Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why I love Trioba

Team Verve at Crux & Crucible in Farragu State Park, ID.
We were Christi Masi, Miles Ohlrich, Andrew Feucht and me.

Why I loved Trioba 2009 sprint race? Because of maps. They added trails that were necessary for navigation to happen to the USGS topo map. The printouts were actually nice quality and I could read it well. And it is extremely important for an 8-12 hour sprint race.

For a short sprint race like that an issue with the maps or misplaced checkpoints which makes you lose half an hour just destroys the race since suddenly you depend on luck rather than skill; that is exactly what happened with team Verve on both days of Crux and Crucible.

The maps were of horrible quality: USGS topo maps printed out from National Geographic software. Ever tried that? Good for entertainment, horrible for racing. Ever tried to put on checkpoint markers on that? The best you can get is small flags. No O' style circles. Really sweet. That's why lazy race director's choose to give UTM coordinates out instead.

Let me give you an example of our issues using a topo map fragment from gmap-pedometer site. CP3 is mandatory CP, CP5 is optional.

The road leading first North and then East, turning into a 4WD road had the usual red paint from National Geographic on it a bit further than the road continues (no red color at the all wheel drive part of it). The page of the map ended a bit above CP 5 (so we had to turn to the other side there and I did not have lots of time to look at it) and I did not see the trail. Nor did Miles... So we chose to go on the road which leads to the top to the East at once. Not sure if we found the correct road, but we found one. Once up at CP3 the next thinking was to go a bit North and then head down and come back up for the CP5, leaving our bikes on top. Another logical choice could be going more North and then contouring around. But looking at the contourlines my first thought was that it is not a good idea - travel on possibly very steep surface with really thick growth is a bad idea to me.

So we go down and surprise! there is a road here.

What is the result and how much do we lose here? Well, I chose to carry the bike up, 30 minutes, carry down 15 minutes. Go down for CP5 - 20 minutes, the same up. together 1:25. If the situation was as in the topo map: 15 minutes going around (some bushwack on 4wd included), drop bikes, 15 up for the CP2 w/o bike 20 minutes down to CP5, 20 minutes to get back to bikes on slope. 1:10 if reality corresponded to map. However, CP5 is on road. So suddenly there is no coming back on slope. You just come back from CP2 to bikes. and get CP5 in zero time. So 50 minutes. Voila! We just lost like 35 minutes. 15 minutes on bad map reading, 20 on bad map. Pretty horrible. Plus some additional thinking time while trying to figure out the roads.

But wait, there's more. Optional CP4. We plot the points, race director checks them and then moves CP4 a bit to the left, possibly to the turn in the road as in the next map the point on left. In the map given to us the Jeep trail in the picture has the usual road symbol and it ends somewhere between the middle of right circle and the road to the east. In reality it seemed like a well overgrown, but certainly noticable road.

We were like 20 people moving around there for probably 20 minutes and noone finding it, finally us leaving. Nike confirmed with RD that he had "issues" with this point by radio, before everyone left not finding the point. How could this happen? Turns out he used GPS to find where he was when putting out the CP, got bad GPS signal and gave us wrong UTM coordinates, then proceeded with repairing himself on the map that the point is more to the left; when I heard him do that I thought we had misplotted the point... Where was the point? I believe it was even more to the West, one team found it.

Was there more? Well, closing in to the kayaks some 10k to the North we were making route choices based on direction since there was nothing of the roads in the map, hoping they would lead us home. Luckily they did, although I would not have been surprised had they lead us to the top of one of the Sisters hills and stopped there.

How was second day? Much easier navigation with approximate choices only in the very end of the race at Farragut State Park. Lost 20 minutes looking for the top of rocks, but that was my bad. And some 15 more looking for a CP on the "edge of clearing", which could not be seen from it.

