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A Bella heads into the wild! Cal Eco adventure race report...

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  • meredithob
    My latest foray into the world of outdoor excitement and human suffering led me to do my first adventure race. The following is a true to life account of my
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2004
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      My latest foray into the world of outdoor excitement and human
      suffering led me to do my first adventure race. The following is a
      true to life account of my 20-hour weekend adventure in the Sierras—
      mostly a lesson in "how to keep moving, so the mosquitoes don't eat
      me alive." Be forewarned, 20 hours makes for a fairly long report.
      Hopefully I don't bore you to death!

      As a quick overview, adventure racing is a multi-sport endurance race
      that encompasses a variety of disciplines-- hiking, mountain biking,
      kayaking, rappelling, and sometimes swimming, usually in fun
      hypothermic-inducing lake waters (wetsuits are often advised prior to
      the start of the race if this is the case). Teams (2-4 person, or
      solo if people are psychotic enough) are given a number of
      checkpoints they must reach by their own navigational skills—plotting
      the locations on a topographic map and then actually finding them in
      the wild. The checkpoints must be reached in a certain order, where
      the team will have their "passport" stamped before heading for the
      finish line. Adventure races are usually anywhere from 12-24 hours,
      although the more famous ones like the EcoChallenge span several
      days. For some people adventure races are a serious hobby-- teams
      compete for cash prizes and top honors. These teams usually finish in
      half the time the rest of us "common folk" do (as if racing for 24
      hours is anything but common) and are can usually be considered super-
      human endurance machines.

      The race I competed in this past weekend was part of the Cal Eco
      series (http://www.csmevents.com/races/caleco.html). Races occur once
      a month (May to August) and are scattered around eastern and northern
      California. The race last weekend was held just south of Yosemite
      National Park, east of Oakhurst around Bass Lake, in the Sierra
      National Forest. While the maximum race time on CalEco races are
      usually 24 hours, this particular race was extended to 27 hours, due
      to the technical navigational section.

      The start was at 4:30am, so we woke up around 3:15am to get going and
      head out to the starting line, since our campsite was about 40
      minutes away. The first quandry occurred when we didn't leave the
      campsite until 4am, putting us at an already 10 minute disadvantage
      to the other teams, not to mention missing the beginning of the race!
      Some skillful driving through windy mountain roads by our team
      captain, Pat, put us into the staging area as the race countdown was
      happening. "5-4-3-2-1!" I heard the race director call out over the
      loud speaker as I fumbled in the car for my backpack and race jersey
      and prepared myself for the 20-mile hike ahead of me. Yup, you read
      correctly. 4:30am start, 20-mile hike. That's before the mountain
      biking, rappelling, and kayaking. I had a long day in front of me.
      Oh, and keep in mind, about 80% of the race was to be above 8,000
      feet elevation.

      The first checkpoint was relatively easy to find, the sun had come
      up, and a tromp through a marshy bog (think South Carolina... I was
      scared the alligators were going to start chomping, even thought
      technically I was in the Sierras) surprisingly cut out a half an hour
      off our time. Despite our late start, we hit checkpoint #1 in 24th
      out of 33rd place (some of the checkpoints have people stationed at
      them, so we were able to find out what place we were in, while other
      checkpoints are just brightly colored flags with hole punchers for
      our passports attached to them, placed in the middle of god-forsaken
      NOwhere with NO one in sight). 24th out of 33rd place was good,
      considering we had chosen our team name, Team Stomp, based solely on
      the notion that we were not going to run during the hiking section,
      just "briskly" walk. So we had briskly walked into 24th place. As we
      left checkpoint 1 and began our trek to checkpoint 2, we passed
      several teams who had chosen a different route and were just heading
      to were we had came from. We had made the right navigational decision
      and were in high spirits. 6 miles down, 14 to go.

      Checkpoint 2 turned out to be a whole 'nother story. I'd call the
      search for checkpoint #2 a lesson in bushwhacking. Allusive is an
      understatement-- the checkpoint was nowhere to be found, on or OFF
      trail. I would have helped to find it, but my navigational skills
      with a topo map are quite rusty, so I put my faith in the 3 guys on
      my team and unprotestingly followed wherever they went, and into the
      bushes to bushwhack it was. We heard and saw other teams in the
      forest. We continued to bushwhack. The forest got quiet, the other
      teams had found the checkpoint and moved on. We bushwhacked some
      more. Hmm, did I mention we bushwhacked? Somewhere around 9am, we
      found the checkpoint with the flag and the paper puncher for our
      passport. At last! My ankles were sore from negotiating roots and
      rocks and branches. I longed to be on a flat trail. My wish wasn't
      granted until several hours later, as getting to checkpoint 3
      required scree scrambling and boulder hopping 1000 ft down to a
      beautiful glacial lake, and checkpoint 4 was back up at the top of
      the ridge, 1000 ft above said glacial lake. I think I did more
      climbing with my hands and arms on the way back up than I did with my
      legs. For those of you familiar with rock climbing, I'd say
      the "hike" up to the top of the ridge was probably a 5.6, or even a
      5.7. I definitely felt like I should have been on belay at some

      After climbing up from the lake, it was around 11:30am and we had
      only gone 10 miles, give or take. The remaining 10 miles turned out
      to be on a loooong, hot, dusty and dry fireroad (as fireroads often
      are). Fortunately, no bushwhacking was involved.

