At least a couple of times a year I try to sign up for adventure races. These multidisciplinary races utilize map and compass navigation while running, biking, and paddling between checkpoints. Here I am studying maps in preparation for my second solo 24-hour race ever.
Clue sheets and a series of maps are studied and then laminated in preparation for the elements they are sure to endure. Races happen rain or shine and there is a high level of route choice when navigating over large expanses.
Starting line transport
Sometimes a bus transports racers to a previously undisclosed start location - such was the case here.
23 1/2 hours later...
I made it to the finish, with the end of the race being a fun rolling downhill bike down a ski slope trail. I spent awhile absolutely lost on hilltops in the foggy woods in the middle of the night but my bailout navigation miraculously ran me right into the trail I had so desperately been searching for. I also learned how much I like caffeinated stroopwafels in the middle of the night. Yum.
Time to sign up for the next one. Any takers? The races are typically done in teams of 2 to 4 racers who must remain together throughout the entire race, though I do some races solo when I can't convince anyone to race with me.
Wilderness Mountain Challenge (The Adirondacks, NY)
This was at the start of a 30-hr race with only 5 checkpoints, through the most remote terrain that the northeast has to offer. Nothing like looking at maps until midnight before an early morning start!
This was an amazing race where we carried our packrafts the entire time, using them whenever and wherever we felt they would be useful. I think mine was used 5 different times during the race.
Endless Mountains 5-day race
The pinnacle of my racing so far, my race partner and buddy from high school (Brian) embarked on a 5-day race in the PA Wilds.
Race start in Punxatawney, PA
The town of Punxatawney was generous in hosting us for the start of the race, letting us use their VFW hall for map work - and then Punxatawney Phil himself saw us off!
Using a rotating mapboard, here's a screen capture from a race video of me navigating on a bike leg.
This course was huge and 3 hours was not nearly enough time to do all of our route planning across the 30+ maps we received the morning of the race; at a nice stopping point I worked out some more of the bike route.
Trekking / bushwhacking
By far my favorite part of adventure racing is the off-trail foot travel. We spent hours during both day and night navigating on and off-trail looking for checkpoints.
Paddling / packrafting
This was my first race that used packrafts as a mode of travel. We paddled into the night and were very fortunate to get through the bony rapids before nightfall, where several teams got slowed down significantly when they couldn't find clean lines through the river rocks.
The most distance is covered by bike, and the direction of the hills make all the difference here.
One of the transition areas had a food truck - here's a video screenshot of me enjoying (ok, devouring) some mac and cheese after a couple days of racing.
Here we are with one of the objects we're always looking for: a white and orange flag with a punch hanging below it. This provides a record that we found the checkpoint.
Terrain of all kinds
Rockhopping, wading, scree sliding - the path isn't dictated for you, so make your own choices!
Enjoying the moment
Yes it's a race, but the beauty of the longer races is that there's always opportunities to slow down and take it all in.
During 5 days of racing, we found all 50 mandatory checkpoints and 6 of 32 optional ones, and finished 1.5 hours before the mandatory time cutoff. Not bad for our first expedition-length race ever.
We jogged across the finish line and were actually feeling surprisingly good after what we had just been through - particularly given that we slept a combined 8 hours total in 5 days!
This was taken immediately after the race. There's a lot of emotion wrapped up in this picture.