Saturday morning I woke up at 7 am, stretched my legs out of bed, wiggled my toes and took note to remember how comfortable they felt, because in six short hours I would be starting an eighteen-hour adventure race by Pangea Adventure Racing. I assumed my body would take quite a beating in this race, the longest I’ve attempted to date by ten hours. My prediction was by the end they would need to carry me off the finish line in a stretcher. I packed up all my gear, made sure I had plenty of food and hydration, and then went to pickup my teammate. We drove to Florida Forever/Eco Safaris in St. Cloud, Florida arriving a little bit early for the Nocturnal Challenge Adventure Race. We set up our tent and ate some food and while sitting there we immediately began to notice something… Florida is hot!
Our concern long ago when we started talking about this race was starting it at 2 in the afternoon, the most severe heat in a Florida day. We knew it would be important to focus on hydration and keeping our body fluids up, otherwise we would be in bad shape for the rest of the race. Luckily, tropical storm Bonnie was sending cloud coverage overhead providing some respite from the heat. The key to battling dehydration is to drink water for days before the race. And I had been downing plenty of fluids, but I was still nervous about the effect of the heat. A little worried, we packed up our bags making sure we had enough food, hydration, and tools for eight hours of racing, after which we would be able to return to the start/finish and refill our bags.
Two in the afternoon rolled around quickly and we sat at the start line on our bikes, ready to depart for an interesting journey. The first stretch turned out to be sugar sand. Now biking isn’t my strong suit, but I can handle it at a steady pace in races, except sugar sand. Your legs burn, your bike wants to fall over, and in terms of endurance level you burn twice as many calories pedaling through sugar sand than on any other bike able surface. Once out of the sugar sand, I found myself panting and exhausted from physical drain and the heat, still with seventeen and a half hours to go.
We hit our first hiccup in the race as we searched for checkpoint two. Greg, the race coordinator, at the pre-race introduction, said that the map would be missing trails and would have trails where some didn’t exist, as we searched for checkpoint two, we quickly discovered what he meant. It took us a whole hour to find it, having first gone too far past the road we turned down, and then having not gone far enough, even though on both occasions we seemed to be where the map said checkpoint two was. Because of this early encounter, we quickly learned the importance of not only checking the map for turns and trails, but to also make sure we were heading in the right direction with the compass, as the map suggested. After fixing a flat tire, that occurred when we searched for checkpoint two, we decided to just head on and forget that particular checkpoint. Luckily the path we took to continue the race lead us to the correct position of checkpoint two!
We continued on strong and at a steady pace so we didn’t make our muscles burn. Through the late afternoon and early evening we did bike, canoe, and trek legs, finally ending up on the bike as the sun set. We made it to the furthest point on the map and searched for a checkpoint. After finding it we headed down an overgrown dirt path heading west. To the left of us was a shell rock road, like the ones we had been traveling on, and similar to what the map symbols had been in the past, but there was barbwire fence between us and that road. We didn’t give the road a second thought and continued on a western direction till the path split into three. We went up each route, but it seemed to take us in the incorrect direction. Thirty minutes later we headed back the way we came and jumped the fence and onto the shell rock road. We immediately realized that was the road we should have been on the entire time. That was just another situation we encountered where the map was misleading. It’s always important to follow your compass and we eventually did when all the trails we tried were taking us in the wrong direction.
We were able to have two little breaks during the race. Florida Forever is famous for it’s zip line courses. These are very serious zip lines, metal towers you climb up and long permanent metal lines you zip down. The elite race required us to do the zip line twice; once doing the upper course and the other doing the lower course. The first one we did, the upper course, was the more advanced as you went down four zip lines and climbed up two wire bridges. The second zip line, the lower course, was a lot easier as you just consecutively zip down three lines. For us, the zip line was a lot of fun, but more importantly, in terms of the race, a great rest period to eat and drink on the way there.
Exhaustion and sleep deprivation finally started to settle in around 5am on the last bike leg. All of a sudden I was falling asleep in the saddle, almost causing myself to fall off. Luckily there were only three more hours that would consist of trekking when it would be easier to keep myself awake. We trudged on and ended up going through the last part of the course, a four-mile trek to get four checkpoints. The sun was rising, the end was close, and it was turning out to be a beautiful morning.
We made it in at 7:44 am with 33 checkpoints earning ourselves seventh place out of seventeen teams. I will always remember this race as an experiment for my body and mind. Since the day we decided to do it, I felt its looming presence descending upon me, and the fear of “can I do it?” showing up more frequently as the date got closer. But, as it turns out, I can do it! Now I’ll be ready for a longer length hour race in the future!