In August, we raced the 26.2 hour NCARS race number 4 in Lake James. I'm just now getting around to posting this. My bro, Jenn and I tackled this race expecting a lot of fun: the other races that we'd done with these guys at the whitewater center were well-run and fun. We were dissapointed, but at least we got to spend some time in the woods in a beautiful area with fun people.
The race worked like this: 30 checkpoints, split into the following legs or segments:
Fike: Foot/Bike O-Course
Each of the major segments had a minimum number of CPs you needed: for eample, the initial bike leg you had to get 4 CPs out of 8. We were told ahead of time that very few folks had finished this race the 2 prior years and that you needed to train on the hills to prepare for the tough terrain. So, we were prepared to suffer and were planning on taking the most conservative approach possible with a goal of just finishing with the bare minimum of CPs. The rapel and the challenge course were mandatory and there was a 7pm cut-off for reaching the rapel.
Part of the way to the rapel, we knew we were going to be cutting it close on time. There was a ton of climbing, and we were going slowly, but so were a bunch of other teams who we saw frequently as we made our way up the Blue Ridge escarpment. It turns out a few teams like us had realized that you only needed 2 CPs before getting 7 in order to still be official, so fortunately we adjusted and changed our route.
We finally got a reprieve from the climbing with a bit of fun downhill single-track. Yay! However, this 10-20 minutes was the only fun singletrack riding we had in the race. We came to a tricky intersection: nothing matched the maps. Yes, there were about 3 different maps that we were carrying and none of them were adequate. This annoys me: I don't get why RDs don't GPS-in the correct trails if we are using custom MyTopo sheets. I mean, I get that it is an extra piece of work for the RD- but this turned out to be a fairly important intersection and a place to avoid an out-of-bounds area.
At any rate, about 6 teams wound up at this intersection and debated the merits of going one way or another. There was no consensus and some folks had already wasted a lot of time. We ended up getting cliffed out looking down on a lovely waterfall. After going back up a different splay of the trail we were on, we found the turn we needed and were able to get to CP 7 without going out-of-bounds. It also sounds like a few (a lot?) of teams wound up just going across the out-of-bounds Kawana area to get out of there.
Even though we were pretty successful at navigating this-- it took longer than it should have. We all ran out of water and cheered for joy when we found a spring tapped at the side of the forest service road. Thirst and hunger had been super high and morale super low until that spring saved our bacon. We finally got to the first TA about 1.5 hours after the rapel cutoff, and thus, at 11 hours in to the race, we were already unofficial. It was cold comfort that 17 teams were unofficial at this point and only 3 made it to the TA in time to do the rapel. Several teams had dropped at this point as well, I guess partially because it was TOUGH and partially it is a little demoralizing to get DQed so early on in a race.
Here, we all debated what to do next, but we ate a few grilled cheese sandwiches provided by the volunteers (mad props for that!), got some water, and added layers. We quickly decided to skip the waterfall trek points, since we were already DQed, it seemed foolish to hike at least 800 vertical feet to get one CP. Plus, it was dark so our enjoyment of the scenery would have been limited. We decided to head out and bike to the next TA, as it seemed marginally better to do that than to have to bike back to Morganton in order to quit without a ride available at this TA. However, I found myself extremely envious of the racer who climbed into a car at the TA after crashing his bike: he had fluid draining from his ears! And I was still jealous!
The next bike leg was a mixed bag: I was still jet-lagged from recent travel to Africa, so I had a hard time staying awake. Plus, there was lots of uphill, so we were moving slowly. Plus my sit-bones were super bruised already, so we did a lot of walking the bike instead of pedaling it. This was my worst time during the race, mostly from being drowsy, although 5 hours for 2 CPs wasn't very satisfying either. The cold air on the downhills helped wake me up, and I felt better by the time we got to the next TA.
Here the volunteers had chicken soup for us! And we finally got our food bags! Three cheers for potato-salad-and-turkey sandwiches, pringles, and chocolate milk! The food helped a lot, but we were completely focused on just getting to the finish line, and not worried about collecting CPs, so we went out on foot for one really close CP on the FIKE course: 19. It was a boulder you climbed on top of and had a sweet view of the night sky and city lights in the distance. A very cool place.
We then tackled the big downhill to get to the paddle TA. It was fun and scary, and then leveled off into some easy road riding to get to the TA. It was early morning hours, maybe 5 am, and my ass was killing me with every pedal stroke. Good times.
We transitioned to the boat and headed out on the lake-- the nav was pretty easy and the sky continually lightened up as we paddled. We were all a bit delirous, so we told stories, laughed at stupid jokes, and sang to keep outselves awake. We always seem to be a bit nutty by the end of the paddle, and this is some of my favorite times during races.
Then we began the nasty portage around the dam to start the river-portion of the paddle. The portage was about a mile long, some on a grassy trail and some on a road. It completely sucked. I wish portage wheels had been on the 'recommended gear' list, but I'm totally pissed at myself for not bringing them just in case. At any rate, we get to the river to see that the dam release was in full swing and the water was high and fast. We were stoked about this, wanting to shorten the race any way we could.
Unfortunately, it completely shortened it. We totally underestimated the strength of the river, got a ton of water in the boat in the first rapid and went swimming within a minute of starting. The water quickly moved the three of us and the boat downstream. Unfortunately, the shore was steep, and the water deep. Our canoe got trapped in a tangle of trees and we climbed ashore, though my third teammate had to do some scary manouvering to get her leg freed from between the boat and a rock first. We lost two paddles, our map case, and the minimal amount of wind that was in our sails.
Unable to free the boat, we had to bail. We hiked out and got a fisherman to give us a ride to the truck. What a crummy end to the race. That was our first DNF as a team, so we were all really disappointed. We came back at 8:30 pm on Sunday night and watched the water level drop as they turned off the turbines. It was a cool sight to see, and fortunately, left our boat in a position to be able to pull it out and take it home.
Grilled cheese & chicken soup!
view of the waterfall while hunting for trail to CP 7
in theory: this would have been a cool race, in reality very few (1?) teams got to enjoy all the fun of it.
missing the rapel-- total bummer
maps weren't great
feeling like the RDs didn't care if the teams suceeded. I mean their track record indicated that, yet I ignored that and signed up anyways, thinking they were on an upward trajectory. Shame on me.