Ahh fall… Nights lengthen, chilly breezes set in, and crunchy leaves fill the trails of California. For Team “And Loving It!” fall is also the season of adventure, extreme physical challenge, crazy situations, teamwork, pain, laughter, and friendship. It’s Gold Rush season!
The Gold Rush is an epic adventure race put on by race organizers Adrian Crane and Mark Richardson. It is held in the wild and beautiful “Gold Country” of the Sierra Nevada. Adrian and Mark have extensive adventure racing credentials and consistently put on a first class event.
Last year had been the first year since 2003 that we did not participate in a Gold Rush adventure race. Our last Gold Rush (a Mother Lode 4 day race) in 2011 had been one of extreme highs and lows. We had endured an exceptionally hard race and had come within a few hours of finishing when Kathy fell on the final bike ride on a muddy dirt road and broke her ribs. The sting of that final day in 2011 lingered with all of us (though Kathy’s ribs had thankfully healed after about 6 painful weeks).
2013 would hopefully be a year of redemption and success in one of the biggest and most challenging adventure races in the world. Our usual teammate, Tom Proulx, was not able to join us this year, so I asked my old friend Roy Lambertson to join our team. Roy is an avid outdoorsman, backcountry skier, backpacker, and climber. His even keel, positive outlook, and thoughtful demeanor would be perfect for our team. I was delighted to hear his affirmative response. Despite not having any adventure racing experience at all, Roy enthusiastically jumped right in.
From the beginning, we knew that this race would pose unique challenges for us. We had never done an unsupported expedition-length race like this before. There would be no one to prepare warm food for us when we arrived at a transition area. No tent and sleeping bags would be set up for us. Even worse, we would have to assemble and disassemble our bikes so that they could be boxed and transported between legs of the race. We would only have two tote boxes for extra gear. If it was not in the box, it would not be available to us for the race. Planning would be key.
We trained and arranged gear in the months leading up to the race. We hiked Black Mountain repeatedly, and we biked up Monte Bello Road over and over. We felt ready as race day approached.
I picked up the U-Haul trailer the night before leaving for Long Barn in the Sierra gold country. We would box our bikes and haul them in the trailer with our gear. This would give us plenty of room in the car so we could drive up together. On Tuesday evening we headed out – arriving in Long Barn in the late evening. We settled in for the night.
Wednesday was registration day. (Don’t miss a great video of registration day that includes multiple clips of us at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bQbEIhT4yA). We ascended a free hanging rope and then rappelled down, swam in the chilly but refreshing pool, and showed the race volunteers our mandatory gear. We were interviewed by University of Cincinnati students who would be making a documentary film of the race as a class project. Importantly, we also arranged our food and decided on the clothing we would pack in our race boxes. The race organizers wanted our gear boxes and our boxed bikes this evening. We were told that we will start out on foot and then transition to kayaks.
Finally on Wednesday night we had the pre-race briefing. We got to see all of the teams assembled in one place. This would be the only North American qualifier for the World Adventure Racing Championships that would be held in Costa Rica this year. There were teams from all around the United States, and teams from Sweden, Denmark, Uruguay and Paraguay. There were many truly elite athletes who would be clearly competing for the win, but there were a few teams, including ours, with older (masters) athletes. As always, we had absolutely no chance of winning this race, but that has never been our objective. Our goals: Have Fun, Be Safe, and Finish (hopefully leading the way among the older teams). Before the briefing we had the yummy pasta and salad dinner, were introduced to the University of Cincinnati students who would be filming the race, and watched the first 15 minutes or so of the movie that they produced from last year’s race (superb, and very professional). We then settled down to business as we raptly listened to Adrian Crane and Mark Richardson’s briefing. We got the maps, and then plotted the points. This is always a bit stressful, but also fun and challenging. We got to bed without the usual fussing with clothes and food since we had already committed on these items and had packed our boxes. I got a pretty good night of sleep.
