We Eat Dust And Like It

December 29, 2010

2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

WEDALI finished the 2010 adventure racing season with an unscheduled. Going toe-to-toe with some of the world's best endurance adventure athletes, Molly Moilanen, Justin Bakken, Scott Erlandson, and Jason Nielsen joined a competitive field of 49 other teams, represented by 18 different countries, for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge. Below is a race report from the December 10-15 event, written by teammate Jason Nielsen:
Talk about ending the 2010 race season with a bang?! How about a December race in the Desert? How about finding out 3 weeks before the race start that your team had the opportunity at: Race entry, Hotel, and Flight paid for, trip to the other side of the planet to race in ABU DHABI for the 2010 ABU DHABI ADVENTURE CHALLENGE (ADAC)? Thanks to a partnership between the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and our very own U.S. Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing Series, WEDALI, was able to secure this year’s spot in the coveted race by winning the 2010 CPTracker Race Series.
With 3 weeks and 3 thousand things to prepare, organize, acquire, and test, there would be little time to train. Who needs training anyways? It can be very time consuming and highly overrated. Plus, trying to close out the final weeks of the construction season for me at work and another team member with a mysterious intestinal disorder what could go wrong? Oh, and I still don’t have my passport.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the ADAC is not the normal Adventure Race that we commonly do here in the States. For starters, where a GPS is always on the top of the list of banned items, a GPS is mandatory gear here. Where we get maps and have to plot checkpoints and determine our own routes at home, in the ADAC we still get maps, but the points are plotted and all routes highlighted to follow. Not only that, but as we would find out, the first two days of racing would have signs and markers along the way and anytime we were in traffic, police were there stopping cars and pointing us off in the right direction. It was definitely an Adventure Challenge, not Adventure Race.
The essence of the ADAC was this: A 6-day stage race consisting of an adventure triathlon, 3 mountain bike sections, 3 mountaineering sections, a 121-km desert trek, and a 121-km sea kayak. Placing in the top 30 even assures prize money. But with a sold out race and 50 teams coming to conquer, even placing in the top 30 could be and would prove to be a challenge.
It turns out that Giardia can easily be cured with the proper medications. What is not so easy about Giardia, apparently, is the diagnosis. For over 2 weeks, Erl was down for the count with no hope of recovery. Not a great feeling going into a race, much less a 6-day race. Luckily, with a week and a half before go-time things were calming down on the inside for him. Two weeks of training lost just before a killer race. I was hoping he had a really, really, really good BASE! And the passport came.
We arrived a few days before race start to do some sightseeing and to re-acclimatize to summer conditions. We found the buffet breakfast at the hotel fantastic (minus the turkey bacon and chicken sausages). Anymore days of that and we might eat our way right out of race shape. When ‘race types’ started showing up, we knew we were in the right place. It was a great atmosphere.
I got this picture during the gear check. Oh yeah!

Then the course is revealed at the pre-race meeting.
December 10
The race started on Corniche Beach in Abu Dhabi with little fanfare. Except that NBC was there videoing, a thousand photographers were there and 2 helicopters were there to film the event. The pace and conditions were frantic at the start with 100 inflatable canoes going in the water at the same place. It was bumper boat heaven. If I had to guess where we stood when we got back to the beach where we started after the approximately 0.75 mile paddle, I would guess 35th. This turns out be a reoccurring theme for us as we progress through the race.

We then run 2+ miles to the Emirates Palace for the swim. Swim, run back to where the race started, re-enter the canoes to paddle across the bay (while dealing with loose t-handles on the paddles, and loosing 1 handle altogether) to Lulu Island for a short, 2-CP trek. This is where we get our first taste of racing in the sand with their mini sand dunes here.
After having to use actual navigation skills for 2 of the 25 minutes we were on the island, we return to our inflatables for the return to Corniche Beach and the finish of the ‘Prologue’, Section A. Our time: 2h 52m. Good enough for 36th place. Fastest time: 2h 14m (Thule).
Excited with finishing such a short section we immediately board the bus for the next stage. Section B, MTB, Mountain Trek. After almost 2 hours on the bus we arrive at Al Ain at the base of Jebel Hafeet. We find teams already there and making the most of their transition time preparing their bikes for the beginning of the next stage, which will begin in 1 hour. We find our race supplied bikes and a small piece of shade to begin changing out pedals, attaching lights, reflective tape, and making fit adjustments. Also, the tires have about 15 psi, so we search out another team with a stand pump and after some searching, one of the Russian teams kindly lends us theirs. There is just enough time to change everything over as ‘the voice’ proclaims the next start time will be in 10 minutes. A quick spin down a walking path and we are good to go. We even arrive at the starting line with almost 2 minutes to spare. AMAZING! Well, I actually think they delayed the start a minute or two, so really we were right on time in classic WEDALI fashion.
A mountain bike peloton cruising down the flatter than flat streets of Al Ain was kind of interesting. Everyone in the lead pack was crazy. It seemed they would rather die than to be dropped off the back and for good reason. The next 15 miles was paved and flat. There is a HUGE advantage to sticking with the pack if you can keep up. Us? Not quite. We essentially lasted about 5 minutes in the group because Molly’s chain would shift off the big ring when she shifted up. Luckily, each of the 3 times it did, she was able to back it up and peddle it back on without stopping. A good deal to keep us rolling, but by that time the peloton was long gone and we were a team alone.

We made the best of it and put in a good pace line passing a few others that were not able to hang on to the back either. It was fun flying through the round-abouts like we were in the Tour de France, but it was not fun knowing the peloton had dropped us like a bad habit. The paving turned to a gravely road as we approached Jebel Hafeet.
A couple of miles of that and we drop our bikes and take off on foot. We can see in the distance our destination. We run a mile or so before we start going vertical.
3,000+ vertical feet later we can see the finish, Camp 1, on the flat below on the other side of Jebel Hafeet.
There is still a ways to go for us though, including a 150’ rappel that will drop us the final leg to the valley floor. Biz here on the rappel as I ‘fun’ my way down taking pictures and videos for posterity on our way to the finish for Section C.

