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Steel Sports "Frozen Gator" 2008 Race Report

February 23, 2008
Jasper, Texas
by David Bogle

SteelSports put on a 12-16 hour adventure race at Martin Dies Jr. State park on February 23rd. This park is located in Jasper Texas which is a couple hours northeast of Houston. The team for this race was Kipley Fiebig, me (David Bogle), Julie Standing, and a new guy named J.D. Williams. We had lots of team shuffling trying to get a team together for this race. We were one person short only 2 weeks out when Julie found a guy she knew from Lake Charles named J.D. to fill in. J.D. turned out to be a great person to race with and he did a great job. This would be the longest race he had ever done (previous was a 6 hour race). The race was set to start at midnight Friday night. This was to challenge folks with lots of night time navigation. Well, it certainly proved to do that.

Turnout for this race was pretty low with only about 10 teams willing to brave the dark and cold temperatures for this event. After arriving at the park, we set up a quick TA area and headed into Jasper for a fine filling dinner at the Golden Corral. Julie and J.D met us at the restaurant as we were finishing up. We made our introductions and headed back for the pre-race meeting. At 8:30 we all gathered for a pre-race meeting, where Rodney Skyles (the race director) started spouting out some rather weird facts which we immediately guessed was trivia we may need to know later in the race. We all made notes of his facts for later recalling. At the end of the meeting, he announced the first leg would be a trekking leg and gave us maps (but no coordinates of points). Promptly at midnight, we were all handed out first set of race instructions which were 3 trekking points scattered not too far from the central transition area. This was normal to split teams up a little early in the race. We plotted our points very fast and took off running. We seemed to be the first team out onto the course. We made good time and got the first point, then off to the second. We hit the area, but could not find the point. Soon after we were joined by quite a few teams and the point was eventually found. It was basically hidden behind some briars and logs - hmm, not so nice of a race director thing to do, but oh well, we were off running again. We caught the team ahead of us - Outcasts, on the way to the third point. We all said hi and split up on the way to the 3rd cp for this leg. We hit the area, but no cp. Was it hidden again? We picked a new attack point, but still no cp. The woods were now full of lights and people, and still no point. Then I saw Outcasts running off which made us nervous, so we continued to look. After an hour in the same spot, there were teams scattered everywhere. If there was a cp in the area, it should have been found. Outcasts made a reappearance, and after conferring with them we all agreed the point must be mis-placed or missing so we gave up and headed back to transition. On the way back, we ran into a small mob of teams that had given up also. We also ran into Rodney who was going to look for the point to confirm its location. At this point we were confident that it was not there, so chose to continue on. (Turns out the point was truly missing, so no one got it, but it did basically allow for a restart of the race, essentially).

Back in TA, our next leg was a biking leg. Not too long, but involved some bike-whacking through the woods to hit an old dirt road (I mean mud road). It had rained here for several days prior to the race and everything was soaking wet. The temperatures were also a bit cooler than predicted due to all the rain. It would get down to the low 30's during the race (and of course we were wet the whole time!). Turns out, one team had beat us back into transition. The team Naturally God. I knew at least one member of the team, and knew he was fast, but I did not know much about the other members. We were able to get our bike points plotted and back out before anyone (fast transitions are something we strive for). This bike leg involved just riding down a wet muddy road and back (after the short bushwhack). On the way back from the far point, we passed Naturally God who was heading out, and looking strong.

OK, leg 2 done and now it was time for leg 3, which was to be a long paddling leg. This is what this race is all about, paddling. There is a fast flowing river, surrounded by lots of swamps and lakes. From TA, we had planned to portage our boats to cut off some paddling, but the rules for the leg did not allow for it. We all prepared for a long, cold paddle and headed out. I should note this was JD's first time using a kayak paddle and first time paddling for any significant length of time, so the first 20 minutes was spent coaching him on stroke and how to paddle. Fortunately, JD picked up the technique very quickly, and was quite a strong paddler, so we were lucky to have him with us. This paddle leg would be a bit tricky to get started as there were a couple of points to be found out in the swamp before hitting the main river. We nailed those dead on, and headed into the main river for a long, very hard upstream paddle. Near the end of the paddle, we took the opportunity to portage our boats over a small section of land to cut off a portion of the paddle. The farthest point out on the paddle (which we just portaged to), was a manned CP where we were given more instructions to a trekking checkpoint back downriver in a swampy area. We plotted the point and headed out. We were all very cold and shaking. This is what usually happens after a long paddle in the cold. Your core is warm from all the paddling, but as soon as you stand up and start moving, all of your frigid lower extremities fill your core with cold blood and you get real chilled for a while. We jogged out for the trekking point, and all started warming up quickly. On the way to the point, we saw boats paddling along, which turned out to be team Naturally God (NG). At this point we realized we better keep an eye on these guys as they are very close behind us and doing well. The trekking CP was a bit tricky as the clue was river bank, but it was plotted away from the river. Turns out there was an unmapped river feature out in the woods where we found the CP. The only problem was, is that the CP was on the other side of the water. Kip volunteered to swim across and punch the point. Fortunately, the water was only waist deep - thanks Kip. We hustled back to the boats to find team NG there warming by the fire (a trap we know to try and avoid as it is hard to leave a warm fire). We were then given a special test where we had to answer trivia questions based on the pre-race speech. We nailed that and got our next set of instructions which was a couple of new paddle points on the way back to central TA. Team NG was still at the manned CP as we finished plotting. It appeared as if they had paddled all the way into this CP and did not take the portaging shortcut. Well, we hated to show them our shortcut, but we did not want to wait around and let anyone catch up, so we picked up our boats and started running back through to woods to reverse the portage we did earlier. I am sure at first they found it odd that we were running into the woods with our boats. Shortly after we started paddling again daybreak was upon us. We were all looking forward to some bright warm sun as the forecast had predicted, but unfortunately, the sky was filled with clouds. The hours right before and at daybreak are generally the coldest, so we knew it would warm soon. After paddling a bit downriver this time, we started to come across other teams. We had not seen Outcasts who is the team we figured would be chasing us the most. We all assumed we had missed them while portaging back to the water. Then near the end of the paddle, we finally saw the Outcasts. They were a long way behind us so we knew something bad must have happened. They relayed to us they broke 2 of their bikes on the first bike leg which really slowed them down. What a bummer for them, but the pressure was certainly not off of us as team NG was not far behind. We punched the last few paddle CPs and made our way back to TA and the end of this very cold 4 hour paddle.

