Too Cool Racing decided to put on their first night race (that I recall) a couple weekends ago. It's pretty rare in Texas for races to start at night so I thought it would be fun. As a big bonus, the race would happen at Colorado Bend State Park. I raced here (in daylight), many years ago and recalled it was a very fun park with lots of contours to work with. I do recall being lost in that race a while back. I have been steadily working to improve my navigation now that most of my normal Team Vignette folks have decided to move away. With my work schedule, I was not sure I would be home, so I signed up as a solo racer, but as luck turned out about 2 weeks before the race, Julie Standing texted me and asked to join me for the fun. So, we ended up racing as a coed team of two for this one.
A few days prior to the race, the race director sent out a team list. I made the mistake of commenting to Julie that none of the "normal" top teams from Texas were signed up for the race, so we would just have fun and take it easy.
The lead up to this race was very odd. There was no camping out the night before, or getting up at 4am to drive to the race site. The race would start at 8pm on a Saturday night, so I got to stay home and enjoy all of my Saturday before the race. Julie met me at my house and we threw her gear in my truck so we could take just one car to the race site. Julie brought along a friend (Laura), who was super excited to see what adventure racing was all about and was happy to serve as our support crew for the night (thanks!). Our first race obstacle was when we arrived at the race: The large park gates that led to the TA were closed. There were several teams hanging around the gates not sure what to do. We called the race directors but there was no answer (poor cell service here). Laura was having none of this so she jumped out of the truck to find the gates were not locked and swung them open. Someone must have accidentally closed them, or something.
The drive to TA was all downhill from the park entrance, and to get into the TA area we had to cross a stream about a foot deep. No problem for my truck, but some folks with small cars had to park on the other side of the creek and make a short walk to TA. Since my truck could ford the waters, we chose to simply TA off the tailgate of the truck (and the bed of the truck served as Laura's sleep spot when Julie and I were out playing in the woods).
In TA, we were a bit surprised to find Masters of the Universe (Gabe and Helena). They were not on the previously published team list. They told us they decided last minute come out. Well so much for us getting to take it easy! At the race start, we were given maps and passport as usual, but no UTMs to plot. Instead the only instruction was to go the waterfall for further instructions.
I guess I should have actually looked over the park maps before showing up to this race, but I did not, so it took a few moments to figure out where we were and where we were heading. Unfortunately, since I dallied around a bit, the shortest path was for us to run through the water we drove into camp on. But no problem, Julie and I don't mind wet feet (along with several other teams). We passed lots of teams on the way to the waterfall as it was about a mile trail run. There were several teams already there when we arrived (including Masters). We were given our UTMs to plot and away we went. We plotted quickly on our topo map, but then we spent time transferring all the points to a second map we were given. This second map was also a topo of the park with most all of the trails plotted on the map. This second map is what we would use for the whole race. One caveat is that the trails are "pretty close" but not exact and don't show all the twists and turns in the trail, which is typical.
So, off we went in search of our first CP in the race. It was still little bit light outside so that was nice for the start. We started off with several teams but then we all seemed to pick a different direction. There were actually 2 races going on at the same time. Both were 12 hour long races. The race we were doing (Adventure course) required more navigation and UTM plotting. The other race (Sport) used pre-plotted trail maps and all the CPs were actually on trails, so only basic navigation skills were required. As we headed toward the first CP, we made a plan to get them all.
It did not take long for us to run into problems. On the way to the very first CP, I was telling Julie I was nervous as there were not any great features on the trail we were on to find this one in case it was off the trail (it plotted right on the trail). Well, we passed it up and found the next CP, which was on the trail, so we backtracked along with another team. We went back and forth in what we thought was the correct area a few times. We decided to work with this other team (No Talent Ass Clowns - NTAC, yes, that is their name). At least we both agreed on how we had it plotted and where we thought we were on the trail. The trail at that point was high above a creek. It was getting dark now so we could no longer use the bends in the creek to verify our position from our high vantage point. We spent 30-40 minutes back and forth looking for this point. We debated with this other team if we should skip it (if we skip a point, and others get it, we would lose to them even if we finished the course much faster). This was especially hard to swallow as it was the first point we were going after. Before leaving, I suggested we go down the cliff to the creek and try to attack it from the bottom. Well, it took us only moments to find the point once in the creek. We were in the right spot all along, but the point was just down near the creek, not up on the cliff. ARGHH, but we found in and now we could carry on.
