Cradle of Liberty 24 Hour Adventure Race
Now in its 4th year, the Cradle of Liberty 24 Hour Adventure Race hit the road to test out a new location. Jim Thorpe, PA and Hickory Run State Park seemed perfect to host our type of competition. The scenic town in the middle of the Pennsylvania coal mining region is home to some exceptional mountain biking trails and is a magnet for whitewater enthusiasts on the weekends designated for dam releases.
Fortunately/unfortunately this was not one of those weekends. Fortunate in that we pretty much had the town to ourselves. Unfortunate in that the water was virtually flat.
The typical pre-race rituals were, well, typical. Teams gathered up their maps and passports and tried to find every possible loophole in the race rules to give themselves any amount of strategic advantage. Pre-race give-a-ways from some of our great sponsors as well as a “Leave No Trace” briefing from our friends at ARFE wrapped up the team meetings.
Racers mounted buses. The smell of anticipation (or whatever) was everywhere. Some teams tried to grab a final nap, knowing that it would be their last opportunity until they reached the finish line. Their bikes had been loaded onto specially designed trailers raising the overall value of the outfitter’s truck from $60,000 to over $150,000. Suppressing the urge to hold a wicked ebay sale, we moved our show down river to Jim Thorpe, PA and the starting line.
We had to abide by the outfitter’s guidelines regarding the format of the start. My idea was a US Navy SEAL-type of raft portage of about a half mile. The outfitter nixed that because of the active train line going through town and the steep ramp leading to the beach. They didn’t want anyone getting injured, at least during their section of the race. Teams did have to carry their rafts from one edge of the beach to the other in order to access the water. There was no time to assess which was the faster designed whitewater raft. They’re essentially bathtubs with the water on the outside with marginally better hydrodynamics.
Along the water section, our hordes of adrenalin pumped athletes made their way past the groups of recreational rafters. This was actually a good boost for their egos since they knew they were moving as slow as molasses. It could always be worse. And after a short 7 mile bike section it did get worse.
That’s where the teams encountered the River Crossing. There was a rope strung across the water. I had scouted a route that would only go as deep as my shoulders. Unfortunately, some of the racers were shorter than that. All of the time and effort that teams had spent attaching their bike shoes to their bikes in order to keep them dry during the paddle was pretty much wasted. Greater time should have been spent on waterproofing their maps and instructions. Saved from the water was one zip-lock bag of honey roasted almonds. The zip-lock failed. One zip-lock bag was saved that had money in it. I now have a friend forever. I also retrieved a container of Hydropel. So, now, I have two friends forever.
Most teams came through in good spirits. The “Tiki gods” of adventure racing dispensed their wrath on a few teams. One experienced multiple mechanical breakdowns during the first bike leg, including the loss of a bike seat. They were further tormented with a wrong turn in the dark on the mountains around Jim Thorpe. Their attitude remained strong as they were moved ahead to rejoin the race.
Leaving Jim Thorpe to head into the darkness was extremely difficult since it meant riding away from J.T.’s Steakhouse and Bar and the live band that was playing inside. They could be heard from all over the valley. But our mighty racers were able to summon the strength and arrived at the Glen Onoko Falls.
The local trail guidebook warns that persons on this trail have been killed. This is precisely why I chose to have our racers attempt the trek at night. It is an unmarked trail that is very steep in some spots. The cateye markers helped but the repositioning of the CP left some teams with a taste for blood, race director blood to be exact. Those that listened to the instructions during the team meeting to follow the cateyes came through unscathed. It was reported that there were more than one set of cateye markers on the mountain.
The next section was a joyful pedaling experience along the Lehigh Gorge Trail. In adventure racing terms that means it was a continuously rising rail/trail that was 30 miles in the late hours of the night and wee hours of the morning. Staying awake and vertical was more than some teams could handle. One team chose to simply pass out in the parking lot of Glen Onoko Falls before entering the gorge. Other teams collapsed along the trail and somehow managed not to become bear bait.
It only gets better. As I encountered teams entering Hickory Run State Park to begin the orienteering rogaine, I was greeted by some blank stares of racers who were now operating on pure willpower. We did come across Team Gungo-Ho traveling on foot with a sense of determination. Penny Zech had taken a nasty fall during the bike section in Jim Thorpe.
She was patched up by the medical folks and asked if she wanted further attention. She refused and stated that she was going to finish the race course. The blood streaming from her eyebrow looked pretty menacing but a few stitches in an emergency room when she got home from the race has her almost ready to jump into another 24 hour race.
The orienteering section was laid out by members of the DVOA (big applause!!!). Sandy Fillebrown designed a course that would be appropriate for this stage of a long race. Some of the racers asked that it be more challenging in the future. I nearly had to wipe the drool off her face as she looked like a wolf ready to pounce at the opportunity to turn it up a notch. Actually, she was more like an excited schoolgirl on a sleep-over. She kept popping out to the check-in tent to greet each team as the arrived. Her assistance was invaluable.
As morning led into early afternoon, the first teams began to come across the finishline. The expressions of exhaustion could be seen from 100 meters away. Those quickly changed with the utterance of, “We have pancakes. Want some?” I tell you it was a miraculous sight to see the transformation from near death to peppy conversation. I think maple syrup should be in every first-aid kit.
Of course the first finishers chose discretion as the better part of valor and pulled the plug on their race before sustaining permanent injury from falling asleep while navigating. The handful of teams that cleared all of the checkpoints arrived with only a little time left and luckily we did not have to penalize any teams for finishing late. Some credits were given for a misplaced checkpoint as a fresh batch of teams was again thirsty for race director blood.
But pizza and prizes tend to soothe the savage adventure racer and there was plenty of each. The award ceremony looked something like a Civil War field hospital scene. Bodies were strewn across the grass, low conversations and moans were all that anyone could generate. But people were smiling and talking about bear sightings, calluses on their asses, blisters on their feet, or vice versa.
Team ARFE/Smartwool walked/limped away with the biggest prize, a total of $600 toward their registration to the national championship. Congratulations to all of the teams who turned out this year. We appreciate all of your hard work, travel, and enthusiasm.