The next morning we arose before sunrise, dressed and did the final packing of our backpacks. We then all boarded a bus for the New Melones reservoir. The reservoir was very low (it has been a very dry year). This could pose some navigational challenges on the water as new islands could surface with the low water levels, and the shoreline would surely change as well. As we were getting our gear ready, we were approached by Firestarters captain Carey Gregg. The Firestarters are another “age challenged” team with two members who are actually 10 years older than us! Carey told us that they were planning to skip checkpoints 2-5 and head straight up the reservoir to the Stanislaus River and CP6/TA1. This would cut out about half of the kayaking distance, cut out a small hiking section, and give us a better chance of getting through the remainder of the race. We considered our options, and then agreed as a team that this would be a good option for us as well.
At the starting line, I pulled out my trusty waterproof camera. I take this camera on all our adventure races and had charged it up at home before heading out. We posed for a team picture at the start, but somehow, the camera had been turned on and the battery had drained. It was dead. What a disappointment. Roy had a non-waterproof camera, but I would not be taking pictures en-route for this race. At least the University of Cincinnati crew was at work to record the event!
3-2-1-Go! (See a video of the start and kayak at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtdiU1CmeNo)
We started on a short run on a trail along the side of the reservoir. There were quite a few cameras, as well as a “drone” helicopter thingy shooting a GoPro movie for the University of Cincinnati project. Running at the beginning of the race is not our strength. We definitely were not interested in wiping ourselves out right away (it is a 3 ½ day race after all!), but we still had to at least trot out of the gates to not look bad for the cameras (though, if you look closely, we were the absolute last people through the start gate on the video). The other teams took off ahead of us, and we brought up the rear. We finished the run in last place (just behind the Firestarters), got our kayaks, and hauled them to the edge of the lake. The mud was thick and deep, and one of my legs sunk into the mud all the way up to my thigh as I was working my way onto the open faced kayak that was provided by the race organizers. While all of the other teams went left, we went right (a few minutes behind the Firestarters), and headed towards the Stanislaus.
The paddle was long and uneventful. The navigation was pretty straightforward. While running, we had scouted and identified the arm of the lake that we wanted to paddle up. In about 15 miles we would get to the end of the lake. Where the Stanislaus River flows into the lake there would be a buoy where we were instructed to tie up our kayaks, swim to shore, and then work our way up the river valley on foot to the “Transition Area” (TA).
Except… At the end of the lake, there was NO BUOY! We reached the end of the lake with the Firestarters. Maybe the lake level had dropped and we would find the buoy a little up river. The current was far too strong to paddle upriver, so we got out of our kayaks and walked upstream, pulling our kayaks and gear. The riverbed was quite sandy/muddy and there were areas where the bed was so soft that we would sink in to our knees. Fortunately we did not lose our shoes!
Maybe the buoy is around the next bend…. We hauled our kayaks further upstream. Maybe it will be around the next one…. Onward…. It seems like we should have passed it by now…. Let’s look at the map. The buoy should be where the river is going in this direction, but we are heading in that direction. Maybe around the next turn? We keep going…. This is pretty tough…. Weren’t there some fishermen where the lake turned into river?
Roy raised the possibility that the fishermen were tied to the buoy and we didn’t see it. We had slogged pretty far up this river. We were with the Firestarters and agreed that this was a possibility. We ran back along the bank to the fishermen to see if there was a buoy there – and there definitely was not. The fishermen were still there and they told us they had not seen a buoy anywhere in the area. We ran back to our teammates. The Firestarters decided to ditch the kayaks where we were along the bank and head up the canyon on foot. Good idea – we did the same. If we see a buoy from the bank we can always come back to get the boats.
We then had a fun cross country scramble for a couple of miles along the banks of the beautiful Stanislaus River. We never saw a buoy. We waded across the river, filtered water, and climbed up the bank to reach CP6/TA1. It was mid-afternoon.
