Adventure Racing race 11:00:00 
shoes: New Balance Vazee Summitt Trai
I spent the year looking forward to USARA nationals in September and then the Edge (because of Marsh Creek and the opportunity to get Kevin his first overall win), and because of that I hadn't done much thinking about the Two Rivers. We entered November with no idea as a team who would be racing; it was sorted out that Becca, Kevin and I would race together to try to grab the $400 for nationals, as the field at that time was not overly deep. Come the day of the race, and there was one of the deepest fields of the year, and an entire GOALS team had bailed because of injury. With an admitted lack of fitness from Kevin, a recent sickness from Becca, and my back being in knots for two weeks prior, our expectations were tempered. We would be happy to stay within a reasonable distance of Rootstock (Nicki, Joel and our very own Bruce Kuo), NYARA/Montbell (who was downgraded to a male 2 team on race morning - we weren't too upset), Untamed and TanZ.
The morning was frigid (24 on Kevin's truck thermometer) - we spent the pre-race time shivering in the car looking over the rules of travel and maps when made available. The general course flow was a great use of the area: we started with a creative MTB section in Middle Run and White Clay, then biked to the Christiana, which we paddled into Wilmington for an urban-o section, followed by a bike to Brandywine Creek and First State, and ended with a large "farmgaine" section that brought us back in Chadds Ford.
We ran down the road into Middle Run as a pseduo-prologue, and boarded the bikes for a unique section on the smoothest single track around. There were groups of points labeled A, B, C and D, and points were awarded only for 2 of each letter. We had a nice route that ran through some trails with which I am most familiar. We passed a few teams at different times, enough to let me know that we were about 7-8 minutes behind when we left that section. We still felt pretty good about it. We stuck to our guns (MTB is not a team-strength) and hit every point perfectly nav-wise. The ride to the river was more eventful than it should have been - I was looking too far ahead at the map and turned the wrong way. It took about a km in the wrong direction to realize our mistake. We pulled into the TA right on 10:30, just about 2 hrs into the race.
We were greeted by a few friendly volunteer faces in TA, who let us know what was happening ahead of us. Turns out that NYARA had turned the wrong way down the river, costing them about 7 minutes, and that Rootstock had left 18 minutes before us. Mildly disheartened, we stuck with our goal of being within striking distance for the foot sections. Brent caught us early on the paddle to let us know about some issues with CP A. We got to the open area containing the point, took a kinda-bearing and aimed for a boat that was in the general area that I wanted to go. That boat belonged to the Cherubini Brothers (the friendliest team in AR), who we soon realized were right on the CP flag. Turns out the water had risen significantly, and the thing was nearly underwater. We were lucky to spot a streamer just at the top of the reeds. As we punched and turned around, we saw a smattering of boats all over the area, as this point was clearly giving people trouble. We even remarked at a boat who was a full km to the east, and joked that we hoped it was Rootstock...The rest of the paddle was simple enough - we knocked off the rest of the points and were passed by only NYARA, while passing 4 other teams. We arrived at the TA at 12:21 just after NYARA and right with Untamed. We were soon followed by many other teams, including Rootstock, who we assumed was well ahead. We didn't feel the need to change into our awaiting dry clothes, and were able to TA faster than the rest of the teams. As we left, we realized that we had somehow taken our weakest disciplines (paddle and bike) and turned them into a small overall lead.
This urban-o section went relatively smoothly. We had one small hiccup with a changed clue, as Kevin hadn't written down the full details on the clue sheet. This 3 minute mistake was enough to allow Rootstock to catch back up to us. We ran back and forth with them to a few CPs, and ended up at the cemetery with them. Seeing it empty and locked, I uttered the infamous words "we'll hop the fence if you do." 15 minutes and no cp punches (or people) later, Joel called Abby to find out that the section was cancelled. We were the only two teams to miss the memo, as we had left out of TA too quickly. We were notified that we would be the recipients of a 15 minute time credit. This gave us some good info on our standing, as we saw NYARA arrive right as we were about to leave. The strange cemetery saga ended with the caretaker arriving as Kevin was climbing back over the fence. He apologized for being late and let the rest of us out through the gate. A small detour involving a bridge that was disguised by a UTM line took us into TA a few minutes behind Rootstock and NYARA. Untamed and TanZ arrived as we departed, furthering out understanding of how the race was shaping up.
We left just moments behind them, and caught up as we all tried to navigate our way to Brandyine Creek for some technical MTB riding. I had a low point or two on the ride over, as I spent twenty minutes in icky-ville waiting for all of the nutrition and advil from the last TA to kick in. We ended up entering the trail system a minute or two behind NYARA and Rootstock (we could see them up the road) and alongside of Untamed and TanZ. I took a minute to get my bearings, and ended up with the great decision of setting up both the topo map with the CPs and elevation along with the extremely detailed trail map on my map board. This decision proved smart, as I could see both without flipping the map. We again took things at our speed, and found ourselves with Rootstock at nearly every point. We seemed to have better routes, but they were faster on bikes. When we rode down to the TA they were still there, and we could see NYARA leaving. Rootstock had forgotten their cluesheet, so they came back to retrieve it about 1 minute before we left.
