John and I competed in Too Cool's Canyon Park 2-person sprint race last weekend. Personally I was hoping for a fun way to get in a good workout, practice my mountain biking, and see what we could do in a shorter race. Also on the "hoping for" list: not too much wind, so the lake paddle wouldn't be too difficult in Kip's light Kevlar canoe.
We drove down with Kip (who was racing with Tina) on Saturday morning. The forecast was for rain and light wind. We ended up with sun and moderate wind - enough to make things interesting. We decided John would steer in the canoe since he could strong-arm the boat better than I can. After checking in, John brought our bikes over to the magician from Bicycle Sports Shop who somehow managed to fix the gear shifting in about 10 seconds. No more excuses for the bike section.
Maps and most coordinates were handed out 30 minutes before the start, so we gathered in the van and John read out numbers while Kip and I made circles on the maps. Kip learned from Scott a few minutes later that the grids were actually slightly larger than 1:24,000, so the points were plotted slightly incorrectly. We all hoped to make mental adjustments for that during the race.
At 10 a.m. we received the instruction sheet for leg 1, and then we were told "Go!" so we could open the sheet and figure out what fun Too Cool had in store for us this time. It turned out to be 3 points to find in any order - one on the other side of the lake and two in the park that could be reached by bike. We quickly plotted those 3 points and made a snap decision to paddle first - "Let's get it over with," I recall saying.
So we ran down to the canoe, pulled on PFD's, verified our heading, and were the first to launch into the waves. Going straight into the wind actually wasn't too bad. John did a great job keeping us aimed in the right direction and we paddled hard over to an inlet on the north side of the water. He spotted the checkpoint first, and another team right next to us with the better line pulled up to it to punch their passport.
John had us wheel around to approach it backwards since we were waiting for the other team to find their passport anyway. I had a brief moment of concern as we were facing broadside to a couple boats heading straight for us, but we all managed not to hit each other. It took a bit of time for John to work his way into the melee of watercraft to get to the checkpoint, but eventually he got to the punch and we got out of there.
Surfing downwind was fast and fun, and soon we beached at the TA with several other teams. We hustled up the hill and jumped on the bikes. John used his bike map board to read the map while he towed me up the hills - I'm always impressed with his multitasking. We arrived near CP2 by ourselves initially, and ran around a picnic area trying to find the checkpoint. Finally John looked into a small structure that was apparently a deer blind, and found the punch with at least one other team helping.
We rode quickly around to the other side of the peninsula, briefly overshot the correct turn when John was briefly looking at the wrong CP circle on the map, and then fixed the problem. A couple teams were leaving the area of CP3 and others were coming in behind us. A bunch of racers spread out looking for the checkpoint in the little inlet, and eventually someone found it down in the water. John went for the punch while I started back for the bikes.
We flew back to the TA to show our passport and get our next set of instructions. Next was the main paddle leg, nothing surprising. We traded bikes and helmets for PFD's and paddles, then took off along the coast. We were aiming sideways to the wind now, and this was much more entertaining (well, that's one way to look at it after the fact). John aimed us at an angle more toward the wind, and then partway across we came back toward the left, to avoid direct sideways waves the whole time.
CP4 was on an island by the opposite shore, and we scanned the little cliffs as we approached. Finally we were there, so we found a decent place to pull up and jump out. The checkpoint was right above us. A bunch of boats in a line behind us followed our lead as we took off again, aiming for CP5 around the other side of the park.
With a tailwind now, we moved pretty well, while still getting blown back and forth and splashed up and down a bit. John did a great job steering and I didn't mind spending some time getting used to "going with the flow" in the waves. It helped that we were in bright sunshine instead of pitch blackness like in a previous race.
Soon enough we were around to leeward side of the land and in calm water. We had already discussed an alternate route back, so after John found CP5 we left in the same direction we had been going instead of turning around. It would be a slightly longer paddle plus a short portage, but we hoped to avoid the worst of the wind.
Teams behind us had some discussion about where we were going and whether we had actually found the checkpoint, but when we looked back later there was no one following. Well, we'll see if this was a good idea or not. Wind-wise, it turned out just fine. We did have a headwind coming across the last mile to the take-out, but the waves were smaller than on the other side of the peninsula. The portage was short and soon we were back at the check-in pavilion.
I'm not even sure they saw us coming from that direction, so John yelled "team 116, checking in" and soon Robyn had us taken care of. It seemed like we might be the first team there, but it wasn't clear and we didn't ask. As we started the bike course, we saw a couple kayaks heading for the TA, possibly the ones who had been with us at CP5.
