Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dixie Conquest, Our First Elite Race: We Came, We Pushed Our Bikes Through Mud and Water, We Didn't Drown

The Dixie Conquest at Bayard Conservation Area was our first Elite Level race.  We would have preferred to make the the transition to Elite races at a shorter event, but our work/life schedules wouldn't cooperate, so we jumped feet first into the water and mud, I mean the 10 Hour Dixie Conquest, to be henceforth known as Swampfest 2014.

Our last race was the Resolution AR and our plan was to train hard between that race and the Dixie Conquest.  Because either Jeff or I had some sort of family or work responsibility, we got in very little training in March. We were, however, able to get in two FLO Orienteering Events and a couple of sessions getting comfortable using kayak paddles prior to the race. As usual we didn't get nearly enough time on the bikes, and lo and behold a good chunk of the Dixie Conquest was on the bike, or at least pushing the bike through mud and water.  Overall, however, we felt good about the race.

Given this was our first Elite race, our strategy was to take it slow, minimize mistakes, and get through the course in 10 hours or under with as many points as possible. 

After the hidden egg search start (each team had to find 4 hidden eggs to receive their punch card), we headed out into our first Elite Adventure toward CP1.  Given our strategy was to move slowly and we wanted to be separated from the other teams, we began by walking.  Once into the forest, we quickly picked up the pace to a modest but steady run.  We collected CPs 1 and 3 easily and headed to CP4, which required teams to find the CP by shooting a bearing off of an observation tower.  While we had a bit of trouble finding the CP (along with three other teams) we found it within several minutes and headed toward CP 6.

We collected 6 and moved on to CP 5.  This is where our fate was determined.  The map showed the trail on which CP 6 was located deadended into a North/South trail which would immediately dead end into a trail heading Northwest.

As we approached a large and easily visible trail, I saw a trail to my right, but didn't see it on the map, so we headed to the large trail and looked for the next trail that should have been within a few meters. It wasn't there.  I turned in all directions and saw no other trail, except that mysterious trail I had seen earlier. We headed up this larger trail about 100m and found an intersection, but decided it was too far up the trail.  The intersection we were looking for should have been immediately after our first dead end.  So back we went, now to South of where we intersected the trail earlier. Again nothing.  We found a fire break  right across from our original entry point and decided "Aha. That's it" We walked knee deep in water about 100m until the trail disappeared. We headed back to the main trail, frustrated and upset that we didn't know where we were.  I once again looked back up the trail we came in on and looked at the map.  30 minutes after we hit this intersection, I realized how much we had goofed.  That mysterious trail to our right was the trail that the "CP6 trail" dead ended into, and we were standing in the middle of the right trail. So we quickly ran to the next intersection(the one we were at earlier), turned North and collected CP 5.  From there we grabbed CP 2 and headed back to the Main TA, wondering if we were in dead last.  We were! According to Ron Eaglin more than one team had trouble at the intersection; I'm not sure it took 30 minutes for them to correct their mistake, however.  While, we thought we were ok, that 30 minutes cost us later in the day.  Lesson Learned?  Stay focused.  If the map and the terrain around don't match up, figure out why. Don't wander.  We've known these things for awhile. 


The boat section turned out to be pretty uneventful. The water was calm and we decided to definitely get CPS 8,9,10,11, and 12.  We would decide about 13, 14, and 15(which were on land) after we got 12 and if we had time we would go for 7 which was North of the TA.  CPs 8,9,10,11, 12 were pretty easy to find, with the exception of 11, which was on the straightest "leaning tree" I have ever seen.  The nice part of CP 11 was that we saw a fawn that could not have been more than a few days old hiding behind a tree hoping we didn't see him/her.  We decided to go after 13, 14, 15. We beached where several other canoes were and looked for the trail. It didn't take long to realize this trail didn't exist, so we shot a bearing (assuming we were in roughly the correct location) to the cleared area on the map surrounded by a loop trail.  Within a couple of minutes we found 13 and headed for 15.  Somewhere, on the way through the palmettos to CP 13, Jeff's bike shoe began to come apart.  Knowing we had a long bike leg ahead of us (little did we know) we decided to walk to 14 and 15,  and then back to the canoe. This was unfortunate, because the paths to these CPs were easy running.  We collected 15 and then 14 and headed the canoe back North. We passed the TA, collected 7 and headed back to the TA. We were slow on this section (Jeff's shoe didn't help), but happy we had collected all of the CPs available to this point. Our spirits were high.

Bike 1

We collected our map for the Bike section, ate a bit of food, and headed for CP 16. When we arrived at the intersection of the trail and powerlines, the ground was full of water. Surely we can't go through that! (We learned within the hour we could.)  So we headed up the trail to an intersection and bushwhacked through palmettos to the power lines and the location of CP 16.  The description was a Cypress Swamp.  I grew up in Florida and have spent much time in the woods, so I started looking for Cypress Trees. I spotted them, and hey they were on our bearing!  We found the swamp, which was about 10 meters off of a fire break. We couldn't see the CP at first, but out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of orange all the way across the swamp (about 50 meters).  I assumed it was shallow so I set out across the swamp and soon learned it was waist deep.  I actually enjoyed walking across it (I was a swamp rat as a kid) , although the thought of an angry cottonmouth encouraged me to move as fast as I could through the water.  With CP 16 collected we headed toward the Bayard TA.

