Desert Rage San Diego
October 21, 2006. by Barrie Adsett
This was a fun race for our team . While it took almost 9 hours for us to complete the 36+ miles, the time went quickly. I raced on the Equinox NEWBIES team with Juliana Bruni and Kirsten Asher. Juliana had actually done a training event once before, 1 year ago. And she had done zero training between then and this race. However, she is a yoga instructor so stays in good shape. Kirsten had no idea what she was in for, but as she just attained the age to visit bars her youth was her strength. Kirsten had ridden a mountain bike half a dozen times over the past 6 months.
Our goals for this race were (1) to complete it, (2) to try and finish in 10 hours or less as it was advertised as 7-11 hours – we figured we would need all that time, and (3) which really was goal #1 was to have fun. As the first paragraph shows we managed goals 1 and 2, and since I already had an email asking when the next race is I think we accomplished all three goals.
We got to the race a few minutes later than we wanted, but the regular Equinox team of Steve and Kristine had saved a spot for us in the transition area and already had the tarp laid out. Quickly dumping gear we checked in for the event. This race was put on by Sierra Adventure Sports and we were told to be at the start area at 7:30 when we would learn more about the race. We learned we would get a passport, small map and race handbook after the meeting, and the race would start at 8 AM. The handbook however gave a lot of information. A quick read of the rules showed nothing out of the ordinary. The handbook contained the course progression which is a nice explanation of the order of disciplines and what to expect at checkpoints – ah, CP9 requires an address, everything else was a flag or stake to gather information. The small map we were given showed the first three checkpoint locations.
We started with a 2½ mile trek to three points in any sequence. Our strategy was to walk, as the race was long and we did not want to go too fast at the beginning. But the ladies were fired up and we took off at a sprint for the first ½ mile, then the huffing and puffing started and the faces turned red and we got strung out with Kirsten’s long legs racing ahead, I was in the middle and Juliana was chatting to other racers behind us. So we decided to settle into a half jog, strong walk with some teamwork towing. At CP1 we got the race map, at CP2 we got the co-ordinates to plot and at the third point they gave us a photo “map”. It showed trails and had pre-marked checkpoint locations. Once we had all this information we quickly plotted the points and started the kayak section.
We kayaked about 2½ miles to CP4 which was at the dam on Lake Hodges (west end, which is one end of this monster lake -(http://www.hodgee.com)- extending a little over 5 miles in length, see map above – thanks to Rick for idea and Lake Hodges Scientific Research Center for Hodgee info). At the dam we found an orienteering bag with a punch. Then it was back to CP5 which was at the top of a hill. Here we had some great Adventure Racing decisions. We could leave the kayaks about ½ a mile from the hill and trek on a trail along a ridge to the CP, or we could get closer to the summit and go straight up the side of the hill about 100 meters. If we elected to do the longer run there was the option to portage the kayaks and miss a little more than 1 mile of paddling. Decisions, decisions! For us the decision was reasonably easy as (A) Juliana does not like to run as she has bad knees, (B) the Tango is 85 lbs, and (C) we were paddling quite well. So up the steep hill (which was not that bad) it was. Then we paddled off to CP6.
CP6 was almost at the other end of the lake. Here we beached the boats and did a run using the photo map. Finding CP6 was not that easy as there were lots of trees and reeds growing along the lake shore. The lake is presently close to full so all this vegetation which grows when it is lower was underwater. But by following other racers and listening to people shouting they had found the CP, we did not loose too much time. There was a gear check at the manned CP and then we were trekking.
As we approached this section we had been looking at the topo map and deciding approximately where the photo locations were. We could also see the lead teams in places so that gave us a little help. The course was more restricted than the photo showed as the trails never really allowed for cross-country. But if you did not pay attention to the trails on the photo there was plenty of opportunity to go the wrong way. But we nailed it and with a group of teams we quickly located CP7 on a ridge and CP8 along a trail between houses. Getting to CP9 allowed more choices. We could backtrack on the trails or go through housing and pick up the trails in what appeared to be a couple of places. We felt the short way was through the houses and when we got to one possible trailhead it was fenced off, but by that time the neighbors were out looking at the racers and they told us how to jump the fence, crest a ridge and pick up the trail after 50 meters of bushwhacking.
Easy trail running got us to CP9 where some teams had a little difficulty finding the flag. We quietly noted the address (it pays to read the handbook) and continued to CP10 (which I maintain was closer than the photo showed, nevertheless we found the CP with no problem). Back to the kayaks (CP6 was also CP11) and we were off to CP12, the last kayak point which was in the bay by I-15. As we were working our way through the trees to get out of CP11 the rudder on our double kayak broke. The casing around the pivot sheered off and was not repairable. We beached the boat, secured the dragging rudder and each of us took turns paddling the single surf ski while we found the quickest paddling combination. Then we picked up CP12 and had about a 3 mile slow paddle back to the transition. Slow because steerage was difficult on a 23 foot boat with a slight side wind whipping up.
