Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

October 24, 2014

Moab 24 Hour Adventure Race, 4-5 Oct 2014

Moab.  I've been dreaming of getting down to southern Utah all summer as we've been busy renovating the house and doing whatever other things that kept us from heading down to red rock country.  Finally I made an excuse...there's this adventure hour race in Moab...I just have to do it!

I'd race with AXS racing the previous year in Moab, but this was their finale of of the season, longer than the other 3 races of their series, 24-30 hours in fact!   The mountain biking in the area is superb, so I knew the racing would be fun.

Unfortunately Jim came down with a bad cold the week before the race, and I started worrying, would I get it?  The timing was bad.  Sure enough, the day before I felt a sore throat coming on, but determined to race anyway....I told myself the cold could wait.   Sure enough it did, as through the race I had a cough but nothing too bad.  However, within an hour of finishing the race I had a fever and a full-on cold.    Yuk.

But the race was worth doing and I was happy to be out on the course for every bit of it.

The race really starts the night before at registration, when they hand you a map and a list of grid coordinates.   Then it's a race to see how fast I could plot all the points, pack my gear in the appropriate places, and try to get some sleep for the night too!   Oh, and do a little research on the trails we would be traversing so I could know what I'm in for.

The race started at 8 am with a short run down to the Colorado river carrying our paddles and gear.    The river was pretty high and running strongly from all the rain, so it was a quick 10 miles or so to the first checkpoint.  I was happy to be able to pass a few tandems as I hadn't been in a kayak since 2012.  Of course they were using inflatables and I was in a sea kayak....

After mudding it up getting out of the river, the first transition took us down the river road and up the Portal bike trail.   UP, at least 1000 feet in 2 miles.  I was just happy not to be riding down that trail, and promised myself I would never try it.  It's so steep with sheer drop-offs that several people have died doing it.  I just tried not to die from breathing through my sore throat while practically carrying my bike up the trail.

Once on the top, we switched over to the Poison Spider trail system, used by jeeps and razors and whatever other motorized vehicles people are brave enough to bring up to this plateau.   The trails were not very clear, and there were racers in every direction pedaling over the slick rock looking for the next checkpoint.   It's hard to hide 100 bikes though, and I gratefully dropped mine and headed out on foot for the rappel, which was up and over some steep slick rock to a half arch near the trail going up to Corona Arch.  http://hikerdawn.blogspot.com/2013/04/corona-arch-moab-utah.html I visited this last year, but it didn't really help with race navigation, unfortunately.

The 200 foot rappel was pretty cool, but I was kinda shell shocked by then and and just happy to have found it at all.  Soon enough I was at the bottom heading back into transition.  Since my bike was still on top of the plateau, I just had to grab more water and head out again.   My strategy was simple...keep someone else in sight so I can find checkpoints at Jeep Arch and the waterfall.   It sort of worked...I kept another solo woman in sight, but when it came to finding the waterfall, she would have gone right past it and I had to divert both of us into the drainage.   I should just trust my own navigation to start with!

The waterfall involved getting wet in a slot canyon, as I slipped and went in up to my waist...but it was really hot in the middle of the day so it felt good.  Then I was on my own for a while, slowly hiking up terrain I don't think anyone but racers had been been in for a long time.  I had a goal...go up the hill...but it wasn't easy to see which way wouldn't have cliffs.  Every so often I would see a footstep in the soil and know that at least someone else in the race had come this way.

Finally I thought I could see the place where I had left my bike.  By then it felt like the entire race had passed me as I toiled through the rocks...but I was amazed to see many, many bikes still there.    Back on the Poison Spider trail, I knew which way to go at least, even if I was pushing my bike more than riding it.   There were some ridable sections but a lot of it was scary.  Perhaps I should ride my mountain bike more than 3 times in preparation for a race like this....   The classic moment was on the way down some really steep stuff, when a Razor (4 person all terrain vehicle) comes zooming by me while easing down some super huge rocks!     I'm racing the dark by this point, and I don't want to stop and get my lights out because that would take longer than the daylight I have left.   The descent is slow but finally I'm back at the river, digging out my lights and riding back to transition at Gold Bar.

