December 18th, 2021
Last Saturday I embarked on a different kind of race.
An adventure race.
Raid the Rock Adventure Race.
We can thank my older brother David for getting me involved in this.
Friday afternoon David, our friend Matt, and I pack up an inordinate amount of gear into David’s Jeep and drive 7 hours to Hot Springs, Arkansas to test our limits.
This particular race has an 8 hour or 24 hour option, so of course we pick the 24 hour option. My first adventure race, I’m going all in.
It’s a muggy 60 degrees when we arrive in Hot Springs so a light jacket suffices as we walk downtown to the “Superior Bathhouse Brewery”. Entering the brightly lit space we are immediately surrounded by the buzz of activity that is common to these sorts of events. We endure the lengthy gear check process and discuss logistics before the pre-race meeting.
Sitting through the pre-race meeting I feel anxiety creeping in as I look around at our competition. I’m such a newbie. I have no idea what I’m doing so I remind myself to just listen to what Big Brother says. David is now on his 5th adventure race, so “expert” he is.
A short snippet of what an Adventure Race is: It is typically a team sport that involves navigation over a course to find checkpoints. To get to each checkpoint you will have to either bike, trek, paddle, or whatever else the race director wants you to do. The goal of the game is to get as many checkpoints as you can in the allotted time.
At the end of the meeting, we grab 4 ginormous maps and head to our AirBnB for the night. Oh, I forgot to mention that the course of the race is typically unknown until the night before! 🙈 This means that we have to try and find a balance of accurately plotting points on the map, figuring out the best route, and getting enough sleep before our alarms wake us up in a few hours. It’s already 8 pm and we still have to pick up a few gear pieces, grab dinner, and plot points. I can tell that those precious Z’s are going to be minimal.
Our navigator, David, spreads out all the maps on the table and tries to explain to us how plotting works. I nod my head like I understand but I’m mostly focused on shoving food in my face.
Around 11 pm, we have finally plotted all the points and identified a tentative route to take. Now all we need to do is get some solid sleep. Thankfully I’m extremely tired and fall asleep easily. I sleep snuggled in my blankets until I’m startled awake by a rumbling thunderstorm, it’s 4 am.
Oh good gravy…It’s here.
We are supposed to wake up at 4:30 but the thunder rolls have me on edge, I can’t get back to sleep. I keep checking the weather hoping it will change. It’s forecasted to rain until early afternoon and then the temperature will drop the rest of the day. If only the race could have been on Friday with that 60 degree weather.
Regardless, I still feel excited, I’m about to embark on a whole new adventure. At 5:30 we load up the Jeep and head to the race start. The rain is pouring and the race director continues giving us a few more instructions. Rain or shine, this thing is happening.
At 7 am they give us a map with plots to go find our first two checkpoints. This is the “Prologue”. We have to find these checkpoints in order to get our “Passports”. Of course they can’t just hand it to us, now that would be silly! *The passport is what you use to keep track of all the checkpoints you find during the race.
The prologue starts with a total of 4 checkpoints, two in one direction and two in another. We are told, “You need at least two to get your passport, but if you get more they will count towards your overall checkpoint total.” It’s a game of strategy.
We decide on the further North 2 plots and start a fast pace walk/trot up the hill to the checkpoints. I’m buzzing, almost skipping up the road. I’m finally taking part in an Adventure Race! Whooohoo!
We hike about a mile and half up a hill to an outlook that has a sign with information about where we are. The race requires us to prove we were there by answering a question about this sign. We write down the answer and head to the second checkpoint to repeat the process and head back to the start. The race director tells us our answers are correct and hands us the sacred passport. It is time to head out for the actual course.
The next phase is biking. We start out on pavement and after a couple miles, I look down at my legs and start laughing. It looks like I am wearing leather pants. It made me think of my good ol middle school days and my red and black leather pants. (Styling kid I was.) I was drenched from head to toe and my pants were clinging to my legs for warmth. We ride to the end of a road and start looping around on mountain biking trails. After a few miles we start searching for our first checkpoint. The race director left us a clue for each checkpoint, this one said “Bend in Trail.” Yep, bend in trail, that’s it. (I couldn’t see how this was a clue, there were so many bends?!)
David leads us down the trail and I feel an exhilarating rush when he yells out to us that he found it. YESS!!
Most of the checkpoints are made with a singular white tube with bright reflective tape wrapped around it so they are noticeable. They also have a hole punch dangling from the bottom of them to punch into the passport. David tells Matt and I to punch the passport together since this is officially our first checkpoint! I feel like a kid playing in a scavenger hunt, I am loving this.
We bike for a total of 22 miles and grab 5 checkpoints and land at our first transition station. Here we lay our bikes down and walk over to the canoes. It’s time to start paddling. None of us had practiced together before and I realize I have never actually canoed more than 2 feet before. We are in for an adventure. 😅
We hop in the canoe, sway a little, and soon settle in and find a groove. The checkpoints David mapped have us going to each corner of the lake. We find a rhythm and put our heads down and paddle away. It is easy to zone out and continue the same movements over and over again. Quickly, we acquire 4 checkpoints.