Consensus? I guess it would be different if it had been a 24 hour non stop race. Half an hour here or there, sure. But in 12 hours where you are racing sooooo close to Nike and True Grit precision is important, 30 minutes of luck instead of skill and the race is done. And there was way too much biking.

oh, ps.
There was more stupidness with this race: people called to ask RD about the hard to find points/misplaced CPs, at least one team was leaving people at the road while others were looking for the CP, no punishment on them, first day kayak cutoff time of 4pm was increased to 5pm. This is especially interesting since we tried to reach Crux and turned back since we could not make it to 4pm. 5pm could be reachable for us. Two teams made Crux, but I would really love to see their splits. I fear at least one had trouble reaching kayaks by 4pm, they could have been really really close. Oh, there is even more - there was a mandatory CP in the town which everyone took on the way out, but it was supposed to be taken when coming back on kayak. Volunteers at the last TA said it had to be taken for sure again and we did it. Some teams did not for sure. What does mandatory mean to you? I guess it is a meaningless word.

results: Miles' blog entry here:

Congratulations go to Ian, Jared and Roger, winning the second day.
I guess I'm just disappointed we did not win. I will not do a Big Blue race any more.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trioba at Index, Wa

May 30, 2009
By Murray Maitland
Team Verve (Pēteris Lediņš, Ian Hoag, Christi Masi, and me)

Friday morning, the day before the Trioba Adventure Race, like every morning, I read my horoscope. “Your team has the advantage” it said.

I hope that the forecast holds for Saturday as well.

Even though people make fun of my horoscope-reading ritual, it’s always a positive message and sometimes it is a good source of motivation. The message I most often get is “believe in yourself”. In other words “toss off the anxiety, and have confidence”.

Saturday morning, the smells, sights and scenery at the village of Index were spectacular and the weather was wonderful. Index is a small footprint of human development at the edge of the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle. Pyramidal peaks punctuate the perimeter of the view. The blue-grey Skykomish River, on the edge of the town, was filled to the brim with spring runoff.

While the race director, Glenn Rogers, gave the pre-race oration, followed by a video on how to deal with rafting safety, I looked around the room at the other teams. I always feel self-conscious in a group of competitors like this. Team Verve doesn’t particularly look like a group of classical athletes compared to the muscular, lean people around us. What could possibly give our group an “advantage” compared to everyone else there? Some of the people I knew from previous races, especially the top-seeded team, “Mergeo”, where Peteris and I are on their website as team-members. The team that “Mergeo” assembled for the Trioba race was physically stronger and better mountain bikers compared to our team. So what attribute could possibly make us competitors here?

The race started with a mountain bike peloton. Soon our team was at the front of the pack and soon we were pushing our bikes up a steep, power line, ATV trail, and soon we couldn’t see anybody behind us …. But that was because one after the other, four teams crested the ridge ahead of us, having taken a shorter route.

There have been so many races where the first section doesn’t go smoothly for me, that it doesn’t bother me anymore. We just need to use those teams as motivators.

Pushing our bikes up the steep gravel was already getting close to my aerobic limits and it was getting hot. Could we possibly keep the pace up enough to catch them?

Team by team we reeled them in until only Mergeo was ahead. They were leaving the bike to foot transition area, just as we were arriving. We were within striking distance, and I’m sure they could feel it. A quick change of footwear, and we could have been right behind them.

I have no idea why Peteris asked to take the “passport” which contains information about the course, as well as checkpoint punches and initials as evidence that we had been following the prescribed course. I gave it to him, and then we started to run towards the first trekking checkpoint. Teams must have both the map and the passport to finish the race or they are disqualified.

“So you have the passport?” I said as we worked our way through underbrush to the ridge top checkpoint. Some Latvian curse/expletive followed and Peteris immediately turned back towards the bikes. No, he didn’t have the passport. Back through the bushes to the bikes with double the leg slashes. A few more minutes lost. More advantages to our competitors.

Still, we caught the Mergeo team members on bush-covered, old logging roads, about half-way through the trek section where the next few minutes created the first deciding factor in the race.

Team Verve was slightly ahead of Mergeo as we set off bushwhacking between checkpoints. Mergeo chose a slightly different route, and I kept thinking that their route must have been better. We were uncertain about the location of the checkpoint and our travel speed was very slow, over and through the vegetation. These are the times I tend to get very panicky. It is possible to spend hours looking for a checkpoint if things get bad, while our competitors could already be there. We don’t hear or see anybody else, so Mergeo must be well ahead of us by now.

It was only a few minutes, and we found the checkpoint next to a talus slope and some snow. We guessed that the old footprints in the snow were from the person who set the checkpoint, so we started following them in the direction of the next checkpoint. But there weren’t any new footprints. We were in front of everyone!!

