NGAR – North Georgia Adventure Race
March 24-26, 2006
By: David Bogle – Team Sutliff Hummer II
Team members: (we had 2 teams at the race)
Team I: Sammy Mummert, Mark Montague, Michelle Faucher
Team II: David Bogle, Mike Jones, Julie Standing
Support: plenty of it!!
A course map of this race can be found at:
http://www.checkpointtracker.com/images ... larged.jpg
The NGAR race has been held several times and has always been plagued by poor weather conditions which have claimed many teams. This year would be no different. The weather prediction a week out from the race did not look too bad, but as the weekend approached, the temperatures kept dropping. The conditions may not have been as bad as previous NGAR races, but they were still plenty rough on many teams. Team Sutliff Hummer was using NGAR as a training race for Primal Quest later in the year. The PQ team members are spread out geographically and had never all raced together so this was our first chance to spend some “real” time together in the forest. Since PQ is a 4 person format and NGAR is a 3 person format, we invited our 2 PQ alternates along to race with us at NGAR (Mike and Michelle).
The race was set in northern Georgia near Morganton, a very small community near the Chattahoochee National Forest. The exact race location was held secret until race check-in. All the team members descended on the small town on Friday afternoon. It was at least a 10 hour drive for each of the racers on the team. At race check-in we were give all the maps and CP locations. This allowed for much more sleep Friday night as we could start plotting maps and laying out courses early in the evening and be done before the pre-race meeting Friday night. Team II had all there check-in work done first which meant we got maps first. We grabbed all of our maps and drove back to our hotel to plot maps for the next couple of hours. Mike and I immediately got to work plotting maps for the course. A quick review of race instructions showed we would start with a trek, - then paddle – then bike –then trek – then bike again to the finish. The paddle timing was the good news in all this. We would be able to do this in daylight and since it looked like all the paddling would be on the Toccoca river, it would be important to get that done in daylight. The river is a constant string of Class I and II rapids (there was one rapid that seemed more like a class III).
We had plenty of support folks for this race. Each racer would have their own support person which was great. Several of the support folks only had minimal supporting experience so everyone got to learn something. Mike and I were able to get all the points plotted and preliminary routes picked out for the entire course before we had to head off to the pre-race meeting. The maps were last updated in 1988, which is not too bad, but we all know map updates don’t necessarily mean that what is on the map is really what is out there in the woods. At the pre-race meeting, Tony, the race director, confirmed that fact (we also later confirmed it on the course quite a few times). The basic rules were all explained at pre-race meeting and we were given some course warnings about the river and a few rapids (wish we would have heeded his warnings!). At the end of the pre-race meeting, we all headed back to the hotel to pack and hopefully get some sleep before the race start. The good news was that we were not allowed to get to the race start location before 7 am (8 am start) which meant there was no need to get up super early.
Back at the hotel, we all packed and made gear choices for what we wanted to carry along. Morning came soon enough and we were all off to the race site which was about 40 minutes away. The start line would also serve as several transition areas (TA’s) and the finish line later in the race. It was a very small campground and with 85 teams, it was going to be a tight squeeze.
It was announced the race would start with a short prologue which would be a run. We chose Mike and Michelle to be our runners. The prologue was a short run up a big hill to gather a number and then the race would start. The run up the hill was a huge mess with everyone piling over each other trying to get there first (a little silly for a 30 hour race). Mike and Michelle got back mid pack and we were all off with the masses for run to the first couple of CP’s. The first CP gave us our first opportunity to bushwhack up a steep hill to cut off a long trail run. We got that CP just fine; next was a long run to CP2/TA1. The team was doing well so we ran almost all of this section of the course. This first TA was the start of the boating leg. We got into our boats in the top 25 tops which we were very happy with as we were not trying to do a very fast race. 4 of our 6 people chose to don wetsuits for the paddle. Sure, it is silly to wear a wetsuit if you don’t plan to get wet, but we were nervous about being wet and cold.
Julie and I are from southern Louisiana and we get cold very easily. Mike and Michelle were the only two who did not have wetsuits on. The paddle started off fine. We are fairly good paddlers so we started passing lots of teams on the river. This river was flowing fast and it was constant rapids and rocks. There was never more than 40 seconds that we could just paddle along. This made for an exhausting paddle as I am used to flat water paddling and not worrying about dodging rocks and rapids while paddling. I even complained about how hot I was in that wet-suit and made several adjustments to open zippers when I could. Mike did a great job in the front of our boat calling out obstacle and giving directions on which way I should steer the boat. Both our boats were moving along and the same speed which meant no one had to wait on the other (we planned to travel together for the whole race). We approached the area that we were most warned about and should have altered our plan when we approached the rapid. We could see several swamped boats and a whole bunch of photographers snapping pictures of the rapid. It is never a good sign to see multiple photographers, and that is usually a sign of big trouble to come. Team I approached the rapid first and they immediately flipped. Michelle became pinned between the boat and a rock and started yelling in pain. (Her ankle was quite damaged as we learned at the end of the race, but she never complained about it at all on the course). We approached the rapid and actually made it through. In our concern for Michelle, we started to try and help which made us loose focus and we were quickly swamped and in the water.
