This is our ride at the 2013 Adventure Racing World Championship in Costa Rica

Team #16 - Untamed Canada / Clinique du Pied Équilibre
Alexandre Provost
Nathalie Long
Jean-Yves Dionne
Jonathan Dionne

What is adventure racing? Please see adventure racing definition on Wikipedia for more details if required.

Breathe Mag race description

2013 ARWC - Costa Rica Adventure Race
Trekking: 150km - 19%
Mountain Biking: 392km - 49%
Kayaking/Rafting: 262km - 32%
Total distance: 804km
Total ascension: 10562m
Total descent: 11600m

Here is our race story of what was arguably one of the toughest expedition races in ages. We knew it would be extremely hard and equally beautiful as it was announced as “815km of life time experience”. It surely was.

Landing in Costa Rica
After several months of preparations that included: months of training; many multi-day races and loads of emails, we were finally there, touching our goal when we boarded on our respective flights. Luckily we all landed safely in Costa Rica with all our gear in perfect working conditions. We arrived 5-6 days in advance to make sure to relax, shop for food and manage whatever we would need to manage. It may seem a lot but time always flies and we needed to rest before heading out onto the adventure of our lives.

We stayed at the San José Radisson (race HQ) close to the city center. It felt a bit ghetto as San José, at least the centro, is not made for bikers...! Even walking was sometimes sketchy as there is not much room on the side of the streets. We managed to pick up food and last minute gear without damage. The hotel itself was nice with spa/swimming pool, friendly staff and good food.

Race briefing, national flags parade and crazy fireworks
The full course was unveiled at the race briefing on November 30th after that we got a good hour of briefing on snakes... Bottom line, if we got bitten, we needed to call for help and fast. We took a very good note of that.

Next on the activity list was the national flag parade and opening ceremony. Part of that was the most insanely low and intense fireworks we had ever seen! I was praying we would not get hit by any debris...

With all infos at hand it was finally time to pack our gear and bike boxes for good. It may sound like an easy task but with many transitions areas (TA) and weight restriction (35kg/box) it can be a real Tetris game to fit as much food and gear in the right box for the right TA. Nath was very efficient overseeing that we were putting our things at the right place. Finally, we were ready and eager to get going.

GO TIME! December 2nd - 2:00pm

Day 1
A very warm Le Mans start in Union close to Panama border, near the town of Sabalito. It felt great to be on the starting line with all these teams from around the world. We ran for our bike boxes for about 1km to assemble our bikes to get going on the first section. We also got the first set of maps (we would get the maps in 3 sets during the race so the course was being unveiled as we progress). We had a rough start with 4 flats in the first 4h of racing. We manage to stay calm and repaired quickly every time. With the help of other teams (we had ran out of spare tubes) we managed to get going but we were a bit far back.

From CP3 near Miramar, the mud fest (a recurring topic in this race) started when we had to push, tow and carry our bikes uphill through some really muddy and narrow trails. We made it in good time to CP6/TA1 (near Pueblo Nueyo) after all. This bike leg certainly had set the tone for the rest of the race in terms of challenge. A long CP6/TA1, where we took the time to wash our bikes, got us in the boat for the first time on Rio Coto Colorado and on Golfo Dulce.

Day 2
CP7 was done at low tide in some really deep mud, we tagged a bit with team Issy Aventure in what would be the appetizer for the subsequent mangrove section. At least we had enough current to paddle from CP7. Then started a long and slow 45km paddle fest where targets would stay in front of us and closing very slowly. There was a shower by the shore at CP10 and we made sure to wash ourselves quickly before paddling to the end of this leg in Rincon for CP11/TA2.
We had a stressful episode then when Nath had to get a shot of antibiotics for a rash (her upper body had turned red in many places) and had to lay down a few minutes. I also got bitten in the eyelid, but everything was ok in the end and we left on the 27km trek with all our paddling gear (except the boat itself) looking to sleep on the way to CP12/TA3. Jonathan, our official translator (Jo speaks Spanish perfectly - a crucial skill for this race as local knowledge would turn out to be very important given the inaccuracy of the information on the maps) found a bar on the way, which in retrospect was a bit noisy... but at least we got to sleep 1.5h on a solid floor with a roof over our head (which ranks pretty high according to expedition racing standards).

Day 3
Sleep counter: 1h30m
We picked up our inflatable kayaks again at CP12/TA3 only to portage them for a solid 10km. We had a portage cart provided by NRS. There is not much to say besides that carrying 57 lbs boats was just really tough, in any manners. JY and Jo pulled a lot of efforts to pull us through. After some time searching we finally located CP13, filled our water containers as this would be our last source of fresh water for some time and went on the first epic section of the race, and one of our favorite, the mangrove “Monster”.

