Big Blue Adventure Race - Castaic Lake, April 2, 2005
Team: CyclePath - Karl and Cynthia Royer
Looks like nothing fell off...
The Big Blue Adventure Race originally scheduled at Point Magu was changed to Castaic Lake. The change in venue enticed us to travel down and race since the lake is just over the Grapevine. Before we go any further, let us introduce ourselves. I am Karl; my main team roles are navigator, tactician, field maintenance manager (he fixes our bikes on the trail, geez when did he get a title change?), and food administrator. And I am Cynthia; my main team roles are strategist, gear organizer, passport control, food prep and Queen of all I survey (means she thinks I am her mule!). We race under the team name of CyclePath http://www.cyclepath.com/ in honor of the truly outstanding bike shop that sponsors our adventure racing pursuits. Continuing on, we arrived at the event site Friday evening and checked our team (all two of us) in, hung around a little while and then proceeded to our hotel room to get all our stuff organized for the next day’s race. Mandatory gear…check; extra clothes; check, feminine hygiene products; (that’s right…great way to start the season off!!) check!! With the gear organized and the food prepped (uh…I have a nagging feeling I have forgotten something) we also took this opportunity to review our race goals one more time:
· Finish the race without being short coursed
· Finish the race if we are short coursed
· Top 50% in the overall
· Top five in coed 2-person division
· Enjoy being together
· Enjoy the world around us
The start/finish and bike TA
The staging areas for our kayak and bikes opened the next day at 6:00 AM. We arrived at the staging area around 6:30 (older folks need their sleep) and were able to set up our kayak and bike areas quickly, with 15 minutes to spare no less, before the 8 AM race briefing. Gear staged, check! So far, so good…feeling good, confident. At 8:30 AM the maps were handed out with the CPs and TAs already marked so we used the time before the 9 AM start to plot our intended course (including cleaver shortcuts!!). Then the call went out for all racers to assemble at the race start down by the lake. We made our way there, touched the cool lake water sang the national anthem and before we knew it, we were off, our hearts racing faster than our feet could go.
The first leg was about a one mile run to the kayak staging area. Cyn was attached to the WeGo team link system (tow harness) by Meridian Geographics http://www.wegoteamlink.com/ and then attached to me to tow her during the running/trekking portions of the race (Cyn loves running, NOT!!!). So off we go, over the park’s grassy knolls, across a creek, up a drainage ditch, along the dam (complete with plastic and sandbags covering a portion of the slope that had washed out due to recent rains), over the wetland muck to our trusty kayak. Once there, we put on our PFD’s while simultaneously shoving some food into our mouths (too sweet, YUCK!! Still full from breakfast) and were able to transition very quickly carrying the kayak about 100 yards to the lake’s edge. Not bad, we thought, considering our kayak is a heavy sit on top cobra tandem AND one of the handles used to carry it is broken off.
We hit the water in the bottom third of the pack and managed to pass about three teams on our way to CP1. The course was set so that when you hit both CP1 and CP2, the teams had to orienteer out to CP1a and CP2a, which, as navigator, I thought was a cool twist to the race. We arrived at CP1 feeling pretty good about our paddling thus far. Cyn jumped out of the kayak, whipped out our passport and handed it to the only person looking relaxed. The volunteer happily signs for CP1. Off we go down the beach in search of CP1a approximately ½ mile down the relatively flat beach and woods. Flat of course means up and down small ditches, bushes, trees, poison oak etc…found a guy looking even more relaxed sitting in his lawn chair. Back to the kayak and were off in search of CP2.
Kayak staging area
We gained more ground between CP1 and CP2 (that paddling instruction Cyn and I decided to do is paying off) paddling our way through the pack to about the halfway point. Cyn hops out; gets the coveted signature for CP2 and instead of following everyone we decide we are going to kayak around the corner into a cove, which as navigator was my call…did I mention my love for shortcuts…and go up a gully to save about 5 minutes (I am SO clever…meanwhile Cyn has a funny feeling, which she does not share). To make a long story short…the gully was not a trail, I wanted to make this work feeling committed, started bush whacking until I heard the rattle. Cyn seemed more than happy to turn around. We began our return to CP2 and noticed racers leaving CP2 looking at us as if to say…hey… you’re going the wrong way (adventure racers are really very helpful souls)! Upon our return about a half hour after leaving we quickly scrambled up the hill to CP2a and returned to the kayak only to discover we were now dead last. The main lesson learned here…don’t try to take short cuts early in a race, although it might make sense in a final push, the risk/reward ratio this early on proved not to be in our favor.
We jump back into our kayak and begin paddling to CP3 and then, in the horizon, we see them…three kayaks…200 to 300 yards in front of us (were not dead yet!). We had spoken to many scenarios that could occur in a race. I have avoided being the navigator in the past because I know I am very tough on myself when a miscalculation costs the team time. Now mind you, I can overlook a miscalculation made by another team member, but I am much harsher on myself. So if I can forgive another, why not myself? Opportunities for ego checks and introspection are one of the beautiful things about these races. That being said, I needed to focus on what was ahead, there was a lot of racing yet to do. “We can catch em”, I said to Cyn. “Yeah we can”, she responded. We both focused on our paddling and the gap between them and us began to get smaller and smaller. As we approached CP3 we sprinted to catch the group of three leaving the shore just as we arrived. Invigorated by this success we manage to catch and pass two additional teams within a quarter mile as we returned to CP4.
