BAAR Brawl Race Report
By Gordon Wright
February 5th, 2005 was the second running of the BAAR Brawl, put on by the Bay Area Adventure Racers. The event is designed to shake off the winter rust, expose folks to the beautiful terrain of Marin County and share the resulting misery with new friends.
It also serves as a stark reminder of how valuable real race directors are. Yes, the Brawl has no permits, schwag, results, prizes or entry fee. In return for the (lack of) investment, you are also foregoing what you can expect in a real race, like support, an easy path around private landowners and realistic course lengths. Your local race directors do a very hard job, and yet they make it look easy, so while everyone enjoys the odd training exercise, be sure to support your local RDs.
Anyway, the course began at my home in Fairfax, California and covered a great deal of western Marin. Too much of Western Marin, actually, which accounts for the fact that as best as I can tell, only one team finished the whole course.
At 9:15 a.m. my son Will let loose the athletes; as near as I can figure, 52 adventurers headed out to do a one-checkpoint, two-mile warmup and then hopped on our bikes for a challenging 29 mile ride.
This first bike leg was heavy on the singletrack, and everyone was outfitted with a legal pass that entitled them to travel on the Tamarancho trails. This is technical stuff, though my team got through it pretty well. Rich Brazeau, a Raid Gauloises veteran and Explore California series race director, amused us all with a rolling tumble into a creekbed. Kevin Walker is my best friend from high school and a 2:48 marathoner who was doing his first real AR. Austin Murphy, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, is my regular teammate, though we hadn’t “raced” together for nearly 18 months, and it seems that he must have been using an EPO/testosterone in the interim, because he was frighteningly strong through the entire course.
Kevin struggled a bit with the singletrack, and later told me that he was trying to figure out how to drop out after the first leg. The dude completely recovered though, and pulled us for many hours much later in the race.
After the singletrack, we all got to climb the vertiginous face of White’s Hill, where I was tempted to brag that I had once cleaned the thing while riding with Ned Overend and Austin. Since I was hypoxic and pushing my bike, though, I thought it prudent to keep my mouth shut.
It was about this time that my bike decided to betray me. On the decent from White’s Hill, my NiteRider jiggled loose of its strap, hit the ground and - moored as it was to the lens on the handlebars by a bouncy cord - sprung up to poise like a hummingbird in front of my face for a Wiley Coyote moment before falling into my front wheel.
Given what could have happened at 32 miles per hour, I was lucky (if astonished) to get out of that with only a blown front tire valve, which my teammates quickly fixed for me while I shuffled my repair kit. Moments later, my rear brake started to feel funny, and a quick check confirmed I had snapped a brake cable. Looked like I was going to do another 19 hours with only one brake.
After descending White’s Hill, we got to check out two of my favorite ridges of all time: San Geronimo Ridge and Bolinas Ridge. Unfortunately, that also meant climbing up San Geronimo Ridge, following that all the way down to Shafter Bridge, then climbing 1000 feet up Shafter fire road to Bolinas Ridge. It was worth it though; the views were spectacular and the descent from Bolinas Ridge to Olema is one of the best I know, even if you have to do it with one brake and veer around a bunch of curious cows.
We hit Olema and started pacelining on the five-mile road to Inverness, where Blue Water Kayaks held the TA. One mile into the road ride, I bonked like a rookie, and our paceline went from a consistent 17.5 mph to … about 12.5 mph whenever I tried to pull. I don’t know why I even tried - we went much faster when I just sat in Rich’s or Austin’s slipstream.
A bit of food was a great recovery, and we were pleased to find that there were only a few bikes in the corral when we got there. Team Subaru, Team Silly Rabbits and super solo Phil Lovalenti were already out on the kayak course, as was Team Shooting Star Adventure just ahead. We had a great paddle to the CP at Heart’s Desire beach, where my wife and kids were waiting. It was great to see them, but a bit hard to leave. I felt like just asking for a ride back at that point, but my teammates were raring to go.
