Monday, February 18, 2013

Pangea Sea to Sea Adventure Race

Recently I've read a lot about "extreme racing" in the news. When it comes to extreme racing in Florida nothing comes close to the Florida Sea to Sea. This race, previously called Coast to Coast has been most recently operated by Pangea Adventure Racing who has maintained it as the great challenge that it was meant to be. Here is a point by point description of the race that I ran this year with Team Honey Stinger - Erik Wise, Junos Reed, and Julie Ardoin. I would also be starting the race with a cold - which unfortunately had me hacking and coughing in the hotel room the night before the race keeping not just me but entire team awake most of the night.

Part 1 - Pre-Race

The race typically meets on one coast, buses the racers to the other and then we simply race back to our cars - pretty great. It is unsupported, each racer gets a gear bin, and the team gets one paddle bag and one bike bag which we can use to transport gear for those sections. We started at the Best Western in Crystal River and were bused to JB's fish camp in New Smyrna Beach where we would begin this great adventure.

Leg 1 - Paddle Across Mosquito Lagoon

After a short beach run all the teams hopped into canoes for nice short paddle across the Mosquito Lagoon to Riverbreeze Park where we hop on our bikes for the first real section of the race. Our team took it very easy during this section, popping out of the water at Riverbreeze well towards the back of the pack.

Many teams completed this paddle in under one hour, our more leisurely pace was one hour 16 minutes

Leg 2 - Bike to Rock Springs  (CP3-CP4)

The next bike leg was a straight-forward bike using Maytown Road to Sanford and then from Sanford to Rock Springs run where we would end at the horse barn. We had 2 Checkpoints along the way - one on Maytown Road at Deep Creek, the other at the entrance of the Central Florida Zoo. Our team went north around Lake Monroe on the Spring to Spring trail rather than taking the slightly shorter but more traffic intensive southern route through Sanford. I was happy to see my wife, Linda, was able to greet me at the Zoo checkpoint, but all I had time for was a kiss and hug.

As we left the zoo it started to rain. It would eventually start raining hard and the rain would continue all night long (through the orienteering and the paddle).

We were pretty fast on this leg 3:12, times ranged from 2:40 to nearly 4 hours.

Leg 3 - Rock Springs Orienteering (CP5-CP14)

Video Here Here we are at the start of the Rock Springs Run Orienteering section. Notice it is raining pretty steady.

I was looking forward to this orienteering run, and it did not disappoint me. Even though I did not find and of the checkpoints terribly challenging, it was setting the stage for more challenges later on in the race.Each point had its own special challenge - we did the course in essentially reverse order (CP14 first - CP5 last) - this made CP5 more challenging, but made CP8 much easier. We "fast" walked the entire section and finished in 2:45. Times on this ranged from 1:58 to much longer (some teams skipping checkpoints).

Some of the trekking we had along the Rock Springs Run Orienteering Section
Rock Springs Run Orienteering Map

Leg 4 - Bike to Margaritaville (6K no CP's)

From the end of this we biked to Margaritaville Camp near Katies Landing on the Wekiva River. It was dark and we almost missed it as I was heading to Katies Landing. This was a 6 km bike, the most challenging part was crossing SR46.

Leg 5 - Paddle on Wekiva River (CP15-CP19)

This leg was a make or break for competitive teams. It was dark and the checkpoints were quite challenging.

The first challenge was CP15. We passed Endeavor AR on the way to this - so we both headed into the little channel to find this together. As we searched we ran into 2 other teams - including Florida Xtreme/Grammicci. None of the teams were having much success in finding this. I decided to get out of the boats and confirm our position by using a known location - in this case it was an unnamed street (driveway) that was mapped. Even after this - it was very challenging to get to the spot to beach our boats and then we would need to shoot a bearing and find the control. We came up on the small inlet (clogged) and the bend (subtle) - and I did find a small ditch (water drainage) that was mapped. After that we found the control - and all the teams headed to the next challenge - CP16.

