GOALS ARA Krista Griesacker Memorial Adventure Race - Hamburg, PA - August 6, 2006

Justin Bakken (Biz), Scott Lund (Scooter), and I (Molly Moilanen) decided to sign up for the Krista Griesacker Memorial Adventure Race after a long road bike ride through the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Minneapolis is our home so traveling to Hamburg, Pennsylvania for a 12 hour adventure race might seem a bit excessive. We try to travel a few times a year to various regions of the country to race in diverse environments. None of us had ever done an adventure race in the northeast and because the Krista Griesacker Memorial Adventure Race was a USARA National Championships qualifier, we knew it would be new, competitive and challenging. The tipping point was when we learned the race included an obstacle course. How could anyone turn down a true obstacle course at a civil air patrol's search and rescue school?

The Krista Griesacker Memorial Adventure Race, organized by the Gibbons Outdoor Adventure Leadership School (www.goalsara.org), is a living memorial to adventure racer and search and rescue instructor Krista Griesacker, who passed away a few years ago while training. Krista’s family participated in all the race festivities, including gear check, TA duty and ropes safety. Krista’s dad served as the official race starter and Krista’s mom placed ribbons over the heads of all the podium finishers. Participating in an adventure race is always a centering experience for me. Because of the race’s namesake, this one was especially poignant.

Race Day!

We kicked off the race with a team relay. Each member of the team took turns running about a quarter mile to a knot-tying station where we had the option of tying a prussic knot or a figure eight knot. Biz is an Eagle Scout and prides himself on his knot-tying abilities. Scooter and I on the other hand have other strengths.

After completing the knot-tying challenge, 40 teams of 2 or 3 scattered. Some took the road, others found trails, and others darted right into the woods. We were all heading for the same check point (CP 2) about a half a mile north and about 1000 feet higher in elevation than the start. We opted for a trail that quickly disappeared so we ended up bushwhacking our way to the Appalachian Trail (AT) and running the trail west for a short distance until we found our catching feature, the “Parking Lot.” Luckily, Biz (our primary navigator) recognized that the “Parking Lot” was the name of a campsite versus an actual parking lot. Three other teams in our view did not make this catch and ended up overshooting the checkpoint.

We scampered into the woods south of the campsite and heard other teams coming up from the CP so we knew we were in the right area. Once in sight, Scooter (our passport runner and co-navigator) sprinted to the punch and we headed back to the AT.

CP 3 was just off the AT at a famous lookout called the Pinnacle
(http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/Pinnacle_6680.asp). As we made our way to the Pinnacle we paused to take in the breathtaking view of the valley below. We had already climbed from the base of the valley to the top of an amazing peak and the race had just begun.

We took a steep trail down the side of the foothills and sniffed our way to CP 4 located in a reentrant off the trail.

The clue for CP 5 was the “Blue Rocks” and was located on the map in a distinct area titled “Blue Rocks.” We didn’t know what to expect so we decided to take a trail and cut in early to avoid overshooting the CP. After a few minutes of searching through rock piles and small outcroppings in the woods, we decided to head down to the clearing to get a better idea of where we were on the map. When we made our way out of the trees, it was like the gates of heaven opened in front of us and we knew we were in the right spot. (http://www.bluerockscampground.com/photos/rock9.jpg)

We were standing at the top of a river of VW Bug-sized glowing white boulders that went on for 6 football fields. With Scooter leading the pack, we carefully approached the CP located in the middle of the rock river. To signify that we all made it to the CP, we each had to paint our left pinky finger with orange nail polish. Again, we paused to take in the amazing geological spectacle and then quickly got back to business.

The last CP on the trekking section was at the top of another hill and the staging site for the ropes. Fortunately we found another trail that allowed us to jog most of the way to the top. We checked in with the volunteer, took advantage of a photo opportunity, popped some e-caps and grabbed food to eat while we waited for our turn on the ropes. Each of us took turns rappelling off a rock face and then ascending back up the same rope. We coached each other by chanting the commands, “stand, slide, sit, slide.” Our technique was a little rough around the edges but we all made it safely down and back up to the staging area. By the time we finished the ropes, other teams had arrived so we quickly packed up our gear before heading back down the foothills to the start/finish.

We traveled swiftly to the start/finish, energized by the fact that we would finally get to attempt the obstacle course. When we arrived, volunteers in bright yellow t-shirts cheered as we were the first team to arrive back home from the grueling trek. We dropped our packs and ran to the start of the obstacle course. Biz started us off by leaping over a water pit. He gave us the confidence to go for it. We moved through the course taking each obstacle in stride – the balance beam, the rope climb, the inverted ladder, the rope swing, the hurdle, the tube crawl, the monkey bars, and the tightrope river crossing. We used teamwork and made it through the course “dry” meaning we neither fell in the water nor failed to complete an obstacle. Our adrenaline was pumping and we felt great. Again we opted for a quick TA, stripping off our tights, changing our shoes and grabbing additional food and water that we would need to last us until the end of the race. We jumped on our bikes, waved to the volunteers and started off on the first of two bike legs.

