Our first TA! We hustled through this one, still in "go go go" race mode. As a consequence, we didn't quite remember everything we needed for the next leg. Nothing catastrophic, but at least we gave ourselves more time in later TA's and I could start taking care of my feet. For now, my feet were pruney from being wet all day, but we had done hardly any trekking so they felt fine.
I was experimenting with a "TA list" in my gearbox, similar to what I use in ultra drop bags, and it was helping immensely. Not that I was fast through TA (far from it! I was always the last to be ready and I need to figure out how to get faster) but at least I left with peace of mind. Especially later when we were tired.
Downing an Ensure, ready to jump on my bike:
Glad to be rid of the PFD and paddles (for now):
See ya later, John!
One nice downhill on pavement later, and it was time to start the first real uphill portion of the race. Or at least, "up and down" hill portion. We started with a pavement ride up to a trailhead, started down the trail, and looked around for CP7.
This turned out to be more difficult than expected. The clue said "Trail" so we expected to see the checkpoint flag actually on the trail, but after we rode the right distance and didn't find anything (except another team crashing around in the woods), we stopped to reassess. We took our turn wandering through the trees until a truck showed up in the parking lot to let us know that the checkpoint was missing. Well, that would explain it then. We later got credit for the time we had spend searching for it.
So, time to start this singletrack thing. It was immediately clear that this was not a well-traveled "bike trail", although by the end of the race I suppose it became just that. Our first "conservation project" = make a bike trail. Parts of the trail were rideable and interesting, and overall it wasn't super tedious or anything. Mostly it just went steeply up and then steeply down, over and over. Which would be fine, except at the bottom of almost every downhill there was a big mud puddle that usually contained rocks and roots which made it difficult to ride through (generally impossible for me). No momentum for the next uphill. Basically an afternoon of work.
Let's get to it then...
We rode/trekked for about a kilometer before coming upon CP7 - ? Someone kinda messed something up there. We punched it and continued on. There was a brief, fast ride on a beautiful trail through a campground where we learned that there were trail markers to help us at intersections. Sadly, the "beautiful" didn't last and we were back to a long uphill slog/downhill slop.
Several kilometers further we found a bridge and CP8 off to the side. Team DART-nuun was there working on a bike. It looked like a broken frame, I have no idea how they fixed it, but later on they came riding by us like we were standing still (actually we probably were). Amazing.
I had made a note of the trail mileage at the start of the 23-kilometer trail and I was tracking it on my odometer, mostly to have a mental idea of how long this might take. Occasionally we saw another sign with updated mileage numbers, I double-checked vs. the odometer, yep, still a long way to go. The end goal on the sign was "Grand Falls", which is where we would be doing the ropes course. They had promised nighttime ropes, now we could see why (otherwise, a 23-kilometer ride might have us there by dinnertime, since leg 1 had gone by so quickly).
It got warm, happily we were in the shade of trees most of the time, but the steep uphills took a toll on Val eventually. He shared some of my Spiz and we took breaks to help him recover. Team Texas and a few other racers rode or hiked by, then eventually we were mostly alone. That made it easier for me to ride, as I get self-conscious with competitors right on my tail (I suppose I should work on that).
It occurred to me that the first section was a trek where we mostly paddled. Now we were doing a bike leg that we were half walking. Not sure what to expect from leg 3!
A couple kilometers toward the end, the terrain got flatter and faster, and things were looking up. I started calculating minutes per kilometer and figured we had 50 minutes left. Then the next kilometer was a bit slower, still 50 minutes left. Then we took a break and the next kilometer was slower still. Another 50 minutes to go. That was getting silly so I stopped doing pointless math in my head. At least we should be within 3 kilometers of the end finally!
That was about when we hit an intersection and had to start paying attention to the trail signs again. By now we figured out that we were following the "Maine Huts and Trails" signs, so we thought we knew what we were doing. Then we popped out on a gorgeous, smooth, fast trail that was heading the right direction. Even when I saw another "Trail" sign a little ways down to the left (pointing back into the crappy vegetation), we didn't want to believe it. Maybe this nice road will take us to the right place too.
We refilled water bottles in a creek and took off, using gears we had not seen in hours. Then a bunch of racers rode toward us, many of the ones who had passed us earlier including Team Texas. Hmm, that could be useful information. We stopped and decided not to waste any time repeating the foray into who-knows-where (the trail was turning north anyway, not what we wanted). So we backtracked to the "trail" sign, sighed, and lugged our bikes back into the woods.
The teams ahead stopped for more map checking, while we were sure about the trail sign so we jumped ahead. This worked until we came to a 4-way intersection. Two of the ways (ahead and to the right) looked really overgrown. The only real trail was downhill to the left, toward the river. We had been tracking above the Dead River all afternoon, listening to the rapids and wondering what that would be like at the end of the race.
