08
Aug
08

Nobody said adventure would be easy

Melissa and I competed in our first ever official adventure race this past weekend, and lived to tell the tale.

Here, in fact, is said tale…

First of all, you may ask “What’s an adventure race?” In essence, it’s a checkpoint search for teams of usually two that’s spread across various square miles of terrain which is, in this case at least, broken up into three different disciplines. The three that concern me is kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking.

after spending a day up by Lake Wawayanda (take that, spellcheck) preparing for our first adventure race familiarizing ourselves with the fundamentals , we were very confident that we’d have no problem facing what lay ahead of us.

Genesis Adventures, the company that arranges these things, mapped out a grueling course throughout Allamuchy State Park (clearly, no adventure can be had in an average-named venue). This area, and feel free to google it at your leisure, is divided into two parts that meet in the middle, divided by the highway. think of an “8” leaning slightly to the right and I highway passing through the narrow bit, a river flowing along the edge.

We were up against a kayak up and down the river, a hike through the southern half of the park, and mountain bike throughout the north half. Things couldn’t have seemed simpler.

In our pre race briefing, we were told two key points of information. the first being that the river was a foot lower than previously assessed and that we were allowed to set our boats down at any point at the river. The other note was that one of the checkpoints in the hiking section, the 2nd of 3, was deemed too difficult and was crossed off the list. This meant all we had to do was stroll all the way to “checkpoint 5” and walk back. Easy breezy.

All teams line up at the starting point. We were to run a path around the staging area ( the area where we have our equipment), grab a kayak & paddles, and carry our craft down a road, and drop it in the river. The first checkpoint was upriver, the next far down, and then we had to return to the staging area for the next leg.

At the horn, we all took off in a cheer, running down the path high fiving with smiles from ear to ear. we grab the boat and head up the bank, ignoring the set path for river entry. We can set down anywhere! we laugh at your designated launch area. as with most, Melissa and I run further up the road and set down in the water ahead of us. Many of us found ourselves bumping into each other in the surprisingly narrow river. Paddling excitedly on, we all realize that, in our excitement, paddled our way up a canal that runs parallel with the actual river. some moan, others, like us, take it in stride. “alright! practice pond!” Which actually worked in our favor because the river flows down from a lake and has a 5 or 6 foot drop that a team would need to climb up, kayak and all… unless you bypassed it with the practice pond.

Having the river a foot shallower than it should be came in play when we were near checkpoint one. The kayak had to be pulled through the sediment and we paddled fast as possible for fear of getting stuck in detritus. Melissa scurried uphill and disappeared for a while until she triumphantly returned with our control card successfully marked with checkpoint one’s distinctive pattern punched into it. we make our way to the waterfall and climb down it aided with some quick thinking to use the flood control gate on the far side, instead of the uneven earth nearest of us. I don’t remember just how high the drop was, but in retrospect, climbing up it would have been a severe pain in the ass.

Having paddled a fair ways south, and having at times to get out and push, we get the second checkpoint and head back towards the transition area. It’s around now that Melissa mentions how “lord of the Rings” things just got, when I noticed the sky had been gradually blacked out by cloud cover. This was the beginning of a thunderstorm that moments later erupted in full fury on top of us.

a large, loud thunder crack spurred us to paddle even faster. it put the fear of God into many people who hopped out and carried their boats through the brush much too early, never to be seen again… ok, that’s not true, I just wanted to say that. Those people did end up dragging a kayak unnecessarily through the woods though for at least an extra half hour.

Melissa and I drop our kayak at the transition area and go to get ready for the hike. We’re wet, we’re beat, and since we left our stuff outside without waterproofing most of it, we had little dry clothes to change into. Donning ponchos, we head to the hiking stage of the race. Keep in mind that through all of this, people are very much focusing on the “race” part and running steadily throughout the whole thing.

