Yahoo! Team Osprey Packs wins the National Championship! Wait...maybe not.
The Adventure Racing National Championship presented by Check Point Tracker and Adventure Xstream last weekend provided a chance for some of the best domestic teams in the country to battle it out in Moab’s legendary terrain. The high LaSalle Mountains, miles of slickrock, vast canyons, and the raging (and COLD, this time of year) Colorado River filled the minds of four-person coed teams as they travelled from around the country to compete in the 20-28 hour, nonstop race. The course would remain secret throughout most of the race, with athletes learning about each element of the race upon completing the previous section.
My team consisted of Scott Swaney (Highlands Ranch, CO), Gretchen Reeves (Avon, CO), Jon Brown (Gunnison, CO), and myself. We were stoked to be using Osprey backpacks for the race, and we raced as Team Osprey Packs. The competition was strong, and we were amped to make a hard run for the National Championship.
At 8:00 a.m., we ran from the lawn of Red Cliffs Lodge, about ten miles east of Moab on the Colorado River, and jumped into the ice-cold flow. Needless to say, it was quite a wake-up call! For about 30 minutes, Jon, Gretchen, and I swam together as we navigated whitewater on river boards. Scott was conspicuously absent from our group, but we knew the former collegiate swimmer would catch us soon. As it turned out, Scott’s flippers fell off and sank as soon as he entered the water, and he was forced to swim hard with his arms the whole time!
After regrouping and catching our breath, we transitioned quickly to paddling two-person inflatable kayaks. Working hard for about four hours in the boats, we caught all teams except the always-tough YogaSlackers (check out www.yogaslackers.com; you’ll be amazed at what these guys do). We hit the transition area at Gold Bar a minute or two off the lead.
Thus began the second section of the race, which involved trekking and ropes checkpoints that could be obtained in any order. Racing hard against the Yogis, we ascended a fixed handline next to Corona Arch before navigating for hours on a large slickrock mesa high above the river valley. The terrain was awesome, and I enjoyed racing hard while navigating with a map generated by satellite imagery. The rocky terrain was absolutely incredible, and I was impressed at the grip on my Merrell shoes as I scrambled up and down sandstone pitches that would probably give me pause under most conditions.
Upon reaching a neat ropes section consisting of a tyrolean traverse and a rappel, I clarified with the race staff that our route choice, which would involve completing the ropes before running to Checkpoints 8, 6, and 5, respectively, would be allowed within the race rules. After receiving a clear answer in the affirmative, we continued to race back and forth with the YogaSlackers before completing the section just behind them, again a couple of minutes off the lead.
Our Osprey Talon 22 packs proved crucial at the next transition, where we loaded them with enough food, clothing, and water to last the entire night. Rarely has a fully-loaded pack fit and carried so well as this one did when I set off on my bike! Enthused about taking the lead in transition and embarking on a cycling section that would, hopefully, cater to our strengths, we hammered through Moab and up to the Slickrock Trailhead.
Slickrock is hallowed ground in the world of mountain biking, and we bypassed the opportunity to potentially save time by running a rogaine section there in favor of riding the entire loop at night. Cruising on my light, carbon Chiru Sonic mountain bike, with the dotted-line trail lit up by my magnificent AYUP lights, I truly enjoyed is section of the race! My teammates said the same. Most of the checkpoints were away from the trail, and the quick-release feature of my Nordenmark map board was very important in allowing me to easily and quickly change from navigating on the bike to navigating on foot.
Back at the trailhead just after midnight, we were shocked to discover that the YogaSlackers, still racing hard, had completed the section 20 minutes beforehand! They crushed that section on foot, and now we would really have to work if we wanted the National Championship!
We took off going hard up Sandflats Road, and continued to hammer as we climbed out of the desert and into the alpine environment of the LaSalles. We suffered...rarely have I raced on a team in which all members bury themselves so deep to go for a victory.
Finally, ahead in the distance, the lights of riders appeared! We gained slowly on the YogaSlackers, caught them, rode with them, and finally broke the elastic. Having taken the lead, we were inspired to hammer through a cold, miserable descent to the finish, which we reached just after 3:00 a.m.
Elated to be National Champions, we crossed the finish line and were recognized as winners by one of the race organizers. “Wow,” Scott, JB, Gretch and I said to each other, “what an awesome win!” After waiting 20 minutes to meet the YogaSlackers at the line, it was clear to me that they had worked equally hard and were very deserving of a second place finish and cash prize. Feeling fulfilled, both teams hit the hay and woke up later to eat breakfast with the other top teams, who began to finish around 5:00 a.m.
