Raid in France Race Report
Well this was it….. One year in the planning and training that would lead up to racing at the World Cup level in a foreign country with the very best of adventure racing teams…..
This goal was formulated back after the National Championships last year and Summit Adventure Racing/Team Commie Bar was able to put together a world class team that could commit to an endeavor of this magnitude. Not only the physical training but the time and money commitment needed to get this done. I could talk all day about the year of training and prep but let’s begin as we move enroute to France…..
Team Commie Bar team consists of numerous athletes from around the U.S.. The 2015 World Cup Team consisted of:
Todd Copley/Team Captain from Deep Creek Lake, MD
Todd Copley has been adventure racing for over 20 years and was a former U.S. Army Special Operations Commander. Although he has completed numerous expedition races many years ago this will be a new challenge for 2015 as he turns 53 years old. Todd is also the coach of the U.S. Collegiate Adventure Racing National Champions and helped host the U.S. National Championships in his home of Deep Creek
Jon Gamm is an ex-Army officer as well and has competed in adventure races up to 48 hours in length. Jon is a Colorado ranked competitor in X-Terra and two time finisher of the Pike’s Peak Marathon and the Panama City Full Ironman. Jon also has experience in ultra running while under the influence of alcohol.
Guillaume Calais - Lyon Rhone Alpes - St. Victor sur Rhins
Guillaume Callais probably brings the most expedition style racing experience to the team. He’s finished Raid in France 4 times and competed at the World Championships. We are counting on him to add great value to the team and his knowledge of France and the region. Guillaume's English is pretty good but he can't understand Jon's jokes and Kim talks to fast for him!
Kimberly Owens from Grand Rapids Michigan is a remarkable endurance athlete and competes primarily in ultra running. She’s completed numerous 50K plus trail running events and has a great background in adventure racing. This year she completed the 70 mile Laurel Highlands trail run and also the Trans Rockies stage race covering over 120 miles.
The race itself would be a 4 day/4 night race beginning on Tuesday night September 15 at midnight and ending on Saturday, September 20 at 6:30pm.
We had 94 hours to be on course…..
Past the 24hour racing point, this style of racing is called Expedition Racing. We would have to carry EVERYTHING needed to survive for 4+ days in the most remote wilderness in the region of L’Ain and the pre-alp mountains. The packlist consisted of individual gear including tents and sleeping bags and also mountain bike gear, climbing gear, kayaking gear, canyoning gear and all of our food and provisions. We had budgeted around $2,000 in gear purchases for the race. Ever heard of a kayak trolley? We needed one. How about a World Series approved bike box? We needed 4. Every time I turned around I was spending 200 bucks. My wife thought I was a shareholder in Amazon.com….
The race would take place in a little known area of France called the Haut Bugey of the department of L’Ain. Coincidently I knew this region fairly well after having lived for 9 years in the L’Ain near Lyon. It is really wild and steep and savage. Perfect for adventure racing.
The race was a qualifier for the World Championships and part of the World Cup/Series of Adventure Racing.
A teaser for the 2015 race is here:
Raid in France 2015 Teaser
The team flew into Lyon, France leaving the U.S. on Friday 11 September and arriving Saturday 12 September. Guillaume, our French teammate, picked us up at the airport and we went to his house to begin the 4 day preparation for the race to include gear packing and layouts and inspections. We rebuilt our bikes there and got all our gear together. His house and family is in a beautiful area of the Lyonnais Mountains and we enjoyed the French family touch with his wife and 3 children.
On Monday we packed up and moved about 3 hours by car to race headquarters. On that day we stopped at the gear store and spent more money and also the grocery store to load up on food.
For the trip I had packed my bike in a pro bike case weighing 70 pounds. I also had two more bags with all my gear weighing 50 pounds each. Plus carry on to the max. Over 170 pounds on the airplane.
On site we spent the afternoon going through mandatory gear checks and inspections. We had to go through ropes certification and bike disassembly reviews.
The next day on Tuesday we spent finalizing the gear and packing the gear bins. We would have our individual bike boxes that could weigh 28 kilos, a team climbing bin, two team kayak bags, a team wetsuit bag and a huge barrel gear bin that could weigh 44 kilos. We stuffed them with extra clothes, food and other stuff.
There was an opening ceremony that night and race dinner but we were so stressed out getting the final preps one we barely made any of these.
