Saturday, January 28, 2017

Michigan Adventure Race, Winter Edition: Jan. 28th, 2017

Pre-Race Meeting
The Michigan Adventure race is modeled after expedition racing formats such as former races like The Eco Challenge and also current ones such as The Patagonian Expedition.  This is a little out of the ordinary for me but it was a nice change from my normal trail running format.  I give Jess all the credit because she found this event and wanted to try it out and I am glad she did because we had a blast.  I remember watching the eco challenge on discovery channel when I was in college and thought it was such an awesome event.  Recently I read a book by Charlie Engle called Running Man and he discusses doing these adventure races which also refueled my desire to do this type of event.  I never thought I would be able to do one because I do not have enough time, money, or gear to train and do a big scale adventure race.  This smaller scale format was perfect because it gave us a little taste of what it's all about.  About a week before the race we read a little about the required gear we would need.  No GPS was allowed so we had to order a field compass which ended getting delayed in the mail and it arrived the night before we were leaving!  We also discovered that we needed to learn basic compass and map reading skills.  Neither of us had much experience with traditional orienteering.  Regardless, we were excited to go to Grand Rapids for this adventure.

Pretending like we know what to do!
The night before the race we got to stay and hang out with our friends Molly and Steve who moved to Grand Rapids.  The weather was cold and super windy.  We went out for dinner and a few beers and were wondering how cold it was going to be in the morning.  Luckily when morning rolled around the wind had died down but the temps were still in the low 20s.  I guess that is to be expected in west Michigan during January.  We arrived to the remote parking lot and stood there shivering while waiting for a bus to shuttle us into the camp where the race was.  Once we got to the convention center at the camp we did a full gear check to make sure we had everything.  Then we heard the pre-race speech and one hour before race start they handed out the official map with checkpoints etc..  Everyone else immediately started laminating and taping their maps up.  Jess and I were looking at each other like what the heck?!  Should we be doing this too? Then everyone started to plot routes with their topographical maps and compasses.  We were just staring at ours dumbfounded and feeling like major rookies.We had to ask a couple next to us how to use the compass and they were nice enough to give a quick tutorial.

The official map with checkpoints handed out one hour before race start

About 10 minutes before the start we had somewhat of an idea about the route we wanted to take.  There were 27 checkpoints and about 5 of the checkpoints had Amazing Race style challenges that you had to complete as a team.  There were a few divisions (2 person co-ed, 2 person male, 2 person female, and 3 person teams) and 202 teams overall.  We had three hours to find as many checkpoints (flags) and complete as many challenges as we could within the time limit.  If you complete more checkpoints in a longer time you finish ahead of a team that completes fewer checkpoints in a quicker time.  If you get all the checkpoints then you will cover a distance of around 5 miles.  When the gun went off everyone was sprinting down trails and through the woods.  We were following our compass and map.  The first few checkpoints we were able to find without issue while making good time.  It seemed like we were doing well.  Then we set off to get one of the checkpoints awhich was pretty far away and since we did not have great orienteering skills we just went in a straight line through the woods and thorns.  We eventually found the checkpoint and our clothes were ripped up!
Mid race south side of lake

We continued working our way around the property and the lake finding all the checkpoints.  Our first challenge was putting a milk crate on our outer foot and sharing one milk crate for our inner foot, sort of a twist on a three legged race.  We had to go around a track without our feet touching the ground.  This took some time because we had to wait in line to do the challenge.  We completed that skills challenge and moved on to more checkpoints, challenges, and routes straight through more thicket and thorns.  We realized that we had missed a checkpoint / challenge at the beginning of our route and we would have to do it at the end.  This turned out to be a good thing as I will explain later.  We missed another checkpoint two thirds of the way around the property and had to backtrack to find it.  The other challenges entailed scaling around a rock wall, going in a tree house and finding signs with letters posted in the woods while scrambling the letters to come up with the message, snow shoe (run because there was no snow) around a trail loop, and riding a fat tire bike around a lake.  Doing all of these things made the time fly by quickly.

We finished!!!                  
To our surprise we had found all the checkpoints and completed all the challenges except the one we missed at the beginning and still had about a half hour left.  We set out to locate and complete this last challenge.  When we got there we found it to be the hardest challenge we would face.  There were multiple word puzzles on trees around the checkpoint.  We had to get five of them right to get credit for the checkpoint.  They were so hard and we struggled mightly with this challenge.  We even worked with some other teams who were also scrambling to complete this last challenge.  We finally got the required number correct and realized we only had about 8 minutes left to get back to the finish line.  We found a forest road that led back to the start finish area and sprinted as fast as we could.  We crossed the finish line with two minutes to spare!  Then we joined the post race party where we had beer and pizza awaiting us.  It really hit the spot after running around in the cold for three hours.  Later we discovered that we did a lot better then we thought.  In the co-ed division we got 29th place out of 82 teams and 84th overall out of 202 teams.  Not too shabby for a couple of amatuers!  We worked really well together as a team.  For a bunch of photos from this event just go to this website.  I would like to do more of this type of event in the future.  There are a few other Michigan Adventure races.  One is 18 hours and sounds like it would be an awesome challenege.

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