By Mel Coombes
So, I know you are going to judge me. In pregnancy, only one thing is guaranteed, and that is that people will judge you regarding just about everything you do while carrying a fetus. That’s ok. I forgive you. J
Last weekend, I introduced my baby girl to the rigors and beauty of the Ochoco National Forest in the Bend Adventure Racing (BendAR) Summer Solstice 12-hour Adventure Race. Too bad she couldn’t see much of it chilling in my belly, because it really is a stunning area. And boy, did we have an adventure.
Having participated in adventure races of varying distances over the last 15 years, I thought to myself, “self, it’s only 12 hours…how hard can this be?!?” What I failed to consider was the inevitable adventure that comes along with an adventure race. Oh, and the extra weight of a six-month old fetus, the elevation, and an easily elevated heart rate. But adventure races always present challenges. These challenges are the things that make this sport what it is, and our reaction to them defines who we are.
Adventure racing is about adventure, yes, but it is also about overcoming adversity, pushing yourself (and often times your bike), and experiencing a beautiful high that comes with enjoying time in nature with close friends in an intense way. This race hit all the wickets for me.
Adam, Stephen and I took off on the Summer Solstice race to do our best to represent the Yogaslackers’ name, though we knew we wouldn’t be breaking any land speed records with a baby on board. We paddled away from the start line with Team Castelli, only to realize that running to the first point would have been much faster. How did we realize that, you ask? Well, because we watched as team after team punched the first CP as Adam and Stephen furiously paddled the Alpacka Gnu packraft (with me hunkered down in between them) toward the checkpoint. Adversity – check.
After greeting Chelsey in the middle of the reservoir at CP 2, we took off toward shore to climb a nearby hilltop for CP3. With paddle bag in hand and on the go, Adam and I broke down paddles and stuffed away life vests, while Stephen deflated the packraft. Great teamwork to gain back a few precious moments in the race against the clock. Adversity overcome – check.
We returned to the start/finish to grab our bikes, and we were off on the course. With the prologue complete, it was time to settle in for the long haul. We rode to the first orienteering section, and had our first reminder of #1 rule in orienteering. Always check direction. While we weren’t the only team confused about the roads going off in directions other what was depicted on the map, this rule was to become a common theme for us throughout the race. Lesson #1, a compass is a critical piece of gear for every team member…always.
Just as we were finishing up the orienteering section, the sun went down and an amazing nearly full moon began to rise above the horizon. Back on our bikes, we slugged through thick patches of mud on and off throughout the night. We talked, laughed, cursed the mud, and of course, I sang the most random songs to myself as we biked through the night. At about 2am, we arrived at CP9 and started to make our way to the highpoint of the race, a forest service lookout tower in the middle of nowhere. We were well on track, following the trails as shown on the map, or so we thought. Then, all of a sudden, we took a left, and we were screaming downhill. It was so lovely. Really, truly lovely. Finally, the extra weight I was carrying was helping me out! While thoroughly enjoying the descent, I thought to myself, “man, this lookout tower must be in a wacky place if we’re descending this far.” But as anyone will do in the middle of the night when your brain is not quite working right, I smiled and continued to enjoy the rush of wind against my face. Until we got to a T intersection. Halt. That doesn’t make sense, says Stephen, our navigator. So we all look at the map, and I start with the questions. What is our elevation? 4,900’ (we were supposed to be climbing to CP 10 at 6,000’). Rule #2 in orienteering. Check the altitude (in all fairness, that is not really orienteering rule #2, but it was at that moment, and I am exercising artistic license). What direction is the road going? East/West and we approached it from the North. Oh crap. There goes rule #1 again…we were supposed to be going South. Doh. So we turned around and climbed back up that glorious descent, and continued climbing to the top of the mountain, including a steep bike whack through the bush. Pushing ourselves and our bikes – check.
At CP 10, we dropped off our 12 ounces of treats for James, the fire-watch stationed in the lookout tower, and headed down the mountain in another glorious descent, this time in the right direction! We cruised down to the last orienteering course at CP 11, with just over 2 hours remaining until the end of the race. We picked up four points, and pushed on for a fifth. I thought we’d have time enough to grab it and get back, but it soon became apparent that we were running out of time. So we turned away from the point and headed back to CP 11. Stephen took my pack when we got to the road, and we pushed out the fastest adventure racing shuffle I could manage. We did a quick transition at CP 11 and rode as fast as we could to the finish. In truth, we rode as fast as Stephen could tow me up the hills to the finish, which was like the wind! I had forgotten how glorious it is to be on tow!! Beautiful high – check.
We made it in to the finish just in time to secure 5th place. Not what one would typically expect from a 3-person Yogaslacker team, but not too shabby for a 3.5 person team. J. But we had a great time, overcame adversity, pushed ourselves, and got high together in the woods. Thank you Adam and Stephen for another great adventure!
Lessons learned: I will always race with a compass, altimeter, and a poofy coat (learned that ages ago, but it was reaffirmed in this race)
Best piece of gear: Leki ThermoShield Gloves – my hands have never been that warm in a race before!
About the Author
Melissa "Mel" Coombes
Melissa advises and assists clients on a wide variety of intellectual property issues including the drafting and prosecution of patent applications.