2016 Sea to Sea

Race report by: Jennifer DeBruyn

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Adventure Capitalists/BDAR I and II at Honeymoon Island State Park,
Dunedin, FL, at the start of the 2016 Sea2Sea 72 hour Adventure Race.
From left: Evan, Josh, Ben, Jenn, Tabby

Adventure Capitalists/BDAR ran two squads (Coed-2 and Coed-3) at this year’s Sea 2 Sea 72 Hour Adventure Race, put on by Florida Extreme Adventures.  Two of us (Josh and Tabby) had done the race previously.  For Ben and I, it was our first time racing more than 30 hours.  This race was also the debut of a new AC/BDAR member, Evan: this was his first adventure race*, and he met Ben and Tabby for the first time two days before the race.  With a new combination of teammates, and new race format, I was nervous but excited going into the race.
*Note that I do not endorse using Sea2Sea as your first race if you are new to the sport.  The fact that Evan agreed to this is testament that he is just crazy enough to be an Adventure Racer.

Links to race materials:   Live tracker     Race maps     Photos

 

Pre-Race

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AC/BDAR pre-race

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There was, in fact, a hotel room under this gear

We drove down to race headquarters in Cocoa Beach, FL on Tuesday. Wednesday was spent on last minute food and gear prep. Tabby had flown in from Washington State and was using a new-to-her bike for the race, so there was a lot of last minute packing, organizing and adjustments. We received 37 maps in the evening, and started route planning. At the pre-race meeting, the race directors suggested that a majority of teams should be able to clear the course. But after about a couple hours of careful study and route planning, Josh looked up from the maps and said “this is a four day race.” We knew that strategy was going to play a huge role in this race, and immediately started deciding on CPs to skip in order to keep us on track to make the time cutoff of 11:00 AM Sunday. We would have to be very careful with our time if we wanted to officially finish, let alone place. All CPs were weighted equally, so that gave us a lot of flexibility in terms of sections to drop.  We tend to excel on orienteering courses, so we planned to drop a lot of the early bike and trek CPs that weren’t directly on the route so that we would have time for the optional O sections later in the race.


Day 1:  “The road ain’t no place to start a family…” (Prologue; Segment 1 – Urban trails bike)

Josh dreams of checkpoints on the bus ride across the state.

Josh dreams of checkpoints on the bus ride across the state.

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Last minute route planning and organizing our 41 maps

We hopped on the bus around 5:30 AM, and headed west across the state.  We arrived at the start location, Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, FL around 9:00 AM.  We received four more maps (that’s 41 total maps, for those of you keeping track at home).  We were also told of a route change (as it turned out, the first of several): TA1 and the first paddle section at Lettuce Lake had been cut.

 

The boys of AC/BDAR doing their best Baywatch impersonations

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The prologue was a run around this beautiful beach park to pick up 4 CPs before heading out on bikes.  Our first strategic move was going to be to skip the furthest points along the beach (CP1, CP2), saving our legs from a long run on the sand, and just pick up the closer two points (CP3, CP4) then get on our bikes to stay ahead of the pack.  But as we were lining up to start, we were hit with another rule change – CP1 was now mandatory, so we scrapped our original plan and got all four checkpoints.  We were definitely warmed up after that 6 mile run in the sun.

 

We picked up our bikes and headed out on segment 1.  This was an urban ride, mostly on greenways.  We set up a pace line and motored through the 55 mile ride to TA2, picking up CPs 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 along the way.

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Greenway pace line

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Evan shows us how to look good on a bike

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One of many photo CPs on the course

 

 

 

 

 


Evening 1:  Welcome to the jungle  (Segment 3 – Hillsborough River Paddle)

We made it to Morris Bridge (TA2) just before the 5:00 PM cutoff time.  This gave us the option of doing a trek or paddle.  Again, wanting to get ahead so we’d have more time on some of the orienteering trek sections coming up, we opted for the paddle.  Hillsborough River was a lovely paddle as it wound sinuously through the jungle.  It was refreshing to finally be away from pavement and sun and into the wilds of Florida.  I finally felt like I was seeing the real Florida.  Going upstream, we picked up CP10 along the creek, then a wade through the swamp (the first of many) and a short run along the trails got us CP13 and 12. The sun had set around this time and we finished the paddle in the dark, with several sets of alligator eyes keeping a close watch on us.

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Night 1: Into the Green Swamp (Segment 4 – A really really long bike)

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Work it, girl! Tabby picks up a CP in the Green Swamp.

