Old maps, new technology GPS
Arrgghh!! Old maps, new technology GPS. They do not always make a good mix.
This past weekend was the Southern California Scout race (I have always called it the Scout AR, but the name is the Scout Adventure Challenge). It was a tough race which had a rogain format where we had 10 hours to get as many points as we could using kayak (just 3 checkpoints), bike or trek. There were also 3 rope sections (zip-line, rock wall and slack rope). The race was tough because it was held at Black Star RV Park (also known as Baker Ranch) which has steep terrain. Same place as the past two Scout races so the territory was familiar to some of us.
3:30 AM was the start time with a pre-lim leg being a run out to the main gate then along Black Star Road to CPX, then return to the start location. I raced with Victor Escobar and his son Ramon (right above), from Tecate, and Eduardo Pinedo (left above) from Tijuana, and our team name was Baja Equinox. I’m the slow “runner” so we kind of power walked being among the last teams to get to the checkpoint area. Here is where the maps and the GPS did not work and my frustration began.
There were a whole bunch of racers climbing this 10 ft bluff – imagine about 40 teams of 4 racers per team ahead of us and head lights shining everywhere. It was a cool sight with so many racers out there. But I had no idea why they climbed the bluff. The pre-marked point for CPX was exactly on a contour line and the contour line went right through the road we were on at that time. There was a creek within 10 meters, according to the map, and we had just passed the creek. So our team went around the bluff and looked for the checkpoint on the other side. In the meanwhile we could see racers way up on the hill 400 meters away and I laughed that they were so off-course looking for CPX.
The laugh however was on me. After 10-12 frustrating minutes of not finding an orange paddle marker which was described as the CP marker, and having those from the hill come toward us (we thought they had seen our lights and were using us to find CPX) we heard them yelling that they were returning to the start. So we went up the hill still looking for CPX and literally stumbled upon the CPX workers.
Whoa! What are you guys doing here? And why is everyone up on the hill?
Welcome to CPX, here is your map for a short O course.
So I’m steamed. I don’t care that the GPS reading put the CP on the hill, we as racers do not have a GPS while we race, we only have a map so IMHO the CP needs to be located as the map shows it, which was on the contour line not 10 feet above it. But enough of my grumbling – though you now know my mindset for the race. The O course locations were all easy to find in a creek bed, in a small gully, over the saddle of the hill everyone climbed and in another gully. We zipped around the O course very quickly and headed back to the transition.
We thought that first run would take us 45-50 minutes, we were now 1 hr 40 minutes into our 10 hour race. But the next part of the plan went smoothly. We had to trek from the campground up to the highest point in the race (at least the highest we achieved) a 1400 ft climb in less than 2 miles. But it got the blood flowing and we had fun helping a couple of other teams who were new to racing and had not transferred some of the points from one map to another. For this race there were 2 maps with the points pre-plotted for us (and other points not plotted, but available on a master map after the pre-lim leg). In the haste of racing some novice teams were not attuned to looking for everything and piecing together the big picture, which included cross referencing the maps they used. It was good to see experienced teams helping others all along the course so I trust the Scouts and others who ran this race for the first time, got help when they needed it.
Our original plan called for trekking to about 15 checkpoints before we could use the bikes. You could run or bike to any checkpoint, but you could not bike before 6 AM and the ropes were not open till 7 AM, and the rock wall at 8 AM. This meant there was lots of strategy which came into play in the early going, and with the 10 hour format there was time management at the end of the race.
After the steep trek loop we returned to the TA and it was already 7 AM so we harnessed Ramon and Eduardo and they did the zip line and slack ropes, then we picked up the bikes and headed out on what we originally though would be a trekking section. This actually gave us an advantage as the quicker teams were doing an 8 mile trek which we got to do on the bike. And we did catch a couple of teams because of it.
There were a few more frustrations with CP placement, but we overheard quicker teams talking about the placement of markers so we had an idea what not to get too concerned about and not spend too much time looking for if the marker was not where we expected. The rogain style was fun in that you passed teams at weird times and got to see people who would normally be out-of-sight after the start.
Our bike section (which many ran) was over familiar trails from past races, so we had no problem finding the trailheads. The course did take us up a really steep hill to CP12, but the trail was newly graded so finding it was no problem. Then we had a great downhill to “The Cross” and back to the transition.
By now the time had ticked to after 10 AM so our strategy had to change drastically. We originally thought we would be at this point about 8:30 and could bike up Black Star Canyon to get some CP’s before going to the lake to kayak or run. Because not all racers had kayaks there was an option to kayak to 3 checkpoints or run to 3 different checkpoint locations (you did one or the other – not both). With checkpoint values of just 25 and 15 for the nearest checkpoints on the bike, it was better to go to the lake and run for three checkpoints worth 15, 30 and 55 points. In hindsight we should have kayaked but we never staged the boat the night before and our strategy had now changed. I guess we never adhered to the Scout motto of “Be Prepared”.
Due to the time, we actually skipped what originally looked like the bike section up Black Star Canyon. There were 10 checkpoints which we made no attempt to gather, but that is the nature of a rogain format, we had to select the checkpoints we though would give us maximum points using our abilities. I know some teams did all the bike CP’s but then had to skip the kayak as time ran out for them.
As we started the lake section the sun was full blaze and half our water was poured to keep cool the other half we drank. We completed 2 of the 3 points possible and decided we had to head for the finish line as we had but 40 minutes remaining. Ramon had a chain break as we returned from the lake, but a 5 minute fix had a new link inserted and we raced to the end with 4 minutes to spare. I’m not sure where we ended up in the placements, but after the CPX debacle we had slowly trekked past other teams and used quick transitions and the luck of an early bike to move up the field. I am going to guess with our 465 points we finished mid-pack. The winning teams had like 625 and 620 points (yes just 5 points separated the top two teams), then it went to 580 for third place and I think 515 for fourth and 495 for fifth. In the Youth division the top team had like 505 points and would have placed well in the adult division.
This was the fifth running of the Scout Adventure Challenge in Southern California and it was great to see the fantastic support it got from all the sponsors – please go to http://www.scoutar.com/index.php?pg=sponsors to see the list. The race was well attended by most of those who regularly race in the area and there were LOTS of new faces, with many teams running their first race. It’s the best bargain for racing in the area with a low entry fee and great raffle prizes as well as always being a tough race. Despite frustrations with locating checkpoints everyone was in the same boat and by the end of the race the mood was very upbeat that we had completed a tough physical and mental challenge which made it a great day of racing. We had almost 4900 ft of elevation gain and covered about 35 miles in the 10 hours. Many teams would have gone further.
Thanks to all the workers, a small but dedicated crew for the Scout race. And a big congratulations to all those for whom this was their first race. This was a tough race, so just completing it should be considered a huge achievement.