April 05, 2007

Chapter 3, The Second and Third Nights of Racing, Epic Canyoneering

We flew through the 30km climb, working very efficiently as a team. In adventure racing teams use tow ropes to help keep everyone moving at a similar pace, and thanks to this simple piece of gear we were able to post one of the fastest times on this section of the course.

We started the ride at about 8pm and in under 4hr we had climbing the entire route to the next transition. However, upon arrival we were absolutely freezing. We were now at a high altitude, in an exposed and windy plain...an impossible place to sleep at midnight.
This was our worst transition of the entire race as it took us a full 1h15m to switch gear, fill our bottles, grab our food, reference the maps and get going again. There was a fire to keep people warm and it slowly sucked us in...we knew that we should have stuck with our original plan of sleeping at a lower altitude, with a more comfotable climate.

We were off to what looked like a 6hr trek into the famed canyon section of the race. When Paul and Karen, the race directors, scouted this course they discovered this completely untouched, pristine and very challenging canyon route to the valley floor. They were the first people to ever complete this route and once the race had finised and the ropes had been pulled back out, we would stand as a small group of the only people in the world to ever trek in this area!

Karen, the race director had decided to follow us up to the canyon entrance as she was going to redistribute supplies to the vollunteers who would end up spending days in the canyon waiting for all of the teams to arrive! We were mentally exhausted and Todd was struggling to find a decent route through the vegetation. He was perfect in his direction of travel, but we seemed to keep getting sucked into the worst bush whacking the area had to offer. Karen, having done this route numerous times and knowing it like the back of her hand, quitely followed us, but with the slightest hints of "It looks a bit clearer over here" or "Are you sure that's the best route?"

I could sense Todd's frustration growing as he was effectively having his every move analized by someone who could do this section blindfolded, and I did not feel it completely fair to have any assistance from the race director, although she was trying her absolute best not to do just that. I asked the team if they would like to sleep for a few hours until the sun started to rise, and we thanked Karen for hanging with us and told her she was 'free to leave us'.

It was now 2:30am, we were at over 7,000 feet above sea level and it was windy and cold. Our attempts at sleep were halted after less than an hour. Todd seemed to grab a few zzzz but Megan and I simply chattered our teeth and counted down the minutes until we were mobile again. It was a waisted hour with no physical benefits and we were growing ever more tired.
Perhaps that is what caused us to go up the entirely wrong ridge in our attempts to find the canyon entrance? Either way, our 6hr trek ended up taking us a full 12hr! Not to mention the fact that we climbed two additional ridge lines, adding unnecessary distance and worst of all stress to our bodies. By noon we were actually growing concerned that we might not find the entrance at all. We were down to almost no fluids and our food rations were meant for a 20hr stage, not a 30hr stage.
The sun was so nice on our faces that we finally gave in to the sleepmonster and grabbed a very refreshing 30 minutes of sleep.
Once awake again we went to work on finding the CP. After pretty much covering every square inch of land around the actual CP we finally managed to stumble across it, having taken twice as long as we had anticipated. It was already 3pm.

We checked in and waited to hear how bad it was for us...8th...9th...10th...how many teams had taken advantage of our mistakes???

"You are 10 seconds behind the 3rd place team who just left."

"WHAT! How? But..."

It did not matter. That is adventure racing. You never truly know where you stand until you confirm you position at a check point or a transition. We were all suffering from the agrivation that came along with being lost for so long, but I, as everyone, was impressed at how we handled it. We never got down on each other, just took it out on the landscape. The desert brush seemed like it was all entirely dead, and as we bush whacked our way along each of us took our turn at ripping off branches and dead trees and flinging them out of our way. It was actually fun to be able to move the landscape as necessary and helped each of us vent our frustrations.

We only had a few hours of light left so we went to work on the upper portions of the canyon. We quickly overtook the 3rd place team and once again set our sights on 2nd overall.

Todd lead through the first sections of the canyon and after a few minutes he paused to look back and see where we were. I was pretty much attached to his pack, as Megan was to mine. I could tell by the look on his face that he did not expect this at all. I have to admit, from my experiences of travel over terrain such as this I usually end up waiting for whoever I end up out there with. I think we were all amazing and relieved that we could all travel at such an efficient pace. Once we realised this we upped our rhythm to a near run over the strewn rocks.

The canyon section had 8 rappels, with everything from short and sweet, to full 100 foot overhangs and even a few that ended in water of which you had to swim across once off rappel. One of our mandatory gear items was a neoprene top for just such a thing and although we managed to hit the first water rappel right at dark, the following two would be done throughout the night. By the time we had hit the final water rappel I was sick of putting on my wet undies and socks...I did it with just my neoprene top on!

Thankfully niether the harness nor rope managed to 'grab anything' on the way down. I was only freaked out upon hitting the water and seeing a few frogs swim rather adamently towards my now shrunken parts.

"Hey little froggy, I don't know what the hell you think you're seeing, but I promise you THIS AIN'T IT!"

We managed to make it through the actual canyon in under 11 hours. The time estimations for this stage were between 20 and 30 hours. If we had found the entrance anywhere near the 6 hour expectations we would have completed this stage well ahead of the race directors guesstimates.
Oh yeah, half way down the canyon, we breezed past the 2nd place team. They were obviously in need of sleep even more so than us and we could see the lack of purpose on their faces as they struggled to stay awake.

After a full 24 hours of trekking, with but 30 minutes of sleep, we flew out onto the desert floor determined to find the CP and grab some rest until the sun came up. We had just our 100km desert auto rally, an 18km trek and 20km paddle to go. If all went well we would be finished before dark!

(One step at a time...more to come tomorrow!)


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