As we left CP15 and were paddling through the weed clogged channels we heard a big splash behind us. Nope - not a gator, Erik and Julie swamped their canoe. They were cold and dry, now they were cold and wet and gathering all the gear floating in the river. The river was about 3 feet deep where they swamped so we put all the gear in the boat Junos and I were in and started to get the water out of the swamped boat. The river was narrow - so the T maneuver that we had to do was challenging, however we did it, righted the boat, and started moving again. Good thing Erik an Julie are tough, because now they were wet(ter) than they were before.

CP16 was what I call a bingo, there was no real distinct feature on the river to tell us where to stop, and the control was a good ways from the rivers edge requiring some real navigation. We had 3 teams traveling together - but FLX/Grammici peeled off before the location where I was pretty sure was correct. When I got the spot where I wanted to start - I did notice there were footprints in the woods. The bearing on the control sheet did not take us to a flag, but following the footprints led me right to it. Whoever was there before us (as it turns out REV3, CP0, and USAF) had made my navigation much easier.

CP17 was a nice long paddle down the Little Wekiva River. We paddled for about 40 minutes (with Endeavor) and I was pretty sure we had passed the control location. We turned around and sure enough found the split in the river that was the distinct attack point and could see the river branch totally obscured by logs. We got out and shot the bearing and even with 8 of us walking the woods, we were not having any success. We had also not seen Grammici since before CP16. As we were searching Team Oddysey showed up. I was about ready to hang this one up - but I decided to give a little more time, and with Odyssey we found it in about 5 minutes in a spot where we had already looked. Junos and I led the convoy of team (7 boats) back out of the river and we headed for CP18.

We never found CP18 - but it was not for lack of looking. The mapped river showed a few islands making side channels - but the reality was there were quite a few more. The 3 teams (Endeavor, Odyssey, and us) searched. After about an hour we knew we needed to give up to make the time cutoff that was coming at the next TA. This also required us to skip CP19 - which was not sad since it looked to be about a 3 hour paddle up and back on the Rock Springs Run (and also a very challenging spot to find). Odyssey stayed and did eventually find CP18 (and got CP19 too).

CP15 - Along the Wekiva

CP16 - A bit more challenging

The long paddle down the little Wekiva to CP17

CP18 and the finish to Wekiva Springs State Park

This took us 7:07 and we still left 2 controls behind. This was the same time it took REV3 and they got all the controls. Odyssey did stick it out and spent 11:13. Florida Xtreme/Grammici skipped both CP16 and CP17 - but they found CP18 and also went all the way upstream for CP19 which finished them with 3 controls after 9:10. Endeavor spent a lot of time and finished in 8:20.

Leg 6 Wekiva Springs Orienteering (CP20 - CP29)

After a short but painful portage to bring the boats up to the parking area and off the springs we received the next maps. It felt great to get out the boat and once again I was on my strength - land navigation. We simply nailed every single one of these controls doing them in order. It was dark (I practice night navigation) but we had good lights and we took a very conservative approach - finding good attack points and shooting bearings. We got all the checkpoints and finished in 4:21. We had a 8 AM cutoff for finishing this section and we finished nearly an hour before this deadline. If anyone wants to know how I approached this (I lost this map) use the comments - I'll be happy to let you know how I did this. REV3, CP0, and USAF were the only teams to make the cutoff with all the checkpoints.

Sorry - no map for this one (cannot find it).

Leg 7 - Bike from Wekiva Springs to Lake Louisa (CP30-CP33)

This was an easy leg which had us biking down the West Orange Trail and the Minneola Trail to Clermont. We took it pretty easy and even stopped at a little quick mart for sandwiches (I had a Cuban) which really perked us up. Just after the sandwich break, we went to retrieve a control at the end of the dock at Lake Palatlakaha. We sent Erik down the dock ahead of us where he slipped, fell, and broke his hand. Well maybe - but it was very swollen and hurting him for the remainder of the bike ride.

