This race has multiple formats/categories. 3 hours, 7 hour and 16 hours. Each time division was also broken down into foot, bike and foot and bike (duathlon). I met my teammate, Adam Armijo a couple moths ago while attending a kayak clinic in Sausalito. Like me he was an eager racer looking to step up his training, and race participation. We were also in agreement on the type of teammates we were looking for. More or less “plug and play” good to go with some experience under their belt already. No more trying to convince your biking buddy, or marathon partners to try and adventure race and babysitting them through the experience. Anyway that’s how we met and welcomed him into the Dirty Avocados family. To make things even more confusing my name is Adam as well. From this point on in this report I will refer to us by our last names; mine being Doti, and his being Armijo.
I picked Armijo up at his place in San Francisco in North Beach a bit past 2pm. We had to scramble to get a replacement mountain bike for him to use from one of his buddies. His regular bike suffered a dehibilitating breakdown during a prior weekend recon trip to Kirkwood on a trail near South Lake Tahoe. When we arrived at Douglas Park up the hill just on the west side of Noe Valley, we were a bit surprised at the number of people that were already checked in and plotting their intended course.
Visiting the organizers web site in the recent weeks didn’t show many teams signed up. Over the course of the final days, registration swelled to 80-ish people/teams. The mandatory gear and equipment list wasn’t much so we were ready to roll. We planned on treating this like a real Adventure Race. So we packed like it was a 24 hour event and agreed on hitting the course like it was a 24 hour event as well.
IN other races where 1st place finishers get 1st place, etc… the SF day and night is a bit different in format. Being a rogain event, it’s not necessarily all about who finishes first or second or even last. There is a time constraint you need to finish by or you get points deducted, but the main means by doing well are to get as many checkpoints as possible within your time category while not going over the finish time. The harder the points are to reach and the farther away they are from the start the more they are worth. For example, points out by the beach or up in Marin County are worth over 100 points. Points down the street are worth 21 points. Checkpoints are numbered fairly randomly. 21, 27, 29, 35, 41, 87, 105 etc… When you get a check point its value is rounded down to the nearest 10. I.e. when adding up your points a CP numbered 27 is actually worth 20 points. 105 is worth 100 etc….. For every minute you are late crossing the finish line you get deducted 10 points. You can get CPs in any order. Anyway, Armijo and I entered into the 7 hour duathlon event. This replicated the format of a typical 24 hour event with transitions etc… That’s about it for the rules.
We were issued 3 maps, Southern Marin (Headlands), North SF and South SF. The maps were of the orienteering variety although being held in an urban location like SF, they looked just like street maps. On the maps were red circles with a red number indicating the CP number. The center of the circle is the CP. We were also issued a passport/questionnaire sheet. On the sheet were trivia questions about that location we had to answer. So it made not actually going to or guessing the location tough. If you answered wrong you were deducted points. An example was “What is the civil code number prohibiting dogs from entering the baseball diamond?”
We plotted our intended route on Xerox copy of the map and turned into race officials for safety reasons so they could find us if we didn’t return. We more or less actually followed our intended route exactly with the exception of the very end where we had to make a B-line for the finish.
We were to begin on foot for the first half of the race and head south by southwest to a checkpoint in Glen Park just south of Noe Valley. Then begin a counter-clockwise plan of attack on points that would take us out to Excelsior, Bernal Heights, Bayshore, outer Mission, inner Mission, Castro, the Haight, Twin Peaks and finally back down to Noe Valley.
After synchronizing my watch and the sound of the start at exactly 4pm, Armijo and I took off to the south running straight up hill away from the pack, who all seemed to be going north and east. We found this interesting. We later assumed a lot of teams were trying to hit 2 of the CPs before the businesses they were located inside closed at 5:30 and 6:30 pm. Since these were only worth 50 points each, we decided there was more value in the strategy we chose and skipped them.
We quickly reached that “break-in” moment were if anything is going to go wrong will go wrong or gear and clothing adjustment were needed they were addressed. We approached the first CP from high up on a road that over looked a park down in a valley. The road snaked off to the left and we could see the CP pretty much straight down the ridge. In true AR fashion, we took it head on and plowed our way through the waist high brush and weeds on the hillside. Spitting us out on the park district access road in the middle of afternoon joggers and dog walkers we made a dash for the building where the CP was located with shoes full of those annoying stickers.
