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Posts: 21
March 5, 2012
4:01am
The Skunk Ape 24-Hour Adventure Race was held in southeastern Florida, near the city of Jupiter, on 4 Feb 2012. I was well rested and ready for this race, my first solo event since Checkpoint Tracker nationals last October.

I drove down from my home near the Kennedy Space Center the night before, checking into race HQ in Hungryland Wildlife Management Area. Teams and soloists were provided maps and a clue sheet then sent off until the pre-race meeting at 0600 the next morning. At the race director's recommendation I had booked a campground for the night (local motels were over $100/night and as a soloist I didn't have anybody to share the costs). Since my campground was over 30 minutes away I elected to pitch my tent at the race HQ and save the drive time. No teammates to smell me as I raced, who needs a shower??

2 reasons why that was a bad idea.

1) It rained that night, and rained hard. Ever try to sleep in a tent with wind driving rain? Not easy, but I tried hard until...
2) Local kids arrived around 2am. Monster trucks, stereos blazing, they circled my tent a few times and did some doughnuts in the grass. I stayed in the sleeping bag and hoped they would go away. Instead, they stayed until around 4am drinking, blasting music, and occasionally revving up their trucks and driving around. Recalling how I acted similarly as a teenager, I just kept cool and let them eventually tire out and head home.

I finally got to sleep around 415am and was woken up a 0545 by racers and volunteers arriving. About 90 minutes of good sleep. Not a great way to start a 24 hour race.

Good news, weather forecast was beautiful for the entire race. Temps in the low 70s, partly cloudy, no rain forecasted (key word “forecasted”). Wonderful!!!

Race plan was a "mystery" run, short bike to a paddle TA, paddle in some very shallow/narrow canals in Loxahatchee River Bend Park, return to Paddle TA. Hop on mountain bikes and ride back into Loxahatchee River Bend Park, then heading south along a canal for 2 CPs and a fairly long ride. Returning to the paddle TA, there was a relatively short run with some technical CPs to locate. Back at the paddle TA, there was an 8-mile paddle to the boat ramp in Jonathan Dickinson State Park and then a monster trek (~15+ miles) with some technical CPs that took you all the way back to the original paddle TA. Back on the bike for a moderate ride and some more technical CPs, then back to race HQ for a late night/early morning trek and finally the finish line. All the switching sounds complicated, but it makes for a fun race and keeps a single muscle group from getting too tired. Kudos to the race director for the course design.

The mystery run was revealed at race start, and had intended to be a hash run. Unfortunately heavy rain that night had washed away most of the flour trails the race director had left out the day prior. So instead we did an out-and-back trek, about 5k. This type of "prologue" event helps separate the teams early in a race and keeps them from bunching up on the bike and paddle.

A veteran of long races, I kept near the back during the trek and conserved my energy. Arriving back at the main TA I witnessed some racers sweating so hard their shirts were wet...and all of ~30 minutes into the race!!! I was already looking forward to passing those teams later in the day.

Quick flashback: As I pulled up to race check in the night before, several members of the staff came over to my car and asked about my kayak. For this race, teams were provided canoes but solo racers had to bring their own kayaks to use. My boat is a 17 foot surf ski made by Epic Kayaks. It is very, very fast and designed for open water. However, the race staff suggested I find a shorter boat and preferably one I didn't mind getting struck by underwater logs and rocks. They said the paddle for this race was full of tight turns, underwater obstacles, and was often very shallow in places. Fortunately a friend from my local racing team, Florida Xtreme, lived nearby and offered me the use of his personal kayak for the race. Thanks Mark!!!!

The first paddle section was moderately technical to navigate and paddle. The canals in the park were often less than 10 feet wide, and only a few inches deep in most sections. Water lilies and grasses would grab my kayak and slow progress, requiring strong paddle strokes that drained energy. Fortunately this was a relatively short paddle, around 90 minutes.

The following bike leg looked easy on paper. The first set of CPs were on trails in the park, navigation was very basic. I dropped my race passport between two CPs, lost 5 minutes riding back and found it right in the middle of the trail (whew!)

The final two CPs were a long ride south and west of the park along a dike. It was impossible to tell on the map, but this dike was mostly loose sand. Riding was not easy, and on the return leg it was mostly into a stiff wind coming directly from the east. There were two teams ahead of me at this point, and I was using a significant amount of energy on the bike trying to rein them in. In hindsight I should have backed off a few MPH and taken a 10-20 minute time loss, instead I fell behind on my nutrition and energy levels and didn't feel good when I got off the bike. Roughly 2 hours on the bike, now in 4th place overall.

