Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Texas Treasure Quest - an unexpected journey

It was a day full of surprises and changes of plan.  Good things, fun things, weird happenings, and a couple disappointments.  Overall a memorable experience!

We added the Texas Treasure Quest to our schedule awhile ago as a trail running adventure.  Sponsored by Trail Racing Over Texas (TROT), it has a curious format.  You get a trail map with points plotted on it.  You're allowed to get up to 5 checkpoints at a time, each worth from 1 to 5 points.  After that you return to the start/finish to have the points recorded and then you can go out and get more.  There were 50 checkpoints scattered around a ranch, the points were all on trails, the trail map itself (an aerial with trails of various colors) is very good, the trails are mostly very good (with some sandy patches here and there as the main challenge), and the volunteers and aid stations were outstanding.

So far so good!

We (Dave, Leslie, and I) signed up for the 12-hour solo division so we could each get a map and we traveled together as a team workout.  Before the race we were all smiles, especially because a) we didn't get poured on even though it was storming in various places not far away and b) it wasn't too hot yet (and the sun never came out too long, although it did warm up a lot):

Here's the aforementioned map with lots of good info:

They gave us each a nice spiral notepad, a pen, and a stamp pad for collecting our stamps.  An example page of 5 checkpoints:

We got our maps at the start and decided to try the long southern section first - might as well get a bigger loop out of the way while we were fresh and not yet hot.  Plus it was straightforward nav as opposed to the mazes of the other two areas.  We headed down the road following other racers.

One fast guy was going our direction, while a 2-person team ahead of us went a different way.  We went through a gate, noticed checkpoint F (but didn't punch it), and started down the purple trail to the right.  We saw M, went through a couple sand pits, crossed a little creek, then cut down the fenceline to remove a bit of distance on the way to K.

Here's a good time to mention the first unexpected event.  One of the rules said "no bushwhacking".  But the sample map from 2016 had some checkpoints away from the trails.  We asked the race director and he said it was fine to travel across fields and open areas and you could cut from one trail over to another.  We weren't quite sure how that was different from bushwhacking.

Until we ran around the ranch - now it's obvious that there are open fields and there are thickly vegetated woods with dense underbrush that no one in their right mind would try to push through.  Most of the vegetation boundaries are well defined.

So anyway, we found the trail again but didn't see K which was supposed to be right there.  We weren't trying to collect K just yet (next loop) so we didn't spend any time looking but made a note that this was odd.

We cut down the next section of fenceline, again bypassing a piece of trail.  This area was more open and it was easier to verify that we knew exactly where we were (there was no scale on the map besides trail mile markers).  Back on the trail, now we should see checkpoint C.  This is the first one we planned to punch.

Hmm, it should be here... oh, there's a blue marker up ahead, cool.  Except it turned out to be L.  Now we were legitimately confused.  We got our first stamp and discussed how maybe the wrong checkpoint was put in this spot?

We noticed one of the trail mile markers and thought it would be fun to get a photo with it - only 8526 miles to Sydney!

Oh look, a bonus item that's still here!

Oh right, I need to explain another twist - there were 10 bonus items scattered around the course.  If you found one you had the option to carry/wear it back for bonus points.  We had seen one empty bag near checkpoint M and figured the guy running ahead of us had taken it.  But he didn't take this one, happily (there doesn't seem to be a rule against having more than one at a time).

Or maybe he just didn't want to wear this!

My teammates immediately started helping me into the costume.  Mind you, we're running solo so only one of us gets the bonus points.  They had decided that I was the one most likely to still be running by the end of the day, so I should get the points just in case.  So nice of them!

Phew, this costume is just a tad warm... at least it fit me nicely.

Complete with horn and tail, I trotted after Dave and Leslie.  We reached a fence corner where L was supposed to be, but there was nothing there.

OK then.  We don't know.  Moving on.  We punched G near the unmanned aid station at the far southern end of the course, then came back north a short way to find I.  It was lying on the ground so Leslie set it back upright.  The location wasn't perfect vs. the map but reasonably close.

We saw another team over at the spot where L should be, so we went to chat with them.  They had found L, and also verified that C existed and that it was on the trail.  Thank you!  We all ran up to punch D, and things were looking a bit more normal.

We could get one more punch, and we wanted to find C, so we cut back to the west side of this section and ran north.  Staying on the trail this time, we ran right into C in the woods.  Ah ha!

We continued to follow the trail, now finding K in the other section we had bypassed.  Good info for the next loop, we'll punch that one later.

Happily it was still relatively cool as we ran back toward the start/finish...

I think I laughed about the silly costume the whole way back:

Some of the other bonus items - caught on camera by the race photographer:

 (photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

Someone said this thing weighs 80 pounds???  Is that possible?

 (photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

I'm pretty stoked we happened to come across a costume and not something that took a lot of work to get back to the start/finish.  Like a tire attached to a waistbelt:

(photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

Fun idea!  All the bonus items were gone early, also nice to get that out of the way before it got hot.

