Norcal-AR Race #1 2008


Team Brunton by


The first race of the season is always a fun one.  All the local teams got back together to put their off season training to the test.  People were looking fit and you knew it was going to be a tough race.  A number of teams were coming out to test the strength of their PQ lineup as early preparation for the big event later in 2008.


We were ready to take them all on and put in a good early season effort having secured support this year from Brunton for navigation equipment, Ritchey Logic for bike parts and INOV-8 for our packs, trail running shoes and Debrisocs.  If you’ve not seen Debrisocs they’re the greatest thing.  It’s a combination of a sock and gaiter all in one simple package.   We are also supporting a local racer who has started, providing a new design of changing skirt to protect the public from half naked athletes in event parking lots.


The team for this event was Mari Chandler, Mike Prindiville, Andy Tubbs and myself with Super Supporter Hailey cheering for us.  The drive down from the City was easy apart from the 4:45 AM alarm call.  We needed to get down there in time to stage the boats and bikes in the transition area before the 8:30 pre race meeting.  When we arrived, the parking lot was already filling up and there were a lot of familiar faces.  Registration was quick and simple so we had just over an hour to set up all our gear and get back to the start for the pre race briefing. 


We were given some rules of travel at registration and it described the points system that was allocated to each CP.  All the trekking points were mandatory in numerical order but the kayak and bike were optional with a points scoring system.  The team with the most points would win.  The other rule to note was the 6:00PM time cutoff.  Any team back after 6:00PM would start loosing points at the rate of 3 per minute.  So if you were 33 minutes late you would lose all the points you’d gained during the day.  This was going to make things really interesting.


After a short pre race briefing we were given 10 minutes to look at the maps.  Looking at the points on the map we realized that the trek would take us across most of the park.  There was some serious terrain at Pacheco and we would see it all before the long run down to the boat ramp TA.  We would then visit all those same CP’s and more on the bike section.


After some quick route choices and discussion with the team we were all lined up on the start line ready to go.  We had 9 hours to get 19 CP’s.


When Rich said go we all started running up the first hill.  We maintained our position near the front and within about 500 yards I was already wishing I was a runner not a cyclist.  I was breathing hard and all my team mates had serious running backgrounds of national caliber.  I was dreading the next 3 hours dangling on the end of a tow rope.   As we crested the first hill we were leading the pack down to a small pond and the gully for the first CP.  Once we found it we did an immediate U-turn and went up the next hill to hit the trail.  As we came around the knoll I was shocked to see a couple of teams in front of us, Aquan and RWG Down Under had taken a slightly easier route and popped out on the trail slightly ahead.  By this time Andy had hooked me up to the tow rope and was hauling up the hill passing the other teams with me on a bungee. 


As I passed Thomas he was laughing at me dangling on the end of the leash being towed at high speed.   Just wait till the bike section!


The plan was to hit the ridge line and follow it for a while before dropping down the other side to a small gully that lead to Nun Lake.  This would then give us a clear shot up about 200 feet to the CP.  The route from the peak would have been a little easier terrain but it would also have been easier to take the wrong ridge down to the CP.  We opted for a little slower but safer route.


As we started climbing up from the lake we saw Aquan coming down the hill towards us.  Thomas was acting like they couldn’t find the CP, I guess they were hoping we would turn and follow them back down.  The altimeter said we were still about 75 feet too low so I just smiled and kept going.  I’m not falling for that old Thomas trick…


We hit CP 2 and decided that we would go back up to the peak to take the long downhill to the canyon and CP 3.  We passed True Grit just as we started going down the hill.  As we got to the area above the canyon we made a small error and overshot the gully that we wanted to follow down to the CP.  Not by much, maybe 50 yards, but this allowed True Grit to come by us again. 


We started to follow the canyon out directly to CP 4 but it was slow going, there was a lot of poison oak to get past.  We decided to scramble up the side to go around, thinking it would be much quicker.  It would have been but the point we chose to go up was very difficult and we ended up getting cliffed out and blocked by huge bushes of poison oak.  The last thing we wanted to do was fight our way through that mess so we dropped back down into the canyon.  The slow going allowed Aquan to come by us as they found a way up on out of the canyon onto much easier terrain.


