By John, T.J., and Bev
For TeamHalfwayThere/Spokes Etc. the Nationals race started back in August with finalizing our team roster for the race. We wanted to prepare ourselves well in advance so that we can be as optimized as possible going into one of the most difficult races of the season in one of the most beautiful places in Maryland, Deep Creek Lake. Once we decided it was going to be T.J. Hoff, Bev Richardson, and John Miller, we wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to work together and train/race before heading to Maryland. We used NYRA’s Longest Day 24 hour race to do just that. We had a great showing and took a 4th place finish overall, missing 3rd by a mere 12 minutes. With the strong finish in NY, we were confident we had what we needed mentally and physically to compete in USARA Nationals.
Nationals started with us arriving on Thursday and attending a detailed race brief provided by both USARA Executive Troy Farrar, and Race Director Brian Holzhausen. Most of the questions dealt with the Adventure Sports International Center Boogie Boarding section where racers were to boogie board down a man-made river with class-3 rapids. Other questions about the course pertained to whether or not it was clearable and the order of which racers could collect points. After the meeting we felt comfortable with the information they provided and started preparing for the morning.
Having done one of these before I knew ahead of time that on race morning we were going to receive two large 1:24k maps and only have 2 hours to plot nearly 50 CPs. That said I had pre-packed my OutThere MS-1 pack prior to arriving and leaving only food as the last thing to pack. Luckily both John and Bev are stellar navigators, and upon receiving the maps we divided and conquered the race strategy. As Bev and John split up the maps and UTMS to plot, I helped with getting last minute stuff together. As we were designing our race strategy, we knew that only a few teams were going to clear the course. Knowing our capabilities, we knew that clearing the course would be very difficult and decided early to drop a couple of the paddle points. We knew that getting the extra 2 CP’s would cost us roughly 3 extra hours. We felt we could use those three hours more efficiently elsewhere on the course. That said we also knew that going into the race with this handicap would mean that we would have to nail every other point on the race if possible and left little room for mistakes. Looking back, this was probably the best strategic move we could have made.
The race began with us running up the ski slopes at Wisp Resort to the top where the ASCI facility was located. Racers had to relay through the course where one person per team boogie-boarded and collected a poker chip when finished. Racers also had a choice to do a run instead of the boogie board. I decided ahead of time that I was going to do the run unless Bev or John were willing to do the course twice. I really didn’t feel like starting a 30 hour adventure race soaking wet and cold. Bev had a wetsuit and John had a change of clothes. Bev did her boogie boarding and decided once was enough. John did his first lap, and when he came back I asked him if he wanted to do a second lap. He said “sure” and so he went down the course a second time. When he returned, Bev and I waited for him to change and then we ran back down the mountain to turn in our poker chips.
Turning in our poker chips is what got our master passport for the race. Upon receiving the passport, we had to then bike back up the mountain to the top for the King of the Mountain (KOM) portion of the race. We weren’t concerned with winning the KOM and didn’t want to blow our legs out too early in the race, so we used our normal race pace to get up the mountain. Once we got to the top we had several CPs to obtain on bike. Luckily I had done the Deep Creek Adventure Race a few weeks earlier, and was somewhat familiar with that area of the course. This part of the course had some nice single track mixed with ATV trails. Teams were scattered all over and as we were collecting CPs and we were passing teams both coming and going. Once we cleared that section we had to bike back to Wisp Resort to collect our paddle gear and run to the paddle put-in.
To get to the paddle section we had to carry our paddle gear about a mile to the lake. Once we got to the lake we punched our CP and launched into the rough waters of Deep Creek Lake. We were paddling into the wind and the wake was really rough. We were constantly taking on water with every ‘wave’ crash and as power boats went by it only amplified the situation. John and Bev joked that karma was giving me my taste of the whitewater after all! We landed on the beach of Deep Creek State Park and then began the first foot O-section of the course. We started by running right up the hill through the campgrounds to find our first trail and backstop. Once we found that we began hacking away at the course counter clockwise seeing teams going in both directions. At one point we passed Team NYARA on foot to only see them again 15 mins later on their bikes. This really confused us and we began trying to figure out what their strategy was. Later we learned that they skipped the paddle section entirely. We finished the foot section and got back on the water heading back to Wisp to collect our bikes and the rest of what we would need for the remaining 20+ hours. On the way back the water was much calmer, and we were lucky enough to find another team to draft with which really made for a smooth and fast paddle.
