Be careful what you wish for.
Report on the WCAR Southern California 24 Hour race, Sept 9-10 2006.
by Barrie Adsett
There is an AR saying that goes something like “There is no downhill in Adventure Racing”. When first hearing this people wonder what you mean, and I explain it as you peddle, trudge and hike-your-bike uphill for 2-3 hours, gaining 2000-3000 feet of vertical gain over 8-10 miles. When at the top you then proceed downhill at break-neck speed taking maybe 10 minutes to erase that 3 hours of uphill. Yeah its exhilarating, but wouldn’t it be nice to savor the downhill? Well I have a couple of downhill’s you can savor for HOURS!! You gotta put in the hike to the top of the hill first, but then they are long sweeping trails, sometimes you get quick switchbacks and there are a few dips and small hills so you do get some breaks. These downhill’s were on the second bike section of the So Cal 24 Hr race.
But I warn you, you have to concentrate. These downhill’s are semi-technical and involve rocks and other obstacles, so you have to always be thinking and that was very taxing on the race.
How long was the race?
24 Hours was the organizers estimate for the race. 34 Hours was our team time. The top two teams; Ted Devito - solo, and the co-ed team of DART/NUUN finished in 19:01 and 20:41 respectively, the other finishing times were in 25, 26, 28, 31 and 34 hours. 10 groups completed the full course or finished ranked, out of 27 starters.
I was lucky to run this race as our Equinox team had too many activities that weekend so we could not run together. Steve and I volunteered to work it, but I added that I would prefer racing if a team was short. A couple of hours later I got the email, “You want to run with us? Glad to have you if you can make it”. The call was from Christopher Aedo and Jay Williams who were putting together Team Zissou. We had one kayak practice the weekend before the race and discussed our goals for the race (1) to win, (2) to pass some other team and (3) to finish. Two out of three aint bad.
Where did you go?
The race started in Pioneertown which is WAY out in the desert by Yucca Valley. The race ended above the North Shore of Big Bear Lake some 50 Km away as the crow flies. It’s only 30 miles, and the net elevation gain was just 3000 feet. But the T-shirt stated 150 Km (93 miles) and 11,000 feet of elevation gain. Our route (we took a couple of opportunities to never have to go there again) was about 170 Km and almost 15,000 feet of gain.
We started well with Jay towing me on the bike and Christopher had his finger on our route to CP1 and CP2 (the transition from bike to run). The race started on paved roads through Rimrock, then on dirt roads up Burns Canyon with a side trip through Rattlesnake Canyon (saw none) to Heartbreak Ridge (I’m not making these names up, they are the names of the hills and canyons west of Pioneertown where lots of Cowboy movies were shot in the past). The transition was in the Rose Mine area of Round Valley.
On the first trek we got to chatting and having a happy old time with 37 minutes passing very quickly and a map check was needed as we wondered why we had not come to a campground we were expecting. We were hiking not running but we had still covered way too much distance OFF COURSE. Oops! But we had a team of three navigators and after a 30 second review we went to plan C. Plan A was to go the short route on dirt roads to this campground. Then take a trail up over a ridge to a downhill stream where we would bushwhack about 3 Km cross country to CP3. We had a plan B and that was if the bushwhack was too thick to follow the trail about 1 Km out of our way and bushwhack less than 1 Km down a ridge to the CP. But we had wandered far and fast on the main road and were almost halfway to the CP, so plan C kept us on the road uphill, then we picked up the plan B trail and went down the ridge. Arriving at CP3 we looked at other team times and guessed we lost maybe 2-3 minutes. Hence, we got away with that lapse in concentration - this time. But it had us thinking more for the next few legs.
Leg 4 took us on trails to Onyx Summit and a transition back to the bike. Heather, Christopher’s wife, was our crew, and she with dog Lucy and help from the other crews had us on our way at the transitions very quickly.
Was it fun?
On the second bike section we were in for some fun! The map showed huge gains on the contour lines as we climbed from 8400 feet up and down a few peaks (9226 ft, 9306 ft, 9465 ft) heading past Lightning Gulch to Deadmans Canyon and ultimately Wildhorse Meadows.