So now the paddle was over with, time to deal with the bike ride. We would be following the whole Madrone trail in the park and finding 4 checkpoints along the way. I had heard that the trail is not easy, and I can confirm that. It started with some switchbacks going up the hill, including over some ledges and rocks. Eventually it turned out that the main challenges were "rock gardens" and mud. We were riding semi-slick tires, and the mud made them more than just semi-slick. Riding over rocks with muddy tires wasn't exactly easy.
Apparently for real mountain bikers, this trail was a lot of fun. I did the best I could, but I ended up running my bike for good percentage of the trail, and there wasn't much about it that I would call fun. We tried having John ride in front of me for the first time, and he did a good job of figuring out what I could ride and where I would be faster running the bike. It was tedious and tiring, but eventually we found CP's 6 and 7 on picnic tables along the way. Somewhere in the middle of the bike leg a team of 2 guys passed us.
Tom and his teammate (Team Werewolves) also came by and chatted with us briefly. Then they were gone. I could see the marina, so it seemed like at least we were headed generally back toward the TA. I was still confused about the trail, since we had started out in a counter-clockwise loop but later it became obvious that we were going clockwise. We must have crossed over part of the trail, but when? Odd.
We found CP8. I told John that my arms were getting tired from running with my bike. He said that was OK, as long as my legs were ready for the trekking leg. No problem there. More rock gardens, more getting off and on the bike. At least I'm getting faster at getting off, even though I still haven't mastered the re-mount.
Another team came up fast behind us, and I pulled over to let them by. I was going to take a drink, but then they were already gone. Whoosh! John said "let's go!" and I managed a small swallow before getting moving again. Apparently Team MOAT had just blown by me, going uphill. Impressive!
We reached a 4-way intersection, which explained the trail cross-over, and also found Team Werewolves and the 2 guys coming back from a side trip down the wrong way. We rode straight across to continue on and finish the last part of the trail. One more CP (#9) and then we were at the TA. Finally!
We dropped the bikes, grabbed a quick drink and an Ensure, then ran to the check-in table. As expected, the last section was a trek. We had looked at the points already, and I wanted to leave the close point, CP14, for the end since the attack point seemed better from that direction. We ran out to the road toward the other checkpoints.
John towed me the whole way along on the road while I studied the map and developed some plans. We passed the 2-person guy team as they were looking to jump off to CP13 to the left (we would get that one on the way back). I decided to aim for CP10 first, so we ran along a side road to a draw and jumped down to find the checkpoint.
We climbed back up, ran across a picnic area and over the road toward another picnic area. CP11 would be at the top of a shallow hill, so we found the hill and popped out into the wide clearing at the top. We started searching, because it wasn't obvious where the CP should be hanging. I walked under a small building, then looked back to see some green flagging at the top of it. I asked John to check the building and he looked up to see the punch I had just missed. Good job, John!
He punched the passport and we started following dirt roads that zigzagged toward the other side of the loop road. Soon we located the road and crossed it to run up another dirt road. The clue for CP12 was "Oak Grove", and John eagle-eyed the checkpoint up in a tree at the end of the road. There was a rope hanging there, and John said he might need some help getting to the punch. Ha, right! Like I knew he could, John scrambled up the tree, punched the passport, and we were on our way again.
Coming out from the checkpoint, we saw Team MOAT and Team Werewolves running toward CP12. So they were going in the opposite direction, and we were all at the far end of the trekking course together. John and I knew we were doing OK, but our next two checkpoints would be harder, so it was anybody's race. John towed me up the road, and then we jumped down to the bike trail over to the cove where CP13 should be.
We spent a few minutes finding CP13 because it was hanging off to the side instead of in the draw (probably related to the problems with the plotting being slightly off). Another team showed up and helped John locate it, so that was a stroke of luck. We pushed through the trees back to the main road and started our last long run on the pavement.
John towed me up a dirt road toward CP14, but we ended up on a small trail and it didn't seem right. John asked if we should climb up the hill, and I agreed, so we jumped up to a flat open area. The clue was "Cactus Ring" and the topography seemed right, so we started searching. I saw something promising above us, called John over, and located the punch.
Time to run back to the TA! We headed off to the east/north, running downhill through the trees and trying to follow animal trails down the clearest way possible. Eventually we found the bike trail and John led me around to pop out right at our van. We ran hard to the pavilion, checked in, and found out that we had won. Woo hoo!
Team MOAT finished very soon afterwards, then the 2 guys and Werewolves. It was quite an exciting finish, and we really amazed ourselves by coming back from my slow biking to make up the time on the run. It was certainly exhausting! We had fun, accomplished our goals (although I still need a lot more mountain biking practice), and worked well together.
Thank you to Too Cool for putting on another EXCELLENT race!
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