by Tana Netsch
Here it is... the promised race report of my first Adventure Race with team Kinemotion, Brian Kirk Gerry Morton and myself. Warning: It's kind of long...
The thing that made this race so unique was not knowing what to expect. Not only had none of us ever done an Adventure Race, but also adventure racing itself is... well, an adventure. All we knew going into the race was that we would be mountain biking, kayaking and trail running, not necessarily in that order, and that we would have 8 to 10 "special tests" to complete throughout the course.
The race took place Saturday, Oct. 24 at Castaic Lake just north of LA. We were as well prepared as 3 people who had never done this before could possibly be, thanks to Brian. We had a team meeting the week before the race and packed up all our gear a day in advance. We had lights, we had reflectors, we had matching tattoos, and we had a plan for keeping track of each on the course. If you weren't sure how far ahead or behind a team member was, you'd call "woof" and wait for the second person's "woof-woof" and the final "woof-woof-woof". That would ensure that even the last person had heard the first persons call.
There are only 3 rules to Adventure Racing... 1. You must complete each of the courses as marked. 2. Each special test must be completed as a team, and 3. Each team must cross the finish line together. We were ready!
During the pre-race meeting, which takes place about 1 hour before the event, we were told the order and distances of each of three main events. It was to be a 10-mile mtn bike, followed by a 7.5-mile "treacherous" trail run, followed by a 1.5-mile kayak course, which they warned us, would include a portage over rough ground. There were army marines there to hand out "sealed envelopes" (they weren't sealed I didn't get that part) which we were instructed to have with us, but not to open until asked to do so. We were told that the start would be down at the beach, a quarter mile from the transition area. The tension was mounting...
We were dismissed about 15 minutes prior to start time and had a few minutes before we had to be out of the transition area. We went back to our area to finalize the plans. We were starting out on the bikes as we had suspected (based on the fact that the pre-race literature didn't mention needing lights for the bike). We laid out our running shoes, water bottles, headlamps, and reflector belts, etc for a quick transition into the run. We debated whether to wear our helmets for the 1/4-mile run to the start. We were in the first and largest wave followed by 2 more waves only 5 minutes behind us. We knew that getting to the bikes and getting out on the single-track trail early would be key. We decided to run in our bike shoes wearing our gloves and helmet. After all, it was only a 400-yd dash...
We make our way down to the start and are instructed to pick up one 2x4 per team. Okay. Now the curiosity is setting in. There are 200 teams lined up behind the start line and each group of 3 people has what I'm guessing was a 7 foot 2x4 between them. The announcers are counting down the minutes. Skydivers are falling from the sky and landing just in front of the start line. The final skydiver has an American flag, which he drops shortly into his flight and the National Anthem is sung over the load speaker as he makes his descent. It's start time! We're told to read our envelopes for the instructions of the first event. It's a "Human Sacrifice Run". What's that? you ask. The gist of it is that Brian and Gerry get to carry the board by the ends while I either hang from it, sit on it, straddle it, whatever... without touching the ground, the water (which my teammates get to walk through), or my teammates. I think I definitely got the best end of this deal. We chose to have me half lay on, half straddle the board while they carried it down by their sides. It wasn't exactly a smooth ride as they struggled through the water, and although I probably wasn't the heaviest of all the people being "sacrificed", I surely wouldn't want to carry me a quarter mile through the water with marines yelling at us to hurry up.
But they did it (yea Gerry and Brian) and it was time to start the mountain bike course. In my almost 5 weeks of mountain biking prior to the event, I'd gained enough confidence to not be too freaked out by the steep single track we encountered on the course. They were pushing the limits of my comfort zone with the gravel sections, the deep soft dirt and the seemingly endless tight switchbacks, but what really made me sweat, was the constant "On your left" followed immediately by an "On your right" when I was facing a piece of trail that I was wondering just how I was going to get down without going off the edge myself. I realized that it worked best to tune everyone else out, letting them worry about getting around me, and just concentrate on not eating too much of their dust as they flew by. Brian stayed behind me for most of the course which was a comfort just knowing he was back there, and every once in a while I'd hear "You're doing great!" which reminded me that just a few weeks ago, I wouldn't have even been able to ride this trail at all!
