Brandon (TdB) did a great writeup of this race, but here are some of my memories of the race with Brandon, Alfred, and Randy: Team UTM in a Haystack.
Friday morning I got up, finished the last few bits of packing, and was about ready to go. I headed out, the car ready with waterbottles, snacks, and CDs for the 4-5 hour drive. Interestingly enough, the radio station I often listen to in LA seems to be the same in the Bakersfield area (at least, same kind of music and similar catch phrase, although different name), so I ended up only needing CDs in the Grapevine and closer to the race itself. One of my favorite parts of races is the drive there. I’m packed, I’m going, most little last minute tasks and worries I just have to let go of. And I get to drive through some crazy areas. This time was all roads I have driven before, but for some reason I put a mountain bike in my car and each hill I see turns into paths and descents and fun.
I made it to the race site around 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, spoke to a few other early arrivers, and just relaxed til the rest of the team got there and it was time for organizing gear, plotting a course, and all other last minute bits. The map seemed pretty straight forward — huh, looks a bit shorter than the website said it should be (that should have been hint #1 for us). And it’s a pretty clear circle (that should have been hint #2). We picked our direction for the trek and bike loops, based on where Brandon and Alfred had ridden before. Proud of our clean route, we guestimated time for the course and packed food and water accordingly — we figured probably around 7 hours of trekking, and then we’d be back to refill.
Ready to go, I grabbed a quick nap and got up around 12:10 to head to the meeting at 12:30. There we heard the same reminders about rules, course, etc. Oh, and were showed another checkpoint for the trek. At least, sorta shown… it was “somewhere in a canyon… you’ll see it”. So basically we’d get to walk the whole canyon looking. The canyon was about 1.5k long, so depending on how narrow/tricky it was, that might get interesting… Oh, and the final race announcement 10 minutes before start? “Who is planning to get CP TT first?” Many of us raised our hands. “Ok, now you all are. That’s going to be the first point.” Ok, so maybe there was order to some of the race… we still weren’t too concerned, as that was close to the start and still made either direction on the loop an easy option.
Ten minutes later, we were off at a jog. Near the back of the pack, but that was ok — we knew were were not a running team. And even at that pace I could tell my foot (sprained about 2 weeks prior) was not going to be too happy with this terrain. We made it up the hill to CP TT, and Randy ran over to grab the punch as Brandon and Alfred and I waited a bit away from the crowd. We hear Randy: “Uh… Brandon? Can you come here?” and we know — this isn’t just a normal CP. Turns out, this CP directed us to another surprise CP not on our map. However, instead of a relatively close one, this one was the complete other side of the map. Oh, and you can’t grab any other CPs on your way (although we’d pass by a number of them). We set off, soon leaving the trails for some very easy bushwacking. Very easy, that is, if my foot had been willing to cooperate and accept weight without throwing a tantrum. Yes, this was probably the hardest leg of the race for me. There were sections that were banked, and I hadn’t yet figured out that straight up or down or sloping to the right was ok, so I ended up walking a number of sections sloped to the left. In fact, there were tears building in my eyes just from the pain of walking! Part of me felt like I couldn’t do it… that I wouldn’t be able to finish. However, one “cool” thing about AR is that you can’t always just stop… you have to get to somewhere that lets you stop. We weren’t even near such a spot, and I was still alive, so I just kept moving (another AR rule — keep moving forward, even if slowly). After what seemed to be ages (I still have no idea how long or far it really was) we reached the CP. Brandon did some tape magic, and my foot seemed ok and we continued up over a hill to our next (again designated) point. Oh, here is where they were going to get all that mileage that appeared to be missing — mystery points and making us go between points we wouldn’t have choosen to connect!
A man and his kids punched our passport at the next point, and from there (the middle of our nice clean circle course) we were told to go where we wanted. We continued, although with a bit of a detour based on a distance mis-gage, and then proceeded to get a number more points. This was accompanied by calls of “haystacks” “hay” and “stacks”, as well as Brandon making friends with a flashing metal post some miles away and talking to it with his headlamp. In the process of some of the downhills though, Alfred’s knees, not used to such terrain, decided it was their turn to make walking painful. He sucked it up though and just kept moving forward! Soon we ran into Team Cyclepath. After talking to them, we ended up joining forces and proceeded to some of the trickier points (the canyon one, and then what they knew was a “road block” point where 3 more mystery points would be added to our maps). Those two have some crazy stories, and an awesome attitude! However, since the course was, well, just a bit longer than we had originally planned for, we ran into a few water issues, but seemed to be ok (although wouldn’t be for too long) on food. But our superteam pooled its resources, gathered up the rest of the trekking points, and we got everyone back to the transition area.
Here there was a double edged sword: taking shoes off, but also having to put on a new pair. We were late enough that we could pick biking or kayaking, and giving the number of CPs we could get on the kayak compared to the bike, we chose to head to the bikes first. It felt soooo good to get out of the shoes we’d be trekking in for the last 10 or 11 hours, and get clean socks. Yet at the same time I found a number of blisters, combined with my swollen sprained left foot, had decided bike shoes shouldn’t work. And of course, I have the kind that you can’t open really wide — you have to slide your heel in at the end. After some effort and colorful language to express my feelings on the situation, I got my shoe on! Wooo for the little triumphs! Soon we were off on the bike, two wheels each that fixed Alfred’s knees and got my foot not hurting and just left with blister pain. We headed out, planning to just get one CP and see how we feel from there. We felt ok… and knowing one section would be a pain (from our experiences there while trekking) we decided to skip those 2 points, as well as 2 others that were just monster climbing, and we did our own shortened bike loop. Here was Randy’s low, as he hadn’t fueled well for it. But again, our team just kept moving forward, getting the job done. Oh, and Brandon kicked some serious ass! While Alfred’s sore knee solution was to just never walk and to make it up everything on his bike (animal!) I wasn’t quite strong enough for that, and more than one of those hills brought me to my feet. Added bonus is now I got to trek them *with* my bike. But Brandon’s superstrength helped move the team forward as he’d come back and grab my bike after getting his to the top of the hill, or would hook a bungie to our bikes so that he could help pull mine up. Damn he’s good! 🙂
Anyways, we completed the bike loop, and I knew that once the shoes were off they wouldn’t go back on, and as a team we felt those 14 hours were a great workout, wonderful experience together, and a full race. So we pretended the kayak’s didn’t exist, crossed the finish line, and relaxed through the awards, raffle and BBQ. Also spoke with other teams, suchs as Trifecta (who were at the Baja race as well) and Ross from Team Engine (who had volunteered), and of course Bob (from my eCamps team) and John (also from my eCamp team). An awesome race, great teammates, and just a generally fun weekend!
Then the cleanup parts — my bike got a bath, and the car repacked. I planned to nap, but was too wired so just started driving home at 7. Uh… worked out ok, but is never a great idea. I mean, I drove up all day Friday (after packing for a decent number of hours that night), raced all day Saturday, and still hadn’t slept. I knew I would get tired once on the road, so I had accepted a nap part way home. I tend to want to just get home. So a few hours down the road, a nap in a gas station parking lot (set an alarm, a jacket over my head, and was OUT) and a refueling and back on the road. The last 50 miles I was a bit too sleepy, but was so close I could taste home! And I made it, and spent Sunday catching up on sleeping and laziness.
- An awesome race. I hope to do more of the SVS series next year!
- Throwing some peppermints in a backpack pocket makes for a great quick pick-me-up and freshener on the trail
- I would race with these guys any day — PQ 2007? 😉