Section B: MTB time: 57m 40sec, good for 33rdplace
Section C: MTN Trek time: 1h 17min, good for 37thplace.
Camp 1 is a wonderful retreat. Great food. Great atmosphere with racers from around the world.

December 11
Day 2 starts out with a sprint on the flat and then has us crossing the mountain to get back on our bikes. It may be hard to see that is the line of people ahead of us climbing over the marked trail.

The end of Section D: 49m 09sec, good for 36th place.
Beginning of Section E: MTB Bike. Basically; a hill climb. Except the hill is 3,000+ feet to the top and the average grade is 8%. Pretty uneventful but it was a beautiful road and would love to have one like that at home to train on. I understand during last years race they went DOWN this same road. How lucky! Alas, it was not meant to be but we did blast our way up and finished the climb in 1:20. Good enough for 31st place!

Next up was the Mountaineering section with lots, and LOTS of rope. This section would prove to be our demise and savior at the same time. We quickly transition out and are quickly making our way along the mountain top finding the mandatory checkpoints along the way.
It is down to a shallow valley and then back up to the top where we get clipped into the ropes for a via Feratta that will be a mind numbingly good time on the ropes for the next 5 plus hours.

Yes, I said over 4 hours on rope. No need to go into details when this can best be explained in pictures.
Going over the edge to start.
Notice the guy in the distance about half way up the rock. We traversed that face to where the picture was taken. The man in the photo is Liam from Sleepmonsters/Rogue.
Molly navigating a boulder.
Erl having the time of his life!
Up close and personal.
It was never ending. There was nothing that was overly technical and luckily we didn’t have any problems with bottlenecks considering the time we spent on the ropes. Amazing I know.
The downfall for us was what happened when we reached the rappel, or did NOT reach it in time rather. It felt really unusual to not make a cut-off. But there we were, once we reached the final checkpoint to get off the ropes, we were directed to the bottom to await further instructions. We were the 1st team not allowed to continue and it was not a great feeling. We were given no real options and felt lost.
Almost immediately though, race officials began to arrive and within 15 minutes we had the information we needed. Hike out three miles to the road where a bus will be waiting for you. The walk of shame!

Considering how bad things were, we tried to focus on the good of the deal. 1. We would not have to climb back UP the mountain and spend a likely 2-3 hours completing the course. 2. We could use this as a nice recovery and prepare for the 94km+121km bike and desert trek. 3. As far as we knew, the odd way penalties work here is that we might only be assessed the time of the last team to complete the stage +1 hour. Not too bad probably and we don’t have to kill ourselves for another 2+ hours. However, that also means that all teams directly behind us will pretty much get the same exact time as us. Like we have a choice. 
Section F: With 2 hours of penalties, we end up with: 9h 56m
The bus ride out into the real desert is interesting. We make it to camp though, but it is already dark when we arrive and we are looking at getting some good food and a nice nap before the next mornings 4:00am start on bikes for Section G.
Dinner is great and we get to cozy up to Thule NZ as we eat. Mr. Usher and Mr. Fa’avae are great to chat with. They give us some pointers for the desert which is basically that this years general direction of travel will be much harder than last years. Great, we thought the tougher the better for us. Afterwards we retire to our camp. We get additional maps and the locations of the ‘optional’ checkpoints to plug into the GPS. The optional points don’t have coordinates, they are merely placed on the map so Biz does some studying and calculates a rough coordinate location so that can be GPS’d . Erl and I try to locate our bikes which is harder than it should be. Our excuse was that there are 180 bikes that are exactly the same.
December 12 & 13
Another amazing breakfast but where I was making fun of the elites earlier about their Coco Krispies , all of a sudden, this seems like an awesome addition to the other offerings.
The race begins on a sandy road and what seems to be the entrance to Rub’ al Khali (the Empty Quarter). Immediately there is trouble out of the gate in front of us. Again, the teams in the front get to avoid the delay and are off to the races as the teams in back sort things out. Again we are alone within the first two minutes of the stage. The road is broken up asphalt paving that is mostly good with a few areas that are so bad we detour around them. The going is good and an hour in we feel like we are doing quite well. The odd thing is there are individuals without teams here and there. Not sure why so many people seem to be on their own but we stick together and keep a tight line while the road is good because we expect that to end anytime. Two hours in and we hit the 1st CP. All is good and we recalculate our time for the section because it seems to be going so well. Well, that was the first third. The next third would be nothing like the first. The asphalt turned into what looked like a cement treated base, with drifts of sand here and there and EVERYWHERE. The road was rough when there was a road, and miserable when it was sand. I suspect we spent as much time off our bikes pushing as we did riding this part.
Grace came at the next CP and the end of the desert bike whack. From there it was smooth sailing for the last 20 miles when we would reach our transition to the desert trek.
SECTION G, Bike: 7h 00m. Good for 32nd place!

Now, after a nice 7 hour warm up on the bike the real fun is about to begin. Trekking 121km, (approx 72 miles) if we hit all the optional checkpoints. Only 70km if we just take the mandatory points. We spend almost 1 hour in transition stripping our bikes and preparing enough gear and food to last us the next 30 hours.
Then we head out of the desert oasis of Hamim.

