The Toughest Race in the Northwest
The toughest race in the NorthWest, the Bend-AR had teams traversing non-stop over 100 miles across a varied high desert landscape.
In a twist, this endurance race started with a more mental challenge. At 8:45 AM, one teammate ran a 100 meter sprint to collect a sudoku puzzle. As soon as the team successfully completed the puzzle they were off. Locals of YERT/NW Sufferfest proved smartest, and were rewarded with a 10 min head start over the two teams that were unable to turn on their analytical brains enough.
Carrying their packrafts, teams negotiated a steep narrow descent into the Crooked River Canyon. Team BendRacing/YogaSlackers showed their experience in the discipline, inflating their boats and getting on the water first.
The next 9 miles of whitewater saw many capsizes usually followed by speedy recoveries. Most swims were inconsequential, with a notable exception of Team Nomads who lost a paddle on the second rapid. With 6 miles of technical whitewater still ahead, it was doubtful wether they could continue, but in true expedition style, team captain Mark Sky negotiated the remainder of the canyon using a short flat piece of driftwood. They weren't fast, but they were able to finish the stage. Staff safety boater followed them through and said it was "amazing to see them bounce back from such a early and seemingly catastrophic setback".
After surviving the canyon, the teams negotiated a series of points on the majestic Billy Chinook reservoir, where they were forced to crawl into a low water cave, climb under a 150' tall waterfall, and traverse ropes along a narrow ledge system before daring a 22' cliff jump back into the lake.
It was no surprise Team BendRacing (BR), Quest AR, and Team Castelli were first to the TA. Not only are these teams very experienced paddlers, they were also using Alpacka Gnus (double canoe style packrafts). These boats can be more difficult in the whitewater, but their speed on flat water gave them an edge.
Despite using 4 single boats, YERT/NW Sufferfest stayed very close by connecting their boats together once they reached the lake. Captain Ben Brewer's plan was brilliant and well executed and had our media team baffled when we first saw them on the water.
"They were moving nearly as fast as the top three teams, and from far away as we approached we couldn't figure out what was going on. It looked like they had changed out singles for doubles!"
The second leg saw teams on a long and straightforward bike ride with a lot of elevation gain and loss over 40 miles. This stage certainly favored strong biking teams. The top 3 teams all transitioned quickly and started up the first of many climbs. The incredibly scenic and fast route started on pavement, into fire road, and eventually into a short optional hike-a-bike that most teams took to save distance and nab an extra CP.
The field started to divide here, with the top teams setting a brutal pace and some of the others struggling with the unrelenting ascent and descent. But all teams were treated to stunning views from the numerous vistas.
The stage's final checkpoint was a a tiny forest spring. Most took advantage to fill water from this natural source, knowing that the next few legs would be dry. Team Stoopid, Team Krank, Rogue X, Team Manny's all had solid rides that put them all fighting for the final spot in the top 5.
Navigation was put to the test during this remote O-course. With very few trails, lots of manzanita, and lots of route options, this stage would do more to determine final standings than any other stage. Choosing a route that minimized uphill travel through the manzanita (because it is much easier to bash down-- not up-- through it) proved essential to moving fast and clearing the entire section.
Teams were only required to get 3 of the 8 points to still be officially ranked, and this temptation got the best of many teams in the middle of the night when they found themselves trapped in brambles.
Team BR, Quest, and Castelli all got a jump on the section during daylight and once again proved why they are some of the best in the world. BR and Quest both finished the section in 3 hours. Castelli's choice of a different route proved catastrophic for them, taking over 5 hours, and setting up a fight for 3rd with YERT.
YERT, Stoopid and Mannys' experienced navigators succeeded in clearing the course completely at night, while all of the remaining teams succumbed to some combination of terrain, navigation, fatigue, and sleep deprivation and opted to get fewer points. Team Nomad, returned after only 3 points, remarking that they'd "barely escaped after spending an hour trapped in a manzanita prison."
The remote TA 2/3 was also a bit of a party zone that with comforts that were hard for tired teams to leave. With two "Solar generators" providing light, high energy music, ramen, coffee (vanilla lattes and mochas) - Stoopid spent nearly 2 hours here, allowing Manny's to pass them in the TA.
Biking back towards civilization along the Green Ridge Trail (aka "the forgotten trail") continued the navigational challenge, as navigators had to rely on sharp eyed teammates to find the trail that seemed to disappear again and again. But the route was generally downhill. Team BR got turned around briefly on some of the "false trails" and Quest narrowed the 30 minute gap between them to only 15 minutes.
Toward the middle of the pack, both Hunter Gatherers and Nightcrawlers made amazing progress. Their steady pace and attention to detail saw both teams avoiding most of the confusion that plagued others.
Castelli had some difficulties toward the end of the stage, allowing YERT NW Sufferfest to finally catch sight of them. They finished the stage just 1 minute apart, both blasting through the final transition area in minutes.
A few of the teams were happy to have loved ones greet them at Transition Area 4 after a long, confusing night and before the final leg. Seeing family members perked up the tired racers,
The final stage was a relatively straight forward 8 mile trek/run through trail and sparse pine forest-- with a surprise right at the end, of course! Unknown to teams, the final mile of course was a special challenge inspired by the "survival run" type races that have gained popularity around the world. The teams would have to complete a "heavy carry" (2 kettlebells, one log round, one sandbag) from the final CP to the finish. At the finish line they would be offered one bonus point if they carried the objects back to the final CP, and then ran back to the finish for good!
Team BR had maintained a lead since the start of the race and were not about to give it up now. Fighting sleep deprivation, they kept their pace up, navigated precisely, and completed the heavy carry to finish the course with the time of 19 hours and 24 minutes. Quest finished nearly 50 minutes later, slowing a bit as they realized that there was no one chasing them closely, and they were not close enough to catch BR.
Castelli and YERT yo-yoed back and forth as they literally sprinted the last stage, with both teams besting BR's stage time by an impressive 25 minutes! They came into the heavy carry together, and in the end YERT sprinted 4 seconds ahead of Castelli, claiming their first ever Bend-AR podium spot.
The race was equally exciting for the spot rounding out the top 5, with a battle between Mannys and Stoopid, both who had cleared the course thus far. In the end it went to Manny's. Veteran racer and elite navigator Robin Smith usually does not run (due to knee injuries), but our race staff confirms that he was certainly sprinting on the last half mile.
Team Krank set the record for the heavy carry at 11 minutes, with both Quest and YERT in 13 minutes. And Team Rogue X may have set the record for best finish line celebration.
All of us at Bend Racing would like to thank every racer who came out and gave it their all, you guys rock!
We like to extend another giant "thank you" to our staff/volunteers. We could not make these races happen without your dedication. We like to think you also have some fun along the way (see media master Chip
below)! If you are interested in volunteering for future races, please email email@example.com.
And, of course, our sponsors are our backbone. Thank you to Leki, NiteIze, Humm Kombucha, Recharge Sport, Rebound Physical Therapy, Sunday Afternoon Hats, Organic Valley, Mighty Organic, Pasokin, Stellar Kayaks, Joshua Tree Skincare, Ibex Wool, Inov-8, and 2xu for your continued support.
Get some rest, and we'll see you next time, racers!