Once Upon a Time in Mexico

This was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done. Although I guess
muscles might have been more sore during IMAZ, this race went longer
and at times it was mentally tough to just figure out what to do next.
However, the racing buddies were awesome!!

Dave and Donny of Big Bear Adventure Racing picked me up and down into
Baja we went. Having never been to Mexico, that part was a big part of
the experience for me. It really was amazing how close and yet how
different it was. It was almost as though even the terrain knew the
difference, as the Mexico side of the border fence and that on the US
side were slightly different in color and vegetation density. It was
also an interesting contrast to see the road border patrol on Mexico’s
side used as compared to that used by US border patrol — one looked
like two side by side hiking trails, and the other looked almost like
dust-colored pavement. Also during the drive we discussed strategies
and began planning what little bits of the race we could. However, we
knew that most of that planning would have to be done after we got the
maps and race details that night. We drove all the way down past
Ensenada and arrived at our campground — a little point overlooking
the Pacific. Gorgeous!

That night we got our map, plotted our
course and packed our gear. We hit a few hitches in this — for one,
the maps weren’t waterproof and we had forgotten contact paper. Luckily
another team gave us some. Course selected, we climbed into sleeping
bags and slept (or tried to) until the 5:30 am firework alarm woke us.
We got up, pulled on wetsuits, and grabbed the single pack we were
carrying for the first section: aquaterra. By going up and over a
ridge, we ended up at a nice little bay that had relatively easy
access. We climbed down and into some shockingly cold water, and set
off swimming about 1k. As I stepped into the water, a wave pulled one
of the rocks I was on loose, and I twisted my knee a bit. Once in the
cold water, I forgot all about it. Checkpoint reached, it was onto land
for a 1k jog through cactus and brush on a small trail to a cove where
we found inflatable (but not inflated) boats. Pumped the boat, climbed
in, and off we went. Here we realized another mistake — we hadn’t
carried any paddles. Although the race was providing some, it turned
out to be only 2, and that they had sent out an update Thursday night
(which we missed) saying that using your own paddles as well would be
allowed. Learning of this on Friday, we should have called Paul who
hadn’t left yet and gotten some from him, but we didn’t think of this
until after the fact. So our paddle was slow, and as the boys paddled I
fed them, and made sure they were drinking, and secured our gear (to
the boat and myself). After a huge wave threw us as we entered, we swam
our way into shore, deflated the boat, and made our way up into the
transition area above — one of the last few teams off the water.

off, trekking clothes on. Grab a pack. Put on shoes. Don’t forget to
get your maditory gear from the aqua pack! Squirt sunscreen in your
hand and put it on as heading out on the dirt road. Another check point
reached, and it was time for the creeks of poison oak — a section
highlighted on our maps and that we were warned about. Although there
was a choice of going around the area, going through looked to be by
far the easiest path, so we did. Much rock climbing and bushwacking
later, we found a well-used path in the area where we thought CP3
should be. During this, Donny, who has blown out his achilles a few
times, started to have some foot issues. He sucked it up though, and we
kept going. Here we made our next major nav error — we second guessed
ourselves. We had marked that the CP elevation should be around 550
meters, but decided on the ridge that it might be 450 instead, headed
right, and for about 2.5 hours looked for a checkpoint with a number of
other teams. Finally we took that same path up out of the area, after
no teams seemed to have spotted it, and after a false-cow alert —
white cows can sure look like CP signs! We passed the spot where we had
found this path, and within about 5 minutes hit CP3. We should have
gone left! It’s elevation was about 580 meters… our initial thought
had been correct. Oh well… gotta keep moving. We passed another team
as we climbed down some trail and some creek bed, and shared a
rattlesnake experience with them. Here I realized my knee definitely
twisted a bit more than I thought — for parts of the downhill I felt
like it would barely support my weight. As we climbed down rocks, and
slid down sections of hills, I just focused on keeping moving, and
perhaps using some duct tape on it once we got to the transition.
Through some barbed wire, and we were into the transition area, in 7th
place! CP3 was giving lots of teams some trouble, and we went for a
fast transition to keep our advantage.

With the help of Karen
and Paul, we were back out on the road quickly, and flying down it. On
the bike, both Donny’s ankle and my knee felt much better! But then it
was time for another nav error! We had “12k” marked on the map, and
thought it was for the stretch of road we were on. When we reached the
ocean, we realized it had been for the whole stretch to the CP, and
that we had missed a turn. Not sure how far back we had missed it, it
took us another hour and more spent energy to get back on course. This
meant that we reached the CP just as it was getting dark. And next was
the hike-a-bike section… which was supposedly 4k.

