August 20, 2010

The Gold Rush Adventure Race

This last weekend, I got to join team Dart-NUUN-SportMulti for the Gold Rush Adventure Race in Long Barn, California. Gold country! We would be racing through the Stanislaus National Forest just North of Yosemite, South of Tahoe and West of Sonora. Gold! The race was set for a 24 hour format with about 30 checkpoints along the way and while most 24 hour races see the leading teams finish well under 24 hours that would not be the case for the Gold Rush. We would paddle for hours, ride just under a century on mountain bikes on anything but flat grades, knock out just under a marathon distance over rugged terrain and finish in about 26.5 hours. We were in for a true adventure!

I have been having fun with my GoPro camera and learning how to making some quick edits of the video’s so I took it along for the trip. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words” so the videos should be worth the bandwidth and capture what my words cannot express. However, even the video cannot do the scenery and experience justice. Adrian and Mark (along with the countless volunteers) offered only the best support and created an amazing course that was challenging but exciting the entire time. Every part of the course took a lot of strength but we were not subjected to a death march just to add distance. A delicate balance that kept the entire race fun!

I was reminded that with adventure racing the actual race starts long before you get to the starting line. Packing all sorts of gear and plotting checkpoints and routes usually gets you to the starting line already behind on sleep. It is all part of the race. We knew we would need Cyril’s brain for the navigating so we let him stay up until about 3am plotting the course the night before. He is one tough dude.

When we did get to the starting line we were greeted with a table full of grapes, cookies, bagels, COFFEE and more. Awesome! We would be starting off with the paddle and we opted for a triple and me in my surf ski to try and get the most speed and efficiency for the long day ahead. Here we go.

We lost time at the first checkpoint and then again a few times in throughout the paddle. Not all teams had the same checkpoints and not all in the same order. This was designed to keep everyone navigating on their own route before we got spread out along the course but there were some mix ups that would cost us time and distance. We ended up with 3.5 hours of paddling. Unfortunately, we got out of the water about 90 minutes behind the leaders but we also spent most of the paddle with Team Yoga Slackers who we knew would be one of the team going for the win but we had our work cut out for us to make up time.

Off on the bikes for a 4.5 hour ride where we would cover everything from roads, rocky single track and anything but flat. The entire race was spent either going up or going down! When Adrian said that we would be racing between 4,000 and 8,400 feet he was right...all day and night long between the two!

Everyone was starting to feel the stress from the heat and altitude but we had made up a lot of time and moved into third place by the time we collected all of the bike checkpoints and made it to the next TA(transition area). You can see in the video above that we were at the TA with the Yoga Slackers and there was one team still ahead of both of us. At this point we needed to load up our packs with our climbing gear, food and water until we reached the next TA where we would have access to our gear bags again. For us, the next TA would be just after midnight and about 16 hours into the race. We did stop for water from the streams along the way but other than that we were loaded and moving!

By the time we reached the ropes section we had moved into second place and were right behind the Yoga Slackers again. We had been carrying our climbing gear and we knew that we would have a repel and a climb somewhere during the race but the setup we encountered was a ropes sections that was super fun with a scramble between. The highlight of the race for me. At this point we were about 9 hours into the race but still had about 17 hours to go… I kept thinking about how AR demands real strength. Scrambling over rocks, logs and up (and down!) steep pitches is the “normal” route of transportation not to mention all of this while carrying a heavy pack. It is a full body commitment and I was amazed at how long your body can be strong and continue to keep your speed up…but that is where the most specific required strength comes in…the strength of your mind.

That was FUN!!! After we completed the ropes we continued on with our gear (no additional food/water and we still had to carry our climbing gear) and we pushed on into the night. We would basically climb to a peak to capture a checkpoint and then we would drop down into a valley floor before climbing again, and again and again.

Getting to race with Jen, Cyril and Sean was truly epic for me. My hero's and something I have “dreamed” about for a long time. We were “going fast and taking chances”. I though a lot about Paul and Karen and all of the stories of their races in crazy countries and I have been collecting a lifetime of inspiration through what these people accomplish. To see them in action was awesome. I have trained a lot with Sean and knew he was as strong as an ox but he was offering a great example of a true teammate right before my eyes. If he was not towing on the bike or caring someone’s pack he was keeping us laughing with his “say something stupid” jokes. A true talent is to always keep the laughter in the pack.