It should be noted that I didn’t have to run to the bathroom to get the CP - we knew all of them already. This was a sweet advantage, as we didn’t have to do much navigating the entire course. I estimate that even if a team had flawless nav (and many did), we STILL had a 4-5 minute advantage per CP.
The kayak was awesome, as we went with an ebb tide on the way out and had a stiff breeze at our backs for the return. Tons of harbor seals and even a glimpse of a puffin. Total time in the boats: 1:15.
We were done with our transition and ready to leave by about 3 p.m. for a gorgeous trekking leg. I had paid in bloody rash for setting this segment, so I was glad to see that the teams had as much fun doing it as I did in creating it.
Well - we all had fun except for Team Engine’s wildcat confrontation. That’s no fun.
We left Blue Water in Inverness and caught Shooting Star at the top of Mt. Vision ridge; prudently, they stuck with us to find CP 13, a tiny lake well off any trail (and no, the answer is not “Mitten,” it is “Circle,” there is a perfectly round, teeny mini-lake at the edge of the tiny lake). After following a southwesterly ridge all the way down to near the off-limits private ranch, Shooting Star veered away to contour north and east of it while we strolled onto the property to say howdy to the owner, Ann. She’s a great woman, and we were dismayed to learn that, despite explicit instructions to avoid the ranch, the lead teams managed to stumble right onto the property. A very tough-minded ranch resident sent them packing, and they had to contour all the way around west of the ranch, where they extended their misery by jamming ALL the way down to Drake’s Head to snag the championship option.
This allowed Shooting Star and our team to find ourselves tied for first place (albeit without hitting the Drake’s Head option) once we were back on Muddy Hollow in Pt. Reyes National Seashore land. To our amazement, however, hot on our heels were the Rabbits, Subaru and Phil, who had done the entire loop at what looked to be about a 7:30 minute/mile run. They came back east on White Gate trail and quickly pulled away from us on Muddy Hollow even though I kept trying to ask Roy Malone questions to slow them down.
After the Muddy Hollow CP, the last on the trekking leg, we ascended Drake’s View trail, a good route choice as we attained the ridge just as darkness was setting in. We ran down the road, hit Sir Francis Drake Blvd, turned north and ran all the way to Inverness, dodging the grumpy locals who largely drove in a manner designed to make us dive into the weeds.
We had a great time during the legs so far - especially the trek, where we talked, laughed and stumbled around gawking at the views. I have to say, my teammates are the funniest, fittest group of dudes you could ask for.
And our training event got even got better, before it got much, much worse.
We hit the town of Inverness with a pretty universal bonk going on. We needed food, and sure enough there was a cozy café still open. And who was there when we walked in? The lead teams, enjoying some pizza. Shooting Star had just run past; they didn’t stop, just cruised on to the TA. We, however, sat down with the leaders, ordered some quiche, coffee and clam chowder and enjoyed the convivial vibe.
Subaru and Silly Rabbits (with Phil) polished off their pizza and told us they were headed back - on the road - to my house and they were done for the night, even though they all looked like they could go another several days at the same torrid pace.
We weren’t sure what to do with that information - and we also didn’t know that Shooting Star was also packing it in and heading back on the road. We were now in the hunt to “win” this non-competition, through no merit of our own. We definitely wanted to keep going, just to prove it could be done, but we were all nervous about the last bike leg, which I optimistically thought we could do in six hours.
This was an abysmal joke. The ride home lasted ten hours. It featured 45 miles of riding and at least 5 miles of pushing. I can’t even begin to theorize how much vertical we did, although we got a final altimeter log of nearly 14,000 feet for the entire race.
The route really would have been nice to see, had it been light and had we not been delirious. After leaving the café and gearing up, we headed on the bikes back up to the top of Mt. Vision, did some really cool ridge-line singletrack, a bomber descent, a grind through the wilds of Firtop Mountain in Pt. Reyes, another bomber descent to Olema and then a killing, surreal ascent of Bolinas Ridge using Randall trail.
