The Cauldron 30-Hour Adventure Race

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Nobody Could Be More Clueless than Me! Meet Stan - A. R. Rookie and Solo Racer

Stan Holmes / 28.01.2021See All Event Posts Follow Event
Stan racing at the Florida C2C, which he has finished twice / © Stan Holmes

My name is Stan Holmes.  I am brand new in Adventure Racing and have a 50/50 success rate so far.  I have completed the Florida Sea to Sea race twice, DNF’ed the Blairsville 24 hour race when I aggravated an old calf injury and had to limp out of the woods at 2:00 in the morning, and I just DNF’ed the Cauldron 30 hour race when I got hopelessly lost in the woods and couldn’t find the last TA.

I got involved in adventure racing totally out of curiosity.  I’ve never been a team sport athlete.  I am a (very slow) runner and triathlete and did a couple of obstacle course races.  I really enjoyed those and adventure racing was a logical step.  I heard someone say that “the race has to be at least as long as the drive” and AR fits, but hindsight being a wonderful thing, doing a 72 hour expedition for my first adventure race probably was a poor decision!

If anyone has the chance to do a race, I HIGHLY recommend it.  The people are wonderful and everyone is always ready to help a clueless, new guy – like me.  It can be a little intimidating.  I thought I would be bushwhacking through the woods, trying to hold a compass bearing while counting steps for 5 or 6 kilometers through the swamp. 

There’s a little of that, but most of the time you take a road or a trail to an “attack point” – a point that you can easily identify – and then take a short bearing to find a checkpoint.  Don’t be too concerned about the map and compass work. 

Obviously, it’s part of it, but if you can use a compass to find North and orient a map the same way, you have covered most of the problem.  You may not find all the checkpoints, but you can find some and stay oriented enough to not get too lost.  If you have the opportunity to do a 4 – 12 hour race, you really should try it.

Going Solo

I sign up to race solo, mainly because no one I know is an adventure racer.  That being said, most of the time I have joined up with other solos or even other teams for large portions of the race.  On both my Sea to Seas and part of Blairsville, I was with at least one other person.  At the Cauldron, I was by myself most of the time.  No surprise, there are good and bad things both ways. 

If you’re with someone else, it sort of becomes a committee, so you may end up chasing checkpoints you would rather not, or skipping some that you may be able to find.  Honestly, at the Cauldron, I could have used some help.  At midnight, I started down a poorly marked single track trail, on my bike, towards TA-4, or at least I thought I was.  I was by myself and very cold (my Camelback actually froze).  I knew exactly where I was at the start ... 

Very quickly though, I found myself having to leave my bike, with the lights on (so I could go back and find it), and wandering around in the woods with a flashlight, trying to find the next blaze on the trees, and then going back, getting my bike and going on.  I did this for probably 3 or 4 hours.  I was so far back in the woods that backtracking wasn’t really an option.  I was as careful as I could be.  After a while, I saw an opening and some light.  I had made it to the TA! 

Not so.  I had done a big circle and had made it back to the trail head where I started 4 hours ago.  It would have been really nice to have someone backing me up then!  Also, it’s really difficult to navigate to a checkpoint and paddle in a kayak, solo, at night.  Truthfully, I’ve never found a CP on a night kayak.  I just stay in the middle of the river and hope I don’t pass the exit point.

Staying Dry and Warm

Speaking of the kayak, I’m comfortable on the water, but I’m not very good at it.  On my first Sea to Sea, me and another solo (thank goodness!) launched on a long kayak, just before sunset.  We ended up kayaking through this swampy river, listening to the alligators bellow around us, totally in the dark because the bugs attacked when we turned on our headlamps.  The next day, we kayaked again, on a beautiful day, on a crystal clear river.  It was worth racing just for that paddle.  At Blairsville, I got pitched out of my kayak, into some baby rapids and totally trashed all my gear. 

For gear, any reasonable mountain bike will work fine.  You’ll need a backpack with a bladder or room to carry some water bottles.  The most important thing is staying dry and warm.  For me, it’s gloves.  I get cold easily and my hands are always the first to go.  Temperature dependent, of course, but a waterproof top shell, at least 1 fleece/warm layer and a wicking inner layer and trail running shoes.

If you race in the dark take a headlamp, 2 flashlights (at least for me) and backup batteries.  When I got washed out of my kayak at Blairsville, all my flashlights quit working except for one that barely worked.  It was a long, dark, 2 hour limp out of the woods when I got hurt and had to hike out, all the time knowing that if I got off this trail, I was going to have to sit down and wait for the sun to come up so I could find my way out.

Don’t overthink it.  Find a medium distance race and try it.  Great people and wonderful experiences – even if it means getting lost in the woods at 3:00 am with a frozen camelback.  Think of the stories you can tell!

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