The friendly guy at the table noted our checkpoint letters and recorded the info on our sheets.  We asked about the confusing locations of the points - oh we know! they said.  The points are all within a quarter mile of their map plot.  A quarter mile!?  Well then!

We started out on lap #2, back to the same area.  I quickly realized that this was going to require a change of strategy.  We have a new kind of game, how can we optimize it?

And also, we could think of at least one person that might have been super peeved about this situation if he/she were here, but we're not naming names!

Back to the purple/pink trail system.  We headed for the fence corner but didn't find checkpoint O until we had covered a bit more trail to the south.  J wasn't at its designated spot either, and now I wanted to get one question answered - are the points on the purple or the pink trail system?  Purple goes counter-clockwise, pink goes clockwise, and they diverge and come back together several times.  Purple was drawn in a solid bold line, while pink was in light arrows, so I suspected we should count only on the purple trails.  Let's find out.

We split up at the next intersection, looking for J (it was OK to split up since we were technically running as solo teams).  Leslie and I found the checkpoint on the purple trail, and we spent a couple minutes whistling for Dave to call him over there.  Our plan when we split up was not ideal, let's just say that.

Our follow-up plan was to not split up again, another problem solved.  Plus now I was pretty confident that we needed to be looking on the bold/solid trails for the rest of the checkpoints.

I got this!  Follow me, y'all.

We continued running on the purple trail, slightly sidetracked at an intersection when I forgot we needed to turn left one more time before turning right (my brain was probably busy adjusting to the new navigational reality) but my teammates got us back on track.  Eventually we found checkpoint N, also a bit past where it was plotted but I was ready for that by now.

We spelled "JON" in our notepads and I briefly wondered if maybe we could go get the H now to spell JOHN, and maybe we should play around with making words today?  Maybe not, this is already convoluted enough!

The rest of the loop was easy - we went through an open cut to the field and ran back on the west side trail to K and M which we had seen previously.  Back to the start/finish, loop 2 done.

OK, what's next?  Let's tackle the top of the map for another set of faraway points.  Straight up the orange trail, making notes of the locations of 9 and 14, plus #8 on the other side of the tall fence, plus the other aid station along the way.  We ran on orange to pick up 10, 17, 11, and 7.  These happened to be placed a bit earlier than plotted, which we decided was nicer versus hoping we hadn't missed them if we had been going the other way.

#15 was way early, saving us a nice chunk of distance.  Ah yes, the luck factor, there was certainly going to be some of that today.

Coming back to the start/finish, we decided to run another section of the orange trail to get a read on other point locations.  Ah ha, there's the "=" checkpoint, good to know.  Dave started marking updated locations on his map.

"?" and "+", yep, yep (locations noted but points not stamped).  Back to the start/finish to "clear" our 5 points and head out again.

I wanted #13 next, so we went down the road to the east and cut across a field to the far eastern end of the orange trail.  Oh look, there's #16 right where it should be, excellent.  #18, 19, and then #13 on the other side of another field (earlier than plotted).  Another lucky choice of route.

We cut across on a blue trail to reach the inner orange loop.  Oh, there's "%" point when we were actually aiming for #20.  Hmm, well let's punch it because we're here.  We left #20 for a later loop and zigzagged back to the start/finish.

The challenge was deciding where to start each section of trail to maximize the odds of finding the first point.  Then knowing approximately where we'd finish that section of trail and how we would get back from there.  Someone called it a needle in a haystack, but I was like, no, no, I've looked for an actual needle in an actual haystack before and this is way easier than that.  And more enjoyable.  And we're actually finding these.

Running back in from one of our loops:

(photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

Now's a good time to mention how THANKFUL we were about the aid station here.  The volunteers were amazing, super helpful and friendly.  And there was ICE, lots of ice.  We started filling bottles with ice after every loop and that helped so much in keeping our body temperatures down as the day heated up.

Back for more ice:

 (photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

Let's see, where to next?  Right - I wanted to get #20.  We started loop 5 with a couple checkpoints we had seen already, collecting #9 and then #8 on the other side of the fence.  We followed the orange trail to #5 and #6, then went up the fenceline cut to another section of orange trail until we found #20.  Glad that one was pretty close to where we expected it.

We came back on the fenceline cut, and also suggested to another team that this was the way to go, but eventually decided that might not have been the best way back.  A fence kept us from cutting over to the road, and by the time we realized this it wasn't all that exciting to think about backtracking.  Ah well, at least we found checkpoint B on the way back.  Through the sand, yes the lovely sand.

Have I not mentioned the sand yet?  So much else going on!  The amount of sand wasn't ridiculous or anything, just challenging here and there.  Little sand pits.  Slowing us down, getting sand in the shoes.  Parts of the trails were great, fun and runnable.  The sand pits, not so much, but again, not awful just occasionally slow.

