Hi-Tec Adventure Race
August 18th, 2002
$240/team of 3
I had been eyeing this sprint (estimated 3-6 hrs) event for a while, and apparently so had Melinda. This variant of adventure racing is nearly an offroad triathlon, but substitutes kayaking for swimming, and adds some 'special tests' throughout the course. Participants go out in teams of 3, though unlike many of the longer events you don't need to stay within 100ft. You do need to hit many segments together, so for practical matters you stay pretty tight. A coworker of Melinda's at Andersens, Tom, also was interested and they formed two teams. Mel, James, and I made a coed team, Tom, Elliot, and Jeff made a male team.
The Hi-Tec series in on year 7 and now enjoys cable coverage on OLN with a half hour show for each of the 8 events. There are elite teams, though only 9 or 10. They are all involved in the event advocacy, doing short seminars on the different skills of the event on Saturday, registration day. Participants (well, anyone that came to the park) could listen and ask questions about navigation, key for the longer events, kayaking, biking, and climbing the 12ft wall, the final test of every Hi-Tec race. Also, we had a chance to take the Sevlor inflatable kayaks out for a spin - they're very different from the keeled boats. On the downside, that plus the mandatory pm meeting had us sitting out in the HOT sun for 8 hours.
Part of adventure racing is not knowing the race before it happens. However, the meeting did give more information than I expected: we knew it would open with a 5 mile trail run, then a 1.5mi kayak that would be all paddling (no portages), and then a 9 mile bike ride (some groans from the crowd- not long enough). Significant challenges were promised. In the main area, there were two large structures under tarps - but all we could tell is that one had bells of some sort. We could see the wall, and guess how that will go. Sadly, no practice runs - it was marked 'Keep off,' presumably due to lack of spotters.
The next morning we made it to the parking lot at about 6:30. We had 45 minutes to set up; they very explicitly warned that any teams still in the transition zone at 7:15 would be disqualified. We had a cooler full of fluid bottles, some fruit, and energy bars - hopefully the ice would keep up with the hot sun. The one thing in short supply was the usual at races - bathrooms. Melinda and James spent the last 15 minutes waiting in line while I opted to wait for the first nice tree.
A ways into the run we hit the first big diversion - the orienteering test. We were given a contour map and told to fetch 4 markers (playing cards). It covered a larger area than I expected - I think we covered 3 miles on mostly offroad to get them. The first marker was the hardest the spot - it was near the top of a hill that had heavy brush and a maze of trails, and at least 3 other checkpoints. People were shouting out cards they had found or wanted. Finding the next card was easy, but in a kayak about 6 feet offshore. The entire team had to be in arms length when a card was taken (most teams were pretty tight, though I saw some gross cheating with teams of 2), so I took off my shoes, pulled the boat close and got it while the other two were on the water edge. I then sent them along the coastline to the next marker while I put the shoes back on. This one was easy to find, but a good half mile or more. Then to the last one, which was on the road back to the starting point. We started playing with a tow system here - I had light cord in a double double figure 8 around my waist, and a couple lines going out about 10ft that Melinda could hold. We tried shoulder, but it worked better on the hands. It was clear that the elastic cords would be much better, but it helped a bit.
Halfway back to the main square, we could see people in the water! The shoreline trail decided to take a short cut, 75 yards through the water. It got as deep as 5 feet for a short stretch, so we gave Melinda a bit of a boost. We were nearly to the end, and then the mud gauntlets were thrown - a couple long crossings 10-20ft deep. Mel lost her shoe in one, and it was remarkably hard to get back on.
Entering the T zone we got hit with an IQ test, and failed it gloriously. It was the typical following directions drill - line 1 says read completely before starting, the last line says do nothing but ring the bell, and in between are lots of silly tasks. On a good day I should catch this trick, but in the middle of a race one's IQ drops to the point that you need volunteers pointing which way to go. We swapped shoe laces (hard with the mud), sang, did pushups, then finally looked ahead. Oh well, 5 minutes lost. Just before the kayak we had another test. We got a 9 inch ring and 2 square pieces of plywood. We needed to go 20ft without touching the dirt, and everyone hanging onto the ring. One false start, then simple enough.
