Looking for a taste of what’s in store at an All Out Adventure? Join Ross Capdeville and his team at the 2013 Dawn to Dusk!
We’re stopped at a gas station in-between produce farms along a desolate stretch of 101 to grab two bags of ice – the late afternoon heat is radiating all around us. I can’t think of a world where I wouldn’t have cold beers when we got to the campground. Cold Beers? My teammates – Alex, Sage, and Josh – question why those would be needed the night before we embark on a race where the fastest teams were expected to finish in 12-hours.
We continue on, eventually finding the campground in the hills above San Luis Obispo and the race check in. Two members of the Skybox Team were my friends who I’d called two days ago to fill spots vacated by Kris & Mike Martin. When we arrive at check-in, the race director jokes about my assistant, Amber, who helped with many of the logistics around getting us set for the event.
After dropping our bikes and setting up camp, we start the food preparation ritual. I’m known for loving candy and cookies, so we painstakingly pack hundreds of dollars of high-tech candy we purchased Thursday from REI. Additionally, I show one of my adventure racing secrets – olive oil saturated bread. Josh laughs at the pure ludicrous nature of this “food”, just as Mike Martin did several weeks ago after our training. We pack two bags each, expecting a transition area at some point to be able to re-supply.
Hungry after packing all the food, we head down to town for dinner. My friend Rigel joins us, with his mom. We all have burgers, and some have beers. It’s the pre-race festival and we do it right.
Saturday 6:00… We all wake before our alarms, yet upon arriving back at the race start we are one of the last teams to get our maps. I quickly plot as Josh reads the coordinates. As I guessed the day before, we are starting in the boats. At 7:00 the starting gong rings, and we are off jogging to the lake shore.
I jump right in the water pulling our kayak in with me, and jumping in the front. Sage, Alex, and Josh are tip-toe-ing around the waters edge, trying not to get mud on their shoes! Really! Everyone laughs as Josh dumps Alex clear out of the boat, and we take off. Sage’s powerful motor propels us at maximum hull speed. We pass many teams, and arrive on the shore to start our run.
We’re given a choice – do we take the long way around on trails, or skirt the lake shore and try to save some distance. Since I’d agreed to run 6 miles – and this was only about 4 – I decide to do the known trail run. As we jog, I realize I left my compass in the TA. Not a big deal, as for the most part I can navigate the first half of the course without a compass.
Getting to the bike TA, Alex takes his time getting ready so he’l look good in the pictures. So much so that Keith shows up and tells us he lost his map! Wow, I think, we’re not even 2 hours in and it’s already a disaster! Finally on the bike, we start to cruise and gain the first real physical challenge of the course – a 2,000 vertical-foot ascent on the bike – interspersed with a caving adventure!
We get up the first little bit easily and head out on a trek down a creek bed to find two checkpoints hidden in caves. Since it’s still early in the race, we compete with large masses to get in and out of the cave. It made every team stop and enjoy the adventure part of the race. Nitish, my friend racing for Skybox, caught up with us and starts socializing in the creek bed – he knows one out of every ten people who pass.
Back on the bikes, we are going up steep fire roads in granny gear. “When does this start to be fun?”, Alex asks as we pedal side by side, making relatively minor progress. We’re not even 3 hours in, the sun is now shining relentlessly, and the heat is building. “At about 10 hours, it starts to be fun”, I tell him, half joking but still serious. I know that when I’m racing, it takes me about that long to get mentally into the race, to feel committed to it. At first, when you sign up, you’re not really committed. Now, after the training event – you’re committed a little more. At the race start, having traveled, bought $100 of candy, and committed your entire weekend – even more committed.
But really, you’re not committed to the course, until it’s caused you sufficient suffering that you feel an overwhelming urge to conquer it. And it’s not even real, but imagined. But real at the same time. Because once you’ve given so much of yourself up to the race, you can’t allow it to have its way with you. Now, multiply that by your 4 person team. It’s a powerful experience.
So Alex continues, begrudgingly up the 2,000 foot hill. Because, really, where else is he going to go? What else is he going to do? And on the other side of that hill, we are rewarded with a long descent winding along dirt track and over rocky outcrops. We’re faced with a few navigation decisions which we get correct without a compass. We pick up all the checkpoints along the way, and quickly careen down a tight single track to check in at a waypoint.
We take a quick glance at the map and notice the next CP high on a hill. We have an option to ride along a paved road, ending about 1000 feet to the CP as the birds fly. Otherwise, we would have to ride up a steep fire road in a circuitous route. My teammates didn’t notice my reading glasses stayed in my bag, and we jubilantly head down the smooth paved road in a pace line. Alex starts off and pulls us to 25 mph on the flat, we take turns and keep a good speed, and eventually get to a fence on a private ranch.
Not to be the types to get in trouble, Josh and Alex study the gate as Sage and I start throwing our bikes over. Eventually, they relent and agree to follow us. We’re riding fast, and Josh is getting behind. I joke with Sage & Alex that the last one always is the one to get caught – just as the dogs start barking! We put on the gas as Josh struggles to keep up, rotwhilers about to be on the chase! Luckily, we out run the dogs and no angry rifle bearing ranchers come out to find us!
