Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

The Rabbit

So, I wrote a lovely little race report last week sometime, offering exciting anecdotes and fine details about the GOALS ARA Edge Adventure race that is now ten days passed. But when I went to push ‘publish,’ the internet froze and the post entered the netherworld of half-published blogs. And then my dissertation took over. It seems that when I’m on a roll with the writing I should be doing, the writing that I want to be doing drops off significantly. I suppose there are worse things.

For now, then, an abbreviated race report —

This past summer, over a couple of post-race hard ciders (post-race for my friend Tracey; post-hanging out under a tent ‘volunteering’ for me, since I’d psyched myself out of the prospect of ever being a competent adventure racer and elected to sit out the Bitter Pill, a 12-hour adventure race put on by NEARA, the New England Adventure Racing Association, in the wiles of Vermont), a plan was hatched.

I say ‘a plan was hatched’ intentionally, given that I have no idea who actually came up with said plan, but by the end of the evening, Tracey and I had conspired to put together a female 3-person team for The Edge, the sprint adventure that GOALSARA (GOALS Adventure Racing Association) puts on every October. We’d recruit Denise Mast, head honcho at NYARA (New York Adventure Racing Association – are we sensing a pattern here?), and have a fun, fanciful, and – most importantly – pressureless day out in the woods. No expectations. No killing ourselves. And no boys to up the ante.

Care of the wonderful world of facebook, we coordinated our efforts within days and began thinking of team names. We’d be representing the GOALS organization, which narrowed down our options pretty quickly.

GOALS 2? Boring.

GOALS Gals? Eh, it might do.

Glorious Gals of GOALS? Closer.

GOALS Gals Gone Wild? Bingo.

Summer turned into fall and the occasional wall posting would go around, checking in and making sure we were all still on board. And then, two weeks before the race, Tracey realized that she’d double booked. Work and a house closing were pulling her out west; she wouldn’t be able to get to PA for the Sunday race.

Denise and I scrambled for a couple days before realizing that we’d overlooked the obvious. Sue – expert adventure race, navigator extraordinaire (though she didn’t know it yet), and wife of the course director – would be the perfect addition to our estrogen-enhanced team. Just because Jon was indisposed for the day didn’t necessarily mean that Sue was out of commission. A handful of emails and a couple of frantic searches for a babysitter later, we were set.

There were four different teams representing GOALS in the race last weekend. Brent, Bruce, and the indifatigable Sara Percy headed up the official coed-three effort; Keith and Chris joined forces for an all-star male-two-masters team; Kevin, Maureen, and Jim were out there as a second coed trifecta; and Denise and Sue and I rounded out the crew with our almost-embarrassing moniker.

Pre-race: Sue and I “studying” the maps

Now, I’ve always found race reports somewhat troubling to write. I mean, really, who cares all that much about which route you took, how many times you fell off your bike, or whether you cleared the course – except for the people with whom you raced? So instead of a detailed review of our 3.5 hours on the course, I’ll just share the highlights by way of a few life lessons I learned that day.

1. Our lovely group of ladies definitely needs to work on our paddling skills. Early on in the race, we were gliding along through the water when a coed-three team came up behind us. With little effort, the two men and one woman breezed passed us, never to be seen again. One might think that this wasn’t such a big deal. I mean, they had two men in the boat, right? Well, yes, but they also had a woman who sat in the middle of the canoe without a paddle to her name. And, more to the point, they were using wooden canoe paddles. So, with our three kayak paddles (six paddles to their two), they still blew us out of the water – figuratively speaking.

At least our paddles were synchronized!

2. It’s always a good idea to check who you’re talking to before you start complaining about a race course. During the biking leg, we had just crested the top of a long, slow uphill climb and were streaming down the other side looking for a well-marked trail to the left, when we spotted two bikers coming from the opposite direction. Coming to a stop feet in front of us, the men called out angrily, “Are you looking for checkpoint four?” We replied affirmatively, and they told us that they’d just ridden down this entire stretch of road to the end of the park and hadn’t found the marked trail anywhere. “Who designed this course?” they yelled. “The race director is an idiot, and this map was drawn by a child! I should have just thrown my money away – they guys don’t have any idea how to organize a race.”

They continued to yell until I looked off to our left, exactly where we’d stopped, and saw a decisive trail about 20 yards beyond a small cemetery. We let the guys go first and then set off for the checkpoint, laughing at our new friends. Little did they know that they were talking to the home team, and, more importantly, the wife of the course director himself.

3. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take the pressure off. Now that my first season as an adventure racer is over and I’ve had a chance to look back on it, I can honestly say that I like this stuff. That said, there were definitely some moments where I would have said otherwise. After months of running through the woods, being literally dragged around, laboring to keep up, feeling like the only thing you have to contribute to a team is the necessary estrogen to race in the premiere division, you begin to question whether you’re worth a damn in this silly sport. The best cure for this, I’ve discovered, is racing in a no-pressure scenario with two other women of comparable abilities who are just out there to have fun. For the first time in my brief adventure racing career, I felt useful! As Sue masterfully led us through the woods and Denise blazed down rocky mountain biking trails, I was deemed The Rabbit, charged with throwing down my bike, jumping out of the canoe, or running the extra twenty feet to get the passport stamped. It’s an experience everyone should have at some point.

4. One of the best lessons I learned was from my dad, who came out for an hour to check out this whole adventure racing phenomenon. After catching up with us as we were transitioning off the paddling section and following us over to the brief obstacle course (a GOALS exclusive as far as adventure racing goes), he remarked, “I could get used to coming out to these things. It’s sort of like a swim meet!”

All in all, GOALS put up a good showing last weekend. Brent, Bruce, and Sara took the entire field, finishing in a blistering 2 hours and 30 minutes, and that with Brent and Bruce coughing up a lung and a half a piece. Chris and Keith conquered the male-2-masters, and us gals finished first in our female-three division (admittedly, we were the only team competing). We were more excited about what, at the time, looked like an overall 8th place finish, out of the 103 teams present (many of whom were none too pleased to have been beaten by a group of girls, Brent told me later). When all was said and done, we ended up 15th. Still not so shabby.

And now, with the racing season officially over for me, I return to my cozy office in little old Mount Airy, writing and researching and grading papers, and meeting friends for runs along Forbidden Drive and mountain bike rides in the Wissahickon Hills to break the days and get out of my head.

They started the race with a ‘wheelbarrow’ separator – my arms were still sore four days later!

Sue, Me, and Denise

Keith and Chris

Brent, Bruce, and Sara


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