No time to think about that now, though, we decided to head downhill even though there were no trail signs anywhere. The lack of signage was most confusing. We rode next to the river briefly until we came upon a big sign - sweet! Except that was confusing too.
It was at a Y-intersection, with the sign pointing uphill to the Grand Falls Hut in 0.5 miles. No indication of what was to the left except that it continued next to the river. The ropes site was at the river, but we were supposed to start with a traverse so we wondered if we needed to come out higher than river level (or risk getting cliffed out).
We rode tentatively forward, as the other teams also tried to decide what to do. Finally Dima and Druce decided we needed to go back to the sign and ride up to the hut. I wasn't sure about this (we were trying to find the actual falls, not a hut that happened to be in the general vicinity of the falls), but figured maybe once we got to the hut there would be more information to help us. Back we went, past a few teams. By now we had our night lights on as it was getting dark.
We rode uphill, not sure what to expect at the top. The hut turned out to be a huge building. A huge, dark, quiet building. Hmm. Look, there's a sign - and it's pointing to "Grand Falls" - sweet!
Happily, we took off, speeding down the road. Past a parking lot. In a higher gear, finally making good time. The map starting matching up to the roads in the area, and we stopped at several intersections in quick succession to figure it out whenever we didn't find a sign for Grand Falls to help us. Then we were riding downhill, hey there's our car!! Must be getting close.
Another trail, then a nice bridge over a side creek, then another intersection with no sign. We checked out a day-use area, nothing there. We managed to catch sight of a trail sign aiming toward Grand Falls and lugged our bikes a short ways toward the lights and sound of the ropes site. Finally!
A few (many) stone steps later and we could leave the bikes and hike over to the beach. One team out of the big group had made it ahead of us, and the rest arrived a few minutes later. We got our name on the list and were told we would have to wait a couple hours (off the clock). Time to find a sand patch to call our own so we could get a little nap.
Also time for a photo interlude - John got these pictures when he arrived earlier.
Grand Falls and the Dead River:
Looking over the falls at the rappel site (on the left), the ascending cliff (on the right) and the traverse over the river (in between):
One of the first teams on the rappel:
Team Sole (by the tree) and other racers that arrived in daylight:
We slept some (I kept waking up when people shone bright lights in our eyes and talked loudly) and then it was our turn.
Gearing up, ready for the rappel:
The rappel was straightforward, then we had to cross the river. There was a mostly-limp Duckie tied onto a rope, so Dima and I pulled ourselves across the river in it. We were sitting waist-deep in water by the time we got to the other side, at least it was a warm night and getting wet didn't bother us at all. Although I was glad I had put my tights and jacket on.
The ascent was up the face of a cliff, not difficult either. Another team was working on the rope next to us, and the racer at the bottom happened to see a stone break loose up above. When he called "Rock!", all of our training was immediately obvious when my reaction was to look ahead instead of up. Then the dang rock bounced off my helmet! As much as the ropes folks knew they were working with some racers who were new to ropes, this lesson is one they should have been preaching at that location.
Anyway, Druce and Val made it up the rope quickly, then it was my turn. The first bit was slow until I got over a lip and got my feet braced on the smooth face. Then I could make bigger steps. We had to tie a figure-eight on a bight below us as a safety precaution (and then hook it to our harness), so after that we had to pull the rope through the ascenders manually. I picked this up pretty quickly, while the guy next to me struggled a little, so I felt pretty good about beating him to the top.
The traverse back to the other side was over the dark, loud river. We had the option of running to jump off the edge (not even!) or lowered ourselves over the side to start. Yeah, John would have loved that one.
The line was mostly a downhill slope that went quickly, then a bit of work at the end. My teammates tossed me a line when I got about here so they could help reel me in - thanks guys!
And that was it, ropes were done!
Gear off, passport punched, back to the bikes, let's roll. We spent a couple minutes at intersections again, then found our way back to the river, over a bridge above the falls, and onto the trail again. At least it was a lot flatter up in this section. We still had a few miles to go, but it was more through fields and flat woods.
The fields weren't super easy to ride (where did these roots and branches come from? why are there big drops at the ends of the bridges?) but there were good sections in between. Val rode in front and called out roots and holes and things to avoid. We heard thunder and eventually it rained on us for a while. We were happy to be off the ropes by then!
The Soggy Bottom Boys passed us, then we were alone again. Finally the trail was over. Druce and Dima did some good nav to get us down a dirt road to a paved road, and then we were flying along, heading south. They located the proper turn-off (sighting a race U-Haul truck never hurts) and we glided into the next TA just as it was getting light out. Mmmm, time to walk to pancakes!