(Photo courtesy of AXS Facebook page)
In the moonlight, I then kayak off into the river lit only by glowsticks.    Large splashes in the water were beavers splatting their tails at me, otherwise it was quiet.   It was rather surreal, and I stopped paddling in the dark occasionally just to watch the trees go by on the dim shoreline.    With wet shoes at a very awkward pullout, I start the long loop hike around Amasa Back and the Cliff Hanger jeep trail.  I knew it would take me at least 3 hours for the loop, which went up and over a high plateau, this time across the river from the Poison Spider trail.  The hardest part was getting from the river to the trail...it was dense river growth, patches of cockle burs, and the occasional beaver hole.  I couldn't see 10 feet through the willows, and with compass in hand, I pushed through facing east as close as I could.  It was demoralizing, pitch black, and although I could hear other teams I had no idea where they were.  Suddenly I was out of it and on a wide gravel trail.  It was like the lights had just come on...moonlight at least!

Not too long into what would be a 5 1/2 hour trek, I realized I had mismanaged my food packing and only had a wedge of cheese, a couple of Nutter Butters and some gummy bears for the whole trip round.  Oops.   Luckily I wasn't that hungry and rationed my bites to last me the whole way back to the kayak.  It was warm, calm, and quiet...I barely saw anyone the whole time and just enjoyed walking in the moonlight, even if I was stumbling over the rough rocks.

At 3 in the morning I pushed through the cockle burs back to the kayak, getting at least 50 stuck on my shorts and fleece.  I picked enough off that I could sit comfortably in the boat and 10 minutes later I was done with water for the race.   I was ticking off sections as I was starting to get tired....no more trekking, no more kayaking....

The guys at the checkpoint had a roaring fire going, and it was hard to slip on my rollarblades for the trip back up the river.  The moon had set, so I first tripped across a lot of gravel to get to what was a rough road for rollarblades.   Bummer.   I did manage to see a ringtail (it's an animal that looks somewhat like a pretty raccoon), but otherwise it was dark and quiet.   I did restock my food at the checkpoint tho, so I could munch and as I went.

Back at the transition for the final time, it was the last stage, a mountain bike down river, then UP, UP, UP to the high plateau near Dear Horse Point State Park, and back to the finish.   It's pitch black as I head out, and pitch black as I took the turnoff for the big climb up Long Canyon Road.  Oh yeah, and the river washed the gravel road out but it's still possible to get through with a bike.   Yay, just what I want at 5 in the morning after racing for 20 hours already.   At one point I absolutely can't find where to go and get discouraged.  I sit down for a rest and a team of guys catches me up, showing me which way to go and providing some light and human contact in a very dark canyon.  We climb above river level and the road gets better, but I'm pushing what seems like for hours to get up the steep road to 3000 feet above the river.   By then it's sunrise, and I see the sun come up from a beautiful point looking over the canyons.

At least from here it was mostly downhill to the finish...but it would take me another 4 hours to traverse the 7-Up trail (which was really fun!) as it got hot and sunny and I was almost out of water.   Finally I hit pavement and a new, nice paved bike trail past Arches National Park and back down into Moab.  I hadn't seen another racer since 6 am and I suddenly wondered if anyone was still racing.   Of course they were, but I learned later that quite a few teams were demoralized by the dense willows at the trek and had bypassed the trek and even the final mountain bike.

My final time was 26 hours 25 minutes.  I finished 3rd woman in the race, and 10th overall, out of about 50 teams.     I was only about 1:20 behind the lead woman...so I always think...perhaps next year I could win?

Results are here:  http://axsracing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014MoabFinaleRacers.pdf

And you can read another teams blog here: http://www.breathemag.ca/news/adventure-racing/team-journey-milt-s-stop-eat-wins-moab

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