However, as we head back to the transition station we have two more checkpoints to grab and it is a nightmare. Matt turns back to us and shouts “It feels like molasses!” We are not moving. The wind is whipping at us and causing us all a massive amount of frustration. To make it worse, each time we pause to grab a checkpoint, we start shivering. The rain is finally starting to lessen but the lake is choppy from the wind and the temperature is dropping. We all know we have to keep moving.
3 to 4 hours later we finally finish the paddling section covering a total of 11 miles. My first time actually canoeing, I canoed 11 miles… 🤦🏽♀️ Needless to say my hands are now achy from gripping the paddle so hard with the cold temps. I need warmth and food.
Thankfully, we find out the nearby restrooms are heated! I run to the restroom and change into the warm clothes I have stashed away in my backpack. The rain officially stopped, we did not have to be wet anymore. Thank you sweet baby Jesus.
It’s shocking to me how a set of dry clothes and snacks can completely turn your mindset around. I am no longer wet and freezing, I am now warm and energized. It’s time to head back onto the bikes to our next transition station.
We approach this next section and are primarily mountain biking. This trail is tough though. The inclines are steep and we pop off our bikes, push them up the trail, hop back on, ride down the trail, and repeat this over and over and over again. I am quickly losing my energy.
What makes this trail even more maddening is the rocks and wet leaves. We are constantly losing traction, sliding and bouncing over the rocks. We thought the trail would even out and we could pick up speed. However, we quickly find out that that dream was very unlikely to happen. We are stuck with this tough terrain the entire time.
The sun is starting to go down and darkness is creeping in on us. This is what I was fearing when we started out on this trail. I 100 percent did not want to be on this intense trail in the dark, but apparently, we do not have any other option. While pausing for a brief snack we realize we have a pretty sunset occurring before us. This silver lining is a reminder for us to take a deep breath, recharge, and continue on.
Following small tunnels of light from our headlamps we bounce and slide our way along what passes as a trail. The only sounds are the creaks and groans of our bikes and our labored breathing. All of us kind of hit a low and agree that all we want is to get to the next transition station and onto some paved roads. Four-ish hours later, we finished the trail and arrive at the next transition station where there are a few volunteers to check us in. They have a heater, snacks, and water for us which is a giant motivational boost.
We refill water bottles, eat, and look at our map. We are now going to embark on gravel riding. We have a tentative route in our minds but know that this is a one checkpoint at a time thing.
Some checkpoints take us a while to find. We circle back and forth, looking for the correct “bend” and area. Some checkpoints we discover are “hidden” like hanging from one of the side sewer tunnels but we always find them. It doesn’t matter who finds it, because once its found, we are all filled with glee.
We gravel ride for a few more hours, picking up a few more checkpoints then find ourselves heading back to the transition station. We now put down our bikes and get ready for the trek portion of our race.
The race director didn’t let us plot these points ahead of time, so one of the volunteers hands us a piece of paper with new coordinates. David sits over by the heater and starts plotting as Matt and I devour food.
I always love this moment in endurance events or hiking long distances where food tastes like the best thing on the planet. It doesn’t even matter what it is, everything just tastes so dang good. One of the volunteers asks us if he can make us coffee. Matt and I immediately say yes and make some for David too. We need that hot cup of joe!
Once David finishes, we start a light jog. I am looking forward to this section the most. I know I can run/shuffle/trek for days. So instead of walking like some other groups we see, we keep a nice gentle trot heading toward our checkpoints. We trek for 7ish miles and pick up 3 more checkpoints. I find it wild to bushwhack in a direction and see these checkpoints just hanging out, waiting for us to find them.
All teams have to be at the transition station by 4 am in order to continue to the finish. We arrive at the transition station at 2:30 am and the volunteers announce that we are the 2nd to last team to check in. I am surprised, there is still an hour and half left to find more checkpoints! We, however, have had our fill and start to pack up our bags and load our bikes. We figure we still have around a 25ish mile bike ride back to the start.
This is by far the coldest part of the entire race. It is 30 degrees and I put on an absurd amount of layers. I refuse to be cold again. We set out and start pedaling away knowing that we are getting closer and closer to the finish.
It is a quieter part of the race. We ride through towns and it feels like we are the only people alive. All we hear is the quiet humming of our bikes and the occasional dog barking like we are trespassing.
At 5:30 am, we arrive at the finish. The race director lets us know that we can pick another bike, trek, rappelling option to acquire more checkpoints but we all decide we are done. It’s been a full 23 hours and rest is calling our names.
When we stop our watches, we check our stats to see that we covered a total of 98 miles. How insane is that?
We stuck around for breakfast and awards at 7 am and to top it all off, we found out we won 1st place for the open 3 person teams.
I’ll take it!
We had blood shot eyes on the drive home but I was thrilled that we had accomplished this feat. Definitely one for the books.
Will I do one again? Absolutely, 100 percent!
Stay tuned. 😁