Dawn to Dusk Adventure Race. May 12 2012
No pictures this year. Bummer! I had the camera but we just kept going, and going, and going. There was no time to stop for photos. We were fifth into TA1, third into TA4 and trying to keep ahead of the 200 racers that made up this year’s field. By the time we got to the finish it was 8:47 with a 9 PM cutoff. We had gone to all the mandatory transitions as well as all but one of the optional checkpoints. We had pushed ourselves for more than 12 hours and had to run the last 2½ hours to get the final CP’s and cross the finish line in time. And those who know me know I do not normally run.
The race was long, the course was tough in its own way, and it was difficult to make decisions because you never had enough information. My race buddy Steve Moore and I signed up for the race as soon as entries opened. This is our favorite race and unfortunately one of the only races close to Southern California anymore. All Out Events did a wonderful job to bring in lots and lots of new people to the sport, as shown by the huge number attending this race.
The race started at Santa Margarita Lake and ended in downtown San Luis Obispo. As the crow flies it is 37” on the map. On a 1:24,000 scale that is less than 23Km (15mi). But if you drove a car it would be about 45Km (28mi). Of course we are Adventure Racers so we took a MUCH longer way and got to see some beautiful scenery and places most people will never visit.
We paddled on the lake (15Km), walked a little to the bikes (2Km), biked a little to the vineyards (8Km) then hiked a lot in the rolling foothills to the “village” of Santa Margarita (15Km), before a long and sometimes frightening bike ride under Hwy 101, up to the antennas on the Cuesta Ridge, down through Cal-Poly SLO and to a neighborhood park (30Km) where we went back on foot for another long hike (16Km) which included hiking to the top of Cerro San Luis Obispo (what is that you ask? – it is the 2000ft knob overlooking SLO, one of the 7 sisters mountains dotting the area). Total distance we covered was about 85Km (53mi), and that is without making too many navigational errors.
We never actually made any navigation errors (Steve's a good navigator), however, I did plot a checkpoint incorrectly on the last hike and we went about a mile out of our way to find no checkpoint, before realizing the error.
The difficulty with plotting was that the map was big to cover the entire race (42x33”) and there were no UTM lines on the map to plot coordinates. There were small crosses to show the UTM boundaries which allowed other map features to be seen better but it required you to plot carefully.
The race started with a mass squeeze from a field of kayaks onto an old jeep trail that led to the lake. I expected the organizers to have us run a couple of miles first, to spread the field before tackling the narrow trail. But, they started in waves and everyone was very accommodating in not trampling other contestants at the start.
Pre-race information told us it was a ½mile portage to the kayak put-in so we had wheels, and when we staged the boat the day before I walked the trail to see the put-in location. It was narrow and shallow. Knowing this would cause a log-jam we scouted alternate portage points and decided to carry (roll) the boat for almost 1½ miles before entering the water. This was the smartest move we made as we started in the third wave but were second boat paddling (as opposed to shuffling in the shallows). Team TECNU who were in the first wave (and won the race) were the only team ahead of us on the water.
The transition areas (TA’s) were the only mandatory points you had to go to, but each section also gave you checkpoints (CP’s) to plot and these optional locations were worth points. For the kayak and first run there were 4 CP’s, one was worth 10 points the others worth 5. Steve called the coordinates to me and all points were easy to plot, agreeing with the terse descriptions in the notes.
At the first CP we caught Team TECNU because they wasted 5-10 minutes looking for the CP flag which was not there. We looked for 2 additional minutes and had to move on. CP2 was at the top of a hill (so we got a little run in during the paddle), but CP3 was misplaced also. We did find it, but it certainly did not match the plot location. From there it was paddle to TA1 and then run to TA2 via CP3 which had you go up over a hill and if you were no careful you may have followed the wrong trail on the map.
I have never been to a bike TA with so many bikes (we are normally mid-to-back of the pack, so it was cool to see all the bikes in the rack). TECNU were just pulling out and a few other teams came off the water and passed us on the run. There were additional plots given at TA2 and a table allowed us to plot quickly. We had a great transition and were second or third away. But just as we were leaving I read the instruction to travel from TA2 to TA3 on foot. Oops, was this a trick or bad proofreading? The worker said we were to ride, so off we went. It was a short road ride to TA3.
At TA3 we changed back to run gear and were just heading-out when I asked a question about returning to the TA. The worker said, no, you go to TA4, but the instructions said to acquire the CPs and check in at TA3. Oops, more typos. We were now double checking instructions and plotted points.
This foot section was real nice, we used the roads for about a mile to head for CP5, but realized they were taking us too far north and a quick look at the compass confirmed we had to cut across the vineyards toward the hills. It was a great photo-opp, hiking through the vineyards, that we missed. Approaching CP5, Team DART-Nuun cut across our path headed away from the CP. Question mark, question mark?? What is wrong with this picture? We conferred and they went their way we went ours and found the CP about 1Km later. DART-Nuun had plotted in the wrong grid (one Km off as we were to do later in the race), but they caught us at the CP and we compared plots as we plotted CP8 – yes the coordinates were given at the CP5 marker.
CP6 was up a road, over a hill and through the grass. There was no Poison Oak on this race but lots of Cattails to stick in your shoes and sox. But it was all good; we were hiking in rolling hills among Oak trees and golden grass under a cloudless blue sky. It was getting warm but we were headed for a lake where we were told we would have to swim for the CP7 marker. CP7 was two obstacles in the middle of a lake (setup for the next weeks Mud Run) and as well as the CP marker we had to get coordinates for CP9. We now had all the CP’s on this section and wandered more trails, more open fields and had some tricky navigation, but we were still toward the front of the pack so we just kept moving.
