Team Vignette had a lot of fun at the inaugural SWEAR race last April so we were looking forward to trying another one. This race promised to be a bit shorter (go faster!) and closer to home (less driving!) so we were excited about it. We went down to the park to scout it out and test-ride some horses a couple weeks beforehand but it poured like crazy that day so we didnít get much done. We biked a couple miles and discovered some extremely sticky mud that we decided should be avoided at all costs in case of rain. We also couldnít ride the horses because of the weather. Mostly we drove around the park looking at the various peaks and getting oriented on the maps.
Rain was predicted again for race weekend. Luckily it held off long enough for everyone to set up tents, draw gridlines on the maps, hear the midnight race briefing, and get some sleep while waiting for the starting gun. I woke up several times wondering when we were going to get going. Finally it was 4 a.m. and I decided I needed to use the portapotty so I might as well eat something too since it had been a while since dinner. I slipped out of the tent with some cashews. A couple other folks were walking around, watching the group of race organizers, but everyone else was asleep. The race folks were sitting under a floodlight drinking coffee and chatting quietly. I watched for a while when suddenly around 4:30 they started moving around. I whispered a suggestion to my teammates that maybe they should get up and perhaps eat something or at least put their shoes on. Kip and Jason crawled out of the tent and I turned just in time to see the floodlight go out. Lots of popping noises started going off all around us and John charged out of the tent ready to go. Kip ran for the first list of instructions and I took them to the truck to plot points on the map. The team converged on the truck and we were soon ready to go.
We took off running down the park road toward CP1 (checkpoint 1). I wasnít exactly sure how far down the road we needed to go, so I sprinted to reach the first parking area where I slowed down to study the map and recover. Without some explanation for my burst of speed, my teammates were slightly amazed. We talked about the route and started running again, not quite as fast this time but at a steady pace. As we neared the house at the end of the road we found the trail we were looking for on the left and started down it. At the next intersection we came across the first set of pink flagging and an orange orienteering punch. Yay, first one down!
On the way back to the road we met another team going out. We greeted them and several other teams going that way. Somewhere on that stretch of road I managed to turn my right ankle enough so that I had to walk it off. It actually swelled up throughout the race but only hurt when I leaned my ankle sideways so I could run without pain. Thank goodness!
The next CP was up in the saddle between the "Twin Peaks" close to the transition area (TA). We figured out where to leave the road and headed up the hill, looking for the trail that would lead us up to the saddle. Spreading out, we quickly came across the trail and walked up it. Near the top there were several trails going in various directions, but we found the right one and soon came across CP2. Coming back we greeted another team again but soon were by ourselves bounding down the hill in the dark.
Back in the TA we picked up the UTM coordinates for the bike leg. There were 5 CPís in this leg, so I plotted them as quickly as I could. John and Jason changed into bike shoes (Kip and I had switched to flat pedals due to concerns about the mud). Everyone put on a pack or a camelbak. As soon as we could, we headed out the back of the TA again. CP3 was supposed to be near the intersection of two trails - in fact, we had just run by there and didnít even see the pink flagging tape hanging from a large bush. This time we found the flagging tape but there was no orange punch. We looked all around on the ground and up and down the path in case that wasnít the CP. Finally we gave up and decided to tell Terry, one of the race organizers, that the punch was missing. We headed out to CP4.
Unfortunately, I plotted CP4 in the wrong grid so we went 1000 meters south of it. The clues on the UTM sheet should have been enough to figure out that it was supposed to be high on a hill, not on the other road. By the time I figured this out we were already on the road. Oops! We climbed back up the singletrack trails and made our way up to the Twin Peaks saddle again. Mountain biking is not where Iíd prefer to do extra miles, although it was easier to recover from such a mistake on bikes than on foot. We reached the saddle and said "Hi" to a couple teams who were finding CP2. Kip and John left the bikes at the bottom of a short trail and ran up to find CP4. Then we all started riding down the other side.
It was a very technical trail and it was starting to rain, so we walked a lot of the trail going down. It was about 3/4 of a mile to a jeep road and it took a while for us to get there. After we reached the jeep trail and started along it, the skies started getting lighter but it was raining off and on. We found the side trail up to "Ice Cream Mountain", so John and Jason rode around the side trail and hiked a short ways to the top of the mountain to find CP5. Kip and I ate and biked along the jeep trail to meet them at the other side of the hill. We met another team going the other way and chatted with them briefly, then John and Jason showed up so we took off.