      We got into our first transition area (TA) just before 3pm. The hike
      had taken us 10 and a half hours and put us back several places.
      There were only 5 or 6 teams still out on the trail. The rest had
      gone on to the mountain biking and rappelling section. Unfortunately,
      the captain of our team had been drained on the hike (he was also
      recovering from an overactive work schedule that hadn't allowed him
      enough pre-race sleep), so he needed to take a nap. Transition areas
      are where a lot of teams get bogged down-- it's easy to relax and
      take the gas off, which is why it's important to get into the TA, get
      changed for the next discipline, get some food, and get back out on
      the course as quickly as needed. It just keeps the flow going. We
      found out the lead teams were at the TA for 4 minutes. We were there
      for an hour and a half.

      As we sent out from the TA on our bikes, there was already some
      concern about available time to finish the race. It was already
      4:30pm and we had a 50-mile bike ride in front of us. We estimated
      that we would finish the biking section between midnight and 2am--
      and that was before we got into rafts to do the kayaking section. In
      order to finish the race, we had to complete the course before 7:30am
      Sunday morning. It was looking doubtful. Additionally it didn't seem
      that biking was our team, as a whole's, strong point. One of our team
      members still rides in tennis shoes and platform pedals. I was

      The plan was to at least get to the rappel section and then assess
      the situation. On the 10 mile ride to the cliffs where the rappelling
      was, Pat had two rear-tire blowouts on his bike. We looked for the
      thorn in his tire, but to no avail. On the second blowout, we crossed
      our fingers that he wouldn't have any more problems, since it seemed
      that I was the only other person that had brought a spare tube. Due
      to 2 tire changes, the 10 mile ride took almost 2 hours. We dropped
      our bikes at checkpoint #7, and hiked (actually, more bushwhacking!)
      about 800ft up the side of a mountain to get to the top of a cliff in
      which we had to rappel down. Despite our slow going, our timing was
      amazing-- we got to the top of the cliffs just as the sun was setting
      and dusk was blanketing the Eastern Sierras. The rose-colored views
      of the Eastern Sierra peaks and the Minerrettes were awe-inspiring.
      All those hours of bushwhacking were justifiably worth it.

      After some "holy *8#$!!" squeals from me, we successfully rappelled
      down the side of the cliff (300ft, I think??), hiked another couple
      hundred feet and did another shorter rappel, this one about 150ft.
      Another half a mile of hiking put us back at our bikes. It was
      getting late and dark, the mosquitoes were getting more and more
      ferocious (they even bit through my Bella jersey!!) and we had a
      decision to make. Should we continue on with the bike leg or should
      we turn back towards the first transition area, which happened to be
      on the same road as our campsite for the weekend, in effect
      saying "mercy, we DNF!"? (DNF = did not finish) The mood was low. The
      lack of sleep was setting in, we were worried about Pat's continuing
      problems with his tire, and we knew the going was going to be
      particularly slow. I let the guys know that I was physically capable
      of going on but it seemed that the general sentiment was to turn
      back. It was decided, we would DNF. It was 9:30pm.

      With concerns about Pat's tire, and since I still felt pretty perky
      for having raced for 17 hours, I volunteered to ride ahead of the
      guys to get to a cell phone reception location, where I could call
      our support team so they could come with the car to rescue
      the "survivors." We knew our campsite was a sure thing for reception
      so I said goodbye to the guys and started the climb out of the valley
      as they took their time on their bikes. My bike headlight ran out
      about 45 minutes later, so I stopped and found my camping headlamp, a
      great light for walking around in the dark with, but not the best
      idea when riding a bike. I crested the saddle of the valley and
      headed down towards Bass Lake. With the help of the moonlight and my
      headlamp, I used the yellow divider lines in the road to guide my way
      (the road had turned to pavement several miles previously-- making me
      wish I had my road bike or at least skinnier tires on my mountain
      biking.) When I saw the lights of Bass Lake down in the next valley,
      I turned on Pat's cell phone and checked for reception. Success. I
      put the call in to our support team and told them that I was on my
      way to our campsite (they had been waiting for our team at what was
      supposed to be our next transition area, from bike to kayak, at Bass
      Lake) and that the rest of the team was farther up the road.

      I pulled into our campsite around 11:40pm. My bike computer read 33
      miles from the start of the bike leg. Our support team arrived in the
      car at the campsite soon after and picked me up, so I could direct
      them to where the rest of the team was. Driving up the road 10
      minutes later, we saw the headlights of our team. They hopped in the
      car, glad to call an end to the day.

      All in all, I had fun although I was a bit disappointed in not
      finishing the race, especially because I felt physically capable of
      doing so. The best part of the race for me, aside from the sunset
      views of the Sierra peaks, was knowing that all my training had paid
      off. I had successfully hiked 20 miles, biked 33, and knew that I
      still had more go-go juice in me. I didn't hurt anything worse than
      what 2 or 3 Advil couldn't fix the next day, although I'm still
      contemplating paying for a good massage, since I had some problems
      with my shoulder muscles during the hike. The next race is a 3-day
      (as in 72 hours) but I need to make sure my team is up for it before
      I commit once again to training for it. That being said, if anyone is
      interested in giving this whole adventure racing thing a try for next
      year's season (if you've managed to read this entire report!), let me
      know, I'd be interested in putting together a team.

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