We finished this in a respectable 4:30 (even with the 30 minute lunch break) and pulled into the parking lot at Lake Louisa around noon.

Leg 8 - Lake Louisa State Park Orienteering (CP34-CP43)

At Lake Louisa the team was feeling good and we were also pretty psyched as we were now in the top 5 teams. This was also going out to the internet bulletin board where we had lots of folks watching the race. Junos (later) heard from his wife that there were friends over watching the race progress and the room erupted as we updated to 5 place on the web site.

For us back at Lake Louisa I was preparing to push this one and make some real time. We again moved very quickly and efficiently through each control. Go to attack point, shoot bearing, punch control. This was working well.

A view of the wide open terrain at Lake Louisa State Park.

At the Lake Louisa Transition with the other teams.
Junos coming out of a Sinkhole in Lake Louisa.

We did have to stop for foot repair (blisters), and I had one toe that was oozing blood (no blister though) - but this was not slowing us down too much. The next leg was a long bike that would give my feet a chance to heal. I also could see Erik's foot wound hurting (he has pins in his foot), and Junos had some serious hot spots and was questioning Julie about popping them. Julie said yes and he cleaned his blisters - and Julie covered them in Leuko tape. I wondered if my route choice between CP35 and C36 (which involved a stream crossing) might come back to haunt us later (wet feet).

We still finished up the leg in 4:19 (which was the 4th fastest time). We did this with walking only, and with a 15 minute rest/foot repair break. I was also able to get some food in me. Once we completed the leg - we were also told we were now in 4th place, which got us extremely motivated.

Navigation Side Note  - In most races I race I do the navigation. Teams that race together a lot and have a great team dynamic "protect" their navigator. While other team members can easily pull food from a pack, grab water, etc... the navigator is always focused on the map and typically has extra pieces of gear (map/compass/case) that they have to carry in their hands. Teams with a good dynamic realize this and make sure the navigator both remembers to eat - but they also get the food for them. This was going on at this stage and it was making a difference. I had been eating well - and feeling strong. Eating had made a difference, but having the team make sure I was eating well was what was allowing this to happen.

Lake Louisa State Park Orienteering Map

Leg 9 - Bike to Withlacoochee TA (CP44-CP49)

In adventure racing - just when things are going well, disaster can strike. We were fresh from the news of our position, we had a good transition, our lights were mounted and we were heading out on bikes. Not 200 yards out of the TA we hear a scream behind us and Julie is on the ground with her bike on top of her. We got her unclipped and onto her back, she is nauseous, scraped badly, and obviously hurt badly. I went back to the TA - got some help - and we had to make the decision that all teams dread. Julie had received a concussion in the fall and was hurt badly - we had to leave her behind.She wanted to get up and try to bike, but the nausea and her team-mates kept her down.

We would not find out more news on Julie until much later. It was getting dark and we were heading into Richloam Wilderness Area. Our motivation level was low, but we did want to get some controls on this leg. We headed for CP44, and found a few teams there. After finding it I did something I wanted to do - hollered "here it is" and had all the other teams moving in on it. We headed south to the Van Fleet trailhead that we came in on (at a Waypoint) and headed west into the forest. Within about 10 minutes we were surrounded by multiple trucks with hounds in the back. After some friendly banter with the locals we had a good idea of the best roads (limerock, not sandy) - and mostly of where they were going to be running raccoons with their dogs. Two of them even followed us to make sure we found the trail we were looking for (essentially we rode to Lead Pipe Road on Central Road). We picked up C45 - and then decided to head to the TA. We went via CP48, but did not see the trail heading in - so kept moving.

With the 2 controls - this section took us 5:37.

Leg 10 - Withlacoochee Trek (CP50 - CP60)

At the TA HQ at Withlacoochee, looking at trek map

As we were in the Withlacoochee TA we heard the news that it would be very cold on Saturday night (that and windy).We decided that we would want to head out on the River Saturday morning if possible. That would put us at the finish line Saturday evening which sounded like a great plan to me, finish, warm food, and a hotel bed to sleep in Saturday evening. I needed some rest before the trek, and more important some real food. There were hot Ramen noodles at the TA and that really helped me. I took a 20 minute nap in the tents, threw on my shoes - gathered the team - and we headed out.

