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"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

AquaTerra EXPedition = AustinTown EXPosed, Day 1

duet before its blemishSo this race didn't disappoint. I was really excited about doing another multiday, expedition-style race. In some essence, expeditions are simpler since you can bring only a certain amount of stuff with you without being overburdened. I liked this--less thinking required! Plus, we only had two disciplines, trekking and paddling, so no thinking about bike strategy either. Believe me, I would rather it be biking than trekking, but trekking is certainly less gear-intensive.

chillin at check inCaroline agreed to be my partner a while back and was really excited as well, which was a good thing. We were indeed going to see beautiful spots along the way, but I knew the race would be tough. Raymund and Eric were also doing the race, but they kept insisting that they were on a "camping trip" and kept berating us for "racing." Whatever. We drove over to Mansfield Dam Park early Friday to get registered and squared away. Traffic was a bear, so I was glad yet again that we were able to leave by noon. We got there and Debbie and Mike were tending shop, with one other racer already there. He was retired military, but this would be his first adventure race...wow, this is certainly getting your feet wet! Welcome to our world. As we walked up, Mike was breaking up some wooden board and was very cryptic about what the pieces of wood were for...we would find out soon enough.

prepping boat on race mornWe signed in, lowered the boat, and made it race ready so we wouldn't have to do much in the morning. Slowly other racers trickled in. Some fellow Houstonites made it as well: Oasis (Bobby and Helena) and Chaos (Nikki and Cynthia). As darkness fell upon us, the "campers" arrived and we left soon after that to get some dinner, check in and get some sleep before our big weekend. We got up at around 5am to pack up and meet Mike and the shuttle van by Tom Miller Dam, where the race finish would be. Of course, there is always less time than you expect to do all that you want, so as we arrived, we were rushing around trying to collect our gear while Mike was revving up the van. I forgot some gear in the car, as could be expected, but none of it was essential. And just like that, we were wisked off back to Mansfield Dam Park to be reunited with our vessels.

Debbie snickers as she knows what awaits usIt was a buzz of activity already, with people zipping around with headlamps blazing in the predawn darkness. We were already set to go, so all we had to do was put our paddles together and wait for further instruction. As the sun peeked over the horizon, everyone started to settle down and stood around waiting for the pre-race meeting. A few minutes later, we were handed a sheet of paper that described the ancient technique of making fire using a bow drill. Nice. This was our special test for the race--once we had settled in that night after the first day of racing, we had one hour to make a fire using a bow drill or be assessed a one hour penalty. If you read my previous post, you know how that went. Anyway, a few minutes later, we were briefed and told to stand in the parking circle as they put a folded copy of an aerial map for the first leg underneath one person's foot from each team.

about to start the madnessCaroline and I stood there joking around with MOAT (we were borrowing Dave's nice Ruahine boat) as the countdown commenced...Go! I grabbed the sheet from underneath my foot and slowly walked out from the camping area. As I was getting my bearings, we jogged in the general direction of CP3, then realized it was at the bottom of stairs that I had visited the afternoon before. Oddly, the stairs just kept going down into the water. After a bit of searching from the glob of adventure racers, the CP was spotted and Caroline took her turn to punch our passport. Off to CP2, point. Got it. Next was CP1, shoreline. We were off to a nice jog and were pacing with the Holmanators. By the time we got there, again there were a glob of teams searching and my first hunch turned out to be right as we saw teams pouring away from the CP. CP4 was the furthest away, on the other side of the dam. Down, down, down we went and I was thinking this is going to be a bear going back up to TA...but I knew eventually we would need this trail to get our boats to this side of the dam, so at least it would be a downhill portage the whole way. We climbed to the other side of the the low water crossing with Outcasts and spotted CP4. Just like that, we were done with the aerial orienteering leg. We kept seeing EMO and Ray-Ray along the way, so they weren't too far behind. In fact, I could hear them razzing us the whole time in the distance.

