Team Vignette decided we would go race the Terra Firma Eco Lonestar 12 hour AR this year. We figured it would be a good way to better understand how Terra Firma runs their races, since they are putting on the USARA Nationals race this year. The teams for this race were only allowed 3 persons so we raced Marcy, John, and myself for this one. (Kip sat out and likely for the better with all the less-than-fun biking... oops getting ahead of myself, sorry). Marcy and I drove over to Huntsville, TX with the canoe on the roof of my truck. That was quite a challenge in itself as we had 20+ mph cross winds for the whole drive. John would later meet us at the TA.
We chose to set up the most basic TA for this race that consisted of my fold up table. It was sure nice to finish setting up TA in about 30 seconds. We all just ended up sleeping in the back of our cars for the night which was fine for all of us. There was the typical noise throughout the night of folks showing up and setting up, but not really a problem. TA was situated in the Sam Houston forest at the northern end of Lake Conroe. None of us had taken any time to look over maps prior to this race (outside maps are not allowed during the race), so Marcy and I walked down to the water to look for places to launch the boat. There was a bridge crossing the tip of the lake that proved to be a very popular place with local fisherman. The good news was that there were plenty of places to launch our boats.
Race start was 7 am, and it was already warm for this time of year. It was probably mid 70's and very humid outside. None of us had done any real heat training this year, so I was a little worried (I am not the biggest fan of heat). There was also a sprint race going on at the same time, so lots of racers around the starting area. The pre-race announcements included a quick warning that there was some sand out on the bike course, but not to worry as you may have to push through it for 50 meters or so, but then you would be OK (or maybe I heard this backwards?) The sprint racers took off first and then it was time for the 12 hour racers to get going. There were about 30 teams competing so it was a full field. The race would start with a short run to pick up the maps and the first set of coordinates to checkpoints. Of course we let John do that run. He was out and back in a few minutes where we learned that the first thing we would do would be a run section. We rapidly plotted the 2 CPs and off we went. We were the first team out of transition.
We could get the points in any order, but we chose to get #1, then #2. The run started on roads first. Along the way, we came across the lead sprint teams and exchanged hellos (they were running a different marked course). We were running rather fast so no one caught us on this road section. We turned off the road onto the first trail and hit the sand. Ugh, that stuff sure is tough to run on. We followed this trail to CP1, then we chose to bushwhack along a creek to CP2 instead of taking the trail. It was a smart move as about halfway there, John found an old overgrown trail, but it allowed us to run. As we approached CP2, we saw a couple of teams who chose to do the points in the opposite order. We hit CP2 and were now heading back to the TA area. This opening run took about an hour, and we were the first team to arrive back at TA. Let's hope we did not run too hard and pay for it later. There was a bit of confusion when we got back to TA. The maps and leg instructions were not ready for us. It felt like our lead was slipping away, but I bet in under a minute we had our instructions and were off to plot our points.
Leg 2 would be the paddling leg. We were really not looking forward to this leg. It's not because we don't like to paddle, as we are all fine with that, it was that darn wind combined with a large lake. We were glad to be paddling early, but 20 mph winds were once again predicted. We plotted points and were a bit confused as there was no CP3, so on our way out of TA, we asked and the race officials were not sure, but we carried on figuring we would sort it out later. There were 2 paddle points, we had to get them in order. As we portaged close to the water, we came across Team HFAR-Knights coming in from the run leg, so we all said hi and then we were in the canoe. We had rigged up a real middle seat in my canoe versus the sling seat. This was nice as now Marcy could really get some paddling in.
