Monday, May 11, 2009

Where's The Fire?

Where's the Fire...? Still not sure...

Team Dalmatians and Donuts rounded out the last corner of an epic (and brutal) paddle on the Red Deer river just as dusk was falling...The lights of Mountain Aire Lodge were a welcome site. We were the first team to finish, and the only one to finish within the 12hr limit (in total 4/20 teams finished both short/long courses). Liza was there to welcome us with open arms and some hot chocolates that hit the perfect spot as we recapped a long (great) day in the mountains! Here's a brief recap...(in case you're interested in reading my ramblings)

Race HQ was set at Mountain Aire Lodge, SW of Sundre in the foothills of the Rockies. The usual last minute pre-race prep got the day rolling as the rain/snow mix fell from the sky - Dennis Colburn (DC), Kurt Mueller(KM) and myself were full-on AR rookies. Our leader, Greg McHale (GMac), an experienced elite racer, would lead us most of the day and set a gruelling pace. Liza's experience as a seasoned Adventure Racer was a key ingredient to our team as lead support - she kept us on track and ensured that we had everything we needed to make it a successful day. Her sharp attention to detail even caught a plotting mistake that could have caused us quite a bit of confusing out on course - Thanks for the great support Liza!

Run/Trek Section
GMac bolted from the start like it was a 5k race...crazy! Aside from the crazy pace, everyone moved well as we ticked off CP1 and move up towards the big climb of Blue Hill and CP2. After a short 'detour' that proved a little too bushy, we got back on track only to find out that another team (#2) had taken the lead...Being strong runners, we quickly caught back up and kept the pushing the pace up to the top of the mountain. The further we climbed, the more snow accumulated and soon we were shin deep in wet corn snow. Everyone seemed good in energy with KM lagging behind a bit...Up and over through CP2 and after breaking trail down to a cliff (!), we spotted CP3 (TA1) down below on an Forest Service Road where Liza met us for the transition onto the mtn bike.

Mountain Bike Section
GMac/Liza were unrelentless and pushed us out of there with a quick transition. With a mouthfuls of food we hopped on our bikes and started down the slope. The rain did wonders for the gravel road and in an instant we were covered in mud. As the bike section progressed we realized that KM was losing steam - not good. With a bit of help pushing him up the hills we kept a decent pace to CP4. From there the quad trail turned to a sticky mud bath and forward progress slowed considerably as we had to hike-a-bike numerous sections for 10k or so...KM's energy was slipping during this time and all 3 of us took turns helping him push his bike through each mud puddle! A few kms from CP5, Team #2 caught back up to us and quickly disappeared ahead...

Trek/Ropes Section
As we arrived on CP5 (TA2) we met a confused Liza wondering what had happened to us...(Why is Team #2 ahead of you?). Her eyes quickly picked out KM's low energy and she went to work stuffing food down his gullet as he switched gear. With the ropes section only 500m up the hill, it was imperative that we get out of CP before Team #2...but despite our best efforts, they sneaked away just ahead and managed to get set up at the tyrolian traverse station before us. So we waited (im)patiently for our turn as their 4-man team were guided through the traverse, the waterfall rappel and back up the roped cliff climb. In/out, we bolted from the ropes and up the hillside chasing...

It didn't take long to spot Team #2 again looming just ahead. Lucky for us, they overshot the unmanned CP7, whilst GMac nailed it right on the button - Back in the lead we headed for CP8...On route we took a wrong turn but GMac caught his mistake quickly and we doubled back only to stumble on Team #2 again! And again we overtook them. As we followed an awesome singletrack climb up the mountain KM's energy was still low, but not getting any worse. By this time, GMac was towing him, and I had taken his pack to help him out. At the next junction we overshot a left turn by 200m or so, and by the time we were back on track guess what? Yep, Team #2 was up ahead again...arggghh!

We merged on Team #2 just as we 'should' have been arriving at CP8...but CP8 was not there?? After searching the area and consulting w/ the other team, we all concluded that we were in the right spot - but still no CP8! (We later found out that the personnel couldn't make it to CP8 b/c of heavy snow amounts on the ground). So feeling a little awkward, we both left CP8...hoping in the backs of our minds that we had made the right decision.

As we bolted out of CP8, I passed on KM's bags to DC and took over the KM towing duties from GMac so he could figure out the next track. We moved fast in this next long section and made an extra effort to get rid of Team #2 once and for all! Although the fatigue/body kinks was settling in, we knew that we were gaining time. Again, GMac nailed CP9 and down the hill we went to CP10 and onto the boat!

Rafting Section

Liza welcomed us with Redbull, cokes, salt/vinegar crispies, jerky and more...The goddess of junk food! We were psyched to finally get off our feet! Once again GMac was on us to move, move, move - there's no time to waste and we didn't want T#2 to catch back up! We all hopped in the raft and pushed off... The river was low and as much as we would have like a fast cruise down the Red River, it was not to be. Every rapid required a dismount in the water to pull the raft over the rocks - it was very frustrating. We repeated this process about 50 times (not kidding!) - Two highlights to point out during the paddle...

1) A bit of a scary moment when we cruised around a left bend into a sweeper. One of the logs was sticking straight out and DC didn't catch it until it was too late and he was knocked out of the boat on the upside of the sweeper - As he started floating back down, he got caught in debris with his PFD straps (not good!). We are reacted quickly...I stopped the boat while GMac and KM untangled and hauled DC back in...With the temp hovering around 2C, it's a good thing we had our wetsuits!

2) I forget the second one...(too tired to think now). Oh, I remember now...On another super rocky section, instead of pulling the boat in the water, I spotted a big 'bench' of hard snow/ice that lined the shore of the river, so we pulled the raft on the ice and pushed it at least 150m beyond the set of rapids- probably saved us a good 5min! The rest of the river run was mostly uneventful - spending our time going in/out of the boat while the sunlight slowly dimmed away...Eventually we rounded the last corner...

So, that's it - A good effort by all. Thanks to DC for the opportunity to make me feel like an old man...I'm a hurtin' unit today. Kudos to GMac for keeping us moving and leading us to victory; Liza for all of her expertise and prepping our gear/food all day long (she even had to reschedule her flight to TO as our race went far over the 'planned' time); and KM for hangin' in there the entire day! But like I told him..."Aren't you glad you paid for this experience?".


Sunshine Girl said...

You know, as much as I LOVED Adventure Racing and the places it took me, I can't say I miss it. But if someone asked me to be on a team tomorrow, I would probably have to say yes! Nice work out there for your first race! You were fully spoiled with a great navigator and support crew.

Phil said...

Yeah, I was somewhat tentative to join, and after having done it, even though it was a fun experience, I can't say that I'm hooked. Hard to beat a pure trail run or race!