At TA3, we filled up on spaghetti and prepped for what was to be a long (est. 75 mile) bike section that would take us through the night. We left around 9:30 PM, followed country roads east, picking up CPs 18 and 19, then headed into the Upper Hillsborough Preserve for some bonus CPs. Josh is amazing at night navigation, and he was on point for this section. We found the right trail, crossed the river (which would be the first of several water crossings), and picked up CP20. From there, we opted to head north through the maze of trails, hit the railroad tracks and rode them for a few hundred meters.  We found a trail headed northeast that put us in the general direction of CP21. The trail was not very ride-able, but walking our bikes helped stretch our legs and get us out of the saddle for a bit. From there, it was back to the roads, easily finding CP22 and 23. A few brief rain showers were passing through so we found shelter under a parked semi, grabbed a 15 min power nap, then headed into Green Swamp (CP24). A wide gravel road was our main path through this area, so the ride was relatively fast. It took us a little while to find CP25 at the north end of Sixteen Sections Pond. We overshot it a bit and had to work our way back along the pond edge to find it. Around 5:00 AM we arrived at a hunting shelter just east of Hwy 471 and decided to grab an hour of sleep.

Green Swamp

Refreshed from our nap we were back on the bikes to finish the Green Swamp section. This was a pleasant ride, and we found CP26 and 27 without too much trouble. The bridges through the swamps (CP28) were really pretty in the morning sun, but both Ben and Evan had ran out of water, and as the day got warmer, dehydration was setting in. We left the swamp, made our way over to the Green Pond trail head (CP29), and took a longer break in order to refill our hydration bladders and get some electrolytes and food in. We fell into a pace line for the approximately 9 mile ride up the greenway, everyone taking turns pulling for a few minutes. Ben and Evan still weren’t fully re-hydrated and we ended up going out harder than we should have. (“The girls were pulling too fast”, according to Ben.) So once off the greenway (CP30) we eased up on the pace and coasted into TA4 after a very long 15 and a half hour bike section covering about 93 miles. I don’t think I’ve ever been more happy to be off a bike.

A witch in the Green Swamp turned Evan into a tree frog,
but we were able to reverse the spell and continue on to TA4.

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Day 2: A short reprieve….then more biking (Segments 5 and 6 – Lake Minnehaha paddle and Lake Apopka bike)
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A choppy paddle across Lakes Minnehaha and Mineola

The volunteers at Palatlakaha River Park (TA4) had hot water going, and we recovered from the ride with some dehydrated meals. It was around noon on Friday, and we were too late to attempt the optional paddle/trek O course around Lake Louisa to the south that we were hoping to tackle. So we completed a special task for CP31 (a short nature walk), launched the canoes, picked up CP32 on the river, then headed north across Lake Minnehaha. A strong northerly wind was up and the lake quite choppy, and waves were breaking over our bow, which made it a tough go.

At Clermont Boat Ramp on Lake Mineola (TA5), we transitioned back to bike (again!). The main route was supposed to be a 42+ mile ride around the north end of Lake Apopka, but since we felt were behind where we needed to be, and generally sick of being on bikes after riding almost 150 miles in the last 30 hours we opted to take the suggested short course, which was a 22 mile ride along the Minnola Trail and West Orange Trail. We hit the trails in the late afternoon, and were surrounded by other cyclists and runners out for their daily training rides. It was nice to have company, and several cyclists offered words of encouragement when we told them what we were doing (“You’re going where?!?”). The West Orange Trial wound north through the picturesque town of Winter Garden and towards Wekiwa Spring State Park. Along the way, we were lucky to catch a beautiful sunset over Lake Apopka at CP43.


Night 2: “Make me some turkey bacon” (Segement 7 – Wekiwa trek)

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I’m modelling the very cool ultralight FLX jacket we received in our swag bags

At TA6 outside of Wekiwa Springs State Park, we filled up on McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Publix subs, and geared up for an overnight trek. We left around 9:00 PM, entered the park from the south, and easily found the trails up to CP45 and 46. This was a really pretty park, with several deer resting nearby. Josh investigated a rustling in the bushes, startling an armadillo which bolted and ran straight into a tree. The stunned armadillo staggered away as we laughed. We hit another river crossing at CP46 – race directors thought the water level may be high, and we were going into what was going to be a colder night, so we all stripped down, hoisted our bags, clothes and shoes above our heads and made the crossing. Fortunately it was not too deep (only about 3 feet) nor too cold. We dried off and started bushwhacking north east to pick up the next set of trails. We found the main trail going east-west, and headed east. A couple of us were crashing pretty hard, and our pace was pretty slow through this section. The temperature was dropping and sleep monsters were creeping in. At one point I came up on Ben and Evan standing over Josh laughing – Josh was laying in the fetal position on the side of the trail, demanding we make him some turkey bacon. We got him up and trudged on. Ben kept asking when we would stop going uphill (it was flat as a pancake). It was a slow, rough night.  We eventually made it up to the horse barn waypoint around 5:15 AM, and warmed up with some delicious chili. There were some optional points north of the horse barn that we had originally hoped to tackle, but because of the late hour and our snail’s pace, we opted to catch 2 hours of much needed sleep.


