I'd swear I posted this last summer but now can't seem to find it. Oh well, sorry if you come across it twice.
Team Dead Reckoning would like to thank Running Free (www.runningfree.ca), Toronto's premiere multisports store catering to runners, triathletes and adventure sports athletes. Running Free's Athlete/Team Sponsorship Program "Believe it, Achieve it" is a unique sponsorship program for athletes, clubs and teams.
Special thanks goes to program sponsors Marmot (www.marmot.com), Montrail (www.montrail.com), Brooks (www.brooksrunning.ca), Aquaman (www.aquamantri.ca) and Fox River (www.foxsox.com).
2005 Michigan Coast to Coast Adventure Race
Race: Michigan Coast to Coast
Date: June 2005
Description: Multi-Day Adventure Race (3 days)
Sport: Adventure Racing
Web Site: www.infiterrasports.com
Entry Fee: $1,800 Cdn
Very basic navigation, too many trails & roads, great river paddle
Top notch, only a couple minor ‘inconveniences’
Pre/Post Race Facilities: 3.5
Fabulous locale & hotel for race start in Frankfurt, race ending venue was below par and overbooked due to early finish on Saturday
Value for Money: 4.0
Reasonable race fee, tougher & longer course would make it a 5
2 ropes sections, packrafting and KFC at the transition area
Excellent! catered lunch buffet (BBQ chicken/pork) & free beer
Standard long sleeve technical race shirt
Overall Rating: 4.0
Excellent for inaugural race, needs more navigational choices and more time off groomed trails & roads to challenge the teams
Race Highlight: 5.0
54 hours of racing with no sleep & finishing Top 5 by 7 minutes!
1= never do this race, 5= Wow!
The race is the easy part!
As the title says, sometimes the actual race seems like the easy part. For 2005, Team Dead Reckoning consists of Conor Gallagher, Lisa Rogers and myself (Joe Gabor). For the C2C race, we recruited Danny Bobrow, an experienced racer and mountaineer from Chicago. Between finalizing the team, support crew, travel plans, gear and a thousand other details…I was convinced the race would be the easy part!
Coast to Coast
Infiterra Sports, based in Michigan, has been putting on sprint and overnight races for a few years, but this was their first crack at a multi-day race. The unique aspect of this race is that teams would start on the shores of Lake Michigan and travel 400+ kilometers across the state to the shores of Lake Huron. With 39 American and 4 Canadian teams taking part - including local favourites Absolute Endo, defending Appalachian Extreme winners Eastern Mountain Sports, one of the best Canuck teams in Canadian Hardcorps, and Wedali who were 6th at the US Sprint Championships - it was a strong field and our pre-race goal of a Top 5 finish would be a challenge.
Getting your feet wet
Race organizers wanted to make sure we truly raced from coast to coast, so the start of the race was on the beach with teams lined up behind their captain…who was ankle deep in the surf! To spread the teams out at the start, we ran through the main street of Frankfurt before inflating our packrafts and paddling 500 metres across the lake. This was the start of the 100km bike section that would take teams to TA1.
Fast and Furious
Off the start, we positioned ourselves among the leaders with a good road run and a quick packraft, which we had practiced on Lake Huron the day before. We were 3rd or 4th coming off the water and through the bike pick-up. The ride started on open trails and roads, with a fast and furious pace. We expected that we likely wouldn’t be among the fastest riding teams, but a solid start of the race would position us well for the trekking and paddling where we knew we were much stronger.
Trying to draft and maintain a pace line as much a possible, we managed to roll into CP1 in 6th place. The riding became a bit more challenging after that, taking us onto sandy double-tracks through some hilly terrain. We chose a shorter but more navigationally challenging route on the way to CP2, with the hope of gaining an advantage over the pack of teams that stayed on the roads. All well and good but we missed a key turn and wound up losing some time backtracking.
Once we were back on the correct route and close to CP2, we realized we’d dropped way back as we were riding among the middle pack of teams coming out of CP1. Nonetheless, we knew it was early and our experience would pay off as the race went on. Conor’s keen eye spotted a turn near CP2 that allowed us to drop 5 teams as they played follow the leader and zipped past us in pursuit of each other…while we stood quietly on the side of the trail trying to look like we were lost. At CP2, we were in 21st place with more than half of the ride still to go.
