This year's version of Spread Your Wings Adventure race by Too Cool Racing had a different feel from previous years. First of all, I would be racing as Team Massey's. Many years ago, when living in Louisiana, I used to race under this name. My longtime teammate Julie Standing asked me to race this one with her team as I seem to have scared the remaining members of Team Vignette out of Texas. The team included Joe Lee (we have raced together a couple of times), and Dustin Branton (who I had never really met before this race). These are all strong racers, so I was a bit nervous about being able to keep up. Normally the whole family comes along with me to enjoy the fun out at Camp Eagle, but this year I would be alone as they had a conflict and could not make it. A couple days before the race Joe hurt his knee and had to withdraw. We tried to replace him, but with the short notice that proved impossible. Oh well, we were just as happy to race as a three person team.
At last's year race the camp got a massive amount of rain that flooded the normally parched landscape, creating flash floods and epic mud. In the days leading up to this race, the forecast was for rain, but for the most part the bad weather held off and the race was not a wash out this year. The race directors were trying a new format (which I was looking forward to). The course was planned to be longer than any teams could finish in the 18-hour time limit. There were certain mandatory checkpoints, and then many additional optional points that teams would have to strategically plan to either attempt or skip.
Prior to the pre-race meeting, I wandered over to the TA area we had set up the night before. Raccoons (or some other critters) had gotten into my food stash and had it spread all over the place. I had even warned Dustin about leaving food out, but I turned out to be the one who forgot to put my food bag back in my truck when I was done setting up. I had brought only the food that I needed for the race, with really none to spare. I was worried, but no time to cry about it. I salvaged what I could and figured I could make it on what was left (I always need to lose a few pounds anyway). The biggest negative was that the critters destroyed most of my high calorie food bags of Spiz.
At 6am Saturday morning, we were handed maps and a course booklet with all the points to plot. Joe came to camp so he helped us do the plotting. Julie was super nice and brought me a cup of coffee to help wake me up. There were lots of points to plot, but we made pretty quick work of it. Dustin and I made a plan for most all of the early legs and sort of ran out of time to pre-plan the last couple of legs. (During a normal Too Cool race we would get a leg of the course at a time, so this new format required lots more thinking ahead of time).
I tried to estimate how much we would have to skip, but it was not a clear decision early on. I really thought we could do most of this course from what I saw. There were a couple of obvious points to consider skipping that were positioned off by themselves. The problem was "when do we start skipping". If we skip points early on and it turns out we could get them all, then we would be screwed. So, our strategy for the first few legs was to get them all.
The race started with teams lined up for a swim/water obstacle course. There were multiple races going on (a 5 hour sprint, 12 hour, and our 18 hour race). We were started in waves about 5 minutes apart with the 18 hour teams going last. The first leg was fun, but the water was a bit chilly to hit at 8 am. We positioned ourselves near the front of the 18 hour teams but we trailed at least one 2 person male team (Team XMA). In the water, we did catch up to a few of the 12 hour teams, and we were out-swum by a couple of fast 18 hour teams. But, it was a very fun leg where we got to jump off a platform and do the waterslides.
Back in TA after leg 1, we knew we were heading out on foot for a scramble leg around camp. I rarely change clothes mid-race, so I was immediately ready to go. Julie changed her shoes so it took a few moments. Dustin took a little longer to change his shoes, but he is the youngest and one heck of a runner so he caught up in seconds. Leg 2 had us go shoot some targets (great job Dustin), then ride scooters, then go find a CP in the mine maze, and finally slide down a long slide. All fun and we could see team XMA right in front of us, with Helena's team (Masters of the Universe) right behind us. Leg 2 was pretty quick, but at a sprint speed, so I was ready to slow down already. The weather was overcast with a slight mist of rain, which made it humid (but much better than scorching temps we have had some years).
Leg 3 would be a bike leg mostly on trails and jeep roads. I figured this would be a 2 hour type leg, but you never know for sure so we brought lots of water. One CP was mandatory so we headed there first as it was also close to the TA. We arrived with team XMA to find that from here we would be trekking to gather supplies to start a fire. Sorry Julie... she only had bike shoes so she would have to run around in them. We were given another camp map and the names of several places to visit to gather all our supplies. We found them all on the map and headed off.
First, we traveled to location one where we had to shoot a target with an arrow. Once again, Dustin is the marksman and quickly nailed it. We were rewarded with a bundle of kindling. We stashed it in Julie's backpack and were off. Next we headed to a location under the mega zip line that was up a dirt road. Once we arrived here, we were directed to go up to the top of the mountain and fetch a pail of water (well actually it was a Home Depot 5 gallon bucket). We were required to return with a full bucket of water. This meant trekking up a steep rocky road to a tank of water at a windmill, then getting back down this hill with minimal spillage. Fortunately, Julie had a plastic trash bag that we used to fashion a cover for our bucket. This system did not spill a single drop of water.
Wow, this "quick" bike leg was turning out to be a lot longer than I thought! After turning in our water, we were given a bunch of larger sticks that Julie offered to carry. Next we headed to the other end of the camp property where we had to trek to fill a wooden container full of rocks and return with it (felt like we were in prison). The reward for this was a 300-pound log to carry! Well maybe it was not quite 300 pounds, but it sure was heavy. Dustin and I put it up on our shoulders and headed back to our campfire location about 1/2 mile away. Back at the campfire location, we had only one spot left so we headed off to the top of another hill. We made our way to the top with team XMA and another team (sorry, did not catch your name). Here we were rewarded with a small baggie of diesel fuel. Well, this sure will make starting a fire far easier as it had been misting so most supplies were now damp.