At the beginning of the race during the briefing, the organizers said there may be times were the CP location may have changed since it was last recorded and therefore altering our trivia question. Our first CP proved to be one of these situations. The question was how many park benches are on the West side of the building. 4-6, 7-8, 9-10. Ours was none of the above. There were only 2 benches. I took a picture of the CP with my handy Samsung E-316 Camera Phone and off we went towards the next CP located in South Mission.
The run to the next CP was uneventful. We flawlessly made our way under highway 280 and up Mission St. to corner of Excelsior and Mission St. where the CP at the dentist building was located. From there we went pretty mush due east and a moderate up hill towards McLaren Park and looked for the North East corner of the lake and counted the number of picnic tables located there.
From there we headed due north towards Bernal Heights and along the way picked up a CP in Holly Park. On the way, we passed a house somewhere around Oxford or Harvard Streets with a ton of crap surrounding it. Looked like an active yard sale that began in 1985 with nothing sold.
We continued north to Holly Park crossing 280/101 again on a foot bridge that coincidently materialized in front of us after popping out of the park and neighborhood. I like to call it luck but Armijo claims it was skill. Dashing across the foot bridge was passed another team coming in the opposite direction. This would be the first time we encountered any other teams.
On Bernal Hill, we found the CP located at the communication tower gate at the top of the access road. Turns out the phone number on the sign at the top gate is the same as the one on the bottom gate. Oh, well, you never know
At this point we knew we were doing pretty well. We had covered a lot of distance in only an hour and felt confident to add a few more CPs that were a bit farther out. We decide to break east and head down Bernal Hill's Cortland St. and across Bayshore and picked up a CP located in the warehouses. The running up to now was pretty hilly. Lots of up and downs but the Bayshore area was fairly flat and quick moving. It was at this point my mystery knee problem started acting up. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the issue I have been having with my knee as I have never had a knee or any leg problem for that matter before. A little later on in the foot leg, we would stop and get some Advil from a gas station.
We flawlessly navigated our way parallel to 280 north up past that crazy car wash were they also sell Tacos and not far from the M5 Studios where they film MythBusters and an old friend/boss of mine, Jamie works.
We found the next CP at McKinley Square Park, again how many park benches etc… As we entered the park, what I fondly refer to as “the fly girls” came speeding around the corner in their car and throwing us a “hey guys” as they took off. Was odd, one of those you had to be there to appreciate it sort of situations. Moving on….
We descended out of McKinley Square Park and across another foot bridge that took us over the highway and deposited us into eastern Mission District. I’ve been living in San Francisco and the Bay Area for 14 years and I don’t think I have crossed a single one of these bridges let alone 80% of the locations in this race.
A couple of the next CPs involved locating murals and artists names. We found our way through the Mission and to southern edge of Delores Park. Things got a bit weird here. I decide to make a diagonal b-line short cut through the middle of the park. It was beautiful day with the park slammed with sunbathers, Frisbee players, hippies with their wicked-sticks and foot bags, yuppies in their Eddie Bauer fold out camping chairs, and stoners getting high under the trees. Nothing would prepare us for the pack of lesbians playing croquet. Armijo and I were minding our own business running through the park in what were thought was completely normal manner... outfitted with camelbacks, maps in hand, Lycra performance apparel, Cliff Bar in one hand and compass in the other with a neon orange bandanna/flag dangling off our backs. The event organizers required we display these at all times for identification and safety. Well this flag apparently caught the attention of the pack of croquet playing lesbians and before we knew it one of them nabbed it off of Armijo's pack and started to bolt in opposite direction. Nimble like cheetah, Armijo grabbed the girl’s wrist and pulled her back in. Shocked by what was happening I just sort of looked and kept running seeing Armijo had the situation under control regaining possession of the bandanna, until I looked back and behind Armijo who was regaining his composure, another swift was executing a flanking maneuver from the right, with croquet stick in hand and other hand within inches of my bandanna I performed a few zigzag maneuvers I picked up in 8th grade dodge ball and evading the bullies back in Jr. High. As we put distance between us and the pack of female admires and fighting back our hysterical laughing we could hear them yelling something about capture the flag. In hindsight they probably thought we were playing a game of urban capture the flag. A game in itself that sounds like a lot of fun, but back to our game at hand…
We made our way up to Market St. and through the Castro district for a couple more CPs. We then made the decision to go for Buena Vista Park and traverse over to Twin Peaks, which would be the highest point on the course. The Vulcan Stairs would prove to be a challenge. Spitting us out at the top we made our way through a brief section of upper Haight and through Buena Vista Park and then down Ashby and across the saddle to the base of Twin Peaks. We followed the regular road up a bit towards the lookout area at the base of Sutro Tower when we saw a foot path that made a direct ascent up to the wall below the binoculars, our target. We of course took it in a heartbeat. Scrambling up the loose rock and dirt we popped out at the very tourist infested lookout point in the middle of two Japanese tour busses and a pack of German on lookers startling them a bit.