We ran back to Wisp resort, determined to hustle at every opportunity. This was to be our last time seeing our gear until the race finish, and we knew that a cold and potentially wet night was lying ahead of us. Bev chose to put on some dry clothes and wear rain pants for the rest of the race, a choice which paid off. We packed up many hours worth of food and groaned under the suddenly heavy packs. We had discussed pre-race whether to attack the bike leg either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and decided that hitting the Score-O as early as possible would be smart since our heads would be ‘clearer’. John did a stellar job of navigating us on the bike to the bike points in Deep Creek State Park. After that we climbed up a steep hill to Meadow Mountain trail where we obtained checkpoints 22 and 21 before heading to the Score-O. The map showed a jeep trail headed down off the side of the hill after 21, but in the night we didn’t see it. We searched for a little while before deciding to follow the power line down to New Germany Rd. This power line was incredibly overgrown with tall grasses, but with remnants of a road that we followed. We then took Big Run Road to the Score-O. We snagged CP 28 quickly in an out and back, and then started the Score-O.
Examining the Score-O map, it soon became clear what the race director meant when he described it as “physical”. Nearly all the points were at the top of very steep climbs, gaining 500-600 feet in elevation. There weren’t many trails, or a reasonable way to stay high without considerable night-time bushwhacking, which would have been very risky. So we decided to be true to our HTFU bracelets, and get started. We lightened our load as much as possible at the TA and then headed off. Our plan was to get all of the points except AA and BB, which would net us 100 points, the same as 10 CPs. We got CC first, a very “physical” climb, and then bushwhacked straight east the road. The good news was that the woods were very clear of undergrowth, making bushwhacking pretty easy. We then proceeded to get DD, GG, EE and then FF. We were glad the John brought along the original map because this gave us two sets of eyes and brains working this course, which was a big advantage. We found all the points reasonably well, only making a few errors on our exit strategies from the points. Our exit from FF was especially painful as we followed a narrow ridge that got clogged with Rhododendron and we had to crawl our way down to a creek to exit the area. On our way out, our plan was to get HH from the road, which we knew was risky, but would save back-tracking. This plan turned sour when we had trouble keeping track of the re-entrants on the side of the river, and lost touch with the map. From then we decided to play it safe, go further down the road to a known creek crossing, and then bushwhack up the side of the ridge. From there, we got KK, and then an out and back to get JJ. We caught HH easily on the way off the ridge and then shot up the last climb to get LL on the way back home. One of the high points of the race was hearing that we were the fastest team at that point to have cleared the Score-O with the next team coming in 2 hours slower than us. This put a little pep in our pedals as we continued on.
At this point, the hours were ticking away, as it was around 4:30, and we began to doubt whether we’d have time to get all the remaining points. We pushed on, with Bev and I occasionally battling the bonk. We biked up Savage River Rd, and then Westernport Rd. To get to a couple of points in New Germany State Park, we carried our bikes on a fire-road that contained a lot of downed trees and overgrowth. Wrestling our bikes through this mess was challenging, especially when we decided to bike-whack up the reentrant. However, the reward was getting to ride the groomed trails in the State Park. We then headed along the roads to the Negro Mountain area where the final 4 bike CPs were. At this point we were hopeful that we’d have time to get all the points, by anxiously keeping in mind the long the hilly ride back on 219 to Wisp Resort.Being familiar with the area, I wanted us to have roughly 2 hours to get back to Wisp. Thankfully we snagged all 4 with a 2.5 hour safety net to get back.
Along the way back we crossed paths with NYARA’s team a couple of times. Almost back to Wisp, John suffered a flat tire in the town of Accident. In our race pre-brief, we all committed to bringing 2 C02 cartridges. No problem fixing a flat, right?!? Almost-tragedy struck as Bev pulled out her cartridges only to realize, one was empty, and the other was not threaded. John then got his out, uh oh, his were not threaded either! Thankfully Ihad threaded cartridges. However, as we screwed the first one on the inflator, it lost all its pressure! Only 1 cartridge left! We screwed it on with care, and a little pressure escaped, but it left enough to pump the tire up to about 15 lbs. No problem. It turned out John had brought a pump, so he would just top it off! As he used the pump, it broke! John was sick of it, and just decided to roll back to Wisp on the half-inflated tire.
During this debacle, NYARA passed us, and wished us “good luck on the run!” Run, what run? We thought we were headed back to the finish line. Being sleep-deprived and pressed for time to plan out the later part of the race, it had slipped our minds that there were 3 foot points left at the end of the race! It is hard near the end of a 30 hour race, when you think you are about done, to get psyched for an unexpected bonus section. We hustled back, and still had an hour left to collect the final foot CPs.
We headed back up Wisp Mountain for the 3rd time in the race to snag one final foot point. We happily ran back down the mountain to finish out the race. We later were surprised to learn that we had earned 8th place overall, which far exceeded our expectations. This resulted in our team also finishing 4th overall in the USARA Points series. Our great finish was a tribute to great teamwork, some true grit, and persistent hustle. Thanks for supporting us in a great season to our sponsors including the best bike shop in D.C., Spokes, Etc., and also Crank Brothers, Stan’s NoTubes, Lupine Lighting Systems, PocketFuel, The Right Stuff, and Adventure Addicts Racing.