There will be no race provided supper tonight. We are on our own until the 6pm cutoff the next evening. Rushing into the desert sands on foot is a refreshing break from the bike and is almost fun.
We quickly catch and pass a team in front of us on the way to the first checkpoint. Navigation? Erl gets in on the act and leads the way!
We arrive at the 3rd CP late in the afternoon and the temp is hot. Where it has been mostly moderate everywhere we’ve been so far, the UAE winter day temp in the desert was around 95°F. We choose to set up a brief camp as many others had already done and take a break from the day time heat to rest and plan our attack for the optional CP’s (8 hours of rest taken at two or less CPs was mandatory).
Thanks to our Mandatory Gear Puppy Piles, we saved considerable weight on our travels.
Only being a few hours into the desert, and still ‘on the edge’, we next proceeded to strategize our ultimate demise. With only taking two hours of our mandatory combined eight hour break at our first stop, we set up ourselves for torture. Heading out of camp at the same time the Yogaslackers went out, we both maintained a nice stiff pace for an hour or so and at which time the sun began to set. The footprints in the sand said go one way but we decided we might try a more direct route. After just a few minutes and the rumble of an emanating sand slide, we stopped in our tracks and retreated back to the path more traveled. By the time we got back on ‘trail’ we were all alone again. Our strategy was to go for the 1st two optional CPs (of four total) even though the 3rd optional looked to be the easiest and shortest to get. Our thoughts were to ‘go for it’ and skip 1 or both of the remaining 2 at the end if we had to. We didn’t want to look back and wish we would have gone for the earlier ones had time allowed. By the time we nearly reached the 1st of the optionals, we were already questioning our strategy and everyone was running the math in their heads with the time and distance left to see if it was possible. If it stayed the same, we were good. That was not the case though after we reached the 2nd of the optionals and by that time, it was too late to reconsider. From there we were going against the grain all the way to the next mandatory CP. Up the soft steep sides of all the dunes. No more free bounds down the soft sides. It was straight up. And it was tough. The fun was done and we were just trying to survive and get to the finish. As the fun was just beginning to end.
We staggered into the 2nd to last mandatory CP just before dawn. Biz and I were having a really hard time staying awake. Molly and Erl pulled us through. We decided to change our plans of resting at the last mandatory CP and break there. We had to. We rested/slept for approx 2 hours before getting up and eating a breakfast of cold instant soup. The first few bites were AWESOME. The last few were AWFUL. We made do and went to checkout. Based on our previous rate of travel, we seriously were in doubt of being able to make it the finish in the next 12 hours. After explaining our case to the race director his simple reply was “Go.” Apparently he knew something we didn’t or else we were still incoherent. Either way, with our shoe cover setup and not having had a chance to take them off our feet, it was going to be a fun 12 hour trek to the finish.
At this point teams were going off in all directions and none of it really made sense to us.
Apparently we were still in a fog but we trudged on. Soon we were climbing more dunes and the temp was getting hot, fast. Here we're getting our hurt on with the Yankee Scribes, a fellow US team.
Eventually we came across a road which offered a great relief for our feet. After 60+ miles in the sand we were ready for it to be done.
Arriving at the last mandatory CP was no cause to rejoice. It was hot, our feet were on the verge of going bad, and we still had about 10k to go to the finish. We never planned to get the last optional CP (because it even looked bad on the map) after this one and also had to skip the "short and easy" one on our way to the final mandatory CP. We were beat down pretty good at this point, and it came down to what gets us through so many of the long, mind numbing sections of races at home: Perseverance. It was almost a crawl from that point to the finish but we made it.
Not the hardest section I’ve ever been through physically, but mentally it might have been. The sand just does not end. Ever. In the end, we estimated we trekked approx. 75 miles. (add an extra 10 miles for the 2 steps forward 1 step back sand hill climbs)
Our time for SECTION H: 27h 47m. With a 12 hour penalty for 2 missed optional CP’s and 8.5 hours for not taking the mandatory ‘stop’ time, we finished with a total time of 48h 15m. Placing us in 29th for the day. Miraculously, there was food at the finish line. It truly was a blessing. I am not kidding!
Next up, a 3 hour bus ride to the coast!
When we arrive at our seaside camp of Mirfa it is already dark. Everyone is walking slow as we file off the busses. People are having troubles fitting their feet back into their shoes. I know we don’t even want to put our feet in them but we manage. We find our #13 bags in the giant pile of gear bags and find what looks like a great place to set up tents for the night. Right on the beach (this photo was taken the next day).

Before, during, and after the nights supper we and every other racer are visiting the results tube. We move around in placings from 23rd, 29th, 31st, before finally falling into 27th place, 8 minutes behind 26th as we finish our gear prep and turn in for the night. There were many revisions to the results as everyone’s time was tabulated and penalties calculated. We weren’t sure of anything except we were glad to be out of the desert sand and in the white beach sand preparing for the 121km paddle back to Abu Dhabi over the next 2 days.
December 14
3:42am.. I briefly awake to the sound of wind. Strong wind. I see a flash of light and in my dream state kind of think it might be lighting and as I drift back asleep I dream that it IS lighting and maybe we won’t have to get in the kayaks when morning comes. 4:20am and it is time to get up, pack up and get ready for our final stage. No lighting. What was I thinking? This is a DESERT! It certainly is windy but there is only 1 Adventure Race I’ve ever been in where the weather has altered the course and that was way back in 2003 with 40mph winds, snow, and a paddle on the Mississippi River in the dark. The only problem with this wind is we have mandatory sails on our $3,000 2-person kayaks and the thought of suffering for so many miles in a wind like this was not a great thought.

No one said it out-loud, but I’m sure many were thinking it. After breakfast and packing up some gear, ‘the voice’ comes on over the speaker system. “Due to the wind, the start of Section I, is being temporarily postponed until further notice.” No one knows what to say or what to do. I think most people quietly rejoice in the fact and hope for a little more rest time before starting the day. Within an hour the final verdict is revealed. “Today’s leg of the sea kayak will be cancelled and you will be bused the following day back to Abu Dhabi for a shortened, to be determined, stage for the finish.” This announcement comes with relief and sorrow for all. I don’t think anyone’s heart was broken that we have the day off but at the same time, this IS an adventure race (challenge) and cutting a huge part out feels like someone stole a piece of your soul. It is really hard to describe. There is an empty feeling in camp. No one knows what to do. I suppose we will live, but for all intensive purposes, the race is now over. So much for getting to paddle on the ocean. So much for getting to camp overnight on an island. So much for a grand arrival back in Abu Dhabi. Even now, many weeks and many miles removed, I still feel like we didn’t complete what we went there to do. Still empty.
We mull around for awhile, recheck the posted results before deciding we would try a little nap. Sounded good right? That was when being on the beach turned out to not be such a great idea. The sand came again. Nothing like lying in a closed up tent and having sand rain down you as you try to sleep. INSANE!