Hiking up the Stanislaus river canyon
At the TA, we assembled our bikes (this was not as big a deal as I thought it might be – though I would be responsible for Kathy’s bike too!). We added food to our packs, and then set out on a long bike section which would take us through the night. This was going to be a bit of a slog. We were starting at about 1000 feet of elevation and would be gaining and losing elevation, eventually rising to 5000 feet before reaching the next TA sometime tomorrow. We would definitely be sleeping out tonight. Our chosen route looked relatively straightforward, but there would be a few sections where we would have to make a game-time decision on route. We left the TA before the Firestarters. All the teams were behind us at this point on the course.
The going got tough right away. The afternoon sun was hot and the climb was steep. As the hours wore on, Roy was having some trouble and did not keep up with his hydration and food. Roy is a very strong athlete, but he was riding my old hardtail bike, had a rack with gear on the back of the bike, and had a large pack to boot. He was also having some trouble with exercise-induced asthma. We finally climbed up onto Grant Ridge, which we would continue to climb, with all of its undulations, for many miles. When it got really steep, we walked and pushed our bikes.
Up on the ridge, there was not much water. The race organizers had warned us about this, so we were on constant lookout for water to pump or treat. At one point, Kathy was completely out, and the rest of us were very low. We ran across a stagnant pool of water in a stream bed. The water didn’t look particularly appealing, but it was definitely H2O and we were definitely in need. We pumped. We drank.
The sun finally set and we switched on our headlamps. We had already made a plan for sleep, thanks to some advice from race organizer Mark Richardson. He told us that the best time to sleep in a race is in the early night, shortly after sunset. The air is not so cold, and ground is still a bit warm. After a few hours of sleep, your body is recharged and ready for activity. You then attack the coldest and hardest part of the night when you are rested and have the most energy. This made a lot of sense. Kathy and Scott began scouting ahead for a place to bed down.
We finally reached a high ridge with a beautiful moonlit view. It was a remarkably warm but breezy. We were at about 3300 feet. The topo map showed that this was an old mining area (Lucky Strike Mine and Gold Ridge Mine). Kathy and Scott had noted that there were some large pits that had been dug into the ground some time ago. Trees overhung the pits. The pits were filled with a bed of soft crunchy leaves, and the pits were well protected from the wind. A perfect place to sleep! We took off our packs, and agreed that we would sleep for three hours. We put on all of our warm clothes and hats, set an alarm, and laid down out of the wind in the soft bed of leaves at the bottom of the pit. The glow of moonlight filtered through the trees overhead.
Epilogue on Day 1:
No real mistakes. We were happy we had shortened the kayak section. The hike up the river canyon and the transition to bikes would have been much harder at night. It was fun to be “in the lead” on the course. We all had been a bit worried about the bivy for the night, but the spot we chose to sleep and the weather were perfect. As far as the buoy, we later learned that the race organizers did not anticipate that teams would be at that location so soon, so they had not yet set up the buoy yet. They eventually retrieved our kayaks from the river valley without incident. Check out how the other teams were doing behind us in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=illXB92fwqU
It took me a little while to fall asleep, and I was awakened a few times as I heard other teams pass, but the sleep was definitely restful. We all, including Roy, felt much stronger when we got up and going at around 1:00 AM. Check Point 7 (CP 7) was just a mile ahead on the trail. We were passed by the team from Paraguay along the way. We continued on, and made one of our game-time route decisions on the way to CP 8. We made a good choice as we encountered Paraguay (who were faster than us) again at CP 8. They bedded down there and we kept going! Yeah!
More biking. The sun came up. We bagged CP 9. We were nearly out of water again, when we ran across a little puddle that was obviously in an area where there had been cows. Roy noted that there were cow pies nearby and accidentally kicked a piece of a cow pie into the water! Embarrased, he pulled it out. Despite the obvious contamination, we were in need again. It was definitely water. The water filter said it would filter out all bacteria. We put our full trust in the micropore technology of the filter and pumped this water through the filter and into our water bladders. Surprisingly, the water tasted pretty good! No taste of contamination.
We continued to follow a pretty good dirt road gently uphill as it dipped in and out of reentrants (5 right turns to go!). We peaked out at over 5000 feet and then descended a few hundred feet. The road to the CP10/TA2 went sharply uphill again, so we pushed our bikes in. It was about noon.