We discussed our strategy for returning back to the start line/transition as it was approaching 7:30, the half way point and the point we would switch to the bikes. We wasted no time a saw where we need to be and what was between us and our goal; a steep hill, a small cliff, 4 roads, a school and a ton of houses. We made another straight shot down the side of Twin Peaks hill and found a small animal trail and decided to take it. Luckily I was paying attention to my footing at that moment because directly in front of me on the trail defending his right to pass was a startled skunk. I could barely see it through the prickly thorn bushed that was about thigh high. I stopped quickly doing a Fred Flintstone and back peddled and Armijo almost plowed into me. The skunk was kicking up the dirt like bull does before it charges. Very odd because I thought they turned there asses around and sprayed at those that threatened him. I attempted to “shoe” and “----’ away the Twin Peaks resident but he wasn’t budging. So like chickens we back up about 10 feet and I made a bush whack across the weeds and shrubs and circumnavigated the skunk and his apparent nest. Finding the trail again, we exited onto a series of parallel and confusing roads that circle and switch back below Twin Peaks. We eventually found another sweet foot bridge that crossed Portola/Market St. It would have been a blast on bikes because it spiraled all the way down to street level on the other side.
Making our way trough Noe Valley and upper Castro we picked up one or two more CPs and made our way back to the transition area. We were pretty quick in transition, only bout 10 minutes before we were back on the road. We swapped out our lighter Camelback for our AR bags and a bit more gear anticipating a colder night on bikes and additional food and fuel.
We took off on bikes climbing up Clipper St. towards Portola again. The climb was difficult but only about 15 minutes later popped out on Portola and were soon headed down Portola towards Mt. Davidson at a nice 30 MPH. We located the stairs that took us to a trail on the west side of Mt. Davidson. We locked our bikes down on a light pole on the road thinking it would be quicker to run up the stairs to the top rather than taking the bikes around to the back side and riding up. After reaching the end of the stairs we discovered the rest to be a dirt trail that could have been totally doable on bikes. Although not sure if it was legal, but then again in AR racing what really is “legal”. At the top of the Mt. Davidson and the base of the trail I found myself on the back side of the large cross that marks the summit. The summit was up on a platform that was about 4 feet high and 50-ish feet across (diameter). The cross is big, a few stories tall at least. Anyway as I gathered my thoughts and looked for the clue I came around the front side of the cross. The park, memorial was empty and even a bit spooky due to the setting sun and the misty dusk that settled in on the very dank area we were in. As I came around to the front I was startled by a woman that was kneeling at the very base of the cross on her knees with her hands clasped to her chest in a prayer like gesture with a head bonnet/wrap/scarf over her head tied under her chin wearing all black. Her skin was so pale and she was so still I thought it was actually a statue. Just as I swallowed my stomach she looked up and at me and here eyes were so red and the centers so dark and black it was as if I could see right through her. She nodded at me and looked back down and continued her praying. I got my trivia question answered and got the hell out of there double time!
Amped up on the hibbie jibbies we headed north into the neighborhood to grab another CP and then descended south west into St. Francis woods for another CP and then due west to Stern Grove for yet another CP at the bottom of the park. Again at this point we were pretty much flawless in our execution and working as a team. However, it was getting dark and we needed to really move if we wanted to get the points along the beach and back down Geary St.
