We're working on an entirely new race format for this race thanks to the suggestion of Jim Holmes of team ARC and the help of Nathan Fa'ave of http://www.control90.co.nz/.
Its “three mini-rogaine” setup seemed a pretty radical change in format for an adventure racing series.
Luckily, our Big Fish team of Vickie Nelson, my wife Windy and I decided to give the new concept a shot, as Rick did a great job with the new race format and completely pulled it off. The individual sections seemed more legs of an adventure race than individual O-meets yet with the charm of both. There were bushwhacking sections that reminded me of an O-meet and yet enough sections to open it up and feel like you were “racing.” Most importantly, it was just plain fun.
The day started off at 7:00 a.m. with a chilly 3-hour bike leg where the idea was to get as many of the ten CPs as you could (in any order) while still making it back before the 10:00 a.m. deadline. If you were late, not only would you be penalized a point per minute (each checkpoint was worth 5 points) but it would also cut into your 15 minute prep time for the upcoming leg. And if you were more than 15 minutes late and missed the start of the next leg, you would lose all the points for the section you were late on.
Since we were anticipating a running start, (did I mention it was chilly out?) we barely had time to change gear and get to the start line before the race started. Windy was the only one who’d had a chance to look at the maps and thus, by default, she inherited both roles of navigator and route selector. When the starting flag dropped, we headed out with a lot of other teams up the paved road towards the entrance to the lake. I was a little worried when we turned off and other teams kept going but I trusted Windy’s judgement and looking at the maps after the fact, decided that she chose the same route I would have even after taking the time to study the maps with no time or race pressures.
Our route would be CP 8 first, followed by 6, 7, 2, 3 1, 4, 5 and 10. If we had time we could then figure out a route to get to CPA which you could get on either the bike or the trek (but not both.) We quickly found CP8 at the bottom of a short but steep climb and then headed up to 6 which on the maps looked like it would be a bushwhack. The area around Saguaro Lake is a heavy ATV usage area though and we knew that even the best maps of the area only show about a quarter of the roads/trails that crisscross the area. Sure enough, the road that led north from 8 continued on to 6. Getting from 6 to 7 was trickier and we had to weave around a bit headed west, never quite sure where the different paths were taking us but making sure we were headed in the right direction.
We overshot 7 just slightly to the north but realized it when we saw the parking lot behind us and figured that was the grey box on the map. We headed south a little and then out to the road for the gradual climb up to CP2. We knocked of CP2 easily enough and found another unmarked road that took us down to 3. Turn around and we headed back north and towards CP1.
Here we had one of our few baubles of the day as I was towing Vickie and made a slight burst to make it up a short hill. My towline jumped a little and snagged her bike computer, twisting her handlebars and sending her down hard onto a rock on her knee. Windy and I both thought we might be out of the race but once Vickie fought through the shock of the pain, she dusted herself off and was ready to go. We were flying and all was good. CPs 5, 10 and 9 were on (or just off for 10) a road that not only could we see on the map but that we were familiar with so we knew pretty much where they were. All that stood in our way of sweeping the bike CPs (not counting the bonus A) was CP4.
After one short turn down a road that withered out on us, we saw the water tank that was on the map and knew that we were in the right area, we just had to go a little further east. We found the right road and headed down it. All we had to do was wait for the road to meet the wash and the flag should be right there. We reached the intersection but didn’t see the point. We stopped so that Windy could show me where we were and where the point should be. Then, one of the strangest thing that’s happened to me adventure racing occurred. (Not THE strangest, that was coming across a cult performing a satanic ritual/ceremony on the beach in Malibu during the original MESP 24 Hour Fog Dog race.)
While Windy and I were standing there conferring, we heard this strange tkk, tkk, tkk noise. Windy said "Is that coming from your tire?" And it went flat. Not only were we not riding, we weren’t even moving. Three spare tubes, 4 CO2s and plenty of duct tape later, we were out of options and still couldn’t find anything in the tire, sidewall or wheel that was causing every tube we put into to IMMEDIATELY go flat. From here on, we (or at least I) would be running. CPs 5, 10 and 9 were now out of the question and to make matters worse, even though Windy searched the whole time Vickie and I tried to fix my flats, we never did find CP4. Now, the only question was whether we could make it back by the 10 a.m. cutoff. (It turns out someone swiped the flag for CP4 and CP1 on the run. For which Rick apologized and said he would go back to putting up nearby “backup” tape with passwords.)