Many of the top teams had just left TA2 shortly before we arrived. The Firestarters had arrived a little before us. Next up would be an incredibly long (> 70 mile) hike section with the ropes section in the middle of it. We were told that the top teams were expecting to be out for 30 to 40 hours. That would mean a minimum of 60 hours for us – which would make it impossible to finish the race. We would have to short-course some more. We had time to be out for what would essentially be a two-day backpacking trip. Ominously, we heard that the weather was about to change and there was a pretty good chance of rain. As we disassembled and boxed up our bikes, and loaded up on food and clothes, we considered our options. (See a video of the trekking section with teams realizing that they may not be able to finish the entire trek here. It finishes with a very cool look at the ropes section: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmodedNBmNE)
The ropes section would be absolutely epic (See a video of the ropes section here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh0TARJVKyM). A huge jumar climb up a rope that included 200 feet of overhang. A dramatic tyrolean traverse (I have never done that!). Another huge rappel. Two years ago, the ropes section was a highlight - a real adrenaline rush. We really wanted to do it, but…
… there was absolutely no way. The ropes section was at the farthest-most point in the course. Getting out there, doing the ropes, and then working our way back would be next-to impossible in the time allotted. The Firestarters were thinking about heading straight for the ropes, skipping nearly all of the checkpoints on the way, but it looked like even that would be questionable. It was a tough call, but we all agreed that we would have to cut out the ropes. The Firestarters eventually agreed.
Roy had thus far endured a tough adventure race of over 24 hours, including a 3 hour bivy out in the wilderness. He was concerned about the difficulty he was having breathing and made the decision not to continue. This was his first experience adventure racing, and he had done great. He managed to find a race volunteer who would drive him back to Long Barn. We were sorry to have him leave, but were happy that he had endured such a long race and that he was safe.
Having decided that we would not make it to the ropes section, Kathy, Scott, and I looked at the map to figure out a short course route that would maximize our checkpoints and still be achievable. The checkpoints were quite spread out, and a short course option was not obvious. We elected to start by heading to CP 12 – located at over 7200 feet on the top of “Pikes Peak”. Part of the way we would follow trails, but the final approach to the mountain and the assault on the summit would be cross country. We were told to avoid approaching the peak from the south or west.
We headed out of the TA in the early afternoon. We passed through Strawberry and saw a guy washing his truck. Noting that we would need a lot of water, we asked him for a fill-up. We then headed out of town and progressed rapidly on good trails and fire roads. We eventually identified the spot where we would have to leave a dirt road. From this spot, it would be cross country. Earlier, we had actually seen the peak from a distance. It was heavily forested, and was topped with a large and dramatic rocky outcropping. At this point, however, we saw nothing but thick forest and a pretty steep drop-off from the roadway. We would have to strictly follow a compass heading – due north. We would shoot for a saddle to the east of the peak where we could then climb to the top.
With the thick forest and the ground undulating, it is remarkably difficult to follow a straight line. Kathy and Scott went ahead, and with my compass, I frequently checked our heading and corrected it as needed. Eventually, the ground rose and we climbed to the saddle. We were supposed to cross a dirt road along the way, but it was not there. We got to the base of the rocky outcropping and then scrambled up the east side of the peak to a remarkably large rocky summit plateau – reminiscent of the top of Half Dome. At the top, there was a small tree with the CP dangling from a limb. We reached the top right as the sun was setting. The sky turned a dramatic orange/blue, and from the high vantage point we had an immense vista over the wilderness. We paused to marvel at the breathtaking view.
As we were checking the map to plan our descent, another team showed up at the summit. It’s the team from Paraguay again! They had gotten CP 11 and had just arrived at 12. After some brief good wishes, they punched and took off. We left the summit shortly after them.
