2005 Tahoe Big Blue Adventure Race

Watch videos:
Kayak Setup
Bike Setup
Race Start
Almost Done!
Race Finish

[photos available as well as a parallel recap by Nick who designed this cool video player above]

Be careful what you wish for!  I got it into my head that I wanted to do an adventure race and tried to convince my friends Nick and Megan to do it with me. I eventually got lukewarm on the idea and after some initial hesitation they decided they (well, now we) were in.

Adventure racing seems to have evolved as a reaction to the rigid structure of triathlon, where all the rules are explicit and courses meticulously marked. We learned that AR is all about what isn’t written on the sparse race documentation and you really are all on your own!

We got to Tahoe the day before and set up our kayaks and mountain bike transitions. It was very windy and the lake was unbelievably turbulent. THERE WERE PEOPLE SURFING.  I am not joking. I can’t kayak to save my life and there was no way we could have ventured into that water!  Never fear, only 12 hours til race start.

At 5:30 AM you could pick up the course maps and guidelines to start planning your route. We arrived at 6:30 (1 hour before race) and huddled in the car (it was 35 degrees outside) as Nick started plotting a masterful course for the 8 checkpoints we had to make to complete the race.

We began with a 2+ mile walk/jog down to the kayak area. We were in dead last place (toting our dry bags!) when we got to the launch point where we actually passed several teams who were dallying. This is where the fun started. I was in a sit-on-top kayak with Megan steering in the back. The front of the kayak was groaning under my weight and we wobbled as we inched away from shore. Thankfully the lake calmed down quite a bit. It was choppy with an occasional white cap. Either way, our kayak was crap and I was more or less terrified. It was an 8 mile journey that cut across a bay so for most of it we were 1-2 miles from shore. There was no supervision that I could see and the couple hundred competitors where strung out for miles.

Our kayak went dramatically to the right no matter what we tried. I am not kidding, had we paddled normally we would have been doing tight concentric circles like a dog chasing its tail. The strategy we settled on was to paddle only on the right side and Megan had to jam her paddle as a rudder to swish us left every 10 meters or so. It was miserable! Two hours of miserable! Nick, however, was doing well in his solo kayak staying a hundred or so yards away to avoid our complaints. Most of my suggestions were met with a simple, "shut up and keep paddling" from Megan who was doing most of the work.

It took 2 hours to complete the kayak and we were so thankful to be changing out of wet slop into warm mountain biking clothes. After 20 minutes of gathering our packs (we had to carry all of our own food and water for the entire event, as well as mandatory items like compasses and head lamps), jamming our pie holes with energy bars and potato chips, and double checking everything, we were off to find (in any order) checkpoints 3-7 on our mountain bikes.

The initial excitement wore off a half mile later when we started climbing on a dirt fire road. It was then that I realized again that I am a mediocre mountain biker and having not ridden off-road since 2001, it was going to be a tough day. There was also the little altitude (6000-8000ft) annoyance! Fortunately, Nick clearly should be chairman of some MAP MENSA society as he was able to put together the most efficient route possible and was so confident in where we were headed, all I had to do was pedal.

As we picked off checkpoints, it became clear that we were doing a lot better than a lot of other people who seemed to be headed in wrong directions or just plain lost. We even stopped for a 5 minute roadside lunch! About 6 hours into the race we made it to the orienteering section, which was a blast. We quickly changed out of our MTB shoes and headed out to find 8 of 11 points on a new map in an area adjacent to the Northstar ski area.  After 2 hours of scouring and bushwhacking and with only a map and compass to help us find small flags hidden as much as a half mile away, we were ready for the home stretch.

We hit CP #8 on the road out and then descended back down toward the lake on HWY 267. Nick’s only blemish was to miss a final early cutoff that might have saved us 10-15 minutes, but by then we were really just happy to be done. We are still waiting on the final results but our time was just under 9:30.

It was great fun. The mountain bike ride included some incredible vistas and some of the finest technical single track anyone could desire. The whole unstructured nature of the event also made it quite appealing and fortunately we never got lost so there wasn’t much chance to get frustrated with one another.

Today, I am pretty tired. My wrists are killing from the kayaking and I am pretty sure I am done for 2005 🙂

It has definitely been a year of firsts: Ironman, 50 Miler, and now adventure race. Mix in a half-ironman and a couple marathon distance training runs, well, my body wants a break!


function changeVideo(id, url)
if (navigator.appName==”Microsoft Internet Explorer”)
document.getElementById(id).fileName = url;
setPlayerCode(id, url);
function setPlayerCode(id, url)
var str = “”;
str += “”;
str += “”;
str += “”;
str += “”;
str += “”;
str += “”;
document.getElementById(‘playerWrapper’).innerHTML = str;
setPlayerCode(‘mediaPlayer1’, ”);

%d bloggers like this: