Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crux and Crucible Adventure Race

Crux and Crucible was a new race put on up in Farragut State Park, northern Idaho. Peteris Ledins, Christi Masi, Andrew Feucht and I headed up to represent team Verve. Crux and Crucible was set up as two 12-14 hour races, one each day. The Crux and Crucible were fairly different feeling races. The Crux contained a lot of bushwhacking and harder navigation, whereas the Crucible was fairly fast and straightforward.

I'll start with my final impressions: while we got a lot of good stories out of this race and had a memorable time, we have decided that the RD's adventure races leave something to be desired on the organizational front. The RD tried to talk up some of the parts of the races and create adventure through vagueness, which didn't seem to work out. The Crux had a swim segment, which some of the team could opt not to do and do some other unknown task instead. After many questions, the RD finally told the racers that our kayaks would be on a barge at the TA and that we would have to swim out to it in order to get our kayaks, and if only some of the team swam out, then they would have to bring the kayaks back to the others on the beach. There were some issues with staging the gear that were made clearer when he finally told us what we were going to be doing. However, on Saturday morning, he announced that the swim was cancelled because the barge was too small to hold all the kayaks without putting them on top of one another, and gear had to be restaged.

He also told us that we had to plot the CPs ourselves, and when asked, said that the scale of the map was 1:24000. When we showed up on Saturday with appropriate UTM grids, we discovered that he had magnified the original map 40-50% in order for us to see the terrain better; however the scale was 1:16000 or so and did not fit our UTM grids. I brought a divider that I could use to do accurate UTM plotting, but I could hardly believe his oversight and misinformation on such a key part of the race. He also said that he had an answer key that showed where the CPs were plotted that we could look at (so why do we need to plot our own points in the first place??).

One of the CPs was wrong in any case. Apparently the RD used a GPS to generated the UTM points without really checking them on the map, and the GPS was not reading very well. The point was 200 meters off on the wrong side of the hill, so noone found it. Nike called the RD to tell him about it. They used their cellphone the next day too to call the RD when 3 of our teams had searched for 15 minutes for another CP. I've never seen another race where you are allowed to call the RD for additional clues. And here I thought that the mandatory team cellphone was for emergencies or something. Silly me (for the record, we all benefitted from the additional help).

In another case, the RD said that we could get the CPs in any order, but there was a CP at the end that was only a block from the CP at the beginning. It was in the town of Bayview at a store. We stopped by on the way out and got a signature from the owner; however, we were told by volunteers at the kayak TA that we were supposed to stop by on the way back during the kayak, so we did. Some other people did not stop by on the way back and got away with it (the volunteers said what?? I didn't hear that.. .)

Speaking of getting away with it, there was another team that was leaving their woman at their bikes when they went off to hike to search for the checkpoint. We saw her alone when everyone was looking for the misplaced CP, and when we finally gave up we saw her again at the bikes all alone. Her team had abandoned her for a half an hour. At the next CP, they left her again to trek several hundred meters up the ridge to get a CP. Christi/Peteris mentioned it to the RD and he gave the other team a lecture, but the RD gave some lame excuse about wanting to attract good teams to the race (is that why he didn't penalized them?). In any case, he just lost the patronage of one good team -- us.

At the end of the second day, there was an orienteering course that was supposed to be done in order, but my teammates said they overheard another top team saying that they did it out of order. I guess when only the volunteer says something, you can ignore it if it is in your interest.

More cases: when we finished the kayak on Saturday, there was a CP in the middle of a campground. However, the RD did not tell us where to beach our kayaks. There was one particular spot that he wanted us to go where there were volunteers who then told us to carry our kayaks up to the campground. However, we had tried to land at another beach before that until someone related to the race came over to tell us to go "somewhere else". Why didn't the RD just make the CP at the beach instead of the campground? There was no indication that we couldn't just drop our kayaks off anywhere and bushwhack up to the CP. I hate it when RDs want you to do something specific but will not tell you what it is. That makes the race more of a crapshoot than a race.