The kayak was an easy stretch for us, actually passed some people as well. We initially tried the towing idea, but quickly gave it up. When one boat lost the heading, both were affected. I didn't see anyone in the water doing well with a tow, save those who couldn't paddle at all and were being carried by the lead boat. Going in we thought the person in the single boat would have it harder, but with these rudderless kayaks, it seemed harder for the double boats to keep in a straight line. I could go a bit faster, so I was able to wash out my muddy shoes, fix the shoe lace, and read the info on the upcoming tests.
The first test coming on shore was the most fun of the day. The three of us were to bear hug, drop to the ground, and roll 40 feet in a 4 inch deep mud pit. We did really well on this one and gave it the full spirit. We nearly crashed into a team that was halfway over when we started. Immediately following was a second test: failure means the team gets to do the mud roll again. We were shown a board for 10 seconds- it had a penny, a pair of shoes, 2 American flags, a pencil, 3 toothpicks, a carabiner, and something else. We talk it over, then one of us needs to answer any questions from the volunteer. Fortunately we had no problem with this mental test. Off to the bike, after a bathroom stop.
The trail started off pleasant enough. Narrow, some bumps and twists, but negotiable. We started the ride at about 3 hours, and I figured we could slug it out in an hour. A little further the trail started to have spots of deeper sand. A little interesting, but we're still moving along. Then we start the uphills. I don't know how solid the ground was at the beginning, but it was definitely torn up by the time we got there. There were lots of bits that all of us had to walk, both up and down. This was the second time Melinda had ever ridden on dirt, so it was particularly rough for her. But it wasn't just her. In the early parts of the course we came across one guy who thought he had broken a rib, and a woman who took a hard enough blow to the hip that she was walking back home. After many hills and descending a washed out gully, we got to roll along the shoreline. I thought this would be easier, but numerous patches of sand proved otherwise. The last couple miles got back to the firm packed rolling singletrack I had expected for the bulk of the course. I didn't think it would be this technical, and it ended up taking us 3 hours to do it.
For me, this was a big negative, and pretty much the only one. Even a decent trail rider would suffer a bit on this course, and I don't want to think about how it was earlier when there was much more crowding. There were extremely few places where you could pass, and the urge to keep ahead of the guy following can lead you to take chances. I think the athletes who have built up this series (the 350 teams in this event may have been the biggest yet for an adventure race) want this, but it is tough for those who have the effort, but not the skill required for this kind of riding. Dual suspension probably helps, but it's still about the rider. I was told by one of the staff that Sacramento tends to be a more difficult course than others. It certainly wasn't like what I saw on the OLN broadcasts for the other 3 courses. The notion of towing someone here would be insanity. I'm going to check about to see what other races are like - also ask what the Xterra events are like. I might try to closing event at LA, but if I do Sac again next year, I need to work on the offroad, perhaps get a newer bike too. I'm not sure if the rules require one to ride a bike - I could have run it in less time. It might be interesting to treat the event as an aquathon - run the bike and swim the kayak - if it is permitted. Hi-Tec is said to only have 4 rules and after that anything goes.
So we finally get off the damn bikes and have two more tests to do. First is an inverted jungle gym - wood timbers 4 feet apart going up at a 45 degree angle. You need to climb the underside, then get over the top. At this point in the day there are scores of people who want to make sure everyone finishes, though sometimes a bit too enthusiastically. Mel was one timber from the top when a muscle spasm hit and got perhaps a little too much help clearing over. Then we get to the wall. Same deal. Lots of help all around. I don't know if any of the non elite teams clear without some help, it definitely helped for us on getting the leg over the top. Then a short trot to the finish and we were done! More nice medals to add to the collection, along with some overly exuberant 'you're awesome' cries. I don't like finishing in an empty field.
A couple days later I hear from a guy at the NY race that their bike course was pretty nontechnical, so maybe it's a Sac thing. I'm considering the LA race in October - Justin seems up for it, but would need to coral another person and pretty soon. Would also need to consider the cost of lighting for it - can you rent a decent bike light? And steal a nice bike?
Descriptions of other races on the 2002 series:
New York , Detroit , Dallas (night) .