Saturday Nov 6th, 2010 at 9am was the biggest race of my life….a 12 hour adventure race in Otay Lakes.
I’ve done a few adventure races this year so I knew what to expect in the disciplines of biking, hiking, kayaking, and orienteering. But the longest race so far was at 6 hours, so this was going to be at least double that length.
Full Disclosure Moment: I had been training with the Equinox crew in the area, and was part of the “testers” of the course, so I can’t claim full adventure racer credit on this as I had a good sense of the distance and routes to take. I had only done one leg at a time, so putting all three together was the achievement of this race.
We start with the pre-race packing…prepared the night before by using a checklist and my prior knowledge of how my body responds – for example knowing I get hot spots on my feet, I laid out the moleskin and duct tape to wrap my feet in as I got dressed in the morning. If you want to know more about checklists, check out this prior post.
The morning alarm goes off, we get dressed, have some breakfast of a bagel for the carbohydrates and ‘easy on the stomach’ aspect….then get in the care and drive to Otay Lakes.
On arrival, we get to see lots of familiar faces (Equinox, Las 5 Marias, Jen & Michael…) and also a few new ones – to us as well as a few newbie adventure racers. A good turnout indeed!
We get given the maps – and there are 6 of them…you know it’s going to be a 12 hour race when you are given 6 maps! Barrie gives the race briefing and folks are planning out their routes for the day. The difference in this race to the other ones I’ve been in is the order of the disciplines.
Usually I’ve done kayak, bike, then hike. This time the order was bike, kayak, then hike. There was a need to finish the kayak before sundown and Barrie planned for the hike to be done at night to add to the night orienteering aspect (see that hill over there….oh yeah you can’t).
The countdown from Equinox leaders (Barrie & Steve) begins…5,4,3,2,1…and the pack is off of over 30 bikers. We start heading towards the trail and the first challenge arrives. The park gates are locked! Now remember that I knew this from my “tester” knowledge so Bangers & Mash turned to a different trail before hitting the park….and we soon had the pack following us.
I have NEVER been head of the pack, so it was amazing to see the speed (and sheer craziness) of this experience. The first downhill and people were tearing it up! A few people go their early fall off the bike (mine came later with serious pain…) and the pack was gone in a flash.
I did learn the lesson that YOU SHOULD NOT ALWAYS FOLLOW THE PACK. One person makes a decision, then a couple follow, so you assume they know what they are doing. They don’t!! Bangers & Mash watched as the bikers made turns that added 2 miles on their route, or didn’t look for the only electricity pylon in the trails where the first checkpoint was and climbed the hill missing it completely.
We can claim the credit of being first to checkpoint 1, which was a nice ego boost.
Ok, so the bike section was hard. I mean the longest and hardest bike ride of my life. Check out the route from my GPS when we did the test run. It’s 5,000 elevation climb and 26 miles. Whew!
See the full flash version on the Everytrail website Otay Mountain Truck Trail Loop at EveryTrail
After getting the first checkpoint, it is on the Otay Mountain Truck trail and just a long hard slog uphill. Bangers & Mash started mountain biking this year, so we have been building up our stamina and I was proud that we biked about 75% of the hill and walked the bike for the rest. We just kept to the lowest gear and pedaled very slow. Sometimes it seems like you are standing still….
BIKING TIP: The key to uphill biking is to keep pedaling, no matter how slow.
We arrived at the top to the friendly face of Steve from Equinox and a water stop. Fill it up, eat some food, chat to the fellow racers and off we go again. We found we were #8 to the checkpoint #3 and happy with that. I mean we had to stop to get just one geocache along the way….hee hee
After the big uphill climb, you get the fun of the downhill. The road was quite busy with tricks, so that meant more care had to be taken on the bends. If you skidded out, you’d also have a very nice roll down to the bottom of the mountain. I kept my brakes on most of the way to feel safe…the hand claw grip was definitely felt as we neared the bottom.
Still another 10 miles to go at this point, but the hardest part was done, right? I was feeling good and telling myself happy positive things like “this might be the race that you don’t fall” and of course I jinxed it. I hit a skid on a hill, the bike fell, I jumped off, but the momentum of my body propelled me forward and I took a hard tumble and roll 15 feet down the hill.
