I realized this May 2005 race report was not on the old 2sparrows site nor the blog, but on triangle-ar-team.com, so I’m just grabbing it and putting it here… Wish there were some photos — it was a beautiful place!
It’s going to be a bit difficult to write a race report for this race, but I’ll give it my best shot. Only two teams out of over 20 finished ranked, due to various difficulties along the way, so that gives you some sense of what I mean.
Brian, Charlie, and I met in Cary to load gear and then pick up Brian’s dad Ken, who would support us solo. It was a tight fit — getting all the gear plus 4 people into the Durango , but we made it. Bruce had left the night before and luckily Brian had given him some camping gear, or we would not have fit! That year spent working at UPS loading trucks certainly paid off.
We met Bruce at the Seneca Rocks campground and checked in. We got the maps and passport around 6 p.m. and ran over to the local restaurant for a quick bite to eat while we looked over the many maps. There was one large map which covered most of the national forest, and then some smaller maps with more detail for certain sections. All of the CP’s had been pre-marked, so there really was no plotting for us to do.
We ran back to the camp site for the pre-race meeting at 7 p.m. Folks from Nelson rocks came in and covered the Via Ferrata (cool rock climb with permanent cables and rungs) was covered, and then the owner of the boat outfitter came up to cover the white water paddle section. The guy made it sound like we better walk ½ the paddle or we’d be in a lot of trouble! Eventually Brad Hunt, the director, came back, and we went over the rest of the course.
After the meeting, we went back to our tent site and assembled the necessary gear and went over strategy for various sections. Since there were many CP’s and TA’s, where we had unlimited access to our support, we didn’t really need to carry much between each section. We finally knocked off around 11 p.m. I did not have a sleeping bag, and spent much of the night tossing and turning from being cold, even though I had two fleeces on and tried to cover myself with a towel!
We awoke at 5 a.m. , broke down camp, made final preparations, and made our way to the 6 a.m. start, a short 10 minute walk away. There were some folks who had not filled out all the release forms completely, so we had to wait for that to be done, and we eventually started about 15 minutes late.
Start – Big Bend
The first leg was a 9 – 10 mile trek that went up through Roy Gap and down the other side. The beginning of the ascent was a road, but that eventually disappeared and we were left scrambling up some steep terrain. I was a bit slower than the rest of the team, and as I struggled I was wondering what I had gotten myself into! After being sick much of the spring and not training a whole lot, I was worried. But once we got to the top I was ok and we began to run down a trail and eventually a long gravel road. At one point, we decided to bushwhack instead of taking the long switch back, but it was quite thick and in the end, it didn’t buy us any time. Teams right behind us when we went in to the woods were still right behind us when we came out, and they took the roads! At the bottom, we ran into the river, and just ran/walked that road the 4 miles to Big Bend . We arrived shortly after 9 a.m.
White Water ( Big Bend to Eagle’s Nest Outfitters)
We had a quick transition, grabbed our boats, PFD’s, and paddles, and headed out. Charlie and I were in one boat and Bruce and Brian in the other. I was nervous as I don’t have much white water experience, but I quickly began to enjoy it as I found a rhythm. We had a hand drawn detailed map of the river that was designed to alert us to all the danger points, and as hand drawn maps go, we quickly found that the scale was sometimes quite deceptive.
We came around a turn to the 1st “walk point” at a waterfall, but the fall was so small we thought it was just another rapid. Charlie and I made it through with no problems, but Bruce and Brian took on some water on the 1 st drop, more on the 2 nd , and slowly sunk. Charlie and I paddled to the shore and threw a throw line out, and pulled them in. They quickly emptied the boat and we were on our way in just a couple of minutes.
The next section that was supposed to be tough was the dam. As we neared it, the current really picked up, and it was on a blind turn, so we pulled over. I hopped out to scout the dam, which was a couple of hundred yards ahead. By the time I got back to tell the guys it looked runable, they already had the boats out, so we just carried them past the dam and put back in.
The rest of the river wasn’t really memorable, other than the fact that the section labeled “Crash and Burn” was not obvious as we went through it – it was that easy and uneventful. At the end, we pulled out and carried the canoes through a large drainage pipe and to the outfitters. We arrived around 12:30 p.m. We had a fairly quick TA as we changed from boat to bikes and again headed out.
