We Eat Dust And Like It

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.