Arriving at the bikes, we quickly put on our cycling shoes and set off down the 2,300 ft descent. Do we have enough of a gap to keep ahead of Mergeo? It was mostly dusty, gravel roads with the occasional vehicle including dirt bikes, quads, and SUVs. I didn’t have any illusions about my ability as a downhill mountain biker compared to the Mergeo team. My ears were just waiting for sounds of Mergeo behind us. Damn! My ears heard the sound of air hissing out of my back tire - another bonus for our competitors. Why always me?! Quickly, the team worked together to get back on the road, but it made our expectations of being overtaken even greater.

The next portion of mountain biking was great. Who said mountain bikes and dirt bikes couldn’t coexist? Dirt trails with banked corners and reasonable rocks on a gradual descent were a pleasure to ride in the glorious tree-filtered sunlight. Occasionally, there were a few signs of erosion, like a puddle but in general it didn’t look like a dirt bike track.

Down this section, Peteris insisted that Ian go first, and Christi follow him, so that she would have a model mountain biker to emulate. We stopped briefly to get a checkpoint and Peteris again emphasized his strategy. “I want Ian to go ahead of Christi so that she knows where to avoid problems.” Ian took off through a puddle, buried his front wheel, and went over his handle bars into to the water. This was obviously good evidence that Peteris’ strategy was sound.

Still ahead of Mergeo, we arrived at the water-filling station which was also going to be our finish line when we returned down the Skykomish River, white-water rafting section. You would think that this would be invigorating moment, to be in first place at the half-way point.

Confusion reigns! Glenn, the race director, is angry at us. Christi is upset. As a team, we are forced to go back along the route about 30 meters before we can fill our water containers and get going again. The clock ticks forward as we go around in circles.

Good training! Remain calm. I wanted our team name to be Sang Froid (Blood like ice!) At this point, 5 hours into the race, IQs drop to very low levels while emotions run high. Just keep moving forward.

Now, we reached the second deciding factor in the race. We had dropped our bikes again, and were ascending another 1400 ft. running, walking, and trying to keep ahead. This time is was hot and we were suffering. Cramps started setting in: hamstrings, quads and calf muscles. Not for me, but for Ian and Peteris. All we need to do is get to the rafts first.

It was our mantra. All we need to do is get to the rafts… FIRST!

We came to the bend in the road where we would get off the road 30 meters NE to find the checkpoint. We did exactly what we needed to do as a team. We struck through the first, thick layer of sunlit bushes into the forest. Fanning out, we covered the maximum amount of area, but the checkpoint wasn’t there.

It has got to be there! But it wasn’t. Think! Quick! Where could it possibly be?

Looking to my left, there was a really nice plateau with open trees, like a park. I quickly rushed down towards the creek, and found the checkpoint. Then we quickly headed out to the road, arriving there just as Mergeo headed into the bush. They were only about 20 seconds behind.

And that was the end of the race.

Sure, there was lots of uncertainty. We pushed, and pushed… Step by step we increased our lead. Team Verve went from being twenty seconds ahead to being 6 minutes ahead by the time we got to the rafts. Christi kept saying, and Ian translated into Spanish: “We’re on fire! Scorching!” A sharp something stuck into my foot, step after step, but there was no way I was stopping.

All we need to do is get back to the boats… FIRST!! And we did.

I would like to say I enjoyed the white water rafting, since at another time I would have. Every time a splash came towards my mouth, I tried to suck it in because I was so dehydrated. My arms, although I hadn't really used them all day, were drained of blood. All I wanted to do was sleep.

The white water rafting was a classic finish. Our guide was great because he was vibrant, light-hearted, and understanding. He was a fresh voice encouraging some very beaten-up competitors. It was truly beautiful, and I dreamed about a previous life. My wife, Lisa, was a white-water guide, and I paddled a slalom kayak. It seemed like eons ago. My first kayak roll in white water felt as real at that moment, as when I did it.

Ian suffered the most at that point. More cramps…tingling throughout his body… “loopy” he said. I thought to myself “Good man! You’re a real competitor.” Nearing the end, Ian asked if we could take a 30 second break, drifting on the current before the finale where we would carry the rafts to the finish line. Almost synchronously, Peteris, Christi and me said “no way”.

That was it! The end!... No, not really... The team rejoiced, not as much about our first place finish, but rather the fact that we won a free entry into the September 24-hour race. While I don’t want to minimize the teamwork by Ian and me, I have never felt the energy from a pair of adventure racers like Christi and Peteris.

OK. Now it’s the end.