Surviving The Longest Day
For all the years I spent growing up and going to school in NY, I’ve never gotten a chance to do an adventure race there. When new Checkpoint Zero teammates Jen Shultis and Joe Brautigam asked me to join them for the Longest Day, I jumped at the chance. I’d get to see my family and race in a new part of the country.
Organized by the New York Adventure Racing Association, The Longest Day is one of their premier events, and usually pull out all the stops to make a challenging, but fun and memorable course. Suffice to say, racers this year were not disappointed.
In a move that breaks with the trend of most races I’ve done, there was no day before registration and no plotting. I like this for several reasons. It makes for a relaxing evening before the race, opportunity to get a decent amount of sleep the night before, as well as taking away the persistent problem many races have, bad UTM’s in the instructions. There has been some debate amongst racers whether plotting, and plotting on or off the clock should be an adventure racing discipline. I lean towards making teams plot, but if giving out pre plotted maps eliminated bad UTM’s, I’d certainly vote for it.
At 4:30 AM we rose from our sleep, packed our gear into the cars and made the short trip from our hotel to Belleayre ski area for registration and the start. Being a bit of a stranger to the north east race scene, I saw a few familiar faces, but by the conversations it was clear Jen and Joe knew pretty much everyone. After getting the maps we were given about an hour to look at the maps, figure out a route, and digest the rules. Some quick re-shuffling of gear and we were set to begin.
We were given envelopes with prologue maps and instructions, consisting of two identical sets of topo maps, satellite photos, and passports. We were told the team could split up, and collectively we had to visit all 9 prologue points. Joe and I quickly split the points and took off in opposite directions, leaving Jen at the start, as nothing said the whole team had to go anywhere. I think we were the only team that did that. At the last point I visited, I had the first of several minor accidents of the race. As I stepped off a road and into the woods I slipped and instinctively put my had down to catch myself. As I regained balance and brought my hand up I felt a sharp pain right between my pinky and ring finger. I looked, and there was part of a stick, about the diameter of a match, poking out of my hand! I tried to extract it with my other hand, but it broke off, and I could feel what was left in my hand.
Running back to the start line I was hollering for some tweezers. I wiped away the blood that was now trickling down my fingers and presented my wound to Jen. She poked around for a second and asked “Is there really something in there?” Knowing the clock was ticking, I answered rather impatiently, “Yes, I know there is something in there!” It’s not that she was taking her time, it was that we had a race to run and I didn’t want to blow it right off the bat. With several pairs of tweezers, one holding back the flap of skin, the other digging into the soft flesh of my hand, I felt Jen grab what was in there and I told her to pull hard. TOo much adrenalin to feel any pain. What came out was a (relatively) huge chunk of branch about a 1/4″ long!
Now having spared us a trip to the hospital, we started the race. There was a quick bike orienteering section at the ski area that confused most of the teams as there were a maze of trails both shown and not shown. This was followed by a hike a bike to the top, and a ride back down the mountain. Along the way I had the second of my little accidents, this time getting my front wheel stuck in a little ditch which unsurprisingly sent me over the handle bars, jamming a seat into my thigh before landing in a patch of stinging nettles. Good times, I felt it the rest of the race and have a massive yellow and purple bruise on the inside of my leg as I type. A short road ride and we made it to the first transition. Here we got on foot and got our one mandatory, and 3 optional checkpoints before getting to one of the highlights of the race, the rafting section.
The rafting was on Esopus Creek, which most of the time is fairly tame, but there had been a water release starting the evening before which turned sections of the river into fairly technical class 2 and 3 white water. We were given 10′ white water rafts, PFDs and paddles and sent on our way. None of the three of us were terribly experienced white water paddlers so we spent the first few minutes bouncing off, over, and around every rock in the river. As our boat started to fill with water, we tried to bail some of it out with little success. Once we had a foot of water in the raft we knew we had to pull over and dump it. Have you ever tried to dump a raft with that much water in it? It isn’t easy if you don’t know what you are doing. We finally managed to tilt the raft upright and got most of the water out, when Joe spotted his bladder hose from the bottom side of the raft. How could that be visible? Probably had something to do with the 10″ L-shaped tear in the bottom of the boat. We realized there would be no more bailing for us and we’d have to make the rest of the trip water logged.
Unfortunately for us, this all happened right before the most technical section of the river, and the part that had the most spectators. Somehow we made it through without looking like total fools, although maybe we did look like fools and the kayakers were kind enough not to point it out. Further downstream we did come across a mandatory portage that was manned by two volunteers. We convinced them to let us swap boats with them as theirs was sea worthy and they didn’t have to paddle any more.
By early afternoon we were off the river and back on the bikes for a ride, or rather a climb, to the next trek. Even though the net elevation gain in the race was zero, it felt like 3/4′s of the race was spent going up hill. The second trek had a time limit on it, which meant we missed most of the points available there before getting to the best part of the race. The zip line. This was no ordinary zip line, only the longest and highest in North America. At a height of 500 feet above the ground, and reaching speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, this was by far the coolest ropes section I’ve ever done in any race so far. If you ever get a chance to go to Hunter Mountain, check it out.
After the zip line, it was a mere formality to trek back down the mountain and ride to the finish line. We finished in second place behind SOG, who were amazingly fast and certainly deserved the win. I can safely say this event was probably my favorite of the year so far, and it will be hard to top. I can only hope that I have a chance to go race it again next year.