I didn't quite know what to expect going into this race...there were several strong teams in the field. I felt like we (Team Raceday- Tony Berwald, Stephen Morris, and myself) had a strong team, but so much of the STW AR (www.s-t-w.org) is about strategy and navigation. The navigation was known to be very challenging. The format of the race is also different from others in that it is a rogaine (retrieve CPs in any order), and teams can choose their modes of travel while abiding the prohibited route restrictions.
The race started at 6:50pm on Saturday. We were told to meet down at the beach, ready to swim to retrieve the canoes. I expected this, but didn't like it. Swimming is one thing, but swimming in freezing water with a full race pack, PFD, and shoes on with 75 other racers is another. Tony used to swim for Georgia Tech, and he was the first one to the boats! He had to wait for me and Stephen to catch up. I should have taken my shoes off because my feet were like anchors in the water. Stephen stayed with me though, and we eventually made it back to land....it was so cold!! The instructions were to immediately get on the bikes to ride the 10 mile singletrack loop. We were not allowed to ride after 8:45 pm on the trails, so it was a mad rush to complete the ride before then, otherwise we would be forced to walk our bikes on the trail. We followed about 2 teams into the singletrack, which starts with a rooty drop and a sharp turn. As soon as I headed in, someone stopped at the bottom of the drop and caused a big cluster. I had nowhere to go....except over my handlebars! Not a great way to start. Feeling flustered, I remounted my bike and started riding. It had just rained for 12 hours straight, and the trail was muddy, rooty, and slick! My heart rate was probably close to my max, I was still rattled from the shaky start and was slipping on everything. To add, my pack was not tight enough on my back and the 15 pounds was shaking around...not the best thing when you are riding tight twisty singletrack. During the fall, my handlebar light came loose and was also flopping around on my handlebars. This ride was hands down my worst performance on a mountain bike since I started riding two years ago. I just did not feel at one with my bike, I had little confidence, my legs felt like lead and my heart rate did not want to come down. I flew off one of the slick bridges, and endoed while trying to hop a slick log. I felt really bad for my teammates...I just could not get in the rythym. To top it off, my head light was not mounted tight enough and it kept flopping around also. It would only point straight down, so I could only see 3 feet in front of me! Torture, I tell you. Well, we got through it but probably lost about 15 mins on this section.
After that, Tony and Stephen plotted the points. I changed out of my wet clothes and got some food/drink. The choice was to paddle next. Most teams were either going back out on the bikes or on the hike, but we felt that paddling at night was the best decision. The wind was a lot lighter, and Tony felt really comfortable naving in the dark, on water...so off we went. The paddle was a total of 2-3 hours or so, with a long (6 hour give or take) hike/orienteering section in the middle. These points were tricky to find...especially in the dark! Tony did great though, and nailed them all. He even spotted a bobcat leap across in front of us! I was really happy that I didn't see it...because that freaked me out. At checkpoint D we were forced to do the stupid human tricks. One was a tall tower that had 3 walls...one rock wall, one rope ladder, and one multi-ladder wall that you had to pull yourself up. Each team member had to do one, or take a 30 min. penalty. We figured that it might take me 30 mins to do it since I am really lacking in upper body strength, so I just took the penalty. Tony took the penalty as well, and Stephen (aka Spiderman) scurried up the rock wall, across the rope traverse, and got the checkpoint. Way to go Stephen! Next was the 9 obstacle course which the three of us had to travel together, tethered by a rope. This was just silly....the worst one was the very slick 50-60 foot log roll that we had to shimmy across without touching the ground. We finally got it on the third try, but it was long and just not fun.
We arrived back to shore at 7:30am...unsure that we would finish this race in time. We did not expect the paddle and orienteering sections to take us that long! Rob (the course designer) insisted that he would let the teams have the time they needed to finish the course. We took a little longer of a TA to get warm, get food/hydration and then headed out on a looooong ride. We retrived some of the CPs on the singletrack section in the park (much better ride this time), then headed from Baker Creek out to the other park which was at least 25 miles of paved road riding away. Luckily we hooked up with Ron Sanders, Kevin Tumlin, and their teammate Enid. It was fun to hang with another team for awhile. This section took about 5-6 hours and involved some of that dreaded bonking. We arrived back to Baker Creek by 3:30 or so and only had 3 more points to retrieve in the park..this was easy to do and we trucked along to the finish line....we were all pretty tapped and very happy to be done. We received 3rd place in the Co-ed elite division which qualifies us for the USARA Nationals in Tampa FL this year..woohoo! I am really excited to do that one...
Well, after 4 races in the month of April, my legs and I are ready for a break and some general more structured training. Next up is the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure (aka Pisgah Death March) in two weeks. Should be a killer!