TA was deserted at this stage as everyone was still out on the paddle leg. Our next set of instructions were for another biking leg, and it said that the roads were so muddy in spots we could drop our bikes and trek to the points if we preferred. We quickly plotted the points and then began to get a bit nervous. Several of these points were out in the middle of nowhere with the clue "off trail". Well, there were no trails on our maps and we were not allowed to use any outside trail maps for this race. This leg became a hope you guessed right to find these points. Not the kind of navigation that we like to do in races. We did lots of bushwhacking with our bikes hoping to come across old trails or roads, but most of the time, we just struck out. This park has virtually not elevation gain, so there are no contours on the map to work with to verify location. Near the farthest out point, we once again saw team NG, who was now in front of us on the road, but we were allowed to get points in any order, so it was not clear who had gotten the most points to this stage. We both went separate ways, then we saw them again later on the bike leg. We figured we had more points than them at this stage, but we were just not sure with all the poor route guessing we had done so far. We certainly tried to bike a little faster after this, but the roads were just terribly muddy with deep ruts and many deep water sections to cross when not on the roads. Julie and JD were both stronger bikers than Kip or I at this stage, and true to Julie's attitude, she kept encouraging us to bike faster. I think to make this section better, the trails should have been mapped to some level or CPs put on more prominent features. At a bare minimum if a CP hint is labeled off road, we should have been told if the road was north-south or east west to give us a chance to navigate to it versus just hoping we would find it. Oh well, enough constructive criticism, need to finish this report.

Back into TA we were still in the lead as team NG had not come in as of yet. Rodney informed us he had to drop the next leg, which was another shorter paddle leg, because many of the teams would not be able to finish the course if that leg was kept. I think JD let out a big cheer when he found out he would not have to paddle again. So, off to plot the final leg, which was a trekking leg with only two points to find. One was a relatively simple point as it was on a trail, and that trail was on the park map. This point was the farthest away. The other point was once again plotted kind of in the middle of nowhere, but labeled off old road as a hint. These old roads were not mapped anywhere, so it would be a guessing game again. We chose the farthest point first and set off running. Everyone was doing a great job running and we ran virtually the whole time there and back. We attacked the other point by doing a very long bushwhack once again hoping to come across a road. We finally did find a road and about that time we heard then saw team NG come running past us at a very fast run pace.

Some fun trekking sections (photo from Team Outcasts)

We were drawn to follow them down this road for a few seconds but then we decided it was the wrong way and they must have already gotten the point, so we turned around and continued on the way we had planned. A few minutes later we did find the final CP of the race. Now all that was left was to make our way back to the finish line before Team NG did so. At this stage, we knew team NG had a good distance to run to the far CP and back to the finish, but they were running fast and obviously knew they were not far behind us. We all discussed our best and fastest option to get back. We bushwhacked back to the main park since the old road we were on did not seem to go in the right direction. Bushwhacking can be rather slow, but the easiest place for this race was in the swampiest areas. Those areas don't have as many briars so we were all excited when we could find a swamp to walk in. Back at the main park road, we had one final decision. We could cut off a couple more kilometers by swimming the lake inlet that we paddled out of earlier back into transition. We felt that if we ran the roads around and team NG chose to swim, they could potentially beat us. We all decided we would suck it up and swim. I was a bit nervous as I know the water was very cold, it was a swamp almost certainly over our heads in depth and it was a good 150 meters across. After all this running would someone cramp in the cold water? Well the decision was made for us once we hit the park road. We hit it in a spot that was just about as close to run from as it would be to swim, so still being nervous about getting caught, we decided to just run as hard as we could. Everyone did great and we ran to the finish line and managed to win. A short while later team Naturally God came across the finish line. They confirmed they had been considering the swim shortcut as well, but didn't do it once it was clear they couldn't quite catch us. Team Vignette finished in about 12.5 hours. We all got cleaned up, packed up and headed home.

Thanks to SteelSports for putting on another great adventure race in Texas!

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