Atomic AR or Atomic Bomb?

In the past, after races I’ve never been one to bite my tongue after finishing an event that had “issues”. These typically range anywhere from poor instructions to misplaced points to poor course design. After the Atomic Adventure Race this year, I figured I’d hold off, let a little time pass, and then see how I felt. Let me check… Nope, it was still a pretty bad race.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t all bad mind you. I thought the course layout was good. Navigation options were fairly straight forward but allowed for some choice, and the volunteers were excellent. Oh, the post race meal was great too. However, there were several major “issues” with this race, and to date, no one seems to have discussed them publicly.

Paul climbing one of the many long hills

The first is everyone’s favorite, misplaced CP’s. There were two checkpoints in question, one of which I am willing to concede may have been at the UTM’s provided, after it was explained the map was wrong in that area. I’m not 100% convinced, but it leads to the question, if you know the map is wrong, why would you put a point there? The only teams who I heard found this point were teams that gave up and were going for a different checkpoint.

As a side note to misplaced CP’s, if you, as a race director, tell any team to quit looking for a point, then you have just removed that point from the race. Period. End of story. It just isn’t fair to let some folks find it and others are told to move on. After the first 3 teams came through and couldn’t find the CP, the race directors started telling teams it was missing and not to spend time looking for it. Later they declared it was in the right spot, and to the best of my knowledge didn’t credit teams they misled.

The second checkpoint, T4, which I am sure was misplaced, was over 900 feet (274 m) off. The clue was “clearing” yet the point was plotted on the edge of a hillside, no where near the actual clearing. Reference this map to see where the point was plotted (blue marker) and where it was located (red marker) by teams. The location of this point was never confirmed by the race directors.

Numerous other points were off by 30, 40, 50 or more meters. The excuse? They were inside the 100 meter search radius in the rules. Sorry, but if you tell me a point is at a specific UTM, then put the flag there. Not somewhere within 100 meters. This is orienteering, not an easter egg hunt. Navigation is the skill by which teams find their way from point to point, not find their way to an area and stumble around until they find a flag. I’ve asked many top navigators their opinion on this and they all have agreed with me. I suspect all the points were positioned with a GPS that didn’t have a UTM grid that matched the map, I’ve seen it before. I find it’s always wise to plot the points on the final map by terrain feature, and read the UTM off the map.

We saw a little wild life while racing...

Usually, misplaced CP’s are the worst thing in a race, but the Atomic had something even worse in store. The paddle, or rather the lack thereof. The gear list said bring a paddle and PFD, which usually means the race will supply a canoe or kayak. We were also instructed to bring a pump which implied an inflatable raft.  That turned out to be a two person, 360 lb limited, I wouldn’t give one to my kids even if they were in a pool raft. Did I also mention we were on one of the most fun sections of the Toccoa River, if you have the right boat?

I can’t begin to explain why this was the worst idea ever. I expect these kind of “games” in sprint races that attract new racers to the sport. It’s cute and fun if you aren’t racing seriously. Before anyone rants at me, yes, I realize that this sport should be fun, but if we aren’t actually racing, I’d much rather keep my money and go hashing. It’s only $7 and I get beer at the end. But I digress. For a race that advertises as one of the top races in the southeast, and goes to great lengths to attract top teams, I can’t believe they tried to pull this stunt. Just think about the physics of it. Our three person team with gear weighed in around 600 lbs. I’m 6’5″ tall and the boat 6’4″ long. I couldn’t fit in there by myself. I watched two teams try to paddle and it just wasn’t going to happen. I ended up deflating the boat, stuffing it in my pack, and we ran the 10 miles. I should also note that we threw all these cheap boats away and I am sure they went directly into some landfill where they will sit for the next thousand years.

Oh, but there is more. The race directors had to have known that the boats would go flat or teams wouldn’t fit and would end up on foot for the paddle section. With this in mind, why on earth would you put CP’s along the river where they could only be accessed from land if one was trespassing? I consider that unprofessional, irresponsible, and dangerous.

Gasping for air as we climb up the stairs to the finish.

To top it all off, we spoke with one racer further back in the pack who at the paddle put in. He said that he felt mocked the people there were watching him as he tried to get in the boat and go downstream. We are racers paying lots of money to compete in this event, the last thing we want to be is mocked. I’m sure (I hope) no one was doing this consiously to the racers, but the mere fact someone felt that way doesn’t speak well for the whole situation.

When we finally made it to the finish line and I consciously made the effort to talk to as many people as I could to get their opinions. I honestly could not find anyone that had anything good to say about the race. Yes, this is anecdotal, but I think this is reflected in the lack of conversation about the race on the Trailblazers Adventure Racing Club forums.

By now, if you haven’t figured it out, the race was a bit of a let down for us. We got in a good workout, and we got to see our friends, I just wish it had been under better circumstances.

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