The 60km or so of riding from CP2 to TA1/CP5 was uneventful. Paved roads, gravel roads, sandy roads…mixed in with the odd waist deep creek crossing and a bit of sandy double track. At this point, I don’t think any of us felt like we were making any progress on the teams ahead of us. We could have become discouraged and lost motivation, but we held to the belief that the best parts of the race for us were still to come. Considering it was early in the race and only caused a minor wait, kudos go to the race organizers for adding a great zipline across a major river right before CP5. This gave all teams the chance to do something usually reserved for those making it through the entire race course. Finally, after 7+ hours, we rolled into TA1 in 21st place. However, a quick transition to our trekking gear got us out of the TA in 18th place right on the heels of several teams ahead of us.
Just a walk in the park…or swamp in this case
We knew we were heading into what was sure to be a strong portion of the race for us. The trek from CP5/TA1 to CP11 included a significant amount of time on trails. There was however going to be some potentially tricky route finding and navigation for the swamp trek to CP8 and the last few CPs once the sun went down. To try to finish as much of the trek in daylight as possible, we increased our pace along the trails between CPs 5-7 by shuffling or slowly jogging. We managed to shuffle past a few teams during this time, moving up to 15th place by CP7.
The trek to CP8 was through ‘Big Devil Swamp’, a foreboding name that surely caused some teams a bit of sleeplessness before the race. The race organizers warned teams that it would be tough going here, and told the Canadian teams that it would remind us of good old Ontario swamp that we were used to at Raid the North races. Well, suffice it to say, ‘Big Devil Swamp’ was a bit of a letdown. Besides the fact that it was only 2km or so to CP8, the swamp was relatively sparse and the ground was wet but not bog-like at all. Where things got a bit thicker, we simply walked ankle deep in one of the numerous small creeks running through the swamp to avoid the worst of the tangled mess. Unfortunately, despite our quick work of the swamp itself, we lost some time by following a creek that was supposed to lead directly to the CP…only to discover we had mistakenly followed a branch of the creek not on the map that had turned in the wrong direction. Some quick backtracking and a short trek through the creek itself brought us to CP8 in 14th place.
Moving on up!
The sun was slowly starting to fade as we carefully searched for the correct set of trails to take us from the swamp over to CPs 9 & 10. Both CPs were on hilltops in forested areas, and would prove challenging simply because they were located on top of a series of similar looking hills. On the way to CP9, we discussed our expectations for this section of the race, namely that we wanted to try to be in the Top 10 by the time we hit TA2. To our surprise, we began passing a number of teams on the march down an open trail leading to CP9 simply by continually moving.
Teams had begun stopping to either take care of injuries or simply to stop and rest as the race was approaching its first night. Without laying down any kind of blistering pace, we hit CP9 in 12th place having made up 3 spots on the trek. Then, while several teams ahead of us stood around trying to determine which hill to climb in order to find CP10, we quickly veered off the main trail to an unmarked side trail we spotted before the race on the Michigan Gazetteer (it was part of mandatory gear). As we climbed the hill, we could see several teams slowly beginning to make their way through the bush up the hill in pursuit of our headlights…which we dimmed as much as we could. We made a beeline for the hilltop and the CP which could be spotted in the distance by the campfire. To our pleasant surprise, we climbed (literally!) into 7th place having passed 5 more teams since the last CP.
Energized by our rapid move into the Top 10, we quickly took off towards CP11 and the bike pick-up to let us ride into the town of Grayling for CP13/TA2. The trek to CP11 would be a challenging one, not physically but mentally. It was on well-groomed trails, but through a huge grid of ATV trails created by the military from a nearby base. The grid would force teams to be mentally aware of how many north/south or east/west trails they had passed, so that they could make the correct turns and find their way to the CP which was buried in the array of trails. To make matters worse, besides the darkness and fatigue that was starting to set in, many new trails had sprung up over the years and could easily cause you to miscount the number of trail junctions passed. To minimize the risk of this happening, we took note of the time we spent trekking between the junctions, which were equally spaced across the military grid. This way, we would hopefully not be confused when we came across a new trail that came up on us before we had expected it to. It worked like a charm! Without burning ourselves out, our 3-hour trek gave us one of the fastest times through the grid. It not only made up the hour we were behind the 5th place team, Team CITGO, but allowed us to move into 5th and build a 1 hour lead on them.
From the bike pick-up at CP11, it was a road-ride out of the grid and through a small town to CP12, where we would take a mandatory route into Grayling for CP13/TA2. Although the route seemed simple on the map, we discovered that a new highway (which was off-limits) had been built through the area and now blocked our chosen route. After some frustrating backtracking and blank looks from Conor and I, we managed to find a round-about route that went in the opposite direction but would eventually get us onto a road that would lead directly to CP12. As we left CP12, Team CITGO caught us and stayed on our tails into Grayling, then squeezed past and into the TA just 1-minute ahead of us.