The rain has lightened up at this point. We enter a dreary looking wood and carry on to our first hiking checkpoint, number 4. It’s found easily enough and on our way out of the trail that led up to it, we run into Gunther, the head race organizer. He’s helpful in giving us some navigation points, but informs us that we’re moving too slow. given that we’ve never done this before, it was hard for us to gauge how “good” we were doing… or bad, I guess. Up until that point, I wasn’t concerned because we were constantly running into other teams. The critique as well as the woods began to play on our emotions. We wanted to hurry, and we made mistakes in our haste. We were sad and angry at this point, which led to further mistakes. Trails that we should have crossed were elusive. Streams that should have been in our path were not. Finally, we argue a bit and quickly realize that we can’t find “checkpoint 5” nor will we because the worst had happened. we were lost.

Lost. lost, lost, lost. Our only clue was that around checkpoint 5, there would be an old stone wall that ran north and south. We were told that this would greatly aide the locating of the checkpoint, barring that you knew where you were in the first place. Mel and I found something that could have been an “old stone wall” but there were several fixtures in the woods that could have been translated as such. we follow it north and then back south when I make the decision that the race, for us, was over. I made the call to follow a road to the south in the hopes that it’s the road that leads to the park entrance. We haven’t seen another team for probably an hour. heading back up the road, miserable, wet and defeated, we seriously considered throwing in the towel.

Surprisingly, we ended up south of checkpoint 7, the final checkpoint needed to continue onto the bike leg. A racer we ran into told us just how impossible CP5 was for him, and that he and his teammate stumbled onto it luckily. Seeing a fellow human being and having the time to reassess the situation, now that we were no longer lost, re-invigorated us and we decided that we would continue, despite missing the elusive checkpoint 5.

Back at the transition area, we saw that half of the other teams’ bikes were still on racks, meaning that there were a lot of people still out there, stumbling about the wood. Indeed, what we learned was that CP 5 was near impossible to find, and that even the advanced teams were having a hard time navigating that half of the park. We were moving slow, as Gunther said, but everyone else was, too. we head out on our bikes to get the rest of the checkpoints.

The sky has, at this point, opened up significantly and the sun has warmed us up a bit, along with lifting our spirits. The bike trail was described to us as “boney”, which I guess meant comprised solely of wet rocks and deep vats of mud. Much of the time was spent walking our wheels uphill. We find checkpoint 9 by a tiny bridge and get to a crossroad. Left or right? we go right. along the way, Melissa and I are having a glorious time, making light of the difficulties we came across, which was comforting to me. I was glad to see that, even though arguments will happen, through the worst of it, Mel and I will come out the end smiling and joking.

That was important because we got lost again. It wasn’t as bad or desperate as before, we just should have taken that left. we did find a huge boulder though, that was cool. The conditions being the way they were, we surmised it would take us at least half an hour to get back to the transition area, which would make it about 4 PM, the cut off time we were all given at the start. They told us that if we weren’t back then, they would send teams out looking for us. So abandoning the checkpoints, we head back and cross the finish line together, completing our inaugural adventure race.

Gunther greeted us and mentioned that we had surprised him with our progress through the hike section, despite not getting CP 5. He went on to say that this was the hardest race that they’ve ever organized, noting how they have a third of teams still out even though it was beyond 4.

Melissa and I completed the whole course, missed CP’s and all, just under 7 hours. We were soaked, exausted, cut, bruised, riddled with ivy induced inflammations (that one’s just me, my ankles have been itchy for a week), sad, happy, beat and battered.

We can’t wait to go to the next one in September 🙂

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4 Responses to “Nobody said adventure would be easy”


  1. August 8, 2008 at 11:26 PM

    That was a great race report. Welcome to Adventure Racing! Keep blogging about it, and I will keep reading! Good luck on your next race.

    Dave

  2. 2 Olga
    August 9, 2008 at 5:26 AM

    I like Mel’s pic especially. It’s like “Yeah, I adventure race, and what?!”

  3. 3 Yaya
    August 9, 2008 at 9:00 AM

    Yayyyy! So proud that you guys finished. Really you’re all still alive, thats a thumbs up =] I’m sure that after all that time in the woods (Mel told me) that the woods really start to mess with your head. Ha

    =] -Yaya-

  4. August 16, 2008 at 1:06 AM

    An awesome recap by an awesome adventure partner. Rock climbing, bike tours, kung fu, urbanathlons, adventure races – thanks for wanting to do all the crazy things I want to do and more =)

    Douglas, MA – here we come!!


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