A Full Report of Only Half the Distance: My view of my team's GeoQuest Half 2017 experience (versión en español disponible a través de Skype):
It was definitely “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” since I did my first adventure race. Life happened, and I somehow ended up living in a very different part of the world a decade and a half later and hadn’t done a proper adventure race in about 9 or 10 years. I didn’t want to come back to it without being somewhat fit and competent, so I kept putting it off. But one hardly ever gets the luxury of having an ideal time, place, or scenario to do things, and I know that much too well nowadays, unfortunately.
I have always had fond memories of adventure racing. After all, I had made some life-long friends along the way and, most importantly, found the perfect teammate for both races and life and was wise enough to marry her. When people describe adventure racing as life in a day (or several days in most cases), I most certainly agree and believe that those few years of racing back in the day taught me some of the most significant lessons in dealing with real-world stuff and trusting myself and others.
So, while I was busy finding excuses to postpone a return to AR, I got a call from someone who has an enormous role in getting people involved in racing. I hesitated at first as I had an ultramarathon coming up in 3 weeks after the call, and the AR (GeoQuest Half 2017) would take place only a couple of weeks after that. Also, my biggest concern, other than my own fitness and suitability, was racing with people I had never met before. I know this from not-so-great first-hand experience. Also, those disastrous episodes on the TV of the now-defunct Eco-Challenge, in which teams who either met on the Internet or met on the day were profiled, come to mind. It hardly ever ended well, but it made for interesting watching.
My attitude toward toeing the line was to be realistic about my own fitness and this particular scenario and take everything in stride. Any outcome was going to be fine. I wanted to make the most of the experience and not get too caught up with whatever happened along the way. This was going to be interesting watching from inside, and I was going to do my best to help the team finish. We’ll figure out what sort of team we are once we’re out on the course.
So, I met my teammates—Tanya, Keith, and Todd—on the way down to Sawtell (I had ridden with Tanya twice prior to the event). It rained and rained some more, but we had everything we needed and a tight support crew made up of Todd’s parents and Toni.
At the briefing, we found out that the weather had forced organisers to make some last-minute changes to the course. That meant no kayaking and no MTB singletrack for us halfies, as well as an abridged course.
Under the rain, we stood at the beach, there was a countdown, and we set off on a coastal jog/trek. We ran along with a few teams and minutes into it, I thought to myself, well, we might not necessarily be a running/trekking team, but that’s fine. We made a call to take an alternate route and gained ground momentarily, only to find ourselves swimming near a bridge while all the other teams crossed at what seemed like knee-deep water, and I thought to myself, well, we might not necessarily be a navigating team, but that’s fine.
We finished this leg and had a large quantity and variety of food, thanks to our amazing crew. After a while, we set off on the MTB leg that initially brought memories of racing in South America. As we rode up a hill, there were farms on the side where I could spot bananas, avocados, lemons, limes, and paw-paws. After a while, we got to the first MTB checkpoint, and I thought to myself, well, we might not be a cycling team either, but that’s fine.
After a few stumbles with the map, we seemed to be getting it pretty spot on after a while. And when I say we, I mean Todd, who unfortunately got little help from me. The towing system made an appearance, and, at times, the "towline at the front and push from the back" system also made an appearance. We did a bit of mudsliding on bikes and made it to the next transition area.
After another huge meal, we set off on the run and made a very good call to avoid the mudslide we had just come off (we saw other teams there ahead of us on foot while we were still on the bikes) and bushbashed a little bit and ended up on a good open track. Todd navigated brilliantly during this section, and we made some ground despite not moving very fast. We started this section in the afternoon and finished it well into the evening. At this point, I thought to myself, well, we might not be a fast team, but it looks like we do really want to get through this. That's fine.
We reached the transition area and did the archery challenge. I kept hoping my ancestors would guide me through this. When asked where my ancestors were from, I could only come up with "Miami, Florida" which might not be entirely true as I was born in Peru but call Venezuela home. After that, we spent quite a while at transition. My bike shoes had not found their way to this TA, but I was lucky to borrow Keith’s spare cycling shoes. The colour was awesome, as they were bright yellow, but unfortunately 2-3 sizes too big for me.
This bike section was not too bad for us. By now, we had all figured out how to move more efficiently as a team, and once again consistent and confident navigation made things easier. We rode on the beach for a few minutes and then found the next TA.
Our last transition was smooth, and we set out to finish this thing. We did not move fast on the beach but were consistent, sharing towing duties. Tanya put us all to shame when she kept asking if she could tow to stay warm and had long, impressive turns towing.
We reached the river crossing and had the finish line only a few minutes away. We had seen another team about 10 minutes ahead of us, and I saw their lights atop the hill that followed the river crossing. However, we went into the fast-moving river and started to get dragged downstream by what seemed to be floodwaters, so we backtracked. Todd went in on his own at a different point and got dragged downstream again and just managed to make it back. We assessed our options, looked around in the dark for a spot where it could possibly be safer to cross. By that time, other teams had caught up, and someone else from another team failed at crossing and got swept downstream too and barely managed to get back to where we all were. Well, we might not be a great river-crossing team, but that’s fine.
Things happened. Decisions were made. Rivers were ultimately crossed and so was the finish line in just under 19 hours. In the end, I’m glad I opted to start, and this might just be the beginning of my return to adventure racing. It was a great opportunity to learn, and I had tons of fun. At that finish line, I thought to myself, well, I still don’t know what type of team we are, but we are certainly a team (crew included), and we certainly did finish, and that’s mighty fine!
(Photo credits: Geoquest and Toni Ferguson)