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“Drought and the Devil’s Dive,” AKA “I did Devil’s Dive and Andy didn’t.” 23 teams, including a strong field of 12 teams in the premiere category, came out to test themselves against a notoriously tough course. And at 2 pm, 10 minutes after being given preamble maps and coordinates (the only plotting in the race), many were still busy plotting and planning when the race started with a simple countdown from 10.
Team Dirty Donkey plotting the Preamble points
For the preamble teams had to go to three out of five checkpoints, collecting one item sitting in the bucket placed at each spot they visited. Lucky teams ended up visiting CP’s where they picked up energy bars or juice boxes, many of which were consumed by the time they checked in back at the start. Team Swamp Donkey managed the section in only 18 minutes, with GearJunkie.com/Wedali coming in three minutes behind. The preamble successfully spread teams out and the biggest clump of teams that headed out north from FrostFire resort and down into the gorge for the first of seven trips they’d make in pursuit of the mandatory checkpoints (Long course teams would make four additional ascents and descents).
Section 1 was a foot section consisting of five checkpoints deep in the bush. The approximately seven mile section included less than a mile an a half of gravel road and another half mile of rough and overgrown ATV trail – the rest was game trails, bushwhacking, creek or river walking, and some meadows of tall grasses for good measure.
Team Adrenaline Hunters enjoying the only easy foot travel they would see all day
The original course design would have had teams pack-rafting once they reached the main river valley, but nationwide drought had other ideas. The river was low enough to allow for walking, but choked with boulders that caught the silty mud and made the going fairly strenuous. Route choices were plentiful. Top teams charged hard and completed the section
in under three hours, with slower teams that got lost wandering in the wilderness for more than seven. For some of the newcomers, this was quite the initiation into ENDracing’s brand of ‘funishment’ – there was no ‘save the hard stuff for later’, this course was designed to test teams every step of the way. Section 2 was a bike section consisting of 12 checkpoints. Arriving at TA1 teams grabbed their bikes for a quick descent to the valley bottom on gravel roads before turning north and heading up river on good hard packed dirt. The respite from difficultly didn’t last long, however, as they soon arrived at “hill road”, the aptly named double track that climbed 400 feet so steeply that no team to my knowledge managed to ride the entire thing (although it is rideable, perhaps by fresher legs though).
GearJunkie.com/Wedali pushing their bikes up “hill road”
Teams pushed bikes past signs touting the wonders of “Devil’s Dive” and it’s close proximity, and soon reached said destination – a quarter mile bike-whack descent down seemingly sheer bluffs for several hundred feet that linked with a half mile of near-bikewhack worthy decades old trail that finally led out to a good gravel road. Even though the route was flagged it was so daunting that volunteers waiting on the gravel road reported seeing, on more than one occasion, headlights bounce down from the top of the hill to the beginning of the ‘dive’ itself, only to head back up again in search of another route. In the end though, all the teams that started on the bike leg made it through the
“Dive” – but the footage our cameraman captured of the event will have to be heavily edited for profanity. After the rigors of Devils Dive, teams had another long climb out of the gorge before they were finally treated to some fun – two big sections of brand new multi-use trails zig-zagging their way in the bush for nearly 15 miles. The trails were contour driven hard-packed trails with banked turns and, for those riding these miles moments before dusk, offered some spectacular vistas. Teams had to still pay attention though so as not to ride right by the few checkpoints placed a 5 meters or so off the trail – easy enough to see if you knew where to look, but easy to ride right by if you weren’t looking! In fact the lead changed hands this way with Swamp Donkey riding by CP 12 and top speed and losing 15 minutes by the time they realized their mistake, a mistake not made by chasing GearJunkie.com/Wedali, who took over the top position and never let it go. The Multi-Use trails ended back at the rim of the gorge where a couple miles of gravel riding took the racers past the first of four cemeteries that they needed to ‘put in order’ – the race’s mystery challenge. Then it was another decades old gravel road that dropped quickly to the main Pembina River past one more CP to a manned CP right at the Texas Crossing (a warm fire and ham sandwiches for some lucky teams). Proficient riders were able to ride right across the river due to low water levels – though those who chose bad crossing points were wet up to their waist. The temps had now dropped into the high 40’s and the winds had picked up and were blowing at 20-30 mph – staying warm would prove a difficult job for several teams.
Looking weary after a long night out – Local Walhalla team AllMost40.