Some of the
volunteers made sure we found the right trail, and soon instead of our
bikes carrying us, we were carrying them. Headlamps on, as it was now
dark. We ended up on a wrong fork of the trail, and were almost not
able to backtrack. We realized our transition might have been a bit too
fast — although we got our bikes and bike gear, we forgot the
magnifier and glasses for Dave, our navigator! So in the dark it took
strong headlamps and some help from Donny and myself for Dave to read
the map. We made it back to the path though, and ended up climbing up
and up and up with the bikes. Dave was the hero of the day here — he
would hike his bike up a ways, come back and help me. There were
sections I would have had a hard time just hiking! Not to mention the
number of cacti lining all the trails. Oh, and Donny’s ankle was not
too happy with more climbing uphill. After this section, I love Stan’s
(the tubeless system I put on my bike). There were a few times a tire
and cactus met, and we’d hear the “pssssssss” of air rushing out of the
tire. But spin the tire, and the sound stopped! At the end of the
section, only one out of our six tires needed air, and none needed any

Anyways, we climbed up, and found no checkpoint. We
were a bit too far south! So back onto the trail. Dave scouting ahead
and keep us on track, Donny fighting with his foot, and me just keeping
moving. Finally we saw headlamps! It was CP5! One ridge over… if we
could make it up it. But there weren’t too many choices. Donny’s ankle
was to the point that he could barely walk, but somehow he was going to
have to hike his way out of the hike-a-bike. So we pressed on, almost
out of water. Reached the CP around 1:30am, and were assured it was
only a little ways further to the road, and that about 50% would be
rideable! As we continued, the fog rolled in… And I don’t mean just
any fog, but fog so thick I could barely see Dave in front of me! Which
meant that all this terrain that we hadn’t seen behind the ridge, and
that we were now passing through, would remain a closed book. Dave
showed some awesome nav skills here — using a bearing and some
scouting ahead, as well as helping with all the bikes, he lead us right
to the road! It may have taken about 4 hours, but we made it! He also
did an awesome job motivating us through it, and keeping the team
going. Donny pretty much checked out for a while — asking us things
like if the CP was around the next corner, or if we were almost to the
final point. Although we told him we weren’t even heading for a CP, but
just a road, he was convinced we were almost there… It was definitely
our team lowpoint, and Dave did a great job keeping us going and sane.

hit the road right as it got lighter, and the first rays of light
brought us a better outlook. Donny came back to reality, and my knee
had been pretty good on the climb down (using the bike to break and
steady myself had really helped). Down the road, we headed back to TA 1
where we had exited the water, and where they had water for us. A
number of teams were at TA1 having never found CP3 and having hiked
their way back. They and the volunteers helped us refill water bottles,
gave us some anti-inflamatory stuff for my knee and Donny’s ankle, and
helped motivate us to keep going. A quick radio check with Karen and
Paul informed us that we’d still get points in the series if we took
the short course (as a CP was being cut out, saving us about 5-10k and
300meters of climbing). Antonio, the race director, told us we could do
it… that the climb wasn’t that bad, and that we’d be on dirt roads
the whole way. Back on our bikes, and Donny helped tow me up. And I
walked up parts, again helped by Dave. We kept moving forward… and
that was what mattered. Finally, the peak of the last major climb
(except for the one taking us over the hill by our camp). A great
downhill section, cruising along and just relaxing and enjoying the
ride. Then the really final climb, and our whole team rode the whole
thing (thanks to Donny helping me)! It was a great feeling, and we then
had another fun descent into camp! Down the hill, and into the finish
area! We had made it!!

Just over 26 hours after starting, we
were the 8th or 9th team to complete the course, and only 8 or 9 ended
up completing it. It had been tough, and got the best of some really
good teams. With our first time navigator, and our first time working
as a team, we made some mistakes, but overall were happy with how we
did, and with our perseverence and just finishing the thing! The
volunteers along this course were great, and the experience of racing
in another country amazing. There were teams near us on the trek which
mostly only spoke Spanish, and our team knew very few words. Yet we had
a bond — we were all attacking this beast of a course. Antonio is
definitely a director we love to hate — his course was tough, but we
proved to ourselves we could do it. And like he said, we wouldn’t have
wanted an easy time out there, or we’d be doing triathlons 😉

it home, soaked lots of gear in Simple Green to remove poison oak, and
did many loads of laundry. I also washed a really dirty bike with the
help of Sonja. Iced my knee, and although it is still sore it’s not
feeling horrible. Also cleaned many blisters on my feet, which weren’t
used to hiking in bike shoes. I think I might be immune to poison oak
— like after climbing in it during the Big Blue race, I (so far) don’t
have any spots of it. And slept. It was a tough weekend. But the
feeling of accomplishment at the end really makes it all worth it. I
hope I get to race with those guys again, as through it all it was
still fun, and they were like wonderful big brothers. We went through
some hell, but it brought us together.

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