At this point we made a reasonable decision, that probably cost us.  We decided to do all  of the bike CPs first and the foot section later, so we rode passed the TA to CP 17 and punched the card. When we entered the access gate for the trail on which CP18 was located we saw a lot of water.  For a moment we thought we would leave our bikes there and run down to the CP. We decided to take the bikes and quickly learned what the rest of the bike section would be like. Water. Lot's of Water. Oh yea, and mud.  We found the creek mentioned in the description and headed out to find the CP.  I'm not saying we nailed it straight on, but after about 100m I saw the flash of orange.  We punched the card, and debated whether or not to bushwhack to 19, because it was almost due south of 18. We quickly ruled that out, climbed on the bikes and headed to 19. Along the way, Jeff's shoe finally gave up. It completely came apart. I had duct tape, but it was hopeless, so he put on his running shoes and pedaled without being clipped in.  We got to the creek where CP 19 should have been and along with another team found it in good time.

We headed to 24 and like other teams missed it to the south. As we wandered back to the trail cursing, my eye once again caught the flash of orange of CP24.  We would have never seen it from the road, or from the North. Good thing we went too far South.  It was getting late and we wanted to get back to Bayard TA by 3:30 at the latest, so we decided to get 26, 20, 22 and maybe 21 and to definitely skip 23 and 25.  We collected 26 quickly and headed east on a trail to intersect with a trail that headed north to CP20. That's when we saw the water. "So what. It's water. We'll push through it. We are Elite Adventure Racers!" And push through it we did until we hit three feet of water. "It can't be this deep for too long. We are Elite Adventure Racers! So onward!" And onward. And onward through  thigh deep water.  We may be Adventure racers, but we had been moving forward for almost 7 hours, and this sucked, so we decided to turn around. So back through "Trail Lake" we slogged. Once we got out, our bikes looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean (slimy and scary with sea weed hanging from all parts of the bikes).

After almost 7 hours, our will was broken--for the moment. It was almost 3:00 and because we assumed the foot section at Bayard would be this bad also (Primal Instinct told us as much) we decided to forgo 20, 21, 22, 23, and 25 to give ourselves enough time on the foot section.  Our final position was determined right here.  If we only had that 30 minutes back.

Foot 2
We set a pretty good pace--for us--on the bike back to the Bayard TA. About half way there, Honey Stinger blew by us, at least  I think it was Honey Stinger, all we saw was a blur as they went by. This helped us put things in perspective.  As we were heading out for the trek at Bayard, the volunteer told us that the average time was a bit below 2 hours and the best was just under 1.5 hours.  If we could come in at 2 hours or under then we would clear this section and get back to the Finish in plenty of time.  We headed out with Lolowildlife just ahead of us.  We found 27 with no problem.  We then quickly found 28, took a moment to discuss with Lolowildlife if a dark brown snake lying by the creek was a cottonmouth (I think it was), and moved on.  We collected 31 and 32 and then moved to 34 with Lolowildlife.  The instructions called for a bearing of 120MN from a man made structure (a square pen), 120m into the woods.  Jeff shot the bearing from the corner of the square pen.  At 120m it was obvious the Cypress Tree called for in the instructions was no where to be found.  After about 5 minutes, Lolowildlife called out "over here."  We had missed it about 50 meters to the North and in deep forest, that is a very long way. As we arrived back on the trail we encountered Team Disoriented. All three teams headed to CP 35.  At the CP we discovered a deep creek.  Jeff walked across the higher than waist deep water to the CP on the other side.  We collected 33 and 30, said goodbye to Team Disoriented, who had cleared the course, and moved to CP 29 with Lolowildlife.  Because it was only fitting, the trail to CP 29 was filled with ankle to knee deep water.  We plodded through as if it were normal to be walking in muddy water, found the CP and headed back to the TA.

Bike 2

We had collected all of the CPs in this section in a respectable 1:41 minutes. Our orienteering training had paid off.  It was only 5:00pm, and the ride to the finish would take less than 30 minutes, so Jeff and I briefly debated whether to head back to the bike CPs to collect a couple of CPs.  We decided that would cut it too close, so we headed out to the finish about 100m behind Lolowildlife, who were riding a tandem bike retrofitted for trail riding!  About halfway to the finish, we passed Lolowildlife, but within ten minutes, my lack of training time on the bike and 9 hours of constant movement caught up to me. I was done, and that wall you hear about appeared before me.  Lolowildlife slowly reeled us in and passed us, and we followed them into the finish.

We finished 18th out of 19 teams.  Given that our goal was to move slow and steady, and to complete the course without too many serious mistakes, we were satisfied. We knew however, we could have acquired more CPs.  We checked in at 9 hours and16 minutes, so we had 45 minutes left.  We couldn't help but believe that our mistake in the prologue, one we normally don't make, cost us in the end.  If we had those 30 minutes, we probably wouldn't have bailed on the remaining bike CPs.  Additionally if we had known we could have cleared Foot 2 in a bit more than 1.5 hours we would have completed it prior to the bike CPs and we would have more points. Oh well, that's racing.

Our take away from our first Elite race? 1) That was a hell of a good time! and 2) We can definitely do Elite Level races. Can we compete at the top? Not right now, that's for sure.  But we can go out and competently move through these courses. Oh yea, next year at Bayard, I'm bringing my kayak instead of the bike.

Thanks to Pangea for another great race!


  1. Great post David, glad to meet you guys at the Dixie Conquest. We hit that same river, uh I mean "trail" from CP26 to CP25. We forge our way through it and wasted at least 20 minutes. We kept thinking, it has to clear up soon and it never did, not until the fork. We were completely sapped afterwards. You guys had some spot-on navigation on the foot section. Hope to see you out again soon. Are you racing the Atomic?

  2. We enjoyed meeting you folks also. We aren't competing in the Atomic, perhaps next year. We will be at the SCAR in June.

    Good luck at the Atomic!