After all that we headed back to the hotel and grabbed two hours of sleep and got up at 1100pm to head back for the midnight start.
Right at midnight as we were lined up it started raining………. It would not stop for 72 hours.
The Race Sections and Transitions
This ended up being much more than 3km and we spent 1.5 hours on it.
Trekking: 30km/20 miles
This was a very long foot movement through the rugged terrain of L’Ain. We hit every point except B6 and we spent approximately 4 hours looking for it knowing we needed it to be classified. At the end we still didn’t find it like some other teams and we missed the cutoff for the Section B
Section B: Stand Up Paddleboard: 2km
Team Commie Bar was shortcoursed around this and the Section C short trek to the 1st MTB Section
Section C: Trek 2: 4km/2.5 miles
Section D: MTB 1
After having missed the SUP and the short trek to the Transition area we saddled up and got on the bikes just about dusk on Wednesday/Night 2.
We would be on the bikes well into the next day. The rain broke for a short period of time and we slept for 3 hours on the side of a mountain. We had been up for over 40 hours. As the rain recommenced we woke up and saddled up and hit the trail. The trails at this point were turning to mud soup and very difficult to ride.
At the end of the section we needed to warm up as we were all suffering greatly. Kim was extremely cold so we made our way to a small village to try and find a warm place to get some food and coffee.
We found out that due to the weather the kayak portion had been cancelled at this point. The team and other racers were then transported to the kayak take out point 40kilometers down river where we would begin MTB 2
Section E: Kayak: 40km/25 miles
Cancelled due to weather
Section F: MTB 2: 17km/12 miles
This was extremely hilly and muddy as we picked our way across the vineyards and fields fjording many streams along the way. We had a massive climb up to the mouth of a very large canyon where the canyoning section was to be staged. We got there and our climbing boxes were there with wetsuits but again the weather was dominating and the section was just too dangerous to be undertaken. Section G Canyoning was cancelled and again we were left to remount our bikes.
Section G: Canyoning: 2km
Cancelled due to weather
Section H: MTB 3: 18km/12 miles
From the Canyoning section we had to pack our climbing gear in our packs as we moved to the next section. In already heavy packs the load of additional climbing gear was really felt. This movement was a disaster. The trails were now obliterated and we could barely ride. The last 5kilometers down to the river followed a steep draw that was basically a mud river. See the videos posted to get a feel for how it was to push your bike through 3 feet of mud for 6 hours.
At the bottom we literally through our bikes in the river to try and get the mud and leaves off them. We found drinking water in a small town and it was around 11pm as we then tried to find the trail to the transition area. All the trails now were underwater as the river had overflowed its banks. Staying dry was impossible and again the cold set in as the night temperatures dropped to 5 celsius/40 degrees Farenheit. We finally limped into the transition area and were surprised to hear that the climbing section was still a go.
We tore down our bikes and loaded them in the bike cases and put on our trekking gear and harnesses. We left the TA at 1:30am on Thursday.
Team Commie Bar in the mud on the descent to the river on Night 3
Section I: Trek 3 and Ropes: 5km
The estimated distances were turning out to be extremely off. The trek began with a murder climb that would not stop on 50 degree slopes of scree and rock. We first crossed a major stream using our climbing gear and clicked into a safety rope that allowed us to cross using a log in the water. That led through a cave and upwards we went. For every 2 steps forward we slid one back on the mud and loose rock. Kim was having a very rough go of it and we were all scared of falling and not being able to stop. Finally after what seemed a lifetime we made it to a point where we had to cross across a waterfall area just below the falls. The water was raging and there was supposed to be a guide there to help us. There was no one! We waited for close to 2 hours knowing that there was no way we could descend the treacherous climb we just came up. Guillaume climbed further looking for a way out but the cliffs stopped him.