The sun had set, dusk turned to night, and deep in the forested hillside of this mountain, it was very dark. We had decided to shoot for CP 13. We would have to descend the north side of the mountain cross country until we got to a dirt road that would take us further down the mountain and to a campground. We did not have much water and we were hoping to get some at the campground. We also wanted to follow our plan of sleeping in the early part of the night, but this mountainside was not a good spot. Maybe it would be better and more convenient near the campground.
We crossed one old, unused roadbed, and then descended to a second. This was the one that would take us the rest of the way down the mountain. As we paused there, we ran across headlamps and found the Firestarters. They had left the TA and had walked to Strawberry, where they stopped at a restaurant for pizza! They somehow ended up on the north side of Pikes Peak and were on their way up to the summit. We discussed the approach and wished them well as we headed down the dirt road in the opposite direction.
Eventually we got down to a paved road and walked into the campground. Some campers were still up and huddled around a large campfire. We asked the people there if there was water, but there was not. They laughed because they had answered the same question from a bunch of other crazies like us who had passed through before. There was some stagnant water in Cascade Creek (which was back in the direction we had come). Though we were low, we were not out, and it looked on the map like we would descend further and have other options for water up ahead.
It was early night. We wanted to stick with the plan. We looked for a place to sleep and found two large logs that had fallen parallel to each other in a small pine forest. Between them was a bed of soft pine needles. The logs provided some lateral shelter, and the forest gave us some overhead coverage. The space between the logs was just wide enough for the three of us to sleep side-by-side. This would do just fine. This night was much colder than the last. We decided we would not set an alarm, but would sleep until one of us was cold. That person would wake everyone else up. I pulled out my space blanket bivy sack, put all of my clothes on, put my wool cap on, put my jacket hood over my head, and crawled into my space bivy. I was remarkably comfortable, fell asleep immediately, and slept like a rock.
Epilogue on Day 2:
Again, no big mistakes, and we were feeling pretty good. The cross country hike up and down Pikes Peak was a lot of fun, and the sunset view was spectacular. No one was feeling sick from the cow-pie water either. Though we were disappointed about the ropes, we were actually feeling pretty confident about our chances of finishing the race.
“Guys, I’m cold – we need to get going.” It was Scott. I had been sound asleep. What time is it? It was still dark out, and I fumbled to look at my watch and then struggled to get my eyes to focus on the numbers. It was about 3:00 AM. We had actually slept for 5 hours! This was far more than I had expected. It turns out that I had slept the most soundly of all.
Our transition (in this case from sleep to hiking) went really fast. It was cold, we were already wearing all of our clothes. We needed to get moving. We basically got out of our bivys, stuffed them in our backpacks, got up and started walking.
We continued on down a dirt road losing elevation until we got to a turn in the road and looked for a small dirt road. We rapidly walked to CP 13. At this point, we would leave trails again and head cross country through a heavily forested area to CP 14. On the map, this looked like a tricky cross country trek involving steep hillsides, creeks, and gullies. We would have to follow a compass bearing in the dark. It was about 3:30 in the morning. I dialed our bearing in on my compass. We would shoot a little to the right of CP 14 and plan to hit a dirt road, then follow the road left to the CP.
We were aided by the moon on this section. It did not provide much light on the forest floor, but if we walked towards the right side of the moon, we would follow the correct heading to the CP. Fallen logs, tricky steep hillsides, thickets, and creek crossings made things challenging, but we finally popped out onto a very good dirt road. Dawn was just breaking as we hit the road. We turned left and saw that the checkpoint was dangling from a bridge crossing a creek. We briefly considered climbing down off the bridge to stamp our passport, but then came to our senses and just pulled the checkpoint up onto the bridge.
At this point we had a big decision to make. In the early morning we had noted that our previously cloudless skies had clouded over. Checkpoints 12, 13, and 14 flowed pretty naturally together, but checkpoints 15 and 16 were at the climb site – extremely far away. It was conceivable to cut over to CP 18, and then possibly hit CP20 (the old climb site from the 2011 Gold Rush) before heading in to TA3 near Pinecrest Lake. The other option would be to head over to CP 11 from here – a very long hike, but shorter and more reliable than the other route option. We were concerned about the weather and did not want to get caught way out on a difficult cross country section if the weather got tough (we remembered the “Cold Rush” several years ago which ended up with only three finishing teams). We were absolutely determined to finish – especially after Kathy’s injury in 2011. As a team, we decided to go for CP 11. This would keep us reasonably close to Strawberry, Pinecrest, and TA3. Even though it was early morning, this route would still take us all day. We could conceivably spend the upcoming night at the TA before the final bike leg to the finish tomorrow.