Are we there yet?
AT CP13/TA2, we had a relatively average transition, taking our time to eat and rest to prepare for the for the 80km paddle on the Au Sable River to the town of Mio and CP15/TA3. It was early Friday morning, about 22 hours into the race, and the sun was starting to rise on day 2. None of us had felt the need to sleep yet, but an 80km paddle can quickly change that. Luckily, with the sun coming up, we were able to safely move through the stumps and rocks that were scattered through the moving waters of the river. This would have been a much more difficult paddle without the help of the sunlight.
I normally can’t wait for the paddle, which gives us the opportunity to just settle into a nice stroke and switch your brain off for a while. In this case, because of the meandering river, the moving water and the debris…we had no such luck. Instead, it was a real effort to continually manoeuver the huge metal canoes through the winding river…avoiding shallow rapids and the trees that had fallen from the banks. Sleep had also started to creep in for me, and I found myself having to splash water on my face to stay alert at times. The winding river also made it difficult to judge how far we’d come, or more importantly to a tired adventure racer, how far we were from CP14.
After 5-hours we eventually did paddle up to CP14, and were happy to discover we’d made some progress. Not only had we reclaimed 5th by leaving team CITGO back at the TA, but we had made up over 2-hours on 4th place Team Wedali. CP14 was roughly half way through the 80km paddle, so we still had 40km to go. Energized by the news from the CP staff, we seemed to have even a bit energy in our strokes. While most of the remaining paddle was still on the Au Sable River, the tail end leading up to the CP was on open water and directly into a headwind. After nearly 11-hours of paddling, going into the wind through choppy waters is not that appealing. Nonetheless, we continued to make great time on the water and the sight of our support crew on the shore was just what we needed. Despite what felt like an average paddle, we managed to make up another hour on Team Wedali and were now less than 10-minutes out of 4th place.
Finger Lickin’ Good
While you would think being just minutes out of 4th was the highlight of TA3, it actually was the KFC! Yes, since we were just outside a major town, Emil and Sylvia were able to get us a bucket of chicken to eat at the TA. After devouring a few pieces and taking a few more in ziplock bags for the road, we made our way out on bikes towards CP16 and the start of the orienteering course. We knew this would be the make or break section for everyone. Those teams who managed to get through the 5 unmanned orienteering CPs, scattered over a series of indistinct hills and depressions, would have a huge advantage over everyone who would have to tackle this section on Friday night in the dark. Despite a frustrating ride to the bike drop through a series of sandy roads that were tough to ride at times, we hit the start of the orienteering section with a real jump in our step.
Well…4 out of 5 ain’t bad
Normally, in orienteering races at least, the best strategy is to navigate by features. Conor and I figured that because the features were relatively indistinct and elevation changes were minimal (max 100 feet), that it was best to just take a bearing and go straight at each CP. Once we discussed this strategy with Lisa and Danny, we took our first bearing from the trail and headed off into the bush at CP16A. After 10 minutes or so, we dropped down into a depression and walked right up to the CP, an orienteering flag hanging from a tree. One down and four to go.
The next 2 CPs were only 1 or 2 kms away from each other and the forest was relatively wide open. Since we were also just staying on bearing and taking the shortest route between CPs, we managed to close the distance on them very quickly. The strategy of Conor and I following a set bearing, and correcting each other if felt like we started to wander off, worked like a charm as we nailed both 16B and 16C with little difficulty. The 3rd orienteering CP (16C) was at the top of a hill on a spur, and was relatively simple to locate since it was the highest point in the area. While the climb up the hill was steep, we made quick work of it and prepared to follow a bearing for just over 1km to 16D.
The 4th CP was in a depression, but in a somewhat tricky area as there were lots of small elevation changes and thus several depressions of various sizes and shapes. After traveling on bearing for what seemed like the right amount of time, and searching several depressions around us, we realized something was wrong. Considering we’d been dead on with our navigation strategy for the previous 3 points, it was just hard to believe that we’d missed the flag by that much. After spending what seemed like an eternity searching the nearby area, we decided we must have wandered off bearing. Since we were only 1km from the previous CP, we chose to backtrack and try again rather than continuing to wander around aimlessly. We reversed our bearing and lo and behold, hit the CP on the spur exactly.
