Team Backpacker – Bend or Bust Adventure Race
By: David Bogle
November 11, 2006
This race will likely be the last race in 2006 for Team Backpacker. Most race directors are closing shop for the month of December. The Bend or Bust race almost did not even happen this year. This race is normally promoted by Rattlesnake Racing from North Texas, but due to other life priorities, they have chosen to get out of AR promotions. Fortunately for all the area racers, TooCoolRacing.com was willing to pick up and add this race to their schedule. I had never raced at this park prior to this race, but many folks had raved about its nice terrain and “raceability”. The drive was long for me from New Orleans, it took about 11 hours to get to the park. For the drive, I was joined by normal Team Backpacker members Jeff Diamond and Darius Sampey. We ended up meeting Beth Reyburn at the race site as she is an Austin resident (close to Bend State park where the race took place). Beth and I have raced together once in the past, but most of the time, she races against Team Backpacker on Werewolves of Austin. We were fortunate to pick up Beth when our other 2 girls could not make the race. TooCoolRacing had pitched this race as a 15 hour mandatory finish time race, with a likely winning time around 10 hours. (Yes, our drive time is longer than race time, but that is what crazy people do who want to race).
We arrived at the park Friday evening just before dark. This park is a more primitive park as compared to most state parks in Texas. It was a long drive to the middle of nowhere, with the last 10 miles on a rough dirt road (only access road into this park). The park had no RV or electrical hook up sites (and no showers), so it was primitive camping for teams, well most teams. Our team is fortunate in that my folks (Sandy and Bob), are hooked for some reason on following me around the country to do race support for me. They were already at the park with the RV already set up waiting for our arrival. The night time lows would be in the mid 40’s and the race started at 5 am. We were sure thankful to wake up and have a warm place to hang out for while waiting on the 4:30 am pre-race meeting. I like starting races in the dark, but it sure is tough. I always find the first couple of CP’s the toughest to find. Racing when the sun rises is a cool thing to do. It usually takes me a couple CP’s to get use to all the terrain and maps. For most of the Texas races this year, we have teamed up with Kip Fiebig who is an excellent navigator and has raced all the Texas parks; for this race, we would be racing against Kip and a bunch of other strong racers. For this race, I would have to handle all the navigational duties. I really like to navigate, but it sure puts more pressure on you versus just racing along and occasionally helping on navigation. The good news is that Jeff has become a good navigator and likes to help out when things get tough. At the pre-race meeting all the normal teams chatted and said hi. For this race, we hoped to make a good showing, but, did not think we were likely to win this race. The shorter length combined with not knowing anything about this park would put us at a disadvantage. The folks we were watching the most were a team called Outcast and several solo racers (Vignette 1, 2, and 3). Outcast had been right on our heals and almost beaten us at few races this past year. Vignette is a very good Texas team who all decided to race solo (Kip, Marcy, and John were the solos).
TooCool does not allow any outside maps to be used for their races, I like this format, especially for races in which I have not pre-scouted parks. At the pre-race we were given maps and all of our basic instructions. From there, we were told to line up at 5 am sharp for the start. It was still cold at 5 am, still in the mid 40’s (that is cold for us southern folks). Most of the TooCool race starts are kind of non-thrilling. All the captains were given clue sheets with UTM coordinates that needed plotting. I have done many races where coordinates are given the night before and racers are expected to do a bunch of map work before a race even starts. I think map work is just another race discipline so I like getting maps once the race starts. Once the race directors said go, everyone hurried back to TA (transition area). Bob, immediately started helping me plot the 3 points we had to get on this leg. The instructions told us that we could get the points in any order and by any means (we could bike, run, or paddle to them). One point was down the river about ½ mile, so that one was clearly a paddle point. The other two were in creek drainages, so they were clearly trekking points, but we were allowed to ride our bikes close to them before heading off road. We chose to head off for the first land point on foot. From the way it looked we would have to really back track a bunch to use bikes, so we would do it all on foot. We all took off for the first point; we saw a couple lights off ahead of us even though we got out pretty fast. From experience, the solo racers that were racing normally have the fastest transition times so I was not surprised we were not first out.
