Back again for the 12th edition of TooCoolRacing's "The Big Chill" adventure race.
I have done this race since the very first year.
Here is a throwback picture from the first year of this race.
Wow, I really need to upgrade a few things. I still have that same boat, same paddle, same PFD, and same arm warmers. Too bad I don't have the same hair color any longer. OK, enough old stuff.
For the last couple of years, my team configuration seems to change every race. This time, it would be Dustin Branton, Chris McWaters and Leslie Reuter. I have raced with all three of them in the past. I had not raced with Leslie in many years. Heck, she hasn't done an adventure race in over five years.
This year's race would be a 12 hour event, and was based out of Bastrop South Shore park. The format for the race was: Maps and course booklet were handed out at 8:30am and we had an hour to plot our maps, and plan a course. We were required to do a boat drop, so it was not difficult to figure out where the paddle start would be, as well as guess the likely paddle finish. This was less than exciting to me, as I have not been paddle training for a while and this would be a 14+ mile paddle more than likely.
We all met up at the Transition Area (TA) at about 8am to setup a transition table for ourselves. We got our maps and went back to my Travel Trailer to plot in the warmth (it was a cold morning, about 30 degrees). The course was laid out just like I had anticipated. We would be bussed to the starting area, where we would immediately start a paddle. Then, we would do an urban navigation section on foot around the city of Bastrop. Next up would be a biking leg, then finally a trekking section in Bastrop State Park. Overall, there would not be much navigation until the last leg, so it was just about covering lots of distance for most of the race.
We all loaded up on buses and off we went at 10am. There were specific instructions repeated at the start: Boat portaging was not allowed. (That meant we couldn't skip the paddle and just run down the road with our boats.) The Colorado River winds around a huge amount and portaging would save many miles of paddling.
Art Cook (race director) lined us all up at 10:30am and basically said "Go". We grabbed our boats and sprinted to the water. It was a small area to launch boats and we knew it would get super congested. Fortunately we were the first boats in the water.
The paddle itself was uneventful. We paddled well and got through all the small rapids with no issue. There was not much water movement, but at least we never had to get out of boats to get over shallows. About 2.5 hours after starting, we pulled boats out in downtown Bastrop. We were all alone, as we had put a gap on the other boats.
At the takeout we were given some maps of downtown Bastrop TX and instructions. Here we needed to find 16 specific art installations (basically, electrical transformers that were painted with various scenes). We had to take a picture with the art and all our team mates to prove we were there. We quickly figured out the general area where all these would be and off we went.
Another few teams were pulling boats out when we were about to take off, which upped the pressure to hurry up and move. The first half of transformers were all very close to the boat drop area. We quickly grabbed pictures of them all, and then I noticed, I no longer had the actual race maps. This was not good. We all checked our packs and confirmed nobody had them. We cannot continue without those maps. We were only one half of a mile from boat drop, so we just ran the same route backwards and looked at every photo location to see if we found our maps. Fortunately, the maps were at the boat takeout so we grabbed them (and secured them) and off we went again.
There were lots of people around now, so we panicked a bit. This mistake cost us about 5 minutes, and I hoped it would not be a determining factor of the race outcome. We grabbed the last few pictures on the far side of town.
Now we had to get back to the main TA in South Shore Park. There were two route options. We chose the Hoffman Road option to avoid traffic and highway running. Everyone was moving well, so we were able to run all the Bastrop urban sections and all the way back to TA. This foot section came in right at 5 miles.
Back to the main TA we confirmed we were the first team back, but we had no idea if other teams were only seconds behind us. We knew we were biking next and already had the route planned, so we made a super speedy transition and got out of there before anyone else arrived.
The first part of the bike course was on the north-south trail. It was fast riding, and we grabbed the two CPs that were located on bridges. Next up was lots of road riding. CPs were hidden below the road in large culverts. This all went well with Leslie jumping into the ditches to punch most of these CPs.
About half way through, we ran into one small problem in that the route I had planned was blocked by a gate. (The maps we were using are very old and don't show newer construction). This road was now a dead end and it was private land. I chose to just turn north and figured we could cut through one of the next roads on the map... except it was now a prison. We all agreed we shouldn't jump all the razor wired fences just to save some distance. We ended up biking a few miles around this to get back on track. No problem, and I suspect the other teams all had a similar experience.
About half way through the ride all the roads became gravel, so it slowed us down a bit, but not much. Leslie and I were taking turns at the front of the pace line. We were able to keep a strong pace. The next interesting spot was when dozens of cows were in the middle of the road. Us three guys all slowed a little and Leslie rocketed off the front of us and starting yelling "MOOOOO". The cows all scattered so us brave men could come through. I think we all felt a little wimpy after that. The rest of the bike points were all fine and we made it back to TA. I clocked about 25 miles for this bike leg.
Back in TA my wife and one of my kids showed up; it's always nice to see them at a race. The final leg of the race would be a trekking leg around Bastrop State Park. I was happy to finally be getting to this as there had been almost no real navigation up to this point. With all of us feeling good and no teams back on bikes, we headed out towards the park.
It is a couple mile road run to get to the park to get started. We passed a couple of teams just getting back for the first time from the paddle leg. They had problems on the water and flipped boats and had a very cold morning. But the great thing is that adventure racers keep going!
Since we had been moving very well all day, it would still be daylight for us for the start of the navigation. We ran everything except the uphills on the way to the park (even though Leslie was ready to run the uphills also!). The park is a real mess with all the fires in that area. Moving through the woods is just very hard because you cannot go five feet without crawling over dead burned fallen trees.
The first CP was in a draw off a creek. All the dead trees made it difficult to head directly for the area of the correct draw, so we jumped in the wrong one. I quickly knew it was wrong so we just jumped over a couple times until we hit the right draw then found the CP flag.
The next CP was cross country from our location, but we were moving so incredibly slow climbing over all the stuff, that we decided to head straight for a park road then run around on roads and real trails to get close to the next CP which happened to be next to a pond. We all were running well, so this made good sense. We actually were able to see the CP from pretty far away from the direction we hit it, but still took a long time to actually get to it and punch the CP (once again, due to all the junk on the ground).
Back to trail and roads to head for the next two CPs. We chose to take the old road bed to get close to the last two points. We did a bit of pace counting and terrain following as we had no idea if the road on the map still matched up due to all the fires in this park. Fortunately the road and map matched up pretty well. We got to the right area. I told the team that we would follow a draw to the CP which was at a pond. The moon was out and pretty bright already. Immediately, Leslie pointed out a pond glistening in the moonlight. Well, that was easy. We bushwhacked through all the deadfall and punched the CP.
Back to the road bed and heading on to our final CP in this park. The road continued much farther than the map showed, which was great. This road took us very close to the final CP in a draw. We quickly located that one also.
Now we had to decide the best way back to the TA area. I had no idea if any of the park trails were still intact to get us back to park roads, so we chose to just re-trace our path as we knew that route was open and we were all still able to run, so run we did, for the several miles back to TA. We actually had two CPs left in the park near the finish line. The first one at a "tip of land" was actually quite tricky to find as it was buried deep in some nasty brush. The final CP had us pass the finish line and out to a park bench. We punched it and then crossed the finish line 9 hours and 33 minutes after the race started.
Great team for this race with some really nice weather. Thanks to TooCool for putting on another year of this amazing race.
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