We ran down the road to the covered bridge to begin the first, smaller farmgaine section. We were making great time, and I was feeling confident that the full course would be within reach for the first time all day. We chose a counterclockwise route on cps 1-9; it started off the slightest bit rocky, as I took a path that Rootstock did only to realize that they were working clockwise. I told Kevin and Becca that the race was now on; the final section had only one real logical loop with a few small choices, so whoever had the lead coming of this section would be out in front on the final loop. After the slight unease with the first point, we hit them all dead on, at a pretty strong run as well. We crossed paths with Rootstock between CPs 2 and 7; I knew that we were ahead at that point, as we had covered more ground and hit more CPs. We had a slight scare at CP 8, as an ATV followed us down the reentrant to railside berm littered with bottles, toilets and cans riddled with bullet holes. Only a minute or two after crossing the tracks (and passing TanZ and Untamed going in the other direction) we heard some loud gunfire. I made it a point to warn the rest of the teams that we saw, and even hollered across to the TA to make them aware.
We crossed to covered bridge again, knowing that we were a minimum of a few minutes up on Rootstock, and less than 5 behind NYARA (I had caught a glimpse of their reflective gear leaving CP 8 ahead of us). The small section with CPs 10-15 and ending in a river ford lay ahead of us after a 1km+ jog. I let the team know that we needed to push the pace pretty hard; any CPs we could nail before the sun went down would be a big plus for us, and we had an outside chance at finishing this section before dark. We only had one small issue here, as I interpreted a pipeline as a trail. This only cost us 2 minutes, but Rootstock came from seemingly nowhere right at this CP (15). We ran into them at CP 14, and their coy answer to my question about CPs let us know that we had actually opened up a larger gap, of about 10 minutes on them. We finished the section, needed headlamps only for CPs 10 and 11, and watch NYARA scurry across the river as we arrived (I later learned that they skipped the checkpoint waiting right at the water's edge in a panic to get away from us).
The next 5 points on our clockwise loop involved us seeing NYARA's lights off in the distance, and trying to figure out how they were misleading us (they were doing their best to get us off of their tail). My conservative use of trails between CPs 19 and 20, coupled with what I later learned was a bold but simple bushwhack from them, meant that we would never see their lights again. But it was not the end of the drama...
I had trouble attacking 24, as there was a roadside fence that looked rather "private property-y," which caused me to take us 300 meters past the point to a major trail. From here, we detoured to CP 25, as I had no real good idea of when to nail it - this proved to be the winning move. We backtracked and very cautiously hit CP 24, taking 15 minutes to zero in on it. We followed the trail up to 27 at the boulders, and crossed paths with a team leaving 29 who had just left the water tank. What looked on the map like two quick points only 100m apart was a 20+ minute fiasco, as we originally couldn't find the water tank (it was 30-50m off trail) and then couldn't find the hole to get it. Kevin insisted that it wasn't there, so we looked around for a different structure. While this was happening, we heard the familiar sounds of Rootstock approaching. We searched with them at the structure for 5-10 minutes, when they tried to sneak away. Turns out that Joel had found the hole on the roof, and Kevin had only just seen him leaving it. Kevin dropped soon after and we left only 30 seconds after them (lesson learned - always check for the secret CP myself; I found it after a quick look, just as Kevin was emerging).
Not knowing where the CP count stood, we were soon engaged in a full-on sprint for the final 3 points after 10.5 hrs of facing. They just beat us to CP 30, where I sent Kevin the final 50 m ahead so that Becca and I could get a plan. We took off up a steep hill to CP 28, with the 6 of us running what must have been a sub-8 minute mile pace. Kevin and Joel each punched CP 28 together, while the rest of us took of at a sprint to get to 26. I kept calling for Becca in the sea of headlamps, happy to hear that she was just behind me. Kevin caught up and baton-ed me the passport so that I could run ahead to punch our final CP - 26. My mind had two thoughts - if we needed to get our passport on the table first, I knew that my "sprinting after 10 hours" legs were stronger than anyone elses; if we needed to have all three team members at the finish first, Kevin and Becca were doing their best to hold a few meter lead on Bruce and Nicki. It sounds absurd now, but in our minds, this was a literal sprint finish. My relief arrived as I punched 26, where Joel told me that they had to go get 25. Not knowing the truthfulness of this at the time, we took off like madmen to the finish. Kevin nearly ran into someone's house (a postrace highlight), but we got our heads screwed on straight enough to round the corner into the barn and slam the passport down on the table in front of a startled RD Abby. We were ecstatic to have held them off over the final foot section, and were beyond excited to hear that our super-clean race had paid off with 2nd overall, and 1st in the coed-3 category. NYARA had come in 20 minutes ahead of us, still edging us out even with our cemetery time bonus. The difference was the slow work on CP 24 and the difficulty finding the hole at the top of CP 29. We were still breathing heavily when Rootstock arrived, less than 3 minutes later. They were clearly a bit bummed (to be expected), but we were sure to thank each other for what was a heart-stopping finish, as we had raced the final 2.5 hours expecting to see them at every turn.
The result was tremendous for us. Our first Regional Qualifier win as a team (and a first for Kevin and myself - he was excited about the jacket) in a race that we were hoping to just be respectable. I had pipe dreams of winning the $500 for Untamed as well, but had written that off as impossible - I clearly spoke too soon. We had spent the paddle section talking about strategies to qualify ourselves for nationals; we threw those plans away at the finish. The end of the year for us was better than imaginable when combining with the success at Nationals and the Edge. Personally, I'm finally feeling 6 years of hard work pay off in a major way. It was also exciting for me navigationally, as I'm feeling as good as possible, especially after the debacle at KG. Something happened during that race and the terrible time at Hickory Run before Nationals, and the map has been clicking with me in a way it never has before. Extremely excited to see this continue into next year's racing season. Time to start training for Untamed!
Final takeaways - we gelled as a team when we stuck together. Our mottos moving forward are to race our own race and just make it to the foot section.