A final climb out of the gorge that seemed twice as long as any previously made brought teams into the wind and by CP 17, the first optional CP. Teams pursuing it were faced with a dense 200 meter bushwhack down a narrow draw – a trip that took at least 15 minutes each way. Finally, teams arrived (after another 7 miles of riding) to another warm fire and the world famous Dakota Harvest Bittersweet Chocolate and Sea-Salt cookies at TA2. Section 3 was a second foot section consisting of five more checkpoints. Teams ran (or walked) a good ATV trail into a tributary valley of the main gorge, having to choose where to leave the trail and bushwhack to the creek bottom to find the CP. A long (but relatively straight forward) walk down the creek led back to the Texas crossing. Teams then had a 2+ mile, dark trek (the milky way was brilliant all night!) down the main river valley where they had to pay close attention to their surroundings to locate the small creek joining the river on the right – the location of the next checkpoint. Teams proceeded up this creek (or found a single track trail that climbed along the ridge on its north side) through difficult terrain for more than a mile of twists and turns to the next CP. This stretch of the course was one of the most difficult, with deadfall and the steep sides of the creek leaving few alternate routes when the going got tough. Many teams fell victim to the ‘pit of despair’, an unassuming looking spot of mud that truly almost swallowed
teams – sinking them up their waists. A number of racers truly wondered if they’d be able to extract themselves, and had to rely on crafty tactics and lots of teamwork in order to do so.
High mud marks from the ‘pit of despair’ reached waist level on man racers. MacKenzie’s Hope arriving at TA3.
Teams had to find a critical junction where there was a split in the creek and follow the correct one to the next CP. It ended up, on average, costing teams that failed to do this (not that easy after 12+ hours of racing and in complete darkness) about an extra two hours as they wandered trying to figure out where they were. Finally, teams climbed back up to the fields that marked the rim of the gorge and trudged wearily back to TA3, in the same location as TA2. Teams that arrived at TA3 before 11 am had the option of heading out on the Long Course – a bike section consisting of 10 more checkpoints. 11 of the 16 teams still racing opted to do so. The long course was rogaine style, meaning teams could pursue as many or few of the points as possible, and get them in any order. Getting all of the points, something only three teams (GearJunkie.com/Wedali, Swamp Donkey, and Blind Squirrels) managed to do required good navigation and multiple climbs up and down the slopes of the main Pembina River gorge, and a mix of biking, bike-whacking, and out-nback treks. The seemingly short trip from LC8 to LC9 proved to be perhaps the most physically arduous piece of the entire course – 100 yards of bike-whacking through a field of overhead grasses that seemed impenetrable to even the strongest teams. All the teams managing the feat repeated the same chorus – ‘that took every ounce of energy we had left. Every ounce.’ The final Long Course point was an out-n-back on a ¾ mile long
ridge-top game-trail/singletrack that all the teams opted to walk rather than ride (although it is a great ride!) in their fatigued states. Whether or not they made the long course, all teams had one final mandatory CP on the 10 mile gravel ride back to the finish – one more challenge requiring teamwork and determination. The last CP, number 24, sat high atop a cliff edge formed from an old shale quarry. There was no easy approach – a steep and eroded 8 foot bank needed to be surmounted to gain access to a slightly less steep alder covered slope leading to the CP. GearJunkie.com/Wedali was the first team to reach the CP (even after clearing the Long Course!) and immediately went to work like a team of ants – forming a human chain of sorts and making their way up the biggest section of the bluff. It was impressive to watch, and a final demonstration as to why they are the top ranked team in the country. It was similarly impressive to watch the other teams make their way past this last hurdle on their way to the finish line – including many far less experienced (or even rookie) teams. In doing so they all once again negotiated terrain of a difficulty found so often in ‘real’ adventures, but hardly ever in ‘adventure racing’. GearJunkie.com/Wedali was the first team to arrive at the finish, 18 hours and 21 minutes after starting the race. Teams trickled in for more than five more hours with the last team finishing three minutes before the 2 pm cutoff. Congratulations to all teams that started the race – a huge undertaking not only because of the navigational challenges and distances involved, but also because of the difficulty of the terrain. For those reading this that haven’t raced an ENDracing adventure race – take note of what you can expect. This is an ADVENTURE race – and we mean it. Our background is in serious, back-country, self-sufficient expeditions. Terrain most race directors consider tough we consider easy. Be warned. You will be tested! 2012 race results