2016 Wild Knoxville

Wild Knoxville 12 Hour AR – June 4, 2016

-By Jennifer DeBruyn

Adventure Capitalists at the start of Wild Knoxville 2016.

Adventure Capitalists at the start of Wild Knoxville 2016.

I was beyond excited when I first heard about Wild Knoxville – a USARA qualifier in my adopted hometown?  I’m there!  This was not the first time Knoxville has been the setting for an adventure race –  there was a short urban adventure race here about 5 years ago, then there was the infamous Checkpoint Tracker championship here in 2013.  After that miserable 30 mile paddle upstream on the Tennessee River, which left little time to experience any of the good parts of Knoxville, I was ready to take on the city again.  Joining me was Josh and Eric.

Not having to travel for a race is always a luxury.  We got amazing home cooked tandoori chicken and rice cooked by my ever-supportive husband the night before, and I got a good night’s sleep in my own bed.  In the morning, we congregated at Meads Quarry in south Knoxville and checked in for the race.  An Xterra trail run was starting at the same time, and to my very great surprise, I spotted my friend Dan, an accomplished ironman triathlete and marathoner, warming up for the run.  Dan and I went to graduate school together and he’s the one that kick started my transformation from my then couch potato self, to the machine I am today.  There are some people you cross paths with in life that make a significant impact, changing your way of thinking, doing, living in some way for the better.  Dan is one of those people for me and I will be forever grateful to him for it.  So naturally, when I saw him, I gave him a big hug and then mercilessly taunted him for his short little 2 hour walk-in-the-woods/half marathon.

13467806_10100500332651816_39664672_o13509434_10100500332656806_1003314675_oWe got our maps about 10 minutes before the 8:00 AM start.  Not much time for route planning, but we at least sketched out the overall flow of the race. The Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, with it’s 1000+ acres, served as the anchor.  The area is just 10 minutes from downtown and the University of Tennessee campus, made up a series of connected smaller parks where some 50 miles of single track wind their way south of the Tennessee River.  In order to keep us busy for 12 hours, Race Director (RD) Alex laid out 15 mandatory CPs that had to be visited in order, which had us leaving and returning to the urban wilderness several times.  Along the way, there were 10 optional CPs that could be acquired at any time.

The gun went off and we started by grabbing a couple optional CPs at Mead’s Quarry, then headed to CP1 to pick up our bikes.  As we checked in there, the RD suggested I check my back tire – it was flat!  I quickly realized that so was everyone else’s – it was an intentional mandatory gear check.  (Clever.) We inflated our rear tires and headed out across Henley Street Bridge and up Broadway to Sharp’s Ridge.  Three quick CPs there, and we were headed west to River Sports Outfitters on Sutherland for CP4.  We cut through UT’s campus, then back across the bridge toward the urban wilderness.  Out on the pavement, the heat was building, and the hills were punishing.  We made a slight misstep here:  there was an optional CP between Hastie and Marie Myers that we planned to pick up on our way east towards helix.  We thought the road went through, and didn’t realize until we were up there that it was a dead end.  This meant having to take the single track trails around (not a big deal, but we would be back in this area later in the race and it would have made more sense to get it then.)  A little behind, we rolled down lost chromosome to CP5 in the Helix section of trails.  Thankful for some nice cold water and Gatorade, we dropped our bikes and headed north through the trails on foot.  Approaching noon, it was getting really hot, and we moved slow.  We couldn’t wait to get on the river.  We hiked up into the Forks of the River area, and easily found CP6 and the optional CP along the greenway.

Sharp's Ridge

Sharp’s Ridge

Just another walk in the park.

Just another walk in the park.

"Is there mud on my face?"

“Is there mud on my face?”

Optional CP at Forks of the River: "But it's plotted over there??"

Optional CP at Forks of the River: “But it’s plotted over there??”

 

Our first attempt - the Trimaxion configuration

Our first attempt – the Trimaxion configuration

Do you ever feel like adventure races are getting too predictable?  Well this one wasn’t!  We arrived at the paddle put in, ready to get in the boats… only to find there were no canoes.  Instead, a stack of inner tubes and single blade paddles awaited us.  We discussed what the most efficient paddling scheme would be, and decided to try a triangular formation.  The river water was blissfully cool after the hot trek.  We paddled our triangle for a while, but it was slow going.  We unlinked and tried paddling solo – too much spin.  We went backwards, using our arms like oars – effective, but exhausting.  No way we could have done that the whole time.  Josh finally came up with the solution.  We’d link up in a row, just like in a canoe.  For this to work, we needed a certain amount of rigidity in our craft.  So we put our feet under the armpits of the person in front of us.  Linked together, we could actually get some forward motion.  Paddling was still quite awkward in our reclined position, but at least we were moving.  We found the optional CP on the small island pretty easily, but then got stumped on CP8.  It was plotted on the bridge over to the island airport (but no clue was provided).  It’s an obvious landmark and we knew we were in the right place.  But there was no flag to be found.  We circled the bridge pilings several times.  No flag.  After hunting all over, Eric finally spotted the card reader on the edge of the river – the flag was missing.  It took some time, but at least we found it!  Now we faced about another 1.5 mi to the paddle pull out (CP9) at James While Bridge.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re only going 1.2 miles per hour, it’s significant!  We talked about jumping out of the river and just carrying our tubes up the greenways and roads that run alongside the river – it would have been a lot faster.  But we interpreted that as against the rules (i.e. CPs must be acquired by designated mode of travel).  (We later learned that other teams chose to walk the paddle and were not penalized.)  At least we got an enjoyable float down the river – we passed several kayakers and boaters, everyone quite amused to see our little human centipede flotilla go by.  I tried to explain to several onlookers that we were, in fact, serious athletes.  I don’t think they bought it.