The adrenaline that propelled us through the obstacle course was no match for the 2-mile grinder we faced early in the bike leg. Within the first quarter mile, we were all in granny gear, working hard to make it to the next bend in the road, only to find an even steeper grade taking us to the next bend. We channeled the spirits of the Kings of the Mountains from the Tour de France - Michael Rasmussen, Denis Menchov - and finally reached the peak. The entrance to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (http://www.hawkmountain.org) is located at the top of the gigantic hill. The night before the race, a local team by the same name (HMS) explained that the Sanctuary sits in a highly travelled raptor migratory path. Each year thousands of hawks, eagles, and falcons pass through the HMS on their way to warmer climates. We didn’t stop long enough to spot any birds of prey ourselves but appreciated the Sanctuary for its beauty and mission.

Our reward for making it to the top of the grinder was the fact that we now got to ride down the other side! Breaking only slightly as we approached the turns in the road, we pushed 45 mph for over a mile. We were flying. After a short stint on a flat road we reached the next TA/CP where we commenced the mountain bike leg of the course. Although not very technical, the mountain bike challenged our abilities with steep elevation gains, various route choices, and some washed out areas with loose gravel and sand. CP 12 was located at the highest point on the mountain bike section at a fire tower. At the top, we unclipped, checked in with the volunteer manning the check point and popped some more e-caps before starting our descent. To reach the final CP on the mountain bike leg, we retraced our route to an earlier CP to catch a different trail. We didn’t run into any teams on our way down to the trail so we surmised that we were still in the lead with a sizeable gap between us and the next teams. However, as you know anything is possible in an adventure race so we biked like teams were at our heels.

Back at the TA, we handed our bikes over to the volunteers, found our paddling gear and selected a canoe that would carry us approximately 7 miles down the Little Schuylkill River. Biz volunteered to carry the canoe on his shoulders (remember, he’s the Eagle Scout). Scooter carried all the paddling gear and I carried Biz’s pack. “Man, your pack is heavy – what the heck you have in here?” I said. We laughed because Biz carries all my mandatory gear, his gear and most of the team gear. We laughed and joked as we moved to the canoe put-in about a quarter mile from the TA. Exactly one week ago, the three of us along with another teammate, Scott Erlandson (Erl), competed in the Mid-American Xtreme Adventure Race located in the Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. During this race, we spent six of ten hours total on a paddle leg because the water was so low we had to float, carry, or tow our boats for over half of the paddle leg. With this experience still fresh in our minds, we were expecting the worst. To our pleasant surprise, we were able to stay in our canoe for most of the paddle. The canoes provided by the race took to the shallow waters, bouncing off rocks versus getting caught on them. To maintain a fast and consistent paddling cadence, Scooter chanted the chorus from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation – over and over and over and over...

Before we knew it, we were approaching the end of the paddle leg located at a popular swimming, cliff jumping and sunbathing spot. Young women in bikinis were getting their pictures taken just off our paddle line. I yelled at the boys to focus on the task at hand, not tipping the canoe and making to shore. Once safely on shore, Biz and I dove into the cool water to get some relief from the hot sun. I think this is when I lost my sunglasses so if any of the aforementioned girls in the bikinis are reading this and happened upon my sunglasses, please call Scooter (952-555-8888).

Biz loaded the canoe on his shoulders again and we hiked from the beach to the road where we racked the canoe and found our bikes. Despite all the e-caps we took early in the race, both Biz and I started cramping during the paddle leg. We were getting low on water and GU2O and the second set of e-caps was at the bottom of my mandatory gear in my dry bag. We debated pulling and treating water from the river early in the paddle leg but opted to keep moving. Knowing that all we had left was a 15 mile road bike home, we hoped we could make it on our limited water supply. We mounted our bikes, got in our pace line and dropped the hammer.

The ride home was as scenic as the other legs of the race. The route took us through farmland that had probably been there for over 200 years. We reminded each other to stay smart and we drank every last drop of liquid we could suck out of our bladders and bottles. We made our way down the last road to the start/finish and officially finished when we biked through the gates and flags where we had started the race just over 8 hours ago. We immediately dismounted our bikes and assumed our celebratory group hug positions. We won the race and had an awesome time doing it. We were elated!!!!!

After our group photo, we enjoyed cool showers, ice cold Mountain Dew and swapping stories with the other teams that hung out for the post-race festivities.

We would like to sincerely thank the GOALS race staff, volunteers and the Griesacker family for putting on a top-notch race that will live on for years to come. We recommend this race and all the GOALS races to teams of all levels looking for a fun, challenging and well-organized adventure race experience.

We would also like to give a big THANK YOU to our sponsors for supporting us with goods and services that help us race smarter and faster: Aqua-Bound, Fox River, Genuine Innovations, GU Sports, Hollywood Cycles (Rock-N-Roll, Jay), Jolt Gum, Kenda Tires and Mandatory Gear.com.

You can find us online at www.wedali.com and can look forward to seeing us at the USARA National Championships in Santa Barbara, CA in November 2006.

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