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Discussion: The inaugural Adventure Trex

in: Henry Coe Adventure Trex (Nov 1–3, 2013 - Hollister, CA, US)

Nov 5, 2013 9:16 PM # 
What is going to happen if at 6 am on Saturday morning of the event weekend the Event Director, Course Designer, Epunch/Results person, and Safety Coordinator are in a car that's resting at the bottom of a reentrant just off a park road, with half of the event equipment also in the car?

The answer is six paragraphs below...

Henry Coe Adventure Trex was conceived as a variation of the classic 24-hour rogaine format to highlight the key elements of the experience, make them accessible to most teams, and make the event more sociable and fun. The key difference is a mandatory 8-hour campout at a remote location. Teams have up to 20 hours for Stage One of the course, and up to 12 hours to cover Stage Two. Both stages start in the dark, exposing all teams to night navigation. Just like in a regular rogaine, it's not mandatory to stay out all the way up to the time limit; a team could pick a few checkpoints on the way from the start to the camp, rest there for most of Saturday, and get a few on the return trip to the finish, traveling during or after dark.

An all-you-can-eat buffet is served at the camp for most of the 8-hour break. Faster teams get a benefit; those that clean all Stage One's checkpoints can start Stage Two earlier, 8 hours after their finish. But, this forces them to do more of Stage Two in the dark, evening the challenge out somewhat.

The original plan was to set Stage One for a winning time of 14 hours, and Stage Two, for 12 hours. So, in Stage One about half the teams would clean out the course, but only the best teams would be able to do so at Stage Two. The original plan was also to finish at a third location, Point C, and shuttle the teams back to the start where their cars were parked. This didn't work out financially nor logistically, and a trek back to the starting point from the camp proved to be possible that covered terrain that mostly didn't overlap with Stage One, presenting a fresh set of challenges.

The original plan also included bike categories. None of us at Get Lost!! have mountain biking as our primary sport, nor are we connected well with the Mtb community. To cut the story short, we didn't get much support from the community neither in terms of registrations nor, most importantly, in terms of CP placement. So, about two weeks before the event we invited the three bike teams to switch to the foot category. All did, and ended up enjoying the event tremendously.

Along with the Trex, we offered a 4-hour rogaine; we didn't feel that we could support an 8-hour event given the logistics, and that most people to whom the 8 hours would appeal should also be able to do the full Trex, splitting the 8 hours between stages with an 8-hour rest in-between.

The idea of the Trex was a mash of things we've seen done in Europe. The Original Mountain Marathon has stages and a campout, but also a bunch of rules we found silly. Its Russian version is what I drew most of my inspiration from, and what this format is closest to, including the choice of the season and the light conditions. The major difference is full support; you are on your own at the camp in the frozen flatlands in the Moscow version, the name of which translates as March Forward. We didn't want to test teams' survival skills but rather wanted to feed them.

Now, the answer to the first paragraph's question: Not much transpired that would have been obvious or detrimental to the participants. We shortened Stage Two course a bit, didn't have the 4-hour award ceremony, and the Trex results are as of now delayed a bit, hopefully to come out later this week. (The 4-hour results were announced on site and will soon be posted.) The shortened Stage Two ended up closer to the Russian course philosophy of making the second task doable for most teams, not just the top ones, and quite a number of teams remarked that they enjoyed the challenge more than if it were longer, since being able to clean out Stage Two course proved a strong motivator to keep moving at a decent clip.

Almost all of my time between the 6 am accident and passing out at the camp at 7 pm-ish was taken dealing with the accident's aftermath, two attempts at extraction of the SUV, talking to the rental company, and moving equipment around. John Brooks of Pacific Coast Trail Runs, my chief assistant, took charge of my ED and participant safety responsibilities. Jason, our EMT, cooked at the camp instead of John; this wasn't part of his job description, but he seemed happy to come to the event's rescue. All was back on track after I rejoined the crew on Saturday evening.

This resilience seems to show that our organization has enough margin to withstand a major day-of-event blow, and that the model of a small number of dedicated key event staff is at least just as functional as the model with a large number of volunteers.

Twenty-three participants started the inaugural Trex as members of 11 teams. Besides the greater Bay Area, Central Valley, and Sierra foothills, they came from Ithaca, Vermont, Maryland, Colorado, Arizona, and Seattle; teams from San Diego and Oregon entered but were unable to make it. The weather was most unlike what it was at Coe two years ago for the U.S. Rogaine Champs. It was completely dry, with both nights just above freezing, Saturday was a bit warm with high in the mid-70s, and Sunday was alternatingly overcast and sunny with temperatures in the
60s F.

