Mock AR Irvine
January 12, 2008
The race was postponed a week because it does rain in Southern California. For many pre-registered teams that meant they could not attend a really fun “training event”. Here in California we can no longer have races as the word “race” connotes liability which the parks do not accept. Only 20 people on 8 teams were able to make the start line, down from the 50 or more registered folks on 20 teams. But those 20 people were introduced to AR through the eyes of Ryan Ognibene and his family. For those who know Ryan, you know he is a young, chiseled athlete, who runs like a dear and rides a bike as an extension of his body. Because of this, our team knew that we would be in for some tough terrain, even in a small regional park.
The race started at 10 AM sharp, and all teams conservatively headed north from the western parking area at Irvine Park. Within the first 200 meters the pack split into two thirds left, one third right, and not 50 meters later the big bunch split with one group headed to a marked road on the map, while the others took a more direct trail which was drawn in on the map. Equinox (Victor Escobar from Tecate and myself) were in the later group. We took it easy on the bike to CP 1 as we saw lots of hills to the coming checkpoints.
As we approached a small dam (with its almost empty lake) the group biking along the hillside trail met with those taking the direct trail and we all looked for a way across the spillway. The checkpoint was over the dam tucked down at the base. Our first choice led to a fence, but from that angle we could see a bridge crossing the gap. Across the bridge it was a mater of finding a way down. We were among the first teams down because we observed the lead teams turned back.
From CP1 to CP2 there were a number of route choices of what appeared to be equal distance (the map shown below is not the map we were given so some of the detail may not be so good). The eastern route had a steep initial climb, but was rewarded with little elevation change along the top of a ridge. The western route had less elevation gain but appeared to be more up and down. Team Feed the Machine (Christian and Melissa), Team Swift (Brett Wolfe) and our team elected to take the steep incline, which I’m sure Ryan can ride up, but we had to do hike-a-bike most of the way. As we approached the checkpoint Team SCRAT (Blake, Veronica and Beto) came at the CP from the alternate route and they were, I believe, first to the CP.
CP2 to CP3 also offered choices. First choice was to say on trails in the park, which involved some navigation as there were a number of trail junctions. Second choice, which I think we were the only team to try, was to backtrack 100 meters and go down off the trails to a main road. The road route had some small up and downs, but we could get around the peak close to CP3 and perhaps get to the checkpoint. I say perhaps, as this is a residential area and we had the distinct possibility of not finding a way back into the park. But for us this was a race and sometimes you have to roll the dice.
As we neared the checkpoint we could see there was housing near a water tank which was close to the checkpoint. We were fortunate that about 20 meters back we had passed cement drainage channels from the hill, so we used those to climb the hill coming out above the water tank. We never saved any time using the road as Cummings Troop (Danny), was at the checkpoint when we were there and he left the prior CP about the same time as we did.
Looking to gain any advantage, we attempted to get down into Weir Canyon by riding away from CP4, thinking we could do a circuitous ride which would put us into a downhill canyon, rather than returning by riding over the hills. But about 800 meters into our attempt we found no trail down to the road we could see, so we had to turn around wasting a mile. But at the next opportunity we did drop into the canyon and rode on a great (though very muddy) fire road all the way to CP4. The map below is not the one they gave us, but I include it so you can trace the route and see our choices (red) as well as the alternates (dashed black).
Paul and Karen (Team Sole, who visited but never ran the race) were at the CP and told us we were the first there. I thought they meant we were first to use the canyon approach. So when we went on to CP5, which was the transition from bike to run, and learned we were first to the TA, I was elated and far too excited. I dropped the bike, and with Victor we quickly plotted three run checkpoints, and I was on the run. Fortunately my teammate was more level headed and told me to change from bike shoes to my running shoes, and reminded me to grab another water. He never told me to take off my bike helmet so I hiked most of the run course with my helmet – duh!
CP6 was along the hillside trail we never took on the first bike leg. We used the more direct trail to get close to the CP, but then changed trails, which in hindsight was the wrong thing to do as the CP was close to the junction of those two trails.