We quickly washed down river past team I and tried to gather as much of our floating gear as we could. Team I was able to get Michelle free and got their boat to shore. We both righted our boats and got underway. Another team was able to rescue one of Team I’s backpacks which was great as it allowed us to continue on. We knew we needed to get moving fast as the air temp was likely in the low 40’s and we were now all wet. Michelle seemed the coldest, but we knew Mike was going to be in trouble soon. Team II later got a boat full of water on a rapid, but we did not have any more swims. This boating section claimed quite a few teams. The end of the boat was CP4/TA2. Once we carried our boats into the TA area, the support crew was allowed to help. They had our support vehicles running so we all climbed in and warmed up for 20 minutes. Next up was a long bike ride.
We set out on our bikes at a good time. According to my pre-race timeline, we were a little ahead and it was now possible that we could get the bike done in the daylight. It looked to be a 20 to 25 mile bike. Off and on we would run into other teams. I think this is where we first saw team 54 – Star P.T. We found all the bike CP’s with no problems. There were several sections where we had to leave trail (well, the trails no longer seem to exist) and bike-whack for a while. We did just fine on the bikes as we were nervous about Julie and my abilities to climb mountains on a bike. There are not many hills for bike practice in south Louisiana. There was some bike-whacking involved but no real issues. We did have one super fast downhill paved section near the end of the ride. We rolled into CP7/TA3 about 5:30 pm. This meant we would be able to start the trek with some light left.
I had estimated this to be a very long trek. My quick estimations showed this to be about 30 miles of trekking, with lots of elevation change and several bushwhack routes. We discussed that this would be a 10 hour MINIMUM leg for us. We all brought plenty of clothes as the night was going to be very chilly. The wind had been blowing pretty hard all day and it looked to continue into the night. The temperature up in the mountains would likely drop below 20 at times. We found standing snow and ice and even had some snow flurry’s at times. We all set off in good spirits and ran into team 54 shortly after starting. We would see them off and on for the next couple of hours. In races like this, it is fun to find other teams to travel with so everyone has something to talk about. It is always a gamble traveling with other teams, some times teams like to do that and other times, the competition gets in the way and everyone is hush-hush. The trek to 8 required some bushwhacking which was not too bad, but the hills are steep and very dense in spots so it took a while. While slowly moving through the woods, we saw a team down below us at a lower elevation. They seemed to be moving much faster than us. Sammy suggested there must be some un-mapped trail down there. We worked our way down there and sure enough there was an old trail that led to CP8. This was a manned CP and the volunteer gave us each a piece of candy. He told us we were about the 15’th team to arrive, which was kind of shocking news (we thought we would be in the upper 20’s of teams). We met Team 54 there again, and we all kind of decided to just travel together for a while, which was great. We ended up spending most of the trek with team 54. Next up was the trek to CP9. This became a tricky route for many teams. A big trail intersection did not seem to exist (it was very dark by then). We quickly gave up looking for it and planned an alternate route. We took another trail for a while and then bushwhacked in to where the original trail should be. We did find the trail, but it was very overgrown and was tough to find. CP9, 10, 11, and 12 were not too tough to find once we found the missing trail. Team 54 was having some foot problems between 12 and 13, so we parted ways while they fixed feet. We figured they would catch up in a few minutes, but that was the last time we saw those nice folks. After CP12, it was a long trek to CP13. We arrived at CP 13 a little after daybreak. The volunteers looked cold and were huddled in their tent. We added some wood to their fire, took a 5 minute break then headed out to CP14/TA4. It was a long trek from 13 to 14. Somewhere between 12 and 13, my mind started falling off, so Sam took over primary navigation. We picked a shorter route back from 13 to 14 and it worked out pretty good. There was a bushwhack section involved, but it was mainly downhill and we go to see some cool waterfalls. Sam led us right back into CP14/TA4. This trek took us a little over 15 hours! We moved virtually the whole time. We took a couple of very short breaks, but once we stopped, we got cold quickly. At this time, all that was left was a bike leg. The leg was not terribly long, but we were running up against a course cut-off to get out on bikes and a cut-off for the course closing.
Picture 5: A quick photo before setting out on the final bike leg
We had a good transition and got out onto the bikes. The weather on this day (Sunday) was much nicer than it had been so far. The sun was out and it was likely in the mid 40’s. My original plans were for us to just grab 2 CP’s and then head back to the finish line (there were 6 total on this leg, but we were not required to get all cp’s on the course – teams are ranked by most cp’s in the least time). We got the first cp very quickly and everyone was doing OK on this bike leg. We decided to go for 16 and 17 which meant a fairly long climb up a mountain. We were able to find 16 but the area did not exactly match up to the map. Good thing it was daytime when we found this point. CP17 was not far away, but the map showed no road or trail going that direction. We were on a fire road so we kept biking on and it led directly to CP17. At that point, we decided to turn around and head back and skip CP18 and 19. Those were not shown on roads and we did not want to miss the mandatory finish time. The rules were written that if we were one minute past course close, it would be a DNF. In hindsight, it was a good decision; we finished with about 50 minutes to spare. The race director said it would take a good 1.5 hours to go get those last 2 CP’s. On the way to the finish from 17, we picked up CP20 which was down near the river we paddled on during the first day. We then all raced at full speed back to the finish line.
We rolled across the finish line 29 hours and 5 minutes after starting. Everyone was in good spirits, but happy to be done. When we arrived at the finish line, there were very few teams left. Most teams had finished, or withdrawn and gone home. We enjoyed a bunch of Tony’s finish line pizza and headed out. Our wonderful support crews had packed up most all our gear so we just had to pile in vehicles and head on our way.