We left CP 14 behind and continued down the dirt road.
There had been a historic fire in the general vicinity of the race (the Rim Fire) which was still burning south of us. It was nearly completely contained at the time, and fortunately for us, we never had any sense of being close to the fire. There had been another much smaller fire right in this area, however, and the road we were on soon entered this fire area. Though the fire was definitely out, there were still a few tree roots that were smouldering underground, causing smoke to rise up from holes in the ground. We traversed this eerie landscape in the early morning chill.
We followed more dirt roads and trails. Today was the first day of deer hunting season and there were a lot of happy hunters out in this wilderness. We did our best to not look like deer.
We had spent a lot of time on our feet (since yesterday afternoon – about 19 hours if you subtract the 5 hours we slept) and we were pretty tired. At one point we all felt like we had to get off of our feet. We layed down along the side of the road with our feet propped up on a rock. We reflected on the craziness of these races, remembering several ridiculous situations we have found ourselves in – including this one. We all laughed.
We hiked further until we got to some power lines. These were the power lines we had followed long ago in another Gold Rush race down to the Beardsley Dam. As we approached this area we got hit with a few sprinkles of rain. The rain came down a little stronger and we put on our rain gear. We worked our way down the power lines, but soon ran into a cliff area. We backtracked to a road and followed the road all the way down to the dam.
The checkpoint was at a gaging station downriver from the dam. We followed a trail downriver and got to the spot, but the checkpoint was not there. People had definitely been in this area, and it was possible that someone had taken it, or that the race organizers, thinking that no one would come back to CP 11, had already collected the CP. To prove we had made it, Kathy and Scott noted some details of the location such as the exact wording of the signs in the area.
We needed water and we were right next to the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus. I pumped water for all of us, and as I was doing so, the sky opened up, and suddenly we were in a downpour. The hard, driving rain immediately soaked everything. It then eased up a bit. Scott was fortunate enough to be in a nearby restroom and was spared of the soaking. We now had full water and needed to head back to TA3. There would be no possible checkpoints between here and there. It was mid-afternoon by that point. We hiked back up to the dam, and as we crossed the dam, the temperature plummeted, a big black cloud moved overhead, and we were pelted by millions of pebble-sized balls of hail!
See a video of the hailstorm taken by the Yogaslakers – they were at a higher elevation than us, but it gives you an idea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O11VM9pyE-8
The hail turned into a driving rainstorm, and this one did not let up. We all had our raingear on. Scott and I had our GoreTex jackets, but Kathy seemed to be the least prepared for the very cold and wet weather. Her jacket was not really waterproof. She was only wearing shorts, a long sleeve shirt, and a throw-away $1.00 plastic rain poncho. She had it on. I worried about her, but she seemed to be doing OK.
I was very happy at that moment that we had made the decision to go for CP 11. We would almost certainly have had to drop out of the race had we gone for CP 18 in this weather. We were now on a reasonable road with occasional passing vehicles. There were lots of hunters out and about. I never really thought we were in danger as we would reliably run into people on our way back to Strawberry, and if things got really bad, we could always ask for help. Fortunately, too, we had to hike out of this deep canyon to get back into town, and that would certainly help to keep us warm.
We moved quickly to keep warm. At one point we had to leave the road and follow the power lines up to a higher road. Scott took the lead and found a route through the brushy landscape. Scott and I were getting wet through our GoreTex jackets and were getting cold. Remarkably, Kathy, with her $1.00 disposable plastic rain poncho, long sleeve shirt and shorts was doing just fine. Scott and I were moving quickly to keep warm, while Kathy was wondering why we were in such a rush!