We got to miss the wind and sandstorm in the desert, which last years racers experienced, but we're getting a little taste of what it could be like right there in camp.
Enough was enough. We get up and team up with the Yankee Scribes and walk into town in search of food. Dreams of a restaurant or even a McDonalds dance in our heads. Once we make it to the main street area we go door to door in search of food. We find a restaurant, but the prices were crazy. We sample the offerings from 4 different grocery stores. Nothing crazy. Cheetos, potato chips, ice cream sandwich, and soda pop. The Gulf News on display had a shot of the Metrodome collapse from the snowstorm. Local news from home and we are TOTALLY in the middle of nowhere. Nice! (Not upset about missing that though)
We find a grassy area to eat and chat with new friends before heading back to camp. Time to move our tents off the beach! I am also able to phone home from camp this day. It was good, and hard, to hear the voice of Andrea. Taking a day off and not racing was harder emotionally than physically at this point. I had been away from home for 10 days now. Away from wife and kids. It was the longest I’d ever been away from them. Here we were in exotic Abu Dhabi and all I could think about was how can I make this time up to SDK? It wasn’t fair.
We camp for a second night in Mirfa before loading up again the next morning.

December 15
A 2-hour bus ride back to Abu Dhabi and we are back where it all started. Corniche Beach. The kayaks are lined up, but without their sails.

It is still windy so they choose to keep us in the bay and have us do three laps of 11km each. The wind is not bad in the protection of the bay and after we prep our kayaks, we line up for the start of what should only be 3-4 hours of paddling before the race is complete.
We race across the beach and load into our kayaks. So many boats in such a small area. Always fun considering the field spread out pretty fast and it is smooth paddling from here on out. Knowing that the Kiwi’s are the strongest paddlers in the world, we jokingly wonder if they will be able to lap us before we finish. As we approach the first island CP, they are paddling away and they look like machines. So much for the pleasantries as we cheer them on - No reply, they are ALL business. We paddle on and actually hope we can hold them off lest we DO get lapped.

We knew we only had to maintain and get through the day and would have a lock on 27th place. I think we were two hours ahead of the next team at the start of the day but only 8 minutes behind the team in front. We kept them in our sights, but as we were coming into a CP, they were always leaving just ahead of us. They seemed to know it too and they had an eye on us. After 2 laps though, there was no way to make up the 8 minutes unless something went really wrong for them. And it did not. We beach our boats back at Corniche and run up to ‘plug’ for the final time. It was a nice way to finish the race.
No real pressure, much like the final stage of the Tour de France. No real changes to the overall leader board but always a few battling for the stage win. We were not one of them. But we did finish.
Section I time: 4h 17min 37th place.
Good enough to land us in 27th place overall. Well, at least until the final numbers came in. Turns out they hadn’t quite calculated all of the penalties on the previously posted results. Our actual time placed us 29th overall and just 52 seconds ahead of 30th place. Talk about close.
In all, I think we were happy with where we finished. It was a great experience and a first class race all the way. Our hats go off to the ADTA for setting out to create a world class event. They certainly succeeded.

Credit for additional pictures and the ones found on the CPTracker website goes to (awesome photographer) Chris Radcliffe.

