Team Florida Xtreme 2 (Erik, Jeanette and I) added Gareth to our numbers and headed up towards Blue Ridge. This would be Jeanette's first race over 12 hours - and she was "bit" nervous. Erik and I assured her she would be just fine - we had 3 experienced male racers ready to come to her rescue.
The race started with a little foot prolog before the first real bike leg. We had a little issue finding one of the bike trails in the start - as it appeared someone had plopped houses down right in the way of the trail. Luckily we were able to go around the houses and find the actual trail. This entire section of riding was really fun - great single track. The trail network was the Aska trails - and even though for every downhill there is also some uphill - they were wonderful downhills.
At one point we had the option to bushwhack to a bike swim to get from CP12 to CP13. We were with another team (RMR) at this point and they planned to swim, we decided to ride around. We arrived at the CP just as they were leaving - so we pretty much figured the route choices were about equal. A lot of teams did swim it - and even though the time to do either route was the same - we were dry and our bikes had not gotten submersed.
At CP14 we made a strategic move to skip CP15 and head straight to the trek leg. I wanted to make sure we cleared the paddle rapids before darkness and I also calculated that at our current pace we would not clear the course (this was a good call). We reached the trek leg and did all the CP's in order with no real navigation issues. It is so much easier to navigate where there are actual contours to read. The next leg was the paddle.
The paddle turned out to be a lot of fun. There were only a couple of difficult rapids. The most challenging one was just after CP22 (the house). By this point in the race we were getting spoiled. I was able to get a Chili Dog and a Mountain Dew at the Dial TA. They had Chili and bread at CP22. Even though the race was tough - the race organization was at least making it a lot of fun. When you are in a long race - these little things are wonderful.
Shortly after the CP we hit the biggest rapid. I decided that we would portage the first and run the second. This turned out to be a good choice. Gareth and Erik decided to run the rapid and ended up swimming. We fetched a lot of gear from the water - except for the paddle. If anyone finds a black kayak paddle let me know and I'll get it back to Gareth, I expect the folks living just downstream from the rapids end up with a lot of "stuff" from dumped boats.
For fun - we ran the second rapid (which was also challenging). The next big challenge was CP24 - the cemetery. It was completely dark when we arrived, and we followed an entire batch of teams the wrong direction. At the split in the 2 trails leading from the cove we took the left trail. We should have taken the trail to the right which curved straight to the cemetery. This cost us 3 hours, a lot of energy, and many scrapes and cuts from the major bushwhacks we added.
From there it was uneventful back to the main TA. It was now about 2 AM and we headed out in the cold rain for the last bike leg. The ride to Brawley was pretty cool - most of it was road, and we only had trouble with one control, mostly because I was too stubborn to stop and actually read the map. We did get a nice tour of some neighborhoods on the lake (as did some other teams judging by the bike tracks). The correct trail was probably a great ride when it was dry. I discovered that red clay becomes very slippery when it gets wet!
As we started the final climb up to Brawley the sun was coming up. I was hoping that it would start getting warmer, but instead the rain just came down harder and it got windy. It was really windy when we reached the top of the hill and the Brawley TA. Jeanette was starting to get hypothermic and was not able to ride the uphill. At the top there was another big pot of Chili (I was loving this!) - and a lot of cold racers. I took one look at the orienteering map, and decided that it was not going to happen. It looked like it would have been a lot of fun if we were fresh and it was not cold and rainy. In our current condition it was just punishment - but I applaud the teams that did do the trek.
We headed back down towards the main TA, stopping at the Iron Bridge Cafe for coffee and hot chocolate. From there it was an easy road ride to the TA. After that a few hot showers and on the road back to Florida
My impressions of the race was that Jeff did a great job with the course. The local teams did have a big advantage knowing what trails and routes are better than others - but that is normal. I really enjoyed the paddle - but also realize that other teams really struggled with it - especially at night. The weather turned on us - but there is no control over that and I have raced much worse conditions as have most of the teams there.
In the end - the fear Jeanette had turned into determination (you could see both in her eyes). I think she is now hooked - and is looking forward to her next 30 hour. For me, another fun race - and yes even when we are in cold miserable wet conditions - I somehow am still enjoying myself. I think only other adventure racers can understand this.
Great thanks to all the great racers we met along the way and talked to. The people you meet in adventure races are the best! I'm looking forward to the next Atomic - and now on to the next race which is Father's Day - with my kids!
Here is some video of the race to enjoy and the full map as a PDF (with my markings)
Here is a link to the Atomic Map on Scribd with all my markings.