ENO – Kline’s Gap – Bear Rocks
We had several miles of paved, rolling roads, until we reached the next CP (CP3). Here, we were given the choice of taking roads to TA4 or taking the gap. We chose the gap as it was 1.5 Km or so, compared to several miles roads. The 1 st part of this was ridable down a gravel road, but we eventually reached a point where we could not ride. We had to make a river crossing, and on the other side the stinging nettle was out in force! All of us got hit pretty good, but I did not have the same allergic reaction I’ve had in the past.
After some rough bushwhacking, we made it to an unimproved road, which led us to a paved road. A couple miles on that, including a long climb (that I struggled on), and we reached the turn for Dolly Sods. The sign said 5 miles, and we immediately began a steep ascent. I quickly dropped off the pace, and eventually Charlie towed me for a while. Then Bruce fell off the pace, so Charlie towed him and I made it the rest of the way up. What a long, tough climb! I think it would rival L’Alp Duez – one of the most famous climbs in the Tour de France! We checked in and were the 6 th team, but one in front was unofficial, so we were currently in 5 th overall.
Bear Rocks – Timberline
At the top, we transitioned from bikes to foot for an 8 – 10 mile trek. Dolly Sods is quite interesting. It has similar characteristics as parts of Canada , even though it’s just less than 4000 ft. It did feel very “Alpine” to me. Another interesting thing is that there are unexploded World War II ordinances all over, so there are lots of warnings to not leave the trail. Finally, most of the hike was a bog! It was quite beautiful, though, and we enjoyed this section (other than the wet feet!).
We eventually neared the end, and I figured we were supposed to come down one of the ski slopes at Timberline since we were given a ski brochure that showed the runs. However, the trail kind of petered out, so we just began to bushwhack down on the ridge before the slopes. We came out in a neighborhood, and took the road down (other than one bushwhack where we cut out a switchback). We checked in, still in 5 th overall, and began to get ready for a long bike section. We had some Pizza that Ken had ordered, as well as ramen, etc. We loaded up on food and water and headed out at 8:15 p.m.
Timberline (TA5) – Gladwin (CP6) – Alpena(CP7)
We were told that CP6 was now unmanned, but that we still should go there and then continue on to CP7. It was all paved roads to CP6, though there were some small climbs and some fast descents. We did go slightly past CP6, but quickly turned back and found it.
From there, we were to take the Allegheny trail to CP7. The passport said to watch out for washouts and down trees – what an understatement! And this is where the race began to fall apart – not just for us, but for everyone.
A couple of miles in, a team was coming back saying the trail ended and they could not go on. We decided to press on, and eventually came to where the trail ended in a rushing river, next to a cliff face. After some scouting around and not finding anything, Charlie scrambled down into the water. Near the cliff, the current was not that strong, but further out, it was moving at a good clip. Charlie found the trail on the other side, so we handed bikes down to him one at a time, he moved them to the other side, and then each of us shimmied down the cliff and waded through.
On the far side, the trail continued again for about a mile before dead ending in the river. We scouted for a place to cross, but there was no way with the current like it was. After going back and forth for a while, we finally did find a blazed trail going up. And up, and up, and around. It was obvious this had not been maintained in some time, but we kept pushing – over and under trees, along steep slopes, with loose rocks, etc. At times we really thought we were going way out of the way, but at this point we were committed and it would have been crazy to turn back.
After a long time, the trail crossed the river, which was now a stream, at a safe location. But then we had more of the same on the other side – an un-maintained trail that was more of bushwhack than a hike, and riding was certainly out of the question for much of the way. Towards the end, we’d be able to ride 15 or 30 seconds at a time, and then have to scramble over a tree, etc. At one point, there was a down tree I thought I could ride under. But my pack caught me and I was literally stuck upright on my bike for a minute, until I could wiggle my way out!
We finally came to the end of the trail, to an improved road, and took that up to CP7. We arrived at 1:15 a.m. They were quite surprised to see us come from the direction we had, as no one else had come that way. Apparently, the top couple teams had gone in at CP6 but turned back, and told the race director it was not passable/too dangerous. So he shut down that section. But since we were already in it, that didn’t help us! At any rate, we had dropped from 5th to 12 th , which was somewhat demoralizing, since we had done the course as designed and no one else had.
