Once a source of "Not all you want to know about Texas Adventure Racing," but now just some "leisure" adventure through the eyes of "The K-SPoT"

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Navigator Has His Day of Reckoning at Fort Parker

The crisp, morning air greeted us as we unfurled out of our warm sleeping bags, peeking outside our tents to see what the day had in store for us. It was clear and the forecast boasted a warm, pleasant day, without wind. The “without wind” observation was important because just yesterday, gusty winds made the lake choppy with white caps, which tends to be bad news for paddling. Not today, though. No repeat of the Big Chill.

There was a pretty good showing of 16 teams as we arrived in transition. Dismantling our campsite took a little longer than predicted, so we were rushing to set up our TA. We had four teams representing HART and all had very good potential to do well in this race. After a short prerace meeting, the race directors Leiza and Jim provided each team with a Topotrak GPS tracking device, whose sole purpose was for post-race analysis, not in-race navigation. These buggers were heavy at 8lbs, so I was told by Andrew, our designated team mule. I don’t call him this in a derogatory manner, rather in a complimenting manner since he had the daunting task of hauling, pushing, and towing whatever we could throw at him that otherwise the rest of the team could not handle. As Debbie said, “we need more like him” from Canada.

After a few more minutes of loading the Topotrak onto Andrew’s back and we were off to the start line where we were then taped together at the ankles. This was a special test: a four-legged walk/run. It was only a few meters long and as the race started we were performing great, in step and with good cadence. The problem was that the duct tape wasn’t holding and we had to stop at least a couple times to be retaped. As we finished the special test, we were off to our first section, which was a run/bike/paddle combination.

We were able to find the next 3cps in any order and each required you to use one specific mode of transportation. We went for cp1, which was the bike. We zoomed out of there, neck and neck with Team Vignette, an impressive team with both Eco Challenge and Primal Quest experience. Once we got back, we decided to get into the boat and charge for cp2. At this point, I didn’t realize that the points could be done in any order, so I and the rest of the team were confused when we saw other teams going on foot for their next cp. This was further exacerbated when one team erroneously headed out for cp3 on kayak…of course, at that time we didn’t know they were in the wrong. After spending some time searching for this one and finally finding it, I knew now that some points may be hidden. Not sure if this follows orienteering etiquette, but we couldn’t do anything about it.

Back at TA we slipped on our running shoes and rumbled down the paved road to cp3. This is when I re-read the instructions and realized that the points could be taken in any order. Now we really didn’t know who was in the lead because we were one of maybe 2 or 3 teams that decided to go for the kayak cp first instead of the run cp. Now “I had a feeling” that this was a stroke of genius since we didn’t have to switch out of our bike shoes until after the kayak leg. Here, we started crossing paths with all the other teams, including Rick. He clapped when we told him we did the kayak first. It was a simple out and back run.
Next was the highly anticipated 8 mile out and back paddle up the Navasota River. We had Necky Amaruks, so we expected to do very well on the paddle. From the outset, it was obvious that Tara and Andrew were having an easier, speedier time at it, while Mike and I were struggling to keep up. We couldn’t for some reason. Although the boats are exactly the same, other than color, Mike and I concluded that the white one is the inherently slower boat. We make up time on Vignette and see them scurrying around for the mini rogaine at the turn around point of the paddle. We get out as quickly as possible, trying to make sure our boats don’t float away (the take out is at a dam where there is no straightforward place to beach our boats), and head up the stairs to the Confederate Memorial park. The first two points we tackle are relatively easy. The last two would be a little difficult as I was rushed around and lost my bearing. I finally calmed down and read the map and was able to break it down to basics. We find the next two and motor back down to the boats to kayak back to TA. Right as we start back, we run into two other HART teams who had very good paddles as well. On our way back across the lake, we realize that our scurrying around the mini rogaine allowed them to gain back some time. It was basically a wash as we only cut 2 minutes into their lead.

It was the transitions where we would make the rest of the time. Or so we thought. Both Vignette and our team had outstanding transition times, where we only shaved a minute off of their lead. However, at this stage, every minute counted. Next was the bike/trek section. We got on our bikes in hot pursuit and we eventually caught up to Vignette at around cps 13 and 14. These were tougher bike cps since they weren’t right on the trail like the others. While doing navigation on the bike, one has to be very careful since you can overshoot a point very far very fast. Both teams were having trouble finding 13. Vignette decides to move on to the next section, saving these points for last. We figured if we could find these points now, we would be at an advantage, so we kept on it. Finally, we found 13 and 14 was quickly found thereafter. Next was the bike drop and trek navigation section, my leg of “reckoning”.

This section I feared the most since I heard that other teams had the leg up from having raced this course before and would know every useful trail. I, on the other hand, had no idea if there were any trails at all. The first point was straightforward—being in a ditch and all. The second, not too bad, considering we had to fight through some thick underbrush and slog through some marsh. Then came cp18. Thinking I was doing the right thing, I decide to shoot a bearing that is almost straight west from our current location. We get on top of the hill where it’s supposed to be, but no luck. We search around the top of the hill, but still no dice. Finally, Tara decides to head back down to a known point along the shore to shoot another bearing. It is noticeably further north than where I shot, but still we cannot find the point. I’m now down in the dumps. This happened to me one other time, at my last, and then only, Rattlesnake race. But that was over a year ago—certainly I have improved my skills since then, right?! Ugh, in desperation, Tara and I decide to shoot from the boundary/pipeline intersection on the other side of the hill. Still nothing. Mike finally got lucky and found the point. We were now way behind and other teams had caught up/past us by now. I was devastated. I never really recovered from this incident the whole rest of the race.

After a few more blunders and off bearing attempts, we finish the trek section, which was primarily in the swamp-infested west section of the park, over an hour behind Vignette. We now had to try to hold on to whatever place we were in at the moment. We tried cranking hard on the bike back to the finish, but we couldn’t catch up to the other two teams ahead of us who were just minutes ahead. We missed 2nd place coed by a mere 4 minutes and 2nd place overall by 8. This was just another dagger in my heart.

Alas, then I told myself it was all in the past now and that 3rd place was nothing to be sad about. It was yet another learning experience for me, the fledgling navigator. Overall, the race was straightforward and perfectly organized. My new, most recent Moby Dick, I will most likely come back to Ft. Parker to conquer it…that and I think I forgot my sunglasses in a thorny bush somewhere.