The Quest Adventure Race Team had a great start to the 2015 racing season with strong finishes at the first in a series of 4 weeknight adventure races put on by Krank Events. Brent and I formed a team of two for the race. The race took place on the roads, trails, and urban parks around Bellevue and had a 3 hour time limit…making it feel like more of a sprint compared to the more typical half-day or longer races. We met at 6:30pm near the start/finish for the pre-race briefing, maps were distributed at 6:40, and in typical adventure race “ready or not, the race is starting now” form, the race was underway at 7:00 sharp.
There never seems to be enough time to put good thought into planning the fastest route to collect all the checkpoints, and these weeknight races are no exception. In fact, they feel far more rushed most of the time. Luckily, we were barely able to finish tracing our intended route on our maps with highlighters and get to the start with only seconds to spare.
The first 5 or so minutes of the race were spent doing a short “Blind-O” (the “O” stands for orienteering). Each team was given a small piece of paper with 4 clues, each with multiple choice answers. Each clue was the location of a checkpoint. No map required for the Blind-O. The clues were simple and would read something like “NW corner of building, small shrub” or “S end of parking lot, letters on post”. We would simply run to the shrub, post, or wherever the clue led us, and look for a ribbon with a word on it, or in the case of the post example, simply read the letters on the post, and HOPEFULLY, the word, letters, or whatever we were looking for, matched one of the multiple choice answers on our sheet of paper. If so, we’d circle the correct answer and move on to the next. If not, we’d keep looking. Once we got all 4, we ran back to the start, handed the paper to a race official who took a quick look to make sure we’d answered correctly, and were cleared to head out on our bikes.
The Blind-O was very easy and took most teams about 5 minutes to complete. It is fairly common for adventure races to start with a short challenge such as this as a way to spread teams out a little before they head out after the main checkpoints.
The rest of the race was laid out as a short bike to a remote transition area, where we left our bikes and continued on foot for almost an hour, and then we finished up with a second, longer bike section, connecting urban parks and eventually making our way back to the finish. There were regular checkpoints (if you miss them, a time penalty is added to your finish time) and pro-checkpoints (if you get them, a time bonus is deducted from your time). The size of the time bonus depends on how difficult/out of the way that checkpoint is. There are severe time penalties for finishing after the cutoff, which for this race was 10pm.
The first bike section was quick, and took us 4-5 miles north to Bridle Trails State Park, collecting 2 regular CP’s and 1 pro CP along the way. These weeknight races feel FAST! There was no time to stop and look at the map. Trying to read a map while riding your bike (and trying to ride fast) is not easy to do. It is very easy to miss a road and end up wasting time trying to find where you went wrong. Finding a balance between moving fast and taking time to study the maps is extremely important, and these short races are a great way to practice finding that balance.
We pulled into the parking lot at Bridle Trails and at least half the teams’ bikes were there already. We knew that not all the teams had gotten the pro CP on the first bike section, but we knew that some had, and that there were probably some teams ahead of us. We ditched our bikes, turned on our lights, and headed into the woods. We were able to stick mostly to trails and did one short bushwhack to collect all 11 regular and 3 pro CP’s on the trekking section in what we felt to be the quickest way possible. Our navigation was pretty solid since we both had maps and whoever was running in second could follow along and double check the leader.
As we neared our bikes we saw several teams pedaling off out of the transition area. Like before, we really didn’t know who had gotten what checkpoints. We knew we had gotten all regular and pro CP’s up to that point, but there was really no way to tell what place we were in. That’s just how adventure racing works though. You don’t know what place you got until the race is over and all the team passports have been scored.
The second bike was quite a bit longer than the first, and took nearly an hour and a half to complete. We spent most of the time riding on roads, from one urban park to the next, where the CP’s often were hidden. There were a few trails mixed in as well. At one point, we accidentally rode right past a checkpoint, heading towards the next one. We both had our maps in front of us, and both made the same mistake. Luckily, we realized our error quickly and only had to backtrack about a half mile to the CP we’d missed.
Several CP’s later, we had a little trouble locating the actual ribbon with the answer on it. Usually, if you are in the correct general location, locating the ribbon, sign, or whatever you’re looking for, is very easy and obvious. However, one of the ribbons in this race had gotten partially covered in some vines on the ground, so we wasted about 10 minutes (along with at least a dozen other people) looking for it.
After the final CP, with only 6 minutes to get to the finish, we ran into our final unanticipated challenge. We were on a trail very close to the finish, when we came across a chain link fence and locked gate blocking the trail. Maps don’t always show all the details you might encounter. We took a quick look at the map, and determined it would take us too long to backtrack and find another way around, so Brent climbed over the fence, I handed the bikes over, and then climbed over myself. We were in the parking lot for an apartment complex, and were only about a minute from the finish, which we reached with only 4 minutes to spare before the 10:00 cutoff.
We were a little cold and wet, as it had been misting for most of the race, but we had a great time on a fun course and enjoyed chatting with other teams at the finish while sipping on hot cocoa and eating some tasty chili and assorted post-race snacks. We had a great time talking to some other Quest adventure racers from Bellingham, Stephen and Mitch, about how their race had gone. It was their first adventure race and they had a great time as well.
Results were posted the next day, and were excited to see that we were the only team to reach all regular and pro CP’s and had just barely managed to pull off the win. Stephen and Mitch finished near the middle of pack in 10th place, certainly a great finish considering it was their first race.
The next race on the Quest team calendar is the second in the Krank Events weeknight series, on May 12th at Tokul in Fall City, WA. There should be plenty of singletrack trail in that race. We’re looking forward to it. If you’re in the Bellingham area and are interested in finding our more about what adventure racing is all about, be sure to check out our orienteering practice night on Wednesday, May 6th at Fairhaven Park. Please RSVP first if you’re interested. Details HERE!