November 11, 2010

Checkpoint Tracker National Championships

On Friday, October 29, Jason, Andrea, Erl, and Biz competed in the inaugural Checkpoint Tracker National Championships in Moab, Utah. Jason & Andrea brought an entourage of gear, kids, and parents for a goal-oriented family vacation road trip, while Biz and Erl took the quick route via plane from Minnesota direct to Moab. Racing in the big southwest was a first for our crew, so we were excited just to be in that epic region of the United States.
It was great seeing some familiar AR faces and our team enjoyed the playful atmosphere. After a bit of pre-race hullabaloo we were hopeful to catch legendary AR rockstar Ian Adamson give a presentation, but the equipment requirements and remote TA preparation kept us busy most of the night.  Even without a pre-race meeting (which saved us some time) we wanted to dial in our gear - checking, rechecking - and TA strategery before and we finally hit the hay.
Race morning came early, but we dressed for success - in a lot of equipment that we've never used in a race before! The first leg would be a river boarding section, something that had us all on edge.
Everything went according to plan however, and we completed the 30 minute "swim" through a few chilly rapids without incident.
We made the first TA with haste, ditching our boards for two-person white water kayaks to paddle 20+ miles down the Colorado River to the Gold Bar. The scenery was incredible, even from our low vantage point.
After the paddle, we tried to catch up with the leaders of the race during a not-so-quick TA from paddle to trek. Most everyone had to take care of boats, change clothes, plot CPs, and generally figure out which way to go to get to the next checkpoint - located high up on Poison Spider Mesa.
We made quick time up to the ropes and pushed with ImOnPoint to catch the leaders, arriving in the top 5 teams. The trail up the mesa was beautiful. Check out the video below to get a feel for the terrain (notice that it is rugged - especially for those who get motion sick easily....).
We were graced with the race course passing by Corona Arch. 
On top of the mesa you can see the TA by the river below.
The run on slickrock was a great experience - we don't get anything like it the Midwest, that's for sure.  Trekking sections are normally our strong suit, but the unfamiliar terrain, aerial photo map, and two critical mistakes on our part made this section the most challenging of the race. First, our initial route choice after CP3 was less than ideal, and second we lost time searching for a checkpoint that we mis-plotted (which we didn't realize until after the race, since we replotted incorrectly AGAIN in the field). We finally made our way to the ropes, and chose time penalties for missed CPs on the course rather than time penalties for missing the ropes cutoffs - it was a lose-lose situation. When we arrived at the ropes, a queue awaited us, and we were forced to wait our turn (in approximately 20th place) with many other teams before completing a huge traverse.
Jason took a great video of Andrea crossing the second half of the traverse. Check it out if you want a sense of what it's like to pull yourself across a 300 foot gap.
Running short on time, we quickly ran from the traverse to the rappel, arriving with less than 10 minutes to spare before the second ropes cutoff. 
The rappel dropped us over the last dry falls en route to the TA where we started. We knew that we had just received 4 hours of penalties for two missed CPs, and it took the wind out of our sails. We still didn't know that we had mis-plotted CP6 and we looked for too long in the wrong spot after re-plotting (incorrectly). This did not leave us enough time to pursue CP5, and we realized that a top spot at the race was likely lost. Other teams had found the CP without any problems and we silently ran to the TA, arriving at dusk, wondering where we had gone wrong.
No answers to our questions came to us, but one thing did. A bit of passion for adventure racing? The competitive spirit? Maybe it was magic DUST....
We were in beautiful Moab to race, and 4-hour penalty or not, we were going to push as hard as we could.
We got on our bikes and hammered on the road toward Moab, through town, and up toward the fabled Slickrock mountain bike trails. Starting at the Slickrock Bike trail parking lot, we were given the option of obtaining CPs by foot, by bike, or via a combination of bike/hike by dropping our steeds and running loops. The Slickrock map is pasted below.
Our crew opted for the bike/hike combo, and we rode the challenging trails at night to the first few CPs, located near the Practice Loop. Our route included all of the main trails (in blue) on the map above, as well as the red loop to the northeast. Running the trails and cutting off corners was almost as fast as biking the technical trails at night, but had the added benefit of more efficient navigation and map contact. Our effort was solid and we made good time, emerging back at the TA within the top 5 teams. Unfortunately, with a score-O rogaine section so early in the race, it is hard to know who is ahead and who is behind in the rankings. In our case, we know we're behind due to penalties, but we fight for each spot, not knowing what the race course holds in the future.
The last section entailed a ride on gravel road and two-track up toward the La Sal mountain range, mostly on segments known as the Kokopelli Trail. CP23 is located almost 20 miles away, and it was all uphill. We climbed from an elevation of 4600ft to over 8300ft. We passed ImOnPoint earlier in the ride, but they stick within sight and we couldn't shake them. Nearing the top, we caught up to Team Gore-Tex and put on our coats at the same time for the descent back to Red Cliffs Lodge (also the start location).
We knew the descent back to the lodge would be mostly downhill, but none of us realized how much so.  It was Tour-de-France-esque with sinuous, tight mountain roads and often a steep grade. We pushed the pace in the dark night by using our brakes as little as possible, but shivered from the cold 40-degree temps and the lack of effort to warm our bodies. We rode for 30+ minutes downhill, scantly peddling, save for one minor ascent and the flat 1.5 miles along the Colorado River back to the lodge.
Our efforts paid off, and we were the third team to cross the finish line at 21 hours & 15 minutes. Osprey Packs and Team Yogaslackers, leaders throughout most of the race, had a speedy effort and finished approximately 2 hours earlier. ImOnPoint finished 4 minutes behind us, then DART-nuun-SportMulti 6 minutes after that, passing Team Gore-Tex on the way to the finish, another 6 minutes back.
The teams that finished directly behind us would eventually become the top 3 teams in the race, in the order that they finished. Osprey Packs and the Yogaslackers unfortunately garnered 6-hour time penalties post-race for taking a route that was later deemed impermissible, and their rankings dropped with ours behind the final leaders.
After the fog lifted, WEDALI placed 9th in a very competitive field of teams. In retrospect, it is hard to know how the race would have turned out if we had not mis-plotted CP6. Then again, in some respects, the true spirit of WEDALI is likely at it's finest when pushing hard from the back of the pack to place 9th.

October 20, 2010

WEDALI Wins 2010 USARA National Championships

WEDALI finished the 2010 United States Adventure Racing Association's (USARA) National Championships in 1st Place after almost 23 hours of racing, claiming victory to the top spot amongst a competitive field of 44 teams from throughout the U.S. The team mountain biked, orienteered, and paddled their way to victory near the town of Hidden Valley, nestled in the scenic Laurel Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. Below is a race report from the October 15 event, written by teammate Molly Moilanen:


2010 USARA Nationals Race Report

Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania

Over the past year WEDALI neglected its blog and failed to write a single race report. Between work, school, racing, training and traveling, our rehashing of each race’s highs and lows was done primarily on road rides and trail runs with teammates and training buddies. Snapshots of races can be found on our attackpoint logs, but to hear an in-depth account of a particular race, score-o section, pack rafting nightmare or mystery team challenge, you have to bike with us at Murphy or run the hills at Theo. OTNT (orienteering Tuesday night training) is where we swapped stories of our adventures and found inspiration to rally for next weekend’s race.

But if any race deserves a written race report, it’s the 2010 USARA National Championships in Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania. My 2010 AR season is over so instead of hitting the trails, tonight I’ll tell the story of one of the most memorable days of my entire life – the day WEDALI (We Eat Dust and Like It) won the USARA National Championships.

Background: WEDALI was born in the spring of 2003 when Justin (Biz) Bakken, Paul Bronkhorst and Scott (Erl) Erlandson met at a ropes clinic and a local orienteering meet. Ellen Farseth joined the team in 2004, followed by Scott (Scooter) Lund, Molly Moilanen (me) and Jason and Andrea Nielsen from Battle Creek, Iowa. Over the years, Amy Vroom, Darin Soukup, Andrew Kroese and Tom Puzak have also raced with WEDALI, making our team better (and taller). WEDALI is more than an AR team. To me, WEDALI is magic. WEDALI is inspiration. WEDALI is family.