A little taste of night trekking in the dark Richloam forest.

 The first control point (CP60) took us nearly an hour, simply because we took the bearing off the wrong bridge. After realizing this, we headed about another 150 meters to the correct bridge and found it quickly. The others were pretty uneventful - even though they were challenging. After a few hours Erik's foot had really begun to bother him too, so we decided to only get CP60, CP59, CP58, and then grab CP50 on the way back. Even with the shortened course we were out for 6:03. Teams that decided to do the entire trek were out for much longer (CP0 in 16:03, Endeavor in 11:06).

Endeavor had a really good strategy for this section. We had seen them in the TA before we headed out onto the trek leg. They had taken a solid sleep time for the team. As we were heading back into the TA from the trek - they were heading out - and were running (pretty well in fact). They cleared this section in the fastest time.

Trek map for long Withlacoochee trek

Leg 11 - Withlacoochee River Paddle (CP61-CP64)

Video Here
The three of us in the boat on the Withlacoochee River just North of Dade City.

This would be a long paddle, and even though the length does kind of wear you down, the nice weather and good company made this enjoyable. We were able to take some turns resting in the middle of the boat for parts of the paddle. Also good news is that Erik's hand ad healed enough for him to paddle.

The team leaving the Withlacoochee TA

The paddle took us 7:22 which was a pretty respectable time.

Leg 12 - Bike to Finish Line (CP65-CP66)

As we got to Nobleton, Junos got to rescue a canoe on the far side of the river that had blown away from the kids at a house on the far side and was heading downriver in the wind. Julie was waiting for us at the TA - it was good to see her feeling better, though she was still recovering from the concussion.

It would be nice to say we had an easy 65 km ride to the finish, but that is not what happened. We were doing our best to hold it together. The first CP was pretty easy (go to the entrance for Floral City and get the date of founding, 1883). Coming back from this Junos was starting to lose it and was determined that we skip the next CP - which was no big deal. The next CP was in a cave that I had spent hours searching for in a previous race - and I had no desire to go back, but was also convinced I could find it again pretty easily. We headed west. I had not looked at the maps prior to this other than to look at the coordinates of the start and the coordinates of the finish. This allowed me to estimate it was at least 55 km. I do this by simply using the difference in the Easting UTM plus the difference in the Northing UTM coordinates between the start and finish of the leg. This is normally amazingly accurate in estimating a total biking distance.  

After some punishing riding against a strong headwind and up and down amazingly large Florida hills we were starting to have some issues. I had a spare 5 hour energy (Walmart brand) and that helped perk Junos up. Erik had been pulling us the entire way and just wanted to get to the end. He was talking about hitching a ride with some rednecks. We stopped along Lecanto Highway about 3 miles south of SR44 and regathered the team. We knew we had about 8 miles of headwind - but we could do it. As we got closer the wind got harder, but our spirits got higher - and as always we crossed the finish line 3 hours and 53 minutes after we started the bike ride.

Total time 57 hours 39 minutes.

Finish line photo

All stats and information for the different legs is at 

After the Race

It was Saturday Night, we were incredibly tired and hungry, there were no rooms at the end hotel, and Drew (Greg's Son) had my truck. Luckily I was able to call Julie who sent her husband Joe to pick us up and we found a room at a nearby hotel. Some great food, and a good night sleep and we were doing much better. We were even talking about the next race... 


Paul said...

Great recap, and you guys (and Julie) rocked the course well. I haven't had time to get my thoughts down but will do so also.


Paul D, Team EPW

Ron Eaglin, Adventurer said...

Well we were rocking pretty good right up until Julie dove off her bike ;-) Look forward to seeing your write-up.