When we popped out on the west side of Stern Grove and came across a Chinese man and his Siamese cat. The cat was crossing the road and the man was talking to the cat. Apparently, the man takes the cat or the cat takes the man on a walk everyday around the neighborhood. In this encounter, the cat was literally stopping traffic as she took her time in the street enjoying her evening walk. We bided farewell to the man and his cat and headed for the abandoned military bunkers west of Lake Merced. We nabbed the CP at the top of the bluff and made our way down a horse/foot trail to the north and coming out on The Great Highway. By this point, it was completely dark and very windy. The wind was coming off the ocean and kicking up sand that was getting into my eye. I was to have this annoying sand nugget in my eye all night and into the morning. Another hazard was the mini mirage like sand dunes that formed on the side of the road were we were riding. They were hard to see and when you hit one it would send our front tire into a 45 degree turn and almost flip us over the bars.
Making it to Sloat Blvd. we found our way to the famous Carousel Doggie, which they moved up the street closer to the Zoo! We then decided to avoid the relentless wind coming at us from the side and go north but a few blocks inward from the ocean, avoiding the Great Highway trail all together. This made for much quick moving. We picked up a couple more CPs at the beach and in the Sunset as well as at the Windmill at the end of GG Park.
It was at this point we decided to take a chance and go for big points. There was a 100+ point CP in the Sutro Baths up behind the Cliff House. Because we were not exactly sure where the CP was located, the hill we needed to climb to get there, and with only 1 hour to go, we were taking a big chance.
We hustled up the hill and found a gated access road that took us down to the ruins of the baths. We were looking for a tunnel?! Again, I’ve been here for 14 years and never knew there was a tunnel down here. We made our way closer and closer to the shore and cliffs and sure enough there it was, a spooky as heck tunnel. The question was how many meters was the railing located in the middle of the tunnel. I ran in there, measured it with footsteps, and we took off down Geary St.
Then, we really needed to hustle. It was 10:15pm. We picked up one more point on Clement St. and decided to skip one in the park and opt for one at Stanyon St. which was right on our way to 17th and then Noe Valley. This would be our only minor mistake. We could not locate the Kendrick Hall clue that was mentioned in the clue sheet. After about 5 minutes of searching, we decided to skip it and high-tail it for the finish. At this point we were at Fulton St. and Stanyon St. and it was 10:45! Fifteen minutes to go and we still needed to climb Stanyon St., climb 17th and then descend down and climb Douglass St. Lots of climbing. When we got to the top of 17th, I decided to make a last minute change and take Clayton St. around and across Portola and drop down into Noe Valley from the back side thus saving us from a nasty hill climb out of The Castro. The final stretch was still brutal. We were down to literally minutes. I had my watch set to the exact second of the race clock.
Now all day I was feeling ok, but as the day progressed I was feeling more and more squirrelly in my stomach. I discussed it with Armijo, and we think it was an over concentration of my electrolyte mix, Accelorade. Normally, I only use ¼ of what the manufacturer recommends so it’s never an issue, but this time I used a bit too much. It was this overdose of sport drink mix and the strong final push that instantiated my “cleansing” event that took place behind a car only 30 feet from the finish line. Puking at race pace, I made my way between convulsions to the finish line. Armijo noticing I was no where to be found came running back to grab me and found me emerging from behind a van. However, I felt like a new man as we crossed the finish line together at 11:00PM on the dot with out a second to spare.
After pulling myself together and cleaning up plus putting on warm clothes, I ventured into the area all racers from the 7 hour category were starting to gather. They were serving up chili! I had 4 bowls of course. At Midnight, they had a pretty informal awards ceremony. Feeling confident that Armijo and I did very well we were eager to hear the results. We took 1st place for Men’s Duathlon in the 7-Hour category with 1390 points. We were pretty stoked, but then again there were only 5-ish teams registered for the 7-Hour Duathlon event. So, we decided to see how our points staked up to the rest of the field including those on bikes for the entire 7 hour event. We tied for the most points at 1390 with one other solo men’s competitor, but it’s important to note he was on bike the entire time giving him that advantage.
I feel very good about the level Armijo and I performed. We worked together great and executed flawlessly (Well one minor hiccup on Stanyon St.
Sorry Armijo!) and we had a blast! Thanks to the organizers we look forward to next year.
The Dirty Avocado #13
(the 13 is made up. i just like the number)