Next, about 4 miles of trekking. All of these points were technical navigation, at least 40 meters off the trail. I had been focusing on sharpening navigation for the last 6 months, and had attended several Florida Orienteering Club O-meets. That practice paid off as I ended up in 1st place after nailing the first 3 CPs. Unfortunately that lead didn't last, as I was still suffering from the bike and mostly walking. 1 soloist (Greg from M-K/Rev3) passed me on the final 2k back to the boat TA and I started my next paddle section in second.

I can't say enough great things about this next paddle! Starting from West Indiantown Road, racers headed towards the ocean on the Loxahatchee River for approximately 8 miles. We started out going over a 1-foot spillway, with a big sign warning about alligators and cottonmouth snakes that lived in the waterway. The first section was full of old Cyprus trees, the water was a blackish-brown due to the sediment in that area, and a moderate current flowed in our direction. Yes, you read that right. An adventure race where you paddled WITH the current!!! I would have kissed the race director on the spot for making that call.

The Cyprus trees gave way to mangroves, the waterways opened up, and it was easy to see the evidence of large alligators along the banks. Greg even scared a few as he led the paddle, and one 10+ foot gator slide into the water about 2 feet from his boat!!! We had gotten sound safety advice from the race staff for just this type of situation: Whatever you do, DON'T get out of your boat!!

Near the end of the paddle we were going directly into the wind and once again I felt drained of energy and ready for a break. Catching up with Greg as the pull-out came into sight, we were both happy to leave our boats and those gators behind and begin the long trek.

For the next several hours I played yo-yo with team Green Paw (exiting the water in 3rd place, about 20 minutes behind me) and Greg (exiting the water just ahead of me). Too tired to run, I stood by helplessly as Green Paw and Greg would disappear into the distance on the long, straight sandy trails. However, he CPs in this section were far off trail and my navigation was on fire. So I would pass them in the bushes and end up a kilometer ahead. 10 minutes later they would go by again...

It got dark during this section of the race, and I was able to eat and drink to regain strength. Greg and I traveled together for an hour or so, I was grateful for his company and I don't think he minded slowing down for a while (he can run forever it seems!) I'm looking forward to racing with him in our 4-person coed team this April at the Rev3.

Finally back to the bikes and original boat TA, I knew it was just 2 sections left until the finish. At this point Green Paw was about 1 hour in front of me, they had run almost all of the long trekking section. Very impressive. Greg was about 45 minutes behind them in 2nd. I made a very quick transition and headed out to catch Greg on the bike.

Luck was with me, I found Greg searching for the 1st CP on the bike leg. This one was diabolical...located low in a dry canal, completely blocked by vegetation (we had to crawl under some trees to get it). Nighttime navigation is it's own sport, it takes a true master to do it well. Together we cleared the last bike CPs and rode into the main TA together.

At this point Greg needed to head back to his wife, as he had agreed to leave the race around midnight. They were driving to the Florida panhandle on Sunday, and he needed sleep before the 8+ hour drive. Team Green Paw was around 90 minutes in the lead, and there was no sign of anybody close to catching up. Just a few trekking points to get and likely a 2nd place finish. I left the main TA just after midnight and headed out for the final 5 points.

Up to this point in the race the terrain had been relatively dry, except for the paddle section of course. Hungryland Wildlife Management Area was a surprise...about half of the trekking we did there was in marsh/swamp with at least several inches of water. It's difficult enough to navigate at night, and to do it in a swamp, and by yourself with little sleep. What else could go wrong? Well, how about...
1) It started pouring down rain. Hard. From above. Sideways. And from below, splashes from the swamp water. Completely drenched me.
2) I startled a large cat (panther?) It gave me a very hungry look, but decided to eat something else and ran off. It...was...big.
3) Tired. I started to have trouble concentrating. Started seeing snakes in the water, no snakes. Almost fell down a few times. Just dreaming while awake.

After getting 3 of the 5 points and sitting in a metal spillway to regain body heat and attempt to dry off, I called it a night around 330am and checked back in at the main TA. It was still pouring rain. The race staff offered to let me camp out on a picnic table until breakfast and awards at 8am, but I hopped in my car and headed home instead. Well, at least I got about 30 miles before I had to pull over and sleep in the car for a few hours.

Team Green Paw won the race and cleared the course. I finished 2nd overall and 1st place male soloist. Greg would have given me a run for my money on 2nd if he could stay longer, we'll never know. But he did make it home safely the next day.

Nice job Green Paw & Greg and thanks to the staff and volunteers of the Skunk Ape Adventure Race!

~Dash
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