From Wildhorse Meadow (which you can drive to), there is this long downhill single-track on Wild Horse Trail. And it is wild! I fell 4 times on this section, the first one hurt (but I didn’t know how much till later) and the last one was the most spectacular (my team mates wondered why there was not more blood or broken bones – luck I guess). Jay and Christopher are better bikers hence they never fell (or did not tell me about it). The downhill probably took us about 1 hour, and it was all FUN. But also technical in that the rocks bounced you around and you had to concentrate all the time. But if you are a good rider this is shear pleasure.
When we exited at Hwy 38 the ride was not over. We went to the south side of the highway into the Heart Bar area of the Santa Ana River and rode down the Santa Ana River Trail (SART). This also was a FANTASTIC, long, fun, downhill ride on single-track. The nice thing about the SART is that it more or less follows the contour lines dropping slightly each mile from 7000 ft to 5400 ft over the 35 Km we rode. It also required concentration but not quite as much as on Wild Horse. The ride took us into the night, and some hairy downhill riding using a small LED light. Thankfully a headlamp was required equipment as I never estimated this leg would take that long on the bike.
We progressed steadily having to get water out of the river and eating all we had taken from the TA. We had no problems with locating checkpoints 5, 6 and 7. But we did have to backtrack going to CP8, as we never fully read the emergency instructions when the TA moved and while we were on the right track we doubted ourselves.
CP8 was a transition back to trekking along the western end of the SART. Pretty easy to follow, except when I turned the wrong way going for a CP which was not a CP but the “O” in a word on the map (I was getting tired and it was not even midnight). Lucky I was part of a team and Christopher and Jay set me right.
Was it tough to navigate?
The last bike section for us started about midnight. We were in great spirits and just had to find one CP before heading over Clarks Grade to Big Bear Lake. This however was no ordinary checkpoint. It was the CP some say did not exist. It was the CP which woke is up. It was one reason this race was intended to be for advanced racers. It was, in my opinion, a great checkpoint (especially in hindsight).
I have shown part of the map below. The red circle is CP10 (TA and start of this bike section) and the blue circle is CP11 (our destination). The green road is the route we intended to take (it shows as a jeep trail on the map). The problem was the green road no longer exists! So when we were heading north just out of Angelus Oaks, we were really on the trail just to the left of the green road. When we turned west and went above the Heliport we thought we were going west on the green road to about where it crosses the SART. Bottom line is we were LOST for about 30 minutes in the pitch black darkness going UPHILL, when we should have been going downhill. Our top-notch navigator #1 was Christopher and he kept his eye on the compass as well as all of us looking at the map. It was his insistence that we were going south and west that had us give up on the green trail and simply start looking for the SART. I’m guessing we got on the SART about where the word “TRAIL” is shown on the map below, but I thought we were more to the east. This is what I liked about this leg. You had to use your compass, you had to use knowledge that you wanted to go downhill and you had to get over the fact that the map was wrong. Then, and only then, this leg became easily doable.
But this was not the only navigation challenge. Read on...
I understand Clarks Grade is the original road into Big Bear Lake (before they built Highways 18, 38 and 330). It was not hard to see why they looked for a “better” way. The road snaked up the side of the mountain with more switchbacks that we cared to count (besides, as tired as we were, our counting skills would have had a kaleidoscope of answers). While this was a bike leg we walked most of Clarks Grade as it gained almost 3000 feet in less than 12 Km. We got to see a second day break as we came up to Skyline Drive and CP12 at the top of the hill.
Our spirits were high as we considered the tough part of the race was behind us. An easy bike on single track off the top of the hill. Some paved roads through town and down to a lazy kayak around the lake.
The kayak did not prove to be so lazy as while the lake is not that big we had to stay within the 5mph buoys, so we essentially followed the shoreline and that added up to 20 Km. Also, when we turned back from the east end of the lake the wind came up and we had a strong headwind to contend with. But it was all good as there was JUST 8 Km to go when we beached the boats.
Was it a quick finish?
