Adventure Racing 14:00:00 
Endless Mountains AR from Rootstock Racing. I had been pre-pre-registered for this from the moment that it was announced; incredibly excited to finally get to the start of the race and take part! I was extremely aware of what I was getting myself into with a Rootstock expedition race, and they delivered on all fronts with a phenomenal event from start to finish. It was relentless, challenging, and exactly what I look for in a race of any length.
Strong Machine AR was myself, Kate, Kit and Scott Cocks. We descended on Clarion, PA on Saturday, prepping for all of our pre-race events on Sunday. We enjoyed a few nice meals at Clarion River Brewing Company and got ourselves situated into our lodging at Clarion University. It was great to be able to have the same rooms for pre- and post-race, taking a lot of stress out of getting ready. This was my first ARWS race, and I enjoyed the pomp that come with it, from the photographers and media to the informative pre-race meeting. From all of the info that we were given from the course book, we had been able to parse the course together quite well before the pre-race meeting, where the flyover showed exactly where we'd be traveling. My big takeaway from the meeting had nothing to do with the course, but was instead the guarantee that we would all be bitten by rattlesnakes. I left terrified that I would die somewhere on Stage E... There was some faffing about after the meeting, mostly on the part of Scott who had lots of packing to do, with his gear still in shambles from his expedition to Greenland. We were able to get his gear turned in just before the 10PM cutoff and then set down to a night of decent sleep.
Race day began at 4:30, in time for a 5:30 bus ride to Punxsutawney. We looked over the maps on the bus, but I saved any marking and route planning for the Eagles lodge. The breakfast buffet was adequate, but not as filling as I'd been hoping for. I think that lack of caloric buffer caught up to me later in the day. The 4 of us divided the map work very well, with some planning route, some identifying route choices for the treks, and others measuring distances for bike and paddle legs. By the time the 9:30 pre-race meeting showed up, we had been able to go through the entire set of maps and had a good plan for each leg. There were two legs (E and G) that I hadn't taken much of a look at, but my teammates had done a stellar job planning them. It was a luxury that I don't normally have to race on a team with 4 navigators!
The pre-race-start revealed to me 2 things: First was that I know much more about Groundhog's Day than nearly every other race. I wouldn't say that I care about it (at all), but growing up in Pennsylvania must come with some increased knowledge that others don't get. I was much more excited to get my picture taken with Phil that the average racer. Second was that people are allowed to forget the Pledge of Allegiance (which we were asked to say by a local politician), something that is not possible for this middle school teacher.
Stage A - Prologue/Trek
The race began with each team ripping open an envelope to reveal a map for the prologue - 13 mandatory points around the town of Punxsutawney, each highlighting a statue of Phil. We took off at a good pace and found all of the flag without real issue, although there was one plotted on the wrong side of a street. The problem that we had was that I think my route was pretty inefficient. We went south of the creek, then all of the way west before ever coming back up north of the creek, adding a good bit of distance for very little gain. Had we taken 2 minutes to really study the map I think we could have saved 15 minutes by using some out-and-backs across 2 bridges and also maybe fording the creek, which ended up being very shallow. I realized this error when we began passing teams going the opposite direction, about 1/2 of the way through our route but 2/3 of the way through theirs. Oh well, it was a lot of fun to run around town and see the hype that the race had. I enjoyed a big cup of ice water that was put out by a local shop owner. I thought that the hospitality was just because we started in "Punxsy", but it never let up throughout the entire race. By the time that we finished the prologue, punched CP 1, and trekked uphill to Gobbler's Knob, 2 hours had passed and we were settling in. We built our bikes without much issue, although I did have to adjust my brakes, and took off on the simplest section of the race - a 20 mile bike that travelled mostly on roads and doubletrack.
Stage B - Bike
We moved quickly and efficiently. I ended up taking the lead navigationally on the first two legs, with Scott and Kit backing me up on the trek and bike respectively. There wasn't much nav choice or challenge here, but I began to struggle with my stomach. I think I was behind on water and food already, and I tried my best to catch up as quickly as possible. My bike was also giving me quite a bit of trouble, as my rear brake was rubbing and I had lost 3 of my 10 gears in the rear. A quick troubleshooting at CP3 found an askew quick release, which once righted solve all of the issues. It was amazing how this also helped my body and mind recover. I think I also had an issue with how short the legs were to start. I struggle to eat and drink when the legs are this quick, and I had only packed small foods that wouldn't be useful for recovering from a low point.
Interesting thing we uncovered on this leg was the noxious smell of natural gas near some gas wells between the 2 CPs. It was bad enough that we didn't want to stop moving for fear of getting ill. Having seen "Gas Well" on the map for a few legs of the race, I was nervous about smelling it for the whole week. Oddly enough, this was the only time that I noticed it during the entire race.
There were a few climbs on this leg, but nothing major. We finished by paralleling the West Branch Susquehanna River on a road into the TA, taking just over 2 hours on the leg.
We dissembled bikes quickly and began getting our packrafts inflated. This proved to be a very quick TA, passing a few teams before getting out quickly.
Stage C - Packraft
Comically, Kate tried to keep her feet dry when getting into the gnu. That lasted for only a few seconds, as we soon had to get out and push/pull the boat through the shallows. This pattern continued for hours, as we could barely get going with paddling before we had to stop and push/pull. We spent much of this section with thisABILITY, and borrowed a raft-pushing technique that I coined "the ol' Chip Dodd", which involved sitting on the stern of the raft in a paddling position while simultaneously sticking a leg out of the back onto the rocks and pushing the boat forward. It worked rather well, but took me a while to perfect. We were passed in this section by OML, who seemed to have a better system for navigating the rapids and shallows. We had been gapped early on by Untamed as well, who appeared to adapt quickly to the river by getting out and pulling the boats. Examining the track post-race, this leg was our weakest by a good bit. I think we just failed to accept the fate of the river and kept trying to use the packrafts like actual boats. I imagine that the best strategy would have been to just get out and pull the empty boats. Looking at the splits, we lost 2+ hours to our competitors on this leg, and I imagine that most of that was on the shallow part where paddling was nearly ineffective.
By the time we got to CP4, the river seemed to be slowly deepening, but not enough to be actually paddling for more than a few minutes. About halfway to CP6 the river seemed to open up enough that we settled into paddling, where we were able to use our strengths and make some progress downriver. I used the time on the river to try to get my stomach and head righted. A lot of hydration and as much food as I could get in seemed to make a difference. The nice dose of caffeine that I took after dark helped the most.
We arrived near CP6 just after dark, but we struggled to find a good spot to beach our boats. We spent too long looking for an ideal location, and ended up way too far west with OML, having to backtrack through chest-high grass for far too long. thisABILITY made up 20+ minutes on us here simply by beaching their boats as close to the CP as possible. We paddled around the rest of the lake well for a few hours, grabbing the rest of the points that we could by water. The only real strategic choice was to paddle to CP12, which saved us time in the short term. We dropped our boats and paddle gear at the TA before getting 3 final points on foot and returning to TA.
Our TA here was relatively smooth and efficient, packing away the boats and building bikes. This would be the last time that we would see our paddle bags and bike boxes until Thursday evening, so we made sure to get what we needed. We also enjoyed some OMeals before setting off in the middle of the night.