Day 3: Strategic canoevering (i.e. maneuvering in a canoe (TM) Evan Miller) (Segment 8 – Blackwater-Wekiwa-St John’s paddle)

Josh leads the trek up to Blackwater Creek.

Josh and Tabby lead the trek up to Blackwater Creek

We woke at the horse barn at 7:30 AM, boiled water for coffee and oatmeal, and packed up our bins. There was a handful of teams there with us, and we left around 9:00 AM. After our very slow night, we assumed that we were running behind a lot of teams. We hiked up to the paddle put in.  We got CP53 along the way but opted to skip CP54 to make up some time.  We enjoyed a lovely morning paddle down the quick moving Blackwater Creek and into the Wekiwa and St. Johns Rivers. I was feeling pretty rested and strong (surprisingly), and this was by far my favorite section of the race.   Blackwater Creek was named appropriately – the water was so dark with tannins that in the sunlight the water looked red. We also chose to skip CP55 upstream of the river junction, and just headed downstream on the St. John’s.  We had fun getting CP56: one member from each team was dropped off, had to swim across 15 m of a stagnant, mucky canal, and get up on the trail on the other side in order to record eastings on the trail mile marker signs (I have no fear of swamps so I volunteered right away! I’m sure there was probably a bridge somewhere, but where’s the fun in that?) We ran down the trail a mile, committing the numbers to memory, and swam back across the stagnant canal to the river edge to be picked up by the canoes that paddled around. The trail was a pretty series of boardwalks and the run felt really good after sitting in the canoe. We finished the paddle at TA8 around 3:00 in the afternoon. We were surprised to find we were only the 3rd or 4th team there. Our decision to skip two CPs on this section paid off – it launched us to front of the pack and allowed us the time to go after several more CPs on the upcoming bike segment.

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A beautiful paddle on Blackwater Creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Evening 3: Green Springs, rednecks, and flying armadillos (Segment 9 – Spring to spring bike)

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True to form, Ben Smith continued to get
better looking as the race progressed

As we transitioned back to bike at TA8, the race directors informed us that because all the teams were so behind (they had expected teams to arrive at TA8 as early as 6:00 AM that morning), they were dropping the Little Big Econ paddle and bonus trek section. I was disappointed, because this was supposed to be one of the highlights of the race and one of the optional O sections we really wanted to hit. But it meant that we were still in good position to make it to the finish in time, if we keep things moving. It gave us an incredible lift. Spirits were high as we followed the Spring to Spring greenway, which had checkpoints at some of these natural hotsprings (CPs 57 and 58), and through Lake Monroe Conservation Area (CPs 59, 60, 61), where we enjoyed a phenomenal sunset over the water.

We opted not to photo bomb the the bride and groom on this picturesque footbridge (CP57)

This armadillo is believed to be related to the one that caused a near-fatal
pace line crash later that evening….

 

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Sunset at Lake Monroe Conservation Area


After leaving the conservation area, we had to ride the busy highways 415 and 46, so for safety and speed we set up a pace line.  This was my least favorite part of the race: high speed traffic, a shoulder littered with junk and a redneck throwing beer cans at us.  Ben and Evan, our strongest cyclists, really stepped up and lead us through, alternative pulling up front or sitting in the back, the whole time talking the team through it.  Josh had a flat on this section and Ben changed it out in a matter of minutes.  (It was the fastest tire change I’ve ever witnessed.)  Once off the highway, we had some quieter roads. We were moving along at a good clip when an armadillo suddenly ran out in front of us – Ben and Tabby swerved, Josh (riding a fully rigid MTB) was next in line and hit it, sending it flying up into the air in front of my face.  I braked hard and hit Josh’s back tire.  We were very lucky that no one was hurt (not sure about the fate of the armadillo).  After that, the ride was uneventful: we made good time and easily picked up the rest of the CPs in this section (CPs 62, 63 and 64) on our way to TA10.  We ran into a number of teams in the small wildlife area trying to find CP64, and Florida Xtreme looking for a lost teammate (“TOM?   TTTOOOOMMMM?!?”).

