Wow what an awesome way to start the adventure racing season! It rained a bit on the drive down and now it’s pouring cats and dogs as we drive home, but we somehow lucked out with beautiful weather during the race – high 70’s and partly cloudy. Overall, this was a wicked course to tackle with some unique challenges. We finished 1st in the two person coed division and 9th overall. As expected, team Rev3 crushed it and were the only ones to fully clear the course – but watch out, team Chaffing the Dream is training hard and we’re coming for you! Okay, onto the details:
The race is put on by GOALS ARA, a non-profit in Pennsylvania that’s been around for a little over a decade. For this particular race, they paired entry with raising money for organ donor awareness – the more you raised the less your entry fee! It is always nice to race along with a cause. In recent years past the Cradle of Liberty has been run as a 24hr. This year however, the course designers decided the location was best suited to either a 12hr or 40hr race, so they decided on a 12hr.
We started with a cozy, 25 minute bus ride with a full bus and all of our gear, from registration to the race start. Once we arrived we had just a couple minutes for last minute bathroom breaks, gear checks, and race briefing before the race began. The race started with a mad dash to a nearby field where the race packets were scattered randomly among the grass. After finding packet #5 we opened it to find a race map and course instructions. Our first task was to plot 4 UTM coordinates. Unfortunately because we signed up for this race last minute, we hadn’t found a store that carried a UTM plotting tool (recommended gear list). Instead we used a DIY version which was simply some hash marks on the edges of our compass to mark distances. Our DIY creation was surprisingly accurate and after quickly plotting the points, we collected our pre-race punch card and were somehow one of the first few teams to dash out of the pavilion in search of the first three check points that we had plotted.
The points were all pretty close by and easy to find. One of the points involved wading a river if approached from the near side, but because Princess Tom didn’t want to overflow his waterproof socks just yet, the decision was made to take a slightly longer road route to approach the point from the other side of the river. We thought this would only add a few extra minutes to the section, but by the time we got back to the boat launch, there were only a couple boats still there while the rest were down river out of sight already. We traded in our pre-passport for the race one and hopped into our canoe. Lessons learned: 1. Don’t take a longer route in hopes of keeping your princess toes dry for a few extra minutes, they will be wet soon enough anyways. 2. Being quick isn’t always a good thing if you aren’t on the shortest route!
The paddle section took us a little over two hours. The river itself was relatively shallow and we found ourselves scraping the bottom from time to time but never to the point where we had to get out and push. Many other teams had their fancy carbon fiber kayak paddles, but we chugged along with our good old fashion, race provided, canoe paddles. For the most part other teams gained on us during the flat water sections (we are going to pretend this was purely based on the fact that we had canoe paddles and only two team members and not based on the fact that our paddling strength is a little bit lacking) but, we gained on others during the “rapids” sections with our excellent river navigation. Unlike foot or bike travel where there’s often the added difficulty of route selection, paddling usually only has one choice. So, it was a nice surprise when we got to the first portage section and were presented with the decision of dragging our borrowed 85 pound canoe down the road or maneuvering it into a small canal (down a set of stairs, over a narrow bridge, and over the bank). We chose the canal and as a result we came out ahead of a couple other teams we had been trailing down the river. A quick checkpoint and another 5k of flat-water paddling led us to CP3/TA1 where we left our boat and paddles, were given supplemental maps, and collected our mountain bikes for the next section of the race.
We thought the mountain biking section would fly by because the checkpoints were scattered across a network of recreational trails, but boy were we wrong! The trails were rocky and rooty, with sections that were still wet from yesterday’s rain. I went flying into the brush on one occasion and over the handlebars into a pile of rocks on another (Let’s just say I can now HIGHLY recommend the GIRO bike helmet I have!) Navigation was pretty straight forward though we did make one mistake when we tried to take a shortcut through the woods (off-trail) with our bikes and found ourselves surrounded by thick vines and prickers. We ended up veering slightly off course and missed the checkpoint. After realizing our mistake, we decided it wasn’t worth the time to go back for it and continued to the next transition area. Lesson learned: Don’t hike a bike through the woods unless you can see that the ground cover is thin between you and your next destination.
At this TA we dropped our backpacks and bikes before heading off to an island hopping section. Checkpoints were scattered over several islands in the Lehigh river that we had paddled earlier. This was by far my favorite part of the race-the water was a great temperature and it soothed our legs from the stinging nettle we had encountered. I had a blast floating/swimming downstream from island to island. 45 minutes later we had collected all six checkpoints and were back at our bikes. At this point Princess Tom’s socks were filled with water and we paused for a sock change before heading out to the next section.
From there, it was another half dozen standard orienteering checkpoints which were located at some cool places-old ruins, defunct power line towers and an old abandoned quarry. Up until this point we had been among the handful of teams bringing up the rear, but as we cruised through these points we started seeing more racers.
As we finished this set of checkpoints Tom had a headache and he realized not only was he out of water, he had been for an hour and starting to get dehydrated. Luckily, the route to the next TA brought us through town and we were able to stop in at the local grocery store for some much needed hydration. I think the cashier was quite baffled to see me sprint into the store in race clothes and a helmet, run around looking for water and leave without a bag or receipt.
With only three hours to go, it became clear that we would have to skip some checkpoints. We began adjusting our route plan accordingly, making sure we would have time to get all of the mandatory checkpoints. A series of well hidden checkpoints led us to a fun water pipe we had to travel through to cross underneath the highway. Next was a unique “hide and seek” section of the course. For this section, the points were not plotted on the map. Instead, there were descriptions on how to travel from one point to the next (Example: 100m S SW, ravine). There were no traditional checkpoint flags, only a punch at each point, which meant our navigation and step counting needed to be very precise – you couldn’t see the point from a distance. There were a few other teams looking for the first punch in the same location as us, but none of us had much luck. After extensive wandering in the immediate area, we realized that we hadn’t adjusted for the magnetic declination. Oops! We reset and then zipped through the next few points, leaving other teams still searching for the first punch. Being crunched for time, we skipped the last two hidden points and ran back to our bikes to catch the last few mandatory points before we ran out of time. Lesson learned: Buy a declinating compass to speed up navigation in the future.
With only 45 min to go, we were thankful the last few mandatory checkpoints were on mountain bike trails. What we didn’t realize was how many fallen trees would slow us down as we raced along the path. Hammering along we picked up the last three checkpoints and found ourselves about half a mile as the crow flies from the finish line. The problem was that that half mile consisted of thick woods and we only had 7 minutes until the 12 hour cutoff, when they start giving out time penalties. Luckily, Tom remembered we had just crossed a tiny creek, so we backtracked 100 yards, splashed our way down the creek carrying our bikes towards civilization. We popped out into someone’s backyard, hopped on our bikes, kicked them into bigger gears and hammered back to the finish. We raced into the finish with only three minutes to spare. Pizza and ice cream, an overflowing prize table, and a crowd of volunteers and racers were there to greet us. Overall, the race was a great start to the season and well executed by the race directors!
This was our first adventure race with our new Out There 3 backpacks and they certainly lived up to their reputation-there are easily accessible pockets everywhere (food pockets, water bottle holders, clips, pockets, helmet holder, etc). They drained water really well after the canoe section and weigh nothing compared to traditional backpacking backpacks. Two thumbs up for backpacks that don’t leave you with aching shoulders and hips for the next week!
Time to put up the feet, relax a little and get ready for next weekend’s 24hr adventure race in Connecticut!