Hey, we're half done!  We had completed 5 loops, we were told there were 50 checkpoints, so only another 5 loops to go.  I counted 49 points on the map and they said they didn't know where #12 was, maybe in the trunk of someone's car.  OK, we won't bother looking for #12 then.  I started marking off checkpoints we had visited with a Sharpie so we could keep track.

The leaderboard getting updated in real time:

(photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

Our excellent checkpoint-counting guy, always meticulous and patient even though he had to deal with three of us at a time, thank you sir!

 (photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

We were slowing down due to the heat but we had plenty of time to clear the course in 12 hours so we took care of ourselves.  Next was a short loop, clearing points close to the road, through more sand to B, E, F (from the first loop), A, and H.  More ice please!

Let's finish up the orange maze, with #14, a quick pop-over to find P because it was close by, and =, ?, and + which we had seen earlier.  We started talking about how nice it will be to (hopefully) finish earlier than expected, so our long day of driving, racing, and driving wouldn't be quite as long.

OK, one more big section, the red loop.  A slight conundrum - there were 6 points in the upper part (we already had P), so we had to leave one for the next loop.  We decided to start with R, after a quick stop for more ice at the remote aid station (awesome!).  The trail wound through a creek bed, then through a field with some spooked cows, then over to another field where the same cows were like, "you again??" to find checkpoint #2.

We decided to take a chance and cut out a section of the red trail, possibly missing T in the process but saving some distance for now.  Either we'd come back on the next loop for T, or we would leave Y for next time.  Happily, the points on the red loop were placed way closer to how they were mapped, so the shortcut worked and we found T right there.  Sweet!

We finished up with #3, did a slight detour to verify the location of Y, and headed back across a big horse field to the start/finish.  That worked out well.

The afternoon was heating up so we took a bit of a sit break.  We were glad that the sun was never out very long, it could have been a lot more brutal out there.  Dave checked his phone to verify that his Strava track was still running and noticed that he had an email from Primal Quest.  Should I open it, he asked?

Primal Quest is the expedition race we're training for in September in British Columbia.  There was supposed to be a newsletter published today, so we said sure, let's hear it.

Oh crap - bad news - PQ has been postponed until 2018.  What??  Let's just say it might not be the best idea to be reading emails in the middle of a race.

Trying to keep our heads in the game while discussing the ramifications of the email... we had 2 more loops, so we headed out again in search of #2 and then S.  We took direct lines to them and we were rewarded (glad the red trail points were about in the right places).  From there we went backwards to the star and U, finishing up with Y.

Some of our stamping got a bit zealous as we took out our "PQ cancellation" aggression on the notepads.

One more loop, thank goodness, we all were done trying to eat anything (no need to mix up another Spiz), and we were looking forward to a shower to wash off all the grass seeds and sand.  We went south out of the start/finish, punching Q, 4, and W.

Coming back around along the field we saw another blue sign.  What is that?  Surely not X?  Nope, it was the elusive #12!  Really, on our last loop we found the one that wasn't plotted on the map.  It hardly fazed us, sure why not!

X was right in the spot where it was marked, one more little jog across a field and we were done.  It took us right around 8 hours to clear the course.

Here are the finisher buttons, very nice:

 (photo courtesy of Trail Racing Over Texas)

We asked about the bonus points that other people had collected.  We knew from the start that if someone else cleared the course behind us but collected more bonus points, we would get beaten.  So that had tempered our competitive expectations from the beginning and we figured we'd just focus on ourselves.  But we were curious.

Oh, they said, once you clear the course you can start over and go back out again!  You've got more hours left.

Wait, what??  I didn't even hesitate, didn't ask my teammates, just immediately said "nope" with an emphatic head shake.  Nope, nope, not doing that.  I'm done.

See, the rules state that you can get each checkpoint only once.  That was clear.  Nowhere was it written that you could clear the course and start over.

We would have done many, many things differently had we known this!  From our nutritional plan, to not using a Sharpie on my map, to being more careful to note the actual location of every checkpoint, to not looking forward to a shower right about now nor thinking about getting home before dark.  Physically we were super hot, hungry and dehydrated.  Mentally we were done.  Psychologically we weren't sure why we would want to see the trails all over again.  If it were important we could have sucked it up and figured out how to recover from this blow.  Instead we called it "good training!" and decided to drive home and commiserate about Primal Quest.

By the way, the race director had briefly mentioned this concept about restarting the course during the Friday pre-race briefing (which was never mentioned as mandatory).  It was live streamed on Facebook (but they didn't tell us they were doing that or I would have watched it).  Not a huge fan of burying something that big/important.  So if you're thinking of doing this race, and you've read all the way through this report, congratulations!  Here it is in writing, maybe it will come in handy.

Thank you all!  We're outta here!

Yay, all cleaned up and ready for pizza!

Post a Comment