One team was clearly head and shoulders above others. Andrew Peterson and Dennis Wilkinson are both past U.S. Rogaine Champs or North American Rogaining Champs winners. They cleaned out Stage One course in about 15.5 hours, and Stage Two, in 8.5 hours. Team Phast Generation (Ken Walker Sr. and Glen Brake) ended up second (and first Masters and Supervets), barely missing clearing the course in Stage One.

The 4-hour rogaine was ignored or boycotted by the majority of BAOC's members for reasons I wouldn't want to delve into further. The two who did come took home the honors, and over a dozen newcomers enjoyed their first rogaine under clear skies in the golden hills and mild temperatures, and a healthy dose of instruction and mentoring from one of the regulars.

The event was successful financially; more numbers below. Forty-two people experienced new, pleasant, technically complex terrain with a quality map, made with no use of the club's resources. The event used no BAOC members as volunteers until CP pickup. Participants were treated to access to the part of the park not normally open to the general public during cooler temperatures. The park rangers, management, and neighbors are excited about this unique way to showcase the hidden beauty of the vast expanses of former California ranchland, and promise support to us for years to come, despite the car incident.

The terrain used for the 4-hour rogaine is, in my opinion, one of the most enjoyable and one of the most technically complex in the Bay Area. It's second only to Morgan Territory in overall complexity, lacking mapped rock features, and beats it in terms of contour detail. The area by the start/finish was used in 2011, but only a small handful of 24-hour teams reached it then; it would have been brand new for BAOC members.

The earliest-cutoff fee for the 4-hour rogaine was $20 for members of both BAOC and Orienteering USA.

My thinking is that those who didn't come punished mostly themselves.

My time spent directly on this event was 233 hours, spread over two years, with another 10 hours or so to come this week to prepare the results and RouteGadget and do some followup. This figure is distorted by the fact that the bulk of the cartography was done by (mostly) Vladimir Kozlov and myself in 2011 in preparation for the U.S. Rogaine Championships at Henry Coe. For the Adventure Trex, we used 37.5 km2 of the existing work, and I added 9.5 km2 just for this event to include the location of the camp and adjoining areas. The total also doesn't include trade-in hours between PCTR and Get Lost!!.

I had fun, sometimes ecstatic fun, during about 221 of those hours; the accident and the extraction were decidedly funless. The income from the event was about $4700 and the expenses, about $4300. (That is before any possible fallout from the accident is figured in. In the worst-case scenario, we're looking at a $20k loss.) If I were to "take" the "profits", this averages to about $1.65/hour. If Get Lost!! were to "have" myself as an "employee", we'd be in violation of a half-dozen statutes, including, but not limited to, federal, California, and San Francisco minwage ordinances.

That's not how Get Lost!! works; we are a nonprofit, although not a charitable 501(c)3. Our mission is to put on events. The principals are unpaid. Even with this, it's remarkable how much difference there is between sustainable fees and what some orienteers are used to once you (a) truthfully count all of the expenses, (b) organize things on a level that most non-orienteer outdoor event participants expect, and (c) try to leave a margin for the future of your organization, in part so that an unexpected event such as a wrecked rental or a low turnout doesn't doom you forever.

And here's the thing: A majority of our expenses are linearly proportional to the number of participants. Park permit costs, insurance, map printing, food, and T shirts all scale directly. The economics do get better with more people, but not much better, and the hours of the ED also grow, and the required number of volunteers and paid staff grows, too. There's just not a way to put on a similar event in California at say 1/2 the fees no matter what the attendance. That is, unless you void one of (a) through (c). Orienteering clubs typically dispense with all three, and pass the externalities along upon their volunteers.

I am in a happy place with a full-time job and an understanding family that allow me to make these 233 hours happen. But, an event even slightly more involved than this one—or as involved, but with an additional hundred attendees—could not have happened without at least one person working full time for several weeks. This person needs to eat, roof over her head, and health insurance. If the ED is not able to work 180 hours/month at a "real job" that funds these three needs, the event income has to support the ED. Our present fees are too low to make that happen, but at least allow us to march forward. Fees that simply replenish the cost of ingredients cannibalize the organization. You may be able to get away with this approach for a corn maze, but this is not a serious approach for events that are more involved.

