Getting a team to the starting line was half the battle for this race. Originally, Team Backpacker (from Louisiana) had planned a full team, as did Team Vignette (from Texas). But with injuries and schedule conflicts, neither of us was able to get a full team together, so we decided to join forces instead. The team was Kipley Fiebig, David Bogle, Karen Burks, and Misty Richard. Most of us had raced together before; the only real exception was Karen. This would be her third adventure race ever. She had previously raced with Kip once (for her second race). Karen is a great athlete, but as we all know, adventure racing takes lots of gear and practice. We all contributed gear to get her ready. Karen met her bike for the first time the morning of the race. She borrowed a bike, paddle, lights, backpacks, etc. from us and others.
The event was to start and finish in Nails Creek Unit of Lake Somerville State Park. This would be the second race for Too Cool Racing. Race directors Art Cook and Robyn Cantor had put on a great first race (The Big Chill), so many teams showed up to see what they would think up next. The high temperatures were going to be a factor, as the weather forecast looked to be hot for the entire race. Lake Somerville was very large and open. The winds were blowing pretty hard the day before the race, and the weather prediction did not indicate it would get any calmer. This would make open water paddling challenging. The pre-race information suggested there would be lots of paddling, with the biking and trekking legs about equal in length.
The team all grouped up and met Saturday morning and set up a quick Transition Area next to Team Moxie Pucks (friends of Kip's). They were all real nice and allowed us to share some of their table space to work on maps. There were quite a few very good teams at this race, which was somewhat surprising as this was the first time a race had been put on at this park. Teams were almost all Texas based teams. Some of the well known teams included M.O.A.T, Werewolves of Austin, Dead Reckoning (HART), and of course Vignette/Backpacker. There would be no shortage of competition. We placed our boats and paddling gear down near the boat launch and headed off for the pre-race meeting. The race had a strict time limit of 24 hours. For every 5 minutes past the 24 hour mark, teams would lose one checkpoint (which is a huge penalty). The usual information was covered at the pre-race meeting with warnings about lots of thorny bushes, snakes, hogs and other things with sharp teeth.
The race started with a twist: The teams were given instructions to go and get 4 points, but teams were allowed to split up and get them in any order (teams are usually never allowed to split up in most adventure races). There were also different disciplines involved in getting each of the points. One was a swim, and Karen was elected to get it since her triathlete background has made her a strong swimmer. It also helped that Kip had a brought along a set of swim fins, allowing Karen to fly through the water. Dave chose to grab his Kickbike (scooter) to get a point about a mile away (Dave loves his Kickbike), Kip headed out to find the land navigation point, and Misty was elected to go solve some sort of brain teaser puzzle. We got off to a fast start, and Dave was the first person to the scooter point. Oddly, a MOAT team member chose to run to that point (and he was quick, but could not keep up with the Kickbike). We all met back at the brainteaser as Misty was still working on it. It turns out that there were 5 riddles, and we needed to solve any 4 of them to proceed. Misty had a couple, I was able to help get one more, but that left us with only 3. Kip came in and managed to arrange an information trade with Team Moxie Pucks to solve our fourth puzzle, and then we were out of there and onto our next leg: paddling.
We headed back to our TA (transition area) and plotted the paddle points. This paddle did not have us cross Lake Somerville like we expected, instead it involved some very sketchy looking canals, swamps and ponds. Dave was our navigator for the paddle. With our initial trouble with the brainteaser problems, we were not the first team in the water; it looked like 3 or 4 teams were out ahead of us in the boats. I thought we could quickly catch them. In the water, I forgot we were not all long time adventure racers. Misty and Dave jumped out ahead of Kip and Karen in the boats. Karen had spent very little time every paddling so it took a few minutes for Kip and Karen to get in sync with each other. Once they did, we were off. The points on this leg were Rogaine (meaning we could visit them in any order), but you had to have your boat with you at each point. (It would have been possible to run to all the points with no boats). Shortly after we started the paddle, Dave felt we should make a turn into a small canal, Nails Creek, from the main lake. None of the teams ahead of us had made this turn, which always makes you question your decisions. The canal was not on the map, but seemed to go the way I felt we should be going. We made the turn, still unsure whether it was correct or not. After 4 or 5 minutes, it became clear that we'd made the right decision. With marshy land like at this park, many water features change and are not reflected accurately on the old maps. Our friends the Moxie Pucks followed us into this canal, close on our tails. We did not see any other trailing teams, but the canal really twisted a bunch, so there was no telling how close the other teams were. We made it to the first checkpoint, punched it, and headed back downstream, with Team Moxie Pucks right behind. A few minutes later we ran into several other teams heading upstream, including Team SteelSports.net. There were still some tricky decisions to be made on how to get to the next few points as the water route didn't match the maps too well. We carried on and made it to Flag Pond, which involved a small over land portage of our boats. Once in the pond, it was a tough paddle. The pond was full of trees and water levels were very low. We made it to the other side, but slightly overshot the point. The paddling was so slow, we chose to simply get out of the water and portage our boats down the road back to the checkpoint. It was only about 50 yards back. Race director Robyn was there in her truck, along with team Moxie Pucks, who'd found a better paddle route across the Flag Pond that took them directly to the target.