We started running on a park trail and then had to head off road and work our way up a long drainage. Any off road travel in this park is tough. Everything in Texas is covered in thorns and will cut you!! I was a little nervous as we headed up to this first point. I was not 100% sure we were in the correct drainage as the entire landscape in this area is one drainage (draw) after the other. Beth re-assured me that we were likely on the right path (sure is nice for someone to tell you that even though she had not even looked at the maps). There was no one around us and it was mighty dark still. Sure enough we found the point right on schedule and we moved on. The attack point for the next point was kind of tough. We bushwacked our way to the park road, went up the road a bit then went cross country again looking for the next drainage that we were after. We hit the drainage and I had the team turn right to follow the drainage. (My attack plan was to hit the drainage to the left of the point and then turn right to find it). We trekked on a bit, but did not see the point, then the drainage started making some very strange turns. This is not uncommon, as a short bend does not always show up on a map. It was still kind of dark, so we could not use any other terrain features to identify our location. After about 15 minutes (we don’t really go very far in 15 minutes because travel is very slow in all this brush), we decide to turn around and head back up the drainage the other direction or to find a point we can easily recognize on the map. As we get back close to where we first entered this drainage, I realize where we are at on the map. Unfortunately, we had hit the drainage less than 100’ to the right of the actual cp. In a couple of minutes we find the elusive CP and get the punch. My mistake had cost us a solid 30 minutes in this race. We were all a bit depressed and figure we are out of the race, but we will keep going. We run the park road back to TA and hop in the boats for the first paddle point. We see several teams on the water, but we have no idea what place we are in. We get the paddle point quickly and head back to our TA.
We were shocked at check-in to find we were only in 5’th place, and not too far behind most of these folks (at the time, there was only one co-ed team ahead of us and I thought we could catch them). At this check-in, extra master maps were on the tables from which we were allowed to hand copy some park trails onto our race maps. The next leg of the race was given to us, so we were to head back to TA to start plotting points. Leg 2, would be a combination of biking and trekking. No points were on the trail system, but we would be able to bike fairly close to most of the points. Off we went in search of a bunch of points. Leaving TA, was always tough. The TA area is situated right next to the river at the lowest point in the park. Every other area of the park was up. We got on our bikes and started the climb out of the park. The first portion of the park road was the steepest and it was slow going. We were able to pass a couple of teams on this first climb. The first bike point was super easy at the end of an old road. This built a little confidence which would soon be lost. The next point was about 200 m off the main park road next to a pond. I had a tough time figuring out where to leave the park road based on the maps. I was using the park roads on the map to pick my attack point, but things did not seem quite accurate. We dropped bikes and went offroad. There was a nice dry pond, but no point. We searched for 20+ minutes and could not find the point. We saw several other teams in the area while we were searching. We decided to just skip this point and get it on the way back (we were allowed to get points in any order for the entire race). I was a bit frustrated, by not being able to find this seemingly easy point. Post race I did some research and it turns out the park road has changed since the maps were published. Several bends in the road shown on the topo no longer exist. It is a good lesson to remember to NOT use man made features when navigating!!
With this setback, we figured once again we were falling further to the back of the race. The team then biked to the mtn bike trail section in this park. These trails were kind of fun. They were not overly technical and did not have any real tough climbs in them. I recall seeing Team Outcast at some point biking the trails. We were able to find most all of these points without issue. One of the last points eluded us a bit. In fact, we ran right past it. The cp marker was on a fence, but kind of hidden behind a bush, it only cost us a few minutes, but it was more time we were likely losing on the leaders. On the way back, we were very careful to watch the roads and distances’ for the pond point we missed on the way out. We found it this time with no issue. The final point on this leg was down near the river, but up-river from the TA area. There was a hiking trail which headed down to this point that could save a good bit of biking. We chose to take this trail, this was a tough rocky technical downhill trail. About half way down, we ran into John, one of the solo racers, coming up the hill. We were very confused as to why he would be biking up the hill, but no time to stop and chat. At the bottom of the hill, we turned onto the river trail and headed to the location of the next CP. The clue for this CP was cave. It said the actual entrance to the cave would be flagged. I passed these instructions onto the team and one of them spotted a bunch of flagging at the mouth of a cave. The cave was very small, Beth and I started into the cave, but it was quickly apparent that no more than one person would fit at a time, so Beth crawled in and got the CP. As we exited the cave, Marcy, one of the solo racers road past us on her bike (away from TA). It was odd that she would pass us up like that, but we did not care too much. Now it was time to bike back to TA to see how far down in the standings we were. As we neared TA, my buddy Kip passed us and yelled Marcy is beating us!! Not sure what that meant but oh well. At TA, we were told we were the second team in – what a shock. In fact the only person to have come in from Leg 2 was Marcy, the solo racer. We have been having a navigationally rough race, but so would everyone for this race (well maybe not Marcy).