I carried an interesting discussion on several occasions over these two years with one of our regular participants, a non-orienteer. He pointed out repeatedly that we were not charging enough. It turned out to be very true for our 2011 Henry Coe rogaine, which lost about $5k despite having 156 participants. We since upped the fees to what I felt was a sustainable level; the fees, based on apples-to-apples, are the second-highest of all rogaining event producers in North America, but are below most rogaine fees if the relative cost of living and doing business in California is taken into account.

The $400 "profit" from the Adventure Trex will make a small patch in that $5k hole. When I answered that we were limited in how much we could charge due to having some very price-sensitive customers, he replied that the alternative was us no longer being in the business of putting on events that he and his rogaining partner so much enjoy, and he'd rather pay extra on top of the entry fee than not be able to go rogaining. That's very true; at some point, there's an end to how much personal resources the principals and a few other dedicated individuals can further commit to Get Lost!!, and an end to how long other sponsors and donors can wait for a payoff. The alternative is to have smaller events that reliably generate income and to exclude the price-sensitive crowd; it may be the only alternative. Again, the price-sensitive individuals appear to mostly penalize themselves.

There are many thanks to give for the success of this event. First and foremost, it would not have been successful without material support from Pacific Coast Trail Runs and Orienteering Cincinnati, a member of which I am so fortunate to be. Consulting has been provided by Orienteering USA's Rogaine Committee and by John Maier of Tucson OC. Prizes were provided by Zanfel Laboratories and Road ID. Other support came from Zombie Runner,, and o21e.

Our cartographers were Vladimir Kozlov and myself. I designed the foot course and placed all CPs. The bike course designer was Dirk de Bruyker; we hope to use his ideas at a later event. Equipment support was by Jay Hann; some SPORTident equipment was from BAOC Juniors. Our CP pickup is by Kyle Peter, Dennis Wilkinson, and myself. (By the way, if you are in the area for the U.S. Ultralong Champs and have a spare day before or after the event, a few CPs are still out there; you really have to allocate a full day to do anything meaningful because we're out of permitted driving trips, and the CPs are at least a 2-hour run from the nearest parking.)

Our EMT Jason works for West Coast EMS. Henry Coe State Park's rangers are John Verhoeven, Cameron Bowers, Jennifer Naber, and Stuart Organo. Very much appreciated assistance on the Saturday of the event (an unsuccessful extraction attempt and a call to towers who normally don't go to the park, but did) and many fun stories about the origin of the park were by park neighbor and Gilroy native Ric Heinzen. Get Lost!!'s members and contributors are Peter Graube, Greg Favor, and Eric Rosenzweig. Greg and I also were responsible for competitor safety, with Greg patrolling the area during Stage One.

The Adventure Trex moniker is by Rex Winterbottom aka Backstreet Boy. The design of the 2013 World Rogaining Championships T shirt was used for the Trex, with permission.

Barring difficulties (which would most likely come from insurmountable financial obstacles, not from lack of personal commitment or volunteers nor lack of permits), our next Adventure Trex is penciled in for late November of 2014 (so as to not conflict with the WMOC in Brazil) in fantastic North Coast redwoods. We are also planning on a 24-hour rogaine in September, three weeks after the WRC in South Dakota, in the hills between Bay Area and Central Valley; it will be hot.

We would love to see all of you at one of these events, or other events by Get Lost!!.