We finally made it out of the valley that held the Beardsley Reservoir. On the overlooking ridge, the wind was strong. Scott and I walked faster and faster! Darkness was falling, and the temperature continued to drop. Kathy put on another layer on top, but was doing just fine.
Scott and I were on a mission – we had to make it to Strawberry and warm up. The miles passed underfoot as we speedwalked on an easy, wet, windswept dirt road. Kathy had to jog to keep up. She did not want to stop in town because her feet were wet (??!?!?). She was outvoted 2-1.
It was dusk, and we made it to a trail junction. At first it seemed as if the trail we were looking for did not exist. Desperately we looked harder and found it. We followed it off the ridge and down towards Strawberry. We could see the rooftops of town and knew that there would be places open in town where we could potentially warm up and dry off. We finally abandoned the trail and just headed right down to the buildings, definitely crossing some private property as we finally landed on a road in town. We walked to the commercial area and spotted an open restaurant. I looked through the window as I approached and saw team MAD happily sitting in the warm and cozy restaurant. We entered. WHEW!! WARMTH!! WE MADE IT!!
We were all a soggy mess, but it did not seem to bother anyone in the restaurant. We found a table in the corner where we could discreetly lay out some of our wet and dirty clothes. We all had other clothes in our packs that were dry. In the (freezing cold as the window was open) bathroom I changed into my wool long underwear. The others changed too. Scott and I were still shivering. We wanted to take advantage of this warm haven and have a meal, but … WE FORGOT TO BRING MONEY!
We talked to team MAD (prominently featured in the prior videos at the climb site deciding that they will not make it). They had gone out to the climb site and were about to start the ropes section when the hailstorm hit. Given the weather, the ropes course was closed and they were not able to do it.
While waiting for the ropes section they had gotten wet and very cold. They had to drop out of the race and take a ride back to town. Unfortunately, this was the story for about half of the teams. Our route choice, however, kept us within reach of town, and we had made it back on our own! We were STILL IN THE RACE!!
Andrew of team MAD, an elite racer whom we have known for many years through adventure racing, was kind enough to lend us $40 for dinner. We all had hot soup and a big burger. IT WAS SOOOO GOOD!
We finally stopped shivering and warmed up our core temperatures. It had stopped raining outside, but it was very cold. We had warm and dry clothes on, though, and with a full warm meal in our tummies, we headed out. It was completely black outside as the moon had not risen and the stars were covered by clouds. We would have to find our way out of town and onto a trail that would take us across the Pinecrest Lake dam and into the town of Pinecrest. We would then have to work our way across town and find our way to Camp Oski and TA3, the University of California family camp just on the other side of Pinecrest.
This should be a chip shot, right? Strawberry and Pinecrest are next to each other. These are towns, for goodness sakes. What could be the problem? Just a stroll across town, across a dam, across another town, and into the TA – NOT!!
Though we had some direction from the folks in the restaurant, we struggled a bit to find the trail out of town. This was a no-map endeavor at this point, so I was useless. Kathy, however, has a great sense of direction and we eventually found a trail that seemed to be heading in the right direction. We were surprised to get to a stream crossing, but the place looked vaguely familiar. We had stumbled into the same spot from the other direction in the middle of the night in the 2011 Gold Rush. We crossed the stream and heard, off to our right, a rushing stream. Again, this seemed familiar. There were trails going all over the place. We kept the stream sound to our right and headed uphill. Eventually we came across the dam! Yeah! Nice going Kathy!
My and Scott’s headlamps were petering out. I grabbed my spare. On the other side of the dam, we encountered trails going every which way. The lake was to our left, and as we looked across, Scott noted a glow forming behind the surrounding mountains. It was a glorious moonrise over the lake, highlighted by the now-parting clouds. Quite a sight!