We reach the end of the road to find a 300′ dam and a sheer, rocky cliff. Alex says it’s impassable. Sage and I go to explore, and say, we can go a little further. This is often how predicaments start, and I should know better, but we press on. It’s fun, certainly adventurous, climbing up and over the dam – with our bikes. Once on the other side, Alex says “There’s no trail”. I point to a small clearing in brush and say we can go through that. Sage wants to go straight up a 5th class cliff with his bike. Josh struggles to get to the top of the dam only to see he has to go back down the other side.
We start up the hill, making our way through the brush. We get over several steep sections before we realize we made a mistake – what is 1000 feet as the crows fly is also a 600′ elevation gain. Not only that, but the brush is thick, rock cliffs impede our progress, and the poison oak is rampant. Being the alpha-males that we are, we continue pushing forward, upwards, Sage and I taking turns to break trail.
We stop to eat. We’re out of water, in the middle of nowhere. The sun is relentless, the temperature almost 100 degrees. We know, academically, we’re half way there – but we can never be sure. The team’s morale is low and confidence is lost. We can’t turn back – it would be unsafe to descend with our bikes. We don’t want to continue forward – the terrain is inhospitable. We recognize our limited amount of time and energy. We’re trapped.
It’s exactly these experiences that make Adventure Racing the awesome sport that it is. No one knows where we are – and the only ones we have to depend on are ourselves. We are so close to safety in reality, yet so far away in our minds. The cliffs and brush extend endlessly, imprisoning us. Someone suggests ditching the bikes. Another asks if the helicopter could find us. Even with our collective education and wisdom we are reduced to reliance on brawn alone. We’re transported from the cordial, lassie-faire town of San Luis Obispo to the mountains of Afghanistan. Can we summon the power within us to break through?
Upon coming out of the forest behind Sage, I quickly discover that we landed right at the CP we were targeting. A feeling came over us of accomplishment, euphoria, that the end had come and we had seen the creator. Alex breaks through the woods like a madman, bike by his side, much to the shock of the volunteers expecting us to come from the other direction. Josh follows.
After a brief celebration, we recognize we are still in pretty bad shape – out of water – truly tested and feeling defeated. We ride down hill to the nearest water source and gulp copiously, indulging in life’s simple pleasures. We realize that boiled down to it, we just need a few simple things to live – water being the most important!
Sage and I circle the area on our bikes, trying to rally Josh and Alex en route to the main TA. Eventually, they concede and start riding. At the TA, we swap gear and ready for the big Trek. I plot the remaining points, and see that we can “just barley” finish the race if we do everything right. That’s intrinsically motivating to everyone. We find our other two teams had dropped, Keith and Jon due to injury. Nitish and Rigel are hot and dehydrated. Josh and Alex had enough as well, but are willing to go on the trek. We start hiking up the hill.
Time and time again we are told to turn around, that the ‘Impassable Ravine’ blocks access to the next “Waterfall CP”. We want to see for ourselves, and spend two hours scrambling up and down cliffs looking for a route. We see the CP in the distance, but can’t find a way to get through without significant bushwhacking. We’d had enough of that and start to return to the TA defeated.
En route to the TA, Sage and I strategize on how we can get Alex & Josh to go out yet again – to take a different route to the “Waterfall CP” bypassing the Ravine. By now, we’re getting far enough behind that it jeopardizes our finishing the race. I calculate that we’d be about an hour past the cut-off were we to get the waterfall CP, and at Josh’s pace probably more. Josh says he’s out and that’s final. Sage and I silently get ready to go by ourselves. Alex obliges reluctantly but doesn’t see the point. Sage speaks up, “No, we don’t go unless the whole team goes”. I agreed. The morale meter rises slightly. We ask for just one more hour from Josh – if we didn’t find it in 30 minutes, we’d come back.
All of us – including Josh – hike for about an hour and a half along the lake shore. We find ourselves at the zip line, and zipped across an inlet – at this point it’s faster to finish the race than to backtrack. Josh eats a few pieces of bread saturated in olive oil, and suddenly feels good.
We wade across hip deep mud pits en route to our kayaks and paddle as the sky goes dark. Sage and I are reveling in the last moments of what has been a spectacular, unique experience for everyone. We stop about 100 feet from shore and wait for our teammates. We gather our gear, then jog to the finish together – claiming our 57th place spot 13 hours, 35 minutes after we started.
The race always asks for that last teeny bit, that one more checkpoint, that one hour hike. The race knows you have more to give and takes it from you. What you get in return is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t been there. The full gamut of emotions are experienced, not only yourself, but also among and with your teammates. There’s no choice but to be raw and unfiltered – your true character is revealed for all to see. And at some point, what was once just a group of people suddenly becomes a team. And that team starts having fun together in the face of impossible ravines – and the impossible altogether. That can take a decade to build in a company, years in sports, but in an adventure race – Alex will tell you – it takes about 10 hours.
The next day, we all go mountain biking.