We arrived back seconds behind XMA and started working to light our fire. Julie is crazy tough so she spits fire... but as a lady she does not want to spit in public so we were forced to use our matches. The goal of building the fire was to burn through a string hanging about two feet above the fire pit. I had an alternate idea of how to accomplish this so we did that and we were out of there in seconds. We even beat XMA on burning the string. This single CP took more than an hour, maybe close to 2. My theory that we might be able to get all the CPs was already in jeopardy.
The CPs for this bike leg were typically just off of trails so we had to pay attention. On the first climb, XMA passed us up, but they stopped at a draw too early to search for a CP, so we moved on to the correct one. We did not see them for a while, but were sure they were chasing or passing us the whole time. We actually ran into these two guys all day long and even trekked along together a few times. At CP 10, we were given a UTM for a bonus CP if we wanted to go after it, so we did. I did make a navigational mistake here in that we should have left it and gotten it later in the leg as it required an out and back, which we would later repeat (we could get these CPs in order we chose). The good news was that we were really nailing every CP location right on.
The last CP on this leg was #13. We arrived just moments behind XMA. They turned around to head back the way they came back to TA. I had hoped to find an alternate route back that was shorter. In a few moments, XMA was right behind us. They must have guessed we had a better route and decided to follow us. It turns out, my hope of a better route did not pan out at all, and so I cost both teams some time. Both our teams arrived back in the TA about the same time. Back in TA, I was sad to say I was now out of Spiz, which meant only lower calorie Honey Stingers utill the end. (My teammates did offer me food, but I am picky.)
Next up was a long trekking leg covering some of the same area we just biked. As we were heading up the first mountain on a jeep road a single guy in a brightly colored shirt came flying down the hill past us... odd, I was sure he had a team earlier... oh well, carry on. As we got to the top of the hill and were about to bail off into the woods to grab our first trekking CP, we saw two more guys (same color shirts as the single guy), just sitting at an intersection. They told us they had lost two of their teammates. So, we told them about the guy we saw a little earlier.
Off we went to nail a few more CPs. We were hitting them just fine, which made me happy. A bit later in this trek, we ran across member number four of this team who was also just sitting at a trail intersection. He said he was not lost, it was the rest of his team that was lost, so we relayed their last known positions to him. We had a good trek on this leg hitting all the CPs just right. It did get hot as the sun came out at a few points. At one point, Julie convinced us to traverse an old wire fence across a gully instead of trekking around and down through it. This was a bit sketchy, but we all survived. We got to the rappel start at about 5:15. The cutoff for this was 6pm. The volunteers told us that how the leg must be done was quite different compared to previous years and the fastest time so far was 1 hour. I was not sure if I should believe the volunteer or not, but we needed to make a call. This point was easy to get as we were here and no more navigation required, but an hour was not a good investment so we decided to skip it. Bummer for Dustin as this is a cool Sherpa traverse and rappel.
Back in TA, we prepared for the next leg, which was paddling. It was a relatively short paddle as there is not much water here. We were fortunate to find a 3-person canoe in the stash of boats. Only one point gave us trouble as it was shown (on a pre-plotted map) to be in the middle of the water, which meant we likely needed to swim for it. We scanned the water in this area for 10 minutes and could not find it. We decided to skip it and try again on the way back (we are allowed to get these points in any order). Lucky for us we saw a solo guy find the point. It was clearly far from where the map had shown. As we were punching the point, team XMA saw us and was led right to the point... lucky for them. With the paddling done, it was time for our next trek leg. It got dark near the end of the paddle leg.
This one was in an area I recall only visiting once before. There were a few points on top of and near Eagle's Cliff. Too bad we would be visiting these all in the dark, as the view from atop the cliff is quite nice. We found all the points on this leg once again with no issue and we were quickly done with it and back to TA.
Next leg was a bike leg mostly on all the mountain bike trails around the camp. I was truthfully tired and running low on calories, so I decided to take a few risks and cut off all the trail riding we could. This would mean some bushwhacking with our bikes, but I was confident. The first couple of points were good and I was happy with the strategy. But then we got to a spot where I could not find a way to get to one point. I did not want to waste much time on this as we had only skipped two points so far and there were many more points that we could get on the course. One of the last points we had to get was a cave point. I personally hate caves, so I was relieved when Julie told me it was actually at the top of the cave and we did not even need to enter. Yeah!
In TA, we had one leg left, but our 18 hour time limit was quickly approaching. The last leg was all trekking. There were a few close points so we went after them first. Earlier in the day, I had made a mental note for a draw which I thought would lead us to the first point on this leg. Once we started in that draw, I quickly figured out it was wrong. The lack of calories earlier had my stomach in cramps. Fortunately Julie and Dustin jumped right in to help out on the navigation here. We continued up the trail and soon found the correct draw. We found the points we were looking for once in the right draw. At this stage, I was very concerned about going farther from camp and being able to get back in time. If you are late back to the finish after the 18 hour limit, you start losing CPs very quickly. So, we headed back and crossed the finish line.
We ended up as the first coed team overall, and in second place overall behind team XMA. Both of our teams got all the required mandatory points, but they ended up with 2 more optional points. I had a great time with Dustin and Julie racing out here. Thanks to Camp Eagle and Too Cool Racing for creating another super fun race. Everyone on the team had a solid performance and our navigation was quite good, except for the last leg when we picked the wrong draw.
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