From CP6 to CP7 was a mere 600 meters as the crow flies. But you needed to be a crow to get across the water. While almost dry, this area still had water after the rains last week, and there was a lot of vegetation growing as well. We considered we had three possibilities, (1) go direct, bushwhacking through the lake and wading through the water, (2) go back toward the transition, getting around the water to the south or (3) go north around the dam and work our way along the shore. We really were attempting the most direct approach but when we got to the water and were unsure how deep it was, and felt it suck on our shoes, we nixed that approach. As we were closer to the dam we decided to do the north shoreline route. Besides, we felt it would allow us to cover all the coves where the checkpoint could be. We had plotted it in a specific cove, but sometimes the checkpoint is not exactly where it should be.
Working our way along the shore was interesting because my clothes attracted a whole bunch of sticky burrs. Victor never had the problem as bad as I did (but I claim that was because he made me point man). The route was not easy as there were a couple of small cliffs along the way which we had to climb over. But we got to see lots of wildlife, including a family of deer who we woke from their daytime slumber. That is when Victor took the camera out and got the following photo (as well as some nice photos of the dear).
It took us close to 45 minutes to work our way to the checkpoint where we encountered Team Jasmine (a newbie 4 person team) who had taken the southern route and gotten from CP6 to CP7 in a little over 10 minutes. As we were leaving CP7, Team Swift was running to the marker and not 2 minutes later he ran past us, not to be seen again until the finish line.
Team Jasmine were a young group and they out ran us to CP8, but we caught them there as they searched for the checkpoint. I had plotted the checkpoint at a junction just below a cliff and could see a family up on the cliff, who I thought were just playing. Not having my contacts in I could not see who those people were (I race without my contacts to read the map better and not worry about dirt in my eyes, a real bummer with contacts). If I had full eyesight I would have seen it was Ryan’s dad and sister who were sitting at the checkpoint and we would have found it much faster.
I have to tell a funny story here (at least I think it is funny) about Charlie (dad) being at the checkpoint. When Team Swift (Brett) was doing the run, Karen joined him to give some pointers on navigation (as while he is a super strong runner and biker he was new to navigation). When they approached the checkpoint Charlie did not want to give the CP away to them, so he took his t-shirt off and pretended to be basking in the sun on the rocks. How much it slowed Brett down I have no idea.
CP9 was the last run checkpoint and it was given as being 875 meters from CP8 on a bearing of 235 degrees. We had already plotted the approximate location on the map, but we oriented the map from the top of the rock, took our bearing and saw we had a huge hill to climb to the CP. It really was not that big of a hill but after almost 4 hours of racing above my normal pace it seemed big to me. Team Jasmine had set off ahead of us and they took a different route up the hill. We were lucky in that the route we took, by Victor looking for trails up the side of the hill, led us to a ridge trail that went directly to the checkpoint. We arrived at the checkpoint at the same time as Team Jasmine. Now it was a footrace to the finish.
As mentioned earlier Team Jasmine were runners and had gotten ahead of us from CP7 to CP8 and from CP8 to CP9. But they had come up the hill on a trail they knew would lead them down and not too off-course to the finish line. We had gotten to CP9 by a route which we would not retrace, as it led away from the finish line. So we ran on a path along the ridge, aiming best we could for the finish area. Fortunately the trail was slight downhill so gravity allowed me to keep up a steady jog. Victor is much fitter than I am and he was running easily compared to me. Our route selection kept us going in a reasonably straight line and took us off the hill with a 300 meter flat area to the finish. We managed to out run Team Jasmine and finished in third place.
Feed the Machine took first place (in about 3 hours 40 minutes), Team Swift was second just 7 minutes behind them, and we were a little over 12 minutes further back, with Team Jasmine right on our heals. Most of the other teams finished within 5 hours.
Victor and I talked about the fun time we had all the way home. We wondered what would have happened had we been lucky to go south around the lake, but we also knew we were fortunate in the canyon choice on the bike, propelling is into the lead when we did not expect it.
Ryan put on a very nice “Mock AR” event. The course was physically challenging for a short race (about 16 miles), there were many route choices which made it navigationally challenging and the placement of checkpoints all gave clues to there whereabouts without making them too easy to locate.
A big thanks to Ryan and the Ognibene family for a really fun day in sunny Southern California.
Barrie Adsett and Victor Escobar Flores – Team Equinox.