We were now back in about 4th place behind Aquan, RWG Down Under and True Grit but this was still very early and we could see all the teams just in front of us.  We were probably separated a few minutes at the most.  We had one more CP to get before dropping down to the boat ramp.  This was a long scramble down a hillside into another gully that lead out to the lake.  We could see the others all around us on different parts of the hillside. When we punched the CP we headed for the TA, and with Andy doing the towing we passed two of the teams on the short grade up to the road. 


As we came into the TA Aquan was there just getting their boat ready and about to run down to the lake.  We made a quick transition then started the run down to the lake with the boats on the portage wheels.   I’m so glad we brought them.



We had decided before the race that we would have Andy and Mike paddle the wooden triple and Mari and I would be using Mike’s double.  The thought was that they would need all their power in the triple to keep up with the double.  We were so wrong.  As soon as we left the dock Mike and Andy just powered away!  We would need to change seating arrangements.  Rick Baraff of the old Silly Rabbits team was paddling someone’s plastic single with no rudder.  He stayed with us for a while chatting but things started to get a little crazy with the weather.  The wind picked up and the water started to get really choppy.  Rick was having serious problems keeping the shorter, rudderless boat straight in the wind and waves.  I was even having trouble with our much larger boat.  The last we heard of Rick was him screaming at the boat.  Apparently he turned around and decided to skip the furthest kayak CP more out of frustration than fear for his life. 


In the distance we had watched Aquan deploy the sail on their triple kayak and start to shrink into the distance.  This only lasted about 10 minutes as the storm started and they had to take it down.  I didn’t notice the rain at first.  Sitting in the back of the boat the splash of Mari’s paddle had just been blowing in my face for the past 20 minutes so it wasn’t until the hail was bouncing off the deck that I noticed the real change.


By the time we got to the first kayak CP we’d made the decision to switch boat positions.     I would be back in the wooden triple and Mike would be back in his boat.  This evened things up a lot and the two boats turned out to be almost exactly the same speed with this combination.   I was cold in just a t-shirt trying to fend off the rain, hail and paddle splash so I put my jacket and gloves on which was much more comfortable.


We could see other team boats coming towards us as we headed for the second kayak CP but we’d completely lost sight of Aquan.  We saw the sail go up for a minute but that didn’t seem to last long with the way the weather was coming in and the wind was gusting.


When we got back to the dock, Super Supporter Hailey was there waiting for us with the usual encouragement.  I was really surprised to see Aquan still in the TA when we got there.  They were looking over their maps and forcing down some food.  I immediately started to do the same thing.  I wanted to find a good route around the 11 bike CP’s in the maze of canyons and gullies that make up Pacheco Pass, but I also wanted to leave the TA as soon as possible.


Just as Aquan were leaving I noticed that they had left their compass on the table so I called them back.  I’m sure they could have gotten by without it but it was also their mandatory gear.  We couldn’t have them running off without that.


With a route plotted and a CP order decided we took off after the leaders.  We needed to start moving quickly as we were getting cold and it was about to start raining again.  The first bike CP was a short out and back on a trail that you couldn’t ride on.  We dropped our bikes at the same point as the other teams and ran the trail.  Apparently we were only about 10 minutes behind the leaders at this point.  We punched the CP and were quickly back on our bikes.  As we started up the hill we could see True Grit in front of us.  They had missed the first CP and I guess made an early decision that they wouldn’t get them all.


