USARA National Championship 2006
True confession: I’m not entirely disappointed we finished second. If our team had won the US Adventure Racing Association National Masters Championship, I was going to "retire" from "serious" adventure racing. After recruiting long-time rival and stud David Darby and mountain bike superstar Colleen Ihnken, and picking up Marin Bikes as a sponsor, I had visions of running away with our division. Didn’t quite work out that way.
The setting was beautiful
46 teams set off at dawn, coasteering (running and stumbling) five miles of beaches and sea walls fronting multi-million dollar mansions. Wave to Kevin Costner, everybody! Not much vertical gain so far.
Next up: inflatable yellow kayaks known affectionately as "duckies." Not-so-affectionately known as "How the *%&$# do you steer this #*%*#ing thing, we're going in &*(@#ing circles again!" A surprising number of teams dumped themselves into the gentle two-foot breakers. We just weaved sllllooooowwwwwllllyyyyy, paiiiiiinnnnnfully for 15 miles. Still no vertical gain.
We saddled up our mountain bikes--ah, there's the vertical!
3,000 feet of climbing
Getting out involved crawling a couple of hundred yards on our hands and knees through dense prickerbushes. And, as we found out a day later, poison oak.
We headed back up the canyon; scrambled over cool sandstone rock formations; and "liberated" some water from a jug in the back of a pickup truck that was conveniently parked on the fire road leading back to our bikes.
We had a spectacular view of the sunset, and a front row view of a team bickering and backbiting. Not that we were perfect, but compared with the teams that were yelling at each other, or zigging and zagging frantically while we calmly checked the map before pressing directly toward our destination....
Dark descended as we descended a long, gnarly singletrack, the leadoff of a four-hour bike segment. At the end of which, we discovered two things: we were the first Masters team, and my trail running shoes had fallen off my pack somewhere in the last 20 miles.
Another team came into the checkpoint, and reported another racer had found one of my shoes and would drop it here. Since the next section was a long loop that brought us back within a couple of hundred yards of this location, we decided to swing by later to grab it.
In the mean time, an 8-mile, 4,000-foot climb awaited us, and our toughest Masters rivals had just pulled into the checkpoint. We must have looked like a super-slow-motion, moonlit Tour de France as our two teams played off each other and the teams we swept through on the long grind to the top. Cue Paul Sherwin: “They’re looking desperately tired. They’re pedaling squares!”
Somewhere along the climb, my brain ceased logical functioning, and we proceeded to make a fateful route choice several hundred feet below the summit. Our map showed no direct connecting trail going over the top and down to the checkpoint several hundred feet below the summit on the other side—just a steep climb and dropoff.
Now, my brain contained these two facts: 1. We had just concluded a well-known mountain bike climb. 2. The trail on the other side was a popular singletrack descent. Fact 1 and Fact 2 could easily have been linked by Hypothesis 3: Even though it is not on the map, there is probably a trail linking these two locations.
So what did we do? Follow a winding, confusing trail that wandered allllll the way around the side of the summit. We went from 5 minutes behind our rivals to 70 minutes behind. Oops—game over. So much for the Zen Master, calm and collected thing! Well, we enjoyed ripping down 3,000 feet of singletrack.
We picked up my wayward shoe around . I was chatting with a gal from another team as I attached it more securely to my pack. Her team was dropping out. Tough luck, but, ah…what size shoes do you and your teammates wear? I scored one of her red shoes to go with my gray one--a very generous gesture, and quite typical of the spirit of adventure racing.
A few hours later, we rode out of yet another river bottom and burst above a sea of fog filling the canyons and the sea stretching out forever…. It’s all downhill and just a few hours to the finish from here, so why not enjoy the view? High fives and hugs all around, anticipating the beach (and the brews) below…and the 364 training days until the 2007 National Championships.