Raid the Ridge 24-Hour Adventure Race - Onawa, IA - June 17-18, 2005

It was hot, like Amazon hot. Were we in Iowa or Jamaica? We piled out of the Suburban, organized our TA, and set about messing with gear for a few hours before the race meeting at 3pm. Justin was battling a case of hives that had sprung up the week before at a rather intense, fast-paced sprint adventure race, and the heat didn’t seem to be helping matters. We were a bit worried how he would fare during the race.

4pm start: Wet early, wet often
All 26 teams lined up in the order they registered, just minutes before the start of the race. Race director Jason explained that there were 26 plastic bottles floating in the water near the swimming beach, and each had the number of a team. Our first task was to dive in, find the bottle with our team number, bring it back to Jason on the shore, and then run to the first CP. Count down to start, and we were off racing towards the water; a mass chaos with dozens of racers all clamoring for the floating bottles. Our plan was to have Scooter stay on shore, with the rest of us searching for the bottle. Justin found it right away, however he was thwarted in his attempt to retrieve it. He saw our bottle and said, “There is our bottle!” A woman near our bottle grabbed it and held it underwater. Justin had to yank it out of her hands, after which he threw it to a waiting Scooter. Wow – who knew it would get so ruthless this quickly! We were the first team out of the water, and onto the trek. We ran about a mile on trails to get CP1, and then another mile back to the TA for a fast transition to trekking and paddling.

Trek 6 miles / Paddle 10 miles / Trek 10(?) miles
We were 2nd out of the TA, right behind Dan Williams of team, who kept goading us by patting his backside and saying, “If you are seeing this, you are losing.” We set off on a comfortable run to the kayak put-in, roughly 6 miles on gravel roads. Found the kayaks at CP2, and were the 3rd team into the water. The two teams ahead of us missed CP3, so Scooter and Justin nabbed it, turned around, and continued onto CP4. We never saw the two lead teams again, as they lost about 30 to 45 minutes searching for CP3. We were paddling the Sevylor inflatables, affectionately knows as the rubber duckys, which is a lesson in patience. As it turns out, this was actually to our advantage, because many of the teams had never paddled in these, and didn’t know the tricks that we had learned through trial and error in previous races. We managed to distance ourselves from the field during the paddle, building about a 15 minute buffer. We had a long portage, where we were hauling the boats through woods and brush, fearing that we would pop them on passing branches. Luckily we arrived at CP4 intact, transitioned to trekking, and were off. CPs 5-11 involved a lot of water crossings, so our PFDs were on most of the time. We had sprayed ourselves liberally with bug repellant before the race, but it must have washed off because the mosquitos were in rare form. Any pause incurred them to swarm and feast, so this urged us onward most effectively. We arrived at where CP6 should have been, but after searching the entire area, we failed to find it. As another team arrived at the CP, Justin called the race director, who told us that the CP wasn’t there yet. We were off at a run, determined to make up the time. CPs 7-11 were uneventful, as Justin’s navigation was dead-on, as usual. After CP11 we started the long jog back to the TA, about 6 miles on gravel roads, and I was on tow. For some unknown reason, I was having a really tough race. By this time it was dark, and I was battling my emotions. Erl reached out and gave me a hug, which heartened me to know that my team was in it with me, good and bad. We ran back to the TA in first place, spent a few minutes on gear, and hopped onto our bikes.

Bike 30 miles to Remote TA

On our way to CP12, which was the same as CP11, we passed a number of teams that were finishing up the trek. It looked like we were about 20 minutes ahead of the pack. CPs 12-17 were mostly gravel roads, and we were biking along, having a good time, enjoying the warm night. On our way to CP13, we had to travel out and back on a 2 mile farm road. As it turns out, parts of it were surprisingly sandy, and I hit one of these sections a bit too fast and crashed. A little road rash was all I had to show for it, but I was pretty shaky and a bit gun-shy getting back on the bike. I rode the rest of the 3 miles on that road painfully slowly, and rejoiced when we were back out on pavement. Back into the groove of things, we got the next few CPs, with a highlight at CP15, a dam on a river. The 4 of us came running up on the dam, in full AR regalia with headlamps, helmets, and plenty of muddy, wet gear, only to find a local couple trying to find some privacy. When they saw us, the guy immediately falls off the pile of rocks he was on, and they both seemed to have enjoyed an excess of alcoholic beverages. CP16 found us climbing the only hill on the bike route, then back down again to the remote TA for the O section.