October 14, 2010, 1:28 p.m.: I sit in a conference room somewhere in Minnesota country, watching the minutes tick by as my Board of Directors argues about the best ways to “measure success” as we kick-off our next strategic planning cycle. When the clock hits 1:30 p.m., I race out the door like Cinderella in a new pair of trail-runners. Miraculously, the next eight hours go as planned and at 9:30 p.m., I unite with my teammates – Biz and Erl – in Hidden Valley. The boys arrived around noon and spent the day prepping our team for the race. This is WEDALI’s twelfth race of 2010, so we have a good handle on our pre-race ritual. We crawl into bed before midnight and deposit some sleep hours in the bank, a rare commodity before a thirty-hour adventure race. Feeling confident about our pre-race preparations, we set our alarms for 6:20 a.m. and snooze until 6:30.

October 15, 2010, 6:55 a.m.: Erl heads up to headquarters (HQ) to collect maps and stake out a table for UTM plotting. Biz and I arrive shortly after 7:00 a.m., ready to plot and select our course. Before we start plotting, Biz copies forbidden routes from a set of master maps hanging on the wall. Tracing the maps is more tedious than expected and requires focus and precision. By the time we start plotting UTM coordinates, we’re behind. The team next to us – Team Granite, who won Nationals last year – is already working on their route selections. I remind myself to focus on OUR maps and OUR race. Finally, with all 15 of our UTMs plotted, Biz digs in. By triangulating information from three sets of maps, he determines the path we will chase for the next 23 hours.

7:55 a.m.: Erl makes his way to the start line to catch last-minute instructions and to represent our team for the national anthem and pre-race prayer. Biz and I hunch over the plotting station debating whether to take the shorter two-track or the longer paved road from checkpoint to checkpoint. Realizing the race is seconds from starting, I panic. “Biz, let’s go! You can finish this later. They’re starting!” Biz remains focused and assures me that taking a few extra minutes now to choose smart routes and organize our maps will pay off later. By the time we reach Erl at the start line, the race is underway. In the distance, two minutes and thirty seconds ahead of us, we see a mob of animated adventure racers in clean, multicolored jerseys making their way up the grassy green ski slope in pursuit of the first orienteering map. Filled with cinnamon raisin bagels and adrenaline, WEDALI kicks into high gear. We bound across the field and up the hill. Biz and Erl each take one of my hands and together we close the gap on the mob. Robyn Benincasa, the grandmother of adventure racing, had accompanied everyone at the start. When she spots us closing the gap, she bursts out laughing. “It’s WEDALI. What’s going on? Where have you been?” After failed attempts at sarcasm, we explain that we needed a little extra time on the maps but NOW we’re ready to go.

At the top of the hill, a volunteer hands Biz the map for the prologue – a nine-point micro-orienteering section within the immediate Hidden Valley vicinity. With Biz dialed on the map and Erl focused on punching the control flags, we tick off the checkpoints (CPs). We navigate to controls placed by building, parking lots, ponds, hillsides and gullies. Pushing the pace, we make it back to the HQ with the top teams.

With our rough morning and late start behind us, we change our shoes, throw on our helmets and bike out of the transition area (TA) with the leaders embarking on the first of many long and hilly bike legs. With bikes in “big ring 12,” teams fly out of HQ at 18mph but are quickly slowed by a mandatory route consisting of muddy, slippery, steep single-track. We ride as much as we can but get stuck pushing our bikes through some sections. Hitting CP1, we reunite with teams that selected a different allowed route. Looking discouraged, Biz claims that our route would have been faster if he wouldn’t have taken a few wrong turns on the maze of trails. “We’re all good, buddy,” Erl reassures Biz as we ratchet up the pace on the gravel road. We do our best to stick with the uber-bikers but resist the temptation to bury ourselves in the first hour of the race. Between CP1 and CP3 we bike with a number of teams, including some friends from the mighty Midwest – Proformance and Bushwhacker. We arrive at CP2, the top of a ski hill, alongside Trackers. On the way to CP3, Biz explains that once we get to the general area of the flag, we can ride a single-track trail or bike around on the road and bushwhack to the control. We survey the single-track trail and decide to go with option B – bike around and bushwhack.

Teams Tecnu Extreme/StaphAseptic and Bushwhacker opt for the single-track and we follow Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) around on the road. We leave our bikes and slip into the woods a few meters behind them. Feeling the need for some energy, I pull out a strawberry Uncrustable from my pack and enjoy the first sugary bites. Suddenly, I snap to attention. I hear the baritone voices of EMS’s male teammates in front of us yelling “Hey bear! Ho bear!” followed by the loud crunching and crashing of breaking branches. I freeze in my tracks with a half-eaten PB&J in my hand. A moment passes. I regain my breath and sprint toward the protection of my teammates. “Holy shit! Did you see the bear?” “I didn’t see it, but I heard it and I think it wants my Uncrustable.”

We are with two other teams on the hunt for CP3, and all of us expect the flag to be along the stream. Biz eventually spots the control on the top of the 12-foot riverbank. Using vines and rocks as hand and footholds, Erl climbs to the top of the riverbank to punch the CP. We bushwhack back to our bikes, keeping our eye out for bears, reconsidering our route choice.

We push the pace to CP4 and CP5. We enjoy mixing it up with two-time National Champions, iMOAT. They are an awesome team from Texas riding made-in-Minnesota Salsa bicycles. Sweet!