At the TA (CP13) we had the first mystery event which was to play scrabble. We had to tell the worker a 5 letter word and then one at a time run back and forth to a bucket and grab a tile with one of the letters. Once we had formed the word we returned all tiles to the bucket and we were done. The hardest part was to come up with a 5 letter word. “Newbie” came to mind – 6 letters, “Newby”, not considered a scrabble word, “dang”, only 4 letters. Looking around we noticed the Start-Finish banner, yo, START has 5 letters so that was our word. It was reasonably easy to do the puzzle and we were then onto the bike section.
CP14 was easy to find along the main trail around the lake. Then it was time to do some serious biking up Bernardo Mountain to CP15. The elevation gain is only like 800 ft but the trail is rutted and rocky in sections. And the distance is not that far, only about 3 miles. We are not bikers and were impressed at the teams that rode up the trail. It was fun to pull to the side and cheer them along (I think this is one of the things I like about AR – you cheer the people who pass you because they are doing a good job, a wierd concept to cheer people who are passing you). We rode where we could, walked up parts of the trail and then got to a really steep part almost at the top, so we dropped the bikes and hiked the last bit. Along the way Kirsten had stomach problems after pounding too much food at the transition. But she kept it down and forged ahead refusing much help. I need to teach both of them to forego the ego and let teammates help when they can, but those lessons are later, when they have the AR bug and their goal is to go faster rather than simply finish.
At the top we said hello to Jake who was working and we took some photos before walking the 500 meters back to our bikes. We rode down the hill and I was impressed to see the confidence my teammates built as they slid the bike on some of the turns. Juliana is fearless downhill and I am the one worried about her face-planting, so she was in the lead. Kirsten has no fear either but was more cautious as she was on a borrowed bike. They started slow, brakes on, in complete control, then they got faster locking up the brakes and sliding a little, and by the time they had covered 2 miles they were jumping rocks and hardly using the brakes at all. We were laughing as we went down the mountain and splashed through the creek to I-15 where we found CP16 under the freeway.
It was now on to the last bike CP which was at the back of North County Faire (a mall in the Escondido area of San Diego). This was a surprise checkpoint in my opinion as it was not anywhere near the general bike paths around Lake Hodges – good to get everyone out of the comfort zone. We were using a waterproof map I had, and the CP plotted to a hill in the middle of nowhere. Had I looked at the official map I would have noticed the trails leading to the CP (many clues were given, you just had to use them), but we never had too much trouble finding it as we simply followed the general direction and got some help from other teams until we could see the hill where a couple of trails led to CP17. Then it was back to the transition for another mystery event and an orienteering section. We did not take the most direct route back (and many teams did not I later learned) as there was another fun trail along the side of the hill and we took that for the fun factor. It probably cost us all of 3 4 minutes so it did not matter.
The final mystery event was to carry a ball about 10 feet. But the ball had to be balanced. It started balanced on one post and under it was a ring with 4 ropes. Each of us had to take a rope (I had 2 ropes) and pull the ring up the post to gather the ball, then with the ball balancing in the ring we had to walk to another post and drop the ring over that post so that the ball balanced on the second post. We had no difficulty which was mostly luck as I can see where the wind could unbalance the ball, or team members not concentrating together could drop the ball.
The last section was optional. It was Remote Orienteering. We were given a small map with one point plotted. No trails were shown on the map but we were told all CP’s were on trails. Juliana and I would be the runners and when we got to that CP we would radio Kirsten for more information. After we left the start Kirsten was given another map which had 4 additional points marked on it. She had to radio directions to us as to where the other CP’s were. Each CP was a 10 minute bonus which meant if you chose not to do this you would incur a 50 minute time. We had the added pressure of only 40 minutes till the course would close. But we had a secret weapon. We had a map of the hill the orienteering was on, and our map had some trails on it. So we started this section with a plan that required Kirsten to do her best at taking the point on the map she was given, plot it on her trail map and radio us grid coordinates rather than descriptions of the CP locations. When Juliana and I got to CP1 we radioed in for all the points, plotted them on our trail map and it was much easier. But even with the trails marked on our map we had a hard time finding one of the points. Kirsten did a great job of transposing the plots and we completed the task in the fastest time of all racers, finishing before 5 PM which was the cut-off time.
At the awards ceremony we were surprised, but elated, to come in third in the 3-4 person mixed teams division. We may have been an hour or so behind second place, but to be on the podium in their first race was a tribute to Juliana and Kirsten’s enthusiasm and will, even when it got tough, the knees hurt and the stomach revolted.
First place in 6 hours 16 minutes was Veronica and Josh Williams (PITA) in the 2-person class, second overall was Lance Polloreno running solo and the first place in our division was Team Backside (I believe from Phoenix), just 1 minute ahead of the Dancing Pandas from San Diego.
It was a great race and I want to thank Rick Eastman, everyone associated with SAS (http://www.sierraadventuresports.com), and the many volunteers who made it possible for 50+ people on 24 teams to have a fun day racing. Thanks also to all the sponsors for the great swag and prizes. We are looking forward to more SAS events in Southern California next year. I know Equinox plans on racing them.