We figured we wasted plenty of time here so we better get to hustling. We decided to head for the caving checkpoint next as this one had a time window to complete it. We made good time running the trails. We ran into our friends from NTAC, they decided to go to the creek after we did and found the point also. We were running well, so we pulled away from them and got to the cave. We did come across a few sprint teams who were very confused at an intersection so I gave them some quick directions and they were grateful. I am no fan of caves, but thankfully at the pre-race Robyn had said only one teammate was required to go in the cave. Julie will do anything (as long as it does not involve heights), so she volunteered to do this section. I had a nice meal of SPIZ and studied the maps for our next few moves. Soon enough Julie popped out and said it was fun. She said she had to feign a panic attack to speed up some teams ahead of her that were busy taking pictures!
The remainder of the CPs on this leg went just fine. Back in TA, we arrived about five minutes behind Masters. They too must have had some difficulty on this leg. Next up was a bike leg. Masters is quite good on the bike, so we figured we better bike hard to minimize any losses. We plotted all our points and got out of TA just ahead of Masters. The bike was non-eventful other than Julie crashing about 30 times! Fortunately no sticks up the nose or any other serious injuries. Lots of the trails out here are quite technical, and at night you can get in trouble pretty quickly. We arrived back in TA about the same time as Masters. No other teams were very close behind at this stage.
Next up was another trek leg. Julie and I were both feeling pretty good on this leg and moving well, so off we went. We ran a good bit of this segment. We hit all the CPs on this leg dead on. On our last CP, we caught up to Masters. We tried to outrun them to the next CP, but no chance as we had to both stop to look at maps a few times. We did pick a slightly better route to the CP, so Julie and I punched it first but Masters was just moments behind us. Now it was several miles (mostly downhill) back to TA. Once we hit the main park road, we figured we could outrun them, but no such luck at all, Masters was running super well in the cooler night air. This race was tight with both of our teams coming into TA together more than halfway into the race. As we rounded the last curve into TA, I heard Gabe discussing getting the last CP for them on this leg. Fortunately, Julie and I had gotten this one already so we were now one CP ahead (about 15 minutes). All of this running must have paid off on this leg.
Julie had not heard that Masters had one more point to get and made a straight line shot for the check in table. It just so happens she picked a very deep part of the creek to plow through to get to the check in. So all I heard was a yell and a splash and she was gone! Some other racer families saw her go in and asked if I was going to go help her. I told them that Julie is far tougher and faster than I, so she would be fine. I think the spectators were a bit shocked at my lack of concern. But of course she still got us checked in and back to our TA area before I was ready.
In TA, Laura helped fill our water up in our packs as we prepped for the next leg. It would be a paddle downstream and back. Looking at the map, I was a little nervous as the river is just straight here and there were no real features to use to look for the CPs. Yes, they were in draws off the river, but it was dark and those draws are super hard to see, even when standing next to them. We decided to use time as a rough estimator of how far to go. We docked early for the first CP but didn't waste too much time. We then found the right location shortly afterwards and punched 1 of the 2 CPs for this leg.
At some point in a shallow section of the water, a fish jumped in our kayak and landed at my feet. I wanted to fix Julie and myself some Sushi, but she claimed we had no time to eat a proper Sushi meal so we threw it back and carried on. The next point was easier to find, as there was a slight bend in the river just after this CP. We now had both CPs punched so it was time to paddle back upstream. About halfway back, Masters came flying past us (still heading down to get the CPs). They are strong paddlers and were not playing around, so Julie yelled at me to paddle harder a few times. As we neared the boat launch several teams were just getting out to the paddle so we exchanged hello's.
In TA, we were given the final part of the race, which was another bike leg. We were told the trails in this part of the race were very overgrown so we should be careful with route finding. Julie was pushing me hard on the bike, but since it was cooler outside and I was feeling good, I pushed as hard as I could. We found the couple of CPs no problem. We then ran across a very large porcupine sauntering down the trail. I have actually never seen a porcupine while adventure racing. We both stopped to have a quick look. I dared Julie to go smack in on the butt, but once again, she said we had racing to do, so we passed on the porcupine quill fun.
Our next trail obstacle was much more formidable. We came up behind a large skunk that was not very happy at all to see us out there. The skunk lifted its tail and decided to run down the trail to get away from us. The only problem is we needed to go down that trail. The usually brave Julie wimped out and did not want to run over the skunk. We must have followed that skunk for 3-5 minutes as it just kept running down the trail. Finally it got tired and went off in the woods and spared both of us a stinky shower.
We found the last few CPs no problem. There were multiple route choices for this leg so we had no idea if Masters had picked a better route and made up time, so we continued to bike as fast as we could all the way back to TA. This was the final time we would head down hill toward TA. The sun was just starting to come up. Nice to be on bikes for sure as it was a very fast bike down the park road. Upon arrival in TA, we turned in our passport to prove we had been to all the correct locations and learned that we were the first team to arrive. So it was official, we had won.
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