This should have immediately led us to the realization that we had been on the correct bearing, but had just not gone far enough. Instead, we went a bit further than our previous attempt but still did not see the correct depression. It wasn’t until we saw another team wander past us and over the last hill that we had reached, only to not return in frustration, that we realized we must have stopped just short of it. Up and over the hill, down into the depression, and there it was! X&*%$&. Oh well, time to keep moving.
By this time the sun had almost set and we knew we’d be looking for 16E, the last orienteering CP, in the dark. No worries since we stuck to our strategy of staying on bearing, even though it took us through a small swamp, and only needed 5 minutes of searching for the re-entrant once we were in the correct area. A short bushwack over to the road and we were on route to CP17 for the bike pick-up and the 15km ride to CP18/TA4. Our little mistake at 16D had cost us a spot as Team AGS had pulled into TA4 just minutes ahead of us. More disappointing though was that we’d lost touch with Team Wedali in 4th, as they had blazed through the O-course and now had over a 2-hour lead on us. Nonetheless, we knew there would not likely be much pressure on us from behind, as teams would likely spend a good part of the night searching for the orienteering CPs in the dark.
To sleep or not to sleep…that is the question
On the ride to CP18/TA4, we discussed what we would do regarding sleep and the rest of the race. It was now just past midnight on Friday, and we’d been racing for over 40 hours with no sleep. Prior to the race, we’d discussed trying to make it to Friday night on no sleep and then banking some on the premise that we’d have another 1 ½ days to go until Sunday morning and the expected race finish. To our surprise, the lead group of teams had progressed so quickly through the race course that despite being only 40 hours in, Conor and I figured we’d have a maximum of 15 hours left to go if we didn’t get lost.
None of us were dying for sleep, although Danny was in dire need of some time to take care of his feet. We also figured the teams around us would likely opt for some sleep at this TA, so it was a unanimous decision to push on and try to finish the race without any sleep. Of course, if circumstances had changed and one of us just felt like they could not go on, we were prepared to stop where needed and get some well deserved rest. We took a bit of time at the TA to once again eat and take care of any foot issues, but it was a real bonus to find out that the 5th place team, Team AGS, had decided to sleep and would be leaving the TA until after we’d already gone. You could say that we took a risk by not sleeping, on the premise that we’d possibly crash later because of fatigue, but we felt it was a calculated risk and worth taking. Only time would tell!
The trek from Cp18/TA4 to CP21 wasn’t long but went through some tricky terrain. After a relatively short trek and bushwack to a nearby river, we had a second zipline (CP19) where I almost lost my paddles out of my pack when I got slightly inverted on the ropes. I was lucky that Lisa was able to grab the paddles and took them across the river on her trip. We were carrying our paddles, lifejackets and packrafts for the trek because there was a mandatory 12km packrafting section right before TA5.
After the zipline, we followed a trail to skirt around a swamp that separated us from CP20. Once the trail ended, it was going to be a tough bushwack through short, dense forest for almost 2km. Once again, with a bit of luck on our side, we managed to stumble on an overgrown and unmarked trail that led us almost directly to the CP in much less time than we had anticipated. After a short jog on a powerline road to CP20, we started what on the map looked to be a long trek on a powerline road through a swampy area. While we did need to get our feet wet at times, and bounce from left to right on the road to avoid spots that had been flooded by the swamp, it was a pretty straightforward trek and the swamp was not a huge factor.
We made quick work of this section and made our way to the river where we’d be inflating our packrafts and paddling to TA5. Unfortunately, we missed a turnoff for a trail that we would need to take to find CP21 and the start of the packraft. The sun had not come up yet, and so in the dark the trail was almost invisible from a distance as it was well hidden by the heavy cover surrounding it. We overshot the turn by only a few hundred metres and lost maybe 10 minutes at most getting back on track. Looking now at the times for all the teams, we’ve realized that everyone must have missed the trail and searched unsuccessfully for it, since we had the fastest time between CP’s 19 and 20. In fact, except for the lead team, we had the fastest time by quite a large margin on most of the teams around us. To make up the time we lost, we decided to run the 3km to CP21, a decision that in the end may have been just what we needed to hold our 5th position.
The Neverending Packraft
Once we inflated our rafts at CP21, we knew there wasn’t much left. After the packraft, we had a short ride from the TA to the start of the final leg which was a 18km paddle on the Au Sable River out to Lake Huron and the finish line. While the packraft seemed like a fun idea when we started, it wasn’t easy since it was now almost over 45-hours since we’d started and gone without sleep. I found I was nodding in and out of consciousness every few minutes which made my raft spin and point in the wrong direction, something the rafts tended to do when you stopped paddling.
