The newly created Find-a-Teammate Forum on their website let me troll for a 2 or 4 person team, and 3 guys soon rang me up looking for a girl to make a coed quad team. We managed to meet each other for the first time a few days before the race, when we went for a ride on the singletrack mountain biking trails near the race start at Seven Oaks Ski Resort. In dry conditions, the trails were still tough, with lots of short, sharp uphills and switchbacks. The designers managed to fit almost 7 miles of trail into a very small forest, mostly by making us ride frequent switchbacks up the hillsides, but the dense trees made each trail seem isolated, and it was really cool to find such a trail so near where I had grown up.
On to the race, though. Packet pickup was on Friday night, so I got the LARGE topo map and list of map coordinates, then met up with the team to plot controls and make a plan. As we put our heads together, the thunder and lightning crashed outside and the rain poured down. We knew that would affect the singletrack trails and perhaps the river levels. I was keen to see what differences there would be between racing in the UK and the USA, and the map was the first obvious biggie. It was much huger than what I was used to, and more importantly was missing the premarked controls, so we had to plot our own. None of us had much practice at that, so we went slowly and double checked all of our locations carefully.
I would be riding a borrowed bike without my own cleats and pedals, but using running shoes and flat pedals turned out to be a bonus in this race. I counted up the transitions and saw that we would have to switch on and off the bike NINE times during the race. Carrying bike shoes and changing that often would be nothing but a waste of time.
The rain was finished by the 7 am start of the race, and it wasn’t as cold or windy
The first trek took us about an hour, out along the Des Moines river and through some dense forests. After just a few hundred feet of bashing through the trees, we were careful to try and stay on the trails every chance we could, even if it was a little longer, it was still faster. The second control was an island in the middle of a pond, and Joe gamely volunteered to wade out to it with the passport to punch in, while Eric, Ron and I cheered him on.
We pitied the poor souls who had chosen to actually ride the singletrack, and blazed through it without much trouble as the guys were familiar with the area and led us straight to the points. The map wasn’t much help, as the topography was quite accurate but the roads and trails were only minimally marked and not very useful. I must admit that I was bragging about the UK maps I’ve gotten used to, and how great it is to see every road and trail clearly marked on the map.
With three trekking sections in a row due to the rain, we were 11 miles and 3 hours into the race before we finally got on our bikes. My teammates were feeling the strain by then, as this race would be the longest and farthest they had ever gone. Very shortly into the biking section was a steep hill, and Ron quickly realized that he hadn’t gotten enough training in, and felt that continuing on would be a mistake. We were willing to slow down the pace to get the team to finish together, but knew that it would be a very long day out if we were struggling this early on. So we rode back to transition to drop off an obviously frustrated and disappointed teammate, and Team Four-Runners continued on as a threesome.
The rest of the biking was fast and straightforward on gravel roads, and they brought us to Don Williams lake for the canoeing section. We all piled into one canoe, and three paddlers in one boat made quick work of the lake. But the lake itself was a bit tricky due to really low water levels, as they had drained the lake the year previously and dry conditions this spring hadn’t filled it back up. We tried a little portage to save time across a peninsula, but took the wrong line, so it didn’t help or hurt much…except for the fact that we accidentally dumped Joe in the lake as we pulled the boat out of the water. He came up sputtering but didn’t complain much!
Back on the bike to Holst State Forest, where a small but tricky orienteering section in the woods had us really happy with our navigation skills. We had found all of the controls so far, but not everyone was so lucky, as a team ahead of us left the woods with only 1 of the 3 controls in that section.
Another short bike led us to Barkley State Park and another orienteering section, this one literally in my backyard as I had lived within a mile of this ravine until I went off to college. But don’t try to visit this area with a picnic basket, there are absolutely no roads leading in or out of the park! There are a few ATV trails, which we trusted would lead us to the controls (they mostly did). Once again we used the small topography clues to pull us into the controls, carefully counting spurs and valleys to find the correct locations. We sucked in a few other teams along the way who were hopelessly lost and grateful to finally find the flag and punch their passports.
A final bike back down to the river valley and YMCA camp led us back to the finish 9 ½ hours later. We were really happy to finish in 5th place overall, out of 29 teams doing the long course.
Well ahead of us were the 2 combined teams of GearJunkie/WEDALI, who proved that they were still on top after their win at last year's USARA Championship.
Results are here (We are Team Four-Runners)