After a brief ride down the jeep trail we arrived back at the road (going the right way this time) and biked back toward camp. We found the side trail that led to CP6 and then continued up the road, around the TA, and down the first road to the final bike point, CP7. On the way back we took a detour to check for CP3 again now that it was light, but still came to the same conclusion that the flagging was correct and the punch was missing.
Back at the TA, we were handed a long list of points to map out. We packed up some food in the larger backpacks and refilled the camelbaks with water. Kip handed out peanut M&Mís for refueling. John graciously double-checked my UTM points this time, as we didnít want to mess it up for a trekking section. And then we were off again on foot, heading back down the first road and then into the hills.
We climbed up into the rolling foothills and then up to the top of a long ridge. We walked up hills and ran when it was flat, still moving at a good rate. We chatted and laughed and commented on how much fun this was! We almost ran by CP8 which was just off the trail but one of the guys happened to see it. It was at the top of a gorgeous view of the hill country on a misty, cloudy day. We were staying cool but not too wet, as it was sprinkling lightly on and off.
CP9 was on another hill off to the north. We decided to follow the trails even though they wound around instead of going straight for it. The trail was flagged up here since it wasnít easy to follow. At some point we lost the flagging and didnít realize it until we were obviously not on the trail anymore. After looking briefly we decided to follow the contours since we could see where we were and the hill that we needed to get to across the valley. Suddenly Jason remarked that he had found a porcupine! It showed up among the cedar trees, slowly waddling away and watching us warily. We followed it for a short while since thatís where we needed to go too. It was a huge porcupine. Very cool.
Then down the hill we went. We crossed the ditch at the bottom and headed up for the top of the hill. Once we reached it we werenít precisely sure where we were, but then we found a trail. The map showed a trail that ended at CP9, so we followed in the direction that seemed correct. However, we figured out eventually that the trail continued on after the CP, even though the map didnít show it. John got us going in the other direction and we found CP9 at the top of another amazing view of the hills and valleys around us.
OK, enough sightseeing! We took off down the hill on the trail and started toward the edge of the park where we needed to leave the trails and venture into unknown territory. While eating and talking, we apparently missed a side trail (wasnít it supposed to be the main trail?) and ended up running around a hill instead of reaching the jeep trail from the north side. Back at the house at the end of the road, we started out on trails and then headed across a large field toward a small saddle in the distance. The terrain and map scale were interesting - things always seemed bigger and further away than they actually were. Better than the other way around.
After crossing the saddle we came upon a large valley with a dirt road through it. We located the windmill that was on the map and some farmhouses to the north. The drainage that we needed to follow was right in front of us. We headed down and across some deer hunting clearings, then slowly climbed up to the top of the ridge on the other side. CP10 should have been in the middle of the ridge, probably along the road at the top. We looked and looked and didnít find it. The team with three guys (Team Krankster) showed up and we looked some more together. We found the ropes course below us and talked with Terry about it. Still no luck. Team XterraSports.com showed up and finally all three teams had a discussion with Terry. It turns out he made a typo with the UTM numbers and CP10 was not on the ridge, but in a ravine.
It was now pouring rain and the wind was blowing, making everyone shiver and huddle together. Terry told us that he had to cancel the special tests (ropes and shooting events) along with the horseback riding because of the torrential rain and lightning. We all loaded into a van that took us down to the horse barn to talk about what to do. They gave us some sandwiches and dry shirts, which was really nice. Luckily there were no flash flood warnings so the race would continue as a shortened course.
Terry apologized profusely for the mistake with CP10 and suggested that the times start over from when we left on the second trekking leg, the last time everyoneís position in the race was officially recorded. After some discussion no one had a better idea so Terry made it an executive decision. At 2:30 p.m. he started us again, heading for CP15 down the road. Team Krankster took off at a fast pace and eventually disappeared ahead of us. We jogged and walked down the road for about 5 miles until we reached the first bridge. CP15 was in the middle of the water under the bridge! It was barely sticking out of the water. Jason swam to it and punched our card, then we all crossed waist-deep through the water (since we could not walk on the pavement nor cross the bridge above us). At least the water was warm and our packs didnít get too wet.