The course also had plenty of steep uphill, which is where I do pretty well, the only problem was, and everyone else was walking his or her bikes! Well, not everyone, but the people riding had more skill than I did in being able to maneuver around the walkers while climbing. I tried walking but discovered that it took a lot more effort to push the bike up the hill than it did to ride. So I tried riding really, really slow behind people who were walking. That worked okay for a while. At least I wasn't expending the energy that they were, but if they slowed down and I had to make a quick move to avoid hitting them, I'd fall off. And I did. Fall off. Plenty of times. It's evident by the bruises on my right knee, my right hip, and even my right shoulder, that I always try to click out first on my right. I should learn to mix that up a bit. It would certainly even out the bruises on my body. As a team we did pretty well on the mountain bike leg. Gerry was definitely the fastest and helped out by carrying both his and Brian's bikes up at least one steep section. I was the slowest so I'd try to get ahead on the uphills so as to have as much of a head start on the flats and downhills as I could. We stayed reasonably together. There was one gate that we had to get the bikes over and Gerry and Brian did that while I just retrieved the bikes from the other side. It was a beautiful course, and I'd probably really enjoy riding it again sometime without all the other racers, but at that time, I was just glad when we headed back into the transition.
On the way into transition, you could see the other teams starting out on their run. Wow! Why are they so muddy? I don't think we got that dirty on the mountain bike ride... The trail run was the next main event. It would certainly get dark during our run, so we put on the headlamps and blinking arm reflectors, which would identify team "Kinemotion" (except that I forgot mine). Gerry and I carried water, as we were the stronger runners. We're off! But wait. First grab one of these railroad ties and carry it through this waist deep mud while Marines yell at you to pass those slow pokes ahead. Okay. Good thing we opted not to waste time changing into dry socks before the run... We finish the mud walk, but still weren't as dirty as those other teams that we saw starting their run. Oh yeah. Down on your knees and crawl through this mud pit under the ropes that you see only a foot or two from the ground. Now that's muddy! The marines are yelling that this is the time to make your move... pass them! But wait, my camelback is stuck on the rope two rows back. I crawl out of the pit and there's Gerry and Brian looking like those other people, covered in mud. We're ready to run. That wasn't so bad! We've already completed 3 special tests and there hasn't been anything we couldn't do.
The run was my favorite part. We started out talking and joking. It covered much of the same ground as the mountain bike course. It was VERY hilly and it got dark soon after we started. It was the darkness and the uneven ground that made it treacherous. It was neat to look back the way we came and see the string of lights of other racers behind us. 7.5 miles later, we were tired, but ready to kayak. Gerry and I decided to run ahead so we get some water ready and prepare the kayaks.
But no, between us and the transition area was another series of special tests. All team members had to be present. Brian wasn't far behind, and they gave us the instructions. There was a series of 6 marine barricades... is that what they're called? Basically they were beams, maybe 8 feet off the ground? I don't know... but I couldn't reach them by jumping. Gerry could. Gerry jumped easily onto and over the first beam and laced his fingers together for me to step on and hoist myself up. Once I got my stomach on the beam, I could easily flip over and jump down. Brian could almost make it up himself with a little push once he reached the beam. Each team member had to make it over each beam, touching the ground in between. We easily fell into a pattern of Gerry bounding over the next beam and coming back to lift me and push Brian. Done. Cool. That was the hardest of the special events yet, but we made it.
Okay, now you have to stop and think. We were given 10 seconds to look at a board with 10 things on it and 20 seconds to recall the 10 things. Okay, Gerry takes the 3 on the left, Tana takes the 4 in the middle, and Brian takes the 3 on the right. Go. The objects aren't quite aligned as left - right - middle. The board is hidden and we start to name off items... Balance bar, kayak, compass, gum, stamp, nickels, candy corn, what was that metal thing called?, etc. Youre missing one item. None of could think of the remaining item (two safety pins that had been in the middle). Darn, now what? Back to the marine barricades. No way! We fall back into the same pattern as the first time, only this time it was actually easier. I guess the few minutes that we rested while doing the mind test helped. We made it over all the obstacles and had to do the board test again. This time we each pointed at the items we were going to recall so that there would be no overlap. We did it!
We raced off to get in the kayaks. All of the kayaks are the same and each team gets two. We take off, Gerry in one and Brian and I in the other. Neither Brian or I had any experience kayaking except the one day that we all 3 went to Monterey a couple of weeks ago, and earlier that afternoon. It was obvious that Gerry would be faster even by himself. My job in the front was simply to be the engine and keep a nice even stroke while Brian navigated from the back. We headed straight for the first buoy, which you could hardly see. It's pitch dark at this point, but there's flashing lights on the buoys. We managed to keep a straight line and even passed several other kayaks in the process. I guess we weren't as slow as we thought we'd be. Gerry started out behind us and we expected to see him pass early. After a couple of buoys, we really began to wonder, but we realized that even if he'd had equipment problems and had to go back for another kayak, he was fast enough to catch up and we should just keep making forward progress. At one point we did stop to see if we could pick him out from the group of kayaks behind us and there he was... blinking red lights on a yellow reflector that we had decided to wear on our arms to differentiate us. It worked. That had to be Gerry. He must be having problems, but at least he's keeping up.