only time we were close to MOATAs soon as we got to TA, we were handed the remaining CPs for the whole day. Not wanting to get too far behind the lead teams for the first paddle, I decided to plot the first paddle leg only, going against my usual mantra of plot all points. And we were off just like that, with our boat in tow. On our way to the first boat landing, Kip and Jason pass by us, with Jason commenting on my bike shorts. I just assumed he was talking about Caroline's hot-red shorts she just bought. We got to the boat landing and started taking off our boat cart when MOAT zooms by. Of course, they didn't have a cart--they just carried their light and fast surfski the whole time. Easier said than done--you still have to be strong to carry that long thing with gear in it. But wait, they had everything in their backpacks which they put on when portaging--genius! We followed close behind them, but that wouldn't last for long.

portaging from lake travis to lake austinCP7 was down an inlet, easy to find. We would have to cross the lake to get to the next point, CP6, which was on the eastern shore. This would be the test of the Duet's stability...actually, our ability to stabilize the Duet. We actually did fine--it was a bit choppy from the wind coming from the south, but we paddle nicely. We actually caught up to this two-man team in a canoe. South we headed to another inlet. Apparently we chose wisely coming into this inlet because there were boat docks here and some teams and to go up and over them to get to CP5. Again, no probs here. Out the inlet and to the next CP, CP8, even more south, close to the dam on the shore. Got it. We were done with this leg, so we headed straight back for the boat landing. We were feeling good, until....WHACK! Well, apparently there was a rock right in front of us when we decided to beach the boat. As soon as we hit it I knew we had cracked the boat at least. I didn't want to look. I took a brief peek at it and I could see its insides. Crap. Oh well, couldn't do anything about it now. We loaded it back up on the cart and headed back to TA so that I could plot the rest of the points for the day while Caroline did a temporary patch job with her BRIGHT orange duct tape.

duet got a boo booWe continued on, portaging back to the south side of the damn to put into Lake Austin. As we put in, we were greeted by a stiff headwind and milfoil, both noticeably slowing our progress. We were still able to pull away from the Holmanators, who started this leg of the paddle with us, but Oasis Racing definitely had an edge on us in the water. They seemed to effortlessly sail away. Thank goodness the next CP wasn't too far away. Next stop was Mary Quinlan Park, where we were greeted by Art of TooCoolRacing. Here, we were supposed to split up, with one of us running to a land CP, CP9, and then the other would paddle the boat over to CP10 where they would meet up again. It was very tight and uncomfortable for me to sit in the front (the steering is controlled from the front seat), but I made due. It was slow going, but I could see that I was catching up to Helena, the paddler for their team. We arrived almost simultaneously at Selma Hughes Park, along with Caroline and Bobby. Caroline did great! I took some time to stretch out my squished legs and then we were off paddling again, behind Oasis.

going solo in the duetThis portion of the race seemed to give me the fits. First, we pulled into what we thought was Commons Ford Park, but we ran into Oasis who said they ran into a fallen tree and thought we were going in the wrong direction. So we turned back. First mistake. After reading the map again, I knew that had to be the right spot so both our teams headed back and of course as soon as we popped to the other side of the fallen tree, there was the boat landing. Geez. This was a tough boat landing with no real landing to get out on, so we had to get over waist deep to get out of our boats and to shore. We started off up Commons Ford Road, which apparently put us smack dab into someone's property. We didn't realize it until a freaked out man comes up to us in a bit of a hostile manner and tells us he'll have to escort us off of his property. Man, what kind of drugs was he selling?! So basically, after he walked us through his gate, we walked around his property and got back to basically the same spot, NOT on his property. What a jackass. We took an approximate bearing to CP12, which was supposed to be on a hillside, and there it was. Next was CP14 in a reentrant. There were many ditches, draws, and reentrants in this area, so it was tough to spot this one. After a few minutes of searching, we decided to move on and catch this one on the way back. CP13 was on the southern edge of the park and we had no problems getting this one. Back to the reentrant. We pace counted this time and we hit the right reentrant head on.