From here, the map showed a canal heading north to our next point on a Yegua Creek. But as we portaged towards this canal, we never saw it. The sketchy canal was not there, or if it was, it was certainly too dry to paddle. We made the decision to just portage a couple of the trails that we knew would lead us to the correct creek. Team Moxie Pucks made the portage with us. Kip found a nice route with minimal bushwhacking to get us back into the water. We started paddling down Yegua Creek and found our point. The canal that we'd been hoping to paddle to this point appeared to have been dry for quite some time. As we were paddling off, Moxie Pucks was still right behind us. We continued down the creek, as it would lead us back to the lake. Near the end of the creek, it became a little unclear, what with the many fingers leading off in different directions. We worked our way through the maze and eventually popped out onto Lake Somerville. We were surprised that we never saw any other boats on our way out, as we thought some folks might choose to get these points in the reverse order, especially after they'd accidentally paddled past the entrance to Nails Creek. The only boat we did see was captained by Mike Drost, a race volunteer that admitted he'd had his own difficulties in finding the creek entrance. It was a short trip across the lake back to TA. We made it to TA and confirmed we were still in first place. Looking back on the water, we saw Team Moxie Pucks and Team MOAT heading back in. No time to spare, onto the next leg. We later learned that the fourth team to finish this leg was already over an hour and a half behind us. The rest of the teams must have had a tougher time out there.
The next leg was a choice between a scootering and trekking. They could be done in either order, but both had to be done. We chose to do the scooter leg first because, well, it was written first on the page. We plotted the points and headed out on our Kickbikes. We got all the points with no problem, and headed back to TA. We then plotted the points for the first real trekking leg. It was mainly around the park we were in, so we figured it would not be too long, but the heat was really building outside so we brought plenty of fluids. We started out and had no real problems finding any of the points (great navigation as usual by Kip). At our second to last point, we knew something was about to happen as team MOAT was there and they were wading off the lake shore. (Since we could do these points in any order, we ran into MOAT because they'd opted to do the loop in the opposite direction). This was a race special challenge: we received some supplies and detailed instructions on how to build a raft. The goal was to float one of our teammates on the raft around a buoy, without touching the person, and they could not swim. We started following the instructions, and then Kip suggested skimping on the complex raft building, and just throwing something together something that would float. Then we basically pulled Misty around the water on the rain parka provided with the kit. The person running the special test was not happy about our plan, but it showed creativity and it worked. As we finished this test, Team Moxie Pucks showed up and Team MOAT was gone. We finished the test, got our final point, and headed back to the TA.
Race officials told us we were still in first place, which was surprising as Team MOAT should not be far behind with their speed. The next leg was a biking leg. It looked to be pretty long, and now it was getting real hot outside. We took off on our bikes following a horse trail that led back to a Flag Pond, and then to another portion of the state park. The first few miles were hilly and sandy, which made biking tough. Karen proved to be quite a biker on this leg. She has very little mountain biking experience but had no trouble cruising right along. Kip was doing the bike nav this time as he had all the trails on his map. We picked up the first point or two with no problem. One of the next points was down near Flag Pond, which involved dropping our bikes and trekking to find it. This turned out to be painful, as the hillside was covered in some thorny plants that burned like ant bites when you were stuck. And we were stuck, many, many times. We walked right past the point as it was kind of hidden underneath the canopy of a tree, but fortunately Misty and Karen spotted it, so we punched it and headed back to the bikes. One of the checkpoints for this leg contained a special highlight of this race. In a small hut used for bird watching, there was an ice chest with instructions to open it. Inside were "freezie pops". What a wonderfully welcome treat to have during the heat of a big race. We each grabbed a couple pops and headed back out on our bikes. The last point out on the bikes was potentially the most confusing, as there were no real clear landmarks to use to find the point. But we managed to pick a good bearing and walk right to it, and then it was time to turn around and start the journey back. Shortly starting back we came across team MOAT, who appeared to be really moving fast on their bikes. We hoped we could hold them off until we finished this leg. The final portion of the leg involved a blacktop road with a big hill, Kip and Dave were both suffering from the heat and were the last two up the hill. We made it back to TA and confirmed we were still holding on to first place. This was a big deal considering all the tough competition at this race.