We knew we had to keep moving around the lake, and Kathy and Scott led the way until we got off the trails and into a residential area. Eventually we had to leave the lake and head out of town to Camp Oski. Suffice it to say that every street in Pinecrest is called Sugarpine, Rustic, or Lodgepole. This is absolutely the most confusing town I have ever walked through. We somehow managed to find the road that would take us to Camp Oski. We were tired and ready to finish this hiking section. The road seemed endless, but we finally made it! Just behind us were the Yogaslackers, an elite team. Of course, they had gotten all of the checkpoints thus far. Absolute studs.
Kathy with her plastic poncho and I with my wet Goretex are happy to arrive at TA3
Being that the TA was at a developed family camp, there were a number of structures around. The race organizers had rented a large building that was primarily for the University of Cincinnati crew. It was nice to pop in and rest in the warmth of the building, but the students were playing loud music inside and being quite raucous. We had initially thought that we might just sleep in this building, but there was absolutely no way that this would be possible. Outside, master maps displayed the remaining bike checkpoints for the bike section to the finish. We agreed as a team that tomorrow morning we would get only one of these checkpoints and head to the finish – taking the most direct route.
Checking out the master map at TA3
It was very cold out, and damp. We unboxed and assembled our bikes again, then pulled the tent and our sleeping bags from our boxes. We set up the tent, climbed in, and fell immediately asleep.
Epilogue on Day 3:
Lots of hiking, some great navigation, and some good, rational decision making. That really kept us in the game. The restaurant was a life-saver, and thanks to Andrew from Team MAD, we feasted on hot soup and giant burgers. What I really took from this day, though, was that I will definitely pack an el-cheapo $1.00 rain poncho for all future adventure races!
Check out the fun video clip of the students’ experiences and some really cool video of the developing storm and TA 3 (including us!) on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iARoKKI3bho
Kathy roused us just before dawn. We had slept for another 5 hours. This was the final day, and we did not want anything to keep us from finishing the race. Two years ago we had set out in the early morning on a bike to the finish and did not make it. WE WOULD NOT LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN.
It was very cold out. We packed up the tent and stowed it in the box. Yogaslackers were long gone. They did not stay at the TA last night. There were other teams that had either come and gone, or had stayed for the remainder of the night.
Our bikes were already assembled and ready to go. It did not take long for us to head out. Kathy had planned this section last night while I was assembling the bikes. She was totally dialed in and I did nothing but follow the leader. She found our way out of town, where we eventually picked up a glorious bike trail that followed a beautiful flowing stream as it gently traveled downhill to a Lyons Reservoir. This trail required almost no pedaling as we easily glided through the glistening early morning sunbeams.
By the time we reached the reservoir (and our final CP prior to the finish) the day had warmed up considerably. Also, the ride to the finish was to be steeply uphill from this point. We stripped off all of our warm clothes and prepared for the final 1000 foot climb out of the reservoir valley.
With high spirits, we cranked up the hill, made it to the crest, and rode in to Long Barn, crossing the finish line amidst cheers and spraying champagne at about 11:00 AM!
Remarkably, the winning team – Bones – had completed the ENTIRE COURSE, and finished ahead of us by about two hours. That is a physical feat that I simply cannot even comprehend. Team Sweco, from Sweden, had finished right behind them, but had missed one checkpoint. We were third across the line, though there would be more teams who would rank well ahead of us in the end.
We were interviewed again by the University of Cincinnati Students. They commented that we were far more lucid than the other teams when they crossed. That is what sleep will do for you!
We watched more teams cross the finish – Yogaslackers, Firestarters, Paraguay, and the rest. Ultimately, because we never got any assistance while out on the course, and because we actually finished, we placed 7th out of the 15 teams that had started the race. Among the teams from North America, we actually finished 3rd behind Bones and Yogaslackers! (All of the international teams finished ahead of us too). Though we were well behind all of those teams in terms of checkpoints acquired, we were very satisfied with our accomplishment! We were safe, had a lot of fun, and FINISHED!
MANY THANKS to Mark Richardson, Adrian Crane, Deborah Steinberg, and all of the volunteers who worked together to put on another first class event! We also LOVED the video clips from the University of Cincinnati students and can’t wait to see the final full length documentary!