Last year a group of us did our first adventure race. Something we only had the slightest idea of because we watched the Amazon series World’s Toughest Race. We all thought this idea of navigating via map and compass (no GPS allowed) through a multi-day race made up of mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, and ropes sounded fun. So, we signed up for a race that went from Mammoth Lakes, CA to Bishop, CA covering over 150 miles, which we had to complete in less than 36 hours. All in all, it went pretty well for our first race, besides getting horribly lost at night and botching the transitions (we thought taking 45 minutes to change clothes and take poops was wise).
We had such a good time suffering last year, we thought we would up the anty a bit this year and do an 80-hour race in the high alpine of the Colorado Rockies. But, this time we knew we had to train for night navigation, and dial in our transitions (from trek to bike, and bike to kayak, a so on).
For our first training weekend, our teammate and arguably captain, Greg (Outdoor Goyo) created a course in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, just outside of Auburn, CA that would ideally challenge us physically, but more importantly mentally, as the course entailed 32 miles of trekking, 55 miles of mountain biking, and 22 miles of kayaking.
We would start the weekend on a Saturday at noon with the goal of finishing the above mileage by Sunday at 6pm. At least this was the goal. 🤦
The forecast called for heavy rain all day Friday into midday Saturday. Which, meant cold, damp overnight temperatures, muddy trails, and potentially very high water in the North Fork American River that we were supposed to navigate in open water kayaks.
The way these races work, and the way our training weekend was set up, is that you are given a map with points (checkpoints), which you must navigate to via a paper map and compass. Some of these checkpoints are at the bottom of valleys, on the top of peaks, or on the opposite side of a raging river. It all depends on how spicy the race director is feeling.
We started out our training day navigating by foot through the rain, which was surprisingly beautiful because it made for extremely lush landscapes and dramatic skies. During the trek, we had one river crossing which entailed stripping down to our boxer briefs and vigorously swimming across the 40-degree water. Fun, right?
As the sun set, we finished our first leg of trekking 16.5 miles and 4,000 feet in elevation gain in just over 8 hours to make it to our first transition where we would hop on mountain bikes to cover 23 miles and 3,400 feet in elevation gain. The goal was to be at transition number two by midnight so we could transition to our second trek. A goal we’d soon find out not feasible.
As we neared the finish of our mountain bike ride, we made our way through the town of Auburn, CA. And, with only a paper map, and almost no street details on it, proved to be very tedious. So much so, we decided to ask a car passing by at 2AM (in adventure racing you can ask for directions). “Hey, do you know where Oregon Hill Park is?” We asked. “Why don’t you use your phone, dummy?!” was the response. Ha!
Finally, we made it to Oregon Hill Park at 3AM where we were supposed to transition to trekking again. However, because we were running so behind schedule we decided to switch to kayaking. Only one problem. The gate which led down to the river (the boat put in) was closed until 8 am. We were met with a crucial decision to make. Do we quit? Go back to a hotel and sleep for a few hours then start again? Ride our bikes farther downriver to another potential put-in and risk that gate being closed? Or, do we just say fugg it and carry the bloody heavy open water kayaks down the 2-mile road and just keep going?
After 15 hours of straight activity, we only had it in ourselves to carry the kayaks about an ⅛ of a mile before needing to take a break. All our backs hurt, and we were all pretty exhausted at this point. Sleep deprivation was setting in as we approached the valley floor near the river at 4:30 am.
It was still pitch black outside and as we approached the river we could hear it loud and clear before we could see it. Not a good sign. Hearing the roar of the river only meant one thing. Rapids. And, the boats we have been slugging down the damn road for the past hour and a half were designed for calm open water. Shit. But, we carried on.
Just keep going until it doesn’t make sense. Famously said by the world-class adventurer, Jimmy Chin.
Finally, we reached the valley floor. We dropped the kayaks 100 yards from the river then three of us decided to go scout the rapids and see if we could possibly make this work. As we approached the river it was clear that there was no way we could proceed kayaking with the gear we had. The river’s temperature was in the low 40s, the flow was extremely high due to the recent storms, and we had no idea what rapids/obstacles awaited downriver. At 5 am, we immediately all collapsed and fell asleep right where we were standing, on the hard cold ground.
As the sun came up, we awoke to only one option left. Call our support car to pick us up. And God did we hope that gate was open so we didn’t have to carry these kayaks out!
Some may call this a failure. We didn’t even finish half of what we set out to accomplish. And, even though we were all bummed to have to bail on the original objective, we all knew it didn’t make sense to continue. Risking the likely capsize and hypothermia was too big of a risk with too little reward. However, we didn’t see this as a failure. We covered some gorgeous terrain, laughed our faces off, pushed ourselves to the brink of delirium, and most importantly we had a ton of fun.
Until next time,