One transition in 13 plus hours (read carry everything with you), Night canyoneering (with good rock scrambling and some “impassable problems” to solve), Night paddling, Night Biking, Night trekking, Night rappelling; it felt like an expedition race. (think Mini-Baja Travesia) The navigation was some of the most challenging I've ever encountered. What a blast! Robert Finlay's KLM Night Race II Rocked !! Nuff said.
That pretty much sums up my opinion of Kayak Lake Mead’s Night Race II.
But I will elaborate:
The “race” (officially a “map compass and kayak course” if the rangers asked – and they DID ask our team, costing several minutes - okay, what cost the time was that I tried to show off my bike to the cute female ranger. See....what happened was.....), started with a skills test involving an 80 foot rappel. Druce Finlay was very calm and nurturing as those of us with less experience (or in my case, a slight fear of heights), hooked up and thought of doing this again in the darkness to come.
The first leg was bike/trek. We rode to the vicinity of C.P.s (cleverly placed in washes only partially resembling those on the 25 year old maps – and made more difficult by the 47% water height of lake mead), dropped the bikes (and our packs - THANK YOU ROBERT for that rule), and off we went. The C.P.s (made of small surveyor’s stakes) were spot on were the UTMs placed them and we decided to do a “running loop” and snag a few at once, while some other teams opted to head back to their bikes and pedal closer. This paid off as we located all of the C.P. 1 subparts before dark.
After a few “pure” bike C.P.s (read – right off the trail and therefore easily located in the dark) we were on to one of what were the two main highlights of this race, the night canyoneering.
A short jog up the “water tank wash” and BAM we ran smack into an “impassable wall” of rock. Could we have taken a wrong turn? It was reminiscent of the Baja Travesia pre-race meeting where Paul Romero warned the field about tricks like this. We soon found a way up/over/around this “obstacle.” (I understand at least one team diverted their path down the wrong wash due to this feature; obviously what Robert had intended.
Navigation in the dark is tricky. Your mind does some strange things. One of these is that it keeps telling you that you are further along than you are. Paul Romero and Karen Lundgren advised me to subtract 20-30% of your pace calculation to account for this, something we kept having to remind ourselves to do. On no less than 5 occasions, we stopped, scratched our collective heads, wondered aloud if there had been a wrong turn or mis-step, confirmed our supposed location with the terrain and concluded it was this factor coming into play. At least once we found the C.P. within minutes of continuing on. The Lesson: if you’re not sure you’re lost, keep going; don’t turn back.
The night was filled with gorgeous sites experienced equally by the various teams. I can’t remember the last time I saw a shooting star. Awesome. One racer reported seeing the green eyes of a bobcat; and all who trekked the correct course found themselves at the foot of several hundred foot high walls of ….well… whatever the rock is made of out there.
I think we rappelled eight times in the canyoneering section. Awesome.
After the canyons, it was on to the second highlight: Night Kayak Orienteering. As of the race date Lake Mead was at 47%, leading to some interesting navigation. Some of the correctly plotted C.P.s were in the “water” but the accompanying clues referred to land such as “small islands.” Our team used pure distance and bearing to get to the immediate vicinity of the C.P., then we read and re-read the clues to make sense of how the topography fit together with the clues. I tried to imagine that all of the terrain (land and water), was land and just locate the C.P. “where it was supposed to be.” John was awesome with the boat compass and we paddled right up to a couple C.P.s we were spotted from the boat!!
The Kayak leg also presented the coldest weather I’ve raced in. Thirty One Degrees, not counting the wind chill from the approximately 5 m.p.h. winds. I paddle without gloves, (need to get some pougies – sp?) so my fingers froze. To warm them? I dipped them in the “drink” which seemed about 10 degrees warmer. Mild hypothermia tried to set in upon getting out of the boats, but was warded off by a little running in place (or jumping jacks) as we checked off the C.P.s, and then we were back inside our toasty skirts. We also took turns getting out of the boats, for only one teammate would freeze.
Upon returning to the beach and portaging our boats to the “finish” (thank you John for the cart!!), I asked Robert Finlay: How’d we do. “You won.” He replied. Unbelievable. What a sense of accomplishment. Then it was into the Scrat-Mobile, on with the heater and heated seat and I crashed.
Thanks so much to Amy and John for Racing and for John's excellent lead navigation and Amy’s valuable pace keeping.
(Note, that I don’t ever write race reports, so I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch of cool stuff, or emphasized the race in different ways than the other competitors would).