"Highway run into the midnight sun....wheels go round and round..."

“Highway run… into the midnight sun….wheels go round and round…”

Assisted by Evan, Ben changes out a flat in minutes

Assisted by Evan, Ben changes out a flat in minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Night 3:  Assault on the swamp (Segment 11 – Seminole Ranch/Hatbill trek)

Tabby and Evan knee deep in the swamp

Tabby and Evan knee deep in the swamp

At TA10 we filled up on hamburgers and hot dogs and prepared for the last long trek to the dark zone.  We wanted to make it to the dark zone around 5:00 AM at the latest so we would have time to eat, get a quick nap, and transition for the final leg which started at 6:00 AM.  We worked on the assumption that it was a mandatory dark zone and all teams would have to be there by 6:00 AM at the latest (this turned out to be not the case).  We took off from the TA around 11:00 PM and dropped down into the Seminole Ranch Conservation Area.  Josh was starting to fade a bit and we weren’t moving as fast as we should have.  About 8-10 other teams joined us in searching for CP71 – there was a whole army coming the jungle for this elusive site on a palm ridge.  Even with all the eyes, it took a while.  Team Florida Xtreme finally found it, with Jeff loudly announcing its location to the group – we all had a good laugh as we lined up to punch.  After that came a decision – go back north to the highway for the long, but dry, way around, or take the more direct route southeast through the swamp.  Our plan was to head north and stay dry.  We took the trails we thought would take us north (or at least that is what Josh was leading us to believe), but somehow ended up on one of the several heading southeast.  Ironically, several of the teams that had split from us and planned to head directly southeast somehow ended up going north back to the highway.

Coach Smith leads the charge through the swamp to make it to TA11
minutes before the cutoff.

Given our slow progress, I was very worried about our ability to make it to the dark zone on time.  Team morale was low and tensions were high.  Josh was falling asleep, Ben and Tabby were not communicating well, and Evan was hitting a pretty serious low.   I was despondent – the team was falling apart.  It was after 2:00 AM and we still had about 15K to get to the dark zone. This was the make or break moment for us:  we rally or we fail.  I am so proud of my team for what happened next – somehow we pulled it together and made a commitment to move, and move fast.  We started to jog.  Josh found an overgrown but direct trail headed southeast.  We charged down the trail, bushwacking through the jungle to get around a number of swampy parts.  We hit the road that took us east to CP73 and Tabby and I ran up the tower to count the steps.  We hit another big water crossing:  this time, there was no time to strip down, we just plowed on through water up to our chests.  We power-walked the trails to pick up CP75 and were thinking we would be OK on time.  But then we headed south from CP75 and straight into the swamp.  This section of trail was almost entirely under knee-deep water.  A slowdown we hadn’t anticipated. It was now after 5:00 AM with about 5K to go and nothing but swamp in front of us.  Ben found another gear and led the team running towards the TA, plowing through swamps and crashing through the jungle.  We were physically and emotionally exhausted, but dug deep and followed him in.  We passed several teams.  At 5:55 we were only several hundred meters from the TA, but couldn’t see it.  We passed a M-2 team that had stopped to look at their map trying to figure out where the TA was in the maze of trails.  They, too, were on a mission to make it before 6:00 AM to avoid losing CPs, and they joined us in our run.  We spotted some lights through the jungle and called out – receiving an answer – the TA was just ahead!  The M-2 team was up ahead of us, spotted the TA through the undergrowth, and called back to us to let us know the direction to head (they could have easily disappeared into the woods without saying anything to us, but they didn’t.  Whoever you are, M-2 team, thank you!!)  We crashed through the jungle, over two barbed wire fences (one of which claimed a chunk of Ben’s leg), and dropped our passport on the table at 5:58 AM.   Exhausted but elated, we knew now that we’d have time to officially finish the race by the 11:00 AM cutoff.  As far as we could tell, there were only about 4 teams at TA11 around 6:00 AM – everyone else was late.  While we were eating and changing, several teams arrived in a U-Haul – these were teams that accidentally ended up on the highway and were going to be so far behind that they had to get a ride (these teams were ultimately dropped into the ‘relay’ category).  What this amounted to was that it looked like a majority of teams would not make the cutoff and would be either heavily penalized or unofficial.  Our strategic time management had paid off!


