I made the “quick” (by my road trip standards) 5.5 hour drive to Knoxville on Friday afternoon. Observation of the drive? Driving in and around Nashville is quickly becoming like driving around Atlanta, except more pretentious and with no good rap music to listen to on the local radio. I still made pretty good time, though, and I tracked down the race HQ location (literally, tracked it down, because the TNAC website just listed it as “Outdoor Knoxville” and gave this link: http://www.outdoorknoxville.com/) I figured out that it was the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center by looking at the information for the bigger 30-hour Adventure Race Championship that was being held concurrently with the smaller “Challenge” race.
After confirming that it was, indeed where the race would start, I headed over to the Urban Wilderness trails to spin my legs and get a lay of the land. I rode some trails around the Mead’s Quarry area (if you’re inclined to look at the map). It’s a pretty sweet trail system- a good variety of rocky, flowy, and well-built trails. Once I was finished, I found my way over to FullFace Kenny’s parents’ house. They were nice enough to let me stay in their basement (and, by “basement,” I mean, “lowest floor of the house that’s actually the same size as the main floor of my house, but with a lakeside porch/view on the downhill side”). They’re super sweet people, and their dog is adorable.
Saturday morning, I woke up, packed, and went downtown to get breakfast and hang around ’til start time. When check-in opened, we were given n Urban Wilderness trail map and instructions (which turned out to only show half of the checkpoints, so we received full-sized maps about 10 minutes before the race start). Map (terrier added for scale… checkpoints- red for land/blue for paddling, start, and finish- green & yellow, approximated with MSPaint):
Then, we were off! The fun thing about adventure racing is that you can gather checkpoints in almost any order you want (for this one, the river paddling section was last, because one of the paddling checkpoints was listed on the instructions as the “final” one). So, sticking with what I knew best, I decided to go to the easternmost area where I’d ridden the day before. It looked like a couple of other teams had the same idea (all of the other entries were either teams or male solo. I was the only solo female).
I quickly found the first two, but overshot the third one by at least half a mile. Once I backtracked and found it, I navigated my way to the forth, then the road, and hammered to the nearby quarry for the standup paddle board and running checkpoints. One of the two teams that had gone in my direction seemed to be a little ahead of me, and the other was generally moving at about the same speed (I may have been physically faster, but they knew the area much better, so they didn’t need to stop and study their map to figure out where to go next). Once I paddled and ran, it was off into unfamiliar territory to look for the next 3 at Fort Dickerson park and the final 2 that looked like a bluff and an overlook along the river.
Luckily, the route I took to Ft. Dickerson led me directly to an overlook where I collected the first of those checkpoints. Then, I rode up the park road to try and find the trail with the next checkpoint. It was a dead end (and the team I was back & forth with was trying to figure it out, too), but I noticed on the map where I’d gone wrong, and saw that there should be a gas line field that’d lead me straight down (steep! Woohoo!) to the other 2 points. Luckily, it’d been recently cut, and I balled down it, Enduro™ style to the quarry-lake at the bottom, where there was a guy with a clipboard and a checkpoint punch on his belt. He said that all I had to do to get the checkpoint was to jump in the water.
P.S. The water is about 30 feet below where the guy is standing. Here’s a link to a video of the area… I think where we jumped is the first “main” one that he shows at about 1:20 in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kR0k-90L5KU
I took my shoes, socks, helmet, and backpack off then hurled myself, flailing my arms & legs like a chicken, off the cliff. Once I climbed out, I re-dressed, and set out to find the final Ft. Dickerson checkpoint (slightly hidden in a bend in the trail) before going to the last, westernmost 2. I had a good lead on the guys I’d been around for most of the day (they’d overshot the trail checkpoint), but they caught up to me when I was trying to figure out how to get to the spot that looked like it was right along the river that the instructions simply called “cave.” The three of us wound up riding circles in a parking lot for an apartment complex when I noticed that there were tire tracks straight into the kudzu on the west side. I pointed it out, and we eventually found a trail that took us to a riverside cave entrance, where there was another person with a clipboard and a checkpoint punch. She said to go in the cave, find the pumpkin, and bring back a piece of candy to get the checkpoint.
The three of us went into the cave at the same time, but I realized very quickly that I needed a light. Apparently, that was added last-minute to the mandatory equipment list, but I wasn’t getting pre-race emails, so I didn’t know. Luckily, one of the guys let me use his, and I used my roadie negotiating skills- if I use your light and ride with you guys to the paddling transition area (local knowledge of roads would make it a lot faster), I’ll shimmy through the ~12″ wide, 8ft long gap in the cave walls and bring out enough candy for both of us. Boom!
Once we left the cave, there was a quick climb to the nearby overlook for the final checkpoint before we went back across the river to finish with the paddling portion of the race. We arrived to the put-in spot to find one other team already there, looking flustered. There were several canoes and PFDs by the water, but no kayaks (for solo racers) and, the bigger problem… no paddles. The 5 of us just stood around with the lady who was in charge of that area, who was also at a loss. Eventually, one of the head race guys showed up, cursing into his phone, and trying to figure out if he could get some paddles to that spot.
He couldn’t, and he ended up cancelling the paddling section and calling the race as we’d arrived at that point. We rode up to the finish line and collected our finishers awards, and I booked it back to Memphis. Disappointing? Yeah, a little. However, the rest of the race was a ton of fun. The cliff jumping and caving was really exciting, and the whole “choose your own adventure” format of collecting checkpoints is really fun. The people who put the race on are planning on doing more of them next year, and the shorter, less-competitive, less gear-requiring, less orienteering-based, “challenge” race is an excellent way to get into the fun of adventure racing without the money spent and sleep deprivation.
My only criticism for the whole thing is that running any sort of event concurrently with a 30-hour adventure race seems like waaaaay too much for the race crew to handle. They were obviously sleep-deprived (the 30-hour race had started early the previous morning) and stressed from issues that’d occurred within that race. Totally understandable, given the race format. If they had a whole extra set of volunteers/director for the extra event, it’d likely work out fine, but asking the same people who’ve been awake for >24hrs to run a separate event at the same time as the bigger one seems like biting off more than they can chew.
Hopefully it works out well for them next year- they made mention of the series expanding and even coming to Memphis, which would be a fun time. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would definitely make it an off-season habit if more of that type of low-stress event were offered in my general vicinity.