A Frick’n Adventure Race

Yesterday (June 16, 2007), Lenny Lucas and I competed in A Frick’n Adventure Race put on by Grass Roots Racing. We ended up placing second in the all-male category, and fourth overall. Event description. Results.

The event consisted of a kayak prologue in two-person kayaks, where we paddled from the start at Duck Pond parking area under the northwest end of the Highlevel Bridge, upstream on the Monongahela River until we went under the second railroad bridge we encountered. We then turned and came back. Paddling and rowing (crew style) are two different animals, and Lenny and I had quite a bit of difficulty maintaining a straight course. The consequence was that we were seeded very close to dead last when the time came to start the remainder of the adventure.

The remainder of the event was formatted as run-bike-run, where each run was 3 miles in length. The first went counter-clockwise, and the second went clockwise, on the same lasso-shaped trail. The lasso started in the parking area and then went up Nine Mile Run Creek, literally, right up the creek, and then gained a lot of elevation before looping through rolling hills. Since it is a loop, towards the end a lot of elevation was lost, and then it was back down the creek to the transition area in the parking lot.

At every transition, there was an obstacle to negotiate. This took the form of a large duct-like structure that we had to wiggle through, or a sort of balance beam exercise constructed of 2x4s. There were interesting twists such as being handcuffed, and first-on-must-be-last-off. In fact we had to remove the front wheels from our mountain bikes and push them through the duct ahead of ourselves!

The mountain biking stage began by riding along the creek, but eventually we had to go in the creek. In fact, we rode our bikes through the large pipe that carries the creek beneath Forward Ave. Very cool! The only upset was that the water made an unexpected transition to being deeper than we are tall, causing Lenny to spend a brief moment beneath the surface. He came out unscathed, though his cell phone would not.

All orienteering for the event was done during the mountain biking stage. There were small nylon baskets hung throughout the park, which each included a hole-punch that punched a unique pattern. To prevent the second of consecutive teams from simply following the first, the set of checkpoints was divided into two groups: red and blue. Thus, the marshal handing out maps and checkpoint lists alternated between red and blue lists. Once a team completed the first set of checkpoints, they returned to the marshal to get the other sheet.

There were two kinds of checkpoints: ones explicitly shown on the park map, and ones not shown. For the ones not shown, we were to locate them by following a bearing and a distance provided at the previous checkpoint. The first such checkpoint we encountered was R-5 (we received the red set of checkpoints first). At R-4, we read off a bearing and a distance, referenced our trusty compass, and tried to find R-5. After 15 minutes of searching, and aware that the penalty for a missed checkpoint is 10 minutes, we gave up and moved on to R-6. It turned out that it was hanging directly above our heads at one point, and we simply failed to look up. Oh well! It didn’t affect our finishing position. The other interesting obstacle was B-13, which was hung high in a tree out in the open. I let Lenny climb onto my shoulders to reach it! We actually dropped the checkpoint sheet after he was up, but he simply hung from the tree limb while I picked it up to save time.

As I mentioned above, we received red first. After completing the red course (with the exception of R-5), we asked the marshal how we were doing. He said we were the first team back, but there were more blue checkpoints than red checkpoints, so at worst we were ahead of 50% of the field. We worked our way through all of the blue checkpoints (I believe there were 15, the red course only had about 9; I don’t remember specifically because the first and last were the marshal’s station). I crashed once when my shoe unexpectedly unclipped from my pedal during a log crossing; got a nice bruise! When we reached the marshal with our blue sheet completed (and thus all orienteering completed), he said that there were only a few teams in front of us, and that one was barely in front of us. Indeed we caught and passed them within the next 5 minutes.

The final run stage was mostly an act of survival. At this point we were all very tired, but Lenny and I pushed on and never saw another team until we crossed the finish line. It turns out that we were about 11 minutes behind first place, and about 20 minutes in front of third place, not including our 10 minute penalty for missing checkpoint R-5. Had we found R-5 without incident, we may well have won the thing! Not bad considering we were nearly in last place after the kayaking prologue!

Photographers from Chuck Photography were on-hand during the event, and the prize Lenny and I selected was to receive a free photo. The proofs aren’t online as of the time of this writing, so I’m still unable to comment on any of the pictures. I suspect they will feature Lenny with a big smile and me with a pained zombie look, as Lenny is a very strong runner!

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