I could write a whole novel about the last 8 Km. But I will try to be brief. Heather, with the help of others was left to load the boats as we changed, loaded up on half rations of water and a little food. I was feeling great after the paddle, Christopher and Jay were sensing the end as they had been tired on the paddle, but were invigorated as we estimated 2 hours to the finish line.
The first decision was the toughest, do we climb straight up, 1500 ft vertically, to a CP about 1½ Km away as the crow fly’s, or do we hoof it down the road some 3 Km to locate a road which led to a trail to the CP, the total distance being about 7 Km. Well heck, 1½ Km is a lot less than 7 Km.
In hindsight the long route may have been shorter. Our being tired (even if we felt OK as we were approaching the end of the race) was a hindrance and that tiredness took its toll. I think we scrambled up the hill very well. But it was the middle of the day and the sun was beating down on us, and it exacted a huge amount of my energy. But it was not just our energy that was waning, our thought processes were also having a problem. As we got toward the top of the hill we had a huge problem locating “the” hill (Gray’s Peak). There were all these rock outcroppings which were like false peaks and it seemed we had to climb each one to get out of the trees and notice there was “one more hill” which was higher than the one we crested. Of course each additional hill was down and across a gully before we got to climb it. I think we did this “peak bagging” about 5 times before we took a break and questioned how to get out of the predicament. Christopher called Heather on the cell phone to tell her we were ok and to let everyone know we had slowed down. We were so close, but it seemed futile. I was out of food and tiring fast, Christopher was moving slow and Jay became the man of the hour.
Jay took the map, told us to sit tight, he was going to find the Peak and would be back after he located it. Dang, it took him all of 4 minutes and he came back excitedly yelling that not only had he located the peak, he had found the trail leading away from it and a worker. Yeah-ha! It may have taken us 2½ hours to go 1½ Km, but that was the last CP, we just needed to get to the end to finish the race.
The finish line was about 2 Km north of our location. Follow the trail for about half a mile, go cross country down a ridge, cross a road, cross country 500 meters to a camp area then take a trail for 400 meters and cross country the final 400 meters. Following the trail was easy, going down the ridge was sort-of easy and we located the road. But I had become a liability. I had next to zero energy, was no help looking at a map, and had maybe 4 lip-wetting sips left in my water bottle. Christopher and Jay were already sharing the last of their water. So we made a group decision to skip the 500 meter cross country and take the road (adding an additional 800 meters, but we reasoned it was on road).
40 minutes later we were not sure where we were. We knew we were moving slow, but our speed seemed ridiculously slow. We kept going and came to a road with a sign. Had no idea where it was on the map, but curiously our compass bearing would have us take it. As we wandered down it, Heather returned Christopher’s earlier phone call and while they were talking Jay and I looked at the map. Yeah-ha, a second time. We located the road we were on and could even see the bend in the road where we were. We had walked on the wrong road an hour ago and wandered about 2 Km in the wrong direction. But when we located that road sign it put us on a road which led directly to the camp area where the finish was located. We knew “exactly” where we were and we knew how to get there with no cross country involved. The light-bulb went on, the energy came to the surface and some 20 minutes later we crossed the finish line.
Did you finish?
We were last to complete the full course. Our time was 28 seconds shy of 34 hours.
Our crew of Heather and Lucy were there for us as was Karen and Russ who were working the finish line and Steve and his wife Ann (who also volunteered), and who graciously stayed to drive me home. We were so late everyone else had gone home.
It was one heck of a race! We made our own mistakes due to fatigue and a little inattention. But mostly we had a good race and no problems. The race was intense, either grinding uphill or having to pay attention on the downhill. But it was fun and there was lots of downhill which was fantastic. A BIG thanks to Karen and Paul for putting the event on and a special thanks to all the crews and all the volunteers who waited around as we worked our way along the course. Of course a huge thanks to Heather, who was not only our crew, but the best inspiration I have ever seen for a teammate. Christopher was the goo-goo gaa-gaa newlywed at every transition, but it gave him energy. Jay was incredible on his first ever 24 Hour race. He towed me to get the thing started, settled in for most of the race and became our lead navigator at the end when the whole team was tired. I had a blast on this team, thanks guys.