Sunday, September 26, 2010

Desert Winds "group trek" - summary

Even the title of this blog post deserves more explanation, but I have time only for a summary post for now. Next week while John is taking his solar class I plan to write a full report. So that should take you hours to read or seconds to skip over. For now, here's the overview:

John, Kip, Dave, and I participated in the Desert Winds 3-to-5 day event last week in the Mojave Desert, south of Las Vegas. It started Sunday morning with a prologue that got cut short by the National Park rangers. At least they weren't around Sunday night to watch us walk out of the hotel and across the street into the desert for the first trekking leg.

It was a long leg - 94 km with multiple canyons to negotiate. The canyons defined the race: rappels, down- and up-climbs, problem solving, walking through hot springs, and dealing with a couple small waterfalls. Plus pack rafting to move from the bottom of one canyon to another. We enjoyed the heck out of the first "Adventure" section of the trek.

Then the sun came up and we started the "Survival" portion of the trek. This turned epic as we miscalculated how much water to bring and how long until the next water resupply. Dave started having heat problems in the late afternoon so we stopped a couple of times to rest in the shade. Darkness brought cool temps finally, but didn't solve our water problem.

Finally we were close enough to the river that we decided John should run ahead and bring water back. That worked, and we drank and slept in the middle of the canyon floor. One more pack raft section got us across to the Arizona side of the lake. Dave gamely continued on instead of getting into the rescue boat at CP3.

Tuesday involved a long trek up a canyon and across the desert. With plenty of water this time, and more resting in the shade at CP4, we made it to the end of the trek after about 45 hours. Wow, that was quite the experience! We were rewarded with sodas and a meal at Rosie's Cafe in Boulder Inn, plus a ride (!) up to the transition area.

It turned out that only 4 teams out of 11 completed the first trek (the rest were transported from the river up to the TA). The top 2 teams, DART-NUUN and Bones, were running fast and competing hard against each other. They were in a class of their own. Team Verve started as a 3-person team and then lost a member to health problems before the last climb up from the river. So we were currently in 3rd place. All we had to do was get to the finish line as an intact team to keep that placing.

The race was unique in that there were only 12 mandatory points - the 12 manned CP's. There were 55 optional points, all of which we initially intended to hit. After the first trek, our strategy completely changed to aim for the goal of finishing 3rd. With Dave's heat concerns, Kip's bad blisters, my small blisters and a possible broken toe, and I guess John was sleepy sometimes, we decided not to concern ourselves much with the optional points unless they were on the way to the mandatory ones. Also, we needed to take care of ourselves, not race hard, and take breaks when needed.

We biked out of the TA starting at midnight. The bike section was fun, nice downhill at night, interesting section on a dry lake bed, then a huge headwind going south (so at least it wasn't as hot for us during the day on Wednesday). We tried a detour to avoid climbing over a mountain, and the details of that adventure will have to wait for the full race report. We had another meal in the town of Chloride, slept in the town park, and finished the bike section just as the sun was going down (130 km total on bike).

After putting our bikes away in our awesome new "Ta Da!" bike boxes that John had built, we started on the second trek. We would have liked to try the canyon in this section, but we were very concerned about Kip's blisters so we aimed instead for the park road. It was still a long walk, 35+ km, and the road made all of our feet sore. And it lasted forever. But at least it was dark, relatively quick, and the second half was easy nav.

We made it to the start of the final section, a 35-mile paddle on Lake Mohave, at dawn on Thursday. We had one canoe for the 4 of us, which put us rather low in the water but did allow one person at a time to take a break and we'd still keep moving with some kind of speed. There were several optional points up side canyons along the way that we considered trying, but we ended up just staying in the boat.

It was a beautiful day, the lake was gorgeous, and we made decent time. We could also keep water on our heads so we weren't as hot. Sadly, there was no south wind on the lake for the first time in days, so we didn't have a tail wind. We really wanted to try our kite but didn't get a chance to. Oh well, at least we were paddling well.

We finished at about 4:30 pm on Thursday - yay! We were actually the first team on shore because the two lead teams were upstream getting the final 2 optional points. Amazingly, 10 minutes after we arrived, they showed up SPRINTING toward the finish line, both boats pulling as hard as they could, neck-and-neck up to the end. It was absolutely incredible to watch, and we were so glad we could be there to see it.

DART-NUUN and Bones ended up tied for first, awesome job. We were the only other full team that finished all 12 mandatory CP's, so we got 3rd. All the other teams made it to the finish line, everyone doing a different version of the course in some way or another. We loved how everyone could customize it, try different things, get help to move ahead to the next section, and still be ranked as a finishing team. Every team, every racer mattered, and the race staff and volunteers really took care of us - besides sending us out in the middle of nowhere to fend for ourselves in between :)

An amazing event, very special, we're glad we were there to experience it. More later!
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