together again!CP11 was another headache for me. Sometimes I pay too much attention to the map and not reality. After getting back on Commons Ford road and heading a bit east on it, we took a bearing to the next CP. Problem was, I don't think anyone did a pace count. So, as soon as we hit a fence and road, which seemed to be on the map, we started our search...prematurely. We went up and down that fence and found nothing. Bobby was on the right track and kept going past the fence, but he didn't find anything. Finally, I decided to head back to the creek that lead us into the park and that's when I realized we hadn't gone far enough. Didn't matter--by the time I paced back, teams, including Oasis, were flooding away from the CP--they had found it. Caroline spotted it too, so we weren't too far behind, but I was heartbroken. We definitely weren't one of the faster teams out there, so we had to minimize such mistakes.

arrival at Emma LongSo I tried to brush that one off and we headed back to the boat. Oasis still had to plot the rest of their points, so we were actually ahead of them realtime. We paddled out to our last boat drop of the day, Emma Long Park, right behind the Holmanators and slowly passed them. I had expected Oasis to do the same to us, but they never came. We made it to the drop and we had to portage our boat to the overnight camping spot before heading out for the final trek of the day. There was also a gearcheck here, so we did that and then we headed out for our first CP, CP18, the water tank. As we arrived there, we realized we didn't have the 2nd passport. They gave us two passports and Caroline had assumed that the 2nd one was for the 2nd day, but it actually had one point for this day, CP21. Thankfully, they had clearly stated a rule that allowed us to punch CP21 somewhere on a piece of paper or our map and we wouldn't be penalized. Whew. CP15 was at a wallface, close to the lake. Caroline hit this right on as I clumsily stumbled and tumbled around. Next, CP21 up a creek draw. The cliffs were steep here, so we had to find a nice access point to climb over. Done. We hit the main biking trail through the park and a few hundred meters later, we hit the draw and the CP. I was feeling good again.

finishing day 1Then came CP19 at the base of a wall, Fern Wall. We got there in no time, but despite being 100% sure we were in the right place, we could not find the bastard. I was so pissed...and my fear was confirmed. The CP was hidden in a bush, only visible at a certain angle. We had wasted almost an hour, walking right past the CP several hundred times. But I was just glad to be the first one to find it amongst the clump of people...so happy that I forgot to get one CP that was close by. This one we would pay dearly for. We cruised back down the bike trail, south to City Park rd. Along the way, as I was barely paying attention since I was looking at the map while I ran, I barely ducked under a low hanging branch. Caroline was not so lucky--she smacked right into it and it knocked her clean off her feet! Thankfully she was okay, but I think I lost her confidence in me. She said she was seeing stars. She was doing alright, so we laughed about it a bit and I knew I would not hear the last of this one. Anyway, we quickly found CP12 at the bridge and then jaunted down the creek to the last CP, CP16, or so I thought. I was ready to head back to TA when Caroline reminded me we had one more CP, CP20...and it was ALL the way back where we came, by Fern wall. Motherf...this would take us more than an hour. I think we could have had 2nd place for the day if it wasn't for this collosal blunder. Oh well. We ran all the way up north on City Park rd, turned off at a gravel pit, found it, and ran back as fast as we could. We saw Oasis on the way back, who still had one more CP to get. As we headed to TA, they double-timed it to their last CP, obviously trying to minimize the time gap to us. They did really well and they obviously were working hard on that last run--they were only 14min back on the first day. This would be very crucial for the close, final day of racing.

no fire that nightSo, to keep us occupied while camping out overnight at Emma Long, we had a special test where we had to start fire only using the bow drill technique. As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, we were so humiliatingly unsuccessful. Most of us were able to get smoke from the drill, but no burning embers. Oh well. I quit early as I figured it would be more important to save strength for the next day of racing. The overnight camp was fun--it was nice to just hang out and share with the other racers before having to go at it again.

Next, the close finish...

photos courtesy of Bryan McKenney


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