As we rode by everyone said hello but just then something happened behind me.  Apparently Mike’s leg cramped up and he nearly took out Stacy from True Grit as he swerved across the road with a yelp.  We immediately gave him some salt and hooked him up to my tow line for the rest of the climb.  He was lucky that there was some flat ground otherwise he might have gone over the guard rail.  As we got to the second CP Rick Baraff was just coming down off the knoll.  We chatted with him for a minute while Mari punched the CP.  He had just fitted one of the new Rotating Map Holders from AR Navigation Supplies and I wanted to make sure it was working well for him.  Seems like he loved it and said it was working fine.  His comment later was “now I know what all the fuss is about with these things”


We separated from Rick and went to find the next 2 CP’s that were off trail.  The first one was easy as we had been there earlier in the day during the trek, the second was along a wooded gully that made travel difficult with the bikes.  As we were half way along the gully we ran into Aquan and they were shocked that we were in there with our bikes.  They had left theirs at the other end and were hiking in to get the CP’s.  We popped out the other side and did a short out and back for a low point CP.  As we came past the point where Aquan’s bikes had been, we noticed they’d gone.  We’d only taken a few minutes to get the CP so they must have been only a minute or two ahead of us.   As we got to the next CP we could see them a little up the hill in front of us.  We were within a minute of them and gaining ground. 


When we got to the top of the ridge I noticed that Aquan had turned left for another out and back to the highest point value CP on the bike course.  We looked at the time and took a gamble.  We didn’t think that they could get the CP and make it back within the time cutoff.  We were concerned that if we went for it we would miss the cutoff and lose the points we had gained.  We decided to skip CP B9a and collect the last 3 CP’s giving us plenty of time in case something went wrong.  The last 3 CP’s were tough.  As we turned right and climbed back up to the Peak it started to hail on us and we were hearing thunder rumbling down the valley.  We could see the surrounding peaks had snow on them which was an amazing sight at this elevation and time of year.   A minute later as we were cutting across country we were snowed on too.  By this point in the race I’d been sunburned, rained on, hit with hail, snowed on and heard thunder all in 7 hours.   This was wild racing weather.


We reached the ridge above CP B5d and after a little searching we could see the CP way below us in the trees.  We started the cross country ride downhill and I was having a great time hanging off the back of my saddle as it was so steep. 


As I got close to the CP I stopped and waited for the others to catch up.  Mike arrived first and started to refuel.  When Mari showed up she had a big twig sticking out of her crash helmet.  For some reason I found this very funny, especially as she didn’t seem to know it was there or how it got there.   I wish I’d seen that.  I think it stayed there for the rest of the race.


We only had two CP’s to get and they were both on the road back to the finish.  If we could get to the road it would be an easy ride home.  I took us up one last gully where we had to push our bikes almost all the way and it got really difficult around a very large fallen tree.  We were all cursing as it was hard going.  As we came out of the gully the CP was on the fence right in front of us.  You could hear the relief from the team, especially Mike who was hurting at this point.   As we got to the CP we couldn’t believe that it was snowing on us!  Snow!  It’s March in Northern California, 50 miles from the coast and we’re getting snowed on at 1200 feet.  The easy road ride back had now turned into a small stream.


Despite the snow and the running water the ride back to the finish wasn’t too stressful.  We rolled in all together at 5:35 PM with 25 minutes in hand and 91 points out of the maximum 100 possible. 



Aquan hadn’t returned yet so now we had to wait to see if they made it by the cutoff.

Other teams were coming in and none of them had gotten all of the CP’s.


We were getting cleaned up and putting our gear away, it was now 5:59 and they still hadn’t arrived.  This was a really close finish.  They had 3 minutes left before we would get the win on penalties.  6:00 PM and still no Aquan!  It was looking like we’d made the right decision to skip CP B9a, they were starting to take penalties.  At 6:01 and 45 seconds they came flying into the finish area.  I called out to Mats and asked if he had been to all the CP’s.  He said YES!  They had beaten us with only 2 minutes to spare, and by only 6 points! 


How close is that over a 9 hour race?  2 minutes made all the difference.  It was at this point that the wind really picked up and started to blow the finish banner down.  I think that was the weather just telling us that it was time to leave.  That was fine we were tired, hungry, very happy for having a great race and on our way home.


The Norcal-AR race was a fantastic start to the season for us.  We’d won the 4 person division and placed 2nd overall to a really fast team and given them a good run for their money.


I’m looking forward to the next adventure in this series and I want to thank Rich and all his helpers for putting on a fantastic race.  A big congratulations goes to Jackie, Thomas and Mats for the win, they worked for that one.

For more information on our team and supporters please go to and take a look at the new team page.



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