Our next set of instructions were give to us, this would be another trekking leg. We plotted points and got going. We were allowed to bike to a specific bike drop, (just past the cave) and start the trek from there. That explained why Marcy passed us while we were at the cave, the bad news, was that she had a 20+ minute gap on us. It is strange how priorities shift while racing. At one point we just hoped to not finish last, now we were trying to catch the overall leader of the race. We arrived at the bike drop and dropped the bikes, there were people everywhere looking for the cave. I think people were confused by the bike drop area. We saw a bunch of folks we knew, but did not hang around. The first CP was close to the bike drop up a deep drainage. The point actually plotted about half way up the side of one of this drainage. We started into the drainage and amazingly we ran into Marcy. She said she had not been able to find the point. We made and agreement to work together to find the point. We compared maps and agreed we had plotted it in the same spot and felt we were in the correct area. We started looking and then Kip showed up, he had made up the 15 minute gap we had on him. We too agreed to work with him to find the point. Good thing, Kip actually found the point. I was 10’ away and could not see it due to all the brush. We all punched the point and got out of there as other teams were arriving. Agreement was now over so Kip sprinted ahead of us while we punched the point. We had 4 folks to get off the hillside, so Kip was long gone before we got back to the main river trail. From here we had a long trip up the river to the area of the next set of CP’s. This trip started out on a trail next to the river, but the trail quickly disappeared and then it was just trudging through grass and trees. We were traveling with Marcy for most of the way. We would occasionally pick different routes along the river, but we would then meet up again before long. At some point we would have to get across the river as the next 2 CP’s were located on the other side of the river. Picking the right place to cross the river would be tough. There were no great land features to ensure where we were at (we could not see much of the river from the shoreline). We pulled slightly ahead of Marcy toward the end of this trek and we stopped on the river beach to take a look. Marcy popped out of the woods and immediately started wading across the river. About halfway across she told us she could see the bend in the river (our clue when to cross). We all followed her across the river. It was not bad; most of it was knee deep (if you managed to balance on the slippery rocks). On the other side, there was a fairly steep rock cliff. One of the points was up this cliff on a fence. We could not see the fence, or a clear way up, so we continued along the shore line and went after the next point. We could see at least one team behind us on the shoreline, but we never saw Kip (he is a strong runner, and likely ran all the way to the river crossing). We started working our way up a draw to where the CP should have been located, we were able to find it no problem (Backpacker and Marcy were working together at the time). From there, we set out on a bearing that should intersect a road. I made a joke to everyone to make sure to stop at the road and not run right across it. Everyone laughed and made a comment that of course they would stop at the road. Well this road did not seem to exist at all; we went plenty far enough and never hit the road. Marcy and I chatted about it a little and we agreed to abandon our road finding plan and just head on a bearing toward the next point. It all worked well and we hit the fence we were looking for, luckily we hit the fence about 50 feet away from the CP. We punched this point and headed back to the river. This was likely going to get tricky. Marcy told us if we wanted to blaze off to not wait for her as she was slow at going down rocky ledges. We all agreed it would be safest to all go down together. She seemed happy with that. We found a way down the rock cliff, but it was tricky at a few spots, the shorter folks (Marcy and Beth) were thankful to have extra people along to help get down some of the ledges. Once we all got to the beach, we told Marcy bye and tried to make up some time by running. All this cross country work was really taking a toll on our legs, we were all cut to pieces. We always bring gaiters to the race to protect our legs, but we never seem to wear them. The crossing back over the river once again washed all the blood from our legs. On the run back, Darius brought out the first of our race fueling strategy items – Papa Johns pizza!!! Darius had bought a couple of pizza’s for us to eat while out on the course. Cold pizza never tasted so good!! We each consumed a slice of pizza then got back to running. We passed several teams on the way back. Those teams were heading out to the river crossing. No time to chat here as we knew Marcy was close behind. Back at the bike drop, we were surprised to see Kip’s bike still there. We had been able to pass him in the thick woods on the other side of the river.