Orienteering section 12 miles(?)/ ropes: CPs 17-32
By now it is about 1:30 or 2am, and we had been racing for 10 hours. We arrived at the remote TA, plotted UTMs, and transitioned to trekking. CPs 17-23 were mandatory, and then it was a score-O for 5 more checkpoints. The teams with the most checkpoints were ranked first, so it was our goal to get all of them, as we figured the top teams would do the same. We hiked up and down a steep hill for CP17, and back near the remote TA to CP18. We saw that no other teams had made it to the remote TA yet, and Jason stopped us to inform us that a few of the CPs were being removed from the course, as teams were taking longer than expected. Our route to CPs 18 and 19 involved a heinous amount of stinging nettles, which for some reason didn’t seem to affect me, but my teammates were cursing at the stuff for about the next 5 miles.

We arrived at CP21 around 4:15am, a state park just across the road from what seemed to be an entire kennel of barking, howling dogs. I think this may have distracted us, as we searched that hillside for over an hour looking for the elusive CP. After a discussion with Jason, we located the CP, quickly moved onto CP22, and then it was onto CP23 and the rope bridge. This crazy thing spanned 170 feet, and was 60 feet in the air. There were time bonuses for the whole team crossing it, which we managed fairly well. By the time we finished the ropes, it was 8:45am, and Jason advised returning to the remote TA no later than noon, to give enough time for the bike back, before the 4pm cutoff. We looked at the remaining CPs, decided to go for all 5, and set off with renewed vigor. About an hour later, we were standing on a hill where CP29 should be, spirits sagging a bit in the blazing sun. Scooter figured out that we were a bit off target, shot a bearing, and walked right to the CP. We decided to skip 2 of the remaining CPs, and then head back to the remote TA, due to a dwindling supply of water, general exhaustion from racing for 18 hours, and dealing with sleep deprivation on top of the inescapable heat.

On our way to the last CP before the TA, I felt a blister coming on, so we stopped in some shade and pulled out the duct tape. A bit disheartened at this point in the race, our team needed a boost. Justin pulled out an inspirational card that his girlfriend Molly wrote, in case we ever needed it. We joined together in a group hug, and more than one of us shed some tears at the touching sentiments in her card. We were back at it, and jogged most of the way back to the remote TA. There were a number of teams there, some that had just arrived on bikes. Everyone was sharing water and food, so we filled up, and got ready for the bike back. Everything that we left there was going to be thrown away. I looked at my hacked-up trekking shoes which had seen way too many miles, contemplated hauling these things back on the bike, and tossed them into the garbage pile, glad to be done with them.

Bike 30 miles back to Starting TA
We took off from the remote TA around 11am, anticipating at least a 3 hour slog through sandy, gravel roads. But our wishes were answered, as the route was mostly on pavement, and we enjoyed a strong tailwind, pacelining at 25mph effortlessly. We made it back to the TA in under 90 minutes, ready for the next challenge.

Trek 2-3 miles / Paddle: CPs A-F
Did I mention that it was hot? The last section of the race involved a short orienteering course, and an even shorter paddle. At this point it was 12:45pm, and we were pretty sure that no other teams got as many CPs as we had. We relaxed our pace a bit, mostly due to some aching feet, and got the 4 trekking CPs fairly easily. The last CP was on a buoy in the water – we piled all 4 of us into one inflatable Sevylor, grabbed 2 paddles, and just about sank the thing. Luckily, our team is made up of unusually small people, so Erl and I kicked back and lounged in the boat while Scooter and Justin paddled us out and back. We portaged the kayaks back to the finish for an overall time of 22 hours.

2pm finish
The first thing we did upon finishing the race was to hit the beach; partly to get rid of the stench, and partly to escape the heat. Time to nap and deal with gear, and then it was onto the BBQ. Justin was enjoying his burger when he fell asleep mid-bite. Scooter and Erl kept waking him up, but he finally gave into sleep when he fell asleep part-way through a cookie, snoring and drooling with the cookie 4 inches from his face. Onto the awards ceremony where we got some great Salomon packs, and wooden plaques to commemorate our efforts.

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