Cliff Jumping, Class III+ Whitewater Carnage, Sudoku, a high-speed police boat chase, a Manzanita bushwhack from hell, and a surprise finish line challenge, this years Bend AR took no prisoners and kicked a lot of butt (and butts).
It's always important for me to remind myself before a race that uncertainty is often the most challenging part of this sport. How will my body perform? How will my mind perform? How will my gear perform? These are some of my primary concerns in AR and, generally speaking, the ones I feel I have the most control over.
Seems simple then right? Train your body, train your mind, and have awesome gear, and you should have an awesome race?
Well for starters, this year Dan, Chelsey and myself (Stephen) would be Racing the Bend-AR with a new teammate, Marco from Team Columbia Vitaraid who is top ranked in the world and known to be incredibly fast on foot (not our strong suit).
Racing with new people can demand a high level of adaptation and a lot of extra communication which can be big-time time-wasters. Oh, and did I mention that the majority of Oregon (and the PNW) is currently blanketed in a thick, sooty haze of wildfire smoke? Not exactly an endurance athlete's best friend.
In fact, I recall the morning of the race on our drive to the start line when Marco, who resides in La Jolla, CA, authentically asking "Sooo, does the sky get blue here in the winter?" I chuckled and then immediately felt depressed that I hadn't seen the color blue in months.
During the pre-race briefing just minutes before the race start, Jason revealed that the prologue (first stage) would require a short sprint to retrieve a Sudoku puzzle with a hidden code in it.
"I had not prepared for this." I thought, slightly annoyed. Turns out that the secret hidden code we needed to advance to the next stage was that days date.......(eye roll).
In a matter of no time we were sprinting down the canyon past team YERT NW Sufferfest, who was the first to finish their Sudoku puzzle, and putting in above the 10+ mile section of tight and technical whitewater that would lead us to the reservoir.
Quickly our training and gear paid off.
We experimented with different paddle techniques and configurations down the canyon as we put the following teams first 10, then 20 minutes behind us. Dan and Marco took the solid lead as an opportunity to practice some boat recovery techniques and make certain their PFD's were operating properly.
After safely exiting the canyon we discovered that the seemly strait forward lake paddle was hiding a few surprises as well.
After retrieving a checkpoint punch hidden deep in a blackberry thicket underneath a several hundred foot tall water fall we closed in on the checkpoint dubbed simply "Ropes Section."
At the end of a precarious traverse, wearing all of our paddle gear and climbing harnesses, along a narrow edge protruding from the cliff band some 15 meters high we met a man in dark sunglasses who signed our race passport then simply pointed down at lake below and said "time to jump." We could see other teams paddling furiously towards us, there was no time to hesitate.
Some hours later, several checkpoints and a boat-carrying bushwhack up and over a peninsula, we had the transition area/end of the paddle in sight. Halfway across the channel we were quite literally pulled over by a Sheriff in a speed boat demanding to see our electronic devices as he claimed that someone had triggered an alarm of some kind and he thought it was us.
We argued that we had no idea what he could be talking about and that we were in the middle of a race with several teams closing in as he adamantly requested we open all of our packs and start digging around for our sealed emergency cellphone in the middle of the lake. After agreeing it wasn't us that triggered the alarm he let us continue on and agreed to hassle the teams behind us a fair amount.
In transition we started to hear horror stories from the whitewater canyon, in particular, a team had capsized and lost a paddle and finished the leg with a splintered piece of driftwood.
As we bundled up our paddle equipment and geared-up our bikes I glanced over to see Chelsey breast-feeding seven month-old Max, "I barely have time to tie my shoes properly" I thought.
Our focus never waned, and we made quick work of the next bike stage decimating Jason's estimate for course completion times.
At the next transition we received the orienteering course maps and Max received another feeding from his mama. As Chelsey fed baby Max, Dan tied her shoes for her and fed her peanut butter while Marco prepared gear for the trek.
Soon we were descending a long wide ridge line deeper and deeper into what became unaffectionately named "Manzanita Hell." Shortly after darkness fell and we began climbing up the side of a steep, loose ravine, Chelsey looked back up the ridge behind us and exclaimed that she could see a team hot on our heels.
"Put a team behind me and a baby in front of me, and I don't give anyone a chance" she said.
Daniel, Marco and I chased her all the way up the ridge and along the dirt fire roads, ascending over 1000ft at an inhuman pace. We gasped and stumbled to keep up and as the trail we were on merged with another road we caught up to a team on their way to the TA from the previous bike stage. They were climbing the steep gravel road slowly and for a brief moment we got a break from our uphill sprint as we fell in line behind them.
"Surely Chelsey won't try to pass them, they are on mountain bikes and we are on foot with packs on for god sakes!" I reasoned with myself.
I was wrong.
At her first chance she took off and passed the 4 person squad climbing the hill, their grimaces of determination turned quickly to disbelief as we bounded past into the TA for Max's final feeding of the night.
Thankful to have wheels under us again, Dan navigated us across the confusing mess that is the green ridge trail system like a champ while Marco kept us motivated and pedaling hard through the night.
As we approached the boundary of a nearby forest fire around 2 AM, I felt waves of hot ashy air billow over us. Shivering and choking on smoke and dust we made our final transition and began the 8 mile trek/sprint to the finish line.
After 19 hours of high adrenaline adventure racing, the devious masterminds at Bend Racing had one last punishing task awaiting us just a mere one half mile from the end. We were to transport two 40lb kettle bells, a large log and sand bag as a team the last half mile, drop our packs, run back with the heavy and cumbersome items to where we found them and then sprint back to the finish.
"I had not prepared for this" I thought, even more slightly annoyed.
We crossed the finish line at 4:24am with a total race time at just over 19 hours.
We held a strong lead the entire race and made quick, effective decisions and had great communication and teamwork from beginning to end and some of our fastest transitions on record not to mention while feeding a hungry baby Magness. There were many obstacles and unexpected curve balls but we remained focused and never stopped moving.
Our favorite pieces of gear included: Alpacka Raft Gnus with Shred-apart paddles, Katadyn BeFree water filter, Inov-8 debris gaiters, Ibex Wool Layering system.
Huge thanks to Jason and the whole crew at Bend Racing for creating an incredible course and to Chelsey, Daniel and Marco for being a blast to race with.
Take a look at more photos, the full results of the race, the Race Director's race report, and more at our 2017 Bend-AR page.