Searching for CP8 under the bridge as team No Sleep speeds by.

Searching for CP8 under the bridge as team No Sleep speeds by.

Eric shreds on the paddle.

Eric shreds on the paddle.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Josh working hard to read the not-so-great maps

Josh working hard to read the not-so-great maps

After staring at the James White Bridge for over an hour (it just never seemed to get any closer!), we finally arrived at the take out.  We stretched out our very cramped legs and backs and got back on our bikes.  Now it was off to World ’s Fair Park. We made our way to were the point was plotted, and searched for an orange and white flag.  Orienteering flags are designed to be easily spotted in the woods.  In the middle of a city park on a hot Saturday afternoon, packed with hundreds of people? Add to that that this is the home of Tennessee Volunteers football, whose colors also happen to be orange and white?  Everywhere I looked I was spotting something orange!  It was like a page out of “Where’s Waldo”.  We circled the park several times and didn’t see it.  We looked at the vague clue again: “follow the creek to the CP”.  We picked up the creek on the north side of the park and followed in north to the highway.  No flag.  Then Josh suggested maybe it was UNDER the park, in the big culvert that carries the waters of 2nd creek through the city to the Tennessee River.  No way, I said, the RD wouldn’t put it in there.  I didn’t think we’d be allowed to go in there (seemed dangerous and/or unsanitary).  Plus he said something in the pre-race meeting about never having to drop bikes to go for a checkpoint.  I didn’t think it could be there, but Josh was convinced, so he placed a call to the RD.  Josh:1; Jenn:0 – it was under the park.  I stayed with the bikes (we were not leaving them unattended with that many people around), while Josh and Eric, holding hands for safety, made their way down the dark culvert to get CP10.  We had spent a lot of time looking for that one, but felt pretty great that we (OK, Josh) finally figured it out!

Back on the bikes, we were heading west on the third creek greenway towards Sequoia Hills when the heavens open up.  The rain was so heavy we could only see a few feet in front of us.  The upside was that the greenway, which normally would have been a traffic jam of weekend riders and runners, was wide open for us.  We splashed down through massive puddles on our way to Cherokee park.  We picked up CP12 and the optional on the island (given the rain and thunder, I was thankful we didn’t have to swim for that one.)  The heavy rains left the wooden bridge at the entrance to Tyson Park slick.  Eric was in front and skidded when he hit it.  I was next and was about to call out to Josh to warn him when I heard a thud.  Josh’s tire had slid out and he went down hard.  Thankfully he walked away with just a banged up shoulder and a bad scare…

Hastie Park

Hastie Park

It was too wet to rappel. The guy on the left is super happy about that.

It was too wet to rappel. The guy on the left is super happy about that.

It was back to the urban wilderness one last time.  To get to Hastie, we actually followed Chapman Highway down for a few miles.  This is not a nice highway to ride on, with high traffic and no shoulder, but it was the most direct route with the least hills.  Back in Hastie Park, the rain had rendered the trails slick and dangerous.  We opted to hike-a-bike the single track sections – it wasn’t that much slower than riding and a lot safer under the wet conditions.  We picked up CP13 in Hastie, then headed back to the finish.  The race was supposed to end with a rappel down the west side of Mead’s Quarry, and a swim across the quarry to the finish.  I had been really looking forward to that, and was disappointed to learn it was cancelled due to weather.  Josh, on the other hand, who is deathly afraid of heights, had never looked more relieved when he heard the news.  He was quick to reiterate, that yes, it was definitely too dangerous to rappel.  In lieu of a quarry plunge, we ran the Tharp’s Trace trail around the quarry for the final two CPs.  We had cleared the course!  We were the second team to roll into the finish, about 15 minutes behind Topo Sports.  Over ice cold beer and delicious pizza, we learned most teams (including Topo) didn’t get CP10 under the park, so we actually left the race thinking that since we were the only team to clear the course, we must have won.  A week later when the results came out, it turned out the RD opted to throw out CP8 (missing flag) and CP10 (only 2 teams got it), which gave Topo the final win.

Overall, this was a great race.  The course design was thoughtfully laid out and gave us a great mix of biking, trekking and paddling.  The organization and volunteers were spot on – very impressive for a first race.  I do wish the maps were better and there were clues for the CPs, but other than that, it was really well executed race. This was one of the most purely fun races I’ve done in a while.  I sincerely hope RD Alex puts this one on again next year.  I’ll be there will bells on!!

Josh has some quality time with a CP.

Josh has some quality time with a CP.