Day 4:  The push to the finish and a Shyamalan-esque twist (Segments 12 and 13 – final bike and paddle)

Pace line to the finish

Pace line to the finish

Note the innovative use of a foam paddle seat ziptied to Josh's saddle, providing some relief from the 260+ miles of riding

Note the innovative use of a foam paddle seat zip-tied to Josh’s saddle,
providing some relief from the 260+ miles of riding

Adrenaline pumping from our sprint to TA11, and the possibility of an official finish within reach, we re-fueled and changed as fast as we could, heading out on the final stretch around 7:00 AM.  Race director Ron estimated that the final section should take about 4 hours, and we had 5 hours until the cutoff.  We headed out on bikes, but soon the morning sun and our night’s efforts started to take their toll.  We were all falling asleep on our bikes.  We broke our pace line and rode side by side to try to talk and keep each other awake.  After a ride by of the space shuttle at Cape Canaveral for CP77 (this geek was super excited about that), we were feeling a bit more awake, so we reformed a pace line, and Ben led the team through the final bike checkpoints (CPs 78, 79, 80).

We arrived at the final paddle put-in (TA12), around 10:00AM.  With only an hour left, we had planned to skip the paddle and ride to the finish.  Even if we incurred a penalty for skipping the last section, it would be better to be official with a penalty, rather than late and unofficial.  We stopped at TA12 to let them know our plans.  Ron then dropped a bomb on us – there was no longer a finish cutoff time!  After 71 hours of doing everything possible to make it to Cocoa Beach by 11:00 AM Sunday, the rules had suddenly changed.  (It turned out that only a couple teams would have made it before 11:00 AM, so the race directors had to do some on-the-fly changes.)  This rule change was a massive blow – we had short-coursed and dropped CPs through the whole race it order to not be late.  Now teams would be ranked on CPs alone – this meant that teams behind us that had spent more time picking up extra checkpoints would rank higher than us.  We were devastated.  Just goes to show you that you never know what’s going to happen in an adventure race; you have to be able to adapt to whatever gets thrown at you.

Fighting the choppy waters into the mangrove islands

Fighting the choppy waters into the mangrove islands

Urban portage

Our urban portage

Without a finish time to worry about, we opted to head out on the paddle.  We weren’t sure what this new ranking system would mean for us, but we figured the extra 4 CPs wouldn’t hurt.  And we thought it would be a relatively easy, fun paddle.  It was not.  A strong northerly wind kicked us around as we skirted through the mangrove islands, zig zagging along to keep our canoes quartered to the waves to avoid getting swamped in the troughs.  Finding the elusive CP82 among hundreds of indistinguishable mangrove islands was tricky, but with some assistance from team Florida Extreme (again!!) we got it.  At the south end of the mangrove islands, we opted to portage, rather than go around a big jut of land. This turned out to be smart move – we learned later that a couple teams capsized trying to go around (not surprising given the high winds in the main channel).  At the end of the paddle dolphins and manatees came out to play with us and we finished the paddle through a very surreal mangrove tunnel.  We dropped the boats and jogged 3 km up the strip to the finish line at the beach after over 75 hours of racing.  We were happy to be finished, but everything was up in the air about how we placed (and would continue to be for the next 3 days).  Ultimately, we finished 5th and 6th overall, which put us 1st in C-2 and 2nd in C-3 elite divisions.

Mangrove tunnel

Through the mangrove tunnel

Overall, it was a truly amazing experience.  The weather was perfect, with only a few scattered showers on the first night.  FLX did a great job with race logistics.  Gear was transported safely and promptly and many of the TAs had hot food for us.  The volunteers went out of their way to make sure the racers had a good time.   The use of the Gemspots photo upload site was a great idea, and I loved being able to share photos with other racers (including several of the photos used in this race report – thanks to everyone that posted!)  I was disappointed that we had to skip a lot of the better sections of the course, especially the O-sections, in order to stay on time.  But we adapted.  Josh kept a close eye on the maps and the clock, and made some key decisions that kept us in position to finish well.  Our performance ultimately came down to strategy and teamwork.  I’m very proud of our team and what we accomplished together.  We worked together extremely well, and had a lot of fun in the process.  The things I worried about going into the race – the new team dynamic and the length of the race – turned out to be non-issues.  Evan proved to be a valuable addition to the team – he fit in with the team and was strong to the finish (you never would have guessed it was his first adventure race).  And personally, I surprised to find that the first 24 hours was the hardest, and I actually felt stronger and stronger as the race went on.  I loved the multi-day format and I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.

Finished! Adventure Capitalists logged 267 miles on bike, 51 miles on foot, and 35 miles of paddling to finish 1st (C-2) and 2nd (C-3) in our divisions

Finished! Adventure Capitalists logged 267 miles on bike, 51 miles on foot, and 35 miles of paddling to finish 1st (C-2) and 2nd (C-3 elite) in our divisions