Next, we run back to the start/finish/bicycle staging area… by the dam, down the drainage ditch, over the creek and through the park to grandmothers house we go (are your singing too?). We do a quick transition and hop on our bikes (our strength, I thought, we can make up for lost time) and began the relatively short and easy 100’ accent to CP5 up grasshopper canyon towing Cyn on the steeper sections. Wrong! Grasshopper canyon quickly made it known it wasn’t about to be tamed. Lots of deep erosion ruts, very narrow single-track, sand, muck, and visual obstructions made speed but a distant fantasy. Just when we thought we could pick up some speed, the challenges of the trail forced us to slow down a bit (injury…been there, done that). Nevertheless, we were able to catch up to another 2-person coed team, tried to engage them into talking about where CP5 was (worth a try), but they said they were not sure (it is a race after all) and took off. A quick look around and there it was on the hill. We arrived at the CP mere seconds behind them. Hummm…another coed team, competition, a race within a race, competitive juices peaking…time to pick up the pace. Cyn and I looked at each other, a smile crossing our faces…we were both thinking the same thing (we do that a lot). I asked the passport guy how far behind the last coed couple we were as he was signing the other coed couples passport. He enjoyed the humor.
CP5 was also the transition area for the trekking/orienteering sections. We changed our shoes, left our bikes, hooked up the WeGo and began the hunt for CP6. The other coed team was about 200 yards ahead of us. They went right; we went left, once again employing my clever navigational skills. We nailed it quickly and admired its awesome location (all hail the creative race director). Down in a gully, hanging off a log in the middle of a rock pool (beautiful). I climbed down the steep gully (another “short” cut) to the stream while Cyn watched from above to insure my safety, swam the pool (very refreshing), used mad rock climbing skills to get up the 6 foot climb to the log, read the word and took off up the hill. On my way up I passed our friendly coed team coming down a trail from the opposite direction (they didn’t get to swim).
CP7 was about a 500-foot climb across chaparral type land. We were pretty much walking next to the other coed team, which was pretty cool. It became apparent that both teams were very much aware that we were each other’s competition and that this had developed into a race within a race. We jockeyed back and forth for position, each using the strength and knowledge we had been training for. They looked at the map, we followed the trail with the grass knocked down, we’d follow them, they would follow us, the CP has to be here somewhere…it was quite a lot of good natured fun. Then we all saw the race director, Ann Hall, waving to us at the top of the hill at CP7 and we made our way up. My wife and I both hugged her when we got there and thanked her for the location of CP6 telling her we thought the pool was a great twist. She said other teams didn’t agree, but hugs are good!
We took off running along a fire trail to CP8 (the same location as CP5 where we dropped our bikes). On the way we were looking for the trail to CP9…and there it was!! By the time we got back to our bikes at CP8 the other coed team was nowhere in sight!! Sure glad we changed shoes…I think they were in their bike shoes (ouch).
...and the snake was this BIG
Now we are in “speed demon” mode…we have a slight lead!! We hurriedly change our shoes, grab our bikes “and they’re off” to CP9. We make our way to the trail and begin the hike a bike up the summit when I hear a scream. Cyn has met up with a snake. Funny thing is Cyn loves snakes; she has even had a few for pets. She told me later all she could think of was Ann said there were rattlers out here; however, was embarrassed after she got a grip and realized it was a gardner snake. Once we got moving again we finished the hike a bike, rode down a steep hill and up the other side to CP9. Just as we got to the CP there they were again…the coed team…they were back! We looked at each other in disbelief. Who are these guys? We felt like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!!
From CP9 we needed to get back to the park near the bicycle TA where CP10 was located. There were two main trails down; we marked dumping into grasshopper canyon on our map earlier (actually upon further review, the marking was the initial intended way to approach CP9). The other coed team went a different way. I was tired of being clever. Cyn and I talked briefly and decided to go back on a known trail and stick with what we thought was the original plan instead of following. Hindsight being 20/20…we should have followed (the route we took just didn’t feel right). It took us a lot longer than we would have liked since the canyon was pretty slow going and to top it all off, we heard the second rattle of the day close by the trail, (remember earlier at CP2a?), a little disconcerting that. Clever or not, we nailed CP10; love it when they are where they are suppose to be. Personally I think these things move and hide on their own sometimes. The trail from CP10 was pretty steep. I started to feel pretty low about my navigational skills about this point, loosing our friends and all. Cyn started asking me “are you sure we’re going the right way?” type questions. We decided to head back to the park to pick up water and follow the trail we were familiar with. While Cyn was getting water, I studied the map and in that moment of relaxation the entire map popped out at me in complete 3-D, which was WAY cool. I may have looked at the map once or twice from this point on, but I knew where we were and where we were going, the ridge, and water all just came into focus. Where my vision was impaired by terrain, intuition and knowledge of location in relation to the environment made navigational choices easy. Looking back over the map after the race, I think the choices from this point on were all clean.
