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ddashley
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December 19, 2011
5:49pm
Authors note: Team Florida Xtreme 3 is a developmental pick-up team focused on novice racers gaining experience in running elite length courses with an experienced team captain. Race team captain is Dave "Dash" Ashley, a local racer from Merritt Island with several years of elite level racing experience and a navigator for team Florida Xtreme and Mountain Kahakis/Rev3 Adventure. If you are looking to move up from the novice to elite class but would like some backup assistance the first time, drop me a line! ~Dash

Christmas AR Race Report:
Pangea's "surprise" adventure race this year was the 3.5 hour Christmas in Christmas adventure race. It was held on Saturday 17 December. Christmas Florida is about 30 minutes east of Orlando, just north of SR528.

Hurray for great weather! This race day was perfect, temps in the 70s and very little wind. Pangea's race director Greg had the course divided up into 3 different sections: trek, paddle, and bike. Due to recent road construction the start/finish and main transition area was moved about 2km to the west, but this did not cause any issues with the race.

Note: All team members must be present before you can sign in and get your race course maps. We arrived near the end of registration, which limited our time to read the maps and clue sheet. This hurt us later in the race. Arrive early and have the most possible time with your map/clue sheet!

At sign-in each team picked a colored pebble out of a hat. The color of the pebble corresponded to what section of the course you had to do first. After that section, you could do them in any order. FLX-3 got the trekking section first.

We received the map and clue sheets just before the start of the "adventure racing 101" class and pre-race briefing, so we decided to stay and listen. Following the brief, we only had a few minutes to read the clue sheet, make some updates to the map based on the clues, and do a final bike/pack check before the race started. There were 18 total checkpoints, 6 for each section. Getting to the race late, we were rushed though our preparation.

Race start!!! Although we were trekking first, bikes were allowed for the 1.5k travel to the start of the trek. We held back to let the faster teams go first. I prefer to be careful at the start of a race and avoid accidents, especially when on bikes. An easy ride on roads to the start of the trek, and a quick transition. We wore running shoes on our bikes since the ride was so short.

Trek was about a 5k loop, no required order for the checkpoints. After looking at route options, we all agreed that a counterclockwise loop offered easier approaches to 2 checkpoints while a clockwise loop didn't have any advantage. So we headed off counterclockwise.

All of this course was on old fire roads or hike/bike trails, with a few options for cutting distance with bushwhacking. Most of the points were 10m-50m off the trail. The terrain was a mix of impassible tropical vegetation and swampland to firm ground with trees and sparse undergrowth.

For the trek we decided to take turns navigating and working on pace count. For the first checkpoint we didn't get a very good estimate on the distance, and there was no obvious terrain feature to act as a "backstop" near the checkpoint. So even though we were pace counting, we stopped too early and started checking the woods on the right side of our trail for the checkpoint. No luck. We moved further, tried again, and did this one more time. After about 10 minutes of searching we regrouped to determine exactly where we were on the map. Since the nearest terrain feature (road intersection) was around 300 meters away and out of site, we could not determine exactly where on the trail we were. So we elected to stop searching and move to the next point, minimizing the time lost searching when we didn't know where we were.

Turns out this was a good decision, all teams had trouble finding this checkpoint. I think only 3 teams found it.

On the way to the next point we encountered a trail going in the right direction, but it seemed to come quicker than 300 meters. We were not pace counting, since the map didn't show any other trails until the one we wanted why pace count? Bad move! We turned on this trail and found out later it was NOT on the map. Our trail was about 50 meters further but hidden from our view. Lucky for us our trail went the right direction and intersected the trail we needed, and after a quick discussion we found out the mistake and located the checkpoint.

The rest of the trekking checkpoints were found easily, and all team members did a great job learning from our first few mistakes. Using the compass, pace count, and the map we completed the remaining 4 points very quickly. We decided to leave the point we could not find, as it was already over 1 hour into the race. On to the paddle!

Back at the main transition area for a new punch card, then we had to stay on bikes for a 3.5km ride to the canoe put in. Some of the road was sandy along this section, about a moderate level of technical riding but double tracked and very easy to follow. We arrived at the canoes with no problems and in high spirits.

Now, for those who have not raced Pangea events, you might think of canoeing in wide-open lakes or inland rivers. Not the case! Most adventure races use small lakes and creeks, with little boat clearance and often a requirement to get out of your boat to overcome obstacles. Yes, you WILL get wet!

We were doing very well on the paddle, getting the first two points in 5 minutes and working our way through some weedy and shallow (less than a foot) water.

Checkpoint 12 was a challenge...hidden in tall grass and behind a cypress tree. We could only find it be exiting the boat into chest high water and walking about 20 meters. Didn’t see any snakes or gators...

Now we ran into a problem. Since we were rushed at the start of the race, I had misplotted 2 points (insert joke about experienced navigator making a rookie mistake here!) They were supposed to be near Waypoint 12...I put them near Checkpoint 12. Normally you either 1) double check your points or 2) have somebody else check them, but our late arrival at registration rushed us and we didn't check the points. So we searched around in the marsh for 30 minutes with no joy. Finally we gave up on those and headed back, grabbing our 4th paddle point on the way back. A quick bike and we were back at the main transition, but overall we had missed 3 points so far and had 45 minutes to get the final 6 on bike. And we saw a nice sized alligator during our ride back, making us re-think wading through the marshes that we just did!

Only 45 minutes to grab the last six points...lucky for us the bike is our strongest skill. We took off quickly and found the first point on our 2nd search. If we had a working bike computer we may have found it our first try, as we knew the distance, but had to guess. My cycle computer was not functioning and nobody else on the team had one. So we just estimated based on riding time.

All of the biking points were easy to find, and we grabbed the first 4 in 30 minutes. Then we had a decision: Should we get another one? 15 minutes left and there were 2 points. One was too far, we ruled it out. The other looked possible...so we took off FAST. At this point one team member was flagging, so I grabbed her backpack and pulled her along for part of the ride to keep our team speed together. The process of "towing" a teammate is very helpful in a longer race, and it's not just for your slower teammates. Anybody can have a time period in a race where they don't feel well, and the requirement to keep the entire team within 100m at all times means you are as fast as your weakest link. I've been towed in long races many times, you just leave your pride behind and keep the team moving as fast as possible.

We found the point in 6 minutes, and had a comfortable 9 minutes to back it back to the finish in time. With a little more towing we finished with a few minutes to spare, but we didn't clean the course. In total we found 14 of the 18 checkpoints, missing one on the trek (poor pace count), 2 on the paddle (mis-plot on map) and 1 on the bike (poor time management). Overall we placed 4th, and 2nd in the four-person coed category out of 19 total teams. Not too bad considering 2 of team members had never done an adventure race before! We left feeling pretty good about ourselves, but wishing we could go back and grab those 4 remaining points....

See you at the Resolution AR!

~Dash
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