We came off the packraft debacle in 31st place and maintained that back-of-the-middle-of-the-pack status through the canoe and the whitewater paddle. We began to make up some ground on the short foot section at the end of Leg 1, and coming into TA, we were eager to capitalize on that momentum on the first bike leg.
Friendly volunteers (who happen to be friends who are volunteering) are always a welcomed sight
Up next? Roughly 20 miles of trails to the ropes course, and then an additional 10-ish miles to leg 3, the biggest foot section of the course.
Trying to fix my odometer. For a few brief moments, my bike was sparkling clean…
Following a quick transition – a bit too quick, as we would soon come to find out – we took off down the road to checkpoint 7. Buoyed by the new discipline, we merged into a paceline and flew down the early descent.
For about 2 kilometers.
Until Brent realized that he’d left his PFD – mandatory gear for the ropes course – back in transition.
So much for a fresh start.
We turned tail and raced back to the TA. Luckily, our bins were in the back of the U-Haul still parked at transition – and not on the U-Haul that had passed us on our return ride.
JP ran into the truck and rifled through our gear, and before long we were back on track, riding down the road alongside some familiar faces from the East Coast adventure racing circuit – Team Halfwaythere.com.
Our initial plan had been to ride the roads to checkpoint 7, and then evaluate the trails to find the best route to CP 8. That is, until Michelle from Halfway There turned to us. “You guys heard CP 7 was canceled, right?”
“Yeah, they told us at the TA. The point was misplotted so they’re directing all teams to continue on without it.”
Well, this was news.
Should we rely on the word of another team? Should we continue onto 7 to hear this for ourselves? What if they’d misunderstood? What if it was bad information?
After ten minutes of back-and-forth, we ultimately decided to continue on to CP 8. We later learned that we were the last team to leave transition before the race staff got word of the error. Had we not returned to get Brent’s PFD, we would have continued onto 7 and likely spent far too long looking for the flag. Teams did receive time credits for their delays at the next transition, but still, our mis-start turned out to be fortuitous.
Not long after, we turned off of the road and onto a rough trail that would lead us most of the way to the ropes. The elevation was relatively modest, but the muddy, rooted, rocky terrain – coupled with the 90 degree temperatures – made for slow going as we found ourselves in and out of the saddle for the next several miles.
We would ride, push, and lug our bikes from stream crossing to stream crossing, pausing at each opportunity to dunk our heads in the water and ward off overheating. A few hours into the ride, I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since the whitewater rafting. Though I remained low for the next half hour, our pace was barely slowed by the near-bonk – a testament to how battered the trail was.
Still, aside from Team DART-Nuun, who pushed through early mechanical issues to earn a second-place finish in the race – we weren’t being passed by other teams. It seemed that everyone around us was laboring just as slowly through this first bike section of the race. And because the scale of the maps was so big, Brent had no real sense of whether the terrain would change. We just gritted our teeth and continued on, trying to find a rhythm in the constant stop-and-start.
And then, suddenly, we were flying. Brent had spotted a small connector on the map that dumped us out onto a dirt road. For the next 10+ kilometers, we were speeding along, marveling at the relatively smooth terrain and the lack of tire tracks lining our paths. Apparently we were one of only a handful of teams to veer off the main trail.
And when we pulled into the ropes course not long after, we found ourselves in 14th or 15th place. Thus began Brent’s navigational charm that would take us through the next three days of racing.
At the ropes, we learned that there was an unanticipated backlog.
In previous versions of Untamed, the ropes sections had been reserved for the top teams who were able to complete the full course. Wanting to offer all racers the opportunity to ascend and rappel, this year race director Grant Killian situated the ropes just half a day into the event. The course included a 40-foot descent, followed by a packraft across a river, then an ascent up the other side, and finally a Tyrolean traverse back across from above. To deal with the unavoidable delays, all teams went “off the clock” from the moment they checked in until the time they clipped in for the descent.
Upon learning that we had a two-hour wait at the ropes
We spent the next 124 minutes hanging out on the banks of the Dead River, swatting at mosquitos, chatting with other teams, and trying to relax as we slowly made our way to the front of the line.
When we were finally called, we headed over to the rappel site, clipped in, and slid down the rock face – only to find another backlog at the ascent.
Ultimately, the ropes course ended up feeling more like something to get through than something to really experience. When all of us made our way across the Tyrollean an hour after we began, we were itching to get back on our bikes and continue on our way.
The next several miles had us back on the main trail, riding and hike-a-biking along the river.
“Take note of this,” Brent said when we finally turned away from the water and onto another dirt road. “We’ll be back here on foot during the final leg of the race.”
“Fantastic,” I said. “But at least we won’t be on our bikes.”
A few kilometers later, just after 1:00 AM, we pulled into the next TA, eager to be on our feet in earnest for the first time all race.