Complete results, splits, maps, and RouteGadget for the inaugural Adventure Trex will come during this week and the next.
Nov 6, 2013 4:43 PM # 
Vlad -- Thanks to you and your crew for a fine event. The things that count were right on: good terrain, team support, accurate map, and perfect control placement. All these made my long travel time worthwhile!
Hope rental issues are resolved favorably.
Nov 6, 2013 5:18 PM # 
Mary and I really enjoyed the event a lot. Part of the motivation for going out to California for this one was to see what this more extended format would be like. The answer was that it was wonderful, at least in this instance. The arrangement which had the technically very challenging night navigation (at least for us!) happening at the beginning of the race when we were feeling physically rested on each day of the competition was very nice. We ended up making a lot fewer mistakes at night than often happens, despite the majority of the legs having at least some significant amount of mental concentration required, and then it was fun to have the brilliant orange sunrise appear on the horizon and suddenly be able to get a longer-range perspective on where we were. The stars at night were brilliant and beautiful--low humidity viewing conditions without significant urban light pollution that at home we usually would only get on the occasional mid-winter night with no cloud cover and temperatures 20 degrees below freezing. The heat was just a little much for us on the afternoon of the first day, but the water drops were adequately supplied, and we just slowed down a bit and enjoyed the sunshine. Definitely one of the most enjoyable rogaines that we have been to--a longish trip for us to get there (and worrisome for us at the start, when a plane delay got us underway from Ithaca 17 hours behind schedule, and to the race start just slightly after the originally scheduled map handout), but well worth the travel! Thanks very much to Vlad and his crew!
Nov 8, 2013 2:33 PM # 
For our 2014 24-hour rogaine (bid for U.S. Champs) and the 2014 Adventure Trex, we are going to officially institute a sad but necessary policy of not having the event if there aren't sufficient signups by the cutoff dates. The willingness and work hours are there, we've achieved a significant amount of progress on securing access to expansive areas in California, but if the finances can't support an event, it won't happen.

There were about 700 hours spent by participants in the woods at the Adventure Trex (not counting the camp), for about $4900 in expenses (adjusted up this week). The number from our 2011 event is just about the same. So, the rule of thumb for California is, $7 per hour of expenses on the course, with zero billed for organizer labor and zero cushion. This is consistent with what my ultra-run holding colleagues observe. We can subsidize the longer-division runners a bit with income from shorter divisions, but there's a limit to that.

So, stand by for the webpages opening (dates: first weekend of September for the 24-hour rogaine; sometime in November for the Adventure Trex), and please register as early as possible when they do, if you want these events to continue.
Nov 8, 2013 5:31 PM # 
Final results from this year?
Nov 8, 2013 7:27 PM # 
They'll come early next week. Apologies; another event is in three days. I'm very sure your team was second.
Nov 9, 2013 1:14 AM # 
"Final Results to come early next week..." Did we miss something, are preliminary results posted somewhere?
Nov 9, 2013 3:19 AM # 
Final results will come early next week. Apologies; another event is in three days. I sincerely appreciate your patience.
Nov 14, 2013 5:32 AM # 
That was fun.
Nov 14, 2013 7:22 AM # 
Yes. I had great time. Well, mostly I had a good time only after the sun rose during the first leg. I was exhausted at the starting line, ready to quit before I started. I didn't really get into it until the end of the first leg. I liked the staged race with its kitchen, though brought my own backpacker pantry meal to eat... out of habit and I was worried there wouldn't be a veggie option. (There was) I will definitely do a race like this again, Tundra. I hope that you and others can figure out the financing. Having a less detailed map would be ok by me, less food is ok. Less support is ok. Just no major map flaws is all I need.
Tim and I wondered if you could piggy back a rogaine event with a trail run event, run on the same day, overlapping courses. One race for people who need a trail, and one for those who don't. Then the trail racers would get introduced to the sport of off trail navigation, watching the others cross their path on occasion. Different colored bibs or numbers, well- marked racers so as not to confuse the trail runners.
Nov 14, 2013 2:57 PM # 
Get Lost!! made a promise to our trailrunning organizer friends to not poach. It's one of the conditions of our existence and good relations. (In Seattle, Cincinnati, and other places, navigation- and adventure-race companies only survive financially because they also put on trail runs.)

Another problem (assuming teaming up with someone else who would put on a trail run) is that none of our gigantic rogaine venues are a good fit for exciting trail run courses. They are pretty remote, and some have few or no trails, only Coe would come close. Trails at Coe are largely old jeep runs, too steep for anyone to run up. One of the reasons for the success of the many trailrunning companies in the Bay Area is that courses aren't impossible, usually climb is in the 3% to 5% range. It would be hard to achieve even 5% at Coe.

Final results are available, I am working on RouteGadget, probably late this week.
Nov 14, 2013 3:34 PM # 
In anticipation of RG, here are the maps: Stage One, Stage Two (I can email you a higher resolution if you are doing QuickRoute).
Nov 14, 2013 4:46 PM # 
Some suggestions for combo races...I don't know how hard permits are: Mt Diablo, Walnut Creek Open Space, Morgan Territory, Lake Berryessa, Marin peninsula, Briones, Del Valle (Todd Jackson put on good races there, including Xterra).
Nov 14, 2013 5:37 PM # 
Thanks for the suggestions, we've actually been working through a similar list!

