The Checkpoint Zero / Inov-8 adventure racing team recently took the top spot in the Odyssey Adventure Racing's Wild Wonderful.
Last year's edition of the Wild Wonderful was a tough battle against Berlin Bike and EMS, but in the end we had come out on top. Subseqently, heading into the race this year the team had high hopes for another good finish.
Unique to this race, is the guided white water rafting segment which features two four person teams paired up in the same raft working together to get down the river as fast as possible. This was the third time that we have done this paddle leg in three different races, and for whatever reason, we always seem to get a slow boat, this time was no exception. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, knowing we'd have plenty of time to catch up later on.
After the paddle, we had a quick run up and out of the New River Gorge to our bikes. No Odyssey race would be complete without lots of elevation, and once on bike we were sent via old coal mine trails back down into the gorge. If one took the time to sight see along the white knuckle ride you got beautiful views of the lush greenery and sheer rock walls that make this area of the country so beautiful.
Dismounting the bikes, we set out on for for the meat of this course. A long foot rogain section. Before the race, we had asked the race director if the course was clearable, and the response was "one or two teams" might clear it. We figured we had a good shot at it and plotted out a route that would take us to all the points. We were taking a bit of a risk in that if we ran into time constraints, we didn't really have a good exit strategy.
As we started knocking off the points one by one, it seems as though we might beat our own expectations and get it done early. As we have come to learn, that's rarely the case. As darkness fell, we started to have problems finding some of the points. After giving up on one, we bumped into Berlin Bike and swapped tales of our adventures. We decided to give it one more combined effort, in the hopes that eight pairs of eyes would make the job easier. Fortunately, that's all it took and I marched right to the point. We had similar luck on one of the last points. We had given up and were on our way out of the woods when we came across the flag. I was fairly sure it wasn't where it was plotted on the map, but at that point I wasn't going to argue beacuse we needed to get out of there.
Getting close to our self imposed time limit, we started to descend off the plateau back to the river to get on our bikes. What should have been a short hike down, turned into an hour plus long slog down a creek. Just before we hit the road we happened upon a two man team that was looking rather defeated. When they saw us, they commented on how fast we were moving. I told them we weren't going to miss any cutoff and they were welcome to follow us out. I think the prospect of running down this creek was a little too much and they resigned themselves to missing the cutoff.
As we finally made it back to the transition area, we quickly jumped on our bikes and started the long road ride back to the finish. It's a tough thing to be under the gun for a time limit, but be at the darkest, hardest time of the race. I always have a hard time staying awake around 3 AM and from the wavering lines being ridden by my teammates, I knew they were sleepy as well. Digging into my pack I pulled out the caffeine and we all took the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee in a couple seconds and waited for it to kick in.
As the chemical rush started, we started passing teams and shouting encouragement as we went along. I envisioned a large Tour de France style peloton cruising to the finish, but many of our competitors didn't have the enthusiasm we did. As day broke, we came screaming into the last transition area 20 minutes before the time limit. Knowing we were safe was a huge boost, as we knew it was a short run to the finish line.
Although we were fairly confident that we were the only team to collect all the points on the course, you really aren't sure until you cross the finish line. When we did, we were pleased to learn that we were the only team to get them all, which meant a first place finish.
Relieved and exhausted, we spent the rest of the morning gorging ourselves on the wonderful feast put out for us by the race, and spent some well deserved time napping in the cool shade of some local trees before getting in the car and driving home.