes on Baughman Mountain.  From the rappel, we continued and basically back tracked our initial bike route (this time on foot) back up Baughman Mountain.  I was feeling absolutely great by now and we made great time up the mountain.  In fact we trekked up to the top in just about the same amount of time it took us on bike during segment 2. 

Segment 7:  MTB to Hopi Camp and the Bike Orienteering section.  We left the bike transition area quickly and everyone was feeling good.  It was now almost 7pm and our hope was to get to Hopi Camp before dark.  Unfortunately disaster set in quickly.  On the final climb up to Hopi Camp, the chain on Jason’s bike broke.  I quickly made the repair in about 10 minutes and we were back enroute.  Then the chain broke again!  This time the repair took about 25 minutes as were shortening the chain with every breakage.  It didn’t look good and I was unsure whether the repair would hold. 

Segment 8:  Optional Bike orienteering.  We check in at Hopi Camp and made a decision to NOT pursue any more optional bike points because of the condition of Jason’s bike chain.  Very wise call because on the way out of Hopi Camp, Bang, it happened again.  The chain was broke. 

Segment 9:  The chainless mountain bike section back to transition. 
We all knew that the route back to the main transition area was mostly back down the Baughman mountain so in effect Jason could “coast” back down.  The main question was what do we do from there?  So we turned on our lights and helmet head lamps and rode the rough singletrack in the dark back down with Jason coasting behind us and then running the short uphills with his bike.  I’m sure everyone was wondering if the race was over for us.  I know that thought went thru my mind.

Back at the transition we knew we had to figure out how to continue.  Jason offered to run his bike the remainder but we knew that would be impossible.  We reviewed in depth the maps and came up with a plan.  Our thought was if we could tow Jason and his bike for the initial flat section then we could all push our bikes up the Mitchell trail to the top of the mountain.  No one could ride that anyway and it was the most direct (and of course STEEP way up to the top).  We quickly dug threw our gear bin and came up with a 20 foot rope and two bungies.  We hooked one bungie to Jason’s bike then knotted it to the rope and duck taped it.  On the other end we hooked a bungie to Stephen’s bike and did the same.  Would it hold for 15 miles of towing?  That would be the question.  We slowly started off and it was working!  We actually even began hammering the course!  We made it to Mitchell Trail and everyone was estatic.  That is until we saw what was ahead of us as virtually had to drag our bikes up an almost vertical trail for the next mile or so.  Stephen did an amazing job of putting the pedal down to get us down the bike path.

At the top, Jason ran the bike the remainder couple of miles into the transition area.  So far our plan was working.  Of course it helps when you have a teammate that can push/run his bike as fast as you can ride yours!

Segment 10:  Orienteering on foot.
We check in our 3 bikes (and one without a chain) at the top of the mountain and the race organizers were amazed!  It was now a bit past midnight and we would have 6 hours or so to collect as many optional points as we could.  This is where the race would be won or lost.  We quickly planned a route to try and get 4 points knowing this would be about 15 more miles of trekking.  We headed back down the mountain to the cliff area and began to pick our way up the rock face to the top where we collected OP 1 (optional point #1).  We descended and then debated going back up the trail to the transition area and continuing from there or paralleling the bike trail along the river and going back up Johnson Run Trail.  We chose to stay low and this was the best move.  We walked the fairly flat bike trail along the river for several miles.  All of us turned our headlamps off and just went by moonlight.  These are the times in adventure racing that I love.  It was 1am and the world was asleep except for us.  We were living in the dark in nature.  My feet were beginning to blister inside my shoes and I had some angry chafing going on in my shorts but the sounds of the river and a distant train whistle kept my mind off the pain.

Before I knew it we were turning off the bike trail and starting up Johnson River.  This drainage slowly made its way back to the top of the mountain and along here we picked our second optional point.  Back at the top we made a decision to go for two further points that would take us quite a ways away from the transition area.  We plodded along the gravel road and then set our compass headings and got our pace count going for the hardest point to find in a stream somewhere in the dark of the woods.  We nailed it.  Compass heading of 167 degrees for 250 meters off the trail and we walked right over it!  I love that feeling!  From there we continued up a jeep trail to the ruins and collected our 4th point.  It was now about 4am and we had to make it back to transition by 6am.  We knew we could do it and maybe have a shot at another point. 

We got back and it was 5:30 or so.  Now the grumbling of thunder was becoming louder and soon the skies opened up in a torrential display of rain and lightening.  Here’s where it gets fun, I thought!  It was absolutely pouring and we quickly changed shirts and added rain jackets to our arsenal.  We had to get one more what seemed pretty straight forward point.  Well it was not straight forward.  I quickly stowed my trekking poles as they were quickly becoming prime lighting rods and we trudged thru the building water on the trail.  Time was getting crucial now and I was concerned we wouldn’t have enough time to get back to the finish.  If we missed the cut off time of 8am by 1 minute our race was DONE!  24 hours wasted.  All of sudden I heard the familiar scream of Jason over the thunder and rain and all I could make out was “I found it”!!!!  We quickly punched in and headed back to the bikes.  We were happy but knew we still had a ways to go back to the finish.  That plus we still had to tow Jason back……  We quickly debated trying to find another point.  I was extremely concerned about time and thankfully the team made the right decision in moving back to the finish.

Segment 11:  The Mountain Bike to the Finish.
We mounted up in the pouring rain and knew that to attempt a descent of the Mitchell trail in this weather would be not only foolish but crazy dangerous.  We decided to hug a downhill road (remember Jason doesn’t have a chain) back to the rail trail.  This would add about 5 miles to the ride but it would still be flat.  We quickly descended the road as the morning light began to peek its way over the mountain.  Back on the rail trail we assembled the towing system and hooked it up.  We started pulling Jason back to the finish.  It was raining like crazy and Jason was just basically sitting on the bike being pulled thru the rain at 15 miles per hour.  He was freezing and almost going into hypothermia but we had to get back and had an hour to do it.  Also that supposedly flat bike path somehow developed a minor 3% grade on the way back! 

Ultimately the towing system worked and Jason managed to not fall asleep nor freeze on the bike and we got back with about 20 minutes to spare.  We signed in and finished our race.  What an Adventure.  We had covered close to 100 miles in the rugged terrain of the Laurel Highlands of Western PA and succeeded. 

At the awards ceremony we found out our efforts had gotten us 1st place in the 3man team category.  A very sweet finish to a long 24 hours……

I'll be posting up some photos soon so stay tuned.