USARA National Championships - Tampa, FL - November 4-5, 2005
The 5 of us recruited Jason Neilsen from IowaActive, and together spent the next month preparing, training, and figuring out how we would race a team of 6. Would it be slower, trying to keep everyone together? What if we had to split up during the race? How was Jason going to fit in with our team? More importantly, would Jason’s wife deliver their third child mid-race? During the race, we would keep ourselves amused by coming up with creative names for the baby, with our favorite selection being WEDALI BIZO Neilsen.
With all of these questions on the forefront of everyone’s mind we arrived in Tampa, got the vans, loaded up the bikes, and found our host hotel, already overflowing with racers. Wednesday night was spent carbo-loading, assembling bikes, and starting the endless task of messing with gear. As I was putting my handlebars back on my bike, I noticed a sort of grinding noise when I turned them – it felt like they were filled with sand. Upon further inspection, Justin realized that my entire headset was broken, with tiny little ball bearings spilling out everywhere. Yikes! Not much to do at 11:30pm but hope that tomorrow would bring about a speedy fix.
Onto the pre-race meeting, where they tell us that racing with alligators and poisonous snakes is nothing to worry about. Ack! I hope I can muster enough strength to beat them off with my kayak paddle if it comes to that. We get our maps, plot points and go through instructions; afterwards we drive our bikes to the bike drop, mess with gear, and are in bed by 11:30pm.
About an hour later, we met back up at the river crossing – WEDALI #1 arrives in 2nd place overall, with WEDALI #2 just 5 minutes behind. At this point we choose to bypass the rope river crossing and canoe options, and instead run up the trail, for a river crossing swim with all of our gear. From here, it is more bushwhacking to trails, and a few hours of foot orienteering. We tromp through swamps, trying to make noise to scare away alligators. There are just a few other teams with us in this swamp section, and then it is a quick trail run to CP1 at a number of bridge crossings loaded with volunteers and spectators. Robyn Benincasa is there cheering us in, saying that we are “surprisingly” the first team in!
We finally make it through the 17 Runs, and out onto a larger river, somewhere in 10th or 12th place. By now it is heating up to about 83 degrees, with the sun directly overhead. This brings the alligators out in force, to sun themselves on the river banks. We paddle into the transition area.
We transition to the bikes, fill up water bottles, and are off mountain biking, passing some teams in the TA. The mountain biking is really fun, with flat trails, all off-road, and plenty of sand, roots, and mud. We do a bit of bushwhacking with our bikes, and took the long way around on one CP, and lost some time. Justin and Jason figured out where we were, and got us back on track; and at this point we were probably in about 20th place. The heat is really a factor now, and we make it a point to hydrate often. There are some great mud pits in the trail, and when I bombed through what I thought was a shallow puddle, my front tire disappeared and I went down in the “helpless turtle fall”, much to the amusement of my teammates since I was covered in mud thereafter.
We started another big foot orienteering section, and we were almost always surrounded by other teams, some of which were completely lost and followed us instead of figuring out the navigation. The checkpoint that threw most teams was CP 12, and the kicker was that there was a 12a, 12b, 12c, and finally 12d where the punch was located. We learned after the race that this CP took most teams over 4 hours, and was one of the first to be cut when teams were close to missing the cutoff time. We were running whenever there was dry land, and managed to pass up some teams in this section, due to Justin and Jason’s excellent navigation. Near the end of this section, we had to choose a few long river crossing swims, or coasteering along the Hillsborough river; we chose the latter. We were in anywhere from 3 inches to 3 feet of water. All of the submerged logs and trees had Molly wishing she was wearing her soccer shin guards, and our toes and legs had many scrapes and bruises by the end of this section. Out onto dry land, and a quick run into TA4.
TA 4: 9:14pm
When Scooter and I returned to the TA, Molly and Erl had already rocked the trail running course (total time of 55 mins), and we regrouped, ate, hydrated, and got the bikes ready to go for when Justin and Jason finished with the navigation course (by far the most difficult of the 3 disciplines). Molly and I started to get cold standing around outside, so we searched out some heat – in the women’s restroom where there was already a conflagration of tired, dirty, beat-up adventure racers trying to get a few minutes respite from the race. Molly shared her crackers with me, and we dozed off, sitting on the muddy bathroom floor, until Scooter’s yell woke us up “Molly, Ellen, let’s go!”
Jason was in, with Justin not far behind, and now we had to plot points, read new instructions, and get back on bikes for a long mountain bike section. Once we saw the rest of the course, we realized that there was still a lot of race left to go – would our food and water hold out? The first bike CP (BCP1) proved to be pretty elusive, as we spent about an hour searching. We finally got it, and were all eager to make up some time and speed to the next checkpoint. POP - Ssssssssssss! Erl completely blew out his rear tire – big hole in the tire itself. We stopped and replaced the tube, patched the tire, and were off. About a mile later, the tire went flat again. Oh no – were we going to struggle with this tire the rest of the race? We still had a lot of biking to do. Another patch job, and we were on our way, and luckily were not plagued with any more problems with the tire. This whole mountain bike section was in the woods, mostly on trails, with some fun twisty single-track and a little bit of bushwhacking.
After a long mountain bike section, we drop bikes, and try to find BCP16, which caused some confusion since there was CP16 as well. As it turns out, BCP16 didn’t have a punch anywhere – the volunteer at the bike drop, which was actually BCP16, said “drop your bikes and proceed onto the checkpoint.” So we assumed that we were supposed to find the flag and punch for BCP16. After running around for 30 minutes, with a bunch of other teams that were all doing the same thing, we asked the volunteer again. He said that there was no punch, and to go onto the TA. Telling us to go onto the CP, and then onto the TA were two completely different things. Once we realized this, we hustled over to the TA.
We were alone on this whole section, and after about 3 miles of paddling, we grabbed CP 17, paddled 3 more miles, and then beached the canoes at CP18 at 7:01am. There were special instructions for this mini-orienteering section; we could break the 100 yard rule, and there were 5 CPs to get. The CPs weren’t punches, but actually had buckets with tokens in them, so we split up in the same twosomes as before – Molly and Erl took the canoe to one CP, Justin and Jason took the 2 most remote ones, and Scooter and I took the ones along the boardwalk. We took off at a good pace, and ran to the tower for the first CP, and then to the end of the boardwalk to get the second, where we saw a team, all 3 in the canoe, getting the CP from the water. We high-tailed it back to CP18, joined the rest of our team, and hopped back into the canoes, managing to pass a team somewhere along the way.
We had a fast 3 mile paddle back to CP19 (which was also CP17 and CP20), and about ¼ mile before the CP, we spied another team just slightly ahead of us. We motored our canoes as quickly as we could, and arrived at the boat launch just minutes after them. We hustled our canoes out of the water, and received instructions from the volunteer that there was no punch for CP19 – just to drop our paddling stuff and run to the end! We crossed the finish line hand in hand, all 6 of us. 7:50am on the clock, for a total race time of 24:50:53.
Jason’s wife held
out until two weeks after our race to deliver their third child, Kenai
Ely Nielsen. In the Dena’ina language, "Ken’ey"
means two big flats and river cut-back, and the word "ken’e"
represents trees and brush grown in a swampy marsh. Either of these
may be the root or origin for the name Kenai.
(C) 2004-2007 WEDALI adventure racing