We had to work very hard against the tide for CP14, basically going up stream for 2km. We were with a bunch of teams and we detached ourselves when we picked up the right channel. CP15 was a in a small channel and we had to search for some time to find it. We met with teams that had been looking for several hours. All we can say is that some teams play dirty as a team was hiding CP15 in the water when we passed... but we saw the whole thing. There were teams everywhere, and we resumed our way. We connected with a bunch of teams in the small channel that was supposed to be the passage from CP16 to CP17. It was a dead end at low tide, we checked if the mangrove was “passable” but that would not have been a good idea (we would still be there…). We elected to sleep in our boats and we racked a solid 2h15. We then decided that waiting for high tide was not the best strategy and I was very doubtful that we were at the right place. Thanks to Nath’s hawk eye we found the channel going north toward CP17 just on our way out. We got CP18 but then we lost a bit of ground as navigation was tricky heading south but finally got the right track and made our way toward CP19. It took us a good hour to figure out what was going on there… you can take a look by yourself:

I think it is closing on CP20/TA4 that I remember thinking that we were now on the morning of day 4... and that we had covered only ¼ of the race in terms of distance...

Day 4 Sleep counter: 3h45m We picked up our bikes at CP20/TA4. We biked/pushed up the insanely steep hill while being cooked by the sun to get to the Superman Osa, a 2km zip line with speed above 100km/h. Crazy ride! The rest of this mountain bike section was simply beautiful. I said to JY many times that this was how I had envisioned racing in Costa Rica - magnificent views of valleys and mountains.

That night was not our best, with issues to locate CP25 and then CP26. We were all getting quite tired and finding the right path to CP26 from the ridge proved to be very tricky. After some time trying things that turned out to be unsuccessful, we opted to sleep for what was left of the night. In a matter of minutes we were then back on track with daylight on our side, which proves again that it is most of the time better to bank sleep than battle in vain during the night. On the way to mid camp, we collected oranges straight from the trees while riding near Angostura, so cool.

Day 5 - Mid camp
Sleep counter: 4h30m
We arrived at mid camp (CP27/T5-CP28/T6) in San Gerardo in the afternoon of the 5th day for our 4h mandatory stop. This was a real oasis with shade, food and our gear. We ate, showered and slept (2h) as one of the toughest section of the race was right ahead of us, the 92km high mountain trek. We were all in relatively good shape and high spirits even if we were lower than expected in the rankings (22nd coming in mid camp).

CP29 was located at the base of Cerro Chirripo in a large cabin (3400m). We made our way up there in good time even if we felt the altitude was slowing us down a bit. We slept again as our sleep bank was still very low given all the race still ahead of us. We racked 2h45m but strangely this was not our best sleep as the humidity in the cabin made it for a very cold one. We summited Chirripo in pitch dark. Cerro Chirripo is the highest peak in Costa Rica at 3820m of altitude. We went on toward CP32 with a fantastic sunrise over the ridge.

Day 6
Sleep counter: 9h15
The way down the high mountains was a native trail in an Indian reserve, Costa Rican jungle at its best. The trail was literally a mud slide all the way down the mountain, crazy. We thought we would be able to move faster after the rocky ridge but we were going twice slower. Tough section for our team, we helped each other as we could and finally made it down.
The next night was a hard one on our spirit. We had a rough time locating the path to CP34 and ended up bushwhacking in some very dense jungle. Not a great idea as it is very dangerous and utterly slow. We finally found our way and elected to sleep by the river in our mandatory shelter (1h30). JY even made a fire, a real camp site!

Day 7 Sleep counter: 10h45 In a matter of minutes of daylight, we were again back on track hitting the trails and the rest of our journey on this trek went well. We tagged along on and off with team GearJunkie/Yogaslacker. We completed our 92km quest with the sunset on the 7th day. An epic trek that saw us traversing high mountain range, authentic jungle and native villages. Engraved in our minds.
There was a mandatory 1h stop for medical check at CP36 in Paso Marcos. This was a very wise initiative from race organisers to make sure everyone was fit to keep racing after the mammoth trek. Again a small oasis with real food.

Shortly after we got to CP37/T7 (Bajo Pacuare) to finally get off our feet and hop on the bikes for a relatively short leg (40km) to the first rafting section. Before being able to leave we found that somehow Nath’s front wheel was not in her bike box and had been left at the previous TA (mid camp). Wisely I must say, we had another front lefty wheel and 26” tire, so we mounted it and we were able to keep going, although without a front brake for this section. The length of the race and sleep deprivation started to hit us harder in this leg. We stopped on a church front porch for a 25min power nap in Mata Guineo as the clock was ticking on us. JY in particular fought it hard and we finally made it to Tres Equis for CP39/T8 in the early hours of the morning after scrambling a bit to find CP38. The last part of the ride was particularly beautiful with intense colored flowers and lush green vegetation all over the place, amazing scenery.