Back at race check in, the race director told us she was happy to see us. The course was taking a lot longer than they had anticipated. In hindsight, I think the distances were all fine, it was the navigation that had everyone slowed down so much. The next leg was going to be a paddle leg. Finally, we were happy. At this discipline, we thought we had a clear advantage over the two solo’s right behind us. We had not seen Outcast for several hours, but we knew they could not be far behind. Its not that we are great paddlers or anything, but we knew the solo’s were in slow boats and not power paddlers. The first point plotted at a waterfall downriver from TA, the second point was a bit farther down river, but plotted about 100 meters in from the river. Those kind of points are always tricky as you have to make sure to dock your boat in a good spot before trekking. The paddle was nice, the wind was blowing about 15 mph at times, but was a nice tailwind for the start of the paddle. The river was very narrow, so there were no issues with waves. The first point was at a very nice looking waterfall. There was only a small amount of water actually falling over it, but it looked cool. Beth hopped out of my boat and punched that point. Back in the boats we headed further down river. This next point did not look to tough to find on the map, but I had been wrong several times already today.
The clue for this point was “viney draw”. At the location where I wanted to dock, there was no draw visible from shoreline. There was a large visible draw across the river that was also shown on the maps so I had confidence in the area. We started into the woods and it was pretty cool looking. There were hanging vines all over the place, actually a little spooky looking. The draw was visible once we got into the woods, we punched that CP and started back. The first person we saw was Marcy, we all said hi and figured we had about 30 minutes on her, next we passed Kip. He commented he did not see the CP at the waterfall and had started climbing the waterfall before spotting it. Not far up the river we saw several other teams, including Outcasts. We figured we had 45 minutes gap on Outcasts, but we knew there was more race ahead of us.
We checked in at race check in and were told they had to eliminate one leg of the race as the race was running too long. Our last leg would be a bike to a bike drop, then we could choose what order to get about 4 trekking points and do a 100’ rappel. The team grabbed all their climbing gear, some fluids and headed out. We were already at the 10 hour time the race directors had predicted for winning and we knew we had several hours left. Near the end of the bike ride, we had to go down a rough jeep road to the bike drop. About half way down, a rock completely sliced open the tread face of my tire. I took a quick shower in No-Flats additive (similar to Slime), as the slice was too big for the fluid to self seal. We stopped and swapped the tube, but the slice in the tire was too large, and it popped the replacement tube. I wanted to get moving on the trek as I did not want to have to trek much after dark with all the tough navigation out there. I chose to just run with my bike to the bottom of the hill and the bike drop. Once there, Beth and Darius went to fixing my tire while I changed into trekking shoes (and gaiters!!). Beth is a bike mechanic and had a patch in my tire and a new tube in the tire as I finished changing. We chose to finish the repair when we got back. My navigational plan was to go do the rappel first then start the trekking points from there. The ropes were to close at 7 pm, so we did not want to miss the cut off if we did it last. We were first to arrive at the ropes so there was no bottleneck. As we approached the ropes, we saw the ropes hanging down the cliff into a creek bed. The only problem was that they were on the OTHER side of the creek from us. After a quick panic, we walked 50’ up the side of the creek and found a way across. We got to the ropes and put on our rappel gear. The rappel site was a good one. It was a 100’ overhang, so you were in free rappel most of the way down. I don’t care how many times I do rappelling, that first step over the edge always makes me nervous. At the base of the rappel, we punched our CP and headed up the river. I had planned a very conservative approach to getting these points. I did not want to take any big risks in navigation from all of our experience earlier in the day. The trek to the next point got tricky going up one of the creek beds. There were several sections that required good team work to boulder up the small cliffs. We were being very careful on bearings and