From there it was a short distance to another bridge and another wading section to CP16. We walked back up to the road and ate some food while making our way to the canoes. Finally we could get off our feet for a while. We picked up (literally) two canoes and portaged them down to the river. It was a good river with small rapids and the canoes turned on a dime. We opted to portage over the largest waterfalls and then worked our way down the twists and turns of the river. The water was moving quickly so we had to stay alert. We practiced our paddling techniques and let our arms and backs do the work for a while.
After one section of short rapids, John and I were waiting for Kip and Jason when we suddenly heard one of them yell for help. We heard a couple whistle blasts as we pulled our canoe to the side of the river and John sprinted back to see what was wrong. I beached the boat and started to follow when John yelled to get a paddle that was floating downstream. Then he yelled that everyone was OK. I waded across the river to grab the paddle that was stuck in some debris. I met with the guys who explained that the boat had gotten lodged, so Jason stuck his foot out to push it away from the obstacle. Then the boat tipped and filled rapidly with water, pinning his foot, hence the yell of pain. Jason and Kip worked at it and finally got the boat dislodged. Miraculously, Jasonís foot was OK. Phew! We were all a bit shaken from that experience. We continued on and gradually started feeling back to normal again.
So we paddled and paddled, going under the bridges where we had previously waded, over a neat hidden horizon line, through more rapids, under a very low bridge (the top of the boat touched the cement above us), and over some shallow rocky areas. We had to portage around a large dam-like structure where we saw a large brown spider that waited for us to leave. Finally I started getting concerned about our location as it was getting dark, so John pulled out the map. Sure enough, we were almost to the take-out point. It was around the next corner. Casey, the other race organizer, met us and we talked as we loaded up the canoes on the truck. We crossed the river one more time and then stopped to remove pebbles from our shoes and tape a blister on Kipís heel.
Casey told us that the last leg, another bike section, had been canceled because the rain made the trails too muddy. So all we had to do was get back to the transition area/finish line. Except that it was now 10 miles away by a straight road. So we started walking in the dark with headlamps and a flashing red light attached to Johnís pack. We ran and walked, ran a little, walked more, jogged briefly, and tried to keep walking. We were told to stay on the side of the road which was prudent anyway because cars were zooming by us.
After reaching the halfway point at about 5 miles we came across a special test at CP19. There were 3 swings suspended from a tree at various heights and positions. We were given a 12 foot 2X8 board and instructions to get ourselves and the board through all three swings without touching the ground once we started. Jason climbed up first and went through the first swing to the second swing via the board. He held it in place while John and Kip help the other end so I could inch my way to the second swing. We all swung the whole contraption back and forth until Jason could grab the third swing, then he stepped over to it and I stayed on the second swing to keep the board stable for Kip. Kip and John followed to the second swing, then I straddled the board and made my way to the third swing and off the other side. The rest of the team followed - another event completed!
The rest of the walk back got slower and slower and more and more painful. John towed me up the hills and convinced me to run parts of it. Running hurt my legs while walking hurt the bottoms of my feet. We kept on moving because I could have easily taken a nap on the side of the road if we had stopped and I didnít want to give up any time at the very end of the race. Finally after 3 hours of trekking 10 miles we reached the dirt road and the park entrance. We sang our way up the road to the finish line at 11 p.m. Woo hoo!
It was a tough race. I cannot imagine how hard that would have been if we had to do the entire course. We bummed about missing the special tests and hopefully weíll have a chance to try them someday. But everything else was also lots of fun. The men of Team Krankster were very strong on their feet and made up the 39-minute difference and more from the time we were restarted until the end of the race, finishing first overall. We were the first official (4-person) team across the line. Throughout the night other teams came in to the finish line amid more rain and foul weather.
The SWEAR organizers put on an excellent race. The course was challenging and required teamwork, thinking, creativity, strategy, and physical ability. Terry and Casey pick beautiful and varied locations and somehow manage to place some very cool wildlife in our path (last time it was alligators and water moccasins). We highly recommend this race for anyone who is serious about having fun adventure racing!