On September 17th Journey Racing toed the line for the North American Adventure Racing (NAARS) Championship hosted by Gold Rush in Long Barn, California. Our squad consisted of Melissa Miller (the team mom/nurse), Fletcher Hamel (captain/strategist), Colin Hamel (mule/towing machine), and me, Ian Hoag (lead navigator).
We owe a big thanks to Altra, Rudy Project, and XX2i Optics for providing great shoes, helmets, and eye protection. Special thanks to Chelsea & James Luttrall for creating Journey Racing and coordinating the sponsorship.
Although there was little coverage of the race, by now most people know Journey Racing placed 2nd behind Columbia, the #2 ranked team in the world. Posts on Facebook tell how we quickly realized the road to CP1 was not as shown on the map, and thus got a great head start while most of the field went charging up the road to who knows where. As a result we were in the lead for the first third of the race until Columbia’s speed allowed them to catch and pass us during a nearly 4,000’ climb on the bikes. The photos below show us arriving at the boat ramp, paddling and departing the boat ramp still in first place! We didn’t mind getting soaked as the wind picked picked up for the last bit of paddling as we had a hot dry climb ahead on bikes.
What the Facebook posts don’t tell is how many times we caught back up to Columbia, and how Julia Crytzer who was racing solo stayed on our tail for the first half of the race. Julia arrived at the TA for the trekking and ropes just before we left. After dropping our bikes and transitioning to the trekking leg we had a great deal of climbing to get up to the ropes course. We soon got to a clearing below the ropes course and could see the massive outcropping far above us. At this point we had to leave the trail and head straight up the side of the mountain without a clear path through a scrub oak covered clearing. We chose to head up just inside the treeline on the right side of the clearing where we were pleasantly surprised to find cairns marking a climber's route. We could see Columbia ahead of us on the ropes course and it drove us to keep up the chase. We made quick work of the ropes course with Julia close behind, but this would be the last time we saw Julia. We were extremely impressed by her ability to race so fast on her own.
At the top of the ropes course we had a long steep off-trail descent through a pine forest down to checkpoint 11 (location pictured below). As we approached a stream junction, we saw Columbia heading up the stream toward us! We had caught up to them! Oddly, they were speaking softly in English just loud enough for me to hear them say something about not being able to find it. Hearing them speak English was odd because they normally speak Portuguese. While I paused to verify that the narrow point in the canyon we were approaching was a good catching feature, Fletcher walked twenty yards in front of me where Columbia had just been, and there in the bushes just out of my sight was the checkpoint! We were once again tied for first place!
The next leg of the trek posed a large route choice. We could climb up the other side of the canyon to a road that would lead to checkpoint 12, or, we could follow the gentle slope of stream to a county border where there would “probably” be some sort of trail leading to the next checkpoint. We had been planning ahead as we descended to checkpoint 11, taking note of a good route up the steep granite slabs on the other side of the canyon. Dusk was fast approaching, with less than an hour of light left, we had decided to climb up to the road which would be much easier to follow in the dark.
As we headed up the steep slope it appeared Columbia had not made up their minds on their route choice and they paused for a short discussion. To our dismay, they followed us and soon passed us again. Upon reaching the top of the granite slabs we were faced with about two hundred meters of bushwhacking through, and at times, on top of scrub oak, while wearing shorts and getting stung by angry bees. At this point we had lost Columbia, it wasn't until we reached the road and saw their headlamps about 100 meters to our right that we realized they were again hot on our tails. Columbia would have to go a little farther to find the road as we hit the road right at the outside of a sharp bend. We turned off our lights and took off up the road again. We were getting tired and lost track of a few bends in the road and the side road to our next checkpoint was labeled with a different number than the number shown on the map. As a result, we went a few hundred meters too far up the road where we stopped to talk to a hunter. After a short discussion we decided to bushwhack down the side of the mountain to the road we had passed. As soon as we got down to the side road Columbia was headed back to us. They had just found the checkpoint. The race was getting intense.
Throughout the trekking at night a wide variety of large spiders were out on the trail to cheer us on. Two checkpoints later, we once again had to find a trail that was not in the location shown on the map and was only marked by a cairn in a saddle where it was not entirely clear there was a trail junction. We noted there was in fact a trail leading away from the cairn in the correct direction, but we also went back 100 meters to verify that there wasn't a trail at the location indicated on the map. We decided to take the trail by the cairn and within minutes were joined from the right by Columbia who had apparently been bushwhacking through the forest. We found this checkpoint, unfortunately Columbia was in such close proximity they quickly realized we had secured the CP and they followed quickly behind. This would be the last time we saw Columbia.
One small mishap occurred on the way to the final trekking checkpoint. We missed a fork in the trail and went off in the wrong direction for about half a kilometer. We recovered by backtracking to a trail intersection and following a ridgeline over to the checkpoint. Unfortunately, the ridgeline route required many short bouts of bushwhacking through scrub oak and route finding around small cliffs. We were relieved to discover the CP and quickly continued on the right track.
We arrived at the transition for the final bike leg about an hour behind schedule, and realized we didn’t have time to clear the course, so we decided to skip the first checkpoint of that leg which involved a long out-and-back with significant climbing. Two more minor errors resulted in us finishing 15 minutes late and losing credit for two checkpoints. It was a nervous wait to see if anyone had gotten credit for more than 22 out of the 25 total checkpoints. We were happily informed that our 2nd place finish was official and we enjoyed a great post-race party with lots of prizes and raffle items for everyone.
What an amazing race, great teamwork, spectacular venue, breathtaking views, and wonderful memories. Thanks to Doug Crytzer of the North American Adventure Racing Series, Gold Rush Adventure Racing, our amazing Team Journey Racing, all the sponsors who made this race possible, and to Team Columbia. Our hard fought battle over 30 hours and 130 miles was a success.