Day 8
Sleep counter: 11h10m
We left CP39/TA8 in Tres Equis on foot for the rafting section. Costa Rica is internationally known for pristine rafting rivers. We were now on Rio Pacuare for some of the most beautiful rafting ride I have ever seen. It’s hard to explain but all this is a bit blurry in our minds as we had a really hard time staying awake, even in R4 rapids. We tried taking turns at sleeping at the bottom of the boat but the ride was too bumpy. “Zombie Rafting” made it for some of the most intense laughing episodes we ever had. Poor Walter, our guide. He worked a hard one with us!

Somehow… we made it to CP41/T9 without falling out of the boat. It is unclear for us how long we actually slept, but I am adding 45min to the sleep counter. We reunited with our beloved inflatable kayaks and it was time for the longest paddling leg of the race, a 89km journey from Siquirres to near Tortuguero. Still on Rio Pacuare there were yellow crocos glowing eyes all over the place… We used the current to keep moving taking turns at steering the attached boats while 3 of us where sleeping (I’m adding another 45min to the sleep counter). We did not want to sleep on those shores…

We connected with the canal shifting northwest toward Estero Parismina. We were still fighting sleep monsters and had to settle for a 45min nap. Again there were crocos eyes around so we tried to choose our place wisely we were now against the current. When I woke up I could not see JY/Jo's boat… I was shouting at them but no answer… quickly we started paddling downstream… and saw them slowly moving down 50m below! Ouf! Somehow they had lost their anchor. Lagunas Del Tortuguero was then just a long drag up to CP42 where at least we got a cold drink and a few nice pictures!

The canal leading to CP43/T10 was amazingly beautiful with jungle and wildlife all over with howler monkeys filling our ears. We left on foot for a short trek mostly on dirt roads leading us to CP45/T11 to get our bikes. While at the CP we heard that the 6pm cut-off for the next day had been extended... Again fighting sleep monsters, we settle down for 45min nap in a very nice garage on the bike ride as rain was breaking the sky.

Day 9
Sleep counter: 14h10
The rest of the ride was a tough and strange one. Maps were hardly making any sense, so we had to track every move to make sure we were going in the right direction. Obviously it was getting harder to do entering the 9th day of non-stop racing… JY bike was now in a dangerously degraded state and we had to make it into a single speed but it was barely holding together. Further down the road, my rear tire exploded… Thanks to Czech team Salomon-Suunto/Nutrend/S21 for lending us a tire (yeah, a tire). After a very rocky ride, we crossed Rio Sarapiqui for CP47 in Trinidad near the Nicaragua border. The way back south to the infamous CP48 was as rocky as the way up in many ways. Nath was having issues with her bike as well, and then we got into the ‘CP48 area’. After a bit of time looking around Jo and I managed to find the CP but it was now passed 6pm (official race cut-off). We texted the race management using the provided Delorme device from Pinnacle Tracking.

We received a positive answer as we were on the way to CP49-50/T12. Finally, the puck was rolling for our team. We happily reached the finish line, after 4 great but in the dark zip lines and yet another “Zombie Rafting” ride (+45min to the sleep counter) at 1h30am on Thursday December 12th as the last full course team. Hell Yeah - we did it!

There were many talks about the race being too tough and too long. That was the Adventure Racing World Championship - it had to be the toughest race of the year, in years. That said, there has to be something for every level of racers in these events and contingency plans have to be in place to make sure that teams that do not make cut-offs are able to keep racing on alternate routes and still reach the finish line.

Adventure racing is the toughest sport there is, and no obstacles can make it for what challenges nature has to offer. It was truly a great race. In our mind the organizers delivered everything they advertised, a grand race course that was indeed the adventure of a life time. We enjoyed every second of it.

Official 21st out of 67 teams - Leaderboard
Race time: 229h13min
Sleep time: +/- 14h55min - See sleep split details
Our GPS trace: http://bit.ly/1hTSzVL

Pictures and maps

To all local people that were so kind and helpful during the whole journey, helping us out by lending their garden hose to fill up our water bottles and wash our bike when we could not pedal anymore, and allowing us to nap in their garage in heavy rains.

To Pongo, Antonio, Johanna, Patricia, José and all volunteers and rest of the organization for coming up with such an amazing journey. All the best for your next endeavour.

To our sponsors for making this possible:

To our gear partners to provide the best gear on the market:

And finally, thanks to my teammates for following me in these crazy adventures.


No comments:

Post a Comment