pacing. We hit this point no problem then headed off for our next point which required a bit of cross country navigation. We found the draw we were looking for just fine and started heading down the draw looking for the point. As we approached the point, Jeff tells us that he sees Marcy coming up the draw. She arrived at the same time as we did but from a different direction. Once again we said our goodbyes, and headed off in opposite directions. We were now down to one final CP for the race. The most direct route would have been cross country. All cross country travel in this terrain is slow, so we chose to head out to a park road, run the road, then attack from there. The plan seemed to work as everything lined up well, except for the actual CP. With Beth’s pace counting, I was confident we were in the right spot, but no CP. We looked around a bit then decided to go further down this draw to confirm we were in the right one. We hit a large draw intersection which confirmed we were in the right area. We pace counted back up to where the cp should be and arrived at the exact same spot. There was a small draw intersection here and Darius suggested he go look in that one. I told him, don’t go more than 50’ up that thing. As soon as he and Beth started walking up that draw he spotted the point. Jeff and I were still in the main draw and Marcy showed up (at this point, she was standing 50’ from the CP). She asked Jeff if we found the point. He told her no, and he was not lying because Darius had not told us yet he found the point. Marcy took off up the draw thinking she was too far down (she was actually 50’ up the draw). We actually did not see her any more once she left. Now all that was left was to get back to our bikes and bike to the finish line. Marcy had been dead on in navigation all day so we figured she would find the point in moments and be right on our tail. I still had a broken bike and was not sure if I would have any air in my tire when we got back. This meant one thing, run, run, run. We made our way to the park road and started running. We ran almost all the way back. On the way we kept checking behind us but we never saw Marcy. At the bike drop, we saw Marcy and Kip’s bikes which was a good sign. Even better, was my tire was still holding air. I put the tire back on the bike, changed into biking shoes and we were out of there. We biked fairly hard all the way back to the finish line (it helped that it was mostly all downhill).
Team Backpacker rolled into the finish line 12 hours and 59 minutes after starting. We were the first team to arrive and had won the race overall. It was now dark and the temps were dropping quickly. We went back to the RV and each had a quick shower in the RV. It was not a long shower as we were not hooked up to any water source, but it was better than most other teams since there were no showers in this park. Mom had a hot meal of my favorite food waiting – Chicken and Dumplings. This is in my mind one of the best post race meals possible when it is cold outside. I ate a bowl and had a tall glass of milk. Beth’s ride needed to get going so we said our goodbyes and she was off. The rest of us kind of just hung around and packed up gear. I saw Kip and Marcy coming to their TA together. They both finished about 35 minutes behind us. Marcy had held onto her lead over Kip and finished just a few minutes before him. I made my way over to the race check in area (finish line). There were quite a few folks huddled around the fire trying to warm up. People were busy sharing stories of how their race went. All of the teams hanging around now had skipped some CP’s to beat the mandatory finish time of 8 pm. For every 5 minutes a team got in late, they would lose a CP. At 8 pm on the dot, team Outcast came running across the finish line. They had run all the way back from the last CP as they thought it would take too long to get their bikes and get to the finish line. Even though Outcast was the last co-ed team to cross the finish line, they would take second place since they were able to get all the CP’s in the required time.
This was another great race, but likely the toughest navigational and painful race I have done in a while. The cross country travel was not a bunch of fun with all the sharp foliage out there. I don’t recall ever seeing much flat ground. It was always on some sort of an angle. We all packed up the car and turned in early. It was getting cold outside, (about 35F) so once again we were ever thankful for the RV being there. If you are ever in Texas and looking to do and adventure race, check out TooCoolRacing.com for a quality event.
Figure a Darius, Jeff, David, Beth and Robyn (race director)