Teams had the option of paddling the full 12km to the TA, or pulling out at the 9km mark and running up the road with your rafts for the final 3km. After what seemed like an eternity, which was actually more like 4 hours, we spotted the 9km take-out for the rafts and decided to run the balance. We were excited to see that there was no one behind us in the distance across the lake. That meant that considering the speed of the rafts, we had at least a 25-30 minute lead on the next team. Nonetheless, we didn’t waste time and ran up the road to the TA and went into it with every intention of getting out of there quickly before anyone else showed up.
Well…perhaps as a function of the adrenaline or the lack of sleep, we seemed to stumble through the CP a bit and took over 15-minutes to leave what should have been a 5-minute transition. To our chagrin, Team AGS was approaching the TA just as we were about to leave. To this day, I can’t figure out how they could make up that much time on us at the end of the packraft. Regardless…the race was on.
‘No time savings is too small to bother with’
That phrase, ‘no time savings is too small to bother with’, is one of our team’s rules that we race by. While we still have a long way to go to execute it to perfection, it really was hitting home at this moment. As we biked on a paved road to CP23 and the start of the paddle, flashes of all the seconds and minutes we wasted over the past 2-days were going through my head. I kept repeating to myself…”we can’t lose this now!”
We made good time on the ride to CP23, realizing that Team AGS was likely 10-15 minutes behind us and that the paddle to the finish line was going to take at least 2-hours. We hit CP23 and quickly dumped our bikes with the CP staff. We were required to take our biking gear with us to the finish line, so instead of packing it and changing shoes, we all decided to just jump in the boat and paddle with our bike gear on. I was so focused on the paddle that I even forgot to remove my bike helmet for the first hour!
Once we were on the water, we just dug in and hammered through the Au Sable River. This section of the river was much wider than the section we’d paddle back in the early stages of the race. It was however quite shallow in places and I managed to get us hung up on some rocks on two occasions right off the start. All I could do is keep looking behind us to see if Team AGS was within sight. The adrenaline was flowing and all the aches and pains I’d felt earlier were non-existent. It seemed like we’d just started the race…except I knew we were close to the finish line and the 6th place was hot on our trail. Now I was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t been able to stay close to Team Wedali and 4th place, but we were on our pre-race goal of a Top 5 finish and we were not about to give it up without a fight.
I asked a few fisherman and boaters we passed as we made our way to the Lake, and frustratingly everyone seemed to say, “you still have a ways to go!” I guess in context of a normal canoe trip, we did have a long way to go…but after almost 400km of racing another 10km didn’t seem like it should be much. Well, after throwing my head over my shoulder about a thousand times to see if Team AGS was coming around one of the bends in the river, I realized that we were almost there and there was little chance we’d be caught by anyone.
How sweet it is!
We rounded the mouth of the canal and hit open water on Lake Huron. While the waves were pretty rough and the finish line was still 500 metres away, I could feel my whole body just lose all the tension that had built up over the past 2-hours as we raced for the finish line. Just as we neared the buoys about 100 feet from the beach, we turned to see Team AGS coming around the bend and into the Lake. Wow…that was close!
We were greeted on the beach by the race staff and our amazing support crew, Emil and Sylvia. A round of hugs for the team, a few photos, a hand shake for our worthy pursuers, and we were off to celebrate our accomplishment. Despite a few touch and go moments where we’ve all seen other teams implode, we managed to stick together and pull through to attain the goal we’d set going into the race. Our decision to not sleep, although it seemed to contribute to the close race to the finish, in hindsight would appear to have been the right one. Even if it wasn’t, it’s amazing to know that we raced for that long non-stop!
Almost 53-hours with no sleep and little to no time even to rest, I was amazed at how fresh we all seemed. That didn’t last long, as I spotted Conor dead to the world in the doorway of the van, just 10 minutes after we’d crossed the finish line.
Congrats to all the teams that finished the Coast to Coast race, and to Infiterra for putting on a great event. Special congratulations to the other 3 Canadian teams who put on a great performance, placing 3rd (Canadian Hardcorps), 9th (Salus Marine Wear) and 27th (HUG). Thanks also to our support crew for putting up with us, getting us through the TAs and for the fabulous comfort food (KFC, pizza & mashed potatoes).
by - Joe Gabor