Four hours into the race, we look forward to the paddle and a break from our bikes. When our route to the reservoir dead-ends, we decide to ditch our bikes in the woods and bushwhack up the bluff to the reservoir. (Side note: we were required to bring a bike lock, so this must be our chance to use it!) Tecnu and Granite already stashed their bikes in the woods. Bushwhacker heads into the woods just in front of us and confirms that we are the lead four teams at CP6. Despite the odd location for a bike drop, I tell myself that this MUST be the right spot. All six team members from WEDALI and Bushwhacker ditch our bikes and change shoes. We scamper up the bluff, work our way over a gaping reentrant and ultimately climb down a steep drop-off to a concrete wall lining the giant spillway jetting out from the reservoir where we will pick up canoes. The spillway wall is 20 feet high, so falling would be disastrous. On the other hand, contouring above the concrete ledge looks equally dangerous. Stopped in our tracks, we scan our surroundings for the least dangerous option. We hear a voice from above: “Hey there! You have to bike around. There’s no way through here to the reservoir.” A race volunteer has heard about the teams’ route choice and came to find us. I’m filled with mixed emotions. I’m thankful that we won’t have to continue along the steep wall but confused about how WEDALI and three other lead teams all made the same time-consuming decision. Later in the day, we learn that race staff intended for us to take a pedestrian bridge to a park/campground where we would find a paved road to take us to the top of the reservoir. (Side note: I don’t know what happened but when the navigators from Tecnu [Kyle], Granite [Erik], Bushwhacker [Fredrik] and WEDALI [Biz] all take the same “misguided” route, I’d bet that the “correct” route was not as obvious as intended.)

When we arrive at the boat launch, teams are swarming in. Biz makes a beeline to the master map to copy down our paddling points. Non-navigators rush around selecting boats, securing middle seats and assembling paddles. The beach is chaotic but we manage a speedy transition and enter the water in good company with EMS, Bushwhacker, imONPoint and Tecnu. Teams ATP, Granite, iMOAT, Sog and a few others are ahead of us. Over the next few hours, my team doesn’t talk much. We focus, find our rhythm and work hard to keep our boat moving efficiently through the wind and chop. We break up the paddle legs with a few short portages across muddy peninsulas that formed because of low water conditions. The highlight of the paddle happens on our way back to the boat launch. After punching the last CP, we turn the boat around and head across the vast field of water straight into the chop, wind and rain. The rain stings my face and the cold rushes through my raincoat and signature, sexy shower cap. We spot the portage and are greeted by a clear and sunny blue sky and a wide and glittering rainbow on the other side. We launch into quoting the double-rainbow guy from YouTube providing some comic relief for our team as well as teams around us. “It’s a total complete double rainbow.” “What does it mean?” “It’s so vivid and bright.”

Back on shore, we ditch our boats and transition to bikes. Out of the TA, we are with Tecnu and imONPoint and slightly in front of EMS and Bushwhacker. Our next challenge is the “team time trial.” The team with the fastest time on this leg wins a special prize. Chomping at the bit, Tecnu quickly jumps ahead of us, and we begin a minute later alongside imONPoint. Looking closely at the map, Biz tells us not to kill ourselves because we are in for a long climb. He is right! The time trial consists of a FOUR-mile climb up a rocky two-track. We take over an hour to climb the 1600 feet. We bike a fair portion of the hill but resort to pushing our bikes when sections become too steep or rocky to stay on our bikes. We stick close to imONPoint and have fun joking around with them. “We’re totally drafting off you guys,” Biz exclaimed as all six of us push our bikes up and around a steep corner. “Let’s all get into aero and form a long draft line,” someone suggests as we shift into granny-granny trying to maintain 3mph up the rocky road.

I’m relieved when we finally reach the top. I know we haven’t set any records or won the leg, but it’s over and we made it. We continue biking for another mile on grassy trails to the next TA/CP10, a warming hut at Sugarloaf. Biz hustles to plot points for our next orienteering section. Erl and I deal with food, trash and miscellaneous gear. Robyn Benincasa is at the TA handing out jokes and pep talks.

We head out on the o-section with Tecnu and decide to trek to the top of Sugarloaf first. On the way up, I see one team member, Mari, surveying a trail map while another, Kyle, focuses on the topo map. I ask Mari where she got the trail map and she says that they were handed out while they were plotting at the hut. WEDALI never received a trail map – and I wonder if this slip will hose us. Mari shares the map with Biz, who seems unfazed, so I take a breath and focus on getting my butt to the top of the Sugarloaf. The o-section is fun and beautiful. The trees are just past their peak colors and the sun paints soft pastels across the sky as it sets.

We run the open trails and refuel on Coke and cold pizza hiking up the big climbs. Biz nails the controls and Erl keeps us moving with quick in & outs at each flag. We cross paths with ATP, iMOAT, Sog and Tecnu but are alone for most of this section until the last CP. The last flag sits in a huge reentrant lined with wet, slippery, shifty rocks. We pull out our headlamps and peck our way down, searching for handholds and stable footing. I slip, smashing my left shin into a pointed rock. Tears well up in my eyes and I manage a whimper. I breathe and think about the strong AR women who keep me going when I’m about to lose it (Ellen, Andrea, Rachel, Mari, Jen, Robyn and many more – thank you!). Like ants on a discarded apple core, I see the cluster of headlights buzzing around what must be the flag. Biz catches my eye and points back up the reentrant. On all fours, we crawl for most of the 600 feet back to the top, stopping for quick breathers and to help Erik from Team Granite who has slipped on a greasy rock and hit his head. This dude is tough as nails. Luckily he is only dazed and walks away with a one-inch cut over his eye.

When we pop out onto the gravel road, I thank the stars that everyone made it without injury. We run to the TA and concentrate on changing our shoes and getting back on our bikes for the long ride back to Hidden Valley, where we started over twelve hours ago. Biz grabs a couple of meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) of bacon and cheese sandwiches provided by the race organizers. He offers one to Erl and me but we refuse, sticking to our standby selections, Ritz cheese and crackers, Uncrustables, and Trail Mix MoJo Bars. Race staff informs us that Sog and ATP are ahead and we leave the TA within seconds of iMOAT, Tecnu and Granite. Tecnu and iMOAT pass us early in the leg and we eventually catch ATP and Sog.