The first point was basically due south on the lake (winds were from the south!). We headed out to the main lake through some small water channels. When we hit the main lake, it looked very cool. There were tons of old tree stumps sticking out of the water, and many just below the surface, so not only were we paddling hard into the wind, we had to do lots of maneuvering to avoid hitting too many objects. We paddled hard and soon enough we were at the far southern point. One of the race officials was there and told us to punch this as CP3, and the next one as 4. This now resolved the passport issue so we were all good. We were now going to have a tailwind, which makes your boat speed pick up, but it actually makes steering a canoe a bit harder. We were really moving now. John and I took the opportunity to try and see who all was catching us and estimate how far behind they were. We did this until we hit the first stump and almost tipped, then Marcy instructed us to pay attention to our race and all eyes ahead. We soon beached our canoe at the next CP, where a "mystery event" awaited. We all got out and learned it would be a land navigation section (I had earlier commented to Marcy that for some reason our race map had been erased in that area). This section was called blind navigation. There was a map posted with the location of a CP. We had to memorize the location and map features then go find it without actually having a map. This could not be better for us, since that is how Marcy navigates most of the time. She usually gives John or me the maps and just memorizes them. So, she took a look and led us out of there. There would be 3 mystery points on this leg (A, B, and C). We hit them no problem and fortunately we noticed that C was actually our CP2 for the opening run as it was not actually labeled C when we got there. This section took about 40 minutes and we were back in the boats, once we were able to find it as there were now tons of boats parked at the beach. We paddled back, through the sunken stump minefield, to the boat take out, and portaged back to TA. There were some sprint racers hanging around cheering us on.
Next up was a bike leg. We got all the points plotted, made our plan to get the points and headed out. This was where the race really slowed down. The points were along a maze of multi-use trails. By multi-use I mostly mean motorbikes and ATVs. The trails were all just soft sand. At the pre-race meeting, we were told there would be sections of sand. I think they said it wrong as it was mostly sand with a few small sections of hard pack sand. Well, this was true for most of the first half of the bike leg. We followed the sand trails for CPs 6-8. We then got a break and took a real road for a while. It felt good to go more than 5 mph on our bikes. We got to ride through a very cool looking area that had recently been burned, in fact, some areas were still smoking, but the trail through it was just fine. It did give John the opportunity to add some war paint to his face. CP9 required John to crawl inside of a culvert to punch the CP, we should have seen that one coming when we approached there was a photographer standing by.
Next up was CP10. On our way there we passed through a park with lots of motorcycles. Those guys would soon head out on the trails and come whizzing by us. At least they are easy to hear coming. After we left CP10 we crossed a big pipeline and Marcy asked about taking it, of which I immediately discounted because that was not on our plan. She quickly pointed out the error in my ways so we jumped onto the pipeline for the next few CPs. The pipeline went up and down, but at least there was no sand. We hit 11-13 from the pipeline, and then it was back to TA. We kept wondering the whole time when Team MOAT was going to come flying past us as they are just rockets on the bike. They likely would just skim the top of the sand as they flew along. There were multiple routes to take in this area so it is possible they passed us without our knowledge. After CP13, we biked roads back to TA to learn we were still in the lead. We also learned that Leslie Reuter of team MOAT had crashed on her bike and broken her collarbone so they were now out of the race to take her to the hospital. What an unfortunate thing to happen. We were told there was now a big gap between us and the next team which took the pressure off a little.
Our final leg would be a trekking leg. We plotted the points and headed out. We could do these points in any order, so we chose a clockwise loop. First up for us was #21, this was in a draw, but it was more like a slightly low spot in the ground. We had learned by now that the contours on the map did not always exactly match reality on the ground. After 21, we headed north to a creek and picked up #20, then west to a draw for #19. We got off track a little on this one as we followed the wrong draw for a little while (the map showed only one, but we found quite a few out there). Once we got the right draw and punched the CP, we did some more bushwhacking north and picked up #18 on a hillside. We then headed out an old logging road for #17, where we ran across Werewolves who were doing the loop the opposite direction of us. We had one CP left which was #16. On the way there we passed Knights and MOAT (the 2 guys continued on after getting Leslie on to the hospital). Those 3 teams were all within 10 minutes of each other at this stage. We jogged on in to the finish line for a final special test which was slinging some balls on strings onto a stand a few feet away (possibly called "Redneck Golf"). Once they scanned our finishers tag, we were confirmed as the winning team of the race.
We packed up (put the table away), and then hung out at the finish line to congratulate teams as they crossed the finish line. Next in was Team Werewolves, then MOAT, then Knights. As usual, thanks to my great teammates, I had a great time out there racing, and the heat was not too bad. This race had real navigation on every leg, which was a great thing versus following a flagged course.
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