The Nationals Curse Continues

Any National Championship race should be one of the highlights of the season. You work hard to get there, put in the training, learn from your mistakes, assemble the best team you can and hope for the best. Unless you’re a member of Checkpoint Zero. Then you just hope that you’ll make less mistakes and have better luck than last year.

In 2010 we were in Moab, where Jenn had intestinal issues and we had to pull over ever 45 minutes for relief. In 2009 we had a dismal race in Texas, I mostly blacked that out so I can’t remember. In 2008 we raced in Blue Ridge and spent several hours huddled on the side of a hill lost. 2007 we had 3718 flat tires. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get frustrated because I have bad results, I get frustrated when the team catches bad luck, and when I don’t live up to the expectations I have for myself. I can cut others slack, but it’s hard to cut myself any. Lady luck, well, I hope she’s listening and takes it easy on me.

By most accounts, the 2011 Checkpoint Tracker National Championship was an excellent race. Held in the Land Between Lakes region of Kentucky, we had access to miles of single track, acres of undeveloped land, and vast expanses of water. It really is a wonderful area to race in. Going in we felt we had a good shot at doing well, even with the high caliber teams that were going to show up.

Our race started well, after the hectic prolog on the beach, we set off on foot for a few points close to the start/finish line and got back to the paddle put in within sight of the leaders. Hot on their tails, we paddled like mad and made up some distance between Lake Barkley State Park and the Land Between Lakes National Recreation Area. We made a quick transition to foot and got to the start of the orienteering course. Knowing that the results on this section would likely decide the race, we tried to pick an efficient route that would leave us an out in the event we weren’t able to clear the section. We spent the first couple hours going back and forth with Bushwhacker, as we had picked a nearly identical route for the first 8 points or so. We kept moving well until we started heading towards the farthest out point on the course. It looked fairly simple on the map, traverse a ridge line for a couple km, drop down a re-entrant and nab the point.

Ha. Little did we know what laid ahead of us. Following my compass, we seemed to keep drifting a little to the north compared to the map, but I was confident we would stay on track and not have any issues. That should have been the first warning sign. We got to where I thought the point should have been, but it wasn’t there. Ok, I was one re-entrant off. Tried the next one. And the next one. And the next one. Knowing we were loosing precious time I didn’t want to backtrack too far, but knew that without starting from a known point we’d be hunting and pecking. An hour (probably more) later, we opted to bail to a nearby road and attack from there. We oriented ourselves, shot a bearing, and started towards the point when another team came from a slightly different direction towards us. We casually asked if they found it, and they said yes, it was right at the top of the hill they were coming down. I looked at my compass and didn’t think it they were right as I had us going more to the right. We decided that we’d take the cue from the other team, ignore the compass, and attack off their description.

Sure enough, we found the point without much more effort. Confused, I kept looking at the map and my compass when it finally hit me. The declination was set WAY off. Like 35 degrees off. I had never set it to anything other than zero, so I never expected it to move. That explains a lot. If I had only been able to use my Tech4o GPS watch with programable waypoints I’d have not gotten lost. Knowing that we had dropped a long way off the pace of the leaders, we knew we could still make a reasonable go at the race, but we’d have to lower our expectations.

We finished off the orienteering without fanfare over 3 hours behind the leaders, and I was mentally exhausted from the stress. I handed the maps to Paul and asked him to navigate the next paddle leg. Daylight had left us, and we were forced to paddle in the dark around several tricky coves that threw us for another loop. We finally made our way to the bikes and hoped that our route choice would move us up in the field. I think it did, but unfortunately I missed another significant turn and we ended up spending another hour looking on the wrong peninsula for a point. By the time I realized the mistake, it was 2 AM, a heavy frost had settled, and we were getting worried about missing cutoffs. I hadn’t looked at the whole route back to the finish line as I thought it was a relatively simple out, do a loop, and head back.

Catching the theme here? Usually I’m not that sloppy but I have no idea why I overlooked so many things. When we got to the CP we were looking for, we were told this was the special challenge point, and we had to take an arm full of pool noodles and get a point across the bay. With our sprits already crushed, and not thinking about how to go about the challenge other than the thought that the water was brutally cold we elected to cut short the course and head back to the boats. We didn’t think we’d have enough time to clear it, but leaving time on the clock was better than missing the finish cutoff.

Had we actually thought about the challenge, we could have run around the bay like the other teams and not gotten wet at all. Had we sat down and looked at the map, we would have realized that we could have cleared the course because we didn’t have to take the slow single track back, we could hit some faster roads and trails.

We made it back to the finish line and I was glad to be done, but disappointed that I made so many mistakes. I learned lots of lessons in this race, lets hope that I take those lessons with me and use what I learned to do a better job next year. I question whether we should continue to race at Nationals given our bad luck, but we know we’ll keep trying. We’ve got to have a good run at it one of these years.

Probably the year the team kicks me out and gets a real navigator. :)

The team got lots of video from the race, hopefully we’ll edit that into something interesting and post that for your viewing pleasure.

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