We learned our next leg would be the long paddle leg on Lake Somerville that we'd been expecting. We knew we would be out after dark, so we packed our lights and plenty of food and water. It was late afternoon and it was still very hot and windy. The water was very rough with high winds blowing. We picked up the first point no problem. Kip and Karen were not able to keep up with Misty and I (Dave), so we implemented a tow system. It certainly kept us moving at the same speed and seemed to help our overall water speed. The next point eluded us. It was suppose to be on a small island, but somehow we missed it. Likely due to the island not being so small anymore, because of the low lake level. After searching in the wrong area for a while we chose to skip the point and come back for it later, as we had to come back close to this spot anyway at the end of the paddle. We hit the next couple of points no problem. We then saw Team MOAT motoring across the water (not literally with a motor, but they were moving very fast and efficiently in their 4 man boat). They caught us and dropped us easily with their paddling speed. We kept them in sight for a while, but since we had skipped the point earlier in the leg, we had to detour and get it on the way back. I don't think MOAT realized we had to do this, so they kept pressing hard. It was dark for us for the last couple points. As soon as the sun went down, the winds died down and it became much faster to paddle. Finding the points at night would be much more difficult for the trailing teams. As we headed back to the TA, we could see no other boats coming in, so we knew we still had a good lead over the next place team.
Back in TA, we learned our next leg was a long trekking leg. Race officials did not tell us if this was the last leg, but we assumed it was based on where we were in relation to the 24-hour cutoff time. We plotted the points and headed out. We figured team MOAT was already at least an hour ahead of us by now due to us having to detour on the paddle leg to pickup the missed point. We headed out and did a good bit of light running. Karen still had great running legs on her and continually pushed the pace until either Kip, Dave, or Misty would ask to slow down for a minute or two. One of the early points was up a small creek from a bridge. It was only a couple hundred yards from the trail so our plan was to follow the water around to find the point. The ground cover was very thick and we were unable to move. We finally decided to just walk up the creek to find the point. This was a scary swamp creek, but we decided to give it a try. (So much for our dry shoes on this leg!) I jumped in and started leading the way, until I stepped around a bush and the water was over my head. At that stage, we decided to get back on land. It took a while to bushwhack through the thick cover, but we finally found the point. A little while later we came across team MOAT who was on their way back to the finish line. They had a considerable lead on us at that stage, and unless they stopped to sleep (not likely!) there was no way we were going to catch them. This made us a lot less motivated to keep pushing so hard, so we slowed down and did quite a bit of speed walking and talking. We occasionally jogged just to make the miles go by faster. I estimate this leg was about 15 miles. We picked up all the points and headed back to the finish line. Kip was convinced we would eventually come across some other teams heading out on this leg, but we never did. Near the end of this trek, we came across the ice chest of freezie pops again. What a wonderful treat (well not quite as wonderful as the first time during the heat of the day, but still nice). I made the mistake of eating four of them as fast as possible. The sudden shock of all the sugar did quite a number on my stomach. With about 6 miles left we decided we should run some to get the race done. We ran for a bit and I started feeling sick, so we walked, and once I felt better, we ran some more, but the sickness kept returning. It finally happened that my body got rid of those pesky freezie pops with only a mile and a half left in the race. They were no longer cold and did not taste anywhere near as good while coming up. A few minutes later I was walking again, but I announced I no longer planned to run anymore. We were almost done anyways, so it was OK. Kip carried my pack for a little while and we made our way to the finish line. We finished 18 hours and 29 minutes after starting, in second place behind the always-impressive Team MOAT. We also learned no other teams had yet to start out on the last trekking leg. We picked up a few items, took showers, and headed to the tents for a little sleep. Sleep was tough, as I was still wound up and my stomach was hurting from the bad freezie pop incident. We got up at dawn to cheer teams in to the finish. 15 minutes before the cutoff, team Dead Reckoning/HART crossed the finish line with all the points. We were the only three teams that had been able to get all the points in time, and so the remaining teams were ranked according to how many points they'd managed to get in the 24 hours. We packed up and all headed home.
Thanks to Too Cool Racing for putting on a great event. Thanks to all our sponsors: The Backpacker outfitters, Hammer Nutrition, The Bicycle Shop, and Maxxis Tires.