Austin, Kevin and I have all ridden up Randall before, many times, and had never failed to clean it. But in our altered states, it was sick; we must have pushed 50 percent of it. And I started to literally feel sick - to my stomach. Once we got up it, it was nearly 4 a.m., I was dry-heaving and we still needed to traverse half of Bolinas Ridge to get to the paved Ridgecrest Blvd.
This was terrible. Austin stopped to put fresh batteries in his headlamp, and I took the opportunity to lose consciousness. My teammates, kindly, laid down to make a puppy pile around me and we caught about five minutes of sleep before we all started shivering.
Upon FINALLY reaching Ridgecrest, we needed to pull another ascent, from 1500 feet to 2100 ft, the highpoint on the course. Hey, at least it was paved and the night views were cool.
We missed the Laurel Dell turn off (yes, the event director got lost), had to backtrack, and when we bottomed out at the Dell, I had to command another short nap. This only lasted a couple of minutes, though, as it was getting really freakin’ cold. So we did our last climb out of Laurel Dell, paused to congratulate each other, and roared all the way home.
Pulled into the driveway at 6:15 a.m. 21 hours on the nose. We all just looked at each other and asked, “How did we do that?”
It turns out we were the only team to finish the full course, largely because I was racing with some tough mothers. Hats off to Subaru, Silly Rabbits and Phil, who were clearly the fastest out there, and to Shooting Star, who were very fast and very fun to “race” against.
Ross was right on in his race report: I think it was 96 or 97 miles, though I don’t think we did 22,000 vertical feet gained (maybe gained and lost a total of 22k?). But Ross probably does have good topo software. Which I do not. Which may explain the ongoing curse of the BAAR Brawl finishing percentage.
If it happens next year, we’re going to make it easier. I know I said that last year, but I’m serious this time….
Special thanks to Blue Water Kayaks in Inverness - please use them and take the time to thank them for their hospitality when you do. Also thanks to the Royers, who brought a large complement of water bottles from Cyclepath in Hayward. Many thanks to Ralph and Kevin for helping set the sick bike legs. Yet more thanks to Dave Palmer of adventure-race-reports, who has the makings of a real race director. The special Jack Youngblood award goes to Brian Schmitz and his Dirty Avocadoes team, who suffered FIVE broken chains, one broken spoke, one broken derailleur and one broken collarbone (see photo) and did it all with a smile.
And a big thanks to all who lined up, you are all studs: Karen Lynaugh, Ken White, Cynthia Royer, Kevin Walker, Jen Stillwell, Beth Fordyce, Will Gillmore, Brian Schmitz, Karl Royer, Roy Malone, Dan Barger, Jon de St. Paer, Jennifer Kleff, Carl Lee, Oliver Pohl, David Palmer, Ross Capdeville, Peter Johnston, John Wiess (Bliss?), Austin Murphy, Anthony Cotton, Hugh Magen, Kellen Glinder, Greg Barber, Jason Quinn, Tenacious MD, Linda McLean, Michael Liftik, Ryan Madison, Eric Krantz, Jacqueline Wollman (superb handwriting, Jacqueline), Matt Fitting, John O’Donnell (back for another year), Don Daniel, Michael Brill, Jill Vialet, Adam Kaye, Jesse Olive, Gavin Keith, Mark Irwin, Diana Monsahe, Mark Richardson, Grant Sisler, Rick Baraff, BJ Hamel, Brandon Nugent, Brian Cox, Randy Franklin and Shelly Potts.
(A couple of others entered forgot to write their names or wrote them so illegibly that I can’t figure anything out, eg: I M (maybe B) lehce. Also, if I misspelled your name, your handwriting sucks).
Take care, and have fun out there.
Brian Schmitz's Collarbone, Post-Brawl