Adventure races? I’m in!

I love new challenges in life, especially ones which come in the form of the outdoors, bicycles, and any other endurance ingredient that aspires us to go beyond our normal everyday lives. This past Friday Maija, the two pups, and I headed six hours east to stay with friends and their family in Warren PA for the 2010 Tango Adventure Race. Bordering their neighborhood in every direction was the eye dazzling greens of the Allegheny National Forest. While driving through this state forest land it seemed we were in the midst of landscape right out of a fairy tale book. The roads almost free of cars, liter, and the carbon footprint accepted invitations of outsiders as if you were almost coming back to a place you had been as a child, or in another lifetime. The expanses of trees and water stretched as far as the eye could see. As soon as we headed down these deserted roads into the forest, nature was calling out for us saying “Welcome, I knew you would come.” Places of this magnitude bring positive spirits and a calm feeling of being close to nature. While most of us live in neighborhoods that have been carved out for us by other humans, forests like this one remain almost flawless from the human touch and gives the eye a front row set into natures architecture. Aside from a few roads that have made their way through the forest there is nothing else for the eye to do besides look out and gaze at mother nature. In many ways unfortunately we have created places to live that give the illusion of “nature”. Visiting an area like this left me with a deeper respect and more gratitude for the anatomy of nature and it’s power on the human heart.

Here is a great shot Maija got from the car as we were leaving this beautiful part of PA.

The race itself was a blast. We we staying at a friends parents house only two miles from the actual start of the race. The race logistics were a little haywire as you had to drive to different points in the forest to ready yourself or your teammates for their part of the relay.

The race was broken up into relay sections in order pf:

Half Marathon
Paved/Gravel 20 Mile Bike
2.5 Mile Swim
Hiking Orienteering Course
4.5 Run
8 Mile Canoe

Some high spirited folk decided to tackle the whole adventure race solo. Most opted for the relay option while others did the Tango (2 people who have to finish together). I think having these choices is a nice perk for people to come back each year and try the same event in a different fashion. Being my first year I did not know what to expect in terms of competition or course difficulty. I was selected to do the bike section of my relay team which is right up my alley given my racing background. I would have liked to try the orienteering course as I’ve had a lot of experience with this type of navigating in the Army as well as taking a whole course on it in college. But non the less there will always be other years to try different parts.

The 20 mile bike course as I heard was part road, part gravel. Road bike? Cross bike? Mountain bike? To determine the best bike to use for the course Maija, her friend Joanna, and I got a map of the bike course from the local Y and drove the entire 20 miles. After surveying the course I was torn between using my road bike and a cross bike which we borrowed from Maija’s friend that didn’t fit me. At the end of the day I went with the Cross bike. I could have used a road bike on the course but it was too risky given the 8+ miles of gravel with no paved sections in between the loose gravel fire roads.

Here I am at the start of the bike course. For some reason this picture makes me look like a sprinter!

The course itself started with a two mile paved climb which I felt great climbing. This surprised me considering the small bike I was riding and cross tires. I was passing people left and right on the 2+ mile climb before we hit the dirt. The 8+ mile dirt section was non technical with a few fast descents and a bunch of hard punchy climbs. I seem to do well in this type of discipline. I like when the pace changes constantly throughout a race. It provides me with a mindset where I do not have to think a lot. I know it might seem obscure but when the pace is exactly the same and the road terrain rarely changes I start to go through a mental battle within myself. Maybe I could be successful at cross or mountain bike racing? When each turn is different and the road goes from gravel to paved, to matted dirt I seem to become more motivated and stronger. It is as if each new challenge around the corner fires up my true competitive nature and I forget about the suffering, and hardship. The descents in the race were fun but at the same time a little nerve rattling. The bicycle I was on was not in the best condition structurally. Every time I would pick up speed the handlebars would shake as if they were going to fall off. It’s a funny feeling to think about it now but during the race I was never worried about my how my body felt, or if I was going to take a turn too fast and fly off the mountain. No, I was more concerned with my bicycle falling apart! Maybe it helped me? Ironically enough the old beater I was on held together. I flew past people on road bikes who were stopped on the side of the trail to change a flat. A road bike on that course is a risky feat to take on. With a little bit of lady luck on your side, and if your loose gravel skills are top notch you can hit this course at very fast speeds. Personally I think a cross bike will provide you with a better sense of safety and reliability. This type of adventure relay race is not won on the bike. It is won with a balanced effort on the team as a whole. I’m not sure what my time was but I was told it was between 1 hour and 1:05. Sounds good to me!

The race course was fun and tiring. After I was finished I drove with the pups to different sections of the relay to watch Maija compete for the female team. The dogs and I had a blast as we were greeted with welcoming Hi’s and Hello’s from people who wanted to meet Cooper and Frito.
Here are some more pictures of the race and festivities. I had a great time at this race with friends and no matter which direction life leads me I want to come back to this race with another go at the bike course.

A beautiful view from the end of the swim section and the start of where the orienteering course started. My love and I after the bike relay.

Cooper napping in the grass. Ah, how peaceful he looks in nature where he should be!

Another view from in the car driving over the bridge.One of my best friends enjoying the outdoors 🙂