2005 Lionheart: A 20-Hour Crash Course
by Yuri Bredle
Hats off to Doug Crytzer and his American Adventure Sports crew for hosting an awesome event with the 2005 Lionheart (just south of Pittsburgh). I enjoyed 80 percent of it immensely.
I’m a relative newbie to adventure racing. Arriving, late Friday night to compete solo in the 24-hour Lionheart, I had suspicions I was in over my head. But what’s the worst that could happen? I could get lost. I could get dehydrated, or sick. I could end up a Bredle-skin rug on the floor of a local black bear’s den. I could leave my backpack bladder at the B&B on race-day morning. In the next 24 hours, bears aside, all of my fears would come true.
Racers were expected to plot the route for the 100-or-so mile, 24-hr. course using UTMs. Hmmm, never really done that before. Hunkered down over my map with a custom UTM grid tool drawn on a Gerber baby food lid, I got down to it.
An hour later still at the Main TA, backpack topped off with fluids and food, map fastidiously plotted, spidey senses tingling, I was ready to attack the trails. I energetically took the first 50 steps forward....and had to stop for a train. Ok, 30 seconds into the biggest endurance event of my life and I’m going nowhere. Stretching felt a little futile at this point, but that’s what I did.
Running, I fell into stride with Bob, a solo athlete from New Jersey, and Dave and Paul, a two-man team from D.C.. We traded racing stories. The lake grew closer. The temperature hotter. I felt great.
Reaching the lake was a huge boost. My wife and son had leap-frogged ahead by car to cheer me at the start of the paddle. Hitting the lake in my kayak, I checked off CP after CP (4–6), keeping water constantly on my head and neck to cool my jets. It was certifiably hot. Still felt great. The open water made for a good vantage point to watch the progress of other racers.
The race czars shuttled solo racer bikes to the start/finish of the lake paddle. Two-person & three-person teams had to manage with a bikeless odd-man-out for the next leg. That put the advantage in my court on a 3-CP bike leg returning to the main TA… which I promptly squandered, erased, and inverted into a disadvantage. I was hell-bent on making my biggest endurance test harder than it needed to be. Not smart. I learned that a map and compass can show you the direction to go, but you need more data. I wasn’t tracking my mileage very well (if at all).
A bike odometer might have been nice. As would a ride in the back of a pickup truck. I had neither. Leaving CP 7, I biked/hiked uphill, past the fire road I was looking for, all the way to an intersection with a paved road. Knowing the paved road was off limits, I did an about-face and headed slowly downhill in search of turnoff again.
I was jumpy and I committed to the first trail that felt right. Survey says: wrong road. This is where the Lionheart got really, really interesting.
The path—my path, my custom path—from CP 7 to CP 8 was long, hot, and miserable. Did I mention it was hot? I walked my bike the entire way. I was on a 4x4 road of sorts. The grass grew up waist-deep all around me. At a corn field, I used my bike as a battering ram to plough through. The sun was directly overhead & I was sweating profusely, desperate to reach the shade. Eventually, my trail (my custom trail) dumped out on the same bloody paved road I had stopped at an hour or so before. Curses! Debating, I sat down with my maps.
A team of three and a solo appeared, laboring up the paved road. I guess they had missed the fire road just as I had (Yes, I missed it twice just to make sure I really, really missed it. Thanks for reminding me). These 4 racers were making progress. And I certainly wasn’t. So, I tucked in behind them and marched up the hill to CP 8. In the heat of the afternoon, I felt like a baked potato.
Leaving 8, the route to 9 and back to CP 10 at the main TA was down a blisteringly fast single track mountain bike trail. There were roots, rocky crags, briars, horseback riders, and assorted hazards to avoid or jump (in my mind, all the leading teams were bunny-hopping equestrians). Speeding down the return to the TA put the fun back in the race. By 5:30 or 6pm, I was back in town staggering around my cooler of food and fluids. My wife and son were there. I gave them each an inebriated hug and told them I was having a blast getting my butt kicked. The idea of going back out on the course was at once humorous and appealing.
A Cord of Three
Dave and Paul were there, leaving CP 10/Main TA at the same time as me. They invited me to join them. I jumped at the chance. And so we made a career of pushing our bikes up ridiculous hills, and screaming like banshee down the far side. This went on, oh, forever or so.
We dug around in the woods and nailed CP 11. And that marked my last act of effective racing of the day.
Curse of the Midway
Still on mountain bike, checkpoint 12 scoffed at us. Teased us. Called us sissies and dared us to find it in the woods. The clues to CP12 were as follows: left turn down a short decline and across a water feature; uphill past an oil well; proceed to an intersection of a fire road and a 4wd road; look for the CP in the rocks. The three of us turned just a smidgeon early. Thus began our epic hunt.
We biked uphill (rather than downhill) on a well maintained oil line (rather than a fire road). We encountered a local high school couple out parking in the hinterland. Didn’t really want to disturb their extracurricular activities, but we were confident we were closing in on the CP. Passing their pickup, we saw we would have to bike down a steep hill, cross a creek (yes, that sounds right), pass an oil rig (and that sounds right) and ascend yon monster hill (that should be right, too) where the CP would be in the rocks.
We ditched our bikes and all but one backpack at the creek and hiked to the summit, in the last light of the day. Looking for the CP, I was tired, thirsty and eager to get the heck out of Dodge. We searched every rock on the hill. The sun set. We were stymied. The location was perfect–checkpoint paradise, where checkpoints go to retire—but our 12 just wasn’t here. We were beat.
Climbing down to our bikes and backpacks, I was dehydrated. The local lovebirds drove their truck over to make sure we weren’t in mortal danger. While I threw up in the bushes, Dave and Paul explained to Romeo and Juliet that, no, we were fine and having the time of our lives. Watching their truck struggle to its limits to make it back up the hill, and knowing we would soon have to follow it, I began to feel a little small, and ineffective. Was it time to bail out?
We settled on navigating to CP13 and reverse-navigating back to CP12. For the next hour, I borrowed heavily off the energy and drive of the DC duo. On my own, I could never have gone hunting in reverse. But we did exactly that, found CP12 and made it to CP 13 for a post-midnight rappel. That single success made the whole race a “win” in my book.
All three of us rappelled down a rope into the black with our bikes. We got huge backslaps, Red Bull, and words of encouragement from the race staff on the cliff. One of whom was willing to give us until February to try to finish this course—his baby. And who were we to say no.
Dave had a flat. Fixing it was entertaining because we had to stop every 3.5 seconds and hit the deck as hoards of ATV riders stormed through the blackness of night down our narrow trail. To this day, they enter my nightmares, grinning their toothy grins. With a new tire, our threesome reached a fast rails-to-trails trail. It was like pulling onto a highway that lead away from home. Onward and upward, farther from the main TA.
Our energy carried us to the most distant extremity of the race course before conveniently running out. We checked off CP 14 under a bridge in Dunbar, PA. Had the same wheel on Dave’s bike go flat on the road out of town. At 3 AM, we decided not to pursue another checkpoint. In the wee hours, I felt just like Dave’s bike tire— I was basically in the right shape, I could still roll forward, but I was just empty. I had run out of motivation to go hunting.
All She Wrote
The Lionheart ended for me at 5:30 am when I rode my bike back into the main TA. All in all, I had pushed for 19 hours 50 minutes, covered 70 odd miles and experienced my first taste of 24 hour racing. My goal moving forward and my biggest take-away from the Lionheart is to improve navigation, focus all physical effort toward the objective and avoid detours at all costs. Or was that avoid bears at all costs. I’m still a little foggy from the event. See you in the woods.