After climbing up one ski run we reached a checkpoint at the top just as the sun was setting and found a pile of sodas that the Gold Rush crew left for racers at the top. Gold! We took our fill of sugar water and headed down the back of the ski resort into the woods again. We would scramble up and down into the woods and run as many sections as we could trying to make the most of our fading daylight until at last that was gone also and we ran into the night.

It was a long night but it felt like it went by pretty fast. I had been eating at record levels. I didn’t want to get behind because I have a few more racing coming up so I banked on eating too much. I like that! It was also a huge help. I made some rules with myself like always eating two bars at a time and always finishing everything in my bag by the time we got to the next TA. I didn’t mind the weight and needed the energy.

All of the while we had no manned checkpoints or any other team around us so we were not sure how much of a time gap we had between other team and we were also without supported aid. We stopped once to fill our water but we also realized we were running low on iodine tablets and we would not be provided water at the next TA.

We reached that TA at the bottom of another ski resort sometime in the middle of the night and it was time to ride again. We were able to get to our gear bag again (should have left some more water in it!) so we loaded up our packs again with food, some warmer clothes and discovered we were about 50min behind the Yoga Slackers in the lead. Looked to be about another 60 miles on the mountain bikes and we would ride through the night trying to drop the hammer….or stay awake. I really focused on staying awake between 3-4am and actually felt fine. It was not until the sun came up that I had to wrestle with the sleep monsters and it was a unique experience. We were riding through “the gnar” and doing everything we could to close the gap and catch the Yoga Slackers who were making no mistakes out in front.

There was one out and back checkpoint that we saw the Yoga Slackers heading back from and it was the first time we had seen another team for hours. We were both racing in opposite directions and the hello exchanged as we passed lit a spark in both teams. Over 25 hours of racing and we are picking up the pace again! We were just about out of water in the later stages of the trek and nursing what little we had left for about four hours in the later part of the 2nd bike section. How many iodine tabs could we spare…how much time could we spare to stop? Should we push on and not get water for the last few hours? Would we meltdown if we tried to push it? Will that help us close the gap on their lead? It was their race to loose but in the end we would come up about 30 minutes short of catching the Yoga Slackers who took the overall win. It was a great experience and I just had to ask myself in the last few kilometers to the finish. . . just how much further could I still ride/run/paddle and explore if we kept going. I would like to find out.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to get to explore such a rad course that the Gold Rush team put on and the support from moving our stuff around and the words of encouragement. Adventure racing is hard..but that is the point... This was about 10 hours longer than I have ever raced before and it really showed me where true strength resides when you are out there for "a long time". Staying out there is one thing but trying to lift your effort/speed and racing for that long is...well pretty dang cool! Its not about price money or pace splits as much as it is about “the love”. Strength from the people around you, strength from your passions that feeds the strength to your mind. I love it! In a race this long(for me) it is so much more of a mental challenge and it definitely took my “mental training” to some new places. I always learn something new about myself with new experiences and this was a big one. I appreciate that… Hope to see you out there next time!


sean.clancy said...

Awesome report Slate! It was a blast racing with you. It made the whole experience more enjoyable. Can't wait to race with you again! I hope GR24 gives you some extra strength and perspective for Kona.

Ryan Weeger said...

awesome dude! I can see kona shivering at the knees when standing beneath a behemoth like a GR24hr race. you gianed some serious mental strength for sure for all your racing.

Unknown said...

Such an awesome report! Incredible scenery and challenging terrain. Way to work together and conquer such a tough one.

Paul said...

Great report... Love the video and pics, it sounds like one of those epic experiences that all endurance athletes are chasing. Way to go!!!!

Charisa said...

Wow. This looks awesome!

Ryan D said...

Sick RR bro. I have done some AR's before, but nothing of this magnitude. You may have just made Kona look easy doing this. My roomate Graham (dude who won WS100 a few years back) always says that you should "race" longer than your "A" race. Looking forward to October for you buddy!