We did make a tactical decision to skip CP9 on this section. It was a run leg and both Steve and I are having knee problems as we get older. CP9 was up and over a couple of ridges and seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. The better route for us was to skirt the hills and use flat land to go directly to TA4. We would save no distance, but we saved elevation gains and reminded ourselves that last year we did well in the race by skipping checkpoints and going to our strength (which last year was the kayak, and this year we were relying on the bike leg). That got us to TA4 in third place, and we learned there was a problem with location of the CP9 flag, so we saved on frustration as well.
TA4 to TA5 was the long bike leg. It was mostly downhill, but with enough uphill thrown in that I was in granny gear for 3-5Km. There were only two CPs to plot but there were also waypoints we had to consider as we could only cross the railroad tracks at certain places and we had to go under Hwy 101 and pass through another waypoint. It was now mid-afternoon and the sun was hot, but we had a cool breeze coming over the hill from the ocean, so biking into the wind was enjoyable. There was old jeep trail, some railroad access roads and a little single track to get under Hwy 101, then a cement paved road that looked like it may have been the old highway except it had a date stamp of 1892, which gave us plenty to speculate about as we made it to the WP and the west side of the highway.
Then it was a nasty climb in old patchy road up to the antennas above SLO, but with great views down to the city and equal views into the valley to the north of us – Santa Margarita Valley and the Templeton area. About here we were passed by two solo racers who were racing in tandem (they were first equal in the solo division). They were locals and gave us a couple of pointers about the upcoming downhill. I believe they described it as “sketchy”. They also told us about a couple of turns to look for and then they disappeared.
The downhill was on a trail used by EXPERT mountain bikers. It had big jagged rocks, small but horrible-looking drop-offs and it was mostly narrow with a couple of sharp cut-backs. It was the sort of trail we later learned a lot of teams walked down, and we perhaps should have also. But running at the front of the pack gives extra adrenaline and stupidity juice, so we biked the entire trail. One tree reached out and grabbed Steve, and one rock pushed me off to the side into the brush, but those were the only two spills we took on that section. After we exited the trail in one piece we were congratulating each other like we just won the lottery. We were alive.
We ended up due north of California Polytechnic University and had to then find our way across the railroad tracks at only one of two waypoint locations. We wanted to go to WP4 but could not find the trail that led to that location and within 3 minutes we found ourselves down at WP3 so crossed there and rode parallel to the tracks to reach the WP4 location. This turned out to be a good choice as it was a very slight uphill on a good trail beside the railroad. We came upon a couple of bikers from the University who were out enjoying the day and they told us the trails to take to get to CP11 and from there it was easy going to get to TA5. At one point we had to ride on the railroad ties so as to stay in the correct side of the tracks and not "illegally" cross. It reminded us of a race years ago when we rode the ties on a discontinued line for almost 20Km.
At TA5 we learned there were 5 more checkpoints and we were transitioning back to a run. While Steve filled water bladders I plotted the points and we had to trade off distance for the 3 hours we had to complete the race. The high point (Cerro San Luis Obispo) was worth 10 points and we did not think we had time to collect that checkpoint and still make the finish on time. The finish was 12-15Km (7-9 miles) away if we got all CP’s and we were not sure where one even was. So we walked to CP12 with a plan to skip just the one high point.
When we got to where I had plotted CP12 there was no flag and the street name was wrong. We had a flashback to the incorrect plot by DART-Nuun and when Steve re-read the coordinates to me, sure enough I was off by 1Km. It was a quick fix, but I was frustrated that we lost what was now precious time. Steve planned our route to the correct CP12 location and we hiked there in 15 minutes. All the way we were strategizing about how to get the other CP’s in the most efficient manner.
As we punched CP12 a cyclist came down the hill so we asked directions around it and how long it would take to climb it. He claimed it was only 25 minutes to the top – something I doubted looking at the steep hill and the trail going around. But we confirmed his estimate with another set of hikers and changed our strategy to go get the CP at the top. A 2000 foot climb (600m).
It took about 30 minutes to get to the top, but we were happy we collected the 10 points for this CP. We now had about 2 hours to get 3 more checkpoints. One was at a lake about 4Km south of where we were, then we had to go to the Madonna Inn and then we had to find a statue of Chinese Workers (coordinates given at the lake CP). On the downhill I started running and apart from having to stretch the knees a couple of times we ran the remaining distance to the finish line. It got dark but we had our lights so it was simply a race against time to get to the finish, beer and burgers. After we got the last CP, Steve assured me we would finish in time, but he never slowed so we kept running.
Our final time was 12 hours 53 minutes. We took second place in 2-person and 7 th overall. The beer was good and cold, and lots of friends were at the finish to talk about how the route was straightforward, but the difficulty was in never knowing what was going to happen next, or the value of checkpoints, so you had to keep pushing the whole race. We carried way too much because we did not know when we would be able to re-supply, but that is what the “Adventure” is in Adventure Racing. It was a fun race and we are already looking forward to next year’s race.
Thanks All Out Events. We appreciate your dedication to putting on great races with new twists each year. The terrain around San Luis Obispo is lots of fun if racers are prepared for a tough race. Team Equinox hope to see you at the Dawn to Dusk race next year.