Pain……Pain……Pain…….went through the checklist, can I move my limbs? Pain is on what level from 0 – 10. Clothes ripped? Helmet broken?
Fortunate that was just going to be a BIG bruise and lots of scratches. But my mental game was definitely thrown. You are in shock and then panic and really hard to get that confidence back to keep you going. We walked down the next few hills and I was getting back into the ride to start on the hill next to the motorcycle rally area. When suddenly…WOOF WOOF….a dog was running from the rally area through the barb wire and right at me. Not a nice, friendly waggy tail dog, but rather a territorial dog with his tail alert and his teeth showing ready to bite. I jump off the bike and put it between me and the dog…..and because of the mental state after the bike fall I am in a hysterical mood and start shrieking. I mean blood curdling horror film screams. I scared myself at those screams.
The dog owner calls the dog back and I try and pedal out of there, but the sight of bike movement sets that dog (aka Kujo) off again and he’s back at me and the bike. I’m screaming again and ready to just get eaten alive. Husband is yelling at the dog owner, and dog owner yells at us and threatens to get out his gun and shoot us! Oh man…we added some extra adventure to this adventure race!
My mental game was gone at this point…so this was a low point that all racers get. How do you get back in the game when you just want to give up? You have a great teammate that tells you “just take one more step” over and over again. You sing a song together (today’s choice was “The Cheeky Song” a classic nightclub hit for 1 summer in England). And you add energy back into the system with GU and Stingers.
This got me to the dam for checkpoint 6 and the “hike-a-bike” section. I am so glad we had tested this part out, because I would never have been able to do this blind. I would have doubted at every step that this was the right way to go.
So other racers….I have serious admiration for all you that managed this one!
After 7 hours, we arrived back at the transition at the boat dock and changed for the kayak. We were back to position #4 said Barrie. Nice one Bangers & Mash. I was looking forward to the kayak, it’s generally my favorite discipline, and I was sad that the timing of the race meant we’d not have tie mot doo the 5 checkpoints out there. We opted for the 3 that were the closest and paddled around the lake for 1 hour.
It was 5:30pm by the time we had loaded up the kayak and driven to the final location for the hike. Nightfall was within 30 minutes and a 10 mile hike with 3,000 elevation gain was before us. We estimated 4 hours of hard slog for the 4 mandatory checkpoints, so had some food and off we went. We felt good at this point; we’d eaten some food, had feeling back in our legs, and had hiked parts of the course before. So really was just the endurance factor for us. And the nighttime factor for Mash (aka Lucy), who has a phobia of the dark.
6pm, checkpoint 1 done and we picked up a backpack for the 10 minute bonus. The Otay area is right next to the Mexico border, so there are many attempts by illegal migrants to cross the border and the hills are the perfect cover to make this attempt. You see many border control vehicles and many pieces of litter showing the attempts of the migrants. Barrie requested that teams bring back a backpack to help clean up the area.
We continued the hike and the darkness meant you can’t really see the big ups and downs, you just keep walking. Good for the mind not seeing those hills, but definitely harder to navigate with. You really have to keep the map in front of you and read every single contour to tell where you are to get the checkpoint. We hooked up with another team – Michelle and Terrie – after the 2nd checkpoint and continued the rest of the hike with them. Lucy was thankful because of her darkness phobia and because of the night navigation. Nigel (aka Bangers) told me later he ran into 3 coyotes at checkpoint 4…I was happy to not know this fact.
See the full flash version of the hike on the Everytrail website Otay Lakes and Ranch Hike at EveryTrail
We chose to go off-trail after checkpoint 4 to get across the valley to checkpoint 2 (order was not an issue here) and it was very steep!!! Michelle was a fantastic navigator and she took a bearing, so I learned how to do that – never really used my compass before as the daytime I use landmarks. We found our way to checkpoint 2 and we filled the time with chatter and a song or two (this time it was the Bangers & Mash chant and “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”).
Finally after 13 hours and 58 minutes, we arrived back at the finish, tired and happy to have completed the race.
Many thanks to the organizers, Barrie and Steve from Team Equinox. They make this a fun and challenging event, but also are great teachers to help anyone new into the circuit. So feel free to reach out to them and visit the Equinox events website.
Tags: adventure race