So here we go to CP11 “over the creek, up the drainage ditch, following the dam, except this time it was major hike-a-bike and then it hit us like a slap in the face. The lowest point in our race was seeing team Balance Bar returning from CP14 on their way to a much deserved first place finish and here we are with hours still to go. They shouted out some words of encouragement and as nice as that was, the friendly and encouraging words initially did not ease the sting we were both feeling in that moment. Then I heard something weird; Cyn began to breakdown; she was bonking (its true, I admit it, I am sure you don’t want to hear all the gory details…suffice it to say I allowed the disappointment of our unfortunate navigational choices thus far to affect my normally positive attitude. After reflecting on this experience I realized it was exacerbated by two things; lack of energy from lack of food…earlier I mentioned I thought I had forgot something; turns out I had forgot to bring the kind of food I like to eat hours into a race... and hormones running amuck. This state of being only lasted for approximately 30 minutes, but it was a long 30 minutes…). Then Team Wellsport was coming up from the bike TA on their way to CP14 and offered words of encouragement as well. Shortly behind Wellsport, was Team Revo…more encouraging words and then I suddenly felt a hand on my back assisting me up the hill. It was a member of Team Revo. It wasn’t only that it helped somewhat physically, but more so the simple act of offering a helping hand in that situation was extremely gratifying and was a huge lift emotionally. This from a team that is competing for prize money! These teams, and specifically Revo, provided to us what is probably the essence of the adventure racing spirit. So forgive us if we throw a special shoutout to what we consider a class act team…Thanks for the assistance Revo http://www.teamrevo.com/. Purely on a human level, the timing of the assistance was remarkable. In truth their action was such a little thing, and yet in that moment of time, for us, it was HUGE! We continued riding through a parking lot and after about a quarter mile of single track that was pretty fun, full of woowhos and look outs, we came upon CP11.
With a newfound energy we started our journey to CP12 with a hike-a-bike section on a fire trail. Went to a gate that apparently had a false lock (as in just pull the chain) but no, I needed to show off my masculine strength by lifting the bikes and then climbing over. Then a short 300’ climb on a fire trail to the ridge. We made a right hand turn, taking in the enjoyment of the 3 miles of ridge riding and passed a couple more teams on the way to CP12. When we got to CP12 the volunteer did a gear check…glad to see we weren’t carrying all this stuff for not. I should mention that the ridge ride was very beautiful in all directions. The wild flowers were in bloom, lakes and mountains everywhere, which is ultimately why we do this. Not for the fame, the glory (smile), but for the experience, the beauty of nature, sharing it with one another. It is too easy for me anyway to allow this part of AR to go unnoticed.
The bike trails to CP13 had you drop down to a higher part of grasshopper canyon. A very exciting portion (the volunteer at CP12 called it “treacherous”) being that part of the fire trail had several wide and long ruts throughout the track. Again after several woowhos and a few look outs later, we made it to the bottom with nary a scratch. On the topo map we had a question mark at this part because it looked like all trails down the canyon disappeared for a mile or two, which they did. We then did a hike-a-bike up another 500 feet to get up to the ridge, followed by back tracking to the lake and caught up to a male soloist. We crossed the road and then did the most fun single track of the course with several switchbacks (all down hill). We hit CP13/BikeTA, and headed back across the park, over the creek, up the drainage ditch, followed the dam to a trail the led us up to the final CP…14.
Hit CP14, and did the run back to the finish, by this point you know the litany, the final creek crossing was immensely enjoyable. I had recorded approximately 5,500 feet of total elevation gain. We finished the course in 8 hours and 49 minutes, second of three in our category and division, the other coed couple we raced with for a short time being first (congrats team SCARAB). Enjoyed some remarkable terrain and met some pretty cool people along this part of life’s journey.
We agreed that we were pretty organized with our gear and do not plan many changes in this area. We have plans to mark our maps differently, adjust our communication skills on the course and upgrade our bicycle tow system. Cyn says she has learned the importance of proper fuel intake and water hydration, this being her first experience with “bonking”. We have read and believe it is in the teams best interest to have all members be proficient at all aspects of “team” responsibilities. (This means I may get to be King of all I survey and receive a tow). I got to play warrior in the hills (she made me leave the face paint at home…pout), hooking up a towline and being hero to my wife. Quality and intimacy between couples that is hard to match. I am honored to have a mate who will play. (As I am honored to share this experience with a husband so kind, encouraging and …strong)
The race staff was excellent. No complaints with the layout, meetings or organization. They were extremely friendly and professional. The WeGo system we have been allowed to demo was a wonderful asset for our team. Most important for us is the trust and support from our friends at Cyclepath. They have two bicycle shops, one located in Hayward and the other in San Mateo. They have wonderful staffs that can tune your bike to perfection and assist in finding the bike and gear you have been looking for at a great price. They have been gracious enough to provide support to us so we get to participate in a sport we absolutely love. Please take a moment to visit them at http://www.cyclepath.com. We will see you at the starting line.
Enjoy the journey! K&C…