By: Liz Notter
The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” My grandmother’s oft-used adage came back to me as I repeatedly refreshed water gauges on the Internet last Friday; checking to see if the Shenandoah would fall enough to allow the REV3 Epic Adventure Race to happen. After weeks of rumored course changes and the possibility that a government shut down would also shut down the race, I was packed and ready for my first 26-hour adventure race… if the river fell.
As it turned out, the canoe leg was cancelled due to flash flooding and the bike course was altered because of permitting problems, but Joe and I still had a great time. What’s an adventure race without a bunch of surprises, anyhow?
For the uninitiated, adventure races consist of running, trekking, orienteering, canoeing or kayaking, and “challenges” that tend to resemble something out of Survivor. (In fact, I’ve seen some of the challenges we performed on the current season of the show.) The point of the race is to gather punches at checkpoints: the organizer describes, and sometimes maps out, the checkpoints and dictates in what order that they are to be completed (punched). Or not… sometimes it’s up to the racers to decide how, and in what order, to collect each punch.
This race started with a 3-mile prologue run to pick up our race passport. Next up, the optional challenge: get ourselves across a field using 3 barrels and 2 planks; only the barrels could touch the ground. This was worth 5 points, equal to 5 checkpoints.
The bike course criss-crossed Fort Valley Road, ending near Luray. Leaving the race site, we rode across a low water bridge where the water was hub deep in places (sorry, drivetrain!). After picking up a couple of punches on country roads along Fort Valley, we headed up to Woodstock Tower.
Did I mention it was raining? 🙂
Electing not to complete the Bonus checkpoint, a climb to Edingburg Gap, we headed toward Camp Roosevelt and the climb over Massanutten. We could hear the storm rolling in…riding up the mountain, the skies opened up: lightning, torrential rain, the whole shebang. Riding back down was like being shot by a BB gun. At the base of the mountain was the final bike checkpoint, a shuttle back to the race site in lieu of a canoe. I thought the bus ride back with the most dangerous part of the race thus far, as the driver really seemed to enjoy fishtailing through the high water on the road.
At that point I made a newbie tactical error: there were two trekking checkingpoints on the bike map, to be done before we turned in the bike passport and got our trekking passport. I didn’t pay attention to the scale of the map and we walked for an hour in bike shoes. After that, changing into dry clothes, and especially dry socks, felt so good. It wasn’t raining (at that moment) and it was so nice to get dry.
One more trekking checkpoint, then switched out the passports with the Race Director and moved out for the orienteering course. There were 21 checkpoints, of which 5 were mandatory. The race staff plotted the 5 mandatory stops and it was up to me to plot the optional points. I apparently suck at this, since we only found the required stops. I have to say though, it was hard to find the points even when I knew exactly where they were. The course designer did that good a job of hiding them.
It started raining – again – about 10 minutes after we changed into dry clothes. And hailing. I’ve never seen so much rushing water in my life. According to some news reports, Front Royal got close to 5” of rain that Saturday. I’d say we waded to a fair portion of it.
After wandering around for a while looking for optional points, we decided to just go for the mandatory points and then finish the race with our mountain bikes. The mandatory locations were scattered along a stretch of gravel road next to the river… one was in a large culvert under a road, which would have been pretty cool if not for the flash flooding. Knee deep in rushing water, trying to punch the card, was a little scary. Long, long walk along a road, lost for a bit trying to find a shortcut, more trail, some scary creek crossings. Around 12:30 am, we got to the very far end of the course and found another team whom we’d become acquainted with. They told us that to get the next checkpoint, we would need to wade across a swamp (above the knees for a tall guy, almost to my waist). Thank God it’s too cold for alligators, that water was icky! (Technical term. -Ed)
Backtracking about a quarter of a mile, we climbed directly up a mountain for the final trekking point. So amazing to look out over the valley without using my light: just the glow from the moon.
During the long trek back to the transition area Joe’s feet, blistered and wet, finally called it quits for the night. We ended with second place, though, since adventure racing scoring is based on points.