A day of relaxation and gear-mending went very well until 5:00 p.m., when Scott and I were informed by the directors of Adventure Xstream and Check Point Tracker that the two top teams (Osprey Packs and YogaSlackers) would each be penalized six hours for “skipping” Checkpoints 8, 6, and 5, which were the points reached after the ropes section early in the race. As verified by punches from each checkpoint, the points were of course not skipped, but more of “marked absent” because, according to the rule interpretation of the directors—which directly opposed what race staff told me on course—no checkpoints could be reached after completing the ropes.
The directors did not care or give weight to the facts that the rules for this section were written in an ambiguous manner that left room for multiple valid interpretations and our interpretation was cleared as lawful by race staff on the course. After sending a single letter to the race directors (copied below), I stepped back from the conversation to focus on work, family, and the upcoming birth of our son, who is due in January—a good reminder of what is REALLY important in life!
One of the race directors noted repeatedly that the decision to penalize heavily was done “for the future of the sport of adventure racing.” If distrust, protests, penalties, accusations of cheating against people of character, and bashing fellow members of the community via email and discussion forums are the future of the sport, then I’m not sure if there will be a whole lot of this sport in my future.
Thanks, as always, to my incredible sponsors. Osprey backpacks were truly incredible. I felt like I was floating on my Chiru bike (www.chirubikes.com) and Merrell shoes. AYUP lights continue to be the lightest and brightest on the course! Scott, JB, and Gretchen—you are great teammates and, more importantly, good people.
My letter to Adventure Xstream and Check Point Tracker, sent the day after the race:
Dear Race Directors,
Making challenging decisions that affect the well-being of people you have come to know and appreciate must be one of the most trying aspects of directing and organizing races. On Saturday after the race, you were under a great deal of pressure to use a small period of time to make a tough decision that could possibly impact your professional and financial well-being in the future. Needless to say, that's a tough position to be in. This in mind, I'm glad that you wisely stated, Paul, that the results given at the awards ceremony were classified as preliminary at that point (the same results are currently posted online at http://gravityplay.com/checkpointtracker/CPTresults.pdf through a link titled "Preliminary Results").
Since our last conversation, I have learned through discussions with other teams and information presented at http://gravityplay.com/checkpointtracker/CPTresults.pdf that penalties totaling two hours were awarded to teams that did not visit CP11, CP12, or participate in either ropes section. I am writing to request that our participation in the ropes sections and CP11/12 be voided, resulting in a two hour penalty and recoginition of visiting CP8, CP6, and CP5. Race staff at CP11 told us that we could return to what you have called a "separate, identifiable trekking section" after completing the ropes. You have determined that this information provided by your staff was incorrect. This in mind, voiding a ropes section and essentially assuming that we never left the trekking section makes much more sense than assuming that we did the ropes, spent a number of hours wasting time, navigated back to steep terrain above Corona Arch instead of walking down a canyon to the road, and failed to visit CPs 8, 6, and 5 anytime throughout the process. I have not discussed this request with Team 495, YogaSlackers, but I hope that their position would be treated similarly.
As you reflect on the possibilities, you may or may not want to consider the following:
• This is an isolated issue that impacts the results of a single race. Weighing heavily the possible implications for the "future of the sport" or participant numbers in an adventure racing series is grossly inappropriate.
• Knowing that clear, on-site instructions from staff hired by the race director may not be truly reliable and could potentially result in penalties would make me think carefully about the races I choose to participate in due to ethical and safety concerns. This may or may not be true for other racers. To be clear here, the race staff at the tyrolean traverse told me, without question, that traveling to CP8 and other trekking checkpoints after completing the ropes and CPs 11 and 12 would be within the rules. Knowing that our route choice was within the rules, we decided at that time to traverse and punch CP11.
• Based on conversations with other teams, my perception is that a number of people felt very awkward about moving into podium positions due to a penalty based on a race strategy that did not create an advantage. I know that receiving a "victory" or top result in that way would not feel fulfilling for me.
• Does it really make sense that a team which completes all trekking checkpoints plus two ropes checkpoints and two ropes activities should be penalized six hours when teams that failed to visit two ropes checkpoints and complete two ropes sections were penalized two hours? Should a team "win" a race when the first-place team's route in question follows the instructions of race staff and clearly does not result in any advantage, let alone a difference of two hours and 17 minutes, which is the difference in actual finishing time?
As you know, e-mail is an impersonal way to handle a sensitive issue such as this one; I have chosen this medium simply to include a number of people in the conversation. Starting a long discussion thread is not our intent, and this is the last e-mail that you will receive from our team about this issue.
As the official race director, rule-writer, and staff-organizer for this event, Will, the final decision is yours to make and communicate. Thanks in advance for your time and care in considering this decision after you have had some time to wrap things up in Moab and spend some time with your kids at home. I would very much appreciate your response in a phone call sometime after the middle of this week.
In my opinion, this is the best course yet created by the Adventure Xstream. On a personal level, I hope to be able to remember the experience fondly.
The race directors issued a final decision via e-mail, and the penalties withstand.