Biz and Erl take turns towing me up the big grinders. Despite the interference of night-biking monsters named Rut, Darkness and Gravel, we try to limit use of our breaks on the huge descents, maximizing our momentum. We stop once with Granite and Sog to pull water from a roadside creek, and once again 30 minutes later to add Gatorade powder to our iodine-treated water. We gulp the metallic fruit punch, which actually tastes good since we’ve been out of liquids for a long time. When we reach CP1, a familiar five-way intersection, the race director Doug greets us from his cozy seat in his American Adventure Sports truck. We stop and Biz contemplates our options to take us back to the HQ. Talking out loud, he weighs the benefits of taking some single-track to a road or a longer two-track trail. Doug interrupts: “You’re almost back, and either way will get you there, but you’re just wasting time sitting here.”

Message received! We push the pace and arrive at HQ to discover that we are in second place. We’re stoked! We know a long trek is ahead of us but we relish long night orienteering sections. During races, long night o-sections are usually where we make up time or establish our lead. Biz works on maps and Erl and I deal with gear, ditching trash and paddles, swapping batteries, rearranging food and filling bladders in the warm chalet bathrooms. For some reason, we transition slowly. Thankfully ATP bursts into the chalet, motivating us to get our booties on the o-course. By the time we leave, Tecnu is 42 minutes ahead of us, ATP is 10 minutes behind us and we don’t know what happened to iMOAT, Granite or Sog – all fast teams in contention for the top spot.

The o-course consists of nine controls, of which CP1-CP8 can be obtained in any order; teams must visit CP9 last. We trek up the ski slope to a community of townhomes where the first CP is located. Set in an urban location, this CP should be easy but when we find the feature, a small pond, we can’t spot the flag. We run around the entire pond searching on trees and benches for a mini-control flag. Finally, Biz’s headlamp pings the orange and white flag in the middle of the pond. Just as Erl is about to dive into the pond and swim to the flag, we realize that the control is at the end of a narrow land bridge jetting into the middle of the pond. Erl runs around the pond and punches. Our first CP has not gone as planned but now it’s time to head into the woods where we thrive.

Over the next four hours, we trek along rocky trails bagging controls, running whenever we can and fast-hiking across the creeks and up the inclines. We stick mostly to trails, bushwhacking shortcuts when the brambles allow. We see only Team Sog, who has decided to run the controls in the opposite order as us. After our eighth control, we trek back to the main dirt road where the five-way intersection is located. Our spirits are up, our legs still willing to run and none of us struggle with sleep monsters. Making our way to CP9, we see teams biking to HQ and teams early in the trek . . . but no Tecnu. Where are they? They could be an hour in front of us or a minute behind us. Unlike a triathlon, during an adventure race, you rarely know your position in relation to other teams. Solid AR teams, including WEDALI, frequently blow huge leads by misinterpreting the map, missing a bend in the trail, or selecting the less ideal route when presented with seemingly equal options. On the other hand, in the blackness of night, teams frequently overtake each other without even crossing paths. This is why you can never concede and never stop pushing during an adventure race.

We dive into the woods and ascend the last big hill to CP9. Reaching the top, we asked the volunteers manning the final CP how many teams have been through this point. “One team ran through here but they didn’t punch.” “So WE are the first team to punch?” “Yep. You’re the first team to punch.” We shoot each other knowing glances, communicating the cacophony of emotions running through our heads. Without a word, we duck back into the woods and bound down the hill, madly swatting branches and spider webs out of our way. Almost to the bottom, we spot a set of three lights heading up the hill. Again, without saying much, we all know that those lights likely belong to Kyle, Sean and Mari of Team Tecnu. They biked the previous leg 30 minutes faster than us and could undoubtedly beat us in a head-to-head footrace if it came to that. The trek to the finish was only a mile and consisted of routes that we took earlier in the race, so we knew we had to push it to stay ahead of the ghost chasing us.

Running down the wet, grassy trail, we let our feet fly but pay careful attention to each step. We cannot afford a sprained ankle right now. When we hit the hill behind the townhomes, Erl and Biz each take a hand as they did during the first minutes of the race and the three of us make our way through the woods and over the road to the familiar ski slope. We float down the hill and soar under the USARA banner. Looking around, we’re not sure what to do. Someone tells us to run inside. Someone tells us to punch the finish. I think we do both but the next few minutes are a blur. I remember hearing the volunteer who checked our punch card say, “Looks good.” And hearing Biz let out a joyous, “YES! We did it!” I remember Biz’s wet jersey smashed on my check as the three of us grabbed each other hugging and crying. I cover my face with my hands, thinking, “I can’t believe it – this is not real.” I collapse on the ground overcome with fatigue and disbelief. Eyes closed I hear, “Here they come,” and a minute later Tecnu crosses under the banner. Six minutes separate our times. Six minutes over the course of 23 hours is nothing. I know they are disappointed but they are gracious and supportive competitors ready to toast a glass tonight and rematch tomorrow.

After more than 100 adventure races together and seven trips to USARA Nationals, WEDALI pulls it off. We raced our own race, staying true to our long-held philosophy of “smart and steady.” Take time to prepare and refuel when needed. Push when we can. Keep faith in each other. Never give up.

Our friends and family in Minnesota and around the Midwest have been incredible. We are humbled by your calls, emails and Facebook posts. Thank you for all your support and encouragement over the years. Thank you for pushing the pace on training rides, joining us in the middle of winter for night snow runs and teaching us how to read a map and use a compass. We share this victory with you and want you to know that you are a huge part of the dream-come-true that we call WEDALI.

-Molly Moilanen