Sea to Sea Expedition Race – Day 1

February 23rd, 2023

Like typical Isabella fashion, I am posting this a few weeks behind schedule. Grad School = Very Busy.

ANYWHO, here is a recap of one of the coolest races I have done thus far.

Last Fall David, Mike, and I decided to sign up for the 72 hour Sea to Sea Expedition Race. We had all done a couple 24 hour events and it was time to step it up. It was also perfect timing, my 30th birthday was on February 20th, so why not celebrate with a three day race on February 23rd. 🙂

I’ll cut to pre-race day. I drove down 8 hours from Knoxville while David and Mike flew and Chris (our crew) drove their gear from Kansas (What a saint!). Wednesday, the 22nd, we met at the race start location around 1 and started going through our gear. The race required us to have a certain tote purchased from Lowe’s and mountain bike gear. There was a whole list of requirements for what we had to carry the entire race in our backpacks and the equipment in our tote was extras, change of clothes, first aid, and food to resupply.

It took a few hours to make sure we dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s. It was nerve wracking bringing our gear to the big U-Haul trucks and hoping we had packed all that we would need because once on the truck, there was no going back.

Around 5pm the race held a dinner and pre-race mandatory meeting. They went through an overview of what the course would look like, they go so quick though so its not like we really retained anything. Then they talk logistics and rules and wish us the best. About half of the people were new to the race like we were and about half had done this before. Some as many as 18 times! Sea to Sea has been running for over 20 years, can you believe that?

We did last minute chores then it was bed time. I thankfully was able to sleep and we all woke up around 5 am, shoved a breakfast sandwich down our face, grabbed our maps for the race (29 of them!) then loaded up the charter buses. It was going to be a 2 and a half hour drive to the other side of the state, then we would race back to St. Augustine. Get it…. Sea to Sea.

Once we arrived everyone scrambled to use the restroom and we were handed Spot trackers so that the race and family/friends knew where teams were. They also let us know that they were going to seal our phones. I had heard about this, but didn’t think it was going to happen since it wasn’t mentioned at the pre-race meeting. We decided we didn’t want to pack all the phones into David’s backpack so we let Chris take the other phones. It was a strange panic that pulsed through me. I was going to be completely without my phone for 3 whole days. Even on the thru hikes I had done, I had my phone but no service, this time it was no phone at all. It almost annoyed me how worried I was at this. Remember we all used to walk around with no phone ever?

We sealed up David’s phone and headed out to the beach to pick our canoe. The nervous belly was turning, I cannot believe I am about to embark on this adventure. Do I even know what I’m doing?? The answer to that was sort of, but I trusted David and Mike and knew that everything was going to turn out okay.

The race director huddled us up and brought the youngest participant out in front of us. He was 13 years old, insane no? Then he went over a few more rules and asked the team captains to grab an empty bottle that we were going to fill half way with sand. (The other half from St. Augustine’s beach). The race director counted down and fired a gun that made me jump. It was official, the race had begun.

Mike sprinted to fill up his bottle, then we hopped in the canoe and started paddling out into the sea. This leg was around a 30 mile paddle. We weren’t sure which checkpoint we wanted to get as checkpoint 2 and 3 were further away than 1 but decided to go left and get the two on the far islands. As we start following a mob of people, staying focused on our syncing of paddles instead of the map and before we knew it, we were going down the main channel heading for checkpoint 4. We figured everyone else was going for those two checkpoints and were shocked to find out that actually they were skipping them and moving on. There was no turning back and we had to swallow our pride that we just lost 3 checkpoints right out of the gate.

To be honest, I was okay with it though. I knew that the paddle was going to be the hardest for me mentally. Canoeing is slow and since I am the smallest on our team, I had to sit in the middle which has no back rest and is quite uncomfortable.

Eventually, after smacking each others paddles a few time, we all got into a groove and were cruising down the Withlacoochee River admiring all the houses, docks, and boats we saw. I did feel a little eerie knowing that there were alligators here, I wasn’t ready to see any.

We hit our 1st checkpoint after an hour or so where a ton of boats piled into the same area. I stepped out into some thick mud and into a forest area and found the checkpoint to stamp our passport. On the walk back I somehow ripped my pants on the outstretched branch of a dead tree. I was hoping this wasn’t going to be my luck for the whole race.

I got back in the boat and we paddled on, this was how the majority of the paddle went. Paddle for a couple hours, find the checkpoint, and continue on. Some checkpoints didn’t require us to get out so we would end up sitting on the canoe for 5 + hours. Just on and on and on. Our shoulder blades and arms got tired and we took breaks to eat and hydrate then continue on.

About half way through, we saw a metal bar along the top of the river. There was a group of guys on the other side that gave the signal to lift it up. We went over to the right near the shore, where there was a team going under it. Our boat was right behind them as they sort of handed it off to David. The bar was heavier than expected and as our boat was still moving forward, David didn’t have a good grip on the bar and since he had a backrest, he couldn’t lean backwards, so to save himself, he leaned to the right and our whole boat started filling with water. It all happened so fast and there was no way to get back upright once we started getting water in. We all fell out but luckily we were near the shore so we were able to pull the boat and all our belongings out quickly. Thank goodness! It was a quick recovery and we hopped back in the boat and paddled on. I was laughing at myself because I was getting so annoyed that I was flinging so much water on myself while paddling and now well… it wasn’t a concern anymore.

There were a few spots where we had to get out of the canoe and carry it to another side of the river which I enjoyed. It gave us a second to regroup and stretch our legs.

We ended up finishing the paddle right before dark which we were thrilled about. We figured the paddle would have taken us a lot longer but since we missed the first 3 checkpoints, it actually saved us a ton of time and we finished within 10 hours. You win some, you lose some.

We pulled out our canoe and searched for our bikes. The race had all the bikes, water, and some snacks laid out. It was not an official transition station though, so we tried to be quick. I had gotten a blister on my hand so I made sure to take care of that, then we made sure our bikes had all the required lights on them and then headed out into the night.

I was so jazzed for the biking section. I had been primarily biking over the winter and knew that this was going to feel so much better. We followed a paved path for about 30 minutes before stopping to look in the forest for a checkpoint. Little did we know that this was going to be the start of a very frustrating leg for us. David and I spent over an hour searching for this checkpoint. Teams would come and search for a while and find it, some came and found it immediately. David and I felt like ripping out our hair. We went in loops, anytime we heard someone yell they found it, we would beeline in their direction, but the forest was so thick with brush and spikey things that we had to always go around and by the time we went around, we were lost again. It was beyond frustrating and we were losing time. Spending over an hour on a checkpoint was not a good idea but we were so determined. Eventually we decided to give up and continue our bike journey. This bike leg was 30-40 miles long so we had plenty of checkpoints to search for.

We continued into the night and found ourselves pedaling through sand and then out on mountain bike trails. Sometimes it felt like we were cycling on a loop, twisting through the trees over and over again. We struggled to find checkpoints as we didn’t have any way to measure distance. We ended this first bike portion with only 1 additional checkpoint and our spirits were low. What did we get ourselves into? We arrived at our first Transition Area that had our totes so we could change into fresh clothes and eat some real food the volunteers had made.

Then it was off into the night for Day 2.

4 Replies to “Sea to Sea Expedition Race – Day 1”

  1. This year I turn 90 years old and my daughters are giving me a big dance party. If you could come, it would make my day. I’ll send you an invite on Facebook with the details. Hope to see you.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! This was quite the adventure! It was great to hear all about your adventures! I live your blogs!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s