Alpena – Wildell
The staff at CP7 assured us the ride would become much easier as we set out. Boy was that wrong! The Allegheny picked back up just past the CP, and it wasn’t too bad other than the mud for the first couple of miles. But it eventually got harder and harder to ride. At one point, we came up on 3 or 4 teams where the trail dead ended in the river. Brian and Bruce fell asleep, while I started to scout further up river, literally wading up and around a cliff. Meanwhile, Charlie had found the ridge line trail just before where all the racers were congregating/sleeping, and was trying to alert us without alerting everyone else. That didn’t work too well with Bruce and Brian asleep, and me wading up river, so another team did get the jump on us (but we passed them pretty quickly).
We eventually began hiking this trail, pushing the bikes up and up and on and on. From here, for about 5 or 6 miles, the trail was not very ridable. There were only a few sections where we could pedal a bit, before we’d have to stop to climb a tree, or get through some tough mud, etc. After a long time – about 1/3 of the way, we came to a paved road.
Here was another decision point that would affect the entire race. It was clear to us that the passport said to continue on the Allegheny. However, we found later that many teams elected to take the paved roads out, rather then continue pushing bikes along this hiking trail. But we kept pushing and pushing. For many hours! At one point, we did stop to take a 15 minute nap, and Charlie and I also had to refill our water with treated river water. I was also low on food, and had to bum some Fig Newtons off Bruce and Wheat Thins from Charlie.
We eventually came to a small town, and took some paved roads to the rail to trail road. We took that for about 4 miles to CP8, where we arrived at 12:15 p.m. – 11 hours after leaving CP7.
Wildell (CP8) – Camp Pocahontas (TA9)
It was now obvious that the race was somewhat in chaos. The 1 st place team had skipped the 2 nd 2/3rds of CP7-CP8, and many other teams had as well. We were told it took the top teams 4 hours to go from CP8 to TA9, but it was rails to trails and paved road most of the way. We didn’t have many options here since our crew was still at CP9 (where he had been waiting since 2 a.m. ), though some crews had come to CP8. Luckily for some of us, there was a team there that had stopped and was giving a way food. I grabbed some balance bars, cookies, crackers and cheese, Gatorade, etc. What a life-saver since I was out of food!
We made it from CP8 to TA9 in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. At this point, it was 3:30 p.m. , and we knew there was no way we could make it to CP10 by the 5:30 p.m. cut off. I was all for going on the 10 mile trek anyway, rather than stopping, but in the end, the guys convinced me there wasn’t really any point. What really changed my mind was the staff at CP9 really couldn’t help us. He hadn’t seen the race director in 8 hours, and had no idea if there’d even be anyone at CP10 when we’d arrive, or if there was a shorter course we could start, etc.
So we bagged it. We grabbed a couple of hotel rooms, showered, ate, and crashed. In the morning, we went to the Via Ferrata at Nelson rocks, and at least got to do that, which was quite fun.
Since then, this is what we’ve learned. Team Odyssey was given a 12 hour penalty for skipping much of CP7 – CP8, but they still got 1st . NADS was given a 6 hour penalty for using an alternate trail for much of CP7 – CP8, which was apparently much easier than what we did since they completed it in just 6 hours. They were 2nd . No other teams were ranked!
What we can proudly say is that we are the only team that completed the entire course as the passport specified to CP9. In the end, though, that was our undoing. A couple of other teams did the entire course except the section between CP6 and CP7 that was shut down, and I agree that was justified. While not overly dangerous, I’m not so sure having slower teams attempt the river/cliff crossing after dark would have been wise. I do think it added a couple of hours to our time, and we would have been much close to making the CP10 cut-off without that. All the teams that did the complete section between CP7 and CP8 missed the cut-off at CP10.
In addition, we left CP8 just before the RD started sending teams direct to CP10, which would have allowed us to continue on a shortened course. Since our crew was at CP9, and there was literally no communications between CPs, I’m not sure this would have helped us anyway.
It’s disappointing to us that the only teams that got ranked were only able to do so by skipping some of the toughest sections, and therefore they were able to make cut-offs that we could not. No matter how you look at it, the race became a bit of a ‘disaster’ in that sense, and nothing the RD could do would make everyone happy.
However, we still had a great time, and the area the race was held in was phenomenal. There is a ton of potential and with a few tweaks here and there, better communications, and some pre-selected alternate courses, this could be one of the best races on the east coast.