Saturday, October 7, 2000, 7PM – The temperature is hovering around 40 degrees. The race starts with a surprise run up a mountain (maybe 1000′ elevation change) to get our passports and a run back down to the bikes.  

Ready for the REAL race to begin, we took our bikes (notice I didn’t say RIDE) up a dirt road rising about 2000′. Follow that trek with another 1200′ “goat path” with numerous winding switchbacks, all while the temperature continues to drop lower and lower. At the top, we were met with a choice… go right or left. About 10 teams were at that same point trying to figure out what to do. The compass told us to go right and we tried it out. That led us about 100 years to a field, with another 15 or so teams milling around trying to figure out where to go next. We were supposed to find a trail on the other side of the field and follow it. No trail. So we went back to the decision point. It’s getting colder as the temp has fallen to about 30 degrees. Teams who turned left came back and said that the trail just lead you downhill, and not in the direction we wanted to go (although downhill sounded pretty good after a long uphill push)! After more deliberation and map reading, we choose to go right, cross the field, and begin the bushwhack to try to meet up with our intended trail.

A 2000′ drop through dense forest, with a bicycle, wearing a heavy pack, crossing streams, losing gear along the way, followed by a 2000′ uphill push to meet the trail. Our map reading was perfect at this point! We were exactly where we expected to be, but it was already 5 hours into the event and we were wrecked from the bikewhacking. We emerge from the brush missing 1 trekking pole each and Randy has lost his glasses…a deposit to the Gear Gods. Continue along a fire road for 6-8 miles with much of this trail heading downhill. It was a great ride in the dark, just watch for the big potholes and be careful of the 1000′ drop-off to your right. At 2:27 AM we arrive at CP1. We do a quick battery change, say hi to the team that is standing, shivering, by the fire, they’ve already decided to bail from the race.

We head out to CP2 by following several more miles of extremely rocky, terrain that was supposed to be a horse trail. Goat path is more accurate. A few miles of winding switchbacks mixed with the occasional downhill, although quite rocky and hard to gain any speed any downhill is better than uphill. We welcome the first snowfall of the season at about 3:45 AM. We met the Blue Ridge Parkway at about 4:45 AM and laid down on the shoulder for a few minutes rest and some food. Ten minutes
later, feeling ready we head on the road. It’s still cold out. Really cold! The next five miles are almost all downhill on wide dirt roads, again with a few switchbacks to slow you down a bit. The wind is biting as we’re hitting 35 MPH, but it feels great. A few miles of rolling roads follows the downhill to CP2. We’re so exhausted from the overnight uphill push that even the smallest uphill is a struggle. We arrive at CP2 just before 7 AM. The sun has just come up and we meet the volunteers and a solo racer
who dropped out a couple of hours earlier. We pull out the map and figure out the next steps. By our calculation, the ride to CP3 will take approximately 4 hours and the hike from CP3 to CP5 will take
another 4 hours putting us at the boats at 3 PM. The cutoff time at the boats is 12 noon. Our choices are to continue the race to the next checkpoints and get swept at CP5, or to go unofficial and move to CP5 and finish the race from there. We choose option 2. We miss out on more biking and hiking but get the chance to get on the river, ride the zip line, do some bushwhacking, and finish out on the bike. A bit disappointing to go unofficial only 12 hours in to the race, but we we’re going to quit.

The race officials drop us 2 miles from the boats and we hike in. We arrive, load up, and head out for a 15 mile paddle. We find much flat water mixed with the occasional rapid and find ourselves enjoying the
river, until Balcony Falls. Friday before the race, we took a whitewater certification course and ran Balcony Falls three times to perfect our technique. Well, race day comes and we find ourselves again heading for Balcony. We read the river, find the same line, head for it…and dump the boat in the process. The water is a bit shocking as we hit but it’s warmer than the air temperature and feels pretty good
after a few seconds. We haul the boat to shore and empty out. We were pretty efficient getting the boat back in the water, taking about 3 minutes. The remaining 1 hour paddle goes well. We decided not to change clothes because the zip line comes after the boats and we know we’re going in the James River again.

The cold air doesn’t bother me in the boat, but as soon as I hit land the shaking begins. It gets pretty violent for a few minutes as we’re getting ready to head for the zip line. I shake it off (no pun
intended) and decide that we need to get moving and get in the woods and I’ll be fine…I’m right. We head into the woods for a 3 mile bushwhack. We’re pretty close to the road at this point and the
instructions are to follow the single telephone wire above our heads until the wire meets the road. This is done to keep us off the busy road. Despite it’s setting so close to a major road, it’s a vicious
hike traversing along a steep slope littered with downed trees, picker bushes, and the occasional ravine to keep us on our toes. We come out on the road, cross, and head back in on the other side. The
instructions then tell us to climb the 800′ slope to the fire road and head South 2 miles to the zip line. We get to the slope and try to figure out how trees can grow at that steep an angle. After clawing our
way up 800′, using rocks, roots, small trees, etc. to hold ourselves to the side of the hill, we take the fire road to Tungstal’s Tooth, a rocky outcropping overlooking the James River. We begin with a 200′ downclimb to the zip, They’ve set up a fixed rope and we use two runners to attach ourselves to the rope as we make our way down. Sort of a quasi rappel, but without the safety of a belay device. The zip is stretched about 250′ feet across the James, and about halfway across, you hit the water
and swim the rest of the way. I must say that it wasn’t nearly as fun as the Pathfinder as the speed and height wasn’t there, but the water felt great (again).

Climb out of the river, change clothes, grab the bikes and head for the finish. Again, we decide to make a course modification. It’s about 5 PM and the sun is going down. We’re running low of food and our warmer clothes are soaking wet (and sitting like a ton of bricks in our packs). If we continued on the official route, we would ride about 20 miles with several large climbs, at least one of which is over 2000′. We would be out well after dark and hypothermia is a serious risk a this point in the race. We follow the road and 12 miles later we arrive at the finish.

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