Speaking of crapshoots, Ian,Roger and Jared were leading by an hour on Sunday and had only one CP left. They were supposed to go to the CP and get instructions for an orienteering course that they had to do before the finish. However, the RD did not explain this. He had on the passport however that they had to go to that CP and get a punch (typically marked by an orienteering flag), although it was actually a manned checkpoint that did not require a puch. So, as they were about to arrive at the last CP, they saw an orienteering marker by the side of the road with a punch on it. They punched it and then headed to the finish, expecting to get the orienteering course info there. Unfortunately, the punch they had seen was part of the O course itself, and when they arrived at the finish, three miles away, they discovered they had to go back. Someone gave them a ride back(!) and they finished the O course, then rode back to the finish line and still won, but it was certainly an anxious moment.

The funniest thing that happened on the course, however, was earlier in the race on Sunday. Ian's team was ahead and had apparently gotten a CP that was very difficult to find. After we wandered around at the location of a CP with Nike and True Grit for a while, Nike called up the RD to ask for more directions as to where the CP was (he had indicated it slightly misplaced with bad description, and it was hidden). After getting some feedback from the RD (hello? What other race have you been to where you call the RD if you are having trouble) Nike found the point and headed off, and True Grit found it shortly thereafter. We found the point a few minutes later and played catch up. About an hour later, we picked up another CP on an overgrown spur road and headed on, only to find Ian's team wandering around on a ridge below the road looking for the CP in the wrong place. We couldn't believe that they had blown such a lead, and Peteris decided to help them out by yelling down and telling them how to get to the CP. Later on, we discovered that it was actually Nike that he was helping. We were beating Nike, a famously solid team, and Peteris decides to stop and give them directions. Doh!

So, I guess I should actually describe the races. The Crux -- we started out with a short run to spread people out, then we hopped on our mountain bikes. My team, Verve, was first on the bikes. Then we did a long biking segment with lots of gratuitous bushwhacking. The crux CP which was not the one called "The Crux", ironcially) was actually a pair of CPs, one on a mountaintop and one 500 vertical feet down the other side. Route choice in this case was significant, and a crucial road to the lower CP was not on the map. The RD did say before the race, however, that all the CPs were near a road, so we knew that there was some sort of road to the lower one, we just did not know where it came from. The teams that guessed (or knew) where that lower road was picked up a fair amount of time than the teams (like mine) that did extra bushwhacking between the two points, although the latter choice seemed reasonable without extra information. The point that was labelled the "Crux" was at the end of the mountain biking segment. There was a cutoff off 4pm for the last CP before the kayaks, and my team arrived at 2:45. However, at that point we were given the information about the "Crux" checkpoint and how to get to it, and we were told at that point that we had to do the Crux and get back by 4pm. We started up a long climb to the top of the mountain near where the Crux was located, but we turned back because we did not have enough time, and we did not pick up the huge amount of bonus points for this CP (it was worth 4 times the average point value of the other CPs). If we had known we had to do the Crux before the cutoff, we could have skipped one of the other CPs and had enough extra time. We learned later, however, that Nike took 2 hours to find the point because there was a typo in the directions (another oversight on the RD's part), and we also learned that at 4pm, after we had started kayaking, they decided to move the cutoff from 4pm to 5pm as so many of the teams had not arrived yet.

We kayaked in a triple towing Christi in a single, which worked OK. Thunder and lightning started off in the distance, but we managed to outrun it. After the kayak section was an orienteering section in the park. The clouds opened up and a completely drenching rain poured down on us. Luckily we had only an hour left, and we finished the O course looking like drowned rats. We kept running into Ian,Roger,Jared on the course during the second half of the race, and we all finished together.

The Crucible was much nicer and straightforward. We ran down to where our kayaks were and did a short swim across the bay (which was not as bad as I thought it would be). Then we kayaked 8 miles or so to where our mountain bikes were stationed, then did a long mountain bike section on fire roads with fairly easy to find CPs with a couple exceptions. Half way through the mountain bike we stopped and ran up and down a mountain, at which point my team had pulled ahead of both Nike and True Grit. We were still leading when we hit the sweet singletrack down Bernard Mountain, at which point Nike blew by us. We passed them again at the bottom, but on the last CP before the park, we choked. Everyone had a problem with the CP, which appeared to be right on the trail; however the trail we were on was not the trail marked on the map, and we should have picked up on some terrain clues (and my inability to accurately located us on the trail along the map) and reoriented ourselves more quickly. Nike and True Grit passed us here, and if we had gone on, we would have found another trail that lead back to the CP. We got onto the orienteering course at the end 10 minutes behind the other teams; however, we could not catch up and finished as the third place co-ed team. It was a close and hard fought battle, though, and that made it really fun.