We would have to cross the waterfall just to get out of here. During this time while we waited on the guides we pulled out the emergency blankets and tried to keep warm. Jon had some grappa in his pack and we all took a couple pulls on the bottle to try and stay warm. Finally the guides arrived!! We crossed the waterfall area by hooking into a fixed line and stepping in the raging water hoping your foot would catch on a rock and you would stay upright. After the stream we had another very long climb upward climbing via ferratta style and hooking into a rope system that would prevent a disaster fall should we stumble. Finally at the top we were given the proper climbing gear for a real via ferratta and we began our journey on the face of a wall high above the valley. By this time it was 4am or so and I was not looking forward to this part of the race. The via ferratta (see the video) was a steel cable system bolted into the sheer wall of rock that we would navigate using foot and hand pegs. The one thing in our favor was it was pitch dark and you actually could not see how high you were dangling on nothing but a foot peg. The entire traverse took about 1.5 hours and it was white knuckle all the way. I was emotionally and physically drained. So was the team. On the last pitch/climb out we could not shimmy through the narrow rock slit and had to secure our packs into the wall and then hang on the sheer cliff as we pulled the packs out using a rope system. Tensions ran high as we all wanted to be off the wall. As we all resurfaced from the via ferratta we were spent. From there we moved into another trekking movement and we were the walking dead. As we neared the valley floor we had to strap Guillaume to Jon and give him some trekking poles as he was falling asleep with every step. We nailed the final points and made our way back to the transition area where we would be forced by the organization to go into a dark room and sleep for 3 hours before continuing.
When we hit the Transition area it was 1000am on Thursday. We had been up for 51 hours with 3 hours of sleep.
Team Commie Bar on the ropes and via ferratta at 0300 on Night 3
Main RACE Transition Area:
When we got here we first had to drop our gear. Then we all grabbed some food out of our gear bins and were led to a room in a big gym. Once entering the room we could not leave for 3 hours. We all climbed into our sleeping bags and fell immediately to sleep. After 3 hours we were awakened and moved back outside to build our bikes. Coming into the transition area we had missed the cut off to continue on the regular course so leaving this transition we would begin on mountain bike for a modified Section N. We missed sections J,K, L, and M. One of these sections was an old fashioned boat on the river that I had been looking forward to. So again on bikes.
Section N alternate: MTB 5
From the sleep transition we hooked up with a French team that had been shortcoursed as well. They were a nice group and we hit it off with them as we moved into the mtb section. This was a beautiful section that took us across the ski areas of the Haut Bugey. Section O/Kayak had again been cancelled so now we were trying to pick up points and complete the sections to remain classified in the race.
When we hit this transition area they had a roaring fire going!! We all huddled around the fire to make our plans for the final night of racing. We desparately needed some sleep and knowing we would still be classified if we made the final cut off time at the finish by 6:30 on Saturday we decided to make use of the time we had to get some real sleep. We laid out the tents and sleeping bags and crawled in. We had planned on about 5 hours of sleep but did not count on the extreme cold. I shivered all night in our little lightweight sleeping bags and miserable little tents. Although we were down for 5 hours I know I had no more than 2 hours of sleep. We awoke at 6am for the final push to the finish. We had 12 hours to make it and although it looked that was certainly doable you never know in adventure racing.
Team Commie Bar descends to the river through the mud and scree on Night 3
Section O: Kayak
Section P/MTB 6
We put together a plan that would take us over the Col de la Biche mountain pass and get a point there then down, down, down into the valley through a series of small towns. As we took off on bikes it was cold and we were still shivering. Kim was extremely cold and was finding it hard to maintain the pace. We were still moving with the French team and we had to keep up. Finally she got into the swing and at the bottom of the valley in a small town we found they were having what could only be termed a church bake sale!!! They had hot pizzas and sugar cake and water and wine!! We stopped and had pizza and a glass of rose!
At the top of the climb we hit a point then began a long road movement towards the finish. Just about 5k from the finish we diverted off on a trail climb to get a point on a ridgeline and then to a hike a bike section to a final point before descending to the finish. The hike a bike was so hard they only allowed teams to be on it spaced by 5 minutes. Believe me I wasn’t in a mood to go through more suffering knowing we were only 5k from the finish but…….
We made it up and over the mountain.
As we cruised down towards the town of Hauteville Lompnes it was great to reflect on the race. A team of 4 people had completed a 4 day/4night expedition race in the heart of France. I was happy and tired.
The only mountain bike crash I had the entire race happened on the road about 1k from the finish when I hit a curb and went over the handlebars. At the finish we were greeted by hundreds of the townspeople and volunteers and sprayed with champagne as we crossed the line.
We had raced a total of 87 hours straight. We had been up for over 108 hours with only 10 hours of sleep or so....
Team Commie Bar navigates the flooded trails
THAT WAS RAID IN FRANCE 2015
Much thanks to our equipment suppliers. Couldn't do it without them....
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