The mile and a half course went by slow and steady. It was actually very peaceful being out there in the pitch black. Brian was doing a great job navigating. Both of our legs were cramping but at that point, we didn't need our legs. Just relax and paddle. A few kayaks passed us, but not many. We kept wondering when we would encounter the portage and actually started to think that maybe they were lying and there wouldn't be a portage. It seemed like we were almost back... nope. There it is. Pull the kayak into that wall of sharp wet rocks and climb out. This is where the leg cramps made it all interesting. I get out first and try to pull the kayak in so Brian can reach a rock. Very slowly we inch the kayak and ourselves up the rocky hill, trying not to drag the kayak over the sharp rocks, but not really caring either. I did think we were getting back in the water, so a hole in the kayak would not have been a good thing, but you just do what you have to do. Gerry reached the portage just after we did (it turned out his paddle was wrong which was slowing him down in the water... good thing he's that much faster anyway) and made it up the hill shortly after we did. The marines at the top told us to keep on moving up the trail. Really? Okay... we take everything out of Gerry's kayak (seats, paddle, and life jacket) and throw it in ours. That way he can take easily carry his and Brian and I can carry ours. I don't know how far we walked like that. It seemed like a really long way, but probably wasn't. The rope that I was holding the kayak by was killing my fingers and we didn't seem to be able to maneuver the turns in the road very well. Things were spilling out of the kayak and we had to take a rest. I knew we were close to the transition area and yes, here comes Gerry. He'd already returned his kayak and was back to take the equipment from ours. I think I ended up just carrying an inflatable seat or something.
We throw the kayak in a pile and we're off to the finish line. But there's one more test... we've been anticipating this one because it was kind of hard for them to cover up the 15-foot wall before the race. There were teams going over as we got there, climbing ropes that were held by their teammates. That doesn't look too bad. I think I can probably climb a rope up a wall. But wait... they're handing us a rope from the pile on the ground. How does that work? I guess one team member has to make it to the top of the wall to catch the rope and I guess that will be me. 15 feet is just an estimate on the height of the wall, but it was tall enough that with me standing on one of each of Gerry and Brian's outstretched arms above their head, I could barely get my fingers on the top. I was scared. I actually thought they might just throw me, but at that point, I couldn't chicken out. I was already high enough above the ground that I didn't want to fall. The held me there very steady and I think what happened (I couldn't look down and see any of this) was that someone from another team let Gerry stand on his back to push me even further. Finally I had a forearm on the wall and was able to pull myself the rest of the way. On the other side was a narrow platform to stand on. They threw me the rope and I held on as tight as I could while they climbed the other side. From my position, I couldn't see what was going on their side. I could just feel the tension on the rope, so I waited. There was lots of yelling from the spectators and the other teams and I was hoping that they weren't yelling instructions at me, but there wasn't much I could do. If I tried to stand up and see what was going on, I'd almost surely lose my grasp on the rope. There's Gerry's fingers. The tension in the rope is gone and he's over the top. Cool.
I adjusted my position for Brian's climb. There was a knot in the rope that I put between my legs and crossed them so that I was almost sitting on it and could see over the top of the wall. Gerry had already descended the cargo net on our side of the wall and was back around to help Brian over. It took a couple of tries... Brian would climb a little ways and then take a rest standing on Gerry's shoulders. Twice, he was almost up, with both hands barely reaching the top and couldn't hold on... falling all the way to the ground. I cringed. That was a long fall. He said later that the ground was actually pretty soft, and it wasn't that bad, but that was still a long fall. Someone from a different team fell face first and had to be taken away in an ambulance. The strategy that finally worked was for Brian to first rest while standing on Gerry's shoulders and then step on his head (yes, his head) to get the final height he needed to make it over.
We did it! We crossed the finished line together in 3 hours and 46 minutes, but forgot to do our chant that we had practiced...Ki-ne-moooo-tion (Kirk - Netsch - Morton). The name of the game was teamwork. One piece of advice that we got which was really good is, you never look back. Just take each challenge as it comes and don't waste energy worrying about what you could have done differently. I think that of the three of us, I was the most apprehensive going into the race of the special tests. I knew that the special tests would require some amount of strength and coordination and I wasn't certain that I would have what it takes. But we were a team... Gerry needed no help and had plenty of energy to come back and push, lift, pull, carry, or whatever had to be done. And we had a cheering section. Gerry's mom and girlfriend could be heard calling our names during each of the special events.
Today, I feel like a truck has hit me, but aside from some bruises, we made it through without injury. If you want to know more about this Adventure Racing stuff, check out www.mesp.com/ars.htm. Also, the race will be televised on ESPN2, 12/2/98 at 11:30 p.m. and 12/5/98 at 9am.
It was a great time! I'd recommend giving it a try, at least once, if you have any interest at all in this kind of thing. It's an experience!