Mt. Diablo: we can't afford it, period.

Walnut Creek: great idea but they shot down Coastal's events while continuing to permit orienteering. The only instance I know that trail runs wouldn't be allowed while orienteering is.

Morgan: BAOC venue and map.

Lake Berryessa: There isn't much terrain there last time I checked. However, we certainly have Cache Creek on the list, hope to get to it before I die.

Greater Marin rogaine: has been a dream all along. The time it makes the most sense is summer, since further-away-from-the-coast venues are hot and Marin is cool. But, our attendance at Mill Valley Street Scramble has been abysmal. It looks like people are either away in the summer or have better things to do. We may try again this July, we may not. It's been a combo event these past three years to some extent, since bike and foot CPs are on trail. We can't officially mark/flag the most interesting trails that no organized trail runs use, the ones in city and homeowner-association jurisdictions, though.

Briones: BAOC venue and map.

Del Valle: BAOC venue and map.
Nov 15, 2013 12:41 AM # 
One suggestion: put few of easy checkpoints near the start next time on the 4-hour. Two closest ones - 42 and 79 had been above average in navigation and beginner teams missed them and lost a lot of time - I could see their frustration.

Fort Ord would be good for a trail run? BTW, if you need help surveying Toro park..
Nov 15, 2013 1:02 AM # 
Yes indeed, the level of difficulty on the 4-hour event was not what it should have been, especially given the mix of attendees that was almost entirely beginners. It's a delicate balance; put more easy checkpoints and the regulars will complain that you're not offering a fair challenge. I'm sure the balance exists, though, just requires a bit more work to find.

As I said, no trail runs for us. Trail rogaines, very possibly so.
Nov 15, 2013 4:39 AM # 
It was a real inspiration to host all 11 Trex teams and help you reach your goals. Everyone's accomplishments are so impressive! Andrew and Dennis, of course, were the speed demons, but the Supervet team of Ken Sr. and Glen wasn't that far behind. SOAR (from Redding) took top Mixed and third overall, persevering ahead of more experienced navigators. Locals Space Olympians and Altitude Junkies originally signed up for the bike Trex, but were awesome in accepting the changes and took the adventure on foot in stride.

Team GM (of Washington) was down to one; we allowed Gena to do it, with reservations, since we had originally allowed solo bike teams in the Trex. Unfortunately Gena was sleeping when the instructions were given about the shortening of Stage Two, so he went out there and found all the six checkpoints that weren't, and was one real CP short in Stage Two. That's about what we thought the absolute best team would be pressed to accomplish within the time limit. With a partner, Gena's team would almost certainly have been in the top three overall.

The Supervet Mixed teams, Nightcrawlers of upstate NY and Yin Yang of Colorado, showed once again that in rogaining, age is only a small handicap. It was inspirational to talk about rogaining development with Eric, who's at this point probably put on a couple dozen of full-size things, mostly with just Mary's help, and to learn of their adventures in United. And of course the most impressive achievement in our eyes goes to Over Yawnder. Jeff, a two-time cancer survivor, and Bud were ahead of many youngfolk in Stage One, and managed to find quite a few CPs on their run "straight back to the finish" in Stage Two.

Last but not least, And Loving It! didn't hesitate to ask for training tips and advice at the start, and seemed to make good use of these tips. And Calico O2Rocket overcame tiredness in the very beginning to improve as the sun got up, claiming third in their division, and impressing us with their raw veggieburger speedeating skills.

Again, we're super fortunate to host this group of 23 endurance/navigation enthusiasts. We are glad they all seemed to have a good time, and so it all has been worthwhile.
Nov 15, 2013 5:23 AM # 
Re: Cache Creek...that's actually where I meant. If it's Cache Creek Regional Park you mean. The BAAR Brawl was held there last year. Started and ended there, and explored the territory south, all the way to Lake Berryessa and back. Andrew was there too, he could tell you about the navigation possibilities better than I can. I don't know if Julien got permits, but I assume he did. The Rangers were very friendly.

Good times. See you next event, Tundra.
Nov 15, 2013 4:50 PM # 
Cache Creek is waaay bigger than just the Regional Park, there are multiple jurisdictions and where you went at the Brawl is a small portion of the whole area. The sweet part is north of the Regional Park where you didn't go. It's actually a great fit for orienteering but is also good for rogaines up to 8 hours, not large enough for 24.

This discussion thread is closed.