We raced two somewhat different feeling races during the weekend, and finished each one in a little over 11 hours each, so it was like a 24 hour race with a nice dinner and rest halfway through. I liked that part. Overall, I had a fun time, but the sloppiness of the race really got to me. This race is worth doing once, but probably not a second time.

Peteris' post here: http://www.teamverve.org/2009/06/why-i-love-trioba.html

Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Trioba writeup

Here is Team Verve's writeup from the Trioba race:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trioba "Wild Sky" Sprint Adventure Race

Andrew Feucht, Matt Hayes, Julie Heidt and I headed up to Index to participate in the "Wild Sky" Trioba Sprint AR. Peteris Ledins, Murray Maitland, and Christi Masi (with whom I raced at Desert Winds last month) were racing with Ian Hoag as Team Verve, and were definitely going to push us hard. We were all looking forward to a good race, and especially to the whitewater rafting trip down the Skykomish at the end.

We camped on Friday out along Reiter Road just outside of Index (an hour and a half from Seattle) where we could find some free camping, and we soaked in the spectacular views of the mountains and river that the area had to offer before heading to sleep. We all met at the River House in Index at 6am for the pre-race meeting (it starts getting light at 5am around here) and received our maps so that we could familiarize ourselves with them. The course worked as follows: bike leg up to a remote TA. Remote trek loop. Bike back through town to another remote TA. Another remote trek loop. Bike to start of rafting. Raft down river to finish. We were allowed one bin at the start line that we could access as we passed through town, and another at the start of the rafting trip where we could leave all of our biking/trekking gear and pick up our rafting gear.

At the start, Verve quickly pulled ahead and disappeared, while Matt got Julie on tow so that we could keep ahead of the masses. We turned onto a fire road that went uphill quickly. and everyone spread out a bit. At the first CP, a rough trail broke off from the road to the second CP. We elected to take the road, and several others headed down the trail. We arrive at CP 2 first, ahead of Verve as well as all the other teams, so we felt good about taking the safe, easy (albeit longer) route. CP 3 took us to the top of Index Town Walls and its beautiful views looking down on Index and across the valley. We did not tarry any more than we had to, however.

The mountain biking took us through some serious water and mud. Water was spread out like a lake across some parts of the road and trail, up to about 20 inches deep. It is a weird sensation riding through such deep, muddy water hoping that there are no holes in front of you. We did not have fenders so we got a healthy spray of mud and water all over.

The trek section took us through some serious bushwhacking. We occasionally followed old abandoned roads, but sometimes went cross-country through heavy brush, slide alder and devils club. Verve caught up with us at this point and we travelled side-by-side for a few CPs. At one point we both overshot a CP and went separate ways looking for it, and they pulled ahead.

A couple CPs later, we found ourselves up above snow level. We decided to take a short-cut down to the main road instead of following a vague snow covered road the longer way around; however, we got cliffed out and had to bushwhack our way down and around some cliffs and lost several minutes.

Back on the bikes, we got to ride some fast downhills past a few more CPs and down into town. We quickly stopped at our bin to refill on water. Verve left just as we arrived, and we saw them again as we pulled into the TA for the second trek loop at Heybrook Ridge. The second trek followed a logging road up to the top of Heybrook Ridge, looped around and came back down again. It was much mellower than the first loop; it had very little bushwhacking and few navigation problems, although it had a big hill. Verve was faster up the hill than we were, and pulled ahead of us by four to five minutes by the time we made it back to the bikes again.

The last biking section followed the road to rafting put-in. One CP along the way was on a spur road that was hidden by a concrete barrier that required us to keep an eye on the cycle computer and pay attention, which we did. We arrived at the rafting put in after 6.5 hours of racing.

Once at the rafting put-in, we were off the clock so that we could get appropriate safety gear, meet our guide and get the raft ready. Then we checked back in, raced to the raft and jumped in. I think our guide, Bucky, enjoyed having a crew that wanted to paddle the whole time and wanted to take the fastest route. Although we certainly still felt like we were racing, the rafting trip was fun and enjoyable and a perfect way to cross the finish line. Steak dinners waited for us at the end at the River House. Verve held on to beat us, but we finished a strong 2nd place. Glenn, RVG and Aaron put on a good race.