To make it easier on me, we took the straightest path to the paved road, which was a thick wash so it was just as difficult for Windy and Vickie riding as it was for me running. When we hit the road, Windy towed me the rest of the way in which was a bit harrowing since it was down a pretty good hill and I was still in my bike shoes. But, we made it back by 9:55 and amazingly were in 2nd place, tied with all-male duo Kayak Lake Mead and trailing only soloist Michael Bading (who got 9 CPs).
That left us 20 minutes to prepare for the kayak leg. The fifteen minutes between legs were a good amount. Long enough to get changed and ready but not so long you were sitting around. Feeling good about still being in it despite the flats, we took off at the gun and were the first team to hit the water. I got in the boat and immediately realized that I didn’t have a paddle. Normally I put it in the boat, but somehow it wasn’t there. A quick 100 meter return run to the TA and back and we were off.
We decided that our plan would be to get CPs 5, 4 and 3 on the paddle and then decide at that time whether we had time to make it all the way to CP2 before getting CP1 on the west side of the north shore on the way back. Saguaro is a great place to paddle with big canyons and mountains on all sides and some deep recesses to paddle into. We were having a great time and reached CP3 having used up 40 minutes of our 2 hours. We figured we MIGHT be able to make it all the way out to get CP2 and still get CP1 on the way back, but it was going to be close. Figuring it was probably about a 15 to 20 minute paddle to CP2, we decided to play it safe and turn around. That ended up being the popular choice as only Kayak Lake Mead (great paddlers as their name would suggest) got all the paddle CPs.
In hindsight I think I underestimated how much time we spent getting in and out of the coves for our first three CPs because we made it over to CP1 and back to TA by 1:20…still with 40 minutes to go. When Kayak Lake Mead strolled in with all the points and 15 minutes to spare, I realized we probably could have gotten CP2, but at the time it seemed like the right choice. Plus, we had a LOT of time to plan our route for the run.
For the run, we figured we would knock of the “faster points” first…CPs 6, 7, 8, and 3. Although the trail wasn’t on the map (or any map that I know of), we knew that these 4 points were roughly along the Butcher Jones trail, a fun out and back trail that runs around shoreline of the peninsula leaving he Butcher Jones rec site. We took off with Adventure Racing Concepts (ARC) hot our heels and would swap places back and forth with them for the remainder of the run. It was fun as one of us would jump ahead and then stop to check nav or make a slight mistake and the other team would take the lead. So, it was a game of leap frog all the way through this section with them slightly faster on the bushwhacking sections and us quicker on the trails.
Once we got to CP3, it became a bushwhack to CP2 to CP5 and then CP4. We did a good job with these points and like on the bike, became confident that we were going to sweep this section. The path from CP4 to CP9 took us through TA and we headed out for the final three points with 50 minutes of our 3 hour deadline left. Our plan was to get CP9 and then head up the wash to CP1 before going over to get the Bonus A point which looked like it should be the trickiest nav. CP9 went fine and we were good as we hit the first split in the wash and headed left…ARC right in front of us. We passed ARC at some point on the way to the second split and CP1, which as I noted above, someone had already stolen. The split in the wash wasn’t as big as we were expecting so when we got there and didn’t see the flag, we kept going hoping to run into a bigger split. It never came and eventually we came to the conclusion that the smaller split was ours and the CP was simply missing.
Unfortunately, our decision to keep looking for CP1 meant we didn’t have time to go get CPA. Instead it was u-turn and head back to the TA…hopefully making it back before the 3 hour time limit expired. We made it with 11 minutes to spare and were glad to hear that we were still in first in our coed division…just one CP ahead of ARC and Todd’s team.
All in all, this was a great day with a beautiful course, awesome weather (once it warmed up a little) and an exciting new format to try out. I think Rick is planning a similar format for his Vail Lake race near San Diego so if you’re in the area or looking for an early season challenge, I’d definitely recommend it (http://www.sierraadventuresports.com). Thanks again to Rick, Kim, all the volunteers and our sponsors, Big Fish Creative Group, Maxxis Tires, Rudy Project, Racelab training, DeSoto athletic wear and CarbBoom.
Team Big Fish